News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

We Built an ‘Unbelievable’ (but
Legal) Facial Recognition Machine

Most people pass through some type of public space in their daily routine — sidewalks, roads, train stations. Thousands walk through Bryant Park every day. But we generally think that a detailed log of our location, and a list of the people we’re with, is private. Facial recognition, applied to the web of cameras that already exists in most cities, is a threat to that privacy.

To demonstrate how easy it is to track people without their knowledge, we collected public images of people who worked near Bryant Park (available on their employers’ websites, for the most part) and ran one day of footage through Amazon’s commercial facial recognition service. Our system detected 2,750 faces from a nine-hour period (not necessarily unique people, since a person could be captured in multiple frames). It returned several possible identifications, including one frame matched to a head shot of Richard Madonna, a professor at the SUNY College of Optometry, with an 89 percent similarity score. The total cost: about $60.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In Defence of Disorder

News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Buddhist monks from Namgyal monastery in India engage in a ritual that involves the creation of intricate patterns of coloured sand, known as mandalas. As large as three metres across, each mandala requires a couple of weeks of painstaking work, in which several monks in orange robes bend over a flat surface and scratch metallic vials. The vials extrude sand from tiny spouts, a few grains at a time, onto areas bounded by carefully measured chalk marks. Slowly, slowly, the ancient pattern is made. After the thing is completed, the monks say a prayer, pause a moment, and then sweep it all up in five minutes.

Although I haven’t witnessed this particular ritual, I’ve seen a number of mandalas during my travels in Southeast Asia. For Buddhists, the creation and destruction of a mandala symbolises the impermanence of earthly existence. But the ritual also reminds me of the profound symbiosis of order and disorder at the core of our world.

Somewhat surprisingly, nature not only requires disorder but thrives on it. Planets, stars, life, even the direction of time all depend on disorder. And we human beings as well. Especially if, along with disorder, we group together such concepts as randomness, novelty, spontaneity, free will and unpredictability. We might put all of these ideas in the same psychic basket. Within the oppositional category of order, we can gather together notions such as systems, law, reason, rationality, pattern, predictability. While the different clusters of concepts are not mirror images of one another, like twilight and dawn, they have much in common.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

Tuscany Tote in Midnight

Shop the Tuscany Tote in Midnight
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Looking For Shakespeare’s Library

None of William Shakespeare’s friends and associates left behind a description of his library. Nor is there a record of it being dispersed at the time of his death. His will refers neither to books nor manuscripts. In fact, it gives no sign of a literary career at all, or even a literate one. Contemporary dramatists such as Francis Beaumont, Thomas Dekker, John Fletcher, Robert Greene, Thomas Heywood, and Ben Jonson all left behind plays in manuscript. No Shakespeare playscript, though, has ever been found. (Part of the manuscript of a play about Sir Thomas More has been attributed to Shakespeare, but the part is small and the attribution contentious.)

We do, however, know a few things about Shakespeare’s relationship with books. He wrote plays according to a method that has been labeled plagiaristic; “appropriative” is a more polite term, and historically more accurate. Quantities of prior plays, poems, novels, histories, and almanacs fed into his writing. The breadth of his sources is exceptional; they number in the hundreds and span diverse eras, countries, and genres. By some means, Shakespeare had contact with most or all of these source texts.

Read the rest of this article at: Lapham’s Quarterly

News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News

News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Last month, I decided to try an experiment with my media diet. Usually, in the morning, I skim e-mail newsletters in my in-box, scroll through my Twitter feed, and peruse the news apps on my phone; later, in the office, I tap through my notifications and monitor more than a dozen news-related apps, including Facebook and Twitter, while juggling other tasks. I usually feel as though I’m managing to stay abreast of the day’s biggest news stories, but my reading tends to be fragmentary—I’m only skimming a story or absorbing a partial update. Although I’m reading more than ever before, it often feels like I’m understanding less.

I haven’t stopped getting my news in this way, but I’m trying to change my ways to a certain extent. I’ve adopted a new ritual: reading the print edition of the New York Times over breakfast and on my commute. Since the early two-thousands, when I was a cub reporter at the Times, I’ve had the newspaper delivered daily to my door, but, as I’ve started getting more and more of my news online, I’ve been neglecting it. Having returned to spending uninterrupted time with the print newspaper each morning, I’m engaging with the news in a more focussed way. Certainly, I’m able to read more broadly. I’ve read articles that weren’t in my social-media feeds, or that I missed while scrolling through my apps: reporting on efforts to make Copenhagen a carbon-neutral city, on talks between the United States and the Taliban, on a new study that found that the size of bullets affects mortality rates in shootings. It seems to me that I’ve become better informed.

Many people have tried such experiments, of course. And much has been made of how being tethered to our phones affects everything from our attention spans to our psychological well-being. In his new book, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” Cal Newport, a computer-science professor at Georgetown University, marshals evidence that the addictive properties of our devices are not accidental but, rather, the product of careful thinking by tech companies about the feedback loops that will keep people returning to them. Newport’s main indictment is of social-media platforms, but he also argues that people need to rethink the way they consume news. Exposure to the online torrent of “incomplete, redundant, and often contradictory” information that now invariably follows a major news event is counterproductive and leaves us less informed, he writes. Even when nothing earth-shattering is happening on a given day, he continues, people follow a compulsive pattern of media consumption, triggered by any hint of boredom. “If you’re interested in politics, for example, and lean toward the left side of the political spectrum, this sequence might go from, to the New York Times home page, to Politico, to the Atlantic, to your Twitter feed, and finally to your Facebook timeline,” he explains. Techies might add Hacker News and Reddit; sports fans, ESPN. Media companies profit from this “lucrative tic.” “Checking ten different sites ten times a day makes them money, even if it doesn’t leave you more informed than checking one good site once a day,” he concludes.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

Mick Mulvaney’s Master Class in Destroying a Bureaucracy From Within

News 04.18.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

One rainy afternoon early in February 2018, a procession of consumer experts and activists made their way to the headquarters of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington to meet Mick Mulvaney, then the bureau’s acting director. The building — an aging Brutalist layer cake, selected by the bureau’s founders for the aspirational symbolism of its proximity to the White House, one block away — was under renovation, and so each visitor in turn trudged around to a side entrance. Inside the building, Mulvaney had begun another kind of reconstruction, one that would shift the balance of power between the politically influential industries that lend money and the hundreds of millions of Americans who borrow it.

Three months earlier, President Trump installed Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina, as the C.F.P.B.’s acting director. Elizabeth Warren, who helped create the agency in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, envisioned it as a kind of economic equalizer for American consumers, a counter to the country’s rising structural inequality. Republicans had come to view her creation as a “rogue agency” with “dictatorial powers unique in the American republic,” as the party’s 2016 platform put it. In Congress, Mulvaney had established himself as an outspoken enemy of the bureau, describing it, memorably, as a “joke” in “a sick, sad kind of way” and sponsoring legislation to abolish it.

Some of those invited to the meeting in February had picketed outside the bureau’s headquarters on Mulvaney’s first day at work. Their unease had only grown as Mulvaney ordered a hiring freeze, put new enforcement cases on hold and sent the Federal Reserve, which funds the C.F.P.B., a budget request for zero dollars, saying the bureau could make do with the money it had on hand. Within weeks, Mulvaney announced that he would reconsider one of the bureau’s major long-term initiatives: rules to restrict payday loans, products that are marketed to the working poor as an emergency lifeline but frequently leave them buried in debt. “Anybody who thinks that a Trump-administration C.F.P.B. would be the same as an Obama-administration C.F.P.B. is simply being naïve,” Mulvaney told reporters. “Elections have consequences at every agency.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On good days, the world seems like a well-run railway: things happen according to principles, laws, rules and generalisations that we humans understand and can apply to particulars. We forgive the occasional late trains as exceptions that prove the rule. But other times we experience the world as a multi-car pile-up on a highway. The same laws of physics and of governments apply, but there are so many moving parts that we can’t predict the next pile-up and we can’t explain the details of this one – ‘details’ that can let one car escape with a bent fender while another erupts in a fireball.

News 01.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

ne night in October, 2009, a young man lay in an fMRI scanner in Liège, Belgium. Five years earlier, he’d suffered a head trauma in a motorcycle accident, and since then he hadn’t spoken. He was said to be in a “vegetative state.” A neuroscientist named Martin Monti sat in the next room, along with a few other researchers. For years, Monti and his postdoctoral adviser, Adrian Owen, had been studying vegetative patients, and they had developed two controversial hypotheses. First, they believed that someone could lose the ability to move or even blink while still being conscious; second, they thought that they had devised a method for communicating with such “locked-in” people by detecting their unspoken thoughts.

News 29.11.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Elsewhere in the maze, there were long stretches without any junctions. Oskar van Deventer, a Dutch telecom engineer and a renowned designer of mechanical puzzles, told me, “This is something you will recognize in all Adrian Fisher mazes: that it has some long corridors with no decision to be made.” This provides the choice-fatigued aspirant with a brief, blissful break, but, of course, as I discovered when I hit one and thought I must finally be on the right track, it also serves Fisher’s wily purposes. “A long journey with no choices reinforces the feeling that either you’re going to solve it—or you’re getting very lost,” Fisher explained.