"I hear a woman in the crowd yell out, 'Don't kill him.' And in that second, I realize that she's talking about me," Vauhxx Booker tells NPR.
(Image credit: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)
"I hear a woman in the crowd yell out, 'Don't kill him.' And in that second, I realize that she's talking about me," Vauhxx Booker tells NPR.
(Image credit: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)
Emily: In the last installment of our Summer of Bad Books Club, I asked what characteristics a Good Woman has in the world of My Sweet Audrina. The ways in which VC Andrews and, by extension, Audrina, attempts to classify women’s behavior is fascinating, deeply flawed, and, contradictorily, a bizarrely accurate…
When you start a new job, you’ll probably be instructed to go to Human Resources (HR) if you ever experience any sort of harassment at work—but this path hasn’t always been the most useful one for employees. In fact, according to a new survey from Zenefits, one out of five workers do not trust their HR departments,…
While the art world likes to present itself as inclusive and progressive, it is plagued by institutional racism, tokenism, and a general lack of diversity. Next Tuesday, July 14, six women artists of Southeast and East Asian descent will come together to frankly discuss their experiences and what they hope to push forward with their work. The artists, most of whom are based in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, are Pearl C Hsiung, Maia Ruth Lee, Astria Suparak, Stephanie Syjuco, Hồng-Ân Trương, and Christine Tien Wang. The host and main organizer of the event, stephanie mei huang, is also a Los Angeles-based artist.
“The yellow woman’s body, historically rendered either invisible or as ‘object,’ is now catapulted into hypervisibility amidst xenophobic questions of contagion, virility, and a history of scapegoatism,” reads the description of the event, which is aptly titled “hyper(in)visibility.”
In putting together this panel, huang hopes to create a “space of solidarity” for Asian women — something she says has “seldom been given.” Some of the questions she plans to pose include “How have COVID-19 and BLM affected your understanding of your racial, ethnic, and national identity?” and “How do we want to be seen? Is it possible to be seen the way we want to be seen?”
These six artists have a wide collective range of work, exploring the environment, food politics, race representation, immigrant histories, and much more. But huang sees some common ground, particularly a “sense of imposed discomfort.” She surmises that this may be because “as racialized and gendered bodies, we somehow are always experiencing that discomfort.” As an example, she cites Wang’s I just want to be a white girl paintings.
The “hyper(in)visibility” panel was originally going to be held in late June in partnership with the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), but huang decided to withdraw after the museum appointed a white man as CEO and director. The appointment incited local controversy because “VAG has no Black representation on their board in addition to an overwhelmingly amount of white senior positions.” VAG’s response was “insufficient,” according to huang, and she “did not want to support an institution that was tone deaf to the urgent calls of the BLM uprising and BIPOC actions.”
She added, “I did not want myself or the panelists to yet again be forced into tokenized positions as women of color by an institution that reinforces the status quo of racism in the Americas or uses Asian people as a wedge between other people of color and whiteness.” As artists and art workers rally to inspire institutional change, the panel — now hosted by the Contemporary Calgary — has absorbed a whole new relevant layer of discussion.
When: Tuesday, July 14, 1:30 pm (PDT)
More info at Contemporary Calgary.
The ethics of AI is a hot topic at the minute, particularly with the ongoing controversies around facial recognition software. Now mathematicians have developed a model that can help businesses spot when commercial AI systems might make shady choices in the pursuit of profits.
Modern AI is great at optimizing—finding the shortest route, the perfect pricing sweet spot, or the best distribution of a company’s resources. But it’s also blind to a lot of the context that a human making similar decisions would be cognizant of, particularly when it comes to ethics.
As an example, most people realize that while jacking the price of a medicine up during a health crisis would boost profits, it would also be morally indefensible. But AI has no sense of ethics, so if put in charge of pricing strategy this might seem like a promising approach.
In fact, in a recent paper in Royal Society Open Science, researchers showed that AI tasked with maximizing returns is actually disproportionately likely to pick an unethical strategy in fairly general conditions. Fortunately, they also showed it’s possible to predict the circumstances in which this is likely to happen, which could guide efforts to modify AI to avoid it.
The fact that AI is likely to pick unethical strategies seems intuitive. There are plenty of unethical business practices that can reap huge rewards if you get away with them, not least because few of your competitors dare use them. There’s a reason companies often bend or even break the rules despite the reputational and regulatory backlash they could face.
Those potential repercussions should be of considerable concern to companies deploying AI solutions, though. While efforts to build ethical principles into AI are already underway, they are nascent and in many contexts there are a vast number of potential strategies to choose from. Often these systems make decisions with little or no human input and it can be hard to predict the circumstances under which they are likely to choose an unethical approach.
And in fact, the authors of the paper have proven mathematically that AI designed to maximize returns is disproportionately likely to pick an unethical strategy, something they dub the “unethical optimization principle.” Fortunately, they say it’s possible for risk managers or regulators to estimate the impact of this principle to help detect potential unethical strategies.
The key is to focus on the strategies likely to provide the biggest returns, as these are the ones the optimization process is likely to settle on. The authors recommend ranking strategies by their returns and then manually inspecting the highest-ranked ones to determine if they’re ethical or not.
This will not only weed out the unethical strategies most likely to be adopted, they say, but will also help develop intuition about the way the AI approaches the problem and therefore have a better understanding of where to look for other problematic strategies.
The hope is that this would make it possible to then redesign the AI to avoid these kinds of strategies. If that’s not possible, the authors recommend analyzing the strategy space to estimate how likely it is that the AI will choose unethical solutions.
What they found is that if the probability of extreme returns for a small number of strategies is high, there are statistical techniques that could help estimate the risk that the AI will choose an unethical one. But if the probability of returns is evenly distributed, then it’s highly likely the optimal strategy will be unethical, and companies shouldn’t allow the system to make decisions without human input.
Even when it’s possible to estimate the risk, the authors still say it’s unwise to put too much faith in these predictions. And they suggest it may actually be necessary to instead re-think how AI operates so that unethical strategies are automatically weeded out at the training stages.
How exactly that would happen is far from clear, so for the time being it seems like it might be a good idea to keep humans in the loop for most AI decision-making.
We’ve had fun with Dilbert creator Scott Adams here on the Mary Sue before. Really, at this point, we shouldn’t be surprised that a man whose entire identity nowadays seems to be making an unfunny, dated three-panel comic and being a condescending ass on social media is, well, being an ass on social media. And yet, here we are, because the potent combination of toxic masculinity, classism, ingrained racism, and overall white male fragility that Scott Adams exemplifies is worth examining.
Let’s first examine Adams’ painful whiteness, and by extension, his perceived victimhood in relation. Adams recently claimed that his Dilbert cartoon was canceled because he was white. Because that’s a thing that happens. Twitter was swift to dunk on him for what was both obviously a lie and a statement that feeds into the false narrative of white victimhood.
Ah so? So … you were lying when you said this? pic.twitter.com/hGhvfnEDxS
— Robert Clarke-Chan (@999RPMs) June 29, 2020
Or perhaps the fact that your show was the fifth lowest-rated program on broadcast TV during the 1999-2000 season had a little something to do with it, you dime-store Cathy Guisewite. https://t.co/L8t0FrPjWS pic.twitter.com/BYEnuxTx6p
— Anthony Crupi (@crupicrupicrupi) June 29, 2020
Imagine admitting being white and mediocre couldn’t save your Hollywood career. https://t.co/RTxLuugttf
— Joelle Monique ✍🏾 (@JoelleMonique) June 29, 2020
That last tweet from Joelle Monique sums it up perfectly. A mediocre white dude like Adams would never attribute his success to his privilege, but that same privilege has made him so oblivious to his mediocrity that he blames fake persecution, due to whiteness, for his failures.
This tracks really well, because Scott Adams is a very insecure little man, as we can see from his 2016 essay on the Democratic National Convention, which he saw as an attack directly on his manhood—no, really. Here’s a quote:
I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act.
Let me say this again, so you know I’m not kidding. Based on what I know about the human body, and the way our thoughts regulate our hormones, the Democratic National Convention is probably lowering testosterone levels all over the country. Literally, not figuratively. And since testosterone is a feel-good chemical for men, I think the Democratic convention is making men feel less happy.
Yes. Scott Adams felt that the celebration of the potential to elect the first woman president was emasculating, and that’s because the toxic masculinity that Scott Adams represents isn’t the most obvious kind. He’s not out there being violent or reckless to show he’s a man; he’s just doggedly defending his place at the top of the heap and thinks feminism means women will treat men as badly as men have treated women for millennia. Think of hyper-masculine toxic masculinity as Sriracha mayo, and this as a tub of Hellmann’s that’s been left on a picnic table for so long that even the flies are avoiding it.
This white male fragility has a lot to do with classism, as well (and of course, class divides are rooted in white supremacy, because it’s all related). Adams has a habit of refusing to engage with any sort of debate on Twitter, or anywhere, and instead just insults people as failed artists or musicians. That’s certainly funny, because he himself has made his fortune as an artist of sorts, and yet won’t have a debate or even a competition with anyone that threatens his worldview.
Take, for example, what happened today, when Bill Sienkiewicz called out Adams’ latest BS. (Today’s BS flavor, by the way, is saying that if Joe Biden is elected, Republicans will be hunted, and “you” will be dead within a year. Way to show you’re a secure, normal guy and not a paranoid racist, Scott).
Good for you, Scott. I mean that. Explain all your other claims & stances pls. What side of history do you want to be on? You’re portraying yourself as a social observer,unappreciated truth-teller & as a victim of reverse racism, yet it all reeks of entitled self absorption. https://t.co/7BppIumGNG
— Bill Sienkiewicz (@sinKEVitch) July 2, 2020
And proudly so. Also a human being trying to make a small difference for good. Too bad you say Artists like it’s a bad thing; I seem to recall you being one too-at least for a time. What the hell happened to you, man? Btw: way to avoid explaining or answering ANY of my questions. https://t.co/97k6XjMrQv
— Bill Sienkiewicz (@sinKEVitch) July 2, 2020
When fellow comics legend and queen of Twittering Gail Simone proposed Sienkiewicz and Adams settle this with a draw-off for charity … Adams was silent on accepting, because it’s pretty clear he’s an insecure, petty guy that doesn’t want to be shown as inferior to another artist.
And that’s what’s at the core of Scott Adams and so many other white men like him performing for each other. They’re insecure and afraid because they know they got where they are because cis, straight, white men are exclusively allowed to fail upwards. They’ve never had to confront their own unremarkableness, not to mention their complicity in systems of white supremacy and patriarchy. They think equality means oppression.
But fear isn’t an excuse, Mr. Adams. Your brand of white male victimhood might seem boring and unimportant, like you, but you are a man with a platform, and when you perpetuate that narrative, you empower other racists and sexists. You make it seem fine to dismiss people based on their race or sex rather than engage with challenging ideas. You set an example for all the trolls that follow you that it’s not white supremacy and sexism that’s the enemy; it’s the social justice warriors and, snort, the artists.
And I know that this sort of piece won’t change Scott Adams’ mind. I know he’ll probably read this and scoff and call me a failed artist, as well. (I hate to tell you, Scott, that I’m not just a failed artist. I’m also a lawyer, and my Juris Doctor cum Laude could beat up your MBA any day.) But that’s fine. What matters here is confronting and breaking down the insidious ways in which Scott Adams and his ilk stand in the way of progress.
Fragile white men who are afraid that if women and BIPOC people get any sort of power, we’ll hunt them for sport and burn all their boring comics are just as dangerous to progress as some jerk with a Confederate flag tattoo—perhaps they’re even more dangerous, because they dress up their hate in a sneering veneer of superiority and disdain for anyone that dares to question them.
But we do question them, and hopefully, if we do it enough, one day, they’ll be as distant a memory as the time when anyone cared about Dilbert.
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—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
The lights in the sky above us—the sun, the moon, and the panoply of countless stars—have surely been a source of wonder since long before recorded history. Ingenious efforts to measure distances to them began in earnest in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C., and astronomers and astrophysicists today, with high-powered telescopes and computers, still ponder the universe and attempt to tease out answers to millennia-old questions.
But one of the most significant discoveries in this inquiry was not made with a high-powered telescope or a computer, or by anyone peering at the sky. Two hundred years ago, Joseph von Fraunhofer, a Bavarian glassmaker and researcher, experimented in his laboratory with simple equipment and detected dark lines in the spectrum of sunlight. He had no way of knowing that this curious discovery would allow future scientists to calculate the distances of stars and precipitate one of the most momentous advances in the history of all science—the recognition that the universe is expanding.
Joseph Fraunhofer was born on March 6, 1787, in Straubing, in lower Bavaria. On both his father’s and his mother’s sides, his forebears had had links to glass production for generations. Joseph, the youngest of 11 children, likely worked in his father’s shop. When Joseph was 10, his mother died; his father died a year or two later, and Joseph’s guardians sent him to Munich to apprentice with the glassmaker Philipp Anton Weichselberger, who produced mirrors and decorative glass for the court. This should have been an enviable apprenticeship, but Weichselberger was a harsh master who gave his apprentices menial tasks and taught them little about glassmaking. He prevented Joseph from reading the science books he loved by refusing him a reading lamp at night and forbade his attending the Sunday classes that offered Munich apprentices some education outside the trade.
Joseph endured two years of this misery, but then his story took a turn that could have come from a Charles Dickens novel. Weichselberger’s house collapsed, burying Joseph underneath. His rescue was dangerous and took several hours, giving prince-elector Maximilian IV time to arrive on the scene. The accident made Joseph the city’s hero, and a still-existing woodcut in Munich’s Deutsches Museum shows Maximilian, arms outspread, welcoming the boy back to life. Maximilian invited Joseph to his castle and put him in the care of his advisor, industrialist Joseph von Utzschneider. Utzschneider, realizing that this lucky young man was bright and had a thirst for knowledge, supplied Joseph with books on mathematics and optics.
Maximilian gave Joseph a generous gift that was sufficient to buy him out of his apprenticeship and purchase an optical grinding machine. Then Joseph set up a small business engraving visiting cards, which failed to supply him with a living. Without a source of income, and perhaps realizing that an apprentice was not wise to depart from the established route into his craft, he returned to Weichselberger, working for him during the week and for an optician, Joseph Niggl, on Sundays. Weichselberger still did not allow him his reading lamp.
Eventually, Utzschneider took things in hand, saw to it that the boy was supplied with books and the time and light to read them, and arranged for Ulrich Schiegg, a Benedictine pastor with considerable scientific interest and education, to mentor him. When Utzschneider judged that Joseph was sufficiently prepared, he recruited him to work in Utzschneider’s own Optical Institute in Benediktbeurern, where Joseph assisted in the manufacture of telescope lenses and surveying instruments. When he was still in his early 20s, Utzschneider put him in total charge of the glass works at the Institute.
The improvement of lenses for telescopes and surveying instruments was a major goal of the Institute, and it was not long after his arrival that Fraunhofer began to focus on more basic research that underlay this effort, research having to do with the nature of light and its refraction. In 1807, at age 20, he submitted his first major scientific paper.
In 1814, at age 27, Fraunhofer was working in his laboratory to make more accurate measurements of the manner in which different types and configurations of glass refract light. The fact that a prism transforms ordinary white light into a rainbow of colors had been known since antiquity. But the assumption had been that the colors are somehow in the prism. Isaac Newton, in the 1660s, had shown that white light is composed of colors that spread out in an ordered sequence—the spectrum—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Different wavelengths of light are responsible for the different colors. The longer the wavelengths, the further toward the “red” end of the spectrum. The shorter the wavelengths, the further toward the violet or “blue” end.
Though modern science finds minute variations in the speed of light in a vacuum or empty space, for most purposes it’s safe to assume that the speed in such situations does not vary. Not so for the speed of light moving from one medium to another (air to water, for example). The “refractive index” of a medium indicates how the speed of light moving through that medium differs from the speed of light as it moves through another.
When a beam of white light passes through a prism, the colors in the light do not all bend equally, because the refractive index of a material (in this case, whatever the prism is made of) differs slightly for different wavelengths of light. The shorter the wavelength, the greater the strength of the refraction. As the white light splits into visible colors, red light bends least; violet light, most.
The fact that a prism transforms ordinary white light into a rainbow of colors had been known since antiquity. But the assumption had been that the colors are in the prism.
One obstacle Fraunhofer and other researchers of his time faced was that the colors in the spectrum are not sharply separated from one another. Looking closely at the spectrum produced by light emerging from a prism, a researcher cannot judge precisely where red changes to yellow, for example. The colors blend off one into the next. Experiment after experiment proved unsuccessful in solving this problem, but among Fraunhofer’s attempts there was one result that particularly intrigued him.
Using as his light source a flame made by burning alcohol and sulfur, he saw that when this light passed through his prism, the result was a clearly defined bright line in the orange region of the spectrum. His curiosity aroused, Fraunhofer repeated the experiment using the sun as his source of light, to find whether the spectrum would show similar lines. Newton had studied the spectrum of light by allowing sunlight to enter through a small round hole in a shutter, pass through a prism, and fall on a screen. For Newton’s round hole in the shutter, Fraunhofer substituted a narrow slit, and for Newton’s screen he substituted a surveying instrument designed to measure angles, known as a theodolite telescope.
As he reported, “Looking in this spectrum for the bright line that I had found in a spectrum of artificial light, I discovered instead an infinite number of vertical lines, of different thicknesses. These are darker than the rest of the spectrum, some of them entirely black.” The lines remained the same when he adjusted the window-shutter slit or made various adjustments to the spacing of his equipment, ruling out the possibility that the lines were a product of his experimental apparatus. They were a property of solar light itself.Building on NewtonIsaac Newton studied the way a prism splits white light into all the colors of the rainbow, known as a spectrum. Fraunhofer recreated Newton’s experiment and discovered the dark lines.MilanB/Shutterstock
In groundbreaking papers, Fraunhofer announced his discovery that the spectrum of light from the sun is interrupted by many dark lines, and that these lines are present in all sunlight, both direct and reflected from other objects on Earth or from the moon and the planets. He labeled the ten most prominent lines in the solar spectrum and eventually reported that he had found 574 lines.
Continuing to investigate, Fraunhofer detected dark lines also appearing in the spectra of several bright stars, but in slightly different arrangements. He ruled out the possibility that the lines were produced as the light passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. If that were the case they would not appear in different arrangements. He concluded that the lines originate in the nature of the stars and sun and carry information about the source of light, regardless of how far away that source is. Fraunhofer did not know what that information would be, how the lines would serve the future, or that “Fraunhofer lines” would become a household term in science.
Fraunhofer was a busy and effective entrepreneur, and under his leadership the Institute became a leading manufacturer of telescopes. He wrote in his memoirs that, “In making the experiments… I have considered principally their relations to practical optics. My leisure did not permit me to make any [other experiments] or to extend them farther. The path that I have taken… has furnished interesting results in physical optics, and it is therefore greatly hoped that skillful investigators of nature would condescend to give them some attention.” They certainly would!
Each of the lines represents a particular element and the strength of a line is related to the abundance of that element.
Yet in his own lifetime, Fraunhofer failed to receive as much recognition as he deserved from his peers. Eminent researchers such as Hans Christian Ørsted and John Herschel visited him at the Institute, but others regarded him as a mere artisan, or were offended by the excessive secrecy practiced at the Institute to protect its monopoly.
Bavaria eventually chose to celebrate her native son. In 1821, after heated debate over his complete lack of academic training, the Royal Bavarian Academy of Sciences appointed him “extraordinary visiting member.” Two years later he became curator of their physics collection. In 1822, the University of Erlangen awarded the self-schooled Fraunhofer an honorary doctorate. In 1824, Fraunhofer became von Fraunhofer when King Maximilian I Joseph dubbed him a Knight of the Order of Civil Service of the Bavarian Crown. The city of Munich marked the occasion by giving him relief from paying city taxes.
Portraits depict von Fraunhofer as a well-appointed, lively man, but he was always somewhat frail. His work in the glass furnaces with poisonous lead oxide probably contributed to his death, in June 1826, from “lung tuberculosis.” He was 39.
Utzschneider, evidently thinking about Fraunhofer’s work with telescopes at the Institute, eulogized him with the words “He brought us closer to the stars.” He might more accurately have said that his young friend had given us an essential leg-up on the journey to find how astoundingly far away the stars are, for von Fraunhofer had indeed found the hidden code in starlight.The Busy Entrepreneur and Researcher Joseph von Fraunhofer demonstrating an instrument that he used in his investigation of light and refraction.Photogravure from a painting by Richard Wimmer. Wikimedia Commons.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, the chemical and physical make-up of stars had appeared to be unobtainable knowledge. However, in mid-century, there began to be serious challenges to that assumption when researchers such as Anders Ångström, Léon Foucault, and Sir George Stokes recognized that a pair of the lines Fraunhofer had detected in the sun’s spectrum were the same wavelength as a pair of lines seen in the laboratory in the spectrum of sodium. Clearly the sun must contain sodium.
In the late 1850s, a young pair of researchers—physicist Gustav Kirchhoff and chemist Robert Bunsen (of the Bunsen burner)—confirmed that the lines Fraunhofer had discovered are signatures of different chemical elements in the sun’s atmosphere. William Huggins in 1863 followed up on their work and on Fraunhofer’s study of star spectra and recognized that elements present on Earth and in the sun are also present in stars. As Huggins, wrote, “Within this unraveled starlight exists a strange cryptography. In the hands of an astronomer, a prism has now become more potent in revealing the unknown than even was said to be “Agrippa’s magic glass.” By looking at the pattern of Fraunhofer’s lines and noting where they occur within the spectrum, it is possible to discern the chemical composition of a star.
Underlying this picture, we now better understand that nuclear reactions in the central region of a star generate energy, mostly in the form of photons, that travels outward toward the exterior of the star. On the journey through some layers of the star, highly ionized atoms that make up the star’s fluid matter absorb and re-emit the photons. The radiation eventually flows into interstellar space, preserving the image of the last layer in which that activity took place, with some wavelengths of the light now missing from that image. The missing wavelengths (in effect, missing colors) show up as black lines in the spectrum, called “absorption” lines. Each of the lines represents a particular element and the strength of a line is related to the abundance of that element. The size and shape of a line is related to the temperature, pressure, and turbulent motion in the fluid matter of the star.
The process of using Fraunhofer lines to help sort stars into categories began in the 1860s when Father Angelo Secchi, in Rome at the Observatory of the Roman College, now the Vatican Observatory, divided stars into types based on the relative prominence and width of their spectral lines. Until the late 18th century, researchers had thought that it might be possible to calculate the distances to stars by comparing how bright they appear from Earth. The idea had been based on the knowledge that the apparent brightness of a light (how bright it appears to you) decreases with distance in a mathematically dependable way summed up in Isaac Newton’s inverse square law. If you have two identical 100-watt light bulbs and place one twice as far from you as the other, the farther bulb will appear to be only a fourth as bright as the nearer. Unfortunately, calculation like this hadn’t helped for stars, for stars are not all of equal “wattage.” Their “absolute magnitudes” (close-up or “intrinsic” brightnesses) vary enormously. The hope remained, however, that if stars belong to different categories, the knowledge of those categories might help us know their absolute magnitudes.
The most dramatic role that Fraunhofer lines played was in the discovery that the universe is expanding.
The sorting became more complicated when Edward C. Pickering and colleagues at the Harvard College Observatory began a process in which spectra were focused on a photographic plate. As research continued, it turned out that the overwhelming abundance of stars can be placed in a very few categories, suggesting that the range of compositions of stars is rather small. In the 1920s, Cecilia Payne, in her doctoral dissertation at Harvard, established that even in this small range of different spectral patterns, the differences we observe are a result of the temperatures of the stars, not because their compositions differ very greatly. With a more sophisticated understanding of atomic structure and the causes of the lines, stars could be meaningfully classified according to surface temperature.
The trick in calculating the distances to stars was to find an independent measure of their absolute magnitudes. Today a table known as the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram provides that. If you know a star’s spectral type (from the study of its spectral lines), allowing for certain assumptions, you can read the star’s absolute magnitude off the diagram. Knowing the star’s absolute magnitude, you can calculate its distance by measuring its apparent magnitude and using Newton’s inverse-square law.
The most dramatic role that Fraunhofer lines played in the 20th century was in the discovery that the universe is expanding. If a light source is moving toward us, light waves coming from it are squashed together. The lines in its spectrum are shifted toward the blue end (“blue-shifted”). If the source is moving away, they are stretched out. The lines in the spectrum are shifted toward the red end (“red-shifted”). In the late 1920s, Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason, studying such shifts, discovered that except for galaxies clustered close to our own Milky Way galaxy, every galaxy in the universe appears to be receding from Earth. In fact, on the large scale, every galaxy is receding from every other. The amount of the shift of the lines in its spectra is an indicator of the speed at which a galaxy is approaching or receding.
The discovery that the farther away galaxies are, the faster they are receding was convincing evidence that the universe is expanding. As Caleb Scharf, Director of Columbia University Astrobiology Center, puts it, “When [Fraunhofer] first split sunlight finely enough to see its complex spectrum he was laying the groundwork for scientists like Edwin Hubble who split the light of distant galaxies and realized that the cosmos is a dynamic beast.”
The lenses and telescopes von Fraunhofer designed and built 200 years ago were equal or superior to any others produced at the time. His inventions and innovations made them easier to use and more effective. These practical accomplishments were not incidental to, nor merely a distraction from, his experimental work. They were essential to its success. Seldom have technological and theoretical genius been so well paired, nor that pairing more essential for the future of knowledge. He gave us a tool to measure the distances to the stars and nebulae—a crucial rung on the ladder to modern measurements of the size of the universe.
Kitty Ferguson is the author of nine books of popular science, including Measuring the Universe, and most recently, a biography of Stephen Hawking.
Aller, Lawrence H. Atoms, Stars and Nebulae Cambridge University Press, 3rd Edition (1991).
Danielson, D. The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking Perseus Publishing (2000).
Jackson, M. Spectrum of Belief: Joseph von Fraunhofer and the Craft of Precision Optics The MIT Press (2000).
Wolfgang, J. Fraunhofer in Benediktbeuern Glassworks and Workshop Burton, Van Iersel & Whitney GmbH (2008).
This article was originally published in our “Light” issue in March, 2014.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Zwift, a platform for racing bikes from the comfort of your home, has taken off amid the coronavirus pandemic and is even powering this year’s virtual Tour de France. Next stop? The Olympics.
A friend wants to go for a ride. He has been cycling forever, and I’ve taken the last 20 years off, so he chooses the trail—a 2,000-foot climb up a small mountain. Moments after agreeing, I realize this is a terrible mistake.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
One thing holding back e-waste recycling is the actual recycling process itself. We need cheaper, safer, cleaner, or more effective methods of separating and recovering the valuable elements from electronics before we can make the whole endeavor more attractive and profitable. Some current methods use large amounts of energy to melt components down, but chemistry could provide some tempting alternatives.
A new study led by Yeongran Hong of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology involves a chemical with an impressive affinity for gold. Subject some circuit boards to an acid treatment to release its materials and this stuff will gather up all the dissolved gold. And after it lets go of that gold, it’s ready to be used again.
The researchers’ gold-scrubber is based on an organic compound called a porphyrin. Linked together in a polymer, it possesses lots and lots of little pores that, energetically, want to host a metal atom. That’s the kind of structure chemists look for to help with recycling.
Have you noticed that, in art, very few things exist or are created in a vacuum? In other words, every choice you make has an effect on all the other choices you have made or will make when designing and creating original works of art. So, if you are coming to my blog for the first time, you may want to read the last three weeks of posts first because each successive article builds off the last.
Last week we talked about color value and this week we’re going to talk about how you can change the value along with something called saturation. This will be a little heavy on terminology but it’s easy stuff and by the time you’re done reading, you will have quite the sophisticated color vocabulary.
I also want to speak for just a moment on the reason you would want to do this deep dive into color and design. Whether you create your own colors or simply choose colors from pre-mixed options, your choices are best ruled by your understanding of the characteristics of color. Of course, understanding color characteristics is essential in color mixing but choosing and identifying color requires the same knowledge especially when creating color palettes, analyzing your work (or the work of others), and correcting or improving your color choices.
Working with color, like anything else in design, is about the relationship between colors and between all the design elements. In design, we work with likeness and disparity. That’s really what all relationships are about, aren’t they? Think about your spouse or your best friend or the coworkers you like to hang around with. You have something in common, some area of your life that overlaps that you can share. But you also have differences. These differences make the relationship interesting, encourages curiosity and conversation, and allows each of you to fulfill different roles in the relationship. That’s how design works as well, including between colors.
So, if you keep in mind that these conversations are about those design relationships, I think you’ll start to see just how useful and essential these immersive color lessons are regardless of whether you makes your own colors, pick available colors, or simply want a better understanding of the art that you enjoy.
Saturation is Not Value
Now, let’s talk about value versus saturation. For some reason, these two concepts get confused a lot even though they are quite different. As you learned last week, value is the lightness or darkness of a color. Saturation, however, is about how intense the color is or how close it is to the unadulterated hue or “key” color, at least in regard to pigment. (This is dealt with a little bit differently when it comes to mixing light in RGB. Just thought you ought to know that in case you come across a definition that talks about saturation, brightness, and luminosity. That’s RGB stuff.)
So, let’s take a pure blue as an example of both high saturation and dark value. Take a look at the color wheel. True blue, in its most saturated and vivid form there on the outside ring of the color wheel, is far darker than pure yellow. You could make that blue as light in value as yellow by adding a lot of white to it but that would also change its saturation because the addition of white takes away from the purity of the hue, right? The addition of white in a color is called tint.
Now let’s take that yellow. If you wanted it to be as dark in value as the blue, you could add a lot of black, so much so that it would probably look gray with little yellow to be gleaned. This would both darken the value and desaturate it, a lot. The addition of black to a color is known as shade.
So that’s the thing with adding black or white to a color. It will desaturate a color but it also will make it lighter or darker in value. I bet that doesn’t fully clarify why value and saturation are so different since adding white or black changes the lightness or darkness (value) as well as the intensity of a color (saturation). Well, here’s the thing – you can, on the other hand, change the saturation without changing the value, just not with black or white.
Let’s look at the color red for moment. On the CMY color wheel, you can see that opposite red is cyan. They look to be about the same midrange color value, right? If you add a bit of cyan to the red that will reduce the saturation or purity of the red by altering its hue but it will not make a noticeable change to its value. If you got yourself one of those CMY color wheels, you’ll see on the front side there that each ring getting closer to the center shows what happens when you add 10%, 20%, 30%, or 40% of each hue’s complementary color. That kind of mix tones down the color which is why it is called a tone.
You can also tone down a color without changing its value by adding a gray that is the same value as the color. In fact, a fully desaturated color would be just gray. Or you can mix in a lighter or darker gray to make the color lighter or darker while toning it down but without muddying the key with its complement. A gray mixed with a color is also called tone.
So, you see, changing saturation can, but does not always, change value but changing the value will necessarily change the saturation of a hue, making it less pure. This is true for color mixing or even using digital photo editing (and is why I warned you last week not to use saturation options in photo editing to look at values in grayscale, because value is not taken into account.)
Your Bright, New, Shiny Color Vocabulary
Congratulations! You probably didn’t realize it but you just completed a major step in your color education. If you’ve read all the posts, you have learned (or refreshed your understanding of) the three most important aspects of color – Hue, Value, and Saturation.
And, now, with this article, you’ve come to know the three primary ways to change a color. Let’s review because it’s kind of cool to realize how much you’ve soaked up.
The three primary characteristics of color:
Hue – the key and name of a color.
Value – the lightness or darkness of a color.
Saturation – how pure or how adulterated a color is due to the addition of white, black, gray or a complementary color.
The three primary ways of adjusting color in pigments:
Tint – the addition of white to a color.
Shade – the addition of black to a color.
Tone – the addition of gray or a complementary hue to a color.
Look at that! You have six color terms that are going to help you tremendously in color mixing, choosing palettes, and analyzing work. But let’s spend a little more time with those last three just to be sure you got them well seated in your creative little brains.
Okay, let’s put your new knowledge to the test. Take a look at the opening image and the images below and find the pure hue (just visually – you don’t have to name it) and then determine the variation of that hue was accomplished with tints, shades, and/or tone. We’ll chat about them after you have a chance to come up with your own thoughts.
Carved wooden vessel by Louise Hibbert
A polymer bracelet by Judy Belcher.
Well, what did you come up with? Some of these examples are not so straightforward but I find them very interesting.
First of all, Pikalda’s glass beads that open this post have a saturated blue as its key color while the other color variations, aside from the black and white accents, are the key blue with white added so they are tinted versions of the key color. Pretty easy to see that, right?
With Louise Hibbert’s wooden vessel, the key is a kind of violet and, I’m sure you guessed it, the gradation to the nearly black tips is the result of adding black, in other words, creating shades of the hue. But there are also diluted versions of the hue where she lets the wood show through towards the center. Is that a tint because it makes it lighter or a tone becuase it isn’t quite white that has been added?
Well, think in terms of the color elements here. Since the violet color is translucent, it visually mixes with the color of the wood, a pale cream, which is a tint of yellow. This actually makes that diluted violet a tone because the change in color is not due to the addition of just white or just black and it’s a color that muddies the key color even if just a little. It’s true that yellow is not the direct complement of violet – that would be a yellow-green – but you can actually tone down a color with something close to its complement too. We’ll get more into those complexities when we get deeper into color mixing so you can just stash that info away for later if you like.
Now, in Judy Belcher’s bracelet, it gets even a bit more complicated because, in truth, the fully saturated hue is not present. That would be bright lime green but the key color has been toned down with variations of gray. In fact, the entire bracelet is a series of lime green tones with nothng else but some white. Some tones are due to a very light gray addition, others to a few different middle grays and the darkest green would be a tone with a dark gray. Being able to spot the key in something like this takes practice but not a lot. It might just take the following little exercises.
For Further Study
Okay, so there are a couple ways you can further concrete your, hopefully, not too hard-earned knowledge. These are both fun and easy and take 10-15 minutes each to do.
Color Wheel Studies
First of all, if you bought yourself that CMY color wheel I suggested – or even if you didn’t – you can see tones, tints and shades set up on this handy color tool with approximate percentages that one would mix to achieve these colors from a key. Here is a video that the Color Wheel Company put together to explain how to use their color wheel tool while making note of where these items are on it so you can familiarize yourself with them just by looking over your color wheel. Clicking on the image takes you to the purchase page but scroll down to find the videos.
Isn’t crazy just how much information they put on this little paper tool? Keep in mind that those percentages for the tones, tints and shades are approximate because in the real world, our materials have varying amounts of pigment so adding 10% of one complement to a color could make a dramatic change while adding 10% of a complement to another color may make almost no change. You’ll start to get a sense of the stronger and weaker colors (and brands) if you do the exercise below and as we work through color mixing in July.
Mix it Up
Studying the color wheel is an easy and quick way to see the difference between tone, tint, and shade but the best way to not only remember the terminology and what it means but to really understand how saturation, tint, shade, and tone work in color is to mix it up.
So, grab some clay in one fully saturated key color. Pick your favorite or grab one of the primaries – cyan, magenta, or yellow. You also need a bit of your chosen color’s complement plus black and white. Roll out each clay on your thickest pasta machine setting and, using a single punch cutter, punch out portions of clay from each sheet. (You can also do this with paint – you won’t be “punching” out your portions but, instead, you’ll be picking up dabs of paint.)
At this point you have three desaturated tint versions of the key color. These are not a lot of steps between the key color and white but it will give you an idea of what white does to a fully saturated color. If you are game before creating a wider range of this tint sampler, you can double the amount for each of the three mixes we just did so you can mix additional portions and create four more steps, one between each of the five portions in the tint column.
You will probably notice, as you mix, that sometimes the progression from the key color to the color you mix in is not very even or regular. For instance, if your key color is particularly dark in value such as the Ultramarine blue, the jump between the last mix and white may seem quite a bit different, like it could use another mix in between. You are, of course, welcome to change up the portions of color in your mixes to make a more regularly graduated range. This will, however, demonstrate that the amount of pigment in different colors of clay and between brands can differ and so some colors will dominate in a mix. You’ll need to use more of the weaker color to make the range gradations more even. But making a perfectly graduated range is not the purpose of this exercise. The idea is that you make the mixes, see the changes in color, and associated with the terminology.
Now why am I so adamant about you learning the terminology? Well, in July, as we learn about color mixing and palette choices, being able to verbalize the common and contrasting characteristics in a set of colors will be key to making beautiful, intentional color choices. Plus, you can impress friends, family, and complete strangers with sophisticated color banter!
So, relax and mix up some colors. It’s easy and often surprising how the colors come out. I have found more than one “new favorite color” doing these kinds of exercises. You just might find a inspiring new color or two as well!
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My Weird Low Pressure Week
Hopefully there aren’t too many mistakes here. I need to beg your forgiveness if there are. My brain has literally been shorted as I gave blood this past week and got tested to see if I am a antibody plasma donor candidate to help out COVID-19 patients but my naturally very low blood pressue has yet to recover so I feel very dingy and am sometimes dizzy still, 5 days later. I never could give blood in Colorado due to the high elevation and even lower blood pressure up there but they thought I’d be fine down here. Well, guess not. We learn something new all the time!
So, I probably can’t give plasma eithere but I am still going to do all I can during this rough time to help others and, as part of that, maybe you will allow me to ask a little favor. I know this has gotten a little political here in the states but thsi is not about politics … I would just like to ask that when you are out, and it has been recommended where you live, you can show your love and concern for your community by the simple act of wearing a mask. I wear one everywhere even though I’ve already had this bug so I am supposedly immune and can’t pass it on. But people are scared and worried and wearing a mask shows you care, even if you question the validity of the science that says it will save others from getting sick. We need all the consideration and caring we can put out there right now, don’t you think?
Ok, that is my public service announcement for the day. I hope you are all staying well and will find joy in a creative and colorful week!
Adrian Bardon in Scientific American:
Bemoaning uneven individual and state compliance with public health recommendations, top U.S. COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci recently blamed the country’s ineffective pandemic response on an American “anti-science bias.” He called this bias “inconceivable,” because “science is truth.” Fauci compared those discounting the importance of masks and social distancing to “anti-vaxxers” in their “amazing” refusal to listen to science.
It is Fauci’s profession of amazement that amazes me. As well-versed as he is in the science of the coronavirus, he’s overlooking the well-established science of “anti-science bias,” or science denial.
Americans increasingly exist in highly polarized, informationally insulated ideological communities occupying their own information universes.
Samanth Subramanian in Politico:
Trawling through the news archives, I found predictions of “the new normal” — the post-pandemic world — from as early as the first week of March. At the time, the United Kingdom hadn’t yet gone into lockdown; neither had France, India or Spain. In the United States, President Donald Trump had just about stopped declaring that the virus would miraculously disappear.
Roughly 3,400 people had died as of March 6 but you could still fly from London to New York. The contours of the months to come were fuzzy and indistinct, and yet there we were, making forecasts about life after the coronavirus.
The situation today is, in relative terms, not hugely different. Several governments don’t yet know when and how they will move out of lockdown. We don’t know who will be left immune after this spell of sickness, or if there will be a vaccine, or if there will be a second wave of COVID-19 this winter, or if the virus will mutate, or when it’ll be possible to travel freely across the world once again.
But even in the midst of this flux and uncertainty, we are toiling away at more predictions.
[Drake] designed an experiment to search for signals coming from worlds that could be orbiting the nearby stars Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti. He named the experiment Project Ozma, after the princess in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series—an homage to an adventure tale populated by exotic and unearthly beings.
Before sunrise on April 8, 1960, Drake climbed an 85-foot radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, jammed himself inside a trash-can-size piece of equipment, and launched humanity’s first scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence—now known as SETI. For three months the telescope scanned its targets and found nothing more than cosmic static. The stars were stubbornly quiet.
“That was a disappointment,” Dad told me a few years ago. “We’d hoped that, in fact, there were radio-transmitting civilizations around almost every star.”
Even though Ozma failed to find evidence of extraterrestrial technologies, the project was uniquely transformative—the first step toward solving a monumental mystery.
“For me, Ozma is a platform that points out to the world that, when compared to something else that might potentially be out there, we’re all the same,” says the SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter, one of the leading astronomers in the field. “That cosmic perspective is just critical to solving the challenges that we’re looking at.”
"My dad launched the quest to find alien intelligence. It changed astronomy" by Nadia Drake (National Geographic)
Ozma Records' Pesco scrying with the wonderful and inspiring Frank Drake, father of SETI and technical director of the Voyager Record. pic.twitter.com/KkhXmTaehl— Ozma Records (@OzmaRecords) March 30, 2017
Matt Taibbi in Substack:
Sometimes it seems life can’t get any worse in this country. Already in terror of a pandemic, Americans have lately been bombarded with images of grotesque state-sponsored violence, from the murder of George Floyd to countless scenes of police clubbing and brutalizing protesters.
Our president, Donald Trump, is a clown who makes a great reality-show villain but is uniquely toolless as the leader of a superpower nation. Watching him try to think through two society-imperiling crises is like waiting for a gerbil to solve Fermat’s theorem. Calls to “dominate” marchers and ad-libbed speculations about Floyd’s “great day” looking down from heaven at Trump’s crisis management and new unemployment numbers (“only” 21 million out of work!) were pure gasoline at a tinderbox moment. The man seems determined to talk us into civil war.
But police violence, and Trump’s daily assaults on the presidential competence standard, are only part of the disaster. On the other side of the political aisle, among self-described liberals, we’re watching an intellectual revolution. It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.
On Friday, an Atlanta police officer shot and killed 27 year old Rayshard Brooks at a Wendy’s drive-thru. It will not surprise you to learn that Brooks was a Black man, and the officer was white. His murder is yet another in the countless police murders of Black people, and it happened in the midst of our country’s long overdue reckoning with racism and the power of the police.
The killing has had immediate repercussions in Atlanta. Police Chief Erika Shields has resigned, and Garrett Rolfe, the officer who killed Brooks, was fired the next day. A second officer involved, Devin Brosnan, was placed on desk duty. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke out about the death, saying, “While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a distinction between what you can do and what you should do.”
Fulton County DA Paul Howard said, “(Brooks) did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable, … It just seems like this is not the kind of conversation and incident that should have led to someone’s death.”
The Wendy’s where the murder took place was set on fire. And protesters continue to take to the streets, fueled by anger and frustration. The DA and the Mayor have moved swiftly, but what will it take to stop the police? Why does global outrage and protest not stop white cops from killing Black people?
What will it take? Defund, demilitarize, and deescalate the police or abolish them? The world will continue to march in protest until something changes. Something HAS to change.
(via CNN, image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
what in the world kind of pig cat eats like this pic.twitter.com/q1LojIN6bY
— Luke in Philadelphia (@tramL116) June 13, 2020
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That's the word some doctors used for a World Health Organization statement. At issue: 1) How many people are infected with COVID-19 but show no symptoms? and 2) Can asymptomatic people infect others?
(Image credit: Cristina Spano for NPR)
Here is every time the cartoon powerhouse has proven prescient in its 30+ year history.
What: A handy, interactive guide to every prediction from The Simpsons that proved accurate.
80% of students who complete Coursera’s Positive Psychology specialization end up starting a new career.
Even before the events of past few months upended our collective sense of control over our personal and professional lives, the importance of adaptability and resilience has been well-documented. In January, LinkedIn used billions of data points from its members to see which soft skills matter most in 2020 and beyond. It determined that adaptability (the ability to “show up with a positive attitude . . . especially in stressful situations”) and emotional intelligence (the “ability to perceive, evaluate, and respond to your own emotions and the emotions of others”) are among the most significant.
After careful review, we are happy to announce that your binder has been granted tenure. The reviewing committee was very impressed by its size and durability. It was truly one of the finest binders we have reviewed in recent memory. We are honored to add it to our “tenured” shelf. Unfortunately, you, the owner of the binder, have been terminated.
In their report, the tenure committee praised your binder’s dignified navy blue color and its soothing matte, non-stick finish. The committee made special mention of its ease of use, particularly the genius little lever that easily opens and closes the rings. Only the clumsiest of reviewers would ever pinch their finger (talking about you, Richard!). The additional pockets on the inside covers, although too thin to be practical, are still very stylish, and they give your binder a confident, self-assured swagger.
But what really sold the committee was what was inside — stunning, 24-lbs ivory linen paper. Such high-quality paper really gave your achievements a satisfying heft. Committee members even took the effort to remove the paper and feel for themselves its luxuriant texture. And the stylish plastic dividers with their printed labels made flipping through your record like a summer drive on a well-marked country road. Just beautiful.
Sadly, despite your binder’s great success, you, person, have not been tenured. As you are aware, tenure is an expensive proposition with little benefit to the university. Tenured faculty demand raises, they like to meddle in administrative affairs, and they take up a lot of space. Binders, on the other hand, are extremely cost-effective, mostly silent, and very space-efficient. We have calculated that your office alone could house close to two hundred three-inch binders. Such a massive savings of space will allow the expansion of our Entrepreneurial Innovation Disruption Hub and Café — a key part of our strategic plan and a real cash cow for the university.
You are probably asking how a university can run on binders? Well, it is surprisingly easy. First, binders are very portable, just one handcart can distribute hundreds of binders everywhere — classrooms, offices, and laboratories — in just a few hours. Binders also make assessment a cinch. Just a click, a few page flips, and presto! — we have all the numbers we need. No rubrics or complicated software, just a patient janitor and a scanner. Job done!
Alas, change is the only constant in higher education, and the university has started a program to digitize all binders and move toward an entirely electronic system. But don’t fear, the designers of our digital binder system have assured us that the interface will, in fact, still resemble a binder. You will even be able to customize the shape, color, and material of your digital binder in ways once unimaginable. The digital age is truly a wonder, no?
We are aware of the student complaints about binder-run classrooms, but the cost-savings on instruction were just too large to ignore. And we have taken measures to make the binders more welcoming to students. Rather than staring at blank ones sitting on tables, students will now have binders with photographs of real people on them (also, a gentle reminder to please send us a glossy 8 x 11 headshot). Further, our binders will help us to achieve a truly diverse faculty — a careful selection of white, black, yellow, and brown binders allows us to finally display the great diversity of our community.
But even binders have a shelf-life, and the university has contracted with a vendor that has promised a “retirement” that is sensitive to the community’s needs. Binders will be removed late in the evening and shredded discretely in the parking lot behind the student center. In some cases, at the Provost’s suggestion, a few high-achieving binders may qualify for emeritus status. Unfortunately, however, we cannot return photographs.
Even as we congratulate a new binder on earning tenure, we recognize that you, person, may be struggling with this decision. Your binder, after all, contains a written record of many of the great things you have done, all the papers you’ve published and classes you’ve taught. The university is deeply grateful for those achievements. Your binder could not have achieved its success without you. But be assured that your talents will live on, long since you have left our academic community. Take comfort in the fact that because you chose such a top-notch binder, future generations will be able to admire, and be inspired by, the truly exceptional paper and plastic representation of your achievements for decades to come.