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Submission + - Europe wants to protect 'human rights defender' Edward Snowden from the US (betanews.com)

Mark Wilson writes: Edward Snowden could have a new friend, and place of exile, in Europe. Currently in Russia, Snowden today found himself the subject of an EU vote seeking to drop any criminal charges against the former NSA contractor.

The vote passed 285 to 281 and is likely to upset the US. This is because member states are also looking to extend protection to Snowden and prevent extradition by third parties, calling him an "international human rights defender".

Submission + - A Math Textbook Should Not Cost $180 (slate.com)

schwit1 writes: But when a professor went a cheaper way, his university reprimanded him.

The choice of a single textbook for one section of a course at one university might seem like a decidedly local issue. But a dispute over whether an academic department may impose such a selection on all faculty members in a multisection course has set off a large debate over how textbook choices should be evaluated, who should select textbooks, whether price should be a factor, and academic freedom.

These issues came to a head Friday when Alain Bourget, an associate professor of mathematics at California State University–Fullerton, appeared before a faculty grievance committee to challenge a reprimand he received for refusing to use a $180 textbook his department had determined was the only appropriate text for an introductory linear algebra and differential equations course. Instead, he used two textbooks, one of which cost about $75 and other of which consists of free online materials.

Bourget maintains that his choices are just as effective educationally and much less expensive, so he should have the right to use them. But the university says that it makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same textbooks. Both Bourget and the university say their positions are based on principles of academic freedom.

Submission + - Cops are asking Ancestry.com and 23andMe for their customers' DNA (fusion.net)

schwit1 writes: When companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe first invited people to send in their DNA for genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic tests, privacy advocates warned about the creation of giant genetic databases that might one day be used against participants by law enforcement. DNA, after all, can be a key to solving crimes. It âoehas serious information about you and your family,â genetic privacy advocate Jeremy Gruber told me back in 2010 when such services were just getting popular.

Now, five years later, when 23andMe and Ancestry both have over a million customers, those warnings are looking prescient. "Your relative's DNA could turn you into a suspect," warns Wired , writing about a case from earlier this year, in which New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry became a suspect in an unsolved murder case after cops did a familial genetic search using semen collected in 1996. The cops searched an Ancestry.com database and got a familial match to a saliva sample Usry's father had given years earlier. Usry was ultimately determined to be innocent and the Electronic Frontier Foundation called it a "wild goose chase" that demonstrated "the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases."

Submission + - Electoral system that Lessig hopes to reform is keeping him out of the debate (usatoday.com)

schwit1 writes: Lessig has raised a million dollars, which is nothing to sneeze at, but he's being given the cold shoulder by the Democrats when it comes to participating in the debates. I think he's got a good argument for being included — he's certainly as serious a candidate as those sad sacks Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee, and I'm hearing a lot more about his campaign than about the curiously somnolent campaign of Jim Webb.

Why are they keeping Lessig out? According to Lessig, it's for the same reason he wants in: "My view is that if we can get this message [of reform] into the debate it would change the dynamics of this Democratic primary entirely. This issue framed in this way totally blows up the Democratic primary."

Hillary and Bernie, he says, are promising the moon to voters, but can't deliver. Lessig told me, "If I can get on that stage and say the rocket can't get off the ground, and we have to change this dynamic first," the narrative shifts in a way that the leading candidates can't address.

Submission + - Economics is not a Science (theguardian.com) 2

The Real Dr John writes: A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modeling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths. In 1994 economists Myron Scholes and Robert Merton, with their work on derivatives, seemed to have hit on a formula that yielded a safe but lucrative trading strategy. In 1997 they were awarded the Nobel prize in economics. A year later, Long-Term Capital Management lost $4.6bn (£3bn) in less than four months; a bailout was required to avert the threat to the global financial system.

Submission + - Why It Was Easier to Be Skinny in the 1980s 2

schwit1 writes: A new study finds that people today who eat and exercise the same amount as people 20 years ago are still fatter.

A study published recently in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it's harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise. The authors examined the dietary data of 36,400 Americans between 1971 and 2008 and the physical activity data of 14,419 people between 1988 and 2006. They grouped the data sets together by the amount of food and activity, age, and BMI.

They found a very surprising correlation: A given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans.

Submission + - USA Elitists Favor Efficiency Over Equality (sciencemag.org)

LuxuryYacht writes: A team of four researchers from four different universities in the U.S. has conducted a study intended to discover why policymakers in the USA continue to make decisions that favor the elite, despite an electorate that would seemingly prefer the opposite. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their study and results and suggests that what they found may help explain the growing gap between the haves and have-nots.

In studying the results, the researchers found the Yale students made decisions based on efficiency on average of 80 percent of the time, compared to 50 percent for the general population. They were also found to be much more likely to make purely selfish decisions. This, the authors claim, helps explain why policymakers in the USA make decisions that benefit them and their peers more so than the general population.

Read more at: http://www.sciencemag.org/cont...

Submission + - Campaign to ban development of sexbots (bbc.com)

Earthquake Retrofit writes: Dr Kathleen Richardson, a robot ethicist at De Montfort University in Leicester, wants to raise awareness of the issue and persuade those developing sex robots to rethink how their technology is used. She believes that they reinforce traditional stereotypes of women and the view that a relationship need be nothing more than physical.

Submission + - Chinese Tech Companies Hire 'Cheerleaders' To Motivate Programmers

HughPickens.com writes: Lauren O'Neil writes at CBC News that internet companies "across China" are hiring "pretty, talented girls that help create a fun work environment." Dubbed "programming cheerleaders," these young women serve to chit-chat, play Ping-Pong with employees as part of their role, and sometimes smile and clap for male employees who play guitar in the office, as indicated by photos posted to the news service's verified "Trending in China" Facebook page. "According to the HR manager of an Internet company that hired three such cheerleaders, its programmers are mostly male and terrible at socializing," reads China.org.cn's Facebook post. "The presence of these girls have greatly improved their job efficiency and motivation."

However people from all over the world have weighed in to decry the reported role. "This is degrading — both to the 'cheerleaders' and the programmers," wrote one commenter on the original post. "Look at the face of the poor woman programmer in the second picture. Stereotypical 'bro' culture only now with Chinese subtitles." Others suggest that the company pictured should simply hire more female programmers. “What a ridiculous job, why reduce women to only be valued by their looks and to assist males. Let them have a job at the desk using their minds!” wrote one woman.

Submission + - Why There is Too Much New Programming on TV

HughPickens.com writes: John Koblin writes in the NYT that there’s a crisis in television programming that’s felt among executives, viewers and critics, and it’s the result of one thing: There is simply too much on television. John Landgraf, chief executive of FX Networks, reported at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour that the total number of original scripted series on TV in 2014 was 371 and will surpass 400 in 2015. The glut, according to Landgraf, has presented “a huge challenge in finding compelling original stories and the level of talent needed to sustain those stories.” Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO.says it is harder than ever to build an audience for a show when viewers are confronted with so many choices and might click away at any moment. “I hear it all the time,” says Lombardo. “People going, ‘I can’t commit to another show, and I don’t have the time to emotionally commit to another show.’ I hear that, and I’m aware of it, and I get it.” Another complication is that shows not only compete against one another, but also against old series that live on in the archives of Amazon, Hulu or Netflix. So a new season of “Scandal,” for example, is also competing against old series like “The Wire.” "The amount of competition is just literally insane," says Landgraf.

Others point out that the explosion in programming has created more opportunity for shows with diverse casts and topics, such as “Jane the Virgin,” “Transparent” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Marti Noxon, the showrunner for Lifetime’s “UnREAL” and Bravo’s “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” says there has been a “sea change” in the last five years. “I couldn’t have gotten those two shows on TV five years ago,” says Noxon. “There was not enough opportunity for voices that speak to a smaller audience. Now many of these places are looking to reach some people — not all the people. That’s opened up a tremendous opportunity for women and other people that have been left out of the conversation.”

Submission + - In Praise of the Solo Programmer

HughPickens.com writes: Jean-Louis Gassée writes that once upon a time, we were awestruck by the solo programmer who could single-handedly write a magnum opus on a barebones machine like the Apple ][ with its 64 kilobytes of memory and an 8-bit processor running at 1MHz. Once such giant was Paul Lutus, known as the Oregon Hermit, who won a place next to Jobs and Wozniak in the Bandley Drive Hall of Fame for his Apple Writer word processor. "Those were the days Computers and their operating systems were simple and the P in Personal Computers applied to the programmer," writes Gassée. "There’s no place for a 2015 Paul Lutus. But are things really that dire?"

As it turns out, the size and complexity of operating systems and development tools do not pose completely insurmountable obstacles; There are still programs of hefty import authored by one person. One such example is Preview, Mac’s all-in-one file viewing and editing program. The many superpowers of Apple’s Preview does justice to the app’s power and flexibility authored by a solo, unnamed programmer who has been at it since the NeXT days. Newer than Preview but no less ambitious, is Gus Mueller’s Acorn, an “Image Editor for Humans”, now in version 5 at the Mac App Store. Mueller calls his Everett, WA company a mom and pop shop because his spouse Kristin does the documentation when she isn’t working as a Physical Therapist. Gus recently released Acorn 5 fixing hundreds of minor bugs and annoyances. "It took months and months of work, it was super boring and mind numbing and it was really hard to justify, and it made Acorn 5 super late," writes Mueller. "But we did it anyway, because something in us felt that software quality has been going downhill in general, and we sure as heck weren't going to let that happen to Acorn."

Submission + - Microsoft can now remotely disable pirated games, if you're running them on Wind (firstpost.com)

totalcaos writes: Privacy concerns as Windows 10 EULA gives Microsoft the ability to remotely disable or un-install counterfeit software and games. How Microsoft will go about detecting this is still unknown, but raises real concerns as according to this Microsoft will be able to tell whats installed on you computer!

Submission + - Why Are There Still So Many Jobs?

Paul Fernhout writes: MIT economist David H Autor has written an article entitled "Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation". His article is a good read to understand the best of emerging mainstream economics thinking on technology and employment.

I feel his article leaves out some fundamental political aspects of the situation like I brought together in "Beyond a Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics"). His article of course assumes consumer demand is infinite (despite Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggesting people more to more low-cost self-actualization activities over time). It assumes that the business benefits of employing a human will always outweigh the costs for many jobs (despite strikes, lawsuits, quality, illness, turnover). It assumes humans will always have special advantages over AIs and robots. It ignores whether some aspects of the economy (like long pipelines to become a professor) are really needed or are just protectionism. It ignores the social impact of rich/poor divides on working conditions and the operation of a capitalist economy itself. It ignores the value to the worker of the intrinsic nature of the work (i.e. some people may just be less happy in service jobs compared to agriculture or manufacturing). It ignores deeper issues of rethinking work as play (like Bob Black wrote about). It also ignores (incidentally, in relation to humans vs. robots) that "comparative advantage" only applies theoretically when you have "full employment". The article jumps between proving some points with numbers and then making other points as "strong hunches" or by quoting suggestions about technological unemployment from fifty years ago (quoting Herbert Simon). His prescription is of course mostly just more "education" — which is nice job security for a professor. :-) But, within those sorts of limits, it's an excellent article which makes many good points, especially about the dynamics of economic networks as different parts of them are automated. The article has many interesting facts and figures. His points on how jobs are a mix of tasks which different near-term prospects for automation is excellent. And his point about human jobs changing as people work together with automation is well made. So, his article provides a good base for further study and/or rebuttal of the mainstream position. His article could be a good starting point for anyone writing an economic simulation, to see what really happens to economic networks based on distributing the right to consume based on perceived contribution to production as such networks undergo severe stress from automation.

Submission + - Houston firm NanoRacks to take Chinese experiment to International Space Station (examiner.com)

MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger reported on that for the first time a Chinese experiment will fly on the International Space Station, thanks to an arrangement between a research group based at the Beijing Institute of Technology and a private firm in Houston called NanoRacks. The deal seems to have been designed to avoid the prohibition against space cooperation between the Chinese regime and NASA, since the space agency is not directly involved. The experiment, which involves the effects that space radiation has on DNA, will be carried to the ISS by another private firm, SpaceX. Presumably the experiment would be run by a non NASA crew member to avoid any direct involvement with the space agency.

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