Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We're moving!!

So, we're moving!

That's not the exclusive "we" of me and my meat-space family. I mean the inclusive "we," you and me, imagined reader, we're moving off of blogger, and over to a new Wordpress-powered site at jonfwilkins.com

This is a part of a borg-like consolidation of my online presence. Over at the new site, you'll find not only the ongoing saga of this blog, but also other fun stuff, like my CV. (WOO!!)

So let us go then, you and I / and update our bookmarks in the sky / of the browser window, by which I / mean the bookmark bar. The Lost in Transcription blog will now live at http://jonfwilkins.com/blog/

If you subscribe to the feedburner feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/LostInTranscription you should be fine, as the blog feed will still redirect there.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What a Remarkable Paperback!!

So, guess what came in the mail yesterday? That's right! It's the paperback edition of Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley. The hardback came out last April under the Dial imprint of Penguin. The paperback is through Puffin (also part of Penguin), and has a completely new cover. Here's a stack of them:

Foreground: The nineteen best books ever written. Background: Our new kitchen wall color.

And here's a close-up of the cover, so that you can really see the awesome cover art by Fernando Juarez, which has a bit of a Dr. Seuss-ey vibe:

Pictured: Jane, The Pirate Ship Mozart Kugeln, Lucky the Lake Monster, The Mansion at the Top of Remarkable Hill, the Bell Tower (under construction). Not pictured: the nefariously identical Grimlet Twins, Melissa and Eddie, Remarkable's School for the Remarkably Gifted, Ebb, Jeb, Flotsam, Madame Gladiola, Penelope Hope Adelaide Catalina, Anderson Brigby Bright Doe III, Lucinda Wilhelmina Hinojosa, Mad Captain Penzing the Horrific, and more.
That means that, yes, you can now get this excellent book in paperback form, which is both more affordable and more bendable than the original!

Should you buy it? Yes! Why? Let me tell you!

Here are the pull quotes from just a few of the positive reviews Remarkable has received:

From the New York Times:
A lot of outlandish entertainment.
From Booklist:
A remarkable middle-grade gem.
From Kirkus Reviews:
A rich, unforgettable story that's quite simply — amazing.
The story centers on the town of Remarkable, where all of the residents are gifted, talented, and extraordinary. Everyone in the town is a world-class musician, or writer, or architect . . .

Except for Jane.

In fact, she is the only student in the entire town who attends the public school, rather than Remarkable's School for the Remarkably Gifted. But everything changes when the Grimlet Twins join her class and pirates arrive in town. Plus, there's a weather machine, a psychic pizza lady, a shy lake monster, and dentistry.

The book is both funny and thoughtful. You can enjoy it as a goofy adventure full of wacky characters and wordplay. It's for ages eight and up, but if you're an grown up who likes kids' books at all, you'll find that there is a lot here to engage the adult reader.

Speaking of which, you can also read it as a subversive commentary on a culture that pushes children towards excellence rather than kindness and happiness. As Jane's Grandpa John says near the end of the book:
The world is a wonderfully rich place, especially when you aren't trapped by thinking that you're only as worthwhile as your best attribute. . . . It's the problem with Remarkable, you know. . . . Everyone is so busy being talented, or special, or gifted, or wonderful at something that sometimes they forget to be happy.
Now, I know, you're thinking to yourself that you should take my endorsement with a grain of salt. After all, Lizzie Foley is my wife, and I can't be trusted to provide an honest, unbiased assessment of her book . . .

Or can I?

I'm gonna give you some straight talk on correlation versus causation. You might assume that I like this book because I'm married to the person who wrote it. You would not be more wrong. In fact, if I did not know Lizzie Foley, and I read this book, I would track her down and marry her.

So, yes, you should run out right now and get yourself a copy of this book. You should give it to your ten year old, or you should read it with your eight year old, or you should just curl up with it yourself. Just remember, she's already married. I'm looking at you, Ryan Gosling!

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Many English Tweets are Actually Possible?

So, recently (last week, maybe?), Randall Munroe, of xkcd fame, posted an answer to the question "How many unique English tweets are possible?" as part of his excellent "What If" series. He starts off by noting that there are 27 letters (including spaces), and a tweet length of 140 characters. This gives you 27140 -- or about 10200 -- possible strings.

Of course, most of these are not sensible English statements, and he goes on to estimate how many of these there are. This analysis is based on Shannon's estimate of the entropy rate for English -- about 1.1 bits per letter. This leads to a revised estimate of 2140 x 1.1 English tweets, or about 2 x 1046. The rest of the post explains just what a hugely big number that is -- it's a very, very big number.

The problem is that this number is also wrong.

It's not that the calculations are wrong. It's that the entropy rate is the wrong basis for the calculation.

Let's start with what the entropy rate is. Basically, given a sequence of characters, how easy is it to predict what the next character will be. Or, how much information (in bits) is given by the next character above and beyond the information you already had.

If the probability of a character being the ith letter in the alphabet is pi, the entropy of the next character is given by
– Σ pi log2 pi
If all characters (26 letter plus space) were equally likely, the entropy of the character would be log227, or about 4.75 bits. If some letters are more likely than others (as they are), it will be less. According to Shannon's original paper, the distribution of letter usage in English gives about 4.14 bits per character. (Note: Shannon's analysis excluded spaces.)

But, if you condition the probabilities on the preceding character, the entropy goes down. For example, if we know that the preceding character is a b, there are many letters that might follow, but the probability that the next character is a c or a z is less than it otherwise might have been, and the probability that the next character is a vowel goes up. If the preceding letter is a q, it is almost certain that the next character will be a u, and the entropy of that character will be low, close to zero, in fact.

When we go to three characters, the marginal entropy of the third character will go down further still. For example, t can be followed by a lot of letters, including another t. But, once you have two ts in a row, the next letter almost certainly won't be another t.

So, the more characters in the past you condition on, the more constrained the next character is. If I give you the sequence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy do_," it is possible that what follows is "cent at the Natural History Museum," but it is much more likely that the next letter is actually "g" (even without invoking the additional constraint that the phrase is a pangram). The idea is that, as you condition on longer and longer sequences, the marginal entropy of the next character asymptotically approaches some value, which has been estimated in various ways by various people at various times. Many of those estimates are in the ballpark of the 1.1 bits per character estimate that gives you 1046 tweets.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that these entropy-rate measures are based on the relative frequencies of use and co-occurrence in some body of English-language text. The fact that some sequences of words occur more frequently than other, equally grammatical sequences of words, reduces the observed entropy rate. Thus, the entropy rate tells you something about the predictability of tweets drawn from natural English word sequences, but tells you less about the set of possible tweets.

That is, that 1046 number is actually better understood as an estimate of the likelihood that two random tweets are identical, when both are drawn at random from 140-character sequences of natural English language. This will be the same as number of possible tweets only if all possible tweets are equally likely.

Recall that the character following a q has very low entropy, since it is very likely to be a u. However, a quick check of Wikipedia's "List of English words containing Q not followed by U" page reveals that the next character could also be space, a, d, e, f, h, i, r, s, or w. This gives you eleven different characters that could follow q. The entropy rate gives you something like the "effective number of characters that can follow q," which is very close to one.

When we want to answer a question like "How many unique English tweets are possible?" we want to be thinking about the analog of the eleven number, not the analog of the very-close-to-one number.

So, what's the answer then?

Well, one way to approach this would be to move up to the level of the word. The OED has something like 170,000 entries, not counting archaic forms. The average English word is 4.5 characters long (5.5 including the trailing space). Let's be conservative, and say that a word takes up seven characters. This gives us up to twenty words to work with. If we assume that any sequence of English words works, we would have 4 x 10104 possible tweets.

The xkcd calculation, based on an English entropy rate of 1.1 bits per character predicts only 1046 distinct tweets. 1046 is a big number, but 10104 is a much, much bigger number, bigger than 1046 squared, in fact.

If we impose some sort of grammatical constraints, we might assume that not every word can follow every other word and still make sense. Now, one can argue that the constraint of "making sense" is a weak one in the specific context of Twitter (see, e.g., Horse ebooks), so this will be quite a conservative correction. Let's say the first word can be any of the 170,000, and each of the following zero to nineteen words is constrained to 20% of the total (34,000). This gives us 2 x 1091 possible tweets.

That's less than 1046 squared, but just barely.

1091 is 100 billion time the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe.

By comparison, 1046 is teeny tiny. 1046 is only one ten-thousandth of the number of atoms in the Earth.

In fact, for random sequences of six (seven including spaces) letter words to total only to 1046 tweets, we would have to restrict ourselves to a vocabulary of just 200 words.

So, while 1046 is a big number, large even in comparison to the expected waiting time for a Cubs World Series win, it actually pales in comparison to the combinatorial potential of Twitter.

One final example. Consider the opening of Endymion by John Keats: "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness;" 18 words, 103 characters. Preserving this sentence structure, imagine swapping out various words, Mad-Libs style, introducing alternative nouns for thing, beauty, loveliness, nothingness, alternative verbs for is, increaseswill / pass prepositions for of, into, and alternative adverbs for for ever and never.

Given 10000 nouns, 100 prepositions, 10000 verbs, and 1000 adverbs, we can construct 1038 different tweets without even altering the grammatical structure. Tweets like "A jar of butter eats a button quickly: / Its perspicacity eludes; it can easily / swim through Babylon;"

That's without using any adjectives. Add three adjective slots, with a panel of 1000 adjectives, and you get to 1047 -- just riffing on Endymion.

So tweet on, my friends.

Tweet on.

C. E. Shannon (1951). Prediction and Entropy of Written English Bell System Technical Journal, 30, 50-64

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Darwin Deez: You Can't Be My Girl

So, this is one of those videos that actually adds a whole nother dimension to its song. New from a couple of days ago. Watch.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

White American Singles

So, what do you think: Pasteurized prepared cheese product or Republican online dating site?

Actually, "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" would also be an excellent name for a Republican dating site.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This seems like a weird way to fix peer review

So, it is common to hear scientists complain about peer review, about how it is "broken," and there is probably something to that. Over at Backreaction, a blog by theoretical physicists at The Economist, Sabine Hossenfelder argues that the future of peer review, on that will fix its problems, is already here, in the form of what she calls "pre-print peer review."

The idea is to separate the peer review process from the journals, and attach it to the manuscript. So, if I write a manuscript, I would send it out, for a fee, to a peer review service, which might be run by a publishing company, or by some other entity. According to Hossenfelder, once you got back the review,
This report you could then use together with submission of your paper to a journal, but you could also use it with open access databases. You could even use it in company with your grant proposals if that seems suitable.
Okay, so maybe Hossenfelder has a very different perception of what is wrong with peer review than I do. If your ultimate goal is to submit the manuscript for traditional publication, this seems problematic and, ultimately, unsustainable.

Just think for a moment about the dynamics and market pressures. First of all, if authors have control over the reviews that they purchase, one might expect that they will only attach these reviews to their papers when those reviews are positive. Furthermore, if there are multiple peer-review services, the market pressures would presumably drive them all towards more and more positive reviews. Basically, it sets up a system that will be unraveled by "review inflation." Thinking as a journal editor or grant reviewer, I suspect that I would quickly become very skeptical of these reviews. And I certainly would not be willing to substitute their recommendations for my own judgment and the opinions of referees I selected.

You can imagine ways to address this problem. For instance, certain peer-review services could build reputations as tough reviewers, so that their "seal of approval" meant more. At this point, however, you've merely layered on another set of reputations and rankings that must be kept track of. While this approach is billed as a way to simplify the peer review process and make it cheaper and more efficient, I have difficulty imagining that it would not do just the opposite.

Hossenfelder argues that this new model of peer review is not just desirable, but inevitable
irrespective of what you think about this, it's going to happen. You just have to extrapolate the present situation: There is a lot of anger among scientists about publishers who charge high subscription fees. And while I know some tenured people who simply don't bother with journal publication any more and just upload their papers to the arXiv, most scientists need the approval stamp that a journal publication presently provides: it shows that peer review has taken place. The easiest way to break this dependence on journals is to offer peer review by other means. This will make the peer review process more to the point and more effective.
First, in what way does this have anything to do with high subscription fees? Most open access journals have pretty much the same peer-review structure that subscription journals have. There are legitimate problems with the current dominance of scientific publishing by for-profit corporations that use free labor to evaluate publicly funded science, and then turn around and charge people a lot of money to access that science. However, given the expanding number of high-quality open-access journals that use the traditional peer review system, it seems like peer review is orthogonal to this issue.

Second, yes, there are many people who feel that they need the peer-review stamp of approval. The potential benefit here is that an author could pay for peer review and then post their work on the arXiv, thereby circumventing journals altogether, and allowing more junior researchers to pursue this publishing model. It just seems to me that an author-funded system that is so easily gamed is unlikely to provide any real sense of legitimacy to anyone with this specific concern.

Third, when she says that this will make the process "more to the point and more effective," I honestly can't imagine what mechanism she has in mind. Given that it is published in The Economist, my suspicion is that this claim is based on some sort of invisible hand argument -- that if we just free peer review from its shackles, it will become efficient and beautiful. But maybe that's unfair on my part.

The post goes on to point to two outfits that are already working to implement this model: Peerage of Science (which is up and running) and Rubriq (which is getting started). Rubriq seems focused on the author-pay model, creating a standard review format that could travel from journal to journal. Peerage provides reviews free to authors, and it paid by journals when they use a review and then publish a paper. I've not seen anything that addresses the problem of review inflation.

I don't know. Maybe there's something I'm missing here. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Free Tips for ex-Westboro Baptists Apologizing

So, nobody asked me for this advice, but if I only gave out advice when people asked for it, I would probably burst from all the advice building up inside me.

Today, Anderson Cooper apparently interviewed Libby Phelps Alvarez, granddaughter of Westboro Baptist founder Fred Phelps (via Gawker -- I did not watch this). She was raised in the church, but fled / escaped / defected in 2009, and has recently started speaking publicly about her experience. Let me just say that she deserves a lot of respect for that. I mean, she had to reject her whole upbringing and family, which must be hard, even if your family is full of Phelpses.

Here's the thing that pissed me off though. Her interview included the following statement of regret:
I do regret if I hurt people, because that was never my intention.
This is such the standard, cliche pseudo-apology that it is easy at first glance to overlook what an offensive pile of garbage this is. First of all, "if"? Really? Again, this is super common in these circumstances, but if you've spent most of your live holding up "God Hates Fags" signs at the funerals of soldiers and children, you know damn well that you hurt people.

Even worse, though, is the second bit. When some politician or celebrity pseudo-apologizes, saying it was never their intention to hurt anyone, it is often at least plausible that they were being careless, and not intentionally hurtful.

In this case though, hurting people is precisely the intention of every public appearance the Westboro Baptist Church makes. Now, maybe you could make the case that you thought you were practicing tough love, hurting people in a way that would lead them back to the path of righteousness, or some such nonsense. This would be bullshit, of course, but it would at least be plausible according to some sort of twisted logic.

The fact is, you did intend to hurt people. I believe that you wish now that you had not hurt people in the past, and that's great. I believe that you were a kid, did not know better, and are not fully responsible for your actions, at least up to a point. I believe that you think of yourself as a good person, and I am eager to believe that you have become one. But when I see this sort of pseudo-apology, it makes me a little bit skeptical.

Maybe try something like this: "I know that I hurt a lot of people, and I am sorry. I understand now how hurtful my words and actions were in a way that I did not understand then."

I feel bad about this. I mean, given where she started from, she has progressed further in the past few years than most people do in their lifetimes. But if you're going to make amends publicly, a good way to start is by being honest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Aaron Bady on MOOCs

So, since starting the Ronin Institute, I've been giving some thought to how one, as an independent scholar, can participate in teaching. After all, while some independent scholars are happy to be relieved of onerous teaching duties that keep them from their research, most actually like students, and would prefer to be involved in teaching to some extent.

One way to do this is through adjunct teaching at a local college or university. This is not necessarily appealing, though, since it typically pays terribly (for the number of hours you have to put in to do a good job), and it requires you to participate, at least passively, in undermining the traditional employment structure of the university. That is, as an adjunct, you're basically a scab. (This may or may not be a negative, depending on your position on various things, but it's not something that really appeals to me personally.)

The other way is through online courses. These are appealing to me in some ways. They are potentially more open, accessible, and democratic. They also feel as if they are more in keeping with the underlying mission of the Ronin Institute. After all, a part of the mission is to build a model of scholarship that is consistent with, well, life. We believe that it should be possible to function as a scholar while at the same time having family or other priorities that control where you live and when you work. Doesn't that mean that we should be working to extend education to people for whom the constraints of the traditional college system does not work? At least part of me feels like maybe it does.

That leads us to the Next Big Thing™: the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC). This seems like an obvious path for the independent scholar. However, I've been hesitant about that path because I'm not yet convinced that anyone has yet figured out how to really make this work. I mean sure, you can record lectures, and you can assign problem sets, and you can even organize online video-chat discussions. But based on my personal experiences with online communications of various sorts, I have this suspicion that these courses, as they currently exist, are missing some critical element. Something that is hard to articulate, but is actually central to a genuine educational experience.

Anyway, that's the context in which I read Aaron Bady's new piece in The New Inquiry, where he articulates a number of things that I think are absolutely true, but which had previously existed in my own consciousness in a nebulous, impressionistic form. Go read the whole piece, but among the points he argues are:

  1. MOOCs are being offered as a solution to high student-teacher ratios. This is ironic, since they lead to massive increases in the student-teacher ratio (and a decrease in teacher accessibility).
  2. In California, at least, MOOCs are being used to privatize education, under the veneer of making education "more accessible." He points out that for-pay MOOCs are not really "Open" in the way that implied by the appropriation of the term.
  3. Good teaching involves attention and response to various paralinguistic cues from the students. It is not inconceivable that there could be online tools to facilitate this, but they certainly do not exist today. And certainly not when the primary product is a pre-recorded lecture.
  4. MOOCs will work best (perhaps only) for self-directed learners, who do not require the pressure and feedback provided by the in-person classroom setting. However, for those people, it is not clear that your typical MOOC provides added value over, say, access to Wikipedia.
  5. Even for the self-directed, a part of the college experience is learning how to interact and exchange ideas with others -- debating and disagreeing in a respectful way: "If we take a process of socialization and make it a process of anti-socialization—if to be “at” college, you must be alone in front of a computer—we take the dynamic that creates the legendary poisonous atmosphere of “the comment thread” and use it to create adults."
Anyway, I'd love to know what others think, especially if you've ever taught online classes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Here's your White History Month(s), Asshole

So, it's Black History Month again, which means that it's time for whiny racists to renew their annual cry of, "Why isn't there a White History Month? Isn't that reverse racism, which is really just racism? You know, whites are actually this country's second class citizens." And so on.

There are two responses that you normally hear, both of which I am sympathetic to. The snarky one is that every other month is basically white history month. The earnest one is that we need a black history month because the history and contributions of African Americans are still underrepresented in the public consciousness when compared with the canonical history of the Washingtons and Roosevelts.

But there is another, less snarky version of the first answer, which is that there are, in fact, numerous recognized history and heritage months celebrating the history and contributions of people who are by and large subsets of "white."

So, here, for future reference, are your White History Months, (as per this Awareness Month Calendar from Nellis Air Force Base):
  • March: Irish-American Heritage Month
  • March: Greek-American Heritage Month
  • April: Arab-American Heritage Month
  • April: Tartan (Scottish-American) Heritage Month
  • May: Jewish-American Heritage Month
  • July: French-American Heritage Month
  • September 15 - October 15: German-American Heritage Month
  • October: Italian American Heritage Month
Other, non-Black Heritage Months:
  • May: Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
  • June: Caribbean-American Heritage Month
  • November: Native-American Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage month is also September 15 - October 15. From a legal perspective, "Hispanic" is an ethnic identity that is orthogonal to race, so that you can be "White Hispanic" or "Black Hispanic" when you're filling out your equal opportunity questionnaire. So, Hispanic Heritage Month might count as a sort of partial White History Month. I've left it out of the list, though, since I suspect that most people who are complaining about the lack of a White History Month don't mean to include Hispanics when they say "White." Similarly, Women's History Month (March).

In addition, you can find, at the state and local level, History Months and Weeks for Russians, Swedes, Dutch, Czechs, and on and on.

For the White Survivalists out there, there's even a National Preparedness Month (September).

Also, Movember.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Week in Star Wars: Silent Film and Traceroute Scroll

So, here are a couple of items for you Star Wars fans out there.

First, here's the "I am your father" scene from Empire, rendered as a silent film:

(via @brainpicker)

Second, you should open a terminal window on your computer right now and type in the following command:


It might take some time, since a lot of people are doing this right now, but the wait is worth it. (Assuming you're a huge dork.)

If you don't know how to open a terminal window, consult your friend with the thickest neck beard. They should be able to help you.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Today's awesome masculism hashtag

So, as soon as you are back home from stocking up on marshmallow fluff and shuriken for the latest snowpocalypse, you need to go to twitter and check out this hashtag: #INeedMasculismBecause

Here's an uncurated screengrab from right now. The awesomeness in just this snippet gives you some indication of the high-quality snark being generated right now:

There's also a fair bit of amusement to be had in the "Men's Rights" folks who stumble on the hashtag non-ironically.

Update: It sort of looks to me like this was maybe started non-ironically by the men's rights folks, and has been coopted by snark. It's sort of like meta-trolling.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Risk it ALL!

So, I posted this over on the Ronin Blog. Reposted here for your enjoyment.

Hey, here’s a cool video. It’s a sort of advice column from designer James Victore. The advice is obviously framed in a way that is specific to design (and probably art /achitecture as well), but it’s amazing how much of it carries over to, well, everything. It’s something that all you scholars out there should listen to.

Also, this guy’s face is like a crossbow, because just look at his facial hair, and then listen to those truth bolts shooting out of his mouth!

Now get out there!

David Bratton, Olympian

So, as I wrote previously, I've set up my browser so that it goes to a random Wikipedia page every time I open a new window. Here is the first entry I came upon this morning, in its entirety:

David H. Bratton (October, 1869 – December 3, 1904) was an American water polo player who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics.

He was born in New York City. In the 1904 Olympics he won a gold medal as a member of New York Athletic Club team. The same year, he died of a typhoid fever.

Transcript of the Homeless-Surfer-Hitchhiker-Hatchet-Jesus Thing

So, yesterday I posted the news report about Kai, the surfer who hitched a ride with a guy who decided that he was Jesus, and that he was going to kill people. In an act of heroism that has already been immortalized in gif form (Smash, Smash, Suh-mash!), Kai took a hatchet to thought-he-was-Jesus guy's head and saved the life of a Green Bay Packers fan.

I also posted of the long-form interview with Kai, which was one best line after another.

I'm not entirely sure why, but I felt compelled to produce a transcript of the interview. KAI is Kai, and JR is Jessob Reisbeck, the KMPH reporter who interviewed him.

The key thing to remember is that "police" is pronounced "POH li SEE"


KAI: I’m one of the heroes.

JR: Can we talk to you? Do you mind?

KAI: What do you want to talk about?

JR: What happened today.

KAI: Wuu, went straight out of dogtown. Skateboarding, surfin’ it up. Before I say anything else, I want to say no matter what you done, you deserve respect. Even if you make mistakes, you loveable, and it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, your age, your size, or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.

Now, this stuff right here, I was driving and I uh bfff – I was in the passenger side of this fucker’s car, and he comes over on there. He was over by the recycling center. He says, “Oh, when I was in the Virgin Islands, thirty years old on a business trip, I I uh I fucked this fourteen year old.”

I was like, “You what?”

He’s like, “I raped this fourteen year old.” He starts crying, gives me a big hug.

He’s like this fuckin’ three hundred pound guy. I’m like, “Holy Shit! He must be fuckered, man. Like, what’s he talking about?” I didn’t take him seriously at first.

He comes driving down this way, he’s like, “You know what? I’ve come to realize, I’m Jesus Christ, and I can do anything I fucking want to, and watch thi . . .” Bam! And he smashed into this fuckin’ guy right there, pinned him in between that fuckin’ truck, and so I fuckin’, I hop out, I look over, the guy’s pinned there.

I mean, like, freight train riders know this, like, if you get pinned between something, do not fuckin’ move that shit, otherwise you bleed out. Like, motherfuckin’ I ran in, I grabbed the keys. He’s fuckin’ sitting there like nothing even happened, and, like, fuckin’, like that.

If he had started driving that car around again, man, there would have been a hell of a lot of bodies around here.

Fuckin’ I hop on out, and so, I grab the bag. I threw it over by that pole right there, and then fuckin’ buddy gets out and there’s these two women are trying to help him. He runs up and he grabs one of them, man. Like a guy that big can snap a woman’s neck like a pencil stick.

So I fuckin’ ran up behind him with a hatchet. Smash. Smash. SU-MASH! Ye . . .

JR: The lady said you saved her life.

KAI: She was the one who got grabbed by that fucker. And you know what? Fuck is cool. That guy ain’t. Shii . . .

JR: How’d you, how’d you get in his car? How are, how did you . . .

KAI: I was hitchhiking. I was, well, good thing I was hitchhiking. Yeah, people say “Don’t hitchhike. Well, this is what happens.” Well, yeah, well, at least I was here.

JR: So he did this on purpose.

KAI: Dude! That guy was fuckin’ kooked out, man. Like, he’s beyond howlay, like, I don’t even see any breath in him. You know what I’m saying?

JR: Can, can I get your name? And where you’re from, if you don’t mind.

KAI: I’m Kai. Straight outta dog town.

JR: Can I get the spelling . . .


JR: Do you have a last name?

KAI: No, bro. I don’t have anything.

JR: Where are you from originally? Are you from Fresno area?

KAI: Sophia, West Virginia.

JR: No kidding. How old are you?

KAI: I can’t call it.

JR: Okay. Have you ever experienced anything like today? And what made you take the actions that you did?

KAI: That woman was in danger. He just finished, uh, what looked like, at the time, killing somebody. And if I hadn’t of done that, he would’ve killed more people. So, he’s dead. Good.

JR: You ever experienced anything like that, Kai?

KAI: Well, this one time, I was in an orchard, and this fuckin’ guy starts, starts beating on this woman who he calls “his.” So I walked on over, and I started smashing him in the head. I . . . you see all these teeth marks right here for the camera? Yeah, I started smashing him in the head and in the teeth. Busted out all his teeth.

Mother fuckin’ the Sheriffs, not the Police enforcers fuckin’ show up and start like, uh, they’re like, “So, what, what happened? I mean like ah, just give me any old name and just give me old, uh, fuckin’ birthdate whatever, just uh. Yeah.”

What happened today after, after the . . . you’re obviously free now, but were you arrested? What was the process? What did they do to you when the came out? Obviously they found out that you did the right thing, but at the time, from the accident until now, where have you been?

Well, you started, started following I [le-ack]. I, I cleaved his mother fuckin’ head wide open with a hatchet. He stood up like he was pulled right up, right, and like, fuckin’, I’m like, I’m like, bro, if you’re fuckin’ Jesus Christ, I’ll be the antichrist, man. Like fuck that shit.

And he starts following me off this way, so I figure I’ll lure him right away from the crowd, so I’m running off this way, I, I got a hatchet in one hand, a motherfuckin’, um, this bag I’m carrying over with another hand, I start running off that way, and so, uh, a couple of the people who was bystanders to it came over and told me to stop, and I was like, “Why stop?” and he was like, “The cops are already on their way.”

I was like, “Is he back up and doing anything?” and somebody said that he was masturbating in front of this school or fuckin’ whatever this place is right here. Ye . . .

JR: Were you questioned by police? Were you taken into custody? What happened? I mean, obviously . . .

KAI: I was questioned, I was put into the back of the, uh, Sheriff’s wagon, wasn’t the Polices that fuckin’ pulled I over, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, so, like, I got put in the back of the, uh, Sheriff’s wagon. The Sheriff was like, “What happened here?” Took down a statement. I told him everything I just told you. And fuckin’ let me out, said I couldn’t grab all this stuff until I, uh, I had finished, they had finished with something, you know what I mean? And like brought me back over here so I could be in front of this thing, like, this fuckin’ car right here.

It was fuckin’ gnarly, man. Holy shit. That was like the biggest wave I’ve ever ridden in my life.

JR: What’s next for you, Kai?

KAI: Hopefully some surfing. If anybody’s watching this somewhere else, and they’ve got a Mini Mal they could lend a guy, with a wetsuit. I’d love to test out Mavericks.

JR: Would you do it again?

KAI: Club him in the head with a hatchet? You know, if I could go back in time, I’d go back over to where I was at that recycling center and he said that he had raped that chick over in the Virgin Islands. It doesn’t matter where you at. If you can fuckin’ just spend a bunch of money and do whatever the fuck you want, you know, that’s not right. If I, If I could go back in time, I would have dabbed him up right there.

JR: It didn’t seem like you have any concern for yourself. You’re all about, I mean, doing the right thing, and not even worrying about Kai first.

KAI: I don’t have any family. Like, as far as, as far as anyone I grew up with is concerned, I’m already dead. So, whatever.


If you want to kick in to help buy Kai a new surfboard and wetsuit, there's an indiegogo for that: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/get-kai-the-hatchet-hero-a-new-surfboard-and-wetsuit--2

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Remarkable: Pulp-o-mized!

So, you already know that my wife, Lizzie K. Foley, wrote a book called Remarkable, which was published in 2012 and is, quite probably, the greatest middle-grade novel ever written. If you are a kid aged 8 and up, or if you know a kid aged 8 and up, you should buy it.

This is not what the cover looks like, but this is what the cover would look like if it had been published in the pulp era of science fiction magazines.

This was created using the PULP-O-MIZER, which I encourage you to waste the next several hours playing with.

For completeness, and to facilitate your resharing needs, here's that cover rendered in square, "facebook-friendly" format (which avoids the weird cropping thing that happens when you post tall images there).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Newspaper goes Ronin! (Sort of)

So, here's an interesting development, as reported yesterday by Jim Romenesko. A "real estate entrepreneur and newspaper junkie" named Alan Smolinisky recently bought a weekly newspaper called the Palisadian-Post (of Pacific Palisades, California).

Now, we all know that newspapers have been struggling financially, and that many of them have had to cut back on reporting and editing. This, of course, creates a positive feedback loop. You lose circulation, which means you lose revenues, so you cut back on reporting, which makes you lose even more circulation, and so forth.

Smolinisky is trying a different approach, according to Romenesko, he
dismissed his circulation manager, business manager/controller, graphic designer and publisher so he could beef up editorial.
According to an e-mail from LA Times reporter Marsha Groves, quoted by Romenesko, thereby making this, like, triple hearsay and totally inadmissible,
As a result of the cost savings, the Palisadian-Post was able to restore writers and editors to full-time hours after several years of reduced hours and pay. The editorial staff was also given more color pages and a bigger budget for several new features that they have wanted to do for years. Alan also said every employee was given a raise for the first time in at least seven years. They don’t make much. I know of a seasoned journalist who worked there briefly for a salary in the $20Ks. Kind of shocking.
From a certain perspective, what he is doing is sort of obvious. He recognizes that the core mission of a newspaper is reporting, and he is putting his resources into that. But it seems like everywhere you turn, you hear stories about companies that are cutting the core of what they do, while maintaining or even expanding the "business" side of the business.

At universities, we hear about departments replacing tenure-track faculty with adjuncts, while administrations (and administrative salaries) expand. What if instead, you had a university that responded to financial troubles by diverting more resources to its faculty? This is, of course, purely a thought experiment, as it seems almost inconceivable that any university administrator would make this sort of a move.

The reason I'm writing about this is that it struck me as resonant with one of the things we are trying to do with the Ronin Institute. We are starting from ground zero with researchers, and trying to develop a lean, minimal support system, one that will allow us to focus as many resources as possible directly on the core business of researchers -- doing research.

Anyway, I'll be eager to see how Smolinisky's experiment with the Palisadian-Post works out.

Listen up suckas! Mr. T has a video advice column!

So, I want to cast your memory back, to recall your youth, to the time when you saw your very first Gangnam Style parody, and you thought that the internet could not possibly get any better.

Now, get ready to call me your mind fan, because I'm here to blow your mind.

Mr. T has an advice column, and promises that you'll be able to send him questions through his app. I'm sure there's an inappropriate joke of some sort there, but I'm a busy man, so you're just going to have to think is up for yourself.

Here's Episode 1:

Full-Length Homeless-Surfer-Jesus-Hatchet Thing

So, you've probably already seen this story about the dude who said that he was Jesus, smashed his car into a utility worker, attacked a woman, and was finally subdued by a homeless hitchhiker with a hatchet. If you haven't, for whatever reason, here's the news report:

Even better, though, is the full-length footage of the interview with the homeless hitchhiker, whose name is "Kai," because of course it is.

The world needs more heroes like this guy. I hope somebody comes through with that Mini Mal.

Also, how awesome would it be if he were on the next season of Dancing with the Stars (with Dina Lohan, of course).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Superbowl Explained

So, this Ze Frank thing dates back to 2006, but if you don't care who's actually in the Superbowl, it feels totally current.

via Stellar Interesting.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

In defense of the independent academic lifestyle

So, as I noted previously, there was a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about independent scholarship. The article profiled nine scholars, four of whom are affiliated with the Ronin Institute. (Scientiam consecemus!) Unfortunately, the article is behind the Chronicle's paywall. Given that the article's primary audience is probably unemployed academics, this is kind of ironic, predatory, or clever, depending on your perspective.

Most of the comments on the article were supportive and hopeful -- some perhaps posted by people who are anxious about the job market in academia and are pleased to see that there are paths outside of the standard one.

In fact, that is consistent with the most of the responses I have gotten in person, as well. Most people I speak to, including tenured academics, agree that there are certain systemic problems with the way that academia is structured and funded. While they may or may not believe that the Ronin Institute is the (or even a) solution for these systemic problems, they are often enthusiastic and supportive -- glad, at least, that someone is trying something like this.

To be honest, this came as a pleasant surprise, as I had expected to find more people who responded out of defensiveness, with a knee-jerk impulse to defend the status quo. I expected this particularly from successful faculty who have tenure, or are on their way to getting it, who benefit most from maintaining the current system. Maybe it's just that the academics whom know personally are extra awesome (true), or that the skeptical ones have the courtesy to keep their skepticism to themselves.

There are a few of the comments in the Chronicle thread that do seem to reflect the conservative impulse that I had expected to see more of. Normally, I would say it is not worthwhile to address negative comments (especially negative comments that are hidden behind a paywall). On the other hand, I suspect that these comments may reflect attitudes that are fairly widespread in the academic community. One of the challenges that independent and non-traditional scholars face is the attitude that they do not have the authority to participate in the community. So, these comments represent criticisms that need to be addressed.

Let's start with this comment from "Shanna123":
Always interested to hear about folks who did not receive tenure. My experience has been that most departments/institutions (I've been at 4, either achieved tenure or was granted it coming in at all) strive VERY hard to support and ensure that folks hired in TT positions achieve tenure. So I always wonder about folks who did not achieve this. How are we supposed to evaluate whether someone's independent/"off the grid" contributions are worthwhile?
First, many independent scholars did not "not receive tenure." Some have never wanted a tenure-track position. Some have received tenure and walked away from it. Some would, ideally, like tenure, but are geographically constrained. (The fact that the commenter makes a point of pointing out her history of tenure is typical of the self aggrandizing and posturing that pervade so much of academia and make it unattractive to people who got over playing the "who's cooler" game in high school.)

Second, yes, most universities work hard to support their tenure-track faculty and get them to tenure. However, many universities are also reducing the number of tenure-track positions in favor of adjunct positions, which pay less and provide basically no job security.

Third, and most gallingly, "How are we supposed to evaluate whether someone's independent/'off the grid' contributions are worthwhile?" This is pretty simple: YOU READ THE WORK! If you are evaluating someone in the context of reviewing a manuscript, or a grant proposal, or on a hiring committee, you read their work and decide if it is good. If you don't have the skills or knowledge or time to do this, you have no business evaluating them. If you are simply going to say, "Well, this person got tenure at such-and-such University, I guess they must be good," you're not doing your job.

Next, here's part of a comment from "Docbot":
Those identified in the story have obviously come to the crossroad of reality and hubris. As an academic myself, I understand the desire to contribute to a field and the joy of having my own views adopted.  However, I also accept that if my impact stalls, or my respect diminishes, so too will my hopes for tenure and future positions. This is our commodity, much like the craftsmanship of a carpenter or the execution of a chef. I find the promotion of this semi-professional academic lifestyle to be irresponsible. Not only is it an unrealistic career path, (ie how do you support a family without health insurance?) it also drives down the wages of full time professors, by providing administrators a pool of mediocre stop-gap replacements.  
This is just a bunch of nonsense. Yes, impact in the field, in the form of scholarly papers, books, seminars, etc. is our chief currency. Docbot somehow assumes that independent scholars are incapable of generating such work. Yes, if you stall, it makes it hard to have impact in the future. This is just as true within the university system as it is outside it (although there are ways to jump start a stalled career).

Re: "I find the promotion of this semi-professional academic lifestyle to be irresponsible": This is classic  concern trolling. "How do you support a family without health insurance?" Well, I don't know, YOU BUY HEALTH INSURANCE, DUMBASS!! Yes, the financial instability that accompanies the independent scholar lifestyle means that it is not a path that everyone can pursue. However, maybe you have a spouse with a regular job with insurance. Or maybe you live in any one of the non-US countries with universal health care. A number of the Research Scholars at Ronin have full-time non-academic jobs, and engage in their research in their "spare" time. And before you object that no one could do legitimate research and hold down a forty-hour-a-week job, keep in mind that many academics have forty hours a week of teaching and administration, and they basically do their research in their own spare time.

Finally, about driving down wages of full-time professors, I think Docbot fails to understand the difference between adjunct faculty and independent scholars. I don't think that there are a lot of administrators are out there hiring cheap "stop-gap" researchers. Also, to the extent to which this point is true, it is, for better or worse, how our economic system works. Docbot seems to feel that everyone else should get out of the way so that he or she can have a good salary without competition. As for the implication that independent scholars are inherently mediocre when compared with traditional faculty, well, I reject that as irrelevant/ridiculous on its face. Or rather, while it may or may not be true that tenure-track faculty do better work on average than independent researchers, it is certainly true that the judgements about pay, funding, publication, etc. should be based on an individual's skills and qualifications.

Docbot goes on to say:
In closing I would like to add, that in my experience I have always found the anything requiring me to attend a 'support group' is something I should change.
First of all, meeting with and communicating with people who share common interests and problems is what non-psychopathic humans do. In academia we hold journal clubs and discussion groups. We go to conferences and symposia. We also meet to discuss specific challenges, to share solutions to shared problems. Would you say that anyone who has ever joined a "Women in Science" group should leave science? That seems to be an implication of your statement here. To denigrate people who do these things in a way that is slightly different from the way that you do it does not make you clever. It makes you a dick.

The last comment I want to respond to is from "wassall":
Ms. Ginsberg found that "(h)andling a full-time academic job" while raising two preschool-age children "wasn't feasible." I work with several colleagues who apparently find it quite feasible. With its generous vacations and summers off from teaching, a tenure-track position seems hard to beat in terms of flexibility while raising a family. Yes there is pressure to publish, but how is this different than the pressure of making partner in your law firm, running your own restaurant, or being responsible for annual sales targets?
This one looks to me almost like astroturf spawning out of that "academics are lazy" / "university professor is the least-stressful job" meme that the Wall Street Journal has been pushing. Enough so that if this comment were posted on my blog, I would probably just delete it. But let's take it seriously for a moment.

When I read that Ms. Ginsberg (not a Ronin . . . yet!) found that raising two preschool-age children was not feasible, I don't take that to mean "logistically impossible," nor would anyone else who was not actively trying to misrepresent her position. I suspect that what she meant was that a traditional academic job is very time consuming, and it requires making certain sacrifices. In her case, she concluded that the sacrifices she would have to make with respect to her two small children were not worth the benefits of a full-time academic job.

Many independent scholars have consciously made the choice to have a smaller paycheck, and less job security, because the greater independence and flexibility is worth it to them. These people are perfectly aware of the consequences of their choices, and are willing to take responsibility for them.

Let's follow wassall's analogy with the law firm. Honestly, I suspect that making partner in a high-power law firm makes for a harder lifestyle than getting tenure at a university. Perhaps partly because of this, many lawyers don't go work for high-power law firms. Some of them take poor-paying jobs as public defenders, or working for nonprofits, because they care about something in the world other than money and prestige. Some of them might go to work for a smaller law firm, maybe even work part time, because they want to be home when their kids come home from school. Some of them start their own law firms, because they have an entrepreneurial spirit and value their own independence.

The idea that you can't do scholarship if you're not at a University is like saying you can't practice law if you're not in a skyscraper in Manhattan. Now, the path for how to pursue a career in independent scholarship is not as clearly laid out as the paths that lead to becoming a public defender, or starting your own law firm. This is why I believe that "support groups" are valuable, so that people who are interested in developing new models for scholarship can discover and share what works.

Oh, and sorry for yelling. I wasn't yelling at you. (Unless you are Shanna123 or Docbot.)

On comments: it's your blog, set your policy however you want

So, there have been a couple of interesting discussions about blog comment policies in the past couple of days. Over on his Scientific American blog, Bora Zivkovic wrote a long rant about bad-faith commenters and how he deals with them. Greg Laden wrote a good response post. (As have a number of other people, I'm sure. If you're one of them, leave a link in the comments.) Unrelatedly (I think), Jerry Coyne wrote about his commenting policy, specifically regarding when he will and will not permit pseudonyms.

The thing in common among these posts is the willingness on the part of the bloggers to strongly assert ownership over the comment threads on their own blogs, which seems like part of a broader trend, one that I approve of.

At some level, the whole challenge of designing and implementing a commenting policy is that you want to encourage engagement, but you want to find ways to keep that engagement civil and constructive. Basically, you need to prevent trolling, whether in the form of off-topic comments, disingenuous ones, or bullying ones.

There are things that fight against that, though. In particular, there is the (sometimes disingenuous) complaining by people who think that their free speech is being violated. So many things wrong there, it's hard to know where to start. First, a blogger is not the American Federal Government. Second, deleting a comment is not the same thing as a fine or a prison sentence. Third, deleting a comment from a site does not stop you from posting that comment elsewhere. In fact, if you really really want to make a trolling comment about a specific blog post, you can start your own blog, and write a whole post about it. Or you can probably still register the domain name the.january.31.blog.post.by.jon.wilkins.about.commenting.is.lame.com. (If not, try .info.)

Bora and Greg both cite the metaphor of a blog being like one's living room. This metaphor originates, to the best of my knowledge with Ronin Institute Research Scholar John S. Wilkins (no recent relation), whose blog, Evolving Thoughts, features this comment policy:
This is my living room, so don't piss on the floor. I reserve the right to block users and delete any comments that are uncivil, spam or offensive to all. I have a broad tolerance, but don't test it, please.
Try to remain coherent, polite and put forward positive arguments if engaged in debate. There are plenty of places you can accuse people of being pedophilic communist sexist pigs; don't do it here.
The point is, like your 1950s-Archie-Bunker-stereotype father used to say, "my house, my rules." As a blogger, you have every right to impose any damn commenting policy you want. If you only want to permit sycophantic comments that say things like, "Great post, Jon! You're the best!," go for it. There is nothing "fair" or "unfair" about it. Of course, I don't think that's a good policy. In a good comment thread, people will make corrections and additions, and to engage in an honest, constructive debate that adds real value and builds a community.

Basically, your comment policy should be guided by these two things:

  1. Pragmatics. What sort of policy will encourage the type of conversation you want to have on your blog? If you want constructive conversations, you have to hammer down the trolls as soon as they pop up. If you want a flame war, post on controversial topics, sit back, and watch.
  2. Your comfort zone. If you hate profanity, then ban profanity. If you hate the word "sensual," then ban all comments with the word "sensual." If you like arguing with people, leave the comments up and respond to them. If not, don't.
That's it. You have no obligation to have a "fair" commenting policy, other than to the extent that it serves the goal of encouraging the type of commenters and comments that you want. You certainly have no obligation to develop a commenting policy that seems "fair" to the troll whose comment you just deleted (or modified via disemvowelment or Kittenizing -- links via the Bora post).

Similarly, on the topic of pseudonymy: yes, there are legitimate reasons why someone might want to remain anonymous or pseudonymous. However, if you feel strongly about real names, there is no sense in which it is "not fair" to require commenters to use real names on your blog. What it means is that, in addition to losing the anonymous trolls, you may lose some good commenters who prize their privacy highly. If yours was the only blog on the internet, there might be ways in which this would be unfair, but I suspect that yours is not the only blog on the internet, and the the ambitious pseudonymous commenter can probably find someplace else to go.

The other analogy that came up in the comment thread of Bora's post was this:
Remember; free speech doesn’t extend to having a right to have a say in any place, by any means. You can no more walk into the offices of a newspaper publisher and demand column inches than insist that your comments be published on a blog. One is at best a guest when visiting a blog; and one’s behaviour must be acceptable to the host.
I like the idea of a blog being like a newspaper. Comments are like letters to the editor. The newspaper is under no obligation to publish all of the letters it receives. Similarly, you can choose which comments you allow to be posted.

Anyway, here at Lost in Transcription, the policy is both simple and complicated, as it is based on the subjective judgment of an extremely complex neural network. Specifically, if I think you're a bot or a troll, you'll get deleted. Most of the time, the distinction between those and real comments seems pretty straightforward: most of the comments that are not obviously spam are perfectly constructive. In borderline cases, factors like identity may help to tip the balance, with a leeway ordering of real name > pseudonym > anonymous. I have no plans to take up modifying comments, but if I do, I will note that they are modified.

If your comment gets deleted, think back about what you wrote and think about why it might have come off as trollish or spamish. For example, did you respond angrily to something that was obviously a rhetorical and sarcastic question? Did you write something that sounds like it could have come from a press release? These are things that will get you deleted. However, if you want to try again, you're welcome to do so!

Alright, comment away!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

International Ronin

So, this is reposted from the Ronin Blog (original here)

In the wake of that article that recently came out in the Chronicle of Higher Education (covered here), I've received a few e-mails suggesting that there may be some confusion out there regarding the geographical scope of the Ronin Institute. So, I thought I would just take a moment to try to clear that up.

In concept, the Ronin Institute is a global institution. After all, the future of scholarship is international (just as the future of most everything is). As far as we are concerned, location and national citizenship do not matter. What matters is your work and your citizenship in the community of scholars.

That being said, from a legal perspective, we are incorporated in the United States, and our tax-exempt status was granted here. So, the US is the only place where we have a formal, legal, corporate presence. Similarly, my knowledge of the way that systems of scholarship and funding work is primarily limited to the US system. I basically understand other systems to the extent that they are similar to the US system. This means that, in practice, we might be able to provide the best support to scholars who are US citizens and/or who are in the US. However, as our network (both the Research Scholars affiliated with Ronin and other, like-minded institutions) grows, it will encompass a broader range of circumstances and systems.

We are envisioning two main types of activities. One is to help independent scholars to apply for research funding, including permitting them to apply through the Ronin Institute. For certain types of funding agencies (like government agencies), the fact that we are a US non-profit probably matters, and we may be in a position only to support applications from people in the US. Similarly, if you are in the EU, we might not be in a good position to help you to apply for EU funds at the present time.

Most private foundations are much less constrained on this dimension. Likewise, we expect that most donations from individuals could be disbursed to scholars (e.g., in the form of scholarships for conference travel) without too much concern over nationality and residency.

So, what's the take-home message here? Well, I'm imagining that you are an independent scholar living outside the US. You're saying to yourself, "Hey, this Ronin Institute thing is pretty cool. I wonder if I could join? Or should I start my own institute where I am?"

The answer is "Yes" and "Yes." If you are committed to pursuing scholarship at the highest level, are actively engaged in research, and would like to join our community, get in touch with us at info@ronininstitute.org, and we can discuss the process. And, if you're feeling ambitious and energetic, build something local as well!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ronin in the Chronicle of Higher Education

So, this is reposted from over at the Ronin Blog . . .

The most recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education features an article on independent scholarship. It profiles nine independent scholars, four of whom are Research Scholars here at the Ronin Institute (Patricia Appelbaum, Kristina Killgrove, Jay Ulfelder, and me).

If you have a subscription to the Chronicle, you can read the article here. Unfortunately, the article is behind the Chronicle’s paywall, which especially sucks since this will be of greatest interest to people who are maybe not in a position to pay for the subscription. For you, here are a few of the highlights:

First, here’s the succinct description of one of the main challenges faced by independent scholars:

Like traditional professors, [independent scholars] perform research, secure grants, and publish books and papers. In some cases, their work is having an impact on their disciplines, challenging established views and advancing knowledge in the field.

But independent scholars say their contributions are frequently discounted by tenured professors, who, as gatekeepers of scholarly conversations and the distribution of intellectual ideas, tend to exclude those who lack university credentials.


The work life of an independent scholar—with its freedom from the performance requirements of the tenure track—can be attractive to those with young children and those who can’t or don’t want to relocate for a faculty job. Yet theirs can be a spartan existence, lacking intellectual colleagues or recognition, a calling that most can afford to pursue only by working extra part-time jobs or relying on a partner’s income. The financial needs of independent scholars can also get in the way of academic freedom by limiting the kinds of questions they are able to ask and the projects they are willing to pursue.

The bulk of the article then focuses on the nine examples of independent scholars, who represent some of the diversity of motivations for people working outside of academia, as well as the diversity of models that people are pursuing to make independent scholarship work.

Near the end is a quote from our website, which sums up one of the primary goals of the Ronin Institute:

“The Ronin Institute is creating a new model for scholarly research that recognizes that the world outside of traditional academia is filled with smart, educated, passionate people who have a lot to offer to the world of scholarship,” its Web site says. “There are tens of thousands of people in the United States alone who have advanced degrees yet do not have jobs that are making use of their knowledge and passion. We are creating structures that will leverage this vast, underutilized resource.”

Of course, the goal is not only to leverage this resource, but to allow would-be scholars (and would-be part-time scholars) to live more well rounded, fulfilling lives.

So grab your swords, all you Ronin!

Scientiam Consecemus!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Scientiam Consecemus!!

So, this is reposted from over at the Ronin Blog:

Here’s an update for those of you who are following the development of the Ronin Institute. We now have an official motto, in Latin and everything:

Scientiam Consecemus

That’s “Let’s Chop Up Some Knowledge” to you.

Thanks go to Research Scholar Kristina Killgrove, who not only came up with the translation, but also indulged my complete lack of Latin by answering a long series of naive yet nitpicky questions.

Now maybe you’re asking yourself, “What the hell sort of motto is that??” Here’s the idea. Traditionally, if a Samurai lost his master, he was expected to commit suicide. Those who did not commit suicide became Ronin, masterless Samurai who made their living in a variety of ways. They had earned the right to carry their swords, only now they were carrying them for themselves.

Similarly, the traditional view in academia is that a scholar is defined by his or her position at a University (or similar research institution). People who don’t have a traditional academic position are expected to commit a sort of career suicide, abandoning their scholarly research. Our perspective is that you’ve earned your skills, and you still have your tools. You don’t need a master in the form of a University in order to put those skills to use.

So grab your intellectual swords, all you masterless scholars! Let’s chop up some knowledge!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Learn Something New Every Day

So, here's a cute trick I learned a couple of days ago (via Stellar:Interesting). Set up your web browser homepage to:


Then, whenever you open a new window or tab, it will redirect to a random Wikipedia article.

For example, did you know that Macropoliana afarorum is a moth from the Sphingidae family, or that it is known from Djibouti?

Well, if you had set up your homepage like this and then opened a new browser window a geometrically distributed number of times with a mean of about 30 million, you would have known it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Two more from Fisher and Haldane

So, previously I introduced you to Darwin Eats Cake's two newest characters, R. A. Fisher's Pipe and J. B. S. Haldane's Mustache. Well, the comedy duo have provided two more installations of their series, tentatively entitled, "Stuff Sitting in Jars on a Shelf, Talking."

I would not necessarily have predicted this, but as it turns out, Fisher's Pipe has a really juvenile sense of humor.

It's sort of sad, really.

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=151
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/151.png

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=152
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/152.png

Hard of Hearing Vader

So, this is one of the best things I've seen in a while. It's such a simple concept, but just brilliantly executed.

Update: "Deaf Vader" Why the hell did I not think of that before!?!?!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Twitter is now a Passive-Aggressive Stalker

So, for the past few months, I've been getting this at the top of my twitter feed:
Except I've been getting e-mails from Twitter, pretty much every day.

For example, I've been getting those e-mails informing me of what the people I follow on Twitter are talking about. For the record, Twitter, I already have a service that tells me what the people I follow on Twitter are talking about. It's called "Twitter."

Is this your passive-aggressive way of complaining that I never respond to your e-mails, Twitter?

What's next? Are you going to tell me you're worried that my answering machine is broken, because you've left like five messages, but I haven't called you back yet? Are you going to ask for topless pics? Show up on my porch? Tell me that if you can't have me, no one can?

Seriously, Twitter is the worst boyfriend ever.