Randall Munroe once again shows that he's one of the web's most talented storytellers, inventing ways of conveying information that use the web's affordances to novel and sharp effect (there's a reason he won a Hugo award). (more…)
Cheese was once colored bright orange to falsely imply it had lots of yellow/orange pigmented cream in it, a sign of quality several centuries ago. The cream had been skimmed, for sale elsewhere, so the cheese mongers colored the cheese.
Greed is all natural, right?
Cheese expert Paul Kindstedt of the University of Vermont explains that back in the 17th century, many English cheesemakers realized that they could make more money if they skimmed off the cream — to sell it separately or make butter from it.
But in doing so, most of the color was lost, since the natural orange pigment is carried in the fatty cream.
So, to pass off what was left over — basically low-fat cheese made from white milk — as a high-quality product, the cheesemakers faked it.
"The cheesemakers were initially trying to trick people to mask the white color [of their cheese]," explains Kindstedt.
Imagine a future where the drugs we rely on to cure common yet life-threatening infections don’t work on most people. Now imagine a right-wing regime that only gives the medicine that still works to “productive” citizens. That’s right: millions of people would be screwed.
The beverage industry has been pushing the idea that you need to be drinking water and sugar water all day long, but according to Oakland University exercise physiologust Tamara Hew-Butler DPM, PhD, that's not true. "Our bodies already possess an extremely sensitive measure of dehydration," she says in this entertaining mythbusting video. "It's called thirst."
Another profile of ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, this time from Smithsonian.com’s Erin Blakemore. As Blakemore recounts, Tharp crunched and mapped the sonar sounding data collected by her collaborator, Bruce Heezen; her calculations revealed a huge valley in the middle of a ridge in the North Atlantic seafloor.
“When I showed what I found to Bruce,” she recalled, “he groaned and said ‘It cannot be. It looks too much like continental drift.’ … Bruce initially dismissed my interpretation of the profiles as ‘girl talk’.” It took almost a year for Heezen to believe her, despite a growing amount of evidence and her meticulous checking and re-checking of her work. He only changed his mind when evidence of earthquakes beneath the rift valley she had found was discovered—and when it became clear that the rift extended up and down the entire Atlantic. Today, it is considered Earth’s largest physical feature.
When Heezen—who published the work and took credit for it—announced his findings in 1956, it was no less than a seismic event in geology. But Tharp, like many other women scientists of her day, was shunted to the background.
Next month sees the release of The Map Against the World, a Korean movie about cartographer Kim Jeong-ho, who in 1861 produced an enormous, detailed map of Korea called the Daedongyeojido. The movie stars Cha Seung-won as Kim and is directed by Kang Woo-suk. Here’s a trailer:
As the US National Park Service celebrates its Centennial this year, we thought we’d celebrate with it by sharing some of our favorite photos from the national parks we have visited in the era of digital photography.
Hydrogeology students measuring streamflow and groundwater levels in the midst of a very impressive floodplain forest.
The hydrologist very much enjoyed seeing the USGS lake level gage perched above Crater Lake’s cold, deep water.
We are super lucky to have a local National Park, especially one that is free to everyone, all year long. We keep finding new places to explore in this park, but here’s a picture from our most recent adventure.
The fossil rich Blue Basin. Anne’s proud that she spotted a fossil embedded in the rock, and she doesn’t want to think about how many she probably missed in passing.
The Painted Hills unit with its spectacular paleosols is near where Anne went to field camp and is where she went to celebrate defending her PhD (nearly 10 years ago now!)
A field trip in Anne’s tectonic geomorphology class in graduate school provided an all too brief glimpse of the Olympics – and a chance to recover from her comprehensive qualifying exams.
In the valley below, there’s an alluvial fan formed during a catastrophic dam break flood. And behind that there are some mountains. This picture was taken on a Geological Society of America Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Kirk Bryan field trip, so Anne was in good company ignoring the mountains for the valleys.
The first National Park outing for the Allochthonous family was a 2010 trip to Yellowstone (and Grand Teton). Not a bad starting point.
That’s 15 national parks in the last 12 years. More in the pre-digital era. But so many more yet to see. This year, GeoKid is in 4th grade, which means that she gets to take part in the fabulous “Every Kid in a Park” program that gives free park passes to families of every fourth grader. Where should we go next?
There's a new book in the 52 Things family!
52 Things You Should Know About Rock Physics is out today, and available for purchase at Amazon.com. It will appear in their European stores in the next day or two, and in Canada... well, soon. If you can't wait for that, you can buy the book immediately direct from the printer by following this link.
The book mines the same vein as the previous volumes. In some ways, it's a volume 2 of the original 52 Things... Geophysics book, just a little bit more quantitative. It features a few of the same authors — Sven Treitel, Brian Russell, Rachel Newrick, Per Avseth, and Rob Simm — but most of the 46 authors are new to the project. Here are some of the first-timers' essays:
It's our best collection of essays yet. We're very proud of the authors and the collection they've created. It stretches from childhood stories to linear algebra, and from the microscope to seismic data. There's no technical book like it.
Purchasing the book will not only bring you profund insights into rock physics — there's more! Every sale sends $2 to Geoscientists Without Borders, the SEG charity that supports the humanitarian application of geoscience in places that need it. Read more about their important work.
It's been an extra big effort to get this book out. The project was completely derailed in 2015, as we — like everyone else — struggled with some existential questions. But we jumped back into it earlier this year, and Kara (the managing editor, and my wife) worked her magic. She loves working with the authors on proofs and so on, but she doesn't want to see any more equations for a while.
If you choose to buy the book, I hope you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, I hope you share it. If you want to share it with a lot of people, get in touch — we can help. Like the other books, the content is open access — so you are free to share and re-use it as you wish.
by Hari Balasubramanian
Of the 7097 languages in the world, twenty-three (including the usual suspects: Mandarin, English, Spanish, various forms of Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese) are spoken by half of the world's population. Hundreds of languages have only a handful of speakers and are disappearing quickly; one language dies every four months. Some parts of the world (dark green regions in the map) are linguistically far more diverse than others. Papua New Guinea, Cameroon, and India have hundreds of languages while in Japan, Iceland, Norway, and Cuba a single language dominates.
Why are languages distributed this way and why such large variations in diversity? These are hard questions to answer and I won't be dealing with them in this column. So many factors – conquest, empire, globalization, migration, trade necessities, privileged access that comes with adopting a dominant language, religion, administrative convenience, geography, the kind of neighbors one has – have had a role to play in determining the course of language history. Each region has its own story and it would be too hard to get into the details.
I also won't be discussing the merits and demerits of linguistic diversity. Personally, having grown up with five mutually unintelligible Indian languages, I am biased towards diversity – each language encapsulates a unique way of looking at the world and it seems (at least theoretically) that a multiplicity of worldviews is a good thing, worth preserving. But I am sure there are opposing arguments.
Instead, I'll restrict my focus to the following questions. How can the linguistic diversity of a particular region or country be numerically quantified? How do different parts of the world compare? How to account for the fact that languages may be related to one another, that individuals may speak multiple languages?
In tackling these questions, my primary source and guide is a short paper published in 1956 by Joseph Greenberg . Greenberg's main goal was to create objective measures that could, in the future, be used to "to correlate varying degrees of linguistic diversity with political, economic, geographic, historic, and other non-linguistic factors." His paper proceeds from the assumption that linguistic surveys have been conducted and data on what people consider their mother tongue/first language, the number of speakers of each language, vocabulary etc. are already available. Ethnologue is an example of such a global survey .
The Linguistic Diversity Index
The most basic measure Greenberg proposed is the now widely used linguistic diversity index. The index is a value between 0 and 1. The closer the value is to 1, the greater the diversity. The index is based in a simple idea. If I randomly sample two individuals from a population, what is the probability that they do not share the same mother tongue? If the population consisted of 2000 individuals and each individual spoke a different language as their mother tongue, then the linguistic diversity index would be 1. If they all shared the same mother tongue, then the index would be 0. If 1800 of them spoke language M and 200 of them spoke N, then index would be:
1 – (1800/2000)2 - (200/2000)2 = 0.18
In the above, (1800/2000) is the probability that a randomly picked individual speaks M as their first language/mother tongue. And (1800/2000)2 is the probability that two randomly picked individuals speak M. Similarly, (200/2000)2 is the probability that both the randomly picked individuals speak N as their mother tongue. When we subtract these squared terms from 1, what remains is the probability that the two randomly sampled individuals do not share a mother tongue. In this particular example, the index of 0.18 is low because of the dominance of M.
If there are more than two languages the procedure is the same. You would have one squared term that needs to be subtracted for every language. In a population of 10,000 where 10 languages are spoken and each language is considered a mother tongue by exactly 1000 speakers, the index would be:
1 – 10 x (1000/10,000)2 = 0.9.
This high value reflects both the number of languages and how evenly distributed they are in the population.
In fact, there are fifteen countries whose linguistic diversity exceeds 0.9, as the table above shows (based on Ethnologue data ). The list is dominated by 11 African countries, with Cameroon at number two. India, whose linguistic diversity I experienced firsthand for twenty years, is at number 13. Two Pacific island nations – Vanuatu and Solomon Islands: small islands these, and yet so many languages! – are in the top 5. First on the list is Papua New Guinea whose 4.1 million people speak a dizzying 840 languages! The country's index of 0.98 means that each language has about 5000 speakers on average and that no language dominates as a mother tongue.
In his book The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond, who did a lot of his fieldwork and research in New Guinea, has this startling anecdote:
"One evening, while I was spending a week at a mountain forest campsite with 20 New Guinea Highlanders, conversation around the campfire was going in several different local languages plus two lingua francas of Tok Pisin and Motu…. Among those 20 New Guineans, the smallest number of languages that anyone spoke was 5. Several men spoke from 8 to 12 languages, and the champion was a man who spoke 15. Except for English, which New Guineans often learn at school by studying books, everyone had acquired all of his other languages socially without books. Just to anticipate your likely question – yes, those local languages enumerated that evening really were mutually unintelligible languages, not mere dialects. Some were tonal like Chinese, others were non-tonal, and they belonged to several different language families."
How different from what the majority of us are used to!
While New Guinea's linguistic diversity is widely recognized and not in doubt, its high language count and the rampant multilingualism that Diamond observed nevertheless lead to us to two flaws in the linguistic diversity index.
The first flaw is that the index assumes languages are well defined, mutually exclusive units. It ignores the relatedness between languages and the fact that a dialect may be arbitrarily called a language. What of cases where there is close relatedness and even mutual intelligibility, for example between Hindi and Urdu, or between Spanish and Italian? And what to make of those cases where two dialects may well be closely related, but nevertheless are mutually unintelligible when spoken? Further, the language question seems loaded with the question of identity and politics. Apparently there is a running joke among linguists: "A language is a dialect backed by by an army and a navy."
To partially address this, Greenberg -- who recognized these problems, and was well aware of the difficulties of distilling complex language realities into quantitative measures -- suggested that the resemblance between languages or dialects could be numerically quantified by a value between 0 and 1. This what I understood from his paper: take the combined current vocabulary of a pair of languages and calculate the proportion of words that are common to both languages in relation to the total list of words. This proportion gives us a approximate measure of resemblance. A resemblance close to 1 means that the two languages are virtually identical, and a resemblance close to 0 implies an almost total lack of relatedness.
The resemblance can then be used to adjust the linguistic diversity index. Suppose there are three languages M, N and O spoken by 1/8th, 3/8th and 1/2 of the population and suppose the resemblance between [M, N], [M, O], and [N, O] is 0.85, 0.3 and 0.25. The unadjusted linguistic diversity index is 0.593. If we adjust for resemblance, this value drops to 0.381 -- diversity is not as high as it originally seemed. I have explained the calculations at the end of the piece .
The second flaw in the index is that, by considering only an individual's mother tongue, it ignores multilingualism. As Diamond's New Guinea anecdote shows, a high linguistic diversity does not necessarily represent a lack of communication. The examples of Indonesia, India and the many countries of Africa show that it is possible to communicate in some common languages, lingua francas that span large parts of the population, while yielding space to local mother tongues. So a different kind of measure is required.
Index of Communication
To accommodate multilingualism, Greenberg proposed the index of communication. As before, the index is a value between 0 and 1. A value close to 1 indicates high communicability and a value close to 0 indicates the opposite. If I randomly pick two individuals in a population, and each individual speaks one or more languages, then what is the probability that the individuals share at least one language in common? To ensure communicability, only one language has to overlap. (This index too has its problems. One flaw is that it ignores how well an individual speaks a particular language – something that might be hard to elicit in a survey. Another is how to set the threshold of communicability - is knowing a few basic words sufficient?)
Consider the simplest case where a population speaks only two languages, M and N. Using a census, you can calculate the proportion of the population that speaks M only, N only, and is bilingual in M and N. Suppose those proportions are 0.5 (speak M only), 0.3 (speak N only) and 0.2 (speak both M and N). To calculate the index of communication, I simply subtract the cases where the two individuals cannot understand/communicate with each other, which happens when the first individual speaks only M and the other only N, and vice-versa:
1 – [0.5 x 0.3] – [0.3 x 0.5] = 0.7
The same idea can be extended to more than two languages.
I'll try to illustrate the index with a personal example. The engineering college I attended in the south Indian city of Trichy had students from all parts of the country. At the time the college was called Regional Engineering College (REC), it is now called the National Institute of Technology. There was one REC in each major Indian state. The RECs had a unique admission policy. Half of the engineering students admitted each year were from the local state – in the case of Trichy, the home state was Tamil Nadu – and the remaining half were from outside the state. The more populous states, such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, got more students, but even far-flung parts, the Northeast and Kashmir, had some representation.
In my first year, all the 400 odd male engineering students were packed into the same hostel (dormitory), with 5 students sharing a room. In what seemed like a deliberate policy at integration, the students were assigned rooms so that 2-3 of the students were from Tamil Nadu and each of the others was from a different state. Since states in India are organized along linguistic lines, you had 3-4 mother tongues in each room. In the corridors you could hear the two dozen major languages of India .
Despite all this diversity, communication was never a problem. Among the North Indians almost everyone knew Hindi and so Hindi was the bridge between mother tongues. The local state students– they were colloquially called Tambis by the North Indians – spoke Tamil but did not understand Hindi and were even hostile to it (even today, the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's emphasis on Hindi annoys my Tamil friends). But all students whether North Indian or Tamil, had some working knowledge of English – the language of the textbooks, which everyone aspired to speak well if only to get access to good jobs after graduation. So English – however grammatically inaccurate or spotty – was the bridge between the locals and the North Indians.
If I randomly sampled two individuals from that student population of 400, then there is a good chance that the two students would have different mother tongues (high linguistic diversity), but due to multilingualism they would have at least one language in common. So the index of communicability was essentially 1, if we ignore the question of proficiency.
My own case was somewhat different but by no means unique. Although I was born with Tamil as my mother tongue, I had lived mostly in West and Central India and had picked up Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi socially (the last two have dropped off due to lack of practice). I applied to college as an out-of-state student, but was really returning to my home state. In Trichy, I could communicate in Tamil with all the local students. Indeed, my colloquial command of Tamil – all the bad words included –went up! With everyone who was not from Tamil Nadu, I used mostly Hindi or English. I learned, to my surprise, that my ability in conversational English was poor, because I'd never really spoken it socially.
The college experience I've described applies more generally. Many parts of India are like this: different language communities live together in cities and along borders between states and multilingualism facilitates communication.
To summarize, Greenberg's two indices capture contrasting aspects of language reality in a population. The diversity index captures the number of mother tongues and how evenly represented they are in relation to each other, while the index of communication captures how connected a population is.
In theory, a population could retain its linguistic diversity while also maintaining a high index of communication essential in a globalized world. In practice however, a worldwide rise in communication appears to be happening at the expense of linguistic diversity, with hundreds of languages in Australia, North America, Central and South America losing ground quickly. Africa is the only continent bucking the trend. India's twenty odd major languages are still doing quite well, but many of its numerous other languages are not – check out these podcasts (1 and 2) by Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian on the challenges of linguistic surveys and inevitability of language loss.
Finally, here are brief notes on two different countries: Mexico and United States. I've had a long-standing interest in both these countries. Drawn to its pre-Columbian indigenous past, I traveled to Mexico six times – from Chiapas to Oaxaca in the south, to Michoacán and Mexico City in the center, to Chihuahua in the north. The United States, meanwhile, has been home for the last 16 years.
In the last section of his paper, Greenberg demonstrates how his two measures – linguistic diversity index and the index of communication – stack up when it comes to the 31 states of Mexico, and Mexico as a whole. To do this, he used bilingual data from a census in 1930. Like so many parts of the world, Mexico had hundreds of indigenous languages, which began to decline after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521.
In Greenberg's calculation, Mexico's linguistic diversity index (unadjusted for resemblance) was 0.31 in 1930 while it's index of communication was 0.83. Among individual states, though, there was a great deal of variation. The federal district (DF – Distrito Federal), which includes the highly populous Mexico City had much lower linguistic diversity of 0.12 while its index of communication was 0.99 – virtually 1, which makes sense because Spanish is indispensable in the capital. The state of Oaxaca, which I have visited twice recently and where indigenous groups have a strong presence, had the highest linguistic diversity index of 0.83. In Greenberg's data, Oaxaca's index of communication of 0.47 was the lowest in Mexico.
But this was in 1930; I am sure things have changed in the last 86 years towards greater communicability and lower diversity as Spanish continues to be dominant. According to Ethnologue, Mexico's language count is 290 but its diversity index is down to 0.11. Most likely – this is a guess – its index of communication, which was already 0.83 in 1930, is well over 0.9 now.
According to the Ethnologue, the US has 430 languages: 219 of which are indigenous and 211 of them immigrant. North America before European settlement had hundreds of indigenous languages from different families. California was one of the most linguistically diverse places in the America with around 70-80 languages from as many as 20 language families.
Because of the sustained ethnic cleansing that happened after European arrival, the vast majority American Indian languages are now tethering on the brink of extinction. English is dominant, which explains the country's relatively low linguistic diversity of 0.34. English is also why the United States' index of communication is likely to be very high – above 0.9 if not close to 1 (this is a guess and is not based on data). Today an American Indian who speaks, say, Navajo or Cherokee, can communicate in English with a recently naturalized Indian-American whose original mother tongue was, say, Telugu.
Despite English's dominance, the United States does have a certain linguistic richness to it, thanks to immigrants (citizens or not) from all other continents to make a living here. By some estimates 800 languages are spoken in New York City!
Reference and Footnotes
1. Greenberg, Joseph H. "The measurement of linguistic diversity." Language 32.1 (1956): 109-115.
2. Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
3. Greenberg's adjustment for resemblance between languages: Suppose there are three languages M, N and O spoken by 1/8th, 3/8th and 1/2 of the population and suppose the resemblance between [M, N], [M, O], and [N, O] are 0.85, 0.3 and 0.25. Then the linguistic diversity index adjusted for resemblance is:
1 – [(1 x 1/8 x 1/8) – (1 x 3/8 x 3/8) – (1 x 1/2 x 1/2)]
– [(0.85 x 1/8 x 3/8) – (0.85 x 3/8 x 1/8)]
– (0.3 x 1/8 x 1/2) – (0.3 x 1/2 x 1/8)
– (0.25 x 3/8 x 1/2) – (0.25 x 1/2 x 3/8)
The first line is exactly the linguistic diversity index we have already seen, without adjusting for resemblance. There are 3 languages so one squared term for each language. Each term calculates the probabilities that both randomly picked individuals speak the same language. There is a multiplier of 1 since the resemblance of a language to itself is 1. If we used only the first line, we would get an unadjusted linguistic diversity index of 0.593.
The next 3 lines take care of relatedness between language pairs. The second line calculates the probability that the first randomly picked individual speaks M and the second speaks N, and vice versa. The multiplier of 0.85 indicates that there is a high resemblance, therefore speaking M and N should be treated (almost) like speaking the same language. Lines 3 and 4 do the same for language pairs [M, O] and [N, O] and the respective resemblance multipliers are used. In the end the adjusted diversity index gives us a value of 0.381, significantly lower than the unadjusted value of 0.593.
4. The beautiful Indian language tree illustration is by Minna Sundberg.
In 1975, Kraftwerk, during their first tour of the United States, appeared on the musical variety show The Midnight Special. They performed "Autobahn." (more…)
Katrina was not an equal opportunity storm. A black homeowner in New Orleans was more than three times as likely to have been flooded as a white homeowner. That wasn’t due to bad luck; because of racially discriminatory housing practices, the high-ground was taken by the time banks started loaning money to African Americans who wanted to buy a home.Here at the old Yellow Blog, we've been talking about that very story for over a decade now as we, as a local polity, have largely failed to make the inevitable "recovery" of New Orleans an equitable one. Rivilin's post references the Data Center's latest "Who Lives In New Orleans Now" report. There we find the heart of our failure in two graphs.
Nor has New Orleans experienced an equal opportunity recovery—in no small part because of the white civic leaders who openly advocated for a whiter, wealthier city. While water still covered most of New Orleans, Jimmy Reiss, a prominent local businessman and then-head of the Business Council, told the Wall Street Journal that the city would come back in “a completely different way: demographically, geographically, and politically,” or he and other white civic leaders would not return. That sentiment was paired with a policy approach then-Congressman Barney Frank described as “ethnic cleansing through inaction.”
Here is something Troy Gilbert posted earlier this month that got my attention. It's a previously unpublished interview with Chef Greg Picolo about his post-Katrina experiences. There's a paragraph toward the end where Picolo talks about how the flood changed his outlook on civic life to a degree.I worry more now than ever that we're losing that sense of community. The new normal New Orleans is defined more by "stay-in-your lane" stratification than grass roots organization. Traditional divisions reappear. Press and politics take a dimmer view of reader feedback and public input. Social media has evolved in such a way that it is more likely to fragment communities into walled off cliques than connect them across social and professional boundaries.Asked how he was changed by the entire experience, the Chef answers quickly, “That Greg doesn’t live here anymore. Before I led a very monastic lifestyle. I kind of broke out of the tunnel vision I had before. Today, I have more of a need to connect with people. I needed to lose some of my control. I’m easier going. I have zero patience for bullshit, and now I just don’t get bogged down with stuff.”I'm certain I am not alone in saying this really hits home. It might be the common denominator of everyone's experience rebuilding New Orleans. When we got back, we were shaken out of our silos. Each of us in some small way at least had to look around to see who our neighbors were. Who else was here? Who could help? How could we help them? Entire new networks were stitched together out of parts that just weren't possible to bring together before.
I wonder, though, if ten years later, we're starting to sink, bit by bit, back into our own tunnel visions of life in a new New Orleans. As we put the recovery "behind us" is receding from the tighter cross sectional communities we built during that process a good idea? Why might this be important?
Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation, proper neurological function and making our DNA. We can absorb B12 from foods like meats, poultry, eggs, seafood and dairy products. Unfortunately, mushrooms, algae and fermented foods have yet to show consistent results in providing an absorbable active form of B12. This leaves vegans in a place where supplementation is required.
There are four types of B12 supplementation:
Methylcobalamin – Easiest absorb. Most active in our body. Natural and active form of B12.
Cyanocobalamin – Lab based synthetic. Most affordable form used to fortify foods (cereals, breads, etc).
Hydroxocobalamin – Form of B12 found in most foods. It converts to the easily absorbed methylcobalamin. This version less common and what you would get from a B12 shot.
Adenosylcobalamin – The least stable of the four. This is a natural and active form of B12. This is the second most absorbable form of B12. Vegansafe is a popular product which uses 20% (Adenosylcobalamin) and 80% (Methylcobalamin).
VeganHealth.org – Clear summary of research papers testing for B12 from vegan food stuffs
The Hugo Awards proved once again that progress trumps nostalgia, as women, especially women of color, were the top winners of the night.
What do you do with your old Game Boy? Some of us try and boot it up for the first time in decades, while others look at this brick that we played with in our childhood and make something of it.
by Akim Reinhardt
During your 20s and 30s, when you don't have any children, it is inevitable that people will periodically ask you: "Do you want to have kids?"
It never mattered who asked. Family, friends, or lesser acquaintances, men or women, married or single, parents themselves or not. I always had the same answer.
Yes, just not now.
As I approached my mid-30s, I began to append a caveat: If I didn't have any children by age 40, I probably never would. I didn't want to be an old dad.
But the realization, that I'd rather not be a middle aged gray beard huffing and puffing while I try to keep up with the little rascals, opened a door. Whereas I'd previously assumed I wanted kids, just not now, the 40 year old expiration date I adopted forced me to question my pat answer and ask myself if I really wanted them at all.
After spending a couple of decades saying Yes, but not now, I finally realized something. There was never a "now" because I never actually wanted them. And I probably never would.
The generations that came of age after World War II made divorce mainstream.
As teens, they were still subject to intense social pressure to marry and have kids, which most of them did. But the Boomers became increasingly resentful of their parents as they matured, or in many cases, at least leery of their elders' mistakes. They and the so-called Silent Generation (Depression and War babies) asked themselves: Must I really spend half-a-century and all of my best years in a bad marriage that I jumped into when I was way too young to know better?
As the 1970s unfolded, more and more of them decided the answer was No.
Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com
Remember that time Stephen Colbert brought physicist Brian Greene
on The Late Show to demonstrate the concept of gravitational waves with green lasers? Yeah, that was pretty awesome. Now there’s a handy DIY demonstration for those of us without access to that kind of technology, courtesy of science presenter Steve Mould.
If you’re a Windows user, then it’s unlikely that you missed the deadline for Microsoft’s free upgrade to Windows 10, which passed by over a month ago. You got plenty of reminders. In fact, it’s pretty likely that you upgraded to Windows 10 whether you wanted to or not.
Now that Microsoft’s roll-out of Windows 10 is in the rearview mirror, it’s worth looking back on how weird it actually was–and also, expressing our hope that it doesn’t represent a new precedent for roll-outs in the future. In an editorial at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amul Kalia sounds off about the many strange decisions that Microsoft made during their push to get as many users as possible to install the new operating system.
Microsoft pulled a lot of sneaky moves to get users to upgrade, sometimes without users fully realizing that they were consenting to the update at all. Some might even call that outright trickery rather than just sneaky. One of the most worrying examples in Kalia’s piece describes the members of a wildlife conservation group based in “the central African bush,” one of whom wrote a viral Reddit post about their concern over accidentally initiating the update. The group’s computers are used to “track & coordinate anti-poaching rangers in the field … Aside from the fact that we pay per MB, and already share a slow connection, if a forced upgrade happened and crashed our pc’s [sic] while in the middle of coordinating rangers under fire from armed militarized poachers… blood could literally be on MS’s hands.”
This shouldn’t even be a concern, but Microsoft made it far too easy for users to install Windows 10 without realizing it. Many users have Windows’ “recommended updates” turned on automatically, and so when Microsoft decided to make their new operating system into a “recommended update,” they did so with the knowledge that many users would end up downloading it automatically. Windows Update also automatically included Windows 10 on a list of “optional” updates, with the upgrade automatically checked off, meaning that users who didn’t notice it had been checked already might start to install it without realizing.
Users could cancel the Windows 10 update after it began, but only if they noticed it. If you install updates right before going to bed, for example, you might wake up to a rude surprise. Plus, you need only type “Windows 10 breaks computer” into a search engine to find a whole host of examples on how the new operating system ended up making life difficult for users who installed it. It is possible to roll back to a previous operating system even after installing Windows 10–unless Windows 10 broke your computer, in which case you might suddenly have to deal with some irritating phone calls to Microsoft for help. If you didn’t even intend to install Windows 10, those phone calls would feel all the more annoying–and that’s not even factoring in complications like the ones held by the wildlife group in the African bush, who need their computers to help them survive, and don’t really have time to wait in a Microsoft phone tree.
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s pushiness about Windows 10 doesn’t end with the way they structured their updates. They’ve also been quite pushy about sending users’ personal data back to their servers. Slate has an extensive guide on how to turn off those settings, by the way. One of the most important tips? Turn off Cortana. She may seem friendly, but she might be a little too friendly, since she holds onto a ton of personal data, like speech recognition, browser history, location data, calendar and contacts, not to mention your email history.
Microsoft hasn’t yet explained what they’re going to do with all of that personal data, other than use it make Windows 10 better. They do specify that they don’t give this data to advertisers, but Cortana does use it to “personalize” your search results, which is interesting, because Google is already trying to personalize those results as it is. Sounds like Microsoft and Google will be battling over your heart (and your wallet)! Even if Microsoft isn’t giving your data to advertisers directly, the personalization of search results will end in you seeing certain sites and not others–the sites that can afford to be prioritized, that is. That’s not a great way for the internet to be run, in my opinion.
Of course, there are always other operating systems out there (*cough* Linux), but if you play any PC games at all, you’re stuck with having at least one installation of Windows floating around in your life. Since Windows 7 will not be supported for very much longer, I know that eventually I’m going to have to bite the bullet and install Windows 10 (I did accept my free upgrade before the deadline passed, I just never finished installing it, so it’s been in pending for a while now). When that time comes, I’ll be turning Cortana off … which is too bad, because I love having robot friends. I’m just not so sure that Cortana is a friend I can trust.
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According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, July 2016 was the warmest month ever recorded. 2016 will likely be the warmest year on record. And the decades ahead will only get worse, much worse.
And yet, notes physicist Lawrence Krauss in The New Yorker this weekend, we have the GOP’s Frankenstein trying to demagogue his way into the presidency by calling climate science into question. Krauss writes:
In May, for instance, while speaking to an audience of West Virginia coal miners, Trump complained that regulations designed to protect the ozone layer had compromised the quality of his hair spray. Those regulations, he continued, were misguided, because hair spray is used mainly indoors, and so can have no effect on the atmosphere outside….
Often, Trump is simply wrong about science, even though he should know better. Just as he was a persistent “birther” even after the evidence convincingly showed that President Obama was born in the United States, Trump now continues to propagate the notion that vaccines cause autism in spite of convincing and widely cited evidence to the contrary… In other cases, Trump treats scientific facts the way he treats other facts—he ignores or distorts them whenever it’s convenient. He has denied that climate change is real, calling it pseudoscience and advancing a conspiracy theory that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”
And way across the pond, we have another politician, Australian Senator Malcolm Roberts, making his own kind of laughable claims. In a recent television broadcast, Roberts asks physicist Brian Cox for empirical proof that climate change exists. Cox offers evidence gathered by NASA, to which Roberts responds, NASA’s “data has been corrupted and manipulated.” Not good enough. If you regularly read our site, you know that this is not the first time that NASA has been accused of manipulating data. Conspiracy theorists have long accused NASA and Stanley Kubrick of faking the moon landing in 1969. Roberts bristles at being associated with these loons. But frankly it’s an apt comparison. And if anyone should be bothered by the comparison, it’s the moon landing conspiracists. However strange their theories might be, no one doubts that they’re heartfelt, genuine, and seemingly free from the hint of political and financial influence.
In the meantime, in a new video from NASA, you can see the Arctic ice levels retreating to one of the lowest levels in recorded history. Call the video “corrupted” and “manipulated” at your own peril.
Prof. Brian Cox Has a Maddening Conversation with a Climate Science-Denying Politician 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 eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
Pigs have mastered the art of flight, the depths of Hell have cooled down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and Twitter has finally addressed some of the basic concerns that their users have been raising for years. First news of the day: the BBC reports that over the past year, Twitter has banned 235,000 users who they deemed to be spouting “extremist” viewpoints that violated their terms of service. Next up: Twitter put out an official blog post today saying that the “quality filter” that had previously only been available to “Verified” users has been extended to everyone.
Go ahead–log into your Twitter account, go to settings, check the notifications tab, and see if you can’t turn on that lovely filter. It should clean your mentions right on up, if it’s as good as I’ve heard from my Verified pals! Unfortunately, it hasn’t been rolled out for me yet, but I expect it’ll be there soon, since some of my not-Verified friends have told me it’s already showing up for them.
According to the BBC’s report about the banning of “extremists,” these new changes seem to dovetail with Twitter’s expansion of their focus on analyzing violent threats that appear on their service. In Twitter’s separate blog post about the banning of extremists, they explained, “We have expanded the teams that review reports around the clock, along with their tools and language capabilities. We also collaborate with other social platforms, sharing information and best practices for identifying terrorist content.”
Some say that this change still isn’t enough, however, and that more needs to be done by social media networks to prevent violent groups from organizing online. Nikita Malik, a senior researcher at an anti-extremist group called the Quilliam Foundation, told the BBC that she sees the bans as a “short term solution,” but went on to say that she and her colleagues often work with social media networks “to help them have a more pro-active role” in counteracting the formation and organization of hate groups and terrorist groups on their platforms.
These are complicated problems, which means they require multiple types of interlocking solutions. Twitter banning “extremist” accounts is one step, but it won’t prevent these users from finding other ways to organize. Twitter providing people more ways to control their own feeds is a great step, too, with the new “quality filter,” as well as another change announced that users on the Twitter mobile app will be able to adjust their mentions to only display replies from people they follow. (That feature was already available in Twitter’s web client, and it’s a blessing, but it wasn’t available on mobile until now.) However, as excited as I am to try out the “quality filter,” it doesn’t necessarily solve the systemic problems of Twitter that let harassment campaigns spread and grow with terrifying ease.
It’s great to see the service taking steps against extremist groups forming, since that’s a large-scale problem. Twitter, and other social networks, should obviously discourage the formation of hate groups on their services–but they also should consider small-scale problems too, like stalkers and predators. Twitter needs to provide better tools for individuals dealing with problems that seem small in comparison to, say, the formation of a terrorist network. A dedicated stalker can seriously impact someone’s life–even if that stalker is not part of any organized group and have few resources beyond an internet connection. A “quality filter” won’t do much in the face of a problem like that.
Twitter came under fire this week for censoring tweets about the Rio Olympics that violated copyright protections, but not taking any significant steps to decrease widespread harassment–such as, for example, the recent harassment against Olympian Gabby Douglas. This week has seen a spate of articles (most notably, this lengthy Buzzfeed piece about Twitter’s safety practices) that shine a spotlight on this problem and, in all likelihood, these articles played a role in motivating Twitter to take visible action steps today. It only took … a decade.
My theory? Twitter’s “quality filter” might not actually be ready for widespread use yet, but they probably rolled it out today in the hope of getting out from under the bad press they’ve been receiving all week long. Hopefully, the roll-out will allow them to further improve the tool and iterate upon it according to what users want. Also, I continue to be hopeful that their changes won’t stop here, and that Twitter will continue to listen to their users’ experiences–whether those users are mega-influential celebrities, or total newcomers to the service.
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Science isn’t self-correcting, it’s self-destructing. To save the enterprise, scientists must come out of the lab and into the real world.
Daniel Sarewitz in The New Atlantis:
Science, pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble. Stoked by fifty years of growing public investments, scientists are more productive than ever, pouring out millions of articles in thousands of journals covering an ever-expanding array of fields and phenomena. But much of this supposed knowledge is turning out to be contestable, unreliable, unusable, or flat-out wrong. From metastatic cancer to climate change to growth economics to dietary standards, science that is supposed to yield clarity and solutions is in many instances leading instead to contradiction, controversy, and confusion. Along the way it is also undermining the four-hundred-year-old idea that wise human action can be built on a foundation of independently verifiable truths. Science is trapped in a self-destructive vortex; to escape, it will have to abdicate its protected political status and embrace both its limits and its accountability to the rest of society.
The story of how things got to this state is difficult to unravel, in no small part because the scientific enterprise is so well-defended by walls of hype, myth, and denial. But much of the problem can be traced back to a bald-faced but beautiful lie upon which rests the political and cultural power of science.