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18 Oct 13:48

Not the Canadians, too!

by PZ Myers

They’re so nice. But they still have the same problems with sexual abuse.

Over the past month, a number of disturbing revelations have come to light within the Canadian literary community. I use the term “come to light” deliberately, because many of us were already fully aware of how dangerous it can be to be a woman in this particular culture.

At great risk to herself, Toronto poet Emma Healey penned a thoughtful, candid and scathing condemnation of the sexual and psychological abuse that exists in our own backyard. On the website, she detailed a relationship she had at 19 with an unnamed prominent Canadian writer and English professor. He was 34. The alleged ensuing dynamic was inappropriate at best, and entailed sexual assault at worst.

I think you’ll recognize this situation described by Healey:

Every time we treat issues of abuse as black-and-white – every time we ask a woman why she didn’t just leave the apartment or the relationship, why she didn’t just call the police, how she didn’t see it coming; every time we tell her not to feed the trolls or that she has no real proof or ask why she’d allow herself to be bullied by someone so insignificant in the first place – every time we do these things, no matter what our intentions, we are complicit in the systems that allow predatory individuals to thrive in small communities. Abusers whose power and influence seem relatively minor are often the most dangerous kind, since the people around them who can afford to ignore their behavior will do so until something drastic forces them to act, while those who have something to lose at their hands will continue to stay silent. A man who’s “no big deal” can still ruin your reputation. A man who’s “no threat” can still leave marks. A man who “doesn’t matter” can still set fire to your life and then walk away whistling.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past week, it’s the same thing I learn over and over again every single time I see women speaking out publicly against men who have harmed them. It is exhilarating and terrifying and heartrending to watch people tell their stories, to see the changes that can come from that telling. But victims of harassment, assault, rape and abuse deserve, absolutely and in every case, the dignity of being able to do whatever they want with their stories. Right now it feels as though we rely on them to pursue change by putting themselves and their experiences at the mercy of Twitter, Facebook, Gawker, Salon – of legions of strangers who all know they know better.

We consistently fail young women—all women—by tacitly relying on them to learn from each other, or from their experiences, which of the people in their communities they can and cannot trust. We ask them to police their own peers, but quietly, through back channels, without disturbing the important people while they’re talking. We wait for the victims of abuse to be the ones to take power away from their abusers, instead of working actively to ensure that these motherfuckers never get that far in the first place.

I remember when I first learned that women in my communities were having these quiet conversations with each other about who was a lech, who liked to get young women drunk, who cruised our conferences looking for people to prey upon, and I was horrified — I had no idea. One of the advantages of privilege is that I can be completely oblivious and ignore the problem. And then I was horrified even more as I learned that some people don’t react by getting angry with the men who abuse our groups, but rather with the women who dare to speak out loud what was previously only whispered.

It’s got to change. Everywhere. Including Canada.

18 Oct 21:38

Jailed former dictator Manuel Noriega suing game maker Activision

by Xeni Jardin
The former leader of Panama says he's entitled to compensation because his image appears in "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" without his consent. Read the rest
18 Oct 17:00

The "weirdest lock on earth" has a key like a tiny mechanical snake

by Rob Beschizza

That's how this remarkable design is described by lockpicker John Coulter, whose efforts have been stymied by its peculiar design: instead of being a straight, flat piece of metal, the key is a flexible chain similar to a watch strap, housed in a hard slip-casing that allows it to be inserted into the snaking design of the lock itseld.

Read the rest
18 Oct 19:20

If you don't agree to the new Wii U EULA, Nintendo will kill-switch it

by Cory Doctorow

When you bought your Wii U, it came with one set of terms-of-service; now they've changed, and if you don't accept the changes, your Wii seizes up and won't work. That's not exactly what we think of when we hear the word "agreement." Read the rest

16 Oct 16:48

A Softer World: 1160

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17 Oct 13:53

Writers condemn UK book censorship order

by Cory Doctorow

A large group of writers, including Stephen Fry, Jeffrey Archer, Katharine Norbury, Will Self, and others (include me!) have signed onto an open letter condemning a UK court decision that banned publication of a memoir because it revealed that the writer's child has autism and ADHD. Read the rest

17 Oct 15:20

Gamergate's heroes disappoint it

by Rob Beschizza
Andy Baio covers Gamergate's bewilderment and frustration as gamer heroes "disappear one by one into their blacklists." You'd think it might cause a little self-reflection, but that's not how the mob mind works.
17 Oct 15:04

Jesus Christ, we have an “Ebola Czar”

by PZ Myers

All right, this is ridiculous. Obama has appointed an Ebola Czar. By the most pessimistic speculations, we might have “as many as two dozen” infected people by November — right now, it’s a tiny handful. But we need an “Ebola Czar”. We had almost 2000 cases of malaria in 2011, do we have a “Malaria Czar”? We have at least 3000 deaths per year from flu — where is our “Flu Czar”?

We don’t even have a Surgeon General right now — the appointment has been held up by our Republicans in congress — but we have this very modern major figurehead installed in office. And the guy they’ve appointed is unqualified to be assessing the Ebola risks.

Klain is highly regarded at the White House as a good manager with excellent relationships both in the administration and on Capitol Hill. His supervision of the allocation of funds in the stimulus act — at the time and incredible and complicated government undertaking — is respected in Washington. He does not have any extensive background in health care but the job is regarded as a managerial challenge.

Oh. So Obama has created a prancing puppet to dance beneath the announcement, “we’re doing something about Ebola!” This is pure politics that has nothing to do with improving the health and safety of the country. You might be wise instead to look at the CDC’s list of primary US concerns for 2014.

Increase rates of HPV vaccination.
Promote the wise use of antibiotics.

Reduce the risk of prescription opioid deaths while
making sure patients have safe, effective pain treatment.

End polio everywhere.

Detect, fight and prevent infectious diseases to improve global health and protect health security

Make a “czar” for those, guy.

17 Oct 13:21

Woman-hating Internet losers attack Malala Yousafzai for … not being a good enough advocate for girls and women

by David Futrelle


Return of Kings contributor “Billy Chubbs,” whose previous contributions to the wisdom of the ages include posts titled Men Should Not Help Sluts, Bangable Women Can Still Be Gross, and Unmarried Older Women Need To Go Away, has outdone himself in the awfulness department with a post this week attacking 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai as “A Coward And A Hypocrite.”

Apparently inspired by Chubbs’ bold move, the Sarkeesian-hating, Anton LaVey-looking far-right nitwit Davis Aurini has junped on the bandwagon with his own blog post dissing Malala.

We’ll get to him in a minute. But first, Chubbs.

It’s hardly surprising that a writer for a site that portrays women as emotionally immature, intellectually inferior, and “inherently terrible people” would have a problem with a young woman known around the world for her courageous advocacy on behalf of education for girls.

But Chubbs attempts to portray himself as a true defender of “oppressed girls in crappy countries” and an enemy to “anti-female extremists.” Yes, that’s right: a man who has described young women as “society’s mobile sperm banks” and single women over 30 as “unappealing and repulsive … hoebags” is trying to pretend that he’s better advocate for girls’ and women’s rights than Malala Yousafzai.

His evidence that Malala is a “coward and a hypocrite?” The fact that she has not returned to Pakistan since being literally shot in the face by a Taliban assassin.

The reason the Taliban shot Malala in the head was to send a message that they would attack girls who wanted to get a western-style education. …

Getting shot in the head is pretty extreme, and I could respect Malala if she took it and continued to live in Pakistan. But she ran. She gave up. The extremists won unequivocally …

Malala has done more harm than good to oppressed girls in crappy countries. She says books and education are what we need to change the world, then proved that completely untrue after she ran away when a man with a gun fired a bullet into her.

Yes, what a coward for “running away” after a guy shot her in the face, say Billy Chubbs, a dude who claim to fame in the world is writing clickbait blog posts attacking women, under what I assume is a pseudonym, on a website run by a professional pickup guru who feels resentful that he has to wipe his own ass in order to appeal to women.

Malala has been an activist for education and against the Taliban since the age of 11, when she started writing a blog for the BBC on life in the Swat district of Pakistan, then under the control of the Taliban. A tireless advocate for girls while still a girl herself, she started receiving death threats, some slipped under her door, after her identity was publicly revealed. In 2012 she was shot in the face in an assassination attempt.

And Chubbs — who lives in Canada, and who is unwilling to even post a real picture of himself on the internet — thinks she’s a coward for not returning to Pakistan — where she was shot in the face, and where bookstores won’t even stock her book because of threats from the Taliban.

And he also seems to think that she’s “lucky” for being able to move to England.

Malala was lucky that she was co-opted for an agenda and was given a great place to live in the western world, because while she is touring the globe, advocating girls rights to education, those same girls are the ones forced to continue to live in places where they can be hurt and killed for trying to attend school.

And what were the “lucky” circumstances that led to her relocation to England? Oh yeah, she was shot in the face in a country without the medical infrastructure necessary to treat the injuries she received from being shot in the face.

Chubbs also throws in some old-fashioned imperialist arrogance and racism into the mix:

While Malala was laughing, playing and enjoying the safety of receiving an education in a predominantly white country found upon Christian morals, school girls in Africa were being kidnapped. …

So yes, never fear you ladies of the 2nd and 3rd world. You, too, can brave all those bad men and receive an education: so long as there are prosperous countries founded upon and still more or less exercising European Christian morals that still exist for you to run to (and which you can afford to run off to in the first place), and that you’re willing to be a hollow mascot for the powers that be in those countries.

At one point, Chubbs actually belittles her for … reading books:

Instead of reading text books and trying to fill her head with words, Malala would have been better served to take that textbook and hold it in front of her head to try and stop the bullet.

That doesn’t even make a tiny bit of sense.

Davis Aurini, meanwhile, has weighed in with an equally ridiculous, if not quite as outrageously offensive, attack on Malala for her … alleged unoriginality.

In Aurini’s view, Malala is a mere “youngling,” and a copycat of “Civilized” Western ideas. who doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize or the money that comes with it.

[F]or the most part, love ‘em or hate ‘em, the past recipients have at least made their mark on history. With few exceptions, they’ve all walked a dangerous path and stayed committed to their cause, and they’ve brought forth intellectual and political blossomings that were unprecedented. They’ve all been inventors.

You cannot say the same for Malala Yousafzai.

Thus far in her life, she’s been little more than a poster child for the prevailing superstitions of our times.  Arguing that women should be allowed to read books is not revolutionary when you live in Britain, and while it may be brave for a girl in Pakistan to make such statements, they’re still not creative in nature; she’s merely channelling the culture of the Civilized West, repeating words that were written by others.

This from a guy whose main claim to, er, creativity consists of this “film.”

So brave, dudes. So brave.


15 Oct 17:12

12 "Futuristic" Worlds Where Everybody Uses Obsolete Technology

by Diana Biller on io9, shared by Tina Amini to Kotaku

12 "Futuristic" Worlds Where Everybody Uses Obsolete Technology

Imagining the future is a huge challenge — few people saw smartphones and DNA-based medicine coming. But if you want proof that "futuristic" science fiction is always about the present, just look at the obsolete devices people think will still be around. Here are 12 future visions that include tech we've already abandoned.


15 Oct 22:32


16 Oct 15:59

Sightseers park to watch a Stratocruiser taxi across an underpass in Queens, New York, March 1951 - [1700x1137]

16 Oct 20:58

R2-D2s vs C-3POs

by adafruit

Adafruit 3695

Friend or Foe?.

The robots are coming!
But will they free or enslave us?
Our future hinges on whether
we create R2-D2s or C-3POs.

16 Oct 01:22

sourcedumal: mysharona1987: This about sums it up. This just...



This about sums it up.

This just goes to show that misogyny is real. So real.

16 Oct 01:47

At First She Thought It Was A Prank Call. But Her Quick Thinking Saved A Life. This is Genius.

by Geekfiller- Techrave

At First She Thought It Was A Prank Call. But Her Quick Thinking Saved A Life. This is Genius.

16 Oct 04:00

October 16, 2014

Hey geeks! We're having a hell of a time getting an ASL translator for for BAHFest East. If you know a professional in the area, please put us in touch! You can mail us here. This would be a paying gig on Sunday. Thanks!
16 Oct 13:44

A brilliant point about one bothersome sports commentator cliche

by Michael Katz

Joey is not wrong.

Best thing I'll see all day.

— edgeloading (@edgeloading) October 16, 2014

You can do better, announcers. The ball's in your court. Take it one word at a time. Don't U be the I in "platitude." Sentences: You can't teach that. You talk to win the game.

(h/t @DJBentley)

15 Oct 03:34

Don't confused 'oppression' with 'first world problems', it's a rookie error among feminists.

Wow, okay buddy, you’re BEGGING for a takedown here. 

First world problems? Not a thing. People who say shit like “first world problems” are massive racist, imperialist, dismissive assholes. 

If you’re ever tempted to say “first world problems,” do me a favor, and pull down a map. Tell me EXACTLY where the “third world” is. Make sure you correctly identify Switzerland as part of the third world, and Turkey as part of the First World. Don’t forget that Djibouti is a part of the first world. 

Literally sit down and learn what “third world” means and why people from nonwestern nations  think it’s a total bullshit term. 

Second: you think people in the so-called third world don’t care about shit like makeup, and love, and technology? You think they don’t care about internet harassment? You think women over there don’t care about street harassment? You think they don’t care about fashion and clothes? You think they don’t care about music and video games?

Because THEY DO. 

Right now, there is a woman in burundi teaching herself how to do a cut-crease eyeshadow look. Guaranteed. 

"Third world" nations have fashion shows and fashion magazines. They care about street harassment. They care about the internet. They play video games. They know more about anime than your sorry ass every will. And the idea of "first world problems," which makes it sound like all women in "third world" nations are dealing with starvation, rape, war, acid attacks etc. 

Is bullshit.



Women in Iran spend shitloads of money on makeup. Women in the DRC don’t just care about rape. Rape - the ONE THING westerners can be expected to know about women in Congo-Kinshasa - ranks NUMBER FOUR on the list of issues women in Congo want addressed. Political participation is number 1. Economic empowerment is number 2. Women in India are passionate about information technology, and you know what they hate? Coming to the United States, where Indian women in STEM are suddenly considered LESS GOOD than their male colleagues.  My friends in Senegal taught ME how to download movies off the internet. Zimbabwe has a fashion week. 

As Teju Cole points out: 

"I don’t like this expression "First World problems." It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.

One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion’s technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don’t wake up with “poor African” pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is—quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.” 

95% of the people who use bullshit expressions like “First world problems” have NO IDEA what life is like for people in the so-called third world. You just like sitting there derailing. 

And for the record? As a white, western feminist, DAMN RIGHT I concentrate on issues in the United States. Because when white western feminists try to “save” women outside the west? We do a SHIT job of it. We’re the ones who bowl over actual congolese women, and what THEY want, and say that the #1 issue affecting them is rape. We become arms of the imperialist patriarchal complex. 

Classic example: the guy who was ruling Egypt for the British got british feminists to help him in his anti-headscarf campaign in Egypt. Why did he hate headscarves? Because he wanted to *break the spirit* of Egyptians. Not because he gave a shit about women’s rights. 
How do I know that? 
Because he was the head of the anti-women’s-suffrage group in England. 

When women who live outside the west do awesome things, I will signal-boost them, and I will do whatever they think I can do to help. But I follow their lead. Because these are THEIR issues, and THEY know what matters to them. Not me. 

FINALLY: My problems are not trivial. My problems are not bullshit. My problems are not to be dismissed with your racist, imperialist logic. Dress codes and makeup and music and books and video games MATTER. They matter to me. They matter to my life. 

So fuck you. 

And fuck your assumptions. 

And maybe consider that YOUR first world problem? 
Is that you can’t “see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.” 

15 Oct 17:28


15 Oct 00:00


by xkcd


If you stripped away all the rules of car racing and had a contest which was simply to get a human being around a track 200 times as fast as possible, what strategy would win? Let's say the racer has to survive.

Hunter Freyer

The best you'll be able to do is about 90 minutes.

There are lots of ways you could build your vehicle—an electric car,[1]With wheels designed to dig into the pavement on turns. a rocket sled, or a carriage that runs along a rail on the track—but in each case, it's pretty easy to develop the design to the point where the human is the weakest part.

The problem is acceleration. On the curved parts of the track, drivers will feel powerful G forces.[2]Which you can broadly call either "centrifugal" or "centripetal" forces, depending on exactly which type of pedant you want to annoy. The Daytona Speedway in Florida has two main curves, and if the vehicles go around them too fast, the drivers will die from the acceleration alone.

For extremely brief periods, such as during car accidents, people can experience hundreds of Gs and survive. (One G is the pull you feel when standing on the ground under Earth's gravity.) Fighter pilots can experience up to 10 Gs during maneuvers, and—perhaps because of that—10 Gs is often used as a rough limit for what people can handle. However, fighter pilots only experience 10 Gs very briefly. Our driver would be experiencing them, in pulses, for minutes and probably hours.

There's a good NASA document on the physical effects of acceleration here, and a particularly helpful chart in Figure 5 here.

But the most fun data comes from John Paul Stapp. Stapp was an Air Force officer who strapped himself into a rocket sled and pushed his body to the limit, taking careful notes after every run. You can read a great essay about him on the Ejection Site. The whole story is fascinating, but my favorite line is, "... Stapp was promoted to the rank of major [and] reminded of the 18 G limit of human survivability ..."

Stapp aside, the data shows that for periods on the order of an hour, normal humans can only handle 3-6 Gs of acceleration. If we limit our vehicle to 4 Gs, its top speed on the turns at Daytona will be about 240 mph. At this speed, the course will take about 2 hours to complete—which is definitely faster than anyone has driven it in an actual car, but not by that much.

But wait! What about the straightaways? The vehicle will be accelerating during the turns, but coasting on the straightaways. We could instead accelerate the vehicle up to a higher speed while on straight segments, then decelerate it back down when approaching the end. This would result in a speed profile like this:

This has the additional advantage that—with some clever back-and-forth maneuvering on the track—the driver can be kept at a relatively constant acceleration through the whole trip, hopefully making the forces easier to endure.

Keep in mind that the direction of the acceleration will keep changing. Humans can survive acceleration best if they're accelerated forward, in the direction of their chest, like a driver accelerating forward. The body is least capable of being accelerated downward toward the feet, which causes blood to pile up in the head. To keep our driver alive, we'll need to swivel them around so they're always being pressed against their back. (But we have to be careful not to change direction too fast, or the centrifᵫtal[3]Splitting the difference. force from the swiveling of the seat will itself become deadly!)

The fastest modern Daytona racers take about 3 hours to finish the 200 laps. If limited to 4 Gs, our driver will finish the course in a little under an hour and 45 minutes. If we raise the limit to 6 Gs, the time drops to an hour and 20. At 10 Gs—well past human tolerability—it would still take an hour. (It would also involve breaking the sound barrier on the backstretch.)

So, barring dubious concepts like liquid breathing, human biology limits us to Daytona finishing times over an hour. What if we drop the "survive" requirement? How fast can we get the vehicle to go around the track?

Imagine a "vehicle" anchored with Kevlar straps to a pivot in the center, reinforced with a counterweight on the other side. In effect, this is a giant centrifuge. This lets us apply one of my favorite weird equations,[4]See footnote [8] in article #86. which says that the edge of a spinning disc can't go faster than the square root of the specific strength[5](tensile strength divided by density) of the material it's made of. For strong materials like Kevlar, this speed is 1-2 km/s. At those speeds, a capsule could conceivably finish the race in about 10 minutes—although definitely not with a living driver inside.

Ok, forget the centrifuge. What if we build a solid chute, like a bobsled course, and send a ball bearing (our "vehicle") rocketing down it? Sadly, the disc equation strikes again—the ball bearing can't roll faster than a couple km/s or it will be spinning too fast and will tear itself apart.

Instead of making it roll, what if we make it slide? We could imagine a diamond cube sliding along a smooth diamond chute. Since it doesn't need to rotate, it could potentially survive more accelerations than a rolling ball bearing. However, the sliding would result in substantially more friction than the ball bearing example, and our diamond might catch fire.

To defeat friction, we could levitate the capsule with magnetic fields, and make it progressively smaller and lighter to accelerate and steer it more easily. Oops—we've accidentally built a particle accelerator.

And while it doesn't exactly fit the criteria in Hunter's question, a particle accelerator makes for a neat comparison. The particles in the LHC's beam go very close to the speed of light. At that speed, they complete 500 miles (30 laps) in 2.7 milliseconds.

Wikipedia lists about 850 motor racing tracks. The LHC beam could run the equivalent of a full Daytona 500 on each of those 850 tracks, one after another, in about 2 seconds, before the drivers had made it to the first turn.

And that's really as fast as you can go.

16 Oct 22:16

FBI chief demands an end to cellphone security

by Cory Doctorow

If your phone is designed to be secure against thieves, voyeurs, and hackers, it'll also stop spies and cops. So the FBI has demanded that device makers redesign their products so that they -- and anyone who can impersonate them -- can break into them at will. Read the rest

16 Oct 12:59

Umbrella with no support frame

by Rob Beschizza

The Sa umbrella is said to use the "principles of origami" to maintain its shape. Read the rest

16 Oct 19:03

Did You Pack This Nobel Prize Yourself?

by Kevin

Brian Schmidt (along with two others) won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, which implies the existence of a huge amount of "dark" energy and matter that we can't see but has the power to freak out scientists from billions of miles away for reasons that are still not clearly understood.

This has something to do with it

As Schmidt said in a recent speech, a different kind of "dark matter" bamboozled TSA agents when he traveled to Fargo a while back:

Nobel-prizeOne of the things you get when you win a Nobel Prize is, well, a Nobel Prize. It's about that big, that thick, weighs half a pound, and it’s made of gold.

When I won this, my grandma, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to see it.... You would think that carrying around a Nobel Prize would be uneventful, and it was uneventful, until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the X-ray machine. I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It's made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it's completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.

They're like, 'Sir, there’s something in your bag.'

I said, 'Yes, I think it’s this box.'

They said, 'What’s in the box?'

I said, 'a large gold medal,' as one does.

Up to this point, their reaction is understandable, and he is frankly just screwing with them a little. (As he may one day reveal he is doing with the whole "dark matter" thing.) But beyond this point we move into stupider territory.

So they opened it up and they said, 'What’s it made out of?'

I said, 'gold.' [What's this GOLD MEDAL made out of? Is that what you just asked me?]

And they’re like, 'Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?'

'The King of Sweden.' [See where it says "NOBEL" on it? Does that sound at all familiar?]

'Why did he give this to you?'

'Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.' 

At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, 'Why were you in Fargo?'


Left: Idea in normal mind.
Right: Same idea in mind of TSA agent.

Not really on topic, I suppose, except that it involves TSA buffoonery. I hereby extend my jurisdiction unilaterally to encompass that entire subject.

16 Oct 13:18

It takes a comedian

by PZ Myers

Joseph Scrimshaw explains why using “social justice warrior” as an insult makes you an idiotface, weakshoulders, and dunceburger. Yeah, I know, they’ll just say they’re using it sarcastically, but sarcasm takes some skill to use well, and they don’t.

16 Oct 01:09

Eliza vs Gamergate

by Cory Doctorow

When some genius set up a 1960s non-directive chatbot psychotherapist to reply to #notyourshield tweets, hilarity ensued! Read the rest

14 Oct 16:11

How English Beat German As the Language of Science

by timothy writes German was the dominant scientific language in 1900. Today if a scientist is going to coin a new term, it's most likely in English. And if they are going to publish a new discovery, it is most definitely in English. Look no further than the Nobel Prize awarded for physiology and medicine to Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Their research was written and published in English. How did English come to dominate German in the realm of science? BBC reports that the major shock to the system was World War One, which had two major impacts. According to Gordin, after World War One, Belgian, French and British scientists organized a boycott of scientists from Germany and Austria. They were blocked from conferences and weren't able to publish in Western European journals. "Increasingly, you have two scientific communities, one German, which functions in the defeated [Central Powers] of Germany and Austria, and another that functions in Western Europe, which is mostly English and French," says Gordin. The second effect of World War One took place in the US. Starting in 1917 when the US entered the war, there was a wave of anti-German hysteria that swept the country. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota there were many, many German speakers. World War One changed all that. "German is criminalized in 23 states. You're not allowed to speak it in public, you're not allowed to use it in the radio, you're not allowed to teach it to a child under the age of 10," says Gordin. The Supreme Court overturned those anti-German laws in 1923, but for years they were the law of the land. What that effectively did, according to Gordin, was decimate foreign language learning in the US resulting in a generation of future scientists who came of age with limited exposure to foreign languages. That was also the moment, according to Gordin, when the American scientific establishment started to take over dominance in the world. "The story of the 20th Century is not so much the rise of English as the serial collapse of German as the up-and-coming language of scientific communication," concludes Gordin.

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14 Oct 18:57


13 Oct 04:00

October 13, 2014

Prepping for BAHFest. Wish I could tell you about the secret thing.
13 Oct 19:10

The Math Behind the Rolling Shutter Phenomenon

by Jason Cole


I remember seeing the photo above on Flickr once, and having my brain melt slightly from trying to figure out what went wrong.

The issue was the propeller was rotating as the camera detector ‘read out’, i.e. there was some motion during the exposure of the camera. This is an interesting thing to think about, lets have a look.

Many modern digital cameras use as their ‘sensing’ device a CMOS detector, also known as an active-pixel sensor, which works by accumulating electronic charge as light falls upon it. After a given amount of time, the exposure time, the charge is shifted row-by-row back to the camera for further processing. There is then a finite time where the camera scans down the image, saving rows of pixels at a time. If there is any motion over this timescale the image will be distorted.

To illustrate, consider photographing a spinning propeller. In the animations below the red line corresponds to the current readout position, and the propeller continues to spin as the readout proceeds. The portion below the red line is saved as the captured image.

First, a propeller which completes 1/10th of a rotation during the exposure:

Some distortion, but nothing crazy. Now a propeller moving 10 times quicker, which completes a full rotation during the exposure:

This is starting to look like the Flickr image at the beginning. 5 times per exposure:

This is a little too far, things have clearly gone mental. Just for fun, let’s see what some different objects look like at different rotation speeds, from 0 to 1 rotation per exposure.

The same propeller as above:

A fatter propeller:

A car tire:

We can think of the rolling shutter effect being some coordinate transformation from the ‘object space’ of the real-world object, to the ‘image space’ of the warped image. The animation below shows what happens to the Cartesian coordinate grid as the number of rotations is increased. For small rotations the deformation is slight, as the number increases to 1 each side of the grid is moved successively towards the right-hand side of the image. This is a fairly complicated transformation to look at, but simple to understand.

Let the image be denoted by I(r,\theta), and the real object (which is rotating) be denoted by f(r,\theta) where (r,\theta) are 2D polar coordinates. Polar coordinates are a natural choice for this problem due to the rotational motion of the objects.

The object is rotating at angular frequency \omega, and the shutter progresses across the image at speed v in the vertical direction. At position (r,\theta) in the image, the distance the shutter has moved since the start of exposure is y = r\sin\theta, and so the time elapsed is (r\sin\theta) /v. In this time the object has rotated a number of radians (\omega/v) r\sin\theta). Putting this together,

I(r,\theta) = f(r,\theta + (\omega/v)r\sin\theta)

which is the required transformation. The factor \omega/v is proportional to the number of rotations during the exposure, and parameterises the transformation.

To get some insight into the apparent shapes of the propellers, we can consider an object consisting of P propellers where f is non-zero only for \theta = 2\pi/P, 4\pi/P \dots 2\pi = 2p\pi/P for 1 < p < P. The image I is then non-zero for

\theta + (\omega/v)r\sin\theta = 2p\pi/P


r = \frac{v}{\omega}\frac{2p\pi - \theta}{\sin\theta}

In Cartesian coordinates this becomes

\text{atan}\left(\frac{y}{x}\right) + \frac{\omega}{v}y = 2p\pi

which helps to explain why the propellers get that S-shaped look – it’s just an inverse tangent function in the image space. Cool. I’ve plotted this function below for a set of 5 propeller blades at slightly different initial offsets, as might be observed during a video recording. They look pretty much like the shapes in the animations above.

Now we understand a little more about the process, can we do anything about these ruined photos? Taking one of the warped images above, I can take a line through it, rotate backwards the appropriate amount, then stick those pixels onto a new image. In the animation below I scan through the image on the left, marked by the red line, then rotate the pixels along that line onto a new image. This way we can build a picture of what the real object looks like even if a pesky rolling shutter ruined our original image.

Now if only my photoshop skills were better I could extract the propellers from the original Flickr image, un-warp them, and slap them back on the photo. Sounds like a plan for the future.

To figure out the real number of blades in the photo at the top of the post and the rotation velocity we can look to this excellent post at Daniel Walsh’s Tumblr blog, where he definitely has the edge on mathematical explanation.

He works out that we can calculate the number of blades by subtracting the ‘lower’ blades from the ‘upper’ blades, so in this picture we know there should be 3. We also know the propeller is rotating approximately 2 times during the exposure, so if we try ‘undoing’ the rotation with a few different speeds around that we get something like this:

I’ve had to guess where the centre of the propeller is, and I’ve drawn a circle to guide the eye. Looking at that, the centre shouldn’t be too far off. There is unfortunately a missing blade, but there’s still enough information to make an image.

There is a sweet spot where everything overlaps the most, so picking this rotation speed (2.39 rotations per exposure), the original image and blades look like this:

It’s still a bit of a mess unfortunately, but at least looks something like the real object.

About the author: Jason Cole is a PhD student from London with a passion for math, physics, and data visualization. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.

14 Oct 15:26