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‘Nothing brings you peace but the triumph of principles.’ –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Suppose you live in a deeply divided society: 60% of people strongly identify with Group A, and the other 40% strongly identify with Group B. While you plainly belong to Group A, you’re convinced this division is bad: It would be much better if everyone felt like they belonged to Group AB. You seek a cohesive society, where everyone feels like they’re on the same team.

What’s the best way to bring this cohesion about? Your all-too-human impulse is to loudly preach the value of cohesion. But on reflection, this is probably counter-productive. When members of Group B hear you, they’re going to take “cohesion” as a euphemism for “abandon your identity, and submit to the dominance of Group A. ”None too enticing. And when members of Group A notice Group B’s recalcitrance, they’re probably going to think, “We offer Group B the olive branch of cohesion, and they spit in our faces. Typical.” Instead of forging As and Bs into one people, preaching cohesion tears them further apart.

What’s the alternative? Simple. Instead of preaching cohesion, reach out to Group B. Unilaterally show them respect.Unilaterally show them friendliness. They’ll be distrustful at first, but cohesion can’t be built in a day. 

{ The Library of Economics and Liberty | Continue reading }

photo { Stephen Shore, Queens, New York, April 1972 }

The harder you look the harder you look

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Can events be accurately described as historic at the time they are happening?

Claims of this sort are in effect predictions about the evaluations of future historians; that is, that they will regard the events in question as significant.

Here we provide empirical evidence in support of earlier philosophical arguments1 that such claims are likely to be spurious and that, conversely, many events that will one day be viewed as historic attract little attention at the time.

{ Nature Human Behaviour | Continue reading }

photo { David Sims }

‘Praying for something implies that, despite My omniscience, I don’t already know what you want.’ –@TheTweetOfGod

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Weather forecasters need a ton of knowledge and a fair bit of experience with local weather patterns to do their job well. They also need a good forecast model. These computer models take in measurements from weather stations on the ground, satellites in orbit, and balloons in between and then simulate the physics of weather forward in time a few days.

For the first time in about 40 years, the guts of the US model got swapped out for something new today. The upgrade brings us a new “Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere” (or FV3) dynamical core, which simulates the basic atmospheric physics at the heart of this endeavor, a change that has been in the works for a while.

{ ArsTechnica | Continue reading }

photo { The main prize in the 2019 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest went to Chu Weimin | Upernavik is a fishing village on a tiny island in west Greenland. Historically, Greenlandic buildings were painted different colors to indicate different functions, from red storefronts to blue fishermen’s homes—a useful distinction when the landscape is blanketed in snow. }

Why do men tell women to smile?

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If you wear designer glasses, there’s a very good chance you’re wearing Luxottica frames.

The company’s owned and licensed brands include Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue and Versace.

Along with LensCrafters, Luxottica also runs Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Sunglass Hut and Target Optical, as well as the insurer EyeMed Vision Care.

And Italy’s Luxottica now casts an even longer shadow over the eyewear industry after merging last fall with France’s Essilor, the world’s leading maker of prescription eyeglass lenses and contact lenses. The combined entity is called EssilorLuxottica. […]

“You can get amazingly good frames, with a Warby Parker level of quality, for $4 to $8,” Butler said. “For $15, you can get designer-quality frames, like what you’d get from Prada.”

And lenses? “You can buy absolutely first-quality lenses for $1.25 apiece,” Butler said.

Yet those same frames and lenses might sell in the United States for $800.

{ Los Angeles Times | Continue reading }

photo { Jeff Wall, Parent child, 2018 }

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in ‘leverage points.’ These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

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{ Diane Arbus photographed by Tod Papageorge, Central Park, New York, 1967 }

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{ Diane Arbus photographed by Garry Winogrand, Central Park, New York, 1969 }

the moyles and moyles of it

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Products developed by companies such as Activtrak allow employers to track which websites staff visit, how long they spend on sites deemed “unproductive” and set alarms triggered by content considered dangerous. […]

To quantify productivity, “profiles” of employee behaviour — which can be as granular as mapping an individual’s daily activity — are generated from “vast” amounts of data. […]

If combined with personal details, such as someone’s age and sex, the data could allow employers to develop a nuanced picture of ideal employees, choose whom they considered most useful and help with promotion and firing decisions. […]

Some technology, including Teramind’s and Activtrak’s, permits employers to take periodic computer screenshots or screen-videos — either with employees’ knowledge or in “stealth” mode — and use AI to assess what it captures.

Depending on the employer’s settings, screenshot analysis can alert them to things like violent content or time spent on LinkedIn job adverts. 

But screenshots could also include the details of private messages, social media activity or credit card details in ecommerce checkouts, which would then all be saved to the employer’s database. […]

Meanwhile, smart assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa for Business, are being introduced into workplaces, but it is unclear how much of office life the devices might record, or what records employers might be able to access.

{ Financial Times | Continue reading }

Google uses Gmail to track a history of things you buy. […] Google says it doesn’t use this information to sell you ads.

{ CNBC | Continue reading }

unrelated { Navy Seal’s lawyers received emails embedded with tracking software }

photo { Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Paris, 1996 }

A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me

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If you know that a public company has done a bad thing, and no one else knows about it, how can you use that knowledge to make money? […]

This is a financial column, so we tend to focus on the financial-markets answers: You can short the company’s stock, or buy put options, or buy credit-default swaps. Then you can either sit back and let the market discover the bad thing, or you can bring it to the market’s attention, by announcing the bad thing and maybe also by taking some extra steps—generally suing or calling up a regulator—to get the ball rolling. This approach has some crucial advantages; most notably, if the company is very big and the thing is very bad, this is a good way to make a whole lot of money. But there are disadvantages too. You tend to need a lot of capital to make a lot of money doing this; if you don’t have enough money to make a big bet against the company, you’ll probably have to sell your idea to a hedge fund that does, and you’ll get only a portion of the upside. There are all the general financial risks of short selling: The stock could go up for reasons unrelated to the bad thing, “the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent,” etc. There are the specific risks of noisy short selling: The company will accuse you of fraud, people won’t believe your revelations because you have money at stake, etc. There is also the risk of insider trading: Depending on how you came to know of the secret bad thing, there may be some legal risk to you from trading on it.

But those are just the markets-y ways to make money from misbehavior. There are also lots of lawyer-y ways. There are whistleblower programs that can reward you for telling regulators—particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission—about the bad thing. (The SEC’s program focuses on securities fraud, of course, but everything is securities fraud so you can be creative.) If you are a lawyer looking to profit from the bad thing, you can find a victim of the bad thing and sue for damages (and take a cut), or you can find holders of the company’s securities and sue for securities fraud (and take a bigger cut), because, again, everything is securities fraud. […]

The really long game, if you are a lawyer, is that you can become a federal prosecutor, investigate the company for misconduct, push it to hire a fancy law firm staffed with former federal prosecutors to conduct an expensive internal investigation, and enter into a non-prosecution agreement that requires the company to pay millions of dollars to an outside monitor who is also a former federal prosecutor. Do a few of these—expanding the scope of criminal liability for corporations, and normalizing the notion that corporations should resolve their criminal liability by hiring ex-prosecutors as monitors and investigators—and then leave for a private law firm where you get paid to do the investigations and the monitoring, while the next generation of prosecutors creates business for you. […]

Avenatti clearly did not do a good enough job of making the extortion look like something else to satisfy prosecutors. I don’t know if he did enough to satisfy a jury; perhaps we’ll find out. But he didn’t do nothing; the complaint contains some gestures in the direction of Avenatti being a legitimate lawyer with a legitimate case from a legitimate client trying to reach a legitimate settlement. He didn’t just ask for money; he demanded that Nike do an internal investigation and that he be in charge of it. (And be paid a lot.) It’s not pure, naked blackmail; it is a settlement negotiation that gets a little deeper into blackmail territory than you’d ideally like. But any settlement negotiation is, you know, “give me money or I will sue and that will be embarrassing for you,” so it is a matter of degrees.

{ Matt Levine/Bloomberg | Continue reading }

pigment ink on cotton paper { Aneta Grzeszykowska, Beauty Mask #10, 2017 }

Still walkin barefoot, in Beverly Hills

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Litigation stemming from an incident in which a middle-aged woman tripped while stepping backward to take a photograph, and without first looking in her direction of travel, led to an observational study of the frequency with which people taking photographs step back without first looking where they were stepping. Prior research on looking before stepping backward did not exist.

Research assistants asked a convenience sample of middle-aged women to take a photograph of the assistants standing in front of a building. The task required the participants to step away from the building. The study found that 87% of the participants looked back at least once before or during a backward step, and that 83% of the steps away from the building were preceded by or accompanied by a look in the direction of travel. Suggestions for future research are provided.

{ Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting }

related { “The First Moonwalk” — Bill Bailey at the Apollo Theatre, New York, 1955 }

unrelated { Man accused of sexually abusing minor identifies himself as Michael Jackson }

still image { Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars, 1978 }

‘Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.’ –Epicurus

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{ Joel Meyerowitz, Fallen Man, Paris, 1967 }

Killin’ anything that moves 1-2, 1-2, 1-2

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The vast majority of life on Earth depends, either directly or indirectly, on photosynthesis for its energy. And photosynthesis depends on an enzyme called RuBisCO, which uses carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to build sugars. So, by extension, RuBisCO may be the most important catalyst on the planet.

Unfortunately, RuBisCO is, well, terrible at its job. It might not be obvious based on the plant growth around us, but the enzyme is not especially efficient at catalyzing the carbon dioxide reaction. And, worse still, it often uses oxygen instead. This produces a useless byproduct that, if allowed to build up, will eventually shut down photosynthesis entirely. It’s estimated that crops such as wheat and rice lose anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of their growth potential due to this byproduct.

While plants have evolved ways of dealing with this byproduct, they’re not especially efficient. So a group of researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana decided to step in and engineer a better way. The result? In field tests, the engineered plants grew up to 40 percent more mass than ones that relied on the normal pathways.

{ Ars Technica | Continue reading }

photo { Joel Meyerowitz, Florida, 1970 }

Like the days of stopping at the Savoy, now we freak

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According to the most comprehensive survey of casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first Gulf War.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

photo { Jason Florio | The Metropolitan Rod and Gun Club, established in 1936, is New York’s longest running sporting firearms club }

‘If we can’t fix it, it ain’t broke.’ –Lieutenant Colonel Walt Weir

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Human memory systems are subject to many imperfections, including memory distortions and the creation of false memories. Here, we demonstrate a case where memory distortion is adaptive, increasing the overall accuracy of memories. […]

Although participants’ memories were systematically distorted, they were distorted in a way that is consistent with minimizing their average error […]

Thus, memory distortion may not always be maladaptive: in some cases, distortion can result from a memory system that optimally combines information in the service of the broader goals of the person. Furthermore, this framework for thinking about memory distortion suggests that false memory can be thought of on a continuum with true memory: the greater uncertainty participants have about an individual item memory, the more they weight their gist memory [Gist traces are fuzzy representations of a past event]; with no item information, they weight only their gist memory.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

photo { Ana Mendieta, Untitled, from Silueta Series, Iowa, 1978 }