Monday, April 16, 2018

Mimetic Security 101

I ran network address through this bias-checking site, and we're all good. Just kidding; it's too popular and I can't get in.

Fake News is really called misinformation, for those who are keeping track of these things. And people are pulling out all the stops trying to get a hold on it. And by 'pulling out all the stops' I mean 'making algorithms do that sh**'.

Data scientist Zach Estela trained a neural network to scan a webpage and determine the type of news it promulgates. He forms the code for his News Bias Classifier using a couple projects already in the business of sniffing out these different information types. One is called OpenSources, and it's curated by humans whose purpose is to squash the Dubiosity Monster that is our current infostream. They read articles and tag them.

These are their taglots:
Fake News, Satire, Extreme Bias, Conspiracy Theory, Rumor Mill, State News, Junk Science, Hate News, Clickbait, Proceed With Caution, Political, Credible*
*Check out their site for their definitions of these types

And check out their methods; Network Address (.blogspot) is a bit disheartened to see this particular method:
Step 1: Title/Domain Analysis.
If “.wordpress” “” appear in the title -- or any slight variation on a well known website-- this is usually a sign there is a problem.

But the Art teacher in me likes this:
Step 5: Aesthetic Analysis.
Like the style-guide, many fake and questionable news sites utilize very bad design. Are screens are cluttered and they use heavy-handed photo-shopping or born digital images?

Next source used for this fake news detector is a semantic analysis tool called Media Bias Fact Check dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.

I was drawn to some of their terminology, well, the meta-terminology they use to check news/information sources on the web:

Loaded Language (Words): (also known as loaded terms or emotive language) is wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes. Such wording is also known as high-inference language or language persuasive techniques.
Purr Words:  words used to describe something that is favored or loved.
Snarl Words: words used when describing something that a person is against or hates.

Sick of Seeing Spam on His Facebook so He Built a Fake News Detector
Mar 2017, VICE

Text Analysis
Sentiment Analysis at Textbox
Fake News Detector at Fakebox

And here's some corresponding references about language and persuasion, from the sentiment analysis page:
Bolinger, Dwight. Language-the loaded weapon: the use and abuse of language today. Routledge, 2014.
Matthews, Jack. “The effect of loaded language on audience comprehension of speeches.” Communications Monographs 14.1-2 (1947): 176-186.
S.I. Hayakawa, Alan Hayakawa. “Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition.” New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,

Post Script
Where would we be without Teilhard de Chardin's Noosphere

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On Sex and Sexuality

I'm reading The Left Hand of Darkness, and for those who don't know, the author Ursula K LeGuin is one of the most important science fiction writers ever, and for more than just this book, but also for some things in this book.

Possiblities in gender and sexuality are a relatively common topic in scifi, but still her description of this foreign race of people called the Gethenians is really quite shocking, especially in this day (2018/gender identity/etc).

She gets really descriptive about it, but I'll be brief. Everyone in Gethen is an ambisexual androgyne - neither male nor female, yet capable of become both. They are, compared to humans (Terrans in scifi lingo), asexual, but in this story, they are NOT asexual one week of every month. At this time they are in "kemmer" (basically like being in "heat"). And when in kemmer, anything goes, and all you do is go somewhere with a lot of other people in kemmer too, and you put your hand in theirs, and as long as both parties consent, voila, sex! (and gender, see below).

Funny thing is, during today's kemmer, you might turn into a woman, and next month's, a man, and you never know which it will be which until the moment it happens. And the partner is always the opposite. And so it's totally normal for people to both give birth to and sire children all the same, and at different times in their lives.

That's all I'll say about LeGuin's genius, because, as usual, truth is stranger than fiction, and we can now turn to nature for another example of disintegrating delineations of gender.

Behold, the anglerfish, and forget what you heard about checking off the "other" box on your birth certificate:

First-ever observations of a living anglerfish, a female with her tiny mate, coupled for life
Mar 2018,

Once a male finds a female, a seemingly impossible task in the vast open space of the deep sea, he bites onto her body, the tissues and circulatory systems of the two fuse, and he is fed by nutrients received through her blood. The male becomes a "sexual parasite," hanging on for the rest of his life and unable to free himself, fertilizing the eggs produced by the female. The male completely loses his individuality and the couple becomes a single functioning organism.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Twisted Crystals

Japanese Kagome baskets inspired a new kind of super-crystal.

Japanese basket pattern inspires new material
Mar 2018, BBC

The molecules of this new electrically conducting crystal resemble the arrangement of traditional Japanese basket-weaving patterns. (Can we call this a metacrystal, as in superconducting metamaterial + crystal? Are all metamaterials crystals?).

Also note the talk about quantum computers in this article. Supercomputing 2-dimensional quantum crystals; you can't talk about one without the other. And you can't think about the future without seeing humanity as a bunch of data-pushing filaments stretching across the solar system.

Let's not forget Alex Grey's Universal Mind Lattice, also a point of inspiration, although less practical than a Japanese basket.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Distribution of Progress

The Spirit of Truth

In 2006, the internet becomes public access tv on steroids with the dawn of YouTube. In case you forgot:

The Spirit of Truth

Ten years later...

In India, many see fake news on YouTube thanks to cheap data plans
Mar 2018, NBC

In India, a country holding 1/3 the world's people, the internet has finally taken hold. And by that we mean they're watching YouTube and getting infected by fake viruses and engineered memes.

And it looks a lot different than the same moment in other parts of the developed world about ten years ago. It's good to remember comparisons like this, because this is how progress really works.

When we imagine the future, we see it through the eyes of our own culture. But the world is a big place, and not everyone is traveling at the same speed at the same time.

Uploading our brains to the datasphere and Christopher Columbusing Mars will not happen next year. If the whole world was made of South Korea and NASA, then yes, that might be the case. But as a whole, we are worlds apart. And the speed of progress is not distributed equally across the planet.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Selfie Face Syndrome

Distortive effects of short distance photographs on nasal appearance: The selfie effect
Mar 2018,

From the Rutgers Department of Otolaryngology (facial plastic and reconstructive surgery) - not only are some people crazy about taking pictures of themselves, but the distortive effects of current camera lenses are making those same people want reconstructive surgery to fix their faces, when in fact they need to fix their cameras.

The Rutgers-Stanford model, published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, shows that an average selfie, taken about 12 inches from the face, makes the nasal base appear approximately 30 percent wider and the nasal tip 7 percent wider than if the photograph had been taken at 5 feet, a standard portrait distance that provides a more proportional representation of facial features.

Who cares? It's a public health issue, says the researcher, because people's self-image is a public health issue.

Read further:
JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery (2018). DOI: 10.1001/jamafacial.2018.0009 

Monday, March 5, 2018

News These Days

Sometimes it's just too hard to keep up:

Walking crystals may lead to new field of crystal robotics
Feb 2018,

Researchers have demonstrated that tiny micrometer-sized crystals—just barely visible to the human eye—can "walk" inchworm-style across the slide of a microscope.

Other crystals are capable of different modes of locomotion such as rolling, flipping, bending, twisting, and jumping. In the future, these moving crystals may open the doors to the development of crystal-based robots.

Scientists observe a new quantum particle with properties of ball lightning
Mar 2018,

"It is remarkable that we could create the synthetic electromagnetic knot, that is, quantum ball lightning..."

Want more efficient simulators? Store time in a quantum superposition
Mar 2018,

Want more efficient simulators? Store time in a quantum superposition.

[Really not following this one, but quantum time simulators? Yes.]

Graphene material strengthens nerve signaling in the brain
Mar 2018,

Just when you thought we were done talking about graphene for a while...

Not only can you grow brain cells on a sheet of graphene, but it also enhances signaling of those brain cells, AND, no surprise that all this comes as a complete surprise to the researchers (this happens a lot with graphene).

Friday, March 2, 2018

Our Terran Heritage

Just for personal archival purposes; somehow, as a scifi reader of 20 years, I've only recently come across this word enough times to make me look it up.

It's the word "Terran" and it refers to Earth-things, or particularly people from Earth. This would be used in contexts where the story takes place somewhere beyond our planet, to the point where we would need a name bigger than Chinese, Arabic, Congolese, or Midwesterner. ("Human" doesn't fit the same purpose, for some reason.)

Science fiction is a literature of neologisms - in fact, making up words is the favorite pastime of a scifi writer. It's also necessary in a genre where the point is to write about things that haven't happened yet. The fact that any word has become a de facto term is exceptional.

And yet, here it is: "Terran" was in heavy use in the 60's, and traces its origin back to the scifi magazines of the late 40's. I can't stop, however, until I see where Asimov fits into this.

Isaac Asimov used the term “Terrapolis” in his 1940 story Homo Sol:

Tan Porus stared thoughtfully out the window. Terrapolis, capital city of Earth, sprawled beneath him to the very edge of the horizon.

As with anything scifi, it's a safe bet to say Asimov is the origin.

Post Script

In a story taking place beyond our solar system, we might be called Solarians, and in fact we were, in the Asimov story mentioned above.