Friday Links

One of the most interesting things about computers is the way they hold a mirror up to us, a mirror that reflects not nature but our conception of nature. Attempts to create artificial intelligence force us to grapple with questions about our own natural intelligence — what it is, where it comes from, what its limits are. Programs for natural language processing raise hard questions about the origins and character of natural language. And in our attempts to create virtual worlds with virtual inhabitants — the metaverse, for instance — we confront profound questions about our being: What is a world? What does it mean to be in a world? What’s the relationship of mind and body? As Michael Heim wrote in his 1991 essay “The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace,” collected in the book Cyberspace: First Steps, “cyberspace is a metaphysical laboratory, a tool for examining our very sense of reality.”

Ken Adam, the set designer for many of the early films, paralleled Bond’s prewar traditionalism with an affinity for classical architecture. The British intelligence agency where Bond works is usually housed in a classical building. Likewise, Bond’s apartment, of which we catch a glimpse in Dr. No, is located in a Georgian-style building. The architecture that Bond inhabits resembles a kind of self-assured, institutional power, comparable to the status of the British before WWII.

Over 60% of all jobs in the U.S. typically require a high school education or less and pay accordingly. And for at least several decades, data from the New York Federal Reserve has shown what all college faculty and many parents and workers have long known: A large minority of bachelor’s degree holders are consistently underemployed, working in jobs requiring less formal education than they received. The educational attainment levels of the population, which are at historic highs, far exceed what the labor market requires. This is the real economy.

The format of this announcement is interesting. It tries desperately to strike a positive tone, with several paragraphs citing specific examples of the benefits of facial recognition and only gesturing to the potential for harm and abuse. I am glad Facebook sees so many great uses for it; I see them, too. But I wish the company were anywhere near as specific about the acknowledgements of harm. As it is presented, it looks defensive.

These presentations had the familiar vibe of an overly-ambitious video game reveal.

Facebook may be entirely invested in these efforts, but we have not yet come to terms with what the company represents today. It can parade its research projects and renderings all it wants, but the fact of the matter is that it is a company that currently makes the de facto communications infrastructure for much of the world, and frequently does a pretty poor job of it. Is this really the figurehead we want for the future of personal computing? Is this a company that we trust?

If you are like me, you may be thinking that it is sort of weird that this advertising company thinks it can create the mixed-reality future in software, hardware, and developer tools.

Let me start off by saying that MMORPGs are not typically good games....While many other kinds of games could be said to be based around "go here and kill things", the MMO needs to do it in a flatly consistent way due to the online shared world – hundreds of players running around the same sort of things – so they cannot be presented in a particularly interesting way outside of some flavour text.

Stiles argues that “the now-familiar trope of the mad scientist…traces its roots to the clinical association between genius and insanity that developed in the mid-nineteenth century.” In the early 1800s, the Romantics saw the condition as a “mystical phenomenon beyond the reach of scientific investigation.” The Victorians took a more detached and critical approach. “Rather than glorifying creative powers, Victorians pathologized genius and upheld the mediocre man as an evolutionary ideal,” Stiles writes. “All aberrations from the norm could be seen as pathological, including extreme intelligence.”

Friday Links

“For many less-educated Americans, the economy and society are no longer providing the basis for a good life. Concurrently, all-cause mortality in the U.S. is diverging by education — falling for the college-educated and rising for those without a degree — something not seen in other rich countries.”

Community and technical colleges educate more people per year than apprenticeship programs, coding boot camps and federal job training programs combined, noted Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America and author of the report. Nonetheless, many people underestimate the value of these institutions.

As four key insights in this analysis will later show, teacher, parent, and student conversations on social media have been largely siloed within their individual groups and focused on different aspects of the education system. However, the pandemic—and the far-reaching issues generated by it, such as an exam-grading controversy and students’ mental health—represent important moments when the three groups united in joint conversations around education, ripening the possibility for change.

Social listening is an innovative and relatively new research method for gathering and making sense of large amounts of social media data. We were particularly intrigued by the promise of social media data scraping for targeting the thoughts and sentiments of the millions of citizens whose voices simply cannot make it into even the most ambitious of surveys.

In 1927-1928, a large research study was undertaken by the Payne Fund, an educational foundation. Superintendents and principals in hundreds of American schools were surveyed; they were asked their views on the value and importance of educational broadcasting. The responses were so positive that it inspired the Ohio Department of Education, along with Ohio State University, to make educational broadcasts more widely available. The Ohio legislature allocated $20,000 for the project, and the Ohio School of the Air was born; it debuted on January 7, 1929, operating four days a week, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. By the end of 1929, more than 230 Ohio communities had installed radios in their schools so that students could hear the daily programs, broadcast from Ohio State’s WEAO in Columbus and powerful Cincinnati commercial station WLW.

Having a budget enabled the Ohio School of the Air to produce top-quality programs that were interesting for students, and easy for teachers to build discussions around—there were even sample lesson plans and suggested readings provided. It also meant being able to hire talented professionals to read poetry or perform Shakespearean plays, native speakers to give French lessons, and experienced musicians for music appreciation (a major plus for schools too small to have their own orchestras or glee clubs). And students were not just passive listeners: the lessons often included talks by well-known experts, like aviators, or doctors, or scientists, or journalists, or even the governor, who answered questions the students had asked.

But what Facebook has built, according to Horwitz, is not a system to protect the integrity and security of Facebook users with a large audience. It is an over-broad attempt to ward off what employees call “PR fires” — a side effect of which being that the users with the biggest megaphones are given another channel by which to spread whatever information they choose with little consequence.

When we do not believe we will need information later, we do not recall it at the same rate as when we do believe we’ll need it.Because the internet is readily available, we may not feel we need to encode the information. When we need the answer, we will look it up.

Friday Links

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone at colleges and universities wear masks indoors, even if they are fully vaccinated, in locales with substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus. Most of the country meets that standard at this point. The CDC also recommends that colleges offer and promote covid vaccines.

A series of influential articles published in the 1970s would argue that for a few decades after the Scopes trial, biology textbooks would become “less scientific.” According to these historians, textbook writers and publishers deleted sections about evolution, removed pictures of Darwin, softened “controversial” discussions by weaving in religious quotations, and moved the topic evolution to the last chapter of the textbooks, where it could easily be cut out (sometimes literally, with scissors).

Scholar Ron Ladouceur refers to this popular narrative as the “myth of Scopes,” which he defines as “the conventional belief that the theory of evolution…was fairly presented in high school textbooks prior to the Scopes trial, but that references to the topic were systematically removed by authors and publishers under pressure from Christian fundamentalists over the next 35 years.”

Orca will likely soon be dwarfed by competing projects in the US and Scotland that are expected to come online in the next two years. But even then, without much more public and private investment, the industry will be far from the 10 million tons per year that the International Energy Agency says are needed by 2030.

Like many pandemic-induced changes to American society, what remains to be seen is whether homeschooling is having a moment, or whether it is establishing itself as a permanent feature among educational options in the US. There are reasons to suspect it could be the latter.

Specifically, the researchers found that for every additional $50,000 of net worth accumulated at midlife, the risk of death later in life dropped by 5%.

Judging from the media coverage of the work from home (WFH) phenomenon, you’d think it’s become near universal. It’s not. In July, only about one in eight workers were teleworking—the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preferred term—and those are heavily concentrated in a few sectors and occupations, and among the highly credentialed.

According to BLS stats, in July 2021, just 13% of workers are doing so remotely because of the pandemic, down from 35% in May 2020, the first month the numbers were collected. (See graph below.) And that initial 35% number was inflated by the fact that so many workers who couldn’t work from home, like those in retail and hospitality, had been laid off. Since that peak, the share has declined in twelve of the subsequent fourteen months.

But most jobs just can’t be done remotely. Those who can work remotely have to be served by the majority of lower-status, lower-paid workers who make things and move them around. If they were paid not to work, money would quickly become worthless because there’d be nothing to buy with it—no food, no electricity, no appliances, no medical equipment, nothing.

We present a set of computing tools and techniques that every researcher can and should consider adopting. These recommendations synthesize inspiration from our own work, from the experiences of the thousands of people who have taken part in Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry workshops over the past 6 years, and from a variety of other guides. Our recommendations are aimed specifically at people who are new to research computing.

We all know of college students who are pre-med one minute and pursuing an architectural degree the next. A lot of those changes will be occurring early on, during the fall semester. We need to ensure that students, especially diverse students, don’t see this as a failure or setback but rather as an opportunity to help them find their way. Hopefully, some will take a path toward professions where their perspective and presence are critically needed.

Friday Links

The refusal of many people in the United States to get vaccinated has helped lead to a new surge of COVID-19 cases. But as a paper that health researchers Diane S. Saint-Victor and Saad B. Omer wrote back in 2013 shows, this kind of dynamic is not unique to our nation or our political moment. Vaccine refusal has stymied the eradication of many diseases.

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).

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

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.

About Me

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