So. We’re now in the Jewish month of Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashana. It’s a time to traditionally do a deep…

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You can experience my audiowalk+book “It Must Have Been Dark By Then” currently on at #elo2018 in Montreal and will be at…

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Text to Image Latest web-based project from Cristóbal Valenzuela is a simple online text to image generator using neural…

video link


Text to Image

Latest web-based project from Cristóbal Valenzuela is a simple online text to image generator using neural networks to render a visual from what you type in.

It is very simple but generates very abstract results (as you can see in the video above), and you may generate several variations from the same inputted text.

Try it out for yourself here

Trees Are Migrating West to Escape Climate Change



An individual tree has roots and, of course, it doesn’t move. But trees, as a species, do move over time. They migrate in response to environmental challenges, especially climate change. Surprisingly, they don’t all go to the Poles, where it is cooler. As it turns out, more of them head west, where it is getting wetter.

Sure, some species, such as evergreens, are heading to the Poles to escape the heat. But others, like certain oaks and maple, are going west in search of rain. For the most part, “tree migrations are moisture related,” said Songlin Fei, associate professor at Purdue’s University’s department of forestry and natural resources, who has studied this phenomenon in recent years. “Precipitation has a stronger near-term impact on species shift than temperature.”

Both trends are a consequence of climate change, which is producing more heat and heavier rainfall, fueling deforestation. This is worrisome, as forests soak up carbon from the atmosphere, and recent evidence suggests that soil is exhaling carbon dioxide faster than trees can take in. The migration of trees may help preserve individual species, but also threatens to destabilize forest ecosystems.

Fei analyzed the movement of 86 tree species from across the Eastern United States between 1980 and 2015 using using field data from obtained from the U.S. Forest Service. He found that 73 percent of tree species shifted to the west, while 62 percent moved poleward.

“The majority of the species move westward are broadleaf species that can better handle flood and drought, and have a large seed mass, which improves the seedling’s ability to survive,” he said. “One example of westward shift species is Scarlet Oak. Miss Scarlett ‘gone with the wind,’ but Scarlet Oak is ‘gone with the rain.’”

Trees Are Migrating West to Escape Climate Change

Everything you need to know about clouds


Varying levels of illumination and thickness of asperitas clouds can lead to dramatic visual effects. (Photo: WikiRigaou/Wikimedia Commons)


We stare at clouds all the time, whether trying to figure out what they look like or if they’re bringing rain. Yet most of us know very little about clouds, let alone how to identify them.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) keeps a cloud atlas that divides clouds into genera, species and varieties. Some clouds have multiple “varieties” and some have “accessory” clouds that appear with or merge with bigger clouds. Specific conditions can even create special clouds of their own.

In short, clouds are a rich tapestry in the sky that changes every day.

Cloud genera

These are the 10 most typical forms clouds take. The WMO notes that the definitions don’t encompass all possible cloud permutations, but they do outline the essential traits to differentiate one cloud genus from another, especially those having similar appearances.

Everything you need to know about clouds

“Putting aside my cynicism for the moment, I wondered: What if we take these companies at their word? What if it is truly…


“Putting aside my cynicism for the moment, I wondered: What if we take these companies at their word? What if it is truly impossible to get a handle on the entirety of a supply chain? The thing that still confused me is how reliable supply chains are, or seem to be. The world is unpredictable—you’ve got earthquakes, labor strikes, mudslides, every conceivable tragedy—and yet as a consumer I can pretty much count on getting what I want whenever I want it. How can it be possible to predict a package’s arrival down to the hour, yet know almost nothing about the conditions of its manufacture?”

See No Evil

Heatsick: the computer processor is coerced into attempting to match its own temperature to the temperature recorded at high…

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I don’t understand why we’re going ahead with Brexit so I’m going to peacefully sit in Parliament Square and say just that….

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Solar System 10 Things: Spitzer Space Telescope


Our Spitzer Space Telescope is celebrating 15 years since its launch on August 25, 2003. This remarkable spacecraft has made discoveries its designers never even imagined, including some of the seven Earth-size planets of TRAPPIST-1. Here are some key facts about Spitzer:

1. Spitzer is one of our Great Observatories.

Our Great Observatory Program aimed to explore the universe with four large space telescopes, each specialized in viewing the universe in different wavelengths of light. The other Great Observatories are our Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. By combining data from different kinds of telescopes, scientists can paint a fuller picture of our universe.

2. Spitzer operates in infrared light.

Infrared wavelengths of light, which primarily come from heat radiation, are too long to be seen with human eyes, but are important for exploring space — especially when it comes to getting information about something extremely far away. From turbulent clouds where stars are born to small asteroids close to Earth’s orbit, a wide range of phenomena can be studied in infrared light. Objects too faint or distant for optical telescopes to detect, hidden by dense clouds of space dust, can often be seen with Spitzer. In this way, Spitzer acts as an extension of human vision to explore the universe, near and far.

What’s more, Spitzer doesn’t have to contend with Earth’s atmosphere, daily temperature variations or day-night cycles, unlike ground-based telescopes. With a mirror less than 1 meter in diameter, Spitzer in space is more sensitive than even a 10-meter-diameter telescope on Earth.

3. Spitzer was the first spacecraft to fly in an Earth-trailing orbit.

Rather than circling Earth, as Hubble does, Spitzer orbits the Sun on almost the same path as Earth. But Spitzer moves slower than Earth, so the spacecraft drifts farther away from our planet each year.

This “Earth-trailing orbit” has many advantages. Being farther from Earth than a satellite, it receives less heat from our planet and enjoys a naturally cooler environment. Spitzer also benefits from a wider view of the sky by orbiting the Sun. While its field of view changes throughout the year, at any given time it can see about one-third of the sky. Our Kepler space telescope, famous for finding thousands of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – also settled in an Earth-trailing orbit six years after Spitzer.

4. Spitzer began in a “cold mission.”

Spitzer has far outlived its initial requirement of 2.5 years. The Spitzer team calls the first 5.5 years “the cold mission” because the spacecraft’s instruments were deliberately cooled down during that time. Liquid helium coolant kept Spitzer’s instruments just a few degrees above absolute zero (which is minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273 degrees Celsius) in this first part of the mission.

5. The “warm mission” was still pretty cold.

Spitzer entered what was called the “warm mission” when the 360 liters of liquid helium coolant that was chilling its instruments ran out in May 2009.

At the “warm” temperature of minus 405 Fahrenheit, two of Spitzer’s instruments – the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) and Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) – stopped working. But two of the four detector arrays in the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) persisted. These “channels” of the camera have driven Spitzer’s explorations since then.

6. Spitzer wasn’t designed to study exoplanets, but made huge strides in this area.

Exoplanet science was in its infancy in 2003 when Spitzer launched, so the mission’s first scientists and engineers had no idea it could observe planets beyond our solar system. But the telescope’s accurate star-targeting system and the ability to control unwanted changes in temperature have made it a useful tool for studying exoplanets. During the Spitzer mission, engineers have learned how to control the spacecraft’s pointing more precisely to find and characterize exoplanets, too.

Using what’s called the “transit method,” Spitzer can stare at a star and detect periodic dips in brightness that happen when a planet crosses a star’s face. In one of its most remarkable achievements, Spitzer discovered three of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and confirmed that the system has seven Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star. Spitzer data also helped scientists determine that all seven planets are rocky, and made these the best-understood exoplanets to date.

Spitzer can also use a technique called microlensing to find planets closer to the center of our galaxy. When a star passes in front of another star, the gravity of the first star can act as a lens, making the light from the more distant star appear brighter. Scientists are using microlensing to look for a blip in that brightening, which could mean that the foreground star has a planet orbiting it. Microlensing could not have been done early in the mission when Spitzer was closer to Earth, but now that the spacecraft is farther away, it has a better chance of measuring these events.

7. Spitzer is a window into the distant past.

The spacecraft has observed and helped discover some of the most distant objects in the universe, helping scientists understand where we came from. Originally, Spitzer’s camera designers had hoped the spacecraft would detect galaxies about 12 billion light-years away. In fact, Spitzer has surpassed that, and can see even farther back in time – almost to the beginning of the universe. In collaboration with Hubble, Spitzer helped characterize the galaxy GN-z11 about 13.4 billion light-years away, whose light has been traveling since 400 million years after the big bang. It is the farthest galaxy known.

8. Spitzer discovered Saturn’s largest ring.

Everyone knows Saturn has distinctive rings, but did you know its largest ring was only discovered in 2009, thanks to Spitzer? Because this outer ring doesn’t reflect much visible light, Earth-based telescopes would have a hard time seeing it. But Spitzer saw the infrared glow from the cool dust in the ring. It begins 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Saturn and extends about 7.4 million miles (12 million kilometers) beyond that.

9. The “Beyond Phase” pushes Spitzer to new limits.

In 2016, Spitzer entered its “Beyond phase,” with a name reflecting how the spacecraft operates beyond its original scope.

As Spitzer floats away from Earth, its increasing distance presents communication challenges. Engineers must point Spitzer’s antenna at higher angles toward the Sun in order to talk to our planet, which exposes the spacecraft to more heat. At the same time, the spacecraft’s solar panels receive less sunlight because they point away from the Sun, putting more stress on the battery.

The team decided to override some autonomous safety systems so Spitzer could continue to operate in this riskier mode. But so far, the Beyond phase is going smoothly.

10. Spitzer paves the way for future infrared telescopes.

Spitzer has identified areas of further study for our upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2021. Webb will also explore the universe in infrared light, picking up where Spitzer eventually will leave off. With its enhanced ability to probe planetary atmospheres, Webb may reveal striking new details about exoplanets that Spitzer found. Distant galaxies unveiled by Spitzer together with other telescopes will also be observed in further detail by Webb. The space telescope we are planning after that, WFIRST, will also investigate long-standing mysteries by looking at infrared light. Scientists planning studies with future infrared telescopes will naturally build upon the pioneering legacy of Spitzer.

Read the web version of this week’s “Solar System: 10 Things to Know” article HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: 

Y’all thought I was kidding when I started talking about sandwich ontology, but nope. The secret about philosophy is that it…

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CONSUMER ELECTRONICS: Hostility Blues/The Weight – 7" - HARBINGER SOUND: Brandnew single from this Electronic Noise Punk outfit,…

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Plant or animal? Fungus is more animal than plant. Sometimes delicious. Sometimes deadly. Possibly immortal. Possibly the…

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Climate change is going to change patterns of both migration and displacement. But it’s going to do different things to them….

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Much like the floppy disk save icon has become anachronistic, in ~30 years “parked” will mean a car participating in an orbiting…

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“Freed from any commercial considerations, the frontier of coronagraphy can be seen as a bit metaphysical, an almost-gnostic…

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Masterlist of pop linguistics books and lingfic



Looking for pop linguistics books or linguistics-related fiction to read, find in a library, ask for as a gift, or give to a language nerd in your life? Here’s an extensive list of books you might be interested in. 

Recent general books 

Older general books 

(Most of these I read when I was getting into linguistics so I can vouch for them being interesting enough when I read them such that they’ve stuck in my mind many years later, but I’m not sure how they’d stack up on re-reading. Just so you know.)

Specific Topics

Beginner-friendly textbooks

Comprehensive but more friendly than actual textbooks: 

Actual textbooks, still at an introductory level:


Fiction that contains a significant linguistic element, enjoyable for both practising linguists and language enthusiasts: 

Anyone else have pop linguistics books (or #lingfic) to recommend, or reviews to link to? I’ll try to keep this list updated as I hear of and review other books, old and new, so make sure to check out the source post and my books tag if you’re viewing it as a reblog. There are some great additions in the extensive reblogs by Stan Carey and Superlinguo.


I’m also writing a pop linguistics book about internet language for Penguin! It’s not out till 2019, but you can see more information here and sign up for email updates if you want to know when it’s available

Keep reading

Revised and updated to add recent book livetweets! 

The genes of sweet potatoes reveal that there was contact between Australasia & The Americas at least 500 years before Columbus….

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It’s more than 15 years since Portugal decriminalised all drugs, & transferred all the money they used to spend on shaming,…

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Unidentifiable fossils: palaeontological problematica

Science, palaeontology, classification, problematica, species, evolution

There is a detailed vocabulary used to describe organisms which defy classification and a system of nomenclature to denote confidence limits on probable or speculative affinities, but they are generally grouped together as “problematica”. A handy grab-bag of misfits that have exasperated or eluded scientists, ready for future generations to have a go at. In museums, problematica specimens reside in drawers and cabinets equivalent to the ubiquitous drawer of odds and sods that most people have in the kitchen.


Giant Hands Bridge in Vietnam


The giant hands bridge is the new astonishing attraction near to the Bà Nà Hills resort, in the city of Da Nang, Vietnam. This structure is sustained by two enormous stonemade hands, which have been weathered with cracks and moss to look like an archeological relique. The attraction has already seduced a lot of curious tourist who can admire a unique landscape from the golden bridge.

Giant Hands Bridge in Vietnam

If you write out the basic facts of trees, but framed as technology, it sounds like impossible sci-fi nonsense….

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If straws can lead people to create a bigger zone of accountability for big companies and single-use culture, there’s a chance….

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tried synthetic fossilization (future fossilising) of eukaryotic cell samples (onion) immersed in sodium silicate/pcb…

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What are the best ambient / electronic / experimental music podcasts you know of? (Actual podcasts with RSS feeds, not Mixcloud…

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Four Thieves Vinegar Collective: DIY epipens were just the start, now it’s home bioreactors to thwart Big Pharma’s price-gouging


When last we met the Four Thieves Vinegar collective – a group of anarchist scientists who combine free/open chemistry with open source hardware in response to shkrelic gouging by pharma companies – they were announcing the epipencil, a $30 DIY alternative to the Epipen, Mylan’s poster-child for price-gouging and profiteering on human misery.

It’s been two years since the epipencil and Four Thieves has been been busy.

Michael Laufer is one of the founding Four Thieves, and he’s just presented a wide-ranging look at the Collective’s technical accomplishments at HOPE, the Hackers on Planet Earth conference held every two years at New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania.

Their main accomplishments involve the Apothecary Microlab, a DIY automated chemistry robot that you download and 3D print and assemble, using common hardware, electronics, and chemistry components. With the Microlab and the right chemicals, you can synthesize a variety of lifesaving drugs.

Home pharma manufacturing is not without risks – you could easily end up making poison instead of medicine. But as Daniel Oberhaus points out in his Motherboard profile of Laufer, the Four Thieves have made amazing strides in harm reduction in drug synthesis. Using a database from a startup called Chematica, they mined 250 years’ worth of organic chemistry history to find the safest-possible synthesis paths to the molecules they were trying to synthesize (unfortunately, Merck bought out Chematica and took the database proprietary, though there’s a darkweb site with a password-protected, leaked version of the Chematica database that Laufer would like your help in breaking).

Right now, the Microlab can produce five drugs, including Naloxone (which saves the lives of people dying of opiod overdoses, and which uses oxymorphone bought on the street as a precursor, “making medicine from poison”); and cabotegravir (an experimental drug that prevents the spread of HIV from needle-sharing, which the collective makes available to heroin dealers to cut their products with).

They’ve got all kinds of ambitious plans, too. They’re investigating using books as a medium for growing GM mycelia that could devour the cellulose in the paper and produce precursors; these books could be mailed at media rates between biohackers in a postal P2P system they call “biotorrents” (they’re also thinking of using CDs as petri dishes, taking advantage of standard mailers and packaging). They’re planning a work-focus on rare and orphan disease, and blockbuster drugs like Solvadi, the $84,000, one-shot Hep C cure.

The whole thing has the ring of OG hacker groups like Cult of the Dead Cow, as brilliant at media as they were at tech.

To everyone writing about adverts, microtargeting, the law, Turkey, racists, Jo Cox today, never forget this graph. It’s…

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2018 is only halfway over, but a troubling climate change trend is already apparent



Earth is in the midst of a 40-year-long accelerated warming trend spurred on by human-caused climate change, and 2018 isn’t helping.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University showed this week that the average surface temperature on Earth between January and June this year was the third hottest half-year on record, since good record keeping began long ago, in 1880.

But the trend goes much deeper than that.

The first half of the last four years — 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 – all take the top four hottest-recorded January to June periods ever documented.

A single record-breaking month or year can be telling, but it’s not nearly as scientifically meaningful as these longer-term trends.

“When a record is broken once, it’s a fluke. When it happens again, it’s a coincidence. When it happens three times, it’s a trend, but when it happens every single year, it’s a movement,” Sarah Green, an environmental chemist at Michigan Technological University, said over email.

As NASA’s maps show, this heating trend is occurring all over the planet, showing how the entire global climate has been disrupted by potent heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide.“

In a stable climate, one place is warmer than normal while another is colder,” said Green. “The GISTEMP global maps show that is no longer the case; it’s hotter pretty much everywhere.”

This includes Earth’s expansive oceans, which are much more absorbent that Earth’s rocky surface. Over 90 percent of Earth’s accumulating heat gets trapped by the seas.“

The inexorable heating of the oceans is especially worrying,” said Green. “Land temperatures fluctuate with a shift in the wind direction or a passing cloud, but the increasing temperature of the surface ocean shows that greenhouse gasses are trapping more and more heat on Earth.“

2018 is only halfway over, but a troubling climate change trend is already apparent

Worms frozen in permafrost for up to 42,000 years come back to life + join other freshly awoken ancient species in pursuing…

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Salt deposits marble the shoreline of Lake Coipasa in Bolivia’s Sabaya Province. At an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet (3,657…


Salt deposits marble the shoreline of Lake Coipasa in Bolivia’s Sabaya Province. At an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet (3,657 m), the lake is fed by the Lauca River, which drops dark volcanic sediment along its northwestern shore. That sediment, shown on the right side of this Overview, contrasts sharply with the light blue water and white salt crust.


19°10'32.3"S, 68°02'09.8"W

Source imagery: DigitalGlobe

Rise of Italian populist parties buoys anti-vaccine movement

antivax, anti-science, epidemiology, italy, herd-immunity, Facebook, idiocracy, measles-parties, 201

Last year [Italian postal police, who investigate online crime] shut down a Facebook page that organised “measles parties” so that parents could expose their children to the disease in an attempt to immunise them naturally. “Unfortunately it’s a fact that Italy has a coverage of measles that is similar to Namibia,” said Roberto Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan.


Excited to announce I’ll be speaking at: Coded Matter(s): Terra Fiction; an evening programme about art, sci-fi and imagining…

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If this sounds positively Pynchonian, you’re not wrong. I first came across octonions in “Against the Day” by Pynchon, where he…

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A photo essay by Kevin Faingnaert on the The ZAD (officially, ‘zone d’aménagement différé’, renamed by protesters as ’zone à…

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Looking to build an #AI Radiologist? The @NIH Clinical Center releases “DeepLesion” dataset of 32,000 CT images, measured and…

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I’m on the moderation team of a different academically-focused subreddit, and we have similar policies. Our subreddit is large…

academia, reddit, moderation, hate speech, free speech, trolls, 2018, metafilter, civil discourse

I’m on the moderation team of a different academically-focused subreddit, and we have similar policies. Our subreddit is large and doesn’t attract nearly as much Nazi propoganda, but we do get plenty of people who stubbornly refuse to engage with facts - sometimes because they’re replaced facts with racist or sexist prejudices, or even alt-right conspiracy theories. We often ban those ones. We no longer even wait until they’re real trouble on our subreddit; we’ll look at their user history and ban them based on past comments elsewhere.

I used to feel uncomfortable with this. I value free debate and inquiry highly, and it seemed contrary to it. But they aren’t interested in free debate or inquiry; on an academic subreddit, they don’t care what can actually be supported with facts and argument so long as it disagrees with their personal prejudices or political beliefs. All they do is drag the level of discussion down. And allowing them to post their bullshit just lends credibility to their views, because they’re being debated on an academic forum.

I’m a lot less uncomfortable with it now.


I am going to give what I will call an elementary demonstration. But elementary does not mean easy to understand. Elementary…

Feynman, science, elementary, intelligence, FFT, an infinite amount of intelligence

“I am going to give what I will call an elementary demonstration. But elementary does not mean easy to understand. Elementary means that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence. There may be a large number of steps that hard to follow, but to each does not require already knowing the calculus or Fourier transforms.”

Richard P. Feynman

Wow. This has made my week. This is from the government’s own publication about the history of government communications. They…

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Google Translate’s deep dream: some translation requests yield weird religious prophesies


Feed 19 repetitions of the word “dog” to Google Translate and ask it for a Maori conversion and you get this: “Doomsday Clock is three minutes at twelve. We are experiencing characters and a dramatic developments in the world, which indicate that we are increasingly approaching the end times and Jesus’ return.”

There’s lots more where this came from, especially when translating into languages with small corpuses like Maori or Somali, and no one’s exactly sure why. The smart money is on “neural machine translation,” which is producing the literary equivalents of the furry animals that appear in images that are repeatedly processed through Deep Dreaming.

Takeaway: "Outside of cryptocurrencies, POW (proof of work) is already obsolete. Of the more than 160 companies developing…

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