Linklist: September 19, 2020

  • What did Earth look like X years ago? – Starts at 750 million years ago: “Cryogenian Period. Glaciers may have covered the entire planet during the greatest ice age known on Earth. New types of life such as red and green algae appear during this period.” Includes a Google-Earth-like full-planet view. Seems like a great way to be introduced to Earth’s geological history.

  • Relaxed pedagogy: Relaxing teaching and learning in the university – “With Uptight Pedagogy (UpPed) we refer to the current predominant pedagogical approach in higher education teaching. When we think of UpPed, we immediately think of the ‘banking system of education’: the system through which knowledge is ‘deposited’ by teachers ‘into’ learners, and which, in doing so, re/produces a hierarchy of teaching and learning. Highlighting pedagogical ‘uptightness’, we specifically draw attention to HET’s often ‘vertical’, linear and disciplining, or even controlling and punitive, orientation. For instance, critical pedagogical approaches, such as developed by Freire and hooks, argue that it is not possible to achieve social transformation by merely teaching about social transformation, i.e. without the teaching itself being socially transformative. Our attention here goes specifically to the intersectionally ableist and in particular neuro-ableist principles and practices of HET’s UpPed, which, in turn, reproduce norms of abledness and neurotypicality and interrelated exclusion mechanisms. These principles and practices create norms of how bodies and minds are supposed to learn, teach, and generally act and interact in higher education. This raises questions about how we – as teachers and students – are expected to be and to behave, to learn and to teach.”

  • Things come apart – One fellow takes every-day objects apart into their smallest constituent pieces and lays them out on a table. Suddenly, they look so simple and unsophisticated. Some, like the analog telephone, look chaotic, as if manufacturers put them together in a hurry or without forethought about which parts ought to go where. Intimidating things become mundane, seemingly filled with imperfections and awkward secrets like the rest of us.

  • New ham radio onboard the ISS is on the air – “Ham Radio operators have enjoyed making contact with the ISS for many years. The holy grail has always been talking to ISS astronauts on FM simplex (145.800) — but those can be rare chance encounters. Ham radio operators have also enjoyed slow-scan television (SSTV) broadcasts and APRS packet radio via the ISS digipeater. Now we get to work the world’s most expensive FM repeater thanks to the new InterOperable Radio System (IORS) installed on the ISS. The InterOperable Radio System (IORS) replaces an ancient Ericsson radio system and packet module that were certified for spaceflight over two decades ago. The 5 watt HT that was aboard the ISS was getting worn out after many years of use. The Ericsson radio looks like something from a 1990s episode of Cops.”

  • Scientists baffled by orcas harassing boats – “The pod rammed the boat for more than an hour, during which time the crew were too busy getting the sails in, readying the life raft and radioing a mayday – “Orca attack!” – to feel fear. The moment fear kicked in, Morris says, was when she went below deck to prepare a grab bag – the stuff you take when abandoning ship. “The noise was really scary. They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat. And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout.” It felt, she says, “totally orchestrated”. The crew waited a tense hour and a half for rescue – perhaps understandably, the coastguard took time to comprehend. To say this is unusual is to massively understate it. By the time help arrived, the orcas were gone. The boat was towed to Barbate, where it was lifted to reveal the rudder missing its bottom third and outer layer, and teeth marks along the underside.”

  • Dozens of scientific journals have vanished from the internet, and no one preserved them – “Eighty-four online-only, open-access (OA) journals in the sciences, and nearly 100 more in the social sciences and humanities, have disappeared from the internet over the past 2 decades as publishers stopped maintaining them, potentially depriving scholars of useful research findings, a study has found. An additional 900 journals published only online also may be at risk of vanishing because they are inactive, says a preprint posted on 3 September on the arXiv server. The number of OA journals tripled from 2009 to 2019, and on average the vanished titles operated for nearly 10 years before going dark, which “might imply that a large number … is yet to vanish,” the authors write.”

  • How the Internet Archive is ensuring permanent access to open access journal articles – “Open Access journals, such as New Theology Review (ISSN: 0896-4297) and Open Journal of Hematology (ISSN: 2075-907X), made their research articles available for free online for years. With a quick click or a simple query, students anywhere in the world could access their articles, and diligent Wikipedia editors could verify facts against original articles on vitamin deficiency and blood donation. But some journals, such as these titles, are no longer available from the publisher’s websites, and are only available through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Since 2017, the Internet Archive joined others in concentrating on archiving all scholarly literature and making it permanently accessible.”

  • Ice – “During the end of the last ice age, a massive amount of glacial ice in continental Europe and North America melted away. During the period from 25,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Laurentide, Cordilleran, and Fennoscandian ice sheets completely melted, leading to a 120 meter rise in the global sea level. The rise in sea levels from this melting is estimated to have averaged in at roughly one meter per century while being augmented by two intense periods of melting between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago, and between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago. While the current consensus among paleoclimatologists is that this melting was relatively gradual and steady, occurring at a linear rate over the course of 15,000 years, there is some evidence beginning to surface both in our current ice sheets and in the geologic records on the last one, that a gradual and linear melting rate is not what we should expect to see going forward.”

  • Welcome to the next level of bullshit – “This is where Frankfurt’s notion of bullshit is helpful. According to Frankfurt, bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth. In that sense, there is an important difference between a liar and a bullshitter: The liar does care about the truth insofar as they want to hide it, whereas the bullshitter only cares about persuading their listener. Importantly, this does not entail that bullshitters never tell the truth; in fact, good bullshitters seamlessly weave accurate and inaccurate information together. For this very reason, as Frankfurt puts it, “Bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.” At its core, GPT-3 is an artificial bullshit engine—and a surprisingly good one at that. Of course, the model has no intention to deceive or convince. But like a human bullshitter, it also has no intrinsic concern for truth or falsity.”

  • The new ten-factor authentication processes for university faculty – “Dear Faculty, Beginning next semester, we will be moving from two-factor to ten-factor authentication requirements for accessing the university’s digital resources. The first and second factors, signing in and entering a passcode from your phone app, will remain the same. From there: Third Factor: Go out to your car and add the digits of your vehicle identification number to the digits of the passcode that your phone generates when you arrive at your car (we use GPS tracking between your phone and the University’s virtual parking pass technology to determine when you’ve arrived at your car). Fourth Factor: When you return to the building with the sum of the VIN number and passcode, take it directly to your department’s Academic Administrative Assistant (AAA). Presuming she recognizes you on sight, she will take the sum you present to her and multiply it by a factor that only she can access. She will then use the new, increased total to remotely unlock your email. By the time you return to your office you’ll be able to continue signing in, no problem.”

  • Differentiable dithering – “Let's say we want to reduce the number of colors in an image. For example consider the image of fruit below: If we run a count of how many colors are in the above image we get a whopping 157376 (for a 900 x 450 pixel image). Are all those colors really necessary? The image above has 16 colors and the one below only has 8. The problem of color palette reduction has been studied extensively and the typical approach works roughly as follows: Build a reduced color palette of size N by dividing the color space up into N distinct regions where each region is represented by one color. This is usually accomplished by one of several popular approaches. Dither the image. The process of dithering eliminates color banding and creates the illusion of more colors through a stippling like effect. If you are not familar with dithering we will explore it in more detail later. Given a fixed color palette there are specialized algorithms for dithering such as Floyd Stienberg. Instead of the usual approach, we are going to solve both of these problems at the same time using gradient descent.”

  • North Pacific Logbook – Two people got on a sailboat and travelled from Shimoda to Victoria through the North Pacific Ocean: “it was the hardest thing we've ever done. We decided to keep a logbook, to better remember it and so it can help others who wish to make this trip. … July 4th, 1530 | It's worse than we thought. We've stumbled into a minefield of fishing vessels, a fleet of over 40, all huddled in together around us. They're covering 40 NM of ocean, going around them was just not possible. There is room to go inbetween them, but it is scary. AIS has been beeping non-stop for the past 4 hours. We thought we'd reached the end but now, we saw many more appearing on AIS. What a nightmare. I thought we'd be clear of these monsters tonight but no. How is this possible? Why are they all here? I feel like a mouse in a pit of snakes. The sight of all these targets is too crazy, I almost don't believe it. They're all Chinese-flagged vessels, all huddled up together here — a hellish sight.”

  • The poisonous history of chemotherapy – “The deadly cargo in Bari’s harbour was a fiercely guarded secret. The Geneva Protocol had banned the use of chemical warfare in 1925, but the shipment was there in case of the need to retaliate if Hitler had resorted to chemical weapons. Alexander struggles to treat his ailing patients while battling military officials who are intent on keeping the incident quiet. Alexander is struck by how the mustard–oil mixture obliterated his patients’ white blood cells. He scrambles to make sense of data from different treatments given in different hospitals, with different standards of care and no control groups. Alexander had seen similar effects of such agents in animal studies before the war. These had conjured up hopes that the chemicals could be used to rein in cancerous blood cells in leukaemia and lymphoma. Flood the body with toxic substances, the theory went, and the disease could be snuffed out or at least beaten back. Alexander’s detailed report of his findings in Bari, initially classified but circulated among some military researchers, spurred efforts to find a chemical treatment for cancer.”

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