The Big Think

December 31, 2013

Becoming We the People Again

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:36 pm

“This is supposed to be a republic. The contract says power resides in the people. But if the Snowden leaks are teaching us one thing, it’s that we don’t even know what power is anymore nor do we care.”

So ends Mark Ames’ article on Pando Daily regarding the long history of NSA’s encroachment on American privacy, and an equally long history of whistleblowers desperately trying to rein in the dragon that wouldn’t stop growing—or eating. While some of us would view any “leaker” as a traitor, the truth is that American intelligence has become nuanced in the shadows. Today’s enemy is tomorrow’s begrudging partner in the constant balancing act that is the darker side of foreign policy. One uncomfortable truth is that the Obama administration has given arms and support to the same enemy in Syria that American troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Another is that this is a commonplace thing. Even in this swirling mix of allegiances and changing playing fields, however, ethics and integrity are not as grey. At the core of this entire issue is a simple question: Does an intelligence professional forfeit their ethical and moral obligation to stand up against unlawful conduct because they signed an agreement never to talk about the evil they didn’t know was there when they signed it?..

…We are in this position because we chose to abdicate the power given to us by the Founders. We are oppressed because we refused to stem the tide of tyranny as it swelled. We are in a surveillance state because we were too lazy to take responsibility for our own safety, happy to trade our privacy so we could make it the government’s problem. We failed to “trust but verify,” choosing instead to assume that the government would never take advantage of its power to gain more. We shrugged our shoulders when lawmakers were corrupt, evil liars; then we elected them again. We held no one accountable—not our government, and not ourselves. We were far too busy enjoying our freedoms to realize how they were slipping away.

This is why the administration laughs at us when we say we want our privacy back.

Read the whole thing (warning WWII era cheesecake therein)

Money Walks

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:16 pm

Key quote:

“We know… that eleven states that once had no personal income tax, that chose to adopt an income tax later, have lost their gross state product as a percent of the national GDP. In eleven of eleven cases. Voters prefer to go where their income is most protected.”

In general, smaller government is better government. Well, better for the governed. Not so much for the bureaucratic overclass.

December 30, 2013

You Don’t Say

Filed under: Disclosure,Friends — jasony @ 9:47 am

“I want to graciously give, accept, and even believe compliments, but our hyperbolic language has rendered the entire industry of verbal admiration meaningless. In fact, I see and hear adjectives used so far past their definitions that the excess can have the effect of making me think the exact opposite of what the speaker or writer likely intended. This happens often in status updates and tweets where bloggers recommend each other’s posts. When I see “stunning,” “breathtaking,” or “extraordinary,” I can’t help but raise an eyebrow in doubt. I’m more likely to click on a link with a toned-down description like “thought provoking,” “solid read,” or “well said.” This culture of exaggeration has made me a cynic. I’ve become suspicious of words.”

How to Give a Compliment

I have a small slip of paper I carry around that says “If your criticism isn’t true, your praise means nothing”. I try very hard to avoid all these “AMAZING!” over-statements (not always successfully). Simple, heartfelt, and _thoughtful_ expressions seem to be the ones that make the most impact. In fact, I have a VERY thoughtful Christmas card on my desk from a former Sing Chair that just about made my year. No exclamation points, not a single use of the word “amazing”. Just a quiet declaration of appreciation and friendship. Not many things can occupy the Inner Sanctum of my precious desk space, but this one will be there for quite a while (thanks, S, by the way).

In Search of a Non-Exaggerated Compliment | Brain, Child Magazine

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 9:34 am

In Search of a Non-Exaggerated Compliment: “I want to graciously give, accept, and even believe compliments, but our hyperbolic language has rendered the entire industry of verbal admiration meaningless. In fact, I see and hear adjectives used so far past their definitions that the excess can have the effect of making me think the exact opposite of what the speaker or writer likely intended. This happens often in status updates and tweets where bloggers recommend each other’s posts. When I see ‘stunning,’ ‘breathtaking,’ or ‘extraordinary,’ I can’t help but raise an eyebrow in doubt. I’m more likely to click on a link with a toned-down description like ‘thought provoking,’ ‘solid read,’ or ‘well said.’ This culture of exaggeration has made me a cynic. I’ve become suspicious of words.”

Totes Stop It

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 9:29 am

7 Things You Totes Need to Stop Saying if You’re Over 30 (Oops, There’s One of Them)

December 29, 2013

Monkey See, Monkey Be

Filed under: Current Reading,Science — jasony @ 8:27 pm

Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’:

“Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition – for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

‘The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,’ said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.

‘We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.’”

(Via .)

December 28, 2013

Don’t Blame the Tool

Filed under: Business,Education,Maker — jasony @ 9:15 pm

Your Camera Doesn’t Matter: “When it comes to the arts, be it music, photography, surfing or anything, there is a mountain to be overcome. What happens is that for the first 20 years or so that you study any art you just know that if you had a better instrument, camera or surfboard that you would be just as good as the pros. You waste a lot of time worrying about your equipment and trying to afford better. After that first 20 years you finally get as good as all the other world-renowned artists, and one day when someone comes up to you asking for advice you have an epiphany where you realize that it’s never been the equipment at all.

You finally realize that the right gear you’ve spent so much time accumulating just makes it easier to get your sound or your look or your moves, but that you could get them, albeit with a little more effort, on the same garbage with which you started. You realize the most important thing for the gear to do is just get out of your way. You then also realize that if you had spent all the time you wasted worrying about acquiring better gear woodshedding, making photos or catching more rides that you would have gotten where you wanted to be much sooner.”

(Via .)

A Matter of Degree

Filed under: Business,Education,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 9:35 am

12 Things Only Music Majors Understand

Ha! This nails it. I can relate to just about every one of these.

December 26, 2013

View From the Trenches

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:17 am

Blog: My Christmas Gift to the Obamas: “[New Mexico] has a well-functioning, user-friendly [health insurance] website, in contrast to healthcare.gov. Our call center gets you a human to talk to inside of two minutes. Our carriers’ prices are accurate and easily comparable, again unlike the FFM (federally facilitated market). Our increase in insurance premium costs is generally less than 10% higher than pre-Obama, in marked contrast to our one-over neighbor Nevada, where insurance prices have skyrocketed 179%.

The NM HIX has extensive educational outreach activities as well as slick (and expensive) marketing programs in the several languages of our multicultural state. We have ‘boots on the ground’ as navigators and in-person assisters as well as widely-distributed private insurance brokers with long-standing ties to their local communities.

With all this and having already spent or committed well over 50 million dollars, the number of individual New Mexicans who have signed up for Obama’s health insurance is… 291.

The NM HIX did everything right to sell Obamacare. The people are not buying. “

That’s because the ACA, as designed, is broken and unsustainable (much like our budget, social security, and medicare systems). But our leaders would rather score the short-term benefits of a politicized and divided polity than the long-term benefits of a sustainable system that actually works and is in line with basic American philosophical ideas.

December 25, 2013

Interview with the Snowman

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:30 am

Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission’s accomplished

December 19, 2013

Gonna Go Shoot Me a Garden

Filed under: Foodie,Hobbies,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 10:31 am

Regular Shells Kill, Flowershells Give Life: “”

From the brilliant-but-still-hilarious department, I bring you, the Flowershell.

But If You’re Not Doing Wrong You Have Nothing To Hide

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:25 am

Stasi versus NSA:

“The German President, Joachim Gauck, concluded in an interview with the ZDF on 30.6.2013, that the NSA was not to be compared with the Stasi:

We know for example, that it is not like it was with the Stasi and the KGB – that there exist big filing cabinets in which all the content of our conversations are written down and nicely filed. This is not the case.
Wir wissen zum Beispiel, dass es nicht so ist wie bei der Stasi und dem KGB, dass es dicke Aktenbände gibt, in denen unsere Gesprächsinhalte alle aufgeschrieben und schön abgeheftet sind. Das ist es nicht.

This statement is completely correct. At the NSA, conversation contents are not written down nor filed – but digitally recorded, saved and can be searched and found within seconds.

In contrast to the Stasi, the NSA can count on new technologies and can therefore collect information in gigantic quantities. To get the picture, we compared the data volume in this little app:

According to a report by the NPR, the data center of the NSA in Utah will be capable of saving 5 Zettabytes (5 billion Terabyte). Assuming that a filing cabinet with 60 files (30.000 pages of paper) uses up 0,4 m², which would correspond to 120 MB of data, the printed out Utah data center would use up 17 million square kilometers. Thereby the NSA can capture 1 billion times more data than the Stasi!

Don’t miss… seriously, do not miss… this graphic attached to the article.


Link: Stasi versus NSA. Made by OpenDataCity (CC-BY 3.0)

December 18, 2013

Edumawhatnow?

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 9:27 pm

Sand in the Gears:

“Every month, money flies from my checking account to the education savings accounts of my children, because I don’t want them to become hobos. This is one way I allay my fear the world will eat them up. It’s a mark of a good parent to worry over where—and whether—his child will go to college, isn’t it? I need to confess a profoundly un-American heresy: I question what my children will get for the money. I don’t question the value of education (though we make it a panacea for deeper ills of the soul); I doubt the capacity of most educational institutions to impart much beyond what one could obtain with, as the protagonist in Good Will Hunting notes, ‘a dollar-fifty in late charges at the public library.’ I know there are teachers who can help a student get far more out of Dracula, say, than he might acquire on his own. They can cultivate in him a healthy awareness of the various psycho-sexual literary analytical clubs with which the text has been bludgeoned for decades, for example, or even help him challenge dominant beliefs about what Dracula, and monster literature more broadly, means to us culturally. There are teachers like that; I’ve seen them in action, and they are a heartening, humbling species to behold. The practical reality, however, is that most educational institutions have no interest in rewarding excellent teachers, or even understanding which of their teachers are truly excellent. They are in the business of slinging feed to cattle.”

Say Hello Rosie

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 1:59 pm

It’s Actually Kind Of Heartbreaking To Hear Robot Telemarketer Insist She’s A Real Person – Consumerist: “We’ve arrived at a whole new level of robocalling, and this time the robots don’t want us to know they’re robots. Did you just get a shiver down your spine, too? Shiver jinx! This particular telemarketer for a company hawking health insurance has her own name and a tinkle of laughter to go along with her denial of actually being a robot.”

Wow, the recording at the link is spookily life like, though that leads me to wonder if it’s not just a series of triggered samples of a real person reading a script. That way it’s not a robot, technically. But effectively you’re not talking to a live person, either.

This seems like the next step in the continuing arms race between telemarketers and people who just want to be left alone. If the telemarketers have to hire real people to read their tier 1 scripts, those people need to be paid. This makes the margins very, very thin for the businesses. If, on the other hand, the telemarketers can pass this chore on to robots/triggered scripts/computers/whatever, then once the one-time fee for the equipment is amortized it won’t matter how long you keep the robot on the phone or how much you ignore them. They’re not costing the businesses anything.

Chalk this up as a mixed bag. On the one hand you have an escalation of icky telemarketer tech. On the other you have an improvement in the human/machine interface. In a few years we’ll have much more natural feedback between us and our computers, which will in turn speed up the development of related (and more useful) technologies.

In the future, if I get a call like this, I guess I’ll just pass it off to my robot butler to keep their systems engaged without bothering me.

Higher Education

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 11:29 am

“After accounting for the cost of tuition, four years of lost earning potential, and the minimal increase in salary an undergraduate degree provides, 30-year-old local man Patrick Moorhouse has, at this point in his life, earned $11 more than he would have had he not attended college at all, an independent study confirmed today. “All told, Patrick’s B.A. in Political Science translates to about $5,000 more in annual wages, but when you account for his student loan payments, including his 6 percent interest rate, his degree from a respected four-year university amounts to slightly more than 10 extra bucks in his wallet,” said researcher Ken Overton, adding that had Moorhouse been accepted to his more prestigious first-choice college, his earnings would have totaled $54 more than if he had never enrolled in higher education.”

Read the whole thing

(yes, I know… but nowadays it has the ring of plausibility) 🙂

“Remember Who the Real Enemy Is”

Filed under: Current Reading,Politics — jasony @ 11:18 am

“Remember Who the Real Enemy Is” – The American Interest: “There’s a popular feeling in the air that America has become decadent. Contrasting Harry Potter to the Hunger Games shows what a difference a decade can make.”

An interesting look into Harry Potter vs. Hunger Games and how our view of government has radically shifted over the last decade and a half. Worth the read,

December 17, 2013

Quoth

Filed under: Education,Quoth — jasony @ 9:41 pm

“If I depended on a skilled work force I would not depend on a public education system to provide it for me”
Mike Rowe

Don’t miss interview with Mike Rowe about the state of work in America:

Bumper Cars

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:00 am

Even An 85 MPH Highway Can’t Fix Austin’s Traffic Tangle: “The Texas A&M Transportation Institute has built sophisticated computer modeling of Austin’s future traffic — and the findings are not good. The commute from downtown Austin to the northern suburb of Round Rock currently takes about 45 minutes during rush hour. But by 2035, the institute estimates, it will take two hours and 30 minutes to go those 19 miles.”

Oy

December 16, 2013

How Much Does A Wonderful Life Cost?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:45 pm

How Much Does A Wonderful Life Cost?:

“Distrust among people is a starvation that begins with the silencing of our innermost thoughts and beliefs. That’s exactly what ‘political correctness’ aims to do. When a person fears their opinions will make them a pariah, they find it more and more difficult to strike up heart to heart talks with anyone new. Hence there is less exchange of ideas, and a dwindling of folks with whom people can entrust their private concerns. Political correctness serves to disintegrate social bonds – always, of course, in the name of promoting them.”

Amazon Sells Everything

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 7:30 pm

On my wish list, along with monocle wax.

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