Friday Links

The idea that education acts as a Matthew Effect that disproportionately benefits those who start with most is an uncomfortable but well-understood phenomenon. Everything we do in schools either widens the advantage gap between the most privileged and least privileged students, or narrows it. This is, I think, a real dichotomy: anything that, on balance, appears net neutral is in fact acting to keep the gap a yawning chasm of inequity.

Leaving a sock on the ground is a manifestation of a concept from physics you may have heard of: entropy. Entropy is a measure of how much energy is lost in a system. If a system loses too much energy, it will disintegrate into chaos. It takes only a little bit of energy to pick up one sock. But if you don’t take care of your yard, let pipes stay clogged and never fix electrical problems, it all adds up to a chaotic home that would take a lot of energy to fix. And that chaos will leach away your time and ability to accomplish other things.

ACP President Jacqueline Fincher, MD, MACP, says the new guidance reflects several years' worth of data that suggest that shorter antibiotic courses for these infections are just as effective as longer courses, and the growing recognition that overly long prescriptions are among the factors driving unnecessary antibiotic use and promoting antibiotic resistance."These are common infections that physicians and other clinicians treat every day," Fincher told CIDRAP News. "This is the low-hanging fruit that we can go ahead and grab and do something about while we look into other things."

Experts warn we are about to enter a new period of flux as the school year ends and more teachers consider whether to leave after another year of heightened stress. That could lead to a small but meaningful uptick in teachers leaving their schools.

“If the economy accelerates with all the government spending, as I anticipate it will, outside-of-teaching opportunities are going to look pretty good, so we may well face some staffing challenges,” said Dan Goldhaber, a leading researcher on teacher quality issues at the University of Washington. But, he emphasized, such challenges likely won’t be felt across the board, but rather in subjects like special education and math and science, as well as in schools with more low-income students and more students of color.

Actual incidents of intentional smallpox infection “may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged.”

Friday Links

Nobody likes paying taxes (well, maybe some oddballs do, but to each their own), but over the last few years, Corporate America has been enjoying the lightest tax burden in history. That needs to change.

Foresters used to remove dead wood because it was once thought of as unsightly. Today, keeping dead wood on the ground has become a priority in forests around the world.

The lockdown in South Africa made it possible to investigate the changes in second‐year students' performance in the Economics department at the University of Pretoria. In particular, we are interested in assessing what factors predict changes in students' performance after transitioning from face‐to‐face (F2F) to online learning. Our main objectives in answering this study question are to establish what study materials the students were able to access (i.e. slides, recordings, or live sessions) and how students got access to these materials (i.e. the infrastructure they used).

The First Amendment of the US Constitution limits the government—not private entities—from restricting free expression. This is why companies like Facebook and Twitter can moderate content—and also why they could suspend then-President Trump’s accounts during his last weeks in office. While many Americans applauded this move as an appropriate response to the violent Capitol insurrection, unexpected critics emerged in corners of the globe where the American version of free speech is considered, well, weird.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the move as “problematic,” saying that lawmakers, rather than social media CEOs, should regulate speech—the exact opposite of what the First Amendment allows....

France’s Finance Minister also said he was “shocked” by the decision, which he framed as “social media oligarchy” regulating speech. Leaders outside of Europe criticized the move as well.

Children are human beings, not economic commodities. Our response to the pandemic should not be guided by the gloomy speculations of misguided economists, but young people and those who know them. 

Of course, money matters; it is what gets workers through the door.  But whilst it is usually necessary to get a job done, it is not sufficient to get it done well, at least where contracts and worker supervision are incomplete.

In several other countries, filing your taxes is a lot easier. The government uses data it already has on your income to fill out your taxes. But in the United States, Intuit has spent millions each year lobbying against these simpler systems which would eliminate the need for their services. Tax industry lobbying was how the IRS’s Free File was initially created, with the IRS agreeing to leave it up to those companies.

“People who are actually ranked toward the bottom of the income distribution tend to think they’re ranked higher than they truly are. And those who are ranked toward the top believe they’re ranked lower than they actually are.”

Friday Links

Regrettably, the jet pack would never truly take off: Rocket belts were too expensive, not fuel efficient, and had an extremely short flight duration. The military stopped funding the project, and the rocket belt became a novelty.

Briefly, the researchers found a vas deferens between men treated with phosphodiesterase five inhibitors, like Viagra, and those treated with alprostadil.

Public health experts and the CDC agree that if you are vaccinated and in the company of people who aren’t — or if you don’t know their status — you should continue the safeguards of masking and maintaining your distance.

Putting all these developments together, "it is not unreasonable that we might have the capacity to develop a human embryo from fertilization to birth entirely outside the uterus," Paul Tesar, a developmental biologist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, told the Times. "Whether that is appropriate is a question for ethicists, regulators, and society."

Now, real Going Medieval heads know of course that there is no such thing as a chivalric code, and that chivalry in general has absolutely nothing to do with the treatment of women. Luckily, I have already written that for you, so I don’t need to do it again. What I do want to talk about is that while the idea of chivalry and knights on horses coming to the rescue of damsels in distress is made up, actually the comparison of knights to police is not actually so far off.

That is not, however, a good thing.

Friday Links

For a few decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, authors from across ideologies and genres published stories that today would be called “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. French author Jules Verne, best known for popular adventure stories like Around the World in 80 Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, penned a novel in 1889 called Sans Dessus Dessous about capitalists intentionally heating the Arctic to extract coal reserves. Mark Twain included a subplot of selling warm climates in his 1892 novel The American Claimant. Recently, literary scholar Steve Asselin reexamined these and dozens of other early cli-fi stories, finding several disquieting themes relevant to how we think about modern-day climate change.

Judged by the standard of Arrow’s ideal of complete state-contingent markets, we’ve seen astoundingly little useful financial innovation during my long lifetime.

Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends – are famously nonviolent. One wartime tactic bears their name, not because they created it but because it bears the same hallmarks of nonviolence: the quaker guns.

This is how it typically worked: find a log that was roughly the shape and size of an artillery gun barrel, paint it black, and maybe carve the end a bit so it looks like a muzzle. Prop it up, point it at your enemy, and trust them to come to the wrong conclusion.

Despite the theory’s intuitive appeal, standards-based reform does not work very well in reality. One key reason is that coordinating key aspects of education at the top of the system hamstrings discretion at the bottom. The illusion of a coherent, well-coordinated system is gained at the expense of teachers’ flexibility in tailoring instruction to serve their students. Classrooms are teeming with variation.

The media narratives Americans consume may shape their opinions about whether the events of January 6 constitute terrorism, to a startling degree.

It is estimated that only 10% of academic titles are available for university libraries to purchase as digital copies for their students, and the books which are available, are frequently placed under restrictive licensing, made available only in bundles, and sold to libraries at incredibly high costs for single user or one-year access. As a result, academic librarians have been left with no choice but to tell staff and students that it is not possible to acquire key texts, and lecturers have had to re-design their reading lists around what is available.

I think what he's saying is digital art is the Platonic ideal of a Veblen good.

But “ownership” of crypto art confers no actual rights, other than being able to say that you own the work. You don’t own the copyright, you don’t get a physical print, and anyone can look at the image on the web. There is merely a record in a public database saying that you own the work – really, it says you own the work at a specific URL.

“We the people” have gotten a bad reputation in the annals of democratic theory. Thinkers from Alexander Hamilton to Alexis de Tocqueville have identified an excess of democracy as the greatest threat to U.S. democracy. As recently as 2019, the Harvard scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt fretted about “an overreliance on the ‘will of the people’”—a Hamilton phrase—in their bestseller, How Democracies Die.

“It’s quite simple, really: Daylight Saving Time is a hoax perpetrated by the liberal elite as a form of mind control and time manipulation in order to make us all complacent and ready to be sold into the sex trade,” Perkins explained. “It didn’t exist until 1992, when it was instituted by perverted infidel Bill Clinton so that he and his satanic cabal could have a masked satanic ceremony on the White House lawn — they use TV commercials with subliminal messaging to lull the populace into a deep sleep for 60 minutes while they douse each other in pig’s blood and engage in extramarital sex. Like I said, pretty obvious.”

(End note: the only honest way I’ve heard to increase your winnings in the lottery is this: pick numbers higher than 31. This won’t increase your chances of winning, but it may just increase the amount you win if you do. Many people use their birthdays when choosing numbers, so when the numbers 1 to 31 come up there may be more winners. More winners means a smaller share of the prize to each one. If you win with numbers above 31, you may just be sharing the prize with fewer people – and so winning more money. I have no idea if this technique actually works in practice because I don’t buy lottery tickets, but it’s a neat idea, and you probably won’t go to jail for trying it.)

This afternoon, I was updating the streaming apps on my 2020 LG CX OLED TV, something I do from time to time, but today was different. Out of nowhere, I saw (and heard) an ad for Ace Hardware start playing in the lower-left corner. It autoplayed with sound without any action on my part.

“It is difficult to envision an investment in K-12 education with a higher ceiling on its potential return than improving school leadership,” the report’s authors say.

Building Gopher services with Python

I've been working on a Gopher-based project in Python, because reasons. It was a refreshingly simple change from my usual web development work. Three evenings of work gave me a gopher server that presents all the content from a much more complex website.

Pituophis, a Python module for writing both Gopher servers and clients. Pituophis's default "handler" function acts as a basic Gopher server, publishing items in a specific directory to Gopherspace and uses an optional user-defined alternate handler function that responds when a missing file is requested. You can also replace the default handler and build your own Gopher application from the ground up.

One limitation of Pituophis compared to a web framework is the lack of a routing engine. That's easy enough to work around with a list of regular expressions and "controller" functions:

if request.path in ('', '/'):
    return homePage(request)

paths = [
    (re.compile('/image/([\w-]+)\.(gif|jpg|png)$', re.IGNORECASE), sendImage),
    (re.compile('/([a-z]{2})$'), statePage),
    (re.compile('/([a-z]{2})/([\w-]+)$'), cityPage),
]

for pat, func in paths:
    m = pat.match(request.path)
    if m:
        return func(request, m)

For Whom No Thanks Is Too Much

One of my favorite ambiguous sentences is on the dedication page of my friend Kevin's Ph.D. thesis. "To my Ph.D. supervisor, or whom no thanks is too much." It's unclear whether he was grateful or ungrateful. Kevin claimed it was the latter, so I asked why he had taken a postdoc job working for the same guy. His reply: "Revenge"

Friday Links

By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR's rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber. Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.

Giving at scale by the super-wealthy has done little to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, helping perpetuate social inequalities rather than remedying them, while paying considerable dividends to donors in the form of privilege and influence in society and politics, new research shows.

Corporal punishment in state schools in the UK was made illegal in 1986. This is the story about how it was eliminated in one Local Education Authority, Oxfordshire, before that.

My dad became CEO of Oxfordshire in 1978. He was young, and opposed corporal punishment, but knew, as he puts it, that “in a time of cuts, if I went to the politicians and asked them for money for canes they’d ask me how many I wanted, and did I want the luxury versions”. So he didn’t talk to them about corporal punishment.

“The toll of death is simply staggering — worse than I would have predicted,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “Covid has been nothing short of the worst failure of public policy in modern memory.”...

All other causes of death pale in comparison to the coronavirus death toll. So far, the coronavirus has killed roughly three times as many people as accidents, lung ailments, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease did in 2019. And the coronavirus has outpaced the number of deaths from diabetes, kidney disease, pneumonia and suicide by even larger multiples.

Prosecutors who want to hold police accountable should seek the bird in the hand, not the two in the bush. They should select charges in these cases so that conviction is a real possibility and, therefore, a real constraint on future police behavior. One "guilty" verdict on manslaughter will do more to reshape officers' behavioral calculus than an endless stream of "not guilty" decisions on murder.

Bottom line: Many people don’t like needles, and that could further slow vaccination efforts as winter turns to spring when supplies are expected to multiply and efforts to get the hesitant to sign up for a dose will intensify.

“Fear of needles was one of the barriers that was a significant predictor of people saying, ‘I don’t think I will get this vaccine,’” said Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who researches visual communication and conducted a survey of 500 people in July.

Mather had learned about inoculation more than a decade earlier, from an African man named Onesimus, whom he enslaved. When he asked if Onesimus had ever had smallpox, the man showed him a scar on his arm and explained that his community in Africa used infected material from one person to inoculate others against the disease. A few years later, Mather read a report from Turkey describing a similar procedure.

I remember last March, about three days into the shutdown when my Facebook newsfeed was filled with hilarious memes from parents who had been home teaching their children for a few days. The memes praised teachers, joked about suspending their own children, and immediately needing a vacation. As I saw these posts, I laughed along with them but thought to myself “this won’t last long”. And how right I was. People got amnesia and quick.

While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized.

A billionth of a century is approximately pi seconds. The diameter of the Earth is roughly half a billion inches. (Incidentally, one millionth of a century is about 52 and a half minutes. This microcentury is apparently the optimal time for a lecture: long enough to get into depth and detail; not so long that people fall asleep.)

In our view, as education researchers who specialize in science education, the learning sciences and educational assessment, we see an abundance of reasons to let states off the hook for testing this year....

Unfortunately, national experts and research findings indicate that high-stakes testing does not live up to its promise. Instead, research has shown serious negative side effects.

Friday Links

There are 365 days in a year, 366 in a leap year. But if you put 70 people into a room it’s almost certain that two of them will have the same birthday. In fact, if you put just 23 people into a room there’s at least a 50% chance that two of them will have the same birthday.

This is known as the birthday problem, or the birthday paradox. (It’s not an actual paradox, just a surprising and counterintuitive result, like the kidney stone paradox or the false positive paradox.) The math behind it is a little opaque, but one intuitive way of explaining it is that the number of potential combinations of people in these groups is large – 70 people equals 2415 different pairings – and any one of those pairings could be a matching birthday.

In fact, other studies have confirmed that people who are suspicious of climate change often remain stubbornly unmoved by firsthand experience with extreme weather. That may be for two overlapping reasons. First, there’s the myth that any kind of cold weather is incompatible with the overwhelming scientific consensus that current global warming is real and caused by people. The frigid snowstorms gripped Texas and the eastern U.S. about six years to the day after a U.S. senator brought a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof against the reality of global climate change. (Each year since then, the U.S. has suffered at least ten billion-dollar or more climate catastrophes, with a record-setting twenty-two such events in 2020.)

One of the really rampant myths that I deal with on a regular basis is about life expectancy in the medieval period. What gets trotted out, over and over, is the idea that “the average life expectancy in the medieval period was 35, so when you were 32 you were considered an old”. Friends, this is extremely not true, and this myth is also damaging to us now....

To write anyone’s life off as excess or frivolous is, quite frankly, monstrous. Medieval people would not have accepted the death of everyone over a certain age as inevitable or excusable. To say that we should now because of their average life expectancy make no sense, and is nothing short of thinly veiled eugenics. If you feel like relating to life and pandemics this way, then I am afraid you are actually treating people more brutally than they were treated half a millennium ago. Reflect on that and do better.

In 1968, a small group of Black Chicago officers—all relatively new to the department—founded the Afro-American Patrolman’s League. Unlike Black police organizations in other cities, the AAPL wasn’t primarily concerned with the officers’ own working conditions. They saw their mission as fighting racist policing from inside the department....

Not surprisingly, the police department did not take AAPL’s actions well. Its leaders were falsely accused of crimes, suspended, and given humiliating assignments. Fellow cops targeted the family of one league leader, Renault Robinson. They called the elementary school where his six- and seven-year-old boys were enrolled, threatening to murder them. The FBI also surveilled the AAPL, building a dossier of more than 500 pages by the end of 1968.

It was in this climate that Child struggled to get back into mainstream publishing. Her next major work was a collection of her columns from the National Anti-Slavery Standard, written between 1841 and 1843. The original abolitionist columns, however, were “too radical for the uncommitted public.”...

As Karcher notes, government censorship, while not unknown, has been fairly rare in America. But there has long been what she calls “censorship American style.” This is a varying mix of market forces—what the public will buy, or what gatekeepers think the public will buy—and conformist opinion about legitimate topics for discussion. Ostracized by “respectable” opinion and threatened by violent anti-abolitionists, Lydia Maria Child felt she had to censor herself to get her message out to a wider audience.

For several decades in the middle of the 20th century, nuts and its facetious cousin nerts were deemed so inappropriate that they were forbidden—along with, but not limited to, whore, SOB, damn, hell,  fanny, and slut—in the scripts of Hollywood movies.

“In popular mythology, the American West stands as a kind of ultimate free labor landscape,” continues Smith, but the reality of indentured servitude, contract labor, and debt peonage, as well as the persistence of chattel slavery, “fits uneasily within familiar narratives of western history.”

If I were asked to give a succinct description of my work (for that, believe it or not, is what writing four or five days a week is) I would say that I am an entertainer and that journalism is simply a form of mass entertainment, like Hollywood or Major League Baseball, albeit one with somewhat lower average earnings potential....

To repeat a suggestion I made on Twitter, I contend that text-based websites should not exceed in size the major works of Russian literature.

This is a generous yardstick. I could have picked French literature, full of slim little books, but I intentionally went with Russian novels and their reputation for ponderousness.

“Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on the report’s findings. 

My home computer in 1998 had a 56K modem connected to our telephone line; we were allowed a maximum of thirty minutes of computer usage a day, because my parents — quite reasonably — did not want to have their telephone shut off for an evening at a time. I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article....

So, with an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web....

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Limits to Growth

Growth in a constrained environment is very common, so common that systems thinkers call it the "limits-to-growth" archetype. Whenever we see a growing entity, whether it be a population, a corporation, a bank account, a rumor, an epidemic, or sales of a new product, we look for the reinforcing loops that are driving it and for the balancing loops that ultimately will constrain it. We know those balancing loops are there, even if they are not yet dominating the system's behavior, because no real physical system can grow forever. Even a hot new product will saturate the market eventually. A chain reaction in a nuclear power plant or bomb will run out of fuel. A virus will run out of susceptible people to infect. An economy may be constrained by physical capital or monetary capital or labor or markets or management or resources or pollution.

Geography and Reality

When your business is about presenting facts, how can you tell if someone else has copied those facts? For the compilers of dictionaries, encyclopaedias, maps, and books of trivia, one solution is to seed the text with fake entries. Anyone who copies your work copies the trap entry too. And then you have effective and irrefutable evidence of plagiarism.

There are a lot of examples of such traps, and I’ll probably write about some others in later posts, but today I’m going to talk about the curious case of Agloe, New York. It was a fake place first, then it was a real place, now it’s back to being a fake place again....

Gemini

I don't remember what got me started thinking about Gopher recently, but looking for information on the protocol this time led me to information on an emerging Internet protocol called Gemini which,

  • Is heavier than gopher
  • Is lighter than the web
  • Will not replace either
  • Strives for maximum power to weight ratio
  • Takes user privacy very seriously

Gemini's default/"native" format looks like a simplified Markdown:

# Project Gemini

## Overview

Gemini is a new internet protocol which:

* Is heavier than gopher
* Is lighter than the web
* Will not replace either
* Strives for maximum power to weight ratio
* Takes user privacy very seriously

## Resources

=> docs/	Gemini documentation
=> software/	Gemini software
=> servers/	Known Gemini servers
=> https://lists.orbitalfox.eu/listinfo/gemini	Gemini mailing list
=> gemini://gemini.conman.org/test/torture/	Gemini client torture test

From my brief look, there seems to be a fair amount of content on Gemini, and a decent array of software available for it. It seems interesting, in part because my Gopher toy project (more on that later) was a lot more fun to put together than any web projects I've done lately.

Friday Links

Public incompetence is a moral issue, and it is a moral issue precisely in the way we see them now, defined as being instances of structural prejudice or privilege. The bias is towards those people who can get their problem solved though personal connections, through bribery, or by going private and opting out of the system entirely.

If you are rich in connections you can use them to avoid the consequences of government incompetence, at least up to a point. But this is only the beginning. There is a dynamic analysis as well as a static one. The value of this privilege increases with the haplessness of the institutions, so you have an incentive to choose less effective institutions over more effective ones, and in the extreme case, to actively sabotage the institutions. Similarly, improvement in the basic functioning of the state amounts to a confiscation of this privilege and its redistribution to the wider society. There is a reason why more egalitarian societies have good institutions and vice versa.

Educators might play a central role in in-school transmission networks. Preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections through multifaceted school mitigation measures and COVID-19 vaccination of educators is a critical component of preventing in-school transmission.

It’s surprising that Sweden was so unequal a century ago because in recent decades it’s been the standard bearer for a relatively egalitarian social democracy.  Piketty’s point is that Sweden’s equality is not some “essential cultural predisposition”, it’s a function of political choices and the economic regime.

Extreme insulation is a remarkably effective way to make things hot, as long as there’s at least a little heat coming from the inside.  That’s why big compost piles are hot inside; decomposition releases a tiny amount of heat, but when it’s well-insulated by a foot or two of material, that heat (mostly) stays where it is and adds up.  For a greenhouse, heat deposited by the visible light is basically being created inside and with enough glass it can be kept inside (or at least, it will escape as slowly as we’d like).

MiniZinc cryptarithms improved

Previously, I posted an experiment in solving cryptarithms with Python and MiniZinc. I've just put an improved version on GitHub, since I figured out how to generalize the problem somewhat--Python now just converts your problem into a dictionary and feeds that to an existing script that doesn't have to change. This new model still has some rough edges--artifacts of the learning process--but it works well enough.

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.

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