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.

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

I’ve been reading Michael Sandel’s powerful new book The Tyranny of Merit, and it occurred to me that, in over 25 years of being involved in higher education, I have never heard of anyone unpacking the knapsack of college privilege. The more I reflect on this, the more stunning I find it, given just how many advantages our society bestows on college graduates.

The Tyranny of Merit is a searing account of the way that our system of meritocracy has perverted our democracy, and the central responsibility that higher education bears for this disaster. Meritocracy can be defined as the idea that people with the highest merit should rise to the top, and that those who have achieved high places have earned their comfort, status and authority.

Merit is, of course, contextual. In a warrior society, merit would be determined by prowess with a gun or a sword. In our knowledge-based economy, graduating from college is the single most powerful symbol of making it. But, as Sandel highlights, there is a problem with this. He writes, “Elites have so valorized a college degree -- both as an avenue for advancement and as the basis for social esteem -- that they have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate.”

But clearly having a college degree is a form of identity that confers massive privileges, which also impact lived experience and perspective. So why do other forms of identity get movements with profound cultural power (Me Too and Black Lives Matter), while the scant attention paid to educational privilege is wrapped in the boring language of economics with phrases like "the returns to education"?

The hard truth is that, even as colleges critique other forms of privilege, they do everything in their power to advertise the massive advantages graduates of their institution enjoy. College equals privilege. It’s part of the brand, a feature, not a bug.

I’m trying to find a kinder word for this than hypocrisy, but if we look at this situation from the perspective of those who do not have college degrees, how would we characterize it? So many people learn in college that privilege is nefarious, and yet they are part of a system whose goal is to confer advantage.

Early learning programs are collapsing under the financial and logistical strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a July survey, 40% of child care providers, and half of providers of color, reported that they were certain they would close permanently without public assistance. Now, about half of providers report having to take on debt and raise their tuition by 11% to 14% to stay open due to pandemic-related expenses. If families who are already struggling financially during the pandemic cannot afford increased tuition, early learning programs will continue to permanently close. Black and Latino families already had inadequate access to high-quality early learning programs before the pandemic, and these new child care challenges will reduce this access even more.

Among the reasons people aren’t enrolling, particularly at community colleges, is that they’re too busy navigating economic uncertainty to make college a priority. But Strada’s data suggest that when workers eventually do set out to learn new skills, they’re most likely to enroll in a nondegree program or seek skills training.

The full spectrum of high- to low-quality instructional techniques implemented in traditional, face-to-face classrooms across the country can be implemented in some form or another (with similar rates of success) virtually. The prerequisites for quality education—whether it be online or face-to-face—are more similar than they are different. If you want to know whether crisis schooling (regardless of whether it's online or face-to-face) can ever compare with non-crisis schooling, then of course not. That speaks more to the pandemic and the state of this country than it provides any true test of the promise or limitations of online learning.

I’ll state at the outset here that “firsts” are always a tricky thing to write about, especially when it comes to an artistic technique as widespread and important as vanishing point perspective. There are other candidates and other artists for this record, but the Florentine fresco Holy Trinity by early Renaissance artist Masaccio is a widely recognised contender for the first ever use of a single vanishing point in a work of art.

A growing body of scientific evidence also shows that the joy delivered by birds isn’t just anecdotal. Research increasingly links exposure to nature—and specifically, exposure to birds—with improved wellbeing.

The number of rural students expected to enroll in college in the near future has plummeted due to COVID-19. A major indicator of this trend is that the number of rural students completing federal application forms for financial aid has dropped by 16 percent compared to last year. This is higher than the 14.2 percent drop amongst urban students.

In some rural states, the drop was even bigger. For example, West Virginia experienced a 26.1 percent decrease, while Louisiana fell by 26.4 percent.

Back in the first heyday of artificial intelligence, there was a lot of optimism about the rate of progress. In a fairly short time, computers could already do complicated math and play chess faster and better than people. AI researchers had already solved many of the problems that were a marker of intelligence in people – the hard stuff – so surely a truly intelligent machine was not far behind?

Well, it turns out that it’s actually really difficult to teach a robot to walk on two legs, or train an algorithm that can simulate a convincing conversation. It’s not impossible, as the last few years of AI have demonstrated, but it’s several orders of magnitude more complicated than something like chess. To put it another way, for a machine hard is easy and easy is hard.

For instance, at a national level, caesarean section rates are over 50 per cent in the Dominican Republic Brazil, Egypt and Turkey, compared to around 30 per cent in Australia and the USA, and less than three per cent in South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia. The World Health Organization has advised that caesarean section rates higher than 15 per cent at a population level may not improve women’s or babies’ health; while caesarean section rates below 10 per cent may be a sign of inadequate access to quality maternity care.

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.

Friday Links

Transmission of viruses was lower with physical distancing of 1 m or more, compared with a distance of less than 1 m (n=10 736, pooled adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0·18, 95% CI 0·09 to 0·38; risk difference [RD] −10·2%, 95% CI −11·5 to −7·5; moderate certainty); protection was increased as distance was lengthened (change in relative risk [RR] 2·02 per m; pinteraction=0·041; moderate certainty). Face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection (n=2647; aOR 0·15, 95% CI 0·07 to 0·34, RD −14·3%, −15·9 to −10·7; low certainty), with stronger associations with N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar (eg, reusable 12–16-layer cotton masks; pinteraction=0·090; posterior probability >95%, low certainty).

There’s a joke: What do you call 1000 good cops and ten bad cops? 1010 bad cops....

It seems paradoxical at first. While people do escape to cheery landscapes, like the farm of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, they also spend their money on games engineered to inspire terror, fear, and anxiety. Doom Eternal, Nioh, and Resident Evil all saw high download numbers in the last few months.

What’s the appeal? In the journal Preternature, authors Robert M. Geraci, Nat Recine, and Samantha Fox make a compelling case that video games like these have a meaningful psychological role, especially today. “Faced with physical and psychological dangers, human beings imagine them as monsters and seek to master them,” they explain.

“The horrific experience of videogames, and hence their cathartic appeal, emerges when a game produces a constant level of anxiety in players while allowing the players to act on it,” the authors explain.

Gloves, masks, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are key to keeping us safe, especially as we began to ease the lockdown rules. Yet, the environmental watchdogs worry that all that PPE will flow into the ocean. ” If they’re thrown on the streets, when it rains the gloves and masks will eventually end up in the sea,” biologist Anastasia Miliou at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation in Greece told Deutsche Welle.

Heroism by the many or the repeated heroism by occupant after occupant of a given role indicates the failure of the surrounding system. Adequate supplies, for example, or prompt pre-emptive action would have changed the effort required of many health care providers from heroic to merely demanding. In that sense, the accolades, deeply deserved as they are, can serve to divert our attention from the less glamorous, indeed the mundane work of repairing the systems so that heroes need not show up en masse to hold together a wheezing and crippled health care system.

Vavilov hypothesized that farmers never intentionally tried to domesticate the rye plant. Ancient weeding methods were based on visual cues—if something looked like a weed, it was plucked. Farmers spent generations unintentionally selecting for rye plants that looked like useful wheat, not weeds. Eventually, rye mimicked wheat so successfully, the two became almost indistinguishable.

The pants allegedly disappeared in 2005. Whenever the business offered to settle, Pearson moved the goalposts, saying he remained unsatisfied. His demands continued to escalate, and he also offered a ridiculous theory of the damages he sought under the D.C. consumer-protection statute. By April 2007, he was demanding over $65 million to settle a claim for a pair of missing pants. The case went to trial, and he lost. He appealed and lost. He sought en banc review and lost. That was, at least, the end of the litigation against the dry cleaners. But Pearson wasn’t done. After losing his ALJ job—some believed the litigation showed poor judgment, you see—he sued for wrongful termination, still insisting he had been in the right. He lost. He appealed, and lost.

Turns out that if you persist in making the same frivolous arguments for a sufficient number of years, the bar association may take notice. In 2015, the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed ethics charges against Pearson, which, of course, he furiously contested on the grounds that he had been right all along. He lost. And, of course, he appealed....

Friday Links

With several universities now coming to grips with the fact that they will still be online in the Summer (and most likely the Fall), several are turning to how to quickly train their entire faculty in online teaching in a hurry.

Out of all the different ways to approach learning theory, I like focus on power dynamics first when it comes to designing a course. So think about the overall power dynamic you want to see happening in your course. This can change from week to week, but in general most courses stick to one for the most part. The question is: who determines what learners will learn in your course, and who directs how it is learned?

This is such a strange and necessary time to talk about education technology, to take a class about education technology, to get a degree in education technology because what, in the past, was so often framed as optional or aspirational is now compulsory — and compulsory under some of the worst possible circumstances

One of the reasons that I am less than sanguine about most education technology is because I don't consider it this autonomous, context-free entity. Ed-tech is not a tool that exists only in the service of improving teaching and learning, although that's very much how it gets talked about. There's much more to think about than the pedagogy too, than whether ed-tech makes that better or worse or about the same just more expensive. Pedagogy doesn't occur in a vacuum. It has an institutional history; pedagogies have politics. Tools have politics. They have histories. They're developed and funded and adopted and rejected for a variety of reasons other than "what works." Even the notion of "what works" should prompt us to ask all sorts of questions about "for whom," "in what way," and "why."

Surveillance is not prevalent simply because that's the technology that's being sold to schools. Rather, in many ways, surveillance reflects the values we have prioritized: control, compulsion, efficiency.

Independent learning is a skill, and like most skills, you need to start slowly and carefully. Suddenly being thrown into ten courses online is not the best way to go. Many will sink, although some will certainly swim. However, experience tells us that graduate, older and lifelong learners all do much better in online learning than undergraduates. Blended learning – a mix of face-to-face and online – though is a very good way to ease gently into online learning. Introducing online or digital learning gradually in first year, supported by face-to-face classes, is a much better strategy.

As the author of a book on opportunity cost, I might be expected to be enthusiastic about the idea that trade-offs are always important in economic and policy choices. This idea is summed up in the acryonymic slogan TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). In fact, however, a crucial section of Economics in Two Lessons is devoted to showing that There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch. It is only when all free lunches have been taken off the table that we reach a position described, in the standard jargon, as Pareto-optimal.

To me, this is an example (and there are many right now) of the extent to which the fairness of the legal system may turn less on the words we use in a law than on the discretion of those who have the power to enforce it.

This evolved into an entire subcultural practice, called Grangerization. Hobbyists used printed books as the basis for a multidimensional media project. They pasted prints, as well as pages of text from other books, into the original volume, making connections between related topics.

In some cases, the resulting work smacked of obsessive fandom. One collector expanded a copy of an 1828 biography of Lord Byron from two volumes to five, rebinding the pages to accommodate 184 illustrations and 14 letters and autographs. Another turned a three-volume 1872 biography of Charles Dickens into nine oversized books packed with broadsides for performances, actor portraits, letters, and images taken from illustrated editions of the author’s books.

Grangerization reached its height of popularity in the first half of the nineteenth century. But not everyone saw it as an innovative, creative hobby. The idea of removing pages from one book to create something new infuriated some critics. One called Grangerization a “monstrous practice” of “hungry and rapacious book-collectors.” Another diagnosed its practitioners with “a vehement passion, a furious perturbation to be closely observed and radically treated wherever it appears, for it is a contagious and delirious mania.”

One advantage of today’s digital media is that we can freely copy material without tearing up precious original work. Of course, today’s Grangerizers have their own ethical questions, like plagiarism, to consider.

"The variation being meant as an evident one, accordingly as presenting in pure intuition the possibilities themselves as possibilities, its correlate is an intuitive and apodictic consciousness of something universal. The eidos itself is a beheld or beholdable universal, one that is pure, 'unconditioned,' that is to say according to its own intuition sense, a universal not conditioned by any fact."

A little-known Democratic senator from Missouri rides the public anger, consequently emerging as a national leader. “Their greed knows no limit,” said Harry Truman in February 1942 in talking about military contractors accused of gouging the government at such a critical time.

The public agreed. A Gallup Poll noted that 69 percent of Americans wanted the government to exert controls on the profits earned by contractors during the war.

Private sector partnership in the face of community need is nothing new, and has long been integral in national response and rebuilding. Take, for example, the case of the Waffle House Index.

Waffle Houses are what they sound like: homey diners that dominate the southern part of the United States, serving up staple favorites like pies and iced tea. With that in mind, the index sounds like a whimsical measurement, but it actually refers to a serious, though informal, measurement of a crisis’s severity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the restaurant chain to gauge how badly an area is affected. As a former FEMA official told NPR, “If the Waffle House is open, everything’s good.”

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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