Later On

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

Archive for March 3rd, 2021

There’s a Better Way to Parent: Less Yelling, Less Praise

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In the Atlantic Joe Pinsker interviews Michaeleen Doucleff, author of a book of how parenting is done in various cultures. The article begins:

At one point in her new book, the NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff suggests that parents consider throwing out most of the toys they’ve bought for their kids. It’s an extreme piece of advice, but the way Doucleff frames it, it seems entirely sensible: “Kids spent two hundred thousand years without these items,” she writes.

Her deeply researched book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, contains many moments like this, in which an American child-rearing strategy comes away looking at best bizarre and at worst counterproductive. “Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.

Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.

She takes care to portray her subjects not as curiosities “frozen in time,” but instead as modern-day families who have held on to invaluable child-rearing techniques that likely date back tens of thousands of years. I recently spoke with Doucleff about these techniques, and our conversation, below, has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Joe Pinsker: Many American parenting strategies, you estimate, are only about 100 years old, and some of them arose more recently than that. What about American parenting sticks out to you as distinctive and particularly strange?

Michaeleen Doucleff: One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly. When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”

This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.

It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.

Pinsker: You visited an Inuit town in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and spent time in households where children were almost mysteriously immune to tantrums. How did the parents you met respond when kids misbehaved?

Doucleff: One night while I was there, Rosy and I were staying with a woman named Sally who was watching three of her grandchildren—so, four kids under 6 years old in this house. Sally just approached everything they did with the most calmness and composure I have ever seen. At one point, a little toddler, maybe 18 months at the time, I think he was pulling the dog’s tail or something. Sally picked him up and, when she did, he scratched her face so hard that it was bleeding. I would have been irate, but Sally, I saw her kind of clench her teeth, and just say, in the calmest voice, “We don’t do this.” Then she took him and flipped him around with this playful helicopter move, and they both started laughing. Then it was over—there was no conflict around it.

If the child’s energy goes high—if they get very upset—the parent’s energy goes so low. Another time on our trip, in the grocery store, Rosy started having a tantrum, and I was getting ready to yell at her to stop. But Elizabeth, our interpreter, came over to her and addressed her in the calmest voice. Immediately, Rosy just stopped—when she was around that calmness, her whole body relaxed. I was like, Okay, I’m just doing this tantrum thing completely wrong.

Pinsker: You write about how when Sally and Elizabeth see behavior like that, they think about the causes of it differently than many American parents do. What is the narrative they have for why young kids act out? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 6:33 pm

A simple salad with a vinaigrette dressing and recipe

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I read Bill Buford’s New Yorker article “How the French Dress a Salad” and decided to make the vinaigrette he describes. The salad itself used what I had on hand:

• small section of red cabbage, chopped
• 3 large scallions, chopped
• small section of a bulb of fennel, chopped
• short length of English cucumber, diced
• 3 medium domestic white mushrooms, chopped
• handful of Kalamata olives
• about 1/2 cup of the delacata squash I roasted earlier, cut into pieces
• 1/4 cup quinoa
• 1/4 cup brown lentils
• 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

Note that it has Greens (the red cabbage), Other Vegetables (the other vegetables), Nuts/Seeds, Grain (quinoa counts, though not actually a grain), and Beans/Lentils.

The recipe for the vinaigrette:

• Salt, to taste
• 1/2 garlic clove, smashed and finely diced
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 2 Tbsp. white-wine vinegar
• 3 Tbsp. grapeseed oil or canola oil
• 3 Tbsp. olive oil
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Using a fork, mash the salt into the garlic. Add mustard and vinegar, and whisk until blended.

2. Add grapeseed oil in a slow stream, whisking continuously. Repeat with olive oil.

3. Add black pepper. Whisk. Taste, and adjust if necessary. Too thick? Add a splash of water. Too mild? A splash more of vinegar, and maybe a bit more salt and pepper.

I of course did not follow the recipe exactly. I used no salt (nor pepper, as it happens), and I used an entire clove of garlic. The particular Dijon mustard I used was Edmond Fallot’s Green Peppercorn. I used red wine vinegar instead of white. I used canola oil instead of grapeseed oil. The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in oil is 1:1. Canola oil is 2:1. Grapeseed oil is 676:1.

Instead of 3 Tbsp each of canola and olive oil, I used 2 Tbsp canola oil, 4 Tbsp olive oil, and I mixed them at the outset in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup so they would be easy to pour. Buford apparently has more hands than I, who have only two. I held the bowl with one hand and whisked with the other, so I could not “add the oil in a slow stream, whisking continuously.” I added a little, whisked until blended well, added a little more,  whisked again, and so on. It worked fine. It is indeed very tasty, and makes a nice thick emulsion. I saved what I had left over and am curious to see whether the emulsion will hold.

I plan to try it with white wine vinegar and with sherry vinegar.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 5:22 pm

Teaching Machiavelli through his letters

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Ex Urbe is a most interesting blog, wiith lengthy and scholarly posts. I pointed out one in a post last July (“Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages“). This is post is a recent one on Machiavelli, but note that there is a series of Machiavelli posts that begins with “Machiavelli I – S.P.Q.F. (Begins Machiavelli Series),” so if this post whets your interest, you may want to begin the series at the beginning.

The blog is the work of Ada Palmer. From the About page of the blog:

I am Ada Palmer, an historian, novelist, and composer, and a professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago.  (Contact by e-mail)  I study heterodoxy, heresy, freethought, censorship and information control, the recovery of classical thought after the Middle Ages, its impact on science, religion and atheism, and the history of the book and printing. My focus on the Renaissance frequently takes me to Rome, Florence and around Europe.  I often do research at rare books libraries like the Vatican.  My first academic book Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance treats the recovery of classical atomist physics in the 15th and 16th centuries how humanist reading practices protected and disseminated radical science (see it on Amazon).

I also write science fiction and fantasy.  My first novel . . .

Continue reading.

In this post,  Palmer describes an approach to Machiavelli:

Why I Teach Machiavelli Through His Letters
(excerpt from a lecture transcript, so this is how I explain this to students too)

Teaching Machiavelli through his letters is a separate thing from being an historian accessing Machiavelli through his letters. One of the reasons that I love teaching Machiavelli through his letters is that you get a very different view of the person from letters. You get unimportant details. You get the things that the person cared about that week, as opposed to the things that the person wanted to be discussed by many people in the context of that person’s name for a long time. You do get the serious political thought, but you get it mixed with “Where is my salary?” “Hello my friend,” “Here’s the party I was at,” “I have a cold,” all of these very human elements that don’t come to us when we just read a thesis.

Thanks to interdisciplinarity, both at University of Chicago and elsewhere, I move from department to department a lot–I spend some of my time with historians, and some with classicists, political science people, Italian literature or English literature people, and with philosophy people. Each of these disciplines has a different way of approaching text, but many of them approach the text perhaps not with the formal philosophical attitude of “death of the author, we care only about the text,” but all the same with the effective attitude of “we try to learn about this author only through the text,” and only through the formal polished text, the treatise.

When I’m trying to unpack not only Machiavelli but history in general to my students, it’s very easy for the history to seem like a sequence of marble busts on pedestals who handed us great books. It’s much harder to get at the fact that those people are also people who are like us: people who messed up, people who ran out of money, people who had anxieties, people who failed in things that they undertook. People who had friends, people who were nervous without their friends, and lonely. And that isn’t a version of history that we get shown very often. We get shown heroes, we get shown villains, and we get shown geniuses, as if there isn’t a person present as well. Machiavelli is a very valuable example, because we have such a great corpus of letters, but he’s also such a name. If you want to make a shortlist of people who are a marble bust on a pedestal in the way that they’re presented as we talk about the history of thought, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero, Machiavelli, are major major figures in that way. So the letters humanize them and make them real.

I feel it’s important not to approach these works as if these people are somehow superhumanly excellent, as if these people are somehow perfect in what they undertake. I’ll often be at a conference where someone will talk about a passage in a work in isolation. I was recently at the Renaissance Society of America conference, and there was an interesting discussion of a passage in which Ficino had a really weird interpretation of this one passage of Lucretius. And there was a very nasty fight between two scholars over the interpretation, in which one of the scholars insisted he’s making this complicated subtle three-part reading of a thing that relates to another thing, diagram diagram diagram. The other person said “I think he translated the passage wrong. Because the passage was really hard. And his copy didn’t have a very clear script. And I think he didn’t read the sentence the way we read the sentence.” And the first person was adamant that it is inappropriate to question whether someone like Ficino might have had trouble reading a piece of Latin, that of course his Latin is immaculately better than our Latin. And his Latin was better than our Latin, because he spent more of his life doing it and I do believe he’s better than most classicists at this — but most classicists really struggle with that line. And when you read the commentaries on it there’s lots of ambiguity even now about what it means, and we have dictionaries, which he did not.

It was very interesting to me to see that battle between thinking of the figure as human, in which the question “Did he mess up?” is a valid question, as opposed to thinking of the person as someone who could never mess up. And a lot of the ways we approach historical figures, whether it’s Machiavelli, or Aristotle, or anyone, involve the idea that all of their works are fully intended, that they’re somehow in an a-temporal vacuum, that we should look at them all in sequence, that no one is ever going to change his mind about a thing unless the person themselves made changing their mind about a thing be a big deal. We create this idea of these geniuses where everything they wrote even from early on is exactly what they meant, which then all gets incorporated into material.

I want my students to come away from my courses not thinking about historical figures like that, but remembering that every historical figure had to pay for socks, or had to deal with laundry, or have a servant who dealt with laundry for them and then they had to deal with the servant. But they all had everyday practical existences, and they all mess up. Machiavelli’s letters give you access to somebody who feels like a real human being. Some of the things he’s doing are really weird. Some of the things he’s doing involve bizarre sexuality. Some of the things he’s doing involve uncomfortable politics. Some of the things he’s doing involve very astute politics. Some of them involve very terrifying moments like his wife saying: “I’m so glad you’re alive, we heard that Cesare Borgia massacred all of his people, I’m so glad you’re alive!” And others are very much “We’re trying to get my brother a job and no one will give him a job because it was corruptly given to the other person and we have to figure out how to get my brother a job,” which is not the sort of thing we imagine such people giving their hours to.

When you read Michelangelo’s autobiography there’s an interesting point in it where he stops talking about art for a while and starts talking about the lawsuit that went on between him and people associated with Giuliano della Rovere because he was contracted to build Giuliano della Rovere’s tomb, but then for a variety of complicated reasons the tomb did not materialise as it was supposed to have, largely because the plan for the tomb was the most insane ridiculous over-the-top impossible tomb that you could ever possibly conceive of. That was obviously never going to happen. But also there were lots of fights between him and della Rovere over who had to pay for the marble and whether the marble was delivered and he said the marble was delivered and Della Rovere said the marble wasn’t delivered and there was a crack in it… and all these lawsuits went back and forth, and also Guiliano della Rovere was starting a giant war and invading Ferrara. At one point Michelangelo ran away from Rome saying “I’m not going to work on this stupid tomb any more” and went to Florence, and then Giuliano della Rovere moved an army over to besiege Florence and started threatening them “Florence! I will besiege you and burn you down unless you give me back Michelangelo!” We have these great documents where Michelangelo is begging Signoria “Please don’t make me go back to Della Rovere! I hate him and he just torments me. I’ll build you really good defensive walls! Look at my engineering ideas for how to improve the walls!” and they had to say “No, I’m sorry Michelangelo, we’re not going to war with the Battle Pope just for you, go back to Rome, build the stupid thing.” And he did go back to Rome, and then Della Rovere made him paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling knowing Michelangelo hated painting, basically as punishment for trying to run away. I’m not exaggerating. And that’s why there are lots of angry figures in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But the wonderful horrible flirtatious strange antagonism between Michelangelo and Giuliano della Rovere is magnificent.

And in his autobiography he’s talking about this lawsuit that arose because of the della Rovere tomb project, in great detail, and then there’s a line that says Michelangelo realized that, while dealing with a bunch of lawsuits and Pope Adrian and such, he’d been so stressed he hadn’t picked up a chisel in four years. Because he spent the entire time just dealing with the lawsuit. (Anyone feeling guilty about being overwhelmed by stress this year, you’re not alone!) And we have. . .

Continue reading.


Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 4:55 pm

More signs of spring in the neighborhood

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I walked up to a local market for some shopping — primarily walnuts, which were on sale. (I eat 1/4 cup/day of walnut halves — bulkier than chopped — which amounts to 1.2 oz. I bought 5 1/4 lbs so I’m set for almost 3 months.l)

I also spotted these interesting marmalades, particularly the one on the left, but unfortunately those are too sugar-laden for me. But I do like the idea. Another non-purchase: Edmond Fallot walnut Dijon mustard. It would have been a purchase had they had it, but they did not, though they did have Edmont Fallot green peppercorn mustard, which also is excellent (but I still have some).

I got some hickory-smoked paprika, which sounds intriguing, and gomashio made locally by the store, a mix of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, kelp, tamari, and salt. Good on rice (which I don’t eat) and also on roasted veg (which I do). I imagine it would also be good on cooked grains other than rice.

And on the way back I notice more crocuses coming to life.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

A Las Vegas Judge Approves $1.4 Million Payment to Wrongfully Convicted Man Who Served More Than Two Decades — The prosecutor knew he was innocent.

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Megan Rose reports in ProPublica:

For the first time, Fred Steese walked into a Las Vegas courtroom on Monday without reason for trepidation. He was there to be awarded nearly $1.4 million by the state of Nevada for wrongfully convicting him of murder.

“It’s a gigantic day,” Steese said in an interview afterward, noting how odd it felt after decades in which bad things happened to him in courtrooms.

In 2017, in an article titled “Kafka in Vegas,” ProPublica and Vanity Fair investigated Steese’s case and the serial misconduct of the prosecutors who withheld evidence that proved his alibi. The article described how, even after Steese was proven innocent 17 years after his conviction, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office fought his exoneration.

In all, Steese spent more than two decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit.

On Monday, the 57-year-old Steese stood, wearing a Las Vegas Raiders facemask and a light blue button-down shirt, as District Judge Jasmin Lilly-Spells approved the state’s payment to him.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Steese told the judge.

Steese is being paid under a new Nevada law that compensates exonerees for each year spent wrongfully imprisoned. Those who served more years receive higher annual payments. Since Steese served nearly 18 years from the time of his conviction to his release, he qualifies for $75,000 for each year, a total of $1.35 million. (The law doesn’t count jail time before trial.) The state will also pay for his health insurance premiums, a monthly housing stipend equal to the national average mortgage cost, which is currently $1,147, and financial counseling.

Lilly-Spells also granted him a certificate of innocence and sealed his records.

Steese’s lawyer, Lisa Rasmussen, negotiated the settlement with the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, which could have fought in court to prevent his payout but agreed he met the qualifications under the law. Part of the documentation for his petition to be compensated included the investigation by ProPublica and Vanity Fair.

After Steese was released from prison in 2012 without so much as an apology, much less any resources, Rasmussen took up his case pro bono. She worked for eight years to get him compensated. More than just a legal advocate, Rasmussen was the person Steese leaned on for almost everything. When he ended up on the streets, he washed his face and hands in her office bathroom. She gave him money and connected him to people in the community.

Under the Nevada law, Rasmussen will be paid $23,000 by the state to cover the fees associated with filing his compensation petition. It’s the first time she has been paid for her work on Steese’s case.

The state’s seven-figure payout caps a nearly three decade odyssey through the legal system for Steese. A poorly educated drifter who had grown up in foster care, Steese was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to two life terms for the murder of Gerard Soules, a casino performer with a costumed poodle act. At the time of the murder, however, Steese was in Idaho, as documents showed.

The proof of Steese’s whereabouts during the murder turned out to be in the prosecution’s files at the time. But only later did federal public defenders take up Steese’s case, discover the proof and dismantle the prosecution’s case. In 2012, a Nevada 8th Judicial District Court judge issued a rare order of actual innocence. But like the first time around, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office once again refused to concede it had the wrong man. Prosecutors vowed to retry him.

Then they made Steese a Faustian proposition: He could have his freedom, Assistant District Attorney Pamela Weckerly told him, as long as he agreed to plead guilty. She offered Steese an unusual deal called an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to assert his innocence on the record while still accepting a conviction. Steese, fearful of additional incarceration after being wrongfully convicted once, agreed.

He obtained his freedom but remained, legally, a convicted killer. Steese had trouble getting work. The Clark County District Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, didn’t have to admit it made a mistake and the murder case stayed closed. The tactic is increasingly being used by prosecutors across the country to quietly dispose of cases in which the defendant is likely innocent.

In 2018, Steese was granted an unconditional pardon on the basis of innocence.

The men who prosecuted Steese in 1995, Bill Kephart and Douglas Herndon, went on to become judges. Herndon now serves on the state’s Supreme Court alongside Elissa Cadish, who granted Steese his order of actual innocence when she was a district judge. Herndon testified against Steese at his post-conviction hearing in 2011, not accepting the evidence of his innocence.

But after his college-aged daughter became one of the architects of the legislation to compensate exonerees, Herndon had a change of heart. He testified through tears in support of the legislation at a hearing in 2019 and accepted responsibility. “I think that informs me everyday that I do my job currently about the failings that can occur through our justice system,” Herndon said at the hearing, noting that it weighed heavily on him. (Herndon told his daughter at the time that “errors were made and those were bad. But please believe me, I’m not a horrible person.”) Kephart, who lost his reelection to the district court last year, has maintained he did nothing wrong.

For Steese, the compensation, which he will likely receive in a few months, means a stability he has never had. Rasmussen set up a financial literacy program and adviser to help Steese manage his now sizable estate.

He plans to buy . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 1:44 pm

Apple Threatens North Dakota, Suffers Crushing Loss in Arizona: “A Lot of It is Just Fear”

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Two weeks ago, Apple and Google managed to defeat a major bill in North Dakota to force competition in app stores. This week, the Arizona House of Representatives defied the tech giants and passed the very same bill. I’m writing about why this series of battles, and what is a very clear defeat for big tech, matters.

Plus, a Gore-Tex monopoly, how Google bought and ruined Waze, a roll-up of hiking media and tools, and the surprising new attack on big tech power and Chinese dominance from Wall Street regulator nominee Rohit Chopra. . . .

Small States and Big Tech Fight Over $64 Billion

There’s a new front in the battle over big tech power: the states. We’re used to countries taking on big tech power, through Congressional investigations, antitrust cases from the Federal government, or Facebook and foreign countries like Australia fighting who has to pay for news. But now, state legislators, who were the key anti-monopolists of the 19th century, are starting to flex their muscles once again.

Just today, the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill, 31-29, barring the use app store monopolies to take large fees from app makers. This vote was a significant victory for anti-monopolists, but a bizarre one. Democrats were the main stumbling block, state legislators were scared, and the battle actually started in North Dakota. Moreover, the fight is not over, as the bill will be debated in the Arizona Senate and the Governor’s office, and it will also go to other states as legislators elsewhere are emboldened.

So what exactly happened? And what does it mean?

Steve Jobs Built the App Store to Monopolize

App stores are markets, placed you use to get access to a whole set of independent applications. Since Apple’s creation of its app store in 2008, businesses have built an entire ecosystem of mobile programs, a truly wonderful set of tools, games, and storytelling mechanisms to foster commerce and culture. To give you a sense of the significance of this revenue stream, Apple made $64 billion of gross revenue from its app store last year. This is big business.

The problem with app stores is that the two main ones are under the tight control of the two firms, Apple and Google, that make the core software to runs smartphones. You can only buy apps for your iPhone through Apple’s app store, because Apple bars rivals from setting up app stores on the iPhone. Moreover, you have to use Apple’s payment system to buy apps, because Apple also bars rival payment networks from its app store. Google has slightly less control for phones that run its mobile operating system, Android, though essentially the same setup.

Together, Google and Apple have 99% of the smartphone market. Because it’s basically impossible to sell mobile apps without going through their app stores, both can charge high prices – 30% of the take – for developers who want to sell apps on phones they control. For a sense of perspective, a credit card charges 2-3% to a merchant for access to a payment network, and this price is ten times that for a comparable feature.

More importantly, control over app stores, and in particular, the feature of the app store that lets you pay for something, is a critical moat for these firms to maintain their market power. Documents revealed in a court case on ebooks proved Steve Jobs explicitly designed Apple’s payment system policies to discourage people from switching from the iPhone. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 1:36 pm

Beyond human-centered design: A human–silkworm collaboration shows the way to sustainable design

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Tomasz Hollanek, a PhD researcher at the University of Cambridge, working at the intersection of design theory, technology ethics and critical AI studies, writes in Psyche:

With advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), it’s common to hear designers preach about the need for human-centred technology – systems, devices and software that cater to our specific human needs, behaviours and foibles. As algorithms affect our lives in profound yet invisible ways, placing the human at the centre of the design process is meant to ensure that they work in our favour – and that we get technological progress right. Most often, this approach translates into products and tools that are intuitive and user-friendly, and that support human wellbeing.

But what if situating the human at the heart of design isn’t enough to steer innovation in the right direction? What if it’s precisely what we should avoid? Human-centred thinking has marked drawbacks. We can trace the desire to focus on the human – and the human alone – to an anthropocentric logic that has guided technological development for centuries and, ultimately, led to the current state of ecological crisis. Viewed in this light, the rise of AI represents a chance to forge new, less extractive but still productive relationships with the organisms and entities with which we share the planet.

‘[A]ll design is human-centred,’ argues Paola Antonelli, senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, ‘in that it touches all live beings … but cares only about some – humans.’ For Antonelli, human-centric inevitably translates to egocentric, because it ‘reflects an old anthropocentric and anthropogenic view of reality’. The calls to prioritise the human in design, even if well-meaning, fails to address the biggest challenge ahead of us: reconciling our distinctly human needs with environmental concerns. The potential for change lies in what Antonelli calls allocentric design  as the opposite of egocentric – an approach to making that acknowledges the interdependence of species and aims to ensure the flourishing of us all.

In early 2020, Antonelli curated an exhibition at MoMA dedicated to the designer Neri Oxman. Oxman labels her work as naturecentric, but it’s of a piece with allocentric design, since nature for Oxman stands for a complex system of interactions in which the human is only a single component. Oxman’s process, which she has been working out with the Mediated Matter group at the MIT Media Lab, is a good example of what de-centring the human in design could mean in practice. It also shows how new, AI-based technologies could help us mediate between human needs, environmental constraints and the wellbeing of other entities with which we share the planet.

Silk Pavilion (2013), a dome of stainless steel and silk threads (275 x 275 x 300 cm), is one of Oxman’s most frequently exhibited projects. The Pavilion explores the potential for interspecies co-design, in which both human and nonhuman actors are co-creators and stakeholders. Searching for alternatives to synthetic materials used in product and architectural design, Oxman’s team studied the Bombyx mori silkworm’s cocoon-production patterns. To ‘reverse engineer’ the silkworm’s spinning behaviour, the group examined naturally occurring fabrication patterns to reproduce them on a new scale. They learned that the silkworm’s movements were affected by environmental conditions such as natural light and heat and that, by manipulating these factors, humans could direct the worm’s spinning.

In the subsequent phase, the collected data served to compute a scalable model for the Pavilion dome: composed of 26 polygonal stainless-steel frames, the structure’s skeleton was filled with silk threads by a computer-numerically controlled machine, generating an optimal scaffolding for living silkworms to begin their spinning. In the final phase, 6,500 silkworms were released on to the shell. Over a period of three weeks, they completed the dome, closing the gaps between the machine-spun threads with new silk fibres.

The algorithm that initially replicated the living silkworm’s behaviour also directed this process of biological growth – mediating between species so as to optimise construction and avoid excess use of resources. The benefits of the Pavilion model are manifold. Combining digital and biological fibre-based fabrication allows for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 11:48 am

How to Cope with Teen Anxiety

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It’s been a while since I was a teen, but you may know teens. (I strongly suspect that the teen readership of this blog is zero.) And in any even, anxiety is anxiety, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a good approach. CBT is as effective as medication in treating depressing (and lacks the invidious side-effects that medications often include). This article describes how CBT is a good approach to treating anxiety, teen or not.

Regine Galanti, a clinical psychologist and founder of the cognitive behavioural therapy practice Long Island Behavioral Psychology and the author of Anxiety Relief for Teens (2020), writes in Psyche:

Most people are afraid of something, whatever age they are. But the teenage years definitely have their fair share of challenges. Maybe you’re anxious about being judged in class, going off to college, getting good grades or being separated from the people you love. The list can go on and on because anxiety is a normal part of being human, especially in adolescence.

But though it can be uncomfortable, anxiety can actually be helpful. It’s what keeps us from jumping off buildings, or running in front of moving cars. It prompts us to focus on potential dangers and respond to them in a way that keeps us safe. This system works pretty well at protecting us most of the time – which is great, if and when you’re in actual danger. Anxiety becomes a problem if it raises the alarm when there isn’t really any actual danger around. In fact, you can think of problematic anxiety as being like a false or overly sensitive alarm – a smoke detector going off when there’s no fire.

As a clinical psychologist, I meet a lot of teenagers with anxiety. I emphasise to them that anxiety-free living might sound amazing, but it would in fact be dangerous because you’d miss out on cues that something is actually wrong. So instead, I use an approach called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help teens learn tools to manage their anxiety so that it doesn’t get in the way of their lives; in this Guide, I’m going to share some of these tools with you.

Before getting to the practical exercises, it helps to know a little about how your anxiety system works in terms of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, which all contribute to the emotions you experience at any given time. Let’s look at these three components in the context of a tiger walking into the room you’re in right now. (Unlikely, I know, but bear with me!)

What you think

Your thoughts influence your emotions. So if, as the tiger starts getting closer, you think to yourself Hey, I love tigers, you probably won’t feel very anxious. If on the other hand you think Woah, that tiger wants to eat me for lunch, you’ll probably feel super-scared. In this way, thoughts are like sunglasses: you can change them or take them off, and the world will look different. Here’s a more realistic example: if you think to yourself If I fail this exam, I’ll never get into college, and my whole life will fall apart, you’ll probably feel anxious and hopeless before and during the exam. If instead, you had the thought It’s a good thing this exam is worth only 5 per cent of my grade. I can always recover any lost marks on the next exam, you probably wouldn’t feel so anxious.

What you feel (in your body)

Anxiety includes a physical reaction called the ‘fight or flight response’. When you feel anxious, your body kicks into high gear. The hormone adrenaline starts to flow, and a host of other things happen as well, such as your heart racing, your breathing speeding up and your pupils enlarging. This reaction gets your body ready to move away from danger, or fight the enemy if you can’t run (hence the name, ‘fight or flight’). You might also feel your muscles tense up, feel shaky, have headaches or nausea. This might feel natural or appropriate if you were running a marathon or fleeing a tiger that had just wandered into the room, but when you’re anxious in a more ordinary situation, you might find these bodily sensations not only unpleasant, but experience them as further ‘proof’ that something is wrong, even if it isn’t! Although these physical changes might feel dangerous, they’re harmless. It’s just your body’s natural way of trying to get you out of harm’s way.

What you do

This third part of anxiety involves how you behave in response to your thoughts and physical sensations. If you think That tiger wants to eat me, and you feel your heart pounding out of your chest, you’ll probably want to run away. It’s perfectly normal to try to escape situations that make you anxious. This is a great plan for actual danger, but it can become problematic in the context of false alarms. Avoidance not only causes practical problems, it often fuels more anxiety in the future.

These three parts of anxiety – your thoughts, your physical feelings, and your behaviours – impact on each other, and form an anxiety ‘cycle’. Anxious thoughts can bring on a physical response, which makes you want to run or avoid.

Here’s an example: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The key points:

  • Emotions have three parts: thoughts, physical feelings, and behaviours. These parts are interconnected, and any of those parts can be a trigger that starts the anxiety cycle.
  • Anxiety, like all emotions, can be adaptive. It protects us from harm in dangerous situations. But, sometimes, the system goes off in the absence of real danger. This feels uncomfortable but is actually harmless as long as you don’t start actively avoiding it.
  • Anxiety fades if you let it. Emotions are like a wave – they peak, and then recede, even if you don’t do anything to control or manage them.
  • Managing anxiety is about building strategies to change your thoughts (eg, by reality-checking them), calming your physical reaction (eg, via breathing exercises), and facing your fears. These strategies are part of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that research shows helps to manage anxiety.
  • One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to face the things you fear using a strategy called ‘exposure’: break down your feared situation into small steps, and practise facing them bit by bit. This helps you cut out avoidance, which feeds anxiety long-term.

Caveat: Something that works well for oone may not work for another, and somethign that works for many may not work for a few. That is why medical and psychological research uses a multitude of subjects and statistical methods. If all responded the same way, such research would be much simpler, since studying a single individual would suffice.

So CBT is an approach worth trying. It is as effective as medication, which means that it will work for many but not for all.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 11:32 am

This is the fastest random-number generator ever built: 250 trillion bits per second — and truly random, not from an algorithm

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A bow-tie-shaped semiconductor (scanning electron microscope image) produces a laser beam with randomly fluctuating intensity. Credit: Kyungduk Kim

The problem with using an algorithm to generate random numbers is that the numbers that result, coming from an algorithm, are not in fact random. If you have the algorithm, you can readily replicate a set of numbers. (These numbers are referred to as “pseudo-random” numbers. While they are perfectly fine to use in, say, board games, serious research requires truly randdom numbers.)

The numbers generated by this new device will be truly random. Davide Castelvecchi reports in Nature:

Researchers have built the fastest random-number generator ever made, using a simple laser. It exploits fluctuations in the intensity of light to generate randomness — a coveted resource in applications such as data encryption and scientific simulations — and could lead to devices that are small enough to fit on a single computer chip.

True randomness is surprisingly difficult to come by. Algorithms in conventional computers can produce sequences of numbers that seem random at first, but over time these tend to display patterns. This makes them at least partially predictable, and therefore vulnerable to being decoded.

To make encryption safer, researchers have turned to quantum mechanics, where the laws of physics guarantee that the results of certain measurements — such as when a radioactive atom decays — are genuinely random.

A popular way to tap into quantum randomness is to exploit fluctuations in how photons are emitted by the materials used in lasers. Typical laser devices are designed to minimize these fluctuations to produce light of steady intensity: they make the light waves bounce around inside the material to force its atoms to emit more and more photons in sync with each other.

But for random-number generation, researchers aim for the opposite. “We want the intensity to fluctuate randomly, so we can digitize the intensity to generate random numbers,” says Hui Cao, an applied physicist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Dapper device

Cao and her team made their laser material — a translucent semiconductor — in the shape of a bow tie. Photons bounce between the curved walls of the bow tie multiple times, before coming out as a scattered beam. The researchers can then capture the light with an ultrafast camera. They recorded the light output of 254 independent pixels, which together produced random bits at a rate of around 250 terabits per second, or 250 terahertz. That’s several orders of magnitude faster than previous such devices, which recorded only one pixel at a time. Their results were reported in Science on 25 February1.

The invention “represents a major leap in performance of random-number generators”, says Krister Shalm, a physicist at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

The fastest existing computers have clock speeds measured in gigahertz, which is much too slow to fully exploit the full power of Cao’s device. The set-up could be made smaller by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 11:13 am

Posted in Math, Science, Technology

Roasting delicata squash and its seeds

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Delicata squash is not peeled since the peeling is thin and soft and quite edible. Above is one squash ready for the oven in my quarter-sheet baking pan. As you see, I (a) use a silicone baking mat, which is easy to wash clean after use, and (b) cook the seeds with the squash, since then I can check two categories from the Daily Dozen: Other Vegetable and Seeds/Nuts.

I tossed the squash slices with a little olive oil and pepper. I did not use salt — salt-free is the way to go, though the food experience in the first week of salt-free eating is a little bland. After that, your taste adjusts and foods taste fine again.

I stir the seeds with a little oil to coat them. I’m planning to cook these at 375ºF for 20 minutes. If they’re not quite done, I’ll cook a them a little longer. Halfway through I’ll stir the seeds, but I won’t bother flipping the squash.

Update: 20 minutes was not quite long enough, but almost. So I turned off the oven but left the squash and seeds in. That did the trick. I just ate all the seeds as a little snack. Very tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 10:47 am

Yellow Rose shaving soap and Pink rose aftershave

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Again I liked the effect of Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, and since it is now part of my regular routine for shaving soaps in a tub, I’ll not specifically mention it in the future. (For shaving sticks, I’ll continue to use MR GLO, which works better in that context.)

Mystic Water Yellow Rose emits a pleasant fragrance and makes a fine lather, and the EJ clone this morning did a good job. A splash of D.R. Harris Pink After Shave finished the job and started an overcast day on a bright note.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 9:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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