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03 February 2016

Wednesday Links -- 3 February 2016

I'm a bit late ringing in the New Year, but ah well, it's an arbitrary calendar anyway. In this first links post of 2016, we have the flat-earth rapping controversy, drones versus eagles, mathematics versus conspiracy theories, the state of science fiction writing in the 21st century (aka "The Future") and lots more.

The Stranger sends a reporter to ask various psychics, channelers, and animal-telepaths about the coming year. That last one is worth checking out directly: she learned from an encounter crows and an owl how to protect her dreams!

The "aspiring rationalist" scene continues to demonstrate its crippling PR difficulties, this time in the New York Times. And I say that with a lot of sympathy.

The terror of 640x480 screen resolution, dial-up Internet, and watching a dessicated hand manipulate a computer mouse: Surfing For Seniors

(h/t Asher) You might have heard about rapper B.o.B. beefing with Neil deGrasse Tyson about whether or not the Earth is flat. (Spoiler: It ain't.) Well, surprise surprise, flat-earth conspiracy theories are pretty bound up in "THE JOOOOS" conspiracy theories, what this article calls "the digitizing of old-school antisemitism." I think old-school antisemitism is just one of several ideas gaining ahistorical traction on the Internet, sort of analogous to the resurgence of religiosity in the 1960s and 1970s, after ivory-tower types had declared the inevitable secularization of the West. Now the Internet is "the place where religion goes to die," maybe, but what if people just adopt a nihilistic attitude towards truth and ethics? Then you might see people ironic (sliding towards whole-heartedly) embracing conspiracy theories and old bigoted tropes...

Meanwhile the science writer for The Atlantic pushed out an article in praise of flat-earth theorists, claiming that they really exemplify the true spirit of scientific inquiry. Ah, no. Behold this journalistic embarrassment (archive.is link) here.

Network theory and urban hyenas: Among the Bone Eaters

Charlie Jane Anders at io9 on what it means to be a science fiction writer in the 21st century. I agree overall, but quibble on a few points—(1) Anders doesn't challenge the idea that 20th c. sf has "come true," which I think that is a misleading reduction of 20th c. sf; (2) I think sf is at its best when it's really weird, not "15 minutes into the future," because that discontinuity from the reader's reality forces them to understand the author's universe on its own terms... but I think I'll expand on these ideas in my review of Lester del Rey's 1979 history of science fiction.

Some very important differences between "capitalism" and "markets." Lots of people confuse and conflate the two terms (and "socialism" too!), regardless of whether they like or dislike the terms.

I knew John Conway was interesting but I didn't think he was this weird; amazingly weird. Sort of like the Ian Anderson of mathematics...? Maybe if you squint. John Conway: A Life In Games

Rebecca Goldstein, when asked by Edge.com what she thinks is the most important recent (scientific) news, relates this fascinating hypothesis about the gender gap in STEM fields: that the gap isn't among "STEM" fields exactly, but among all fields by how much success in that field is perceived to  be based in innate ability. So non-STEM fields like philosophy, music theory, and literary writing are at least as male-dominated. Of course, the perception is wrong wrong wrong wrong, but the hypothesis has interesting implications for how to close the gaps.

Cry havoc, and loose the hawks of war: Eagles are being trained to catch drones in the Netherlands

Is this a net benefit, or should we rend our garments at the imminent cyberpunk dystopia? I'm sure the writing style of this article doesn't help the former case that much: America's Oldest Mall Now Contains 48 Charming Low-Cost Micro-Apartments

A mathematical model to predict the expected failure time of "grand conspiracies"? Be still my heart!

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