I really need to read this biography.
I seriously cannot wait to read this.
Surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande has a new book about death coming out in October called Being Mortal.
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.
Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.
This piece Gawande wrote for the New Yorker in 2010 was probably the genesis of the book. I maintain a very short list of topics I'd like to write books about and death is one of them. Not from a macabre Vincent Price / Tim Burton perspective...more like this stuff. Dying is something that everyone has to deal with many times during the course of their life and few seem to have a handle on how to deal with it. That's fascinating. Can't wait to read Gawande's book.Tags: Atul Gawande Being Mortal books death medicine
Speaking of Haskell Wexler, you should see Medium Cool if you haven't yet: http://www.criterion.com/films/28426-medium-cool
The Steadicam was first used in the Best Picture-nominated Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976), debuting with a shot that compounded the Steadicam's innovation: cinematographer Haskell Wexler had Brown start the shot on a fully elevated platform crane which jibbed down, and when it reached the ground, Brown stepped off and walked the camera through the set. This technically audacious and previously impossible shot created considerable interest in how it had been accomplished, and impressed the Academy enough for Wexler to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography that year. It was then used in extensive running and chase scenes on the streets of New York City in Marathon Man (1976), which was actually released two months before Bound for Glory. It landed a notable third credit in Avildsen's Best Picture-winning Rocky (1976), where it was an integral part of the film's Philadelphia street jogging/training sequences and the run up the Art Museum's flight of stairs, as well as the fight scenes (where it can even be plainly seen in operation at the ringside during some wide shots of the final fight). Garrett Brown was the Steadicam operator on all of these.
The Shining (1980) pushed Brown's innovations even further, when director Stanley Kubrick requested that the camera shoot from barely above the floor. This prompted the innovation of a "low mode" bracket to mount the top of a camera to the bottom of an inverted post, which substantially increased the creative angles of the system, which previously could not go much lower than the operator's waist height. This low-mode concept remains the most important extension to the system since its inception.
(via @robinsloan)Tags: Garrett Brown movies video
I want to go to Denmark to see this show so bad. Also, to live forever and ever.
In the days before running water, towns used to place an eel or two in the well to keep the water supply free of bugs, algae, and other critters. A Swedish well-eel that lived to be at least 155 years old died recently. Eels generally live to be around seven years old in the wild.
Åle was put in the well in the fishing village of Brantevik on the southeastern tip of Sweden by eight-year-old Samuel Nilsson in 1859. This was a common practice in a time when running water was rare (Stockholm only got public water mains in the 1850s; it took more than a century after that for waterworks to be installed in smaller towns) and a good eel could keep the home's water supply free of bugs, worms, eggs, algae and any other number of critters. European eels will even eat carrion, so they're extremely helpful additions to a well.
This particular eel has been a star for close to a hundred years, garnering articles in the paper, TV news stories and documentaries, even making an appearance in the Swedish Tom Sawyer, Bombi Bitt and I written by Fritiof Nilsson Piraten in 1932. Thomas Kjellman, current owner of the cottage, remembers Åle from when he was a boy. His family bought the house in 1962 with the understanding that the eel came with the property.
Luckily the family has a backup eel which is around 110 years old, swimming around in what is apparently a Fountain of Youth for eels.
When Alex Belth was 25 years old, he worked with Joel and Ethan Coen on The Big Lebowski, first as a personal assistant and then as an assistant editor. He recently published a short Kindle book about the experience.
The Dudes Abide is the first behind-the-scenes account of the making of a Coen Brothers movie, and offers an intimate, first-hand narrative of the making of The Big Lebowski -- including never-before-revealed details about the making of the film, and insight into the inner workings of the Coen Brothers' genius.
An excerpt of the book was published on Deadspin.
Joel told Goodman about re-recording dialogue for the profanity-free television version of Fargo. They rewrote the line, "I'm fucking hungry now" to "I'm full of hungry now."
"Why didn't we write it like that originally?" said Joel. "It's funnier."
Goodman said, "Who else is coming on this show?" (In Los Angeles, movie people call a movie a "show.")
There was Steve Buscemi as Donny, Julianne Moore as Maude, Jon Polito as Da Fino.
Joel said, "Our friend Luis, who was an assistant film editor on Hudsucker, will be playing the enraged Mexican."
"Yeah, you'll like Luis," Ethan said in a creaky voice. "He makes a big statement."
"Turturro is coming in to play the pederast," Joel said. "He said he'd do his best F. Murray Abraham."
(thx, brad)Tags: Alex Belth books Coen brothers movies The Big Lebowski
NEW FAVORITE ORAL HISTORY PROJECT!
Over the past few months we've been working on a very special project that sets out to record and document the fascinating experiences of British wildlife sound recordists, from the scientist to the hobbyist, and everyone in between. Interviews with Wildlife Sound Recordists explores all aspects of wildlife sound recording, from childhood memories and early encounters with nature to changes in recording technology, recording expeditions and the role natural sounds have played in the lives of our interviewees.
Inspired by the British Library's Oral History department and following on from the wonderful Interviews with ethnomusicologists collection, launched last year by colleagues in World and Traditional Music, this initial foray into the world of oral history has cemented a new-found appreciation in the wildlife section for the importance of collecting personal accounts. Already evolving into an important and unique resource for both present and future generations of researchers, this collection will provide great insight into areas such as the history of sound recording, natural history broadcasting, the scientific field of bioacoustics and how lifelong relationships with nature can be formed through the medium of sound.
Despite having only 7 interviews under our belt so far, connections are already beginning to emerge, whether that be in the form of similar experiences, shared friendships and colleagues or a likeminded approach to the subject. In equal measure, the interviews also demonstrate the various ways in which our interviewees have found themelves involved with wildlife sound recording.
Two of the interviews shed light on the academic life of a wildlife sound recordist, with primatologist Dr David Chivers and anthropolgist Professor Simon Bearder lending their stories to the collection. The field of bioacoustics, or the study of acoustic communication in animals, has been an important strain of zoological research for decades. From the early experiments of Professor William Thorpe, who demonstrated through the analysis of sound recordings that birdsong is learnt rather than inherent, to the discovery of new species and even improving our understanding of the evolution of human language, this area of science has significantly increased our understanding of the natural world.
Recording the experiences of scientists working in this field is one of the key aims of this project. In the following extract, Professor Simon Bearder describes his early involvement in the study of Bushbaby vocalisations at the University of Johannesburg.
One of the most important interviews in the collection is with the co-founder of the British Library's wildlife collection, Patrick Sellar. A lifelong fascination with sound coupled with a deep love of nature and a good level of dogged determination saw him become a key figure in the wildlife sound recording community, both in the UK and beyond. Here Patrick speaks about the formation of the British Library's collection of wildlife sound recordings with BBC radio producer Jeffery Boswall.
Patrick also speaks about what he has learnt from a lifetime of wildlife sound recording.
Two of the interviews cover the experiences of former BBC sound recordists. Here Nigel Tucker recalls a BBC expedition to the USA to record the voice of the north American songbird Phainopepla with fellow recordist David Tombs.
Field recordist Mark Peter Wright, our interviewer for the project, describes how an oral history training course at the British Library sparked an idea that has proven to be an incredibly effective tool in encouraging recordists to recount specific recording experiences:
Following a classic oral history method of having the participant talk around a physical photograph, I decided to try something similar through sound. I asked each recordist to prepare sound files from their archive that were in some way memorable to them. During the interview we would playback these recordings and talk through the audible and non-audible contexts behind the record.
For me, this process was one of the most insightful and fascinating experiences of the project. Playing back sounds from a personal archive whilst the recordist recalls memories from the experience felt, to me, like a very active use of archival material. It brought past and present into one space as recordists literally spoke with and through their recordings and memories.
In the following clip, former BBC sound engineer David Tombs plays a recording of Red-throated Divers in Shetland while discussing his memory of the experience.
The 7 interviews presented today represent just the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing oral history project. Over time, Interviews with Wildlife Sound Recordists will develop into a comprehensive collection offering unique and diverse accounts of a genre of sound recording that has contributed so much to scientific research, education and a greater appreciation of the natural world.
"So we think that it's still around, but as the years pass it becomes more difficult to keep our hopes up." :(
If you happen to be in the New Forest over the next couple of months, why not take part in an ambitious citizen science project that seeks to track down the last remaining individuals of a species of insect that is on the verge of extinction in the UK. The New Forest Cicada Project, developed by researchers at the University of Southampton, embraces the citizen science philosophy with its smartphone app that uses the internal microphone of your phone to scan the surrounding environment for the high-pitched calls of this most elusive of insects, the New Forest Cicada. The British Library provided recordings for the project and I spoke to Lead Developer, Dr Davide Zilli to find out more about this entomological call to arms.
What is the New Forest Cicada project and why was it launched?
We started the New Forest Cicada Project back in 2012 at the University of Southampton. We are trying to involve people in rediscovering the very endangered New Forest Cicada, an insect native to the UK that has only ever been observed in the New Forest, Hampshire (hence the name). It's actually the only species of cicadidae we have in the UK, but if you have been abroad to a warm country, cicadas will have kept you awake during the summer with their loud call. Our British cicada, however, emits a very high-pitched sound, at the upper edge of our hearing range, and for this reason it's almost impossible for adults above the age of 40 to hear it. It's also very elusive, so the best way to spot it is actually to listen to its call, if you can hear it. And that's where we come in. Modern smartphones have a very sensitive microphone that can pick up this high frequency call, so we developed an app that can help the millions of visitors to the New Forest to detect the presence of the cicada, and hopefully one day to rediscover its presence in the forest.
How does the app work?
For the user it's really easy. When you tap the centre of the screen, the app starts a 30 second "survey", recording the sound coming through the microphone. After that time, it analyses the recording and tells you immediately whether there is a cicada around or not. An algorithm on the phone looks for a specific frequency in the recording, around 14 kHz, that's characteristic of the cicada call and few other sounds. There are only a couple of other insects that the call of the cicada can be confused for, and we take those into account in the algorithm we have developed. Once the phone is connected to the internet, it will also send us a report so that we can send an entomologist for a detailed survey, should a cicada be found. We are also interested in the negative reports, as it's almost just as important to know where the cicada is certainly not present.
Recordings of New Forest Cicada from the British Library were used in the development of the app. Were these important and how were they used?
Absolutely. In fact one of the recordings from the British Library, which was taken in 1971 by an entomologist called Jim Grant, is still the only recording of the cicada we have from the New
Forest. We have plenty more sounds of the same species from elsewhere in Europe (some of which we recorded ourselves), but this is the only one of the actual New Forest Cicada. The sounds were used to study the features that we could exploit for our automated detection, and eventually to calibrate our algorithm to detect the cicada.
How important is citizen science to the project?
The New Forest covers an area of over 600 km2 so it would be impossible for the few entomologists that are still searching for the cicada to survey it all. That's why we developed the app. The large number of visitors (13 million day-visits, according to the New Forest National Park's website) can be much more effective in surveying new sites where the cicada could have moved. This involvement of the general public in scientific research is often referred to as 'citizen science', and it's a practise that has delivered great results in a plethora of different projects. For people to get involved, however, the project must be fun and engaging, and it's great if there is a learning experience (in this case discovering about endangered species), which is what excited us in the first place.
Have you had any success so far?
Yes and no. The app was downloaded over 2000 times worldwide last year, and more than 6000 reports were submitted by users. Unfortunately none of these reports were positive, and the cicada has not yet been rediscovered. It's a great success that so many people contributed enthusiastically, but we need to continue our efforts until the cicada is found.
What improvements might you make to the app to improve results?
We are confident that the app works because we tested it in Slovenia, where the same species of cicada is still present. Entomologists are using it there for their own professional surveys too. However, we think we can do more to encourage people to participate, and to explain why it is important that we protect the environment. The cicada is evidence that citizen science is a powerful tool that can be used to tackle these sorts of problems.
Are you confident that the New Forest Cicada is still out there?
There is no real reason why it would have vanished. There have been periods in the past (for example, between the 40s and the 60s) when no one observed the insect and it was thought
to have been extinct, but was then found in different areas. Some people think that a recent change in grazing policies could have changed its environment. Enclosures around the historic sites where the cicada used to be found have prevented ponies from grazing freely, and the low vegetation where female cicadas lay their eggs has now overgrown. However, it seems more likely that the
cicada would have just moved to a different site, and it's therefore now more difficult to find. So we think that it's still around, but as the years pass it becomes more difficult to keep our hopes up.
If you would like to join the hunt for the New Forest Cicada, visit the project's website as well as your app store to get yourself ready for action. Who knows, perhaps you'll be the one to rediscover this magnificant insect?
Siffleur or no, still great.
What really happened in that garden in Surrey was that an extremely well known bird impressionist - Maude Gould, sometimes known as Madame Saberon - was contracted by the BBC as a 'backup' to things not working. The trampling around of all the technical staff and all the heavy equipment scared any birds off and the recording is actually that of Maude Gould whistling to Ms Harrison's playing.
We're doing everything wrong.
In light of the ongoing policing situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and how the response to the community protests is highlighting the militarization of US police departments since 9/11, it's instructive to look at one of the first and most successful attempts at the formation of a professional police force.
The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as "bobbies" after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.
At the heart of the Metropolitan Police's charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:
1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public". Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)Tags: crime Ferguson legal lists London Robert Peel UK
So totally the world we live in. I saw a lady check her phone as she made a left turn in traffic. BECAUSE IT CANNOT WAIT.
I always try to politely decline, tho once the guy insisted on following me all the way to my subway station in spite of me telling him I wouldn't be contributing and that I was late for class, and then proceeded to argue with me about whether i could afford to donate. It made me so mad that I find myself angry at these people in advance, even when they're perfectly nice and not like that jerk. One of my favorite interactions with one of these people was the dude who asked "When was the last time you felt like you did something good for other people" and I got to be like, "Yeah, well I work in HIV research and kind of try to structure my entire life so that I will feel like I'm doing something good for other people, so SEE YA!"
In the latest installment of his excellent series Ask A Native New Yorker, Jake Dobkin tackles the question of how to react to those people holding clipboards asking if you have a minute for the environment or gay rights or whatever. The short answer is ignore them with "EXTREME PREJUDICE".
This is because Clipboard People are grifters, who, in the name of various causes (Gay Rights, the Environment), have only a single aim: to get your credit card number authorized for recurring payments to a "charity." In fact, the majority of that money does not go to the charity, but goes to pay the salary of the Clipboarder, and the evil canvas organizations that employ them. Even worse, the Clipboarders are themselves exploited-often young idealists from less vicious places, they are brought to New York on the promise of helping a charity they believe in, only to find out they've been dragooned into a commission-based predatory marketing scheme.
Well, good because that's what I've been doing (for other reasons). Instead, give to an efficient charity listed on Charity Navigator.Tags: charity Jake Dobkin NYC
Now I really want to hear Mel Brooks tell a Werner Hertzog story.
A wonderful interview with Werner Herzog on soccer, his wonderful fatherless upbringing, the nature of reality, and, of course, Mel Brooks.
Tags: interviews Werner Herzog
I told Mel, "Mel, you know what, I have seen an extraordinary film. Something you must see. You must see. It's only at midnight screenings at the Nuart Theater. And it's a film by -- I don't know his name, I think it's Lynch. And he made a film Eraserhead and you must see the film." And Mel keeps grinning and grinning and lets me talk about the movie and he says, "Yes, his name is really David Lynch, do you like to meet him?" I said, "In principle, yes." He says, "Come with me," and two doors down the corridor is David Lynch in pre-production on The Elephant Man! Which Mel Brooks produced! And the bastard sits there and lets me talk and talk and talk and grins and chuckles. And I had no idea [and kept thinking], Why does he chuckle all the time when I talk about the film? But that was how I love Mel Brooks.
A harrowing piece by novelist Helen DeWitt about being stalked by her neighbor.
Tags: crime Helen DeWitt
E turned up next morning at six because his fire had gone out. I said I had to go for my walk. He went home. When I got back I found a pane of glass on the dresser; there was a gap in its normal home in the side door. E: 'I was cold and you weren't there. But yeah, yeah, I know that was wrong. Don't worry, I'll fix it.'
This was clearly something I could report to the police. It seemed harsh to lock someone up for social cluelessness, but I was spooked. I packed my bags and left for a motel within the hour. Then I found a room on Craigslist that was available until the end of January. I was desperate to finish a book.
E's landlord: 'You're a very attractive woman. He can't help himself. I'm sorry you can't live on your property.'
It's a big leap from 'you know I love her' to baseball bat by the bed. I read the Vermont law on trespass on 28 December 2012 and it appeared to confirm my sense of the social norm. Entering a property when forbidden to do so, or remaining on a property after being asked to leave, carries a maximum sentence of three months and/or a $500 fine. It's not a heavy sentence, but the law is beautifully genderblind: I have the same right to occupy my property undisturbed as my uncle the ex-marine. I believed I could exercise this right and attempted to do so. This was the first step on the slippery slope to the baseball bat.
Monkeying around with copyright! HA!
Photographer David Slater wants Wikipedia to remove his photograph of a monkey taking a photo of itself but Wikipedia has refused, saying that as the monkey was the photographer, Slater has no right to the copyright to the photo.
The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained to Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button.
But shouldn't Wikipedia take it down anyway because they don't have the monkey's permission to release the photo into the public domain? (I mean, probably not...monkeys don't have any rights under the law, yes?) (via @capndesign)
Update: A previous version of this post stated that Wikipedia said that the monkey held the copyright. They said no such thing...that was my poor paraphrase. In the US at least, monkeys obviously can't hold copyrights. From the Compendium II of Copyright Office Practices, section 202.02(b) states:
The term "authorship" implies that, for a work to be copyrightable, it must owe its origin to a human being. Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.
Interesting phrase, "owe its origin to"...perhaps Slater has a point. (via @stvnrlly)Tags: copyright David Slater legal photography Wikipedia
Yes yes yes yes yes!
Tim Carmody rules. "Still, for as long as the web does work this way, we are never only these companies' "products," but their producers, too. And to the extent that these companies show they aren't willing to live up to the basic agreement that we make these things and give them to you so you will show them to other people -- the engine that makes this whole world wide web business go -- I'm not going to have anything to do with them any more. What's more, I'll get mad enough to find a place that will show the things I write to other people and tell them they shouldn't accept it either. Because, ultimately, you ought to be ashamed to treat people and the things they make this way."
Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.
On Monday, I tried to list some reasons why OKCupid's self-acknowledged experiments on its users didn't seem to be stirring up the same outrage that Facebook's had. Here at the end of the week, I think I was largely right: fewer people are upset, the anger is more tempered, and that has a lot to do with the reasons I gave. But one reaction I didn't expect is that some people took it as saying that I wasn't upset by what OKCupid did, or that people shouldn't be as upset by it.
What OKCupid did has actually made me madder and madder as the week's gone on, but for reasons that are different from other people's. I think this is pretty important, so I'm going to try to explain why.
Let's start with the Facebook "social contagion" study. Most Facebook critics focused on the people who were the subjects of the study, for good reasons. Did these users give consent? Can terms of service count as consent for an academic study? Should they have been informed of the study afterwards? Is Facebook responsible for any harm these users might have suffered? Is an increase or decrease in engagement really a sign that users' emotions were affected? How else has Facebook attempted to influence its users, or might try in the future? These are all good questions.
But what if you flip it around? What if you weren't one of the subjects whose moods Facebook was trying to study, but one of their friends or family? What if you were one of the people whose posts were filtered because your keywords were too happy, too angry, or too sad?
It's a small thing, but I haven't seen anybody discuss the Facebook emotion study from the perspective of authors of the filtered posts.— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) June 29, 2014
You had good news; maybe your child was born. You had bad news; maybe a call for help. Your friends never saw it, bc of an involuntary study— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) June 29, 2014
The emotions study shows definitively that this opacity of what posts do or don't get delivered by Facebook is universal and without limit.— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) June 29, 2014
I think there's no way to know whether the Facebook study may have harmed people who weren't being studied. And even though the TOS basically says that users give Facebook permission to do whatever they want not only with the users' data, but all of their friends' too, you can't call that consent with a straight face. (This is just another reason that software terms of service are a rotten legal and ethical basis for research. They just weren't built for that reason, or to solve any of those problems.)
So Facebook didn't just mess around with some of its users' feeds, hoping to see if it might mess around with their feelings. It used some of its users' posts in order to do it. Arguably, it made them complicit.
To be clear, filtering posts, giving preference to some and not others, is how Facebook's newsfeed algorithm always works. Facebook users have been complaining about this for a long time, especially brands and news organizations and other companies who've built up their subscriber counts and complain that hardly anybody ever sees their posts unless they pay off Facebook's ad department. And Facebook makes no guarantees, anywhere, that they're going to deliver every message to every user who's subscribed to it. Readers miss posts all the time, usually just because they're just not looking at the screen or reading everything they could see. Facebook isn't certified mail. It's not even email. All this is known.
We all buy in to Facebook (and Twitter, and OKCupid, and every other social media network), giving them a huge amount of personal data, free content, and discretion on how they show it to us, with the understanding that all of this will largely be driven by choices that we make. We build our own profiles, we select our favorite pictures, we make our own friends, we friend whatever brands we like, we pick the users we want to block or mute or select for special attention, and we write our own stories.
Even the filtering algorithms, we're both told and led to assume, are the product of our choices. Either we make these choices explicitly (mute this user, don't show me this again, more results like these) or implicitly (we liked the last five baby pictures, so Facebook shows us more baby pictures; we looked at sites X, Y, and Z, so we see Amazon ads for people who looked at X, Y, and Z. It's not arbitrary; it's personalized. And it's personalized for our benefit, to reflect the choices that we and the people we trust have made.
This is what makes the user-created social web great. It's the value it adds over traditional news media, traditional classified ads, traditional shopping, everything.
We keep copyright on everything we write and every image we post, giving these services a broad license to use it. And whenever the terms of service seem to be saying that these companies have the right to do things we would never want them to do, we're told that these are just the legal terms that the companies need in order to offer the ordinary, everyday service that we've asked them to do for us.
This is why it really stings whenever somebody turns around and says, "well actually, the terms you've signed give us permission to do whatever we want. Not just the thing you were afraid of, but a huge range of things you never thought of." You can't on one hand tell us to pay no attention when you change these things on us, and with the other insist that this is what we've really wanted to do all along. I mean, fuck me over, but don't tell me that I really wanted you to fuck me over all along.
Because ultimately, the reason you needed me to agree in the first place isn't just because I'm using your software, but because you're using my stuff. And the reason I'm letting you use my stuff, and spending all this time working on it, is so that you can show it to people.
I'm not just a user of your service, somebody who reads the things that you show it to me: I'm one of the reasons you have anything that you can show to anyone at all.
Now let's go back to the OKCupid experiment. Facebook didn't show some of its users posts that their friends wrote. But at least it was a binary thing: either your post was shown, just as you wrote it, or it wasn't. OKCupid actually changed the information it displayed to users.
You can pick nits and say OKC didn't change it, but rather, just selectively repressed parts of it, deleting photos on some profiles and text on others. But if you've ever created a profile on any web site, you know that it's presented as being a whole ensemble, the equivalent of a home page. The photos, the background, the description, the questions you answer: taken altogether, that's your representation of yourself to everyone else who may be interested. It's the entire reason why you are there.
Now imagine you're an OKCupid user, and you strike up a conversation with someone or someone strikes up a conversation with you. You assume that the other person has all of your information available to them if they're willing to look at it. That's the basis of every conversation you have on that site. Except they don't. The profile that OKCupid has implicitly promised they'll show to everyone who looks at it has been changed. The other person either doesn't know what you look like (and assumes you can't be bothered to post a photo) or doesn't know anything else about you (and assumes you can't be bothered to write anything about yourself.) Both of you have been deceived, so the site can see what happens.
This is why I question the conclusion that OKC users who were only shown profiles with pictures are shallow, because their conversations were almost as long as the ones who were shown full profiles. This is how I imagine those conversations going:
Rosencrantz: So what do you do?
Guildenstern: Um I work in marketing?
Rosencrantz: That's great! Where did you go to school?
Guildenstern: I went to UVA
Guildenstern: Wait a minute are you some kind of bot?
Rosencrantz: What makes you say that?
Guildenstern: You keep asking me questions that are in my profile, did you even read it
Rosencrantz: I'm looking at it right now, why didn't you answer any of the questions
Guildenstern: lol I guess you can't read nice pic though goodbye
That's a high-value interaction by the OKC researchers' standards, by the way.
This is also why I don't have much patience with the idea that "The worst thing could have happened [with the OkCupid testing] is people send a few more messages, and maybe you went on a date you didn't like." (Rey Junco told this to ReadWrite to explain why he thought Facebook's study was worse than OKCupid's, but you see versions of this all over.)
First, going on "a date you didn't like" isn't a frivolous thing. It definitely incurs more material costs than not seeing a Facebook status. And bad (or good) messages or a bad or good date can definitely have a bigger emotional impact as well.
More importantly, though, don't make this just a question about dates or feelings, about what somebody did or didn't read and what its effect on them was. I don't care if you think someone making a dating profile is a frivolous thing. Somebody made that. They thought the company hosting it could be trusted to present it honestly. They were wrong.
So this is the problem I see not just with Facebook and OKCupid's experiments, but with most of the arguments about them. They're all too quick to accept that users of these sites are readers who've agreed to let these sites show them things. They don't recognize or respect that the users are also the ones who've made almost everything that those sites show. They only treat you as a customer, never a client.
And in this respect, OKCupid's Christian Rudder and the brigade of "and this surprises you?" cynics are right: this is what everybody does. This is the way the internet works now. (Too much of it, anyway.) It doesn't matter whether your site is performing interventions on you or not, let alone publishing them. Too many of them have accepted this framework.
Still, for as long as the web does work this way, we are never only these companies' "products," but their producers, too. And to the extent that these companies show they aren't willing to live up to the basic agreement that we make these things and give them to you so you will show them to other people -- the engine that makes this whole world wide web business go -- I'm not going to have anything to do with them any more. What's more, I'll get mad enough to find a place that will show the things I write to other people and tell them they shouldn't accept it either. Because, ultimately, you ought to be ashamed to treat people and the things they make this way.
It's not A/B testing. It's just being an asshole.
Rudder says some of the negative response "is my own fault, because, y'know, the blog post is sensationally written, for sure." But he doesn't back off of that tone one bit. In fact, he doubles down.
Alex Goldman: Have you thought about bringing in, say, like an ethicist to, to vet your experiments?
Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid: To wring his hands all day for a hundred thousand dollars a year?... This is the only way to find this stuff out. If you guys have an alternative to the scientific method, I'm all ears.
I think he maybe should have just written the blog post and left it alone.Tags: Facebook OKCupid the web we lost
Because Goats! Thanks, Laura!
Those adorable baby goats from Sunflower Farm are back, and this time they are incorporating leaps and bounds into their running routine. The original video, which has now been viewed over 2.5 million times, was a surprise hit for the farm’s owners who have since switched from portrait to landscape in this updated recording :)
For those curious, the goats are raised and sold to qualifying families (in pairs) as pets or dairy animals. Check out Sunflower Farm on Facebook for more.
What if you wanted to cut a bagel in half not for toasting or sandwich purposes, but to explore its topology and mildly astonish your friends?
If you cut a bagel along a möbius strip pattern, you end up with two separate halves that form interlocking rings, as shown below.
Geoge Hart, who cut this bagel and made this video, is an engineering professor at SUNY-Stony Brook and "mathematical sculptor. On his web site, he offers two bagel-derived math problems: What is the ratio of the surface area of this linked cut to the surface area of the usual planar bagel slice? and Modify the cut so the cutting surface is a one-twist Mobius strip.bagels mathematics MoMath
"Keep scanning the ground for something moving in the general vicinity of a nest and hope to see a small form tottering around the tundra like a little gray gnome."
Cornell Lab writer Pat Leonard is in Barrow, Alaska, with Snowy Owl researcher Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute. Holt’s organization, along with explore.org, were responsible for setting up the Snowy Owl cam featured on our Bird Cams project in summer 2014. Leonard visited Holt for some fieldwork in the damp, chilly summer of far northern Alaska.
First: a quick lesson in shifting gears on an ATV—the ubiquitous mode of transport in Barrow when there’s no snow on the ground. Then field researcher Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute, barrels off in the lead, taking us about 10 miles out of town to nest #8. (Note to Bird Cams fans: this is not the same nest as is shown on the Snowy Owl cam, though Leonard hopes to visit that nest in a few days.)
It’s a cold day (about 35 degrees Fahrenheit) made colder by the wind and colder still by open-air transportation. Both of us are bundled to the eyes in multiple layers. Sometimes even that is not enough. But hiking provides more than a useful means of covering the terrain—it warms you up. We’re heading about a mile out from the dirt track, just specks of humanity in a vast landscape with few reference points as we circle a small freshwater lake to get to the nest.
The wide vista is sliced neatly in two: gray overcast above, the flat tundra below in muted greens and browns. It’s spongy and soft when you walk on the drier parts; wet areas are not deep but the ridges and bumps could easily grab and twist the ankles of the inattentive.
Along the way, there’s much to see and a lot to learn in the company of a skilled guide. Holt is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the tundra. “Those are marsh daisies and buttercups,” he says, pointing to tiny pips of color, flowers that look so fragile and yet endure in one of the harshest environments. He can explain how the mounds have built up over thousands of years due to freezing and thawing of the upper layers of the tundra and the pressure exerted by subterranean ice ridges.
As we get closer to the unnamed lake we see Yellow-billed Loons, then a cluster of oh-so-lovely Pacific Loons with their sleek gray necks. Red Phalaropes are skittering around while a Glaucous Gull floats on the wind above and seems to be chuckling at the clumsy humans trudging below. But nearby are the remains of a gull that was taken by a Snowy Owl recently, according to Holt. It seems as if he knows every move they make. But is there a chick or chicks still around nest #8?
A Snowy Owl chick—about 25 days old—just before banding. Photo by Pat Leonard.
A flash of white. There’s the big female in the distance, watching us. Then Holt hears a sound that I miss beneath the white noise of the wind. There’s the male! “He’s barking at us, that’s a good sign that there might be a chick nearby,” says Holt.
We don’t know for sure where the chick or chicks will be. Snowy Owl chicks spend their first three weeks on the nest being brooded by their mother. After that period, while they’re still downy, gray, and flightless, they split up and wander away from the nest, possibly to make them less visible to predators. They won’t be able to fly for another three or four weeks. During this time, finding them on the endless, hummocky tundra is quite a challenge, even for an experienced researcher like Holt.
Then, crouched behind the nest mound, there’s the owlet—a small gray ball of fluff with golden eyes and the beginnings of wing feathers. (We really don’t know the chick’s gender but we seem to want to refer to it as “he.”)
Holt pulls out his banding materials and the record book for this nest. It holds all the data, such as egg measurements, number of chicks, etc. He’s been spending the “balmy” summer months in Barrow to collect this data for 23 years. This nest had seven eggs to start with, and seven chicks hatched. But as far as Holt can tell, this one undersized chick is the only survivor. The eggs in all 20 nests he’s monitoring this season hatched just fine, but it seems all the nests have had several chicks die. Holt isn’t sure why. The brown lemmings that Snowy Owls feed on and seem to require to trigger breeding, have been present in so-so numbers—not a boom, but not a bust either.
Our little chick clacks his bill and peeps as Holt looks him over and claps a silver band around his leg. He’ll be monitored again soon. Holt tries to visit every nest every three days to track the chicks’ progress. He feels this chick should be farther from the nest for his age. We both hope he will make it. Mom and Dad are still nearby watching carefully but not attacking. Some pairs are more aggressive and will dive at intruders with those wicked long claws flexed to do damage.
Except for when we banded the chick, we’re always on the move. Holt says that’s the way you find most of the chicks now that they are off the nest but can’t fly yet. Keep scanning the ground for something moving in the general vicinity of a nest and hope to see a small form tottering around the tundra like a little gray gnome.
This is part of a day in the life of a Snowy Owl field biologist, where success may be defined as locating a lone speck of fluff on the vast tundra, marking it with evidence of its encounter with humans. You hope one day to find it again and in doing so unravel another small piece of the Snowy Owl puzzle: why do they do what they do, and why do they go where they go?
(Top image: Denver Holt records data on the Alaskan tundra, by Pat Leonard.)
Four species of hummers cover most of the continental U.S. What about the rest of the species? Click the image to explore the ranges of 10 North American species at our Citizen Science blog.
Hummingbirds are special—brilliant, tiny, precision-flying creatures that glitter like jewels in the sun and dazzle with their aerial acrobatics, flying fast then stopping instantly, hovering, and zipping up, down, or backwards with exquisite control.
They’re strictly a New World animal, and they fascinated the first Europeans who arrived in North America. Christopher Columbus wrote about them. Many naturalists at the time wondered if they were a cross between a bird and an insect (at one point being called “flybirds”).
More than a dozen species of hummingbirds regularly summer in the United States, including these four that are most commonly seen at backyard feeders:
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds depart for Central America in early fall, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight. To accomplish this incredible migratory feat, they feast on nectar and insects and double their body mass, from 3 grams to 6 grams (or from the weight of a penny to the weight of a nickel). Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have the largest breeding range of any North American hummer.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (left) by Laura Erickson, Black-chinned Hummingbird (right) by Brian Sullivan.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds are the most adaptable of all North American hummingbirds, found from deserts to mountain forests and from urban areas to pristine natural areas. The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s tongue has two grooves that suck up nectar like a sponge. Then the bird retracts the tongue and squeezes the nectar into its mouth.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are dazzling with iridescent emerald feathers and sparkling rose-pink throats. Nineteenth-century French naturalist René Primevère Lesson was mesmerized by “the bright sparkle of a red cap of the richest amethyst” on the male’s head and named it after the French duchess of Rivoli, Anna de Belle Masséna. These hummingbirds live along the Pacific Coast and in many areas are present year-round.
Anna’s Hummingbird (left) by Nancy Starczyk, Rufous Hummingbird (right) by Chris Wood.
Rufous Hummingbirds are small but feisty. They chase off larger hummingbirds at flowers and feeders, and they’ve even been seen chasing away chipmunks. Rufous Hummingbirds have the northernmost breeding range of any hummingbird, yet in fall they migrate about 4,000 miles south to Mexico—in what is possibly the longest migration relative to body size of any bird.
More about hummingbirds:
Pete is out of town, and I think this is already happening to me.
Just call me Sullen Choirboy from now on.
Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.
You probably know that Donald Glover (actor on Community, writer on 30 Rock) also has a rap career under the stage name Childish Gambino. You may not know that the name "Childish Gambino" comes from a Wu-Tang Name Generator.
That's half of the reason I'm here - I'm dead serious. Like I met RZA and he was like, "you're a cool dude, man - and your name is perfect for you! It's like that computer had a brain!" But yeah, I put my name in a Wu-Tang name generator and it spit out Childish Gambino, and for some reason I just thought that fit.
Now here's where things get a little weird. There are multiple, competing Wu-Tang name generators. (Of course there are.) Most of them seem to work the same way -- they run a script matching your name's characters with a decent-sized database of Wu-sounding words, kind of like a hash. But little differences in the scripts or in the database give you different results.
For instance, at recordstore.com, the "Original Wu Name Generator" (tagline "WE CAN WU YOU!") spits back "Erratic Assassin" (for "Timothy Carmody"), while "Tim Carmody" yields "Well-Liked Assman." These names are both awesome.
But the "Wu-Tang Name Generator" at mess.be ("Become a real Wu warrior, entah ur full name 'n smack da ol' dirty button"), which proprietor Pieter Dom says was made in 2002, is totally different. There, "Timothy Carmody" and "Tim Carmody" return "Shriekin' Wizard" and "Gentlemen Overlord," respectively. Now, while these definitely sound like Wu names, they are definitely The W to the other site's Enter the 36 Chambers.
Here's the weird part: both of these Wu-Tang name generators return the same name for "Donald Glover." It is, of course, "Childish Gambino."
Is it just a quirk that whatever difference crept in affects most names, but not Donald Glover's? Did one of the sites hard-code that result in, to boost its credibility with people who heard the Childish Gambino story? Or is Donald Glover somehow necessarily Childish Gambino, across all possible Wu-accessible worlds, in the same way that "Clifford Smith" is always and only "Method Man," even when he pretends to be an actor?
I don't think we can ever know. But just as Russell Jones was Ol' Dirty Bastard, ODB, Dirt McGirt, Big Baby Jesus, and Ason Unique as well as Osirus, I am content to be known by many names under the Wu.
(Dedicated to "Sarkastik Beggar" and "Lesbian Pimp." Via @hoverbird.)Tags: perl Wu-Tang Clan
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