Can I have a word, you guys?

I hate that cliché about people from Yorkshire ‘saying what they mean and meaning what they say’. Words are rarely that straightforward or unambiguous.

This is how tiny changes in words you hear impacts your thinking
One example Lakoff mentions in his book is George W. Bush’s usage of the phrase “tax relief” on the day he arrived in the White House. Consider the framing around the word “relief.”

Lakoff writes: For there to be relief, there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief. When the word tax is added to relief, the result is a metaphor: Taxation is an affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. It is made up of ideas, like affliction and hero.

The problem with ‘Hey guys’
There are, of course, plenty of people—including many women—who have no problem being addressed as “guys,” think the word has evolved to be entirely gender-neutral, and don’t see a reason to change their usage. But others aren’t so sure. “I think there’s a really serious and welcome reconception of gender lines and relationships between sex and gender going on,” says John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University and has written several books about language. He says “something has crested in particular over about the past 10 years”—something that has people examining their everyday communications.

Too much screen time, or too many screens?

New research has been published on how teenagers and parents feel about the amount of time they’re on their devices.

How teens and parents navigate screen time and device distractions
Amid roiling debates about the impact of screen time on teenagers, roughly half of those ages 13 to 17 are themselves worried they spend too much time on their cellphones. Some 52% of U.S. teens report taking steps to cut back on their mobile phone use, and similar shares have tried to limit their use of social media (57%) or video games (58%), a new Pew Research Center survey finds. […]

Parents, too, are anxious about the effects of screen time on their children, a separate survey shows. Roughly two-thirds of parents say they are concerned about their teen spending too much time in front of screens, and 57% report setting screen time restrictions for their teen in one way or another.

It’s not just a problem for the teenagers, though.

At the same time, some parents of teens admit they also struggle with the allure of screens: 36% say they themselves spend too much time on their cellphone. And 51% of teens say they often or sometimes find their parent or caregiver to be distracted by their own cellphone when they are trying to have a conversation with them.

Additionally, 15% of parents say they often lose focus at work because they are distracted by their phone. That is nearly double the share of teens (8%) who say they often lose focus in school due to their own cellphones.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this.

How the shared family computer protected us from our worst selves
Long before phone addiction panic gripped the masses and before screen time became a facet of our wellness and digital detoxes, there was one good and wise piece of technology that served our families. Maybe it was in the family room or in the kitchen. It could have been a Mac or PC. Chances are it had a totally mesmerizing screensaver. It was the shared family desktop.

A very interesting account of what it was like to be a child in the 90s, when all this first started.

At the time, bringing a single computer into the home was a harbinger of progress that many didn’t feel ready for. Thirty years later, the idea of having only one shared device with internet access might as well be primordial. How did that work, exactly? Well, it wasn’t completely without its challenges. Mapping out uninterrupted computer time was maddeningly tricky, and privacy was basically nonexistent. You risked parental fury if a virus shut the computer down because of a visit to a risky site. Space on the hard drive was at a premium, and the computer chair was inevitably among the most uncomfortable seats in the house. Having such a valuable resource with finite availability and keeping it in a communal space required cooperation and compromise from everyone involved.

As much as we might like, we can’t go back to those times. Though there are signs that things might change.

Logged off: meet the teens who refuse to use social media
But when you are from a digitally native generation, quitting social media can feel like joining a monastery. Amanuel was recently asked by co-workers if she had Snapchat. “I said no,” Amanuel remembers, “and I instantly heard, like, gasps. It was like I’d revealed something disgusting.” She explained that she did have a Snapchat handle, but never used it. “Relief came out of their eyes! It was really weird.”

The English alternative to therapy?

An interesting view of us, our language and our politicians, from Rebecca Mead, of The New Yorker.

Jeremy Corbyn and the English fetishization of irony
In the London Review of Books personals, the wounding quality that is so often present in English irony is turned inward, to the point that self-loathing is so acute it becomes a form of self-love. (I may be ugly, but look how clever I am.) Often, though, the violence of irony is turned outward. The British playwright David Hare, in the notes to his play “Plenty,” writes that, when foreign actors ask him why a character behaves in a certain way, he believes it is sufficient to reply, “Because you are English.” Hare goes on, “Irony is central to English humor, and as a people we are cruel to each other, but quietly.” In this sense, Corbyn’s charge that some people “don’t understand English irony” participates in a ratcheting up of cruelty in the name of humor. The next step beyond hurting an individual or a group with a joke at their expense is to insist that their pain, far from being a justified response to verbal violence, is a symptom of deficiency on their part. The charge that a person lacks a sense of humor is a familiar bully’s tactic. Women in particular will recognize that the phrase “Can’t you take a joke?” is an expression of menace, not an invitation to share a laugh.

I’ve never thought of our self-confessed love of irony in such terms before. Our pride in our national sense of humour is no joking matter.

To be able to maintain an ironical approach to life means avoiding a more passionately committed or passionately expressive one. It means arming oneself in advance against the possibility of pain or disappointment, by building pain and disappointment into one’s emotional default. Irony is resignation in jester’s clothing.

Being British as well as American provides Rebecca with a great perspective on us all. Here’s another great and quite moving essay from her.

A new citizen decides to leave the tumult of Trump’s America
After decades in New York, I’ve made the wrenching choice to return to Britain. But England isn’t home.

Wet paint

Bringing Baroque painting into the twenty first century — but without the paint.

Baroque underwater photography by Christy Lee Rogers
Photographer Christy Lee Rogers produces luminous scenes of swirling figures swathed in colorful fabrics. She creates a painterly quality in her large-scale images not by using wet pigments, but rather by completely submerging her subjects in illuminated water and photographing them at night.

wet-paint-2

Some incredible imagery. This video gives you an idea of her process, and what her models have to go through.

Muses Underwater by Christy Lee Rogers

It reminded me of David Bickley’s Swim piece, though that’s more Impressionism than Baroque.

Bossy Bernstein

What happens when two musical heavyweights clash.

Who’s the boss?
For a conductor to address an audience prior to a concert is nothing out of the ordinary. But for that conductor to essentially disavow the performance, before a single note is played? That would be almost unthinkable. And yet, this is precisely what happened at Carnegie Hall on April 6, 1962, at a matinee concert of the New York Philharmonic. Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein were scheduled to perform the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms, but after intermission, only Bernstein emerged onstage. Gould, who played infrequently in public, was notorious for canceling concerts at the last moment, and at first, Bernstein had to reassure the audience that the afternoon’s soloist was indeed in the house. Then, the conductor went on to deliver a highly controversial speech that has since become part of musical lore.

The article from The American Scholar goes on to transcribe part of that speech, and here’s an audio recording of it and the subsequent performance.

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Gould/Bernstein – Bernstein’s Speech included

Here’s Bernstein’s own take on it, and the press attention that followed:

The truth about a legend
So I said to Glenn backstage, “You know, I have to talk to the people. How would it be if I warned them that it was going to be very slow, and prepare them for it? Because if they don’t know, they really might leave. I’ll just tell them that there is a disagreement about the tempi between us, but that because of the sportsmanship element in music I would like to go along with your tempo and try it.” It wasn’t to be a disclaimer; I was very much interested in the results—particularly the audience reaction to it. I wrote down a couple of notes on the back of an envelope and showed them to Glenn: “Is this okay?” And he said, “Oh, it’s wonderful, what a great idea.”

So I went out, read these few notes, and said, “This is gonna be different, folks. And it’s going to be very special. This is the Glenn Gould Brahms concerto.” Out he came, and indeed he played it exactly the way he had rehearsed it, and wonderfully too. The great miracle was that nobody left, because of course it had become such a thing to listen to. The house came down, although, if I remember correctly, it took well over an hour to play. It was very exciting. I never loved him more.

The result in the papers, especially the New York Times, was that I had betrayed my colleague. Little did they know—though I believe I did say so to the audience—that I had done this with Glenn’s encouragement. They just assumed that I had sold him down the river by coming out first to disclaim his interpretation. It was, on the contrary, a way of educating the audience as part of Thursday night’s procedure. All this was not only misunderstood, but repeated and repeated and multiplied exponentially by every other newspaper that wrote about it.

And, for good measure, here’s another clip of Bernstein and Gould together, more harmoniously this time, perhaps.

Glenn Gould’s U.S. Television Debut: Bernstein Conducting Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor

Happy statistics day

It’s GCSE results day and, despite the new grading system, the news people are bringing out updated versions of their usual it’s-getting-better-it’s-getting-worse stories.

GCSE results day 2018: New ‘tougher’ exams favour boys as gender gap narrowest in seven years
Girls remain in the lead, with 23.4 per cent achieving one of the highest grades, which is the same as last year, compared to 17.1 per cent of boys, up from 16.2 per cent last year. But the gap in top grades between boy and girls is now at its narrowest since 2010, with boys just 6.3 per cent behind girls, down from 7.2 per cent last year.

GCSE results rise despite tougher exams
A total of 20 of the most popular GCSE subjects in England have been graded for the first time in the numerical format – plus English and maths, which were introduced in the new format last year. These include history, geography, sciences and modern languages, all of which have been designed to be more difficult.

Of those achieving all grade 9s – and taking at least seven of the new GCSEs – almost two-thirds were girls.

GCSEs: boys close gap on girls after exams overhaul
Boys appear to have been the major beneficiary of the overhaul of GCSE examinations taken in England for the first time this summer, as results showed across-the-board improvements in boys gaining top marks while girls saw their share of top grades dip.

Across the UK the proportion of students gaining an A or 7 and above, the new top grade used in England, rose above 20%, with boys in England closing the gap on girls with an almost one percentage point rise to 17.1% with girls unchanged at 23.4%.

In the reformed GCSEs in England, 4.3% of the results were the new highest 9 grade, set at a higher mark than the previous A* grade. The figures on Thursday showed 732 students attained seven or more grade 9s.

Despite the improvements by boys in England they were still outperformed by girls at the highest level: 5% of entries by girls received 9s, compared with just 3.6% of boys.

GCSE pass rate goes UP – but fewer students get new top ‘9’ grade compared to old A* mark
The overall pass rate – the percentage of students getting a 4 or above or a C or above – was 66.9 per cent, compared with 66.4 per cent last year.

But just 4.3 per cent of exams were given the new 9 grade, which was brought in to reward the absolute highest achievers. Just 732 students in England got a clean sweep of seven or more grade 9s.

Previously around seven per cent of exams scored the top A* grade.

The more detail-oriented education sector websites are worth a read, if you really want to dig down into all this.

GCSE results 2018: How many grade 9s were awarded in the newly reformed subjects?
There has been a curious amount of interest in how many students might achieve straight 9s in all subjects. It seems to have started with a throwaway remark on twitter by the then-chief scientific adviser at the Department for Education that only two students would do so. Tom Benton from Cambridge Assessment then produced some excellent research showing that it would, in fact, be several hundred.

Today Ofqual has answered the question once and for all. A total of 732 students who took at least seven reformed GCSEs achieved grade 9 in all of them. Given that fewer grade 9s are awarded than grade A*, it should come as no surprise that fewer students will achieve straight grade 9s compared to straight grade A*s.

But it can get a little heavy-going at times.

GCSE results day 2018: The main trends in entries and grades
Across all subjects, 21.5% of entries were awarded a grade 7/A or above, compared to 21.1% last year. At grade 4/C or above, 69.3% of entries achieved the standard this year, compared to 68.9% last year. Both figures have been on something of a downward trend since 2015, so this year’s figures arrest this decline.

GCSE and A-Level results analysis
Explore trends in national entry and attainment data between 2014 and 2018 in:
All subjects
Additional mathematics
Additional science
Art and design subjects
Biology
Business and communication systems
Business studies
Chemistry
Citizenship studies

GCSE 2018 variability charts: Are your results normal?
Each year Ofqual produces boring-sounding variability charts. It sounds dull but they show how many centres, i.e. schools or colleges, dropped or increased their results compared with the previous year. This means that if you dropped, say, 25 per cent in one subject, you can see how many other schools also saw the same dip.

Let’s give the last word to the JCQ and Ofqual, and have done with it: I’m getting a headache.

JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications: Examination results
Each year, JCQCIC collates the collective results for its members from more than 26 million scripts and items of coursework. We only publish collated results from our members though and cannot supply regional, centre or candidate information.

Ofqual Analytics
Ofqual analytics presents a selection of data in an engaging and accessible way by using interactive visualisations. We hope this innovative approach to presenting data will make it easier to understand and explore the data we produce.

Map of GCSE (9 to 1) grade outcomes by county in England
The map shows reformed GCSE full course results (the percentage of students achieving specific grades) in England by subject and county for the summer 2018 examination series as well as the summer 2017 examination series. Data in the map represents the results that were issued on results day for both years (23 August 2018 and 24 August 2017) and do not reflect any changes following post-results services.

happy-statistics-day-2

(All I know is that my boy got his GCSE results today too, and they’re a credit to the amount of time and effort he’s put in over the years.)

Books don’t have a ‘best before’ date

As a follow-up to that post about literary FOMO, here are two related articles from Quartz.

How to read freely
This is actually the best way to read more: with abandon, instead of with resignation. Read something that surprises you. Make a list and then lose it. Don’t force yourself to finish a book you don’t like. Read the books people give you as presents, even if they seem to have completely missed the mark. Think of reading as a very long, meandering stroll—not a scavenger hunt.

The case for taking forever to finish reading books
By keeping your book in one location each time, you free yourself from the distractions of a commute or the pounding waves of a beach. As a result, a strange new relationship forms, between you, the voice of the book, and the room. Your ritual creates a singular association between the book and a quiet, private place, which in turn gives your relationship a new dimension. Your friend never leaves your room, has never seen you with makeup on, or shoes.

That last one reminded me of this piece from The Atlantic.

Reading Proust on my cellphone
My friends are amused: “But how many times do you have to swipe through those tiny pages on your cellphone to get through a single Proust sentence?” they ask. Sometimes many. Sometimes not even once. Even that record-breaking sentence, which stretches over two and a half pages in my old paperback, takes fewer than a dozen swipes. And turning the page, strange to say, is one of the nautical joys. Each finger drag is like an oar drawn through the water to keep the little glass-bottomed boat moving. After a while you’re not even aware of rowing. You’re simply looking through the glass into an endless ocean, moving silently, blindly forward.

I think my equivalent of that would be Foucault’s Pendulum. Took me three years.

We’re getting bigger and smaller

George Monbiot dispels some of the myths that try to explain why we’re so much fatter than we were in previous generations.

We’re in a new age of obesity. How did it happen? You’d be surprised
So what has happened? The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed. … In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed.

We can’t simply put this change in society’s shape down to a lack of willpower, there’s a whole industry out there working against us.

[F]ood companies have invested heavily in designing products that use sugar to bypass our natural appetite control mechanisms, and in packaging and promoting these products to break down what remains of our defences, including through the use of subliminal scents. They employ an army of food scientists and psychologists to trick us into eating more than we need, while their advertisers use the latest findings in neuroscience to overcome our resistance.

They hire biddable scientists and thinktanks to confuse us about the causes of obesity. Above all, just as the tobacco companies did with smoking, they promote the idea that weight is a question of “personal responsibility”. After spending billions on overriding our willpower, they blame us for failing to exercise it.

Whilst some people are getting larger, this piece argues that our culture, institutions and even our gadgets (“high-tech pacifiers”) are reducing us and treating us like children.

The infantilization of Western culture
While we might find it trivial or amusing, the infantilist ethos becomes especially seductive in times of social crises and fear. And its favoring of simple, easy and fast betrays natural affinities for certain political solutions over others.

And typically not intelligent ones.

Democratic policymaking requires debate, demands compromise and involves critical thinking. It entails considering different viewpoints, anticipating the future, and composing thoughtful legislation.

What’s a fast, easy and simple alternative to this political process? It’s not difficult to imagine an infantile society being attracted to authoritarian rule.

Indeed.

A strange race to be the first at the end

I learned a new word today, ‘deaditors’.

The people who update Wikipedia pages when celebrities like Aretha Franklin die
The British hacker-culture newsletter B3ta recently asked its readers a question for the ages: “WHO THE HELL UPDATES CELEB DEATHS ON WIKIPEDIA SO QUICKLY?” After noticing seemingly instantaneous editing this year to the pages for Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking, and Anthony Bourdain, I became curious too: What kind of person wants to share this sad news with the world, and did they (perhaps perversely) enjoy it?

(Since joining 14 yeas ago, I’ve made a grand total of 30 edits to Wikipedia…)

Whose side is WordPress on?

I’ve never met a flat-Earther in my life. I don’t know any fans of David Icke or Alex Jones. Granted, I don’t have too many Facebook friends, but I’m pretty confident they are all quite normal.

In short, I’d have to go a long way to meet anyone who believes in any of those crazy conspiracy theories. But on the web, these people are just around the corner — in just a couple of clicks I can be in the thick of it. This ease of access makes it all feel much more widespread and conventional and mainstream than it really is.

And WordPress and other companies that are part of the internet infrastructure seemed quite relaxed about that.

This company keeps lies about Sandy Hook on the web
Mr. Pozner said he was tired of hearing technology companies say that they do not want to be “arbiters of truth,” an oft-repeated refrain, particularly as concerns around misinformation on social media grow.

“Technology platforms have had this misguided, futuristic vision of freedom of speech and everything was built around that, but it doesn’t really fit into the day-to-day use of it,” Mr. Pozner said. “By not taking action, they have made a choice. They are the arbiters of truth by doing nothing.”

Shortly after that New York Times article, WordPress tried to sort itself out.

New WordPress policy allows it to shut down blogs of Sandy Hook deniers
The update to WordPress’s policy follows a damning report from The NYT this week that explained on how the world’s largest blogging service has allowed Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists to remain online. […]

If the booted bloggers now move to their own self-hosted sites, the responsibility of shutting them down will fall on the web hosting companies. Of course, don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

It beggars belief that we’ve got to this position.

Instead of all these privacy policy pop-ups and cookie notices, why isn’t there a pop-up on these websites that clearly labels them as “Obviously Ridiculous and Vexatious“?

(I think I need to re-read this post about facts and beliefs.)

Creative credit cards

Here in the UK, we’ve had credit cards since the 60s, though the term was thought to be first coined as far back as 1887 by the novellist Edward Bellamy. So perhaps this fresh look at their design is overdue.

Portrait bank cards are a thing now
Consider the ways you use your bank card on an everyday basis, whether handing it over to a cashier, swiping it to make contactless payments, or inserting it into an ATM. How are you holding the card as you do all those things? Vertically, I’m willing to bet, or in portrait orientation, to borrow a term. And yet, the vast majority of credit and debit cards are designed in landscape, sticking to a thoroughly outdated usage model. This is the senseless design inertia that the UK’s Starling Bank is rowing against with its newly unveiled portrait card design, which was spotted by Brand New.

There’s more info on the reasons behind the change on the bank’s website.

Introducing our new card
Design usually evolves to solve something or to meet new needs, and bank cards don’t look the way they do by accident. They were designed landscape because of the way old card machines worked, and they’re embossed with raised numbers so they could be printed onto a sales voucher.

But we don’t use those machines anymore, so when you think about it, a landscape card is just a solution to a ‘problem’ that no longer exists. At Starling, we think it’s important that we can justify every decision we make – and we just couldn’t find a reason good enough to carry on using a design based on antiquated needs.

That first article from The Verge identifies a number of other banks and companies that have gone vertical. I’ve had a portrait Co-op membership card in my wallet for ages now, since their rebrand.

creative-credit-cards-2

Speaking of credit cards, here’s an interesting article about how companies across the globe are turning to AI to help assess credit ratings in what they claim to be a fairer and more transparent way. That’s the idea, anyway…

Algorithms are making the same mistakes assessing credit scores that humans did a century ago

It used to be that credit card companies would just be sneakily looking at transaction data to infer worthiness:

In the US, every transaction processed by Visa or MasterCard is coded by a “merchant category“—5122 for drugs, for example; 7277 for debt, marriage, or personal counseling; 7995 for betting and wagers; or 7273 for dating and escort services. Some companies curtailed their customers’ credit if charges appeared for counseling, because depression and marital strife were signs of potential job loss or expensive litigation.

Now the data trawl is much wider:

ZestFinance’s patent describes the use of payments data, social behavior, browsing behaviors, and details of users’ social networks as well as “any social graph informational for any or all members of the borrower’s network.” Similarly, Branch’s privacy policy mentions such factors as personal data, text message logs, social media data, financial data, and handset details including make, model, and browser type.

In these situations it becomes hard to tell what data, or combinations of data, are important — and even harder to do anything about it if these automated decisions go against us.

AI to the rescue

In 2016 the RNIB announced a project between the NHS and DeepMind, Google’s artificial intelligence company.

Artificial intelligence to look for early signs of eye conditions humans might miss
With the number of people affected by sight loss in the UK predicted to double by 2050, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and DeepMind Health have joined forces to explore how new technologies can help medical research into eye diseases.

This wasn’t the only collaboration with the NHS that Google was involved in. There was another project, to help staff monitor patients with kidney disease, that had people concerned about the amount of the medical information being handed over.

Revealed: Google AI has access to huge haul of NHS patient data
Google says that since there is no separate dataset for people with kidney conditions, it needs access to all of the data in order to run Streams effectively. In a statement, the Royal Free NHS Trust says that it “provides DeepMind with NHS patient data in accordance with strict information governance rules and for the purpose of direct clinical care only.”

Still, some are likely to be concerned by the amount of information being made available to Google. It includes logs of day-to-day hospital activity, such as records of the location and status of patients – as well as who visits them and when. The hospitals will also share the results of certain pathology and radiology tests.

The Google-owned company tried to reassure us that everything was being done appropriately, that all those medical records would be safe with them.

DeepMind hits back at criticism of its NHS data-sharing deal
DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman has said negative headlines surrounding his company’s data-sharing deal with the NHS are being “driven by a group with a particular view to peddle”. […]

All the data shared with DeepMind will be encrypted and parent company Google will not have access to it. Suleyman said the company was holding itself to “an unprecedented level of oversight”.

That didn’t seem to cut it though.

DeepMind’s data deal with the NHS broke privacy law
“The Royal Free did not have a valid basis for satisfying the common law duty of confidence and therefore the processing of that data breached that duty,” the ICO said in its letter to the Royal Free NHS Trust. “In this light, the processing was not lawful under the Act.” […]

“The Commission is not persuaded that it was necessary and proportionate to process 1.6 million partial patient records in order to test the clinical safety of the application. The processing of these records was, in the Commissioner’s view, excessive,” the ICO said.

And now here we are, some years later, and that eye project is a big hit.

Artificial intelligence equal to experts in detecting eye diseases
The breakthrough research, published online by Nature Medicine, describes how machine-learning technology has been successfully trained on thousands of historic de-personalised eye scans to identify features of eye disease and recommend how patients should be referred for care.

Researchers hope the technology could one day transform the way professionals carry out eye tests, allowing them to spot conditions earlier and prioritise patients with the most serious eye diseases before irreversible damage sets in.

That’s from UCL, one of the project’s partners. I like the use of the phrase ‘historic de-personalised eye scans’. And it doesn’t mention Google once.

Other reports also now seem to be pushing the ‘AI will rescue us’ angle, rather than the previous ‘Google will misuse our data’ line.

DeepMind AI matches health experts at spotting eye diseases
DeepMind’s ultimate aim is to develop and implement a system that can assist the UK’s National Health Service with its ever-growing workload. Accurate AI judgements would lead to faster diagnoses and, in theory, treatment that could save patients’ vision.

Artificial intelligence ‘did not miss a single urgent case’
He told the BBC: “I think this will make most eye specialists gasp because we have shown this algorithm is as good as the world’s leading experts in interpreting these scans.” […]

He said: “Every eye doctor has seen patients go blind due to delays in referral; AI should help us to flag those urgent cases and get them treated early.”

And it seems AI can help with the really tricky problems too.

This robot uses AI to find Waldo, thereby ruining Where’s Waldo
To me, this is like the equivalent of cheating on your math homework by looking for the answers at the back of your textbook. Or worse, like getting a hand-me-down copy of Where’s Waldo and when you open the book, you find that your older cousin has already circled the Waldos in red marker. It’s about the journey, not the destination — the process of methodically scanning pages with your eyes is entirely lost! But of course, no one is actually going to use this robot to take the fun out of Where’s Waldo, it’s just a demonstration of what AutoML can do.

There’s Waldo is a robot that finds Waldo

Very presidential

Maybe this is how it is now, this is how presidents conduct themselves.

Omarosa tapes: There is nothing the former Trump aide can say or do that could possibly matter.
But there is reason to believe that an N-word tape wouldn’t torpedo Trump’s presidency, or even keep him from winning a second term. By this point, we shouldn’t need to hear Trump saying the N-word to become convinced that he considers black people second-class citizens. At the same time, no one who has supported him through his Obama birther fabrication, his insistence that the Central Park Five are guilty, and his defense of white supremacists as “very fine people” will turn against him because he used a racial slur.

I wonder if those Word of the Year assessments will include ‘normalised’ this year.

Dog days of summarizing
If the birtherism campaign strategy, the Mexican rapists comment, the good people on both sides argument, the attacks on NFL players, the LeBron James critique, the efforts to avoid renting apartments to African-Americans, the Central Park jogger case, the wall, the Muslim ban, the disparaging of a Mexican judge, the suggestion that all Haitian immigrants have AIDs, the “shithole countries” description, the response to Hurricane Maria, the backing of Joe Arpaio and Roy Moore, and the constant dog whistles to the alt-right haven’t swayed you, spelling out an offensive word sure isn’t gonna make the difference…

Or has ‘fake news’ already grabbed that accolade?

Trump’s ‘dirty war’ on media draws editorials in 300 US outlets
Starting with the Boston Globe itself, the editorial there, headlined Journalists Are Not The Enemy, argued that a free press had been a core American principle for more than 200 years.

The New York Times chose the headline A Free Press Needs You, calling Mr Trump’s attacks “dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy”. It published excerpts from dozens more publications beneath.

The New York Post – a pro-Trump tabloid – answered the Globe’s call by saying “Who are we to disagree?” adding: “It may be frustrating to argue that just because we print inconvenient truths doesn’t mean that we’re fake news, but being a journalist isn’t a popularity contest. All we can do is to keep reporting.” But it also said: “Will this make a difference? Not one whit”.

The Topeka Capital-Journal was another paper to join the campaign. It said of Mr Trump’s attack on the media: “It’s sinister. It’s destructive. And it must end now.” The paper was one of the few to endorse Mr Trump in 2016.

Is there such a thing as geographical psychology?

I’d never heard of this comic before, but I can certainly relate a little to it.

Finnish nightmares
Meet Matti, a stereotypical Finn who appreciates peace, quiet and personal space. Matti tries his best to do unto others as he wishes to be done unto him: to give space, be polite and not bother with unnecessary chit chat. As you might’ve guessed, it can’t always go that way.

Perhaps I’m slightly Finnish?

Are you socially awkward, or just “spiritually Finnish?”
If you find it awkward to make small talk, you may be “jingfen” (精芬) or “spiritually Finnish.” That’s the newly coined Chinese buzzword for a burgeoning identity taking hold among millennials.

Or a little Chinese?

Why do millions of Chinese people want to be ‘spiritually Finnish’?
Matti’s fear of crowds and small talk and his tendency to be easily embarrassed has struck a chord with many Chinese readers, who seem relieved that their longing for privacy has finally been voiced – via the medium of a stick figure from a faraway country. But it’s Finnish culture itself – of which privacy and personal space have long been part – that has also struck a chord.

Read books, not status updates

Another example of social media turning what should be a relaxing activity into a competitive sport, it seems.

Goodreads and the crushing weight of literary FOMO
Every few days or weeks, just when I started feeling positive about my biblio advancements, one of these messages would come across the transom: “Updates from…” Upon opening it, I’d find out that someone who I knew had a full-time job and active social life had finished two novels in the time it’d taken me to get through the jacket blurbs on David Sedaris’ latest essay collection. Deflation followed.

I know it’s just a light-hearted bit of filler from Wired which I shouldn’t take seriously, but surely we’re mature enough to stop comparing ourselves to others all the time? It’s a book, not a race.

Walls of beige

Remember that post about the real life Amazon bookstore with its books all facing out? Well, here’s another strange set of shelves.

In defense of keeping books spine-in
I’ve gathered that this is a controversial declaration, and that I risk inciting upset, even outrage. When, earlier this year, various publications reported on a growing trend of books shelved spine-in, many writers I know—who, by and large, are fairly big-hearted, tolerant people, respectful of differences, wary of orthodoxies—collectively lost their shit. Disgraceful, they said, appalling. No one who authentically loves books does this.

The author R.O. Kwon goes on to explain where her love of her “walls of paged-through, dog-eared beige” came from, and outlines some of the unexpected benefits of such an arrangement. It reminded me of this jokey bookshop photo that was doing the rounds some years back.

But let’s leave the last word on how we arrange our books to the poet Brian Bilston.

The search for homes far from home

Some more links following our recent trip to the Kielder Observatory, for their talk on exoplanets. There seems to be a lot going on.

NASA’s TESS spacecraft begins its search for exoplanets
TESS is a follow-up to Kepler, a spacecraft that has spent the last nine years searching for Earth-like exoplanets near Sun-like stars. Though it may be on its last legs, Kepler has already found 2,650 confirmed exoplanets and even more are expected to be discovered from the data it has collected. But Kepler was designed to focus on a small section of the sky and while it spotted many exoplanets, a lot of them were very far away from Earth. TESS, however, will eventually map about 85 percent of the sky and it will attempt to spot exoplanets a bit closer to Earth — which allow other telescopes to study them more thoroughly.

How NASA’s newest planet hunter scans the sky

A little less bombastic than its previous video.

The search for new worlds is here

So what kind of new worlds are being discovered? And when can we visit?

Visions of the future
Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.

far-from-home-2

What about those planets closer to home?

Cool, there’s water on Mars. But does it make good pickles?
Deep under the ice cap of Mars’s southern pole, there could be a store of water, the first stable body of liquid water ever found on the planet. After the paper announcing this discovery came out, reporters described a “lake of liquid water,” about 12 miles in diameter. Hearing that phrase, it’s easy, perhaps even natural, to imagine a bubble of crystal-clear water, hidden under the cap of frozen water and carbon dioxide, pure and sweet and waiting. But the reality would be less appealing.

Never mind the summer heat: Earth is at its greatest distance from the sun
“I find it amusing that the common misconception about Earth’s seasons is actually true if you are on Mars,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “School children on Mars will need to be taught differently.”

Worth bearing in mind.

Space to think at Kielder

We took a trip to Kielder Observatory recently. What an incredible place.

Kielder Observatory – A magical & unique visitor attraction
Kielder Observatory is one of the most remarkable places to visit in the whole of the UK. A public astronomical observatory which is second to none, under some of the darkest skies in the world where you’ll find “infinite inspiration” and wonders you could never have imagined!

The Kielder Observatory

I had never seen the Milky Way before, but because it was so dark out there we could just about make it out.

Dark-sky status awarded to Northumberland Park area
The International Dark Skies Association (IDA), based in Tucson, Arizona, granted it gold status, which is the highest accolade it can bestow.

Steve Owens, dark skies consultant and chair of the IDA’s development committee, said: “The quality of Northumberland’s night sky, and the huge efforts made by local communities to preserve them, make Northumberland Dark Sky Park a gold tier site, and one of the best places to stargaze in Europe.”

We had booked onto a midnight talk on exoplanets, but before that started we just gazed at the stars — and planets and satellites and perseid meteors. We watched the moon rise and everyone enjoyed taking photos of it through the telescope.

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Not bad for a little cameraphone. Here’s another view, courtesy of NASA and Claude Debussy.

Clair de Lune
Vast lunar landscapes set to the aching, shimmering piano of Claude Debussy’s 1905 composition ‘Clair de Lune’ (French for ‘moonlight’) offer an enchanting melding of science and art through the interplay of light, texture and music. The video, which traces the flow of sunlight over the Moon’s surface, was created by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio using images captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It was first shown at a celebration of NASA’s 60th anniversary along with a live performance of Debussy’s music.

The music fits perfectly; not so sure about that recently released movie trailer, though.

Typewriters to the rescue

I’m not sure it’s a scalable or long-term solution, but it’s good to see these machines being useful again.

Town dusts off typewriters after cyber-attack
Government workers in a borough of Alaska have turned to typewriters to do their jobs, after ransomware infected their computer systems. A spokeswoman for Matanuska-Susitna said the malware had encrypted its email server, internal systems and disaster recovery servers. She said staff had “resourcefully” dusted off typewriters and were writing receipts by hand.

It’s such a horrible problem though, isn’t it? According to the IT Director’s report, the most likely method of delivery was via an email with a link to an infected website. I would hate to be that person right now.