Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 4th, 2016

Ad hoc—or, perhaps, ad lib—horseradish sauce for pot roast

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I got an excellent boneless chuck roast of the type that’s tied in a tight cylinder (4.5 lbs) and salted, peppered, and browned both ends in my Staub 3.25 qt cast-iron round cocotte, then chopped small 1/2 white onion, 3 large white domestic mushrooms, 1 carrot, and some celery and mixed that and put it as a bed in the bottom of the cocotte and placed the (browned) roast on top. I added a good pinch of dried thyme to veg and roast, then put the lid on it and have let it sit in a 200ºF for eight hours.

To serve with, I took about 1/2 c sour cream (crème fraîche might be even better, but I failed to buy it) and mixed in 3/4 tsp kosher salt, 3/4 tsp ground white pepper, a good Tbsp of locally made horseradish that, though it has full horseradish flavor, is unusually mild, and about 3/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 3/4 tsp sugar. It’s a particularly tasty batch of sauce, and I have to say I’m looking forward to dinner. The Worcestershire sauce I’m using is the real deal: malt vinegar and no high-fructose corn syrup.

And I have a nice Petite Syrah to go with. Life can be good, intermittently.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2016 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Beef, Food, Recipes

The World Comes to a Tiny Town: Eastport’s Object Lesson in Globalization

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Fascinating article in the Atlantic by James Fallows: the links and ties of a global economy are everywhere.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2016 at 4:47 pm

How algorithms rule our working lives

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Cathy O’Neil reports in the Guardian:

A few years ago, a young man named Kyle Behm took a leave from his studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He was suffering from bipolar disorder and needed time to get treatment. A year and a half later, Kyle was healthy enough to return to his studies at a different university. Around that time, he learned from a friend about a part-time job. It was just a minimum-wage job at a Kroger supermarket, but it seemed like a sure thing. His friend, who was leaving the job, could vouch for him. For a high-achieving student like Kyle, the application looked like a formality.

But Kyle didn’t get called in for an interview. When he inquired, his friend explained to him that he had been “red-lighted” by the personality test he’d taken when he applied for the job. The test was part of an employee selection program developed by Kronos, a workforce management company based outside Boston. When Kyle told his father, Roland, an attorney, what had happened, his father asked him what kind of questions had appeared on the test. Kyle said that they were very much like the “five factor model” test, which he’d been given at the hospital. That test grades people for extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to ideas.

At first, losing one minimum-wage job because of a questionable test didn’t seem like such a big deal. Roland Behm urged his son to apply elsewhere. But Kyle came back each time with the same news. The companies he was applying to were all using the same test, and he wasn’t getting offers.

Roland Behm was bewildered. Questions about mental health appeared to be blackballing his son from the job market. He decided to look into it and soon learned that the use of personality tests for hiring was indeed widespread among large corporations. And yet he found very few legal challenges to this practice. As he explained to me, people who apply for a job and are red-lighted rarely learn that they were rejected because of their test results. Even when they do, they’re not likely to contact a lawyer.

Behm went on to send notices to seven companies, including Home Depot and Walgreens, informing them of his intent to file a class-action suit alleging that the use of the exam during the job application process was unlawful. The suit, as I write this, is still pending. Arguments are likely to focus on whether the Kronos test can be considered a medical exam, the use of which in hiring is illegal under theAmericans with Disabilities Act of 1990. If this turns out to be the case, the court will have to determine whether the hiring companies themselves are responsible for running afoul of the ADA, or if Kronos is.

But the questions raised by this case go far beyond which particular company may or may not be responsible. Automatic systems based on complicated mathematical formulas, such as the one used to sift through Behm’s job application, are becoming more common across the developed world. And given their scale and importance, combined with their secrecy, these algorithms have the potential to create an underclass of people who will find themselves increasingly and inexplicably shut out from normal life.


It didn’t have to be this way. After the financial crash, it became clear that the housing crisis and the collapse of major financial institutions had been aided and abetted by mathematicians wielding magic formulas. If we had been clear-headed, we would have taken a step back at this point to figure out how we could prevent a similar catastrophe in the future. But instead, in the wake of the crisis, new mathematical techniques were hotter than ever, and expanding into still more domains. They churned 24/7 through petabytes of information, much of it scraped from social media or e-commerce websites. And increasingly they focused not on the movements of global financial markets but on human beings, on us. Mathematicians and statisticians were studying our desires, movements, and spending patterns. They were predicting our trustworthiness and calculating our potential as students, workers, lovers, criminals.

This was the big data economy, and it promised spectacular gains. A computer program could speed through thousands of résumés or loan applications in a second or two and sort them into neat lists, with the most promising candidates on top. This not only saved time but also was marketed as fair and objective. After all, it didn’t involve prejudiced humans digging through reams of paper, just machines processing cold numbers. By 2010 or so, mathematics was asserting itself as never before in human affairs, and the public largely welcomed it.

Most of these algorithmic applications were created with good intentions. The goal was to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements in any number of fields – whether it was a way to locate the worst-performing teachers in a school or to estimate the chances that a prisoner would return to jail.

These algorithmic “solutions” are targeted at genuine problems. School principals cannot be relied upon to consistently flag problematic teachers, because those teachers are also often their friends. And judges are only human, and being human they have prejudices that prevent them from being entirely fair – their rulings have been shown to be harsher right before lunch, when they’re hungry, for example – so it’s a worthy goal to increase consistency, especially if you can rest assured that the newer system is also scientifically sound.

The difficulty is that last part. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2016 at 2:29 pm

Hypnosis and the conscious awareness of intentions

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Consciousness is an interesting phenomenon, and I loved Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind—a great read and fascinating book even though I have serious doubts about the validity of the theory. More recently, I have found Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious to be even more fascinating and much more solidly grounded in experiments and evidence. It’s clear that our unconscious is the core of who we are and our conscious selves merely froth on that core: aware of some things (though not, of course, aware of the unconscious (by definition)), but more or less along for the ride. Certainly consciousness is not necessary (cf. animals), but it does help in the matter of memes.

Peter Lush and Zoltan Dienes have an interesting post in the OUP blog on the interplay between consciousness and intention:

A hypnotist tells a subject that their outstretched arm will begin to rise upward as though tied to an invisible balloon. To their astonishment, the subject’s arm rises just as suggested, and seemingly without their intention. While it may appear as though the subject is being controlled by the hypnotist, it is well established that nobody can be hypnotised against their will. Hypnosis therefore seems to present a paradox; to respond to a hypnotic suggestion that your arm will move is to voluntarily perform an apparently involuntarily action. How can this hypnotic response be explained?

Unconscious intentions

Over 30 years ago Benjamin Libet and colleagues conducted a series of classic experiments in which participants watched a clock and reported the time that they experienced an urge to lift their finger. Because brain activity thought to drive the movement was found to occur earlier than the reported time of the urge, these experiments suggest that we become conscious of our intentions after they have been set in motion. The wider implications of Libet’s investigations into the timing of intentions and the many studies he inspired are still contentious, but his method of measuring the time between the subjective experience of intending and the moment of an action provides a relatively simple way of investigating our conscious experience of intending and its relationship to hypnosis.

iencing the act as involuntary. The cold control theory of hypnosis argues that to respond hypnotically is to perform an intentional action whilst maintaining an experience of involuntariness about your action. So, at the unconscious level, the action is intended, but is experienced as involuntary because the mental state that would usually be directed at it to form the conscious experience of intending is inaccurate. By analogy with optical illusions in which conscious experience is not veridical, hypnotic responding might therefore be considered an ‘agentic’ illusion – to respond hypnotically is to consciously (and voluntarily) experience a voluntary act as involuntary.

Hypnotic responding as an ability

Scientific research into hypnosis makes use of hypnosis scales to divide the population by the ability to respond to hypnotic suggestions, or “hypnotisability”. To generate a hypnotisability score, a standardised hypnotic induction is followed by a sequence of suggestions of varying difficulty, and the subject’s response recorded for each suggestion. The resulting score can then be used to assign participants to low, medium, or high hypnotisability categories. If hypnotic responding requires maintaining a conscious experience of involuntariness whilst performing a voluntary act, we might expect these groups to differ in the relationship between their intentions and the conscious experiences that are about them. So, some highly hypnotisable people may be more easily able to avoid having accurate conscious experiences of their intentions because their intentions are less accessible to their conscious mental states. We used Libet’s timing of intention task to explore this hypothesis, asking people of varying hypnotisability to report the position of a fast moving clock hand at the moment they became aware of their intention to lift their finger.

Mindfulness of intentions

We also measured the timing of an intention to move in a group of experienced Buddhist mindfulness meditators. Mindfulness meditation involves the cultivation of awareness of mental states, including intentions, and Buddhist scholars have argued that meditators should have greater access to their intentions and should therefore be aware of their intentions earlier than non-meditators. The figure below shows the time between the moment of the finger movement and the reported time of conscious awareness of the intention to move. As predicted, highly hypnotisable people reported their awareness of intention as occurring late – in fact, after they had actually moved, while less hypnotisable people and mindfulness meditators reported earlier awareness of intentions. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2016 at 10:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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