Dark Ecology

Medium, dark ecology

Having crossed the border into Russia, metaphors of ‘The Zone’ twist and multiply, each raising questions by comparison. The Norway–Russia Border Zone, The Russian Border Security Zone; the suspension or dissolution of an existing normality in Interzone (Burroughs), TAZ (Hakim Bey) or just ‘The Zone’ of Gravity’s Rainbow (and later the ‘Zone of Silence’); the singular strangeness of a Special Economic Zone (in paticular the ‘Murmansk Economic Zone’ which closed without a single company having applied for ‘status’ in the ‘Zone’) or more directly, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, navigating unseen obstacles into the centre of ‘The Zone’.

via https://medium.com/aperiodic-mesmerism/dark-ecology–3586c0833f42

World’s first baby born from new procedure using DNA of three people

science, genetics, IVF, mtDNA

The baby is not the first child to be born with DNA from three people. In the 1990s, fertility doctors tried to boost the quality of women’s eggs by injecting cytoplasm, the cellular material that contains mitochondria, from healthy donor eggs. The procedure led to several babies being born with DNA from the parents plus the healthy donor. Some of the children developed genetic disorders and the procedure was banned. Speaking about the latest case, Dusko Ilic, a stem cell scientist at King’s College London, said: “Without much ado, it appears the first mitochondrial donation baby was born three months ago. This was an ice-breaker. The baby is reportedly healthy. Hopefully, this will tame the more zealous critics, accelerate the field, and we will witness soon the birth of the first mitochondrial donation baby in the UK.”

via https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/27/worlds-first-baby-born-using-dna-from-three-parents

Cloud Thinking

Medium, clouds, weather, climate, history, James Bridle, cloud computing, cloud thinking, earth magnitude

The cloud, however, remains a model of the world, just not the one we have taken it to mean. The apparent growth of crisis is, in part, a consequence of our new, technologically-augmented ability to perceive the world as it actually is, beyond the mediating prism of our own cultural sensorium. The stories we have been telling ourselves don’t bear out. They’re weak all over. The cloud reveals not the deep truth at the heart of the world, but its fundamental incoherence, its vast and omniferous unknowability. In place of computational thinking, we must respond with cloud thinking: an accounting of the world which reclaims the recognition and the agency of unknowing. Aetiology is a dead end. The cloud, our world, is cloudy: it remains diffuse and forever diffusing; it refuses coherence. From our global civilisation and cultural history arises a technology of unknowing; the task of our century is to accommodate ourselves with the incoherence it reveals.

via https://medium.com/@stml/cloud-thinking-d92c5cd4b439

Nature is a process. As in the case of everything directly exhibited in sense-awareness, there can be no explanation of this…

“Nature is a process. As in the case of everything directly exhibited in sense-awareness, there can be no explanation of this characteristic of nature. All that can be done is to use language which may speculatively demonstrate it, and also to express the relation of this factor in nature to other factors.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (viasyntheticphilosophy)

Doctoral dissertation in graphic novel form #1yrago


Columbia University awarded a doctorate in education to Nick Sousanis for  Unflattening, a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.

It was published by Harvard University Press and got a starred review in Publishers Weekly the journal Comics Grid wrote that it demonstrated “the viability of a comic book as doctoral scholarship in its own right, rather than a separate work requiring some accompanying critical paratext.”

The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge.

Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points. While its vibrant, constantly morphing images occasionally serve as illustrations of text, they more often connect in nonlinear fashion to other visual references throughout the book. They become allusions, allegories, and motifs, pitting realism against abstraction and making us aware that more meets the eye than is presented on the page.

In its graphic innovations and restless shape-shifting, Unflattening is meant to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that Sousanis calls “flatness.” Just as the two-dimensional inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s novella Flatland could not fathom the concept of “upwards,” Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend. – Unflattening is available from Harvard University Press.

Unflattening [Nick Sousanis/Harvard University Press]

Excerpt [PDF]

Unflattening [Nick Sousanis/Spin Weave Cut]


The language the government tried to suppress


An article about Singlish by James Harbeck, going into more grammatical detail than you typically get in a news article. Excerpt: 

Jerlyne Ong, a Singaporean now living in Canada, sends a message to a friend back home: “Cannot imagine sia. In Singapore, you strike, you lose your job. But ya, the postal service stopped liao. Cannot agree, buay song, so liddat lor. No postal service for now. Also dunno how long some more. So pek chek.”

Is that English or not? Most of Singapore’s 6 million people speak it, but they don’t agree either. What they do agree is that it’s Singlish. Singlish is the unofficial language – or dialect? or slang? – of Singapore, born out of the contact between the several cultures that make up the city state. It’s a living example of how languages can change and develop. It is also an expression of the Singaporean character and culture, a national treasure – or a detriment and danger to the country, depending on whom you ask. […]

All syllables have approximately equal length and stress. It sounds almost like a tone language in places. Some sounds are changed, and consonants at the ends of words are often dropped or reduced – “like that” becomes liddat. Conjugational and plural endings often disappear. There are quite a few loanwords, such as kena, ‘get something bad’; kiasu, ‘fear of losing out’; shiok, ‘very good’; sian, ‘boring’; buay song, ‘not happy’; pek chek, ‘annoyed, frustrated’; and sia, which is used as an emphatic rather as we might use ‘man’. […]

Lah is surely the most famous word in Singlish, and is emblematic of a whole class of words that set Singlish apart: pragmatic particles – a kind of verbal equivalent of an emoji. These words inserted at the ends of sentences are mostly borrowed from other languages (especially Chinese dialects), and they have to be said with the right tone, as if in Chinese. Lor (mid-level tone) expresses resignation (So liddat lor, “It’s just like that, what can you do?”); meh (high tone) expresses a proposition in need of confirmation (Cannot meh, “You really can’t?”); liao (low falling-rising) indicates a completed action (The postal service stopped liao). 

Even wut – which is to say, what – when said with a low falling tone at the end of a sentence expresses objection (if you are asked to buy something you have already bought, you might say Got already wut). And lah? It can be said with different tones to express different things; quite a bit of linguistic analysis has been done of just what it means – Jock Wong of the Australian National University has done a study teasing apart its different uses, which he boils down to “impositional”, “propositional”, and “persuasive”.

Read the whole thing.

Another article, in Unravel Magazine, looks at Singlish and food

The language the government tried to suppress

In the Robot Skies: A drone Love Story Join us for an expanded cinema performance and film premiere of In the Robot Skies at the…

drones, film, Liam Young, Tim Maughan, STUK

video link


In the Robot Skies: A drone Love Story Join us for an expanded cinema performance and film premiere of In the Robot Skies at the London Film Festival on October 8th, with live music accompaniment from acclaimed electronic producer Forest Swords. Buy tickets here http://ift.tt/2d51yFJ Directed by speculative architect Liam Young and written by fiction author Tim Maughan, In the Robot Skies is the world’s first narrative shot entirely through autonomous pre programmed drones. In collaboration with the Embedded and Artificially intelligent Vision Lab in Belgium the film is captured by a specially developed flock of camera drones each with their own set of cinematic rules and behaviours. The film explores the drone as a cultural object, not just as a new instrument of visual story telling but also as the catalyst for a new collection of urban sub cultures. In the way the New York subway car of the 80’s gave birth to a youth culture of wild style graffiti and hip hop the age of ubiquitous drones as smart city infrastructure will create a new network of surveillance activists and drone hackers. From the eyes of the drones we see two teenagers each held by police order within the digital confines of their own council estate tower block in London. A network of drones survey the council estates, as a roving flock off cctv cameras and our two characters are kept apart by this autonomous aerial infrastructure. We watch as they pass notes to each other via their own hacked and decorated drone, like kids in an old fashioned classroom, scribbling messages with biro on paper, balling it up and stowing it in their drones.. In this near future city drones form both agents of state surveillance but also become co-opted as the aerial vehicles through which two teens fall in love. Directed by Liam Young Written By Tim Maughan Starring Maia Watkins and Moe Bargahi Produced by Dani Admiss Music by Forest Swords Director of Photography Vini Curtis Drone Costumes by Jennifer Chen Human Costumes by Maharishi Camera Drone pilot Liam Young Tethered Character Drone Pilot Denis Stretton Special Thanks Alexey Marfin Commissioned by Channel 4 Random Acts and STUK, Belgium. IN THE ROBOT SKIES TEASER liam young

Siberia Has Been Burning All Summer



Smoke from Russian wildfires seen by the Suomi NPP satellite on September 18th, 2016. Image: NOAA/NASA

Fires in northwest Siberia on July 19th, 2016. Image: NASA Earth Observatory


As enormous wildfires in Canada and the United States make headlines on the daily, Siberia has been burning ferociously all summer, and nobody seems to be noticing.

Large wildfires are not unusual in Siberia’s boreal forests, but in the past few years, this sparsely-populated region has seen some of the most intense summertime conflagrations in its history. And the few dispatches we’ve heard from Siberia this summer—coupled with satellite images—suggest the 2016 fire season may be one for the record-books.

Data on the fires, many of which are triggered by lightning storms and which go unsuppressed unless they threaten villages or infrastructure, is sketchy and conflicting. In June, an analysis by Greenpeace Russia claimed that 3.5 million hectares of land—a region the size of New Hampshire and Connecticut combined—had burned this year so far. But the Russian government only reported 669,000 hectares burnt for the same period.

Satellite images captured in July painted an even grimmer picture, suggesting the fires could to be up to 10 times worse than the Russian government was reporting.

“It seems that autumn fires and wide range of summer fires occurred due to global warming,” Verkhovets said. “And we expect intensification of fires in Siberia as direct effect of climate change.”

No solutions in sight. 

Siberia Has Been Burning All Summer

Artificial intelligence will force us to confront our values

Medium, AI, ethics

For the foreseeable future, “artificial intelligence” is really just a term to describe advanced analysis of massive datasets, and the models that use that data to identify patterns or make predictions about everything from traffic patterns to criminal justice outcomes. AI can’t think for itself — it’s taught by humans to perform tasks based on the “training data” that we provide, and these systems operate within parameters that we define. But this data often reflects unhealthy social dynamics, like race and gender-based discrimination, that can be easy to miss because we’ve become so desensitized to their presence in society.

via https://medium.com/equal-future/artificial-intelligence-will-force-us-to-confront-our-values–6f32682a32ec

Waste Crime is the “New Narcotics”

Medium, crime, waste, organised crime, recylcing

Illegal waste activity costs England £1bn a year and more than 1,000 illegal waste sites were discovered last year, more than in the previous two years combined, with 662 still active as of the end of March. […] “Waste is the new narcotics,” said Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency. “It feels to me like drugs felt in the 1980s: the system hadn’t quite woken up to the enormity of what was going on and was racing to catch up.”

via https://medium.com/invironment/waste-crime-is-the-new-narcotics–17b004bee3b9

HyperCard RIP

Medium, HyperCard, computing, HCI, personal computing, history

Rest in peace, HyperCard. It was one of the most important applications in the history of personal computing, in my humble opinion, and responsible for the “amazing bloom” of ideas and applications noted by Ben Hyde and Matt Jones. I made a few things with it, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t in the ‘amazing bloom’ class — but I can certainly say HyperCard was a massive influence on who I am now. (Ed. This article was originally published at cityofsound.com on 4th April 2004.)

via https://medium.com/a-chair-in-a-room/hypercard-rip-c9126c28020b

How alien can language be?

language, visual-language, Ted-Chiang, Arrival, linguistics, aliens, evolution, culture

The film turns on the visual language of the heptapods, the name given to the aliens because of their seven tentacular feet. In Chiang’s short story, the spoken language looks pretty familiar to Dr Banks; nouns have special markers, similar to the grammatical cases of Latin or German, that signify meaning; there are words, and they seem to come in particular orders depending on what their function is in the grammar of the sentence. But it is the visual language that is at the heart of the story. This language, as presented in the film, is just beautiful; the aliens squirt some kind of squid-like ink into the air which resolves holistically into a presentation of the thought they want to express. It looks like a circular whorl drawn with complex curlicues twisting off of the main circumference. The form of the language is not linear in any sense. The whorls emerge simultaneously as wholes. The orientation, shape, modulation, and direction of the tendrils that build the whorls serve to convey the meaningful connections of the parts to the whole. Multiple sentences can all be combined into more and more complex forms that, in the film, require GPS style computer analysis. The atemporality and multidimensionality of the heptapods’ written language is a core part of the plot. So, could a human language work like this, or is that just too alien?

via https://davidadger.org/2016/09/23/how-alien-can-language-be/

The Cave Clan Has Been Sneaking Into Drains for 30 Years

cave-clan, urbex, Melbourne, AU, 1980s, 1990s, go in big drains

Doug bought a Polaroid camera in 1987, about a year after he, Woody, and Sloth founded the Cave Clan on January 26, 1986. What started as three Melbourne teenagers sneaking into drains, soon became the largest consolidated group of urban explorers in Australia. Doug’s photos capture all of this—the parties, the pranks, and the underground adventures—through the course of their 30-year history.

via http://www.vice.com/en_au/read/inside-the-archives-of-melbournes-infamous-cave-clan

Choosing to Be Happy Doesn’t Work, so Here’s What to Do Instead

Medium, happiness, positivity, negativity, reality, psychology, positive thinking, New Thought, New Age

The reason strategies to avoid negativity fail is because the internal struggle to control our thoughts and emotions actually amplifies them, leading to what psychologists call “leakage” in which the banned thought resurfaces unexpectedly — like at a key meeting with your boss or in a discussion with your spouse. You’re trying not to be angry about something, willing yourself to get over it and put on a happy face, and suddenly it’s all you can think about and you unwittingly say the very thing that you didn’t want to say — and now you’ve got a major drama on your hands. The tendency to use these types of avoidance strategies is associated with lower well-being, poorer problem solving, and less satisfying interpersonal relationships.
To be clear, I’m not “anti-happiness” and I am not suggesting that we should wallow in our darkest thoughts. But happiness is not something that comes about through focusing on it as a daily choice or goal. Study after study has shown that it is only when we stop struggling with how we think we should feel, and instead engage with, accept and embrace our true thoughts and emotions with curiosity, courage and compassion, that real joy, growth and creativity emerge.

via https://medium.com/galleys/choosing-to-be-happy-doesnt-work-here-s-what-to-do-instead–9285cab49a57

Losing the War on Unhappiness

Medium, positive thinking, happiness, New Thought, New Age, complexity, simplicity, causality

A support-group leader for female survivors of sexual abuse — and someone who had spent many years within a positive-thinking metaphysical church — wrote to me in 2012. She said that she had experienced both sides of the positive-thinking equation, witnessing how survivors could ably use a program of mental therapeutics to rebuild their sense of self, but also observing the kind of burden that affirmative-thinking nostrums could visit upon those recovering from trauma.
“Is there room for a positive-thinking model that doesn’t include blame and single-model definitions of success?” I take the attitude that such a model can exist. But for positive thinking to reach maturity, its followers must take fuller stock of the movement’s flaws, particularly the attachment to a single, all-encompassing theory of life, which is to say, the Law of Attraction, recently popularized in The Secret. While the mind does possess influences that are not yet fully understood, and that are palpably felt by many people, the idea of a mental super-law binds New Thought to a paradigm of extremist self-responsibility, which cannot be defended to its limits.

via https://medium.com/galleys/losing-the-war-on-unhappiness–4975194efd02

Glycolysis and the citric acid cycle are at the center of metabolism. Some 500 metabolic reactions of a typical cell are…


Glycolysis and the citric acid cycle are at the center of metabolism.

Some 500 metabolic reactions of a typical cell are shown schematically with the reactions of glycolysis and the citric acid cycle in red. Other reactions either lead into these two central pathways-delivering small molecules to be catabolized with production of energy-or they lead outward and thereby supply carbon compounds for the purpose of biosynthesis.

brought to you by Graphic Services for Science and Graphic Biology

Three Challenges for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

Medium, Medicine, AI

Modern research has become so specialized that our notion of impact is sometimes siloed. A world-class clinician may be rewarded for inventing a new surgery; an AI researcher may get credit for beating the world record on MNIST. When two fields cross, there can sometimes be fear, misunderstanding, or culture clashes. We’re not unique in history. In 1944, the foundations of quantum physics had been laid, including, dramatically, the later detonation of the first atomic bomb. After the war, a generation of physicists turned their attention to biology. In the 1944 book What is Life?, Erwin Schrödinger referred to a sense of noblesse oblige that prevented researchers in disparate fields from collaborating deeply, and “beg[ged] to renounce the noblesse”

via https://blog.cardiogr.am/three-challenges-for-artificial-intelligence-in-medicine-dfb9993ae750

There was a bomb on my block.

Medium, danah boyd, terrorism, media, fear mongering, fear

After hearing the bomb go off on 23rd and getting flooded with texts on Saturday night, I decided to send a few notes that I was OK and turn off my phone. My partner is Israeli. We’ve been there for two wars and he’s been there through countless bombs. We both knew that getting riled up was of no help to anyone. So we went to sleep. I woke up on Sunday, opened my blinds, and was surprised to see an obscene number of men in black with identical body types, identical haircuts, and identical cars. It looked like the weirdest casting call I’ve ever seen. And no one else. No cars, no people. As always, Twitter had an explanation so we settled into our PJs and realized it was going to be a strange day.

via https://medium.com/@zephoria/there-was-a-bomb-on-my-block–6045e597ac2f

Laser Scans Unveil a Network of Ancient Cities in Cambodia

Angkor, Lidar, archeology, CALI, technology

a consortium of scholars called the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative (CALI), which uses a technology known as lidar to shoot ultraquick pulses of light at the ground from lasers mounted on helicopters. The way they bounce back can show the presence of subtle gradations in the landscape, indicating places where past civilizations altered their environment, even if buried beneath thick vegetation or other obstructions. The soft-spoken, fedora-clad Mr. Mackey, a 14-year veteran of fieldwork here, noted that before lidar’s availability, an accurate ground survey of archaeological features in the Cambodian landscape entailed years or even decades of work.

via http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/20/science/angkor-wat-cambodia-archeaology.html?hpw&rref=science&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0

How Blockchains Can Further Public Science

research, academia, science, citizen-science, blockchain, bitcoin, ethereum, IPFS, Marmot, Eris

About a week ago, I put together the Marmot Checker, which is another piece of the puzzle in terms of automating knowledge generation throughput. Briefly, an image is uploaded, processed, and sent to the Google Cloud Vision API to get descriptions of the image; these descriptions are checked against a user-defined list of words, and if there is a match, the image is added to the toadserver. Although the implementation is quite is simple, a few hundred lines more of code and you’d have, say, a smart contract that sends the submitter of matched content some amount of tokens as a function of the match score and/or the users’ reputation. On the whole, this is part a growing set of tools for the scientific community. Already we’re seeing more and more startups building tools to streamline the collaboration workflow process between research laboratories.

via https://bitcoinmagazine.com/articles/how-blockchains-can-further-public-science–1457972964

Here’s What Happens When You Give $1,000 to Someone in Extreme Poverty

Medium, poverty, UBI

I think a more open and participatory conversation on eradicating extreme poverty is critical in this day and age. Extreme poverty sits at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and contributes to massive issues all the way up the pyramid; leading to widespread health epidemics, overpopulation, lack of education, lack of environmental and conservational awareness, increased violence and pollution. We’re all connected, and the more people who live in dignity, the better off we can all be. Do you think cash transfers are a terrible idea? Do you know of a better way?

via https://shift.newco.co/heres-what-happens-when-you-give–1–000-to-someone-in-extreme-poverty–78bdce3aa414

7 Crucial Lenses, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Collapse

Medium, panarchy, lenses, perspective, global colapse, collapsonomics

The following are the key “lenses” through which I view and discuss the ongoing transformation to panarchy. Each of these lenses provide crucial understandings and insights into facets of panarchy, but panarchy itself emerges only as a result of the interactions between all of these elements. Like all complex systems, panarchy itself is an emergent property.

via https://medium.com/panarchy–101-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and/panarchy–101–7-crucial-lenses–3f99ae7f875e

Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face  Facial Weaponization Suite protests against biometric facial recognition–and the…

Zach Blas, privacy, identity, facial recognition, computer vision, composite fag face, mask, collective masks, 2012

video link

Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face 

Facial Weaponization Suite protests against biometric facial recognition–and the inequalities these technologies propagate–by making “collective masks” in workshops that are modeled from the aggregated facial data of participants, resulting in amorphous masks that cannot be detected as human faces by biometric facial recognition technologies. The masks are used for public interventions and performances. One mask, the Fag Face Mask, generated from the biometric facial data of many queer men’s faces, is a response to scientific studies that link determining sexual orientation through rapid facial recognition techniques. Another mask explores a tripartite conception of blackness: the inability of biometric technologies to detect dark skin as racist, the favoring of black in militant aesthetics, and black as that which informatically obfuscates. A third mask engages feminism’s relations to concealment and imperceptibility, taking veil legislation in France as a troubling site that oppressively forces visibility. A fourth mask considers biometrics’ deployment as a security technology at the Mexico-US border and the nationalist violence it instigates. These masks intersect with social movements’ use of masking as an opaque tool of collective transformation that refuses dominant forms of political representation.

Zach Blas. 2012

Roland Miller’s Abandoned Wonderland: Deserted Facilities by NASA and the U.S. Government

Medium, photography, Roland Miller, NASA, space, decay, architecture

As humanity continues to excel in going beyond human abilities through technology, the victory comes with a price: American photographer Roland Miller travels to abandoned places once found useful by the space exploration organization NASA and the U.S. Army and collects their remnants as memories.

via https://medium.com/@lomography/roland-millers-abandoned-wonderland-deserted-facilities-by-nasa-and-the-u-s-government-aef7d6d56ea1

Teaching computers to recognize ALL the Englishes


A couple recent articles about bias in machine language processing. A study from UMass Amherst on improving parsing of African American English using data from twitter: 

For the past 30 years, computer science researchers have been teaching their machines to read, for example, assigning back issues of the Wall Street Journal, so computers can learn the English they need to run search engines like Google or mine platforms like Facebook and Twitter for opinions and marketing data.

But using only standard English has left out whole segments of society who use dialects and non-standard varieties of English. […]

To expand NLP and teach computers to recognize words, phrases and language patterns associated with African-American English, the researchers analyzed dialects found on Twitter used by African Americans. They identified these users with U.S. census data and Twitter’s geo-location features to correlate to African-American neighborhoods through a statistical model that assumes a soft correlation between demographics and language.

They validated the model by checking it against knowledge from previous linguistics research, showing that it can successfully figure out patterns of African-American English. Green, a linguist who is an expert in the syntax and language of African-American English, has studied a community in southwest Louisiana for decades. She says there are clear patterns in sound and syntax, how sentences are put together, that characterize this dialect, which is a variety spoken by some, not all, African Americans. It has interesting differences compared to standard American English; for example, “they be in the store” can mean “they are often in the store.”

The researchers also identified “new phenomena that are not well known in the literature, such as abbreviations and acronyms used on Twitter, particularly those used by African-American speakers,” notes Green.

Several blog posts from Rachael Tatman comparing YouTube’s auto-generated captions in “accent challenge” videos across dialects and gender:

I picked videos with accents from Maine (U.S), Georgia (U.S.), California (U.S), Scotland and New Zealand. I picked these locations because they’re pretty far from each other and also have pretty distinct regional accents. […]There’s variation, sure, but in general the recognizer seems to be working best on people from California (which just happens to be where Google is headquartered) and worst on Scottish English. The big surprise for me is how well the recognizer works on New Zealand English, especially compared to Scottish English.

When I compared performance on male and female talkers, I found something deeply disturbing: YouTube’s auto captions consistently performed better on male voices than female voices. […] First, let me make one thing clear: the problem is not with how women talk. The suggestion that, for example, “women could be taught to speak louder, and direct their voices towards the microphone” is ridiculous. In fact, women use speech strategies that should make it easier for voice recognition technology to work on women’s voices.  Women tend to be more intelligible (for people without high-frequency hearing loss), and to talk slightly more slowly. In general, women also favor more standard forms and make less use of stigmatized variants. Women’s vowels, in particular, lend themselves to classification: women produce longer vowels which are more distinct from each other than men’s are

See the blog posts for stats, graphs, and methodology. 

What technologists can do about climate change


Bret Victor complained on Twitter that technologists were wasting their imaginations, energy and talent on things that wouldn’t matter after climate change reduced the world to a drowned cinder; his followers pushed back and asked what they, as technologists, could do about climate change.

In response, Victor’s produced an incredible, exhaustive, insightful andattainable list of projects that technologists can address in their work to mitigate climate change and build a better world. Even better, Victor’s list is full of potentially profitable ideas that nerds can raise money for (“there are basically only two scenarios for investors as a collective: (a) invest in clean energy immediately; clean energy takes over the $6 trillion global energy market; investors get a nice piece of that; or (b) don’t invest in clean energy immediately; fossil fuels burn past our carbon budget; investors inherit a cinder”).

Victor builds on the work of Macarthur Genius winner Saul Griffith, whowrote a still-essential series of posts on the subject for us in 2009. He breaks his suggestions into seven categories: Funding, Producing Energy, Moving Energy, Consuming Energy, Tools for Scientists and Engineers, Media for Understanding Situations and Other.

This is your essential read for the day. If this inspires you, read the late David MacKay’s open access, accessible engineering book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, the single best book about energy and climate I’ve ever read.


Criminal entrepreneurship in Mexico’s high-tech drug cartels


Dr Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez is a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, studying “criminal entrepreneurship” in drug cartels, who beat Amazon to using drones for delivery by years, use modified potato guns to shoot cocaine and marijuana bundles over border fences, and represent the “true libertarian, Ayn Rand capitalism.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Motherboard, Nieto-Gomez speculates on the future of drug smuggling (flying and submarine drones), and describes the Silicon Valley-like relationship between a Mexican investor class and the smuggler-innovators, who sell a share in future returns in exchange for capital to fund high-risk/high-tech R&D efforts to beat police interdiction.


In 1999, Dave Eggers managed to get an entire David Foster Wallace short story onto the spine of the third issue of McSweeney’s…

design, book design, spine, DFW, title

“In 1999, Dave Eggers managed to get an entire David Foster Wallace short story onto the spine of the third issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Just getting the title on there – Another Example of the Porousness of Various Borders (VI): Projected But Not Improbable Transcript of Author’s Parents’ Marriage’s End, 1971 – is quite a feat in itself.”

Daniel Benneworth-Gray, On the challenges of designing a book spine

Climate Change Could Pose ‘Significant Risk’ to National Security, Reports Say



A bipartisan group of military experts released a statement and two reports today arguing that climate change poses a significant risk to U.S. national security. The statement, released by the bipartisan group Climate Security Consensus project, argues that the effects of climate change will put a strain on water, food and energy supplies, which can result in “unique and hard-to-predict security risks.”

“The effects of climate change present a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security,” the statement, signed by a bipartisan group of 25 national security and military leaders including Dr. Geoffrey Kemp, former special assistant to President Reagan for national security affairs and Dov S. Zakheim, former undersecretary of defense under President George W. Bush, said.

The statement argued that the “U.S. must advance a comprehensive policy for addressing this risk.”

Some of the climate change risks to international security include “the likelihood of intra or international conflict, state failure, mass migration, and the creation of additional ungoverned spaces,” the statement added.

Reports from two organizations that specialize in the convergence of climate change and national security released with the statement also described the risks. The Climate and Security Advisory Group, comprised of forty-two military and national security experts, issued a “briefing book” to advise the next President of their growing concerns and suggest tactics for creating a task force within the government.The book urges the next President to prioritize climate change and assign a cabinet-level leader for climate change and security issues, adding that the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop a “National Adaptation and Resilience Strategy” to deal with climate change and better prepare the nation for extreme weather events. 

The second report was prepared by The Center for Climate and Security’s military expert panel, which includes senior retired flag officers from each of the division of the Armed Services. This panel outlined the effect of sea level rise on coastal military bases and how it could affect military operations.

Climate Change Could Pose ‘Significant Risk’ to National Security, Reports Say

In early modern Britain, disbelief in the existence of spirits was tantamount to atheism. The overwhelming majority of people,…

“In early modern Britain, disbelief in the existence of spirits was tantamount to atheism. The overwhelming majority of people, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, believed in the existence of a countless number and variety of invisible supernatural beings. Different types of people were concerned with different types of spirits: for the devout Christian, angels and demons stood centre stage; for the elite magician, spirits originating from classical cosmologies could be equally significant while the uneducated country people placed a greater emphasis on the ‘fairy folk’. Trying to make any hard and fast distinction between categories of spirits in early modern Britain is impossible because supernatural beings were labelled differently, depending on geography, education and religious perspective and definitions overlapped considerably. The term ‘fairy’, for example, is a misleadingly broad generic term which, in the period, covered a wide range of supernatural entities. On a popular level there was often little difference between a fairy and an angel, saint, ghost, or devil. We find the popular link between fairies and angels, for example, expressed in the confession of a cunning man on trial for witchcraft in Aberdeen, in 1598. The magical practitioner, who was identified in the trial records as ‘Andro Man’, claimed that his familiar (described by the interrogators as the Devil) was an angel who, like Tom Reid, served the queen of the fairies. The records state ‘Thow confessis that the Devill, thy maister, quhom thow termes Christsonday, and supponis to be ane engell, and Goddis godsone, albeit he hes a thraw by God, and swyis to the Quene of Elphen, is rasit be the speking of the word Benedicte.’”

Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits - shamanistic visionary traditions in Early Modern British witchcraft and magic (viaophidiansabbat)

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ): the beauty of Earth when humans aren’t allowed. Three minute video, worth it. Story from…

video link


The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ): the beauty of Earth when humans aren’t allowed. Three minute video, worth it. Story from the Center for Biological Diversity:

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (or “DMZ”), at the epicenter of major geopolitical tensions, is a deadly no-man’s land that stretches 160 miles across the Korean peninsula – and now it’s a de facto nature reserve, often considered one of the best-preserved temperate habitats in the world.

It’s an important refuge for two of the planet’s most endangered birds – white-naped and red-crowned cranes – as well as Asiatic black bears and, according to some accounts, extremely rare Korean tigers.

Video footage by South Korean videographer Wanho Lim.

Rules for trusting “black boxes” in algorithmic control systems

algortihmics, trust, black boxes, security, decision making, prediction, data, machine learning, ethics


Tim O'Reilly writes about the reality that more and more of our lives – including whether you end up seeing this very sentence! – is in the hands of “black boxes” – algorithmic decision-makers whose inner workings are a secret from the people they effect.

O'Reilly proposes four tests to determine whether a black box is trustable:

1. Its creators have made clear what outcome they are seeking, and it is possible for external observers to verify that outcome.

2. Success is measurable.

3. The goals of the algorithm’s creators are aligned with the goals of the algorithm’s consumers.

4. Does the algorithm lead its creators and its users to make better longer term decisions?

O'Reilly goes on to test these assumptions against some of the existing black boxes that we trust every day, like aviation autopilot systems, and shows that this is a very good framework for evaluating algorithmic systems.

But I have three important quibbles with O'Reilly’s framing. The first is absolutely foundational: the reason that these algorithms are black boxes is that the people who devise them argue that releasing details of their models will weaken the models’ security. This is nonsense.

For example, Facebook’s tweaked its algorithm to downrank “clickbait” stories. Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s VP of product management told Techcrunch, “Facebook won’t be publicly publishing the multi-page document of guidelines for defining clickbait because ‘a big part of this is actually spam, and if you expose exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, they reverse engineer it and figure out how to get around it.’”

There’s a name for this in security circles: “Security through obscurity.” It is as thoroughly discredited an idea as is possible. As far back as the 19th century, security experts have decried the idea that robust systems can rely on secrecy as their first line of defense against compromise.

The reason the algorithms O'Reilly discusses are black boxes is because the people who deploy them believe in security-through-obscurity. Allowing our lives to be manipulated in secrecy because of an unfounded, superstitious belief is as crazy as putting astrologers in charge of monetary policy, no-fly lists, hiring decisions, and parole and sentencing recommendations.

So there’s that: the best way to figure out whether we can trust a black box is the smash it open, demand that it be exposed to the disinfecting power of sunshine, and give no quarter to the ideologically bankrupt security-through-obscurity court astrologers of Facebook, Google, and the TSA.

Then there’s the second issue, which is important whether or not we can see inside the black box: what data was used to train the model? Or, in traditional scientific/statistical terms, what was the sampling methodology?

Garbage in, garbage out is a principle as old as computer science, and sampling bias is a problem that’s as old as the study of statistics. Algorithms are often deployed to replace biased systems with empirical ones: for example, predictive policing algorithms tell the cops where to look for crime, supposedly replacing racially biased stop-and-frisk with data-driven systems of automated suspicion.

But predictive policing training data comes from earlier, human-judgment-driven stop-and-frisk projects. If the cops only make black kids turn out their pockets, then all the drugs, guns and contraband they find will be in the pockets of black kids. Feed this data to a machine learning model and ask it where the future guns, drugs and contraband will be found, and it will dutifully send the police out to harass more black kids. The algorithm isn’t racist, but its training data is.

There’s a final issue, which is that algorithms have to have their models tweaked based on measurements of success. It’s not enough to merely measure success: the errors in the algorithm’s predictions also have to be fed back to it, to correct the model. That’s the difference between Amazon’s sales-optimization and automated hiring systems. Amazon’s systems predict ways of improving sales, which the company tries: the failures are used to change the model to improve it. But automated hiring systems blackball some applicants and advance others, and the companies that makes these systems don’t track whether the excluded people go on to be great employees somewhere else, or whether the recommended hires end up stealing from the company or alienating its customers.

I like O'Reilly’s framework for evaluating black boxes, but I think we need to go farther.


Meal-replacement drinks were made popular by US firm Soylent in the past few years. Founded in 2013 by Rob Rhinehart, the…

SCMP, food, soylent, china, food substitutes, food like, future of food, like rice, Ruffood, Meal replacement

Meal-replacement drinks were made popular by US firm Soylent in the past few years. Founded in 2013 by Rob Rhinehart, the company was shipping 30,000 “meals” a month a year later and Rhinehart told Bloomberg in January this year that sales were up 300 per cent. Soylent is now valued at more than US$100 million.

Its success has seen similar start-ups springing up around the world. India’s SupermealX, Australia’s Aussielent and British-based Huel all claim to offer nutritionally complete drinks.

Shao Wei, who was working as a programmer in Hangzhou, was also intrigued by the idea. As a start-up worker, he had been looking for healthy meal options for those who had little time away from their computers. In 2014, he quit his job and set up his own meal-substitute brand, Ruffood. Its Chinese name – ruo fan in pinyin – means “like rice“.

(via http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2018947/too-busy-lunch-chinas-tech-workers-turn-meal-replacement-drinks )