MonthNovember 2011

Rejected R. Crumb New Yorker Cover

R. Crumb New Yorker cover

Can you clarify the genders of the people on the cover, or is that giving away some sort of secret?

The verdict isn’t in; that’s the whole point. Banning gay marriage is ridiculous because how are you supposed to tell what fucking gender anybody is if they’re bending it around? It could be anything—a she-male marrying a transsexual, or what the hell. People are capable of any sexual thing. To ban their marriage because someone doesn’t like the idea of them both being the same sex, that’s ridiculous. That was the whole point of the cover; here is this official from the marriage-license bureau, and he can’t tell if he’s seeing a man and a woman or two women. What the hell are they? You can’t tell what they are! I had the idea of making them both look unisex, no gender at all. On TV once I saw this person who is crusading against sexual definition, and you could not tell if this person was male or female—completely asexual. I was originally going to do the cover that way, but when I drew that it just looked uninteresting so I decided it should be more lurid somehow.

A drag queen and a drag king getting married.

Whatever they are.

Do you think the New Yorker is homophobic?

I think it’s the opposite. The New Yorker is majorly politically correct, terrified of offending some gay person. I asked this gay friend of mine, Paul Morris, “If you saw this cover on the New Yorker, would you be offended?” He said, “I’d wanna hang it on my wall!”

VICE: The Gayest Story Ever Told

China’s Freemium Self-Publishing System is Working

… at least for serialized genre fiction writers:

These aren’t Authonomy-esque, publish-and-be-encouraged-by-fellow-writers sorts of sites, though, or even collections of self-published novels. The websites host what is being dubbed “freemium” publishing. Publishing Perspectives has more details: a growing number of self-publishing websites host thousands of free-to-read web serials – anything from historical epics to sci-fi – posted by their authors. As a serial gathers critical mass, the author is invited to become a “VIP”, and readers have to pay for the new instalments – only a few yuan, but these micropayments from readers can number in the millions: China Daily reports that one author, the 26-year-old Huang Wei, makes more than more than Y1m a year (£100,000).

The Guardian: Has China found the future of publishing?

See also: Writers: you can make a living selling e-books on the Kindle

Junk Food May Be As Addictive as Drugs

Judge Dredd - Sugar bust

Bloomberg reports:

The idea that food may be addictive was barely on scientists’ radar a decade ago. Now the field is heating up. Lab studies have found sugary drinks and fatty foods can produce addictive behavior in animals. Brain scans of obese people and compulsive eaters, meanwhile, reveal disturbances in brain reward circuits similar to those experienced by drug abusers.

Twenty-eight scientific studies and papers on food addiction have been published this year, according to a National Library of Medicine database. As the evidence expands, the science of addiction could become a game changer for the $1 trillion food and beverage industries.

If fatty foods and snacks and drinks sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup are proven to be addictive, food companies may face the most drawn-out consumer safety battle since the anti-smoking movement took on the tobacco industry a generation ago.

Bloomberg: Fatty Foods Addictive Like Cocaine in Growing Body of Scientific Research

(via Abe1x)

See also: Lab Rats Always Pick Saccharin Over Cocaine

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: End Bonuses for Bankers

it’s time for a fundamental reform: Any person who works for a company that, regardless of its current financial health, would require a taxpayer-financed bailout if it failed should not get a bonus, ever. In fact, all pay at systemically important financial institutions — big banks, but also some insurance companies and even huge hedge funds — should be strictly regulated.

Critics like the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators decry the bonus system for its lack of fairness and its contribution to widening inequality. But the greater problem is that it provides an incentive to take risks. The asymmetric nature of the bonus (an incentive for success without a corresponding disincentive for failure) causes hidden risks to accumulate in the financial system and become a catalyst for disaster. This violates the fundamental rules of capitalism; Adam Smith himself was wary of the effect of limiting liability, a bedrock principle of the modern corporation.

New York Times: End Bonuses for Bankers

Researchers Trying to Build a Functioning Babbage’s Analytical Engine

 A photo of the Difference Engine constructed by the Science Museum based on the plans for Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

A photo of the Difference Engine constructed by the Science Museum based on the plans for Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2 by geni

Forget big data:

The project follows the successful effort by a group at the museum to replicate a far less complicated Babbage invention: the Difference Engine No. 2, a calculating machine composed of roughly 8,000 mechanical components assembled with a watchmaker’s precision. That project was completed in 1991.

The new effort — led by John Graham-Cumming, a programmer, and Doron Swade, a former curator at the museum — has already digitized Babbage’s surviving blueprints for the Analytical Engine. But the challenges of building it are daunting.

In the case of the Difference Engine, a complete set of plans existed. The Analytical Engine, by contrast, was a work in progress, as Babbage continually refined his thinking in a series of blueprints. Thus, the hope is to “crowd-source” the analysis of what should be built; plans will be posted online next year, and the public will be invited to offer suggestions.

New York Times: It Started Digital Wheels Turning

EsoZone Workshops Announced: Grant Writing for Artists, and More

Here are some of the workshops and activities you can look forward to on November 19th:

Occupy the Astral Plane. And opening ritual lead by Danny Chaoflux at 1:15 PM on November 19.

Yoga for Slackers at 2:00 PM on November 19. Bring comfortable clothes for this!

Grant Writing for Artists and Other Alien Beings with Amanda Sledz at 3:30 PM on November 19. Those inclined towards crafting projects, or cultivating careers conventionally described as “strange” might not consider grants when looking for some means to fund their creations. Why not? In this workshop, you’ll learn how to locate grant makers with an interest in the mind eruptions of the chronically odd, and the fundamentals of grant writing, including creation of competitive proposals and budgets. Though primarily directed at artists and writers, all are welcome, including those operating (or interested in operating) 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

Anarcho-Sewing: Making Clothes Without a Sewing Machine with Jillian Ordes-Finley at 4:15 PM on November 19. In this workshop, you will learn basic techniques on how to fix, alter, and make simple clothing without a sewing machine. Don’t throw away that shirt with a missing button, those pants with a rip, or that jacket with an ugly stain- learn how to fix it, maybe make it even more awesome! People of all genders are encouraged to participate, and all materials will be provided.

You can expect even more workshops, discussions and activities to be planned the day of the event. Bring your own ideas to the event and reserve a time slot!

Expect a schedule to be posted soon.

The CIA Using Sentiment Analysis to Gauge Regional Stability

human geopolitical chess

From The Atlantic:

How stable is China? What are people discussing and thinking in Pakistan? To answer these sorts of question, the U.S. government has turned to a rich source: social media.

The Associated Press reports that the CIA maintains a social-media tracking center operated out of an nondescript building in a Virginia industrial park. The intelligence analysts at the agency’s Open Source Center, who other agents refer to as “vengeful librarians,” are tasked with sifting through millions of tweets, Facebook messages, online chat logs, and other public data on the World Wide Web to glean insights into the collective moods of regions or groups abroad. According to the Associated Press, these librarians are tracking up to five million tweets a day from places like China, Pakistan and Egypt.

The Atlantic: How The CIA Uses Social Media to Track How People Feel

See also: Predicting the future with Twitter.

Where Do Companies Get Ideas for New Robots? They Look at Areas with Lots of Manual Labor

Cup of Robots

Julia Kirby writes:

I heard about other applications — the use of robots to inspect sewers for damage, to automate warehouse operations, to harvest crops in fields. The list goes on. In response to one would-be entrepreneur’s question, “How do you come up with a good idea to turn into a business?” a panel of CEOs had no end of answers.

Charles Grinnell, who leads Harvest Automation, said simply: look at places where there is still a lot of manual labor. When his team did that, he says they narrowed things down to 15 very viable product ideas. Deborah Theobald, CEO of Vecna Technologies, put it this way: “In whatever field you work in—ours is healthcare—you see what the issues are. If as you look around, robots are on your mind, you see the applications everywhere.”

Harvard Business Review: Seeing Robots Everywhere

(via Race Against the Machine)

Artwork by hobvias sudoneighm

5th Generation Warfare for Dummies

Skilluminati describes this as 5th generation warfare reduced to marketing copy for contractors:

“America still hasn’t quite understood that we are opening Pandora’s box. Take drones. We feel we can use them anywhere, soon others will be using them against us. There are dozens of countries around the world developing their own drone technology or buying what is out on the market. The same is true for technologies like those associated with Stuxnet,” said the former senior diplomat who has worked closely throughout his career with the military and intelligence communities. Or as another journalist friend of mine put it who has been covering the issue closely, “The day after Stuxnet was like the day after Hiroshima. We had the technology and no one else did. But within a matter of a few years that had changed.” So had the nature of modern warfare…and by extension of modern diplomacy and that’s what is going to happen here.

Imagine wars that were conducted constantly, wars in which both sides might not be bent on destroying one another but would rather focus on capturing resources or slowing down economic performance or producing popular frustration or distributing misinformation or manipulating elections or markets. Shutting down power grids or stealing money from bank accounts or spilling pollutants into a river are old hat with current technologies. Imagine what the future might hold.

Foreign Policy: The Phantom War has begun

See also: Wired for War

Are we starting a full-out war on the Internet?

60% of Science/Technology/Engineering/Math Majors Dropout or Change Majors

The New York Times on the problem with training the next generations of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc.:

Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors. […]

MATTHEW MONIZ bailed out of engineering at Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year. He had been the kind of recruit most engineering departments dream about. He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering.

But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’ ” And as he looked ahead at the curriculum, he did not see much relief on the horizon.

New York Times: Why Science Majors Change Their Minds

Possibly related, 30-60% of college students fail their first computer programming class. I’m a big advocate of people learning to program, but research indicates that it might be impossible to teach most people to program by the time they reach college age. It’s not clear yet whether improvements in earlier education could reduce the failure rate, or whether most people’s brains simply aren’t wired in such a way that they can actually learn to program.

However, many of the students like Moniz mentioned above, clearly have the intellectual capacity for these majors. The NYT notes:

The National Science Board, a public advisory body, warned in the mid-1980s that students were losing sight of why they wanted to be scientists and engineers in the first place. Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures. While the National Science Foundation went on to finance pilot courses that employed interactive projects, when the money dried up, so did most of the courses. Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates.

Combine the problems outlined above by the NYT with the fact that most students seem unable to learn how to program and the fact that most students don’t learn much in college and we’ve got some serious issues with trying to ever get our population’s science, math, engineering and computer science up to snuff. Hopefully universities will follow the advice of this article and integrate more project work. I have very mixed feelings about my alma mater The Evergreen State College, but I think they’re on to something with project work and interdisciplinary approaches to learning (for example, the Science of Mind course is 16 credits and covers neurobiology, cognitive psychology, statistics and philosophy).

Look a bit further and you’ll discover that our best minds are working on finding better ways to serve ads. Grim times indeed.

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