Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Best, perfect, good

Spurred by a recent blog post, I looked up "Best is the enemy of good".  Coaches, teachers and statisticians often look at tables like this:





































Scores on tests and in sports are often (but not always!!!) produced by processes that look like these balls sifting through this sort of set of pegs:

If you take the ball in the right-most slot (the "best scorers") in this set of results) and paint that ball so you can track it, you will usually find that ball more often in the central slots on the next time you pour them through the pegs.  It takes good luck to be in the right-most slot and the painted ball probably won't do so well the next time through.

It is common for one of the balls or one of the players or one of the students to tend to score high consistently but not to be the top scorer.  The coach or teacher may not ever notice how high that "good" scorer tends to be. If we only look at the "best", we may not notice the "good".

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

See what I mean?

I mentioned that we are entering new eras, as we always are.  Hold on your hats as we innovate right, left, center, up, etc.     Here's the latest for O'Reilly's Artificial Intelligence newsletter.  

10. Shrimp and jam pizza

Beans and brie. Chicken, basil, and blueberry. Zucchini, cheddar, and caramel. MIT students collected hundreds of artisan pizza recipes from various food blogs and recipe websites and then trained a recurrent neural network to generate new ones.

+ And for dessert: how about a rosemary and peppermint truffle or maybe a gingersnap and meat truffle?

Monday, October 29, 2018

The most marvelous new thing

For several years, I taught a personal reading course that had the students review all the books they had ever read.  Well, we tried to do that. It only took a few minutes for people to start complaining that they couldn't remember all the books they had read.  They were correct as shown by the next few days. Many students would look over another person's list and suddenly remember that a title on the other's list was also a book they had read but forgotten about.  

It was only natural in such a course for students to start asking each other and themselves, which book was their favorite?  We found as a class that the question is much more useful in a slightly modified form. Instead of asking for the best book, it worked better to ask someone to name a few books that they really liked.

An important part of modern life is science.  By that word, I just mean questioning what we do and thinking of alternatives we might try.  We could take as a rough date of the beginning of modern science the year 1500. We have been in a science age for about 500 years.  There is plenty of evidence that humans go back much further than 500 years. There is also evidence that many of us get uncomfortable with too much questioning and experimentation and innovation, even though, at the same time, we appreciate modern electricity, medicine, communication, entertainment, transportation.  We are learning steadily about better ways of using our genomes, interacting with microbes and better use of machines, smart and otherwise.

All this modern invention produces new and exciting things and ideas, but we can come to understand that descriptions of new things and ideas are scraping the bottom of our adjective barrel in a frantic search for still more superlative words.  We are beginning to doubt colorful claims that your new invention, his new book, their new movie, that corporation's new hiring methods are so fantastic, so pioneering, so wonderful, so amazing. We are getting to the point where we just want to hear about the new thing, what it can do, and what it costs in both money and environmental damage.  We are getting immune to hype and baloney and even thrilled, excited voices. Just tell us what you have and what evidence shows about its effect.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Optimism, Ehrenreich and the big picture

I am listening to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Brightsided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America". The author is rather relentless herself in trying to document over-extremes of positive thinking, such as punishing employees who are not cheerful enough.  That reminds me of the book "The Managed Heart" by Hochschild. I have been meaning to look at that book. I picked up the idea that it discusses required smiling and cheerfulness for airplane stewardesses and such mandatory cheerfulness. I imagine that over time there have been many such rules, especially for women.

I think Ehrenreich is a pretty good critic and representative of the opposition and counter-argument but she seems to be a little more eager than validated in places. She and others have documented the idea that being happy seems better than not being, if one has a choice.  I am confident that one often does.

In the 70's and 80's, two friends and I taught a course called "Futures" which tried to look at likely future developments in all fields.  We were inspired by the rather negative picture in the book "Limits to Growth". That picture posited very negative conditions for humans by 2025.  The book was published in 1972 and used data and computer models to predict water shortages, air pollution, over-crowding and other ills.

These and other dangers and negatives are definitely on the increase, especially in some spots.  But there are other factors at work, too. Authors who explain some of the more positive news and developments include (1) Hans Rosling, now deceased Swedish professor of public health, (2) Stephen Pinker, psychologist, and (3) the earlier author Ben J. Wattenburg, and his several books and articles on the actual complex reality of the US and its people. A related author is (4) Yuval Harari, whose books "Sapiens", "Homo Deus" [Man, the God] and "21 Lessons for the 21st  Century" are making a big and positive impression.

Sometimes, it is said to be a goal of a few to "make death optional."  Personally, I don't think we are there yet and it might not be a good idea, anyhow.  Still, to some extent, we have already done that. Take the case of Hans Rosling (1), mentioned above.  He died about a year and a half ago. However, his succinct and helpful book "Factfulness" is quite clear that many adults alive now have pictures of the world that are quite out of date.  His TED talks and those of his son Ola and his daughter Anna Rosling Ronnlund continue to inform and actually delight, despite the fact that they are about world statistics, not a subject that typically delights.

The Roslings and the Karolinska Institute of Sweden have created the Gapminder website

where you can see the things shown in Rosling TED talks and additional later information.  See between his videos, books and websites, he is still here, even though he is dead.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fwd: The Scout Report -- Volume 24, Number 43

Some good items here.   Bill

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: <>
Date: Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 8:31 AM
Subject: The Scout Report -- Volume 24, Number 43

October 26, 2018
Volume 24, Number 43

Research and Education

General Interest

Network Tools


In the News

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to support The Scout Report and the work of Internet Scout, please visit our donation page.

Research and Education

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Missing Migrants Project
Social studies
Each year, thousands of people perish or go missing while trying to migrate to another country, many as refugees or asylum-seekers. The Missing Migrants Project, an effort that began in 2013 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), "tracks deaths of migrants, including refugees and asylum-seekers, who have gone missing along mixed migration routes worldwide." Here, readers will find the "Latest Global Figures" for migrant deaths as well as detailed breakdowns by regions, with annual and monthly data available going back to 2014. The Migration Flows Europe section leads to an interactive map visualizing the population flows of migrants in Europe. The downloads tab allows readers to download the project's datasets as Excel or CSV files (with IOM's methodology available under the about tab), as well as reports, data briefs, infographics, and other publications. Geographers, social scientists, and concerned readers will likely find the Missing Migrants Project to be informative and illuminating. [JDC]

Population biologists, wildlife ecologists, and readers interested in animal tracking may appreciate Movebank, "a free online infrastructure created to help researchers manage, share, analyze and archive animal movement data." Begun in 2007, Movebank is intended as a global repository for wildlife tracking data and it can also serve as a free backup option for researchers to store and share their data either publicly or privately. In addition to archiving data, the project's main goals are to enable collaborations and compilations of multiple datasets, to promote open access to animal movement data, and to allow the public to explore these data via Movebank's Tracking Data Map. New users may want to check out the many resources under the help tab, particularly the getting started section and the user manual. Movebank is hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and has long-term funding through the Max Planck Society and the University of Konstanz. [JDC]

NewseumED: Decoding Elections: Process, Persuasion & Participation
Social studies
Educators looking to incorporate current events into their teaching may be interested in Decoding Elections: Process, Persuasion & Participation, a collection of lesson plans created by NewseumED. These eleven lesson plans are grouped into one of three categories: election procedures, campaign messages, and public participation. Each 30-60 minute lesson is based on a case study accompanied by primary source artifacts from the Newseum's collections for illustration and each case study includes an issue summary, historical context, and guiding questions. In their note to teachers, NewseumED suggests beginning with their nonpartisan political personality quiz focused on engagement with the electoral process. The lesson plans in this collection are primarily intended for middle and high school students, but they could be adapted for use in undergraduate classes. It should be noted that a free login is required for full access to all the resources. NewseumED is the educational department of Newseum, the journalism museum in Washington, D.C. [JDC]

Actuaries Climate Index
Launched in 2016, the Actuaries Climate Index (ACI) applies the analytical tools of risk professionals to the issue of climate change. This resource provides "an objective measure of changes in extreme weather and changes in sea level relative to the base period of 1961 through 1990" by using six representative long-range data components and examining how they are changing over time. The ACI is intended as "an educational tool designed to help inform actuaries, public policymakers, and the general public on changes in these measures over recent decades." Visitors may explore regional graphs and maps visualizing the ACI's data, which covers the United States and Canada. Those interested may also download the data by region and component and access a PDF of the ACI's Development and Design to read a detailed description of their methodology. Available in both English and French, the Actuaries Climate Index is produced as a collaborative research effort between the American Academy of Actuaries, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, the Casualty Actuarial Society, and the Society of Actuaries. [JDC]

Theodore Roosevelt Papers
Social studies
The charismatic Theodore Roosevelt, who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901-1909, was an influential public servant and reformer, a naturalist, and a prolific writer. The Library of Congress has long held the largest archival collection of Roosevelt's personal papers, and now this massive trove of approximately 276,000 documents (about 461,000 images) has been digitized. This vast collection includes letters that Roosevelt sent and received; speeches and executive orders in multiple drafts; Roosevelt's personal diaries from 1878-1884; contemporaneous newspaper and magazine clippings; and many papers documenting activities in the White House, such as desk diaries, reception books, and press releases. Examples of notable documents include a personal diary entry from February 14, 1884, consisting only of the sentence, "The light has gone out of my life," written when Roosevelt's mother and wife died on the same day. Another letter, from 1907, written to his son Archibald humorously describes an incident involving Archibald's younger brother Quentin, three pet snakes, and four congressmen waiting for an appointment. Historians, scholars, and general audiences alike will find much to interest them in this important collection. [JDC]

Journal of Writing Research
Language Arts
The multi-disciplinary Journal of Writing Research is an international, double-blind peer-reviewed journal that "primarily publishes papers that describe scientific studies of the processes by which writing is produced or the means by which writing can be effectively taught." Launched in 2008 and currently in its tenth volume, this open access journal publishes original research, as well as literature reviews and boasts an editorial board from around the world. Examples of articles from recent issues include "The co-regulation of writing activities in the classroom" and "Rarely say never: Essentialist rhetorical choices in college students' perceptions of persuasive writing." Other subject areas covered by this journal include "Developmental aspects of writing ability," "Social and cultural aspects of writing," "Cognitive processes in writing," and more. The editors note that while this journal's articles "are primarily intended for use in the scientific community," its "interdisciplinary nature also makes it accessible to teacher educators, curriculum developers, communication consultants, and other interested practitioners." [JDC]

International Water Law Project
Social studies
Access to fresh water is a fundamental need of every society. As such, international law and policy have become involved to help maintain the quality and quantity of water resources and balance access to them among all interested parties. The International Water Law Project provides readers with comprehensive information on the subject, featuring full texts of the major diplomatic agreements, including United Nations agreements regarding international watercourses and transboundary groundwater aquifers, treaty drafts, and regional agreements organized by continent. This resource also includes a section on international case law, a helpful list of transboundary water management organizations, an extensive bibliography, and a list of related websites. Readers may also want to check out the International Water Law Project's blog, where they will find thoughtful essays by legal scholars from around the world on various aspects of water law, with blog archives dating back to 2009. The International Water Law Project is created, directed, and actively maintained by Gabriel Eckstein, Professor of Law at Texas A&M University. [JDC]

General Interest

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National Geographic: Where we live, block by block
Social studies
As part of their "Diversity in America" series, National Geographic has created this fascinating interactive map (viewable for free after entering an email address) depicting where America's different races live and at what concentration. Readers can search for any US city via the map's search box or use the zoom tools in the bottom right to see their area of interest, while a helpful legend explains what the different colors signify. Some of the map's most interesting features are pointed out in the Regions worth exploring menu. Here, various patterns of diversity and development history are highlighted in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC. This section also spotlights locations where different aspects of American history can be seen reflected in its demographics, such as legacies of sharecropping in Virginia. This map was created for National Geographic by Matthew W. Chwastyk, Kennedy Elliott, and Ryan Morris. In their words, "mapping [America's] diversity reveals not just a snapshot of today but the imprint of two and a half centuries of migration, conflict, and prosperity." [JDC]

New York Times: Retro Report
Social studies
From The New York Times and the non-profit organization (headed by Kyra Darnton) comes Retro Report, a series of articles and short documentary films that examine news stories of yesteryear and how these events shaped our contemporary world. In an article published on September 16, 2018, Clyde Haberman considers the impact of the horrific 1982 Tylenol murders and how the company regained public trust after an unknown person contaminated several Tylenol bottles with cyanide. This article contains links to the Times's original reporting on the incident, and the accompanying video contains footage of 1982 newscasts. In another recent Retro Report, Haberman reflects on segregationist George Wallace's three unsuccessful runs for political office. Other topics covered in the Retro Report include the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the lasting political impact of California's 1978 Proposition 13 (a referendum that lowered state property taxes), and the history of treatment for psychiatric illness. [MMB]

Educational Technology
From the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) comes Understood, a resource created "to help the millions of parents whose children, ages 3-20, are struggling with learning and attention issues." Here, interested readers will find a large collection of information available in both English and Spanish and organized intuitively into categories such as School & Learning, Friends & Feelings, and You & Your Family. The Your Parent Toolkit offers resources specifically designed to "empower [parents] to understand their children's issues and relate to their experiences." For example, Through Your Child's Eyes offers simulations and videos to help viewers understand the experiences of someone with learning or attention issues, while the Tech Finder offers a search tool for "expert-approved apps and games" as well as information on other assistive software and technology. Operated and managed by the NCLD, Understood was founded in collaboration between fifteen nonprofit organizations, such as the Children's Health Council, the Child Mind Institute, and the Learning Disabilities Association of America. [JDC]

The World Bewitch'd: Visions of Witchcraft from the Cornell Collections
Social studies
From the Cornell University Library comes The World Bewitch'd, "an exhibition exploring the origins and spread of the belief in witchcraft across Europe." This exhibition "examine[s] such themes as gendered stereotypes, belief in night flying and demonic pacts, forced confessions, and witch epidemics." Here, interested readers can learn about the historical contexts and conceptions of witchcraft, as well as get an overview of the persecution accused witches faced and see how this cultural history plays into modern portrayals. The exhibition incorporates material dating back to the fifteenth century from the Cornell Witchcraft Collection, the largest of its kind in North America, as well as images and video clips from more recent pop culture examples. The online exhibition The World Bewitch'd was created to complement a physical exhibition by the same name, which was on display in Cornell's Hirschland Exhibition Gallery from October 31, 2017, until August 31, 2018. It was curated by Cornell University librarians Anne Kenney and Kornelia Tancheva. [JDC]

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
Located in Canberra, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) serves as Australia's "national cultural institution for the visual arts." Among its holdings is its collection of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander art, which, at over 7,500 works, is the largest such collection in the world. Here, readers can browse numerous examples from this diverse collection of contemporary and historical indigenous art, grouped into thematic and regional categories such as nineteenth-century objects, early Western Desert paintings 1971-1974, textiles, and photo media. A particularly notable artwork to explore is The Aboriginal Memorial, an installation created in 1987-1988 by 43 Aboriginal artists, which consists of 200 decorated hollow log coffins. Multiple images of each individual log can be viewed here, and interested visitors can also follow a link to a mini-site for the exhibit for a more detailed explanation. Another collection highlighted here is the Hermannsburg School, featuring artwork by Albert Namatjira, who was "the first Aboriginal artist to be recognised within a wider Western art tradition." [JDC]

Stuff to Blow Your Mind
Stuff to Blow Your Mind is a science podcast from How Stuff Works that "examines neurological quandaries, cosmic mysteries, evolutionary marvels, and the technological underpinnings of our transhuman future." Episodes typically run an hour or so in length and focus on one of a wide-ranging variety of topics, which site visitors can browse via the lengthy list on the left. While this podcast's focus is primarily scientific, it also explores relevant cultural and historical aspects, such as in their two-part episode "Age of the Earth," published on September 18 and 20, 2018. Other recent episodes include "Jenny Greenteeth: Horror at the Water's Edge," in which they examine "old tales of aquatic terror, their instructional nature, and the real-world predators who swim the shores in search of terrestrial prey," and "Salamander Talk with Mark Mandica," a chat with the executive director of The Amphibian Foundation. Stuff to Blow Your Mind was co-created in 2010 by Robert Lamb and Alison Loudermilk and is currently hosted by Lamb and Joe McCormick. Interested readers can listen through their web browsers or subscribe via Spotify, Stitcher, or other podcast platforms. [JDC]

2015 US Transgender Survey Report
Social studies
In the summer of 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) conducted the US Transgender Survey (USTS), "the largest survey ever devoted to the lives and experiences of transgender people, with 27,715 respondents across the United States." Here, interested readers will find the complete 302-page report and a 16-page executive summary of that survey, which are available in both English and Spanish. The USTS also produced a number of breakout reports on the experiences of transgender people of color, with separate reports for Black, Latino/a (also available in Spanish), American Indian and Alaskan Native, and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander respondents. Additionally, readers may download brief individual reports specific to 43 US states, as well as a short report on survey respondents in the military and one on bisexual transgender people (created in partnership with the Movement Advancement Project). Those interested in the methodology and questionnaire used in the USTS will find these details in the complete report. The 2015 USTS was conducted under the direction of NCTE Research Director Sandy James and was co-authored by NCTE Policy Counsel Ma'ayan Anafi. [JDC]

Network Tools

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WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
One of the things a website designer or administrator needs to keep in mind is the user experience of their site's visitors, including those visitors who may have visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive difficulties. WAVE, a free web accessibility evaluation tool developed by WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), provides a simple way to check the accessibility of a web page's content. After entering the URL of interest on WAVE's main page, WAVE will display the page marked up with embedded icons indicating potential accessibility errors, alerts, features, and other information. The left sidebar presents a summary of what WAVE detected on the entered page, and users can click the embedded icons or explore the sidebar for brief explanations of their meaning. WAVE is intended to facilitate human evaluation, and thus it does not provide a score or pass/fail metric, nor can it correct problems. For those wishing to check the accessibility of password-protected or otherwise sensitive pages, WAVE also offers browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. [JDC]

Social studies
SuperBetter is a free mobile app and web platform that aims to help build personal resilience by using a video game structure to encourage and reward users for positive behavior; or, in other words, for living "gamefully." Like many video games, SuperBetter uses Power-Ups, Quests, Bad Guys, and Allies to take players on an adventure towards achieving their Epic Win, but in this game each of those represents real-life actions players take to boost their health or moods, progress toward their goals, change bad habits into good, and support friends trying to do the same. Clinical trials conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and The Ohio State University found that SuperBetter has positive effects on its users' resilience and mental health. SuperBetter was created by Jane McGonigal, a game designer with a PhD in Performance Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and Director of Game Research and Development at Institute for the Future. [JDC]


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Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine
Sawbones was originally featured in the 8-4-2016 Scout Report and since then it has added approximately 100 new episodes. Recent topics include "27 Reasons Why You Should Get Your Flu Shot," the nutrition ideas of Dr. Price, and a tour of the many ways of dying on the Oregon Trail.
Sawbones is a podcast hosted by spouses Dr. Sydnee and Justin McElroy (hence, the title) that explores a variety of misconceptions throughout the history of medicine. On this website, readers can listen to regularly updated episodes (147 so far) that address issues like the ailments of former U.S. presidents, the history of earache cures, and fasting throughout world history. While this podcast mainly focuses on medical history, it also features a regular segment called Goofy Medical Questions, which addresses common queries that many folks have wondered, but are perhaps too sheepish, to ask their doctor (e.g. "Is it really so bad to pop a pimple?"). Each episode is approximately one hour in length. Interested listeners can subscribe via Apple Podcasts or RSS feed.

In the News

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NASA Captures Photo of Rectangular Antarctic Iceberg
Operation IceBridge
National Snow & Ice Data Center: Quick Facts on Icebergs
The Antarctic Report
Recently, an unusual social media star rose to fame -- an iceberg with a distinctively regular geometric shape. The photo of this tabular iceberg was captured close to the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica by NASA scientist Jeremy Harbeck on October 16, 2018, as part of Operation IceBridge, an aerial survey that monitors polar sea ice. Harbeck stated, "I often see icebergs with relatively straight edges, but I've not really seen one before with two corners at such right angles as this one had." The image attracted a fair amount of attention after NASA posted the photo on Twitter on October 17, garnering (as of this write-up) over 23,000 likes and 10,000 retweets, and generating curiosity about the iceberg's origins. It turns out that tabular icebergs such as this are fairly common. As University at Buffalo geophysicist Kristin Poinar explained to National Geographic, "The Larsen C is a large ice shelf. The ice has time to spread out and become perfectly flat," so when an iceberg calves, as the 'berg in the photo is believed to have recently done, it can fracture along relatively straight lines, creating the angular shape seen in NASA's photo. [JDC]
At the first three links, readers will find recent news articles explaining the unusual-looking iceberg. These were written by Liz Kalaugher for Physics World, Merrit Kennedy for NPR, and Sarah Gibbens for National Geographic, respectively. Readers interested in learning more about Operation IceBridge, the NASA program under which the iceberg photo was taken, will find the program's website at the fourth link, along with details about the program's data and the various instruments used to collect it. The fifth link brings readers to the National Snow & Ice Data Center's Quick Facts on Icebergs for an overview of the topic. Other parts of this resource contain abundant scientific datasets, as well as research and information about the cryosphere, so the entire site is worth exploring. Finally, at the sixth link readers will find The Antarctic Report, a New Zealand-based publication "dedicated to all things on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean," such as the region's scientific significance and its "unique political status."
The Scout Report (ISSN 1092-3861) is published every Friday of the year except for the last two Fridays of December by the Internet Scout Research Group, based in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Computer Sciences.

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