The Longest Now


Cop dines with homeless mother of four, gets kudos. Her plight is ignored.
Thursday May 19th 2016, 2:48 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Not so popular,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized

Recent news blurbs across our fair state, applaud a state trooper for “sharing lunch with a homeless mother of four“.  (Headline language).

This was noticed and photographed by a passerby; the trooper then identified by the state police and posted to their online webpage praising him for his good deed; a CBS affiliate spent hours tracking down both the photographer and the woman for a video interview.  They got quotes from her about: being a ‘homeless panhandler’, his common decency, and her surprise.  She was described by her motherhood, her panhandling, and being down on her luck.

And that’s it!  Nothing thoughtful about why this young mother is homeless in Fall River, or what will become of her family.  No opportunities to reach out and fix a tragedy. She clearly needs more than one good meal and healthcare, but the outpouring of interest in the viral photo is entirely directed towards how and whether to applaud the police officer [who, quite decently, refused to be interviewed], how this reflects on police officers everywhere, how this perhaps restores faith in humanity.

(Update: It seems the trooper and one local news affiliate did find a way to help her temporarily with material support, a bit after that event. And a few cases like this that have famously included a crowdfunding campaign. But the most newsworthy issue is: how does this happen in our society, what can we do to fix that, and what permanent fixes could work for the family in the spotlight.)



Cambridge doggerel in celebration of her glorious sunsets
Friday October 18th 2013, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Aasw,Glory, glory, glory,indescribable,meta,Not so popular,poetic justice

140 characters, just like mom’s.

The sunset was pretty
in Cambridge. The ember
of Sun cast the city
in hues to remember.

When I tried to draw Rindge
and Latin, ’twas orange.



Ripeness being all: Snowden’s secret and the web’s New Nihilism
Monday July 22nd 2013, 11:25 am
Filed under: Aasw,Blogroll,fly-by-wire,Not so popular,null,Too weird for fiction

Heller via Yossarian:

He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled…
Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall.

Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage.
The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.



Wikipedian forced to delete article by the French police
Tuesday April 30th 2013, 11:06 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,Not so popular,wikipedia

In France, a Wikipedia admin was sought out by France’s homeland intelligence agency, the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur brought physically to their offices, and forced to delete an article about a military base (which they claimed contained classified information) if he did not wish to be held overnight.

This sort of bullying tactic is one up with which we should not put. The issue later became a minor cause célèbre in the French press for a short time.



Inviting readers to mercilessly edit Wikipedia
Friday December 21st 2012, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,Not so popular,popular demand,wikipedia

Wikipedia reader are being asked to edit as part of a banner campaign — for the first time since perhaps 2003.
This is being done as part of the Thank You message we send out at the end of a campaign – something we can do quite early this year thanks to a successful fundraiser.

I’ve been pushing for something like this for a couple of years – I think it’s the most important thing we can do to refresh our communities of editors and change the sense readers have of what is and isn’t welcome. I want to see us do this on every project, all throughout the year (eventually combined with the new visual editor, of course; which is truly beautiful).

What do you think?

Here’s what the draft message looks like; suggestions for better wording or other variations are welcome.

Dear Wikipedia Readers: Thank You! Overwhelming support from Wikipedia users let us end our annual fund drive early. Your donations pay for the tools, infrastructure and programs that empower thousands of editors. We would like to introduce you to some of the dedicated volunteers who you empower when you donate. It is our hope that after you read or hear a few of their stories, you’ll want to join them in sharing your knowledge with the world by editing Wikipedia.

You can edit Wikipedia!

  • Create articles. After signing up, you’ll be able to help Wikipedia grow by starting new encyclopedia articles.
  • Add photos and video. Register an account and you can upload your freely licensed images
  • and other media.
  • Become a part of the Wikipedia community. Logging in means all your contributions are attributed to your username, helping you connect with other Wikipedia contributors.

Get started



Three Copyright Myths and Where to Start to Fix it – a policy brief

A lovely short policy brief on designing a better copyright regime was published on Friday – before being quickly taken offline again.  I’ve reposted it here with light cleanup of its section headings.

If you care at all about copyright and its quirks, this is short and worth reading in full.



John Taylor Gatto’s Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher Manifesto: Read it!
Wednesday November 14th 2012, 10:24 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,Not so popular

The 7-lesson schoolteacher.

"I teach school -- and I win awards doing it.  These are the things I teach, these are the things you pay me to teach.  Make of them what you will:"

So begins one of the great essays on the modern school system.

Via Doc Searls.



FOOF and A. G. Streng : furiously fulminating fun
Friday November 02nd 2012, 10:50 am
Filed under: Not so popular,null

Hydrogen sulfide, for example, reacts with four molecules of FOOF to give sulfur hexafluoride, 2 molecules of HF and four oxygens… and [1.8 MJ/mol]

(H2S + 4FOOF –> SF6 + 2HF + 4O2 + 1.8MJ/mol)

That’s a pretty good energy release for 300g of reagents at 200K. As an aside, other than scouring for pubs and citations, who follows up on work like this? Is there a way to track ongoing research by compound?

Via the excellent Derek Lowe.



How To Fix Patents: Thoughts from Judge Posner this week on how, and why now.
Friday July 13th 2012, 4:31 pm
Filed under: metrics,Not so popular

Via ycombinator and grellas, HT to jacobolus.



Peter Sunde Pleas: ‘Pardon the Swedish people from court corruption’
Tuesday July 10th 2012, 12:40 am
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,international,Not so popular

Peter Sunde, public face of The Pirate Bay during its publicity and trial over the past six years, recently published a long personal essay about the experience.

It is a hair-raising story of judicial manipulation, international arm-twisting, and companies offering jobs to prosecutors in cases affecting them… breaking the design of the legal system in a few places. The result, for Sunde, has been a ridiculously punitive and overwhelming sentence and fine with, in his case, only circumstantial evidence. (he is asked to pay more in fines than he is likely to make in a lifetime.)

Thanks to Rick Falkvinge for translating the essay; and to Sunde for sharing it. Please read it.



Awkward deadpan rant: China reviews human rights within the US
Wednesday May 30th 2012, 7:00 am
Filed under: indescribable,international,Not so popular,null,Uncategorized

This document is difficult to read.  It is a Chinese government doc trying with awkward sincerity to review human rights in the US by our own standards, most of which the authors clearly find arbitrary.

It’s like a baby wikipedia article: full of random tidbits that happen to have been published somewhere online.  With a mix of real issues and rumors, minimal context, axe-grinding, and undue weight to whatever attracted media attention.  It lacks the measure and professionalism of the US report it is responding to (though it gets partial credit for making a handwave at its sources, which our reports should do much more of).

But it does point out one oversight in our list of country reports: we do not publish an internal report on developments within the US in the same format — though the relevant data is gathered by other parts of government. This made me wonder: what sorts of reports do we put out?  Could we remedy that?  I was also reminded that plans to set up an umbrella national human rights institution have come and gone… were any still under active consideration?

So I checked: the closest thing we have to such a report is the quadrennial self-assessment of human rights that we compile (as every UN member should) as part of the UNHRC’s  “universal periodic review” process.  What I found was enlightening and surprising, though not always encouraging.  It is worth its own review; stay tuned for a future recap.



Preserving Internet freedom: protesting SOPA and the Wikipedia blackout
Wednesday January 18th 2012, 12:02 am
Filed under: international,Not so popular,popular demand,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Thousands of web sites across the Internet are shutting down today to protest proposed U.S. laws (SOPA and PIPA) that would make it difficult for websites to host community-generated content on the Internet. Most notably, the English Wikipedia is implementing a 24-hour blackout, replacing articles with a notice describing the two bills and encouraging readers to take action to stop them.Please take a moment to learn more about the bills and why they would be harmful to the open Web, to open education, and to present and future collaborative projects.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving freedom on the Web have ways that you can make your voice heard in the national and international debate about these proposed laws.



Celebrity Deathmatch: John Pike v. John Hancock
Sunday November 20th 2011, 10:58 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,Not so popular,null



On appearance, body language, and xenophobia

The Occupy movement has a nice set of websites up for many of the major metropoles in the US. They even have a meta-website up (how can you not love that?) covernig the links between them, Occupy Together. Right now it is focused on the US, even though there’s already an Occupy Canada movement (ok, no surprise, since Adbusters was a driving force behind the original idea).

From the meta-site, I discovered that Noam Chomsky recorded a video supporting Occupy Boston, and found a link to some charming footage of an afternoon party in the Cipriani Club on Wall Street, where partygoers in black tie on a second-floor balcony smiled and waved at the march passing underneath their balcony. They seem cheerful, interested, and friendly to the passing crowd, waving and taking photographs – just like so many of the observers down on the street. But even if their body language is essentially the same, their setting and clothes set them apart in the eyes of many. Almost every comment on the video that I’ve seen, is scornful of the partygoers — assuming they represent the Other the crowd is implicitly targeting and opposing with their chants. Only one of hundreds of people pointed out that they are probably at a wedding or other formal celebration at the club, and many likely support the ideals of the marchers.

How can we bridge the gap created by surface appearances — communities with different dress codes, social circles, and ways of expressing themselves — to get at underlying agreement? The fundamental requests and needs of these protests are no only supported by the sorts of people who celebrate at black tie events, but also at some of the wealthy “1%” – Warren Buffett most notable among them. Yet certain kneejerk reactions and stereotypes are set up as barriers to cooperation even before people have a chance to meet. We have foun many solutions over the generations to the more omnipresent problem of bridging cultural divides across national and language barriers when immigration or war brings different societies together. How can we learn from that to bridge this gap in the debates over how to allocate a nation’s resources?



Studying patterns
Monday August 29th 2011, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,metrics,Not so popular,poetic justice

For the past few years, I have been tracking patterns and ways to measure them.  In some easily reproducible settings, like small-group social engagements, short-timeframe teamwork, and the like, patterns are much more useful than individual events at determining how things work out.  Especially when the desired outcome is patterned, and real-life outcomes usually are (“make sure everyone leaves happy”, “come up with a solution that addresses everyone’s personal use case well enough”), focusing on natural patterns rather than linear ones* provides for better rules of thumb, and a clearer understanding of why things happen.

Indeed, most common wisdom about why things happen – how causality works, what comes first and what comes next – is simply a version of the post hoc fallacy: if two things happen near eachother, one caused the other.  You can see this most eloquently in the history of many sciences.  We continue to make this class of mistakes most quantitatively in abuses of statistics today.  But the more prominent arena for this sort of thinking is in everyday life – the way we talk and write, the words we use to explain important events to ourselves.

If you look at almost any significant and complex world problem, you will find that both laymen and experts enjoy breaking things down into linear patterns, and choosing a small number to claim as the “key” factors in making or unmaking some change.  Climate change, economic collapses, political standoffs.

In my observation, it is rare for there to be much truth in ascribing impact to any small set of such factors.  Yet most people I know will, in at least some areas where we lack solid repeatable data, suggest otherwise.

After running some experiments in this area, I am keen on writing something more formal about this, including some language, metrics, and toy examples for working with patterns.  I have found a close attention to patterns to be of tremendous personal use, and expect it will come to be so in larger collaborations as well.  If you have run across relevant work in this area, or writings on pattern of any sort – human, biological, artistic, mathematical, or other – I should like to hear about it.

 

* Linear or “single factor” patterns are the simplest kind; and in many if not all cases one could describe all more complex patterns in terms of the interction of linear patterns.  However we can usually evaluate a set of natural, more complex patterns with reasonably low error.  Forcing a guess at their decomposition into linear ones and at what those linear factors are, and composing those guesses together, is often far more incomplete or uncertain.

 



Google to cancel its translate API, citing ‘extensive abuse’
Saturday May 28th 2011, 10:19 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,Not so popular,null,wikipedia

Google’s APIs Product Manager Adam Feldman announced on Thursday they will cancel the Google translate API by December, without replacing it, and that all use of it will be throttled until then.  Any reusers or libraries relying on the translate API to programmatically provide a better multilingual experience will have to switch over to another translation service.  (Some simple services will still be available to users, such as google.com/translate, but APIs will not be available to developers of other sites, libraries, or services.)

Update: As of June 3, Google says that in response to the outcry, they plan to make a paid version of the translate API available. No details yet on what that will look like.

Ouch.  This is a sudden shift, both from their strong earlier support for this API (I was personally encouraged to use it for applications by colleagues at Google), and from their standing policy of supporting deprecated services for up to 3 years.   What could have spooked them?  Why the rush? As of today, the Translate API page reads:

The Google Translate API has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011. Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, the number of requests you may make per day will be limited and the API will be shut off completely on December 1, 2011.

Most disappointing to me is the way this announcement was released: buried in a blog post full of minor “Spring Cleaning” updates to a dozen other APIs.  Most of the other deprecated APIs were replaced by reasonable equivalents or alternatives, and were being maintained indefinitely with limits on the rate of requests per user.  None of them is being cancelled within six months, and none of them are half as widely used!

I hope that this obfuscation was an unintentional oversight.  There have been 170 irate replies to that post so far, almost all about the Translate API cancellation.  But it has been three days already without any significant update from Feldman or any mention of the change on the Google Translate blog.  Google’s response to a ZDNet inquiry was that they have no further information to provide on why they made this decision.

(more…)



2011 Naked Emperor Oscars

From Zapiro‘s genius sketchbook.




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