A Crooked Timber seminar on Walkaway

My latest novel, Walkaway, was published today, and the Crooked Timber block has honored me with a seminar on the book, where luminaries from Henry Farrell to Julia Powles to John Holbo to Astra Taylor to Bruce Schneier weigh in with a series of critical essays that will run in the weeks to come, closing with an essay of my own, in response. Read the rest

Shoelace knots fail catastrophically, thanks to 7 gees' worth of stress

Update: Whoops, David got there first!

In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, researchers from UC Berkeley reveal that shoelace knots do not gradualy come loose, as was previously supposed -- rather, they fail catastrophically and suddenly, thanks to strange and surprising stresses that they must endure. Read the rest

Blockers will win the ad-blocking arms race

Ad-blockers begat ad-blocker-blockers, which begat ad-blocker-blocker-blockers, with no end in sight. Read the rest

New materials allow 2.8l/day of solar-powered desert water-vapor extraction

Researchers from MIT, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley, and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology published a paper in Science describing a solar-powered device that uses a new type of metal organic framework (MOF) to extract up to three litres of water per day from even the most arid desert air. Read the rest

Masterprints: synthetic fingerprints that unlock up to 65% of phones (in theory)

When the touch-sensors on phones capture your fingerprint, they're really only taking a low-resolution, partial snapshot and loosely matching it to a stored image -- which is how a research team from MSU and NYU were able to synthesize their Masterprints ("a fingerprint that serendipitously matches a certain proportion of the fingerprint population"), which drastically reduce the space of possible "guesses" that an attacker has to make to unlock a phone or other device. Read the rest

Politicians like it when economists disagree because then they can safely ignore the ones they dislike

In a new paper in International Studies Quarterly, John Quiggin and Henry Farrell argue that politicians get in trouble when they buck a consensus among economists, but when economists are divided, they can simply ignore the ones they disagree with -- so politicians spend a lot of time looking for economists who agree with their policies, then elevate them to the same status as their peers in order to create a safe, blame-free environment to operate in. Read the rest

How to: tickle a rat

In a new meta-analysis published in PLOS One, researchers from Purdue, Stanford and the Canadian Council on Animal Care look at the different techniques used to induce laughter in rats in order to improve their wellbeing and capture their laughter, which is delightful. Read the rest

Facebook use is a predictor of depression

A pair of social scientists from UCSD and Yale conducted an NIH study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on the link between Facebook use and mental health, drawing on data from the Gallup Panel Social Network Study combined with "objective measures of Facebook use" and self-reported data for 5,208 subjects, and concluded that increased Facebook use is causally linked with depression. Read the rest

Wealth inequality is correlated with CO2 emissions

A new paper from a trio of Boston College researchers shows that the states with the highest degree of income inequality are also the worst offenders for carbon emissions; as the share of wealth and income claimed by the richest 10% increases, the amount of carbon-intensive consumption they engage in grows, as does their political clout, allowing them to buy laws and policies that let them pollute more. Read the rest

Machine learning manipulates photos to change the subject's gaze

A poster talk at last year's European Conference on Computer Vision introduced "Deep Warp," a machine-learning based technique for "photorealistic image resynthesis for gaze manipulation" -- that is, you hand the algorithm an image of a face, and tell it where you want the person in the face to look, and it moves the gaze realistically to have the person look in your desired location. Read the rest

Hungary's ultra-right government wants to shut down its storied, amazing Central European University

CEU is an American university in the heart of Budapest, founded by George Soros, who is no friend of the far-right, xenophobic Prime Minister Viktor Orban -- which may be why a new law requiring all foreign universities in Hungary to have a branch in their home country uniquely endangers CEU. Read the rest

The "universal adversarial preturbation" undetectably alters images so AI can't recognize them

In a newly revised paper in Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, a group of French and Swiss computer science researchers show that "a very small perturbation vector that causes natural images to be misclassified with high probability" -- that is, a minor image transformation can beat machine learning systems nearly every time. Read the rest

20 years ago, Ted Cruz published a law paper proving companies could always beat customers with terms of service

You might think that when companies impose crappy, abusive terms of service on their customers that the market could sort it out, by creating competition to see who could offer the best terms and thus win the business of people fed up with bad actors. Read the rest

Game theory: pedestrians versus autonomous vehicles

Any well-designed self-driving car will be at pains to avoid killing people, if only to prevent paperwork delays when they mow someone down. Read the rest

No, the meme-slinging alt-right Pepe worshippers didn't win the election for Trump

Despite the widespread belief that meme-warriors won the election through tactical shitposting of photoshopped Pepe the Frogs in Nazi arm-bands, the reality is a lot more complicated. Read the rest

A new (slow) open source JPEG algorithm makes images 35% smaller and looks better than older compression systems

Guetzli is Google's new free/open JPEG compression algorithm, which produces images that are more than a third smaller in terms of byte-size, and the resulting images are consistently rated as more attractive than traditionally compressed JPEGs. It's something of a web holy grail: much smaller, better-looking files without having to convince people to install a plugin or browser makers to support a new file-format. Read the rest

How Big Tobacco invented Donald Trump and Brexit (and what to do about it)

Economist Tim Harford (previously) traces the history of denialism and "fake news" back to Big Tobacco's cancer denial playbook, which invented the tactics used by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to ride to victory -- a playbook that dismisses individual harms as "anaecdotal" and wide-ranging evidence as "statistical," and works in concert with peoples' biases (smokers don't want cigarettes to cause cancer, Brexiteers want the UK to be viable without the EU, Trump supporters want simple, cruel policies to punish others and help them) to make emprically wrong things feel right. Read the rest

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