Om Malik, writing last week for The New Yorker:
When I asked John Maeda, the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, why, then, people have turned on the design of the iPhone 7, he pointed out that perhaps these critics “seem to believe that there’s some as yet unimaginable transcendence that can happen in a small, palm-shaped, rectangular device.” Maeda said that he spent time with designers at Sony and felt their frustration designing a television set “because all you can really do is design the rectangle that the TV sits within.… Everything else around that screen really doesn’t matter.” The same problem holds for the iPhone. All that matters is the screen — its size, brightness, and resolution. “Now that we have all those dimensions sated, it’s basically the challenge of designing a TV set all over again,” he added.
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There are algorithms all around us. They suggest which route to take, what song to listen to next, and what articles we might like. The algorithms that author and data scientist Cathy O’Neil is most interested in meet three criteria: They are widespread, secret and unfair — the scoring methods that she says, for example, generate credit scores, keep someone in prison, or deny someone a job. On this week’s What’s The Point, O’Neil discusses her new book, “Weapons of Math Destruction,” which explores the world of algorithmic bias — and makes a call for something new: “algorithmic auditing.”
Below is a partial transcript of the conversation, including O’Neil’s discussion of how algorithmic screening can prevent someone from getting a job.
Jody Avirgan: You pointed out that usually you don’t know why you got [rejected], but even if you know that you didn’t get the job and get frustrated and want answers, it’s not like you can walk into the algorithm’s office and say, “Hey, what happened?” There’s an opaque chain, and no one is truly accountable. It must just be very frustrating.
Cathy O’Neil: And shaming. I think a lot of the examples that I have in the book have a weird characteristic that we don’t think about that much, which is that people are actually shamed when they fail and when they get bad scores. We often in this country associate doing well on “tests” with having some kind of moral uprightness. And I think this is an example where [people] feel, “Am I that broken?” That’s one of the reactions to failing a test. Like it’s an indictment of character.
Avirgan: Even more so than having a hiring manager say, “I don’t trust you,” or having a judge saying, “You’re at risk for parole violation”? When it’s an algorithm it feels more shaming?
O’Neil: You mentioned earlier that one of the problems with these algorithms is that they seem so neutral and objective and unbiased, and they are held up as so authoritative. That’s one of the reasons we give them so much power. But the side effect is that it’s not just “this guy didn’t like me” — it’s that “I failed this scientific measure of my aptitude.”
If you’re a fan of What’s The Point, subscribe on iTunes, and please leave a rating/review — that helps spread the word to other listeners. And be sure to check out our sports show Hot Takedown as well. Have something to say about this episode, or have an idea for a future show? Get in touch by email, on Twitter, or in the comments.
one fantastically weird statement of that meeting was, "sometimes you only get a positive ANA test because you have family members who are positive." Really? R E A L L Y?
Like, I'm pretty sure that even with a genetic predisposition, I wouldn't have been pinged as "abnormal positive" unless a clinically significant amount of these anti-DNA shitheads weren't floating around in my system. And it wasn't my Mom's blood they were testing, okay. So while I appreciate your attempt to comfort me, it came across as "ur blood could be a lie!!1!"
Anyway, I'll be anticipating the rheumatologist to be getting in contact with me sometime this week. Fuck this weak ass body man, I fucking quit.
Truth is always worth writing about. Journalism is supposed to be history written on the run. This is history, and it's running fast right now, from the past into the future. Where is the journalism? In the bits and pieces that are forwarded on FB, the accounts from the ground up as people are beaten and arrested for praying on their own land. Journalists are supposed to be witnesses to events, standing in for those who cannot be there. Now the people themselves are the witnesses, standing in for the journalists, except for the brave few who risk prison -- and the violation of their First Amendment rights -- to spread word of the injustices occurring now.
What I am doing on FB is not reporting but relaying -- in the old days it would have been comparable to serving as 'rewrite', the person in the newspaper office (often an assistant, not a reporter) who would pick up the phone and type up the story that a reporter was phoning in from where it was happening, such as at a trial at the county courthouse. Blogging is a return to old-fashioned broadsheet journalism, the kind where you bought the one page from a kid on the street for a penny, and it said whatever you printed, without regard to journalistic ethics, legal restrictions, and in many cases editorial style, spelling and grammar. It's unedited. It's not reviewed by anyone before it hits print. It is good when it conveys the truth about what is happening in such a way that it holds up under scrutiny -- but it needs more to be true journalism. It's trying, though, and in Standing Rock it's bleeding as it tries. However, it does not have the legal protections that journalists have -- laws concerning blogging have not reached that point. Reporters have shield laws, protecting sources. Bloggers have none. And everything posted on FB is read by innumerable law enforcement agencies up to and including the NSA, CIA and FBI. So, subversively, what is posted about Standing Rock there is also speaking truth to powers that do not acknowledge their presence or readership.
This whole situation reminds me of two historical events. The first is the peaceful protest march led by Mahatma Gandhi in which hundreds and thousands of Indian people lined up to be beaten by police until the police themselves stopped in horror and disgust at what their orders were making them do. It is not enough to hear about this -- rent or view the movie Gandhi and watch i for yourself. The other is the case of John Peter Zenger, who printed the truth about corrupt colonial government and was jailed, but the press never stopped because his wife kept it running, friends came in with news items and the news kept going. He was exonerated -- establishing that truth is a defense against libel, including libel of a public official -- and they kept going.
Information is power. Truth is strength. Freedom of information and freedom of the press are Constitutional civil rights, as is freedom of speech and freedom to assemble peaceably to seek redress for wrongs done. Government behavior at Standing Rock violates all of these.
Welcome back to the Tor.com eBook Club! October’s pick is Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, book 1 in the Eternal Sky epic fantasy trilogy.
“Better a storm crow than a carrion bird.”
This is not a review. The Powers That Be here at Tor.com have asked me to write about Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy as a whole now that it’s available in its entirety for your reading pleasure. Because I love it, you see. I love it so much, now that it is done, that the small criticisms I may have had for the middle book fade into insignificance: it has the kind of conclusion that raises up everything that has gone before, that adds fresh meanings to previous events in the light of new knowledge, new developments, new triumphs and griefs.
I will tell you what I did, when I reached the final page of Steles of the Sky and closed its covers and recovered my emotional balance long enough to stop weeping.
I went looking for music. Not just any music, but music that recalled the sweep and scale of the steppes and the world of the Eternal Sky. It seems inevitable that I should’ve ended up listening to traditional Mongolian music, given the debt that the Qersnyk in Bear’s trilogy owe to Mongolian culture—but this marks the first time I can remember that a novel set in a fantasy world has prompted me to seek out music and art from the cultures that influenced its creation. Because the world that Bear’s created here, in its depth and detail and richness and possibilities, makes me want to know more both about it, and about its influences: it invites its readers to think on broader, stranger, vaster canvases than those to which they’re accustomed.
Talking about something one loves deeply, as a critic or a reviewer, involves making oneself vulnerable. It is always easier to discuss something’s flaws, its technical successes and failures, than it is to talk about the intensely personal impact of the emotional reaction it evokes. When it comes to Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, that emotional reaction strikes me extremely hard. Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky comprise, as a unity, the most powerful story I’ve read in years: a story that subverts the expectations of epic fantasy even as it uses them to create a narrative with mythic resonance and force. I read Range of Ghosts two years ago, and it felt to me like the epic fantasy I’d spent my whole life waiting to read: waiting without ever knowing what precisely I was missing.
Epic fantasy has long been dominated by Tolkien and his inheritors. In recent years epic has come to be represented in the wider sphere by Crapsack World deconstructions of heroes and heroic arcs, in a retreat towards a grim and grey sort of “realism” that deprives fantasy of much of the element of wonder that makes it fantastical. But the Eternal Sky trilogy sidesteps both of these tendencies to go its own way: a way filled with wonder, amazing world-building, heroism and tragedy—and also filled with grit, emotional realism, and a light, ironic, humane sense of humour.
And mythic grandeur: Brit Mandelo said it best in her review of Steles of the Sky:
“[T]he centrality of the mythic, the real import of religion and faith in this novels [is] what makes them stand out as far and above the most fascinating and true-to-label ”epic“ fantasies I’ve read in recent years. These novels recall legends; rather than backgrounding religion as merely part of the landscape, Bear’s Eternal Sky books present genuine and world-structuring (literally) conflicts between religions—none of which are more or less concrete than the others. This interrelation of faiths, of figures and gods and divinities, is the source of much of the power of the climax and denouement of Steles of the Sky.”
Bear sets her trilogy in a world inspired by Central Asia and the Silk Road, by the Chinese kingdoms and Tibet and the Mongolian steppe and the caliphates of Turkey and Iran. The scope of the story stretches the length of a continent, and the peoples of the Celadon Highway and the wider world are varied, diverse, vibrant, and rarely predictable: from the Lizard Folk with their woman-king to an all-female order of scholar-priests in the Uthman Caliphate; from the deadly suns of Erem to the city of Tsarepheth in the lee of a dormant volcano. There are megafauna and ghulim, intelligent bear-people and intriguing tiger-people (the Cho-tse) with complicated relationships to their god. There are dragons and treaties and sacred horses, curses and wizardry and demons, loyalty and treachery, plague and war, love and death.
The trilogy opens with vultures, and it ends with them, too.
The prose is honed, lustrous, precise and pointed as a knife-blade. If it weren’t so sharply visceral, I’d call it “polished” or “elegant,” but it has violence as well as grace. Chiselled, perhaps, is one word for it: it draws me back and sweeps me along with it every time I open a page. It doesn’t efface itself, and I love it for its descriptive brilliance.
But most of all I love this trilogy for its characters. Its many, many characters, all of whom, even the antagonists, feel like real people with real motivations and desires and complexities. Temur, heir to the Great Khagan, hunted by assassins, determined to find Edene, the woman he promised to marry; Samarkar-la, who gave up her position as the elder sister of the Rasan emperor for the chance to have power in her own right as a wizard; Edene, who escapes from captivity to raise an army from the ruins of deadly Erem; Hong-la and Tsering-la, wizards of Tsarepheth who struggle to treat demonic plague and protect refugees; Brother Hsiung and the Cho-tse Hrahima, Temur and Samarkar’s travelling companions. More, many more, all with their own histories and heroisms and regrets.
Saadet, who shares her body with the spirit of her twin brother after he dies, who has vowed vengeance on Temur; Ümmühan, the slave poetess and scholar whose songs and betrayals topple caliphs and affect the fate of armies.
I loved, towards the end of Steles of the Sky, that—reunited—Edene and Temur and Samarkar make a family unit, a political unit, that’s stronger together than it is apart; that Samarkar and Edene’s friendship is fledgling but real. I loved the presence of gods and goddesses, of dragons bound by treaty and battles in the sky, of Samarkar saying “I had an itch in my religion,” and Temur making his great, his terrible, his inevitable bargain with Mother Night.
I don’t have words to express how much, and how deeply, this trilogy affected me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go start reading Range of Ghosts again.
Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky are available now from Tor Books.
Read excerpts from all three novels (and other works by Elizabeth Bear) here on Tor.com
This article was originally published April 18, 2014.
Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode:
The New York Times is buying The Wirecutter, a five-year-old online consumer guide. The Times will pay more than $30 million, including retention bonuses and other payouts, for the startup, according to people familiar with the transaction.
Brian Lam, a former editor at Gawker Media’s Gizmodo, founded The Wirecutter in 2011, and has self-funded the company’s growth. […]
Both sites make their money via affiliate links, which generate revenue when consumers click on them and make purchases via e-commerce sites like Amazon.
Sounds like a good deal for everyone involved. Lam’s success is well-deserved.
I’m in my early 30’s. Having spent my 20’s doing the ‘right’ things (college -> law school -> office job), I have now recognised what was clear all along, namely that this is not for me at all, and that maybe that’s okay. I’ve also realised that maybe it’s okay to not be making the maximum amount I possibly could be, and okay to say ‘no thank you’ to the budding career I have zero interest in in favour of pursuing my passions.
Passions, of course, don’t pay very well, certainly not at first and possibly never. If I quit right now, today, I would be living hand to mouth with virtually no safety net. If I hold on for another 22 months, then I would have a very substantial safety net, enough to cushion me for a decade or more to come (I would still need to work to feed myself, but I would be able to absorb a good number of unexpected financial blows before going into crisis mode), plus put me in a better position in old age. There is no in between here.
Herein lies the quandary: I could die in six months’ time, in which case I would rather quit now and take my chances. On the other hand, if I did quit now and then didn’t die shortly afterwards, 2020!Me’s life is likely to be significantly more precarious and uncomfortable than it would be if Present!Me stays for the 22 months. I should add here that I tend to be a lot more productive in the creative area I want to pursue when I feel immediately secure, so this isn’t even just about my own comfort, but potentially impacts the quality of the work I want to do (and of course the point of this whole exercise is to give myself a better chance of producing quality work).
Knowing myself, I will probably do the 22 months. I don’t hate my job, have no reason to expect my imminent demise beyond the fact that it could happen to anyone, and the job comes with a fixed end date at the end of the period, so I’m less likely to fall into the trap of just putting it off and putting it off until it becomes too late. I’m just having a hard time reconciling myself to the ‘what if’ part right now right now. Help please?
My recommendation is that you work at your lucrative career for 22 more months and create the financial cushion that will give you the maximum amount of choices and freedom to do the thing you want to do. You will be setting yourself up to be maximally creative and happy if you have that cushion. We romanticize artistic struggle, but the plain truth is: POVERTY SUCKS. It is tedious and draining and boring and awful and limiting. It’s not cooler or liberating or inspiring. Don’t choose it if you don’t have to.
Since your email subject line was “I could die tomorrow, or I might not die for 50 years,” that’s not my only recommendation. You are thinking in terms of LIFE and DEATH and PRECIOUS TIME YOU’LL NEVER, EVER GET BACK. You need to get connected to your passions right now, TODAY.
Some ways to do that, listed in no particular order of importance:
- Collect your heroes. Read Steal Like An Artist and choose your hall of virtual mentors. Whose art makes you want to make art? Dig into their work and read, watch, listen intently.
- Create rituals. Look into The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and whether or not the “spiritual” language works for you, think about trying out her daily practices (free-writing three pages every morning) and weekly practices (The Artist’s Date, where you spend 1-2 hours by yourself exploring and giving yourself permission to daydream and absorb and create).
- Get social. What is a professional group, MeetUp group, online community or other social network of people who do what you want to do? Join one of those and practice saying out loud to other people what it is that you want to do. “My name is ______ and I’m an attorney but I also _______ and want to be a ______.“
- Find the local scene. Chances are that where you live someone is doing the thing you want to be doing with your life. Subscribe to the local theater company. Go to the local indie film screening. Get on the list for art openings at galleries, readings, humanities festivals. Sit on boards, volunteer behind the scenes if you can. In a careerist sense this is “building your network.” In a creative sense this is “filling the well.”
- Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Is there an evening or weekend class in what you want to be doing that you could take? Try something out. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to be immediately supporting yourself with this creative pursuit. Experiment and play.
- Use your breaks. Do you get vacation time at this nice law job of yours? Can you plan to take some of it specifically around a film festival or artists’ retreat or concert or play you want to see? Plan out your vacation time over the next 22 months and make sure you’re giving yourself regular intervals to recharge and soak up what you want to do.
- Use your hard-won education and skills in service of your future field. There’s a great organization in Chicago called Lawyers For The Creative Arts. Is there one of those where you live? Creative folks need contracts and all the “boring” paperwork that you’re trying to flee from. This is a way you can make yourself valuable, meet people, and start to transition your life toward where you want it to be.
- Be vigilant about your finances. Maximize retirement contributions and anything your firm matches. Sock away as much money as you can in your FU fund. Shrink your living expenses so that they’ll be manageable during the transition time when you might not be earning quite as much. If you’ve got fancy health insurance, take advantage of it and get every nice thing you might want done now.
If you can start to connect to the work you want to be doing, I predict one of two things will happen:
a) It will make the next 22 months fly by, and you’ll be able to get through the boring days more easily because you know it’s ending soon and because you have good, creative, fun, nourishing stuff to think about.
b) Work will become even more unbearable by comparison and you’ll start hearing klaxons saying “GET THE FUCK OUT RIGHT NOW” so you will in order to save your own life. You always have that option any time, right?
Try one of the above suggestions, or all, or none as it makes sense for your life. Above all: Start the work. If there is a piece of work that is screaming inside you because it wants to be made, then get started, somehow, some way. That feeling you have right now that says “I have wasted so much time doing things I don’t care about already, how can I waste one second more?” is valuable, so use it, and don’t wait for 22 months to pass. But also, don’t eff up your finances and make life artificially harder for yourself because you think that “being a creative person” is some magical black & white special category that you have to burn your life down to enter. You’re already that person if you want to be. It’s not either/or, now/never. Just, start. Start in some small way to do the work you want to do.
This is something of a long shot, but let’s give it a try anyway.
The above picture is one my parents took in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau. My father uses it in a class he teaches, and I’m told that every time he does, somebody asks, “who’s that?” Who the statue depicts is irrelevant to the subject matter of the class, but people want to know anyway.
Problem is, my parents didn’t take a picture of the plaque below the statue (they didn’t expect it to be relevant), so they have no idea. Attempts to pop the shot into Google Image Search have helpfully informed them that it’s a picture of a statue; attempts to Google “bust in Oberammergau” and similar phrases have turned up nothing useful, even when attempted in German. So our last-ditch option is to post it here and see whether anybody can tell us who we’re looking at — possibly somebody equipped with more than Google Translate, who can conduct a more nuanced German-language search.
(No, they don’t remember where they were in Oberammergau when they took the picture, either. Otherwise I could attempt some magic with Google Street View.)
All We've Left Behind (11190 words) by out_there
Fandom: Prison Break
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Alexander Mahone/Michael Scofield
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Space, IN SPACE!
For ten times the price, Alex could have been on a better ship with a new stasis system; he could have closed his eyes on Earth and not opened them until they arrived on S0N-A104-5709. But no one with that sort of money ran away to a settlement planet.
Rehearsal is choir-only tonight, then dress with orchestra tomorrow, then performance on Wednesday. After that, I'm free until mid-November, when we start rehearsals for the Xmas Oratorio, to be presented on New Year's Eve.
I made more progress in the review book while at the Laundromat, and should finish easily before I have to write the review this weekend.
John Galt's terrible speech brick in Atlas Shrugged, though, makes a little more sense if you think of it as a failed parody of Capital's chapter 1.