Friday 19 May, 2023

Yochai in Oxford

Yochai Benkler, dressed in his best bib and tucker for a dinner we were at in Balliol, November 2012.

He’s a great legal scholar — and one of the most insightful observers of our networked world.

Quote of the Day

”I work for a Government I despise for ends I think criminal.”

  • J.M. Keynes, writing from the Treasury in a letter to Duncan Grant, December 1917.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Rimsky Korsakov | Flight of the Bumble Bee


Tomorrow is World Bee Day and Pam Appleby (Whom God Preserve) wrote to ask if it’d be possible to play this today, given that the blog doesn’t appear on Saturdays. And I’m happy to oblige.

And an email from Anthony Barnett (possibly sparked by the photograph of a beet factory in full operation in Wednesday’s edition) reminded me that in 2021, according to a Guardian report

A pesticide believed to kill bees has been authorised for use in England despite an EU-wide ban on its use outdoors two years ago and an explicit government pledge to keep the restrictions.

Following lobbying from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and British Sugar, a product containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam was sanctioned for emergency use on sugar beet seeds this year because of the threat posed by a virus…

Which perhaps indicates what the real price of refined sugar is.

Long Read of the Day

How to avoid the red herrings carefully laid by oil companies

A good case study in critical thinking by a philosophy professor, Kathleen Dean Moore.

Time after time, the real issue stands before us, and we find ourselves baying after some side issue of far less importance. I quiz my students: Explain, give examples.

Here’s one. Thirty-eight rail cars filled with vinyl chloride derailed and caught fire in East Palestine, Ohio. Vinyl chloride, a flammable petroleum product, is a potent carcinogen. When it is burned, it creates dioxin, another nasty carcinogen that now permeates the town. A familiar pattern followed: lamentations over the derailing; a cascade of reporters; a debate in Congress. Finally, politicians, commentators and outraged citizens all posed these questions: how will we punish the railroads? And how can we make railroads safer?

Those are the wrong questions. What I want to know is why would any sensible people allow the US petrochemical industry annually to produce 7.2 million metric tons of a poison that causes liver, lung, and brain cancer, and to distribute it as polyvinyl chloride in water pipes, gutters, rubber duckies, and My Little Pony dolls?

Lovely. Do read it through. Among other things, you will discover where the phrase “red herring” comes from.

Thanks to Charles Arthur for spotting it.

Your iPhone will soon be able to speak in your voice

At last, a bit of good news from a tech company.

To train the system, which Apple plans to ship later this year, you position yourself about six to 10 inches from the iPhone’s microphone, and then repeat a series of randomly selected sentences. That’s apparently enough to train the iPhone’s onboard machine learning (ML), and enable the handset to repeat what you type in your synthetically-generated voice.

Since the system is designed to help those who are losing their voices due to motor or cognitive impairment, the training is also flexible. If you can’t do a 15-minute training session, you can stop and start until you’ve made it through all the sentences. In addition, the training system is self-guided, so there’s no screen-tapping necessary.

While the system is not designed as a voice-over system, you can use Personal Vocie to save often-used phrases like “How are you?” “Thank you,” and “Where is the bathroom?”

My commonplace booklet

 Unboxing Shakespeare’s First Folio

This video (from the V&A Museum) about the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays is 12 minutes of delight. I’d often heard of the First Folio, but had never seen a copy. As Elizabeth James, the Senior Librarian of National Art Library Collections, opened the box containing the volume I was suddenly reminded of a moment 20 years ago when Anne Jarvis, then the University Librarian in Cambridge, opened the library’s copy of Isaac Newton’s own copy of his Principia — with all his scribbled annotations. And suddenly I was transported back 300 years. Magical moment.

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