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

One possible piece of evidence for prehistoric mathematics is the Ishango bone. It was dug up by a Belgian geologist in the 1950s in Ishango, in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (near the border with Uganda); the bone had been buried in a volcanic eruption some 20,000 years ago.

Residents of US nursing homes with more than 40% non-white residents died of COVID-19 at 3.3 times the rate of those of those with higher proportions of white residents, a study today in JAMA Network Open shows.

No one talked about it much, but public health professionals were all aware of a potential nightmare scenario when COVID vaccinations started up in bulk. No, not a slew of severe adverse events – the clinical trials made it clear that these were fairly safe interventions. The nightmare scenario – discussed in small groups online and on campus, was this: What if the vaccines reduce the severity of COVID-19, but not the transmissibility?  In other words, what if the vaccine takes someone who would have been sick with COVID-19, isolating, at home, and converts them into an asymptomatic carrier – out in the world, spreading virus like millions of Typhoid Mary’s.

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like this scenario will come to pass.

As the pandemic sends thousands of recovering alcoholics into relapse, hospitals across the country have reported dramatic increases in alcohol-related admissions for critical diseases like alcoholic hepatitis and liver failure.

Alcoholism-related liver disease was a growing problem even before the pandemic, with 15 million people diagnosed with the condition around the country, and with hospitalizations doubling over the past decade.

It is often said that one theory can be driven out only by another; the neoclassicals have a complete theory (though I maintain it is nothing but a circular argument) and we need a better theory to supplant them. I do not agree. I think any other ‘complete theory’ would be only another box of tricks. What we need is a different habit of mind — to eschew fudging, to respect facts and to admit ignorance of what we do not know.

KHN sent queries about reinfection surveillance to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of 24 responses, fewer than half provided details about suspected or confirmed reinfection cases. Where officials said they’re actively monitoring for reinfection, they have found far more potential cases than previously anticipated.

There were thousands of Tweets which said exactly what I was going to say. I thought of ‘liking’ them, to show solidarity, but in the end, I thought ‘he’s just a prat who likes the attention, and my kids need a hug’, so I put my phone down

Covid-19’s fierce winter resurgence in California is notable not only for the explosion in overall cases and deaths in the state’s sprawling urban centers. This latest surge spilled across a far greater geographic footprint, scarring remote corners of the state that went largely unscathed for much of 2020.

Friday Links

Interestingly, hundreds of plant species in sand dunes have evolved sticky surfaces, suggesting utility in that habitat. Windblown sand coats these sticky surfaces – a phenomenon known as psammophory, which means “sand-carrying” in Greek. While a sandy coating may limit light from reaching plant surfaces, it also likely protects plants from abrasion and reflects light, reducing leaf temperature. It also defends plants from hungry predators.

Why isn’t it considered bad behavior to sit in front of a wall of screens filled with flashing numbers making bets on those numbers? Would it attract the cultural scolds if the people making those bets were drinking tall boys in brown bags, rather than sipping bespoke lattes?

Read the latest reports concerning Covid-19 and academia and it has become clear that the inequalities and representation of women have worsened. Women are submitting fewer preprints, dropping enrolments in university programmes, missing from pandemic-related scientific committees, and experiencing pressure during lockdown periods to take on traditional caregiving and domestic responsibilities. These are not simply temporary setbacks, but a call to reflect on longstanding social schemas. What this suggest is, that it is time for research that considers a wider array of variables.

“The joy of games like Hitman for me is that they’re presented with an incredibly straight face, but allow you to do incredibly silly things,” he told Polygon over email. “I’ve previously killed 553 people using only a fish in the game, so it just seemed like a natural progression for the freezer challenge.”

A website that claims to sell ad space for Covid-19 vaccinations has triggered both laughter and existential dread, with many expressing despair over the possibility that the absurd gimmick could actually be real.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do a diet study.  The wrong way is to send a survey to a few thousand people asking them to recall what they eat and linking those responses to outcomes down the road. That’s how we get studies that tell us that eggs kills you, or keep you healthy, or something. The right way is to do what the good folks at the NIH did in this study appearing in Nature Medicine – lock people in a room for 28 days and measure absolutely everything.’

To answer that requires explaining the concept of short selling, which most civilians find nearly incomprehensible. A short sale is a bet that a stock (or any other speculative asset, like bonds or gold) is going to decline in price. But to make that bet, you have to sell something you don’t already own, which is not normal behavior. To accomplish this, you have to borrow the stock from somebody who does own it. As with any loan, you have to pay interest on the borrowed asset. And you also have to keep some collateral on deposit with your broker as an assurance you’re good for the money. The hope is that the price will fall, and you can buy the shares — cover the short, in the jargon — at a lower price. Your profit would be the difference between the original sale price and the closing purchase price, minus any interest paid on the borrowed asset.

But what if you’re wrong, and the price rises? Then you’re in trouble. When you buy a stock, your risk is that you could lose the entire purchase price — but no more. With short selling, if you’re wrong, there’s no predetermined limit to how much you can lose if the price keeps rising. And if the price keeps rising, your broker will demand more collateral in the form of real money. You have a choice between giving up — covering the short and taking the loss — or keep pouring more collateral into a losing position in the hope that things will finally turn your way.

But the researchers wanted to know whether there was a reason for the cats to go wild, beyond pure pleasure. That is when one of the scientists heard about the insect-repelling properties of nepetalactone, which about 2 decades ago was shown to be as good as the famed mosquito-stopper DEET. The researchers hypothesized that when felines in the wild rub on catnip or silver vine, they’re essentially applying an insect repellant.

If you were an adherent of the ceiling view, you might reasonably say, look, even if the effect of income on happiness is linear in the log of income, that’s basically the same as saying it’s not linear in income, and that above some threshold or ceiling you’d need to increase your income by a lot in order to see any substantial increase in happiness.

So you can see why an advocate of the threshold or ceiling view of income satisfaction might be unconvinced that the log-linearity of happiness in income is much to be concerned about. Sure, it’s still growing, but after the initial steep increase in happiness that comes with getting some money, across most of the range of achievable incomes the increase is negligible.

Enslavement in the northern states is often glossed with a statement about how the practice was ended in such and such a year. The reality is more complicated. Emancipation was piecemeal, gradual, and, when it came to visitors from other states and even nations, often ambiguous.

Friday Links

Fourier was an early socialist, envisioning a society divided into “phalanxes,” cooperative, self-sufficient communities composed of exactly 1,620 people—two of each of the 810 character types that he believed comprised the human race. In the mid-nineteenth century, Levi writes, around 200,000 people in the United States subscribed to Fourier’s political philosophy, and there were many Fourierist publications and groups in the United Kingdom and France, too.

In Harmony, children’s early education would take place largely in the kitchen, which should be outfitted with tools designed for small hands.

“In common with the rest of the population, the children should work with their tastes and thus be primarily involved in preparing their favorite foods: dishes such as sugared creams, compotes, cakes, jams, and fruits,” Levi writes.

Fourier even suggested replacing war with an enormous, months-long cooking contest, with alliances resulting in innovative combinations of dishes, and victory celebrated by the release of 300,000 Champagne corks. In response to those who might mock this vision, he noted that the cruelty and suffering of real-world war must surely be seen as more ridiculous.

Radiocarbon dating only works on organic material, so how do you accurately measure the last time rocks and sediment saw sunlight? Luminescence dating.

For decades now, families have been baffled by the E.F.C., the output of a federal formula that uses income and some household assets. Given that it doesn’t account for parents’ own student debts, for instance, plenty of people wondered whether the extra-large number was what they were supposed to pay for four years of college, not just one. It wasn’t.

I used to be virtual. Now I’m remote.

The way we describe our digitally mediated selves, the ones that whirl through computer screens like silks through a magician’s hands, has changed during the pandemic. The change is more than just a matter of terminology. It signals a shift in perception and perhaps in attitude. “Virtual” told us that distance doesn’t matter; “remote” says that it matters a lot. “Virtual” suggested freedom; “remote” suggests incarceration.

Consider three special dice: A, B, and C. On a fair roll, A is more likely to beat B. B is more likely to beat C. But C is more likely to beat A. These are nontransitive dice.

An analysis by the Georgetown center using College Scorecard data found that nurses with associate degrees from a community college in California make more than graduates of a dozen master’s degree programs at Harvard

That students don’t know their likely future incomes well before they graduate is particularly surprising given that getting a good job is now the No. 1 reason they say they go to college, according to a nationwide survey of freshmen by an institute at the University of California at Los Angeles — edging out “learn[ing] more about things that interest me” — and that 84 percent said it was very important or essential to them to be financially very well off.

Friday Links

According to legend, Charlemagne liked to lay out his lavish banquets on a sparkling-white tablecloth spun from pure asbestos. After his guests had eaten their fill, the king would pluck the tablecloth off the table and fling it into the hearth. In the blaze, the cloth turned fiery red, but did not burn. When it was plucked out, it was cleaner than ever, with the debris of the meal roasted away.

But asbestos was also turned to less scrupulous uses. The wondrous properties of the material made it a prime tool for the creation of false relics: its incombustibility served as proof of authenticity. Scammers passed off chunks of asbestos as fragments of the True Cross, and the monks of Monte Cassino bought an asbestos towel under the impression that it was the cloth Jesus had used to wash his disciples’ feet.

Piloting an ocean exploration ship or Martian research shuttle is serious business. Let’s hope the control panel is up to scratch. Two studs wide and angled at 45°, the ubiquitous “2x2 decorated slope” is a LEGO minifigure’s interface to the world.

These iconic, low-resolution designs are the perfect tool to learn the basics of physical interface design. Armed with 52 different bricks, let’s see what they can teach us about the design, layout and organisation of complex interfaces.

Welcome to the world of LEGO UX design.

Friday Links

Cut to a couple of days ago, when I come across this article in Nature – the first deep dive attempting to answer the question of just how protective those coronavirus antibodies are.

And, at first blush at least, the news isn’t great.

On July 28, 1932, President Herbert Hoover dispatched federal troops and tanks to disperse the “Bonus Army,” tens of thousands of jobless World War I veterans and their families who’d been protesting in the nation’s capital. The troops used tear gas. Two men and two infants were reported dead. As one of the first major protests in which the American government used tear gas—which is considered a weapon of war—on its own citizens, the Bonus Army incident created public outrage, ruining any chance of Hoover’s reelection. For the chemical companies trying to sell tear gas to law enforcement, however, the Bonus Army was a successful demonstration of their product.

It’s one of the more important things in game theory that a signal has to be a costly signal.... A reputation in deterrence theory is something that is worth having, but not worth getting.

ZEIT: Der ehemalige schwedische Staatsepidemiologe Johan Giesecke hat gesagt: “Der Unterschied zwischen Schweden und Deutschland ist, dass Deutschland seine Wirtschaft ruiniert.”

Angner: Johan Giesecke ist so viel in den Medien, weil er sehr selbstbewusst ist und einfach sachen raushaut. Ein klarer fall von Selbstüberchätzung.

Before looking at the impact on New York City and other dense urban centers in the US, the fact that work from home has worked at all calls into question many heretofore unquestioned norms of office like, like the true utility of having workers on premises. How much of formal and informal information-sharing is actually productive, as opposed to gossip and political jockeying? For instance, the pre-Carly-Fiorina Hewlett Packard was cognizant of the potential for meetings to be time-wasters, and required that they be held with all participants standing up.

Caveats: data is really limited.  Studies are sort of trickling out in pre-print form and in various esoteric journals. But I’ll point out a couple that hold water for me. The first, a pre-print out of China, looked at just over 2000 COVID-positive individuals and reported that there was a higher infection rate in people with Type A blood.

About Me

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