Tuesday assorted links


1. This professor is right. I don't understand why other professors do not charge money as well. The whole recommandation letter system has inflated beyond ridiculous. And comments from students are so naive.

Even better they should blackmail the professor, he's probably done a few politically incorrect things in his day. Markets in everything indeed.

I don't think students should play that game because their professors have much more leverage against them than the contrary.

#1 taken down, doesn't seem to be true.

And the replacement is banal, this being done with 'consent,' as noted in the link - 'The system called (in somewhat sinister language) "Biometric Exit" cross-references a photo of your face taken when you look into the camera with images from a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) database containing photos of you from passport and visa applications, The Hill reports.'

Wait until someone discovers that all non-American citizens entering the U.S. are subject not only to facial recognition technology (the international standards for biometric passport photos are more than a decade old), but finger printing as well.

And anyone who is a fan of big data is obviously on board with these implications, as they were obvious decades ago. Which just might explain why the Germans, notably, have a real problem with the state being able to run pictures against databases to sort out those the state feels needs particular treatment.

(And really, does anyone honestly think that this is not already happening, at least in a counter-intelligence sense, if not precisely a criminal one - '“Once you take that high-quality photograph, why not run it against the FBI database?' Or that this data is not shared among a number of nations?)

Yes. $20 seemed way too low.

Ah good. I was wondering about that story; the first question that needs to be answered (or maybe the second question, after "is this for real?") is what college or university is this? By all means, protect anonymity, but where the heck is the campus where this sort of thing happens? The answer seems to be: nowhere, if indeed the story isn't true, as Tyler now says.

He should regard it as the beginning of a negotiation. Instead of asking for a lower price, the student should ask for a higher one, say $100, and demand a REALLY good recommendation. The professor, outraged, will say "what do you think I am" and the student will say "we already know that, we're just haggling over the price."

THEN he can report the professor.

The student should have answered:

"If the letter works, I'm cool paying you $100. If not, are you cool paying me $20?"

4. Facebook is the thing that only shows me pictures of pimples and the children of someone I knew in high school. Has my government crippled its functionality in order to increase productivity? Because I'm just not getting it.

I barely use Facebook and don't listen to podcasts. Judging from some of the links, you'd think that's unusual, but billions of people live the same way.

Echo chambers, which is one of the more interesting aspects of what is called social media, which is anything but social while creating the illusion of being part of large group.

7. Congratulations - Pres. Trump just might notice. Which is undoubtedly high praise, considering the high standard he sets for his news sources.

Why, maybe even a üresidential tweet, like this one, as reported in the NY Post - 'President Trump tweeted an image of Friday’s New York Post cover, which had the bold headline, “TRUMP CLEAN.”'

Such is life in Trump's America.

Or presidential tweet, as the case may be.

What a disappointment: I thought "üresidential tweet" was a fine joke though it did require me to assume that the German for Ur contained an umlaut.

Nope, simply that p and ü are right next to each other. And the Urpresident is George Washington.

Trump will have a long way to go before the current queen of England says this about him - 'King George III of England, the man Washington defeated in the Revolutionary War, said of America's first president: Washington was “the greatest character of the age.”' https://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffloftus/2017/02/09/leadership-smackdown-george-washington-vs-donald-trump/

Thank God for President Donald J. Trump, warts and all.

I suppose you rate Barack Hussein Obama as the greatest character of his age, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” Or, Bill Clinton, "I did not have sex with that woman!"

Unfair comparison. I rate Washington as the greatest American, leader or otherwise. He enjoyed Divine assistance in being not defeated (the revolution only had to survive) by G III's strongest on the Planet army and navy. France and Spain also helped. Fun fact, before Yorktown, the battles General Washington won were Boston (guns hauled from Ticonderoga on Dorchester Hts.), Trenton (Surprise!) and Monmouth, NJ (some call it a draw). GW's greatness rested in his character and ability to keep together the army in the face of serial defeats and famine in Valley Forge, plus he survived backbiting from a few of his generals. That and his uber-superb performance as first POTUS.

G III said it after Washington retired to private life rather than stay on as dictator for life.

Warts? Name one....

Trump is the platonic ideal of what a modern president needs to be. Don't go soft on us now like those idiotic liberals (redundant).

5. And that was fascinating, in a way that again illustrates just how different the U.S. has become - since when did podcast mean something spoken, as compared to music? WFMU has been doing podcasts for more than a decade, with a variety of styles - http://wfmu.org/podcast

Young people today, blah, blah, blah, onions on our belts, etc. etc., clouds, shouting.

And I really wonder what that author would think of Joe Frank, who made radio plays into an artform perfectly suited for 'podcasting' of a variety that is not - https://www.joefrank.com/

(Though in fairness to the author, this is pretty cutting in terms of what podcasting now seems to mean within the article's framework - 'It’s tragic, all these great thinkers presenting their thoughts like that kid playing the drum pads at Guitar Center.')

Joe Frank is fantastic.

> since when did podcast mean something spoken, as compared to music

Since it was coined in ~2004.

A more interesting question is, since when did podcasts compete with music? In my experience, I listen to podcasts when I'm not in the mood for music. No one would argue that books and music are in competition; they serve two different needs.

4. Half-way through, as I encountered the second round of ads for PNC Home Equity Line of Credit and Crown Castle Fiber, and I had not yet clicked on or purchased either, I thought, "Modest Proposal?"

4. Is social media the opiate of the masses? For many, social media is something of a religion. Of course, social media isn't social, it's anti-social: it isolates users within a like-thinking (or not thinking) group. I suspect that many of the defenders of social media consider the opiate effect a feature rather than a bug: it's better for these folks to obsess about their economic inferiors than their economic superiors.

2. The authors' conclusion, that globalization diminishes the generosity of the welfare state, is only a second order consequence: the first order consequence is that globalization diminishes support for the welfare state. How so? In China and other places that have greatly benefited from globalization, the need for a welfare state has greatly diminished, but in places that have suffered from globalization, such as industrial regions in the West, the support for a welfare state has greatly diminished. Shouldn't places in the West that have suffered from globalization support the welfare state since there's a greater need for it? One might think that logical, but logic has little or nothing to do with it. See item 4.

I dislike terms that describe individuals - such as 'generosity' - being applied to political constructs. The generous individual spends his own money or time, which is plain different.

Disagree. It's perfectly logical to conceive of yourself as virtuous if you support a political party that successfully uses the legislative process to transfer money and other resources from one class of people to another.

There hasn't been a slowdown in "the welfare state" as far as I can tell. What major welfare state programs were cancelled? Where is the dramatic decease in government spending?

In places where social trust falls the state rarely shrinks, you just get big government and dysfunction & corruption. That's reality, not Bryan Caplan utopia.

Of course in places where social trust is so low that the economy has also collapsed the complete lack of funds for anything whatsoever public or private will prevent a robust welfare state from forming...at the price of everyone being poor.

They do it [lie] all the time. They meant "the welfare state" grew at 10% not 20%.

2. “In the capital-importing case, financial globalization tends to raise wages but lower return on savings.” The biggest capital-importing country is the United States, so this suggests that contrary to conventional wisdom globalization has increased wages here. It’d be interesting to see their data and analysis here.

#6 I watched this movie almost alone in a theater in Paris last November on a Tuesday late evening. The other person in the theater left after 20 minutes. That's the definition of underrated movie.

Watched it last weekend with a friend of mine whom I convinced to see it with me. We complained to each other about how Just satisfied we were, on the way home. Not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it felt like a lot of nonsense with unnecessary, provocative sex and nudity thrown in. (And I like David Lynch.)

Damn voice-to-speech. I have no idea how "Just satisfied" got in there. My friend and I thought the movie was bad. To its credit, not the mediocre/boring bad you get in most movies, I was interested most of the time...but I was also eager to see it end.

Juliette Binoche carrying Robert Pattinson's seed In her hands in the spaceship hallway will make the history of cinema.

6- greatest living filmmaker? Really? How can you even make that claim about anybody in any art form? Guess he’s just kissing up.

#1) Usually, I take the pro-privacy side. In this case, however, what are the private "papers and effects" that are being searched? Does anyone not realize that others can see one's face when one is out in public? If not, then why would one have an expectation of privacy about one's facial features when out in public?

It's especially funny to see people like "Marisa Kabas" complaining on Twitter while using what is likely her real name tied to an avatar showing her face.

If I were to recognize Marisa on the street one day, would I be using facial recognition cognitive skills without her consent?

I agree. Your image is public knowledge. There are few technical differences between facial recognition and a detective standing in the corner with a picture looking for a person. The technology just makes this faster, better, and more complete.

Facial recognition is more reliable for security because it can often see through disguises and blocks use of fake or stolen ID that would trick a human.

She is being hysterical referring to facial data as "biometrics." It is literally true but it is a scientific sounding name for the banal: photographs, signatures, height, weight, sex, hair color, eye color, age or date of birth are all commonplace on ID documents that one could call "biometrics". Merely handing her drivers license or passport to an airline is voluntarily giving a private company her private information. As Privacy Act statements often say, giving us this info is voluntary, but not giving it to us will deny or delay your privileges.

And as JetBlue responds, they dont maintain possession of the data. It is merely routed through their recognition system.

'It is literally true but it is a scientific sounding name for the banal'

Well, it is a bit more than that, as you can see here - https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/photos.html

A 20 year old picture is very likely not to be particularly useful for a current biometric picture system, which in theory is held to a higher standard than Facebook's facial recognition system (which admittedly has a much larger base to work with, using data entry personnel with true devotion to accuracy in all almost all cases).

"A 20 year old picture is very likely not to be particularly useful ..."

I dunno. Curiously, yesterday afternoon, an overzealous Mrs. Kravitz posted, on our neighborhood listserv ("neighborhood" = 35,000 people nowadays), a very clear picture of the face of a man she followed for 20 minutes as he was "bicycling suspiciously slowly while wearing a backpack, looking in cars." I felt a pang: it was so absurd and on-the-nose a reminder that this is no longer a Big Small Town as we once perceived it (even as it's grown without cease since its founding). Not just the picture, which was distressing due to the puzzlement so evident on the man's face at being photographed (and trailed?), but the woman's somewhat understandable jumpiness about property crime, which grows apace and which the police make little effort to solve. And which is so much a foreseeable consequence of certain policies, that it might as well be intended.

As we are mostly without bike lanes, doubtless he was looking in parked cars as he passed to determine whether there was an occupant in the driver's seat looking at their phone (as people often do, leaving and arriving at their destinations, now) in order to avert a collision should they suddenly open the door.

I didn't speak up, of course, not wanting to make it all worse, but recognized him at once as a kindly, preoccupied professor I had exactly 30 years ago, though I've not met him since: a fixture of our local university. Bicycling slowly, either because lost in thought, or because quite old now. I hope it didn't get back to him, but if it did, I would have told him, brightly, I almost didn't think it was you, so well have you aged.

It’s about a slippery slope, becoming more trackable in public, and losing any remaining control over it. What’s next - you walk into a Walmart and both Walmart and the government instantly start adding more details to their databases about your shopping habits and any deviations from the usual. No cellphone required. Consider the privacy a nobody can enjoy in public versus that of a celebrity - isn’t it worth it to raise some concerns sooner than later and discuss where the line should be drawn? To a critical thinker, the first surprise experience with face recognition at the gate should not be a pleasant one.

5- does the author not enjoy reading short stories if they all use the same standard font type on white paper? If not, what’s the difference between that and how podcasts sound? I just don’t get that critique. Does he listen to the radio? That’s all podcasts are basically. Talk radio segments that are recorded

#5: podcasts are a replacement for the increasingly awful music of the 21st century.

#4: Zvi's take > MR's take.

4. As I read this, I realized how this is not my experience AT ALL. Something about maybe having a more disagreeable disposition or a contrarian streak or an ability to take a detached view, a general resistance to the idea of going into battle for my "tribe" against "the other".

I see the damage being done, but I seem to avoid the pitfalls myself. Weird.

4. “I will be honest with you, it troubles me that the American people seem to want to know so little about issues that they are satisfied with a 128 characters,” Mr Tillerson said, referring to Twitter, which the president uses frequently.

“I don’t want that to come across as a criticism of him,” he added. “It’s really a concern that I have about us as Americans and us as a society and us as citizens.”

It's an odd quote, because I think only a small minority read, or want to think about, those tweets.

Most think avoiding them, and what they see as shallow tribal conflict, serves done higher purpose. But what purpose?

Certainly not informed citizenship. The tweets, as painful as they are, represent our government.

Part of the problem is that the news media, for some reason, is obsessed with things people say on Twitter, and not just what Donald Trump says on twitter. Sometimes some celebrity somewhere made a tweet or a bunch of people yelled at eachother on Twitter, and it's national news. It's like everyone in journalism is a Twitter addict and lives in this alternate reality in which Twitter is the most awesome thing ever and everyone is on it and that's where the entire "national conversation" is taking place. Twitter is God, and the news media are going to make sure that you know about everything that happened on Twitter in the last 24 hours.

If Donald Trump were just a celebrity it would be much more appropriate to ignore his Twitter.

But as it is, it does reveal the inner thoughts and motivations of the most powerful man in the world.

We already know those. The Don is one of the least complicated humans on Earth.

It does indeed; and does him no credit, and also suggests he's not a man of temperate habits as regards sleeping and moderation of screen time. But it also kinda renders ludicrous the Washington Post's pompous tagline: "Democracy Dies in Darkness." I can recall no executive branch more transparent.

Twitter is the perfect data source for so-called journalists who are really activists. In a matter of seconds they can find exactly the shape of public opinion they want to present. Cut and paste, instant article.

Well, the problem with that is that twitter's algorithms create these self-reinforcing loops which isolate people into echo chambers of opinions they respond to the most (either positively nor negatively). So journalists own view of reality is distorted by these filters. What they think is "public opinion" is actually just the opinion of a closed ecosystem of people in the same twitter social networks as themselves. Like "Journolist" only self-organized out of Twitter's algorithms, which are designed to encourage addictive twitter use.

So that's how you get something like #metoo being considered a "national movement" of tremendous importance - purely because the national media thinks that anything that is trending on Twitter is some society-wide social phenomenon. When no, it's actually just a phenomenon produced by the way that twitter's algorithms are designed to produce feedback loops in order to maximize the amount of tweeting.

Wait, people didn't like it when journalists came to their opinion on private message lists, and now they don't like it when they do it in a full view available to anyone?

Hate to break it to you but opinions are like .. everyone has, and forms, them.

Well, it's not really in full view of everyone, but more importantly what journalists think is "public opinion" is not really public opinion, but a view of public opinion that is intertionally distorted by Twitter's algorithms, which are designed to create addictive response behaviors. The view of reality you get from social media is the one which provokes the most reaction from you. By design.

Based on the totality of your comments, I don't think you know how Twitter really works.

Speaking of people forming (good) opinions,


I wish the news media had made a decision on Day 1 of this presidency that they would basically ignore anything said on Twitter. Imagine how much different news would have been reported, and how differently things might even have unfolded when the official narrative changed like that. Who cares what somebody, yes, even the President, said on stupid Twitter? That's not policy. That's not action. That's not anything!!

The president has announced new policy multiple times on Twitter. This isn't just some trollish sideline.

The point is that this is him, governing.

Him, as he really is.

He's also announced things that turned out not to be policy. Ignore the feed until actual real-world things happen.

Read the feed, and impeach.

Oh, I notice that Donald attempted to answer this, on Twitter:

"You mean the Stock Market hit an all-time record high today and they’re actually talking impeachment!? Will I ever be given credit for anything by the Fake News Media or Radical Liberal Dems? NO COLLUSION!"

We don't deserve a President this dumb, who is going to out and out say that a high stock market excuses any misbehavior.

We deserve better.

#1 Why is this creepy? Your face is not private, and get this - you are constantly surrounded by a swarm of intelligent agents, constantly recognizing and categorizing your face (and gait, and behavioral profile..)

4. He's not wrong about how terrible it is, and how it's algorithms are *designed* to reinforce addictive behavior. But he underestimates the ability of society to go through revolutionary trasitions when a new, better socila platform comes along. When the time is ripe, it will happen. Facebook will continue to exist, as a platform for hopeless addicts, but it will become less and less interesting to people who want to use it to actually coordinate with friends. And as people transition away from it it's value as a platform for anything other than hopeless addicts will diminish. The same thing will happen to Twitter. And someone else will make money off of the next platform to come along.

I am already wondering who uses FB still. I understand it is still growing, must be all via bot accounts.

Apparently mailing lists are coming back into style.

5. I enjoy listening to baseball games broadcast on the radio. I don't care that much about the sound quality. In fact a little crackle makes me nostalgic.

When I am on a road trip, I will choose a distant radio station that has novel independent content over a clear closer station playing formula packaged garbage.

Broadcasting sports on the radio is a dying art. If you are used to radio coverage, you learn that the TV guys are mostly silent comparatively. The good announcers can paint the picture so you can picture the game in your head. Sound quality is low on the list of important attributes.

I don't listen to podcasts, but might speculate that the problem is that most producers don't know how to do radio. And sure, tone of voice is part, but pacing and arfuly selecting how to fill space is more important. And that perhaps most producers and listeners have been trained by TV, and forgot how to do radio.

On TV, the TV conveys the message, and the announcer fills in the gaps. So when doing radio, perhaps podcasters just fill the space with words that aren't so carefully selected. What's more, the good announcers are not speaking for their own sake, but they are trying to be in the listener's head, and thinking abut how it sounds on the receiving end.

I find this with how-to videos on youtube. I find them insufferable: freaking some guy babbling and flapping his gums for twelve straight minutes, just to show me how to do a hockey stick wrap. Ten minutes of useless fluff for thirty seconds of instruction, plus a two-minute intro and outro.

But yes, the smug Morning Edition and the Terri Gross NPR psychoanalysis-over-coffee voice is way over-done.

And sure, tone of voice is part, but pacing and artfuly selecting how to fill space is more important.

This, precisely. My advice to podcasters: Get rid of the white space. Fill the time with words, words, words. Give me information. My favorite podcasts are virtually lectures - or, like EconTalk, back and forth between wickedly intelligent and high verbal experts.

And yes, listen to old time radio. They knew how to keep your ears glued to the speaker.

"I enjoy listening to baseball games broadcast on the radio."

You make good points but what I like even better is nowadays I don't need a radio and can listen to any major league team's radio broadcasts over the internet at mlb.com (for a mere $20 per year).

In the old days I'd be limited to listening to the local radio broadcast of whatever the local team was ... maybe no broadcast if their local team wasn't playing that day, or if the city didn't have a team. Today I can listen to my home team's broadcast no matter where I am.

NBA basketball is best watched rather than listened to, but the ability to listen to NBA radio broadcasts from anywhere is also a boon. Annoyingly, the NBA eliminated that service for the 2017-18 season (I contacted them and asked), but they brought it back for 2018-19.

#5 - I'll take his point about the over-produced, staccato, cutesy interlude music that infects all the "professional" podcasts (think: Freakonomics, Serial).

But for me, podcasts are a substitute for reading while in a car, train, or plane. I could listen to a Conversation with Tyler every day of the week. It's the information I crave, and I couldn't care less about the production value as long as the audio is clear and well mixed.

Maybe I'm listening to the wrong podcasts, but the ones I usually listen to are far from staccato or cutesy, and the closest they've come to music is bongos to indicate the break between sections.

I also use podcasts as a substitute for reading, when I'm doing something that requires my eyes but not necessarily my brain. Mowing, for example--I can easily listen to a podcast while working on the back yard.

I think you hit upon a major issue here: The two of us listen for informational content, with amusement being secondary. As long as the delivery doesn't break the flow, I don't care what the person sounds like; it's the data I want. The perspective that entertainment is primary is valid, sure--and in podcasts that mimic radio dramas it's primary--but then, so is ours.

3. I am in some way horrified that I actually understood that, because it kind of sounds like gibberish. But it's actually pretty cool. They essentially proposing an app that would allow your identity in an online network to be collaboratively verified by other people via your social connections to them. I.e. verifying your identity via analysis of your friends networks on various social media platforms.

It's actually even worse than that; computer scientists and statisticians have been studying how well a researcher/investigator/snooper can look at an "anonymized" data set (e.g. medical records that have had names removed, or probably any credit card company's customer records) and have found that in a wide variety of circumstances it is easier to find someone's private information that most people think.

How to proper anonymize data, and to figure out what can be safely shared and what has to be censored, or perturbed, or whatever, is a key parallel set of research.

E.g. sharing aggregate averages or totals instead of individual (unit record) data helps -- but not as much as one might expect.

A CS prof named Adam Smith (no idea if he's any relation to the econ one) won the Godel Prize a couple of years ago for his research on "differential privacy".

I don't know all of the antecedents to this research, but in a lecture recently Smith cited work done IIRC in the 1970s by social science researchers who wanted to ask highly sensitive questions on a survey, questions that most people would be reluctant to answer truthfully (e.g. are you a drug addict, have you committed any crimes, etc.). Their solution was to tell each survey recipient to flip a coin: heads they should answer truthfully, tails they either answer an unrelated innocuous question or in some versions simply always answer "yes".

Okay, I looked it up, randomized response techniques were invented in the 1960s, wikipedia has a short description, this one is less complete but goes more into depth, comparing the statistical efficiency of different versions of the technique.

These are an example of data pertburbation methods, there's also ongoing research about how much you have to perturb (randomly introduce errors into) data to preserve privacy (necessitating some exact mathematical definitions of what we mean by privacy). And then how much precision one loses (and how much larger a sample has to be to compensate).

#1 "Facial recognition without your consent" has happened every day for every human since the dawn of time. But yeah, those creepy algos and servers, amirite?!?

#4 & 5...I like social media and don't mind a good podcast now and then, but does that enjoyment really rise to level of my needing to defend them? Long ago, I felt the need to defend Elliott Carter every time someone claimed on the internet that he was awful. Now, I'm older. Very few things need to be defended at all. Some people would have has us defending the toilet when it came out. it's an abomination to take a crap in the house. Some things do get better.

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