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“Vantablack” is the darkest pigment ever made — and thereR...

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busts of lenin, one covered in vantablack and one regular bronze
“Vantablack” is the darkest pigment ever made — and there’s a pitched battle between artists over who gets access to it. If you’ve ever wondered hey, where did all the xenon on Earth come from? (and who hasn’t?), here’s your answer: Comets. An exhaustive list of ever lie told by President Trump since he assumed office. An experiment finds that drones can deliver defibrillation equipment to remote areas 4X faster than ambulances. Are casinos legally liable for the compulsive behavior of problem gambers? Why “I was afraid” has become the new and unchallengeable excuse when a police officer kills a black man. A video game that shows what 4D objects would look like passing through a 3D world.

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jchalifour
6 hours ago
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Montréal
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Is the Problem With Tech Companies That They're Companies?

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What news do people see? What do they believe to be true about the world around them? What do they do with that information as citizens—as voters?

Facebook, Google, and other giant technology companies have significant control over the answers to those questions. It’s no exaggeration to say that their decisions shape how billions see the world and, in the long run, will contribute to, or detract from, the health of governing institutions around the world.

That’s a hefty responsibility, but one that many tech companies say they want to uphold. For example, in an open letter in February, Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the company’s next focus would be “developing the social infrastructure for community—for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.”

The trouble is not a lack of good intentions on Zuckerberg’s part, but the system he is working within, the Stanford professor Rob Reich argued on Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

Reich said that Zuckerberg’s effort to position Facebook as committed to a civic purpose is “in deep and obvious tension with the for-profit business model of a technology company.” The company’s shareholders are bound to be focused on increasing revenue, which in Facebook’s case comes from user engagement. And, as Reich put it, “it’s not the case that responsible civic engagement will always coincide with maximizing engagement on the platform.”

For example, Facebook’s news feed may elicit more user engagement when the content provokes some sort of emotional response, as is the case with cute babies and conspiracy theories. Cute babies are well and good for democracy, but those conspiracy theories aren’t. Tamping down on them may lead to less user engagement, and Facebook will find that its commitment to civic engagement is at odds with its need to increase profits.

The idea that a company’s sole obligation is to its shareholders comes from a 1970 article in The New York Times Magazine by the economist Milton Friedman calledThe Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” In it, Friedman argued that if corporate executives try to pursue any sort of “social responsibility” (and Friedman always put that in quotes), the executive was in a sense betraying the shareholders who had hired him. Instead, he must solely pursue profits, and leave social commitments out of it. Reich says that these ideas have contributed to a libertarian “background ethos” in Silicon Valley, where people believe that “you can have your social responsibility as a philanthropist, and in the meantime make sure you are responding to your shareholders by maximizing profit.”

Reich believes that some sort of oversight is necessary to ensure that big tech companies make decisions that are in the public’s interest, even when it’s at odds with increasing revenue. Relying on CEOs and boards of directors to choose to do good doesn’t cut it, he said: “I think we need to think structurally about how to create a system of checks and balances or an incentive arrangement so that whether you get a good person or a bad person or a good board or a bad board, it’s just much more difficult for any particular company or any particular sector to do a whole bunch of things that threaten nothing less than the integrity of our democratic institutions.”

Reich said that one model for corporations might be creating something like ethics committees that hospitals have. When hospitals run into complicated medical questions, they can refer the question to the ethics committee whose members—doctors, patients, community members, executives, and so onrepresent a variety of interests. That group dives deeply into the question and comes up with a course of action that takes into account various values they prize. It’s a complicated, thoughtful process—“not an algorithm where you spit out the correct moral answer at the end of the day,” Reich said.

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jchalifour
7 hours ago
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Turn them into co-ops!
https://ica.coop/en/what-co-operative --
That's the point of a co-op, fostering the well-being of its community.
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Anything for a party, but the idea Canada was born 150 years ago is absurd: Don Pittis

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Bobby Gimby, The Pied Piper album cover

Economically speaking, and even politically, Canada was not born 150 years ago. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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jchalifour
1 day ago
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A Novelist’s Tips for Writing Philosophical Fiction

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The APA grant funded Fiction Writing for Philosophers Workshop was held at Oxford Brookes University on June 1-2, 2017.  It was organized by Helen De Cruz, and featured presentations and mentoring sessions with philosophical fiction writers including Sara Uckelman (Durham University) Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California Riverside), and the British novelist and screenwriter with a Ph.D. in Nietzsche and Kafka James Hawes (Oxford Brookes University).  I attended the workshop and here I share some of Hawes’ tips for creative writing. 

The philosophers sat in the bright newly-built classroom, eyes fired up with curiosity and caffeine, and pens hovering above their notebooks.  The automatic windows purred in the background to filter the rising temperatures as the unusually sunny weather streamed in.  Up front stood Dr. James Hawes, author of six novels – two of which have been adapted for the big screen and one for a BBC documentary.

“Forget about the plot!” Hawes declared, “What’s your governing idea?” We should be able to summarize every story in eight words or less, he explained, and this central idea about people in the landscape of a story – not the plot – is what will hold a story together.

Teaching a room full of philosophers about rules is a task fraught with danger and it wasn’t long before participants challenged Hawes, starting with the importance of the plot.  Hawes argued that in a show such as Hinterland – a TV cop show set in Wales – no one cares that it’s ridiculous that there’s a murder in a small town every single week; viewers care about the main character.  Plot is only a means to get characters into a situation of stress and choice.  Below are more of James Hawes’ top tips for aspiring fiction writers.

  1. Avoid speed bumps: The first paragraph should be as reliable as possible. This means that it should flow without the reader having to stop and re-read.  If you get the opening right, readers will love you straight away.
  2. Don’t open with dialogue: Characters need to have context. The problem with opening with dialogue is that the reader knows nothing about the characters yet.
  3. Introduce a strange idea and then broaden out: Just as a stone being dropped into a pond creates ripples, so too should your opening idea be unusual and then the story ripples out from there. Have a secure set up and then drop something into the character’s world that disturbs it and creates a demand to do something.
  4. Put characters in big trouble as soon as possible: The sooner you can put people in trouble, the sooner you will have the reader’s collaboration.  Kafka’s Metamorphosis opens with the character turning into an insect in the very first sentence.  Katniss Everdeen – the heroine of The Hunger Games –is thrown into a duty almost immediately and people are going to die unless she does something.  Readers also like stories about people transgressing.  They want to read about dodgy people doing dodgy things.
  5. Never have heroes decide on their own: Heroes should always decide in response to something, otherwise it’s too abstract. A self-motivated hero is never satisfying for a reader.  Heroes should be receptive to experiences but lack the capacity to drive themselves.  Readers will be interested in the journey and the characters’ choices are vital.
  6. Evoke, do not inform: Avoid saying “she was scared” or “he was amazed.” Rather, write what it felt like for that person to be scared or amazed.
  7. Find your governing idea: What’s your story about? What makes it work?  What holds it together?  You need to know this so that you know what belongs and what doesn’t.  It gives your story clarity of intent.  In Toy Story, the governing idea is that “Friendship always wins out” and every scene is informed by it.
  8. Write every day: You don’t have to write publishable work every day, but get words on paper. Forget editing and paragraph breaks.  The writing can even just be notes.  The point is to practice writing, to get words on paper, and to edit later.

The writing activity that Hawes asked participants to do was to use Ernest Hemingway’s method in the introduction to For Whom The Bell Tolls to write an introduction to a story of our own.

Opening of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls

Hemingway’s introduction places the character in a specific context.  It provides vivid details about the scene.  It gives clues that the main character is on a mission, but we don’t yet know for what, which makes it intriguing.  It doesn’t open with dialogue.  Only after the scene is set does the main character ask a question.

While the philosophers afterwards discovered a widespread mutual dislike of Hemingway, it’s hard to argue about a book that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  And whether you agree with rules or not, Sara Uckelman reminded us of Picasso’s wise words:

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

More about James Hawes and his work can be found here.

 

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jchalifour
8 days ago
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Montréal
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Creation of the Canada Memory of the World Register

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Creation of the Canada Memory of the World Register
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jchalifour
12 days ago
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The idea of creating a new universe in the lab is no joke

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Physicists aren’t often reprimanded for using risqué humour in their academic writings, but in 1991 that is exactly what happened to the cosmologist Andrei Linde at Stanford University. He had submitted a draft article entitled ‘Hard Art of the Universe Creation’ to the journal Nuclear Physics B....

By Zeeya Merali

Read at Aeon

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jchalifour
13 days ago
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