Thursday, February 21, 2013

Darwin Deez: You Can't Be My Girl

So, this is one of those videos that actually adds a whole nother dimension to its song. New from a couple of days ago. Watch.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

White American Singles

So, what do you think: Pasteurized prepared cheese product or Republican online dating site?

Actually, "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" would also be an excellent name for a Republican dating site.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This seems like a weird way to fix peer review

So, it is common to hear scientists complain about peer review, about how it is "broken," and there is probably something to that. Over at Backreaction, a blog by theoretical physicists at The Economist, Sabine Hossenfelder argues that the future of peer review, on that will fix its problems, is already here, in the form of what she calls "pre-print peer review."

The idea is to separate the peer review process from the journals, and attach it to the manuscript. So, if I write a manuscript, I would send it out, for a fee, to a peer review service, which might be run by a publishing company, or by some other entity. According to Hossenfelder, once you got back the review,
This report you could then use together with submission of your paper to a journal, but you could also use it with open access databases. You could even use it in company with your grant proposals if that seems suitable.
Okay, so maybe Hossenfelder has a very different perception of what is wrong with peer review than I do. If your ultimate goal is to submit the manuscript for traditional publication, this seems problematic and, ultimately, unsustainable.

Just think for a moment about the dynamics and market pressures. First of all, if authors have control over the reviews that they purchase, one might expect that they will only attach these reviews to their papers when those reviews are positive. Furthermore, if there are multiple peer-review services, the market pressures would presumably drive them all towards more and more positive reviews. Basically, it sets up a system that will be unraveled by "review inflation." Thinking as a journal editor or grant reviewer, I suspect that I would quickly become very skeptical of these reviews. And I certainly would not be willing to substitute their recommendations for my own judgment and the opinions of referees I selected.

You can imagine ways to address this problem. For instance, certain peer-review services could build reputations as tough reviewers, so that their "seal of approval" meant more. At this point, however, you've merely layered on another set of reputations and rankings that must be kept track of. While this approach is billed as a way to simplify the peer review process and make it cheaper and more efficient, I have difficulty imagining that it would not do just the opposite.

Hossenfelder argues that this new model of peer review is not just desirable, but inevitable
irrespective of what you think about this, it's going to happen. You just have to extrapolate the present situation: There is a lot of anger among scientists about publishers who charge high subscription fees. And while I know some tenured people who simply don't bother with journal publication any more and just upload their papers to the arXiv, most scientists need the approval stamp that a journal publication presently provides: it shows that peer review has taken place. The easiest way to break this dependence on journals is to offer peer review by other means. This will make the peer review process more to the point and more effective.
First, in what way does this have anything to do with high subscription fees? Most open access journals have pretty much the same peer-review structure that subscription journals have. There are legitimate problems with the current dominance of scientific publishing by for-profit corporations that use free labor to evaluate publicly funded science, and then turn around and charge people a lot of money to access that science. However, given the expanding number of high-quality open-access journals that use the traditional peer review system, it seems like peer review is orthogonal to this issue.

Second, yes, there are many people who feel that they need the peer-review stamp of approval. The potential benefit here is that an author could pay for peer review and then post their work on the arXiv, thereby circumventing journals altogether, and allowing more junior researchers to pursue this publishing model. It just seems to me that an author-funded system that is so easily gamed is unlikely to provide any real sense of legitimacy to anyone with this specific concern.

Third, when she says that this will make the process "more to the point and more effective," I honestly can't imagine what mechanism she has in mind. Given that it is published in The Economist, my suspicion is that this claim is based on some sort of invisible hand argument -- that if we just free peer review from its shackles, it will become efficient and beautiful. But maybe that's unfair on my part.

The post goes on to point to two outfits that are already working to implement this model: Peerage of Science (which is up and running) and Rubriq (which is getting started). Rubriq seems focused on the author-pay model, creating a standard review format that could travel from journal to journal. Peerage provides reviews free to authors, and it paid by journals when they use a review and then publish a paper. I've not seen anything that addresses the problem of review inflation.

I don't know. Maybe there's something I'm missing here. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Free Tips for ex-Westboro Baptists Apologizing

So, nobody asked me for this advice, but if I only gave out advice when people asked for it, I would probably burst from all the advice building up inside me.

Today, Anderson Cooper apparently interviewed Libby Phelps Alvarez, granddaughter of Westboro Baptist founder Fred Phelps (via Gawker -- I did not watch this). She was raised in the church, but fled / escaped / defected in 2009, and has recently started speaking publicly about her experience. Let me just say that she deserves a lot of respect for that. I mean, she had to reject her whole upbringing and family, which must be hard, even if your family is full of Phelpses.

Here's the thing that pissed me off though. Her interview included the following statement of regret:
I do regret if I hurt people, because that was never my intention.
This is such the standard, cliche pseudo-apology that it is easy at first glance to overlook what an offensive pile of garbage this is. First of all, "if"? Really? Again, this is super common in these circumstances, but if you've spent most of your live holding up "God Hates Fags" signs at the funerals of soldiers and children, you know damn well that you hurt people.

Even worse, though, is the second bit. When some politician or celebrity pseudo-apologizes, saying it was never their intention to hurt anyone, it is often at least plausible that they were being careless, and not intentionally hurtful.

In this case though, hurting people is precisely the intention of every public appearance the Westboro Baptist Church makes. Now, maybe you could make the case that you thought you were practicing tough love, hurting people in a way that would lead them back to the path of righteousness, or some such nonsense. This would be bullshit, of course, but it would at least be plausible according to some sort of twisted logic.

The fact is, you did intend to hurt people. I believe that you wish now that you had not hurt people in the past, and that's great. I believe that you were a kid, did not know better, and are not fully responsible for your actions, at least up to a point. I believe that you think of yourself as a good person, and I am eager to believe that you have become one. But when I see this sort of pseudo-apology, it makes me a little bit skeptical.

Maybe try something like this: "I know that I hurt a lot of people, and I am sorry. I understand now how hurtful my words and actions were in a way that I did not understand then."

I feel bad about this. I mean, given where she started from, she has progressed further in the past few years than most people do in their lifetimes. But if you're going to make amends publicly, a good way to start is by being honest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Aaron Bady on MOOCs

So, since starting the Ronin Institute, I've been giving some thought to how one, as an independent scholar, can participate in teaching. After all, while some independent scholars are happy to be relieved of onerous teaching duties that keep them from their research, most actually like students, and would prefer to be involved in teaching to some extent.

One way to do this is through adjunct teaching at a local college or university. This is not necessarily appealing, though, since it typically pays terribly (for the number of hours you have to put in to do a good job), and it requires you to participate, at least passively, in undermining the traditional employment structure of the university. That is, as an adjunct, you're basically a scab. (This may or may not be a negative, depending on your position on various things, but it's not something that really appeals to me personally.)

The other way is through online courses. These are appealing to me in some ways. They are potentially more open, accessible, and democratic. They also feel as if they are more in keeping with the underlying mission of the Ronin Institute. After all, a part of the mission is to build a model of scholarship that is consistent with, well, life. We believe that it should be possible to function as a scholar while at the same time having family or other priorities that control where you live and when you work. Doesn't that mean that we should be working to extend education to people for whom the constraints of the traditional college system does not work? At least part of me feels like maybe it does.

That leads us to the Next Big Thing™: the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC). This seems like an obvious path for the independent scholar. However, I've been hesitant about that path because I'm not yet convinced that anyone has yet figured out how to really make this work. I mean sure, you can record lectures, and you can assign problem sets, and you can even organize online video-chat discussions. But based on my personal experiences with online communications of various sorts, I have this suspicion that these courses, as they currently exist, are missing some critical element. Something that is hard to articulate, but is actually central to a genuine educational experience.

Anyway, that's the context in which I read Aaron Bady's new piece in The New Inquiry, where he articulates a number of things that I think are absolutely true, but which had previously existed in my own consciousness in a nebulous, impressionistic form. Go read the whole piece, but among the points he argues are:

  1. MOOCs are being offered as a solution to high student-teacher ratios. This is ironic, since they lead to massive increases in the student-teacher ratio (and a decrease in teacher accessibility).
  2. In California, at least, MOOCs are being used to privatize education, under the veneer of making education "more accessible." He points out that for-pay MOOCs are not really "Open" in the way that implied by the appropriation of the term.
  3. Good teaching involves attention and response to various paralinguistic cues from the students. It is not inconceivable that there could be online tools to facilitate this, but they certainly do not exist today. And certainly not when the primary product is a pre-recorded lecture.
  4. MOOCs will work best (perhaps only) for self-directed learners, who do not require the pressure and feedback provided by the in-person classroom setting. However, for those people, it is not clear that your typical MOOC provides added value over, say, access to Wikipedia.
  5. Even for the self-directed, a part of the college experience is learning how to interact and exchange ideas with others -- debating and disagreeing in a respectful way: "If we take a process of socialization and make it a process of anti-socialization—if to be “at” college, you must be alone in front of a computer—we take the dynamic that creates the legendary poisonous atmosphere of “the comment thread” and use it to create adults."
Anyway, I'd love to know what others think, especially if you've ever taught online classes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Here's your White History Month(s), Asshole

So, it's Black History Month again, which means that it's time for whiny racists to renew their annual cry of, "Why isn't there a White History Month? Isn't that reverse racism, which is really just racism? You know, whites are actually this country's second class citizens." And so on.

There are two responses that you normally hear, both of which I am sympathetic to. The snarky one is that every other month is basically white history month. The earnest one is that we need a black history month because the history and contributions of African Americans are still underrepresented in the public consciousness when compared with the canonical history of the Washingtons and Roosevelts.

But there is another, less snarky version of the first answer, which is that there are, in fact, numerous recognized history and heritage months celebrating the history and contributions of people who are by and large subsets of "white."

So, here, for future reference, are your White History Months, (as per this Awareness Month Calendar from Nellis Air Force Base):
  • March: Irish-American Heritage Month
  • March: Greek-American Heritage Month
  • April: Arab-American Heritage Month
  • April: Tartan (Scottish-American) Heritage Month
  • May: Jewish-American Heritage Month
  • July: French-American Heritage Month
  • September 15 - October 15: German-American Heritage Month
  • October: Italian American Heritage Month
Other, non-Black Heritage Months:
  • May: Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
  • June: Caribbean-American Heritage Month
  • November: Native-American Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage month is also September 15 - October 15. From a legal perspective, "Hispanic" is an ethnic identity that is orthogonal to race, so that you can be "White Hispanic" or "Black Hispanic" when you're filling out your equal opportunity questionnaire. So, Hispanic Heritage Month might count as a sort of partial White History Month. I've left it out of the list, though, since I suspect that most people who are complaining about the lack of a White History Month don't mean to include Hispanics when they say "White." Similarly, Women's History Month (March).

In addition, you can find, at the state and local level, History Months and Weeks for Russians, Swedes, Dutch, Czechs, and on and on.

For the White Survivalists out there, there's even a National Preparedness Month (September).

Also, Movember.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Week in Star Wars: Silent Film and Traceroute Scroll

So, here are a couple of items for you Star Wars fans out there.

First, here's the "I am your father" scene from Empire, rendered as a silent film:

(via @brainpicker)

Second, you should open a terminal window on your computer right now and type in the following command:


It might take some time, since a lot of people are doing this right now, but the wait is worth it. (Assuming you're a huge dork.)

If you don't know how to open a terminal window, consult your friend with the thickest neck beard. They should be able to help you.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Today's awesome masculism hashtag

So, as soon as you are back home from stocking up on marshmallow fluff and shuriken for the latest snowpocalypse, you need to go to twitter and check out this hashtag: #INeedMasculismBecause

Here's an uncurated screengrab from right now. The awesomeness in just this snippet gives you some indication of the high-quality snark being generated right now:

There's also a fair bit of amusement to be had in the "Men's Rights" folks who stumble on the hashtag non-ironically.

Update: It sort of looks to me like this was maybe started non-ironically by the men's rights folks, and has been coopted by snark. It's sort of like meta-trolling.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Risk it ALL!

So, I posted this over on the Ronin Blog. Reposted here for your enjoyment.

Hey, here’s a cool video. It’s a sort of advice column from designer James Victore. The advice is obviously framed in a way that is specific to design (and probably art /achitecture as well), but it’s amazing how much of it carries over to, well, everything. It’s something that all you scholars out there should listen to.

Also, this guy’s face is like a crossbow, because just look at his facial hair, and then listen to those truth bolts shooting out of his mouth!

Now get out there!

David Bratton, Olympian

So, as I wrote previously, I've set up my browser so that it goes to a random Wikipedia page every time I open a new window. Here is the first entry I came upon this morning, in its entirety:

David H. Bratton (October, 1869 – December 3, 1904) was an American water polo player who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics.

He was born in New York City. In the 1904 Olympics he won a gold medal as a member of New York Athletic Club team. The same year, he died of a typhoid fever.

Transcript of the Homeless-Surfer-Hitchhiker-Hatchet-Jesus Thing

So, yesterday I posted the news report about Kai, the surfer who hitched a ride with a guy who decided that he was Jesus, and that he was going to kill people. In an act of heroism that has already been immortalized in gif form (Smash, Smash, Suh-mash!), Kai took a hatchet to thought-he-was-Jesus guy's head and saved the life of a Green Bay Packers fan.

I also posted of the long-form interview with Kai, which was one best line after another.

I'm not entirely sure why, but I felt compelled to produce a transcript of the interview. KAI is Kai, and JR is Jessob Reisbeck, the KMPH reporter who interviewed him.

The key thing to remember is that "police" is pronounced "POH li SEE"


KAI: I’m one of the heroes.

JR: Can we talk to you? Do you mind?

KAI: What do you want to talk about?

JR: What happened today.

KAI: Wuu, went straight out of dogtown. Skateboarding, surfin’ it up. Before I say anything else, I want to say no matter what you done, you deserve respect. Even if you make mistakes, you loveable, and it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, your age, your size, or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.

Now, this stuff right here, I was driving and I uh bfff – I was in the passenger side of this fucker’s car, and he comes over on there. He was over by the recycling center. He says, “Oh, when I was in the Virgin Islands, thirty years old on a business trip, I I uh I fucked this fourteen year old.”

I was like, “You what?”

He’s like, “I raped this fourteen year old.” He starts crying, gives me a big hug.

He’s like this fuckin’ three hundred pound guy. I’m like, “Holy Shit! He must be fuckered, man. Like, what’s he talking about?” I didn’t take him seriously at first.

He comes driving down this way, he’s like, “You know what? I’ve come to realize, I’m Jesus Christ, and I can do anything I fucking want to, and watch thi . . .” Bam! And he smashed into this fuckin’ guy right there, pinned him in between that fuckin’ truck, and so I fuckin’, I hop out, I look over, the guy’s pinned there.

I mean, like, freight train riders know this, like, if you get pinned between something, do not fuckin’ move that shit, otherwise you bleed out. Like, motherfuckin’ I ran in, I grabbed the keys. He’s fuckin’ sitting there like nothing even happened, and, like, fuckin’, like that.

If he had started driving that car around again, man, there would have been a hell of a lot of bodies around here.

Fuckin’ I hop on out, and so, I grab the bag. I threw it over by that pole right there, and then fuckin’ buddy gets out and there’s these two women are trying to help him. He runs up and he grabs one of them, man. Like a guy that big can snap a woman’s neck like a pencil stick.

So I fuckin’ ran up behind him with a hatchet. Smash. Smash. SU-MASH! Ye . . .

JR: The lady said you saved her life.

KAI: She was the one who got grabbed by that fucker. And you know what? Fuck is cool. That guy ain’t. Shii . . .

JR: How’d you, how’d you get in his car? How are, how did you . . .

KAI: I was hitchhiking. I was, well, good thing I was hitchhiking. Yeah, people say “Don’t hitchhike. Well, this is what happens.” Well, yeah, well, at least I was here.

JR: So he did this on purpose.

KAI: Dude! That guy was fuckin’ kooked out, man. Like, he’s beyond howlay, like, I don’t even see any breath in him. You know what I’m saying?

JR: Can, can I get your name? And where you’re from, if you don’t mind.

KAI: I’m Kai. Straight outta dog town.

JR: Can I get the spelling . . .


JR: Do you have a last name?

KAI: No, bro. I don’t have anything.

JR: Where are you from originally? Are you from Fresno area?

KAI: Sophia, West Virginia.

JR: No kidding. How old are you?

KAI: I can’t call it.

JR: Okay. Have you ever experienced anything like today? And what made you take the actions that you did?

KAI: That woman was in danger. He just finished, uh, what looked like, at the time, killing somebody. And if I hadn’t of done that, he would’ve killed more people. So, he’s dead. Good.

JR: You ever experienced anything like that, Kai?

KAI: Well, this one time, I was in an orchard, and this fuckin’ guy starts, starts beating on this woman who he calls “his.” So I walked on over, and I started smashing him in the head. I . . . you see all these teeth marks right here for the camera? Yeah, I started smashing him in the head and in the teeth. Busted out all his teeth.

Mother fuckin’ the Sheriffs, not the Police enforcers fuckin’ show up and start like, uh, they’re like, “So, what, what happened? I mean like ah, just give me any old name and just give me old, uh, fuckin’ birthdate whatever, just uh. Yeah.”

What happened today after, after the . . . you’re obviously free now, but were you arrested? What was the process? What did they do to you when the came out? Obviously they found out that you did the right thing, but at the time, from the accident until now, where have you been?

Well, you started, started following I [le-ack]. I, I cleaved his mother fuckin’ head wide open with a hatchet. He stood up like he was pulled right up, right, and like, fuckin’, I’m like, I’m like, bro, if you’re fuckin’ Jesus Christ, I’ll be the antichrist, man. Like fuck that shit.

And he starts following me off this way, so I figure I’ll lure him right away from the crowd, so I’m running off this way, I, I got a hatchet in one hand, a motherfuckin’, um, this bag I’m carrying over with another hand, I start running off that way, and so, uh, a couple of the people who was bystanders to it came over and told me to stop, and I was like, “Why stop?” and he was like, “The cops are already on their way.”

I was like, “Is he back up and doing anything?” and somebody said that he was masturbating in front of this school or fuckin’ whatever this place is right here. Ye . . .

JR: Were you questioned by police? Were you taken into custody? What happened? I mean, obviously . . .

KAI: I was questioned, I was put into the back of the, uh, Sheriff’s wagon, wasn’t the Polices that fuckin’ pulled I over, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, so, like, I got put in the back of the, uh, Sheriff’s wagon. The Sheriff was like, “What happened here?” Took down a statement. I told him everything I just told you. And fuckin’ let me out, said I couldn’t grab all this stuff until I, uh, I had finished, they had finished with something, you know what I mean? And like brought me back over here so I could be in front of this thing, like, this fuckin’ car right here.

It was fuckin’ gnarly, man. Holy shit. That was like the biggest wave I’ve ever ridden in my life.

JR: What’s next for you, Kai?

KAI: Hopefully some surfing. If anybody’s watching this somewhere else, and they’ve got a Mini Mal they could lend a guy, with a wetsuit. I’d love to test out Mavericks.

JR: Would you do it again?

KAI: Club him in the head with a hatchet? You know, if I could go back in time, I’d go back over to where I was at that recycling center and he said that he had raped that chick over in the Virgin Islands. It doesn’t matter where you at. If you can fuckin’ just spend a bunch of money and do whatever the fuck you want, you know, that’s not right. If I, If I could go back in time, I would have dabbed him up right there.

JR: It didn’t seem like you have any concern for yourself. You’re all about, I mean, doing the right thing, and not even worrying about Kai first.

KAI: I don’t have any family. Like, as far as, as far as anyone I grew up with is concerned, I’m already dead. So, whatever.


If you want to kick in to help buy Kai a new surfboard and wetsuit, there's an indiegogo for that:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Remarkable: Pulp-o-mized!

So, you already know that my wife, Lizzie K. Foley, wrote a book called Remarkable, which was published in 2012 and is, quite probably, the greatest middle-grade novel ever written. If you are a kid aged 8 and up, or if you know a kid aged 8 and up, you should buy it.

This is not what the cover looks like, but this is what the cover would look like if it had been published in the pulp era of science fiction magazines.

This was created using the PULP-O-MIZER, which I encourage you to waste the next several hours playing with.

For completeness, and to facilitate your resharing needs, here's that cover rendered in square, "facebook-friendly" format (which avoids the weird cropping thing that happens when you post tall images there).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Newspaper goes Ronin! (Sort of)

So, here's an interesting development, as reported yesterday by Jim Romenesko. A "real estate entrepreneur and newspaper junkie" named Alan Smolinisky recently bought a weekly newspaper called the Palisadian-Post (of Pacific Palisades, California).

Now, we all know that newspapers have been struggling financially, and that many of them have had to cut back on reporting and editing. This, of course, creates a positive feedback loop. You lose circulation, which means you lose revenues, so you cut back on reporting, which makes you lose even more circulation, and so forth.

Smolinisky is trying a different approach, according to Romenesko, he
dismissed his circulation manager, business manager/controller, graphic designer and publisher so he could beef up editorial.
According to an e-mail from LA Times reporter Marsha Groves, quoted by Romenesko, thereby making this, like, triple hearsay and totally inadmissible,
As a result of the cost savings, the Palisadian-Post was able to restore writers and editors to full-time hours after several years of reduced hours and pay. The editorial staff was also given more color pages and a bigger budget for several new features that they have wanted to do for years. Alan also said every employee was given a raise for the first time in at least seven years. They don’t make much. I know of a seasoned journalist who worked there briefly for a salary in the $20Ks. Kind of shocking.
From a certain perspective, what he is doing is sort of obvious. He recognizes that the core mission of a newspaper is reporting, and he is putting his resources into that. But it seems like everywhere you turn, you hear stories about companies that are cutting the core of what they do, while maintaining or even expanding the "business" side of the business.

At universities, we hear about departments replacing tenure-track faculty with adjuncts, while administrations (and administrative salaries) expand. What if instead, you had a university that responded to financial troubles by diverting more resources to its faculty? This is, of course, purely a thought experiment, as it seems almost inconceivable that any university administrator would make this sort of a move.

The reason I'm writing about this is that it struck me as resonant with one of the things we are trying to do with the Ronin Institute. We are starting from ground zero with researchers, and trying to develop a lean, minimal support system, one that will allow us to focus as many resources as possible directly on the core business of researchers -- doing research.

Anyway, I'll be eager to see how Smolinisky's experiment with the Palisadian-Post works out.

Listen up suckas! Mr. T has a video advice column!

So, I want to cast your memory back, to recall your youth, to the time when you saw your very first Gangnam Style parody, and you thought that the internet could not possibly get any better.

Now, get ready to call me your mind fan, because I'm here to blow your mind.

Mr. T has an advice column, and promises that you'll be able to send him questions through his app. I'm sure there's an inappropriate joke of some sort there, but I'm a busy man, so you're just going to have to think is up for yourself.

Here's Episode 1:

Full-Length Homeless-Surfer-Jesus-Hatchet Thing

So, you've probably already seen this story about the dude who said that he was Jesus, smashed his car into a utility worker, attacked a woman, and was finally subdued by a homeless hitchhiker with a hatchet. If you haven't, for whatever reason, here's the news report:

Even better, though, is the full-length footage of the interview with the homeless hitchhiker, whose name is "Kai," because of course it is.

The world needs more heroes like this guy. I hope somebody comes through with that Mini Mal.

Also, how awesome would it be if he were on the next season of Dancing with the Stars (with Dina Lohan, of course).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Superbowl Explained

So, this Ze Frank thing dates back to 2006, but if you don't care who's actually in the Superbowl, it feels totally current.

via Stellar Interesting.