Shared posts

25 Oct 16:00

iraffiruse: Frozach Submitted

24 Oct 17:05

The End Of Gamer Culture?

by Andrew Sullivan


Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.

So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.

Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).

There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.

But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.

The analogy a reader made this morning between the end of gamer culture and the end of gay culture was really helpful to me. I’ve written and blogged a lot about the end of gay culture; and I’ve always tried to present both sides of the argument. Yes, I wouldn’t trade our freedom for the closeted, marginalized past; at the same time, it’s impossible not to feel some regret at the close-knit, marginalized, very distinctive solidarity gays have lost as a group, and some affection for a world, built defiantly to defend itself against outsiders, that is dissipating before our eyes and on our apps. I’m for integration and against identity politics. But do I miss what, say, leather bars once were – and feel very conflicted now that bachelorette parties come and go as they please in some of them? Do I harbor some traces of resentment at those who treat gay culture as some kind of straight playground, or at the mob of straight folks who will swamp any gay presence at next week’s once-very gay high heel race in Dupont Circle? Guilty as charged.

And look, many gamers were the bullied in high school; this was their safe space; it was a place they could call home. They now feel it slipping away, and it has unhinged some and disconcerted many, as a lot of mainstream culture has heaped scorn and ridicule on them at the same time. And I’m sorry, but I feel some sympathy here. That sympathy has, alas, been swamped by revulsion at the rhetoric and tactics that have come to define this amorphous movement. I haven’t, to continue the analogy, gone stalking bachelorettes or yelling obscenities at them. I just sigh and move on. But these people do have a point; they have long been ostracized and marginalized; their defensiveness exists for a reason; and, in the last couple of months, they have also been the target of truly out-there dismissals and vitriolic abuse – often from other men, and often from those who were not bullied in high school at all.

Am I wrong to detect in this pile-on another round of bullying of these people, of treating them as scum, of dismissing anything they might have to say? Here are Gawker’s Sam Biddle’s tweets last week:

Ultimately #GamerGate is reaffirming what we’ve known to be true for decades: nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission

— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) October 16, 2014

Just to make sure his point wasn’t lost, he then facetiously tweeted:

Bring Back Bullying — Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) October 16, 2014

This was meant ironically, of course – a debating flourish. But the joke only works when you’re re-visiting those high school wars, only to dismiss the losers of them. It was a piece of condescending ridicule, designed to rub the losers’ faces in their own demise, from a prominent perch. Biddle is not alone. Here’s a now-infamous piece by Leigh Alexander:

‘Game culture’ as we know it is kind of embarrassing — it’s not even culture. It’s buying things, spackling over memes and in-jokes repeatedly, and it’s getting mad on the internet.

It’s young men queuing with plush mushroom hats and backpacks and jutting promo poster rolls. Queuing passionately for hours, at events around the world, to see the things that marketers want them to see. To find out whether they should buy things or not. They don’t know how to dress or behave… “Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad.

These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had.

This last meme – that these people are not even worthy of a hearing – is pretty endemic among the college-educated cool kids running online media operations. Here’s one Kyle Wagner:

What’s made [gamergate] effective, though, is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides…. Tomorrow’s Lee Atwater will work through sock puppets on IRC. Tomorrow’s Sister Souljah will get shouted down with rape threats. Tomorrow’s Tipper Gore will make an inexplicably popular YouTube video. Tomorrow’s Willie Horton ad will be an image macro, tomorrow’s Borking a doxing, tomorrow’s Moral Majority a loose coalition of DoSers and robo-petitioners and scat-GIF trolls—all of them working feverishly in service of the old idea that nothing should ever really change.

This is Deadspin’s spin on this. It’s pure vitriol, resting on an unspoken, hard left view of culture that is more disturbing because it presents itself as snark and analysis, rather than tired, easy agit-prop. It’s a classic piece that asks all the cool kids today to smear and dismiss all the bullied of yesterday – and give them one last shove into the locker. Gawker’s Joel Johnson actually cites the piece thus:

Gawker Media has been covering the often-confounding phenomenon of Gamergate in detail, and will keep on covering it.

That piece was not so much “covering the phenomenon” as viciously skewing it. And yes, its tone smacked of bullying and dismissal. When you’re telling people they don’t even deserve to be in a debate, and associate them with segregationists and every other entity good liberals have been taught to despise, “dismissive” is the least of it.

Look: whatever case the gamergate peeps have, they have botched it with their tactics. Those tactics have been repellent in every sense of the word. But bullying has occurred on both sides, and only one side was bullied before.

From my update, regarding that last sentence:

The two sides I am describing are the journalists whose work I was just criticizing and the gamergate supporters. Not the whole two sides of gamer culture; not men and women; just the journalists I’ve been citing, and the people they’ve been lambasting.

23 Oct 20:00

rispostesenzadomanda: How to catch a cat


How to catch a cat

24 Oct 16:00

catallenas: kuueater: doitsundere: lionessjenna: doitsundere: sure little guy nO

24 Oct 10:00

catastrofe: braking bad


braking bad

24 Oct 02:25

Someone get Conan some aloe. [@conanobrien/@madeleine]

Someone get Conan some aloe. [@conanobrien/@madeleine]

24 Oct 06:40


24 Oct 20:00

nevver: Marc Chagall in Milan

24 Oct 15:41

Mmm. Autobiographical.

by punchthemoon

Mmm. Autobiographical.

23 Oct 07:01


by Doug


I love spiders. Oh wait no they’re the worst creatures on earth.

23 Oct 16:00

People will stare. Make it worth their while → Krikor Jabotian...

People will stare. Make it worth their while → Krikor Jabotian Haute Couture | S/S ‘11

23 Oct 13:20

Movie laser guns have nothing on the real thing

by Steve Dent
Ray guns are high on the list of "physics gone wrong" movie tropes. Unlike the real thing, the blasts are much slower than light, visible in clear air and (depending on who's firing) highly inaccurate. However, laser physicists in Poland have just...
23 Oct 03:00

Mark Zuckerberg does a public Q&A session — in Mandarin Chinese

by Mark Sullivan
Mark Zuckerberg does a public Q&A session — in Mandarin Chinese

Mark Zuckerberg did a public Q&A session today — in Mandarin Chinese. Yes, the Facebook CEO set out to learn the (very difficult) language in 2010, in his spare time.

“On Wednesday I did my first ever public Q&A in Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing!” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook after the event. “We discussed connecting the world,, innovation, and the early days of Facebook.”

Zuckerberg barely uttered a single word in English — just one quick “I’m sorry,” when he misspoke.

After the CEO gave a short answer to the first question, loud applause, laughter, and a couple of gasps could be heard from the audience.

He made convincing inflections. He made jokes. He seemed totally relaxed.

Here’s the first part of the Q&A:

You can find the full video here.

VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Chime in, and we’ll share the data.

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

23 Oct 15:40

The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed | WIRED

A contractor at the Manila office of TaskUs, a firm that provides content moderation services to U.S. tech companies. Moises Saman/Magnum

The campuses of the tech industry are famous for their lavish cafeterias, cushy shuttles, and on-site laundry services. But on a muggy February afternoon, some of these companies’ most important work is being done 7,000 miles away, on the second floor of a former elementary school at the end of a row of auto mechanics’ stalls in Bacoor, a gritty Filipino town 13 miles southwest of Manila. When I climb the building’s narrow stairwell, I need to press against the wall to slide by workers heading down for a smoke break. Up one flight, a drowsy security guard staffs what passes for a front desk: a wooden table in a dark hallway overflowing with file folders.

Past the guard, in a large room packed with workers manning PCs on long tables, I meet Michael Baybayan, an enthusiastic 21-year-old with a jaunty pouf of reddish-brown hair. If the space does not resemble a typical startup’s office, the image on Baybayan’s screen does not resemble typical startup work: It appears to show a super-close-up photo of a two-pronged dildo wedged in a vagina. I say appears because I can barely begin to make sense of the image, a baseball-card-sized abstraction of flesh and translucent pink plastic, before he disappears it with a casual flick of his mouse.

Baybayan is part of a massive labor force that handles “content moderation”—the removal of offensive material—for US social-networking sites. As social media connects more people more intimately than ever before, companies have been confronted with the Grandma Problem: Now that grandparents routinely use services like Facebook to connect with their kids and grandkids, they are potentially exposed to the Internet’s panoply of jerks, racists, creeps, criminals, and bullies. They won’t continue to log on if they find their family photos sandwiched between a gruesome Russian highway accident and a hardcore porn video. Social media’s growth into a multibillion-dollar industry, and its lasting mainstream appeal, has depended in large part on companies’ ability to police the borders of their user-generated content—to ensure that Grandma never has to see images like the one Baybayan just nuked.

A contractor at the Manila office of TaskUs, a firm that provides content moderation services to U.S. tech companies. Moises Saman/Magnum


So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.

This work is increasingly done in the Philippines. A former US colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural ties to the United States, which content moderation companies say helps Filipinos determine what Americans find offensive. And moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages. Ryan Cardeno, a former contractor for Microsoft in the Philippines, told me that he made $500 per month by the end of his three-and-a-half-year tenure with outsourcing firm Sykes. Last year, Cardeno was offered $312 per month by another firm to moderate content for Facebook, paltry even by industry standards.

Here in the former elementary school, Baybayan and his coworkers are screening content for Whisper, an LA-based mobile startup—recently valued at $200 million by its VCs—that lets users post photos and share secrets anonymously. They work for a US-based outsourcing firm called TaskUs. It’s something of a surprise that Whisper would let a reporter in to see this process. When I asked Microsoft, Google, and Facebook for information about how they moderate their services, they offered vague statements about protecting users but declined to discuss specifics. Many tech companies make their moderators sign strict nondisclosure agreements, barring them from talking even to other employees of the same outsourcing firm about their work.

“I think if there’s not an explicit campaign to hide it, there’s certainly a tacit one,” says Sarah Roberts, a media studies scholar at the University of Western Ontario and one of the few academics who study commercial content moderation. Companies would prefer not to acknowledge the hands-on effort required to curate our social media experiences, Roberts says. “It goes to our misunderstandings about the Internet and our view of technology as being somehow magically not human.”

The road leading to The former office of TaskUs in Bacoor, a Manila Suburb. Moises Saman/Magnum

The road leading to The former office of TaskUs in Bacoor, a Manila Suburb.

Moises Saman/Magnum

A suicidal message posted by a whisper user and flagged for deletion by a TaskUs employee. Moises Saman/Magnum

A suicidal message posted by a whisper user and flagged for deletion by a TaskUs employee.

Moises Saman/Magnum

TaskUs contractors review content on their computers at their office in the Taguig district of Manila, on August 28, 2014. Moises Saman/Magnum

TaskUs contractors review content on their computers at their office in the Taguig district of Manila, on August 28, 2014.

Moises Saman/Magnum

Employees of Open Access BPO review content at the company's offices in Manila, on August 28, 2014. Moises Saman/Magnum

Employees of Open Access BPO review content at the company's offices in Manila, on August 28, 2014.

Moises Saman/Magnum

An Open Access BPO employee stares at his two computer screens as another employee takes a lunch break, on August 28, 2014. The office was undergoing renovations to accommodate an expansion. Moises Saman/Magnum

An Open Access BPO employee stares at his two computer screens as another employee takes a lunch break, on August 28, 2014. The office was undergoing renovations to accommodate an expansion.

Moises Saman/Magnum

Several content moderation companies have their Manila offices on Ayala Avenue, in the main business district. Moises Saman/Magnum

Several content moderation companies have their Manila offices on Ayala Avenue, in the main business district.

Moises Saman/Magnum

I was given a look at the Whisper moderation process because Michael Heyward, Whisper’s CEO, sees moderation as an integral feature and a key selling point of his app. Whisper practices “active moderation,” an especially labor-intensive process in which every single post is screened in real time; many other companies moderate content only if it’s been flagged as objectionable by users, which is known as reactive moderating. “The type of space we’re trying to create with anonymity is one where we’re asking users to put themselves out there and feel vulnerable,” he tells me. “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s tough to put it back in.”

Watching Baybayan’s work makes terrifyingly clear the amount of labor that goes into keeping Whisper’s toothpaste in the tube. (After my visit, Baybayan left his job and the Bacoor office of TaskUs was raided by the Philippine version of the FBI for allegedly using pirated software on its computers. The company has since moved its content moderation operations to a new facility in Manila.) He begins with a grid of posts, each of which is a rectangular photo, many with bold text overlays—the same rough format as old-school Internet memes. In its freewheeling anonymity, Whisper functions for its users as a sort of externalized id, an outlet for confessions, rants, and secret desires that might be too sensitive (or too boring) for Facebook or Twitter. Moderators here view a raw feed of Whisper posts in real time. Shorn from context, the posts read like the collected tics of a Tourette’s sufferer. Any bisexual women in NYC wanna chat? Or: I hate Irish accents! Or: I fucked my stepdad then blackmailed him into buying me a car.

A list of categories, scrawled on a whiteboard, reminds the workers of what they’re hunting for: pornography, gore, minors, sexual solicitation, sexual body parts/images, racism. When Baybayan sees a potential violation, he drills in on it to confirm, then sends it away—erasing it from the user’s account and the service altogether—and moves back to the grid. Within 25 minutes, Baybayan has eliminated an impressive variety of dick pics, thong shots, exotic objects inserted into bodies, hateful taunts, and requests for oral sex.

More difficult is a post that features a stock image of a man’s chiseled torso, overlaid with the text “I want to have a gay experience, M18 here.” Is this the confession of a hidden desire (allowed) or a hookup request (forbidden)? Baybayan—who, like most employees of TaskUs, has a college degree—spoke thoughtfully about how to judge this distinction.

“What is the intention?” Baybayan says. “You have to determine the difference between thought and solicitation.” He has only a few seconds to decide. New posts are appearing constantly at the top of the screen, pushing the others down. He judges the post to be sexual solicitation and deletes it; somewhere, a horny teen’s hopes are dashed. Baybayan scrolls back to the top of the screen and begins scanning again.

Eight years after the fact, Jake Swearingen can still recall the video that made him quit. He was 24 years old and between jobs in the Bay Area when he got a gig as a moderator for a then-new startup called VideoEgg. Three days in, a video of an apparent beheading came across his queue.

“Oh fuck! I’ve got a beheading!” he blurted out. A slightly older colleague in a black hoodie casually turned around in his chair. “Oh,” he said, “which one?” At that moment Swearingen decided he did not want to become a connoisseur of beheading videos. “I didn’t want to look back and say I became so blasé to watching people have these really horrible things happen to them that I’m ironic or jokey about it,” says Swearingen, now the social media editor at Atlantic Media. (Swearingen was also an intern at WIRED in 2007.)

While a large amount of content moderation takes place overseas, much is still done in the US, often by young college graduates like Swearingen was. Many companies employ a two-tiered moderation system, where the most basic moderation is outsourced abroad while more complex screening, which requires greater cultural familiarity, is done domestically. US-based moderators are much better compensated than their overseas counterparts: A brand-new American moderator for a large tech company in the US can make more in an hour than a veteran Filipino moderator makes in a day. But then a career in the outsourcing industry is something many young Filipinos aspire to, whereas American moderators often fall into the job as a last resort, and burnout is common.

Ryan Cadeno says he made $500 a month as a contractor for Microsoft. Moises Saman/Magnum

“Everybody hits the wall, generally between three and five months,” says a former YouTube content moderator I’ll call Rob. “You just think, ‘Holy shit, what am I spending my day doing? This is awful.’”

Rob became a content moderator in 2010. He’d graduated from college and followed his girlfriend to the Bay Area, where he found his history degree had approximately the same effect on employers as a face tattoo. Months went by, and Rob grew increasingly desperate. Then came the cold call from CDI, a contracting firm. The recruiter wanted him to interview for a position with Google, moderating videos on YouTube. Google! Sure, he would just be a contractor, but he was told there was a chance of turning the job into a real career there. The pay, at roughly $20 an hour, was far superior to a fast-food salary. He interviewed and was given a one-year contract. “I was pretty stoked,” Rob said. “It paid well, and I figured YouTube would look good on a résumé.”

For the first few months, Rob didn’t mind his job moderating videos at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno. His coworkers were mostly new graduates like himself, many of them liberal arts majors just happy to have found employment that didn’t require a hairnet. His supervisor was great, and there were even a few perks, like free lunch at the cafeteria. During his eight-hour shifts, Rob sat at a desk in YouTube’s open office with two monitors. On one he flicked through batches of 10 videos at a time. On the other monitor, he could do whatever he wanted. He watched the entire Battlestar Galactica series with one eye while nuking torture videos and hate speech with the other. He also got a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of YouTube. For instance, in late 2010, Google’s legal team gave moderators the urgent task of deleting the violent sermons of American radical Islamist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, after a British woman said she was inspired by them to stab a politician.

But as months dragged on, the rough stuff began to take a toll. The worst was the gore: brutal street fights, animal torture, suicide bombings, decapitations, and horrific traffic accidents. The Arab Spring was in full swing, and activists were using YouTube to show the world the government crackdowns that resulted. Moderators were instructed to leave such “newsworthy” videos up with a warning, even if they violated the content guidelines. But the close-ups of protesters’ corpses and street battles were tough for Rob and his coworkers to handle. So were the videos that documented misery just for the sick thrill of it.

“If someone was uploading animal abuse, a lot of the time it was the person who did it. He was proud of that,” Rob says. “And seeing it from the eyes of someone who was proud to do the fucked-up thing, rather than news reporting on the fucked-up thing—it just hurts you so much harder, for some reason. It just gives you a much darker view of humanity.”

Rob began to dwell on the videos outside of work. He became withdrawn and testy. YouTube employs counselors whom moderators can theoretically talk to, but Rob had no idea how to access them. He didn’t know anyone who had. Instead, he self-medicated. He began drinking more and gained weight.

It became clear to Rob that he would likely never become a real Google employee. A few months into his contract, he applied for a job with Google but says he was turned down for an interview because his GPA didn’t meet the requirement. (Google denies that GPA alone would be a deciding factor in its hiring.) Even if it had, Rob says, he’s heard of only a few contractors who ended up with staff positions at Google.

A couple of months before the end of his contract, he found another job and quit. When Rob’s last shift ended at 7 pm, he left feeling elated. He jumped into his car, drove to his parents’ house in Orange County, and slept for three days straight.

Given that content moderators might very well comprise as much as half the total workforce for social media sites, it’s worth pondering just what the long-term psychological toll of this work can be. Jane Stevenson was head of the occupational health and welfare department for Britain’s National Crime Squad—the UK equivalent of the FBI—in the early 2000s, when the first wave of international anti-child-pornography operations was launched. She saw investigators become overwhelmed by the images; even after she left her post, agencies and private organizations continued to ask for her help dealing with the fallout, so she started an occupational health consultancy, Workplace Wellbeing, focused on high-pressure industries. She has since advised social media companies in the UK and found that the challenges facing their content moderators echo those of child-pornography and anti-terrorism investigators in law enforcement.

“From the moment you see the first image, you will change for good,” Stevenson says. But where law enforcement has developed specialized programs and hires experienced mental health professionals, Stevenson says that many technology companies have yet to grasp the seriousness of the problem.

“There’s the thought that it’s just the same as bereavement, or bullying at work, and the same people can deal with it,” Stevenson says. “All of us will go through a bereavement, almost all of us will be distressed by somebody saying something we don’t like. All of these things are normal things. But is having sex with a 2-year-old normal? Is cutting somebody’s head off—quite slowly, mind you; I don’t mean to traumatize you but beheadings don’t happen quickly—is that normal behavior? Is that something you expect?”

In Manila, I meet Denise (not her real name), a psychologist who consults for two content-moderation firms in the Philippines. “It’s like PTSD,” she tells me as we sit in her office above one of the city’s perpetually snarled freeways. “There is a memory trace in their mind.” Denise and her team set up extensive monitoring systems for their clients. Employees are given a battery of psychological tests to determine their mental baseline, then interviewed and counseled regularly to minimize the effect of disturbing images. But even with the best counseling, staring into the heart of human darkness exacts a toll. Workers quit because they feel desensitized by the hours of pornography they watch each day and no longer want to be intimate with their spouses. Others report a supercharged sex drive. “How would you feel watching pornography for eight hours a day, every day?” Denise says. “How long can you take that?”

An employee at the Manila offices of Open Access BPO, another company that provides content moderation services. Moises Saman/Magnum

Nearby, in a shopping mall, I meet a young woman who I’ll call Maria. She’s on her lunch break from an outsourcing firm, where she works on a team that moderates photos and videos for the cloud storage service of a major US technology company. Maria is a quality-assurance representative, which means her duties include double-checking the work of the dozens of agents on her team to make sure they catch everything. This requires her to view many videos that have been flagged by moderators.

“I get really affected by bestiality with children,” she says. “I have to stop. I have to stop for a moment and loosen up, maybe go to Starbucks and have a coffee.” She laughs at the absurd juxtaposition of a horrific sex crime and an overpriced latte.

Constant exposure to videos like this has turned some of Maria’s coworkers intensely paranoid. Every day they see proof of the infinite variety of human depravity. They begin to suspect the worst of people they meet in real life, wondering what secrets their hard drives might hold. Two of Maria’s female coworkers have become so suspicious that they no longer leave their children with babysitters. They sometimes miss work because they can’t find someone they trust to take care of their kids.

Maria is especially haunted by one video that came across her queue soon after she started the job. “There’s this lady,” she says, dropping her voice. “Probably in the age of 15 to 18, I don’t know. She looks like a minor. There’s this bald guy putting his head to the lady’s vagina. The lady is blindfolded, handcuffed, screaming and crying.”

The video was more than a half hour long. After watching just over a minute, Maria began to tremble with sadness and rage. Who would do something so cruel to another person? She examined the man on the screen. He was bald and appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent but was otherwise completely unremarkable. The face of evil was someone you might pass by in the mall without a second glance.

After two and a half years on the cloud storage moderation team, Maria plans to quit later this year and go to medical school. But she expects that video of the blindfolded girl to stick with her long after she’s gone. “I don’t know if I can forget it,” she says. “I watched that a long time ago, but it’s like I just watched it yesterday.”

UPDATE: 24/10/2014 11:44 PT: Several captions in this story were updated to accurately reflect the name of the company Open Access BPO.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
23 Oct 06:14

A Dice Puzzle

by Greg Ross

Timothy and Urban are playing a game with two six-sided dice. The dice are unusual: Rather than bearing a number, each face is painted either red or blue.

The two take turns throwing the dice. Timothy wins if the two top faces are the same color, and Urban wins if they’re different. Their chances of winning are equal.

The first die has 5 red faces and 1 blue face. What are the colors on the second die?

Click for solution …

23 Oct 09:10

Por que você está insatisfeito com o seu candidato?

by Leonardo Monasterio
 Hotelling (1929) explica: suponha que os consumidores estão distribuídos ao longo de uma praia e existem dois sorveteiros, cada um em um dos extremos. Aquele que está à esquerda anda um pouco para a direita porque assim ganha consumidores nessa direção e não perde nenhum dos eleitores, digo consumidores, à esquerda. O mesmo acontece com o que iniciou na ponta direita. A situação final são os dois sorveteiros-candidatos localizados bem no meio da praia.
No segundo turno da eleição:
- Os eleitores nos extremos ideológicos, à direita e à esquerda, ficam frustrados por seus candidatos não seguirem a "agenda histórica" do partido (ou seja, tem que andar muito até chegar ao sorvete), mas votam neles de qualquer forma;
- Como qualquer opinião polêmica afastaria o candidato do eleitor mediano, o negócio é não discutir propostas e só atacar o caráter, o passado do outro ou simplesmente mentir descaradamente.
Em quatro anos, como dizem os rótulos de shampoo: "Repita o operação".
23 Oct 13:36

Why Are So Many of the World’s Oldest Companies in Japan?

Kongō Gumi Employees of Kongo Gumi, which built temples, circa 1930.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest running hotel in operation is not in Paris or London or Rome. It is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, in Yamanashi, Japan: a hot-spring hotel called Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan, which has existed since the year 705. The second-oldest is another Japanese hot-springs hotel, Hoshi Ryokan, founded in 718.

But it isn’t just the world’s two oldest hotels. Japan is home to the world’s oldest lots of things. Sudo Honke, the world’s oldest sake brewer, has been around since 1141. Before being absorbed into a subsidiary in 2006, the oldest continuously operating family business in the world was Kongo Gumi, which built temples, and had been doing so for 14 centuries. The list goes on, and includes Yamanashi Prefecture Company, which has been making goods for home Buddhist altars and clothing for monks since 1024; Ichimojiya Wasuke, Japan’s oldest confectionary company, founded in 1000; Nakamura Shaji, a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine construction company that dates back to 970; and Kyoto-based Tanaka Iga, which has been making Buddhist goods since 885.

The infusion of literal new blood into old family businesses ensures that ancient firms can keep evolving.

Ostensibly, it’s not surprising that an old country with an old economy would be home to so many old businesses. Many of the oldest companies are local and family-owned, such as sake brewers and inns (or ryokan) that were established for traders in the eighth century along the route from Tokyo to Kyoto. Even before it became the first non-Western, non-Christian country to industrialize in the 1870s, Japan boasted a well-developed agricultural economy “with rather sophisticated urban populations,” says Hugh Patrick, director of Columbia Business School’s Center on Japanese Economy and Business. This semi-elite urban class provided a strong consumer base.

But that only explains how the companies were established early on, not necessarily how they have managed to last. One factor was the right of primogeniture, says David Weinstein, professor of the Japanese economy at Columbia University. Because the eldest son inherited all of a patriarch’s wealth, companies in Japan could be passed on entirely to a single member of the family.

Even though primogeniture faded with the 20th century, owners still often pass their companies on to a single heir—although keeping business in the family is often aided and abetted by adult adoption, in which the company head legally adopts the right person to run his firm and then passes it on. (These adult adoptions are sometimes facilitated by a marriage between the heir presumptive and the owner’s daughter.) In 2011, more than 90 percent of the 81,000 individuals adopted in Japan were adults. Firms run by adopted heirs, research shows, outperform those run by “blood” heirs—and both adopted and blood heirs outperform nonfamily firms.

The infusion of literal new blood into old family businesses ensures that the nation’s ancient firms can keep evolving. The proof is in the pudding: Most of Japan’s oldest companies are family-owned. Weinstein points to the robust example of Sumitomo and Mitsui, both centuries-old, which merged to become the multinational SMBC, Japan’s second-largest bank. Perhaps most famously there is Nintendo, which started out as a playing-card maker in the 1800s and managed to metamorphosize into an iconic consumer electronics company while remaining a continuously owned family concern.

Hugh Whittaker of the University of Oxford’s Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies says that such businesses strike a delicate balance between continuation and innovation, a line they have walked for centuries. “The logic of doing business in Japan is a logic of commitment rather than a logic of choice,” Whittaker says, stressing that owners privilege longevity over the present moment. In other words, Japan’s business culture is not one to obsess over quarterly reports. “Family-owned enterprises are always going to have a lot more persistence,” Weinstein says. “They continue in the same sense that the name continues.”

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22 Oct 20:00

asylum-art: Motoi Yamamoto’s Incredible Saltscapes Japanese...


Motoi Yamamotos Incredible Saltscapes

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto sees more uses in salt than the ordinary person. His artwork stems from the death of his sister, who passed away at a young age from brain cancer. In Japanese culture there is an idea of throwing salt over yourself after you attend a funeral acts as a sort of cleansing. So Yamamoto started using salt as his medium, creating intricate labyrinths and mazes as he calls them. Not only does Motoi create intricate patterns but full scale installations as well.

There’s also a beautiful book by Motoi that showcases some of his art called Return to the Sea: Saltscapes by Motoi Yamamoto.

Watch the video:

22 Oct 20:15

Saving the cat Barsik in Russia.A interesting comment in the...

Saving the cat Barsik in Russia.
A interesting comment in the video:

Ladies and gentlemen. Here you can observe typical Russians in their natural habitat. A characteristic feature of their behavior being a fanatic desire to do something (technically) good while destroying everything around them. You should also pay attention to the fact that nobody in the crowd seems to realize the level of absurdity of the unveiling situation. With little-to-no effort, you can extrapolate this sort of behavior, making a lot of the recent world events much more understandable for you (if they were not obvious enough already).

22 Oct 17:44

What Catholics Really Believe, Ctd

by Andrew Sullivan
Adam Victor Brandizzi

Que história!

A reader writes:

I want to share with you an anecdote that I think powerfully illustrates the disconnect between the hierarchy and the sensus fidelium on how LGBT people should be treated by the church.

I was born and raised a very conservative Roman Catholic environment in Texas. This was true for my home, my parish, and the private Catholic school I attended from ages 10 to 18. The liberal Catholics you describe were not only nowhere to be found, I had no idea such people even existed This picture taken 21 March 2007 shows auntil I moved to Boston during college. The Catholics I grew up around had much more in common culturally and politically with Southern evangelicals than the East Coast lefty Catholics I got to know as an adult. They still do for the most part.

I’ve spent the last several years living in DC and now Brooklyn, but my job has sent me back to the home town in Texas for six weeks of training. Last Thursday, I had dinner with two friends (both about 15 years older than me) from the parish I grew up in. We got to talking about our kids, and one of my friends mentioned that he thinks his daughter (in her early 20s) is probably a lesbian. I have the same impression but don’t know for sure one way or the other (I’m friendly on Facebook with her) and told him so. At this point, I need to explain exactly how conservative this man is. He carries a concealed weapon at all times (not that uncommon in Texas), BUT – he told us that he even carries it to church, because he wants to be ready if ISIS invades through the southern border and attacks our church, which he reasons would be an obvious target (FYI, we are hundreds of miles from the border). He is 100% serious about this. That should give you an idea of where this man is coming from. Now, after he mentioned his suspicion about his daughter’s orientation, our other friend asked him how he would react if she came out to him.

He said that he’d tell her that he doesn’t share with her what he and her mother do in bed, so she doesn’t need to share it with him, but that he loves her and always will. He also told us that he’d respect her more if she came out instead of hiding who she is. One can certainly criticize this reaction, but there can be no question that it is one of unconditional love. We didn’t discuss any matters of church doctrine, but this is the type of attitude that I believe Pope Francis is trying show us we need to take towards our LGBT brothers and sisters: First and always love. This is how everyday Catholics know to treat real people in real life.

Andrew, if the hierarchy has lost my dear friend, who is as right-wing and reactionary as they come, I honestly don’t know who they still have. Both my friend and his daughter love the church and are quite active in it. As you’ve written, Francis is forcing the bishops to finally have a conversation the faithful have been having for years. And I’m beginning to think that the sensus fidelium may be that there’s little left to discuss. We can only pray that Francis succeeds in leading the hierarchy into the light of Truth, the Truth being love. First and always love.

(Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

22 Oct 12:54

IKEA captures shopping horror with halloween tribute to 'The Shining'

Don't miss stories follow The Verge

IKEAs are terrifying. The thought of spending a weekend inside the Swedish furniture giant is the stuff of nightmares for many. IKEA Singapore takes the idea one step further by incorporating the famous Big Wheel scene from The Shining. Watch as an adorable kid wheels slowly through a dimly lit labyrinth of sofas and high-end tables, even as lights flicker and skeletons sup in designer kitchens. Gasp at the excellent camera work, and make sure to watch the clip all the way to the end. It's not quite as slyly creative as HORRORSTÖR, but the finale is adorable enough to justify the extra time.

10 Sep 11:39

The politics of personal drones, perfectly predicted in a YA novel from 1974 — The Message — Medium

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Pra vocês que curtem sci-fi.

Do you want to read a document that neatly specs out the future of personal drones — including the weird, fun, and creepy ways they’ll change society? I’ve got a book for you to read.

It was written in 1974. It was a sci-fi novel aimed at teenage kids. It is:

Forty years ago, it nailed everything we’re arguing today about personal drones, privacy, and the danger of government overreach.

(Before we go any further, take a moment to marvel at this gorgeous cover design. The color scheme! The cross-hatched drawings! That font, my god, what is going on there? They do not make covers like this anymore.)

The Danny Dunn series started in the 1950s, written by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams. They covered the adventures of the eponymous teenager — who was obsessed with science and engineering — and his friends Irene (herself a physics and biology prodigy) and comic-relief Joe, an artsy type. Danny’s father was dead, so Danny lived with his mother at the home of Professor Bullfinch, a kindly Ben-Franklin-esque scientist whose inventions Danny and his friends inevitably messed with: Antigravity paint, a time machine, a heat ray. A cheesy premise, but Abrashkin and Williams were superb writers who deeply respected the intelligence of the kids reading their books. Much of their basic science was rock solid, and they frequently wove in a liberal moral message: Be curious, fight for fair play and justice, and think for yourself.

Which brings us the fascinating ethical landscape of Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy. It begins with Danny and his friends asking the Professor whether anyone could become invisible and spy on others. The Professor argues that physics probably wouldn’t allow true invisibility. But he offers a second, more pragmatic option:

Basically, he imagines a drone. Then he goes on to build one.

(I’m about to give major spoilers for this book, so on the rare chance that you’re about to buy an out-of-print copy on eBay, stop reading now!)

The drone.

A few weeks after the chat about invisibility, the Professor calls the three kids over to his lab. Surprise! He’s invented the device he envisioned. Thanks to a new semiconductor he accidentally discovered, he has been able to create the tiniest cameras, sensors and flight-control switches that have ever existed. He’s packed them into a “sensory probe” shaped like a tiny dragonfly, which the pilot can fly as far as 2,500 yards away, remotely powered by microwave.

The helmet and control gloves.

You control the drone using a keyboard box, a thoroughly funky virtual-reality helmet, and what look like a pair of souped up Nintendo Power Gloves. With head inside the hemet, the pilot sees what the dragonfly sees, and even feels what the dragonfly feels via haptic feedback in the gloves. (This is the only automagical part of the technical specs. Up until the haptic-feedback stuff, the drone’s tech was surprisingly plausible and non-bonkers.)

The kids immediately ask to give it a try, and the Professor figures hey — 1970s teenagers piloting the world’s first remote-controlled spy drone! What could possibly go wrong? So Irene straps on the controls, which in the hands of the book’s fabulous illustrator, looks completely metal:

I want a t-shirt with this image on it.

Irene zooms the drone around the lab, and then, being super interested in biology, she starts following a robin to its nest, where she gets a breathtaking closeup view of it feeding its children. “She could even see the tiny pulse throbbing in his breast, and she remembered that birds have a very high temperature and that their hearts beat as fast as ten times a second.” (Parents, there is a teachable moment like this on almost every page.)

In essence, Irene discovers something that environmentalists are realizing today: That small personal drones are great for observing the natural world. Later on, Danny suggests that drones would also be perfect for exploring other planets — something that NASA scientists are now pondering for Mars’ lower atmosphere. These are the upsides of personal drones that we’re currently exploring in today’s world. Drones are, as I recently argued in Smithsonian magazine, creating a renaissance in the aesthetics of everyday photography, in the same way that the handheld, portable Kodak camera reinvented picture-taking in the 19th century. New tools create new aesthetics.

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22 Oct 16:00

kindamindless: I laughed way too much


I laughed way too much

21 Oct 18:56

The Warrior never Rests!

by boulet
21 Oct 20:00

mihlayn: New Zealand’s finest.


New Zealand’s finest.

21 Oct 13:41

The man who magically made maths fun

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Tem mais no link

Martin Gardner

The writer and puzzle master Martin Gardner, who died in 2010, was once said to have turned dozens of innocent youngsters into maths professors - and thousands of maths professors into innocent youngsters. Maths writer Colm Mulcahy looks back at the amazing career of a man who would have been 100 this week.

Let's warm up with three gems from the vaults:

1. What angle is made by the two red lines drawn on the two sides of the cube, as shown in the illustration?

cube 1

2. A logician visits a distant planet inhabited by two groups of aliens, compulsive liars and faithful truth-tellers. She comes to a fork in a road - one road goes to the left, the other to the right. She meets two aliens there, one a liar, the other a truth-teller... but she doesn't know which is which. The logician must ask just one Yes/No question to discover which road she should take to reach their leader. She thinks for a moment and then asks her question. What question might she have asked?

3. Imagine heating a metal ring enough so it expands. What happens to the hole, does it get bigger or smaller?

metal ring

You may already know the answers to the above questions if you've read some of the 100 or so books written by the American man of letters and numbers, Martin Gardner (1914-2010). His works have long been popular with a variety of people, from science and maths types, to lovers of magic, enemies of pseudoscience, and aficionados of Lewis Carroll - Gardner's Annotated Alice, by far his best seller, has sold more than a million copies.

The most important thing about the three puzzles above is that you can work them out right now, if you have initiative and patience (and a little knowledge of physics). No mathematical training is required. There are some hints at the bottom of the page, and below that, the answers.

Gardner specialised in such puzzles, having studied closely the works of the masters of an earlier generation, England's Henry Dudeney and his American counterpart, Sam Loyd.

The reward for solving puzzles like these, unaided, is to experience priceless Aha! moments. "Googling it is not the Gardner way," says the philosopher Bob Crease in Physics Today this month. "The Gardner way is to ignite your fascination so that you experience the pleasure of finding the answer yourself."

Gardner's writing has ignited many sparks over the decades, and even inspired a few scriptwriters fond of nerdy inside jokes. The logician puzzle above resurfaced (slightly repackaged) in the Pyramids of Mars episode of Dr Who, from October 1975. Maths writer Simon Singh, meanwhile, says some of the Simpsons writers - who occasionally slip hidden mathematical references into the storyline - were influenced by Gardner.

One of the last true polymaths, Martin Gardner is best remembered for the quarter century's worth of Mathematical Games columns he wrote for Scientific American magazine, where he injected a spirit of fun and play into a subject many associate with fear and drudgery. It went a lot further than puzzles - there was substance, depth and a fair share of mystery and wonder in the topics he wrote about.

Mandelbrot fractal
Gardner's column introduced the world to Mandelbrot's fractals

His lifelong passions included conjuring, chess, wordplay, puzzles of all kinds, science (good, bad and bogus), philosophy and children's literature. He wrote about all of those, extensively, in essays, reviews and books, for a period of 80 years.

His friends, associates and admirers included Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, M C Escher, Salvador Dali, Douglas Hofstadter, Stephen Jay Gould, Noam Chomsky, W H Auden, as well as magicians Penn & Teller.

Throw in leading mathematicians John Horton Conway, Roger Penrose and Benoit Mandelbrot, and you start to see how well connected he was. It was Gardner who introduced the public to Conway's Game of Life, Penrose's aperiodic tilings of the plane, and Mandelbrot's fractals.

Two classic columns

Scientific American cover with Penrose tiles

1. The Game of Life appeared in Scientific American in 1970, and was by far the most successful of Gardner's columns, in terms of reader response. It concerns a deceptively simple cellular automata model of "life," in which small organisms are born, evolve, and die according to set rules. Early computer users programmed it with enthusiasm, often at the expense of their official duties, and it soon attracted the attention of theorists. Via Gardner's column, Conway asked for a proof that infinitely growing patterns existed, and offered a cash prize for a solution. In due course, this was claimed by a young computer scientist named Bill Gosper. Conway was then able to prove that Life was in essence a Turing machine that in principle could do everything computers could.

2. In 1977, Gardner wrote about what are now known as Penrose tiles. These provide a novel and surprising way to cover a flat surface with the same two shapes, known as darts and kites, over and over, yet in such a way that no repeating pattern is present. With a little imagination, a similar nonperiodic effect is achievable using traditional tile shapes, such as squares or hexagons, though we are more used to seeing floors tiled with those in totally predictable ways. The point of darts and kites is that they can only tile in a nonperiodic fashion, something that was not even known to be a possibility until the mid-60s.

He also broke the story of the invention of RSA cryptography — the now standard way in which confidential data such as passwords, bank information, and the like, are secured in digital transmission - getting into trouble with the US government in the process.

And he was the first to reach a wide audience with a popular piece on the mathematical underpinnings of Escher's amazing art.

Two of the recurring themes in Gardner's thinking were that puzzles, far from being trivial, were:

* An effective way to engage people (especially young people) in a topic

* A fun way to discover new mathematics, and maybe even new science

"The best way, it has always seemed to me, to make mathematics interesting to students and laymen is to approach it in a spirit of play," he wrote.

"Surely the best way to wake up a student is to present him with an intriguing mathematical game, puzzle, magic trick, joke, paradox, model, limerick, or any of a score of other things that dull teachers tend to avoid because they seem frivolous. The frivolity keeps the reader alert. The seriousness makes the play worthwhile."

Readers may be surprised, he added, by the amount of nontrivial mathematics they absorb without even trying.

Penrose tiles are a good example of just how "nontrivial" the consequences of his puzzle column could be. The materials scientist Dan Shechtman actually won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2011 "for the discovery of quasicrystals" - three-dimensional Penrose tiles - in some aluminium-manganese alloys.

"They are a marvellous example of how a mathematical discovery, made with no inkling of its application to reality, may turn out to have been anticipated by Mother Nature!" Gardner wrote in his memoirs, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus.

Ironically, despite his considerable reputation in mathematical circles, Gardner had no credentials in the field. At the University of Chicago, in the 1930s, he'd studied philosophy. "The big secret of my success as a columnist was that I didn't know much about math," he told the New York Times in 2009. "I had to struggle to get everything clear before I wrote a column, so that meant I could write it in a way that people could understand."

Optical illusions

Thinky the hollow-face illusion

In the 1950s, Gardner spent many years working for children's magazines, and was adept at designing amusing paper-folding games, sometimes featuring optical illusions. Indeed, the article which secured him a regular column with Scientific American was about a paper-folding activity called flexagons, discovered in the USA by British postgrad Arthur Stone.

Gardner's Optical Illusion Play Pack from 2008 included a reverse-motion-parallax-based item called Rotating House, in which a stationary cut-out house gives the impression of moving as one walks around it. This has its roots in the work of Martin's friend, the illusionist Jerry Andrus, and it is even more effective in the Thinky the Dragon illusion. You can print a Thinky kit, created by American puzzle entrepreneur Bill Ritchie for this year's Celebration of Mind festival in honour of Martin Gardner. (The mathematics behind the illusion is explained in this video.)

Gardner also played a key role in the founding of the US sceptical movement, countering parapsychology, psychics and other nonsense, starting with his landmark book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science in 1952. At the same time, he loved magic — MAGIC magazine rated him one of the 100 Most Influential Magicians of the 20th Century — and was keenly aware how easily even intelligent, highly educated people can be fooled. When Uri Geller wowed television viewers in the 1970s by seemingly drawing on magic powers to bend spoons, some scientists invited him to their laboratories to work out what was going on. Gardner and his fellow debunker of bogus science, the magician James Randi, scoffed.

Uri Geller bending a fork and a metal comb

"If you want to know how Geller bends spoons, don't ask a physicist, even if he won a Nobel Prize. Ask me or Randi," he wrote.

I had the good fortune to get to know Gardner in his later years, visiting him several times in his cosy room-cum-office in a retirement home in Norman, Oklahoma, surrounded by his favourite books, with his prized original M C Escher on the wall, alongside the famous photograph of Einstein taken the day he became a US citizen. He was a shy, gentle character, with a twinkle in his eye, and an impish sense of humour.

For such an organised man with seemingly instant access to a wealth of information on a huge range of subjects, it's surprising to learn that he avoided computers and email. His secret was a fantastic card index system of his own, going back to the 1930s, stored in shoe boxes.

Martin worked away, seven days a week, often standing up, well into his 90s. He still had a childlike fascination with questions such as, "Why does a mirror appear to switch left and right, but not up and down?" and "Why are the sun and moon almost the exact same size when viewed from earth?"

The last time we spoke was when I phoned him while waiting for a flight at Boston airport. He revealed that Richard Dawkins had recently paid him a brief surprise visit, on his way to the local airport, after delivering a lecture nearby. Pleasant small talk followed, Martin told me, before Dawkins stood up to leave, but Martin said that he insisted his visitor sit down again, and for about 15 minutes, they had an "intense conversation". As Martin was telling me this, I had to cut him off, as the final boarding call for own my flight had just been announced. I never found what that intense conversation was about, but I'm confident it involved theology in some way.

Ironically, for an avowed sceptic who had no time for any form of organised religion, Martin Gardner believed in a personal God, in the value of prayer, and in an afterlife (the nature of which he refused to speculate about). Although he wrote about this at length in his 1983 book, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, few of his fans seemed to notice.

Fundamental questions about life and our place in the universe nagged at him his whole life. While he deservedly had a reputation as a no-nonsense rationalist, he also knew what was unknowable.

"There are dozens of monumental questions about which I have to say, 'I don't know.' I don't know whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, or whether life is so improbable that we are truly alone in the cosmos," he said in 1998, in an interview with Skeptical Inquirer (a magazine he'd helped to found in the 1970s).

"I can say this. I believe that the human mind, or even the mind of a cat, is more interesting in its complexity than an entire galaxy if it is devoid of life."

In a just released video of a long lost interview from 1994, Gardner tells the amusing story of how he came to review The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener for the New York Review of Books, under an assumed name. The review was scathing!

"To put it bluntly, Gardner is a simpleminded fideist," he wrote. "It is impossible to imagine anyone reading his outrageous confessional ... who... will not be infuriated by his idiosyncrasies."


1. Don't be fooled by the perspective shown. Triangulate, all things being equal.

2. Whatever she does, she shouldn't ask either of them "Are you a liar?" or "Does the road to the right go to your leader?" because she'll learn nothing from the answers to either of those. Perhaps a question that involves aliens and roads would work...

3. If your answer is "Yes", you're off to a good start. The real question is, which - bigger or smaller? If your brain is sufficiently warmed up, the mind-expanding answer is close by.


This time you're more or less on your own, at least for now. Solutions will be given on Friday in the Magazine Monitor.

Remember, you'll be much happier if you resist looking up the answers and instead try to solve them yourself.

4. An Englishman (Mr Salmon), a Welshman (Mr Green), and a Scotsman (Mr Brown) met for lunch one day. One man was wearing a salmon tie, another was wearing a green tie and the third was wearing a brown tie. "Isn't it funny," said Mr Brown to the others, "that not one of us is wearing a tie which matches our name?" "That's true," agreed the man wearing the green tie. Can you now say what colour tie each man was wearing?

5. Can you fold up a one-by-seven strip like this to form a cube with sides one unit long?

line 1

6. Can you think of two common words that begin and end with "he"? (No four-letter words please.)

7. When two opposite corners on a chess or draughts board are removed, as in the picture, a classic question asks if the remaining 62 squares can be covered with 31 dominoes, each the size of two squares.


Take a bit of time to think about this, before reading on.

Note that the two removed squares are the same colour.

Since each domino covers one yellow and one black square, 31 of them would cover 31 yellow and 31 black squares. This mismatch means that the answer is No. Mathematicians refer to this as a "parity argument": a full board and any number of dominoes have the same parity - an equal number of squares of each colour - but the board above with two missing opposite corners does not preserve this parity. The same argument applies if we remove any two squares of the same colour - the resulting mutilated board cannot be covered with 31 dominoes.

But wait, there's more: suppose that two squares of different colours are removed from such a board, for instance two adjacent corner squares. Show that the remaining 62 squares definitely can be covered with 31 dominoes each the size of two squares. This actually works no matter where the two squares are removed from. Can you construct a valid argument that works in all cases?

8. What is the significance of the repeated "little" in Lewis Carroll's All in a Golden Afternoon from Alice In Wonderland?

All in the golden afternoon / Full leisurely we glide; / For both our oars, with little skill, / By little arms are plied, / While little hands make vain pretence / Our wanderings to guide.

9. Can you fill in the blank space below to yield a true sentence?

In this sentence there are neither more nor less than ................... three-letter words.

10. Consider the magic square below. Note that its rows, columns and diagonals each add up to the magic constant 45. What else about it is interesting?

magic numbers


4. Who must have been wearing the green tie?

5. You're allowed to fold diagonally.

6. We know, it's painful until you get it.

7. No hint.

8. Who in real life inspired Alice In Wonderland?

9. Use your words. (Those of a mathematical bent should be able to suggest many solutions.)

10. When spelled out, 5 has four letters.


1. If the ends of the two red lines at the bottom left and top left are connected by a third red line along the invisible left face of the cube, then since each of the red lines joins two opposite corners of same-sizes squares, those three lines form an equilateral triangle. Hence at each corner of that triangle, two red lines meet at 60 degrees.

cubes 2

2. There are many questions that work, and it doesn't matter which alien she asks. (Both of the aliens are male, by the way.) For instance, she could point to one of them, and say to the other, "If I ask him if the road to the right goes to your leader, what would he say?" To see why this surely leads to enlightenment, consider the various possibilities that arise. First, assume the road to the right does indeed lead to the leader. If she's speaking to the truth-teller, then the other alien would say No, and this is what she'll be told. On the other hand, if she's speaking to the liar, then the other alien would say Yes, but she'll be told No instead. Either way, she'll get the answer No.

Now, assume the road to the right does not lead to their leader. If she's speaking to the truth-teller, then the other alien would say Yes, which is what she'll be told. But if she's speaking to the liar, then the other alien would say No, and she'll be told Yes instead. Either way, she'll get the answer Yes. The upshot is that no matter who she's talking to, that alien's one-word answer reveals the truth of the matter: if No, then the right road does go to the leader, and if Yes, it doesn't.

3. A heated metal ring expands outwards proportionally, so everything gets larger, including the hole.

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21 Oct 16:08

Hints for writing Unix tools

The workaday world of a modern programmer abounds with Unix tools, stitched together in myriad ways. While good tools integrate seamlessly with your own environment, bad ones will constantly frustrate your efforts. Good tools have a seemingly limitless application, constrained only by your own imagination. Bad tools, on the other hand, will often require that you deploy a salvo of brittle hacks to keep them barely working in your own environment.

“One thing well” misses the point: it should be “One thing well AND COMPOSES WELL”

— marius eriksen (@marius) October 10, 2012

I don’t want to attempt to explain what makes for good design; this has been discussed elsewhere. Instead, I want to outline a few established customs that you should take care to follow when writing new tools. While making a truly good tool can be an elusive goal, it isn’t difficult to avoid making a truly bad one. Unix demands good citizenry from its tools: it relies on a set of conventions to make things work, and importantly, to compose, well. Here follows a few key customs, often violated. These aren’t absolute requirements, but you should think long and hard before violating them.

Consume input from stdin, produce output to stdout. Put another way, your program should be a filter. Filters are easily integrated into shell pipelines, arguably the most important utility for Unix tools composition.

Output should be free from headers or other decoration. Superflous output will frustrate users who are trying to parse tool output. Headers and decoration tend to be less regular and more idiosyncratic than the structured data you’re really trying to get at. Don’t do it.

Output should be simple to parse and compose. This usually means representing each record as a single, plain-text formatted line of output whose columns are separated by whitespace. (No JSON, please.) Most venerable Unix tools—grep, sort, and sed among them—assume this. As a simple example, consider the following output from a benchmark suite. It is formatted by starting each record with the benchmark name, followed by a set of key-value pairs associated with the named benchmark. This is a flexible structure to work with as it allows you to add or remove keys at will without violating the output format.

$ ./runbenchmarks
Benchmark: fizzbuzz
Time: 10 ns/op
Alloc: 32 bytes/op
Benchmark: fibonnacci
Time: 13 ns/op
Alloc: 40 bytes/op

While convenient, it is quite clumsy to work with in Unix. Consider a very common thing we might want to do: look up the timing results for a single benchmark. Here’s how you do it.

$ ./runbenchmarks | awk '/^Benchmark:/ { bench = $2}  bench=="fizzbuzz"'
Benchmark: fizzbuzz
Time: 10 ns/op
lloc: 32 bytes/op

If instead each line presents exactly one record, where columns are separated by whitespace, this becomes a much simpler task.

$ ./runbenchmarks 
fizzbuzz	10	32
fibonnaci	13	40
$ ./runbenchmarks | grep '^fizzbuzz'
fizzbuzz	10	32

The advantage becomes even more evident when reordering or aggregating the input. For example, when the output is record-per-line, sorting the results by time spent is a simple matter of invoking sort:

$ ./runbenchmarks | sort -n -r -k2,2
fibonnaci	13	40
fizzbuzz	10	32

Treat a tool’s output as an API. Your tool will be used in contexts beyond your own imagination. If a tool’s output format is changed, other tools that compose or otherwise build on its output will invariably break—you have broken the API contract.

Place diagnostics output on stderr. Diagnostics output includes anything that is not the primary data output of your tool. Among these are: progress indicators, debugging output, log messages, error messages, and usage information. When diagnostics output is intermingled with data, it is very difficult to parse, and thus compose, the tool’s output. What’s more, stderr makes diagnostics output more useful since, even if stdout is being filtered or redirected, stderr keeps printing to the user’s terminal—the ultimate target of diagnostics output.

Signal failure with an exit status. If your tool fails, exit with a status other than 0. This allows for simple integration shells, and also simpler error handling in scripts. Consider the difference between two tools that build binaries. We’d like to build upon this tool to execute the built binary only if the build succeeds. Badbuild prints the word ‘FAILED’ as the last line when it fails.

$ ./badbuild binary
$ echo $?
$ # Run binary on successful build.
$ test "$(./badbuild binary | tail -1)" != "FAILED" && ./binary

Goodbuild sets its exit status appropriately.

$ ./goodbuild
$ echo $?
$ # Run binary on successful build.
$ ./goodbuild binary && ./binary

Make a tool’s output portable. Put another way, a tool’s output should stand on its own, requiring as little context as possible to parse and interpret. For example, you should use absolute paths to represent files, and fully qualified hostnames to name internet hosts. Portable output is directly usable by other tools without further context. A frequent violator of this is build tools. For example, both the GCC and Clang compilers try to be clever by reporting paths that are relative to your working directory. In this example, the source file paths are presented relative to the current working directory when the compiler was invoked.

$ cc tmp/bad/x.c
tmp/bad/x.c:1:1: error: unknown type name 'INVALID_C'
tmp/bad/x.c:1:10: error: expected identifier or '('
2 errors generated.

This cleverness breaks down quickly. For example if I use make(1) with the -C flag.

$ cat tmp/bad/Makefile
	cc x.c
$ make -C tmp/bad
cc x.c
x.c:1:1: error: unknown type name 'INVALID_C'
x.c:1:10: error: expected identifier or '('
2 errors generated.
make: *** [all] Error 1

Now the output is less useful: to which file does “x.c” refer? Other tools that build on this need additional context, the -C argument, in order to interpret the compiler’s output—the output does not stand on its own.

Omit needless diagnostics. Resist the temptation to inform the user of everything that is being done. (But if you must, do it on stderr.) A good tool is quiet when all is well, but produces useful diagnostics output when things go wrong. Excessive diagnostics conditons users to ignore all diagnostics; useful diagnostics output does not require the user to grub around in endless log files to discern what went wrong, and where. There’s nothing wrong with having a verbose mode (typically enabled by a ‘-v’ flag) in order to aid development and debugging, but do not make this the default.

Avoid making interactive programs. Tools should be usable without user interaction beyond what’s provided by the user’s shell. Unix programs are expected to run without user input: it allows programs to be run in non-interactively by cron, or to be easily distributed for execution by a remote machine. Even a single interaction forfeits this very useful capability. Interactivity also makes composition more difficult. Since Unix’s program composition model does not distinguish the output of the various programs involved, it isn’t always clear which program a user is even interacting with. A common use of interactive programs is to ask the user to confirm some dangerous action. This is easily avoided by asking the user instead to supply a flag on the command line to the appropriate tool.

I wrote this because I find myself continually frustrated by attempting to use and compose bad tools—bad tools that waste time and limit their own usefulness. Most of these tools could be made a lot better by following the above advice.

For a more general discussion of Unix tools design, I encourage you to read Kernighan and Pike’s “The Unix Programming Environment .”

Discussion on Hacker News.

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21 Oct 22:15

Map Of The Day

by Andrew Sullivan


Amanda Taub highlights the work data journos at The Guardian have been doing with Wikileaks’ Iraq War logs. Each red dot on the above map – the screenshot seen above only shows one corner of Baghdad, but the project covers the whole country – represents one of some 60,000 combat-related fatal incidents (mostly IEDs) between 2004 and 2009, representing more than 100,000 deaths. And that’s not even the whole story, as Taub points out:

[T]he true extent of the violence is much worse: the map likely only shows a small fraction of the attacks from that period. The database the map is drawn from does not include deaths from criminal activity, or those that were initiated by Coalition or Iraqi forces. And many deaths may not have been officially tallied. That means that the real total is almost certainly much higher. But even seeing the number of attacks recorded here shows how devastating this war has been to Baghdad’s civilians, who must now face even more attacks.

20 Oct 04:47

Visualization: The Elements According to Relative Abundance (1970)

by David Pescovitz

An excellent graphic from 1970 by Santa Clara University chemistry professor William F. Sheehan (RIP). (via Clifford Pickover)

21 Oct 19:41

Tuesday Humor?: 0.1% "Problems"

by Tyler Durden

Presented with no comment...



Source: The Burning Platform