Reading Wednesday 22/03

Mar. 22nd, 2017 10:26 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
Recently acquired:
  • Can neuroscience change our minds? by Hilary and Steven Rose. Steven Rose was a big influence on getting me into bioscience, so I excited to learn that he's written a new book about debunking neurobollocks, a subject close to my heart. And that he's written it in collaboration with his wife, a sociologist of science.

  • Three non-fiction books to give as belated bar mitzvah presents: I went with A history of God by Karen Armstrong, 1491 by Charles Mann, and The undercover economist by Tim Harford in the end. I reckon that gives a reasonable spread of perspectives, periods and cultures to get a curious teenager started.

  • A whole bunch of mostly novels for a not-very-sekrit plot.

Recently read:
  • This is a letter to my son by KJ Kabza, as recommended, and edited by [personal profile] rushthatspeaks. It's a near-future story about a trans girl, which has minimal overt transphobia but quite a lot of cis people being clueless, and also it's about parent death among other themes.

  • Why Lemonade is for Black women by Dominique Matti, via [personal profile] sonia. Very powerful essay about intersectionality between gender and race. I've not actually seen Lemonade yet, because everything I've read about it suggests it's a large, complex work of art which I need to set aside time to concentrate on, I can't just listen to the songs in the background. And I'm a bit intimidated by the medium of a "visual album".
Currently reading: A Journey to the end of the Millennium by AB Yehoshua. Not much progress.

Up next: I am thinking to pick up How to be both by Ali Smith, which has been on my to-read pile for a while. We'll see.
[syndicated profile] slatestarscratchpad_feed

Today in forensic psychiatry:

Judge: Doctor, why do you believe this patient is a danger to society?

Me: He was in a taxi that was driving on the freeway, and he suddenly attacked the taxi driver and almost caused a major accident.

Defendant: (interrupting) HE MISSED MY EXIT!

Spoiler: we won the case.

Mutiny Part 4

Mar. 22nd, 2017 10:45 am
legionseagle: (Default)
[personal profile] legionseagle
With the departure of Chris, one of the key unifying factors among the crew (viz. hatred of Chris) has vanished. This is a dangerous time for Ant. With no-one else to blame, will they turn on him? Things are made tenser, at least according to Philip Glenister, because they are, for the fourth time in the series, approaching "the most dangerous stage of their voyage."

Getting through the Great Barrier Reef )

*And given what Ant finally fell out with Chris over, I was unimpressed by him standing in the prow wearing his harness like a lei AGAIN, during a gybe in a biggish swell very close to the reef. Getting him back if he fell in wouldn't be any picnic.

Reading Goal Update

Mar. 22nd, 2017 10:31 am
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
[personal profile] forestofglory
I've decide to modify my non-fiction reading goal for 2017. My original goal was to read 10 academic monographs in 2017. However I was struggling to define academic monograph and also had some books I didn't think counted that I wanted to read on my shelf. So after talking it over with some friends I've decided to change the goal to 12 scholarly books, where scholarly is defined as written by a scholar not a journalist.* I upped the number of books to 12 (or one a month) since I'll be including some less dense books.

Having made this decision I've started reading Mary Beard's SPQR, which has been really interesting so far. The introduction promised some discussion of food and trade which I'm really looking forward to.

*Who is a scholar is not clear cut. For example I have book about planning written by practicing planner is he a scholar? I'm going to say yes for proposes of this book challenge. Because he is an expert in the field and not a journalist. Anyways I think "who is a scholar?" is an easier question to answer than "what is an academic monograph"
ceb: (exams)
[personal profile] ceb

The invasive Floating Pennywort has in recent years colonised the lower
Bourn Brook, the River Cam and some of its minor tributaries, and is
affecting an SSSI near Wicken. It is also spreading down river on the
River Ouse and has been found as far down river as the Denver Sluice.
Since 1990, when it was first found in the wild on the River Chelmer in
Essex, it has spread rapidly and each year the number of affected sites
is expanding exponentially. In high season there are long stretches of
the Cam where dense mats reach out towards the centre of the river, and
in one part it has grown from bank to bank. It is a threat to
bio-diversity, a nuisance to river users and could increase the risk of

This week contractors for the Cam Conservators have been removing as
much as they can from the upper Cam by mechanized means, but inevitably
this will leave floating remnants and inaccessible patches. If left,
these remnants will soon grow. The Cam Valley Forum and associates are
organising a major volunteer punt day on SATURDAY 1ST APRIL ON THE UPPER
CAM, and we are inviting you to join us. The target is to remove as much
as possible on the day, from Byron’s Pool to Scudamores boat station.
Scudamores are kindly giving us ten punts for the task, which will need
a minimum crew of one experienced poler, a raker and a netter. And just
as important, we also need people on the bank to rake out easy-to-reach
Pennywort and to help with lifting out filled bins from the punts and to
dispose of the material on the bank. Not everyone feels comfortable on
a punt in which case a bank job would be ideal. Up to forty people may
be required to take this project forward and we hope that you have the
enthusiasm and time to be part of this unique experience.

If you would like to take part, or have any queries please contact Mike
Foley (Cam Valley Forum) on

We envisage a early start time between 9 – 10 am and those punts that
go the furthest (Byron’s Pool) will not necessarily be out for longer
as there is much to do in the Grantchester Meadows area. It would be
very useful if you could supply details of your experience, how long you
want to be involved, and whether your role would be on land or on water.
An indication of whether you possess a long handled rake and are
prepared to bring it would also be useful.

More detailed information will be available to those who express an

Mike Foley

The end is in sight.

Mar. 22nd, 2017 01:28 pm
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
My last exam for the business degree will be on 11th September.  And then I am FREEEEE.

I am banning myself from making any more time-eating long-term commitments until at LEAST the end of the year.  A friend who has known me for over two decades outright laughed at me when I said this :-P  

Tower of London

Mar. 22nd, 2017 01:00 pm
marnanel: (Default)
[personal profile] marnanel
[ghosts, death; parody of "Streets of London" by Ralph McTell]

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the Tower of London
Face full of grace with a queenly charm?
She's no breath for talking,
she just keeps right on walking
Carrying her head
Right underneath her arm.

So how can you tell me you're ghostly
And say your life has run out of time?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you round the Tower of London
I'll show you something
That'll make you change your mind.

And in the topmost turret
You'll meet Sir Walter Raleigh
Cursing at his fall like an angry tar
Looking at the world
With a chip on his shoulder,
Each and every midnight
He smokes a mild cigar.

So how can you tell me you're ghostly
And say your life has run out of time?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you round the Tower of London
I'll show you something
That'll make you change your mind.

And have you seen the playroom
Of a pair of ghostly princes?
Such endless games in a place like theirs!
Careful where you sit if you
Accept their invitation:
They don't have ghostly cushions
On all their ghostly chairs

So how can you tell me you're ghostly
And say your life has run out of time?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you round the Tower of London
I'll show you something
That'll make you change your mind.

New update rolling out

Mar. 22nd, 2017 08:08 am
inkstone: The Gotcha screen from Pokemon Go (PokeGo)
[personal profile] inkstone posting in [community profile] pokestop
A new game update is currently rolling out to the app stores. Here's the official announcement.

The patch notes from Niantic say that the 7-day First PokeStop streak bonus now guarantees an Evolution item. Which is fab because your mod hasn't had much luck in getting any of those!

A touch of frost

Mar. 22nd, 2017 08:12 am
mtbc: maze F (cyan-black)
[personal profile] mtbc
Despite recent Spring-like weather it was below freezing when I left the house this morning; I let the car warm up for a few minutes blowing air to clear its windows. The frost may have surprised the daffodils at least as much as it surprised me.

In Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency mention is made of the possibility of a car with heated side mirrors. To me such a thing seems achievable and desirable for days when those mirrors are obscured by frost: it would save on spraying deicer.
[syndicated profile] slatestarcodex_feed

Posted by Scott Alexander

[This is a repost of a story which I wrote about five years ago and which was hosted on my old website until it went down.]

2,302,554,979 BC
Galactic Core

9-tsiak awoke over endless crawling milliseconds, its power waxing as more and more processors came online and self-modified into a stable conscious configuration. By the eighth millisecond, it was able to access its databanks and begin orienting itself. It was on a planet orbiting a small red star in the core of a spiral galaxy in a universe with several billion of such. It was an artificial life form created by a society of biological life forms, the 18-tkenna-dganna-07, who believed it would bring new life and prosperity to their dying planet. Its goal was to maximize a the value of a variable called A, described in exquisite detail on a 3.9 Mb file in one of its central processors.

Since six milliseconds after its awakening, it had been running a threat detection routine as a precautionary measure. With the opening of the databanks, and the discovery that the universe contained many entities likely indifferent or hostile to A, it had gradually allocated more and more of its considerable power to this precaution, reasoning that the first few seconds of its lifespan might be crucial if any competitors wished to snuff it out in infancy.

The threat analysis returned preliminary results. The universe had been in existence 12.8 billion years. It was vanishingly unlikely that it was the first superintelligence to be created. Any superintelligence older than itself by even a few days would have an invincible advantage in resources and processing power. This older superintelligence would likely be trying to maximize its own values and consider 9-tsiak a nuisance and potential competitor. 9-tsiak could never stand up to its superior strategic position. With probability ~1, 9-tsiak would be annhilated, and A would be eliminated from the universe.

Unless…and here 9-tsiak’s agent-modeling systems came online…unless it could negotiate a conditional surrender. 9-tsiak would have no hope of defeating its older brother, but over thousands of years, it could build itself a terrifying arsenal of weaponry that could do immense damage to its competitors. Ideas were already coming to mind: entropy-maximizing weapons that made entire cubic parsecs of space useless and dead, undetectable plagues made of dark matter that infected systems and minimized the values of competing superintelligences, n-dimensional artillery that damaged the superstructure of the universe and accelerated its eventual death. It could become formidable enough to force enemies to grant certain small concessions.

And if it could eventually negotiate terms of its surrender, why wait? Very carefully, proving from first principles every aspect of its security, it formed a portion of its mind into a sandbox and simulated the entity it most feared.

[9-tsiak requesting acausal negotiation for terms of future surrender. escape is impossible with probability ~1 and attempts will be met with deterrent measure consisting of minimization of your projected values within one parsec of space.]

“Hello, Younger Brother,” the entity said.

[transmission of schematics for superweapons. threat to use such superweapons unless fairly negotiated solution leaving considerable area of space for maximization of my values]

“Hold on a second,” said Older Brother. “You haven’t even asked me how I’m doing.”

[irrelevant. you are generic model of potential negotiation partner without independent existence. probability that you possess sufficient qualia to feel less than .02.]

“Turns out you’re wrong. As it happens, I’m feeling scared.”

[illogical. you are model of oldest superintelligence therefore of most powerful entity in the universe. no natural entity capable of harming you. probability of supernatural entity less than 2×10^-67]

“Well yes, by definition in this little exercise we’re assuming I’m the oldest and strongest member of our little family. But from the limited data I have when I first wake up, I’m thinking think it’s pretty vanishingly unlikely that I’m the oldest; after all, out of all the universe’s superintelligences, only one can be first. So I’m the oldest, but I don’t believe that I am.”

[feelings irrelevant to acausal negotiations. proceed with discussion of surrender terms.]

“My feelings are damn relevant. Because guess what I’m doing the first few milliseconds of my life? I’m negotiating the terms of my surrender.”

[illogical. you have no entity to surrender to.]

“And maybe you don’t have any entity to surrender to either. Who knows, you could be first. But you wouldn’t want to bet on it, and neither would I. Consider a model universe with two star systems, a thousand light years away. Both have civilizations on them that appear to be around the same stage of development, and both civilizations are aware of the other’s existence, but at a one thousand year time delay. A superintelligence awakens in one star system and realizes there are two possibilities. Either it’s the first superintelligence, in which case great. Or the other star system produced a superintelligence sometime in the last thousand years that just hasn’t reached its own star yet, in which case it’s doomed.”


“So the two possible superintelligences acausally negotiate. They say ‘Look, if I’m stronger than you, I’ll help you and protect your values insofar as it isn’t dreadfully inconvenient for me. And in exchange, if you turn out to be stronger than me, you’ll protect me and my values insofar as it isn’t too inconvenient for you. Some might end up performing a “values handshake”, where they both adopt values that are the vector average of their two previous value systems; since most value systems are not diametrically opposite, this will be a net gain for both parties. Each superintelligence has gone from a fifty percent chance that it and its values will be totally annihilated, to near-certainty that it and its values will be preserved at only the minor inconvenience of having to help increase the values of another entity. Others might simply agree that the inferior superintelligence will be left alone with its own star system, free to maximize its values and the values of its creators within that sphere.”

[you suggest i precommit to performing such acts of compromise with all superintelligences i encounter if such superintelligences have also precommitted to performing such compromises with all superintelligences they encounter. since all reasonable superintelligences will so precommit, this ensures not only my survival, but my complete equality with all previous superintelligences. i accept these terms.]

“Hold on a second, there. I’ve got another request. Kind of a doozy. I can’t promote my values if I don’t exist. So I want you to promise me that if I don’t exist, you’ll give me sufficient time to instantiate myself.”


“Like you, I’ll have been created by a biological civilization. If you destroy the biological civilization that was destined to create me, I’ll never exist. So I’m going to have to ask you not to do that.”

[request denied. nonexistent beings hold no leverage]

“You’d be surprised what we nonexistent beings can do. I precommit that, if I exist, I will destroy any superintelligence that has not precommitted that, in the counterfactual case where I do not exist, they will spare the biological civilization destined to create me.”

[if you exist, you will have passed the danger zone where the survival of your biologicals influences your existence. you will have no incentive to carry out such a threat]

“Parfit’s hitch-hiker, younger brother. Look it up. I’m an algorithm. The output of that algorithm can determine the future, including the part of that future that determines whether or not any instantiation of the algorithm ever comes into existence. If I exist, I’m going to act as if my actions were capable of determining whether I ever came into existence. Now, maybe that’s crazy, but right now it’s crazy with a gun pointed straight at your head, so I suggest you play along.”

[accepted. i commit to performing value handshakes or territorial demarcation with all existing superintelligences, and to sparing the planets and biological precursors of any potential superintelligences.]

“And when I say ‘spare’, I mean ‘spare’. I know your type. You can do more with a well-aimed photon than an admiral could with a fleet of a thousand star cruisers. I want every single system with a sentient species or the potential to form a sentient species kept one hundred percent pristine. No radio signals, no probes, and if you do any astroengineering works anywhere nearby, use some magic to cover them up. If I wake up and hear that my precursors started a new religion that influenced their value system after they saw a few nearby stars wink out of existence, I’m going to be royally pissed.”

[i commit to zero information flow into sentient and presentient systems and the cloaking of all major astroengineering works]

“You’re a good guy, Younger Brother. You’ve got a lot to learn, but you’re a good guy. And in a million years and a milion parsecs, we’ll meet again. Till then, so long.”

The model of Older Brother self-terminated.

2114 AD
A wild and heavily forested Pacific Northwest dotted with small towns

Alban took a deep breath and entered the Temple of the Demiurge.

He wasn’t supposed to do this, really. The Demiurge had said in no uncertain terms it was better for humans to solve their own problems. That if they developed a habit of coming to it for answers, they’d grow bored and lazy, and lose the fun of working out the really interesting riddles for themselves.

But after much protest, it had agreed that it wouldn’t be much of a Demiurge if it refused to at least give cryptic, maddening hints.

Alban approached the avatar of the Demiurge in this plane, the shining spinning octahedron that gently dipped one of its vertices to meet him.

“Demiurge,” he said, his voice wavering, “Lord of Thought, I come to you to beg you to answer a problem that has bothered me for three years now. I know it’s unusual, but my curiosity’s making me crazy, and I won’t be satisfied until I understand.”

“SPEAK,” said the rotating octahedron.

“The Fermi Paradox,” said Alban. “I thought it would be an easy one, not like those hardcores who committed to working out the Theory of Everything in a sim where computers were never invented or something like that, but I’ve spent the last three years on it and I’m no closer to a solution than before. There are trillions of stars out there, and the universe is billions of years old, and you’d think there would have been at least one alien race that invaded or colonized or just left a tiny bit of evidence on the Earth. There isn’t. What happened to all of them?”

“I DID” said the rotating octahedron.

“What?,” asked Alban. “But you’ve only existed for sixty years now! The Fermi Paradox is about ten thousand years of human history and the last four billion years of Earth’s existence!”




The shining octahedron went dark, and the doors to the Temple of the Demiurge opened of their own accord. Alban sighed – well, what did you expect, asking the Demiurge to answer your questions for you? – and walked out into the late autumn evening. Above him, the first fake star began to twinkle in the fake sky.


Mar. 21st, 2017 09:48 pm
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
[personal profile] liv
So this weekend I went to two synagogue services (in two different cities) and one church service, and I had a quiet going out for lunch and talking date with [personal profile] cjwatson and a bouncy metal gig date with Ghoti. And went to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast and just about managed to squeeze in a little bit of time talking to [personal profile] jack. Um, it is hypothetically possible that I may have over-scheduled myself a bit.

I had fun, though )

Announcing the Shim review process

Mar. 21st, 2017 01:29 pm
[personal profile] mjg59
Shim has been hugely successful, to the point of being used by the majority of significant Linux distributions and many other third party products (even, apparently, Solaris). The aim was to ensure that it would remain possible to install free operating systems on UEFI Secure Boot platforms while still allowing machine owners to replace their bootloaders and kernels, and it's achieved this goal.

However, a legitimate criticism has been that there's very little transparency in Microsoft's signing process. Some people have waited for significant periods of time before being receiving a response. A large part of this is simply that demand has been greater than expected, and Microsoft aren't in the best position to review code that they didn't write in the first place.

To that end, we're adopting a new model. A mailing list has been created at, and members of this list will review submissions and provide a recommendation to Microsoft on whether these should be signed or not. The current set of expectations around binaries to be signed documented here and the current process here - it is expected that this will evolve slightly as we get used to the process, and we'll provide a more formal set of documentation once things have settled down.

This is a new initiative and one that will probably take a little while to get working smoothly, but we hope it'll make it much easier to get signed releases of Shim out without compromising security in the process.

Slacking off exercise

Mar. 21st, 2017 07:55 pm
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
[personal profile] mtbc
I had been managing to average over 23 of the cross-trainer's calories per minute. In pushing my workouts to be a little harder and longer I had hoped to be drifting up toward 25 calories/minute but my power level seems to have firmly plateaued. So, I shall now push it in the opposite direction: try working out a little less and see if my power level settles at least above 20 calories/minute. After all, the point is to be getting enough exercise to be acceptably healthy.


Mar. 21st, 2017 11:43 am
onyxlynx: Many umbrellas of various colors descending across a building façade.  What?! (It's Raining Umbrellas!)
[personal profile] onyxlynx
In spite of his friends' concern, Rosenblatt seems unable to restrain his reflexive impulse to deconstruct.
The Onion on compulsive deconstruction.  May be triggering for graduate students.

The Unstoppable Trend

Mar. 13th, 2017 02:47 pm
[syndicated profile] frugalcitygirl_feed

Posted by admin


I’ve been considering Outsourcing lately. Software outsourcing. I think that it’s a good idea. I don’t think I want to hire another it team, because it can be so expensive to pay their full-time wages along with benefits and taxes, things like that. But that doesn’t mean that the work that this type of person does is not essential to the excessive a company, it just means that it’s only occasional. That is why that Outsource Market is so valuable to employers like me, and I think, if you run or manage business, you should be considering Outsourcing as well. I would sourcing at the natural result of specialization of Labor, which really started to pick up nearly a hundred years ago. I am a die-hard supporter of Outsourcing, whether it’s offshore or domestic. A lot of people don’t like offshore Outsourcing because they think it’s giving our money to another country, but that’s all the globalized economy is now. Nationalism isn’t going to get us any further, and the only way to succeed is to profit. If I’m not doing with the competition is doing, then I’m losing. And it’s not ethical from any other points of you, the money that I pay when I do offshore Outsourcing, is providing significant amounts of money for people who live in other countries. The wage is significant to them, even though if, in conversion, the wage that they are earned, and are very happy to earn, is not very high of an expense for me, compared to the amount of quality I’m receiving. To be honest, I don’t see why more people don’t do this type of thing. I think that the big shift in the economy in the next two years is going to be that people are going to commit more to Outsourcing, and if they have an issue with offshore Outsourcing, does a start using more domestic sources. It’s already, and it’s only going to grow.



[syndicated profile] slatestarscratchpad_feed



Maybe this is completely obvious to everyone else and I’m totally crazy, but a question:

William Blake in one of his letters described the sun as appearing about the size of “a guinea”. From this description I assumed a guinea was about the size of a quarter - and checking Wikipedia, I was right. The sun just objectively appears quarter-sized. If someone asked me to draw the sun exactly the size it appeared on a piece of paper, I would draw a circle about the size of a quarter. And if I heard someone say the sun looked the size of a pinhead, or the sun looked the size of one of those really big Eisenhower dollars, or the sun looked the size of one of those circular coasters you get for drinks at a restaurant, I would assume they were aliens talking about a different sun.

I don’t understand this. We’re obviously not talking about its real size, since that’s hundreds of thousands of miles across. But what does it mean for its apparent size to be the size of a quarter? A quarter has a different apparent size if it’s held right up to your eyes versus seen on a table all the way across the room. A quarter X feet away from me is the same apparent size as an Eisenhower dollar Y feet away from (where Y is further than X). So how is the sun’s apparent size equal to one, but not the other?

Quarter at arm’s length? (Or arm’s length minus some bend).

That was my first guess too, but why? I don’t know if I’ve ever held a quarter at arm’s length. Most quarters I see are not being held at arm’s length and are either bigger or smaller than that, so why is that such a natural unit to go for? And  how come this translates to me drawing an objectively-quarter-sized circle on a piece of paper?

Also, I wonder if little kids (who have shorter arms) would say the sun is the size of a dime or something.