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Updated 2018-11-13 22:24
Newly divorced woman blows up her wedding dress
Simply setting fire to her wedding dress wouldn't do for Kimberly Santleben-Stiteler. The newly divorced woman from outside San Antonio, Texas (shocker!) attached 20 pounds of Tannerite to the dress and created an explosive target. In front of family and friends, she shot the dress from 200 yards away, creating a fireball and explosion that was heard for miles. Santleben-Stiteler plans on selling her wedding ring. Sorry, demolition fans.Via Star-Telegram Read the rest
Phone booths in NYC turned into co-working spaces by prankster group
The good folks at Improv Everywhere made a couple of old phone booths in New York City a "little more useful" by converting them into co-working spaces.Watch how they break some people's brains:Improv Everywhere: Phone Booth Coworking Read the rest
California Fires: From space, NASA JPL maps damage from Woolsey and Camp blazes
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created these Damage Proxy Maps (DPMs) that show the areas in California that were probably damaged by the Woolsey and Camp Fires. From NASA JPL:The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created these Damage Proxy Maps (DPMs) depicting areas in California likely damaged by the Woolsey and Camp Fires. They are derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA).The pre-event images for the Woolsey Fire in Southern California (main image) were taken before the fire on Oct. 30, 2018 and the post-event image was acquired during the fire on Nov. 11, 2018. The map covers an area of 50 miles x 25 miles (80 km x 40 km), indicated with the big red polygon. Each pixel measures about 33 yards x 33 yards (30 m x 30 m). The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasingly more significant ground surface change.The pre-event images for the Camp Fire in Northern California (Figure 1) were taken on Nov. 4, 2018 and the post-event images were acquired during the fire on Nov. 10, 2018. The map covers an area of 55 miles x 48 miles (88 km x 77 km). As in the previous image, each pixel measures about 33 yards x 33 yards (30 m x 30 m). The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasingly more significant ground surface change. Read the rest
China reinstates ban on using tiger and rhino parts in traditional medicine
After the whole damn planet declared its disgust with China's lifting the ban on using tiger bones and rhino horn in medicine, the Chinese government has decided to back peddle on its declaration: using the exotic, endangered animals bits and pieces will remain off limits to the world of eastern medicine. From The New York Times:Making a rare concession, the State Council, China’s cabinet, said that it had decided to postpone an order made last month to undo a 25-year ban on the trade.“The Chinese government has not changed its stance on wildlife protection and will not ease the crackdown on illegal trafficking and trade of rhinos, tigers and their byproducts,” Ding Xuedong, a top official with the council, said in remarks published in the state-run news media on Monday.I'm having a hard time believing that anything to do with any government would be good news this year, but here we are. It is worth noting, however, that the Chinese ban on slapping bones and horn into medicine isn't permanent. It could be rescinded at any point in the future. However, as The New York Times points out, China's working hard to sort out a greater share of respect on the world stage. Not murdering rare animals for their bits and pieces? That's an easy win.Now if we could just get them to knock off the shit they're pulling with Muslims in their nation, we'll be getting somewhere. Image by Soumyajit Nandy - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link Read the rest
FBI report shows thousands more hate crimes in Trump's first year, a record high
In news that will not surprise anyone who is Black, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, queer, or a member of any other group targeted by hateful idiots, hate crimes in America are way up under Trump. Says who? FBI.The Federal Bureau of Investigations just released its 2017 Hate Crime Report. In Donald Trump's first year as President of the United States, FBI reports a record high, with thousands more hate crimes than the year prior.2013• 5,928 hate crimes2014•5,462 hate crimes2015•5,818 hate crimes2016•6,063 hate crimes2017•8,437 hate crimes.Here's an excerpt from the top of the FBI's report:Victims of Hate Crime IncidentsThere were 7,106 single-bias incidents involving 8,493 victims. A percent distribution of victims by bias type shows that 59.6 percent of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 20.6 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias; 15.8 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias; 1.9 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias; 1.6 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias; and 0.6 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias. (Due to rounding, percentage breakdowns may not add to 100.0 percent.)Sixty-nine (69) multiple-bias hate crime incidents involved 335 victims.Offenses by Crime CategoryOf the 5,084 hate crime offenses classified as crimes against persons in 2017, 44.9 percent were for intimidation, 34.3 percent were for simple assault, and 19.5 percent were for aggravated assault. Twenty-three rapes, 15 murders, and 1 offense of human trafficking—commercial sex acts were reported as hate crimes. Read the rest
Black security guard shot dead by police after preventing a mass shooting
Jemel Roberson was working as an armed security guard at Manny's Blue Room Bar in the Chicago suburb of Robbins early Sunday morning when he asked a group of intoxicated men to leave the bar. The men came back to the bar and one with a gun began shooting. The 26-year-old security guard fired back and caught one of the men outside of the bar. He had the suspect down on the ground at gunpoint when two Midlothian police officers responding to 911 calls arrived on the scene. One of the officers shot and killed Roberson. "He had somebody on the ground with his knee in back, with his gun in his back like, 'Don’t move,'" witness Adam Harris said.Soon after, witnesses said, an officer responding to the scene fired at Roberson — killing him."Everybody was screaming out, 'Security!' He was a security guard," Harris said. "And they still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun, and basically killed him."The Cook County medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide and both officers have been placed on administrative leave. Roberson was studying to be a police officer. The NRA has yet to comment.Federal lawsuit filed against Midlothian in fatal shooting of bar security guard (Sam Charles & Mitch Dudek/Chicago Sun-Times) (Photo: WGN-TV) Read the rest
Cop who killed black man in his own apartment could face murder charges from new District Attorney
Just shy of three months ago, Amber Guyger, then a Dallas police officer, burst into her 26-year-old neighbor's home and shot him. Botham Shem Jean was murdered in his home, unarmed--a threat to no one. Guyger's bullshit excuse: she was confused and thought that the apartment that she'd broken into was her own and that Jean was an intruder.Cool, cool, cool. Who hasn't broken into their own home, found it to be decorated completely differently and contained their neighbor? That crap could happen to anyone.At the time of the murder, Dallas District Attorney Faith Johnson was accused of giving Guyger, who has since been shit-canned by the Dallas Police, preferential treatment. Guyger was let off without a murder charge against her. But here's the thing: Johnson's no longer Dallas' DA. In January of 2019, she'll be replaced by Dallas' freshly-minted District Attorney John Creuzot. For Guyger, the worm could be about to turn so fast that it breaks its own frigging neck.From The Root:Creuzot, a former judge who retired from the bench in 2012, told NBC that anything less than a murder charge for Guyger deviates from Dallas County precedent.“I don’t know any police reports. I don’t know any forensic reports, but based on what I have seen, manslaughter is an inappropriate charge, based on the circumstances as I understand them,” he said. “Once I get in there and I get everything in front of me and it appears the most appropriate charge is murder, then that’s the charge we will go forward with. Read the rest
Moment is offering a new telephoto smartphone lens and I'm so there for it
I'm a big fan of Moment's lens system for Android and iOS smartphones. The company is staffed by folks who are just as passionate about mobile photography as I am. More importantly, they seem to understand that having to buy entirely new lenses every time you land a new handset is twelve different kinds of Bullshit. With Moment's second generation lens system, all you need to do when you invest in a new smartphone is plunk down some new cash for a new photo case and you're in business. Their business model makes me feel comfortable with fielding the relatively steep cost of their high quality smartphone accessory lenses and other kit.Today, Moment announced that they're releasing a new 58mm telephoto lens. If you're using it with a single lens smartphone like the Google Pixel 3, it'll provide you with 2X optical zoom. Have a dual camera lensed phone like my iPhone 7 Plus? You can expect 4X optical telephoto zoom. That means better photos of far away subjects, portraits and landscapes without having to deal with the pixilation that comes from using digital zoom. Having this option makes me feel much less obligated, in many cases, to bring along an actual camera with me. I've got one on the way to me and can't wait to try it out. I'm curious to see how it performs versus the last incarnation of their tele lens. I'll post a review with a few choice shots of the lens in action just as soon as I can. Read the rest
Boy runs for kite and ends up, by sheer luck, breaking his friend's fall from a third floor balcony
This is an amazing case of being in the right place at the right time. An 11-year-old boy runs to pick up a kite that had just been dropped from a third floor balcony after it had gotten stuck up there. As the boy bends down to pick up the kite, the boy who had freed the kite falls off the balcony, only to have his fall broken by his friend's crouching body. Neither boy was hurt. It was all caught on a CCTV camera.Via LiveLeak Read the rest
Watch four tires get changed in less than two seconds
During the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel's crew manages a sub-2 second pitstop. (via Next Draft) Read the rest
Watch boy accidentally save his friend who fell three floors
On Sunday in Pusad, Maharashtra, India, an 11-year-old boy climbed to the third floor of a building to retrieve a stuck kite. He tossed the kite down but then slipped. Fortunately, his buddy was in the right place at the right time. Watch:(LiveLeak/Newsflare) Read the rest
Livestream killer whale songs and other ocean sounds
Orcasound is a citizen science project (and app) enabling you to listen to livestreams of audio from underwater microphones off Washington’s San Juan Island. Mostly, you'll hear ships moving through Haro Strait and other boats in the area. But if you listen long enough, you might be treated to some whale song. From Atlas Obscura:(Lead researcher Scott) Viers developed OrcaSound because he saw an opportunity for engaged citizens to help fill gaps in the study of orcas. The whales have long been well-observed in the summertime, when the weather cooperates and the cetaceans are more accessible to scientists and the Coast Guard, who observe them by boat. But questions have lingered about their lives during other times of the year. Now, in any season, listeners can notify scientific authorities to alert them to the presence of whales, so they can rush out like first responders to collect important data. The orcas have been facing a food crisis in recent years, so their fecal matter can help scientists get a sense of what they’re managing to eat, and what their stress levels are like. Having citizens on the line is also an exercise in preparing for the worst, like an oil spill. In such a case, there will be multiple (ear) witnesses to attest to where the whales were at the time.Orcasound: Listen for whales Read the rest
Gentleman purposely crashes car into courthouse to tell police someone stole his drug paraphernalia
A 28-year-old gentleman in Gulfport, MS crashed his pickup truck into a courthouse in order to report that someone had stolen his drug paraphernalia. After his truck smashed into the courthouse's glass wall, however, he had a change of heart, slipped out of his truck's passenger window, and took off. Keith Rio Cavalier, who had been driving under the influence, was later caught and arrested. He admitted that at the time, he thought intentionally crashing his car into the courthouse was a good way to contact the police. Fortunately for the people of Gulfport, Cavalier is, at least for now, is sitting in the Harrison County jail. Via WLOXImage: Gulfport Police Department Read the rest
A modern mudlarker finds treasures washed up on the River Thames banks
In the 18th and 19th centuries, mudlarks were people who sifted through the mud on the banks of the River Thames to find things of value. Ted Sandling keeps the dream alive. He compiled his curious collection in a book, London in Fragments: A Mudlark's Treasures, and you can also follow his finds on Instagram. If you're inspired to dig yourself, new laws require mudlarkers (and metal detector users) to apply for a permit first and then report any treasures you uncover to the authorities. View this post on Instagram A couple of days ago I found this spoon, standing straight up in the gravel like a very small and shapely monolith. There was a symbolic significance to its position, as if it had been placed with deliberate purpose, probably to do with britishness, and tea. I picked it up (how could one not?) and brought it home for someone who is six and a half years old and likes spoons. The reverse tells all manner of stories to those who can decode the hallmarks (I can’t, but I know a google who can). It’s silver plate, made by James Deakin & Sons in the late nineteenth century and has what sophisticates know as ‘rather a lot of dings’ in the bowl. Also, for some ceremonial reason, most of the silver has come unplated. It’s their Sidney Silver brand, so called because it was made at the Sidney Works on Sidney Street, quite possibly by a man named Sidney. Read the rest
Trump is bailing out a Chinese owned pork producer to compensate it for retaliatory Chinese tariffs
Smithfield is a Chinese-owned pork producer based in the USA that exports a lot of pork back to China; when Trump touched off a trade-war with China, he committed to compensating US-based companies that faced retaliatory sanctions at the Chinese border.You see where this is going, right?The US government is buying $240,000 worth of pork from Smithfield to compensate it for its lost Chinese sales. Smithfield's Chinese shareholders will get US tax-dollars from Donald J Trump. #MAGAThe Agriculture Department said last month that Smithfield qualified for the bailout money, noting that the agency would be purchasing only goods produced in the United States. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a farmer and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has expressed alarm that a Chinese-owned firm could benefit from bailout money intended to help American farmers survive a trade war with China.The timing of Wednesday’s announcement raised some eyebrows."It is highly suspicious that this announcement came a day after the midterm elections," said Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist at Food and Water Watch, which tracks federal agriculture programs. "Congress needs to exercise oversight of this program. This is an example of corporate welfare at its worst."Chinese-owned pork producer is getting U.S. bailout money to protect it from China's tariffs [Jeff Stein/Washington Post] Read the rest
My life on the road: stranded in Wyoming
Few things can fuck an RV up worse than a frozen water system. Grey, black and potable water tanks, water pumps and the delicate tubing that run through the undercarriage and into the living area of a motorhome don't do well when exposed to subzero temperatures. Some RVs, like ours, come with blowers that force warm air from the furnace into the undercarriage. Others, like our old rig, have systems that draw power from the chassis battery to keep the tanks heated and the liquid inside of them, well, liquid. We started our first day headed south at -4° Celsius. We assumed that we'd be able to make it to Lethbridge, Alberta, a few hours south of Calgary. The overnight temperature would dip to -10° there. Fading headlights and the encroaching dark forced to a halt, short of our goal, in Claresholm. There, the overnight temperature dipped to -17°. We knew that we could weather the weather in Lethbridge. Claresholm, cold as it was, would have been a test we weren't prepared to sit for. Fortunately, we were able to find a hotel. Even more fortunate was the fact that we'd winterized our RV well before the first cold. Our tanks were drained dry. Our lines were wetted with anti-freeze. For the first three days of our trip south, we traveled without any water, save what we brought with us in bottles. We used it to flush our toilet, brush our teeth, make coffee and wash. On the end of the third night, we felt it warm enough to risk de-winterizing the RV. Read the rest
#AmazonHQ2: Amazon to open New York and Northern Virginia headquarters, plus new Nashville operations center
Amazon has selected New York City and Northern Virginia for new headquarters. They're re-branding the area of Crystal City in Arlington, VA as "National Landing." Here's the official announcement at Amazon's corporate press center.The company says it will invest $5 billion and create more than 50,000 jobs across the two new headquarters. The New York project alone will net Amazon $1.5 billion in incentives from the government. Amazon is also opening a "new Operations center of Excellence" in Nashville, Tennessee, promising 5,000 new jobs there.Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, "We are excited to build new headquarters in New York City and Northern Virginia. These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come.”And let’s please remember what @amazon got for FREE - BIG BIG DATAEvery one of those cities vying for a shot at HQ2 went to great lengths to provide Amazon with information they demanded about their demographics etc... Now Amazon has loads of intel & those cities have NUTHIN https://t.co/u58gXE2wWU— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) November 13, 2018Amazon selects New York City and Northern Virginia for new headquarters https://t.co/VRGeYdpoBy— Amazon News (@amazonnews) November 13, 2018why is Amazon getting $1.5 billion from the government to open an office in NEW YORK https://t.co/gMxP6ukelE— Matt Pearce 🦅 (@mattdpearce) November 13, 2018Breaking News: It's official: Amazon will open new offices in New York and Virginia. It means thousands of new jobs, but they may come at a high cost to locals. Read the rest
Tips for overcoming reader's block
I have a lot of trouble reading anything longer than a tweet, these days, so I wrapped duct tape around my head and monitor to force myself to get through Emily Petsko's tips for overcoming reader's block.2. TRY A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES ...Compared to a 300-page novel, short stories won’t seem like such an insurmountable task. Ginni Chen, Barnes and Noble’s “Literary Lady,” suggests trying a collection of stories written by different authors. That way, you’ll have the chance to figure out which styles and subjects you enjoy most. In an advice column addressed to someone with reader’s block, Chen recommended the Best American Short Stories and the Best American Nonrequired Reading collection. And if you want to start really small, there’s an app called Serial Box that will send you 150-character stories as push notifications.Other good ones include "4. READ PAGE 69 BEFORE COMMITTING TO A BOOK." and "7. THROW ALL YOUR GADGETS IN A LAKE."Photo: Shutterstock. Read the rest
A hardcore metal Seinfeld band called Grindfeld exists
There's a Seinfeld-themed hardcore metal band from New York City (of course) called Grindfeld.Born out of a mutual love of Death Metal, comical observations, coffee and Hardcore, Grindfeld is a project built on the existential dread hidden just under the surface of daily life. Yes, they're real and they've got "5 Songs About Nothing." The first is a loud little ditty called "The Contest":The other four songs -- The Soup Nazi, The Limousine, The Bizarro Jerry, and The Letter -- are available from their $5 digital album. They also have merch.(Stereogum) Read the rest
CNN sues Trump and White House aides over Jim Acosta ban
CNN is suing President Donald Trump and various White House aides over the administration's ban on chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.CNN's lawsuit alleges that Acosta and CNN's First and Fifth amendment rights are being violated by the ban. Named in CNN's lawsuit against the White House are Donald Trump, John Kelly, Sarah Sanders, Bill Shine, Joseph Clancy, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta's hard pass away. "While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," the network said today. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."The lawsuit seeks the immediate restoration of Acosta's access to the White House.CNN sues President Trump and top White House aides for barring Jim Acostahttps://t.co/5GsAmQOZDF— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 13, 2018Bulletin: @CNN is filing a lawsuit against President Trump and several of his aides, seeking the immediate restoration of Jim @Acosta's access to the White House. https://t.co/nE022jiYPw— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 13, 2018From CNN, which reports the suit is being filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning:Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are six defendants: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta's hard pass away last Wednesday. The officer is identified as John Doe in the suit, pending his identification. Read the rest
Baraboo High Schoolers give Nazi salute at junior prom
Baraboo High School's class of 2019 threw Nazi salutes for a staged photo at their junior prom this year. The photographer, named as Peter Gust, apparently removed it from his website and complained of the "malevolent behavior" of those spreading and criticizing it, but that did not stop it going viral.Though the Wisconsin school district claims to be taking action, it appears not to be merely a one-off stunt: since the photo was publicized, current and former students claim that the school has a culture of racism and bigotry openly enabled by indifferent teachers and administrators. Jules Suzdaltsev is collecting the reports on Twitter."Nearly all of the stories echo the same basic theme: the community as a whole has a lot of casual & jokey racism, homophobia, and transphobia that is accepted as a part of life," writes Suzdaltsev. "The school (and other schools in the area) do little to nothing to address these issues."One teen poses with the OK sign, as often appropriated by white supremacists under the fig leaf of "trolling", while others smile without participating. One unsmiling lad raises his fist instead, a traditionally socialist gesture also adopted by the black power movement. One, named as Jordan Blue, conspiciously stands aside and frowns at the camera and is emerging as the photo's folk hero. After trying to remove the photo from his site (it's still available at the original URL) the photographer posted the following about "malevolent behavior on the part of some in society", and calling for civility. Read the rest
New York City man alarmed by presence of unusual cat (NSFW)
SPOILERS: Yes, it's obviously the back yard of a standard post-war British house. It's actor Michael Rapaport doing a voice-over on this video of Wilfred, a divinely-inbred Chinchilla Persian from England. Read the rest
Congressional Democrats' first bill aims to end gerrymandering, increase voter registration and rein in campaign finance
HR1, the first bill that the new Democratic House of Representatives will vote on, is omnibus legislation that takes on some of the most pervasive scourges of representative democracy: vote suppression, oligarchic campaign financing and gerrymandering.Under HR1's provisions, electoral districting will be taken away from state legislatures and handed to independent commissions (this is very popular with the American public and similar ballot initiatives just sailed into law in Colorado, Missouri and Michigan). HR1 provides for automatic voter registration and reestablishes provisions from the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court neutered in 2013 (though as Yves notes at Naked Capitalism, "If they actually cared about voter turnout they would push election day registration which, unlike automatic registration, has been shown to increase turnout by around 5%").HR1 also overturns Citizens United (previously), the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited, oligarchic campaign spending, including hundreds of millions in "dark money" funneled into Super-PACs.HR1 doesn't stop there: it also closes a loophole that exempts presidents from conflict of interest rules (a loophole that Trump has enthusiastically exploited).It's not clear how the bill will fare; Senate Republicans are likely to be divided on it, and the provisions that override the Supreme Court are unlikely to find a hospitable reception in the current court.But as a stake in the ground, it's a pretty impressive outing: forcing GOP politicians to vote in favor of dark money, gerrymandering, and allowing for presidential conflict-of-interest will give the Democrats a lot to campaign on in 2020. Read the rest
Filmmaker Wes Anderson co-curated a quirky art exhibition of oddball items in Vienna
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna started a program in 2012 that opened its doors for "remarkable creative individuals" to select pieces from their massive historical collection to present in an exhibition. Filmmaker Wes Anderson and his partner Juman Malouf are the most recent curators in this program. So, for the last two years, they have been putting together their offbeat Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and other Treasures. Artnet describes the exhibit as "a totally quirky presentation of affectionate misfits":Perhaps the duo’s penchant for the collection’s oddball items also stems from their own awareness of being outsiders in a prestigious establishment replete with trained art historians, curators, and conservators.One senior curator said that some of museum staff were skeptical of the project at first. “We would get an email from Wes asking, ‘Do you have a list of green objects? Could you send us a list of everything you have that is yellow?’ Our data system does not have these categories.”Because of this, the curators and conservators had to manually search their storage, an often painstaking process due climate controls and the condition checks needed, neither of which Anderson or Malouf were aware of.The extra labor required was taxing, but the duo’s alternative criteria had a welcome side effect: It leveled the usual hierarchies. Several staff members said it resulted in new revelations. They just had to “learn to unlearn” their ways of working. The exhibit opened November 6 and will be on view through April 28, 2019. Read the rest
Common sense: the Chomsky/Piaget debates come to AI
In 1975, Noam Chomsky and Jean Paiget held a historic debate about the nature of human cognition; Chomsky held that babies are born with a bunch of in-built rules and instincts that help them build up the knowledge that they need to navigate the world; Piaget argued that babies are effectively blank slates that acquire knowledge from experiencing the world (including the knowledge that there is a thing called "experience" and "the world").For most of AI's history, Chomsky's approach prevailed: computer scientists painstakingly tried to equip computers with a baseline of knowledge about the relationships between things in the world, hoping that computers would some day build up from this base to construct complex, powerful reasoning systems.The current machine learning revolution can be traced to a jettisoning of this approach in favor of a Piaget-style blank slate, where layers of neural nets are trained on massive corpuses of data (sometimes labeled by hand, but often completely blank) and use equally massive computation to make sense of the data, creating their own understanding of the world.Piaget-style deep learning has taken AI a long way in a short time, but it's hitting a wall. It's not just the weird and vastly entertaining local optima that these systems get stuck in: it's the huge corpuses of data needed to train them and the inability of machine learning to generalize one model to bootstrap another and another. The fall-off the rate of progress in machine learning, combined with the excitement that ML's recent gains provoked, has breathed new life into the Chomskyian approach to ML, and computer scientists all over the world are trying to create "common sense" corpuses of knowledge that they can imbue machine learning systems with before they are exposed to training data. Read the rest
Big Tech got big because we stopped enforcing antitrust law (not because tech is intrinsically monopolistic)
Tim Wu (previously) is a legal scholar best known for coining the term "Net Neutrality" -- his next book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (previously) challenges the accepted wisdom about today's digital monopolists, which is that they grew so big because of some underlying truth about online business ("first-mover advantage," "network effects," "globalism," etc). Instead, Wu argues that the reason we got digital monopolies is that we stopped enforcing anti-monopoly rules against digital companies (and then against all kinds of companies).In a new excerpt from "The Curse of Bigness" published today on Wired, Wu fleshes out this argument in more depth, with a fast-moving history of how regulators were lulled into a belief in the especially competitive markets in technology because of the quick rise and fall of companies like AOL, leading to a hands-off approach to regulating the tech markets that allowed for the rise and rise of companies like Google and Facebook.I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book -- it's obvious that while these special theories of tech's intrinsic competitiveness were key to lulling regulators to sleep during the 2000s and 2010s, the theories also dovetailed with a modern economic orthodoxy from the University of Chicago that held that unless companies were raising prices, there was no reason to limit their actions.Unfortunately, antitrust law failed to notice that the 1990s were over. Instead, for a decade and counting, it gave the major tech players a pass—even when confronting fairly obvious dangers and anticompetitive mergers. Read the rest
Wife of GOP mega-donor to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Lost in the chaos of last week's news was the announcement of President Trump's Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. This is the first group of recipients from the Trump presidency and the list feels a little random; heavy on the posthumous, heavy on the athletes. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. It honors those who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." This year's recipients are: -Miriam Adelson-Orrin Hatch-Alan Page-Elvis Presley-Babe Ruth-Antonin Scalia-Roger StaubachIf the first name sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Miriam Adelson is the wife of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The casino magnate and his wife donated $25 million dollars to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and have given nearly $130 million dollars to the GOP for this year's election cycle, which I'm sure had absolutely nothing to do with her selection. The award ceremony will be held on November 16th at the White House. Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth To Be Honored With Presidential Medal Of Freedom (Dino-Ray Ramos/Deadline)(Photo: Union20/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest
Kyrsten Sinema wins Arizona Senate. Now Dems have 47 seats to GOP's 51.
Kyrsten Sinema, the apparent winner in Arizona's Senate race, is the first Democrat to win that vote for decades. She will become the first woman to ever represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate. She is also the first openly bisexual person ever elected to the U.S. Senate. That's a lot of firsts.Sinema's win was called late in the day by Associated Press on Monday November 12. Election day was Tuesday, November 6. She gave a speech accepting the win around 830pm Eastern time. Here's a screengrab. Democrats now control 47 Senate seats. Republicans control 51. At least 2 races have not yet been called. Sinema, 42, faced a contentious race as a centrist Democrat candidate running against Republican Martha McSally. She will assume the seat being vacated by Jeff Flake.Here is Martha McSally's concession.Congrats to @kyrstensinema. I wish her success. I’m grateful to all those who supported me in this journey. I’m inspired by Arizonans’ spirit and our state’s best days are ahead of us. pic.twitter.com/tw0uKgi3oO— McSally For Senate (@MarthaMcSally) November 13, 2018From the New York Times:Ms. Sinema’s victory over Martha McSally, a Republican congresswoman and former Air Force pilot, marks the first Democratic triumph since 1976 in a battle for an open Senate seat in Arizona. Ms. Sinema takes the seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, a Republican who retired after publicly clashing with President Trump.Ms. Sinema’s victory guarantees the Democrats at least 47 Senate seats. Republicans control 51, with two still undecided: Florida, where there is a recount, and Mississippi, where there is a runoff. Read the rest
Police: kids are being preyed upon by sextortionists while playing Fortnite
In what feels like the one billionth installment of We Can't Have Nice Things, some pervy asshole's been creeping on Fortnite-playing minors. Over the past few weeks, according to police from the Quebec, Canada area, a number of parents have stepped forward to complain that their kids were asked, in-game and via Instagram, to fire over nude photos of themselves. The payoff: ways and means of advancing their in-game prowess. Once the prick had their hands on the pics, the kid that sent them would be threatened: send more or the ones that the pederast already had would be plastered all over the internet.From The CBC:Four cases have been reported in the past few weeks, according to police.In three of those cases, minors were threatened, and in one, the victim sent personal photos to the cyber-predator.Sgt. Jean-Luc Tremblay with the Richelieu Saint-Laurent police said the predator, or predators, tried to infiltrate groups of friends by offering them a chance to advance their game in exchange for providing revealing photos.Police are working with school boards in the area to disseminate information about the sextortion.Being a kid is already difficult enough without having to endure this kind of horse shit. Parents need to be on their guard and kids need to be educated in how to avoid these greasy shits online. It's a mantra that too many people have had to type too many times.Hopefully, those responsible will have left enough digital breadcrumbs to be tracked down and dealt with--quickly. Read the rest
Allow one of the world's greatest magicians to melt your brain
Eric Chien's got some nimble fingers, a shit-ton of showmanship, and a magic trick that'll blow your mind. The trick is so frigging good that Chien won a 2018 Fism Grand Prix award with it. Read the rest
Good deal on yogurt maker with seven glass jars
If you eat yogurt, this yogurt maker will pay for itself in short order. It makes 7 six-ounce glass jars of yogurt in one batch and can set to ferment for up to 15 hours.Lately I've been making yogurt with half-and-half because it tastes incredible. Check the link below for the latest price. Read the rest
Enjoy this sick burn on Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter's job is to write unpleasant tweets for the amusement of mean people not smart enough to think of clever insults on their own. In the last few days, Coulter has kept herself busy insulting doctors who save the lives of bullet wound victims. It all started with a tweet from the NRA chiding "self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane."Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves. https://t.co/oCR3uiLtS7— NRA (@NRA) November 7, 2018Doctors were quick to point out that gun violence is very much in their lane:Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my fucking highway. https://t.co/48S9UIFaV2— Judy Melinek M.D. (@drjudymelinek) November 9, 2018Shortly after, the increasingly-desperate-for-attention Coulter tweeted one of her standard false equivalencies:Emergency room doctors pull cue balls, vines & gummy bears out of human orifices every week. That doesn't make them experts on pool, horticulture or chewy candy. https://t.co/EdksEGDnCx— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) November 10, 2018Cathleen London, MD, made short work of Coulter's mean-spirited foolishness:We do examine assholes all day so it does make us an expert on them. You qualify https://t.co/yRQTZnGqQr— Cathleen London MD (@DrChaya) November 11, 2018Source image: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Ann Coulter, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link Read the rest
Memories from Warhol's Factory
Pegged on the massive new Andy Warhol retrospective opening today at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New York Times asked the likes of Fran Lebowitz, Mary Woronov, Joe Dallesandro, Viva, and many other of his friends, collaborators, and party guests to reminisce about their experiences of The Factory, in all three of its incarnations. A few bits from the New York Times feature:André Leon Talley, 69, fashion journalist. Receptionist at the Union Square Factory, 1975.The Factory was very much a creative playpen, but there were still rules. You had to show up every day, or you would be fired. Andy was always walking around being very vague about everything. But you had to be enthusiastic. There was a seriousness about the place, a decorum and deportment.Mary Woronov (star of "Chelsea Girls")One day a drug dealer came up. He shot up this girl, and she for some reason passed out. It was in the bathtub. She went under water. We thought she was dead. We panicked because she was not waking up. Finally someone said, “We should send her down the mail chute.” We wrote little notes on her body and puts stamps on her forehead. Then we realized she wasn’t dead. I don’t think she would have fit in the mail chute. But we would have tried.In those days the Factory was like a medieval court of lunatics. You pledged allegiance to the king — King Warhol. Yet there was oddly no hierarchy. Warhol was also one of us. Read the rest
The first selfie in space was taken 52 years ago today
On this day in 1966, Buzz Aldrin took the first selfie in space while standing on his seat and hanging out of an open hatch as part of the Gemini XII mission. From NASA:This “stand up” EVA (the first of three during the mission) was conducted with the hatch off while Aldrin stood on his seat, his upper body clear of the spacecraft. He completed his tasks with ease, including setting up an ultraviolet camera to image star fields, installing a movie camera, fixing a handrail, and retrieving a micrometeorite experiment. The flawless EVA lasted two hours and twenty minutes.The second EVA, on November 13, was the real test of Aldrin’s extensive training. Attached to the spacecraft by an “umbilical” cord, he stepped out into space and began his work. The combination of underwater training, multiple restraints and handholds on both vehicles, and a new waist tether paid off: he was able to perform the needed tasks on both the Gemini XII and the GATV without a struggle. He rested periodically, which allowed him to recover between activities, and used the new restraints to position his body in diverse ways that weren’t possible on previous missions. The EVA was a resounding success.For the final EVA, like the first one, Aldrin stood in his seat on the spacecraft. He discarded unneeded equipment and food containers, knowing they would eventually reenter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, and took pictures of stars. Altogether, Aldrin spent five and a half hours conducting the Gemini XII spacewalks. Read the rest
Antique phones lovingly retrofitted with Alexa functionality
Artisan maker Dick Whitney modifies beautiful antique phones to offer Amazon Echo functionality. His goal with the "Alexaphones" and other creations is to "combine classical design and usability with the most salient elements of your modern world." Unlike other spying smart speakers, Alexaphone only listens when you lift the handset. Absolutely stunning work.• Secure. Alexa can only hear you when the handset is off the receiver; all of the microphones are physically disconnected otherwise, so you’re not depending on a mute button to be trustworthy.• Speaker Compatible. Each Alexaphone comes with a 1/8" auxiliary out port, so you can connect it to your home speakers.• The Lights Of The Future. Status LEDs are carefully made visible in a way unique to each phone, striving for minimal disruption of the original aesthetic. Know when your Alexaphone is connected, listening, and more.• The Sounds Of The Past. On some phones we’ve been able to preserve or rebuild the antique earpiece electronics, so you’ll hear the original voice of the phone.• Easy Setup. Just plug in the USB power cable and set up with the Alexa app.• Uncompromised Experience. These works of art function with your Alexa app and any of Alexa’s skills.Alexaphone (Grain Design, thanks John Park!) Read the rest
Puzzle - how to ensure you get the quarter, not the penny
From our friends at Futility Closet:Here are a penny and a quarter. Make a statement. If your statement is true, then I’ll give you one of these coins (not saying which). But if your statement is false, then I won’t give you either coin.Raymond Smullyan says, “There is a statement you can make such that I would have no choice but to give you the quarter (assuming I keep my word).” What statement will accomplish that?Answer is here. Read the rest
Teenagers getting high from sanitary pads
Police in Indonesian cities report that teens have been attempting to get high by boiling sanitary pads (used or new) and drinking the water. According to Adj. Sr. Comr. Suprinarto, head of the National Narcotics Agency's Central Java chapter, the chlorine in the pads is an intoxicant. Of course, ingesting chlorine is an absolutely terrible idea.“I don’t know who started it all, but I knew it started around two years ago. There is no law against it so far. There is no law against these kids using a mixture of mosquito repellent and [cold syrup] to get drunk,” Jimy (Ginting, an "an advocate for safe drinking," told The Jakarta Post. Read the rest
Archive of old Japanese fireworks catalogs
These old Japanese fireworks catalog scans from the Yokohama City Library are a treat for design lovers.[via Present and Correct] Read the rest
Comics legend Stan Lee dead at 95
The legendary comic-book author, publisher, and film producer Stan Lee has died. He co-created Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, the X-Men, Black Panther, and many more characters and imaginary worlds we've come to know through comic books, games, and movies. He died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The news of his death was first reported by TMZ, and came from Stan's daughter. Stan Lee, who began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, X-Men, The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Ant-Man and others, died Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center https://t.co/fEYNEJdzGR pic.twitter.com/Ih8FIgUvFr— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) November 12, 2018Stan Lee may be known as a creator, but I think people forget how good he was as a superhero hype man. He talked with the excited energy of someone running into a diner after seeing Spider-Man swing by overhead. He sounded like he had all the secrets and couldn't wait to share.— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) November 12, 2018If you haven't seen it, this is Stan Lee addressing racism in a 1968 edition of Stan's Soapbox, after the assassinations of JFK and MLK.What an utter shame this advice holds up, word for word, 50 years later. pic.twitter.com/2zRg83QImt— Andray (@andraydomise) November 12, 2018RIP Stan Lee. I don't claim to be a comics expert, but Marvel's notion that heroes could also be people with neuroses and mundane, messy problems made a big difference in the American conception of heroism generally. Read the rest
A catalog of ingenious cheats developed by machine-learning systems
When you train a machine learning system, you give it a bunch of data -- a simulation, a dataset, etc -- and it uses statistical methods to find a way to solve some task: land a virtual airplane, recognize a face, match a block of text with a known author, etc.Like the mischievous genies of legend, machine learning systems will sometimes solve your problems without actually solving them, exploiting loopholes in the parameters you set to find shortcuts to the outcome you desired: for example, if you try to train a machine learning system to distinguish poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms by alternating pictures of each, it might learn that all odd-numbered data-points represent poisonous mushrooms, and ignore everything else about the training data.Victoria Krakovna's Specification gaming examples in AI is a project to identify these cheats. It's an incredibly fun-to-read document, a deep and weird list of all the ways that computers find loopholes in our thinking. Some of them are so crazy-clever that it's almost impossible not to impute perverse motives to the systems involved.* A robotic arm trained to slide a block to a target position on a table achieves the goal by moving the table itself.* Game-playing agent accrues points by falsely inserting its name as the author of high-value items* Creatures exploited physics simulation bugs by twitching, which accumulated simulator errors and allowed them to travel at unrealistic speeds* In an artificial life simulation where survival required energy but giving birth had no energy cost, one species evolved a sedentary lifestyle that consisted mostly of mating in order to produce new children which could be eaten (or used as mates to produce more edible children). Read the rest
This website lets you make your own emojis.
Here's a website that lets you make your own emojis. You can also simply click "randomize" and see what you get:"crying cat face with tongue hanging out and money eyes" -- For those times your cat eats your $800/ounce Loud Dream strain, thinking it's catnip."vomiting confounded skeptical face" -- When Trump says the election was rigged."angry happy face with cowboy hat and wavy mouth" -- When you find out you've run out of Skoal, but you have been planning to quit smokeless tobacco anyway."angry nerdy happy face with open eye" -- It's 3:17am, I'll play one more Splatoon turf war then stop, I promise. Read the rest
My Life on the Road: Headed to Texas - chicken and booze in Bozeman
We left Claresholm after eating a continental breakfast of terrible coffee and decent muffins. The hotel’s owner chatted lazily with us as we noshed. He had been a manager of Woolworth's department stores, from Toronto, Ontario to Terrence, British Columbia. He served the chain loyally for decades of his life, never questioning when they sent him north, east or west. They fired him after 27 years of service. He’d become redundant. I told him that I remembered eating grilled cheese sandwiches at the Woolworth’s lunch counter where I grew up. There was pride in his voice as he told me that, before McDonald's came along, the department store’s lunch counters were the biggest restaurant chain in the world. The sun was high for it being so early in the day. We heated the RV’s engine for a half hour before wheeling south. It’s a strange time to write for a living. Where normally I expect to raise an eyebrow when I tell folks what I do, my vocation of late has roused opinions and suspicions. I wasn’t sure if I would stand up to questioning at the border. I needn’t have worried: the border guard was more concerned about where we were going, how long we’d be there and whether we had any contraband onboard. In her rear view mirror, my wife saw our border guard staggering through a pee-pee dance from her booth to the border patrol facility a few feet away as we drove off. Montana. The mountains are different here than they are in Alberta. Read the rest
Watch the first Toy Story 4 trailer!
Meet Bonnie's new toy "Forky" and head out on the road. Directed by Josh Cooley (“Riley’s First Date?”), Toy Story 4 comes to theaters June 21, 2019. Read the rest
Elephants evolving to be born without tusks thanks to ruthless poachers
About 90% of elephants living in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park were slaughtered for their tusks by poachers during Mozambique's 15-year civil war that ended in 1992. The poachers then profited by selling the tusks to finance weapons. As a result, we're now seeing a growing population of elephants in the country born without tusks. Tuskless females, for instance, have jumped from 2%-4% of the population to around 33%.According to National Geographic:Hunting gave elephants that didn’t grow tusks a biological advantage in Gorongosa. Recent figures suggest that about a third of younger females—the generation born after the war ended in 1992—never developed tusks. Normally, tusklessness would occur only in about 2 to 4 percent of female African elephants.Decades ago, some 4,000 elephants lived in Gorongosa, says Joyce Poole—an elephant behavior expert and National Geographic Explorer who studies the park’s pachyderms. But those numbers dwindled to triple digits following the civil war. New, as yet unpublished, research she’s compiled indicates that of the 200 known adult females, 51 percent of those that survived the war—animals 25 years or older—are tuskless. And 32 percent of the female elephants born since the war are tuskless.Sadly, this isn't the only population of elephants losing their numbers – and their tusks – to poachers. In South Africa, "fully 98 percent of the 174 females in Addo Elephant National Park were reportedly tuskless in the early 2000s." Used to defend themselves, as well as for digging, protecting their trunk, and helping them strip bark from trees in order to eat, tusks are enlarged incisor teeth that are essential to their daily well-being. Read the rest
How to make something that's darker than Vantablack
Vantablack is a pigment made from carbon that is so black that anything painted with it looks like a hole in reality. It absorbs 99.965% of visible light. The Action Lab Man made something even blacker than Vantablack, then shines lights and lasers onto it to see if it visibly reflects the light. He uses marks made with a black Sharpie and a paint called Black 2 (which absorbs 95% of visible light) to compare how well his black square absorbs light. There's a surprising reveal at the end. Read the rest
Forbidden Wine: Tide detergent now comes in a dispenser box
Tanya Chen and Katie Notopoulos asked Tide about the "delicious laundry wine" that teens won't be drinking.When asked if P&G was aware of the dark futility of the internet, and if they had any concerns, the spokesperson provided BuzzFeed News with the following statement:"We all know laundry detergent is for cleaning clothes. To be sure people know this is detergent, we put a large picture of our Tide bottle on the side of the box. Whether your Tide comes in a box or a bottle, it should be stored up and away, out of the reach of children."It's funny, and I will be buying one and reviewing the '18 vintage, but after the whole "eating Tide pods" imbroglio it's hard to avoid the suspicion that this can't be an accident. There's an entire marketing discplipline devoted to avoiding semiotic shelf disasters -- avoiding the packaging formats, colors and type design associated with edible goods -- and this blithely handwaves through a third of it. Read the rest
Will the world's hottest pepper keep mice and rats away?
Shawn Woods grew some ultra-hot Carolina Reaper peppers in his backyard to find out if they can be used as a rodent repellent. He first ate a whole pepper himself and it made him cry. Then he mixed up some Carolina Reaper into grains and seeds to see if rodents would stay away. The video camera shows that the mice and rats were not bothered by the peppers and pepper juice. Conclusion - hot peppers are ineffective as a rodent repellent. Read the rest
John Oliver presents all the swamp creatures Trump has poured in the swamp
If you can make it past the clip of Trump's stomach-churning cameo appearance in a 1980s movie dud, you'll get John Oliver's useful taxonomy lesson on everything that slithers, creeps, and slimes about in his noxious swamp of corruption. Read the rest
Escape artist rescued after losing consciousness in tank during international magic festival
Pedro Volta, an escape artist from northern Spain, was paying tribute to Houdini at an international magic festival near Madrid by trying to get out of a water tank while wearing a strait jacket. In the video, it's not clear at first that he is struggling, but he later told reporters that he had trouble with a buckle to release his arms. "I made an effort and managed to release the buckle but the energy and oxygen used in doing so was too much."It wasn't until he lost consciousness and his body went limp that onlookers realized he was in serious trouble and people rushed to rescue him. Once they lifted him out he quickly regained consciousness. Via Metro Read the rest
How medical bullshit and authority helped Larry Nassar get away with it
Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually assaulted hundreds of young girls, will spend the rest of his life in jail. USA Gymnastics circled the wagons and shredded the files, and as a result it's hard to understand details of how it faciliated and protected Nassar. But Kerry Howley's startling article in The New Yorker shows how important medical bullshit was to his strategy and how the fraternal relationship between medical and administrative authority covered for him. 17-year-old Brianne Randall filed a complaint with Meridian Township police and had a rape kit administered at the local hospital. Detective Andrew McCready called Nassar and asked him to come in for questioning, which he did. Nassar told McCready that he had indeed touched Brianne’s perineum, that it was part of a treatment called “sacrotuberous-ligament release,” and that the treatment was “published in medical journals and training tapes.” He also gave McCready his PowerPoint presentation on said ligament, in which he is pictured cupping a girl’s buttocks and pressing near a girl’s vulva. McCready then called Brianne’s mother to tell her the case would be closed and that “no crime was committed.”And:in 2014, cheerleader Amanda Thomashow reported an assault to one of MSU’s Title IX investigators and university police... Thomashow, concluded [investigator Kristine] Moore, failed to understand the “nuanced difference” between osteopathic manipulative medicine and sexual massage. “Dr. Nassar has presented on this nationally and internationally,”This sort of thing was constant and typical. It's hard to see where dumb respect for the doctor stops and willful contempt for his victims begins. Read the rest
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