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Submission + - The Big Driver of Mass Incarceration That Nobody Talks About (the-american-interest.com) 1

schwit1 writes: If you follow media coverage of America’s mass incarceration problem, you are likely to hear a lot about unscrupulous police officers, mandatory minimums, and drug laws. But you are unlikely to hear these two words that have probably played a larger role in producing the excesses of the American criminal justice system than anything else: plea coercion.

The number of criminal cases that actually go to trial in America is steadily dwindling. That’s because prosecutors have so much leverage during plea bargaining that most defendants take an offer—in particular, defendants who are held on bail, and who might need to wait in jail for months or even years before standing trial and facing an uncertain outcome.

We reported last week on a study from Columbia showing that all things being equal, defendants in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia who were made to pay bail are much more likely to plead guilty. Since then, a separate study from researchers at Harvard, Princeton and Stanford has come out that reaches a similar conclusion. . . .

Of course, bail remains a vital tool for judges, and some defendants are too dangerous to be let out before their trial, period. But there are ways we might be able to reform the pre-trial detention system so as to reduce the number of defendants who simply resign themselves to a guilty plea out of desperation since they can’t come up with the money to buy their temporary freedom. For example, the average amount of money bail assessed should be reduced (it has risen exponentially over the last several decades) and courts should experiment with ankle bracelets and home visits to monitor defendants rather than holding them in a jail cell before they have been convicted of a crime.

The focus on policing and minimum sentences and drug laws in the public discourse is all well and good. But if they are serious about making our justice system more fair and less arbitrary, criminal justice reformers should devote more of their efforts to reforming what happens in the period after arrest and before sentencing. That’s an area where big progress can be made with relatively straightforward, and politically palatable reforms.

Submission + - Mobile providers sell data about user location to third parties (observer.com)

An anonymous reader writes: The Observer got a look at some aggregated data about two Donald Trump rallies in Indiana before the primary in that state, and it illustrated the kind of data mobile providers can collect and that they also sell.

For example, he said, there were an unusually high number of Android users in the audiences. “This is somewhat indicative of a lower income bracket,” he explained. Saying that the Samsung S5 was the most popular phone at the two events, “which is kind of an old phone. These are not people buying the latest technology,” he said.

As the old adage goes: if you don't pay for the product, you are the product. Except, consumers do pay for mobile service, yet they still become products.

Submission + - American broadband, what's wrong with you? (networkworld.com) 1

Miche67 writes: The next time you turn off the video feature during a Google Hangout or Skype video call, don’t blame those companies. American broadband is the culprit, says Steven Max Patterson.

He says the video feature works perfectly during international video calls, but within the U.S.? Forget it. People would rather use plain old telephone service (POTS) than deal with video calls.

At a time when virtual reality is on the verge of delivering 3D virtual communications, and Hangouts and Skype are free, many people rely on old-fashioned one-dimensional POTS voice conferencing. They don’t use Skype and Google Hangouts because their bad experiences with video calls convinced them that the quality of these apps isn’t good enough.

But those apps aren't the problem, Max Patterson asserts. It's the broadband providers. According to Akamai's [state of the internet] Q1 2016 report, the U.S. isn't among the top broadband providers.

Submission + - Older Workers Adapt To New Technology Just Fine, Survey Finds (cio.com)

itwbennett writes: Those older workers in your office, you know, the one ones you think can't handle dealing with new technology? Turns out, they struggle less with technology than their millennial colleagues. A survey by London-based market research firm Ipsos Mori, sponsored by Dropbox, found that older workers are less likely to find using technology in the workplace stressful and experience less trouble working with multiple devices than the younger cohort. The reason for this might lie in all the clunky old technologies older workers have had to master over the decades. Digital Natives don't know how good they've got it.

Submission + - SPAM: Where did the Big Bang occur? A smart answer to a dumb question.

StartsWithABang writes: Asking where in space the Big Bang happened is like asking where the starting point of Earth’s surface is. There’s no one “point” where it began, unless you’re talking about a point in time. The reality is that, as far as space is concerned, the Big Bang occurred everywhere at once, and we have the evidence to prove it. If the Big Bang were an explosion, we would discover ourselves in a Universe that had a preferred location with different densities surrounding it, but instead we see a Universe that has the same density everywhere. We’d see a Universe that looked different in different directions, yet we see one that’s uniform to better than one part in 10,000 in each direction we look. And we see a Universe that exhibits zero spatial curvature: one that’s indistinguishable from flat. The Big Bang happened everywhere at once. This is how we know it, and this is what it means.

Submission + - Funds Flow to Companies that Figure Out Predictive Analytics

StewBeans writes: A recent article in Institutional Investor suggests that smart investors are keeping a close eye on companies that are making use of predictive analytics. The article notes that "companies that know how to increase engagement, recommendations and all the rest of the tactics predictive analytics unlocks will be better positioned to turn in strong profits." Gartner also predicts that advanced analytics, including predictive modeling, will be among the fastest-growing segments of the overall analytics market, likely to attract 40% of net new investment in BI and analytics by 2020. Businesses looking to stay ahead of this trend should "avoid shooting in the dark to isolate patterns from randomness," as VP of advanced analytics for Kaplan puts it. He provides insight into the three major considerations that will save organizations a lot of time and resources as they embark on their predictive analytics projects.

Submission + - Forget "bottom-up" reporting of emissions. Try an atmospheric monitoring system (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Ray Weiss at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography describes how countries report greenhouse gas emissions--a 'bottom-up' approach that can result in inventories that differ from those determined by measuring the actual increases of emitted gases in the atmosphere. Weiss proposes a 'top-down" atmospheric monitoring system for greenhouse gases and goes into the technology that already exists for doing so. Fascinating stuff.

Submission + - Tracking Caucusgoers by their Cell Phones (schneier.com)

Okian Warrior writes: Dstillery gets information from people's phones via ad networks. When you open an app or look at a browser page, there's a very fast auction that happens where different advertisers bid to get to show you an ad. Your phone sends them information about you, including, in many cases, an identifying code (that they've built a profile around) and your location information, down to your latitude and longitude.

On the night of the Iowa caucus, Dstillery flagged auctions on phones in latitudes and longitudes near caucus locations, some 16,000 devices. It then looked up the characteristics associated with those IDs to make observations about the kind of people that went to Republican caucus locations versus Democrat caucus locations. It drilled down farther by looking at which candidate won at a particular caucus location.

Submission + - Humans Are More Toxic to Wildlife than Chernobyl (vice.com)

derekmead writes: The Chernobyl disaster remains the worst nuclear accident in human history, with a death toll that is difficult to tally even decades later. Given the sobering reach of the resulting radiation contamination, you might expect the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone—the 4,200 square kilometers in the immediate vicinity of the explosion—to have suffered serious long-term ecological damage.

Surprisingly, though, a study published today in Current Biology shows that wildlife in the exclusion zone is actually more abundant than it was before the disaster. According to the authors, led by Portsmouth University professor of environmental science Jim Smith, the recovery is due to the removal of the single biggest pressure on wildlife—humans.

Submission + - Cold Fusion Rears Ugly Head with Claims of Deuterium Powered Homes (hackaday.com)

szczys writes: Ah, who can forget the cold-fusion fiasco of the early 1990's? Promises of room-temperature fusion machines in every home providing nearly-free energy for all. Relive those glory days of hype with this report of Deuterium-Based Home Reactors. Elliot Williams does a good job of deflating the sensationalism by pointing out all of the "breakthroughs", their lack of having any other labs successfully verify the experiments, and the fact that many of the same players from the news stories in the 90s are once again wrapped up in this one.

Submission + - Another Pharma Company Recaptures a Generic Medication (forbes.com)

Applehu Akbar writes: Daraprim, currently used as a niche AIDS medication, was developed and patented by Glaxo (now GlaxoSmithKlein) decades ago. Though Glaxo's patent has long since expired, a startup called Turing Pharmaceuticals has been the latest pharma company to 'recapture' a generic by using legal trickery to gain exclusive rights to sell it in the US.
Though Turing has just marketing rights, not a patent, on Daraprim, it takes advantage of pharma-pushed laws that forbid Americans from shopping around on the world market for prescriptions. Not long ago, Google was fined half a billion dollars by the FDA for allowing perfectly legal Canadian pharmacies to advertise on its site. So now that Turing has a lock on Daraprim, it has raised the price from $13.50 a pill to $750.

In 2009 another small pharma company inveigled an exclusive on the longstanding generic gout medication colchicine from the FDA, effectively rebranding the unmodified generic so they could raise its price by a similar percentage.

Submission + - The difficulty getting a machine to forget anything (thestack.com)

An anonymous reader writes: When personal information ends up in the analytical whirlpool of big data, it almost inevitably becomes orphaned from any permissions framework that the discloser granted for its original use; machine learning systems, commercial and otherwise, end up deriving properties and models from the data until the replication, duplication and derivation of that data can never hoped to be controlled or 'called back' by the originator.

But researchers now propose a revision which can be imposed upon existing machine-learning frameworks, interposing a 'summation' layer between user data and the learning system, effectively tokenising the information without anonymising it, and providing an auditable path whereby withdrawal of the user information would ripple through all iterations of systems which have utilized it — genuine 'cancellation' of data.

Submission + - Book review: Effective Python (59 specific ways to write better Python)

MassDosage writes: If you are familiar with the “Effective” style of books then you probably already know how this book is structured. If not here’s a quick primer: the book consists of a number of small sections each of which focus on a specific problem, issue or idea and these are discussed in a “here’s the best way to do X” manner. These sections are grouped into related chapters but can be read in pretty much any order and generally don’t depend on each other (and when they do this will be called out in the text). The idea is that you can read the book from cover to cover if you want but you can also just dip in and out and read only the sections that are of interest to you. This also means that you can use the book as a reference in future when you inevitably forget the details or want to double check something.

Effective Python stays true to this ethos and delivers 59 (not 60, nope, not 55) but 59 specific ways to write better Python. These are logically grouped into chapters covering broader conceptual topics like “Pythonic thinking”, general technical features like “Concurrency and parallelism” as well as nitty gritty language details like “Meta classes and attributes”. The range of topics is excellent and cover relevant aspects of the language that I’d imagine pretty much any developer will encounter at some point while developing Python programs. Even though there is no required order to reading the various sections if you want to read the book from cover to cover it’s organised in such a way that you can do this. It starts off with getting your head around coding in Python before moving on to specifics of the language and then ending with advice on collaboration and setting up and running Python programs in production environments.

I really enjoyed the author’s approach to each of the topics covered. He explains each item in a very thorough and considered manner with plenty of detail but manages to do this while still being clear and concise. Where relevant he describes multiple ways of achieving a goal while contrasting the pros and cons of various alternative solutions, ending off with what he considers the preferred approach. The reader can then make up their own mind based on the various options which applies best in a given situation instead of just being given one solution. The author clearly understand the internals of the Python language and the philosophy behind some of the design decisions that have resulted in certain features. This means that instead of just offering a solution he also gives you the context and reasoning behind things which I found made it a lot easier to understand. The discussions and reasoning feel balanced and informed by the experience of a developer who has been doing this “in the trenches” for years as opposed to someone in an ivory tower issuing dictats which sound good in theory but don’t actually work in the real world. The vast majority of the topics are illustrated through code samples which are built on and modified at each stage along the way to a final solution. This gives the reader something practical they can take away and use and experiment with and clearly shows how something is done. The code samples are easily comprehensible with just enough code to demonstrate a point but not so much that you get distracted by unnecessary additions.

While most of the topics are Python specific plenty of the best practices and advice apply equally well to other programming languages. For example in one section the author recommends resisting some of the brevity offered by the Python where this can lead to unreadable code that is hard to understand but the same could be said of writing code in many other languages (I’m looking at you, Perl). This also applies to a section related to choosing the best data structure for the problem at hand — if you end up nesting Maps within Maps in your code then you’re probably doing something wrong regardless of the language. Still, the main focus here is Python and the author does not shy away from going deep into technical details so you’ll definitely need some knowledge of the language and ideally some experience using it in order to get the most out of it.

Effective Python is not a book for complete newbies to Python and I think it’s suited more to intermediate users of the language wanting to take their skills to the next level or advanced programmers who might need some fresh takes on the way they do things. The subjects and opinions in this book could either convince you to do something differently or reassure you of the reasons why you’re already doing things a certain way (external affirmation that you’re right is also useful at times!) I’m no Python expert but I found the book drew me in and kept my attention and I certainly learnt a lot which will come in handy the next time I put on my Pythonista hat and do some Python coding. Highly recommended.

Full disclosure: I was given a copy of this book free of charge by the publisher for review purposes. They placed no restrictions on what I could say and left me to be as critical as I wanted so the above review is my own honest opinion.

Submission + - Did sexual equality fuel the evolution of human cooperation? (sciencemag.org)

sciencehabit writes: When a massive earthquake struck Nepal 3 weeks ago, people around the world flooded the country with donations and other offers of support. Humans are among the most cooperative animals on the planet, yet scientists are unclear about how we got this way. A new study of hunter-gatherers suggests the answer may be gender equality: When men and women have equal say in who they associate with, our social networks get larger.

Submission + - Snowden reveals scale of US aid to Israel which explains turmoil in Middle East

ltorvalds11 writes: The turmoil gripping the Middle East is a direct result of the provision of cash, weapons and surveillance to Israel by the US, the latest Snowden leak illustrates. In a bold examination, the former Guardian journalist reveals the amazing contrast between what the United States says publicly, and what it does behind the curtain.
In fact, "the single largest exchange between NSA and ISNU (Israeli SIGINT National Unit) is on targets in the Middle East which constitute strategic threats to US and Israeli interests," the leaked paper reveals. One of the "key priorities" of this cooperation is "the Iranian nuclear development program, followed by Syrian nuclear efforts, Lebanese Hizbullah plans and intentions, Palestinian terrorism, and Global Jihad." The paper talks about "targeting and exploiting" these. Greenwald goes on to list the occasions on which the US has been exposed as supplying arms to Israel;
the last such occasion was just before the start of the operation in Gaza, wherein a $1 billion stockpile of ammunition the US stored in Israel specifically for situations like these was used.

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