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Gender: Male
Hometown: California
Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 22,641

About Me

Inveniet quod quisque velit; non omnibus unum est, quod placet; hic spinas colligit, ille rosas.

Journal Archives

Quizzes for scuba divers. Fun and educational!


Find out if you're a safe diver, to minimize your risk of

8 Minutes, 15 Seconds (by Levi Jacobs)


MARCH 20th, 2134, 1:33 P.M.

No disasters yet.

Don Maugham stood tense near the back of the control room—what he liked to call “the bridge”—and watched the holo feeds. He wasn’t a handsome man, but in good shape for his early fifties, with a gentle face and a firm handshake. Today he was all focus: as lead researcher in Toynbee Astrotecture Corporation’s third solar probe project, the next ten minutes could have decisive impact on the rest of his career. On the holos at the front, they could see the probe had successfully opened a wormhole. Whether the other side of that hole would be the center of the sun, as planned, or somewhere else in the Local Interstellar Cloud, remained to be seen. If it hit the sun’s core, they’d calculated the probe’s shielding should give them two thirds of a second to record and transmit what it found there—hopefully opening insights into the nature of solar fusion, and possibilities for direct solar energy projects. If it wasn’t, he’d wasted a few trillion dollars of Toynbee Corporation money, and probably wouldn’t be head researcher again any time soon.

“Probe approaching entrance.” That was Mick, exhibiting his love of the obvious. String technology meant that they had instant holos of the probe’s location, though its actual feeds still took eight minutes or so to travel at light speed back to Earth. They watched as the oblong probe approached the temporary time-space rupture. Don crossed his fingers. Wormhole technology was relatively new—found in the last five years—and their control of it less than perfect. If the equipment malfunctioned ...

“Five seconds.” An amused subsection of Don’s brain noted Mick’s tense, clinical tone, like at the old Cape Canaveral launches. He was a glory hog. Oh well.

“Entering wormhole.”

Don held his breath as the probe disappeared; all eyes turned to the holo projection of the core. Nothing there. “Status?” Don asked.

A dot appeared in the burning white core. “Entrance!” Mick shouted, and a collective whoop went up from the twenty-five or so scientists in the room. Don grinned, relieved. They’d done it!

Then a whole section of the core went dark, the white gone, a moment later replaced by red. What the hell?

--- Snip ---


A Tank Only Fears Four Things (by Seth Dickinson)

The surgery makes Tereshkova into a tank.

In the war, she never showed any fear, not at Fulda, not even in the snows of Vogelsberg when the Americans dropped the first bomb. When Clinton and Yeltsin shook hands at Yalta, when the word came down to the 8th Guards Army to yield Frankfurt and withdraw to Soviet soil, Tereshkova spat into the dirt and said: “Too bad. We were turning things around.” And Yorkina, who sat beside her in the cab, laughed and shook her head. Between them the Geiger counter made soft cricket noises.

When they were discharged, they each promised to write, having failed in their goodbyes to say what Tereshkova, at least, felt in her heart: I needed you. I wouldn’t be okay without you.

But she isn’t okay. On her first day home in Vereya, Tereshkova hears the diesel engine of a truck passing on the road, and she begins to sweat.

--- Snip ---


A theory of jerks (by Eric Schwitzgebel)


Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude

Picture the world through the eyes of the jerk. The line of people in the post office is a mass of unimportant fools; it’s a felt injustice that you must wait while they bumble with their requests. The flight attendant is not a potentially interesting person with her own cares and struggles but instead the most available face of a corporation that stupidly insists you shut your phone. Custodians and secretaries are lazy complainers who rightly get the scut work. The person who disagrees with you at the staff meeting is an idiot to be shot down. Entering a subway is an exercise in nudging past the dumb schmoes.

We need a theory of jerks. We need such a theory because, first, it can help us achieve a calm, clinical understanding when confronting such a creature in the wild. Imagine the nature-documentary voice-over: ‘Here we see the jerk in his natural environment. Notice how he subtly adjusts his dominance display to the Italian restaurant situation…’ And second – well, I don’t want to say what the second reason is quite yet.

--- Snip ---

The moralising jerk is apt to go badly wrong in his moral opinions. Partly this is because his morality tends to be self-serving, and partly it’s because his disrespect for others’ perspectives puts him at a general epistemic disadvantage. But there’s more to it than that. In failing to appreciate others’ perspectives, the jerk almost inevitably fails to appreciate the full range of human goods – the value of dancing, say, or of sports, nature, pets, local cultural rituals, and indeed anything that he doesn’t care for himself. Think of the aggressively rumpled scholar who can’t bear the thought that someone would waste her time getting a manicure. Or think of the manicured socialite who can’t see the value of dedicating one’s life to dusty Latin manuscripts. Whatever he’s into, the moralising jerk exudes a continuous aura of disdain for everything else.

--- Snip ---

Interesting tangential comment in here as well; I never knew the source of the word jerkwater: "The jerk-as-fool usage seems to have begun as a derisive reference to the unsophisticated people of a ‘jerkwater town’: that is, a town not rating a full-scale train station, requiring the boiler man to pull on a chain to water his engine."


The Secret History of Life-Hacking


We live in the age of life-hacking. The concept, which denotes a kind of upbeat, engineer-like approach to maximizing one’s personal productivity, first entered the mainstream lexicon in the mid-2000s, via tech journalists, the blogosphere, and trendspotting articles with headlines like “Meet the Life Hackers.” Since then the term has become ubiquitous in popular culture—just part of the atmosphere, humming with buzzwords, of the Internet age.

Variations on a blog post called “50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World” have become endlessly, recursively viral, turning up on Facebook feeds again and again like ghost ships. Lifehacker.com, one of the many horses in Gawker Media’s stable of workplace procrastination sites, furnishes office workers with an endless array of ideas on how to live fitter, happier, and more productively: Track your sleep habits with motion-sensing apps and calculate your perfect personal bed-time; learn how to “supercharge your Gmail filters”; oh, and read novels, because it turns out that “reduces anxiety.” The tribune of life hackers, the author and sometime tech investor Timothy Ferriss, drums up recipes for a life of ease with an indefatigable frenzy, and enumerates the advantages in bestselling books and a reality TV show; outsource your bill payments to a man in India, he advises, and you can enjoy 15 more minutes of “orgasmic meditation.”

Life-hacking wouldn’t be popular if it didn’t tap into something deeply corroded about the way work has, without much resistance, managed to invade every corner of our lives. The idea started out as a somewhat earnest response to the problem of fragmented attention and overwork—an attempt to reclaim some leisure time and autonomy from the demands of boundaryless labor. But it has since become just another hectoring paradigm of self-improvement. The proliferation of apps and gurus promising to help manage even the most basic tasks of simple existence—the “quantified self” movement does life hacking one better, turning the simple act of breathing or sleeping into something to be measured and refined—suggests that merely getting through the day has become, for many white-collar professionals, a set of problems to solve and systems to optimize. Being alive is easier, it turns out, if you treat it like a job.

In fact, one thing that’s striking about this culture of self-measurement and self-optimization is how reminiscent it is of a much earlier American workplace fad—one that was singularly unpopular with the workers themselves.

--- Snip ---


Interesting framing of life-hacking in terms of early 20th Century 'scientific management' (Taylorism)...

Wikipedia: where truth dies online

From: Sp!ked

--- Snip ---

Wikipedia has been a massive success but has always had immense flaws, the greatest one being that nothing it publishes can be trusted. This, you might think, is a pretty big flaw. There are over 21million editors with varying degrees of competence and honesty. Rogue editors abound and do not restrict themselves to supposedly controversial topics, as the recently discovered Hillsborough example demonstrates.

--- Snip ---

The self-selection of Wikipedia’s editors can produce a strongly misaligned editorial group around a certain page. It can lead to conflicts among the group members, continuous edit wars, and can require disciplinary measures and formal supervision, with mixed success. Once a dispute has got out of hand, appeals to senior and more established administrators are often followed by rulings that favour the controlling clique.

--- Snip ---

Wikipedia may be the ultimate devolved business model. Its content is generated by unpaid and largely uncontrolled volunteers. Its management structure is almost non-existent. Editors earn ‘brownie points’ by obsessively editing as many different pages as possible, preferably in subjects that they know nothing about. Specialist knowledge is frowned upon and discouraged. Those with the best understanding of Wikipedia’s procedures join together to bully and sideline newcomers.

To the casual reader, much of Wikipedia appears adequate, but be warned, nothing can be trusted. If your life depends on it, go elsewhere. Search engines have given us the power to instantly uncover source material that used to take weeks of library research to find – if it was available at all. Sources can be biased, but at least with other sources you know who has written what you are reading. With Wikipedia, you do not. Everyone has an agenda, but with Wikipedia you never know who is setting it.
--- Snip ---


Some interesting examples of wiki-hoaxes/biases here, most new to me. I do think the writer goes a bit too far in his condemnation: although I agree in approaching Wikipedia with skepticism, it has value (as a starting point, to look up a basic fact, or for a refresher on a common and non-controversial topic, for example)...

A discussion on the dos-and-don'ts of Data Journalism

Old article, but I just ran across it and found it interesting. The specific term 'Data Journalism' is new to me, but apparently a fast growing segment of the media industry.

Programmers explain how to turn data into journalism & why that matters

By now you’ve heard about how The Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., published the names and addresses of thousands of local gun permit holders.

--- Snip ---

We can all agree that sort of violent retaliation went too far. But there’s less agreement about whether the paper erred when it published the information in the first place.

--- Snip ---

That seems to be the real sticking point in the broader discussion: Do journalists have a free pass to do whatever they want with public-record data?

--- Snip ---

But when a journalist chooses to copy that information, frame it in a certain (inherently subjective) context, and then actively push it in front of thousands of readers and ask them to look at it, he’s taken a distinct action for which he is responsible.

--- Snip ---

Lots more at the link above; the snips don't do it much justice...

From: poynter.org

White House Raises the Bar for Colleges’ Handling of Sexual Assault

From: The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Obama administration unveiled stringent new guidelines on Tuesday designed to help colleges combat sexual assault and provide victims with a "road map" to file complaints against institutions that fall short in their responses.

In 20 pages of recommendations, the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault provides practical instructions for colleges to identify, prevent, and respond to sexual assault. And it prescribes several steps to improve and bring more transparency to federal enforcement of applicable civil-rights laws.

President Obama created the group in January, promising a coordinated federal response to deal with rape and sexual assault on campuses. The group’s membership includes the U.S. attorney general and the leaders of several other cabinet-level agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Education.

The task force’s report comes at a time when students are driving the debate over how colleges should prevent and respond to sexual assault. Over the past year, activists and rape survivors across the country have publicly faulted colleges—which are legally required to respond to reports of sexual assault—for what they see as inadequate responses. In many cases, the students have filed complaints under the federal civil-rights law known as Title IX.

--- Snip ---


Link to full report at Whitehouse.gov

Simon Winchester: "The Great Bend" (a geological 'what-if')

Geology is in all senses a more solid intellectual exercise than most, and when it comes to imagining truly plausible geological counterfactuals—what tectonically realistic what-ifs could have shifted the four-billion-year course of the planet’s history—it becomes quite clear that the possibilities are really rather limited. By comparison with earth scientists, historians have it easy: it is perfectly simple to imagine, for instance, the cascade of consequences that might follow if Hitler had sipped chamomile tea instead of a double espresso on a certain afternoon at Berchtesgaden; or, more recently, if the American secretary of defense had broken his neck instead of his arm when he tripped on the curb of his Chevy Chase driveway. In history all is plausible, so all is possible.

The earth, however, does not permit such flexible imaginings. One cannot realistically suppose a volcano erupting in Manhattan; and it would be difficult to persuade any reputable geophysicist that the Atlantic Ocean could be ten thousand miles wide instead of its present three. The hard facts of the earth’s equally hard surface circumscribe such fancies. Even in those areas where some imaginings can reasonably occur—what if the Bering Strait had never closed, or what if the English Channel had never opened, both of which are within the realm of the geologically possible—the imagined effects are generally rather limited too.

--- Snip ---

In a far corner of the world, however, there is one geological possibility—a very reasonable, very plausible one at that—which, had it been exercised about forty million years ago by the planet’s subterranean engine, would have changed just about everything. And that is the imagined shift, by just a few hundred yards, of a small and insignificant-looking mountain that rises two thousand feet from within a flower-filled valley in the southern part of the Chinese province of Yunnan. If Cloud Mountain, as it is locally known, had been only half a mile from where it currently stands then the entire world would be a very, very different place.

It all has to do with the Yangtze River and with a geological configuration known all across China as the Great Bend.



Two tips for buying the best tasting beer no matter where you shop (LATimes)

--- Snip ---

There are two tricks for buying craft beer at spots that may not be your first choice for beer buying. The most important thing to do is check the bottles for date codes -- this is a great habit to get into whenever you buy beer. You wouldn't buy a jug of milk without checking the expiration date; you should give beer the same caution (even though “expired” beer won’t make you sick, it may just taste “off”).

--- Snip ---

The second trick to ensure the best tasting beer is to be mindful of which styles you’re buying, if you're shopping at what might be questionable sources. Some beer styles can weather a long stint on a shelf better than others. More malt-forward styles like stouts, porters and brown ales stale more gracefully than hoppy beers that are best as fresh as possible. Belgian and Belgian-style beers are often bottle conditioned, which protects them from going stale, and higher alcohol brews are more rugged than lighter products (though even a 10% double IPA will go south quickly).

--- Snip ---


Where to find 'bottled-on' or 'drink-by' dates on the bottle, by bewery: http://drinkingfresh.com/list

Probably the most useful thing I'll learn today...
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