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03 Aug 19:24

40 years ago today, RadioShack gave us the TRS-80

by Harry McCracken

If you pressed me to name the most important year in the history of personal technology, I might come up with 1977. That’s the year that three groundbreakingly consumery personal computers were released. There was Apple’s Apple II and Commodore’s Pet 2001. And on August 3, 1977, RadioShack (née Radio Shack) unveiled its TRS-80 during a press conference at the Warwick Hotel in New York.

I cheerfully admit to having a bias in favor of the TRS-80, which I started using when my father brought one home in 1978. Even in its heyday, it had a reputation for being clunky snd unglamorous. But it outsold the sexier (and pricier) Apple II for years and was marketed in thousands of the Shack’s retail outlets at a time when Apple products were still available primarily in weird little mom-and-pop computer stores. To me, that makes it the most mainstream of the early PCs.

I had a lot more to say about the machine for a piece I wrote to mark its 35th anniversary in 2012. And here (via is some imagery from the cover of the first TRS-80 catalog, back when anyone selling computers had to start by explaining what they could do.

1977 RadioShack catalog image

01 Aug 22:30

Your Patriotism Isn’t Love, It’s Blindness

by Abraham A. Joven


Like most American tales, this one begins with baseball. The unusual sight of an entirely left-handed battery on an otherwise empty diamond; father catching son. A splitter—fast and cutting—fools the father as the bottom drops out of its trajectory and right onto his toe, causing a small amount of blood to pool under the nail. After some hobbling and a few muttered curse words in Tagalog, he turns to the son and apologetically calls it a day.

“That was a good pitch, anak,” he says. “But, to save my body, we better head back.”

I think about my father often. I think about days like that at the park, or when he pulled me out of bed to catch Kirk Gibson hit that home run in ’88. I was fresh from the Philippines, having only immigrated a few months prior with my mother and sister—my brother, only an infant then, would follow shortly, to finally unite our family in our small slice of South Los Angeles. My father was our gateway to America. I think about how he came here first, learned aspects of the culture (sports especially), and worked to pass them on to us. I think about how he worked the graveyard shift, got laid-off, then was rehired but only for jobs out of state—away from our home in Los Angeles. I think about how that crushing loneliness would have defeated me, and how he never complained about it to any of us. I think often of how he loved us.

I also think about his many demons: alcoholism and gambling among them. I think about the cigarette smoke still curling in the air as my mother, sister, brother, and I frantically combed an empty apartment for personal effects before he returned, drunk and angry. I think about how the nobility in being separated from family to provide for them is tempered by his absence in our lives. How he was unable to fully articulate his sense of care. And how that care, often, felt prickly and uncertain. This, too, is how he loved us.

Reflecting on the state of America for people of color, I think about that love; I think about loving the oppressor.

Patriotism in America has long been marked by a vein of blind and unceasing fealty to the country. A strange corruption of unconditional love, this strain would have citizens follow its leadership and laws to all ends without question or regard. Never mind that the founders of this country used as a guiding principle that this nation was, is, and implicitly always will be, an imperfect union. Nor that this nation was founded on a set of contradictions: laws and documents codifying into legal practice centuries of race-based oppression, exclusion, and discrimination all bleed into our modern world. As a Filipino-American, I cannot explain the plight against my immigrant community without acknowledging the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Alien Land Law, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and anti-miscegenation laws. There is a direct thread linking this nation’s abysmal history on race and its oblique deflections regarding critiques on it, to the continued proliferation of white supremacist activity today. Love of country, for people of color, has always meant acknowledging the sins of America.

The myth of this nation is rooted in benign stories of discovery and adventure. Of pious journeys set on noble ideals. There is no lasting grapple with the tensions in our history. That the beauty of California’s missions along El Camino Real also ravaged local indigenous communities with disease, while exploiting the bodies of the newly converted by forcing them into labor. That those missions are gilded in the blood and sweat of that cheap labor force,  maintained through brutal forms of punishment, rarely registers. Our pilgrims to the east were hardly more noble, as religious refugees persecuted their own in the Salem witch trials, an early example of North American misogyny. From a Constitution that enumerated African-Americans as less than human, to an extermination campaign by government under a seemingly benign sense of duty to gentrify “savages,” tragedy and devastation were a part of your American Dream, unless you were white and male.

Love of country, some argue. With their boots firmly planted in my chest as I struggle to protest. No, that is not love, but blindness.

The blindness that these patriots would will on to others—a malady not random and loaded with cruelty—is what I’d come to know as patriotism. It presents itself in arguments of a post-racial America under President Barack Obama. Or in the whitewashing of Japanese internment as an act of mercy and protection for those stripped of their possessions, liberty, and, ultimately, humanity. It is in the lack of engagement over the meaning of Southern states fighting more vehemently for the retention of monuments on behalf of Confederate soldiers than in the civil rights protections of people of color in their own communities.

The ultimate hope of this blindness is not only to avoid the discomfiting feelings of guilt or complicity, but to obtain absolution without penance. To be made innocent without justice. This trick—this falsehood—only serves those desiring to avoid an internal reckoning.

And for a nation laboring under the stresses of its contradictions, it is not love that marks the silence or obstruction to the remedies proposed over history. It is not love that caused Confederate secession or the ambush of the Freedom Riders. It is not love that refused the huddled masses on the MS St. Louis. It is not love that suggests my humanity is tied to my passport.

Love, you see, looks unflinchingly into the morass and calls on hope. It does not disavow the wreckage or avoid it. True love is a wise change agent that leans on the better angels without naivety.

If patriotism is love, then, maybe the point is to reclaim the narrow definition of that love from those that would have us believe that thin, flimsy version they peddle. Theirs is the kind of love that would allow this nation to continue its dark path of hypocrisy, proclaiming to be a light set on a hill, while cloaking many of its citizens in shadow. No, let our generation be the last that accepts this imposter as love and, instead, turn a steely eye inward at the illnesses plaguing us today: racism, ableism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and Islamaphobia. For in order to move forward, we must first acknowledge where we’ve been. And where we’ve been as a nation—as a people—is steeped in violence, exploitation, and inequality.

Love is restorative. Love is healing. Love carries with it a real hope of reconciliation. But love does not exist exclusively apart from these tensions. The love that I have for my father is complex and messy. I’ve long circled how I might reconcile a love for the person that worked his hands raw to provide for me, and who was often quick with encouragement, with the memory of my twenty-one-year-old-self demanding he never return home. The icy silence of the car ride taking him to the airport is as vivid as the memory of that day at the park.

It is a similar reflection of love for this problematic nation that I’ve come to know. As an expecting father myself, I’ve seen my work imbued with new urgency and purpose: I am raising my voice to prepare this world for the arrival of my precious joy. This world, undoubtedly, will not be ready for their ebullient spirit. Their brown skin and Asiatic features will mark them as foreign to many, despite their being as American as, well, apple pie. Birthed in this nation, they will still be made to feel as The Other and my heart has broken over and over for the past few months with that knowledge. It is one thing to strain against the yoke of inequality myself. It is another to feel complicit in burdening my child with that same yoke.

But love is nothing if not hopeful. And hopeful love has long animated the movements that grind against the further cementing of the untiring machine of inequality that is America. This hopeful love filled Fredrick Douglass and protected Harriet Tubman. This hopeful love moved Rosa Parks, Larry Itliong, Cesar Chavez, and Dorothy Day to hold this nation to the truths it proclaims are self-evident. This hopeful love has not had a linear trajectory, but it has always aimed for the zenith that is Justice.

It is that love, then, that has allowed people of color to resist by simply existing. In the communities left for dead due to the suburban/segregated housing boom: the Comptons, the Detroits, the Bronxs, the Hawthornes. Little acts of rebellion emerge every day and black and brown people thrive. Singing a posada is rebellion. Wearing a Barong Tagalog is rebellion. Attaining a university education is rebellion. Love is tenacious, and our communities are emblematic of that enduring fight.

It honors our spirit to continually push back against the factions that peddle a false love—that seek to inoculate the masses with their blindness. It is an act of love to work to remove the veil and loosen the bonds of hate and iniquity that have bound our nation from before its founding. Let us march on and not go weary in our search for justice. This is an act of fealty, worthy of patriots.


Rumpus original art by Eva Azenaro Acero.

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01 Aug 22:30

How Princess Leia Changed My Life

by Meg Cabot

Every time I go on tour for a new Princess Diaries book, I get asked the same question (especially on local morning news casts):

“Shouldn’t we be raising our daughters to be strong, independent women? Aren’t princesses bad role models?”

I’m not tired of this question at all though, because every time it’s asked, I get to talk about my favorite fictional character: Princess Leia Organa.

I was ten when I met her.

There was just something about the way that gritty, smart-mouthed, dirty-dressed princess exploded onto the big screen, blasting her laser pistol and complaining about the incompetence of her rescue that really got to me.

And if I’m honest, I know what it was: Even before we knew Darth Vader was her dad (and let’s face it, even George Lucas didn’t know at that point that Darth Vader was Princess Leia’s dad), he was treating her really unfairly. She was on a diplomatic mission for God’s sake (ha, okay, not really), but he not only threw her in a cell and tortured her (I was never really sure what happened in that cell until I read Alan Dean Foster’s excellent Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and learned about post-traumatic stress for the first time), he blew up her HOME PLANET.

But it didn’t matter, because later, she got revenge.

As soon as the movie was over, I went out and spent all of my allowance on Star Wars action figures.

I had only one friend, however, who was interested in Star Wars, and she wouldn’t play with my action figures unless I’d let her be Princess Leia. I had to voice all the other characters, including Luke, Han, Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi, C3PO, R2D2, Chewie, and Grand Moff Tarkin.

This was exhausting. I had to stay up nights, hand-writing new Star Wars plots for us to act out the next day, crafting every other character’s part but Princess Leia’s (which my friend would then act out, often—to me—unsatisfactorily).

But it was through this friend’s insistence on playing the only female action figure in the Star Wars universe at that time (Aunt Beru, about whom I write in the forthcoming Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, had only a custom action figure that I could not then afford) that I honed my ear for dialogue.

And very soon I became more interested in writing the plots for our Star Wars action figures than I did in playing them. In fact, I felt that my plots were so good that it was my duty to send them to George Lucas so that he could use them for his next movie (I was ten).

When I asked my mother to look up his address in Hollywood, however, she broke the news that Mr. Lucas had his own scriptwriters, and that what I was doing was called copyright infringement (neither of us had heard of fan fiction at the time. In 1977, the Internet did not yet exist).

Fearing that I’d hear from Lucasfilm’s lawyers any day, I removed all references of “the Force” from my stories, turned Princess Leia into a talented aspiring rebel pilot named “Litta,” and then, even later, into a high school student named Princess Mia Thermopolis and her younger half-sister, Olivia.

I get that there’s still a lot of people who believe that little girls go through a “princess stage” because of the nice clothes or elevated social status or the idea that they want to be rescued. But the truth is, there’ve been stories about princesses in every culture throughout the history of the world, and in every one of those stories, those princesses have something normal little girls completely lack:


And in every one of those stories, those princesses get that power taken from them.

But in the end, they get that power back—something that almost never happens to us normal girls—and, more importantly, they get justice.  Whether they marry for love, destroy their enemy’s Death Star, or simply find out they’re heir to a throne, for once, girls get to be the ones in charge.

And that’s why princesses are good role models.

Editor’s note: Meg Cabot kindly shared some of her early Star Wars fan fiction with us, which we’ve included below. Enjoy.

(featured image: Lucasfilm)

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01 Aug 22:28

Thank You for Calling the Philosophy Helpline


Welcome to the Philosophy helpline. If you’re looking to write a college paper, or hope to impress your date, or see life as a featureless void empty of all hope, or our most common answer, ‘all of the above,’ you’ve come to the right place…

For Descartes, please press (1,0,0). You have pressed it, therefore you will be connected to him. But who is it that is really doing the pressing? Is it possible to press the act of pressing itself? All that is certain is that you exist, that I exist, and that your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.

For Camus, press 2. Or maybe 3. I’m not sure. Press both. I don’t know why’d you try, though, very likely neither will work. Do you feel it in your heart, the aching despair of human impotence? Do you dream of that moment you get past the automated message and finally reach a genuine human who might know something about your support ticket? Do you feel that fantasy slipping away as the hour hand creeps further round the clock? Good. Perhaps you have learned something. Have a cigarette.

You could press 4 to reach Hume, but we’re not sure it’ll be of any help at all. Just judging by the last five guys, you’re better off using a Magic 8-Ball and pig entrails.

There is a procedure to reach Kafka. We know it; we’re just not telling you. There is a long queue, but don’t let that worry you, because people are randomly bumped to the front according to a set of rules we’re also not telling you. Even when you get to the front, it does you no good, because the man on the other hand knows as little as you do, but won’t admit it for a while. Also, he’s just turned into a giant insect, and mandibles are proving quite unsuited to grasping his headset.

To reach Marx, press any button; no button is more important than any other. Disclaimer: Since we work on the basis of need, not ability, don’t be alarmed if you’re instead connected to Wladislaw, who really needed this job and knows a great deal about underground interpretive dance. Unfortunately, that fascinating conversation won’t be very long, since everyone gets equal conversation time and Wladislaw is proving pretty popular with the urban lot.

We’re afraid Plato isn’t in right now. He was on his way over from the Piraeus market when he ran into Dionysus, son of Anaximenes, who took the opportunity to rapidly pivot the conversation from the rising price of fish to the moral imperative of the call-center employees to strive ever to deliver maximum satisfaction. He might be a while.

We regret to inform you that Socrates no longer works here; he’s been let go for excessive insubordination and constantly mumbling questions to himself. Ordinarily, these would be tolerated, but when combined with his BO, the office voted to axe him.

Reaching J.S. Mill is a little difficult right now; Bentham and Singer convinced him that his utility from answering your call might not be as much as the utility they’d heard was hiding at the bottom of the beer glasses at the Flanagan Arms.

Our apologies, but the Proudhon line has been permanently disconnected. Last time someone got through to ask for advice, a Molotov cocktail was hurled through their front window, accompanied by a note reading ‘Take a hint.’

That concludes the helpline options. Press 0 to be connected to the Buddha, who will send you back to the beginning to hear the options again.

01 Aug 22:28

Newswire: Paul Oakenfold’s life becomes comic art in this Wonderful World Of Perfecto exclusive

by Oliver Sava

Record producer and DJ Paul Oakenfold played an integral part in the rise of club culture, and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the trip to Ibiza that kicked his career into high gear, Oakenfold is crafting a new graphic novel with Z2 Comics and a team of exciting indie comics artists. November’s The Wonderful World Of Perfecto: With Paul Oakenfold And Friends pairs artists like Tyler Boss, Chris Hunt, Ian McGinty, and Koren Shadmi with Oakenfold to recount different periods of his life, from his two-year residency at Cream nightclub to that time he drank absinthe with Hunter S. Thompson and his tour with U2. It’s the the latest title in Z2’s new initiative pairing graphic novels with original music, giving readers a soundtrack that informs the material on the page.

“We think bringing together music and graphic novels can be the secret sauce of Z2 ...

01 Aug 22:27

Murphy's Law for Excel

by Matt Hall

Where would scientists and engineers be without Excel? Far, far behind where they are now, I reckon. Whether it's a quick calculation, or making charts for a thesis, or building elaborate numerical models, Microsoft Excel is there for you. And it has been there for 32 years, since Douglas Klunder — now a lawyer at ACLU — gave it to us (well, some of us: the first version was Mac only!).

We can speculate about reasons for its popularity:

  • It's relatively easy to use, and most people started long enough ago that they don't have to think too hard about it.
  • You have access to it, and you know that your collaborators (boss, colleagues, future self) have access to it.
  • It's flexible enough that it can do almost anything.
Figure 1 from 'Predicting bed thickness with cepstral decomposition'.

Figure 1 from 'Predicting bed thickness with cepstral decomposition'.

For instance, all the computation and graphics for my two 2006 articles on signal processing were done in Excel (plus the FFT add-on). I've seen reservoir simulators, complete with elaborate user interfaces, in Excel. An infinity of business-critical documents are stored in Excel (I just filled out a vendor registration form for a gigantic multinational in an Excel spreadsheet). John Nelson at ESRI made a heatmap in Excel. You can even play Pac Man.

Maybe it's gone too far:

So what's wrong with Excel?

Nothing is wrong with it, but it's not the best tool for every number-crunching task. Why?

  • Excel files are just that — files. Sometimes you want to do analysis across datasets, and a pool of data (a database) becomes more useful. And sometimes you wish nine different people didn't have nine different versions of your spreadsheet, each emailing their version to nine other people...
  • The charts are rather clunky and static. They don't do well with large datasets, or in data you'd like to filter or slice dynamically.
  • In large datasets, scrolling around a spreadsheet gets old pretty quickly.
  • The tool is so flexible that people get carried away with pretty tables, annotating their sheets in ways that make the printed page look nice, but analysis impossible.

What are the alternatives?

Excel is a wonder-tool, but it's not the only tool. There are alternatives, and you should at least know about them.

For everyday spreadsheeting needs, I now use Google Sheets. Collaboration is built-in. Being able to view and edit a sheet at the same time as someone else is a must-have (probably Office 365 does this now too, so if you're stuck with Excel I urge you to check). Version control — another thing I'm not sure I can live without — is built in. For real nerds, there's even a complete API. I also really like the native 'webbiness' of Google Docs, for example being able to use web API calls natively, for example getting the current CAD–USD exchange rate with GoogleFinance("CURRENCY:CADUSD").

If it's graphical analysis you want, try Tableau or Spotfire. I'm especially looking at you, reservoir engineers — you are seriously missing out if you're stuck in Excel, especially if you have a lot of columns of different types (time series, categories and continuous variables for example). The good news is that the fastest way to get data into Spotfire is... Excel. So it's easy to get started.

If you're gathering information from people, like registering the financial details of vendors for instance, then a web form is your best bet. You can set one up in Google Forms in minutes, and there are lots of similar services. If you want to use your own servers, no problem: any dev worth their wages can throw one together in a few hours.

If you're doing geoscience in Excel, like my 2006 self — filtering logs, or generating synthetics, or computing spectrums — your mind will be blown by spending a few hours learning a programming language. Your first day in Python (or Julia or Octave or R) will change your quantitative life forever.

Excel is great at some things, but for most things, there's a better way. Take some time to explore them the next time you have some slack in your schedule.


Hall, M (2006). Resolution and uncertainty in spectral decomposition. First Break 24, December 2006, p 43–47.

Hall, M (2006). Predicting stratigraphy with cepstral decomposition. The Leading Edge 25 (2, Special Issue on Spectral Decomposition). doi:10.1190/1.2172313

01 Aug 22:26

The Medieval Fantasy City Generator

by Jonathan Crowe

It’s like Uncharted Atlas, but for cities: the Medieval Fantasy City Generator is a web application that “generates a random medieval city layout of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not an accurate model of a city.” As was the case with Uncharted Atlas, the effect is accidentally damning: if an algorithm can create a fantasy setting indistinguishable from a human-made product, what does that say about the human-made product? [Ada Palmer]

Previously: Uncharted Atlas.

01 Aug 22:25

Understanding the Language of Female Breakups

by Hayley Krischer

I met my best friend Olivia (not her real name) during my time in an overseas program in Tel Aviv. We were inseparable. I got her through drunken nights, talked endlessly about her boyfriend—who wasn’t really her boyfriend and who wasn’t all that interested in her. We cooked together, smoked hash together. We, as one friend commented, “Gelled into one person.”

Six months later, when the program was over, I lived in Manhattan with my mother and Olivia lived on Long Island with her family, and our friendship continued. Her not-so-much-of a boyfriend was gone and it had become her turn to talk me through a slow breakup with an awful boyfriend, who had not only told me that I was a terrible writer but also that he had decided to see other people.

I also need to mention to you that this boyfriend was extremely good-looking. He was like Jon Hamm in that episode of 30 Rock where people just wanted to do things for him (like buy his groceries or pick up his mail) because he was so good-looking. Before iPhone selfies, this boyfriend filled up disposable cameras with pictures of himself; he was that good-looking. Olivia was also enamored with him and was equally, I believe, enamored with my initial indifference towards him.

Olivia decided that he and I were the most adorable couple and that we would live in an apartment together in Harlem and maybe one day have babies. I only dated this guy while in an overseas program for three months and Olivia already had a plan for us. I’m also telling you this, because I think my friendship with Olivia had something to do with, or at least was intertwined with, me sleeping with him.

Back in the States, after the good-looking guy and I broke up, Olivia and I talked every day. That’s what you do when you’re twenty-one years old, freshly dumped, quitting a two-pack-a-day habit, and having an existential crisis about the morality of Israeli politics.

I’d start my morning by calling Olivia, talking over coffee like we did as roommates in Tel Aviv. Until one day Olivia said to me over the phone: “We don’t have to speak every day, you know.”

I pretended like it was a good idea. “Of course we don’t have to talk every day,” I said, laughing it off because in her eyes, I was the more level-headed one. The calmer, cooler one. The one who snagged—albeit briefly—the extremely good-looking guy. We hung up and I cried the whole night because I wanted to talk to her everyday about my small, crumbling world—and I missed her.

After her comment, I shut down. No more guys. No more new friendships. No sex for two years. I found a therapist in Greenwich Village who taught me about patterns and boundaries. I stuck to my best friends from high school, traveling out of Manhattan by bus every weekend, sitting late night with girlfriends at a flashy diner on the highway, drowning my sorrows in disco fries.

After years of trying to understand it, I came up with this: In Tel Aviv, Olivia saw me as a together girl, someone who was secure and confident. I had a hot boyfriend. I was impulsive. I was that awful Don Henley song: I never looked back.

But now, back in New York, I was the insecure one. Confused about my future. Anxious without my cigarettes. Eating every piece of bread in front of me. Living with my mother on the family-friendly Upper West Side of Manhattan where everybody seemed to be walking a baby stroller, and feeling no connection to the downtown campus of NYU where I had just transferred. I was a lonely, tearful mess. I felt used by Olivia. Maybe my breakups were exhausting to her. Maybe I was too needy. All of it was possible. I over thought every moment of that friendship and was tormented by it for years.


The most painful friendship stories are breakup stories, or as Stanford University linguist Deborah Tannen, coined them “friendship cutoffs.” Tannen, who spoke to eighty women and girls, ages nine to ninety-seven, for her new book, You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, has been talking to women about their relationships for years. Her other books explore the inner world of female relationships, with titles like You Were Always Mom’s Favorite: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives and You’re Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation.

In her research, Tannen found that friendship cutoffs were the most agonizing relational break for women—leaving them wondering what you did to cause your abandonment for years after the friendship is over. “When someone you’ve been close to, who has been part of your life, suddenly refuses to see you or speak to you,” Tannen writes, “her departure leaves a hole in your life and your heart.

Tannen had her own cutoff story with a best friend from high school named Susan. One day, Susan decided to stop speaking to Tannen. No explanation—Susan just refused to have anything to do with her. Tannen never stopped thinking about the abrupt breakup; fifty-four years later and she’s not only writing about the experience, but admits that scrutinizing why Susan cut her off was a reason for writing and researching the book. Through a mutual friend, Tannen contacted Susan and found the answer: Susan’s older brother decided Tannen had been bad influence. He had demanded Susan stop being friends with her. “Looking back, [Susan] said, she thinks he was just jealous,” Tannen wrote. “And it broke her heart at the same time that it broke mine.”

There’s only one chapter in the book dedicated to friendship cutoffs, yet most of the book leads up to that unfortunate and inevitable moment in a woman’s life. Chapters focus on the linguistics of female friendships, such as “troubles talk” (digging deep into a problem with other women), conversational style (which can lead to missed signals, miscommunication, and most damagingly, misjudgement about others’ intentions), and interrupting. Women, Tannen observed in her research, tend to interrupt each other more than men because we see it as “latching on to each other’s sentences” rather than an intrusion of conversation. All of these linguistic dissections fold back into examining why a friendship ends or persists.

The answer, it seems, depends on Tannen’s concept of “troubles talk.” If you’ve ever read a pop psychology book—think Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus—you’ll learn men generally want to “fix” a problem which is the opposite of troubles talk. But Tannen argues that it’s not that women don’t want to fix a problem—but first we need details, an investigation.

Digging deep, Tannen writes, is a crucial piece to women’s conversations: And what did you say? What did she say? And why do you think she said that? And how did that make you feel? This careful exploration sends a meta-message of caring. If you don’t explore the problem (or if in my case, your friend says, “We don’t have to talk every day”), you’re telling your friend that you essentially don’t care what she has to say.

And look, most friends at a certain point don’t care what their girlfriend has to say, but this shouldn’t stop troubles talk. You still have to listen. It’s a conversational ritual, Tannen writes, even if a friend’s problems aren’t all that easy to sympathize with. This is simply what we do. When we don’t, it can lead to a breakdown in conversational style, or missed communication opportunities, or some kind of fracture.

Lately, I’ve heard so many stories about friendship cutoffs—new friends who’ve stopped talking or old friendships disintegrating—that I wonder if women can recover from friendship cutoffs at all. “I never spoke to her again,” was the most common ending of friendship breakup, Tannen says, which should be baffling to all of us. Women will drag out a damaging relationship with a man for years, tolerating all sorts of horrible behavior. But if a woman hurts you, it seems practically impossible for the friendship to recover.

One the most famous of friendship breakups—one that I’m continually fascinated by, maybe because they seemed to show true love for each other so publicly—was between Winona Ryder and Gwyneth Paltrow. In 1997, Ryder and Paltrow were best friends. They shared an apartment together. Paltrow dated Ben Affleck and then introduced Ryder to Matt Damon. (Granted, Matt Damon was no Johnny Depp, but he was intelligent and stable and that seemed appealing at the time.) With their pixie cuts and midi skirts, prancing around Hollywood, they felt like alterna-girls who were too cute to ignore. Yet, by 1999, after Paltrow won the Best Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, the once-inseparable pals were over. The good old days where Paltrow and Ryder giggled in the fashion show front row, smoking cigarettes, were gone. Their thin arms intertwined as they escaped the paparazzi glare no longer.

Rumors about the demise of their friendship centered on a salacious piece of gossip that Paltrow stole the Shakespeare in Love script from Ryder’s coffee table. After 1999, the story and the friendship wasn’t discussed by either woman until ten years later, in 2009, when Paltrow dropped an explosive blind item in her Goop newsletter. “I had a frenemy who, as it turned out, was pretty hell-bent on taking me down,” she wrote. “This person really did what they could to hurt me. I was deeply upset, I was angry, I was all of those things you feel when you find out that someone you thought you liked was venomous and dangerous.”

But the real giveaway was when she admitted: “Something unfortunate and humiliating had happened to this person. And my reaction was deep relief and… happiness.” At that point it seemed Paltrow was practically pointing the finger at Winona Ryder and her infamous shoplifting incident. The Internet went bonkers.

Elaine Liu of Lainey Gossip offered some insight into the feud at the time; Liu explained that the role had probably been Paltrow’s all along. (Apparently, Paltrow had a long-standing relationship with Harvey Weinstein, who produced Shakespeare in Love, and the movie had been on the table for a while.) Yet, the stolen screenplay story seemed so believable because it tethered two popular concepts about the women: Paltrow’s drive for perfection (the uncoupling, the easy cookbooks, the body) and Winona’s propensity to be a bit of a mess (the breakups, the depression, the shoplifting).

Maybe one day, the gossip gods will deliver an account of what actually happened between the women, but for now, all we have are Paltrow’s carefully chosen words: “venomous” and “dangerous.” When those words aren’t being used to describe a deadly carpet viper, they bring insight to Paltrow’s side of the story. It was clearly a painful time for her—she admits this as much in the article. But the fact that Paltrow dug up the story for use in her very successful website and lifestyle brand, tells us, in a way, what Tannen has detailed, which is that this was a friendship cut off and Paltrow never really got over it. Of course, Paltrow could have dredged up the story for page views purposes, but I’m going stick with the never-got-over-it theory. I’m guessing that the two women, like many of us who have experienced a friendship cutoff, didn’t talk about it. That one day they were talking and the next day, they simply were not.


Science tells us that this isn’t a typical response for a woman—to shut out a friend. In 2000, a study out of UCLA found that women respond to stress differently than men. Instead of choosing between “fight or flight”—which has always been the conventional wisdom around our reaction to stressful situations—women “tend and befriend.” In other words, women don’t just run when there’s stress—we run in a straight line to our friends.

This research, Tannen explains, is why problems with friends can be more distressing for women than it is for men. It’s more than just a shitty feeling to have a crisis with a friend; it goes against our nature and our chemical makeup. Maybe this is why a gay girlfriend once told me, “Lesbians never break up. We just don’t want to hurt each other.” She continued, “It’s always, ‘Are you okay? Are you sure you’re okay? No, are you okay?'” It’s also probably the reason why women who say they don’t trust other women or who announce, “Women will only stab you in the back,” (as I saw once in a post on Facebook after the Women’s March) are so adamant about their belief. They’re writhing in pain from whatever happened to them—with another woman. How can they go back to that well if what was in the well is the source of their anguish?

This position, that your friends are who you run to in distress, is a position that the entertainment world has understood for a long time. Thelma and Louise didn’t drive off that cliff separately. They drove off it together, with glee and with power. There’s no Romy without Michelle. No Edina without Patsy. No Ilana without Abbi. You think Sally Fields cried by herself after her daughter died in Steel Magnolias? Of course not. Over and over again we are told that a female friendship is a relationship that takes precedence over everything else in your life—over your kids, over your lover, over your spouse—and if we don’t have that relationship then we are lost. We’re goners. We’re flying in the wind on our own posting angry messages on Facebook about how women can’t be trusted because they’re all fake bitches.

But recently, some more realistic dynamics outside of the perfectly supportive and harmonious female relationship have been explored in the pop culture realm. In Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach’s 2013 film, lead character Frances, played by Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote the film) describes her relationship with her best friend Sophie like this: “We’re exactly the same person but with different hair.” Except here’s the thing—they’re no longer the same person and they’re not really friends anymore. (And who says it’s so great to be exactly like someone else, anyway? Isn’t that what twins hate about being a twin—that they have no individuality?) The film is unusual because it explores the unraveling of a female friendship, and how without that friendship, Frances is able to evolve into her own person.

In the last season of Girls, half of the women are no longer speaking to each other. In a bathroom scene where all four characters are gathered together, Shoshanna, the most optimistic character at the start of the series, has morphed into a jaded surgeon, dissecting the reality about her friendships with these women. It’s over. There’s no saving it. She tells them that no, they can’t hang out together anymore, and then after a deep breath, gives the friendship a time of death. “I think we should all just agree to call it,” she says. “Okay?” No one disagrees.

In 2015, Diana Gettinger took the idea of a friendship cutoff to the next level with her web series “Ex-Best.” Gettinger told Vogue that she made a card for writer Monica Hewes, her real life friend who also plays her ex-friend on the show that read: “If we’re still talking at the end of this, just know that I really love you and I’m really excited to be on this journey.” I felt glad to read this only because it means that Gettinger not only understands the friendship breakup, but that a friendship is messy—that there are risks involved and in taking on a role about the demise of a friendship could risk their own real-life friendship. I can’t help but focus on this part of her statement, “If we’re still talking,” because, after all, talking is the key word here. It makes me root for them—though I have to tell you, anytime real life friends or lovers decide to film a breakup story (see Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in By the Sea, for example), you are running a high risk of demise. Too many lights shine in all of the wrong places. There are too many scars and words that shouldn’t have been said. It’s like couples therapy; sometimes you should opt not to go.

The pain of a lost friendship is familiar to all of us because we’ve all been through it. I’ve left out many other friendship cutoffs since my breakup with Olivia. And you know what? There were plenty of them prior to her as well. It doesn’t make me a serial friendship-ender—some of my friends have been in my life since kindergarten—it just means that it’s incredibly common for women of all ages.

Look at Paltrow and Ryder. After their cutoff, Paltrow went on to have another public breakup with Madonna. (Side note: Can you even imagine being friends with Madonna? It must involve being, first, completely enamored of her, and then next, having to listen to her talk about herself nonstop for the rest of your life.) Paltrow’s next best friend, according to Paltrow herself, was Beyoncé. Paltrow made sure to name-drop that friendship over and over and over, but they haven’t been photographed together for years. I’m just saying.

Female friendship, however necessary it is in our lives, and for all the joy it brings us, for all its love and support and kindness and generosity, can be a real mindfuck when it ends.


About two years ago, I had an odd interaction with a friend of Olivia’s. It was a party in Los Angeles. I hadn’t seen the woman in a long time, around twenty years; our only connection had been Olivia.

“I have to tell you something,” she said, pulling me aside to talk. “Olivia felt really hurt, devastated, by the end of your friendship. She never knew why you stopped being friends.”

“How could she not know why we stopped being friends?” I said, shocked. “Olivia said to me, ‘We don’t have to speak every day.’ Then she never called me again.”

But was this really what happened? Olivia put the breaks on the intensity of our friendship, but wasn’t I was the one who pulled the “you are dead to me” card? Wasn’t I the one who decided that the friendship was over because she wasn’t interested in a daily rundown of my “troubles talk?” Didn’t I determine that once the extremely good-looking guy was over me, Olivia followed in his path? Is it possible that Olivia tried to contact me after that conversation? Maybe there was a phone call. Maybe there was a voicemail. And maybe I chose not to call her back.

I flipped through the friendship cutoff chapter in Tannen’s book to see what she had to say about this. And there it was, a declaration that seemed to vindicate Olivia and suddenly, implicate me: “Women who told me they had been cut off always said they’d been devastated… and almost always said they didn’t know why they had been cut off,” Tannen wrote. “But women who told me they had cut off a friend could always tell me why.”

I knew exactly when the friendship ended.

Olivia, so I was told, did not.

For so many years, I held on to this friendship cutoff story as a turning point in my life. Olivia was the quintessential heartless friend. The kind of girl who unloads you. In the middle of a breakdown! I was the victim—wasn’t I? I was most definitely the victim of a callous comment. But when I looked back on it, it seemed that I was the one who cut her out.

Friendship, like romantic love, wrote Tannen (with inspiration from philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet) is “for your growth” but also “for your pruning.” Olivia, it appears to have been, in Tannen’s words, “for my pruning.” And the loss of that friendship created some space, or growth, as Tannen would say, to stay in touch with two other women—Sara and Beth—from the overseas program. Sara and Beth both became therapists and, in short, wanted only to analyze and overanalyze and then reanalyze every single element of our lives. They’re two of the most thoughtful, empathetic, and caring people I know. In the twenty-five years I’ve been friends with both women, they’ve never once told me to call less.

We don’t get to absolve ourselves from the lingering pain of female friendships. We don’t get to remove ourselves from it because it is who we are; it’s how we’re built. While I might never forget my friendship with Olivia—honestly, there were lovely times, and even after all those years, I still remember them fondly—the friendship, sadly, has become defined by our last conversation. You don’t have to call me every day.

I wish I had talked to her about it. I wish I had been able to strike up the courage and put my wounded pride aside and say to her, “That’s really hurtful. It blows me away how hurtful that is.” As Tannen hammers home in You’re the Only One I Can Tell, talk is the glue that holds women’s relationship together. The communication is all we have. It’s through language—even prickly, awkward language—that we can more deeply understand each other and make our friendships stronger. (Or learn that we need to let them go.) If talk is the glue that holds the relationship together, then without it, all we have left is the silence.


Image credits: feature image, image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4.

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01 Aug 22:08

Coming up in The Bullish Society: You’re The Boss- Getting Clear on What’s Important and What’s Not

by Jenny Palkowitsh

Meet our August Experts-in-Residence Kara and Stephanie. They'll be helping us define what's important and how to clarify what we want.

Each month in The Bullish Society, we welcome a new expert (or in this case experts) in residence to share wisdom and help our members boost their careers and lives. This month we have an extra special treat — the founders of  wolf & heron and future BullCon17 speakers Kara Davidson and Stephanie Judd will be joining us to help clarify what’s important and what’s not.

Here’s a quick Q&A with the two of them to get an idea of what to expect this month.

Hi Stephanie and Kara! We’re so excited for your residency this August. Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

S: Thanks for having us! Kara and I are co-founders of wolf & heron, where we create experiences to empower leaders at all levels. I’ve always been fascinated by leadership and what makes leaders effective. In the past several years I’ve been playing with my own leadership, my definition of it, and the impact I want to make in the world, and was so psyched when Kara and I decided to launch our business with leadership as a core pillar of our work. I’m in the process of finishing up my coaching certification with CTI and Kara and I are incorporating leadership coaching into our work as well. As for my personal life, I finally moved to Colorado last year with my now-husband, and I’m loving the outdoorsy life we have here. Sunshine and mountains make me happy without fail.

K: We’re so happy to be here and connecting with you all! I’m a recent upstate New Yorker. My Mom’s one of 13 (yes, very big family) and much of the extended family is around here so I’ve had a gentle pull to the area my whole life. A couple years ago, that pull got stronger and that lined up with an increasing desire for WorkLife freedom. I wanted to not just be my own boss, but to feel like my work was personally meaningful and built on my strengths, dreams, preferences and gifts. The best part was finding that Stephanie was in a place where our partnership made this amazing sense for both of us. It’s our secret sauce, even though we operate virtually almost all the time. Together, at wolf & heron, we do our part to live our own dreams and create personal and professional development experiences that build the confidence, increase the influence and enhance the impact of all the badasses we come across.

What would you say is the main thing that holds people back from being the boss of their lives?

S: My personal purpose statement is all about courage. I think courage is core to what makes the difference in how big we choose to live our lives, and how much ownership we take. In my coaching, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people not go for that promotion, or wait to ask for that raise, or not call someone back, or not take that leap into entrepreneurship because they lack the courage to stand up for what they believe in, or the confidence to know that they matter and what they want matters. For folks that don’t yet have tons of experience or are trying something new, it’s only the courageous ones that take the step forward and own their lives. One of the most powerful things we can do as individuals to be the boss of our lives is to know ourselves – what matters to us, what we care about – and it takes a lot of courage to be honest with ourselves about what those things are. I have one client who went to business school and got herself a fancy consulting job because she thought that was what she wanted and what mattered – but in our work together, she has come to realize that none of that was really important to her after all. Now she’s launching a greeting card business! Once you know what matters to you – what you care about, what you’re good at, what you won’t tolerate, etc. – you can have the courage to make the decisions that will move you along the path toward owning your life.

K: I find that sometimes people put too much pressure on themselves, on this one opportunity or this one decision, when really, in all likelihood, they’ve probably already shown themselves capable to be capable of the opportunity or eliminated most of the bad options. All you really need is to give things a try, move yourself forward via baby steps. And an authentic understanding of yourself and your goals will help you do those things, and yes, become the boss of your life.

Can you tell us more about your residency this month? What have you got in store for us?

S: In order to lead from where you are, you need to know who you are. So this month, we’ll be working with everyone to help them explore what’s important to them. What do you value at work? What do you value in terms of how you spend your time? How do you prioritize all the different important things in your life? What is balance for you?

K: We’ll share how you can use that understanding of yourself and what you value to bolster your confidence, give you courage, and help you make decisions and show up as a consistent leader with a point of view and a brand that’s authentically you. So, it’s lots of personal reflection, mixed in with some creative brainstorming, topped off with action planning sprinkles of joy.


The Bullish Society is currently offering a 10 day free trial for new members! Join today to learn more about how to be the boss of your own life.

Stephanie and Kara will be joining us this year as Bullish Conference speakers! Their August residency is only a sneak peak into their kickass BullCon workshop, so get your tickets and join us in DC for Own Your Future.

25 Jul 17:39

Fear and loathing in oil & gas

by Evan Bianco

Sometimes you have to swallow your fear. This is one of those times.

The proliferation of 3D seismic in the 1980s was a major step forward for the petroleum industry. However, it took more than a decade for the 3D seismic method to become popular. During that decade, seismic equipment continued to evolve, particularly with the advent of telemetry recording systems that needed for doing 3D surveys offshore.

Things were never the same again. New businesses sprouted up to support it, and established service companies and tech companies exploded size and in order to keep up with the demand and all the new work.

Not so coincidently, another major shift happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the industry-wide shift to Sun workstations in order to cope with the crunching and rendering the overwhelming influx of all these digits. UNIX workstations with hilariously large cathode-ray tube monitors became commonplace. This industry helped make Sun and many other IT companies very wealthy, and once again everything was good. At least until Sun's picnic was trampled on by Linux workstations in the early 2000s, but that's another story...

I think the advent of 3D seismic is one of many examples of the upstream oil and gas industry thriving on technological change. 3D seismic changed everything, facilitating progress in the full sense of the word and we never looked back. As an early career geoscientist, I don't know what the world was like before 3D seismic, but I have interpreted 2D data and I know it's an awful experience — even on a computer.

Debilitating skepticism?

Today, in 2017, we find ourselves in the middle of the next major transformation. Like 3D seismic before it, machine learning will alter yesterday's landscape beyond all recognition. We've been through all of this before, but this time, for some reason it feels different. Many people are cautious, unconvinced about whether this next thing will live up to the hype. Other people are vibrating with excitement viewing the whole thing with rose-coloured glasses. Still others truly believe that it will fail — assertively rejecting hopes and over-excited claims that yes, artificial intelligence will catapult us into a better world, a world beyond our wildest dreams.

A little skepticism is healthy, but I meet a lot of people who are so skeptical about this next period of change that they are ignoring it. It feels to me like an unfair level of dismissal, a too-rigid stance. And it has left me rather perplexed: Why is there so much resistance and denial this time around? Why the apprehension?

I'll wager the reason it is different this time because this change is happening to us, in spite of us, whether we like it or not. We're not in the driving seat. Most of us aren't even in the passenger seat. Unlike seismic technology and UNIX|Linux workstations, our sector has had little to do with this revolution. We haven't been pushing for it, instead, it is dragging us along with it. Worse, it's happening fast; even the people who are trying to keep up with it can barely hold on. 

We need you

This is the opportunity of a lifetime. It's happening. High time to crank up the excitement, get involved, be a part of it. I for one want you to be part of it. Come along with us. We need you, whether you like it or not. 

This post was provoked by a conversation on LinkedIn.

25 Jul 17:38

The Thirteenth Doctor

by Alex

The thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor has been announced, and it’s Jodie Whittaker.

I’m having a lot of feelings right now that cannot be expressed by just screaming endlessly on Twitter, so I’m putting them down here.

I grew up watching Doctor Who on PBS. It’s been as huge a part of my life as Star Trek. Until new Who showed up, Seven was my doctor. A big part of that was because of Ace, who was cool and amazing and I wanted to be her for a long time. Her relationship with the Doctor was different, somehow. Looking back on it, I think it’s because she had Donna-esque levels of taking absolutely zero shit off the Doctor, while still being young enough that his relationship with her was more avuncular to downright fatherly. And because she was absolutely brilliant, and the Doctor supported her in that. To the extent that he wanted her to go to the academy on Gallifrey and become a Time Lord. I think that last thing is something that’s been heavily retconned in new Who, but the idea that you don’t have to actually be from Gallifrey to be a Time Lord, and that Ace could be a Time Lord? Sign me up.

And then there was Romana. Between her two incarnations she was in seventeen episodes, but she stands out in my mind because… holy shit, a female Time Lord. Traveling around and having adventures. I loved Romana II because she got to be on equal footing with the Doctor, and had her own sonic screwdriver – I mean, how cool is that?

Looking at new Who, my favorite companions have been the ones (particularly Donna) who were able to put themselves on more equal footing with the Doctor. I think I’ve always been searching for women in the series who have that independence, who are as close to being the Doctor as they can get without actually being allowed to be the main show. The companions I liked the least were the ones who were basically doormats that existed to be the Dr. Watson-esque plot receptacle. (And you’ll notice in modern retellings of the Holmes stories, Watson’s become a much more active character in his own right, whose main purpose is no longer being the person who exists to ask dumb questions so the great detective can explain himself.)

Because let’s be honest, when I was a kid and playing pretend, I didn’t want to be the Doctor’s companion. I wanted to be the Doctor. That was why I loved Romana and Ace so much. And yes, you can pretend as many things as you like, but for all children are intensely imaginative, they’re also weirdly pedantic in certain ways. If you don’t ever see a girl being the Doctor, you come to feel that the Doctor is not something you’re allowed to be. Like when the young son of a friend of mine sadly informed one of his female classmates (this happened before we had Ahsoka and Rey, mind) that she couldn’t play Jedi with him and his friends, because girls aren’t Jedi – his parents corrected him on that one, but he made a perfectly logical conclusion from what he’d observed.

And even when you’re an adult and far more capable of saying “fuck your unspoken rules,” that comes coupled with the ability to better read those subtextual signposts about what stories you’re allowed to be the protagonist for. A better ability to fight to get out of that box also means you know how goddamn high the walls are.

Which all comes down to why I’m tearing up over the casting of Jodie Whittaker, and I wish I could tell this one to kid me. Look, one of your heroes you want to be isn’t just a (cis) man. The Doctor really can be any gender the Doctor pleases. Look, you can have adventures in time and space and be the person with the sonic screwdriver and the blue Police Box, and not just the person there to be less clever than him. And I honestly never thought this would happen, after seeing the ever-escalating manbaby shit storm each time a new Doctor was cast and someone said hey, wouldn’t it be great if the Doctor wasn’t white, or wasn’t a man, or (gasp) both? (Still waiting on the first/third of those items, and that should not be forgotten.)

Maybe I’m more surprised than I should be because I haven’t watched the last several seasons of Doctor Who after being so solidly lost by the Matt Smith episodes. I’m definitely going to go back and try the most recent season, now. I want to see the set up. I’m on board for this. I keep trying to come back to Doctor Who (have not been able to care about the show since about a year after Moffat took over) because it was a staple of my childhood, and maybe this time I’ll stick.

25 Jul 16:39

Wisconsin Company Will Let Employees Use Microchip Implants To Buy Snacks, Open Doors

by BeauHD
A Wisconsin company called Three Square Market will soon offer employees implantable chips to open doors, buy snacks, log in to computers, and use office equipment like copy machines. The chips use near field communication (NFC) technology and will be implanted between the thumb and forefinger of participating employees. According to The Verge, around 50 people are supposedly getting the optional implants. From the report: NFC chips are already used in a couple of workplaces in Europe; The Los Angeles Times reported on startup workspace Epicenter's chip program earlier this year. In the US, installing them is also a form of simple biohacking. They're essentially an extension of the chips you'd find in contactless smart cards or microchipped pets: passive devices that store very small amounts of information. A Swedish rail company also lets people use implants as a substitute for fare cards. 32M CEO Todd Westby is clearly trying to head off misunderstandings and paranoia by saying that they contain "no GPS tracking at all" -- because again, it's comparable to an office keycard here.

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25 Jul 16:38

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Journey into the Occult

by Colin Marshall

The first tarot cards appeared in Europe in the mid-fifteenth century, and those who used them used to play simple card games. But as the art of the tarot deck developed to incorporate a host of historical, philosophical, and astronomical symbols, their imagery took on more weight, and a couple hundred years later the cards had become popular instruments of divination. From the late eighteenth century on, one could obtain tarot decks specifically designed for occult purposes, and their artistic variety has only expanded in the 250 or so years since. In the 1990s, the imaginative world of tarot collided with an equally rich set of visions: those of H.R. Giger.

Giger, a Swiss artist who first gained worldwide fame and influence with his design work on Ridley Scott's Alien (up to and including the terrifying alien itself), united the biological and the mechanical in a distinctive and disturbing fashion.

After seeing Giger's art in his first book of paintings Necronomicon, a Swiss occultist by the name of Akron understood its potential as tarot imagery. The collection's title picture, Akron writes, showed a "fascinating monster" called Baphomet, "the symbol of the connection between the rational and irrational world," the same function performed by the occult tarot deck itself.

When Akron approached Giger proposing to collaborate on a deck, according to i09's Lauren Davis, "Giger felt that he didn't have the time to create new works that would do the deck justice. So he selected 22 of his existing, previously unpublished pieces" for the cards' faces. In a later interview, "Giger says that he never studied Tarot cards and in fact, had no interest in having his fortune told with them. (Giger claimed he was too superstitious, though he describes Akron's descriptions of the individual cards as 'sometimes crazy, but funny — but not probably very serious.')" His "mix of occult iconography, demonic organisms, and his trademark biomechanical aesthetic make for apt, if unusually dark Tarot illustrations."

You can see more of Giger and Akron's tarot deck, available in both English and German, at i09 and Dangerous Minds. Or better yet, pick up your own deck of cards. While browsing, do keep in mind two things: first, that Giger's visions, even those selected to represent age-old tarot arcana, can certainly get NSFW. Second, even though the artist specialized in nightmarish imagery (hence his popularity on the grimmer side of science fiction) we should resist interpreting them too literally as representations of the future. After all, the cards, as a much more lighthearted production once joked, are vague and mysterious.

via io9

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Journey into the Occult 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.

25 Jul 16:37

Hear the 150 Greatest Albums by Women: NPR Creates a New Canon of Albums That Puts Women at the Center of Music History

by Josh Jones

What is it with all the trendpieces on great women artists, writers, directors, singers, etc.? What, indeed. To ask the question is to acknowledge the premise of such pieces. Why should they need to be written at all if women in these fields received fair representation elsewhere? That lists and articles can be written in the hundreds puts the lie to phony claims that "great" women do not exist in every field in numbers. This is especially true in the 20th century, when hard-won political gains opened cultural doors unimaginable to many previous generations. But those gains did not fundamentally alter how cultural histories have been written.

Music critic Anne Powers and Lincoln Center program director Jill Sternheimer recently considered this problem, one which, Powers writes at NPR, persists even in the ways “music history’s being recorded and revised in the digital age.”

They wondered, "why... was the importance of women so often recognized as a trend instead of a source of lasting impact? We came to a conclusion that, in 2017, will likely strike no one as a surprise: that the general history of popular music is told through the great works of men, and that without a serious revision of the canon, women will always remain on the margins.”

This is a truth reinforced in many different ways: by the shelves weighed down with books about Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, while only one or two about Aretha Franklin or Patti Smith sit nearby; by the radio playlists that still only feature women once or twice every hour.

This isn’t a problem of “representation”—the term we so often hear applied to casting decisions and awards shows. Powers isn’t making a case for diversity in hiring, but for accuracy in writing the historical record. To that end, Powers and Lincoln Center, together with “nearly 50 women who play a role in NPR… compiled and voted” on a list: "Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums by Women.” You can hear nearly all of those albums in our Spotify playlist below. Calling the list “an intervention, a remedy, a correction,” Powers writes, “These albums were released between 1964, the year The Beatles invaded America… and 2016, when Beyoncé arguably ushered in a new period with her ‘visual album’ Lemonade.”

The point is to offer a view of popular music history with women's work at the center. The list does not represent an "alternate history." It stands for music history, touching upon every significant trend, social issue, set of sonic innovations, and new avenue for self-expression that popular music has intersected in the past fifty years.

Against the argument for “affirmative action”—or simply rewriting old “great album” lists to include more women—Powers argues, “once a canon is formed, it gains an aura of immutability.” Plenty of lists include female artists. Almost none of them include women in the top spots, suggesting that “the paradigms that define greatness remain masculine at their core.” Tokenism, no matter how well-intentioned, does not make for “a shift in perspective beyond the simple mandate to adjust the numbers.”

Ava Duvernay has made a similar argument against mandated “diversity” in Hollywood as a mollifying tactic that maintains status quo power relationships. “The fact that the mainstream starts to gaze at this space doesn’t make it a moment,” she tells Hollywood Reporter, “it makes it a moment for them.” As Powers writes of the way Joni Mitchell was often treated by the rock establishment, "the female musician is a dream, a surprise and a disruptor. She can claim the center of attention, but her rightful point of origin, and the place to which she returns, is a margin."

Instead of marginal inclusion in existing cliques, Powers argues for a cultural shift, a “new canon,” that isn’t hedged with the usual standards that often exclude women on arbitrary purist grounds. Keeping “wide parameters,” the contributors “left room for acknowledged rock-era classics as well as pop hits dismissed by others as fluff.” That disclaimer aside, there’s precious little “fluff” on this list—meaning it’s hard to find albums here that wouldn’t qualify for “greatest” status on more narrowly-defined genre lists. It is a list, that is to say, of 150 great albums, written, recorded, and released over the course of fifty plus years, by some of the most talented writers, players, and musicians in modern music history.

"Lists have their limitations," Powers admits, "They reflect biases and whispered compromises." She and her contributors offer this one "as the beginning of a new conversation" rather than an authoritative statement. At such depth and breadth, however, "Turning the Tables" makes room for nearly every possible genre, from all over the world. Read the full list of 150 albums, with commentary, here. A few of the 150 albums, including Lemonade, Bikini Kill's Yeah Yeah Yeah, Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll, Joanna Newsome's Ys, and Laurie Anderson's Big Science aren't on Spotify, so didn't make our playlist above. The top ten albums on the list are:

  1. Joni Mitchell, Blue (Reprise, 1971)
  2. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998)
  3. Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You (Philips, 1956)
  4. Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You (Atlantic, 1967)
  5. Missy Eliot, Supa Dupa Fly (The Goldmine/Elekra, 1997)
  6. Beyoncé, Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia 2016)
  7. Patti Smith, Horses (Arista, 1975)
  8. Janis Joplin, Pearl (Columbia, 1971)
  9. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (Island, 2006)
  10. Carole King, Tapestry (Ode, 1971)

Related Content:

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938-2014)

1200 Years of Women Composers: A Free 78-Hour Music Playlist That Takes You From Medieval Times to Now

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians

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

Hear the 150 Greatest Albums by Women: NPR Creates a New Canon of Albums That Puts Women at the Center of Music History 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.

25 Jul 16:34

Mexico City Is Killing Parking Spaces. Pay Attention, America

by Aarian Marshall
One of the world’s most trafficky cities gets a parking overhaul.
25 Jul 16:32

When Will AI Be Better Than Humans at Everything? 352 AI Experts Answer

by Edd Gent

Predictions of when machines will make us obsolete seem to come either from AI evangelists or doom-mongers with little practical experience of the field. Now though, researchers have carried out the largest-ever survey of machine learning experts on the subject.

The advent of AI that can outperform humans at various tasks will have a dramatic impact on society, so forecasting when particular skills or jobs will be automated could be invaluable for policymakers.

But the field is so fiendishly complex and has so many specialized sub-disciplines that there are very few people in a position to forecast when these breakthroughs will come. So instead, researchers at the Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute decided to crowdsource the problem.

They contacted 1,634 researchers who published papers at the 2015 NIPS and ICML conferences—the two leading machine learning conferences—and asked them to complete a survey on the topic, with 352 researchers responding.

“The aggregate forecast was that there is a 50 percent chance that ‘unaided machines can accomplish every task better and more cheaply than human workers’ within 45 years.”

When all the researchers’ answers were combined, the aggregate forecast was that there is a 50 percent chance that “unaided machines can accomplish every task better and more cheaply than human workers” within 45 years, and a 10 percent chance of it occurring within nine years.

Interestingly, there was a large discrepancy between the predictions of Asian respondents, who expect this to occur in 30 years, and North Americans, who expect it to take 74 years.

And when the question was worded slightly differently to gauge when all human labor would be automated rather than just when it could be, the aggregate forecast was a 50 percent chance in 122 years from now and a 10 percent chance within 20 years.

The survey also asked for predictions for when a few specific activities would be taken over by machines such as: translating languages (by 2024), writing high-school essays (by 2026), driving a truck (by 2027), working in retail (by 2031), writing a bestselling book (by 2049), and working as a surgeon (by 2053).

However, the usefulness of specific predictions like this is exemplified by the fact that back in 2015 the researchers predicted it would take until 2027 for an AI to beat a human at the board game Go. Google DeepMind’s Alpha Go beat a top-ranked professional the following year and the world’s number one this year.

“Perhaps more interesting are some of the broader findings of the survey, such as a perception that progress in machine learning is accelerating.”

Perhaps more interesting are some of the broader findings of the survey, such as a perception that progress in machine learning is accelerating. More than two-thirds of respondents said progress was faster in the second half of their career and only 10 percent said progress was faster in the first half.

There was little support for one of the mainstays of AI evangelism, though. The “intelligence explosion”  is the idea that once AI reach human-level intelligence, including in developing AI, their ability to operate in parallel and at far greater speeds than humans will lead to rapid growth in their capabilities.

When asked how likely it was that AI would perform vastly better than humans in all tasks two years after machines overtook human capabilities the median probability was just 10 percent. When asked whether there would be explosive global technological improvement after two years the median probability was 20 percent.

“The vast majority of respondents thought machines outperforming humans would have a positive impact on humanity.”

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents thought machines outperforming humans would have a positive impact on humanity. But 48 percent also said there should be more research aimed at minimizing the risks of AI.

While the results of the survey are informative, it’s important to remember that machine learning researchers are inherently enthusiastic about the technology. That means they’re liable to overestimate the speed of progress, while simultaneously underestimating the potential negative implications.

They are also probably not really qualified to judge how technological advances will interact with things like politics, economics, and human psychology. Just because a machine can do something doesn’t necessarily mean it will. There are many other factors involved in determining whether AI will be widely adopted than just technological readiness.

Nevertheless, the perspective of those on the bleeding edge of AI research is an important one. While they may have blind spots, they’re certainly better positioned to pass judgment than many of the commentators weighing in on the debate. Let’s just hope their optimism is well-founded.

Image Credit: Stock Media provided by maniaks3D / Pond5

12 Jul 22:21

Comment of the Day: Why Houston Freeways Should Be Built To Flood

by Swamplot

“. . . Why would you NOT want a massive freeway that would otherwise be empty in the event of a true emergency to flood? Spend the money on barriers/signage for flooding, throw in some pumps and you have a perfect deterrent for neighborhood flooding in the event of an emergency. I don’t remember any of the surrounding areas along 59 complaining about it being a great place to store flood water during Allison.” [joel, commenting on What Could Go Under When I-45 Moves Underground and East of Downtown] Illustration: Lulu … Read More
05 Jul 20:44

PBS Bets $3 Million That Monkeys Are Better CS Preschool Teachers Than Rabbits

by BeauHD
theodp writes: EdSurge reports that a new PBS show will teach preschoolers how to think like computers. Marisa Wolsky, an executive producer at WGBH Boston, believes television can be a way to teach Computational Thinking. She is in the first stages of creating an animated television show called Monkeying Around [$3,000,000 NSF award] that uses four monkeys to teach the subject. Why monkeys? EdSurge explains, "Initially, Wolsky said her team wanted to use rabbits to teach the kids, but after realizing the animal would need to use its hands, they decided to go with monkeys [Rabbits historically enjoyed success teaching the 3 R's]." In a press release announcing the new pre-K show, WGBH cited "a great deal of national interest in computer science and coding," adding that "it is never too early to start." WGBH is not the only PBS station that's bullish on CS. According to an NSF Award Abstract, "Twin Cities PBS (TPT), the National Girls Collaborative (NGC) and [tech-bankrolled] will lead Code: SciGirls! Media to Engage Girls in Computing Pathways, a three-year [$2.63 million] project designed to engage 8-13 year-old girls in coding through transmedia programming which inspires and prepares them for future computer science studies and career paths [...] Drawing on narrative transportation theory and character identification theory, TPT will commission two exploratory knowledge-building studies to investigate: To what extent and how do the narrative formats of the Code: SciGirls! online media affect girls' interest, beliefs, and behavioral intent towards coding and code-related careers?" And Code Trip, a PBS series touted by Microsoft that aired in 2016 [$200,000 NSF award], explored computer science opportunities for young people by, as Microsoft explained, following "three students traveling around the country to speak with leaders including Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, and Hadi Partovi, entrepreneur and cofounder of"

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05 Jul 20:43

Expand your skill sets with lifetime access to over 1,000 online courses

by Boing Boing's Store

Entertaining bold changes in your career can feel like an abandonment of what you’ve worked for thus far, but this fallacious mindset can cost you a lot more in the long run than the time spent at your current gig. Change is constant, and building new skills outside of your typical wheelhouse will do much more to open up your future options than grinding through a job that you aren’t excited about.

The Virtual Training Company offers an online course library for professional development in a wide array of fields. With over 1,000 courses, you can get expert training in everything from 3D animation to project management. With a lifetime subscription, you'll have unlimited access to everything in their current catalog, and can pursue a variety of topics for work or personal enjoyment all on your own time.

These courses are available on almost every mobile and desktop platform. You can get a lifetime subscription to Virtual Training Company in the Boing Boing Store for the one-time cost of $79.

05 Jul 20:42

Hulu Joins Netflix and Amazon In Promoting Royalty-free Video Codec AV1

by msmash
theweatherelectric writes: Hulu has joined the Alliance for Open Media, which is developing an open, royalty-free video format called AV1. AV1 is targeting better performance than H.265 and, unlike H.265, will be licensed under royalty-free terms for all use cases. The top three over-the-top SVOD services (Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu) are now all members of the alliance. In joining the alliance, Hulu hopes "to accelerate development and facilitate friction-free adoption of new media technologies that benefit the streaming media industry and [its] viewers."

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05 Jul 20:18

Square World

I keep thinking that the election of Trump has turned us all into conservatives.

I mean “conservative” in a more old-fashioned (and I think truer) sense than what is generally thought. I don’t mean Republican — the Republican party is a radical reactionary party, not at all conservative.

I mean that we liberals and progressives have learned that national respect for truth, expertise, and empiricism is something we’re in danger of losing. It’s not a given. We can’t take rule of law for granted; we can’t assume our institutions won’t fly apart.

Everything good we’ve built is also the foundation on which further progress is made.

The fight right now is to preserve those good things.

* * *

When I was 16 years old I wanted to épater la bourgeoisie and grow up to be a writer (I kind of did) and wear all black (I often do) and smoke Galouises (I never do).

I was in favor of burning down everything and rebuilding a just civilization from scratch. Barring that, I just wanted to be seen as a guy in favor of that kind of thing. :)

But now, at age 49, it seems like I just want people to accept facts and science, and to stop lying.

* * *

At 16 years old I had contempt for the people who were slow and careful, who dotted i’s and crossed t’s, whose watchword was diligence, who displayed patience, who played the long game.

After all, every second of delay was another broken heart. Every minute was unjust.

But I was a bullshit artist at that age, and I didn’t know or care that it took work — slow, steady, and unglamorous — to build good things that are hard to break.

And while I worry like crazy about our nation, I have some faith — because I choose to, because it’s the moral choice — that the square world that I used to hate, that I now love, will get the job done.

I don’t mean just Robert Mueller and his investigation, though I do include him. I mean all the people working — most of them quietly, some flashily, but all with care and good faith — toward preserving what we have, so that we can resume our long journey toward living up to our founding ideals.

* * *

What we have of national goodness, so incompletely realized, is fragile.

This Fourth of July I thank Square World for their work, and hope to be able to say of myself that I am part of that world.

05 Jul 20:17

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians

by Josh Jones

Browse through an archive of jazz writing from the last, oh, hundred years, and you’ll get the distinct impression that jazz, like the NFL, has been a man’s-man’s-man’s-man’s world. “Of course,” writes Margaret Howze at NPR, “we have Billie, Ella, and Sarah,” and many other powerhouse female vocalists everyone knows and loves. These unforgettable voices seem to stand out as exceptions, and what’s more, “when we think of women in jazz, we automatically think of singers,” not instrumentalists.

Part of the marginalization of women in jazz has to do with the same kinds of cultural blind spots we find in discussions on every subject. We’ve been as guilty here as anyone of neglecting many great women in jazz, sadly. But women in jazz have also historically faced similar social barriers and stigmas as other women in all the arts. There are more than enough female vocalists, pianists, guitarists, trumpeters, drummers, saxophonists, bandleaders, teachers, producers to form a “worthy pantheon,” yet until fairly recently, a great many women jazz musicians have worked in the shadows of more famous men.

Howze’s two-part sketch of women in jazz offers a succinct chronological introduction, noting that “the piano, one of the earliest instruments that women played in jazz, allowed female artists” in the 20s and 30s “a degree of social acceptance.” In those years, “female instrumentalists usually formed all-women jazz bands or played in family-based groups.” One early standout musician, Dolly Hutchinson, née Jones, played the trumpet and cornet in bands all over the country. Hutchinson doesn’t appear in the Women of Jazz playlist below, but you can see her at the top in a clip from Oscar Michaux’s 1938 film Swing!

The Spotify playlist Women of Jazz does, however, offee samples from many other female jazz greats in its 91 tracks, from the very well-known—Nina Simone, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, “Billie, Ella, and Sarah”—to the very much overlooked. In that latter category falls a woman whose last name is familiar to us all. Lil Hardin Armstrong never achieved close to the degree of fame as her husband Louis, but the pianist, writes Howze, “helped shape Satchmo’s early career,” playing in “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, a group Armstrong joined in 1922. He and Hardin began a romance and eventually married and it was Hardin who encouraged Armstrong to embark on a solo career.”

Hardin's “Clip Joint,” featured in the playlist, showcases her sweet, clear contralto, distinguished by a tendency to wrap surprising hooks around the end of each line, pulling us forward to the next or keeping us hanging on for more. (Equally charming and effortlessly swinging, see her on the piano, above, accompanied by drummer Mae Barnes.) Another hugely influential woman in jazz, whose legacy “has also been somewhat occluded,” writes Alexa Peters at Paste, “by the legacy of her husband,” harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane deserves far more acclaim than she receives (at least in this writer’s humble opinion).

“An incredibly gifted avant-garde musician, composer, and arranger,” Coltrane’s solo compositions and her collaborations with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, “are as sublime as they are indelibly important” to the development of spiritual jazz. Her incorporation of Hindustani instrumentation “like drones, ragas, Tabla drum, and sitar,” together with long hypnotic free jazz passages and the unusual choice of harp, contributed a new sonic vocabulary to the form.

Though hardly comprehensive, the Women of Jazz playlist does an excellent job of outlining a list of great female singers and instrumentalists throughout the history of jazz. As someone might point out, the compilation has its own blind spots. Though firmly rooted in the traditions of the American South, jazz has, since its golden age, been an international phenomenon. Yet the majority of the artists here are from the U.S. For a contemporary corrective, check out The Guardian’s list, “Five of the Best Young Female Jazz Musicians” from the U.K. and Scandinavia, or Afripop’s “Five South African Female Jazz Instrumentalists You Should Know,” or NPR’s list of four great “Latina Jazz Vocalists”....

And we should not neglect to mention great French women in jazz. In the short film above on French jazz and trumpet duo Nelson Veras and Airelle Besson, the two musicians discuss their collaborative process. Any mention of gender would probably seem awkwardly irrelevant to the conversation. Perhaps all jazz talk should be like that. But it seems that first most jazz fans and writers need to spend some time getting caught up. We’ve got a wealth of resources above to get them started.

Related Content:

The History of Spiritual Jazz: Hear a Transcendent 12-Hour Mix Featuring John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock & More

Hear 2,000 Recordings of the Most Essential Jazz Songs: A Huge Playlist for Your Jazz Education

1,000 Hours of Early Jazz Recordings Now Online: Archive Features Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington & Much More

Herbie Hancock to Teach His First Online Course on Jazz

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

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians 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.

05 Jul 20:17

From binoculars to big data: Citizen scientists use emerging technology in the wild

by Rebecca Kondos

Colin Kingen, software engineer for Wildbook, explains the technology driving data capture and wildlife research.

For years, citizen scientists have trekked through local fields, rivers, and forests to observe, measure, and report on species and habitats with notebooks, binoculars, butterfly nets, and cameras in hand. It’s a slow process, and the gathered data isn’t easily shared. It’s a system that has worked to some degree, but one that’s in need of a technology and methodology overhaul.

Thanks to the team behind and their Wildbook software, both citizen and professional scientists are becoming active participants in using AI, computer vision, and big data. Wildbook is working to transform the data collection process, and citizen scientists who use the software have more transparency into conservation research and the impact it’s making. As a result, engagement levels have increased; scientists can more easily share their work; and, most important, endangered species like the whale shark benefit.

In this interview, Colin Kingen, a software engineer for WildBook, (with assistance from his colleagues Jason Holmberg and Jon Van Oast) discusses Wildbook’s work, explains classic problems in field observation science, and shares how Wildbook is working to solve some of the big problems that have plagued wildlife research. He also addresses something I’ve wondered about: why isn’t there an “uberdatabase” to share the work of scientists across all global efforts? The work Kingen and his team are doing exemplifies what can be accomplished when computer scientists with big hearts apply their talents to saving wildlife.

Imagine looking through the same 5,000 images every time you get a new one, and looking closely enough to identify a matching pattern of spots in seven of them so you can tag an image as a certain animal.

One of the exciting aspects of your work is your mission, which focuses on putting technology into the hands of citizen scientists to collect data on wildlife. What are some of the challenges and opportunities that inspired the creation of Wildbook?

Wildlife biology is a field observation science that relies heavily on a technique called “mark-recapture,” in which animals in a population are individually marked (e.g., ear tags on deer or leg bands on birds) and their presences and absences are recorded manually by observers. On-site research teams are generally poorly funded and must focus limited resources on narrow windows of observation; the small resulting data sets run the risk of reflecting project limitations rather than species behavior. Arriving at a critical mass of data for population analysis (especially for rare or endangered species) can take years for small teams of researchers. Long required observation periods and manual data processing (e.g., matching photos “by eye”) can create multi-year lags between study initialization and scientific results, as well as create conclusions too coarse or slow for effective conservation action.

Now, imagine a more ideal solution: a wildlife research and conservation community continuously informed about animal population sizes and the interactions, movements, and behaviors of individual or small groups of animals. Integrate the cameras of tourists and citizen scientists, pouring the potential of big data into local conservation efforts, and augment researchers with computer vision and artificial intelligence to manage the volume of data and remove the burdens of curation, freeing them to focus on critical questions: What is the local wildlife population trajectory? Where do the animals go—and why? Are recent conservation measures reversing observed declines?

Wildbook is a multi-institution project that originally emerged out of the combination of two distinct efforts. In Western Australia, a biologist, a programmer, and a NASA scientist found a new way to “tag” whale sharks using only their spots and by collecting photographs from the dive industry. Separately, in Kenya, professors from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Illinois-Chicago, and Princeton University found a way to identify individual zebras based on photographs of their stripes. When the teams joined forces, Wildbook became a single open source project aimed at revolutionizing wildlife research, much of which is still entrenched in 1990s desktop software.

dolphin photo identification
Figure 1. A strong match candidate showing matching segments connected by lines for common dolphin photo identification. Source: Hendrik Weideman from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who develops fluke edge matching algorithms, and Krista Rankmore from the Coastal Marine Research Group at Massey University, who was the original source of the data set. This image is used with permission.

How is Wildbook’s interface designed, and what considerations helped to make it an easy-to-use, yet powerful, collecting tool for citizen scientists?

There are really two sides to the interface design: submissions and information available to citizen scientists, and the workflow for the researchers processing the submissions. The submission side can vary between Wildbooks created for different species. Some projects monitor a small population of critically endangered species, and the data is input and processed by a small number of researchers. These do not rely as much on citizen science. In situations like these, the submission process requires more specific information from researchers, and it requires less explanation. When citizen science input is used, however, the submission itself is pretty simple. You go to the site, upload some images, and provide some background information, if you can. The researchers in charge of the project can then categorize the contribution and run it through image analysis to see if any wildlife in the images is individually identifiable. We try to make the submission process easy. There are only a few fields we require, like date and location, and these can be approximate.

The projects that really try to engage citizen scientists (e.g., whale are constantly evolving, and fascinating. You need to carefully consider to whom you are presenting. We work with many groups studying aquatic creatures—our first project and flagship is We think about what might motivate someone to give us their images and data. Did they hear about a particular Wildbook from a friend conducting research, or stumble upon it while searching the internet for information about an animal they saw on a scuba dive? The point of entry is important. We don’t just want to convince someone to give us something, either. We want people to be engaged.

This engagement is often creating a link between the individual animal and the citizen scientist, and other people like them. We offer email updates on whether we have identified the particular animal, and then when it has been sighted by anyone else. The submitter can then look at the profile of the animal they personally saw and find images taken by other people, perhaps from across the world. There is even the capability for someone to “adopt” an animal and give it a nickname that is visible on its profile page. This creates a sense of community and fosters interest. The citizen scientist is now part of this animal’s narrative, along with other people. I think this motivates them, and makes them more likely to continue participating.

One of the most exciting things we’ve been working on lately is Wildbook AI. This searches through YouTube videos looking for keywords and then goes through the video looking for animals to detect. If we identify an animal, we can comment on the video and let the user know, and then add it to the Wildbook database. We can look through metadata to find date and location to add to the entry. Right now, we are working on automatically creating a comment for the YouTube user to ask for some of this information if it is missing, which hopefully makes the data more useful and can draw the YouTube user (who may never have heard of us) into being a part of the project. This really adds value to Wildbook, in that we’re keeping it simple to use, drawing people in, and returning the gift of data with the gift of knowledge, even through an outside source like YouTube.

There is a vast amount of historical research that is stuck in the world of spreadsheets, obsolete databases, and filing cabinets.

Your site mentions two projects—MantaMatcher and Whale Sharks—that use Wildbook to track both populations in the wild. Can you share a couple of examples of the kinds of data being collected, how it’s making a difference, and why this data has been hard or impossible to collect prior to Wildbook?

The data starts with a single record of interaction with an animal. When someone goes on a dive and takes a picture of a whale shark, for example, we take that image or images with whatever background information that can be provided (e.g., where and when) and create an Encounter in Wildbook. The Encounter is a data record and visitable page that represents a single interaction with an animal at one point in time. We can then run the images through analysis and find out if it matches images in other encounters of the same individual. Individuals have a page that consists of all the Encounters in which they were identified. They have an ID, possibly a nickname, and potentially plenty of other information, like physical tagging, measurements, and age. We can also see co-occurrence—animals that have been sighted together and may be operating as a pack, pod, or other social group. We can then look at the collected encounters of a group or individual and see their movements, or look at the number of individuals over time to track birth and death. This population data can help contribute to the evaluation of a species’ threatened status. In 2016, the whale shark was moved up to “endangered” from “vulnerable” on the IUCN Redlist, based on data from

Whale shark
Figure 2. Whale shark. Source: Wild Me director Simon Pierce, used with permission.

There are many other ways the data is useful. Some animals are notoriously very hard to tag, and therefore hard to track. Researchers simply cannot be in as many places as the public, and therefore only a citizen science-based approach can get enough data to make meaningful conclusions about population size and health. There is also the issue of trap response, which can occur during physical tagging, where an animal is understandably wary of an area where it was hurt or scared, and avoids it or creatures like humans that were present. Of course, we don’t want to hurt or scare animals, and this also makes data less useful because of the changed behavior.

An answer is to take images and look for identifiable markings and build a record that way. But for a human, this is incredibly tedious. Imagine looking through the same 5,000 images every time you get a new one, and looking closely enough to identify a matching pattern of spots in seven of them so you can tag an image as a certain animal. Wildbook can create the data records for you; link them together in intuitive ways; and, coupled with AI image analysis, look through all those pictures in a matter of seconds to find a match, if there is one. The computer vision AI is also quite good at what it does. It can find matches that might not be so obvious to a human.

So, on the front end of the research, the benefit is reducing harm to animals and saving researchers countless hours that are then available to go back into the field, or to draw conclusions from the processed data. Another benefit is for collaborating researchers. People from all over the world can contribute to the same data set to improve predictions and conclusions instead of emailing differently formatted spreadsheets back and forth.

As you mention on your site, Wildbook is “the data management layer of the IBEIS project.” In other words, the IBEIS project is the computing/AI power that drives the functionality and cataloguing of Wildbook. How does IBEIS work, and why was it the right solution for Wildbook?

IBEIS was the original name of the computer vision aspect of our project. We currently have integrated it all into a single product that is now simply Wildbook. So, historically, we still have some references in documentation and our code to IBEIS. However, Wildbook can be used with or without the image analysis functionality, depending on the needs of the users, so this data management layer is at the fundamental core of Wildbook to this day.

Since what was originally IBEIS was developed specifically with Wildbook in mind, it was the right solution by design—it solved the problem of automating the processing of photographic data. It does so by two main steps: detection and identification. Detection finds the animals in the image. We train the software to know what a certain species looks like from multiple angles by giving the software a collection of images that contain the animal we want to identify and marking its position and the quality of the image. We then feed in this set of images and a second set of images that do not contain the chosen animal.

Once we have a body of images that have our animal in them, we can run them through identification. New images are loaded into the image analysis layer, which then checks them against each other and returns sets of potential matches, including how confident it is about those matches. These matches can then be checked and saved into Wildbook as encounters with detection, and possibly matched or created as distinct individuals by identification. The data that image analysis passes back is purely match-based. It doesn’t care about anything other than the image. That’s why Wildbook’s data management layer is important: it is used to combine computer vision results with all that pertinent metadata, such as date, location behavior, and the running record of matches.

The technology is progressing, but there is still a significant lack of computer science skills in the field of biology and wildlife research. We want to help with that.

As I’ve researched conservation and technology topics for this blog series, I’ve come across many conservation groups doing important work across the globe. There doesn’t appear to be an “uberdatabase” that connects the work or aggregates the research. Given the work you do, is this is a concern for you, too? How can the research of conservationists and citizen scientists be made more transparent and easily accessible?

There is certainly not an “uberdatabase” for wildlife and conservation research; though, you’ll see a few high-level biodiversity databases out there (,, One reason for this is the state of the data and a lack of standards. There is a vast amount of historical research that is stuck in the world of spreadsheets, obsolete databases, and filing cabinets. Between researchers, organizations, and the passage of time, this data can be formatted differently or rearranged inconsistently by changing research groups. The first barrier is getting that information standardized. That’s something we do all the time. We work directly with researchers, organize their data, process it faster, and get people outside of their group engaged and willing to contribute.

Sometimes there are issues of security, as well. Researchers can be concerned about who has access to certain information and who can change it. This can be due to someone writing an academic paper and wanting to keep their data close for a while, or wanting to protect the species. Location data can be very sensitive for animals that are endangered—or poached or sold as exotic pets. Sometimes the location where an image was taken can even be inferred from the image’s background, and for something like a critically endangered tortoise in a population of hundreds that can then be sold on the black market for tens of thousands of dollars, there is a real risk. So, security and separation of some information is very important, and it gets complicated quickly where competition among research groups emerges.

Another issue is the separation of different missions. Many groups are particularly concerned with the study of one animal, especially endangered ones. They use their particular Wildbook as a place to not only track and input data, but as a way to inform visitors about the situation and add a name or brand to the way they are advancing conservation for that species. For these groups, it might be more desirable to have a stand-alone site instead of being one amongst a vast number of others. We can have customized Wildbooks for two different groups to have different sites and branding, but they use the same database in an effort to not stand in the way of that kind of concern.

I don’t think the “uberdatabase” is near at hand. My hope is that we can start linking groups at a smaller level first. Most of our Wildbooks only track one species, but we are currently working with groups that track multiple species of whales and dolphins. Bringing citizen scientists and researchers together by a common interest in a certain group of animals or a geographical region is the goal for now, focusing especially on producing actionable information for local conservation action.

Is there anything else you feel is important that I’ve missed about your work, mission, and technology?

The technology is progressing, but there is still a significant lack of computer science skills in the fields of biology and wildlife research. We want to help with that. I think we have found a great role in conservation because we help researchers, for many species across the globe, be more effective with their data and we help free up time to study it. Engaging citizen scientists is going to be a really important part of research in the future, as well. When people don’t just read about something in a magazine but participate, they become that much more invested and aware of what is going on, not only with the animal they photographed, but with the future of the species and the planet. We are giving everyone the ability to play an active part of emerging knowledge and science, and I’m excited about that.

Continue reading From binoculars to big data: Citizen scientists use emerging technology in the wild.

05 Jul 20:14

List: Popular Summer T-Shirt Slogans for the Politically Engaged Millennial


















05 Jul 20:13

The Map-Collecting Author and His Map-Collecting Character

by Jonathan Crowe

The protagonist of Colin Harrison’s latest crime novel, You Belong to Me, is an obsessive map collector. By some strange coincidence, so is Colin Harrison. The New York Times looks at Harrison the map collector and the ways he is similar to, and different from, the character in his novel. (They review the novel here.) [Tony Campbell/WMS]

05 Jul 17:37

Guide to finding and erasing your online data doppelganger

by Cory Doctorow

The New York Times rounds up direct links to several services surveillance opt-out screens, including some I'd never thought to look for (Amazon), as well as instructions for installing tracking blockers and no-script extensions that will limit the data trail you exhaust behind yourself as you traverse the net. (more…)

05 Jul 17:35

Bloomberg: Middle-class Americans were "fleeced" by neoliberalism

by Cory Doctorow

Noah Smith (previously) writes in Bloomberg (!) about the "fleecing" of the Gen-X and Boomer middle class -- a class that is growing continuously smaller and poorer, thanks to "financial deregulation, tax cuts and a lax attitude toward consumer protection and antitrust." (more…)

05 Jul 16:13

When a Cat Co-Authored a Paper in a Leading Physics Journal (1975)

by Dan Colman

Back in 1975, Jack H. Hetherington, a physics professor at Michigan State University, wrote a research paper on low–temperature physics for the respected scientific journal Physical Review Letters. Before sending it off, Hetherington asked a colleague to review the paper, just to make sure it covered the right bases. What happened next Hetherington explained in the 1982 book, More Random Walks in Science:

Before I submitted [the article], I asked a colleague to read it over and he said, 'It’s a fine paper, but they’ll send it right back.' He explained that that is because of the Editor's rule that the word "we" should not be used in a paper with only a single author. Changing the paper to the impersonal seemed too difficult now, and it was all written and typed; therefore, after an evening’s thought, I simply asked the secretary to change the title page to include the name of the family cat, a Siamese called Chester, sired one summer by Willard (one of the few unfixed male Siamese cats in Aspen, Colorado). I added the initials F D in front of the name to stand for Felix Domesticus and thus created F D C Willard.

The editors eventually accepted the paper, "Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3 He." And the ruse lasted until, remembers Hetherington, “a visitor [came to the university and] asked to talk to me, and since I was unavailable asked to talk with Willard. Everyone laughed and soon the cat was out of the bag.” (Pun surely intended.) Apparently only the journal editors didn't find humor in the joke.

Above, you can see F.D.C. Willard's signature (a paw print) on the front page of the article. The website, TodayIFoundOut, has much more on this enchanting little story.

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05 Jul 16:11

Best Laptops for Video Editing

by Grant Brunner
Dell XPS 15 Video Editing laptops

While dedicated workstations are still the most efficient machines for video production, it's now quite common for editors to use laptops to get work done; here are the best ones to buy.

The post Best Laptops for Video Editing appeared first on ExtremeTech.

05 Jul 16:10

The Obsessions of General Garibaldi

by Morgan Meis

9781844133321-usTim Parks at the London Review of Books:

Histories of the Risorgimento find it difficult to present Garibaldi without a patina of condescension. The modern intellectual’s suspicion of the folk hero – pursued by drooling ladies of the British aristocracy, believed by Sicilian peasants to have been sent by God – is everywhere evident. In his otherwise excellent biography of 1958, Denis Mack Smith frequently referred to Garibaldi as ‘simplistic’ and ‘ingenuous’, made fun of his habit of wearing a poncho, and saw his decision to set up home on the barren island of Caprera as merely idiosyncratic. Pick takes a similar position. His Garibaldi has huge personal charisma and is a brilliant military adventurer (though almost no space is given to reminding the reader quite how brilliant), but he is also ingenuous, gullible when it comes to dealing with money and endearingly ignorant of the ways of the world. In short, he is the genius simpleton.

Pick continues a tradition that began with Garibaldi’s contemporaries and is still alive in Italy today, whereby he is to be exalted as a national hero and simultaneously never mentioned in serious public debate (Italian schoolchildren are kept well away from his incendiary, anti-clerical memoirs). So at one point, having noted Garibaldi’s lack of appetite for official honours and his tendency to live in a single, bare room even when a palace was at his disposal, Pick continues: ‘Yet he was an appealingly inconsistent ascetic, with his own touching foibles and predilections for the good things in life, and for display: thus he would occasionally don a rather gaudy embroidered cap.’

more here.