Reading Not-Wednesday

Jun. 24th, 2017 04:37 pm
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[personal profile] brigdh
What did you just finish?
Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago by Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi. A nonfiction book about Sabella Nitti, a woman who was found guilty of murdering her husband in 1923 Chicago – making her the first woman to be given a death sentence by an American court. (Note: not really. Plenty of women had hung or burned or otherwise received capital punishment before Nitti, but a lack of historical awareness meant that the lawyers, judges, and general public at the time reacted as though this was a new development, and chose to be proud of it or appalled by it as their personal politics dictated.) She is probably best-remembered these days as the inspiration for the Hungarian-speaking woman in the musical Chicago; here she is protesting her innocence during the Cell Block Tango.

Nitti was an Italian immigrant, illiterate, a farm wife, ugly (at least according to the reporters covering the case), and spoke no English or mainstream Italian, but only a fairly rare dialect called Barese. In addition, she was saddled with a defense lawyer who seemed to be actively losing the ability to maintain a train of thought – his behavior during the trial was remarkably unhelpful to her cause, and he would later spend years in a mental asylum. These factors almost guaranteed she would receive a guilty verdict despite the fact that it was never even clear if her husband was actually dead (it seems likelier he just decided to abandon the family), much less that she was the one who killed him. The local sheriff and one of Nitti's own sons seem to have been the prime movers in pinning the crime on her, despite the lack of evidence.

The depiction of the prejudices and passions of 1920s Chicago was where the book really shone. Women had newly gained the vote, and many saw the potential death sentence of a woman as connected to that – with power comes responsibility. Others argued that women were inherently deserving of mercy: "She is a mother and a mother has never been hanged in the history of this country. I do not believe the honorable court here will permit a mother to hang.” And then, of course, there was the issue of looks, of proper decorum – the pretty, fashionable yet obviously guilty women judged innocent by their all-male juries, and Nitti condemned to hang.

The first 2/3rds or so of the book, when Lucchesi is guiding the reader through Nitti's life before her husband's disappearance and the subsequent trial, are pretty great. Unfortunately the last third loses the thread. Lucchesi detours into describing the backstories of various prisoners Nitti would have met or other contemporary court cases in Chicago; none of it seems to have much to do with Nitti, who disappears from the page for chapters at a time. Some of these would become the inspiration for other characters in Chicago, but since Lucchesi won't mention the musical until the epilogue, the reader is left to make the connection on their own or be confused. (Overall I found the book's lack of direct acknowledgement of Chicago odd – it's so obviously hanging there, waiting for the reader to notice it, and yet Lucchesi treats it like a devil who will bring bad luck if its name is invoked. Not to mention the missed marketing opportunity.) Others, like the two chapters spent on the Leopold and Loeb case, just seem to have interested Lucchesi and were vaguely connected, so she threw them in as a afterthought.

It's a good example of historical crime writing, even if it needed a better structural editor.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.


Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD EVERYONE READ IT IMMEDIATELY. A novel set in 1746 New York City, the book opens with the arrival in town of Richard Smith, fresh from London and bearing a bill for a thousand pounds. All of the novel's action is compacted within the next 60 days, as various New Yorkers wait to receive word from England proving Smith is who he says he is and if he really is owed such a fabulous sum; in the meantime they (and the reader) are left to figure out the mysterious Smith: a conman who should be thrown in the city's freezing jail? a wealthy aristocrat who your daughters should be encouraged to woo? a French spy, come to exploit the division between the city's new-born political parties? an actor, a Catholic, a gay man, a libertine, or possibly even a Turkish magician? Through it all Smith delights in giving no answers, reveling in the New World as a place to remake himself. I generally am suspicious of books that deliberately hide information from the reader, but it's done so well here and leads to such a delightful revelation that I think it was the perfect choice.

Spufford's style is a moderate pastiche of 18th century novels; here are the opening lines as an example:
The brig Henrietta having made Sandy Hook a little before the dinner hour—and having passed the Narrows about three o’clock—and then crawling to and fro, in a series of tacks infinitesimal enough to rival the calculus, across the grey sheet of the harbour of New York—until it seemed to Mr. Smith, dancing from foot to foot upon deck, that the small mound of the city waiting there would hover ahead in the November gloom in perpetuity, never growing closer, to the smirk of Greek Zeno—and the day being advanced to dusk by the time Henrietta at last lay anchored off Tietjes Slip, with the veritable gables of the city’s veritable houses divided from him only by one hundred foot of water—and the dusk moreover being as cold and damp and dim as November can afford, as if all the world were a quarto of grey paper dampened by drizzle until in danger of crumbling imminently to pap:—all this being true, the master of the brig pressed upon him the virtue of sleeping this one further night aboard, and pursuing his shore business in the morning. (He meaning by the offer to signal his esteem, having found Mr. Smith a pleasant companion during the slow weeks of the crossing.) But Smith would not have it. Smith, bowing and smiling, desired nothing but to be rowed to the dock. Smith, indeed, when once he had his shoes flat on the cobbles, took off at such speed despite the gambolling of his land-legs that he far out-paced the sailor dispatched to carry his trunk—and must double back for it, and seizing it hoist it instanter on his own shoulder—and gallop on, skidding over fish-guts and turnip leaves and cats’ entrails, and the other effluvium of the port—asking for direction here, asking again there—so that he appeared most nearly as a type of smiling whirlwind when he shouldered open the door—just as it was about to be bolted for the evening—of the counting-house of the firm of Lovell & Company, on Golden Hill Street, and laid down his burden while the prentices were lighting the lamps, and the clock on the wall showed one minute to five, and demanded, very civilly, speech that moment with Mr. Lovell himself.

However, it's 18th century language hiding a 21st century attitude; this is a novel deeply aware of gender and racial divisions, for all that they're mostly hidden behind humor and a page-turning sense of suspense. It's a New York City shaped and haunted by the ghosts of the slave revolt of 1741, and its shadow lies over every page, thought it's only ever directly addressed in one on-page conversation (though goddamn, it's a conversation with resonance). Smith meets and begins to court Tabitha Lovell, who is described as a "shrew" by her family and the rest of this small-town New York. Her portrayal though, is much more complex than that stereotype, and it's never quite clear how much she is an intelligent woman brutally confined by social strictures or how much she suffers from an unnamed mental illness.

And yet it's fun book, an exciting book! There are glorious set-pieces here: Smith racing over the rooftops of winter New York, outpacing a mob howling for his blood; a duel fought outside the walls of the city that turns in a split second from humor to horror; a play acted on the closest thing New York has to a stage; a card game with too much money invested. The writing is alternatively beautiful and hilarious, and I'm just completely in love with all of it.

I really can't recommend this book enough. I came into it not expecting much, but it turned out to be exactly what I wanted.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.


Mount TBR update: No change: 18


What are you currently reading?
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley. A new book by the author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, a book which approximately one million people have recommended to me and yet I still haven't gotten around to reading. But, uh... I've got this one! :D

Forthcoming release: Stormy Nights

Jun. 24th, 2017 08:57 pm
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I have a short story collection, Stormy Nights, being published by NineStar Press on 24 July 2017. :-) For $3.99 you get 9 stories totalling some 45,000 words from both my pen names. The stories are a mix of reprints and new material, and cover a range of genres. You can find more information and pre-order it now at NineStar's own website. It will also be available later from the usual third party retailers.

StormyNights-f500

Sex and love, lies and truth, shades in between. Happy endings and might-have-beens. Nine tales of these things between men.

Bruria Kaufman

Jun. 24th, 2017 04:53 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

The Annual Reviews have a tradition of featuring retrospective articles by or about senior figures, and the Annual Review of Linguistics has followed this pattern with pieces featuring Morris Halle in the 2016 volume and Bill Labov in 2017. For 2018, we’ll be featuring Lila Gleitman.

As background, Barbara Partee, Cynthia McLemore and I spent the last couple of days interviewing Lila about her life and work. We’ve got more than 7.5 hours of recordings, which is more like a book than an article — and it may very well turn into a book as well, with edited interview material interspersed with reprints of Lila’s papers. But what I want to post about today is one of the many things that I learned in the course of the discussions. This was just a footnote in Lila’s life story, but it has its own intrinsic interest, and I’m hoping that some readers will be able to provide more information.

I learned that the founder of the Penn Linguistics Department, Zellig Harris, was married to a mathematical physicist named Bruria Kaufman. She worked with John von Neumann, wrote some widely-cited papers on crystal statistics in the late 1940s, published with Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein and Bruria Kaufman. “A new form of the general relativistic field equations“, Annals of Mathematics, 1955), and later wrote papers like “Unitary symmetry of oscillators and the Talmi transformation“, Journal of Mathematical Physics 1965, and “Special functions of mathematical physics from the viewpoint of Lie algebra“, Journal of Mathematical Physics 1966.

The thing that interested me most was that Bruria Kaufman also worked for a while in the 1950s with Harris at Penn, at the same time as others including Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, R.B. Lees, Naomi Sager, Zeno Vendler, and Noam Chomsky. And according to this 1961 NSF report, her contributions included Transformations and Discourse Analysis Papers (TDAP) numbers 19 and 20:

19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.
20. Iterative Computation of String Nesting (Fortran Code), Bruria Kaufman.

I’ve found a couple of citations to these works, but so far not the works themselves.

The 1961 NSF report says that

Paper 15 gives an information [sic — should be informal?] presentation of a general theory and method for syntactic recognition. Papers 16-19 give the actual flow charts of each section of the syntactic analysis program.

where 15-19 are

15. Computable Syntactic Analysis, Zellig S. Harris. (Revised version published as PoFL I, above)
16. Word and Word-Complex Dictionaries, Lila Gleitman.
17. Elimination of Alternative Classifications, Naomi Sager.
18. Recognition of Local Substrings, Aravind K. Joshi.
19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.

and “PoFL I” is Harris’s String Analysis and Sentence Structure, 1962.

Aravind Joshi and Phil Hopely, “A parser from antiquity“, Natural Language Engineering 1996, explains that

A parsing program was designed and implemented at the University of Pennsylvania during the period from June 1958 to July 1959. This program was part of the Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) directed by Zellig S. Harris. The techniques used in this program, besides being influenced by the particular linguistic theory, arose out of the need to deal with the extremely limited computational resources available at that time. The program was essentially a cascade of finite state transducers (FSTs).

More on the history from that source:

The original program was implemented in the assembly language on Univac 1, a single user machine. The machine had acoustic (mercury) delay line memory of 1000 words. Each word was 12 characters/digits, each character/digit was 6 bits. Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, Bruria Kauffman, and Naomi Sager and a little later, Carol Chomsky were involved in the development and implementation of this program. A brief description of the program appears in Joshi 1961 and a somewhat generalized description of the grammar appears in Harris 1962.  This program is the precursor of the string grammar program of Naomi Sager at NYU, leading up to the current parsers of Ralph Grishman (NYU) and Lynette Hirschman (formerly at UNISYS, now at Mitre Corporation). Carol Chomsky took the program to MIT and it was used in the question-answer program of Green, BASEBALL (1961). At Penn, it led to a program for transformational analysis (kernels and transformations) (1963) and, in many ways, influenced the formal work on string adjunction (1972) and later tree-adjunction (1975).

The paper’s bibliography cites

Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) Reports, University of Pennsylvania, Reports #15 through #19, 1959-60. Available in the Library of the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) (formerly known as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS)), Bethesda, MD.

So I’ll ask my friends at NIST if these works are still there.

 

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Posted by Andrew

[cat picture]

Thomas Ferguson sends along this paper. From the summary:

Social scientists have traditionally struggled to identify clear links between political spending and congressional voting, and many journalists have embraced their skepticism. A giant stumbling block has been the challenge of measuring the labyrinthine ways money flows from investors, firms, and industries to particular candidates. Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen directly tackle that classic problem in this paper. Constructing new data sets that capture much larger swaths of political spending, they show direct links between political contributions to individual members of Congress and key floor votes . . .

They show that prior studies have missed important streams of political money, and, more importantly, they show in detail how past studies have underestimated the flow of political money into Congress. The authors employ a data set that attempts to bring together all forms of campaign contributions from any source— contributions to candidate campaign committees, party committees, 527s or “independent expenditures,” SuperPACs, etc., and aggregate them by final sources in a unified, systematic way. To test the influence of money on financial regulation votes, they analyze the U.S. House of Representatives voting on measures to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Taking care to control as many factors as possible that could influence floor votes, they focus most of their attention on representatives who originally voted in favor of the bill and subsequently to dismantle key provisions of it. Because these are the same representatives, belonging to the same political party, in substantially the same districts, many factors normally advanced to explain vote shifts are ruled out from the start. . . .

The authors test five votes from 2013 to 2015, finding the link between campaign contributions from the financial sector and switching to a pro-bank vote to be direct and substantial. The results indicate that for every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds they would break with their party’s majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased by 13.9 percent. Democratic representatives who voted in favor of finance often received $200,000–$300,000 from that sector, which raised the odds of switching by 25–40 percent. The authors also test whether representatives who left the House at the end of 2014 behaved differently. They find that these individuals were much more likely to break with their party and side with the banks. . . .

I had a quick question: how do you deal with the correlation/causation issue? The idea that Wall St is giving money to politicians who would already support them? That too is a big deal, of course, but it’s not quite the story Ferguson et al. are telling in the paper.

Ferguson responded:

We actually considered that at some length. That’s why we organized the main discussion on Wall Street and Dodd-Frank around looking at Democratic switchers — people who originally voted for passage (against Wall Street, that is), but then switched in one or more later votes to weaken. Nobody is in that particular regression who didn’t already vote against Wall Street once already, when it really counted.

I replied: Sure, but there’s still the correlation problem, in that one could argue that switchers are people whose latent preferences were closer to the middle, so they were just the ones who were more likely to shift following a change in the political weather.

Ferguson:

Conservatism is controlled for in the analysis, using a measure derived from that Congress. This isn’t going to the middle; it’s a tropism for money. The other obvious comment is that if they are really latent Wall Street lovers, they should be moving mostly in lockstep on the subsequent votes. If you look at our summary nos., you can see they weren’t. We could probably mine that point some more.
Short of administering the MMPPI for banks in advance, are you prepared to accept any empirical evidence? Voting against banks in the big one is pretty good, I think.

Me: I’m not sure, I’ll have to think about it. One answer, I think, is that if it’s just $ given to pre-existing supporters of Wall St., it’s still an issue, as the congressmembers are then getting asymmetrically rewarded (votes for Wall St get the reward, votes against don’t get the reward), and, as economists are always telling us, Incentives Matter.

Ferguson:

Remember those folks who turned on Swaps Push Out didn’t necessarily turn out for the banks on other votes. If it’s “weather” it’s a pretty strange weather.

The post Incentives Matter (Congress and Wall Street edition) appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

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Why YouTube did this seems unclear so I am just going to jump to a conclusion completely unsupported by the available evidence and assume this is yet another example of right-wing trolls gaming a site's complaint mechanisms.
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Without spoiling the title, it's old timey SF from a series set on the worlds of the nearer stars. Wikipedia has a current list. In my day, the right hand column would have been filled with "here there be dragons," not lists of exoplanets.

That one KSR about how if you send a generation ship filled with the learnedly ignorant, colonization will surely fail aside, are there any SF novels recent enough to use the exoplanets we now know of as settings?

EasyPronunciation.com.

Jun. 24th, 2017 12:18 am
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Posted by languagehat

Timur Baytukalov has created what looks like a useful site for language learners, EasyPronunciation.com; he says:

I created this website with phonetic transcription converters – https://easypronunciation.com/en/. They can convert text into IPA phonetic transcription. I already support seven languages (English, Russian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian). Russian and French converters have embedded audio recordings.

Some levels are for paid subscribers, but basic levels are free; it looks worth checking out.

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Posted by Cory Doctorow

The CBC asked me to write an editorial for their package about Canadian identity and politics, timed with the 150th anniversary of the founding of the settler state on indigenous lands. They’ve assigned several writers to expand on themes in the Canadian national anthem, and my line was “We stand on guard for thee.”

I wrote about bill C-51, a reckless, sweeping mass surveillance bill that now-PM Trudeau got his MPs to support when he was in opposition, promising to reform the bill once he came to power.


The situation is analogous to Barack Obama’s history with mass surveillance in the USA: when Obama was a Senator, he shepherded legislation to immunize the phone companies for their complicity with illegal spying under GW Bush, promising to fix the situation when he came to power. Instead, he built out a fearsome surveillance apparatus that he handed to the paranoid, racist Donald Trump, who now gets to use that surveillance system to target his enemies, including 11 million undocumented people in America, and people of Muslim origin.


Now-PM Justin Trudeau has finally tabled some reforms to C-51, but they leave the bill’s worst provisions intact. Even if Canadians trust Trudeau to use these spying powers wisely, they can’t afford to bet that Trudeau’s successors will not abuse them.


Within living memory, our loved ones were persecuted, hounded to suicide, imprisoned for activities that we recognize today as normal and right: being gay, smoking pot, demanding that settler governments honour their treaties with First Nations. The legitimization of these activities only took place because we had a private sphere in which to agitate for them.

Today, there are people you love, people I love, who sorrow over their secrets about their lives and values and ambitions, who will go to their graves with that sorrow in their minds — unless we give them the private space to choose the time and manner of their disclosure, so as to maximize the chances that we will be their allies in their struggles. If we are to stand on guard for the future of Canada, let us stand on guard for these people, for they are us.


What happens after the ‘good’ politicians give away our rights? Cory Doctorow shares a cautionary tale.

[Cory Doctorow/CBC]


(Image: Jean-Marc Carisse, CC-BY; Trump’s Hair)

Chinglish with tones

Jun. 23rd, 2017 07:57 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

4th tone – 3rd tone, it would appear:

Well, maybe not; the diacritics are probably meant to indicate vowel quality, but I don’t know what system (if any) they are using.

Ben Zimmer writes:

The diacritics may be intended to evoke pinyin tone marks, but they’re also reminiscent of dictionary-style phonetic respelling and stress marking. The grave accent on “ì” could be intended as an indicator of primary stress, though that’s more typically marked with an acute accent. And the breve on the “ĭ” is a common enough way to represent /ɪ/ (the macron is used for long vowels and the breve for short vowels — see, e.g., Phonics on the Web). But this use of diacritics as typographical ornamentation is never very consistent — recall the styling of the play Chinglish as “Ch’ing·lish”.

The illustration appears at the top of this article:

It turns out that the image used by the People’s Daily originally appeared as a promotion for the play Chinglish that Ben mentioned, specifically for its performance by the Singaporean theater company Pangdemonium in 2015. See the Pangdemonium website, as well as local coverage by PopSpoken and Today. So the People’s Daily may have searched for a “Chinglish” image online and borrowed this one, without giving proper credit. (Credit should go to Olivier Henry of MILK Photographie.)

The six individuals in the picture seem to be aspiring to some idealized form of Chinglish in the sky above, overlying the cloud shrouded five star design of the Chinese flag, leading them on.  The thrust of the People’s Daily article, however, is anything but adulatory of Chinglish:

Chinese authorities on June 20 issued a national standard for the use of English in the public domain, eradicating poor translations that damage the country’s image.

The standard, jointly issued by China’s Standardization Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, aims to improve the quality of English translations in 13 public arenas, including transportation, entertainment, medicine and financial services. It will take effect on Dec. 1, 2017.

According to the standard, English translations should prioritize correct grammar and a proper register, while rare expressions and vocabulary words should be avoided. The standard requires that English not be overused in public sectors, and that translations not contain content that damages the images of China or other countries. Discriminatory and hurtful words have also been banned. The standard provided sample translations for reference, and warned against direct translation.

There are perpetual plans for eliminating Chinglish in China, but they are unlikely ever to materialize unless professional translators are sought after for their expertise and paid accordingly.

Earlier calls for the elimination of English more generally are no longer heard from responsible persons:

Now the goal is more reasonably just to get rid of Chinglish, but that will not happen on December 1, 2017 when the new standards go into effect.  Although it will take many years for their full implementation and realization, the standards are admirable goals to aim for.

See also:

[h.t. Jim Fanell, Toni Tan]

a man with an artic tern on his head

Jun. 23rd, 2017 08:12 pm
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[personal profile] lamentables
Proper post with proper photos coming soon, but in the meantime: we went on a boat trip around the Farne Islands today. We saw amazing things, were dive-bombed by artic terns, and got thoroughly drenched. It was fabulous.

Man with an artic tern on his head #farneislands @abrinsky

birds and seals )
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Posted by daniel

Senator Chris Coons introduced a bill this week called the STRONGER Patents Act [PDF]. The bill contains many terrible ideas. It would gut inter partes review (a valuable tool for challenging bad patents). It would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay v. Mercexchange (thereby allowing patent trolls to get injunctions to shut down productive companies, even though the patent infringed is only on a tiny piece of the larger product). Perhaps most strikingly, the bill includes a provision that would discourage companies from doing research and development in the United States. The STRONGER Patents Act shows how far the certain patent owners are willing to go to serve their narrow interests at the expense of everyone else. 

The general rule in patent law is that each country has its own patent system. This means that companies can only be found liable for infringing a U.S. patent for manufacturing or sales that occur within the United States. The Supreme Court has issued a number of sensible decisions affirming this rule. Senator Coons’ bill would upend this principle by making companies liable for foreign sales whenever they conducted the research and development for that product in the U.S.

Section 108(3)(A) of the bill says:

Whoever, without authority, supplies or causes to be supplied in or from the United States a design for a product embodying a patented invention in such manner as to actively induce the making of that product outside the United States in a manner that would infringe the patent if made in the United States, shall be liable as an infringer. 

In plain English, this means that if you design a product in the U.S., you can be sued for sales around the world. Worse, a separate provision the bill would have this rule apply even if you independently invented your product, and had no idea you were infringing a patent.

To see the impact of this provision, we can consider how it would apply to fabless semiconductor companies based in Austin, Texas or Austria. The Austin company designs chips in Texas then has them manufactured in Taiwan and sold around the world. The Austrian company designs chips in Salzburg then has them manufactured in Taiwan and sold around the world. If these chips are found to infringe a U.S. patent, the Austin company would be liable for all of its global sales. The Austrian company, however, could be found liable only for its U.S. sales. In this way, Coons’ proposal punishes the Austin company for investing in research and development in the United States.

You might think that the STRONGER Patents Act balances this big disincentive to innovate in the U.S. by making U.S. patents stronger. But that is wrong. You do not need to perform research and development in the U.S. to get a U.S. patent. As long as you meet the criteria for getting a patent, it doesn’t matter if your laboratory is in Austin or Austria. Indeed, in recent years more than half of issued U.S. patents were of foreign origin.

Under Senator Coons’ proposal, the most sensible business model is to do research outside the United States. Foreign companies will have their overseas sales protected. Yet they can still get U.S. patents and use those patents to attack the global sales of U.S.-based companies. As Josh Landau suggests at Patent Progress, it’s hard to think of a more effective way to use patent policy to convince companies to shift their investment in research and development overseas.

Patent owners often insist, without evidence, that “stronger” patents will always mean more innovation. The STONGER Patents Act shows why that is not true. The bill would “strengthen” the U.S. patent system in ways that actively discourages doing research and development here. It makes this choice solely to benefit patent owners. We hope that Congress rejects the terrible ideas in the STRONGER Patents Act and turns to patent reform that would actually promote innovation.

Stan Weekly Roundup, 23 June 2017

Jun. 23rd, 2017 05:40 pm
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Posted by Bob Carpenter

Lots of activity this week, as usual.

* Lots of people got involved in pushing Stan 2.16 and interfaces out the door; Sean Talts got the math library, Stan library (that’s the language, inference algorithms, and interface infrastructure), and CmdStan out, while Allen Riddell got PyStan 2.16 out and Ben Goodrich and Jonah Gabry are tackling RStan 2.16

* Stan 2.16 is the last series of releases that will not require C++11; let the coding fun begin!

* Ari Hartikainen (of Aalto University) joined the Stan dev team—he’s working with Allen Riddell on PyStan, where judging from the pull request traffic, he put in a lot of work on the 2.16 release. Welcome!

* Imad Ali’s working on adding more cool features to RStanArm including time series and spatial models; yesterday he and Mitzi were scheming to get intrinsic conditional autoregressive models in and I heard all those time series name flying around (like ARIMA)

* Michael Betancourt rearranged the Stan web site with some input from me and Andrew; Michael added more descriptive text and Sean Talts managed to get the redirects in so all of our links aren’t broken; let us know what you think

* Markus Ojala of Smartly wrote a case study on their blog, Tutorial: How We Productized Bayesian Revenue Estimation with Stan

* Mitzi Morris got in the pull request for adding compound assignment and arithmetic; this adds statements such as n += 1.

* lots of chatter about characterization tests and a pull request from Daniel Lee to update some of update some of our our existing performance tests

* Roger Grosse from U.Toronto visited to tell us about his, Siddharth Ancha, and Daniel Roy’s 2016 NIPS paper on testing MCMC using bidirectional Monte Carlo sampling; we talked about how he modified Stan’s sampler to do annealed importance sampling

* GPU integration continues apace

* I got to listen in on Michael Betancourt and Maggie Lieu of the European Space Institute spend a couple days hashing out astrophysics models; Maggie would really like us to add integrals.

* Speaking of integration, Marco Inacio has updated his pull request; Michael’s worried there may be numerical instabilities, because trying to calculate arbitrary bounded integrals is not so easy in a lot of cases

* Andrew continues to lobby for being able to write priors directly into parameter declarations; for example, here’s what a hierarchical prior for beta might look like

parameters {
  real mu ~ normal(0, 2);
  real
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Posted by Andrew

Commenter Erik Arnesen points to this:

Several errors and omissions occurred in the reporting of research and data in our paper: “How Descriptive Food Names Bias Sensory Perceptions in Restaurants,” Food Quality and Preference (2005) . . .

The dog ate my data. Damn gremlins. I hate when that happens.

As the saying goes, “Each year we publish 20+ new ideas in academic journals, and we appear in media around the world.” In all seriousness, the problem is not that they publish their ideas, the problem is that they are “changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.” And of course it’s not just a problem with Mr. Pizzagate or Mr. Gremlins or Mr. Evilicious or Mr. Politically Incorrect Sex Ratios: it’s all sorts of researchers who (a) don’t report what they actually did, and (b) refuse to reconsider their flimsy hypotheses in light of new theory or evidence.

The post Best correction ever: “Unfortunately, the correct values are impossible to establish, since the raw data could not be retrieved.” appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

Dear suspiciously rotund cat

Jun. 23rd, 2017 01:56 pm
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Not my cat, not my house. Please don't be pregnant.
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Posted by Phil Plait

Chad Cowan is a storm chaser, and takes astonishing photographs and video of the magnificent weather systems we get here in the middle of the United States.

In late June of 2016, he took time-lapse footage of a supercell forming and growing over Nebraska. It's stunning. Watch:

 

Storm chaser Chad Cowan shot this time-lapse video of a supercell forming and merging with another huge storm system behind it.

 

So what's going on here? The details can be quite complicated — we're talking fluid hydrodynamics here, which is fiendishly complex— but conditions have to be just right for this sort of storm to form.

The video starts with cumulonimbus clouds, the big, puffy, cauliflower clouds that occur when warm, water-laden air rises (called convection). As it does the water condenses to form the visible cloud, and the various updrafts punch upward to form the numerous bumps and bulges.

Then an important event occurs: Underneath the cloud base, the wind shears. This is when a layer of air is moving faster or slower than a layer next to or beneath it. If a layer of air above another is moving faster, it can start a slow horizontal roll or cylinder of air, like a barrel rolling on the ground. But there are also strong updrafts, air moving upward. This can lift one end of the horizontal roll and make it vertical, generating a huge, rotating wall cloud. You can see that under the main part of the cloud.

That's called a mesocyclone, and the whole system is called a supercell. In this case, it's what's called a "low precipitation" or "dry" supercell, because there's not much rainfall from it. Sometimes these dissipate, but not this time: In Cowan's video it merged with another line of storms you can see behind it and to the left, and strengthened.

The intense aquamarine color is not uncommon in these storms, and the exact cause is still unknown. It's likely due to the presence of hail, with red light getting absorbed by the ice so that more green and blue lights gets to us. But it's not clear that's all that's going on.

I've seen a few big systems similar to this, though a very well-organized rotating mesocyclonic wall cloud is still on my "to see" list. They tend to form farther east of where I live; it helps to have wide plains so the wind shear can get picked up by those updrafts. In a sense I'm glad; while weather like this is mind-blowing to see, it's also extremely dangerous to be in.

I asked my friend Marshall Shepherd —who happens to be a meteorologist and in fact was president of the American Meteorological Society in 2013 — about the video, and his thoughts mirrored my own:

The beauty of this storm merger masks the inherent danger it also brings. One of our biggest challenges in meteorology is to developing an observational and modeling understanding of all the physical processes happening at this scale. Such understanding will move the needle further in possibly predicting tornadoes ...

It's sometimes easy to forget, while watching the spellbinding beauty of these systems, how dangerous they can be. This one was reported to spawn a tornado after the merger, but all by themselves the high winds, lightning and torrential rain are threatening enough. Understanding these storms is critical to life in the U.S. Midwest, and I'm glad scientists like Marshall dedicate their careers to doing so.

Tip o' the lens cap to Maksim Kakitsev. You can follow Chad's work on Vimeo, Facebook, and Twitter.

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