Links

----- 3 stars -----

How Taiwan’s Unlikely Digital Minister Hacked the Pandemic / Wired
I'm consistently impressed by how good Taiwan is at most things (caveat: as someone who's Taiwanese-American, I'm definitely biased); here's yet another example:

Enter Audrey Tang, the Taiwan government’s digital minister. Tang was one of the thousands of Taiwanese who had pounced on Wu’s map. In a Skype interview from Taipei, she laughs as she recalls the moment. “I contributed to his bill!” Tang says. But then she went to work. [...] The day after the mask map went viral, Tang met with Taiwan’s premier to discuss ways to improve the country’s mask-rationing system. She suggested that the government distribute masks through pharmacies affiliated with Taiwan’s National Health Insurance system, Taiwan’s government-run single-payer health insurer. [...] The proposal was greenlit. After receiving approval, she posted the news of the new tracking system to a Slack channel frequented by Taiwan’s civic tech hackers. She invited them to take the data and play with it as they pleased. At the same time, while holding her regular open-to-anyone visiting hours, she whipped together her own website to serve as a central clearinghouse for an ensuing profusion of mask availability apps. [...] Although Tang is an accomplished software programmer with a long record of significant contributions to international open-source software projects, she was quick to minimize the extent of her technical contributions to the mask app project. For Tang, the significance of the mask map portal was its function as a space for others to participate in. She hearkened back to first principles: The portal was an example of her “Daoist approach” to political and social action. She pulls chapter 11 of the Dao De Jing, a 2,500-year-old classic of Daoist philosophy, up on her monitor, and starts reading. [...] One of the fun things about Tang is that no one who knows her is at all surprised when Daoist philosophy pops up in a discussion of governmental Covid-19 containment strategies. It’s like her habit of closing presentations by quoting from the songwriter Leonard Cohen (“There’s a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in”). She is simultaneously whimsical and serious, a butterfly who doesn’t shy away from heavy lifting. [...] Taiwan and Audrey Tang occupy a unique spot in a world, where the ascendance of the internet and digital technology is marked by the twin dystopias of “post-truth” information chaos in the United States and China’s totalitarian, technologically mediated surveillance-and-censorship regime. With Audrey Tang as the symbolic figurehead, the island nation is making the radical argument that digital tools can be effectively used to build stronger, more open, more accountable democracies. Whether the challenge is fighting disinformation campaigns orchestrated by hostile powers or the existential threat of a virus run amok or simply figuring out how to regulate Uber, Taiwan is demonstrating the best ways technology can be used to marry the energy and talents of civil society with the administrative powers of government bureaucracy. [...] In the wake of Taiwan’s extraordinarily successful containment of Covid-19 (as of this writing, 455 confirmed cases and only seven deaths), Taiwan’s international profile has soared. Suddenly, everyone is curious: What’s Taiwan’s secret? How can we duplicate its success? [...] The sense that anything is possible motivates experimentation and activism. But an equally important propelling force is the fear incited by what Mei-Chun Lee calls Taiwan’s “very ambitious neighbor.” For Audrey Tang and Mei-chun Lee’s generation, China’s growing hostility to Taiwan’s de facto independence is both a clear goad to action and a constant reminder of how technology should not be used. “Many of our political debates are hinged on not being the PRC,” Tang says. “For example, whenever we want to talk about counter-disinformation, anything around censorship is a nonstarter.”

https://bit.ly/3flqmHv


My Eulogy for Congressman John Lewis / Medium
This tribute is classic Obama:

John Lewis — the first of the Freedom Riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people, including me at the time, until his final day on this Earth — he not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work. Which isn’t bad for a boy from Troy. John was born into modest means — that means he was poor — in the heart of the Jim Crow South to parents who picked somebody else’s cotton. Apparently, he didn’t take to farm work — on days when he was supposed to help his brothers and sisters with their labor, he’d hide under the porch and make a break for the school bus when it showed up. His mother, Willie Mae Lewis, nurtured that curiosity in this shy, serious child. “Once you learn something,” she told her son, “once you get something inside your head, no one can take it away from you.” As a boy, John listened through the door after bedtime as his father’s friends complained about the Klan. One Sunday as a teenager, he heard Dr. King preach on the radio. As a college student in Tennessee, he signed up for Jim Lawson’s workshops on the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience. John Lewis was getting something inside his head, an idea he couldn’t shake that took hold of him — that nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience were the means to change laws, but also change hearts, and change minds, and change nations, and change the world. [...] John was only twenty years old. But he pushed all twenty of those years to the center of the table, betting everything, all of it, that his example could challenge centuries of convention, and generations of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities suffered by African Americans. [...] And we know what happened to the marchers that day. Their bones were cracked by billy clubs, their eyes and lungs choked with tear gas. As they knelt to pray, which made their heads even easier targets, and John was struck in the skull. And he thought he was going to die, surrounded by the sight of young Americans gagging, and bleeding, and trampled, victims in their own country of state-sponsored violence. And the thing is, I imagine initially that day, the troopers thought that they had won the battle. You can imagine the conversations they had afterwards. You can imagine them saying, “yeah, we showed them.” They figured they’d turned the protesters back over the bridge; that they’d kept, that they’d preserved a system that denied the basic humanity of their fellow citizens. Except this time, there were some cameras there. This time, the world saw what happened, bore witness to Black Americans who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans. Who were not asking for special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that. [...] The life of John Lewis was, in so many ways, exceptional. It vindicated the faith in our founding, redeemed that faith; that most American of ideas; that idea that any of us ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation, and come together, and challenge the status quo, and decide that it is in our power to remake this country that we love until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals.

https://bit.ly/2Pk0IZ7


Looking-Glass Politics / Mercatus Center
If you've been unlucky enough to have rambling, philosophical conversations with me, you'll know that one of my pet topics is that a lot of modern psychological ills are due to our ease of access to or knowledge of people we wouldn't have encountered hundreds of years ago -- specifically, the world's wealthiest, most attractive, and/or most talented people (or those on other extremes). And that among my many unrealistic, utopian thought experiments, one involves some form of AI-mediated return to small communities roughly at the Dunbar number. (That's probably as crazy as it sounds, though if I ever get around to blogging again, I may well explain it in more detail...probably proving beyond a doubt that it's crazy.) Anyway, it won't surprise you that I enjoyed reading this, even if I don't agree with all of it:

With the collapse of the private sphere, potent private emotions collide with public affairs [...] Anger is a huge story and thus a fat analytical target. Most of these explanations have some merit to them. However, all take it for granted that the anger is justified—the analyst’s job is simply to discover a cause commensurate with its enormity. I think that assumption begs a lot of questions. All the incidents I mentioned took place in relatively free and prosperous nations. The actual persons venting anger tended to be articulate, well educated, and highly mobile. I doubt a single one hit the streets without a smartphone. It would make sense for protesters in, say, Hong Kong to feel anger. They confront a brutal and despotic regime. Yet the insurgents in Hong Kong are famously tidy and polite—it has never occurred to them to burn banks or vandalize monuments in the style of the Yellow Vests of democratic France. [...] Kling brings up an interesting number: 150. Roughly speaking, that is how many persons you can remember before names, faces, and situations begin to get fuzzy. It’s often called the “Dunbar number." [...] Each of us carries along, in our everyday activities, a band of 150 people whom we can identify with fair accuracy. This humble Dunbar world provides the stage for the drama of most human lives and is the source of the most authentic human emotions. From ancestral times, the pursuit of happiness has played out almost entirely within this domain. [...] Identities in the smallish Dunbar world are relatively simple and given to you by history: you are “dad,” “school buddy,” “boss,” “rabbi,” or maybe “Miriam at the pharmacy cash register.” For thousands of years, happiness has consisted in turning in a reasonably successful performance in these roles. But the great delusion of the looking-glass world is that you can be anything you want. That’s why you are there, after all: to leave yourself behind. [...] In the end, the promise of self-importance delivers mostly chaos and confusion. An estimated 4.5 billion persons are online in 2020—around 60 percent of the human race. Within this colossal throng, attention is highly skewed. A few individuals and sites monopolize all of our interest, while the rest are relegated to the inane babble of the comments section. In essence, you are buried alive in digital noise. For a species that evolved to interact within the Dunbar number, this can be tremendously disorienting. Soon you, too, find yourself shrieking in attitudes of rage and repudiation at targets selected by the hive mind of the web. Although this comes about largely from imitation and conformism, it can feel perfectly sincere. [...] Thunberg’s is the kind of story that seduces people into the looking glass. Once a troubled but unknown preteen, she has become a digital star, with 4 million Twitter followers. She now embodies every teenager’s fantasy life, traveling around the world to universal applause while chiding adults about the many things they have done wrong. [...] Meanwhile, the multitudes teeming in the looking-glass world will rage on, sowing toil and trouble in the “super-Dunbar” sphere and reaping the sum of their specific demands, which comes close to zero. A politics of despair, it seems to me, is self-fulfilling, and the repudiation of everything has no choice but to negate the repudiators.

https://bit.ly/2Ph4CBV


Clayton Christensen: Disruptive innovation / YouTube
I'm a Clay Christensen fan, but I wasn't aware that he had linked his work on disruptive innovation to macroeconomic stagnation; maybe I'm just late to the party. Anyway, I found this talk thought-provoking. Note that it follows several of his illnesses, so you may want to play this at 1.5x or 2x:

In the first of his lectures for Saïd Business School, Clayton Christensen explains his theory of disruption, drawing on examples of innovations occurring in the steel industry and from leading companies such as Toyota, Sony, Walmart and Indian refrigerator manufacturer, Godrej. Christensen explores how the theory can explain why the economies of America, England and Japan have stagnated. He also uses the theory to analyse how economies in Asia have achieved prosperity and to examine why countries such as Mexico are not experiencing economic growth.

https://bit.ly/39QznqF


----- 2 stars -----

I Went to Disney World / The Atlantic

As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged Florida, the Magic Kingdom welcomed back its most loyal subjects—and me. [...] Disney World is in Florida only in the sense that Vatican City is in Italy, or the Principality of Monaco is in France. All the land that touches Disney World is Florida, but it is its own polity, with its own infrastructure, its own transportation, and, to a surprising extent, its own laws and regulations. Florida law applies, of course, but on Disney property—which covers more than 25,000 acres, about 50 times the size of Monaco—you can go weeks without seeing an employee of the local, state, or federal government. When you are at the Disney parks and resorts, you see no letter carriers, no police officers, no city bus drivers—just tens of thousands of Disney employees (always called “cast members”), who recognize no authority higher than Walt Disney (1901–66), the eternal líder máximo. When you arrive in Orlando, your transit through Florida lasts only minutes. You emerge from the miasma of the airport and reach a check-in counter for the “Magical Express,” a free direct bus to Disney World. The counter resembles the passport-control desk of a benevolent and well-run nation, perhaps Norway or Japan. Upon reciting your name and confirmation number, you cease interacting with non-Disney entities for the rest of your stay. The woman who welcomed me—through a properly worn mask and face shield, plus a layer of plexiglass—gave me a pleasant wave as I walked up. On a typical day before the pandemic, I was told by another tourist, thousands of people would pass through this check-in area. Today there was no line at all. “Just you?” she asked. “Just me, a 40-year-old man going to Disney World by himself,” I answered. “Is that strange?” “Not at all,” she lied chirpily. (The correct answer, of course, was “Not until you put it that way.”) Then she handed me a piece of paper, my laissez-passer, and directed me to an area where a few families were lined up, every one of them already wearing Disney paraphernalia.

https://bit.ly/3flRoyr


My Midlife Crisis as a Russian Sailor / Outside

For a book project about 16th-century polar explorer William Barents, Andrea Pitzer needed to reach the remote Arctic island where he and his men came to grief. She booked passage on an expeditionary boat out of Murmansk, then headed north on a trip marked by unforgettable scenery, unexpected loss, and wild magic that changed her life.

https://bit.ly/2PfjDEb


The Pivotal Irony of American Racism / Areo

The pivotal irony of American racism is that the white majority in the United States has become dramatically less racist over the same period of time in which the consequences of historic racism have become most pernicious to black Americans. The fact of racism in America is quickly disappearing, but the legacy of racism is on the rise. Those who would be intellectually honest must acknowledge the moral progress of Americans, while confronting this legacy anew. There is a false binary that we must move beyond if we are to understand black America—or, indeed, any group. Progressives attribute the state of affairs in black life to the inequitable impact of legal, economic and other systems. Conservatives stress culture, personal responsibility and the fact that many young black men, in particular, choose to commit crimes, rather than marry, work and raise children. But there is an interplay between systems and culture in American life. If the cultural circumstances of black America are uniquely challenging, it is because uniquely challenging systemic obstacles have been placed in her path. We should not dismiss calls for personal responsibility. We should make them more effective by being honest about the challenges involved. This complex problem began with slavery. But, while arguments linking the legacy of slavery to modern racial disparities by virtue of its influence on the development of American institutions (see the 1619 Project) can easily be made, these arguments butt up against the observations of those who note that the key problems facing black America today were less evident in times closer to slavery and more evident following the liberal reforms of the 1960s. These include problems such as out-of-wedlock births and crime rates.

https://bit.ly/30kWZRn


How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future / New Yorker

When J.F.K. ran for President, a team of data scientists with powerful computers set out to model and manipulate American voters. Sound familiar? [...] The Simulmatics Corporation opened for business on February 18, 1959, in an office rented by Edward L. Greenfield, the company’s thirty-one-year-old president, on an upper floor of a building at the corner of Madison Avenue and Fifty-second Street, five blocks south of I.B.M.’s glittering World Headquarters. Greenfield, an adman, political consultant, and all-around huckster, pulled people in like a “Looney Tunes” magnet. “Ed Greenfield,” he’d say, flashing a Dean Martin grin, slapping a back, offering a vodka-and-tonic, palming a business card. His new company’s offices were threadbare; his ambition could hardly have been grander. “Simulmatics,” a mashup of “simulation” and “automatic,” had much the same mystique as another nineteen-fifties neologism: “artificial intelligence.” Decades before Facebook and Google and Cambridge Analytica and every app on your phone, Simulmatics’ founders thought of it all: they had the idea that, if they could collect enough data about enough people and write enough good code, everything, one day, might be predicted—every human mind simulated and then directed by targeted messages as unerring as missiles. For its first mission, Simulmatics aimed to win the White House back for the Democratic Party. In 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon in a campaign that carries an air of destiny, mainly because of an iconic account by the reporter Theodore H. White. In “The Making of the President 1960,” White created the myth of Kennedy as an inevitable President—King Arthur, pulling Excalibur from the stone. But Kennedy’s bid for the nomination was a long shot, his victory in the general election was one of the closest in American history, and his campaign deployed an election simulator. However commonplace now, this was new then, and fiercely controversial. White, while never naming Simulmatics, took the trouble to disavow its influence on the very first page of his book. “It is the nature of politics that men must always act on the basis of uncertain fact,” he wrote. “Were it otherwise, then . . . politics would be an exact science in which our purposes and destiny could be left to great impersonal computers.” White was close to the Kennedy campaign, and the Kennedy campaign had decided to deny, publicly, that it had used Simulmatics.

https://bit.ly/3flS1rN


The Roots Of Wokeness / The Weekly Dish

Looking at stories from 1970 to 2018, several terms came out of nowhere in the past few years to reach sudden new heights of repetition and frequency. Here’s a list of the most successful neologisms: non-binary, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, traumatizing, queer, transphobia, whiteness, mansplaining. And here are a few that were rising in frequency in the last decade but only took off in the last few years: triggering, hurtful, gender, stereotypes. Language changes, and we shouldn’t worry about that. Maybe some of these terms will stick around. But the linguistic changes have occurred so rapidly, and touched so many topics, that it has all the appearance of a top-down re-ordering of language, rather than a slow, organic evolution from below. While the New York Times once had a reputation for being a bit stodgy on linguistic matters, pedantic, precise and slow-to-change, as any paper of record might be, in the last few years, its pages have been flushed with so many neologisms that a reader from, say, a decade ago would have a hard time understanding large swathes of it. And for many of us regular readers, we’ve just gotten used to brand new words popping up suddenly to re-describe something we thought we knew already. We notice a new word, make a brief mental check, and move on with our lives. But we need to do more than that. We need to understand that all these words have one thing in common: they are products of an esoteric, academic discipline called critical theory, which has gained extraordinary popularity in elite education in the past few decades, and appears to have reached a cultural tipping point in the middle of the 2010s. Most normal people have never heard of this theory—or rather an interlocking web of theories—that is nonetheless changing the very words we speak and write and the very rationale of the institutions integral to liberal democracy. What we have long needed is an intelligible, intelligent description of this theory which most people can grasp. And we’ve just gotten one: “Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender and Identity,” by former math prof James Lindsay and British academic, Helen Pluckrose. It’s as deep a dive into this often impenetrable philosophy as anyone would want to attempt. But it’s well worth grappling with.

https://bit.ly/3fjHJIM


Landmark study on 11,196 couplies pinpoints what dating apps get so wrong / Inverse

If you have ever labored over how to convey your personality through a dating app bio — or judged someone else's through theirs — research on romance suggests you place your efforts elsewhere. It's taken 20 years of relationship science to get here, but scientists now argue that there's something far more important than your personality or even your partner's when it comes to cultivating happy relationships. The most powerful predictors of relationship quality are the characteristics of the relationship itself — the life dynamic you build with your person. This is according to an analysis of 11,196 couples gleaned from 43 studies. [...] "Really, it suggests that the person we choose is not nearly as important as the relationship we build," she tells Inverse.

https://bit.ly/30pZ5Q5


Researchers “Translate” Bat Talk. Turns Out, They Argue—A Lot / Smithsonian Magazine

They found that the bat noises are not just random, as previously thought, reports Skibba. They were able to classify 60 percent of the calls into four categories. One of the call types indicates the bats are arguing about food. Another indicates a dispute about their positions within the sleeping cluster. A third call is reserved for males making unwanted mating advances and the fourth happens when a bat argues with another bat sitting too close. In fact, the bats make slightly different versions of the calls when speaking to different individuals within the group, similar to a human using a different tone of voice when talking to different people. Skibba points out that besides humans, only dolphins and a handful of other species are known to address individuals rather than making broad communication sounds.

https://bit.ly/3fmB2pp


Statement by Jeff Bezos to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary / Amazon
No matter how you feel about Bezos and/or Amazon, you'll likely agree that this is a brilliant piece of rhetoric and marketing:

Thank you, Chairman Cicilline, Ranking Member Sensenbrenner, and members of the Subcommittee. I’m Jeff Bezos. I founded Amazon 26 years ago with the long-term mission of making it Earth’s most customer-centric company. My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes. My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over. My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and determination. [...] Unlike many other countries around the world, this great nation we live in supports and does not stigmatize entrepreneurial risk-taking. I walked away from a steady job into a Seattle garage to found my startup, fully understanding that it might not work. It feels like just yesterday I was driving the packages to the post office myself, dreaming that one day we might be able to afford a forklift. Amazon’s success was anything but preordained. Investing in Amazon early on was a very risky proposition. From our founding through the end of 2001, our business had cumulative losses of nearly $3 billion, and we did not have a profitable quarter until the fourth quarter of that year. Smart analysts predicted Barnes & Noble would steamroll us, and branded us “Amazon.toast.” In 1999, after we’d been in business for nearly five years, Barron’s headlined a story about our impending demise “Amazon.bomb.” My annual shareholder letter for 2000 started with a one-word sentence: “Ouch.” At the pinnacle of the internet bubble our stock price peaked at $116, and then after the bubble burst our stock went down to $6. Experts and pundits thought we were going out of business. It took a lot of smart people with a willingness to take a risk with me, and a willingness to stick to our convictions, for Amazon to survive and ultimately to succeed.

https://bit.ly/30ivUOy


My Secret Life as The World’s Worst Professional Matchmaker / Narratively

I don't know how I landed this job. But the most surprising part is that instead of helping my clients find love, they helped me get out of an abusive relationship. [...] I’d found the ad for this job on Craigslist. It was advertised as an office manager position, which sounded straightforward. As a high school dropout, I wasn’t even sure I was qualified, but I applied anyway. During the interview, my soon-to-be-supervisor dropped the bomb. This “office manager position” was actually a matchmaker position. I had applied to a dating service. Sure, the job would include typical office manager duties like filing, faxing and answering phones, but I’d also be in charge of sorting “compatible matches.” Every detail I’d noticed since I walked through the doors replayed in my mind: a luxury office building in a fancy area of the city, and a sign that said “Two of Us” on the door. Young people led middle-aged folks to private rooms, closing the doors firmly behind them. I was instantly intrigued. “Like Millionaire Matchmaker?” I wondered aloud. I pictured the reality TV show host Patti Stanger, with her skintight dresses, perfectly coiffed hair, and brazen confidence. She could whip any shit man into shape and smooth any woman into something desirable. “Something like that,” he said before offering me the job. That night, I went home and studied back-to-back episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker. I hadn’t worn a dress in years, but I would need one. Matchmakers wore dresses. [...] I quickly found that my job would not resemble Patti Stanger’s in the least. This company had been successful in L.A. and then decided to branch out into other cities. The branch I worked for was brand new, which meant there were very few matches for anyone. The beautiful waiting room filled with beautiful employees was a facade. The cold-calling room in the back was stacked with filing cabinets and old paperwork. Most of the employees were just salespeople, carefully selected to be as alluring as possible. With my ill-fitting slacks, box-dyed hair and press-on nails, I was stuffed into an office in the back, only to be seen by folks who’d already purchased a dating package. I was relatable. I was comforting. I was someone the clients could trust. And yet, I found myself matching people who had nothing more in common than their age. When I complained, I was told to make it work. When I struggled to make it work, I was told to make a fake dating profile on Plenty of Fish to lure new clients in. It would get better eventually, I was told. For now, we just needed to keep people distracted.

https://bit.ly/3ffW9cQ


Trump's shortcomings make weak opponent Biden look strong / BBC

Then I went to Iowa and New Hampshire and was shocked to see how the 77-year-old could barely hold a tune. Speeches became rambling soliloquies, a reminiscence from his Senate career here, a name drop from his vice-presidential tenure there. Looping and meandering, his train of thought regularly careered off the rails. [...] In 30 years of covering US politics, he was the most lacklustre front-runner I had seen, worse even than Jeb Bush in 2016. [...] Days later, following his cascade of victories on Super Tuesday, some pundits marvelled at how Biden had triumphed in states where he had not even campaigned. But the opposite may well have been true. Biden might have performed well in places precisely because of his absence. The lesson from Iowa and New Hampshire, after all, was that the more voters saw of him, the less they were likely to vote for him.

https://bbc.in/3fiZl7r


The mysterious case of man who can read letters—but not numbers—exposes roots of consciousness / Science

In the video, the man sounds creeped out. “This is too strange for words,” he mutters. He’s holding a plate-size, green foam 8. When upright, it looks to him like an incoherent jumble. But when he rotates it 90°, the shape snaps into focus; it looks like “a mask.” He begins to rotate the numeral back and forth, watching it melt and cohere over and over. He finally hands it to a nearby scientist, saying, “You gotta take that away.” This man, known as RFS, is the subject of a new case study that would have made neurologist Oliver Sacks proud. RFS can read words and letters just fine. But as researchers report this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he cannot see numerals at all—at least not consciously. His amazingly specific deficit could help neuroscientists understand how conscious awareness arises in the brain. “What it tells me,” says Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at the Allen Institute who specializes in consciousness, “is that … you can get dissociation between cognition and consciousness.”

https://bit.ly/30lfJjC


----- 1 star -----

What does a computer mouse see? / YouTube
A good and geeky walkthrough of different mouse technologies over time
https://bit.ly/3fq84Vs


The economics of fungi / Marginal Revolution
Fungus fact of the day / Marginal Revolution

Most surprising was the way that the fungus coordinated its trading behavior across the network. Kiers identified a strategy of “buy low, sell high.” The fungus actively transported phosphorus — using its dynamic microtubule “motors” — from areas of abundance, where it fetched a low price when exchanged with a plant root, to areas of scarcity, where it was in higher demand and fetched a higher price. By doing so, the fungus was able to transfer a greater proportion of its phosphorus to the plant at the more favorable exchange rate, thus receiving larger quantities of carbon in return.

https://bit.ly/2Pj42Uk

These enzymes have forever changed the way that carbon journeys through its earthly cycles. Today, fungal decomposition — much of it of woody plant matter — is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions, emitting about eighty-five gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere every year. In 2018, the combustion of fossil fuels by humans emitted around ten gigatons.

https://bit.ly/2Peu6Qo


The Senate Has Always Favored Smaller States. It Just Didn’t Help Republicans Until Now. / FiveThirtyEight

On the one hand, the Senate has always been unequal, long giving less populous states an outsized voice relative to their population. But for more than a century, this hasn’t posed much of an issue: Until the 1960s, Republicans and Democrats competed for both densely and sparsely populated states at roughly the same rate. But over the last several decades, that’s changed. The parties have reorganized themselves along urban-rural lines, and there is now a clear and pronounced partisan small-state bias in the Senate thanks to mostly rural, less populated states voting increasingly Republican. In fact, it’s reached the point that Republicans can win a majority of Senate seats while only representing a minority of Americans.

https://53eig.ht/2BPP9pi


Hedonism Leads to Happiness / University of Zurich

Relaxing on the sofa or savoring a delicious meal: Enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don’t lead to long-term goals contributes at least as much to a happy life as self-control, according to new research from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands. The researchers therefore argue for a greater appreciation of hedonism in psychology.

https://bit.ly/30lVrGB


‘No mask, no entry. Is that clear enough? That seems pretty clear, right?’ / Washington Post

I’ll never understand what’s so hard about putting on a mask for a few minutes. It’s common sense. It’s a requirement now in North Carolina. But this is a conservative place, and there are only 900 people in this town. We try hard to get along. We’re a small general store, and we didn’t want to end up in one of those viral videos with people spitting or screaming about their civil rights. We put a sign outside — an appeal to kindness. “If you wear a mask, it shows how much you care about us.” We found out how much they cared. It became clear real quick. I’m 63. I’m a lifetime asthmatic. I’d watch customers pull into the parking lot without their faces covered, and my whole body would start to tense up. Our store is on the Intracoastal Waterway, and people from all over the world dock in the harbor and come in here for supplies. It’s a big petri dish. I put a shield up over my register, and a few hours into my shift it was covered with spittle. We’d have 20 or 30 people walk by the sign and come in without a mask. I’d try to get their attention and point to the sign. It was a lot of: “You’re infringing on my rights. This is a free country, and I’m here to shop, so who’s going to stop me?”

https://wapo.st/30lB5xp


Gorgeous 4K Video of Mars / Kottke

To create this ultra HD footage of the surface of Mars, high-definition panoramas created from hundreds of still photos taken by the Mars rovers are panned over using the Ken Burns effect. The end product is pretty compelling — it’s not video, but it’s not not video either.

https://bit.ly/3gpjavd


Do We Believe in U.F.O.s? That’s the Wrong Question / New York Times

We’re often asked by well-meaning associates and readers, “Do you believe in U.F.O.s?” The question sets us aback as being inappropriately personal. Times reporters are particularly averse to revealing opinions that could imply possible reporting bias. But in this case we have no problem responding, “No, we don’t believe in U.F.O.s.” As we see it, their existence, or nonexistence, is not a matter of belief. [...] That’s what the Pentagon U.F.O. program has been focusing on, making it eminently newsworthy. And to be clear: U.F.O.s don’t mean aliens. Unidentified means we don’t know what they are, only that they demonstrate capabilities that do not appear to be possible through currently available technology. [...] We were provided a series of unclassified slides showing that the program took this seriously enough to include it in numerous briefings. One slide says one of the program’s tasks was to “arrange for access to data/reports/materials from crash retrievals of A.A.V.’s,” or advanced aerospace vehicles. Our sources told us that “A.A.V.” does not refer to vehicles made in any country — not Russian or Chinese — but is used to mean technology in the realm of the truly unexplained. They also assure us that their briefings are based on facts, not belief.

https://nyti.ms/3gpy054


The Tallest Building In The World From 1901 To 2022, Visualized / Digg

Here's a visualization of the history of the world's tallest building — and pretty soon the Burj Khalifa will also be dwarfed.

https://bit.ly/2PiBKJK


Delicate Gifs by Illustrator Maori Sakai Capture the Serene Moments of Daily Life / This is Colossal

Based in Japan, Maori Sakai imbues a bit of whimsy into otherwise mundane scenes through her delicately illustrated animations. Each gif is rendered largely in pastels and captures simple movements: a record spinning on a turntable, rain falling outside a window, and butterflies hovering around hydrangeas.

https://bit.ly/3fnLA7q


Pandemics and persistent heterogeneity / Marginal Revolution

It has become increasingly clear that the COVID-19 epidemic is characterized by overdispersion whereby the majority of the transmission is driven by a minority of infected individuals. Such a strong departure from the homogeneity assumptions of traditional well-mixed compartment model is usually hypothesized to be the result of short-term super-spreader events, such as individual’s extreme rate of virus shedding at the peak of infectivity while attending a large gathering without appropriate mitigation. However, heterogeneity can also arise through long-term, or persistent variations in individual susceptibility or infectivity. Here, we show how to incorporate persistent heterogeneity into a wide class of epidemiological models, and derive a non-linear dependence of the effective reproduction number R_e on the susceptible population fraction S. Persistent heterogeneity has three important consequences compared to the effects of overdispersion: (1) It results in a major modification of the early epidemic dynamics; (2) It significantly suppresses the herd immunity threshold; (3) It significantly reduces the final size of the epidemic.

https://bit.ly/2DrtPqM


What’s That Little Pocket on Your Jeans For? / Art of Manliness

Many people assume that the mini-pocket is for carrying change. But if you actually tried using this pocket for change, you’d quickly realize that retrieving coinage from it is a big pain in the rear. It was not created for this purpose. Other folks have called the mini-pocket a “ticket pocket,” due to the fact that tickets to a concert or a movie fit perfectly inside its dimensions. But alas, that’s not the true measure of the mini-pocket‘s creation either. In fact, the mini-pocket was originally called a “watch pocket” and was designed to hold a cowboy’s or workman’s pocket watch.

https://bit.ly/3a0frC9


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