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The Desperado / Atavist
Trust me, you should read this:
In April 2018, a blind man with one foot robbed a bank in Austin, Texas. This is a heist story—but unlike any you’ve ever read.
The Making of the Fox News White House / New Yorker
Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.” [...] For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.” [...] Murdoch appears to have been wise in securing a rapprochement. Telecommunications is a highly regulated industry, and under Trump the government has consistently furthered Murdoch’s business interests, to the detriment of his rivals. Hundt, the former F.C.C. chairman, told me that “there have been three moves that have taken place in the regulatory and antitrust world” involving telecommunications “that are extremely unusual, and the only way to explain them is that they’re pro-Fox, pro-Fox, and pro-Fox.”
The Secrets of the World's Greatest Art Thief / GQ
Stéphane Breitwieser robbed nearly 200 museums, amassed a collection of treasures worth more than $1.4 billion, and became perhaps the most prolific art thief in history. And as he reveals to GQ’s Michael Finkel, how Breitwieser managed to do all this is every bit as surprising as why.
Vegetables Don’t Exist / Popula
Botanically speaking, it’s still clear: eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash are all fruits. It’s equally clear that mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants. But these are all, also, in common usage, “vegetables.” Yet when an authority like the Oxford English Dictionary should provide clarity on what a vegetable actually is, it instead defines vegetables as a specific set of certain cultivated plant parts, “such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean.” And since carrots and turnips are roots, potatoes are tubers, broccoli is a flower, cabbage is a leaf, and celery is a stem, we find that “vegetable” rarely applies to the entire plant (or to the same parts of the plant), while it also has a way of applying to things that aren’t actually vegetables. It is a category both broader and more specific that the thing it’s supposed to describe. In a botanical sense, it’s easy: vegetables don’t exist as a discrete, coherent category. And the more you know about botany–the nuanced phylogeny that gardeners and farmers know and the centuries of research into plant evolution that botanists have learned–the more likely you’ll be a dissenter in the vegetable debate. “This is why people hate botanists,” as one disillusioned commenter wrote in a particularly heated r/Botany thread. [...] These words didn’t always replace their Anglo-Saxon equivalents; equivalents were adopted and used alongside the Germanic versions with updated class connotations or slightly altered meanings, as what the historian Melvyn Bragg calls “almost synonyms.” The Germanic “understand,” for example, is almost synonymous with the French “comprehend,” but it’s the latter that sounds like a professor is speaking. It’s the same with words like “room” and “chamber,” “answer” and “respond,” “freedom” and “liberty,” or “friendship” and “amity”: Norman French has been absorbed into a unified English language (and speakers can be fluent without knowing which words came from where) but the French-origin words still somehow sound snobbish. That these distinctions survive half of a millennium after French vocabulary was assimilated into Modern English testifies to the grudge a language can hold. “Vegetables” are a result of this grudge. During Norman and early Plantagenet rule, the farm-to-table divide was less of a foodie buzzword than a class distinction: the upper class were served in French while serfs and servants planted, harvested, raised, butchered, and cooked in Anglo-Saxon. The French word for the served food lived alongside the Germanic word for its source. When Anglo-Saxon chickens were slaughtered, they became poultry for the Normans to eat. Food and animal were class-divided döppelgangers: Anglo-Saxon sheep, cows, swine, and doves were transformed into French mouton (mutton), boeuf (beef), porc (pork), and pigeons (pigeons).
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Facebook’s Privacy Cake / Stratechery
What was striking about the reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s latest missive about the future of Facebook, A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking, were the two very distinct reactions that, in my estimation, made the same mistake, but in opposite directions; one set of folks didn’t take Zuckerberg seriously at all. [...] Another set took Zuckerberg entirely too seriously. [...] In fact, what Zuckerberg announced is quite believable, precisely because it makes perfect sense for Facebook: this is a privacy cake that Facebook can have — and eat it too.
In Mod We Trust / Slate Star Codex
One day (maybe even soon), I'll read the Verge piece that everyone is talking about. In the meantime, this commentary on that piece will have to do:
The Verge writes a story (an exposé?) on the Facebook-moderation industry. It goes through the standard ways it maltreats its employees: low pay, limited bathroom breaks, awful managers – and then into some not-so-standard ones. Mods have to read (or watch) all of the worst things people post on Facebook, from conspiracy theories to snuff videos. The story talks about the psychological trauma this inflicts. [...] This was a good piece of investigative reporting, digging up many genuinely outrageous things. But most of them are necessary and unavoidable responses to the last good piece of investigative reporting, and all the outrageous things it dug up. Everything The Verge is complaining about is Facebook’s attempt to defend itself against publications like The Verge. [...] The Verge brings this up as an example of the totalitarian and dehumanizing environment that Facebook moderators experience. But I imagine that if an employee had written down (or used their phone to take a picture of) some personal details of a Facebook user, The Verge (or some identical publication) would have run a report on how Facebook hired contractors who didn’t even take basic precautions to protect user privacy. And what about the absolutist, infinitely-nitpicky rules that every moderator has to follow (and be double- and triple-checked to have followed) on each decision? Again, totalitarian and dehumanizing, no argument there. But if a moderator screwed up – if one of them banned a breastfeeding picture as “explicit”, and the Facebook Talmud hadn’t include twelve pages of exceptions and counterexceptions for when breasts were and weren’t allowed – I imagine reporters would be on that story in a split second. They would be mocking Facebook’s “lame excuse” that it was just one moderator acting alone and not company policy, and leading the demands for Facebook to put “procedures” in place to ensure it never happens again.
Before Envelopes, People Protected Messages With Letterlocking / Atlas Obscura
Around 2 A.M. on February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots penned a letter to her brother-in-law, King Henri III of France. It would be her last. Six hours later, she was beheaded for treason by order of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. The letter has since become one of Scotland’s most beloved artifacts, the handwritten pages offering a poignant glimpse of a monarch grappling with her impending execution. But it’s not the words that fascinate Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson conservator at MIT Libraries. For more than a decade, Dambrogio has been studying “letterlocking,” the various systems of folds, slits, and wax seals that protected written communication before the invention of the mass-produced envelope. To guard her final missive from prying eyes, the queen used a “butterfly lock”—one of hundreds of techniques catalogued by Dambrogio, collaborator Daniel Starza Smith, and their research team in a fast-growing dictionary of letterlocking.
Russia’s passive-aggressive reaction to SpaceX may mask a deeper truth / Ars Technica
Finally, Lukashevich addressed the fact that Russia must now fill that big budget hole. "I would like to point out something else interesting—from one point of view this is a good thing, because we were carrying astronauts, we were getting basically for free $400 million a year at about $90 million per seat for each foreign astronaut. That is more than the entire cost of the rocket and the ship and launch operations taken together. This means as long as we had at least one foreign astronaut on board, we were launching for free. For us this wasn’t just a freebie—it was a narcotic. It allowed us to do absolutely nothing and still earn money. And now, this narcotic is going to be cut off, and we will be forced to do something. Either we will pass into history along with all of our space achievements, like Portugal, with its discovery of America and the voyages of Magellan and so forth, or we will have to seriously do something. We are going to have to get down off of the needle: if our economy is sitting on an oil-gas needle [referring to Russia’s primary economic dependence on oil and gas exports] then our space program has also 'sat upon a needle' and become dependent on this American money. So now we must demonstrate what we are really made of. Are we really worthy of the glory of Gagarin?" Certainly this is not the kind of thing one expects to hear too often from Russia about its venerable space program, but this kind of criticism is not unique.
Where does fake movie money come from? / CNN
In 2001, during the filming of "Rush Hour 2" in Las Vegas, about $1 billion in convincing prop money was blown up during a scene, but some bills escaped destruction and ended up in circulation. That's when the Secret Service got involved. The event set a precedent for prop money makers. RJ said he speaks directly with the government to comply with federal rules while finding ways to create the best possible fake dollars. He makes two types: one for close-ups and one that will look real from about 15 inches away. He calls them high grade and standard grade. "Our standard grade prop money is printed on both sides, but has an optical illusion built into it. It looks realistic at an arm's length, but when you start bringing it closer, it actually changes over and it reveals itself as fake." The trick, he said, is to make it look real on camera but fake if somebody tries to spend it at a store.
Meet The White House's New Chief Climate Change Skeptic / NPR
Happer is an intriguing and controversial figure. He was born in India when it was a British colony, the son of a Scottish military officer and an American medical missionary. His mother, with young Will in tow, spent part of World War II working as a physician at the secret Manhattan Project site in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The family later settled in North Carolina. Happer became a physicist. He taught at Columbia University and joined the faculty at Princeton University in 1980. "He is a damn good scientist," says Steven Koonin, a prominent physicist who is now a professor at New York University and who has known Happer for 30 years. "There are two really significant contributions associated with him." One of them made it possible to capture much better images of people's lungs; the other allows astronomers to see the stars more clearly. At the same time, Happer acquired a reputation as a contrarian, quick to challenge conclusions that struck him as unproven — especially when it came to environmental science. That reputation was cemented by Happer's confrontation with Gore's staff over risks posed by the ozone hole. The incident was widely covered in scientific publications — Physics Today ran an article headlined "Happer Leaves DOE Under Ozone Cloud For Violating Political Correctness."
India-Pakistan Crisis: Why They Keep Fighting Over Kashmir / New York Times
Two nuclear-armed siblings with a long history of armed conflict. Two prime ministers facing public pressure for military action. And a snowy, mountainous region that both nations have coveted — and occupied with troops — for more than 70 years. It was almost inevitable that fighting would break out again between India and Pakistan. In February, a young suicide bomber struck a convoy of trucks carrying paramilitary forces in Pulwama, in the disputed border state of Jammu and Kashmir, the region’s deadliest attack in 30 years.
Theranos was Fraudulent, What About Its Patents? / Marginal Revolution
Despite never having built a working product, Theranos accumulated hundreds of patents. These patents are now the only thing of value left but the patents aren’t valuable because of breakthrough science, the patents are valuable because they can be used to force people who do breakthrough science to cough up part of their return.
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How 'Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse' Was Animated | Movies Insider / YouTube
There's a new Spider-Man on the block, and his name is Miles Morales. And to go along with the fresh face, the filmmakers created a whole new style of animation that really brings him to life.
Rule Thinkers In, Not Out / Slate Star Codex
Imagine a black box which, when you pressed a button, would generate a scientific hypothesis. 50% of its hypotheses are false; 50% are true hypotheses as game-changing and elegant as relativity. Even despite the error rate, it’s easy to see this box would quickly surpass space capsules, da Vinci paintings, and printer ink cartridges to become the most valuable object in the world. [...] What if the box had only a 10% success rate? A 1% success rate? My guess is: still most valuable object in the world. Even an 0.1% success rate seems pretty good, considering (what if we ask the box for cancer cures, then test them all on lab rats and volunteers?) You have to go pretty low before the box stops being great. I thought about this after reading this list of geniuses with terrible ideas. Linus Pauling thought Vitamin C cured everything. Isaac Newton spent half his time working on weird Bible codes. Nikola Tesla pursued mad energy beams that couldn’t work. Lynn Margulis revolutionized cell biology by discovering mitochondrial endosymbiosis, but was also a 9-11 truther and doubted HIV caused AIDS. Et cetera. Obviously this should happen. Genius often involves coming up with an outrageous idea contrary to conventional wisdom and pursuing it obsessively despite naysayers. But nobody can have a 100% success rate. [...] I think about this every time I hear someone say something like “I lost all respect for Steven Pinker after he said all that stupid stuff about AI”. Your problem was thinking of “respect” as a relevant predicate to apply to Steven Pinker in the first place. Is he your father? Your youth pastor? No? Then why are you worrying about whether or not to “respect” him? Steven Pinker is a black box who occasionally spits out ideas, opinions, and arguments for you to evaluate.
A Mega-Trailer for the Whole 10-Film Star Wars Franchise / Kottke
In 2012, actor and budding film editor Topher Grace took all three Star Wars prequels and condensed them into an 85-minute movie called Star Wars: Episode III.5: The Editor Strikes Back. Earlier today, Grace and trailer editor Jeff Yorkes uploaded a trailer they created for all 10 movies in the Star Wars franchise: the originals, the prequels, the two new ones, and the Star Wars Stories (Solo and Rogue One). As a trailer, it leaves a lot out, but the pair still make a few connections explicit that the casual fan may have overlooked in the midst of all the light saber & fighter duels.
Meaningful / Slate Star Codex
Two children are reading a text written by an AI: The hobbits splashed water in each other’s faces until they were both sopping wet. One child says to the other “Wow! After reading some text, the AI understands what water is!” The second child says “It doesn’t really understand.” The first child says “Sure it does! It understands that water is the sort of substance that splashes. It understands that people who are splashed with water get wet. What else is left to understand?” The second child says “All it understands is relationships between words. None of the words connect to reality. It doesn’t have any internal concept of what water looks like or how it feels to be wet. Only that the letters W-A-T-E-R, when appearing near the letters S-P-L-A-S-H bear a certain statistical relationship to the letters W-E-T.” [...] Two chemists are watching the children argue with each other. The first chemist says “Wow! After seeing an AI, these kids can debate the nature of water!” The second chemist says “Ironic, isn’t it? After all, the children themselves don’t understand what water is! Water is two hydrogen atoms plus one oxygen atom, and neither of them know!”
This Gymnast's Backflip-To-Handstand Trick Will Make You Gasp / Digg
I watch a lot of gymnastics content, so while a lot of insane stunts on spring floors get me excited, not a lot surprise me. This is different.
The Real Powerhouses That Drive the World’s Economy / CityLab
When world leaders, economists, and pundits talk about global economic power, they usually talk about nation-states. That’s how we typically tally up economic power, rating and ranking nations on their gross domestic product. Today, economists and business analysts talk about when China will overtake the United States as world’s largest economy (based on at least one measure of purchasing power parity it already has). But this obsession with nation-states does not fit the reality of today’s highly-clustered knowledge economy, centered in and around global cities. And, it’s not just individual cities and metropolitan areas that power the world economy. Increasingly, the real driving force is larger combinations of cities and metro areas called mega-regions.
Stone Age Cave Symbols May All Be Part of a Single Prehistoric Proto-Writing System / Kottke
While studying some of the oldest art in the world found in caves and engraved on animal bones or shells, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found evidence of a proto-writing system that perhaps developed in Africa and then spread throughout the world.
Evidence for the Continental Axis Hypothesis / Marginal Revolution
One of the most striking hypotheses in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel was that technology diffused more easily along lines of latitude than along lines of longitude because climate changed more rapidly along lines of longitude making it more difficult for both humans and technologies to adapt. Thus, a long East-West axis, such as that found in Eurasia, meant a bigger “market” for technology and thus greater development.
Why Are Pretzels Shaped Like That? And 17 Other Food Mysteries, Solved / The Daily Meal
CEOs play games cooperatively, and well / Marginal Revolution
Our study combines a stratified random sample of 200 CEOs of medium-sized firms with a carefully selected control group of 200 comparable people. All subjects participated in three incentivized games—Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken, Battle-of-the-Sexes. Beliefs were elicited for each game. We report substantial and robust differences in both behavior and beliefs between the CEOs and the control group. The most striking results are that CEOs do not best respond to beliefs; they cooperate more, play less hawkish and thereby earn much more than the control group.
Injectable Nanoparticles Let Mice See Near Infrared! / Marginal Revolution
Wow! This paper, Mammalian Near-Infrared Image Vision through Injectable and Self-Powered Retinal Nanoantenna, newly published in Cell seems like something from the future. Basically they injected nano-particles that convert near infra-red to visible light into the retinal layer of the eye in mice enabling the mice to see in the near infra-red.
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