Black Holes Under A Microscope

Oct 20 2014 @ 6:39pm

Ron Cowen relays the news that scientists “have come closer than ever before to creating a laboratory-scale imitation of a black hole.” Why it’s important:

The black hole analogue, reported in Nature Physics, was created by trapping sound waves using an ultra-cold fluid. Such objects could one day help resolve the so-called black hole ‘information paradox’ – the question of whether information that falls into a black hole disappears forever.

Read On

Vengeance Of The Nerds, Ctd

Oct 20 2014 @ 6:14pm

A few readers provide key counterpoints to the controversy:

Your latest post presents only one side of a very complex, many-sided argument and unfortunately perpetuates the narrative that #GamerGate is mostly a reactionary, misogynistic movement. Please understand that the vast majority of GamerGate is not misogynist. The vast majority of GamerGate does not think death threats are trivial. GamerGate is a movement that has embraced women, gays, trans-gender people of all political stripes and nationalities, worldwide.

GamerGate is many things, but it is largely a reaction against the huge amount of abuse that gamers have suffered over the years, culminating in a coordinated campaign by a dozen or so articles that appeared on numerous gaming news sites nearly simultaneously on August 28-29, proclaiming that gamers were dead, spear-headed by a piece on Gamasutra by Leigh Alexander, who called gamers:

Read On

Reacting to news that “the Obama administration is about to announce $100 million worth of apprenticeship grants – and wants to spend another $6 billion over the next four years,” Tamar Jacoby considers whether German-style apprenticeships would work in the US:

The first thing you notice about German apprenticeships: The employer and the employee still respect practical work. German firms don’t view dual training as something for struggling students or at-risk youth. “This has nothing to do with corporate social responsibility,” an HR manager at Deutsche Bank told the group I was with, organized by an offshoot of the Goethe Institute. “I do this because I need talent.” So too at Bosch. …

The second thing you notice:

Read On


Airbnb is having some troubles in New York:

While it’s technically illegal for New York City residents to rent their entire place for fewer than 30 days at a time — room-shares and extended sublets are allowed — the city and attorney general’s office have insisted they’re not interested in small-time Airbnb-ers, but those using the share economy to become mini hospitality moguls. Their first targets: brothers Hamid Kermanshah and Abdolmajid Kermanshah, who own and operate a four-story building on Fifth Avenue and a ten-story building on West 31st Street.

Alison Griswold has more:

Airbnb, according to the AG’s [Attorney General's] analysis of 497,322 transactions for stays between January 2010 and June 2014, is largely illegal, hugely profitable, and quickly consuming lower Manhattan. Rather than helping the average New Yorker make ends meet, much of Airbnb in New York City is making money for a small number of commercial hosts running large, multimillion-dollar operations.

J.J.C. weighs the pros and cons of the service:

Read On

Centers For Damage Control

Oct 20 2014 @ 4:44pm

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.20.04 PM

After its fumbling of the Ebola outbreak, the public has rightly soured on the CDC:

A new CBS News poll shows just 37 percent of American rate the CDC as either excellent or good, while 60 percent rate it as fair or poor — a virtual mirror image of 17 months ago. The worst part: The agency now ranks below the Secret Service, which has dealt with a series of scandals in recent weeks and years. But the CDC is still slightly more popular than the IRS.

Morrissey isn’t surprised:

Back when I worked for a defense contractor in its technical publications department, one worker had a sign in her cubicle which accurately diagnoses the phenomenon in play here: “One aws**t cancels out a thousand attaboys.” It isn’t what the CDC did for the past ten years, but what they’re doing when the spotlight is on them that counts. In fact, the CDC’s performance over the past few weeks will have people questioning just how well they’ve done their job all along, and perhaps they should.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Oct 20 2014 @ 4:20pm

Riding shotgun through cinema:

The End Of Geniuses?

Oct 20 2014 @ 4:00pm

Darrin M. McMahon, author of Divine Fury: A History of Genius, traces the origins of the modern “genius” from the Enlightenment through the contemporary “wisdom of crowds”:

This is the paradox of genius in our time: On the one hand, the world we inhabit is an inhospitable place for that creature first conceived in the 18th century as a human of sacred exception; on the other hand, we have created a new variety of the species, which threatens to overrun us all.

The risk inherent in this situation is of obscuring genuine differences in aptitude, capacity, and ability, while at the same time becoming apologists for the real inequalities of opportunity and resources that might foster those differences. Recent data on the widening education achievement gap between rich and poor paints a troubling picture of a nation all too ready to squander its human potential. Despite our desire to “leave no child behind,” we do so every day, which prompts the terrible question: How many children living among us have the potential for genius that we’ll never know? As the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould once observed, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

Which is not to say that we should mourn the passing of the genius as first conceived in the 18th century. That creature has outlived its cultural usefulness, and perhaps it is time to say the same of the more recent varieties. By kicking the habit of genius, we might better be able to cultivate what is just as important and in the long run more essential to human civilization: the potential in all of us.

More Dish on McMahon’s new book here.

Faces Of The Day

Oct 20 2014 @ 3:41pm

Students Celebrate Raisin Monday At St Andrew's University

Students from St Andrew’s University indulge in a tradition of covering themselves with foam to honour the “academic family” in St Andrews, Scotland on October 20, 2014. Every November the “raisin weekend”, which is held in the university’s Lower College Lawn, is celebrated and a gift of raisins (now foam) is traditionally given by first-year students to their elders as a thank you for their guidance. In exchange, they receive a receipt in Latin. By Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

SCOTUS Split On Voter ID

Oct 20 2014 @ 3:20pm

In a ruling issued at the unusual hour of 5 am on Saturday morning, the Court allowed Texas’s voter ID law to remain in place for the upcoming elections, citing concerns about disrupting the voting process. But not all of the justices were on board:

A majority of justices rejected an emergency request from the Department of Justice and civil-rights groups to keep the state from enacting a law that requires citizens to produce prescribed forms of photo identification before they could cast a ballot, while three justices—Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—dissented. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” wrote Ginsburg.

The order was delayed, apparently, because Ginsburg insisted on issuing a dissenting opinion. Rick Hasen digs into her six-page dissent, which he sees as laying the groundwork for a future battle:

Importantly, Ginsburg concluded that the effect of the law in its entirety would be to diminish voter confidence in the system. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” she wrote.

Read On

A Smashed Pumpkin Festival

Oct 20 2014 @ 3:00pm

Caroline Bankoff recaps one of the stranger stories from this weekend:

Keene, New Hampshire’s annual Pumpkin Festival – which features a community-wide effort to “set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place,” according to CBS Boston – saw at least 14 arrests and dozens of injuries this weekend as hordes of Keene State College students and their guests took to the small town’s streets for no apparent reason other than to cause trouble. The Boston Globe reports that hundreds of people were seen “throwing bottles, uprooting street signs, and setting things on fire,” as well as overturning cars and dumpsters. Cops outfitted in SWAT gear responded with “tear gas, tasers, and pepper spray.” The Keene Police Department claims that one group of rioters “threatened to beat up an elderly man” while others threatened the lives of the cops, who had to call for backup from nearby towns.

Will Bunch raises his eyebrows:

[I]f you have a few minutes, read the news accounts of what happened in New Hampshire – the youths who set fires and threw rocks or pumpkins were described as “rowdy” or “boisterous” or participants in “unrest.” Do you remember such genteel language to describe the protesters in [Ferguson] Missouri? Me neither. …

Read On