“links” Category

Shawn’s Thoughts On the iPhone Event

From Shawn Blanc’s thoughts on Tuesday’s iPhone event:

Alas, Apple still has issues with off-device photo storage, syncing, etc. It’d be great if Apple took that same energy for innovation they are putting on the iPhone’s camera (hardware and software side) and devote it to vastly improving photo storage and organization with iCloud and multiple devices.

This is easily my biggest pain-point in day-to-day use with my iPhone.

September 11th, 2013

“Worth A Thousand Words”

Patrick Rhone on Tuesday’s iPhone event:

The real story, in my opinion, is the one worth a thousand words on each of those aforementioned tech blogs but not getting near that sort of coverage — the new camera in the iPhone 5S. The camera? Yes, the camera.

September 11th, 2013

Careers At Booking.com (Sponsor)

Thanks to Booking.com for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed.

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Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

September 10th, 2013

Obama’s Constitutional Lesson

Ross Douthat:

The official “lesson” that the president’s words and choices are delivering is not one that actually elevates Congress back to its Article I level of authority. Rather, it’s one that treats Congress as a kind of ally of last resort, whose backing remains legally unnecessary for warmaking (as the White House keeps strenuously emphasizing, and as its conduct regarding Libya necessarily implies), and whose support is only worth seeking for pragmatic and/or morale-boosting reasons once other, extra-constitutional sources of legitimacy (the U.N. Security Council, Britain, etc.) have turned you down. The precedent being set, then, is one of presidential weakness, not high-minded constitutionalism: Going to Congress is entirely optional, and it’s what presidents do when they’re pitching wars that they themselves don’t fully believe in, and need to rebuild credibility squandered by their own fumbling and failed alliance management. What future White House would look at that example and see a path worth following?


Initially, I was positive about President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military attack on Syria. But after Obama and John Kerry’s continued insistence that they were not seeking authorization because they are constitutionally required to, and that a “no” vote does not bar them from attacking Syria, I began re-considering it.

With that in mind, it’s clear that the Obama administration hasn’t sought approval because they believe the executive branch shouldn’t be able to unilaterally initiate military action (Libya should make their beliefs on it very clear), but rather because they lost British support for the effort and would not be able to gain authorization from the U.N. Security Council, and need some kind of legitimacy. As Douthat says, seeking congressional authorization is only a last resort.

That’s not positive. It’s inept, and it’s infuriating.

September 4th, 2013

“The Boy Who Played With Fusion”

Popular Science’s Tom Clynes has an excellent profile of Taylor Wilson, a high schooler who built a fusion reactor:

Almost from the beginning, it was clear that the older of the Wilsons’ two sons would be a difficult child to keep on the ground. It started with his first, and most pedestrian, interest: construction. As a toddler in Texarkana, the family’s hometown, Taylor wanted nothing to do with toys. He played with real traffic cones, real barricades. At age four, he donned a fluorescent orange vest and hard hat and stood in front of the house, directing traffic. For his fifth birthday, he said, he wanted a crane. But when his parents brought him to a toy store, the boy saw it as an act of provocation. “No,” he yelled, stomping his foot. “I want a real one.”
This is about the time any other father might have put his own foot down. But Kenneth called a friend who owns a construction company, and on Taylor’s birthday a six-ton crane pulled up to the party. The kids sat on the operator’s lap and took turns at the controls, guiding the boom as it swung above the rooftops on Northern Hills Drive.

To the assembled parents, dressed in hard hats, the Wilsons’ parenting style must have appeared curiously indulgent. In a few years, as Taylor began to get into some supremely dangerous stuff, it would seem perilously laissez-faire. But their approach to child rearing is, in fact, uncommonly intentional. “We want to help our children figure out who they are,” Kenneth says, “and then do everything we can to help them nurture that.”

The story’s worth reading for many reasons, and there are many parts of it worth discussing, but I found the above section to be particularly important. Rather than discourage Wilson’s fascination with what are incredibly dangerous things (including mixing—and setting off in the backyard for family and neighbors—explosives), or see it as something dangerous to him and others, they tried to nurture it. His parents have certainly been indulgent, but they also helped their child to learn enough—and cultivate the right group of supporters around him—to do something very few people of any age are capable of doing.

Some might think that this anecdote doesn’t have much relevance for most parents and most schools with kids who are not as gifted as Wilson (clearly) is. But I think that’s bullshit. Children have a remarkable amount of curiosity. Kids want to learn things about the world around them—in that sense, Wilson is no different from any other kid. What’s different in this case is that his parents, and the number of professors and researchers he contacted, embraced his curiosity and helped give him the tools to explore things he was interested in.

Not every kid needs to achieve something as remarkable as Wilson has. But what I think this shows us is that we are holding children back at home and in schools by not embracing their fascinations and harnessing it toward learning. If a child is fascinated by dinosaurs, is that not a perfect entry-path toward learning about biology, evolution and ecosystems, and even the solar system by way of the extinction of dinosaurs? If a child loves airplanes, isn’t that a great opportunity to learn about aeronautics, and the value of thinking through different designs and testing their effectiveness? And on and on. Children shouldn’t be forced to learn about such things, but parents and teachers can embrace their enthusiasm for certain things and provide them with the resources, tools and—most importantly—the encouragement to explore them further.

September 3rd, 2013

Interleaved Curriculums See Huge Improvements in Retention

In Tampa, a test is underway in eight middle school classrooms to see how effective “interleaved” curriculums are for learning:

Dr. Bjork and others have shown that studying mixed sets of related things — paintings, birds, baseball pitches — greatly improves people’s ability to make quick, accurate distinctions among them, compared with studying as usual, in blocks. Others have found the same improvements when the items being mixed are specific kinds of problems, like calculating volumes, or exponents.

A growing number of cognitive scientists now believe that this cocktail-shaker approach could improve students’ comprehension of a wide array of scientific concepts, whether chemical bonds, parallel evolution, the properties of elementary particles or pre-algebra.

Interleaved curriculums mix questions on related, but distinct, topics. This contrasts with the traditional approach to teaching most of us experienced in school, where students focus exclusively on one concept at a time and repeatedly answer questions about it. This is called “blocked” curriculum.

The Institute of Education Sciences designed the test such that half of each class received “interleaved” homework assignments for two kinds of questions and blocked assignments for another two, while the other half of the class received blocked assignments for the first two kinds of questions and interleaved for the last two.

The test is fairly small, but the results were dramatic: at the end, students were given a surprise cumulative exam of the material covered. Students answered 38 percent of the normal, “blocked” material correctly, and answered 72 percent of the interleaved material correctly.

That small of a test doesn’t confirm interleaving is superior, and certainly doesn’t confirm that it’s superior for all students and all material. But the logic makes sense; by mixing in prior material into homework assignments, students have to go through another step that they don’t have to do while answering blocked questions: they have to identify what the question is asking, and then decide what tool they’ve learned will help them answer it. As a result, they should better understand the material itself, and they should form an association between the tool they’ve learned and the kind of problem it applies to.

In mathematics courses I took, I became very good at learning whatever concept we were focusing on at the moment and applying it to each question by rote. Rather than focus on identifying what the question was asking and figuring out the best way to solve it, I would instead identify the template that each question related to that topic followed, identify each constituent part, and insert them into the concept. Since that was quicker than trying to analyze each question as if it was unique (they nearly always were not), I did whatever would get me to the correct destination the fastest.

In addition, this also resulted in me forgetting material covered toward the beginning of the semester toward the end. I would need to re-learn much of it for final exams. That suggests I wasn’t so much learning the material as learning a mechanical process to follow.

Interleaving is interesting to me because it should help reduce that tendency. Not only will it better force students to interpret what each question is actually asking (and thus better understand whatever topic they learned), but it’s a built-in review of prior material which should reinforce it.

September 3rd, 2013

Encoding.com (Sponsor)

My thanks to Encoding.com for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed.

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September 3rd, 2013

The Misplaced Inequality Obsession

Reihan Salam shows why the focus on inequality as a casual driver of economic maladies is misplaced:

In short, in our 48 largest metro areas, there is no meaningful relationship between inequality and upward mobility.

To explain the chart: There are 48 dots, one for each of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The numbers on the bottom, .38 to .52, measure inequality — the higher the number, the higher the inequality in a given area. The numbers on the left measure absolute mobility – the expected income percentile of a child born poor in those cities. Higher numbers mean greater upward mobility. As you can see, as inequality increases, nothing really happens. There are cities with high inequality and high mobility, low inequality and low mobility, and everything in between.

August 27th, 2013

“Bears Need Highway Overpasses, Too”

Interesting story about over and underpasses in Canada built so wildlife can safely cross a long freeway:

They look, for the most part, like typical pedestrian infrastructure: elliptical or boxy concrete culverts under the highway high enough for a human to pass through, or overpasses that would look entirely familiar to the vehicles passing below. All this highway engineering, though, is meant for the benefit of bears. And cougars, and wolves, and elk.

“We’ve got this important north-south transportation corridor for animals,” Clevenger says of the park, which is located in the Canadian Rockies between Vancouver and Calgary. “But it’s bisected by this important east-west transportation corridor for vehicles.”

Great idea.

August 27th, 2013


The NSA’s capabilities have been used by officers to spy on people they’re interested in:

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

August 27th, 2013

“What’s Lost When Everything Is Recorded”

Quentin Hardy asks a good question: what’s lost when everything is increasingly recorded?

Remember the get-to-know-me chat of a first date or that final (good or bad) conversation with someone you knew for years? Chances are, as time has passed, your memory of those moments has changed. Did you nervously twitch and inarticulately explain your love when you asked your spouse to marry you? Or, as you recall it, did you gracefully ask for her hand, as charming as Cary Grant?

Thanks to our near-endless access to digital recording devices, the less-than-Hollywood version of you will be immortalized on the home computer, or stored for generations in some digital computing cloud.

One thing I’d like to add that’s slightly tangent to his piece is that much of our memories are directly associated with emotions. We don’t just remember the day we graduated high school, but the excitement and nervousness of finishing our childhood and the start of life as an adult. When we think about the death of a friend or family member, we remember the shock upon hearing it, the deep sadness immediately after, and our slow, non-linear path toward accepting it.

Many of these memories, too, result in new emotions that cause us to reflect on our current position in life. Thinking about high school graduation may evoke a longing to go back to high school, a nostalgia for it, or even mild satisfaction that that part of our life is finished because we’re in a much better place now. We may then consider what we did after, and where we are now; the emotions that surface due to that memory may cause us to consider our current position or current events from a different perspective than we would normally.

The emotions we associate with memories, then, are just as important as the literal event itself, or perhaps even more important. Those emotions help spur consideration about what those events mean to us and to our life, and help lead to conclusions about them. They help imbue events—things that we remember to have occurred—with personal meaning. Without those emotions, those events have very little meaning, if any at all.

I wonder, then, how recording—photo, video, captured text from conversations with people—that’s only increasing in reach and fidelity will interact with our method of remembering events and forming meaning. Will peeking back at almost any time in our past and having some kind of documentation for it make our recollection more accurate and therefore provide a deeper emotional understanding of the events and deeper conclusions about them? Will this increasingly perpetual documentation smooth out the peaks in our memory—the big events that stand out from the more mundane events—leading to less emotional analysis of them?

I don’t know. But it’s worth thinking about.

August 21st, 2013

UK: “It is for the police to decide”

After detaining David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, at Heathrow airport for 9 hours under a law meant to allow police to question people that may be involved in planning terrorist attacks, the United Kingdom said this to justify it:

A Home Office spokesman said Monday that the detention was an operational police matter and that neither he nor the police would provide any details. “Schedule 7 forms an essential part of the U.K.’s security arrangements,” the spokesman said. “It is for the police to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to use these powers.”

There you have it. If the UK government wants to detain, harass, and take a journalist’s partner’s electronics based on a terrorism law, it is up to them to decide when it’s necessary.

We will do whatever we want, and you should just shut up. Actually, that’s basically what the UK told the Guardian:

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

You’ve had your debate.

August 20th, 2013

“Our Egyptian Unrealpolitik”

Ross Douthat thinks it’s about time we abandon our unwavering support for Egypt’s regime:

But there also moments when the ground moves, and you have to take a step back and reassess whether the approach that realism seems to dictate is actually realistic. So, for instance: There is a difference between supporting a longstanding, creaking dictatorship on terms negotiated during the Cold War and supporting a second-generation junta that’s just deliberately overturned a democratic election. There is a difference between supporting a leadership, however corrupt, with a proven record of delivering relative stability and a leadership that so far is mostly delivering bloody chaos. And there’s a difference between supporting a government that’s willing to bend to your wishes at crucial moments and a government that seems intent on embarrassing you while telling the world it doesn’t need your help.

Douthat is right. While I think President Obama has largely handled the tumult Egypt correctly over the last two years—that is, he hasn’t jumped in to support any side, and has tried to maintain the U.S.’s close relationship with the Egyptian military—at this point I think it’s clear that trying to use that relationship, and funding, to influence the military’s decisions has failed. The military has crushed the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters despite our attempts to broker a deal and an inclusive government. What good, then, is treading lightly with our remarks and with our military funding? What has it gotten us?

This relationship has provided us with significant influence during Mubarak’s reign and acted as a bridge between Egypt and Israel—the main bulwark of relative stability in the Middle East since the 1970s—but that influence seems to be gone. Pretending that it isn’t, and continuing to provide aid despite that and despite the military government’s massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, only further reduces our influence by making it appear that the U.S. needs its friendly regimes more than they need the U.S.

It’s difficult to know what this path will mean for Egypt and Israel, but it’s rather apparent that maintaining our relationship and funding with absolutely zero strings attached isn’t going to prevent Egypt from heading down it.

August 20th, 2013

PDFpen for iPad from Smile (Sponsor)

Thanks to Smile for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed. If you’ve been thinking about getting PDFpen, this looks like the week to do it.

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Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

August 20th, 2013

Igloo, an intranet you’ll actually like (Sponsor)

Big thanks to Igloo for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed. Igloo is free to use for up to ten people, so if you’re working with a team, you’ve got every reason to give it a try.

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Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

August 5th, 2013