News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

I didn’t love my old therapist, but she did give me one crucial piece of advice: Get a hobby. I was writing about food for work, so cooking didn’t really count as a hobby anymore — I’d already monetized that one — nor did reading, nor socializing, especially since all of my friends worked in my industry. I needed something in my life that existed apart from all that. I was stressed and, of course, also on my phone too much (and still am).

Maybe something you can do with your hands. The suggestion felt like an escape hatch: Maybe a hobby could free me from toil. Cooking had once been the thing I did to relax when I got home from work, the thing I was curious about, the thing that distracted my brain from its standard litany of complaints. Puttering in the kitchen had once been a release, but now it was part of my professional life. It needed a replacement. A few months later, I dutifully signed up for a ceramics class at a studio nearish my Brooklyn apartment.

This was March 2016. One of my roommates was an artist who had taken a class at that same studio, and I always envied the little pots she made. One of them was shaped like the face of a woman, with a ponytail for a handle. She gave it to me, and I put a small succulent in it that would soon die. I hoped that taking a class could make me more like her, or at the very least, happier — and if not that, well, maybe I’d make myself a bowl to put pasta in.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The world out there can often seem as though it is hurtling to hell in a handcart: people are refusing safe vaccines for a dangerous disease, extreme weather events caused by global heating are on TV nightly, billionaires are shooting themselves into the stratosphere in penis-shaped spacecraft while record numbers of the precariously employed rely on food banks. Looked at from this perspective, humanity as a whole doesn’t seem very rational. Hence why, surveying the idiocies of his own age, Jonathan Swift amended Aristotle’s definition of humans as “the rational animal” to his own sardonic formulation animal rationis capax – the animal capable of rationality.

How, though, should we become more capable? Most of the time, thinking sounds like hard work, but add “smart” to the front and it sounds more attractive: hipsterishly mid-Atlantic, vaguely technological (like “smartphone”), and with an implied promise of some handy trick or shortcut. A person who is smart – etymologically “sharp” or “stinging” – rather than merely thoughtful or intelligent is someone endowed with a certain practical cunning, not a dweller in ivory towers. Hence the rise in publishing of the “smart thinking” book, an elevated species of self-help for the aspiring ratiocinator.

The yin and yang of the genre are represented by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow

The yin and yang of the modern smart thinking genre are represented by two of its foundational bestsellers: Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011). The former celebrates the unconscious information processing that enables fast, “gut” decisions to be sometimes more accurate than those involving careful reflection. Kahneman, by contrast, emphasises the fallibility of snap judgments, detailing the work he did with Amos Tversky in behavioural economics, which suggests that instinctive, rapid cognition is prey to a host of severe errors. These are the now familiar “cognitive biases”. One is the availability bias: if there has recently been a terrorist incident in the news, we are likely to think that terrorism is more common than it really is. Another is the anchoring effect, where arbitrary numbers affect our subsequent estimates of something completely different. In one of Kahneman and Tversky’s experiments, participants were told to spin a wheel that gave a number between 0 and 100, and then asked how many African countries were members of the UN. Those who had spun a high number on the wheel gave a higher answer to the question.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

According to Jacobsen’s book, AABIS aimed to cover 80% of the Afghan population by 2012, or roughly 25 million people. While there is no publicly available information on just how many records this database now contains, and neither the contractor managing the database nor officials from the US defense department have responded to requests for comment, one unconfirmed figure from the LinkedIn profile of its US-based program manager puts it at 8.1 million records.

AABIS was widely used in a variety of ways by the previous Afghan government. Applications for government jobs and roles at most projects required a biometric check from the MoI system to ensure that applicants had no criminal or terrorist background. Biometric checks were also required for passport, national ID, and drivers’ license applications, as well as registrations for the country’s college entrance exam.

Another database, slightly smaller than AABIS, was connected to the “e-tazkira”, the country’s electronic national ID card. By the time the government fell, it had roughly 6.2 million applications in process, according to the National Statistics and Information Authority, though it is unclear how many applicants had already submitted biometric data.

Read the rest of this article at: MIT Technology Review

News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

By now you’ve probably heard that Apple plans to push a new and uniquely intrusive surveillance system out to many of the more than one billion iPhones it has sold, which all run the behemoth’s proprietary, take-it-or-leave-it software. This new offensive is tentatively slated to begin with the launch of iOS 15⁠—almost certainly in mid-September⁠—with the devices of its US user-base designated as the initial targets. We’re told that other countries will be spared, but not for long.

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned which problem it is that Apple is purporting to solve. Why? Because it doesn’t matter.

Having read thousands upon thousands of remarks on this growing scandal, it has become clear to me that many understand it doesn’t matter, but few if any have been willing to actually say it. Speaking candidly, if that’s still allowed, that’s the way it always goes when someone of institutional significance launches a campaign to defend an indefensible intrusion into our private spaces. They make a mad dash to the supposed high ground, from which they speak in low, solemn tones about their moral mission before fervently invoking the dread spectre of the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse, warning that only a dubious amulet—or suspicious software update—can save us from the most threatening members of our species.

Suddenly, everybody with a principled objection is forced to preface their concern with apologetic throat-clearing and the establishment of bonafides: I lost a friend when the towers came down, however… As a parent, I understand this is a real problem, but

As a parent, I’m here to tell you that sometimes it doesn’t matter why the man in the handsome suit is doing something. What matters are the consequences.

Apple’s new system, regardless of how anyone tries to justify it, will permanently redefine what belongs to you, and what belongs to them.


Read the rest of this article at: Continuing Ed – with Edward Snowden

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News 30.08.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

TULLIS MATSON IS in a helicopter over a game reserve in South Africa. As the aircraft circles the dusty landscape dotted with shrubbery, it throws up clouds of sand and grit, through which he can just make out a bull elephant, running.

The colossal creature bounds around, a bundle of muscle and terror. It’s been hit twice on the flank with tranquiliser darts but is fighting the numbness and won’t fall down. Instead it panics, heading towards a nearby watering hole. The helicopter hovers in its path to stop it: if the elephant collapses in the water, it will die. The standoff soon ends as the animal falls to its knees, crushing a bush on its way down, and the helicopter descends alongside several trucks. What follows is a peculiar scene.

A group of people flip the elephant, which landed on its stomach, onto its side, so that it can breathe. Matson, a 53-year-old man from Shropshire, approaches, dressed in khaki trousers and sunglasses, like a safari ranger. He kneels next to the elephant and hooks its penis into a device that looks like a huge condom. A conservationist inserts a probe that emits small electrical shocks to stimulate the elephant’s prostate in a process known as electroejaculation. They start to pump. When they finish collecting the semen, they pack up their equipment and hover overhead in the helicopter until the elephant wakes up and canters off.

I watch this strange series of events, which happened in October 2019, in a video sent by Matson over WhatsApp. The experience, he says, was one of the best of his life.

After collection, the elephant’s semen was brought back to Matson’s farm to be stored and later used in breeding programmes. Elephants in captivity have a high rate of stillbirths and infant mortality, according to the RSPCA. As the endangered animals face extinction in the coming decades, conservationists are working with elephant sanctuaries to gather semen samples in the wild, transport it to other locations, and hopefully improve the survival rate of calves born through artificial insemination.

But Matson is no park ranger or elephant conservationist. He runs an artificial insemination company for race horses from his family’s farm in Shropshire, England, which collects and stores semen from prizewinning studs for breeding purposes. He may not be an obvious choice to save the animal kingdom, but that is what he’s setting out to do.

By transferring his skills from horses to endangered species, Matson is planning to build the biggest biobank of animal cells in Europe. Nature’s SAFE, a charity which he founded in December 2020, aims to collect 50 million genetic samples and “freeze them in time”, storing cells from critically endangered species including the Amur leopard, black rhino and mountain chicken frog in cryogenic tanks. Working with partners including Chester Zoo, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, and researchers at the University of Oxford, his idea is to harvest and preserve samples of semen – as well as ova and other tissue – that could one day be used to regenerate dwindling animal populations and prevent them from going extinct.

When we first speak, just a month after launch, he has collected 30 samples from animals including the tamarin monkey, the mouse deer, the Colombian spider monkey and the panther chameleon. “We’re only scratching the surface,” he says. “We want to be like the Millennium Seed Bank – the equivalent of what they are doing, but for the animal kingdom.”

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

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