Shared posts

14 Jan 21:31

A Visual Compendium of Where Houston’s Neighborhood Names Come From

by Dan Singer

Budding internet etymologist and Albany High School senior Adam Aleksic is out with his latest annotated map (bigger version here), which points out the origins behind some of the Houston area’s most well-known neighborhood names. As you can see in the legend at the top right corner, the author makes a distinction between developers and people — both of which have left their marks in the region’s spacial vernacular. And of course, no map of Houston would be complete without its fair share of wet spots, too, which appear in the meanings behind 6 locations shown above: Lazybrook, Timbergrove, Spring Branch, River Oaks, Clear Lakes, and Denver Harbor. Infographics [The Etymology Nerd] Image: The Etymology Nerd … Read More
14 Jan 21:30

Philip Glass Finishes His David Bowie Trilogy, Debuting His Lodger Symphony

by Josh Jones

Sometimes I feel
The need to move on
So I pack a bag
And move on
Move on

--David Bowie, “Move On”

We might have been calling it the Lake Geneva Trilogy, given David Bowie’s recuperative sojourn in Switzerland after the emptiness he felt in L.A. The first album in the Berlin Trilogy, Low, was mostly recorded in France, and the last album of the trilogy, Lodger, in Montreaux in 1979. But they were almost all written in, around, and about Berlin, where Bowie found what he was looking for—a more rarified form of isolation—or as he puts it, “virtual anonymity…. For some reason Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.”

Bowie’s wife Angela remembers that “he chose to live in a section of the city as bleak, anonymous, and culturally lost as possible…. He took an apartment above an auto parts store and ate at the local workingman’s café. Talk about alienation.” The feeling pervades all three albums to different effect, but Lodger takes things in a far edgier, more cacophonous direction. Removed from Bowie’s time of soaking up krautrock and producing his roommate Iggy Pop’s solo albums, recorded as his marriage dissolved, it is the sound of jaded cultural and relational dislocation.

“A lot more chaos was intended” on Lodger says Tony Visconti, and it is on these rocks that composer Philip Glass foundered for 23 years. In the 90s, he began his own trilogy, of symphonies based on the renowned Bowie/Eno/Visconti collaborations. Lodger hung him up because it “didn’t interest me at all,” he tells the Los Angeles Times. Despite its wild experimentalism, he heard "no original ideas on that record.”

Glass gravitated towards the melodies of the first two albums, releasing his Low symphony in 1993 and the equally inspired Heroes in ’96. Finally, just this week, he premiered Lodger, with venerable American composer John Adams conducting, in Los Angeles on what would have been Bowie’s birthday, January 8th.

Though Glass never shared his thoughts about Lodger with Bowie, he may not have needed to. Bowie himself felt that “Tony [Visconti] lost heart a little” during the recording “because it never came together as easily as both Low and “Heroes” had. This had a lot to do with my being distracted by personal events in my life," he says, though "I would still maintain thought that there are a number of really important ideas on Lodger.” It is on the ideas that Glass seized. “The writing was remarkable. It was someone who had created a political language for themselves.”

While Glass’s other Bowie symphonies drew directly from the albums’ music (the Low symphony opens with the cinematic theme from “Subterraneans”), “What I was going to do on Lodger,” says Glass, “had nothing to do with the music that was on the record.” He realized that he had been given “a whole piece by a very accomplished writer and artist who had a vision of the world” in the lyrics. Employing the unique voice of singer Angélique Kidjo, Glass made what he calls “a song symphony” using seven of the “texts” (he left off “Look Back in Anger,” “D.J.” and “Red Money”).

Glass takes these “poems” as he calls them and weaves them into his own musical fabric. He’s “unconcerned,” writes Randal Roberts at the L.A. Times “with what Bowie would have thought of his method,” but he remembers Bowie was most struck in his other symphonies by “the parts that didn’t sound very much like the original.” At the top of the post, hear “Warszawa” from Glass’s Low symphony and listen to his other Bowie-inspired pieces on Spotify. The Lodger symphony will make its European premier at the Southbank Centre in London in May of this year, and we should hope to see a recording released soon.

Related Content:

The “David Bowie Is” Exhibition Is Now Available as an Augmented Reality Mobile App That’s Narrated by Gary Oldman: For David Bowie’s Birthday Today

Stream David Bowie’s Complete Discography in a 19-Hour Playlist: From His Very First Recordings to His Last

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Philip Glass Finishes His David Bowie Trilogy, Debuting His Lodger Symphony is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

14 Jan 21:25

The FTC Thinks You Pay Too Much for Smartphones. Here’s Why

by Klint Finley
The agency has charged wireless chip maker Qualcomm with imposing a "tax" on the makers of smartphones like Apple and Samsung.
14 Jan 21:25

'Doctor Who' Is Reaching a Whole New Audience

by Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
The BBC series recently completed its first season with Jodie Whittaker as the titular Doctor—a welcome addition to the franchise.
14 Jan 20:40

Pass the Weekend with the BBC's Backlog of Doctor Who Screenplays

by Julie Muncy

Did you know that the BBC shares a lot of their teleplays online? Including a lot featuring our favorite Doctor.


14 Jan 20:32

A History of Ottawa in Seven Maps

by Jonathan Crowe

CBC News presents seven maps, drawn from the City of Ottawa Archives and other sources, that purport to tell the story of Ottawa, from its beginnings in the 1860s to today. Highlights include its since-abandoned streetcar network, the Gréber plan, and Indigenous claims in the region. [WMS]

07 Jan 21:08

Blame authors' fortunes on monopolism, not university professors, booksellers and librarians

by Cory Doctorow

The New York Times weighs in on an Authors Guild survey that shows a "drastic 42% decline in authors' earnings over the past decade. John Scalzi offers some important perspective.

Here's the summary:

* Authors Guild: authors' incomes are way down, thanks to Amazon's monopolism, which is crushing indies and traditionally published authors alike; universities are relying on fair use and Google Books for coursepacks, and big tech overall is "devalu[ing] what we produce to lower their costs for content distribution."

* New York Times: yeah, it's mostly Amazon.

* Scalzi: This isn't a very good study. They surveyed 5,000-ish, self-selected authors (and the Science Fiction Writers of America didn't participate). Comparing the fortunes of authors today to Hemingway may not be very representative -- think instead of writers like John Brunner, who lived a writerly life that's pretty recognizable to writers today. Was there really ever a guilded age of writerly incomes, or just a bunch of survivor bias?

My take: Amazon and the other monopolists are a huge problem. But big tech isn't uniformly culpable. Facebook and Twitter are certainly big social problems, but, they're not hurting authors. The idea of "devaluing what we produce" by letting people talk to each other for free is incoherent, intellectually bankrupt nonsense, ripped from the pages of "Home taping is killing music" and "Home cooking is killing restaurants."

Also a problem: consolidation in publishing (we're down to five big publishers, and rumor has it that Simon and Shuster will be a subsidiary of Harper Collins within a year). Consolidation in bookselling (letting the chains merge until only B&N existed was great for looter hedge-fund sociopaths, not so much for bookselling).

The Authors Guild recommendations are a mixed bag. Letting authors unionize and negotiate for good rates with Amazon is a great idea.

Establishing a lending right that charges libraries for the right to lend books is a terrible idea. If we're going to fund authorship through state grants (which I totally, absolutely support), let's break up digital (and publishing!) monopolists, make them pay their fair share of taxes, and fund the NEA and other institutions. But attacking libraries' funding in the midst of the human race's neoliberal extermination crisis is an attack on literally the only institution left in the country where you are welcome even if you're not spending money or praying.

It's not just libraries that the AG is taking aim at, it's also booksellers. The AG is worried about returned books entering the stream of new book sales. This is, as far as I can tell, not a problem. Making life harder for indie bookstores will not win the AG any friends. Librarians and indie booksellers are authors' class allies, as are university professors. Our adversaries should be the tax-dodging, Fortune 100 Big Tech/Big Content vampire squids with their blood-funnels jammed down our collective throats.

This is a category error that is often made by copyright maximalists when they argue over "piracy" and tech: they locate the problem with readers, technology, public lending, etc -- not with monopoly capitalism that reduces the competition for our works and starves the public coffers of the social safety net that has made a career in the arts survivable in years gone by. The problem with Big Tech is "big," not "tech."

Brunner’s tale here is anecdotal, and as with all anecdotes one should be careful not to make more of it than it is. But at the same time, as an anecdote, Brunner’s tale has more to tell us about middle-class author jobbing in the 20th Century than the tale of Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. And to bring it around to where we started with this piece, it does suggest that at all times, it’s a hard time to make a living — middle-class or otherwise — solely as an author.

Is it harder now? It might be. It’s different than it was fifty years ago, with different players and challenges, but also with different opportunities — it’s the best time in decades to be writing novellas, for example, and the best time ever for writing work meant for the audiobook format. And if the BLS has anything to tell us, it’s not the worst time ever to be a writer in a general sense, at least in the US.

Just, you know. Maybe keep your day job. Still.

Author Incomes: Not Great, Now or Then [John Scalzi/Whatever]

Authors Guild Survey Shows Drastic 42 Percent Decline in Authors Earnings in Last Decade [Authors Guild]

Does It Pay to Be a Writer? [Concepción de León/New York Times]

20 Nov 21:22

Worst-Case Thinking Breeds Fear and Irrationality

by Bruce Schneier

Here's a crazy story from the UK. Basically, someone sees a man and a little girl leaving a shopping center. Instead of thinking "it must be a father and daughter, which happens millions of times a day and is perfectly normal," he thinks "this is obviously a case of child abduction and I must alert the authorities immediately." And the police, instead of thinking "why in the world would this be a kidnapping and not a normal parental activity," thinks "oh my god, we must all panic immediately." And they do, scrambling helicopters, searching cars leaving the shopping center, and going door-to-door looking for clues. Seven hours later, the police eventually came to realize that she was safe asleep in bed.

Lenore Skenazy writes further:

Can we agree that something is wrong when we leap to the worst possible conclusion upon seeing something that is actually nice? In an email Furedi added that now, "Some fathers told me that they think and look around before they kiss their kids in public. Society is all too ready to interpret the most innocent of gestures as a prelude to abusing a child."

So our job is to try to push the re-set button.

If you see an adult with a child in plain daylight, it is not irresponsible to assume they are caregiver and child. Remember the stat from David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He has heard of NO CASE of a child kidnapped from its parents in public and sold into sex trafficking.

We are wired to see "Taken" when we're actually witnessing something far less exciting called Everyday Life. Let's tune in to reality.

This is the problem with the "see something, say something" mentality. As I wrote back in 2007:

If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security.

And the police need to understand the base-rate fallacy better.

20 Nov 21:21

Skulls and bones with magnifying-glass-burned "tattoos"

by Cory Doctorow

Damien Noll sez, "My skulls and bones are all burned (like black line tattoo) using just a magnifying lens and sunshine."

My latest work is solar pyrography on animal skulls and bones, boar, beaver, cat, cow, coyote, deer etc. Many of these skulls were processed by me from animals passed to me by local hunters in Southern France, Colorado, and Texas. In processing the animal skulls, one becomes intimate with these animals. I take them through the entire process, from life to death and back again. Sometimes along that way a hearty meal is the outcome.

The final markings on their skull, like a tattoo, are individual to each one. The markings become a sort of outfit for passage onto the next, more ghostly realm. The immaterial rays of sunlight giving new context, new meaning, new life,, to what would otherwise be forgotten lives.

Drawing with sunlight [Damien Noll]

20 Nov 21:03

New Arecibo Observatory message challenge announced

In 1974, the Arecibo Observatory made history by beaming the most powerful radio message into deep space ever made. The famous Arecibo Message was designed by the AO 74's staff, led by Frank Drake, and with the help of the astronomer and famed science communicator Carl Sagan. It contained information about the human race and was intended to be our intergalactic calling card.
20 Nov 20:48

“The space bar trick” is the most amazing feature in iOS 12, and the internet just realized it

by Mark Sullivan

Just tap and hold on the space bar and you can move the cursor any damn place you want.

A food blogger from Atlanta named Krissy Brierre-Davis sparked a great awakening on the internet Sunday when she posted about a very handy iPhone feature she discovered by accident.

Read Full Story

20 Nov 20:39

Earth Puzzle

by Jonathan Crowe

Earth Puzzle

This is wild. The Earth Puzzle is a 442-piece jigsaw puzzle with a difference: based on an equal-area icosahedral projection, the puzzle can be built from any starting point, and in any number of configurations: there is no defined centre or edge. One of Nervous System’s infinity puzzles (one for the Moon is also available), it costs $120 and (at the moment) ships in three weeks (so if you’re shopping for the holidays, get on it). All is explained at Nervous System’s blog. [Kenneth Field]

20 Nov 20:20

What's missing from machine learning research: an East African perspective

by Cory Doctorow

CIT computer scientist Milan Cvitkovic conducted 46 in-depth interviews with "scientists, engineers, and CEOs" and collated their machine learning research needs into an aptly named paper entitled "Some Requests for Machine Learning Research from the East African Tech Scene," which presents an illuminating look into the gaps in the current practice of machine learning, itself an example of how rich-world priorities shape our ability to understand, compute and predict the world.

Some of the gaps are predictable enough (regional languages are underrepresented in speech-to-text models) and others are somewhat surprising (speech-to-text models are really bad at recognizing when speakers "code switch" between languages mid-sentence, which is a common practice in the region) and some are really thorny (due to regional "low trust" economies, "interviewees who use machine learning with surveys or customer interaction data reported spending significant effort fighting fraud or dishonesty").

Reinforcement Learning - No interviewee reported using any reinforcement learning methods. However, interest was expressed in it, particularly regard ing machine teaching and using RL in simulations, e.g. using RL in epidemiological simulations to find worst case scenarios in outbreak planning.

Machine Teaching - There is a shortage of good educational resources and teachers in East Africa. Several initiatives exist that use mobile phones as an education platform. Practitioners were interested in using ideas from machine teaching in their work to personalize content delivered. However, the author did not encounter anyone who had employed any results from the machine teaching literature at this point.

Uncertainty Quantification - An important factor that keeps the wealth of rich regions from moving into poorer regions like East Africa, despite the fact that it should earn greater returns there, is risk [1]. Not all risk can be machine–learned away by any means. But (accurate) predictive models are risk-reduction tools.

Machine learning models are most useful for risk–reduction when they can (accurately) quantify their uncertainty. This is particularly true when data are scarce, as they usually are in East Africa. UQ is not a new problem by any means, but it is listed here to reiterate its importance to the organizations interviewed. Importantly, when used in East Africa, UQ is typically much more concerned with conservatively quanti fying overall downside risk (with respect to some quantity of interest) than characterizing overall model uncertainty around point predictions.

Some Requests for Machine Learning Research from the East African Tech Scene [Milan Cvitkovic/Arxiv]

(via Four Short Links)

(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY)

20 Nov 20:19

Watch “The Midnight Parasites,” a Surreal Japanese Animation Set in the World of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1972)

by Josh Jones

Hieronymus Bosch’s bizarre paintings might have looked perfectly ordinary to his contemporaries, argues Stanley Meisler in “The World of Bosch.” Modern viewers may find this very hard to believe. We approach Bosch through layers of Freudian interpretation and Surrealist appreciation. We cannot help “regarding the scores of bizarre monsters”—allegories for sins and punishments far more legible in 15th-century Netherlands—“as a kind of dark and cruel comic relief.”

While Bosch might have intended his work as serious sermonizing, it is impossible for us to inhabit the medieval consciousness of his time and place. There’s just no getting around the fact that Bosch is really weird—weirder even (or more imaginatively allegorical) than nearly any other artist of his time. In some very important ways, he belongs to a 20th-century aesthetic of post-Freudian dream logic as much as he belonged to peculiar medieval visions of heaven and hell.

Bosch “described terrible, unbearable holocausts crushing mankind for its sins,” writes Meisler, visions that seemed both stranger and more familiar in the wake of so many man-made holocausts whose absurdities defy reason. What modern horrors does famed Japanese animator Y?ji Kuri invoke in his psychedelic 1972 film “The Midnight Parasites,” above, a surrealist short set in the world of Bosch?

Dangerous Minds’ Paul Gallagher describes the plot, such as it is:

Here Kuri imagines what would life might be like if we all lived in Bosch’s painting “Garden of Earthly Delights.” It’s a basically shit and death or rather a cycle of life where blue figures live and die; eat shit and shit gold; are skewered, and devoured; are regurgitated and reborn to carry on the cycle once again.

Kuri’s satirical vision, in films long favored by counter-cultural audiences, has “bite,” writes Animation World Network’s Chris Robinson: “he helped lift Japanese animation out of decades of cozy narrative cartoons into a new era of graphic and conceptual experimentation. His films mock and shock, attacking technology, population expansion, monotony of modern society… Witnessing the surrender of Japan during WW2, the devastation of his country followed by the quick rise of Western inspired materialist culture and rampant consumption, Kuri, like many of his colleagues at the time, questioned the state and direction of his society and world.”

His creative appropriation of Bosch, “dark, dirty, oddly beautiful, with a groovy soundtrack,” Gallagher writes, may not, as Meisler worries of many modern takes, get Bosch wrong at all. Though the Dutch artist’s symbolism may never be comprehensible—or anything less than hallucinatory—to us moderns, Kuri’s half-playful reimagining uses Boschian figures for some serious moralizing, showing us a hell world governed by grave lapses and cruelties Bosch could never have imagined.

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Figures from Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” Come to Life as Fine Art Piñatas

Hieronymus Bosch Figurines: Collect Surreal Characters from Bosch’s Paintings & Put Them on Your Bookshelf

Take a Virtual Tour of Hieronymus Bosch’s Bewildering Masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “The Midnight Parasites,” a Surreal Japanese Animation Set in the World of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1972) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

20 Nov 20:17

List: Holiday Cards for Your Racist Relatives

by Ryan Weber

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20 Nov 20:16

5 steps to release yourself from being a slave to PowerPoint

by Darren Menabney

If you can rely on the strength of your words and ideas, let those persuade your audience.

PowerPoint, for all its flaws and despite its bad rep, is still a pretty good tool when used to do what it was designed to do: create visuals to accompany spoken words and support our presentations.

Read Full Story

15 Nov 20:57

Remus Lupin Was an Amazing Figure of Non-Toxic Masculinity, Don’t @ Me

by Kate Gardner

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sees Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) learning about his parents from Professor Lupin (David Thewlis)

There has been a lot of Fantastic Beasts discussion about Newt Scamander and whether he, as a hero, is a good example of non-toxic masculinity. As someone who loves a good hero who shirks the idea of toxic masculinity (Steve Rogers, Thor, Steve Trevor, and Finn are all my favorite examples), I will say that my favorite part of the eternally frustrating Newt is that he tends towards the kind, the compassionate, and the non-violent.

However, I think the first introduction I ever had to a character who displayed non-toxic masculinity remains the superior compassionate character in the Harry Potter franchise. I am talking, of course, about Remus Lupin.

Even when I first read Prisoner of Azkaban when I was a tiny, not-jaded Potter fan, Lupin was my absolute favorite. I own two copies of the third Harry Potter book because my original has fallen apart to such a degree that it now deserves to rest in a glass case somewhere. There is much to love about the wonderful third book, from Hogsmeade to hippogriffs, but Lupin is one of the best additions to the series.

We’re first introduced to Lupin on the Hogwarts Express, where Harry and his friends wonder about how “shabby” he looks as he dozes in the corner, and why a professor is on the train with them. Lupin wakes up when dementors converge on the car, drawn to Harry’s trauma, and he immediately dispatches them. He makes sure Harry gets some chocolate in him and makes sure his soon-to-be students are safe.

This might seem like a low bar, but between Dumbledore’s “I’m like a cool grandpa who wants you to die” schtick and Snape abusing students left and right, this kindness sticks out.

It’s a kindness that he doesn’t only extend to the son of his former best friend. He’s genuinely kind to all of his students, especially to poor, frightened Neville during the boggart sequence. He even behaves courteously towards Snape, who treats him like utter garbage the entire time.

Let me just say this about Lupin’s boyhood misadventures and why Snape might still dislike him: He didn’t know that Sirius sent Snape to the Whomping Willow, and also anything Snape endured did not mean that Snape should out him to the entire school and get him fired from what was probably his only stable job in his adult life.

Lupin’s wolfy secret could have made him a complete and utter asshole. Look at Snape, whose big hangup is that he got rejected for being a racist supporter of a fascist organization and held that against everyone until he died. Lupin, who was cursed as a child and as a result was ostracized his entire adult life, shows nothing but kindness towards others, despite the Wizarding World trying to break him at every turn.

He’s an empathetic individual who is, without a doubt, the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the entire series, and who bravely stands up for what’s right when Voldemort rises again, even at the cost of his own life.

When Harry turns to him for private help fighting off the dementors, Lupin does so and never once belittles or becomes angry when Harry can’t produce a patronus or gets frustrated. He’s supportive and encouraging, and it’s his teaching that allows Harry to actually access his most cherished memory and conjure a full patronus. Again, being a decent teacher is a low bar, but this is Hogwarts we’re talking about.

Lupin consistently reacts with kindness and empathy, which is why his characterization in Deathly Hallows is, as the kids say, bullshit. Flaws are great; abandoning your pregnant wife is another thing, not to mention Rowling used Lupin’s moment of weakness to half-heartedly justify offing him by saying that Arthur Weasley had to live instead, since he was one of the few good fathers in the Wizarding World.

Arthur’s great, but Lupin is still a better father figure than literally every other character. Am I still bitter? Probably.

J.K. Rowling, in her infinite capacity for heteronormativity, intended Lupin’s struggle with lycanthropy to be a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, but that reading falls very flat after she has aggressively denied that he might be queer at any turn. Interestingly enough, both Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron and actor David Thewlis, who now plays the anti-Lupin in Big Mouth, read the character as gay.

To try to apply the idea of non-toxic masculinity to a character written by an author whose flaws become more apparent with each reread will never quite work, but in his first outing, Lupin is every inch the non-toxic male hero. His compassion and empathy drives him to care for his students, and I only wish he’d have had the chance to actually grow, rather than play pair the spares and die for shock value.

If Newt is now leading the way for a new kind of wizarding hero, then Lupin paved that way.

(image: Warner Bros)

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25 Oct 16:22

Saudi Arabia Proves That Oil Is Power

by Robert Rapier, Contributor
The killing of Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi - and the debate over what to do about it - provides a stark reminder of the economic power wielded by Saudi Arabia.
24 Oct 23:01

Civility vs. Decency

by Jenn Boggs


A spokesperson for a divisive president is turned away from a restaurant. That president delights in dog-whistle insults that fall just short of outright ethnic slurs—usually. A white woman calls the police on a black child selling water on a city street on a beastly hot day. A patron who hasn’t been turned away from a restaurant leaves a note for the server, who bears an Arabic name, saying, “We don’t tip terrorist [sic].”

Updated Date

Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 16:30

Illustration by Lauren Simkin BerkeA spokesperson for a divisive president is turned away from a restaurant. That president delights in dog-whistle insults that fall just short of outright ethnic slurs—usually. A white woman calls the police on a black child selling water on a city street on a beastly hot day. A patron who hasn’t been turned away from a restaurant leaves a note for the server, who bears an Arabic name, saying, “We don’t tip terrorist [sic].”

We live in bitter, angry times, with a hall-of-funhouse-mirrors quality to them: Call a racist a racist, and that person will be hurt because you have used an injurious term. Call someone you disagree with a derogatory term, on the other hand, and you might earn a few likes on Facebook. Lose a job here, gain a pardon there: In this swirl of flying invective and free-floating rage, we’re barely talking to one another except to shout.

All this speaks to a crisis of civility, which is to say, a species of etiquette: As a civil person, I may despise the beliefs you hold, but I won’t shout, “You lie!” across a crowded auditorium. I may not like the way you look, but I’ll reserve my comments for interior monologue. Believe what you want to, the thinking goes, but be polite about how you express it in public; advocate separating children from parents at the border or argue for the virtues of the Confederacy with all your might, but mind your manners as you do so and you will have satisfied the all-too-frequently heard plea for civil behavior, no matter how ugly the message.

One can have heart and mind full of venom and still be civil; decency need not enter the picture. Like civility, the latter term speaks to propriety of conduct. Unlike civility, it carries an element of essential soulcraft to it: It goes deeper, into character more than manners. A civil person may be a scoundrel, a decent person never so; a civil person may be a racist, a decent person not; and so forth. Decency gauges the inherent rightness or wrongness of a thought or action, while civility is largely agnostic on such matters. When Joseph Nye Welch beseeched Joseph McCarthy, in a famous moment in American political history, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” he was asking the Wisconsin senator for more than showing a little decorum.

Does one precede the other? And which is to be preferred? If you’re looking for no one to be offended, then civility is a desideratum, to be sure. But, observes the philosopher Avishai Margalit, decency is really what we should be after: “A decent society,” he writes, “is one whose institutions do not humiliate people.” A decent society is fair and constructive, a civil one merely polite. Given the war on the social contract and the supremacy of the zero-sum game, of course, we should be grateful to take what we can get, but there’s a world to win—with the utmost courtesy, of course.


Gregory McNamee Topics: Conduct society racism character call to action courtesy Fine Distinctions




Fall 2018

20 Aug 17:52

N.K. Jemisin Wins Her 3rd Consecutive Hugo Award For Best Novel

by Princess Weekes

Stone Sky

Last night was the Hugo awards and the Beyoncé of science fiction,  N.K. Jemisin, won her third Hugo in a row for the final book in her Broken Earth Trilogy The Stone Sky. It was not only a big night for Jemisin, but for female authors in general at the Hugo Awards. Most of the winners of the evening were women and some were women of color, including Ohkay Owingeh /Black author, Rebecca Roanhorse, Asian-American author Marjorie M. Liu, and Japanese illustrator Sana Takeda.

Best Novel

  • The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)

Best Novella

  • All Systems Red, by Martha Wells ( Publishing)
  • “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
  • Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor ( Publishing)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang ( Publishing)
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
  • River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey ( Publishing)

Best Novelette

  • “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
  • “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)
  • “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (, February 15, 2017)
  • “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
  • “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
  • “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)

Best Short Story

  • “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017)
  • “Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)
  • “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September 2017)
  • “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)
  • “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (, July 19, 2017)
  • “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017)

Best Related Work

  • No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate, by Zoe Quinn (PublicAffairs)
  • Iain M. Banks (Modern Masters of Science Fiction), by Paul Kincaid (University of Illinois Press)
  • A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, by Nat Segaloff (NESFA Press)
  • Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Liz Bourke (Aqueduct Press)

Best Graphic Story

  • Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
  • Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Marvel)
  • Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)
  • My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)
  • Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

  • Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers)
  • Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Alcon Entertainment / Bud Yorkin Productions / Torridon Films / Columbia Pictures)
  • Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Blumhouse Productions / Monkeypaw Productions / QC Entertainment)
  • The Shape of Water, written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, directed by Guillermo del Toro (TSG Entertainment / Double Dare You / Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Lucasfilm, Ltd.)
  • Thor: Ragnarok, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost; directed by Taika Waititi (Marvel Studios)

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  • The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • Black Mirror: “USS Callister,” written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, directed by Toby Haynes (House of Tomorrow)
  • “The Deep” [song], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)
  • Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Cymru Wales)
  • The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit,” written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • Star Trek: Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander, directed by David M. Barrett (CBS Television Studios)

Best Editor – Short Form

  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Lee Harris
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor – Long Form

  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Joe Monti
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

  • Sana Takeda
  • Galen Dara
  • Kathleen Jennings
  • Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
  • Victo Ngai
  • John Picacio

Best Semiprozine

  • Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios; podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews
  • The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • Escape Pod, edited by Mur Lafferty, S.B. Divya, and Norm Sherman, with assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney
  • Fireside Magazine, edited by Brian White and Julia Rios; managing editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry; special feature editor Mikki Kendall; publisher & art director Pablo Defendini
  • Strange Horizons, edited by Kate Dollarhyde, Gautam Bhatia, A.J. Odasso, Lila Garrott, Heather McDougal, Ciro Faienza, Tahlia Day, Vanessa Rose Phin, and the Strange Horizons staff

Best Fanzine

  • File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
  • Galactic Journey, edited by Gideon Marcus
  • Journey Planet, edited by Team Journey Planet
  • nerds of a feather, flock together, edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry
  • Rocket Stack Rank, edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong
  • SF Bluestocking, edited by Bridget McKinney

Best Fancast

  • Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
  • The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Fangirl Happy Hour, presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams
  • Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts; produced by Andrew Finch
  • Sword and Laser, presented by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt
  • Verity!, presented by Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Best Fan Writer

  • Sarah Gailey
  • Camestros Felapton
  • Mike Glyer
  • Foz Meadows
  • Charles Payseur
  • Bogi Takács

Best Fan Artist

  • Geneva Benton
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Maya Hahto
  • Likhain (M. Sereno)
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles

Best Series

  • World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Harper Voyager / Spectrum Literary Agency)
  • The Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells (Night Shade)
  • The Divine Cities, by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway)
  • InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Memoirs of Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan (Tor US / Titan UK)
  • The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson (Tor US / Gollancz UK)

In recent years, the science fiction awards have been working to be more inclusive, and this year’s finalists and winners show just how far we have come in recognizing the accomplishments of a diversity of people in working in that genre. It is hard to believe that in 2016 Jemisin became the first African-America author to win the Hugo for Best Novel and has now become the first person to win it three years in a row in that category.

It’s a beautiful reminder that despite all the things going wrong, that progress is happening.

(via Tor, image: Orbit)

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20 Aug 17:52

Here's the funniest, most scathing, most informative and most useful talk on AI and security

by Cory Doctorow

James Mickens (previously) has a well-deserved reputation for being the information security world's funniest speaker, and if that were all he did, he would still be worth listening to. (more…)

08 Aug 19:07

Our Disruptive Media Startup is Taking On Massive Debt to Meet the Needs of an Audience That Does Not Exist


In the headwinds of today’s online economy, digital media companies are feeling the pinch of shrinking viewership, saturated markets, and debt-heavy, bloated parent companies. In this era of uncertainty, we believe the market is ripe for a disruptive media group that asks: What if there was a company that did more of the same, but more so? A company that doesn’t dwell on the baggage of past lessons, and stares straight into the blinding light of the future. It’s time to meet a new kind of digital media startup.

We call ourselves YouthBlade Media. We decided this is a name that strikes the perfect balance of rebellious excitement and inoffensive vagueness that will help us reward our shareholders before this rocket ship goes Columbia, if you know what we mean. But if you think our media disruptiveness ends at our name, then you’re in for a rude surprise.

We’re hiring and firing writers at an incredibly disruptive rate. We feel this better positions us to compete with the generation of writers whose careers we’ve kneecapped.

We’ve spared no expense recruiting prestige essayists from the New York Times, The Washington Post, and, due to a miscommunication with our recruiter, These writers will help us establish a name and reputation, and, until we figure out a site they can write on, we say their $400,000-a-year salaries are well worth the investment.

As for the rest of our writers, we’re cutting back on the needless excesses that hobble larger, more successful companies. Our average staffers, or ‘pawns’ as we affectionately like to call them, will earn a competitive-but-sensible annual salary of $18,000, plus generous health benefits composed of one lime per week to prevent scurvy.

Certainly, some writers may balk at being required to commute from a homeless camp to our offices in the New York Financial District, but they’re only showing how uncommitted they are to our revolutionary mission.

What is our mission? Our mission draws from a range of inspirations: South American Air Traffic Control, The Tower of Babel, even Vice. In short, our mission is to unite a diverse group of readership under an umbrella of groundbreaking websites to stake a cultural claim in the digital age.

Wow, that actually sounded pretty good! We should really write that down somewhere.

We’re in debt, and expanding rapidly: We may be 200 billion dollars in the hole on this thing, but assuming we reach our modest goal of becoming the largest media company on earth, we should be profitable as early as 2044.

Our incoming class of interns is the coolest, most well-qualified1 and diverse2 group of our executives’ nephews our company has ever seen.

Every day that passes, we only become more disruptive!

Our average reader is an 18-24-year-old Russian hacker making over $200,000 a year that we pay him to boost our traffic numbers!

Our web properties are incredibly woke, but also unafraid of being politically incorrect!

Our clickbait sites are expanding into hard-hitting news! Our respected news teams will write lists of skateboarding fails!

We’re going to kill God and write a blog about it!

Ultimately, we’re a simple startup, with a revolutionarily simple business model: Borrow, spend, and pray. And if that doesn’t sound rebellious enough to pique your interest, we hope the slogan we spent millions of dollars on focus-grouping will:

We’re YouthBlade Media. Check Us Out.

- - -

1 As our first group of interns, they are also our least qualified, if you want to be a drag about it.

2 See above.

08 Aug 18:11

5 unspoken rules of being a manager that no one tells you about

by Mollie Lombardi and Terra Vicario

You’ll be on the receiving end of more information than you want. Use that privilege wisely.

After many hours of hard work, your employer made you a manager. For the first time in your life, you have several employees reporting to you. You’re excited to make your mark and take your career to the next level. And you should be–your company has recognized that you have leadership potential, and they’re giving you an opportunity to shine.

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08 Aug 18:07

Right-wing Brazilian presidential candidate picks dictatorship-loving general as a running mate

by Seamus Bellamy

Remember last week when we told you that there was some jibba-jabba about the possibility of Brazil sliding back into being a military dictatorship? According to Reuters, far-right leaning presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has named a retired general as his running mate in the nation’s upcoming elections. Here’s the shit-and-giggle part: the general in question is Antonio Hamilton Mourão. He’s the same fella that told the media that there was a possibility of there being a military coup if the Brazilian government didn’t get its shit together. From Reuters:
Bolsonaro, running as a candidate for the small Social Liberty Party (PSL), has pegged much of his candidacy on controversial remarks, whether defending of the past military dictatorship or suggesting acts of violence against homosexuals. In an interview last year with Reuters, the candidate for the Social Liberty Party (PSL) played down Mourão’s remarks. “It was just a warning. Nobody wants to seize power that way,” Bolsonaro said. “Maybe we could have a military man winning in 2018, but through elections.” Bolsonaro had struggled to find a running mate as other parties tried to distance themselves from his controversial comments. Other proposed vice presidential candidates - including another general, an astronaut and a sitting senator - ultimately fell through.
Encouraging acts of violence against homosexuals and propping up the deeds of a past dictatorship. I can’t imagine why Bolsonaro was having problems finding a running mate. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned over the past few years, having no moral compass or compassion for minorities won’t stop a dangerous bully or a dictator from coming to power during an election year. Image via Wikipedia
06 Aug 21:19

Disaster Movie

Really, they'd be rushing around collecting revisions to go into the next scheduled quarterly public data update, not publishing them immediately, but you have to embellish things a little for Hollywood.
06 Aug 20:01

Beyoncé’s Vogue Interview Carries an Important Message About the History of Rape and Miscegenation in America

by Princess Weekes

Beyonce performs as she is pregnant with twins during the 59th Annual Grammy music Awards on February 12, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. / AFP / VALERIE MACON (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

Beyoncé’s September Vogue cover was already highly anticipated because, duh, it’s Beyoncé, but also because she used her platform to give a 23-year-old black photographer an opportunity.

Beyond the cover, you can find stories from the Queen of Pop Music about her relationship with her body (including her FUPA) and creating opportunities for black artists coming up after her: “Imagine if someone hadn’t given a chance to the brilliant women who came before me: Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, and the list goes on. They opened the doors for me, and I pray that I’m doing all I can to open doors for the next generation of talents.”

Her interview is just filled with insight and really allows you to understand that, whether you like Beyoncé or not, she is aware of her place in music history and how that has impacted the world and herself as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and human being.

However, one of the more important parts of the article comes when she talks about her heritage and finding out her ancestry: “I researched my ancestry recently and learned that I come from a slave owner who fell in love with and married a slave. I had to process that revelation over time. I questioned what it meant and tried to put it into perspective,” she says.

The language Beyoncé uses is important, because while it may be part of her process of understanding where she comes from, it’s important to call things what they are, and a relationship between a white slave owner and a black slave is rape. It will always be rape because there is no consent in captivity. However, what Beyoncé is talking about is something that shows up often in narratives known as miscegenation fiction.

I spoke about miscegenation fiction before when I wrote about the author Frances Harper for my Black History Month series, but as a recap:

Miscegenation fiction was a popular type of fiction that was about the “forbidden relationships” between non-white people (mostly black, sometimes Native peoples) and white people. Lydia Maria Child was an abolitionist writer who used this genre frequently to explore the myths of white supremacy through stories of beautiful mixed-race people and white people. While nowadays we understand that this is problematic due to colorism, during slavery, this was used to show that if black people were so inferior to white people, then why were the offspring of those “relationships” capable of being accepted as attractive and intelligent?

The most common of these “tragic mulatto” tales would be a mixed-race woman falls in love with a white man, they are married “in the eyes of God,” a.k.a. bullshit because, in those days, you couldn’t marry a non-white person legally. They would have children who usually don’t grow up knowing they are mixed race, and eventually, the white father would die or marry a rich white woman, and the black family members would be sent back into slavery to probably die tragically. You see this in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Clotel, and many of Child’s own works.

Frances Harper wrote a novel called Iola Leroy, which was about a light-skinned mixed-race woman married (semi-legally) to a white plantation owner because the slave passed enough for white to get by. It’s important to note that anti-miscegenation laws in this country existed to (a) uphold white supremacy and (b) to allow white men to forsake responsibility for their mixed-raced children. By 1776, seven out of the original 13 colonies had banned miscegenation, and as the country expanded in slave-owning states those same laws continued to be enacted.

In 1912, Georgia’s Democratic Senator Seaborn Anderson Roddenbery (what a name) tried to add an anti-miscegenation law into the United States Constitution in response to mixed race marriages, like those of the first-African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, being married to white women. Before Congress he made the following statement:

Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant to the very principles of Saxon government. It is subversive of social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery of white women to black beasts will bring this nation a conflict as fatal as ever reddened the soil of Virginia or crimsoned the mountain paths of Pennsylvania.

I’m sure he was really moved by Birth of a Nation when it came out.

It’s this culture—one where black and brown women could be raped with zero legal protection—that many African-American and women within the black diaspora are born into. It is this legacy of pain and rape that is part of our legacy, sometimes down to the last names many of us have. Even men who “married” slaves could only keep that illusion if no one knew the truth and no one came to claim the property that belonged to the master’s family. That is not love.

What popped into my mind after reading this, after Iola Leroy, was Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, which very much goes into this legacy of rape and brutality through the narrator, Dana, who goes back in time to see her ancestors’ relationship: one a slave owner (Rufus), one a slave (Alice), who is eventually driven to take her own life in order to finally escape rape and torment.

Throughout the story, Rufus allows himself to believe that the brutality is love because he believes there would be genuine shame in actually loving Alice and respecting her.

I said nothing. I was beginning to realize that he loved the woman—to her misfortune. There was no shame in raping a black woman, but there could be shame in loving one.

“I didn’t want to just drag her off into the bushes,” said Rufus. “I never wanted it to be like that. But she kept saying no. I could have had her in the bushes years ago if that was all I wanted.”

The entire interview is a powerful, and this part no less a reminder of the brokenness of the black family and trauma that permeates through that heritage, even to this day. However, Beyoncé does have this sliver of hope within that knowledge:

“I come from a lineage of broken male-female relationships, abuse of power, and mistrust. Only when I saw that clearly was I able to resolve those conflicts in my own relationship. Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes us both bruised and beautiful.”

(via Vogue, image:VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

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06 Aug 18:10

Can We Decentralize the Web?

by EditorDavid
This week the Internet Archive hosted an amazing Decentralized Web Summit, which united the makers who want to build a web "that's locked open for good." [Watch the videos here.] Vint Cerf was there, as was the technical product development leader for Microsoft's own decentralized identity efforts, several companies building the so-called punk rock Internet, "along with a handful of venture capitalists looking for opportunities." One talk even included Mike Judge, the creator of HBO's Silicon Valley, which recently included the decentralized web in its ongoing storyline. Computing highlighted remarks by Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, and Mitchell Baker, the chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation. The ideology of the web's early pioneers, according to Baker, was free software and open source. "Money was considered evil," she said. So when companies came in to commercialize the internet, the original architects were unprepared. "Advertising is the internet's original sin," Kahle told the packed room. "Advertising is winner-take-all, and that's how we've ended up with centralization and monopolies." At the conference, attendees presented utopian visions of how the future of the internet could look. Civil, a new media startup, proposed crowd-supported journalism using cryptocurrency micro-payments. Mastodon, a decentralized and encrypted social network, was commonly referenced as an alternative to Twitter. As Facebook and Google continue to monopolize the digital advertising ecosystem -- recent estimates say that the two companies control over 70% of digital advertising spending globally -- the promise of a decentralized web, free from the shackles of advertiser demands is fun to imagine. Tristan Harris, who leads the Center for Humane Technology, "just hopes the pioneers of the new internet turn around to face the potential negative externalities of their products before it's too late," arguing that "If we decentralize the systems we already have without an honest recognition of the social harms that are being created -- mental health [issues], loneliness, addiction, polarization, conspiracy theories... then we've decentralized social harms and we can't even track them." But Tim Berners-Lee "remains hopeful". "There's massive public awareness of the effects of social networks and the unintended consequences," he told Computing. "There's a huge backlash from people wanting to control their own data"... Meanwhile, there's the rise of "companies which respect user privacy and do not do anything at all with user data" (he namechecks social network MeWe to which he acts as an advisor), open-source collaborations like the data portability project (DTP) led by tech giants, and his own project Solid which is "turning from an experiment into a platform and the start of a movement". "These are exciting times," said Berners-Lee.

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06 Aug 17:55

New Alexa Skill Plays Fake Stupid Arguments To Scare Off Burglars

by EditorDavid
TechCrunch reports on a new Alexa skill called "Away Mode". Instead of lights and noises, you can keep your home safe from unwanted visitors by playing lengthy audio tracks that sound like real -- and completely ridiculous -- conversations. When you launch Away Mode, Alexa will play one of seven audio tracks penned by comedy writers from SNL, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and UCB... These include gems like "Couple Has Breakup While Also Trying to Watch TV," "Two Average Guys Brainstorm What's Unique About Themselves So They Can Start a Podcast About It," "Emergency PTA Meeting To Discuss Memes, Fidget Spinners, and Other Teen Fads," and more. There are conversations from a book club where no one discusses the book, a mom walking her daughter through IKEA assembly over the phone, a stay-at-home mom losing her s***, and argument over a board game.... After enabling the skill on your Alexa device, you can cycle through the various conversations by saying "Next"... The tracks themselves are around an hour or so long... There are other "burglar deterrent" skills for Alexa if you're interested in the general concept, like that play fake house alarms or sound like guard dogs. But Away Mode is just a little more fun. It's the brainchild of San Francisco-based Hippo Insurance, whose brand manager hopes to get people thinking about home security (though she says it isn't meant to be a serious security tool). Yet, "Theoretically it's a good idea," adds former California police chief Jim Bueermann (now the head of the nonprofit Police Foundation). "If this thing mimics real conversation, it's much more likely to trick the burglar into believing somebody is home." In one fake argument, a board game player shouts "Hand me the rulebook! The other rulebook! That's the rules reference.... No, it's in the learn-to-play guide. That's the quick reference!"

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06 Aug 17:53

'Why Liberal Arts and the Humanities Are as Important as Engineering'

by msmash
Engineering professor Vivek Wadha writes: A technological shift is in progress that will change the rules of innovation. A broad range of technologies, such as computing, artificial intelligence, digital medicine, robotics and synthetic biology, are advancing exponentially and converging, making amazing things possible. With the convergence of medicine, artificial intelligence and sensors, we can create digital doctors that monitor our health and help us prevent disease; with the advances in genomics and gene editing, we have the ability to create plants that are drought resistant and that feed the planet; with robots powered by artificial intelligence, we can build digital companions for the elderly. Nanomaterial advances are enabling a new generation of solar and storage technologies that will make energy affordable and available to all. Creating solutions such as these requires a knowledge of fields such as biology, education, health sciences and human behavior. Tackling today's biggest social and technological challenges requires the ability to think critically about their human context, which is something that humanities graduates happen to be best trained to do. An engineering degree is very valuable, but the sense of empathy that comes from music, arts, literature and psychology provides a big advantage in design. A history major who has studied the Enlightenment or the rise and fall of the Roman Empire gains an insight into the human elements of technology and the importance of its usability. A psychologist is more likely to know how to motivate people and to understand what users want than is an engineer who has only worked in the technology trenches. A musician or artist is king in a world in which you can 3D-print anything that you can imagine.

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06 Aug 17:52

I finally achieved inbox zero, and it totally changed how I work

by Stephanie Vozza

“One day I did something drastic. I deleted or moved all 457 of the messages that were sitting in my inbox. It was liberating.”

The average person sends and receives about 235 emails a day and spends between 2.5 and 4.1 hours a day in their inboxes, depending on which study you believe. Either way, that’s a lot of time—and what do you do with all those messages?

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