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Yonatan Zunger has been at 2 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
STEM Women on G+165,682Join 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 21:30:0096  
Blogger1,394,842We’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 20:30:001086  

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 313

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2015-06-18 21:04:17 (313 comments, 223 reshares, 592 +1s)Open 

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions... more »

Most reshares: 223

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2015-06-18 21:04:17 (313 comments, 223 reshares, 592 +1s)Open 

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions... more »

Most plusones: 1215

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2015-06-28 19:16:32 (235 comments, 147 reshares, 1215 +1s)Open 

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, thatI... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2015-06-30 04:36:34 (26 comments, 3 reshares, 58 +1s)Open 

Successful experiment tonight:

1 1/2 oz. Bulleit rye
1 oz. Dram pine syrup
6 shakes Dram "Hair of the Dog" bitters
2 oz. soda

Shake all ingredients but soda thoroughly with ice, strain and add soda.

It should have been in a shorter glass, used a better rye, and it could definitely use a maraschino cherry (a real one, not the fluorescent variety) as a garnish, but this definitely works.

Successful experiment tonight:

1 1/2 oz. Bulleit rye
1 oz. Dram pine syrup
6 shakes Dram "Hair of the Dog" bitters
2 oz. soda

Shake all ingredients but soda thoroughly with ice, strain and add soda.

It should have been in a shorter glass, used a better rye, and it could definitely use a maraschino cherry (a real one, not the fluorescent variety) as a garnish, but this definitely works.___

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2015-06-30 00:41:03 (63 comments, 52 reshares, 224 +1s)Open 

This story is finally starting to hit the major press: in the past week, six black churches have burned down. Three of them are being investigated as arson, and the other three are still being examined by fire investigators -- but are highly likely to be arson as well.

I try to put this into my own world and imagine: if six synagogues had been torched the week after a major anti-Semitic terrorist attack, I would be thinking about nothing else. It would be front page, above the fold, in every newspaper in the country. Why, then, is this only now receiving proper coverage?

If you ask why these churches are so important -- why these aren't just ordinary arsons, or arsons against churches first and black churches second -- you can go back to what President Obama said in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney a few days ago (which people are starting to refer to as "the 'grace'... more »

This story is finally starting to hit the major press: in the past week, six black churches have burned down. Three of them are being investigated as arson, and the other three are still being examined by fire investigators -- but are highly likely to be arson as well.

I try to put this into my own world and imagine: if six synagogues had been torched the week after a major anti-Semitic terrorist attack, I would be thinking about nothing else. It would be front page, above the fold, in every newspaper in the country. Why, then, is this only now receiving proper coverage?

If you ask why these churches are so important -- why these aren't just ordinary arsons, or arsons against churches first and black churches second -- you can go back to what President Obama said in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney a few days ago (which people are starting to refer to as "the 'grace' speech"):

The church is and always has been the center of African American life; a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah.” Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.

They have been and continue to be community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm's way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.

That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.

"The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate:" one of the best distillations of an idea I have heard. A phrase likely to enter the English lexicon. These churches are not simply houses of worship to a god you or I may not share; they are the centers of their communities, and more, they are and have been the refuges and safe harbors of their communities since the days of slavery.

I am glad to see that the news is finally covering this, but why has it taken so long? And how long will it take to stop those responsible, and bring the ones who have already burned buildings to justice?

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches  ?___

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2015-06-29 21:20:53 (67 comments, 17 reshares, 165 +1s)Open 

Some excellent words from Bree Newsome on what she did, the story behind it, and why. 

"I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally in 2015, including the ongoing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic. I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes. I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free."  #takeitdown #keepitdown #blacklivesmatter  ___Some excellent words from Bree Newsome on what she did, the story behind it, and why. 

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2015-06-28 19:16:32 (235 comments, 147 reshares, 1215 +1s)Open 

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, thatI... more »

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, that I can't even count. I've learned to write much more effectively, and what it is to have a real conversation about incredibly sensitive subjects where people nonetheless treat each other with respect and seriousness. I've made an amazing group of friends here, people I love and trust and talk to every day. And I even met the love of my life, my brilliant and beloved wife, through the service.

So looking back on four years of what we've built here, I can say: this is going really well. I'm exceptionally glad to have met all of you, and to have had some part in building this community we share, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next four years take us!___

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2015-06-28 03:35:16 (62 comments, 40 reshares, 473 +1s)Open 

For those who didn't hear about this, CNN had an anxious and hand-wringing discussion about an ISIS flag waving at a Pride march. Except that it wasn't an ISIS flag. It was an ISIS flag with the Arabic text replaced with a bunch of sex toys. I can promise you that there are no letters in Arabic that look at all like butt plugs. 

For this to have made it on air, it had to have gone through producers, researchers, and anchors, some of whom are also journalists themselves. And none of them appear to either pay enough attention to their work, or have enough familiarity with the world, to stop and say "Wait a moment, I'm pretty sure that isn't Arabic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had something a lot like that in one of my orifices recently."

/smh

You can read more, and watch the CNN clip,... more »

You gotta have a great sensayuma to live in America:___For those who didn't hear about this, CNN had an anxious and hand-wringing discussion about an ISIS flag waving at a Pride march. Except that it wasn't an ISIS flag. It was an ISIS flag with the Arabic text replaced with a bunch of sex toys. I can promise you that there are no letters in Arabic that look at all like butt plugs. 

For this to have made it on air, it had to have gone through producers, researchers, and anchors, some of whom are also journalists themselves. And none of them appear to either pay enough attention to their work, or have enough familiarity with the world, to stop and say "Wait a moment, I'm pretty sure that isn't Arabic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had something a lot like that in one of my orifices recently."

/smh

You can read more, and watch the CNN clip, here: http://www.businessinsider.com/cnn-spots-isis-flag-at-gay-pride-parade-2015-6

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2015-06-27 00:57:40 (30 comments, 16 reshares, 167 +1s)Open 

I don't normally post straight-up news bulletins, but today has been a day of so many events and changes that you may have missed some of the key things that happened.

If you're in the US, the two biggest stories were the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the President's powerful eulogy for Clementa Pickney. 

The other story likely to be very important was a sharp drop in the Chinese stock markets: 7.4% for the Shanghai Composite, 7.9% for the Shenzhen Composite. We've known for a while that these markets are likely to be in a bubble, but a one-day drop like this could well mean that the bubbles have popped. The consequences of this are likely to be very significant, as this could easily plunge China into a recession just as it's trying to figure out how to balance between an increasing urban/rural economic divide. (For comparison, the 1987... more »

I don't normally post straight-up news bulletins, but today has been a day of so many events and changes that you may have missed some of the key things that happened.

If you're in the US, the two biggest stories were the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the President's powerful eulogy for Clementa Pickney. 

The other story likely to be very important was a sharp drop in the Chinese stock markets: 7.4% for the Shanghai Composite, 7.9% for the Shenzhen Composite. We've known for a while that these markets are likely to be in a bubble, but a one-day drop like this could well mean that the bubbles have popped. The consequences of this are likely to be very significant, as this could easily plunge China into a recession just as it's trying to figure out how to balance between an increasing urban/rural economic divide. (For comparison, the 1987 "Black Monday" crash which precipitated a serious economic crisis in the US was a one-day, 22% drop)

Beyond this, ISIS' call for terror strikes during the month of Ramadan appears to be being heeded: an attack on a mosque in Kuwait killed 27, an attack at a seaside resort in Tunisia killed 39, and in France, a man decapitated his employer and then set off a bomb. 

Rather depressingly, today's death toll of 67 dead only makes this the bloodiest day of terror attacks since January of 2014, when Boko Haram massacred 85 people in Kawuri. (There have been higher-death-toll attacks since, but they were spread out over several days; you can thank Boko Haram for those, as well)

(Stories:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/06/26/world/middleeast/ap-ml-kuwait.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/world/africa/gunmen-attack-hotel-in-sousse-tunisia.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/world/europe/french-factory-lyon-attack-isis.html)

So it's been quite a significant day around the world.___

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2015-06-27 00:39:50 (50 comments, 13 reshares, 189 +1s)Open 

As +Lauren Weinstein says, dealing with these things is incredibly difficult. Trying to figure out where to draw the line, what's a critical part of the news or the public discourse and what's simply evil for evil's sake, is one of the most challenging problems we face, both as an organization and as a society.

I'm proud of the team that worked on this for having figured out a good balance. (And am thankful not to have had to work on this particular project myself)

I'm incredibly proud of Google for this stance. Through my close work with them in the recent past, I have some insights into how complicated (and in many cases, emotionally exhausting) it is to figure out how to best draw the lines in such areas. To call it difficult would be a vast understatement, but the folks at Google who work on this are incredibly dedicated to doing the right thing.___As +Lauren Weinstein says, dealing with these things is incredibly difficult. Trying to figure out where to draw the line, what's a critical part of the news or the public discourse and what's simply evil for evil's sake, is one of the most challenging problems we face, both as an organization and as a society.

I'm proud of the team that worked on this for having figured out a good balance. (And am thankful not to have had to work on this particular project myself)

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2015-06-26 23:44:16 (102 comments, 12 reshares, 114 +1s)Open 

Ta-Nehisi Coates' upcoming book on race relations in the United States is likely -- if all the advance reviews, or his reputation as one of the great journalists of our day -- to be one of the most important books on the subject. I know of nobody who has both thought about it so deeply and who can speak about it so well. And the publisher has just moved the release date up, from September to July 14th!

I know what I'm reading as soon as I can get my hands on it. If you at all care about America, you should grab it, too.

Here's a blurb by Toni Morrison (yes, that Toni Morrison): “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes ofblack... more »

Ta-Nehisi Coates' upcoming book on race relations in the United States is likely -- if all the advance reviews, or his reputation as one of the great journalists of our day -- to be one of the most important books on the subject. I know of nobody who has both thought about it so deeply and who can speak about it so well. And the publisher has just moved the release date up, from September to July 14th!

I know what I'm reading as soon as I can get my hands on it. If you at all care about America, you should grab it, too.

Here's a blurb by Toni Morrison (yes, that Toni Morrison): “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”___

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2015-06-26 21:44:44 (32 comments, 34 reshares, 169 +1s)Open 

Today is not only a day of joy, but a day of mourning. President Obama delivered a eulogy for Clementa Pickney, murdered nine days ago today. And if you have the time -- he spoke for a full 40 minutes -- I encourage you to listen. This is one of those speeches that a written transcript doesn't really capture, because it's not a politician's speech.

In fact, I'd probably better give a warning here. Those of you who hate the President, per se, will not enjoy watching this; I'd simply skip it. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the language of the church may find it unusual or hard to understand, because it's very much not a political speech; it's a eulogy delivered by a man for his coreligionists, fitted deeply into the language of his religion. (Although for those who wonder about the significance and the importance of the church in African-American society, he... more »

Today is not only a day of joy, but a day of mourning. President Obama delivered a eulogy for Clementa Pickney, murdered nine days ago today. And if you have the time -- he spoke for a full 40 minutes -- I encourage you to listen. This is one of those speeches that a written transcript doesn't really capture, because it's not a politician's speech.

In fact, I'd probably better give a warning here. Those of you who hate the President, per se, will not enjoy watching this; I'd simply skip it. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the language of the church may find it unusual or hard to understand, because it's very much not a political speech; it's a eulogy delivered by a man for his coreligionists, fitted deeply into the language of his religion. (Although for those who wonder about the significance and the importance of the church in African-American society, he explains it quite beautifully at 1:33:33) 

Those of you who want, however, to hear an extraordinary, heart-shaking speech, one full of all the things we have needed to say and we have needed to hear our leaders say for so long, should sit down and watch. You won't regret it.

He speaks about the man, he speaks about the church, he speaks about our society, and the meaning of this killing and of the society which allowed and created it. And what he has to say is wise and worth listening to.

For all that I have had my issues with him -- some very serious indeed -- on this matter, the President has stood up and made us proud.

(Edited to add: I just watched it a second time, and it's even better. The sermon he preaches, starting at around 1:37:00, is a joy to behold, and it's everything I never thought I would hear an American President say out loud in my lifetime.)___

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2015-06-26 20:52:06 (34 comments, 25 reshares, 353 +1s)Open 

With Liberty and Justice for all -- and for one another.

With Liberty and Justice for all -- and for one another.___

2015-06-26 17:27:05 (40 comments, 19 reshares, 183 +1s)Open 

I've only just started to read today's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and I'm in a hurry so forgive a slightly more technical post than usual. There's actually a lot of meat here, beyond the simple fact of the decision. A few things I've noticed so far:

(1) The decision is based on the fundamentality of the right to marry, and the issue of levels of scrutiny was not addressed. So no broader impact on anti-discrimination laws via setting intermediate scrutiny for sexual orientation. Not really surprising.

(2) The decision leaned heavily on Loving, Lawrence and Griswold. The latter is important: that's the underlying precedent that a lot of the fights about Roe v. Wade are actually about, and having another major case take it (and its arguments about "personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal... more »

I've only just started to read today's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and I'm in a hurry so forgive a slightly more technical post than usual. There's actually a lot of meat here, beyond the simple fact of the decision. A few things I've noticed so far:

(1) The decision is based on the fundamentality of the right to marry, and the issue of levels of scrutiny was not addressed. So no broader impact on anti-discrimination laws via setting intermediate scrutiny for sexual orientation. Not really surprising.

(2) The decision leaned heavily on Loving, Lawrence and Griswold. The latter is important: that's the underlying precedent that a lot of the fights about Roe v. Wade are actually about, and having another major case take it (and its arguments about "personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs") as a precedent does a lot to strengthen it.

(3) The listed "third basis" was that the right to marry safeguards children. The phrasing here is important and is likely to have a strong effect on future cases involving rights to have children, adopt, etc. 

(4) The fourth basis talks about the "constellation of benefits" which marriage provides under the law. Together with the third, this is an extremely strong precedent for any future cases around this. It wouldn't at all surprise me to see sexual orientation become an intermediate-scrutiny suspect category within the next ten years.

(5) The decision made it clear that it takes effect immediately, not at some point in the future. The Court's general lack of patience with further legal manoeuvering was made pretty clear; as far as they're concerned, it's decided, it's done, do it now.

(6) I read the 5-4 as an interesting sign: Roberts is very concerned with the reputation of the Court (having been appointed Chief Justice in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore) and gets the creeping heebie-jeebies at the notion of a close split in a socially controversial case. I was anticipating 6-3, with him writing the opinion, simply because once it was clear which way it would go he would find a way to convince himself to join the majority just to avoid that. The fact that he didn't, if I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, tells me that he feels in his gut that this one isn't a long-term controversy, but really is largely settled as far as the country is concerned.

So with my apologies for the lack of time to write a proper article analyzing this, I'd say that it's time to celebrate a significant milestone -- but not too much. There are still many critical issues in this part of the law, and we can't consider the problem "solved" by any means.___

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2015-06-26 07:11:33 (24 comments, 61 reshares, 312 +1s)Open 

Nota bene.

___Nota bene.

posted image

2015-06-26 00:08:52 (253 comments, 77 reshares, 379 +1s)Open 

This sort of thing makes me feel more positively towards Uber than pretty much anything else does.

I think that what the taxi business as a whole has been doing for years has been wrong -- and now that it's falling apart, it's dumping the burden of that on the individual drivers, and telling the drivers that they can only protect themselves through violence, because the industry sure as hell isn't going to help them.

Taxis in most cities are artificial monopolies. Drivers have to pay in to get access to that -- the 240,000€ sum in Paris is actually not even close to the worst. (In New York, taxi medallions can easily run $1.3M) Individual drivers can't afford that, obviously, so they have to either rent medallions or take giant loans in order to buy their own. The profit went to the people owning the medallions.

This was a workable business for individuald... more »

This sort of thing makes me feel more positively towards Uber than pretty much anything else does.

I think that what the taxi business as a whole has been doing for years has been wrong -- and now that it's falling apart, it's dumping the burden of that on the individual drivers, and telling the drivers that they can only protect themselves through violence, because the industry sure as hell isn't going to help them.

Taxis in most cities are artificial monopolies. Drivers have to pay in to get access to that -- the 240,000€ sum in Paris is actually not even close to the worst. (In New York, taxi medallions can easily run $1.3M) Individual drivers can't afford that, obviously, so they have to either rent medallions or take giant loans in order to buy their own. The profit went to the people owning the medallions.

This was a workable business for individual drivers for exactly as long as the monopoly was in place. And the business worked out just the way monopolies always did; taxi service is terrible. I expect that, when I get into a taxi in most places, at best the experience will be somewhat unpleasant; at worst, the driver may get lost, or attempt to cheat or rob me. If I try to call and order a taxi, that translates to "in 30 minutes, a taxi may or may not show up." Every bad thing I've ever heard said of Uber drivers has been no less (and no more) true of taxi drivers.

Uber has been basically breaking this monopoly. And from the perspective of everyone but the taxi industry, that's great; people get a (much) better service (much) cheaper. 

For the taxi industry, it's a catastrophe, but a catastrophe of its own making: it's imploding because it's taken comfort in being a regulated monopoly for so long that it forgot how to compete. So it's going to collapse, and most of the jobs in it are going to disappear because the businesses are going to disappear.

However, unlike most monopolies, the taxi industry has done a very thorough job of pushing the risk onto its lowest-level employees, by treating them as not just contractors, but contractors who had to own a special zero-value item. (At least Uber drivers only have to own a car; if Uber folded tomorrow, they'd still have a car.) The taxi companies own shockingly little of the risk; they may go out of business, but it's the individual drivers who often have huge loans that won't magically disappear if the value of a medallion plummets.

And the taxi industry isn't making any attempt to help. I haven't seen a single taxi company anywhere attempt to compete with Uber on service. Nor to think through protections for its employees. Instead, it's telling its drivers that if they want to have any financial future at all, it's their responsibility to stop Uber.

And so what happens? Violence in the streets. Petty thuggery, because the industry wants to offload even the risk of fighting its foes onto its workers. 

So I have exactly zero sympathy for the taxi industry. I have somewhat more sympathy for the drivers affected, but that's ultimately limited by the fact that none of what I described above was ever secret; the drivers got into this game knowing what it was. And it's even more limited when the taxi drivers' response seems to involve not just trying to shut down a city, but taking competing drivers hostage, or assaulting drivers and passengers alike.___

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2015-06-25 04:38:03 (51 comments, 43 reshares, 243 +1s)Open 

Fifteen ways to die, and their frequency by age. Quite an interesting graph to dive deep into. Note that this is shown as a percentage of people who died at that age, not people who are alive at that age (or people overall), so you see neither the distribution of death as a function of age, nor the distribution of ages in this image.

Via +Aleatha Parker-Wood and the Angel of Death and Actuarial Science. (One of the lesser-known, but quite important, heavenly operatives)

Most common ways to die, by age, in the United States: https://plot.ly/~Dreamshot/440/most-common-ways-to-die-by-age-in-the-us/___Fifteen ways to die, and their frequency by age. Quite an interesting graph to dive deep into. Note that this is shown as a percentage of people who died at that age, not people who are alive at that age (or people overall), so you see neither the distribution of death as a function of age, nor the distribution of ages in this image.

Via +Aleatha Parker-Wood and the Angel of Death and Actuarial Science. (One of the lesser-known, but quite important, heavenly operatives)

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2015-06-25 01:48:08 (11 comments, 14 reshares, 279 +1s)Open 

Just a great picture that deserved to be shared.

Reminds me a bit of walking up to boats anchored on the Yukon River in winter. Not a drop of free-flowing surface water for a hundred miles in any direction; just boats, well-maintained but so oddly far from any shore.

Running Ghost by Caras Ionut: https://goo.gl/YjoDxa___Just a great picture that deserved to be shared.

Reminds me a bit of walking up to boats anchored on the Yukon River in winter. Not a drop of free-flowing surface water for a hundred miles in any direction; just boats, well-maintained but so oddly far from any shore.

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2015-06-23 19:46:32 (12 comments, 36 reshares, 250 +1s)Open 

This region of forest in Basque country has been harvested for charcoal for many years, not by clearcutting, but by systematic pruning. This has caused the trees to grow with very long, spidery branches, even as the forest itself remains intact – and the resulting setting is haunting. Oskar Zapirain's photos are well worth the look.

This region of forest in Basque country has been harvested for charcoal for many years, not by clearcutting, but by systematic pruning. This has caused the trees to grow with very long, spidery branches, even as the forest itself remains intact – and the resulting setting is haunting. Oskar Zapirain's photos are well worth the look.___

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2015-06-22 22:08:49 (129 comments, 16 reshares, 173 +1s)Open 

This is a short article that explains an important point: Putin has made himself so central to the functioning of Russia that it's hard to guess what would happen without him. This is a good strategy if you want to keep yourself in power, and a bad strategy if you care a lot about what happens once you're no longer in power, but good or bad, it's very definitely Putin's strategy. And these photos of him riding horses, wrestling bears, etc., serve a critical role in that.

Of course, they do more than that. One important idea in Russian politics (something I learned from Mark Steinberg's excellent lecture series) is the two ideals of the Czar: the "grozny" (terrifying) Czar, strong and powerful, and the "tishayshi" (meek) Czar, gentle and loving. These two archetypes are powerfully rooted in Russian society, and different czars have balanced them in different... more »

This is a short article that explains an important point: Putin has made himself so central to the functioning of Russia that it's hard to guess what would happen without him. This is a good strategy if you want to keep yourself in power, and a bad strategy if you care a lot about what happens once you're no longer in power, but good or bad, it's very definitely Putin's strategy. And these photos of him riding horses, wrestling bears, etc., serve a critical role in that.

Of course, they do more than that. One important idea in Russian politics (something I learned from Mark Steinberg's excellent lecture series) is the two ideals of the Czar: the "grozny" (terrifying) Czar, strong and powerful, and the "tishayshi" (meek) Czar, gentle and loving. These two archetypes are powerfully rooted in Russian society, and different czars have balanced them in different ways. (And no less so after they stopped calling themselves "czar") Gorbachev, for example, exemplified many of the "tishayshi" ideals, something powerfully needed at a time when the complete lack of care of the regime for its citizens had become painfully apparent. Putin, on the other hand, is attempting to peg the Grozny-Meter. Displays of his personal prowess very much fit into this: the Czar is strong, Russia is strong, Russia will be strong.

So when you see pictures of Putin wrestling Angela Merkel, or engaging in similar acts of machismo, understand that these aren't simply strange: they're a critical part of political theater, establishing the character of Putin -- and public trust in the institution of his rule -- just as much as speeches full of code words reaffirming political loyalties are part of American and European political theater.

h/t +Gregor J. Rothfuss ___

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2015-06-22 21:51:44 (46 comments, 33 reshares, 907 +1s)Open 

Things to add to your pre-flight checklist: Check for and remove any unexpected cats in the airframe.

This today. Only this.___Things to add to your pre-flight checklist: Check for and remove any unexpected cats in the airframe.

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2015-06-22 20:37:16 (11 comments, 17 reshares, 154 +1s)Open 

Moons over Saturn: this is what we see from Earth, on a lucky night when three moons were close to one another. They are illuminated by reflected light from Saturn. 

Standing on the surface one of these moons, or on Saturn itself (if it had a surface) would be quite a bit more dramatic, with the rings arcing up through the sky as well.

h/t +rone.

A single crescent moon is a familiar sight in Earth's sky, but with Saturn's many moons, you can see three or more. Shown here are Saturn's moons Titan, Mimas and Rhea. Details: http://go.nasa.gov/1GiJZrG

#NASABeyond___Moons over Saturn: this is what we see from Earth, on a lucky night when three moons were close to one another. They are illuminated by reflected light from Saturn. 

Standing on the surface one of these moons, or on Saturn itself (if it had a surface) would be quite a bit more dramatic, with the rings arcing up through the sky as well.

h/t +rone.

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2015-06-22 19:24:05 (27 comments, 23 reshares, 97 +1s)Open 

Sometimes, reality seems to have come straight out of the movies -- the "Fiasco" genre of movies, to be specific. This is the most amazing attempted heist: hyper-complex bombs, helicopters, holdups, and casinos. And it went wrong in all the ways you would expect a complex plan to fail.

h/t +Chris Colohan 

Wow, I've been inside Harveys multiple times and never knew this fascinating bit of history: an extortion plot with a complicated bomb in 1980.

http://www.damninteresting.com/the-zero-armed-bandit/

h/t to +Daniel Erat.___Sometimes, reality seems to have come straight out of the movies -- the "Fiasco" genre of movies, to be specific. This is the most amazing attempted heist: hyper-complex bombs, helicopters, holdups, and casinos. And it went wrong in all the ways you would expect a complex plan to fail.

h/t +Chris Colohan 

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2015-06-22 03:42:43 (9 comments, 21 reshares, 91 +1s)Open 

This is a fun category of logic puzzles. In a normal game of Boggle, dice with letters on them are randomly laid out in a grid, and you have to find as many words as possible in the resulting layout; words are formed by connecting letters horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and no word can re-use any letter. A Boggle logic puzzle is that in reverse: Given a list of words, can you figure out what the board was?

To be a proper such puzzle, you have to be given enough words for there to be a unique solution (up to rotation and mirroring the board). I just tried out the "simple" puzzle +Richard Green gives below (with the words ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, and OLD) and figured it out in a few minutes -- I suspect that there are some techniques you could work out to get fairly good at them.

I'm rather surprised that these aren't more popular; they're quite fun. 

The mathematics of Boggle logic puzzles

This picture shows a logic puzzle based on the popular word game Boggle. The object of the game is to place the fourteen letters shown at the bottom into the grid in such a way that the grid spells out each of the ten words in the list on the right. The words must be constructed from the letters of sequentially adjacent squares, where adjacent refers to squares that are horizontal, vertical or diagonal neighbours, and where squares may not be reused.

It turns out that Boggle logic puzzles have mathematically interesting aspects; for example, they are related to the subgraph isomorphism problem, which is an example of an NP-complete problem. The recent paper 10 Questions about Boggle Logic Puzzles by Jonathan Needleman (http://arxiv.org/abs/1506.04173) gives a survey of what is known and proposes a number (ten!) of related problems.

The paper starts with what seems like an easy challenge: construct a filling of a 3 by 3 Boggle grid that contains each of the words ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END and OLD. It is clear that the nine letters in the grid must be ACDELNOPT, but the puzzle is a lot harder than I thought it would be, and this is partly because there are only six words in the list.

If B is a Boggle grid that has been filled in with letters, Needleman defines the set W(B) to be the set of all words in the board B that are at least two letters long. Here, the term words refers to strings of letters that may or may not be valid English words. The paper also makes the simplifying assumption that each letter appearing in the grid should appear only once, like in the grid in the picture, although the paper also discusses how this second assumption may be removed.

Two boards B and B' are said to be equivalent if they produce the same list of words. It can be shown that if two boards are equivalent, it must be the case that they differ from each other only by mirror reflection or by rotation by a multiple of a right angle. [Precise statement for mathematicians: the group of automorphisms of the adjacency graph of the Boggle grid is dihedral of order 8.]

The formal definition of a Boggle logic puzzle is as a list of words P satisfying two conditions: (1) P is a subset of W(B) for some board B, and (2) if P is a subset of W(B') for some other board B', then B and B' are equivalent. For example, the assertion that “ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, OLD” is a Boggle logic puzzle for n=3 is the claim that (1) there exists a 3x3 Boggle board that spells out all of these six words and (2) up to symmetry, there is no other Boggle board with this property. The puzzle in the picture has two letters already filled in. As well as making the puzzle easier, this also provides enough information to break the symmetry of the solution and give a unique answer.

Two of the main themes studied in the paper are minimal solutions and maximal non-solutions of Boggle logic puzzles. Theorem 3.1 says something about the minimal solutions of a 3x3 grid. What it proves is that a puzzle consisting only of three-letter words, on a board with no repeated letters, must contain at least six words. Recall the “ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, OLD” puzzle from earlier, which contains six three-letter words and no repeated letters. The theorem then says that any list of only five three-letter words cannot possibly lead to a unique solution. One of the open questions in the paper concerns 3x3 grids with no repeated letters whose puzzles contain only two-letter words. It can be proved that one would need at least 11 two-letter words to achieve a unique solution, but it is not known if this bound is sharp, because the smallest known example of such a puzzle contains 12 two-letter words.

The maximal non-solutions arise from lists of words that lead to a puzzle that is as inefficiently long as possible. To see what this means, suppose that you have played a game of Boggle and produced a long list of words. Is it possible to reconstruct the board (up to symmetry) using only the words you have written down? How long does your list of words have to be before this is inevitable? Even on a 3x3 grid, the number turns out to be surprisingly large: one needs 137 distinct three-letter words (out of a possible total of 160) to guarantee that the puzzle can be reconstructed uniquely. For four-letter words, the number is 377 words (out of a possible total of 496).

Relevant links

The game Boggle was designed by Allan Turoff. It was originally manufactured by Parker Brothers, and is now manufactured by Hasbro. More information on the game is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boggle

Image source: http://www.aspenhouse21.com/gc/boggle_east.jpg

Details of the subgraph isomorphism problem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subgraph_isomorphism_problem

Boggle logic puzzles are reminiscent of the game Sudoku. In 2012, Gary McGuire, Bastian Tugemann and Gilles Civario proved that the smallest possible number of clues on a standard Sudoku board that can lead to a unique solution is 17. +Richard Elwes has included this result in a recent blog post about his personal top 10 mathematical achievements of the last 5ish years. You can find this post at http://goo.gl/Nl7IwX. (I've abbreviated the URL because it is rather long.)

#mathematics #scienceeveryday #spnetwork arXiv:1506.04173___This is a fun category of logic puzzles. In a normal game of Boggle, dice with letters on them are randomly laid out in a grid, and you have to find as many words as possible in the resulting layout; words are formed by connecting letters horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and no word can re-use any letter. A Boggle logic puzzle is that in reverse: Given a list of words, can you figure out what the board was?

To be a proper such puzzle, you have to be given enough words for there to be a unique solution (up to rotation and mirroring the board). I just tried out the "simple" puzzle +Richard Green gives below (with the words ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, and OLD) and figured it out in a few minutes -- I suspect that there are some techniques you could work out to get fairly good at them.

I'm rather surprised that these aren't more popular; they're quite fun. 

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2015-06-21 02:31:46 (129 comments, 56 reshares, 318 +1s)Open 

The sound you hear is of every person who has ever worked in anything remotely tied to security hitting their head on their desk in unison.

Defense in depth, encryption, access controls, and so on work a lot better if you don't then give root access to every random contractor who works on the system. Including the ones operating out of the goddamned PRC.

/facepalm

Oh, for fuck's sake.  I can't tell if the problem is clue deficiency syndrome or  just rampant long-term mental constipation (aka failing to give a shit for a long time).

I can't see how the meeting where the decision was made didn't erupt in tons of "You want to do WHAT?? That's nuts!".___The sound you hear is of every person who has ever worked in anything remotely tied to security hitting their head on their desk in unison.

Defense in depth, encryption, access controls, and so on work a lot better if you don't then give root access to every random contractor who works on the system. Including the ones operating out of the goddamned PRC.

/facepalm

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2015-06-20 05:06:56 (26 comments, 56 reshares, 138 +1s)Open 

This video goes out to all those working in science.

First of all, if you aren't familiar with +acapellascience, Tim Blais is one of the best things on the Internet: he makes songs about science, but pretty serious science. (I can't even explain Bohemian Gravity properly without explaining half of string theory) 

But this song is different, because it isn't about science -- it's about the process of doing science, and specifically, about the moral choices we have to make as scientists. 

One of the things you grow up with as a scientist is the moment your particular field first knew evil. The phrasing sounds a bit dramatic, but it's actually something people in each profession use and learn. Chemistry, for example, was one of the first to know this, with the invention of dynamite. It revolutionized mining and construction – and also warfare. Itsinv... more »

This video goes out to all those working in science.

First of all, if you aren't familiar with +acapellascience, Tim Blais is one of the best things on the Internet: he makes songs about science, but pretty serious science. (I can't even explain Bohemian Gravity properly without explaining half of string theory) 

But this song is different, because it isn't about science -- it's about the process of doing science, and specifically, about the moral choices we have to make as scientists. 

One of the things you grow up with as a scientist is the moment your particular field first knew evil. The phrasing sounds a bit dramatic, but it's actually something people in each profession use and learn. Chemistry, for example, was one of the first to know this, with the invention of dynamite. It revolutionized mining and construction – and also warfare. Its inventor's guilt over the consequences of his work were such that he gave his fortune at death to the furtherance of the peaceful uses of science; the Nobel Prize is funded by his estate.

Chemistry encountered it a second time during World War I, with the invention of modern chemical weapons. Fritz Haber was one of the great chemists of the early twentieth century; his process for making ammonia is the reason we have synthetic fertilizers today. The number of lives that it's saved from starvation is hard to guess. But during the war, he turned his talents to darker and darker purposes, not only developing the science but personally supervising its weaponization and deployment. The story of his descent, his wife's suicide, and his ultimate exile and death is the stuff that tragedy is made of.

Physics had its contact with death a few years later. It's no exaggeration to say that every physicist alive today works in the shadow of the Manhattan Project; not only did it shape the way that large-scale physics is done (the idea of the "large-scale lab," for example, came out of that), but from the day of Trinity on, no physicist could ever work without being aware that their work has the ability to be turned to dark ends.

Biology is starting to have its contact with darkness; the bio-weapons of the Cold War frightened everyone profoundly, but they were never used (thank all the gods), and so the scars from those don't run as deep. But the scars left behind by eugenics (which was part of medicine's contact with evil; but medicine has seen much more of it than anyone, perhaps) have started to resurface today, and you can't talk about genetics without realizing in your bones the uses to which it could be put if misused.

Does this mean that science is wrong? No, of course not. These sciences have saved and improved lives in so many ways that it's hard to count: chemistry and biology have given us food security, physics energy, computation, and flight, chemistry materials, biology medicine, and the list could continue forever.

But scientists live their lives in awareness of the ways in which their work could be misused. And in this song, Blais takes that on directly: 

You gotta choose, yourself how to use it
The knowledge you hold and
Don't ever let a letter go
You only get one shot to stop
And one chance to know
Responsibility comes once you're a science guy, yo!

So this song is for all my friends in science, and in all the other fields whose works can save the world or destroy it. Think every day about the ethics and the morals of the choices you make: will the things you do be misused? Can you use your science to make the world a better place?

And know when you're making those calls, that you're not alone, and you've got a rapping string theorist to sing along with you. Because the Internet.


Extra references:
Bohemian Gravity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rjbtsX7twc
Fritz Haber's life: https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Fritz_Haber
If you want to know about the Manhattan Project, or in general if you care about history, science, or good writing, do yourself a favor and read The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes: https://books.google.com/books/about/Making_of_the_Atomic_Bomb.html?id=aSgFMMNQ6G4C . It's one of the most engrossing history books you'll ever read.___

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2015-06-20 02:19:03 (18 comments, 18 reshares, 223 +1s)Open 

Something fascinating: this blue panther chameleon was having trouble hatching out of its egg. (For reasons unknown; the wrong intensity of sunlight is suspected) A human helped it out by snipping the egg away with scissors. Upon being cut out, it didn't realize immediately that it had hatched, and so we get this rather unusual photo of a chameleon still wrapped up as though it's in its egg. Soon afterwards, the chameleon figured it out, and is now happily eating insects.

___Something fascinating: this blue panther chameleon was having trouble hatching out of its egg. (For reasons unknown; the wrong intensity of sunlight is suspected) A human helped it out by snipping the egg away with scissors. Upon being cut out, it didn't realize immediately that it had hatched, and so we get this rather unusual photo of a chameleon still wrapped up as though it's in its egg. Soon afterwards, the chameleon figured it out, and is now happily eating insects.

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2015-06-19 22:12:44 (89 comments, 53 reshares, 305 +1s)Open 

I think that some profoundly stupid ideas need to be cleared up, here. ABC interviewed Joey Meek, roommate of Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof. Meek gives us this line:

“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person. He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock.”

Meek also said "He wanted segregation... he wanted something big, like Trayvon Martin. He wanted something to spark up the race war again... He said that he thought that blacks, the blacks in general as a race, was bringing down the white race.”

Just as a hint for the wise: Being a racist doesn't mean "saying the n-word," making racial slurs, or targeting a specific person. There seems to be something in the water lately that makes it possible for people to get up and explain how they aren't racist -- apparently becausethey n... more »

I think that some profoundly stupid ideas need to be cleared up, here. ABC interviewed Joey Meek, roommate of Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof. Meek gives us this line:

“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person. He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock.”

Meek also said "He wanted segregation... he wanted something big, like Trayvon Martin. He wanted something to spark up the race war again... He said that he thought that blacks, the blacks in general as a race, was bringing down the white race.”

Just as a hint for the wise: Being a racist doesn't mean "saying the n-word," making racial slurs, or targeting a specific person. There seems to be something in the water lately that makes it possible for people to get up and explain how they aren't racist -- apparently because they never use that one word -- even while they're in favor of segregation, or think that the two races just ought to keep away from each other, or wouldn't want someone like that in their community.

But it's also not a particularly hard guess, even from these few moments of listening to Meek, that he didn't see anything particularly wrong with what his roommate was saying. Most people generally don't refer to "the race war" in casual conversation; it's not a phrase that exactly trips off the tongue if you aren't using it pretty often.

Meek also says that Roof wasn't a member of any hate groups. (Something which I'll believe after seeing a police investigation) But he (and per the report, other of Roof's friends as well) also says that Roof had been planning the attack for over six months -- a fact which he didn't bother to mention to anyone until now.

If you're planning a terrorist attack with the knowledge of your friends for six months, and they have a pretty good idea of what you're up to and why, you know what we call that sort of thing?

Well, apart from an ad hoc terrorist organization, someone may want to explain the idea of "accessory before the fact" (SC code of laws, 16-1-40) to Meek and his buddies. Hopefully the FBI will act on that fairly strongly: for all that this is an ad hoc and kind of bumbling-sounding group, it's also a group of like-minded individuals that have carried out at least one multi-fatality terrorist attack. The odds are good that they know more, and about more, and the offer of getting a mere multi-year vacation at federal expense (as opposed to what they're potentially up against under SC's accomplice statute, which would be the chair) may be a good way to get that information out of them -- and get them off the streets for good.

(Incidentally, for those who listen to the video and ask themselves how seriously one could really take a terrorist organization whose members are obviously idiots: seriously enough for them to murder nine people. Contrary to what you may expect, most terrorist organizations actually are run by idiots, just like most crimes are actually committed by idiots. It turns out that people with brains and something useful to do with their lives rarely spend their time trying to murder people as a political statement. The brilliant, cunning master terrorist, or the murderer who sets up an incredibly sophisticated chain of clues, makes for great television but isn't actually the usual case.)___

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2015-06-19 21:46:38 (129 comments, 54 reshares, 401 +1s)Open 

We're taking some important steps today to stamp out the problem of revenge porn. My kudos to the entire team who's been working on this!

We're taking some important steps today to stamp out the problem of revenge porn. My kudos to the entire team who's been working on this!___

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2015-06-19 04:43:56 (34 comments, 13 reshares, 133 +1s)Open 

Things I didn't know: The posters were used to see if theaters would be interested in screening the movies.

Many of the more famous titles of the era–such as Invasion of the Saucer-Men and Terror from the Year 5000–were only titles when the posters were designed. Those titles were then given to graphic artists, who would make up the most sensational illustrations they could imagine. Their poster layouts were sent to theater owners. If enough owners booked the film, the movie got made. In the words of master sci-fi poster artist Albert Kallis, “advertising always came first.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2015/06/16/edward-sommers-amazing-colossal-collection-of-vintage-sci-fi-movie-posters-goes-up-for-auction/___Things I didn't know: The posters were used to see if theaters would be interested in screening the movies.

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2015-06-18 21:04:17 (313 comments, 223 reshares, 592 +1s)Open 

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions... more »

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions are asking completely different ones: Why are Muslims so violent? What is it in Islam that makes them so prone to hating America, hating Christianity, hating Freedom?

I think that there are two, very important, things going on here. The more basic one is that, when terrorists are from a group you've never met, it's far easier to ascribe their behavior to the whole group; if it's from a group you know, and you know that the average member of that group isn't malicious or bloodthirsty, then people start asking individual questions. 

But the more important one is that the group that this terrorist belonged to was not merely familiar: it's the same group to which most of the people asking the questions belong. Not merely the same broad group -- "Muslims" and "Christians" are groups of over a billion people each, groups far too broad to have any deep commonalities -- but a far narrower group, a group with a common culture. And there's a reason that people don't want to ask "What is it about this group that caused it:" because in this case, there's a real answer.

The picture you see below is of the Confederate flag which the state of South Carolina flies on the grounds of its state house, and has ever since 1962. (That's 1962, not 1862: it was put there in response to the Civil Rights movement, not to the Civil War) Today, all of the state flags in that state are at half mast; only the Confederate flag is flying at full mast.

The state government itself is making explicit its opinion on the matter: while there may be formal mourning for the dead, this is a day when the flag of white supremacy can fly high. When even the government, in its formal and official behavior, condones this, can we really be surprised that terrorists are encouraged? (Terrorists, plural, as this is far from an isolated incident; even setting aside the official and quasi-official acts of governments, the history of terror attacks and even pogroms in this country is utterly terrifying)

Chauncey DeVega asked some excellent questions in his article at Salon (http://goo.gl/3AZWy7); among them,

1. What is radicalizing white men to commit such acts of domestic terrorism and mass shootings? Are Fox News and the right-wing media encouraging violence?

6. When will white leadership step up and stop white right-wing domestic terrorism?

7. Is White American culture pathological? Why is White America so violent?

8. Are there appropriate role models for white men and boys? Could better role models and mentoring help to prevent white men and boys from committing mass shootings and being seduced by right-wing domestic terrorism?

The callout of Fox News in particular is not accidental: they host more hate-filled preachers and advocates of violence, both circuitous and explicit, than Al Jazeera. 

There is a culture which has advocated, permitted, protected, and enshrined terrorists in this country since its founding. Its members and advocates are not apologetic in their actions; they only complain that they might be "called racist," when clearly they aren't, calling someone racist is just a way to shut down their perfectly reasonable conversation and insult them, don't you know?

No: This is bullshit, plain and simple. It is a culture which believes that black and white Americans are not part of the same polity, that they must be kept apart, and that the blacks must be and remain subservient. That robbing or murdering them is permissible, that quiet manipulations of the law to make sure that "the wrong people" don't show up in "our neighborhoods," or take "our money," or otherwise overstep their bounds, are not merely permissible, but the things that we do in order to keep society going. That black faces and bodies are inherently threatening, and so both police and private citizens have good reason to be scared when they see them, so that killing them -- whether they're young men who weren't docile enough at a traffic stop or young children playing in the park -- is at most a tragic, but understandable, mistake.

I have seen this kind of politics before. I watch a terrorist attack on a black church in Charleston, and it gives me the same fear that I get when I see a terrorist attack against a synagogue: the people who come after one group will come after you next.

This rift -- this seeing our country as being built of two distinct polities, with the success of one having nothing to do with the success of the other or of the whole -- is the poison which has been eating at the core of American society for centuries. It is the origin of our most bizarre laws, from weapons laws to drug policies to housing policy, and to all of the things which upon rational examination appear simply perverse. How many of the laws which seem to make no sense make perfect sense if you look at them on the assumption that their real purpose is to enforce racial boundaries? I do not believe that people are stupid: I do not believe that lawmakers pass laws that go against their stated purpose because they can't figure that out. I believe that they pass laws, and that people encourage and demand laws, because consciously or subconsciously, they know what kind of world they will create.

We tend to reserve the word "white supremacy" for only the most extreme organizations, the ones who are far enough out there that even the fiercest "mainstream" advocates of racism can claim no ties to them. But that, ultimately, is bullshit as well. This is what it is, this is the culture which creates, and encourages, and coddles terrorists. And until we have excised this from our country, it will poison us every day.

First and foremost, what we need to do is discuss it. If there's one thing I've seen, it's that discussing race in my posts is the most inflammatory thing I could possibly do: people become upset when I mention it, say I'm "making things about race" or trying to falsely imply that they're racists or something like that. 

When there's something you're afraid to discuss, when there's something that upsets you when it merely comes onto the table: That's the thing you need to talk about. That's the thing that has to come out there, in the open.

We've entered a weird phase in American history where overt statements of racism are forbidden, so instead people go to Byzantine lengths to pretend that that isn't what it is. But that just lets the worm gnaw deeper. Sunshine is what lets us move forward.

And the flag below? So long as people can claim with a straight face that this is "just about heritage," that it isn't somehow a blatant symbol of racism, we know that there is bullshit afloat in our midst.

The flag itself needs to come down; not with ceremony, it simply needs to be taken down, burned, and consigned to the garbage bin.___

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2015-06-18 05:01:01 (78 comments, 13 reshares, 103 +1s)Open 

For some reason, this is still running below the fold in most major news outlets, so I wanted to make sure to amplify it here. The attacker is still at large, and while there have not yet been any claims of responsibility released, initial indications are that this was a terrorist strike, which targeted a Christian church in Charleston.

Further reports are starting to confirm the list of the dead, including State Sen. Pinckney, who was also pastor of the church. An earlier report that the gunman had been caught does not appear to be correct: the person was determined not to have been the killer.

Update: It appears that the killer has been successfully captured. 

h/t to +blanche nonken for finding more in-depth coverage via the local news.

For some reason, this is still running below the fold in most major news outlets, so I wanted to make sure to amplify it here. The attacker is still at large, and while there have not yet been any claims of responsibility released, initial indications are that this was a terrorist strike, which targeted a Christian church in Charleston.

Further reports are starting to confirm the list of the dead, including State Sen. Pinckney, who was also pastor of the church. An earlier report that the gunman had been caught does not appear to be correct: the person was determined not to have been the killer.

Update: It appears that the killer has been successfully captured. 

h/t to +blanche nonken for finding more in-depth coverage via the local news.___

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2015-06-18 04:20:19 (41 comments, 51 reshares, 243 +1s)Open 

How Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Last week, +Andreas Schou shared a Clickhole exposé of life at Google. (https://plus.google.com/+AndreasSchou/posts/Lezbe9x4rY3) On the comments, I mentioned that one of the technologies Andreas had mentioned -- "The human Google doodle? The Hell of Eyes and Phantoms? The firework-launching self-driving car? The scientist with the head of a falcon? Our market-leading dog-hallucination technology? The same chicken sandwich, three times a week?" -- was real, and challenged the readers to guess which.

Today, I am glad to be able to publicly discuss our market-leading dog-hallucination technology. The images you see below are a product of digital apophenia, and may well mimic the way in which the human brain produces hallucinations. We start with an image, which we feed into our image-recognition software. But we turn its sensitivityu... more »

All of these images were computer generated!

For the last few weeks, Googlers have been obsessed with an internal visualization tool that Alexander Mordvintsev in our Zurich office created to help us visually understand some of the things happening inside our deep neural networks for computer vision.  The tool essentially starts with an image, runs the model forwards and backwards, and then makes adjustments to the starting image in weird and magnificent ways.  

In the same way that when you are staring at clouds, and you can convince yourself that some part of the cloud looks like a head, maybe with some ears, and then your mind starts to reinforce that opinion, by seeing even more parts that fit that story ("wow, now I even see arms and a leg!"), the optimization process works in a similar manner, reinforcing what it thinks it is seeing.  Since the model is very deep, we can tap into it at various levels and get all kinds of remarkable effects.

Alexander, +Christopher Olah, and Mike Tyka wrote up a very nice blog post describing how this works:

http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2015/06/inceptionism-going-deeper-into-neural.html

There's also a bigger album of more of these pictures linked from the blog post:

https://goo.gl/photos/fFcivHZ2CDhqCkZdA

I just picked a few of my favorites here.___How Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Last week, +Andreas Schou shared a Clickhole exposé of life at Google. (https://plus.google.com/+AndreasSchou/posts/Lezbe9x4rY3) On the comments, I mentioned that one of the technologies Andreas had mentioned -- "The human Google doodle? The Hell of Eyes and Phantoms? The firework-launching self-driving car? The scientist with the head of a falcon? Our market-leading dog-hallucination technology? The same chicken sandwich, three times a week?" -- was real, and challenged the readers to guess which.

Today, I am glad to be able to publicly discuss our market-leading dog-hallucination technology. The images you see below are a product of digital apophenia, and may well mimic the way in which the human brain produces hallucinations. We start with an image, which we feed into our image-recognition software. But we turn its sensitivity up to "high," so that anything that's even potentially an observed image gets marked.

The next step in image recognition works a lot like it does in the brain: the software simply repeats itself, but changing its perception of the image to highlight more clearly the things which it had spotted as "actual things" a moment ago. That clarification makes it easier to spot those actual things, and the identification process is repeated.

If you do this with normal perception thresholds, that's how you recognize objects in pictures.

If you do this with abnormal perception thresholds, very small things -- shapes in clouds, wisps of shadows, slight unevenness in the color of the sky -- get recognized as objects (often faces, as both our minds and our computers are designed to be especially good at identifying faces), and that causes our perception to highlight their "face-ishness."

And the result is what you see below: Technology to take any image, stare at it, and start to hallucinate dogs. And fish, and eyes, and buildings, and all sorts of things.

Google: Where neural networks trip balls.

If you want to understand more about the process -- and, for example, the different things that happen when we tie the highlighting process to very "high-level" neurons that detect things like animals, versus "low-level" ones that detect things like edges -- take a look at the attached blog post. It's a very readable introduction.

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2015-06-17 22:04:14 (16 comments, 16 reshares, 121 +1s)Open 

Today we talked about how our in-datacenter networks have been running for the past decade. The blog post here is brief, but if you missed the conference talk, we'll have a full paper coming out in August.

There is some very serious secret sauce in here.

Today at the Open Network Summit we showed how we've been running our datacenter networks for the past decade.  (For full details you'll have to wait for a paper we'll publish at SIGCOMM 2015 in August.)  

Great networking has long been a key ingredient in having a great cloud platform, and of course you get to use these same networks on +Google Cloud Platform. ___Today we talked about how our in-datacenter networks have been running for the past decade. The blog post here is brief, but if you missed the conference talk, we'll have a full paper coming out in August.

There is some very serious secret sauce in here.

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2015-06-17 03:06:06 (166 comments, 95 reshares, 335 +1s)Open 

Ever since seeing this article a few days ago, it's been bugging me. We know that self-driving cars will have to solve real-life "trolley problems:" those favorite hypotheticals of Philosophy 101 classes wherein you have to make a choice between saving, say, one person's life or five, or saving five people's lives by pushing another person off a bridge, or things like that. And ethicists (and even more so, the media) have spent a lot of time talking about how impossible it will be to ever trust computers with such decisions, and why, therefore, autonomous machines are frightening.

What bugs me about this is that we make these kinds of decisions all the time. There are plenty of concrete, real-world cases that actually happen: do you swerve into a tree rather than hit a pedestrian? (That's greatly increasing the risk to your life -- and your passengers' -- to save... more »

Ever since seeing this article a few days ago, it's been bugging me. We know that self-driving cars will have to solve real-life "trolley problems:" those favorite hypotheticals of Philosophy 101 classes wherein you have to make a choice between saving, say, one person's life or five, or saving five people's lives by pushing another person off a bridge, or things like that. And ethicists (and even more so, the media) have spent a lot of time talking about how impossible it will be to ever trust computers with such decisions, and why, therefore, autonomous machines are frightening.

What bugs me about this is that we make these kinds of decisions all the time. There are plenty of concrete, real-world cases that actually happen: do you swerve into a tree rather than hit a pedestrian? (That's greatly increasing the risk to your life -- and your passengers' -- to save another person)

I think that part of the reason that we're so nervous about computerizing these ethical decisions is not so much that they're hard, as that doing this would require us to be very explicit about how we want these decisions made -- and people tend to talk around that very explicit decision, because when they do, it tends to reveal that their actual preferences aren't the same as the ones they want their neighbors to think they have.

For example: I suspect that most people, if driving alone in a vehicle, will go to fairly significant lengths to avoid hitting a pedestrian, including putting themselves at risk by hitting a tree or running into a ditch. I suspect that if the pedestrian is pushing a stroller with a baby, they'll feel even more strongly this way. But as soon as you have passengers in the car, things change: what if it's your spouse? Your children? What if you don't particularly like your spouse?

Or we can phrase it in the way that the headline below does: "Will your self-driving car be programmed to kill you if it means saving more strangers?" This phrasing is deliberately chosen to trigger a revulsion, and if I phrase it instead the way I did above -- in terms of running into a tree to avoid a pedestrian -- your answer might be different. The phrasing in the headline, on the other hand, seems to tap into a fear of loss of autonomy, which I often hear around other parts of discussions of the future of cars. Here's a place where a decision which you normally make -- based on secret factors which only you, in your heart, know, and which nobody else will ever know for sure -- is instead going to be made by someone else, and not necessarily to your advantage. We all suspect that it would sometimes make that decision in a way that, if we were making it secret (and with the plausible deniability that comes from it being hard to operate a car during an emergency), we might make quite differently.

Oddly, if you think about how we would feel about such decisions being made by a human taxi driver, people's reactions seem different, even though there's the same loss of autonomy, and now instead of a rule you can understand, you're subject to the driver's secret decisions. 

I suspect that the truth is this:

Most people would go to more lengths than they expect to save a life that they in some way cared about.

Most people would go to more lengths than they are willing to admit to save their own life: their actual balance, in the clinch, between protecting themselves and protecting others isn't the one they say it is. And most people secretly suspect that this is true, which is why the notion of the car "being programmed to kill you" in order to save other people's lives -- taking away that last chance to change your mind -- is frightening.

Most people's calculus about the lives in question is actually fairly complex, and may vary from day to day. But people's immediate conscious thoughts -- who they're happy with, who they're mad at -- may not accurately reflect what they would end up doing.

And so what's frightening about this isn't that the decision would be made by a third party, but that even if we ourselves individually made the decision, setting the knobs and dials of our car's Ethics-O-Meter every morning, we would be forcing ourselves to explicitly state what we really wanted to happen, and commit ourselves, staking our own lives and those of others on it. The opportunity to have a private calculus of life and death would go away.

As a side note, for cars this is less actually relevant, because there are actually very few cases in which you would have to choose between hitting a pedestrian and crashing into a tree which didn't come from driver inattention or other unsafe driving behaviors leading to loss of vehicle control -- precisely the sorts of things which self-driving cars don't have. So these mortal cases would be vanishingly rarer than they are in our daily lives, which is precisely where the advantage of self-driving cars comes from.

For robotic weapons such as armed drones, of course, these questions happen all the time. But in that case, we have a simple ethical answer as well: if you program a drone to kill everyone matching a certain pattern in a certain area, and it does so, then the moral fault lies with the person who launched it; the device may be more complex (and trigger our subconscious identification of it as being a "sort-of animate entity," as our minds tend to do), but ultimately it's no more a moral or ethical decision agent than a spear that we've thrown at someone, once it's left our hand and is on its mortal flight.

With the cars, the choice of the programming of ethics is the point at which these decisions are made. This programming may be erroneous, or it may fail in circumstances beyond those which were originally foreseen (and what planning for life and death doesn't?), but ultimately, ethical programming is just like any other kind of programming: you tell it you want X, and it will deliver X for you. If X was not what you really wanted, that's because you were dishonest with the computer.

The real challenge is this: if we agree on a standard ethical programming for cars, we have to agree and deal with the fact that we don't all want the same thing. If we each program our own car's ethical bounds, then we each have that individual responsibility. And in either case, these cars give us the practical requirement to be completely explicit and precise about what we do, and don't, want to happen when faced with a real-life trolley problem.___

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2015-06-17 00:04:19 (21 comments, 4 reshares, 97 +1s)Open 

"So I take the flagon with the dragon with the pellet with the poison and the vessel with the pestle with the brew that is true. And I give the vessel to who?"
"No, you give the vessel with the pestle to What! And the flagon with the dragon goes to Who."
"I don't know."
"He's on third, we're not poisoning him."

Some days really feel like this. 

(Incidentally, for those who are confused by some of this, in the previous scene -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ9f2rnjB84 -- the titular jester's armor got magnetized. And there was much confusion, because really, jesters shouldn't be fighting in armor.)

"So I take the flagon with the dragon with the pellet with the poison and the vessel with the pestle with the brew that is true. And I give the vessel to who?"
"No, you give the vessel with the pestle to What! And the flagon with the dragon goes to Who."
"I don't know."
"He's on third, we're not poisoning him."

Some days really feel like this. 

(Incidentally, for those who are confused by some of this, in the previous scene -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ9f2rnjB84 -- the titular jester's armor got magnetized. And there was much confusion, because really, jesters shouldn't be fighting in armor.)___

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2015-06-16 21:06:12 (30 comments, 23 reshares, 182 +1s)Open 

I spend so much time posting about very serious political issues, that it's good to occasionally post a news story that isn't. This will neither solve any of the world's major problems, nor herald any major crises with which to deal. It's just a case of people being nice to each other for no particular reason, and it's good to occasionally encounter those.

I love this story!

A little boy lost his favorite friend, his stuffed buddy, at an airport. He was inconsolable. I remember feeling like that, as a child, afraid that my stuffed bear would be sad or lonely, or afraid...

Apparently, someone at the airport remembered that feeling, too. He brought the stuffed 'Hobbes' around, and photographed him at all of the 'cool' places at the airport: Behind the scenes, with a Firefighter standing next to a Firetruck, dressed in full regalia, at the Air Police Station, just everywhere a Hobbes would like to visit: Near Big Machines, and Vehicles, and with a variety of Airport Personnel.

Hobbes got his own special tour of the airport, and TLC, and the little boy got his very own photobook when he and his Mom picked up his best friend; and he didn't have to worry that Hobbes had been lost, afraid, or lonely.

I'm just tearing up.

~RA___I spend so much time posting about very serious political issues, that it's good to occasionally post a news story that isn't. This will neither solve any of the world's major problems, nor herald any major crises with which to deal. It's just a case of people being nice to each other for no particular reason, and it's good to occasionally encounter those.

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2015-06-16 17:13:18 (64 comments, 23 reshares, 237 +1s)Open 

Reading various countries' travel warnings about your own country is always amusing. Especially when they come from countries similar enough that you know you understand what they're thinking, and yet different enough for the differences to be rather visible.

When visiting the US, you should apparently be very careful and serious around cops, assume everyone around you is armed and dangerous, never make jokes about bombs, beware that medical care is expensive enough that it may be cheaper to fly back to your home country if you get sick, and avoid sunbathing in the nude.

Actually, that's depressingly accurate.

We don't all have guns, we just like for you to think we do.

...the U.K. Foreign Office’s main concern is that Americans just won’t appreciate the wacky humor for which the British are justly famed; British travelers in the United States, they warn, should refrain from making “flippant remarks about bombs or terrorism, especially when passing through US airports.”___Reading various countries' travel warnings about your own country is always amusing. Especially when they come from countries similar enough that you know you understand what they're thinking, and yet different enough for the differences to be rather visible.

When visiting the US, you should apparently be very careful and serious around cops, assume everyone around you is armed and dangerous, never make jokes about bombs, beware that medical care is expensive enough that it may be cheaper to fly back to your home country if you get sick, and avoid sunbathing in the nude.

Actually, that's depressingly accurate.

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2015-06-16 02:13:52 (109 comments, 154 reshares, 306 +1s)Open 

I occasionally will write a long article. This article is, I have to say, longer than even what I would write. But it explains a tremendous number of really important things extremely clearly: power production and use, the history of cars, how these things all fit together, and how Tesla is trying to change that. There's no way I could give you a useful short summary, because the point of this article is that, by the time you're done reading it, you'll understand all of the things well enough that you can join in very serious conversations about them.

So don't feel compelled to read this at one sitting -- but this is an article you may want to bookmark, and read bit by bit, because by the time you reach the end, you'll have learned a lot.

I occasionally will write a long article. This article is, I have to say, longer than even what I would write. But it explains a tremendous number of really important things extremely clearly: power production and use, the history of cars, how these things all fit together, and how Tesla is trying to change that. There's no way I could give you a useful short summary, because the point of this article is that, by the time you're done reading it, you'll understand all of the things well enough that you can join in very serious conversations about them.

So don't feel compelled to read this at one sitting -- but this is an article you may want to bookmark, and read bit by bit, because by the time you reach the end, you'll have learned a lot.___

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2015-06-15 20:37:54 (20 comments, 34 reshares, 240 +1s)Open 

Deborah Bay has been taking photographs of bullets fired into plexiglass -- not as forensics, but simply as art. The results are quite striking.

Illustrated here: A round from a 9mm Glock, as viewed from the side. It's curled up in a way that makes me imagine a very high-speed snail. The wall ahead of it illustrates physics: as it entered the plexiglass, it compressed the material ahead of it, breaking and reforming the bonds to form a denser, opaque, white layer. This sent a compression wave through the rest of the plexiglass, and after the peak of a wave comes a trough: an area of the glass which was rarefied instead of compressed, stretched out, tearing open tiny bubbles which then got frozen in the plastic as well. The net result: Space Snail.

You can (and should) check out the rest of her collection at http://www.deborahbay.com/bigbang .

Deborah Bay has been taking photographs of bullets fired into plexiglass -- not as forensics, but simply as art. The results are quite striking.

Illustrated here: A round from a 9mm Glock, as viewed from the side. It's curled up in a way that makes me imagine a very high-speed snail. The wall ahead of it illustrates physics: as it entered the plexiglass, it compressed the material ahead of it, breaking and reforming the bonds to form a denser, opaque, white layer. This sent a compression wave through the rest of the plexiglass, and after the peak of a wave comes a trough: an area of the glass which was rarefied instead of compressed, stretched out, tearing open tiny bubbles which then got frozen in the plastic as well. The net result: Space Snail.

You can (and should) check out the rest of her collection at http://www.deborahbay.com/bigbang .___

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2015-06-15 19:41:25 (37 comments, 10 reshares, 84 +1s)Open 

There's a saying among engineers that good infrastructure is, by definition, invisible. If you've had to think about your sewer system at all today, the chances are that you are not having a very good day.

The exception, of course, is among those who work on the infrastructure. And as sewer infrastructure is the aphorism example, it's only fair to give you the occasional bit of in-depth (erm. sorry.) reporting about just what infrastructure engineers do with your shit. 

The headline is a bit misleading: it really is the sewage that's falling apart, which is good, not the infrastructure, which would be bad. (Well, the infrastructure needs work as well, but infrastructure always needs work. "Design for maintenance" is one of the basic mantras of engineering, because if you don't do that, people skimp on maintenance, and then you get to deal with what... more »

There's a saying among engineers that good infrastructure is, by definition, invisible. If you've had to think about your sewer system at all today, the chances are that you are not having a very good day.

The exception, of course, is among those who work on the infrastructure. And as sewer infrastructure is the aphorism example, it's only fair to give you the occasional bit of in-depth (erm. sorry.) reporting about just what infrastructure engineers do with your shit. 

The headline is a bit misleading: it really is the sewage that's falling apart, which is good, not the infrastructure, which would be bad. (Well, the infrastructure needs work as well, but infrastructure always needs work. "Design for maintenance" is one of the basic mantras of engineering, because if you don't do that, people skimp on maintenance, and then you get to deal with what happens when systems unexpectedly and catastrophically fail. That is much, much, worse than maintenance -- whether you're dealing with a bridge, a nuclear reactor, or a wastewater treatment plant.)

Instead, this is a bit of insight into the world of this work -- not just how it's done, but the nonstop monitoring systems which are used to do everything from keep it healthy (most of wastewater treatment is done by maintaining a carefully-cultivated ecosystem of bacteria that eat most of the bad things and then sink to the bottom) to catching illegal dumpers. (Who could easily destroy the entire plant!)

Also, for those of you who live in the Bay Area, this article will tell you where the famous Milpitas Stench comes from.

h/t +Rugger Ducky.___

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2015-06-15 16:41:11 (7 comments, 65 reshares, 316 +1s)Open 

Volcanic eruptions in time-lapse. If you click through, there's a whole 4K video of this.

Take a moment to watch this awe-inspiring timelapse video of the the Calbuco volcano in Chile as it erupted last April. Unreal.

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/06/4k-timelapse-of-the-calbuco-volcano-eruption/___Volcanic eruptions in time-lapse. If you click through, there's a whole 4K video of this.

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2015-06-15 00:47:40 (59 comments, 55 reshares, 225 +1s)Open 

Eight hundred years after its signing, the Magna Carta is seen as part of the foundation of the idea of democratic rule, of the notion that there should be a law to which even the King is subject. Today, if anything, its relevance is greater than it ever was: the US Supreme Court was citing it in decisions only a few weeks ago. But an increasing group of scholars has been pointing out that the idea of its importance in defining the relationship between the law and the ruler is based on myth, not history: in 1215, the Magna Carta had nearly no effect on anything, and King John promptly ignored it. (And then promptly died of dysentery) The importance of the Magna Carta comes not from its importance at the time, but from the story which we have crafted around it in the centuries since.

This is not the most extreme such case: there's another historical document with an even stranger history. The... more »

Eight hundred years after its signing, the Magna Carta is seen as part of the foundation of the idea of democratic rule, of the notion that there should be a law to which even the King is subject. Today, if anything, its relevance is greater than it ever was: the US Supreme Court was citing it in decisions only a few weeks ago. But an increasing group of scholars has been pointing out that the idea of its importance in defining the relationship between the law and the ruler is based on myth, not history: in 1215, the Magna Carta had nearly no effect on anything, and King John promptly ignored it. (And then promptly died of dysentery) The importance of the Magna Carta comes not from its importance at the time, but from the story which we have crafted around it in the centuries since.

This is not the most extreme such case: there's another historical document with an even stranger history. The Pact of Umar was a formal agreement by the 7th-century Muslim Caliph Umar ibn Khattab and the Christians of the Syrian town of Bakt about their rights and responsibilities in the society.

To understand the significance of the Pact of Umar, you need to understand that during the life of the various Islamic empires, the "people of the Book" -- the Jews, the Christians, and the Zoroastrians -- had a specific legal status ("dhimmi"), under which they were required to pay additional taxes, wear specific clothing, and live under various legal restrictions, but were otherwise full citizens, and could live in their communities, practice their professions, and even become key members of government. This was at the heart of the great efflorescence of culture in the 9th through 12th centuries in particular, with places like Baghdad, Cairo, and Toledo becoming the world's great centers of learning and commerce. At the same time, Europe was only dragging itself out of the wreckage of the Dark Ages, and "citizenship" was defined purely by membership in the local church: there was no law against robbing and murdering anyone who wasn't part of the church or otherwise legally protected.

This contrast was really at the heart of one of the most significant differences between the worlds: in the Islamic world, everyone was subject to the rule of law, from the lowliest to the highest. (I did research, many years ago, into the legal status of prostitution in the Islamic world during this period, and it was an extremely eye-opening contrast with its analogue in the Christian world; both in legal manuals and in the much more practical police manuals, you can see that everyone, no matter their profession, is seen as part of the society and subject to the law, while across the Mediterranean you get rulings such as that a prostitute cannot be raped, as her body is a public commodity to which she has no claim of ownership.)

The Pact of Umar plays the same role in the law of dhimmi (in the law of the relationship of people of different faiths) that the Magna Carta plays in many modern documents of the rule of law, like the US Constitution. It was cited left and right, used as a template, used to define the natural scope of such relationships.

The most interesting thing about the Pact of Umar is that it didn't exist. The pact itself was utterly mythical; from what historians can tell, the legend of it came from cobbled-together memories of several treaties, legal documents, and ideas that had been floating around that region of the world during the seventh and eighth centuries. 

So despite the fact that the archetypal document which defined relationships between Jews, Christians, and Muslims for centuries never actually existed, it was nonetheless the template for hundreds of real documents, and its legend formed the basis for some of the most important legal structures of the Middle Ages.

As you may guess, this is not historically unique. There has been a long tradition of people "finding" ancient documents which substantiate a good idea -- from Moses de Leon's Zohar, the foundational work of the Kabbalah published in the 13th century (in Spain, the same world created by that great peace above) which he claimed to have been the work of great sages from a thousand years earlier (which just happened to be written in ungrammatical, 13th-century Aramaic; it's a miracle!) to the Bible itself. (See 2 Kings 22; going to excavate and repair a temple, the ancient scrolls of the Law just happened to be discovered, and people realized that they had not been doing Judaism according to the way that God had commanded it thousands of years earlier. It's a miracle! NB that 2 Kings was being written right around the time that the entire Bible was being edited together from the two major local sources; the history of the writing of the Bible is quite fascinating)

But it would be wrong to say that later invention of ancient texts is a bad thing. For one thing, across a wide range of human societies, age gives wisdom its acceptability: a brand-new idea would be rejected outright, but a rediscovered ancient one will be considered seriously. This "ancientization" is often the only way for a new and important idea -- such as the rule of law or democracy -- to be taken seriously. For another, some of these discoveries are purely accidental, simply putting a name on a tradition which has been growing. Nobody forged the Pact of Umar: it was simply that everyone acknowledged that this tradition had been growing up for some time, it was vaguely associated with Umar and with Bakt, and so the legend grew into a more specific form in retelling which helped it propagate.

In each of these cases, the value of the legend has been not in its direct veracity, but in the effects which it had on people. The Magna Carta and the Pact of Umar share this: quite independently of what they actually said or did, they both drove people to create great things in their own societies.___

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2015-06-14 23:02:14 (44 comments, 142 reshares, 739 +1s)Open 

What it looks like when a phonograph needle moves along an LP, from up close. 

via +Irreverent Monk.

Electron microscope video of phonograph needle in an LP groove. About 1/400 actual speed. Captured via Tektronix MDO3000 oscilloscope.

This video was made via the "stop motion" animation technique.  I moved the LP by 50 microns at a time, and captured a frame after each move. The setup inside the microscope was made possible by the fact that there are two separate stages with their own motion controls. I fixed the needle to one stage and the LP to the other so that I could get both parts into the frame at a good angle.___What it looks like when a phonograph needle moves along an LP, from up close. 

via +Irreverent Monk.

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2015-06-14 03:35:10 (36 comments, 41 reshares, 291 +1s)Open 

Using selective laser sintering to make really cool bathroom fixtures. The one shown below, for example, used computational fluid dynamics modeling to adjust the shapes of each of the 16 pipes to create the effect of water flowing through a rocky stream.

Why? Because it's cool. There is no other reason really necessary. 

h/t +Samuel Holmes.

Using selective laser sintering to make really cool bathroom fixtures. The one shown below, for example, used computational fluid dynamics modeling to adjust the shapes of each of the 16 pipes to create the effect of water flowing through a rocky stream.

Why? Because it's cool. There is no other reason really necessary. 

h/t +Samuel Holmes.___

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2015-06-14 02:00:50 (40 comments, 44 reshares, 188 +1s)Open 

A job that I never knew existed: "Metaphor Designer." Here's an essay by someone who does this for a living, about what the job is, how it's done, and why it's important. A good metaphor, as he points out, not only communicates an idea better, but opens up new ways of thinking about a problem. He gives the example of a consultant who was working with a paintbrush manufacturer in the 1960's, as they were trying to figure out why a new brush design wasn't applying paint smoothly. The key insight came in the form of a metaphor: "A paintbrush is a kind of pump!"

While this might seem a little facile, it's actually quite key to how many designs happen. For example, a few years ago I found myself tasked with designing a planet-scale data storage and serving system. A key step was visualizing each datacenter as a seaport, with shipping lanes connecting them in... more »

A job that I never knew existed: "Metaphor Designer." Here's an essay by someone who does this for a living, about what the job is, how it's done, and why it's important. A good metaphor, as he points out, not only communicates an idea better, but opens up new ways of thinking about a problem. He gives the example of a consultant who was working with a paintbrush manufacturer in the 1960's, as they were trying to figure out why a new brush design wasn't applying paint smoothly. The key insight came in the form of a metaphor: "A paintbrush is a kind of pump!"

While this might seem a little facile, it's actually quite key to how many designs happen. For example, a few years ago I found myself tasked with designing a planet-scale data storage and serving system. A key step was visualizing each datacenter as a seaport, with shipping lanes connecting them in a tree; each local data storage subsystem as a kind of warehouse; and giant armies of screaming customers around the world, each trying to send and receive data. By recasting the problem in terms of shipping logistics, it suddenly became clear how to organize and schedule data transfer (not trivial because storage capacities have grown 100 times faster than transfer capacities over the past few years), and that in turn led to several fundamental design approaches that made handling of data at hitherto-unconceived scales suddenly quite feasible. 

(If you send attachments on GMail or store photos on Google, incidentally, that system is what holds your data)

But hidden in the description above was a second conscious choice of phrasing: "planet-scale storage." I coined the phrase and started getting people at the company to use it when it became clear that our storage systems lived in tiers (disk-, machine-, datacenter-, planet-scale), but also because the term conjures very different emotional responses from, say, "global storage." The latter has an implication of being the largest scale possible; "planet-scale" carries the subtle implication that the next project may well involve the Solar System. Oddly, that change of phrasing changes the way people think about things: it makes them approach problems knowing that there will be something bigger that they will have to ultimately deal with, and that causes people to make systematically better engineering decisions.

Erard isn't an engineer, and in fact most of the people for whom he designs metaphors do something very different: social welfare organizations. These showcase other aspects of the power of metaphor: not simply framing the way we think about problems, but the way we place them into the wider context of the world. 

It also highlights subtle ways in which metaphors can be effective but trigger the wrong additional thoughts: for example, when working on a project to improve childhood resilience, they found a very powerful metaphor of children as orchids and dandelions. Some children are like orchids, thriving beautifully only under a narrow set of circumstances, while others are like dandelions, doing well nearly no matter what. What this ran into, though, was a cultural value that preferred the fragile and the rare (which in turn comes from the fact that the fragile can only be maintained in delicate circumstances, and so is restricted to the nobility): people saw the metaphor, understood it, and didn't see any value in making more dandelions.

This is why metaphor design requires careful testing. (I would have been a terrible test case for this; if you ask me if I'd rather make a dandelion or an orchid, my immediate answer would be that I'd far rather make something robust, and fragility is a pain in the ass, not a virtue, something you do only when there's no other choice. But then again, I'm an engineer)___

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2015-06-13 22:05:06 (63 comments, 25 reshares, 91 +1s)Open 

There's a very interesting essay here by +Venkatesh Rao about the things that we carry around, and how we relate to them: something I hadn't really thought about before. He makes some interesting distinctions:

- Between the things we carry occasionally (not so interesting) and the things we carry always, without which we feel incomplete or naked;
- Between the things we carry "mindlessly" or which we all carry (e.g., pants) and the things we carry with intent (e.g., a special pair of pants)

But he doesn't distinguish between physical objects we carry and logical ones -- in fact, he makes a rather good argument that "the apps we carry" tell us as much about ourselves as the physical objects. Instead, he uses all of these to talk about "ways of owning things" -- that is, the different ways in which we might relate to objects (both physical... more »

There's a very interesting essay here by +Venkatesh Rao about the things that we carry around, and how we relate to them: something I hadn't really thought about before. He makes some interesting distinctions:

- Between the things we carry occasionally (not so interesting) and the things we carry always, without which we feel incomplete or naked;
- Between the things we carry "mindlessly" or which we all carry (e.g., pants) and the things we carry with intent (e.g., a special pair of pants)

But he doesn't distinguish between physical objects we carry and logical ones -- in fact, he makes a rather good argument that "the apps we carry" tell us as much about ourselves as the physical objects. Instead, he uses all of these to talk about "ways of owning things" -- that is, the different ways in which we might relate to objects (both physical and virtual) that we take with us.


It makes me think about the things I carry myself, and what they tell me about myself.

I won't index most of them because my ways of relating to them -- wallet, keys, watch, wedding ring -- are very similar to the ways that other people relate to similar items. They're things "we" carry, even as they differ from one another. My eyeglasses are in a similar category, but as prostheses (we tend to forget that eyeglasses are prosthetic corneas, but they very much are) they're even more tightly bound to me.

My cell phone and my laptop are two things I carry unusually, in that I carry them in the same way as I do my wallet: my main concern is that they not get in the way of my daily life, that they be a transparent gateway into the things I use. This is unusual only by comparison to the people around me, since I live in an area where many (most?) people carry their cell phones with attention and passion, as social signifiers (iOS! Android!) as technical devices (this display has better color resolution!), as objects of obsession. (There's one person I know who I've seen carry six phones at a time. His own relationship with the objects he carries -- especially phones and watches -- is quite fascinating)

The physical objects I tend to carry with real obsession are: books and my bag. When I was a physicist, also: notebooks and pens.

For most of my life, you would never find me without a book. I couldn't relax without one, or possibly several, on hand: what if I had some time to read and I didn't have my book? Today, my cell phone acts as a partial bridge to that, and I always have things to read, so the absolute requirement for books doesn't apply as badly during the day; I only need it at night. (A few years ago, I was living out of hotels for a while. The one thing I always had with me was a stack of four or five books; whenever I would check in, the very first thing to do was to put a stack of them by the bed. That's when the place felt like somewhere I could sleep.) 

My obsession with the bags I carry evolved out of that: as a kid, I quickly realized that I was going to be carrying around a lot of books, so a backpack that could carry lots of weight comfortably became a critical tool in my day-to-day life. I owned them "like a geek," in Venkat's language, being very familiar with fabrics, attachment points, and so on. This persists to this day; only a few weeks ago, I switched to a new bag when my previous one gave up the ghost. At first, I tried a rather fancy bag, made out of leather by a serious English company and very elegant; I found wearing it stressful, constantly thinking about bumping it and its size and so on. So I switched to a much more rugged bag made from ripstop nylon and leather, and this is rather obviously much more me. The psychological impact was quite striking.

When I was a physicist, I carried notebooks and pens with even more obsession. Being a theorist meant that I could do physics wherever I was, and often did; most of my Ph.D. was done in a coffee shop. And with choice of notebooks and pens, I was absolutely obsessive over details: I needed a paper that was thick enough to let me write cleanly but flexible, not rigid; a pen that would glide and never smear, and fit seamlessly in my hand. These were my primary tools: when they weren't perfect, my speed of doing math would suddenly be limited by hand pain or writing speed, and if you've ever tried to write when you can't get the words out easily, you know how badly that goes.

(When they stopped making the Zeb-Roller 0.5mm black pen, I went to all the suppliers I could find and bought out their entire stock. It wasn't enough. I miss those pens.)

Today, I do most of my work electronically, and that manifests in the apps I carry. Some of these I carry with the urge that they be invisible tools: GMail, Calendar, Now, Hangouts, Docs, Sheets.

Docs, in particular, has largely supplanted notebooks for me whenever writing words. It both feels like a "better pen" -- my hand never cramps -- and it gives me a perpetual reassurance that my data is safe, that I can find things, that it won't get lost, that I can fetch it and show it to people anywhere. 

The net, and Google+ in particular, has replaced my need to carry books around with me during the day: it has so many of my friends on it, plus so many people who share so many interesting articles, that I ended up needing a second app (Pocket) just to keep track of all the things to read. Having a "book" always in my pocket is an amazingly good feeling. (Yet oddly, I can't really read books on a screen; anything longer than an article isn't comfortable. So serious nonfiction and all fiction happens in paper for me, and my house continues to be covered in bookshelves. One day, I may need a second house just to hold them.)

My desk at work, though, manifests a few tools which I never let go of, both virtual and physical. "Real work" -- code, data analysis, and so on -- happens entirely from a terminal (its parameters carefully set) and in vim. (IDE's with their own text editors feel to me like trying to write code with mittens on, or like building a house with a plastic toy hammer) My calculator is an HP50S, bought under protest when my 48SX completely died. (I still have trouble using it; muscle memory doesn't know how to find the "enter" key. But it's incomparably better to using anything else for fast calculation.) My 3D drafting and design tools are a drawing board with built-in parallel ruler, and a box of pencils, templates, and so on: for some reason, I never could use software for that. My keyboard is a das Keyboard Professional blue-switch, and I could discuss the relative merits and flaws of serious mechanical keyboards at somewhat nauseating length.

It's interesting that, when I list these, they seem to suggest a kind of uniform social signal; but these are never things which I've owned for that purpose. (I certainly do own some things like that; I choose my clothes carefully with an eye to the messages I want to convey each day. So I'm not saying that I own nothing for its signaling value, just that the "way I own" these is something quite different.) Instead, I own these items like tools, the way I did notebooks and pens: things I use so much that I'm hyperconscious of their minutest details, their positioning and the resistance of the key throw and the exact macros in my .vimrc file.

In fact, this makes me think about "the things I carry" in a categorization which may complement Venkat's:

- The things we use as tools of our trade: things which we not only carry, but which we use all the time, so that we develop a close relationship with them. (Are they rare items or very standard, easily replaceable ones? Do you carry a few versatile tools, or many highly specialized tools? Which tools are the ones that you pay so much attention to being "just right," versus the ones that you use because they're good enough?)

- The things we carry because they are emotionally important to us to have whenever we need them. (What are they? What lengths to we go to to carry them?)

- The things we carry "invisibly," things that are means rather than ends, for which we want most of all for them not to be apparent to us. 

- The things we carry to signal and communicate to others, for which the message they send is perhaps their most important feature.

Looking at myself: In the first category, I put my text editor, my calculator, my keyboard, my notebooks and pens, my bag. In the second category, my books, my wedding ring. In the third, my cell phone, my wallet, my shoes. In the fourth, my clothes. Some overlap many categories: my eyeglasses are critical tools, but they also change my facial appearance and (it seems) can make me seem less intense when I need to, so they signal a great deal. 

There's an interesting language here, of how the things we carry reflect ourselves.___

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2015-06-12 21:20:37 (147 comments, 47 reshares, 192 +1s)Open 

"A government workers' union announced Thursday that the personnel data of every single federal employee was stolen when hackers breached the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December."

And, as +Valdis Kletnieks​ added in his share, "To top it off, they likely walked off with all the SF-86's, which are the the background checks for about 90% of the security clearances."

I do not think I have the appropriate language for this scale of clusterfuck. The information in SF-86's is, shall we say, a great deal more sensitive than any ordinary collection of PII might be. If you want a sense of what they contain, here's where you can download a blank one: https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf86.pdf

Dear gods.

___"A government workers' union announced Thursday that the personnel data of every single federal employee was stolen when hackers breached the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December."

And, as +Valdis Kletnieks​ added in his share, "To top it off, they likely walked off with all the SF-86's, which are the the background checks for about 90% of the security clearances."

I do not think I have the appropriate language for this scale of clusterfuck. The information in SF-86's is, shall we say, a great deal more sensitive than any ordinary collection of PII might be. If you want a sense of what they contain, here's where you can download a blank one: https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf86.pdf

Dear gods.

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2015-06-12 20:10:01 (26 comments, 16 reshares, 86 +1s)Open 

Here's a reading of Labyrinth I never thought of. I rather like it. (Of course, I rather like this movie in its own right, for all its exceptional weirdness. Plus the Bog of Eternal Stench.)

h/t +Terry Poulin.

I really need to reshare these while I still recall who led me to them. :/

Anyway, this is a pretty solid theory on why Jareth is the way he is.

#Labyrinth___Here's a reading of Labyrinth I never thought of. I rather like it. (Of course, I rather like this movie in its own right, for all its exceptional weirdness. Plus the Bog of Eternal Stench.)

h/t +Terry Poulin.

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2015-06-12 19:59:14 (14 comments, 21 reshares, 168 +1s)Open 

There is no particularly good reason that I'm sharing this. I just find it inexplicably pleasing. Have a dog.

I saw your screen was a little dirty so I thought I might send someone to help.

You're welcome.___There is no particularly good reason that I'm sharing this. I just find it inexplicably pleasing. Have a dog.

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2015-06-12 02:16:34 (36 comments, 10 reshares, 100 +1s)Open 

There are only a handful of people in the world who could properly be termed "male sopranos," or true sopranists. Most of the (not many!) men who can sing in the soprano range at all do so using a falsetto, a vocal technique that uses only the edges of one's vocal cords; this lets people sing generally an octave higher than their natural range, but with far less depth and control than in their ordinary ("modal") voice.

Michael Maniaci is an exception: for reasons not fully understood, his larynx never developed fully, and so his voice never changed when he went through puberty. As a result, he has a true soprano voice -- but one that's fairly different from a female soprano, no doubt due to the different shape of the rest of his vocal cavity. (e.g., the breadth of his nasal cavity and of his chest) It has a darker tone to it, even as it reaches just as high.
... more »

There are only a handful of people in the world who could properly be termed "male sopranos," or true sopranists. Most of the (not many!) men who can sing in the soprano range at all do so using a falsetto, a vocal technique that uses only the edges of one's vocal cords; this lets people sing generally an octave higher than their natural range, but with far less depth and control than in their ordinary ("modal") voice.

Michael Maniaci is an exception: for reasons not fully understood, his larynx never developed fully, and so his voice never changed when he went through puberty. As a result, he has a true soprano voice -- but one that's fairly different from a female soprano, no doubt due to the different shape of the rest of his vocal cavity. (e.g., the breadth of his nasal cavity and of his chest) It has a darker tone to it, even as it reaches just as high.

There are a handful of other men who sing in this range as well, such as the Romanian Radu Marian, who (for endocrinological reasons) never went through puberty, and so has a slightly different intonation still. 

Here's Michael Maniaci singing Mozart's "Exultate, Jubilate!" For a comparison, you can listen to the great (female) mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli singing it: https://youtu.be/o_NTW_0P1_s?t=1m7s

(This is a slightly unfair comparison as Bartoli is one of the world's great opera singers, and while Maniaci is good, he's not in the same league. But what's interesting to compare here isn't who's better, but the rather fascinating tones that a sopranist has)___

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2015-06-11 23:39:03 (33 comments, 8 reshares, 124 +1s)Open 

I looked up the numbers in a bit more detail (US: http://goo.gl/Sjp9Pa ; World: http://goo.gl/RwoS8R) to get our current rankings. In billions of US$, the countries and US states with GDP's of over one trillion dollars are:

1. United States: $18,125
2. China: $11,212
3. Japan: $4,210
4. Germany: $3,413
5. United Kingdom: $2,853
6. France: $2,470
7. California: $2,312
8. India: $2,308
9. Brazil: $1,904
10. Italy: $1,843
11. Texas: $1,648
12. Canada: $1,615
13. Korea: $1,435
14. New York: $1,404
15. Australia: $1,252
16. Mexico: $1,232
17. Spain: $1,230
18. Russia: $1,176

(Of course, it's a bit of a cheat to add California, Texas, and New York into the US as well, but that's where they would be if they were counted as independent countries.)

Mostly, this just gives a rather insane... more »

I looked up the numbers in a bit more detail (US: http://goo.gl/Sjp9Pa ; World: http://goo.gl/RwoS8R) to get our current rankings. In billions of US$, the countries and US states with GDP's of over one trillion dollars are:

1. United States: $18,125
2. China: $11,212
3. Japan: $4,210
4. Germany: $3,413
5. United Kingdom: $2,853
6. France: $2,470
7. California: $2,312
8. India: $2,308
9. Brazil: $1,904
10. Italy: $1,843
11. Texas: $1,648
12. Canada: $1,615
13. Korea: $1,435
14. New York: $1,404
15. Australia: $1,252
16. Mexico: $1,232
17. Spain: $1,230
18. Russia: $1,176

(Of course, it's a bit of a cheat to add California, Texas, and New York into the US as well, but that's where they would be if they were counted as independent countries.)

Mostly, this just gives a rather insane sense of the scale of the economies involved. For comparison, even the biggest companies are much smaller -- Walmart, for example, had a gross income of $118B in 2014, and a net of $16B. (Gross income is probably the closest number to compare to GDP, but really it's hard to compare them at all; countries are people who are both producing and consuming goods and services, and they're really a fundamentally different kettle of fish than companies)

Another important set of numbers to compare is the purchasing price-adjusted GDP; that is, it's cheaper to buy goods in China than in the US, so the Chinese GDP priced in units of goods bought in China is even higher than the US' in units of goods bought in the US. That's an important number if you're thinking about GDP distribution among a population, and if that population mostly buys goods in local markets. (That includes imported goods, since those shift local purchasing prices just as much as locally-made ones; but it doesn't include if you're directly importing goods yourself) By that metric, California is only in 11th place (using the US-as-a-whole numbers for PPP; if we had separate ones for each state, it would probably be worse), and China is the world's leader. 

Here's that table, where now our "dollars" are "equivalent dollars," i.e. the number of dollars worth of stuff you'd be able to by in the US. (We use prices in the US as the arbitrary baseline for this number; state PPP's from https://goo.gl/KTrCIt)

1. China: $18,976
2. United States: $18,125
3. India: $7,997
4. Japan: $4,843
5. Germany: $3,815
6. Russia: $3,458
7. Brazil: $3,259
8. Indonesia: $2,840
9. United Kingdom: $2,641
10. France: $2,634
11. Mexico: $2,224
12. California: $2,047
13. Italy: $2,157
14. Korea: $1,854
15. Texas: $1,708
16. Saudi Arabia: $1,668
17. Canada: $1,640
18. Spain: $1,619
19. Turkey: $1,569
20. Iran: $1,354
21. New York: $1,259
22. Australia: $1,137
23. Taiwan: $1,125
24. Nigeria: $1,109
25. Thailand: $1,031

This is a pretty interesting list, because you can see that a lot of the developing economies are actually doing very strongly here. This number ("PPP GDP") measures something different than ordinary GDP; ordinary GDP affects, for example, the net throw weight of countries economically, since they can start buying or selling from other countries and their GDP reflects how many resources they have for that, while PPP GDP affects the daily lives of individuals within those countries. (Ordinary GDP, of course, affects people's lives as well, just more indirectly through the effects of global economic power on a country's daily fortunes) 

The growth rates among some of these countries can be phenomenal: PPP GDP grew 7.4% last year in China, 7.2% in India. (The actual leaders in percentage growth are Ethiopia and Turkmenistan, both at 10.3%, but they weren't very big to start with) The biggest loser was Libya, at -24%, and Syria, which hasn't even been clearly measurable in years. But what these extremes mostly tell us is "being at war is bad for your GDP, especially if the war is busily blowing up your entire infrastructure," hardly the greatest economic insight of the century. In fact, quite a few of the biggest percentage gainers are countries which recently got rid of major things like civil wars (e.g. Sri Lanka) or dictatorships (e.g. Myanmar). 

Raw percentage gains tell you about countries where standards of living are changing rapidly -- although you should read that carefully as well, since that doesn't tell you if all of the money is going to a handful of people, or if the population is growing, or if "real" measures of people's wealth (such as median per-capita PPP GDP) are increasing.

The PPP table will also tell you about why people spend a lot of time thinking about the rising new economies: Brazil, India, China, Indonesia, Russia, and Mexico. Each of them is a very different situation, but several of them represent large populations who are for the first time, or will soon be, experiencing wealth that you could meaningfully compare to the developed world.

(I would try to give you per-capita numbers, but for that I'd probably be stuck dividing by population to give you a mean, and mean GDP is a spectacularly uninformative number because it's so vulnerable to outliers. A statistician is someone who can sit with his feet in the oven and his head in the freezer, and tell you that on average, she feels fine. What we would really want is the median per-capita PPP GDP, which tells you what the average person experiences in terms of amount of goods they can buy.)


But above all of this, there is one critical result in the first table at the top: California is #7, and #6 is only a short way away. France, we're coming for you. And we have some pretty damned good wine, as well.

via  +John Poteet ___

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