The risk of going hungry in the U.S. is rising

Writing in The Week, Ryan Cooper says, "The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has collected data for the week ending July 21, before super-unemployment expired, and found that 12 percent of households were regularly short of food, 21 percent of renters were behind on their payments, and 28 percent of children were in households with one or the other problem. All that is certainly going to get much, much worse if another rescue isn't passed."

Cooper visited the r/unemployment subreddit and found many grim examples of people out of money, unable to pay for food, electricity, car payments, rent, and medicine.

"One wonders," says Cooper, "Is America about to see bread protests, or even riots?"

Candy corn in Thanksgiving flavors now exists

No one:
Brach's: "We have candy corn that tastes like Thanksgiving foods!!"

Turkey Dinner candy corn is described as "A full course meal presented in a unique mix of candy corn flavors. BRACH'S Turkey Dinner includes all of the traditional Thanksgiving favorites. From roasted turkey, green beans and stuffing to ginger glazed carrots, cranberry sauce and sweet potato pie."

]Aside: World's first meat-flavored candy corn…?]

TODAY Food:

…the Thanksgiving candies are real and already on shelves at Walgreens nationwide for $2.99 per 12-ounce bag through the fall season.

image via Brach's

For sale: Home built into the stern of a former US Navy boat from 1908

This "house boat" for sale on Mercer Island, Washington was once the USS Manzanita, built for the US Coast Guard in 1908 and later part of the US Navy. It's now for sale for $2 million. From Realtor.com:

n 1949, the boat was going to be scrapped, when a local librarian and her father bought the stern portion of the vessel.

"So, they bought this boat for a thousand dollars, and they barged it over to Mercer Island. They cut down some trees, sort of winched it up onto the property, and put it on a foundation," [listing agent Lori] Holden Scott explains.

What was once one-fifth of a boat was then converted into a residence, permanently affixed to dry land. The converted boat is now a 1,390-square-foot home, with three bedrooms, one full bathroom, and two half-bathrooms.

images: NWMLS

Cory Doctorow experiments with AI writing partner Sudowrite

GPT-3 is a machine-learning trained language model that generates text based on a text prompt. Cory Doctorow has been playing around with a closed-beta implementation of Sudowrite, which he describes as a "GPT3-based text generator for fiction writers. You give it characters, plot summaries, dialogue, or twist endings," and Sudowrite generates one of more paragraphs of text based on that. Here's an example of one of Cory's tests of the software:

Here's Cory's prompt:

"The following is a conversation between Masha and Marcus, who are arguing about whether programmer have a moral duty to ensure their code does not contribute to human rights abuses.

"Masha: It's so easy to say that you should only work for good if you are a bro who can waltz into a job.

"Marcus: Come on, who do you think is most likely to be on the receiving end of cyberwarfare? Hint: it's not wealthy white dudes who get hit with stalkerware or lawful interception code."

Here's how Sudowrite completed it:

Masha: Sure, the privileged are the first targets for the digital equivalent of fire and brimstone. But even you have to admit that there are plenty of people who get hurt by our code every day.

Marcus: What's your point? I don't see what's controversial about that.

Masha: I'm not saying that people shouldn't fix bugs. But who are we to determine what constitutes a fix? When a programmer writes code that is responsible for cyberwarfare, or perpetuates rape culture, she's also part of that process.

Masha: And when you're part of something that's broken, your choice is to fix it or you're part of the problem.

Marcus: I don't have to agree with what someone's personal agenda is, but I think most people can agree that you should help when you can.

Masha: I'm not talking about altruism.

Marcus: You sound like an actual commie now.

Masha: Lok, it's true that the general assumption is that all we should do is code and shut up. But what if there's a chance that that's a social pathology that we can correct?

Marcus: Wow

Cory's conclusion: "This is pretty impressive. So far, Sudowrite hasn't helped me write anything, but I keep coming back to it, because this kind of machine language stuff is fascinating to see."

Snatcher: a superfast robotic tongue inspired by chameleons

Chameleons have evolved a superfast and long tongue to grab insects in an instant. Inspired by this marvelous bit of nature, engineers at Seoul National University of Science and Technology created "Snatcher," a robotic tongue design that could someday be mounted on drones to pick up packages. From IEEE Spectrum:

"For example, a quadrotor with this manipulator will be able to snatch distant targets, instead of hovering and picking up," explains Gwang-Pil Jung, a researcher at Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) who co-designed the new device.

There has been other research into robotic chameleon tongues, but what's unique about Snatcher is that it packs chameleon-tongue fast snatching performance into a form factor that's portable—the total size is 12 x 8.5 x 8.5 centimeters and it weighs under 120 grams. Still, it's able to fast snatch up to 30 grams from 80 centimeters away in under 600 milliseconds. 

"Robotic Chameleon Tongue Snatches Nearby Objects in the Blink of an Eye" (IEEE Spectrum)

The SATS were literally invented by a eugenicist to uphold white supremacy

There are many aspects of American culture that are secretly or not-so-secretly rooted in something absolutely abhorrent. I'm not just talking about the "original sin" of settler colonialism, or even the institution of slavery itself — although those things certainly help to inherently taint the nation's origins.

No, I'm talking about all the other things that seem innocuous today — activities or traditions that are just kind of generally accepted as part of the American status quo — that turn out to betray not only the mythologized ideals that our country espouses about itself, but also end up being kind of self-defeating to the entire purpose that they serve.

For example: the SATS.

There are plenty of criticisms that can be made about the collegiate system in this country: how it's an enormous non-profit industry that's also enormously profitable; how it's so terribly unrepresentative of the actual demographics of the country; how it claims to be a bastion of meritocracy while actually upholding the privileges of legacy; how much it costs, where that money goes, and why; how the funding structure enables already-powerful people and institutions to gain more money, power, and clout through tax-deductible donations; how the seemingly well-intentioned intra-campus tribunals and legal systems end up doing more harm than good, especially in cases of sexual assault; and so on. The entire concept of standardized testing is ripe with similar problems — how, even with the best intentions, it still ends up reinforcing certain problematic structures of our culture.

But nah, that's not the problem with the SATs. The problem with the SATs is that they were literally invented to be fucking racist. From The Atlantic:

The original Scholastic Aptitude Test was invented in 1926 by Carl Brigham, a Princeton alumnus and avowed eugenicist who created the test to uphold a racial caste system. He advanced this theory of standardized testing as a means of upholding racial purity in his book A Study of American Intelligence. The tests, he wrote, would prove the racial superiority of white Americans and prevent "the continued propagation of defective strains in the present population"—chiefly, the "infiltration of white blood into the Negro."

Even worse, Brigham admitted within 4 years that the SATs-as-eugenics-test failed, calling his own work, "one of the most glorious fallacies."

"In the history of science, namely that the tests measured native intelligence purely and simply without regard to training or school," he lamented in 1930. "The test scores very definitely are a composite including schooling, family background, familiarity with English and everything else, relevant and irrelevant."

In other words: a eugenicist literally invented the SATs to prove his theories, then was disappointed to learn that they failed their intended purpose. And yet, we continue to use them — ostensibly, for the same reasons that Brigham thought they were bad.

IMHO, when a self-avowed racist says, "Ah shit, this doesn't prove racism is good!" we should probably just throw that thing away, instead of using it as proof that equality is good. There are other ways to prove that part.

The Problem With the SAT's Idea of Objectivity [Sidney Fussell / The Atlantic]

Image: Public Domain via NeedPix

Reporter to Trump: "Do you regret all the lying you've done to the American people?"

The question was asked by Huffington Post correspondent SV Dáte, who told the Guardian:

I don't know why he called on me, because I've tried to ask him before [in March] and he's cut me off mid-question. Maybe he didn't recognise me this time. You know, he has this group of folks that he normally asks questions of. […] I had always thought that if he ever did call on me, this is the one thing that is really central to his presidency.

Image: Public Domain via White House Press Briefing

A (brilliant parody) letter from your child's school

In the last few weeks, school administrators have sent letters to parents and guardians announcing their plans for starting school in the middle of a pandemic. In McSweeney's, Kara Baskin penned a perfect parody of those letters. As a very wise person once said, "it's funny 'cause it's true." Teachers, you have my sympathy and deep gratitude. From the letter in McSweeney's:

Rest assured that your child's teacher will suffer from crippling anxiety while seamlessly policing non-masked students, overseeing a rigorous schedule of hand-washing, and ensuring that children remain confined to a six-foot square of personal space at all times. Despite this, we aim to create a robust learning environment where your child will also absorb the finer elements of sitting in place. Note that your child's temperature will be taken every hour, and students will vacate the building approximately every 20 minutes for a thorough deep-cleaning with new, fast-tracked chemicals. Students must be tested for COVID at the first sign of illness; please return your child to us in six weeks or when results come back, whichever comes first.

Hybrid
This model will combine the key elements of in-person instruction (see above) with remote learning, which we hopefully perfected this spring. Your child will be divided into a cohort (A, B, AB, BC, CC, XVY, MCXLVII, and Depeche Mode) based on careful consideration of his or her learning style, social-emotional needs, friendships, and an algorithm our intern designed this summer. You will need a reliable Internet connection, a work schedule that follows no concrete pattern, a forgiving supervisor, independent wealth, or a Xanax prescription. Please contact our school nurse for the latter.

image: one-room school in 1935, Alabama (public domain)

Library discovers stash of beer and gum hidden behind books for 30 years

In the 1980s, someone stashed some beer and gum behind books at the Walla Walla Library in Washington State. The library is closed due to COVID-19 and undergoing renovations. From CNN:

During the demolition three weeks ago, five full cans of Hamm's beer and an opened pack of Godzilla Heads gum was found in a disintegrated paper bag, Wells said. Facilities Maintenance Specialist, Luis Cuellar found the odd treasure when he removed a seven foot tall corner panel on some open top shelving believed to be original to the 1970s building.

I bet the owner will be disappointed when they return for a drink and chew.

PliimPRO eliminates the panic of sharing your screen with a single click

The year 2020 has basically kicked down that door and dragged us all into the Zoom age, whether we like it or not.

And now that we're basically inviting our boss, co-workers and other business associates into our homes via video, we've unwittingly stumbled into all kinds of new potential for embarrassment. Like when you're presenting…and a personal text message from a spouse pops on to the screen. Or when everyone sees our goofy family snapshot desktop. Or when we leave porn tabs open on our browser — like the reporteror the congressional candidate.

PliimPRO was created with the purpose of basically saving Mac users from themselves.

With PliimPRO on board, you can safely share your Mac screen with a click, with no fear of any unexpected surprises. By clicking PliimPRO's Presentation Mode, your screen immediately cleans up its act. All your desktop icons are hidden and notifications are momentarily disabled. Your active apps are out of sight and your speakers get muted. PliimPRO will even change your wallpaper if you choose.

During the course of your presentation, nothing will pop up and distract your audience from your information.

Even if you're in a meeting that isn't your own, PliimPRO also has a single click feature to mute your mic from a persistent touchbar icon or a customized shortcut. Rather than hunt for just the right meeting tab, one button can handle the problem for you.

From Zoom to Skype to all the biggest and most popular video meeting software, PliimPRO runs at the operating system level, so it's compatible with them all. PliimPRO has also been shown to run up to 300 times faster than other versions built with web technologies.

Rather than safety-proof your Mac before every video meeting, ticking through all the possible disturbances one by one, PliimPRO lets you handle it all with a simple button push.

That's a lot of peace of mind PliimPRO's usual $16 price. But it's even more of a steal with the current offer, cutting your total down to just $9.99.

Prices are subject to change.

Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.

 

PliimPRO: Safely Share Your Screen – $9.99

Share safe for $9.99

Lack Rack: Ikea's cheapest table is perfectly sized to rackmount computers

I recently saw a Lack Rack—an inexpensive Ikea Lack table put to use rackmounting servers—and now I keep running into them. Pictured above is Paul Curry's £5 example, replete with vinyl wood texture.

They need little explanation: Ikea makes a cheap little table whose legs are exactly 19" wide and (barely) sturdy enough to accept screws and the weight of most rackmount equipment. (I wouldn't chance a loaded Apple Rac in it). Here's an orphaned photo posted to reddit featuring a typical example:

Eth0 entertains a specification and offers a fantastic IKEA-style manial for the Lack Rack. The most notable recommendation: use cavity screws to increase the load-bearing strength of the mostly-hollow legs if you're putting in machines more than 5cm down from the tabletop.

Its low-cost and perfect fit are great for mounting up to 8 U of 19" hardware, such as switches (see below), or perhaps other 19" gear. It's very easy to assemble, and thanks to the design, they are stable enough to hold (for example) 19" switches and you can put your bottle of Club-Mate on top! Multi-shiny LackRack can also be painted to your specific preferences and the airflow is unprecedented!

And of course the tabletop is perfect for placing a monitor or laptop, like the one in Frank Denneman's lab:

A little finish goes a long way:


Things sometimes get quite out of hand.

Let's see how many lies were in the White House's official "Historic Coronavirus Response Brief"

On Monday, August 10, the White House released a fact sheet about "President Trump's Historic Coronavirus Response." It is — perhaps unsurprisingly — full of shit. While I suppose one could argue that any action taken during a 21st century pandemic is inherently "historic" inasmuch as it has no historical precedent due to the unstoppable forward progression of time, this is not what the brief is actually arguing. Instead, it makes such claims as:

  • Took early action to cut off travel from China
  • Built the world's leading testing system from nothing
  • Enacted mitigation measures to slow the spread
  • Mobilized public and private sectors to secure needed supplies
  • Took action to protect vulnerable Americans
  • Launched effort to deliver a vaccine and therapeutics in record time
  • Provided support to workers and businesses
  • Paved way for reopening to get America working again
  • Surged resources to hot spots as they arose
  • Confronted China as origin of the virus while Democrats and media cowered

Some of these might raise an eyebrow; others are deliberately vague and platitudinal enough to maybe pass muster, at least at first glance.

But the fact-checking team at Medium has done a fantastic and comprehensively-linked breakdown of each and every one of those "historic" responses — and succinctly eviscerates most of it.

They do give credit where it's due as well; for example:

The U.S. was neither ahead or after the curve in restricting travel from China. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30. The same day, the State Department raised its travel advisory for China to "Level 4 — Do Not Travel." In doing so, the U.S. was acting in accordance with many other countries. According to ThinkGlobalHealth, a Council for Foreign Relations program that has tracked the countries that have imposed travel bans on China, 36 countries including the U.S. had imposed travel restrictions by February 2.

So yes, congratulations to President Donald J. Trump for gleefully enacting his xenophobic policies right when the W.H.O. that he despises recommended doing so for non-xenophobic reasons.

Anyway, if you're looking for a comprehensive resource for fact-checking the US coronavirus response, Medium's got you covered.

Fact-Checking President Trump's 'Historic Coronavirus Response' Brief [Coronavirus Blog Team / Medium]

Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead (Public Domain)

Trump asked for mail-in ballot for Florida's Tuesday primary election, he and Melania to vote by mail

President Donald Trump requested a mail-in ballot for Florida's Tuesday primary election, despite weeks of spewing hot lying garbage all over the place about how voting by mail means cats and dogs and zombies will get the vote.

On Wednesday, ballots for POTUS and for FLOTUS Melania Trump were sent to the Trump Mar-a-Lago resort. Palm Beach County elections records show this as their voter registration address.

Donald and Melania also voted by mail for the presidential preference primary in March, reports the Associated Press:

Following multiple claims that mail-in voting was unsafe and vulnerable to fraud, Trump changed his mind about the practice last week, at least in Florida.

"Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True," Trump tweeted last Tuesday. "Florida's Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!"

Meanwhile, Trump's campaign and the GOP are suing Nevada over its new vote-by-mail law. Nevada officials joined several states that plan on automatically sending voters mail ballots. Two states, California and Vermont, moved earlier this summer to adopt automatic mail ballot policies.

More at Associated Press

Free Fortnite?

Epic Games has rejected Apple's 30% app tax. In the past Epic has owned every single partner or vendor and managed to hold on to all the value. Anyone remember Twitch? Or the streamers? Or organized eSports? Epic took the whole pie. Epic may be close to winning the next round of the entertainment advertising wars with it is in-game ads and events.

Good luck, Apple!

Epic Games sues Apple, antitrust lawsuit says App Store is a monopoly

Epic Games has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple that argues the App Store is a monopoly. Epic is asking for no damages -— not a dime — but instead, injunctive relief that would force Cupertino to "allow fair competition."

In the lawsuit, Epic claims that Google forced OnePlus to break off a deal in which a special Fortnite launcher would come preinstalled on OnePlus phones, reports Jay Peters at The Verge.

More below from Twitter.

[via Techmeme]

If you've ever thought of learning American Sign Language, this masterclass is the way to go

One million Americans use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. But as you'd expect, even though ASL is the sixth-most used language in the US, it isn't just any old language like English or Spanish or French. 

According to Communication Service for the Deaf, 98 percent of Deaf people don't receive education in sign language, while almost three-quarters of families don't sign with their Deaf children. And with nine out of 10 children born to hearing parents, the need for ASL-conversant men and women has never been greater.

If you work in health care, emergency services, education, or just want to be able to communicate with a million new people, the training in The Complete American Sign Language Master Class Bundle is just what you're looking for.

The collection includes over 50 lectures covering 75 hours of content that help new ASL learners pick up the basics of sign language, then advance to being able to carry on involved conversations with other ASL signers.

From the ASL alphabet and numbers through useful and common ASL signs for everyday situations to emergency signs and how to react, this course covers everything learners need to start communicating.

The training even digs into the surrounding etiquette of ASL, including essential tips on proper ways to respond and behave as an ASL user and earning a deeper understanding of the Deaf culture and community.

In addition to three escalating levels of ASL learning, this bundle also includes a bonus course covering baby and toddler sign language. For new parents, this ability can help you communicate with your little one, even hearing capable children who just haven't learned to speak yet.

Whether you want to communicate with a Deaf friend, colleague, or loved one, or even if you just want to earn a competitive advantage at work, this training is a powerful resume builder. This training is also Continuing Professional Development (CPD) compliant, earning you 30 CPD credits.

This ASL training is usually a $99 value, but with this offer, you can be fluent in ASL now for only $19.99.

Prices are subject to change.

Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.

 

The Complete American Sign Language Master Class Bundle – $19.99

Learn an important skill for $19.99

Homeless Florida man lived in sports stadium luxury suite for two weeks

Police in St. Petersburg, Florida arrested a homeless fellow who had been living in a luxury suite in Al Lang Stadium. He was apparently wearing Tampa Bay Rowdies clothing swiped from the merch shop and ate from the concession stands during his two week stay. He's now in jail on charges of burglary and "resisting an officer without violence." From the Tampa Bay Times:

[He] was arrested Sunday after a cleaning crew entered the room where he was staying and found razors, opened shaving cream containers and blankets, St. Petersburg police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said.

Fernandez said the cleaning crew had not been in the room for some time because the space was supposed to be empty and cleaning activity was limited due to COVID-19.

(Thanks to our Florida bureau chief, Charles Pescovitz!)

image: John O'Neill (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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