Later On

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Archive for August 9th, 2017

Kale and Collards with Shallots, Garlic, Mushroom, and (shelled) Pistachio Nuts

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I just made this (and made it up), and it turned out quite tasty.

1.5 tablespoons Enzo Bold olive oil
1/2 tablespoon Enzo Crushed Fresno Chilies Olive Oil
2 bunches scallions, sliced
2 teaspooons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 good size Crimini mushrooms, quartered

1 “preserved” lemon
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup Amontillado sherry
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar (Eden’s)
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1 bunch collards, stems minced, leaves chopped
1 bunch curly-leaf kale, stems minced, leaves chopped

shredded cheese

First, make “preserved” lemon: rinse off lemon, cut off ends, cut into slabs and then into dice. You can remove seeds if you want; I generally don’t bother. Put the lemon in small bowl and add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1.5 teaspoons sugar. Mix, let sit 20 minutes.

Next, mince the garlic and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the vegetables: chopping the kale and collards. The garlic should sit at least 10 minutes before adding to the hot oil.

Heat oil in large (11″) sauté pan, then add scallions, salt, pepper, and the minced stems of the greens and sauté for a few minutes until they wilt. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue to sauté, stirring often, until the mushrooms release their liquid. This will take a few minutes.

Add remaining ingredients. You’ll have to add the greens a little at a time, allowing them to cook down before adding more. Once they are all in the pan, stir well, cover, and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check to make sure it doesn’t get dry; add more liquid as needed.

Serve in bowls with shredded cheese on top.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

n the Age of Google DeepMind, Do the Young Go Prodigies of Asia Have a Future?

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Dawn Chan in the New Yorker:

Choong-am Dojang is far from a typical Korean school. Its best pupils will never study history or math, nor will they receive traditional high-school diplomas. The academy, which operates above a bowling alley on a narrow street in northwestern Seoul, teaches only one subject: the game of Go, known in Korean as baduk and in Chinese as wei qi. Each day, Choong-am’s students arrive at nine in the morning, find places at desks in a fluorescent-lit room, and play, study, memorize, and review games—with breaks for cafeteria meals or an occasional soccer match—until nine at night.
Choong-am, which is the product of a merger between four top Go academies, is currently the biggest of a handful of _dojang_s in South Korea. Many of the students enrolled in these schools have been training since they were four or five, perhaps playing informally at first but later growing obsessed with the game’s beauty and the competitiveness and camaraderie that surround it. (Indeed, the word “dojang” more commonly refers to a martial-arts academy.) Lee Hajin, the secretary-general of the International Go Federation, told me that she left home when she was nine. With only her clothes and a stuffed-toy poodle backpack that her parents gave her for Christmas, she moved across the country, into the home of a Go master and his wife.
The aim of all serious Go pupils is ultimately to be designated a professional. This makes them eligible to compete in Asia’s pro tournaments, which are broadcast on TV and sponsored by companies such as Samsung, LG, and the instant-noodle maker Nongshim. At the highest-level tournaments, first-place winners can win as much as three hundred thousand dollars. But the competition is fierce. It is estimated that, of South Korea’s three hundred and twenty pros, only around fifty are able to earn a living on tournament winnings. Sometimes, after losing an especially important match, players joke about drowning themselves in the Han River. Lee Hajin recalls having such bad insomnia before important games that her teacher’s wife would bring her a shot of whiskey, diluted in a cup of water, to help her fall asleep.
Go itself is simple in design but complex in its possible outcomes: two players, one using white stones and the other black, take turns placing their pieces on a square board, capturing territory and boxing each other out. If a child dedicating her life to such a game seems unfathomable elsewhere in the world, it makes more sense in East Asia, where Go has a twenty-five-hundred-year cultural history. Through the centuries, princes, generals, monks, and farmers have played the game, not only to win but to build character and develop mental acumen. “It’s also psychology, philosophy—it’s art,” Fan Hui, the reigning European Go champion, told me. In Tang-dynasty China, the game was considered one of the four arts that a cultivated gentleman ought to master, along with calligraphy, painting, and playing the lute. So many East Asian leaders have studied it that political scientists are wont to identify traces of Go strategy in the continent’s real-world conflicts. Henry Kissinger, for instance, argued that during the Taiwan Strait crisis of the nineteen-fifties, “both sides were playing by wei qi rules.” Today, Seoul’s Myongji University even offers degrees in Go studies. According to Daniela Trinks, a professor in the department, one in four Koreans knows how to play the game.
But recent events could pose a threat to Go’s cultural supremacy. Earlier this week, one of the world’s top players, Lee Sedol, lost two high-profile matches—the first of a planned five—to AlphaGo, an artificial-intelligence program created by Google DeepMind. The same program beat Fan Hui, 5–0, back in October. Until then, Go had been considered the only popular two-player board game that humans would continue to dominate for the foreseeable future, its array of outcomes still too dizzyingly vast for even increasingly smart machines to pick out the best moves. That, of course, has now changed. Even if Lee miraculously comes back to win his remaining three games, the first of which takes place on Saturday, in Seoul, AlphaGo promises to grow even more formidable. (“If there’s a limit to improvement, we haven’t hit it yet,” Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s founder and C.E.O., told me.) What’s notable, too, is how quickly AlphaGo improves compared with humans. The program lost two quick, unofficial matches with Fan Hui that were scheduled between longer, official ones, which the computer won. Five months later, it is capable of defeating Lee, who is ranked far higher than Fan. According to Ben Lockhart, one of the best amateur Go players born outside East Asia, Fan “could have trained his whole life and would never have gotten close to where Lee Sedol is.”
Lockhart, as it happens, is the lone American pupil currently enrolled at Choong-am. He is an anomaly at the dojang, not just because he is a foreigner but also because he has memories of a life without intensive Go. When he was in high school, in Brooklyn, playing the game but also “smoking a lot of weed and listening to Noam Chomsky in Prospect Park,” his peers in Seoul were already deep into their training regimens. Now, however, Lockhart is more disciplined. Last Friday, he began his morning by trying to make progress through a book of six hundred Go problems. These exercise books are a common component of Go pedagogy, as are actual matches and occasional lectures by professionals. Students sometimes memorize parts of games, or even whole games, from the canon. They also practice specific skills, such as “reading,” or peering into the future at branching paths of possibility—an activity that’s not dissimilar to the so-called tree-search components of AlphaGo and many other game-playing A.I.s.
In the long course of their training, students may play upwards of ten thousand games, developing intuitions about which moves tend to work out well and which don’t. AlphaGo, analogously, improves by playing itself, with the added advantage that it can flit through games quickly, while humans take time to think and place stones on a board. (In January, the DeepMind team published a paper in Nature noting that one of AlphaGo’s neural networks had played more than a million games in a single day.) But there is one particularly interesting difference between a dojang’s pedagogical program and AlphaGo’s: human students receive active guidance from teachers, who can draw attention to specific mistakes or suggest generalized patterns to seek out or avoid. According to DeepMind’s most recent account, although AlphaGo’s learning is shaped by observations of expert human games, it doesn’t receive targeted advice from any outsiders.
Although some Go players are eager to see whether computers will unlock undiscovered moves and strategies, others seem despondent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 3:26 pm

A Summer School for Mathematicians Fed Up with Gerrymandering

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Dawn Chan writes in the New Yorker:

On a late-spring evening in Boston, just as the sun was beginning to set, a group of mathematicians lingered over the remains of the dinner they had just shared. While some cleared plates from the table, others started transforming skewers and hunks of raw potato into wobbly geodesic forms. Justin Solomon, an assistant professor at M.I.T., lunged forward to keep his structure from collapsing. “That’s five years of Pixar right there,” he joked. (Solomon worked at the animation studio before moving to academia.) He and his collaborators were unwinding after a long day making preparations for a new program at Tufts University—a summer school at which mathematicians, along with data analysts, legal scholars, schoolteachers, and political scientists, will learn to use their expertise to combat gerrymandering.
The school, which began on Monday, is the brainchild of a young Tufts professor named Moon Duchin, who specializes in geometry. It has drawn participants from France, Israel, Japan, Singapore, and forty U.S. states. Some of Duchin’s students plan to train as expert witnesses, or to run for office. One mathematician enrolled out of a Christian sense of justice; another cited the day-to-day frustrations of living in a severely gerrymandered Florida district. Yet another applicant wrote, “Until very recently, I thought doing anything about this was a hopeless cause.” At the dinner, Duchin acknowledged that she was “kind of devastated by this election,” but both she and her colleagues were careful to point out that their venture is strictly nonpartisan. It was inspired by a simple question: What if there are well-researched areas of math that could simplify, or at least systematize, the fraught process of redistricting?
Gerrymandering has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. political system since before the very first Congress was elected. The Times editorial board recently called the issue “as old as it is corrosive to a representative democracy,” and last year, in a book titled “Ratf**ked,” the journalist David Daley wrote that “Democrats and Republicans alike have the sense that something in our politics is broken, that Congress is not responsive to the will of the people.” Although Americans of all political persuasions are able to agree on the problem, solutions, for now, are in short supply. In part, this is because even the most equitable districts are drawn according to subjective factors. A strangely shaped one might be a symptom of political bias, or it might merely reflect the local geography. Many states, moreover, explicitly call on their mapmakers to consider the needs of so-called communities of interest. As Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, told me, “There are districts that were drawn to keep communities in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains together, because people said, ‘Gosh, our community of interest is we get wildfires. And we really care about having somebody represent us to make sure we get better fire protection.’ ” Conversely, someone could make the case that a district giving Democrats and Republicans proportional representation is unfair, because it precludes candidates who represent Spanish speakers, or millennials, or bird-watchers.
Perhaps for these reasons, the federal judiciary has often been wary about curtailing gerrymandering. One notable exception occurred in May, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina state legislature had unconstitutionally adjusted the boundaries of two congressional districts. The case revolved around a pair of familiar gerrymandering strategies, known as “packing” and “cracking.” When packing, you cram your adversary’s supporters into as few districts as possible, sacrificing one or two seats in order to keep control of many more; when cracking, you scatter those same supporters among districts that you will likely win anyway, effectively wasting their votes. In North Carolina, the Court found, the G.O.P.-led legislature had used a provision of the Voting Rights Act, which protects black voters from being cracked, essentially as an excuse to pack them. Since African-American voters, statistically speaking, tend to back Democratic candidates, the net result was fewer Democratic representatives.
But what happens when evidence of racial bias isn’t present, when the specific protections of the V.R.A. cannot be invoked? Some analysts have argued that a district’s lack of compactness or contiguity are good litmus tests for political bias. Another increasingly common approach, known as the efficiency gap, counts the number of votes wasted by each party in an election and looks at the disparity between them. The Supreme Court has yet to confirm which, if any, of these metrics can reliably stand up in court, but that could soon change. Two months from now, the Justices will hear arguments in Gill v. Whitford, the first case of partisan gerrymandering that they have considered in more than a decade. Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, has in the past suggested that the right metrics—once they are shown to exist—could be used by judges to assess the fairness of new maps. As a result, Li told me, Gill will be “a big test.”
Although Duchin and her associates are debating existing metrics, they are also interested in developing new ones. Their impromptu potato-and-stick models, for instance, were meant to illustrate an idea that they have been exploring with growing enthusiasm. Conventional compactness tests, Duchin explained, focus on seemingly disparate geometric features. One type rewards shapes with a smooth perimeter, meaning that a district with the silhouette of, say, a circular-saw blade would flunk. Another type measures dispersion, or how far a district’s edges are from its center; a barbell-shaped district wouldn’t do so well here, while some saw blades might. Duchin believes that the two approaches can be reconciled using negative curvature, a property found in various surfaces—Pringles, saddles, the frilly parts of kale leaves. When you express the saw-blade-shaped and barbell-shaped districts as curved surfaces, rather than as flat ones, they turn out to have a good deal in common. “Political scientists had claimed that perimeters and dispersion were essentially independent of each other,” Duchin told me. “Negative curvature unites these scores.” The two districts—which previously passed and failed the same compactness tests, making for a murky debate—can now be subjected to the same holistic test.
Before dinner, Duchin’s group had invited Nestor Guillen, a Venezuelan mathematician teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to give a talk on optimal-transport theory. Let’s say that you are the logistics officer of a fire department, and you need to divide your city into sections, each served by one of your stations.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Election, Government, Law, Math

Updated list of books I repeatedly recommend

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I updated and reorganized the list, and the activity will undoubtedly remind me of other titles over the next several days, so the list will be volatile for a while. I’ll keep in the first line the date of the most recent update.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Books

Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 trillion per year

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If we just stopped the subsidies, then alternative energies would quickly come into their own. John Abraham writes in the Guardian:

Fossil fuels have two major problems that paint a dim picture for their future energy dominance. These problems are inter-related but still should be discussed separately. First, they cause climate change. We know that, we’ve known it for decades, and we know that continued use of fossil fuels will cause enormous worldwide economic and social consequences.

Second, fossil fuels are expensive. Much of their costs are hidden, however, as subsidies. If people knew how large their subsidies were, there would be a backlash against them from so-called financial conservatives.

A study was just published in the journal World Development that quantifies the amount of subsidies directed toward fossil fuels globally, and the results are shocking. The authors work at the IMF and are well-skilled to quantify the subsidies discussed in the paper.

Let’s give the final numbers and then back up to dig into the details. The subsidies were $4.9 tn in 2013 and they rose to $5.3 tn just two years later. According to the authors, these subsidies are important because first, they promote fossil fuel use which damages the environment. Second, these are fiscally costly. Third, the subsidies discourage investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that compete with the subsidized fossil fuels. Finally, subsidies are very inefficient means to support low-income households.

With these truths made plain, why haven’t subsidies been eliminated? The answer to that is a bit complicated. Part of the answer to this question is that people do not fully appreciate the costs of fossil fuels to the rest of us. Often we think of them as all gain with no pain.

So what is a subsidy anyway? Well, that too isn’t black and white. Typically, people on the street think of a subsidy as a direct financial cost that result in consumers paying a price that is below the opportunity cost of the product (fossil fuel in this case). However, as pointed out by the authors, a more correct view of the costs would encompass: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 2:32 pm

Best practices for passwords updated after original author regrets his advice

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The XKCD cartoon above is from Nick Statt’s article in Verge, which begins:

A vast majority of the trusted tips and tricks we employ when crafting a custom password actually make us more vulnerable to hackers, according to the expert who popularized the tips back in 2003. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, former National Institute of Standards and Technology manager Bill Burr admitted that a document he authored on crafting strong passwords was misguided. “Much of what I did I now regret,” says Burr, who is 72 years old and now retired.

The problem wasn’t that Burr was advising people to make passwords that are inherently easy to crack, but that his advice steered everyday computer users toward lazy mistakes and easy-to-predict practices. Burr’s eight-page password document, titled “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A,” advised people to use irregular capitalization, special characters, and at least one numeral. That might result in a password like “P@ssW0rd123!” While that may make it seem secure on the surface (neglecting, of course, that “password” is a bad password), the issue is that most people tend to use the same exact techniques when crafting these digital combo locks. That results in strings of characters and numbers that hackers could easily predict and algorithms that specifically target those weaknesses.

Even worse, Burr suggested people should change passwords regularly, at least every 90 days. This advice, which was then adopted by academic institutions, government bodies, and large corporations, pushed users to make easy-to-crack passwords. Most people can probably point to a password they’ve created that was deemed strong simply because it had a special character like the “!” or “?” symbol and a numeric string like “123.” And when prompted to change a password, who hasn’t altered it only slightly to avoid the hassle of coming up with an all-new code? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 10:51 am

Fine Classic with Van Yulay After Dark and the Dorco PL602

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After yesterday’s terrific shave using the iKon Shavecraft 102, certainly one of my best razors, I wanted to follow with another razor that shaves with that level of excellence—in terms of comfort, reluctance to nick, and efficiency—and the Dorco PL602 was the obvious choice. This also is one of my best razors, for all that it cost $4 including shipping, and I recommend it highly.

The lather was excellent, though I should have given the brush one more shake, and I do like the fragrance of After Dark. The shave was every bit as good as I had hoped: luxury on a budget with a baby smooth finish and total comfort during the shave. And a splash of Van Yulay’s interesting aftershave splash finished the job.

Shaving: a great way to start the day (if you do it right).

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 10:05 am

Posted in Shaving

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