2016-05-29

HULK SMASH (again)

Death is too good for these people.  All you need to know:


Police allege they denied Alex (Alexandru) Radita treatment for diabetes, which ultimately killed him. Court heard Tuesday Alex, 15, weighed 37 pounds when he died.
Follow the link and look at the pictures.  And tear up with rage.


Quite late to the party

I was playing Talos Principle just now, and listening to Radio Paradise on headphones when this came up.   It's an awesome song.

It sounded like recent Green Day at first, but there's a definite celtic flavor, a bit of Flogging Molly (or Dropkick Murphys, but not quite as raw) mixed in.

It really works.

Still wrong

I didn't really comment on the article preceding this one, but it's now clear that there was plenty of room in Nicholas Kristof's mouth to insert the other foot.
It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”
Maybe, just maybe,  heed the wisdom of the crowd.   The widespread disagreement is because the premise is faulty.
On campuses at this point, illiberalism is led by liberals. The knee-jerk impulse to protest campus speakers from the right has grown so much that even Democrats like Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, have been targeted. 
This is a red herring.  This "first female secretary of state" is best known for her failure of imagination that led directly to the successful attacks on 9/11, and for her role in spreading the false pretenses used to invade Iraq two years later.

And Kristof would have us pretend that these two dramatic integrity failures don't render Condolezza Rice's opinion invalid on everything.   This isn't illiberal censorship, it is people, correctly, resisting a naked attempt to whitewash history.

But wait, there's more:
Mixed in here are legitimate issues. I don’t think that a university should hire a nincompoop who disputes evolution, or a racist who preaches inequality. But as I see it, the bigger problem is not that conservatives are infiltrating social science departments to spread hatred, but rather that liberals have turned departments into enclaves of ideological homogeneity.
Let's unpack this argument. Social science departments are dominated by liberals.  Think about sociology, where fairly rigorous statistical studies of social problems are performed.  The conservative preoccupation with "moral failure" and "family breakdown" have very little use in explaining any correlations that that data may uncover.

So in the social sciences, it's not that liberals are creating an ideological enclave, it's that conservative values are fundamentally incompatible with the studies that these departments perform!

But NO, it's liberals who are wrong.
And after whining about how unfair it is that liberals don't seem to like evangelical christians, he says:
I’ve often denounced conservative fearmongering about Muslims and refugees, and the liberal hostility toward evangelicals seems rooted in a similar insularity. Surveys show that Americans have negative views of Muslims when they don’t know any; I suspect many liberals disdain evangelicals in part because they don’t have any evangelical friends.
No, it really isn't.  The reason liberals don't have evangelical friends, is because we know evangelicals, and their effect on our society.  Are you really going to try and maintain a friendship with somebody who tells you, repeatedly, that you're going to hell for various reasons?   This is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

I mean where the fuck can anybody live in this country and not encounter an evangelical christian, in person, on a nearly daily basis?

And this is just wrong.
Third, when scholars cluster on the left end of the spectrum, they marginalize themselves. We desperately need academics like sociologists and anthropologists influencing American public policy on issues like poverty, yet when they are in an outer-left orbit, their wisdom often goes untapped.

In contrast, economists remain influential. I wonder if that isn’t partly because there is a critical mass of Republican economists who battle the Democratic economists and thus tether the discipline to the American mainstream.
Republican economists worship ZardozFriedman in a bizarre death cult.  I'm going to contradict myself a little here on the wisdom of crowds point, but the American mainstream is a very poor watermark for effective policy.   Especially in economics where it's been steeped in right-wing propaganda for half a century.

And thus, these two paragraphs contradict each other.  The first argues that we need to move to the left on social issues, and the second implies that those that pull to the left need to pull to the right, because why?  Expertise is expertise, and he's proposing to tie the dead albatross of the non-expert American "mainstream" around our experts' necks!
I’ve had scores of earnest conversations with scholars on these issues. Many make the point that there simply aren’t many conservative social scientists available to hire. That’s true. The self-selection is also understandable: If I were on the right, I’d be wary of pursuing an academic career (conservatives repeatedly described to me being belittled on campuses and suffering what in other contexts are called microaggressions).
That's a nice straw man you're building there.  It's not that conservatives are afraid of hurt fee-fees and we liberals need to make "safe spaces" for them too.  It's that the ideology does not value the subject matter.  Period.  Conservatives already have their explanations for social problems.   No need to research them.

Think about how a conservative might teach The Scarlet Letter...

2016-05-28

You want awkward, I got your awkward right here!


The second gentlemen from the left (bushy eyebrows, no glasses) is a teenage (16 if I remember correctly) student from Iraq.  I took this picture in Karlsruhe, Germany on 07/24/2003.

A few months before, GWB invaded his country.  

Imagine meeting somebody from a country that yours is actively attacking...for reasons that are at best suspect.   It wasn't easy for me, and it clearly wasn't easy for him either.

But, as we see in the picture, we were able to put that aside and get to know each other as actual people.  This experience is probably one of the most transformative in my life; it is impossible to forget the look of utter shock, confusion and sadness on his face when we first met.   

2016-05-27

SCHA-WING!

Here internet, make sense of this, bitches.  [mic drop]

And for the hell of it:

And yes, that last one is real.  Not sure if they're still in business though.  Area code is 734, give them a call if you give a fuck.

Dear Netflix

Stop recommending fucking Adam Sandler movies, or anything else associated with Happy Madison Productions. 

There's a reason these aren't viable in a traditional cinema: nobody fucking wants to watch them!

Stop making them, and stop pretending like people may actually care.  

And Jesus H. Pole-dancing Fuckballs, stop emailing me every time you produce one of these pieces of shit!

I mean does Adam Sandler have pictures of Reid Hastings fucking a minority infant, while eating another previously-fucked minority infant or something? 

From now on, kicking puppies will be a good thing

or how I learned to stop worrying and love being pounded in the butt by my own butt.


Vox reports on how spectacularly the attempt to ratfuck this year's Hugo Awards by Teddy Beale's merry band of rabid retards (aka the Rabid Puppies) blew up in their faces.

And it is a thing of beauty indeed.
Its proprietor, the aforementioned Chuck Tingle, is the author of such storied works as Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt and My Ass Is Haunted by the Gay Unicorn Colonel. And the battle he's just marched into is a fight by a conservative collective known as "the Puppies" to preserve the honor of the Hugo Awards — the annual populist speculative fiction awards chosen by members of the science fiction and fantasy community — against an onslaught of inclusiveness and diversity that has invaded sci-fi/fantasy writing.
The puppies try nominating this guy:
After achieving fame early in his career for his many books on Bigfoot erotica, Tingle enjoyed major viral success with Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt and its follow-up, Pounded in the Butt by My Book "Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt," not to be confused with its follow-up, Pounded in the Butt by My Book "Pounded in the Butt by My Book 'Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt.'"
So clearly, not a serious pick.   But here's the bombshell: Chuck Tingle registered the domain name http://www.therabidpuppies.com/ and is using the page to solicit attention and/or donations for things that are anathemas (anathamae? anathami?) to the puppies:
  1. Quinn's support network for online harassment victims, Crash Override
  2. Jemisin's acclaimed novel The Fifth Season, which is currently nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel
  3. Fantasy writer Rachel Swirsky's crowdfunding campaign to raise money for LGBTQ health resources
(Tingle, who claims to reside in Billings, Montana, also linked to the donations page for the Billings Public Library.)
Tingle's inclusion of Swirsky is significant. Her short story, "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," is a surreal, jarring allegory for dealing with identity-motivated hate crime and violence. Its inclusion as a 2014 Hugo nominee was widely touted by the Sad/Rabid Puppies as being the ultimate example of how "SJWs" — the shorthand for "social justice warriors," a derogatory term many in the "alt-right" use to refer to progressives and intersectional feminists — had invaded SFF culture.
Here's a link to this particular story, btw.  It's very good, and deserved the attention it received.  Go read it.  Seriously.  Do.  I mean it.  Go.

Thanks to some rules changes after last year's puppy attack, 2017 should be more immune to this kind of nonsense.   I'm a new comer to the Hugo Awards, but I have developed a tremendous amount of respect for them.   The best books I've read recently have either been Hugo Award winners, Nominees, or sequels of winners (themselves also nominees), and the organic diversification of SciFi authors, whose writing include ideas more challenging that describing space battles with pornographic detail, is a very good thing.

I mean why read if we don't want to challenge ourselves, reflect, think and grow as individuals?  For those that don't, there are 4 more transformers movies on deck.


2016-05-26

A modest proposal

Found elsewhere:


At least they're gluten free, amirite?

And apropos of nothing:


Cheap Labor

I used to be a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), but opted not to renew my membership, because ACM tends to focus much more on pedagogy than practicum.  IEEE would be a better fit for me in my professional life.

What does this have to do with cheap labor?  ACM's member publication, Communications, spilled  much ink over these misguided pop-coding efforts.
The light and fluffy version of computer science—which is proliferating as a superficial response to the increased need for coders in the workplace—is a phenomenon I refer to as “pop computing.” While calling all policy makers and education leaders to consider “computer science education for all” is a good thing, the coding culture promoted by Code.org and its library of movie-branded coding apps provide quick experiences of drag-and-drop code entertainment. This accessible attraction can be catchy, it may not lead to harder projects that deepen understanding.
There were often articles in Communications about some new drag and drop programming frame work, and while development of such a system requires an understanding of programming concepts, the use of such a system requires no such understanding.

And as such, it doesn't confer upon its users any understanding of computer science either.

But the crux of the issue is this:
The US Department of Labor projects that one million jobs in computing will go unfilled by 2020. These are good jobs, jobs that would allow economic mobility and great earning potential over the course of a career. We know why these positions aren’t being filled—a lack of skilled candidates.
Not quite.  It isn't a lack of skilled candidates, it's a lack of a pre-trained workforce that is large enough to drive down wages.

The idea that eduction, even secondary education is vocational training, and that graduates should emerge from universities with fully-developed skillsets that are directly applicable to the coding challenges that businesses face is a big part of the problem.  Employers, in their dogmatic adherence to Friedman's commandment refuse to invest in developing the necessary skill sets in house, preferring instead to externalize that core business function.

So there is now an expectation that the public educational system repurpose itself from maintaining an educated populace, to simple job training.

And the ACM is happy to oblige this incorrect view of education in our society.  Other less benign organizations, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are also invested in this myth.

Computer science is not approachable.  It is similar to mathematics, but even more abstract and more arbitrary.  There are some underlying concepts that one learns in a traditional computer science curriculum that enables one to quickly adapt to new languages, but these concepts are the difficult part of compsci.

Automata, for example, are foundational to how computers even operate, and I have a hard time with them.  Not only are they foundational, but regular expressions that I need to work with on a daily basis are based on them.

This stuff isn't going to be taught in any pop-compsci class.

Furthermore, when entry level programming jobs are requiring multiple years of prior experience, it's clear that the problem is the unwillingness of employers to invest in their workforces' skill sets.

It's a real-life catch-22.  New college grads lack the required experience (on paper) for entry level jobs.  Entry-level jobs are how one acquires that experience.  A candidate with a proper computer science education can understand programming logic without being proficient in the desired language, and will be able to learn whatever language is needed very quickly on the job.  But HR departments don't care about this, and demand unrealistic qualifications anyway.

When I read stuff like this:
To truly impact an children’s cognitive development, and prepare them for future computing jobs that may not even exist yet, we must move beyond pop computing. I strongly believe that learning computing should become mandatory in all schools, and should be viewed in the same context as reading and writing. Students must be challenged and encouraged to think differently in each grade level, subject matter, and read/write various computing projects every day in their academic life. With this mindset and approach we’ll help this generation of students fill those one million jobs, all of which require so much more than dragging and clicking.
I see acquiescence to the employer-driven demand for cheap labor, and very little else.

All in obsequious devotion to the Friedman doctrine.

/rant

2016-05-25

Wonket rulez

Just go read it.  The Oregon Morons are suing, because they can't have guns in JAIL of all places.  As usual, Wonkette delivers the perfect snarky retort.

(Note: Wonkette tends to be stupid like a fox, in that they express very nuanced and well reasoned ideas in crude and unserious buffy-speak.  It's almost like a real life version of The Onion, if the stuff they write about weren't so depressing).

Vomit box yet again

Sheer curiosity, and the low price tag, compelled me to buy Proton Pulse, and I think I'm now sold on VR, even the crude Google cardboard.

Proton pulse is a Breakout-type game that is set in a 3d space.  The player is at one end, and the blocks to break at the other.  The ball moves towards the player and is bounced toward the blocks by a transparent platform controlled by where the player looks.

What isn't apparent is exactly how well this works.  The player simply needs to keep their eyes on the ball, which feels very natural.  The "paddle" is divided into 4 quadrants which influence the direction of the ball when it is bounced back, which is also very intuitive, and allows for more fine-grained control.

It's still very crude, but the controls are extremely responsive to motion, so even though the visuals are less than ideal, the overall experience is just indescribable. 

Seeing really is believing.

It is a distorted perspective

PZ is skeptical of a realignment of the Atheist Movement to be more inclusive of other social issues.
It’s what I want to happen, and maybe I just have a distorted perspective, but when I look at my email and see the hate pouring in, all from atheists who are deeply resentful of women and minorities, and somehow blame me for letting them in (which is twisted enough as it is — these people are so far gone that they can’t imagine this situation occurring without an old white guy being responsible), and I don’t see what change this author is seeing. The same white, male, affluent (or white, male, not-rich-enough-and-hating it) faces are still here, still dominating the conversation, still smugly confident that they are right and in control, still flooding any women or minorities with concentrated bile.
And he's right, there is such bile, and PZ, being one of the more popular, and recognizable voices in the Atheist community, I would bet is on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of hateback.

By the way, PZ has always been one of the most inclusive of others in the conversation.

[note: I prefer words like community and conversation to movement, because the latter has connotations of a top-down authoritarian leadership, rather than being built from the bottom up by participatory involvement]

But I am more optimistic.  Here's the piece that PZ links to.  This paragraph stood out and really explains why a more inclusive Atheist Community is inevitable, despite the protestations of the anti-SJW reactionaries.
Jamila Bey, the communications director of the Secular Student Alliance, summed up the concerns of many in a recent interview: “There are people who say, ‘Why are we talking about racism? We would rather argue that Chupacabra are fake.’ And fine, that is their right. On the other hand, I don’t get to divorce my critical thinking from my blackness, from my femaleness, from my position as a mother. So when I see the only affordable child care in my community being offered at churches, that’s an issue for me that makes me say ‘Wait a minute, there’s a problem here. Why am I not being afforded the opportunity for my child not to be indoctrinated just so my kid has somewhere to play and meet other children?’ I can’t divorce my whole life from my skepticism and for anybody who says, well , talking about female issues or talking about issues that impact black people, oh, that’s taking away from skepticism, I go, well that’s really easy for you to say. This is my life. I can’t divorce the issues. You can choose to not care about them or whatever, but don’t tell me I’m diminishing skepticism because I’m talking about the reality of what my life is.”
That's it in a nutshell.  It's a perspective that white male reactionary atheists, from privileged perches deep within the bowels of their mothers' basements, are unlikely to ponder, and since ideological purity of the tribal association with an Atheist movement is being "diluted," they lash out.  And it's wrong.

But it's not a movement, it's a community.  And we realize it.
But despite the organized hatefulness, racism, misogyny, transphobia, or just the malign neglect of old-school atheists, those who are demanding that atheism become more intersectional and diverse are not becoming silent or fading away into the background. It’s becoming more and more obvious that these critiques are essential if organized atheism is to transcend its stereotype as a refuge for privileged eccentrics.
Right on!  We are slaughtering the sacred cows (metaphorically) of Harris, and Dawkins, and new voices are joining the conversation.   It's slow, but it is happening.

Monster on Sunday

I'm running about a week behind on podcasts now, which means I'm catching up (and that's a feat, considering I only listen to them while driving), and I started this one today.

It's about a band, Monster on Sunday, which is an overtly atheist act.

And I have something of a problem with that.

It's not that I dislike the music, though, it isn't really my cup of tea; it sounds like generic GNR-era mid-1990s top 40 cock rock.  It'll probably be fun live, but it's just not the type of music that I would chose if given control of the soundtrack.

I don't really take issue with the message.  I like the idea of incorporating reason into the art.

My problem is with the atheist branding. 

But wait?  Aren't you an atheist? The one daily Chrome-on-Mac reader might ask...and yes I am.

I've written about this kind of thing before, and my reason for my unease with this particular act is basically the music: art or platform question.  The overt atheist identity, while admirable, places this band square on the platform side, and that gives me pause.

In what passes for society today, we have two big media silos.  One is the secular pop-culture which most of us would identify as simply culture.  Block buster movies, and most top 40, 100 or whatever pop dreck ends up filling the space between commercials on the radio goes here.

The other is an alternate sectarian (christian, specifically) media universe.  Seth has an excellent podcast about his days as a radio broadcaster in this environment, which is very enlightening on the topic.   This is where movies like Megiddo: The Omega Code (and Sequel, featuring Michael York, of Austin Powers fame), Left Behind, etc come from.

Occasionally, something with artistic merit will bubble up from the sectarian swamp into the regular pop-culture pool, but this is rare.

Back to Monster on Sunday: what they're doing is establishing their own little silo within the broader secular media landscape, and I think that would be unnecessary.   Combine this with the music-as-platform approach, I see more tribalism and less love of art in the band.

Music preferences factor far to much into how we self-identify, and this sort of thing exacerbates that problem.  I want to see atheism take over the secular pop-culture silo, not establish its own separate bubble like the sectarians have.

EDIT: after listening to more of the interview with the MOS band, I really haven't changed my opinion on the art vs platform question, and the necessity of actually having a separate cultural silo for atheist media.  That said, their personal histories are very compelling, and whatever comfort that others may find in the story behind the music is valuable.  I'm very privileged to live in a part of the country where religion isn't really a very large part of life, but others do not, and it is probably overall very helpful for people in less civilized area to have some cultural support.

So at the end of the day, I'm not a fan of the music, but I've softened a little bit on the other stuff.  

SLAPP

That's Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and it seems to be happening to gawker.
As for the lawsuits against Gawker Media, “the evidence has built up over time that there are questions that are unanswered here,” Mr. Denton said. “The data point that really got us thinking was the move that they made on insurance, which seemed designed to prevent insurance paying for our defense.”

Mr. Denton is referring to a decision by Mr. Hogan’s legal team to abruptly drop one of the claims — for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” — from its case. That claim had a particularly special meaning: It was the one claim that required Gawker’s insurance company to pay for its defense as well as potential payouts in the case of a settlement. (That provision of Gawker’s insurance policy became public after the insurance company, Nautilus, sued Gawker to try to limit payment for defense.)

Several legal experts said that it was particularly unusual for a plaintiff using a lawyer being paid on a contingency basis not only to turn down settlement offers (several sizable settlements were proffered by Gawker) but also to pursue a strategy that prevented an insurance company from being able to contribute to a settlement.
A move made purely to cause financial harm to the defendant, not to get the maximum payout for the plaintiff.

And the SLAPP is being bankrolled by a third party.
Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook FB +1.50%, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer.
Whatever one's opinion of Gawker is, the whole situation that led to this lawsuit is absurd.   I mean, if somebody who changed their legal name to Bubba the Love Sponge pleads with you to please bang his wife, might you suspect that it's not all on the up and up?   Of course it's going to be recorded.

Hulk is an ass for doing it (and he settled with Bubba for like $5000).  The rest of this smells like SLAPP.

2016-05-24

Yes, this is our planet


From here.  No real comment on the article, other than I'm a bit uneasy about the changing environment (though cephalopods taste pretty good), but this picture is absolutely haunting, and beautiful.   It's like looking at a completely different world.

Vomit box redux

Now that I'm feeling better, I gave the Google cardboard VR thing from the NYT again.

This time, it didn't make me nauseous, so the last bout was most likely due to the food poisoning.  Headphones also helped make the space seem more coherent, if still a little blurry.

It was actually pretty neat watching the New Horizons probe zoom by, and to be able to follow it as it passed, as well as see a three dimensional pluto, with surface topology, and be able to look around as the narrator described the scene.

I could even pick out some constellations, chief among them, Orion, and I hope these were not artistically superimposed on New Horizons-derived data.

So a $15 piece of cardboard and lenses, with a smart phone provides a crude, but passable virtual reality experience.   I was pretty skeptical of this cheap ad-hoc VR, but seeing is believing.  It's not perfect, but there's serious potential.

Imagine if this technology was as widespread in 1969 when we landed on the moon as it is today.  Or imagine how much more immersive a nature documentary on the Serengeti would be if you could walk around the pack of hyenas eating a wildebeest and inspect it from all angles.

I'm not sure this will make all content better, but putting the viewer in charge of the view adds an element of personal investment in the material that is absent from traditional and regular 3d video.




2016-05-23

Vomit box

The NYT randomly sent me this thing today:

Yes, that's a Google Cardboard.

They're pushing their VR stuff pretty hard it seems, and since they sent it, I figured I'd give it a try.

A couple of thoughts:
  1. It works just fine with an iPhone SE, but a 6 or 6S would probably be a bit better.
  2. The actual video, about Pluto, is actually pretty cool.  It places the viewer inside a space, and is responsive to head position, allowing the viewer to choose what to look at. 
  3. There is a significant screen door effect, and the video is low resolution.
But since I'm home sick today with food poisoning, the dissociation between perceived motion in the viewer, and sitting still made me extremely nauseous in a matter of minutes.

Even now, about 15 minutes after taking it off, I still feel barfy.

I'll have to try again when I'm not already sick. 

2016-05-20

Overheard in the hallway

Walking back from the little boys room just now I overheard the following:
You'd think that you just mix cadmium and tellurium and you'd get cadmium telluride, but that BOOM...totally wrong [arms waving].
Sometimes it's great working in a major corporate research lab.  (these particular people work on radiation detection)

This is the type of water cooler conversation that happens around here.  Imagine some of your coworkers discussing whatever latest reality show they all follow, and replace the words with those quoted above.

I guess you had to be there.

Freeze Peach

...or why Slashdot is a cesspool of assholery.

Case in point:  The discussion of PornHub's "Bangfit" exercise program begins thusly.
His erect penis,
Plugged inside a man's anus.
He is a faggot.
I was 12 once, so I know the joys of writing inappropriate haikus.
I have underwear
Now it is too tight for me
my nards scream in pain
But I digress.   As offensive as the post is, the disgusting thing is how well received it is by the basement-dwelling vulgarians who make up the slashdot community (after the more enlightened of us gave up in frustration).

Beyond the best comment ever, and COTY (comment of the year)-type posts, we have the:
Immediately moderated into oblivion by the SJW's, I see. Pieces of shit.
And
This is hilarious. Too bad everyone here will mod it down because they're all whiny bitches.
I see SJW used as a pejorative, and that's my berserk button.  Here's the thing: people who call out racism, sexism, homophobia, and whatever other form of bigotry might come up aren't the assholes.   They're not censoring anybody's ability to be a racist, sexist, homophobe or general asshole.  We just calls 'em like we sees 'em.

What these anti-SJW types are really demanding by lashing out like this are, ironically, safe spaces, where the opinions they hold, which themselves have already lost out in the marketplace of ideas, can be expressed without consequences.

Nobody is obliged to provide such a platform.

I'm going to give some advice to the delicate little flowers who believe themselves to be oppressed by the cabal of the polite:  If you encounter an asshole, that's an asshole.  If everybody you encounter is treating you like an asshole, TRIGGER WARNING: you're the asshole.

For the hell of it: Enjoy this scene from the movie Philadelphia.

2016-05-19

Salt

So the pink Himalayan salt experiment has ended.   I flat out don't like the stuff; it's a pretty color, but it really isn't as salty as sea, kosher, or even table salt, which in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the real problem is the iron oxides that are responsible for the pink color.

They make the salt taste "dirty."  There is a subtle, but noticeable "old car" undertone that makes it unsuitable for seasoning or garnish.

So I'm back to sea salt.  Bonus points for sea salt tasting exactly like the ocean. 

Zooooooom!

That noise you hear is this flying way over my head:

My earlier post, where I linked to a youtube clip of Just So Stories, I didn't catch this:
ONCE upon a time, on an uninhabited island on the shores of the Red Sea, there lived a Parsee from whose hat the rays of the sun were reflected in more-than-oriental splendour. 
How is a Parsee-man living on an uninhabited island?  Wouldn't that make it inhabited?

I'm also having trouble with these mechanics.
And the Rhinoceros upset the oil-stove with his nose, and the cake rolled on the sand, and he spiked that cake on the horn of his nose, and he ate it, and he went away, waving his tail, to the desolate and Exclusively Uninhabited Interior which abuts on the islands of Mazanderan, Socotra, and Promontories of the Larger Equinox.
Run on sentence aside, how might a rhinoceros manage to take a bite out of something that is impaled on its horn? 

The rest of the story makes sense though ;)

2016-05-18

I take that back.

Best Editor, Long Form (1764 nominating ballots)
  • Vox Day
  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Jim Minz
  • Toni Weisskopf
Yeah, Theodore Beale will win...He's only on that list because of affirmative action for white privilege.

Here's a hilarious hagiography of Beale on Phyllis Schafly's crotchfruit's personal blog.  

A somewhat more...ahem...accurate biography can be found elsewhere.

This year's Hugo Awards are going to be a blast

The "puppies" are at it again, but this time it seems to have backfired.

That’s where the Hugos come in. Since trolls gotta troll in order to justify their petty lives, they decided to troll the Hugo Awards. Want to know why? The same reason the neighborhood bully knocks over your Lego tower. They can’t figure out how to make one of their own. Using underhanded tactics, they nominated a “satire” of my work to the ballot, which the white supremacist posted on his own blog. As the publisher, he included a comment saying I should be killed. Sure, it’s phrased as a “joke.” But the dogs can hear the whistle.
 Luckily, there’s a hilarious silver lining. Because he and his followers are the kind of juvenile people who assume “gay = porn” (apparently, the word “gay” causes them to compulsively think of gay sex, which must be alarming for a homophobe), they also nominated a piece of porn about a dude who has sex with dinosaurs. It’s called “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” and it’s hilarious because the story’s author, Chuck Tingle, is some sort of subversive, queer, meta-fictional performance artist. Remember when Stephen Colbert hosted the white house correspondence dinner because no one bothered to do their leg work? It’s like that.
 It's TRUE!!   Here are the nominees for best short story:
  • “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
  • “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
  • “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
  • “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
  • Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)
Here's the Amazon link to what might be the the very reason the phrase 'hoist on own retard' exists.   It's seems like a delightful story:
Space can be a lonely place, especially when you’re stationed by yourself on the distant planet Zorbus. In fact, Lance isn’t quite sure that can last the whole year before his shuttle pod arrives, but when a mysterious visitor appears at Lance’s terraforming station, he quickly realizes that he might not be so alone after all.
Soon enough, Lance becomes close with this mysterious new astronaut, a velociraptor. Together, they form an unlikely duo, which quickly begins to cross the boundaries of friendship into something much, much more sensual.
But wait! There's more!  Chuck Tingle [correction: This is not by Chuck Tingle, but by Tuck Chingle] noticed his nomination and voila, Pounded in the Butt by Chuck Tingle's Hugo is born.
Underappreciated author and butt pounding afficionado Chuck Tingle is nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award yet all his editor can think about is the award itself. And what it might feel like pounded in his butt.
A satire of the current Hugo Award controversy in the style of humorous author Chuck Tingle, this metafictional story is both hilarious and biting in its satirical joining of those that nominated Chuck Tingle and Chuck Tingle himself.
There is hope for mankind after all.

NUTS!

I did about as well as in the "Classics" literature course I chose in high school (72%).

Would you pass lit 101?

On the bright side, I did much better on the Are You Scientifically Literate quiz.

2016-05-17

Here's Johnny!

Reading the first bit of this article on the origin of the Giraffe's long neck (bonus points for adding a picture of the only animal clearly designed by committee).

I instantly conflated Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, specifically, the one about the elephant, with this Farside cartoon (sorry for the tiny image, I'll replace if I find a better one).
Growing up, when I was very, very little, and my father bought his first CD player (in like 1986), he bought this CD of Jack Nicholson narrating Rudyard Kipling's stories with Bobby McFerrin providing accompaniment.  This takes me back.

It has actually aged pretty well, even if it sounds a little like Jack is phoning it in at the beginning.

Really? In twentyfuckingsixteen?

Or is it twentysixfuckingteen?

But I digress.   Seems a federal court finally dragged one Mississippi town kicking and screaming into the middle of the last century.
A federal court has ordered a town in Mississippi to desegregate its high schools and middle schools, ending a five-decade-long legal battle over integrating black and white students.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi ordered the Cleveland School District to consolidate the schools after rejecting two alternatives proposed by the school district, saying they were unconstitutional.
How the hell can they drag that out for fifty fucking years??  I'm speechless.

There are already large enough disparities in educational opportunities between wealthy and poor communities; we don't need to exacerbate the problem by making race a factor.
Testimony given in court by both white and black residents described a stigma associated with the black schools and a perception among families that white students received a better education.
And what of the opportunities that were never available to black students because of this additional stigma?  Is that just collateral damage from a town digging in for 50 years (!) on a blatantly untenable position?

1988

More muzak.  This just came up on shuffle.


Queensryche is one of my vices.   At least up until Geoff Tate started flinging feces everywhere (but the new reformed Queensryche with Todd La Torre on vocals is far superior to Tate's solo effort, DeGarmo's absence notwithstanding).

Phew.  Anyway.  This particular song is one I'm very familiar with, since it's part of a concept album, and the song in which one of the main players is introduced.  The album was released in 1988, btw.

The first thing that struck me was the bass line is awesome!  It's like something one might expect from a Rush song.

And the second thing is this, which is a spoken verse about 3/4 of the way into the song.
Religion and sex are powerplays [sic]
Manipulate the people for the money they pay
Selling skin, selling God
The numbers look the same on their credit cards
Politicians say no to drugs
While we pay for wars in South America

Fighting fire with empty words
While the banks get fat
And the poor stay poor
And the rich get rich
And the cops get paid
To look away
As the one percent rules America
This was released in 1988, and it sounds (reads?) exactly like the prominent political rhetoric of today.  Granted, the Iran-Contra reference is a bit dated, but update it with a war on "terror" reference and it's every bit as prescient today as it was when it was written.

Posessing large quantities of ferrite

It might be clear that I've become frustrated in the face of persistent anti-intellectualism.  So apropos of nothing, I present NOFX:


I take her to the aquarium, she says "Shark",
I take her to the planetarium, she says "Dark",
I take her to the seaside where she likes to spin and twirl,
Now she says "Sure" and "Cool" and "Yeah",
She's my Monosyllabic girl...

I take her to the university, she says "Huh",
I take her to our anniversary, she says "One",
I take her to the jewelry store, I said "Diamonds", she said "Pearl",
Oh, everyone knows I'm in love with a Monosyllabic girl,
You know everyone knows I'm in love with a Monosyllabic girl...

Quote of the year

Thomas Manning on NPR.
CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Speaking from his hospital bed, Thomas Manning said there's an obvious reason why he wanted to have this surgery.

THOMAS MANNING: First because they amputated my penis. That's the first answer. And if you think about it, if you really think about how much sense that makes, that's the only answer.
Listen to the audio, it's priceless.  It's as if somebody asked him flat out why would you want a penis transplant? And this was the most polite way to say what kind of fucking stupid question is that!?!

Take them to the cleaners

The owner of a popular downtown bistro claims the city’s negligence not only shuttered her business but also jeopardized her life and safety when the building started shaking and vibrating and the walls, ceilings and floors began cracking.

Besides personal injury, Piyamas Demasi of Schenectady contends in the notice of claim that the closure of the Thai Thai Bistro on April 1 resulted in substantial financial loss and extensive damage to the first floor of the historic Nicholaus building that housed the eatery.

Specifically, the notice of claim – a precursor to a lawsuit – states the city and its employees were “negligent in maintaining, controlling, designing, inspecting, repairing and or constructing” in the area around the Nicholaus building by “granting various permits and permission to construct and demolish structures and grounds.”
Times Union.

I like the Thai Thai Bistro; when my brother comes to visit from California, we have made it somewhat of a tradition to have dinner there when he arrives.

Given that the city approved the construction project that damaged the Nicolaus building, they should assist in relocating the Bistro, and the tenants of the three apartments.

2016-05-16

Don't bring a rhetorical knife to an empirical gunfight

I may have written about this before.  I certainly linked to the study in at least one other post, but this article, and the comments, got me thinking about it again.

First the gist of the study:
There's no one single cause that drives us to strap on a tinfoil hat—instead, a variety of factors interact with each other to push us in that direction. A recent paper in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences reports a correlation between stress and conspiracy theory belief, suggesting that a very common experience could be one of these factors.

It’s possible that believing in conspiracy theories could make people more stressed, says Pascal Wagner-Egger, a conspiracy belief researcher who wasn’t involved in this paper. “Conspiracy theories are not very reassuring beliefs,” he points out. But the authors of the study think it’s likely that causality runs in the other direction here—that stress makes people predisposed to believing in conspiracy theories.

There isn't anything particularly controversial, or even anything that would betray one's intuition about the topic.   I do take some issue with the methodology, because I don't think that their sample is necessarily representative of the broader population (beyond the WEIRD-ness populations of these studies tend to exhibit), but since the conclusion is that stress may be a contributing factor to one's tendency towards conspiracist ideation, it is one of many.

And here is where I get frustrated by these kinds of pop-psychology articles.  The commentariat on Ars are generally pretty thoughtful, and many have actual expertise in the subjects written about on the site.  But there are those who aren't, and don't, and equate technical language with colloquial language out of ignorance.

These commenters trot out their rhetorical knives to empirical gunfights.

One such commenter is attempting to dismiss the entirety of the study out of hand based on the colloquial understanding of the term conspiracy theory.  I'll quote, but not link back to the commenter:
"conspiracy theory" [sic] is a completely abstract umbrella term slapped on top of any number of unrelated subjects. Literally ANYTHING someone does not agree with could be lumped in under that term.
It's intellectually lazy and is a way people skirt the issue and avoid any real analysis of a subject. 
That's true, apart from being correct, accurate, or based in any way on reality. (i crack myself up;)

Anyway.  Let's visit the pdf link at the top of this page and see what they have to say about conspiracy theories.
Conspiratorial thinking, also known as conspiracist ideation, has
been repeatedly implicated in the rejection of scientific propo-
sitions (Diethelm and McKee, 2009; Kalichman, 2009; Goertzel,
2010; McKee and Diethelm, 2010). Conspiracist ideation gener-
ally refers to the propensity to explain a significant political or
social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organiza-
tions (Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009). When conspiracist ideation
is involved in the rejection of science, ideations tend to invoke
alternative explanations for the nature or source of the scien-
tific evidence. For example, among people who reject the link
between HIV and AIDS, common ideations involve the beliefs
that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government to control the
African American population or that people who take medicines
for HIV are guinea pigs for the government (Bogart and Thor-
burn, 2005; Kalichman, 2009). Among African Americans, 16 and
44% of respondents, respectively, have been found to endorse
those two beliefs (Bogart and Thorburn, 2005). Given that such
conspiracist ideation has been associated with sexual risk-taking
behaviors (Bogart et al., 2011), the prominence of conspiracist
ideation among people living with HIV should give rise to con-
cern. AIDS denial also invokes ideations of censorship to explain
why dissenting scientists who question the link between HIV and
AIDS fail to insert their ideas into the peer-reviewed literature
(Kalichman, 2009)1 .
That is just the first paragraph of the introduction.  Those things in parentheses are references to other studies.  That is important because it goes to show just how well studied the phenomenon of conspirational thinking is.  There are actual criteria by which a conspiracist should be classified.
We derived six criteria from the existing literature to permit clas-
sification of hypotheses pertaining to LOG12 as potentially con-
spiracist (see Table 3). Our criteria were exclusively psychological
and hence did not hinge on the validity of the various hypotheses.
This approach follows philosophical precedents that have exam-
ined the epistemology of conspiratorial theorizing irrespective of
its truth value (e.g., Keeley, 1999; Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009).
The approach also avoids the need to discuss or rebut the substance
of any of the hypotheses.
To paraphrase, the one-sentence bullet list of these six criteria are:
  1. The presumed intentions of the "conspirators" is always nefarious.
  2. As a corollary of #1, the conspiracist views his or herself as a victim of the conspiracy, and as a brave antagonist of said theory's nefarious plot.
  3. An almost nihilist degree of skepticism; the  conspiracist  refuses to believe anything that doesn't fit into the conspiracy theory.
  4. Nothing happens by accident.
  5. Goal-post shifting.  As tenets of a conspiracy theory unravel, this doesn't ease the belief that "something is wrong" under it all.
  6. Contrary evidence bolsters the theory, because to the conspiracist, the stronger the evidence, the more they want you to believe it.
So we have a pattern that can be applied to any number of different ideas and chains of reasoning to determine whether or not that thinking is conspiracist in nature.

There is a bit more to it, but this is the gist of it, from my very-not-a-professional-psychologist understanding of the study.

The broader point is there is a tendency among contrarians, denialists and those engaging in various forms of apologetics, to conflate technical language with more common forms (ie just a theory), and leverage any confusion to undermine the whatever is being argued against.  What to do about it?  Well...

2016-05-13

Ticket please

I'm so going to hell (found elsewhere).

What's he up to?

This bird had something in its beak, which it then stuck to the lens of my hidden camera.  What's that all about?

video

But is it gluten free?

Yes, that is a non-GMO certification on a jar of salt.  And honestly, having now tasted the pink stuff, I prefer sea salt.

2016-05-12

Font

Found elsewhere.  Font choice is important!


Fantastic

Just what America needs: an even stronger association with redneck pisswater.

On the plus side, at least they had the decency to put E Pluribus Unum on the can instead of In god We Trust.

Goethe

If I love you, what business is it of yours?
I like this quote, even if it is a little bit solipsist.  Here's a variant from The Dark Forest.
If I destroy you, what business is it of yours? 
Think about that for a minute.   Now think about swatting a fly, or killing a spider.  At what point does an organism become sufficiently complex for it to be generally considered immoral to harm it?

And this should ruin your day: think about the holocaust now, or the Rwandan genocide, or even our own expansion across continental North America...

2016-05-11

Bullshit.

NYT:
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Colorado judge declared the confessed gunman in a rampage last November at a Planned Parenthood clinic here that kiiled three people and wounded nine others mentally incompetent to stand trial.
I guess being stupid is a good enough excuse to get off of an ideologically instigated massacre.   Of course he was delusional!  He's a fucking fundamentalist gun owner!  It goes without saying!
Mr. Dear has insisted that he is competent and ready to stand trial. A Colorado Springs police detective said at a hearing last month that Mr. Dear had told him during more than seven hours of questioning after the shooting that he feared an insanity ruling would diminish his anti-abortion message.
Guess what!  He is!  I mean seriously, how could they possibly rehabilitate somebody so completely fucked that he goes on a rampage?  Who's next? Dylan Roof?  Adam Lanza? 

I mean seriously, this guy didn't accidentally happen upon a Planned Parenthood; he lived 30 miles away!  To drive 30 miles to carry out such an act can't be anything other than premeditation based on a very conscious understanding of the outcome of his actions.  Motivations need not matter here...what do babies or Jeebus have to do with intentionally locating oneself 30 miles from one's residence for the purpose of committing violence against other people?  Having the wherewithal to do so is all that matters here.

Spoiler Alert

Seriously, spoiler alert for The Dark Forest.  If you're not at least 4/5ths of the way through the book, I highly recommend skipping this.

But also buy the book, and its predecessor, the Hugo Award winning The Three Body Problem; they are fantastic.


2016-05-10

ScarJo is hot

[post 400]

Writing the last post about human versus animal intellect got me thinking about what a piece of shit the movie Lucy is.   The whole plot of the film is centered around the idea that any given human being only uses 10% of his or her "brain power" under normal circumstances.   The eponymous Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson, unlocks the full 100% due to an accidental overdose of a mysterious drug while she was acting as a drug mule.

So we get to watch ScarJo leverage her new found abilities, while Morgan Freeman narrates exactly what is happening for the slower audience members, and antelope are hunted by cheetahs, because metaphor.

As I wrote before, it's utter crap.

The idea that human beings have a vast reserve of untapped mental capacity is nonsense.  Period.   We know it's bunk because we can do studies of people that have damage to specific parts of their brains with various associated deficiencies.

One of these phenomena, confabulation, while not limited to such individuals, seems striking in those for whom the corpus callosum is severed (split brain).
Some of the most famous examples of confabulation come "split-brain" patients, whose left and right brain hemispheres have been surgically disconnected for medical treatment. Neuroscientists have devised clever experiments in which information is provided to the right hemisphere (for instance, pictures of naked people), causing a change in behavior (embarrassed giggling). Split-brain individuals are then asked to explain their behavior verbally, which relies on the left hemisphere. Realizing that their body is laughing, but unaware of the nude images, the left hemisphere will confabulate an excuse for the body's behavior ("I keep laughing because you ask such funny questions, Doc!").
To recap, what's missing is the split-brained patient's ability for the left and right hemispheres of his or her brain to communicate with each other.

There are other cases of damage to specific areas of the brain causing problems.    HM, for example, had his hippocampus removed to mitigate suffering from epileptic seizures.
William Beecher Scoville, a Hartford neurosurgeon, stood above an awake Henry and skilfully suctioned out the seahorse-shaped brain structure called the hippocampus that lay within each temporal lobe. Henry would have been drowsy and probably didn't notice his memory vanishing as the operation proceeded. The operation was successful in that it significantly reduced Henry's seizures, but it left him with a dense memory loss. When Scoville realized his patient had become amnesic, he referred him to the eminent neurosurgeon, Dr. Wilder Penfield and neuropsychologist Dr. Brenda Milner of Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) who assessed him in detail. Up until then it had not been known that the hippocampus was essential for making memories, and that if we lose both of them we will suffer a global amnesia. Once this was realized, the findings were widely publicized so that this operation to remove both hippocampi would never be done again.
The article is careful to point out that the removal of the hippocampus is responsible for HM's inability to create new memories, and that any retrograde memory loss is due to other factors.

Another account is of Phineas Gage, whose brain, in 1848, was pierced in a railroad construction accident.
In 1848 Gage was working as a foreman on the construction of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad in Vermont, USA. Workers often used dynamite to blast away rock and clear a path for the railway. On 13 September, Gage was using a tamping iron (a long hollow cylinder of iron weighing more than 6 kilos) to compact explosive powder into the rock ready for a blast. The iron rod hit the rock, creating a spark that ignited the explosives. The rod was propelled through Gage’s skull, entering through his left cheekbone and exiting through the top of his head. It was later found some 30 yards away from Gage, “smeared with blood and brain”.
Miraculously, Gage survived his injuries and made an amazing (physical) recovery.  The side effects of the brain injury, however, are striking.
Although accounts from the time are sometimes conflicting and often unreliable, numerous sources report that Gages character altered dramatically after his accident. In 1868 Harlow wrote a report on the mental manifestations of Gages injuries. He described Gage as fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity…capricious and vacillating and being radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was no longer Gage.

The damage to Gages frontal cortex caused by the iron rod seems to have resulted in a loss of social inhibitions. The role of the frontal cortex in social cognition and decision making is now well-recognised; in the 19th century, however, neurologists were only just beginning to realise these connections. Gages injuries provided some of the first evidence that the frontal cortex was involved in personality and behaviour.
The point here is that if we only use 10% of our mental capacity at any point in time, then wouldn't we be somewhat immune from side effects due to traumatic brain injuries?  Instead, what we find is that while a person with such an injury can be nominally functional, a loss of capability is the result.  The manifestation of this capability loss is what we seen as confabulation in split-brain patients, HM's memory loss, and Gage's lack of social inhibitions after his accident.

And thus Lucy is garbage.

Watch this

This is important.


Human Intellect: Oxymoron?

This article in Science Friday is absolutely fascinating.  First watch this:


Above is the chimpanzee, Ayumu, featured in the article performing the aforementioned task of memorizing the positions of the digits 1 through 9 and selecting them in the correct sequence.  It's astounding; I can't even locate all of the digits before the chimp begins.

What is fascinating about this is how Ayumu's superior performance in this memory task is disrupting our understanding of human intellectual superiority in biology, anthropology and psychology.
The distress Ayumu’s photographic memory caused in the scientific community was of the same order as when, half a century ago, DNA studies revealed that humans barely differ enough from bonobos and chimpanzees to deserve their own genus. It is only for historical reasons that taxonomists have let us keep the Homo genus all to ourselves. The DNA comparison caused hand-wringing in anthropology departments, where until then skulls and bones had ruled supremely as the gauge of relatedness. To determine what is important in a skeleton takes judgment, though, which allows the subjective coloring of traits that we deem crucial. We make a big deal of our bipedal locomotion, for example, while ignoring the many animals, from chickens to hopping kangaroos, that move the same way. At some savanna sites, bonobos walk entire distances upright through tall grass, making confident strides like humans. Bipedalism is really not as special as it has been made out to be. The good thing about DNA is that it is immune to prejudice, making it a more objective measure.
With regard to Ayumu, however, it was the turn of psychology departments to be upset. Since Ayumu is now training on a much larger set of numbers, and his photographic memory is being tried on ever shorter time intervals, the limits of what he can do are as yet unknown. But this ape has already violated the dictum that, without exception, tests of intelligence ought to confirm human superiority. As expressed by David Premack, “Humans command all cognitive abilities, and all of them are domain general, whereas animals, by contrast, command very few abilities, and all of them are adaptations restricted to a single goal or activity.” Humans, in other words, are a singular bright light in the dark intellectual firmament that is the rest of nature. Other species are conveniently swept together as “animals” or “the animal”—not to mention “the brute” or “the nonhuman”—as if there were no point differentiating among them. It is an us-versus-them world. As the American primatologist Marc Hauser, inventor of the term humaniqueness, once said: “My guess is that we will eventually come to see that the gap between human and animal cognition, even a chimpanzee, is greater than the gap between a chimp and a beetle.”

You read it right: an insect with a brain too small for the naked eye is put on a par with a primate with a central nervous system that, albeit smaller than ours, is identical in every detail. Our brain is almost exactly like an ape’s, from its various regions, nerves, and neurotransmitters to its ventricles and blood supply. From an evolutionary perspective, Hauser’s statement is mind-boggling. There can be only one outlier in this particular trio of species: the beetle.
TL;DR: Biologists discovers that we share so much of our DNA with our Hominidae siblings, that we're barely our own Genus; and that our previous understanding of the gap between human and animal intellect was complete bullshit.

The author goes on to describe some of the ways in which Neo-creationism has crept into the study of intelligence; that we humans have a tendency to view our own capabilities as unique and superior, while discounting the role evolution might have played in the development of similar, and sometimes superior capabilities in other species.
This is not to deny that humans are special—in some ways we evidently are—but if this becomes the a priori assumption for every cognitive capacity under the sun, we are leaving the realm of science and entering that of belief. Being a biologist who teaches in a psychology department, I am used to the different ways disciplines approach this issue. In biology, neuroscience, and the medical sciences, continuity is the default assumption. It couldn’t be otherwise, because why would anyone study fear in the rat amygdala in order to treat human phobias if not for the premise that all mammalian brains are similar? Continuity across life-forms is taken for granted in these disciplines, and however important humans may be, they are a mere speck of dust in the larger picture of nature.
Attempts are made to quantify the mental abilities of various species based on the volume, mass, number of neurons, and number of connections, none of which are humans quantitatively superior.   Whales, elephants, dolphins all exceed humans on one or more of these measures.

Distribution of these neurons is mentioned as well.  
The emphasis on neural connections, however, made me wonder what to do with animals with brains larger than our 1.35-kilogram brain. What about the dolphin’s 1.5-kilogram brain, the elephant’s 4-kilogram brain, and the sperm whale’s 8-kilogram brain? Are these animals per- haps more conscious than we are? Or does it depend on the number of neurons? In this regard, the picture is less clear. It was long thought that our brain contained more neurons than any other on the planet, regard- less of its size, but we now know that the elephant brain has three times as many neurons—257 billion, to be exact. These neurons are differently distributed, though, with most of the elephant’s in its cerebellum. It has also been speculated that the pachyderm brain, being so huge, has many connections between far-flung areas, almost like an extra highway system, which adds complexity. In our own brain, we tend to emphasize the frontal lobes—hailed as the seat of rationality—but according to the latest anatomical reports, they are not truly exceptional. The human brain has been called a “linearly scaled-up primate brain,” meaning that no areas are disproportionally large. All in all, the neural differences seem insufficient for human uniqueness to be a foregone conclusion. If we ever find a way of measuring it, consciousness could well turn out to be widespread. But until then some of Darwin’s ideas will remain just a tad too dangerous.
What I wish the author discussed, and what I'm left thinking about, is the role of language on short term associative memory (maybe it's in the book.)

The one thing that we can point to and quantitatively measure as being unique in the animal kingdom is our use of language.  We retain our ape-siblings' abilities to read body and facial language as a level of social communication, but we also have the ability to verbally, and symbolically convey complex information in ways we haven't seen in other species.

And I think it is this linguistic aptitude which retards our ability to perform simple memory tasks that Ayumu excels at.

Watch the video again.  When you see a digit, your brain automatically activates all of the associative connections to that digit.  Say that's the digit 9, you immediately understand the abstract concept of a quantity of nine, and how that quantity relates to the quantities represented by the 8 other abstract symbols.

A Chimpanzee may have no similar deep associations with these symbols, other than the order they appear in; they memorize a sequence, not an abstract representation of relative quantities.

We begin learning these abstractions as soon as we're born; we're completely immersed in them.

How would somebody like Victor fare in this memory task?  Would he beat Ayumu?  If the neural pathways aren't organized by a lifetime of living among human society, would they then be free to effect a more eidetic memory?  And would we ever be able to find out?

2016-05-09

Neat, but no.

This doesn't really raise any question of Pluto's status as a dwarf planet.  The lead in to the actual discovery describes the interaction between Pluto and the solar wind as something that is between what one might expect from a comet, and from a planet, and therefore unique.
When a comet stands in its path, there is a substantial region of gentle slowing of this solar wind, whereas a planet, such as Venus or Mars, will cause an abrupt diversion. Until this fresh flood of data, most researchers believed Pluto fell into the former category, to behave like a comet.

But it turns out Pluto is a hybrid.

“This is an intermediate interaction, a completely new type. It's not comet-like, and it's not planet-like. It's in-between,” said Dr. McComas, who is also a professor in Princeton University's Department of Astrophysical Sciences and vice president for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
Since the criteria for dwarf planet status have nothing to do with interactions with the solar wind, and everything to do with hydrostatic equilibrium and orbital dominance, this new revelation does nothing to put the status of Pluto as a dwarf planet into question.

It is a fairly neat discovery, though.  Especially the precision with which they can measure the solar winds in the area.
In part, the team was able to draw these conclusions because of SWAP’s [Solar Winds Around Pluto] ability to differentiate between heavy methane ions, the principal gas bleeding into space from Pluto’s atmosphere, and the lighter hydrogen ions, which originate in the sun.

To their surprise, they found that Pluto’s gravity was sufficiently sturdy to retain heavy ions in its extended atmosphere. Indeed, as noted by Michael Liemohn, a University of Michigan astrophysicist not involved in the research but who helped edit the paper, the researchers found that “only a wisp of atmosphere leaves the planet as ions.”
So the only real conclusion that can be drawn regarding Pluto, is that it is large enough to retain its heavy ions, unlike a comet (think of the tail), but small enough not to perturb the solar winds in a way that larger planets can.

It's really cool that we can measure this stuff, and that we have scientists with the foresight to design these experiments in the first place, but I think we can do away with the sensationalism from the media.   Discovery for the sake of discovery is the exciting part; it shouldn't be diluted with language about questions of "status" to soothe the butthurt of a few Planet Pluto dead-enders.