An interesting article on the difficulties of de-biasing language difficulties of de-biasing language, from a machine learning viewpoint. The author notes that simple approaches can hide bias in automated systems without removing it, e.g., if an algorithm is trained on a biased dataset in which "programmer" clusters with words that are more often found on men's resumes, words that might be irrelevant to job qualification. At the same time, the effort is worth making; even if a completely unbiased algorithm isn't possible with current methods in a society with baked-in prejudices, a less-biased one will get better results if the goal is (say) to hire qualified programmers, or make loan decisions based on ability to repay, not on race or gender.

The problem we’re facing in natural language processing (as in any application of machine learning) is that fairness is aspirational and forward looking; data can only be historical, and therefore necessarily reflects the biases and prejudices of the past. Learning how to de-bias our applications is progress, but the only real solution is to become better people.

(via Richard Mateosian, on Copyediting-L.)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
( Jul. 31st, 2018 12:50 pm)
In his ongoing chronicle of official state everything, Kevin Underhill informs us that New Jersey is considering designating an official state microbe.

If they do, this would be the second official state microbe; I imagine someone in New Jersey thinking "Is brewer's yeast the best you can do, Oregon? We invented streptomycin."
The Supreme Court just ruled, 7-2, that the states cannot be required to enforce federal law. The case in front of them was about sports betting. That AP story quotes Justice Alito's decision, someone from the ACLU, and someone from the Cato Institute:

“The court ruled definitively that the federal government can’t force states to enforce federal law. In the immigration context, this means it can’t require state or local officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities,” said Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Over on File 770, Ingvar has been posting the serial adventures of Trigger Snowflake, a sort of parody of old sf pulp magazines and the Sad Puppies. In the latest episode, a court forbids someone to express gratitude "except within Venostationary orbit."

In the comments, Ingvar noted that they're not sure how crazily big Venostationary orbit is. So, I googled, and found that someone had posted the answer a few years back: about a million and a half kilometers. The search results also led me to something I found more interesting, Emily Lakdawalla’s discussion of keeping a comsat in stationary orbit over Mars, which she was looking at in terms of communications with Mars landers.

The calculations, and the task, are tricky because planets aren’t actually uniform spheres, producing gravitational irregularities that cause a “geosynchronous” satellite to drift over time. So, the satellites need fuel, mostly to keep them over the equator, but also to keep them from shifting longitude. Mars's gravitational field is more irregular than Earth (in part because of those huge shield volcanoes), making it much harder/more expensive to keep a geo”stationary” satellite in position.
[personal profile] siderea posted about MassHealth changes a few days ago. The post title is hers, and she notes that she spent quite a bit of time trying to find out what the new rules will be, especially for mental health care. (Do read the comments here.)

(I'm linking because the Davis Square community is pretty local, and this is of interest to people outside Somerville, or who just don't read that journal.)
redbird: Picture of an indri, a kind of lemur, the word "Look!" (indri)
( Jul. 31st, 2017 04:32 pm)
My friend [personal profile] mrissa wrote an excellent essay for the Disabled People Destroy SF kickstarter: Malfunctioning Space Stations.
The city of Boston has put up a climate change website that republishes EPA and other federal government stuff that the current administration has scrubbed:

The top of the home page identifies it as a City of Boston site, and says
The City of Boston wishes to acknowledge and attribute this information to the United States Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies for the decades of work that they have done to advance the fight against climate change. While this information may not be readily available on the agency’s webpage right now, here in Boston we know climate change is real and we will continue to take action to fight it.

I haven't explored very much yet, but there's a lot there.

[cross-posted here and to the [community profile] thisfinecrew community]
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
( Jan. 2nd, 2017 06:03 pm)
Never Getting Back Together (Like, Ever), by Lanna Michaels (lannamichaels), in which Aral Vorkosigan asks Captain Awkward for advice. This is a short, funny Yuletide story, tagged with "crack" and "apologies to Captain Awkward and the Bad Advisor."
redbird: Picture of an indri, a kind of lemur, the word "Look!" (links)
( Jan. 26th, 2015 10:53 am)
Someone at Weather Underground is live-blogging the current (just starting) northeast U.S. snowstorm. In the comments, among the maps and discussions of what models the National Weather Service using, user pegleg666 posted a link to a post-Sandy blog post containing the Cuban poet José Martí's description of the blizzard of 1888 and its aftermath.
Inspired by [ profile] padparadscha's post about seeing one, I have uploaded three more photos of the fire rainbow (aka circumhorizontal arc) that I saw out the bus window last Saturday afternoon. My Flickr (not twitter, damn it) username is rosvicl. I did very minimal photo processing, mostly cropping the images a bit.
An Italian team has discovered that Propionibacterium acnes, the ubiquitous human skin bacterium that causes acne, is also found within domesticated grapevines. The researchers say this is the first known inter-kingdom transfer of a bacterial symbiont, and that it likely happened during the Neolithic.

This specific variety of P. acnes is grape-adapted and an obligate endophyte: it can no longer live on human skin. It does the grapes no harm, and might be benefiting them in some way.

Though this is the first example of a human-to-plant pathogen transfer, the team thinks the same bacterium may live in other domesticated plants, and that other types of bacteria may also have transferred from humans to plants, Campisano said.
John McAfee, founder of the eponymous anti-virus company, is wanted for questioning in a murder case. Officially he is a "person of interest" and there is no arrest warrant; unofficially, he has told Wired that he is hiding out because he fears the police will try to kill him. But he doesn't want to leave Belize.
It shouldn't be necessary to state that mailing live viruses in unlabeled packages is illegal as well as unethical and stupid.

Note that these are being sent by, and to, parents who disapprove of vaccination, so we can assume their kids haven't been vaccinated against hepatitis either.
Whatever else is true, the TSA is demonstrably lying about the safety of those backscatter machines. A large part of their claim is that the radiation penetrates clothing, but not skin.

Their own sample images prove this false: leg bones are clearly visible.

[ profile] compilerbitch's post also discusses different kinds of radiation, and how little is known about the effects of some of them. (Comparisons of the relative danger from those machines and from cosmic rays are meaningless if we don't actually understand the danger of cosmic rays.)
redbird: Picture of an indri, a kind of lemur, the word "Look!" (indri)
( Oct. 19th, 2010 09:26 pm)
[ profile] rozk has taken a break from translating Catullus, and given us "A Poem I Have Waited Thirty-One Years to Write.

It begins "She has been sick so long we forget how much/We hate her still…."
The annual meeting of SF3, Wiscon's parent organization, was on October 3. According to the SF3 blog, the meeting passed two resolutions, one saying that "it is the sense of the SF3 Annual Meeting that rescinding Elizabeth Moon’s GoH invitation would best serve WisCon’s goals and community." and the other a vote of confidence (and chocolate) to the troika for their handling of the situation.

This has been mentioned on the Dreamwidth and LJ Wiscon communities; the post at the SF3 blog is closed to comments, but there's an email address for feedback about these statements. Not having been at the meeting, I have no further information.
Prompted by a long, anti-Muslim and strongly pro-assimilation post by Elizabeth Moon, [ profile] shweta_narayan wrote about the pressure to assimilate and how it has affected her.

This is hard stuff, but worth reading. It's not everyone's experience, but it's real, and difficult, and seldom seen by those of us who are, at least mostly, part of the dominant culture. Because one of the demands, often, is that people should pretend that assimilation was straightforward.

(I may post about what Moon said later, but Shweta's post is worth reading even if you've never heard of Elizabeth Moon.)
redbird: Picture of an indri, a kind of lemur, the word "Look!" (indri)
( Sep. 7th, 2010 08:53 pm)
John Lilly, ideas about dolphin intelligence, and the connections between the military and the 1960s counterculture, via Ken MacLeod.

Bill Higgins did some research on, and produced a nice write-up of, the first ten years of radio astronomy: one amateur astronomer inspired by Janssky's discovery of cosmic radio emissions.

Some kinds of figs and wasps have complicated mutualistic relationships. The female fig trees lure wasps in, and after being pollinated kill and eat the wasps. Wasps do best only visiting male figs; there's an ongoing back-and-forth between tree and insect, in which the wasps can be viewed as trying to "cheat" the trees.

[link fixed; thanks, Bill]
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
( Aug. 5th, 2010 10:34 pm)
Apparently there has been significant turmoil at my old high school: the NY Times is reporting on the third principal to resign in five years, against a background of questions of race and/or socioeconomic discrimination.

Apparently they don't, these days, have a valedictorian. Instead, students are invited to submit speeches to be read at graduation, and the faculty pick one. This year, they picked Justin Hudson, one of the few black students, who talked about the fact that there are so few black or Hispanic students, and so few students from poor neighborhoods. Being the New York Times, they don't actually say "class," much less "institutional racism," but they do quote Hudson on the subject of discrimination in admissions:

“If you truly believe that the demographics of Hunter represent the distribution of intelligence in this city,” he said, “then you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights. And I refuse to accept that.”

As far as I can tell, the main change in demographics from my day is that there are now about as many Asian-American as white students.

According to this story, the high school faculty were much more supportive of Hudson than the Hunter College president; stress between the college and the high school is at least a factor in the turnover in the principal's office.

[Expository lump: Hunter is a selective talented and gifted school, grades 7-12, admission only at the beginning of seventh grade. It gives its own admissions test. Many students get tutoring for the test. This surprised me. My mother says that yes, some people were doing that in my day, but she thought it wouldn't be fair to arrange that for her children. She also didn't think we needed it, which may have been maternal pride but proved correct.

Hunter is part of the City University of New York, under the auspices of Hunter College; at least in my day, it was in theory, among other things, a place for college students to get teaching practice. We were hard on student teachers, but I suspect so are most high school students.]

(I'm posting this largely for myself and for the fellow-Hunterites reading this journal who may not have seen this. My mother, a former president of the alumnae/i association*, wasn't aware of any of it until my brother sent her the link.)
The judge in Perry v. Schwarzenegger has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs: that Proposition 8 is a violation of equal protection and thus unconstitutional. I'm skimming the decision, which [personal profile] cynthia1960 linked to: the judge found the defense (i.e. anti-marriage) witnesses to have no credibility, and pointed out that one of them had said very different things about anti-gay discrimination and the referendum process before he was hired as an "expert."

In addition to the basic good thing, overturning the damned proposition, the decision, which is based on equal protection and due process, gives a history of California marriage and divorce law, lists some of the ways marriage can benefit couples, and notes that is costing the state money. And there are some nice quotes: to deal with the argument that same-sex couples can't procreate, he quotes Antonin Scalia's dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, where he pointed out if moral disapproval of homosexuality is not relevant, there is no basis for denying same-sex couples marriage, and that no, sterility isn't one, as mixed-sex couples who cannot procreate are allowed to marry. Somehow I don't think that's how he meant that dissent to be used.

The judge has stayed his decision on the expectation of appeal, so nothing will happen yet, but this is a good sign.

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