Links

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

How the War in Yemen Became a Bloody Stalemate — and the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World / New York Times

Dahyan, a town in the far northwest of Yemen, is a farming settlement about two hours’ drive from the Saudi border. On its dusty, unpaved main street, a large crater is still visible near a fruit-and-vegetable stand, marked out by flimsy wooden stakes and red traffic tape. It was here that a laser-guided bomb dropped by a Saudi jet struck a school bus taking students on a field trip on the morning of Aug. 9, killing 44 children and 10 adults. Even for a population that had grown accustomed to tragedy after more than three years of war, the bus bombing was shocking. Shrapnel and tiny limbs were scattered for hundreds of yards around. The bomb that hit the bus, several local people told me, bore markings showing it was made in the United States. The site has now become something of a shrine. On a brick wall a few yards from the crater, large painted letters in both English and Arabic proclaim, “America Kills Yemeni Children.” [...] In March 2015, Saudi Arabia unleashed a full-scale military campaign against the Houthis, who had captured most of Yemen a few months earlier. The Saudis had assembled a coalition of nine states, and they made clear that they considered the Houthis, who are allied with Iran, a mortal threat on their southern border. The war has turned much of Yemen into a wasteland and has killed at least 10,000 civilians, mostly in errant airstrikes. The real number is probably much higher, but verifying casualties in Yemen’s remote areas is extremely difficult. Some 14 million people are facing starvation, in what the United Nations has said could soon become the worst famine seen in the world in 100 years. Disease is rampant, including the world’s worst modern outbreak of cholera.

https://nyti.ms/2CYHWl3


The Time Bandits of Southern California / GQ

The true story of a ring of thieves who stole millions of dollars' worth of luxury watches—and the special agent who brought them down. [...] Less than two minutes had passed before the robbers fled with 36 watches, worth $1.6 million. They sped away in a stolen gray Toyota that police would soon discover outside the mall. Its doors were flung open. Its engine was still running. And the thieves were long gone. About two months later, in October 2015, Ryan Stearman, a 34-year-old special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was leaving an undercover job in Orange County when his phone rang. A police officer he knew was alerting him to a 211—a robbery—under way in nearby Mission Viejo. For months Stearman had been trying to solve a series of gun-store heists, so he flipped on the Red Channel, local law enforcement's emergency-broadcast system. Quickly he learned that these robbers had burst into a jewelry store, not a gun store. Still, he was intrigued by the daytime smash-and-grab. Two men had used sledgehammers to break cases, a third helped them scoop out the contents, and a fourth threatened the terrified employees with a semiautomatic weapon. They all escaped in a Chevy Tahoe. When Stearman heard that the getaway car was heading north on the 405 freeway toward Los Angeles, he hit his lights and siren and joined the chase. Thanks to tracking devices hidden in the watches' packaging, a Red Channel dispatcher was broadcasting their exact location as they passed each freeway exit: Culver Drive! Jamboree Road! MacArthur Boulevard! At Beach Boulevard, Stearman had nearly caught up when the dispatcher said the watches had come to an abrupt stop. What Stearman saw next was surreal: 26 Swiss watches scattered along the shoulder amid the usual glass from broken taillights. The robbers, possibly aware that the watches had trackers in them, had thrown some of their $600,000 worth of loot out the window. Just as in Century City, they were long gone.

http://bit.ly/2D3wiWe


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

My Life Cleanse: One Month Inside L.A.'s Cult of Betterness / GQ

Rosecrans Baldwin had lived in Los Angeles for nearly four years before he realized he was missing out on something essential to life in the Southland. People all around him were trumpeting new self-improvement projects with cultish devotion: at boutique juice bars, at hallucinogenic ceremonies, at mysterious wellness retreats. So, in an effort to get in on the woo-woo, he tried everything he could for one month. And wound up in darker depths than he ever imagined.

http://bit.ly/2D4VTh8


Could 'Oumuamua be an extraterrestrial solar sail? / Phys Org
A Harvard professor wrote this paper, so it must be credible :-P. (Sarcasm aside, it's hard to not find this fascinating...)

To this, Bialy and Loeb offer a counter-explanation. If 'Oumuamua were in fact a comet, why then did it not experience outgassing when it was closest to our sun? In addition, they cite other research that showed that if outgassing were responsible for the acceleration, it would have also caused a rapid evolution in 'Oumuamua's spin (which was not observed). Basically, Bialy and Loeb consider the possibility that 'Oumuamua could in fact be a light sail, a form of spacecraft that relies on radiation pressure to generate propulsion – similar to what Breakthrough Starshot is working on. Similar to what is planned for Starshot, this light sail may been sent from another civilization to study our solar system and look for signs of life.

http://bit.ly/2D1rxw7


The Tails Coming Apart as Metaphor for Life / Slate Star Codex

The morality of Mediocristan is mostly uncontroversial. It doesn’t matter what moral system you use, because all moral systems were trained on the same set of Mediocristani data and give mostly the same results in this area. Stealing from the poor is bad. Donating to charity is good. A lot of what we mean when we say a moral system sounds plausible is that it best fits our Mediocristani data that we all agree upon. This is a lot like what we mean when we say that “quality of life”, “positive emotions”, and “meaningfulness” are all decent definitions of happiness; they all fit the training data. The further we go toward the tails, the more extreme the divergences become. Utilitarianism agrees that we should give to charity and shouldn’t steal from the poor, because Utility, but take it far enough to the tails and we should tile the universe with rats on heroin. Religious morality agrees that we should give to charity and shouldn’t steal from the poor, because God, but take it far enough to the tails and we should spend all our time in giant cubes made of semiprecious stones singing songs of praise. Deontology agrees that we should give to charity and shouldn’t steal from the poor, because Rules, but take it far enough to the tails and we all have to be libertarians.

http://bit.ly/2D20Es3


A Former CIA 'Chief Of Disguise' Explains How They Craft Disguises And, Boy, This Is Captivating / Digg

A proper disguise is a lot more than throwing on a wig and a mustache. It's about completely changing your demeanor to blend seamlessly with the local population.

https://di.gg/2CZLkMy


Apple's New Map / Justin O'Beirne
Justin O'Beirne with another brilliant analysis, this time of Apple's new map vs. their old one and vs. Google. (Super nerdy but quite interesting.)
http://bit.ly/2D1TvrK


DeOldify / Github
Pretty impressive machine learning:

Simply put, the mission of this project is to colorize and restore old images. I'll get into the details in a bit, but first let's get to the pictures!

http://bit.ly/2D36yJx


Acting like an extravert has benefits, but not for introverts / Aeon

For decades, personality psychologists have noticed a striking, consistent pattern: extraverts are happier more of the time than introverts. For anyone interested in promoting wellbeing, this has raised the question of whether it might be beneficial to encourage people to act more extraverted. Evidence to date has suggested it might. [...] First and unsurprisingly, introverts did not succeed in increasing their extraverted behaviour as much as other participants. And while the introverts in the ‘act like an extravert’ condition did enjoy momentary gains in positive emotion, they did not report this benefit in retrospect at the end of the study. Unlike extraverts, they also did not show momentary gains in authenticity, and in retrospect they reported lower authenticity. The ‘act extraverted’ intervention also appeared to increase introverts’ retrospective fatigue levels and experience of negative emotions.

http://bit.ly/2CYQnNf


Do female department chairs matter? / Marginal Revolution

For faculty, I find female department chairs reduce gender gaps in publications and tenure for assistant professors and shrink the gender pay gap. Replacing a male chair with a female chair increases the number of female students among incoming graduate cohorts by ten percent with no evidence of a change in ability correlates for the average student.

http://bit.ly/2D1UKHe


Sort By Controversial / Slate Star Codex
Amusing short story:

Reddit has a feature where you can sort posts by controversial. You can see the algorithm here, but tl;dr it multiplies magnitude of total votes (upvotes + downvotes) by balance (upvote:downvote ratio or vice versa, whichever is smaller) to highlight posts that provoke disagreement. Controversy sells, so we trained our network to predict this too. The project went to this new-ish Indian woman with a long name who went by Shiri, and she couldn’t get it to work, so our boss Brad sent me to help. Shiri had tested the network on the big 1.7 billion comment archive, and it had produced controversial-sounding hypothethical scenarios about US politics. So far so good. The Japanese tested their bioweapons on Chinese prisoners. The Tuskegee Institute tested syphilis on African-Americans. We were either nicer or dumber than they were, because we tested Shiri’s Scissor on ourselves. We had a private internal subreddit where we discussed company business, because Brad wanted all of us to get familiar with the platform. Shiri’s problem was that she’d been testing the controversy-network on our subreddit, and it would just spit out vacuously true or vacuously false statements. No controversy, no room for disagreement. The statement we were looking at that day was about a design choice in our code. I won’t tell you the specifics, but imagine you took every bad and wrong decision decision in the world, hard-coded them in the ugliest possible way, and then handed it to the end user with a big middle finger. Shiri’s Scissor spit out, as maximally controversial, the statement that we should design our product that way. We’d spent ten minutes arguing about exactly where the bug was, when Shiri said something about how she didn’t understand why the program was generating obviously true statements.

http://bit.ly/2D25JjT


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

Welcome to the Petty Hall of Fame / Topic

Being petty can feel good. While we often shoot for grandeur, we frequently land at petty—an offshoot of the French word petit, to be specific. Petty has been a belittling word; calling someone petty would historically have been a derogatory statement. It meant you thought that person was concerned with small things that didn’t matter, things you wouldn’t dare associate yourself with. In other words: bad. Pettiness was bad. [...] But let’s take a step back. World history is peppered with petty—the small-minded revenge seekers and the even smaller-minded ones, too. A building constructed just to block a neighbor’s light; a lawsuit over a too-short Subway sandwich; a 300-year war started over a stolen wooden bucket. To honor this ignoble part of human nature, we have made the Petty Hall of Fame. It is a massive 60-item mountain of petty, created from humans’ entire history of molehills.

http://bit.ly/2D3gMJB


A Robot that Draws Algorithmically-Generated Portraits / Kottke

Samer Dabra uses a drawing machine called the AxiDraw and a custom program to generate Impressionistic line drawings of people. The machine builds the portraits using four single lines drawn in the four CMYK colors, one on top of another, with minimal tweaking from Dabra.

http://bit.ly/2CZBslW


Why do women earn less than men? Evidence from train and bus operators / Marginal Revolution

Even in a unionized environment, where work tasks are similar, hourly wages are identical, and tenure dictates promotions, female workers earn $0.89 on the male-worker dollar (weekly earnings). We use confidential administrative data on bus and train operators from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to show that the weekly earnings gap can be explained entirely by the workplace choices that women and men make.

http://bit.ly/2D1VI6w


Playful 3D Chalk Art on the Streets by David Zinn / YouTube

David Zinn is a self-taught chalk artist who has been transforming the streets of Ann Arbor, MI for the last several years. He draws a delightful cast of characters throughout the city that passersby can't help but smile at.

http://bit.ly/2D1daYF


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