July 2016 Articles

Why the Juno mission is important to space science, from Kenneth Chang at the New York Times:

Jupiter, most likely the first planet formed after the sun, is believed to hold the keys to understanding the origins of our solar system. How much water it contains and the possible presence of a rocky core could reveal where in the solar system Jupiter was created and provide clues to the early days of other planets.

Juno’s instruments are designed to precisely measure the magnetic and gravitational fields of Jupiter and the glow of microwaves emanating from within. That, for instance, will give hints about storm systems like the visible Great Red Spot, which has persisted for centuries, although it has been shrinking.

The New York Times also put together some terrific graphics and video on the mission.


P.J. Vogt · Reply All ·

On the second half of the latest Reply All episode, a podcast about the Internet from Gimlet Media, PJ researched the origins of the word “yas”. Hint, it’s not from a Lady Gaga concert. It’s from gay culture in the 1980’s. Well worth the listen (16 minutes).

A terrific Dr. Seuss read if you haven’t already:

Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches Had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches Had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all. But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.” With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort “We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!” And whenever they met some, when they were out walking, They’d hike right on past them without even talking…

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, SASE, is an international, inter-disciplinary academic organization. The academic disciplines represented in SASE include economics, sociology, political science, organization studies, management, psychology, law and history.

SASE had a panel presentation on Sunday, June 26th with speakers including Kieran Healy, Maciej Ceg?owski, Stuart Russell, and AnnaLee Saxenian.

From Kieran’s comments:

In its original sense, the term “moral economy” refers to some kind of informal but forceful collective control over the market. It’s the original wisdom of crowds. It puts justice over efficiency, fairness over freedom, and community expectations over individual opportunity. Its most prominent exponents, E.P. Thompson (1971) and James Scott (1977), had in mind, respectively, 18th century English crowds angry about the price of bread, and norms of reciprocity amongst crop-farming peasants in 20th century Southeast Asia. Both settings are quite far removed from the moralized, technologically enabled but passive-aggressive struggle that unfolded in the Uber I took on Friday evening, on my way here from the airport. The 101 was backed up all the way from the Bridge to Portola. My driver got agitated. “I know a shortcut”, he said, and exited on to some surface streets south of the Mission. “But Google Maps says everything is completely jammed”, I replied, “You should just say on the highway.” “If I cut over to Folsom, it’ll be faster,” he said. “No, just do what the Google Maps Voice says, for God’s sake. It knows better than you! Don’t make me give you a bad rating!” I didn’t say that last part out loud, of course, because I am a conflict averse person. In my mind’s eye, the ghost of E.P. Thompson looked at me in a disgusted sort of way.

The opening to his talk at the SASE panel at Berkeley, reproduced below:

I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

The feeling of competence, control and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.

But as anyone who’s worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

Today we are embarked on a great project to make computers a part of everyday life. As Marc Andreessen memorably frames it, “software is eating the world”. And those of us writing the software expect to be greeted as liberators.

Our intentions are simple and clear. First we will instrument, then we will analyze, then we will optimize. And you will thank us.

But the real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.

The connected world we’re building may resemble a computer system, but really it’s just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Approaching the world as a software problem is a category error that has led us into some terrible habits of mind.

The Gap: Listening

Ezra Klein · Vox ·

The complete title for Ezra’s latest piece is Understanding Hillary: The Clinton America sees isn’t the Clinton colleagues know. Why are they so different? The quality Ezra finds is one that defines Hillary Clinton to her coworkers; she listens.

This is an effort to answer a question I’ve been struggling with since at least 2008: Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?

I’ve come to call it “the Gap.” There is the Hillary Clinton I watch on the nightly news and that I read described in the press. She is careful, calculated, cautious. Her speeches can sound like executive summaries from a committee report, the product of too many authors, too many voices, and too much fear of offense…

And then there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will. Their Hillary Clinton is spoken of in superlatives: brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective. She inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among former foes…

The answers startled me in their consistency. Every single person brought up, in some way or another, the exact same quality they feel leads Clinton to excel in governance and struggle in campaigns. On the one hand, that makes my job as a reporter easy. There actually is an answer to the question. On the other hand, it makes my job as a writer harder: It isn’t a very satisfying answer to the question, at least not when you first hear it.

Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens.

A major milestone in history.

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, who sacrificed personal ambition for her husband’s political career and then rose to be a globally influential figure, became the first woman to accept a major party’s presidential nomination on Thursday night, a prize that generations of American women have dreamed about for one of their own.