The Big Think

August 20, 2013

Great Places to Pitch Your Tent

Filed under: Hobbies,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 6:35 am

Cliffs, Underwater (!), Antarctica, and more. Some great places to pitch a tent and get away from it all.


Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 6:14 am

“All great human deeds both consume and transform their doers. Consider an athlete, or a scientist, or an artist, or an independent business creator. In service of their goals they lay down time and energy and many other choices and pleasures; in return, they become most truly themselves. A false destiny may be spotted by the fact that it consumes without transforming, without giving back the enlarged self.”

Lois McMaster Bujold

August 19, 2013

Future Ruler

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 11:32 am


About Time

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Science — jasony @ 10:29 am

Creator of xkcd Reveals Secret Backstory of His Epic 3,099-Panel Comic:

“The obsessive devotees of the comic-within-a-comic created a discussion thread that exceeded 1,300 pages, a ‘Time’-specific wiki, and even a glossary of the lexicon they invented to describe the world of ‘Time’ and their experiences with it. While they refer to Munroe simply as ‘OTA’ (the One True Author), a ‘newpic’ (plural: ‘newpix’) is defined as the unit of time that elapses between updates, also known as ‘outsider minutes.’ True to its name, ‘Time’–where a single step could last an hour, and a night could span multiple real-life days–took on its own internal sense of chronological speed: glacially slow for animation, but imbued with a continual sense of motion that felt utterly unique for a comic.

After more than four months of hourly updates, the journey finally came to an end last week, and the final product is 3,099 panels long–so long that the Youtube video compiling them (above) runs more than 40 minutes from start to finish. Even better, Munroe is finally talking about the elaborate backstory behind the minimalistic and seemingly ancient world of ‘Time,’ which he reveals…”

Reveals what? Reveals what?!?! Well, to answer that you can either read the rest of the article at the link or watch through the comic at your own pace here and then read the back story.

Randall Munroe is simply brilliant. Taking nothing more than stick figures and science and weaving them into a career that captivates geeks and novitiates alike. What a thing…

August 18, 2013

Once You’ve Lost Salon….

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:05 pm

What if the president lied to us?

August 17, 2013

What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:30 pm

Peggy Noonan: What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy – “An entrenched surveillance state will change and distort the balance that allows free government to function successfully. Broad and intrusive surveillance will, definitively, put government in charge. But a republic only works, Mr. Hentoff notes, if public officials know that they—and the government itself—answer to the citizens. It doesn’t work, and is distorted, if the citizens must answer to the government. And that will happen more and more if the government knows—and you know—that the government has something, or some things, on you. ‘The bad thing is you no longer have the one thing we’re supposed to have as Americans living in a self-governing republic,’ Mr. Hentoff said. ‘The people we elect are not your bosses, they are responsible to us.’ They must answer to us. But if they increasingly control our privacy, ‘suddenly they’re in charge if they know what you’re thinking.’ “

August 16, 2013

Trust Your Leaders

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:36 am

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds.

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

Read the whole thing. Believe it or not, it gets worse. Related: Court: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited. “The court’s description of its practical limitations contrasts with repeated assurances from the Obama administration and intelligence agency leaders that the court provides central checks and balances on the government’s broad spying efforts. They have said that Americans should feel comfortable that the secret intelligence court provides robust oversight of government surveillance and protects their privacy from rogue intrusions.”

UPDATE: “So the NSA ‘accidentally’ wiretapped the DC area code in an election year when illegal NSA surveillance was an issue.”

This kind of behavior needs to be dragged out into the public square, aired out completely, and the relevant parties thrown in prison for the maximum amount of time. If there’s nothing to it and it’s just a misinterpretation or political grandstanding then fine- no harm done in a thorough looking-over. But if all the (growing) evidence that seems to be pointing to an increasingly unconstitutional surveillance apparatus is true then nothing short of extremely harsh penalties and perp-walks are called for. This is inexcusable– in any administration.


UPDATE: Related:

Remember when Obama said the NSA wasn’t “actually abusing” its powers? He was wrong.

Gellman obtained an audit of the NSA’s compliance record from NSA leaker Snowden earlier this summer. The audit, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months where the agency engaged in “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.” The audit only covered issues at NSA facilities in the D.C. and Fort Meade areas.

August 13, 2013

Listen In

Filed under: Politics,Technology — jasony @ 7:01 pm

Zimmermann’s Law: PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder Phil Zimmermann on the surveillance society:

“In general, all great nations need to have great intelligence apparatus to inform its leadership of what’s going on in the world. But when these tools are focused on domestic population, it is bad for democratic institutions. If China was to intercept our phone calls, I wouldn’t like that but I wouldn’t worry that Chinese authorities would bang on my door and haul me to prison because I don’t live in China. So when a government turns its powerful surveillance tools on its people, it has impact on the political opposition within the country. The power of incumbency becomes greater and opportunities for the democratic process become less and are undermined.”

August 12, 2013

Big, Bigger, Biggest

Filed under: Current Reading,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 3:05 pm

A Size Comparison Of Sci-Fi’s Greatest Machines And Monsters

August 11, 2013

Hissy Fit

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 11:08 pm

Barbarians at the Campus Gates | National Review Online:

“The cost of resistance to the campus barbarians may not have been the only factor. Resistance requires a sense that there is something worth defending. But decades of dumbed-down education have produced people with no sense of the importance of a moral framework within which freedom and civil discourse can flourish. Without a moral framework, there is nothing left but immediate self-indulgence by some and the path of least resistance by others. Neither can sustain a free society. Disruptive activists indulge their egos in the name of idealism and others cave rather than fight.”

August 10, 2013

Good for the Goose…

Filed under: Business — jasony @ 9:56 pm

Man who created own credit card sues bank for not sticking to terms – Telegraph: “Man who created own credit card sues bank for not sticking to terms”

Creative tweaking. I love it.

August 9, 2013

Elysium: What Went Wrong?

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 11:47 pm

Elysium: What Went Wrong?:

“All stories need conflict, and big movies really need big conflict. No one wants to leave a SF movie thinking, ‘Wow that really was an accurate meditation on science fiction in a realistic setting.’ But the vast majority of science fiction films—even the very best of them—still see the SF, the tech, the speculative concept, as the antagonist of the film. We had a regular movie here until this spacepod showed up, and now, it’s all going down!

For all the great special effects and enormous, booming noises our films are bringing us now, the majority of science fiction films have forgotten the one thing science fiction is supposed to do: make us think about the future. Thinking, we have forgotten, is not the same as worrying.”

Nice article on what makes for good science fiction, and why Hollywood seems to have gotten off the track.

*UPDATE*: friend Sean writes: “We saw it Friday, and I actually really liked it.” Sometimes things shouldn’t be over thought (see also: Pacific Rim). Thanks, Sean!

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 12:12 pm

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School

Education Implosion

Filed under: Disclosure,Education — jasony @ 10:03 am

IMPLOSION UPDATE: A lengthy cri de couer from a reader::

“We, as a society, mandate that all children must be in school until 16, and we must provide educational opportunity to the willing until 18. If there’s an IEP in place, that age can go as far as 21.

A school in which I used to teach was failing. Is failing. Has always failed. Our staff was more than 50% non-traditional teachers. We had a strong core of Teach For America and Teaching Fellows – neither of which pull in your regular ‘he who can’t? Teaches’ anecdotes. Most of us were ‘wanting to help where we can’ folks. We couldn’t make a dent in that school. The only reason that the 60% of the kids who bothered to show up daily even came to school was for the 2 free meals and the climate control. We needed a force of 15 security people to keep the kids IN CLASS. They had no desire to learn. They did not CARE if they failed. I never, ever had kids who started at my school as 9th graders and had enough credits to be juniors by their third year. Most didn’t even have enough credits to be sophomores. And this was when summer school was free!”

Reason #517 that I’m not a (traditional) teacher. It’s distressing to see the system failing so badly. And the problems in K-12 are starting to creep like a cancer into higher ed.

It is also distressing to see the same old arguments trotted out and the same old battle lines drawn up. Many times, as this writer reports, the solution is not “pour more money into the system”. Nor is it any of the other trendy solutions du jour that we hear about (head start, universal day care/preschool, free lunches, after school programs, etc, etc, etc). These may be okay to address certain local problems, but more and more they are just band aids that cover the wound while the infection festers. They don’t solve the core issues. And finally those core issues have become much too big and endemic to just plaster over while we pat ourselves on the back and move on. What’s to be done?

Certainly I think the home schooling movement is doing something to address the issues. We have several friends who home school their kids and Erin teaches many home schooled kids in her piano studio. I just asked Erin and she said that, universally, the home schooled kids are better socialized, better educated, more respectful, harder working, etc. The problems- 100% in her anecdotal case- come from the traditionally educated kids. I’ve met and had lengthy conversations with her home schooled set and I would class them not as “kids” but as “little adults”. They know how to think, reason, respond, engage. It’s really striking.

That’s not to say that the traditional system is totally a failure. We have some neighbor kids who go to the local public school. They’re fun, respectful, intelligent, and overall good kiddos (hi Amy and Ryan!) and we like them a lot. They give me hope that at least the local system hasn’t fallen apart yet and I’m glad to see them succeeding. But when the general system becomes as bad as the writer above notes (and read the whole thing for more sorry details) then we’ve really gone past a dark and dangerous point in our society.

Does everyone need to be educated? What’s the minimum level of education that should be required of a good citizen? Should everyone go to college? Shouldn’t everyone be able to read and do basic math? What if they (and, importantly, their parents) refuse to cooperate to get them to these minimums? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I suspect that we’re going to soon see what happens to a society that lets itself become so educationally bifurcated. It’s not going to be pretty.

August 7, 2013

Got Something in My Eye….

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 2:38 pm

20 Science Fiction Moments That Will Make Absolutely Anyone Cry: “”

And don’t miss the comments. I just kept scrolling down going “yup…. yup… *sniff* yup”


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:33 am

The Indebted States of America by Steven Malanga, City Journal Summer 2013:

“If you define municipal debt simply as what states and localities have borrowed, the total nationwide comes to about $3 trillion. Nevertheless, these governments actually owe more than twice that much, according to estimates from groups like the States Project. The reason for the discrepancy is that states and localities carry another kind of debt—promises of retirement benefits to public-sector workers—and they have radically underfunded the systems that must pay for it. As Boston University Law School professor Jack Michael Beermann wrote recently in the Washington and Lee Law Review, the situation is a ‘double whammy’ for future taxpayers, who not only will have to pay for ‘the consumption of prior generations’ but also will receive ‘reduced government services’ as increased spending on retirement debt crowds out other programs.”

As Stein’s Law says, “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. Debts that can’t be repaid, won’t be.” The only question remaining to be answered is: what then?

How to Build a Career Worth Having

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 8:39 am

How to Build a Career Worth Having:

“there are three primary attributes of fulfilling work:

Legacy. A higher purpose, a mission, a cause. This means knowing that in some way— large or small—the world will be a better place after you’ve done your work.

Mastery. This refers to the art of getting better and better at skills and talents that you enjoy using, to the extent that they become intertwined with your identity. Picture a Jedi, or a Samurai, or a master blacksmith.

Freedom. The ability to choose who you work with, what projects you work on, where and when you work each day, and getting paid enough to responsibly support the lifestyle that you want. The order is important. People are fulfilled most quickly when they first prioritize the impact that they want to have (legacy), then understand which skills and talents they need to have that impact (mastery), and finally ‘exchange’ those skills for higher pay and flexibility (freedom) as they develop and advance.”

An excellent article all around, and one that many of my friends will appreciate. Erin and I have managed to hammer together somewhat non-traditional careers that meet all of these requirements and we are tremendously happy as a result. Yes, there are sacrifices, but if you offered me a “traditional” position with better “traditional” perks I wouldn’t take it for the world. As the saying goes: the only thing you can’t buy is more time.

Still it’s a personal choice, and one that I wouldn’t force on anybody. I’ve talked to self-professed “wage-whores” who are happy with the security of a regular job because it lets them do what they enjoy on the side. That’s certainly a viable approach, just not one I’m wired for. There’s also the idea that you get a good job as sort of a “temporary” career to pay off big student debt and save for other things (hello S.F.!). This is another great approach, especially in the early part of a career. Above all, having the flexibility and freedom to take crazy risks is always going to be better than allowing yourself to get bogged down with lots of consumer debt. Who cares about the Joneses? Let them compare giant credit card balances without you.

I guess the bottom line is that, whatever your chosen path, make it a deliberate one, so that one day you’ll look back on it and know that, for the most part, you consciously chose your direction instead of letting the currents of life push you and pull you onto their path.

August 4, 2013

The Rise of Competency Testing

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 11:20 am

The Rise Of Competency Testing.:

“Testing firms are offering new ways to measure what students learn in college. Their next generation of assessments is billed as an add-on – rather than a replacement – to the college degree. But the tests also give graduates something besides a transcript to send to a potential employer. As a result, skills assessments are related to potential higher education ‘disruptions’ like competency-based education or even digital badging. They offer portable ways for students to show what they know and what they can do. And in this case, they’re verified by testing giants.

More significantly, they mean that someone other than the degree-granting institution is certifying competence. Institutions have incentive to be lax regarding their students; external certifiers not so much. Then, at some point, people might start asking why you need the degree, when you’ve got the certification.”

August 3, 2013

The Rest of the Story

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 11:45 pm

28 Things That Happened After The Harry Potter Books Ended: “”

August 2, 2013

NSA technology, oversight, and audits: Show us real barriers to abuse. – Slate Magazine

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:24 pm

NSA technology, oversight, and audits: Show us real barriers to abuse.:

“In the two months since Edward Snowden began to expose the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, we’ve heard two different stories about them. Snowden and his collaborator, Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, have claimed that the programs allow NSA analysts and contractors to spy indiscriminately on Americans. U.S. government officials have told us that the programs don’t allow this. Who’s telling the truth?

The answer, for the most part, is both. The two sides are using different definitions of allow. Snowden and Greenwald are telling us what’s technologically possible. The government is telling us what’s legally permitted. Our job is to put the two stories together. We must pressure the government to translate its legal restrictions into technological barriers, so that what’s impermissible becomes impossible.”

I really like the idea of turning an illegal behavior into an impossible one. That way it goes from a “trust us… we won’t abuse that power” argument to a “we coulnd’t do that if we tried” one.

Does this mean a diminution of our security and intel capabilities? Doubtless. But as free citizens I think we’re entitled to tell these big scary organizations that we understand the risks and have decided to take them and make the necessary sacrifices rather than watch our civil liberties continue to erode. Will these organizations complain when their powers are limited technologically and their jobs become more difficult? Again, doubless. But in the end they work for us, and we the Bosses have every right to say no when they tell us they want more power and trust.

Some will surely counter with the old “but you don’t know what we’re protecting you from and we can’t tell you but it’s bad so don’t limit us” argument. Tellingly, that same argument can be used to cover abuses of power and an infinite expansion of the security state. At some point a firm line should be drawn. Because a beauracracy that will limit iteself is almost unknown.

I think we would all feel more comfortable with firm technological limits than we would with only the promises of the people who live behind the curtain of secrecy.

Responding to the report on XKeyscore, the NSA assures us that “there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse.” That’s nice, but hints won’t do. None of the topics we’re asking about—storage, access, justification, audits—poses any threat to national security. Tell us exactly how you’re protecting us. We’ll be the ones who decide what’s enough.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress