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.

Friday Links

“A rooster sits on the apex of a barn roof. The roof pitches at an angle of 43 degrees above the horizontal and is made of wood painted red. On the northern side of the roof, there is a large tree which casts a shadow over most of the roof. On the southern side, there is a duck pond. There is a very light rain shower falling, and the wind speed is 20 km/h from the Southwest. It is 10:47am on the 19th of August and the current temperature is 14 degrees celsius. The rooster lays an egg. Which way does it roll?”

The correct answer to this puzzle is usually given as: “Roosters don’t lay eggs.”

I take offense at this for several reasons....

The scores showed only 39% of all students were proficient or advanced in English and that 40% were proficient or advanced in math. Only 20.7% of voucher students were proficient or advanced in English and just 17.8% were proficient or advanced in math.

It’s time for pi! This elusive irrational number has been chased by many mathematicians throughout history, but few were as successful as Zu Chongzhi, an astronomer and mathematician of southern China. Zu Chongzhi, by the way, was one of many inventors to re-create the south-pointing chariot and he also invented the “thousand league boat,” the Chinese foot-powered paddle boat. But his greatest legacy was his calculations for pi.

Three months after Nasrudin married his new wife, she gave birth to a baby girl.

“Now, I’m no expert or anything,” said Nasrudin, “and please don’t take this the wrong way-but tell me this: Doesn’t it take nine months for a woman to go from child conception to childbirth?”

“You men are all alike,” she replied, “so ignorant of womanly matters. Tell me something: how long have I been married to you?”

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“And how long have you been married to me?” she asked.

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“And how long have I been pregnant?” she inquired.

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“So,” she explained, “three plus three plus three equals nine. Are you satisfied now?”

“Yes,” replied Nasrudin, “please forgive me for bringing up the matter.”

Saturday Links

A line of discussion began in the group after Linda L. posted a screenshot of some caribou crossing the road in Finland - In all these miles of driving and recording by the Street View car, had it ever hit anything? Street View Roadkill? In theory you'd be able to see the entire story: a poor creature running into the road in front of the car and then left on the road out the other side. I had never seen anything, had others?

I had a friend once who claimed it was his special ability to be able to tell exactly when it would start raining. Like he’d look up at the sky and say “in 90 minutes, it will be raining”.  This is not the most useful of talents in the age of meteorology but nevertheless I thought of him as I read this study, appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine, which found that ED visits for respiratory complaints spiked before a thunderstorm.

“Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

Pearson, the world’s learning company, today released the results of its second Global Learner Survey, an annual study capturing the voice of learners worldwide. The findings show learners believe there is little likelihood of ever returning to the pre-COVID world of fully in-person work and learning, with more than 75% saying the pandemic has fundamentally changed education as we know it. While learners come to terms with this new reality, they also are pushing for schools and government to address inequity and rushing to gather the digital skills that will help them adapt to the new economy.

Theirtube is a YouTube filter bubble simulator that provides a look into how videos are recommended on other people’s YouTube. Users can experience how the YouTube home page would look for six different personas. Each persona simulates the viewing environment of real YouTube users who experienced being inside a recommendation bubble through recreating a YouTube account with a similar viewing history. TheirTube shows how YouTube’s recommendations can drastically shape someone’s experience on the platform and, as a result, shape their worldview.

It seems that, with a representative sample, when you throw grit into a regression along with measures of intelligence, grit just explains very little on its own. Grit just doesn’t contribute much at all to educational outcomes and has limited application in job-market success. In fact intelligence “contributes 48–90 times more than grit to educational success.” 1 More study is needed etc etc and I’ll wait for a good metastudy but still, it really isn’t looking good.

But I have been a teacher for 20 years, despite not yet turning 40, and every day it became clearer and clearer that not all students had the same gifts. Yes, of course, some of this variation is environmental. Of course it’s complicated. Of course I’ll never be able to understand all the science. But the realities of teaching and of having grown up in a school system where some students were so similar in so many ways but had such vastly different outcomes just wore me down every day. And then I discovered the behavioral genetics research and its description of how, for example, adopted siblings growing up in the same house and family would go on to totally different academic outcomes. I did not celebrate. I did give in. Because life’s not fair, and neither is school. And pretending like everyone has an equal shot at succeeding in either is the greatest cruelty I know.

Many ingredients combine to give U.S. soft power its strength and reach, but entertainment and culture have always been central to the mix. Film and television have shaped how the world sees the United States—and how it perceives the country’s adversaries. Yet that unique advantage seems to be slipping away. When it comes to some of the great questions of global power politics today, Hollywood has become remarkably timid. On some issues, it has gone silent altogether.

The most glaring example is the growing wariness of U.S. studios to do anything that might imperil their standing with the Chinese government. China’s box office is as large as the American one, and entertainment is above all a business. So Hollywood sanitizes or censors topics that Beijing doesn’t like. But the phenomenon is not limited to China, nor is it all about revenue. Studios, writers, and producers increasingly fear they will be hacked or harmed if they portray any foreign autocrats in a negative light, be it Russian President Vladimir Putin or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Today, audiences can take their pick: there is no shortage of jingoistic U.S. films or televisions series, nor of material that challenges pro-American foreign policy orthodoxies. When it comes to how other great powers are portrayed, however, some hot-button topics are now off limits. American films dealing with the history and people of Tibet, a popular theme in the 1990s, have become a rare sight. There has never been a Hollywood feature film about the dramatic—and horrific—massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn initially centered on a Chinese invasion in the United States but was later rewritten to make North Korea the aggressor instead of China. And Variety called the 2014 blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction “a splendidly patriotic film, if you happen to be Chinese.”

Nothing has happened to change the fact that after ten years, riders have always been fundamentally unwilling to pay prices that would cover Uber’s actual costs, that Uber was always less efficient than the traditional taxis it drove out of business, that its only “efficiency improvement” was to push driver compensation to minimum wage levels, and that its growth depended entirely on unsustainable predatory subsidies.

There needs to be discussion about how to best restructure airlines, tourist and entertainment industries because they have contributed to overall economic welfare in the past, and clearly can in the future. Uber has only served to reduce overall economic welfare. Society has nothing to gain from “saving” Uber.

When James Baldwin visited San Francisco in 1963 to film a documentary  about U.S. racism, he encountered neighborhoods in turmoil: the city was seizing properties through eminent domain, razing them, and turning them over to private developers. Part of a massive, federal urban renewal program, nearly 5,000 families—no fewer than 20,000 residents, the majority of them people of color—were being displaced from rental homes, private property, and businesses in the Western Addition neighborhoods. Baldwin spoke to a Black teenager who had just lost his home and watched as his neighborhood was destroyed. He told Baldwin: “I’ve got no country. I’ve got no flag.” Soon after, Baldwin would say:  “I couldn’t say you do. I don’t have any evidence to prove that he does.”

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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