The Librarian Who Guarded the Manhattan Project’s Secrets – Atlas Obscura

While dodging accusations of communism, Charlotte Serber made the nuclear bomb possible.

Source: The Librarian Who Guarded the Manhattan Project’s Secrets – Atlas Obscura

Charlotte Serber, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, statistician, and freelance journalist who at one point interviewed Frank Lloyd Wright for The Boston Globe.

In 1942, J. Robert Oppenheimer selected Serber to spearhead the project in part because of her lack of librarian experience. He wanted someone who would be willing to bend the rules of cataloguing.

As the head of the scientific library, she became the Manhattan Project’s de facto keeper of secrets, a position that soon saw her targeted for an FBI probe—and almost ended in her being fired from the project.

Serber’s greatest challenge proved to be importing thousands of esoteric textbooks, journals, and manuals to a town that isn’t supposed to exist—without raising suspicion.

The Internet as existential threat | Raph’s Website

As we rush towards putting more and more things “in the cloud,” as we rush towards an Internet of Things with no governance beyond profit motive and anarchy, what we’re effectively doing is creating a massive single point of failure for every system we put in it.

What we are building is basically a perfect scenario for collapse, where a commons is consumed by actors who either don’t care or don’t understand the collective damage that is possible in a connected system, and the tipping points that can ensue.

If software eats everything, then the ability to kill software is the ability to kill anything. Net connectivity becomes the single point of failure for every system connected to it.

A typical US city only has three days of food within the city limits, because the Internet has enabled just-in-time delivery of foodstuffs. Economic optimization within a network tends to imply specialization, which means that even those lovely rural communities that in theory grow their own food don’t grow balanced diets locally. And you’re laughing at an Internet connected juicer? Your juicer is already Internet-connected. If that goes down, you don’t get any more juice! It’s just connected in a way you can’t see.

We think of critical infrastructure in terms of government-owned or controlled utilities… but the food trucking fleet is “critical infrastructure.”

In a world where we take actual damage when something digital is attacked, any CPU is basically a weapon, and leaving Internet connected CPUs unattended is basically leaving armory doors open.

The issue is whether we are increasing the fragility of the system and thereby increasing the likelihood of cascade effects.

Source: The Internet as existential threat | Raph’s Website

How to Reawaken a Sense of Solidarity in America – The Atlantic

“If we are to sustain the solidarity that encourages acceptance of the strains of democratic cooperation, we must learn to more fully appreciate those contexts in which our common humanity is more important than our differences, by admitting that it is often possible to recognize and respect the moral integrity of others even when we disagree with them about matters of moral and political significance.”

“The sacrifices and compromises that matter are not just those associated with the demands of war or other national crises. We must learn, for instance, to relinquish resentments towards the ‘opposition’ when we lose out in a political contest and to refrain from smug self-righteousness when we win.

We must encourage our political leaders to be open to constructive compromise when political consensus is out of reach. We must also be more willing to tolerate the public expression of attitudes with which we disagree, and we must accept that even the best-designed legal institutions and practices may yield decisions which many believe to be mistaken. Democratic cooperation will always produce what John Rawls called the “strains of commitment,” and our continued flourishing as a democracy depends upon a readiness to acknowledge and accept these strains.”

— Michele Moody-Adams, a professor of political philosophy and legal theory at Columbia University

Source: How to Reawaken a Sense of Solidarity in America – The Atlantic

BBC – Future – The secret to a long and healthy life? Eat less

More positive/optimistic results surrounding the potential for calorie restriction (CR) diets to increase healthspan and lifespan.

Source: BBC – Future – The secret to a long and healthy life? Eat less

“this [the Calerie trial] is the first study of its kind, and I don’t think that any of us would feel confident in saying, ‘okay, we’re going to recommend this to everyone in the world,’” says Roberts. “But it’s a really exciting prospect. I think that delaying the progression of chronic diseases is something that everyone can get behind and get excited about, because nobody wants to live life with one of those.” » Sci-Hub as necessary, effective civil disobedience

Stevan Harnad’s “Subversive Proposal” came of age last year. I’m now teaching students younger than Stevan’s proposal, and yet, very little has actually changed in these 21 years.

Source: » Sci-Hub as necessary, effective civil disobedience, by Björn Brembs

we are currently spending about US$ 10b annually on legacy publishers, when we could publish fully open access for about US$200m per year if we only were to switch publishing to, e.g. SciELO, or any other such system. In fact, I’d argue that the tax payer has the right to demand that we use their tax funds only for the least expensive publishing option.

While many of the consequences of wasting these infrastructure funds on publishers have become apparent only more recently, the indefensibility of ever-increasing subscription pricing in a time of record-low publishing costs, was already apparent 20 years ago. Hence, already in 1994, it became obvious that one way of freeing ourselves from the subscription-shackles was to make the entire scholarly literature available online, free to read. Collectively, these two decade-long concerted efforts of the global OA community, to wrestle the knowledge of the world from the hands of the publishers, one article at a time, has resulted in about 27 million (24%) of about 114 million English-language articles becoming publicly accessible by 2014. Since then, one single woman has managed to make a whopping 48 million paywalled articles publicly accessible. In terms of making the knowledge of the world available to the people who are the rightful owners, this woman, Alexandra Elbakyan, has single-handedly been more successful than all OA advocates and activists over the last 20 years combined.

RE: Sci-Hub


For reference consideration, Wikipedia has about 5.4 million content pages in English (2017-06) and has an annual budget on the order of $60 million.

Why the calorie is broken — Quartz

Not all calories are equal.

Source: Why the calorie is broken — Quartz

Differences in height, body fat, liver size, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and other factors influence the energy required to maintain the body’s basic functions. Between two people of the same sex, weight and age, this number may differ by up to 600 calories a day

The microbes in our intestines digest some of the tough or fibrous matter that our stomachs cannot break down, releasing a flow of additional calories in the process. But different species and strains of microbes vary in how effective they are at releasing those extra calories, as well as how generously they share them with their host human.

None of this means that the calorie is a useless concept. Inaccurate as they are, calorie counts remain a helpful guide to relative energy values: standing burns more calories than sitting; cookies contain more calories than spinach. … This is a new challenge, and it is likely to require a new metric. One option is to focus on something other than energy intake. Like satiety, for instance. … Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, has his own calorie upgrade: a nutrient density score. This system ranks food in terms of nutrition per calorie, rather than simply overall caloric value.

Why So Many Top Hackers Hail from Russia — Krebs on Security

According to an analysis (PDF) by The College Board, in the ten years between 2005 and 2016 a total of 270,000 high school students in the United States opted to take the national exam in computer science (the “Computer Science Advanced Placement” exam).

Compare that to the numbers from Russia: A 2014 study (PDF) on computer science (called “Informatics” in Russia) by the Perm State National Research University found that roughly 60,000 Russian students register each year to take their nation’s equivalent to the AP exam — known as the “Unified National Examination.” Extrapolating that annual 60,000 number over ten years suggests that more than twice as many people in Russia — 600,000 — have taken the computer science exam at the high school level over the past decade.

Source: Why So Many Top Hackers Hail from Russia — Krebs on Security

although there currently are just over 42,000 high schools in the United States, only 2,100 of them were certified to teach the AP computer science course in 2011.

“Very few middle schools teach this in the United States,” Allen Paller said. “We don’t teach these topics in general and we definitely don’t test them. The Russians do and they’ve been doing this for the past 30 years.”

What if jobs are not the solution but the problem? | Aeon Essays

Economists believe in full employment. Americans think that work builds character. But what if jobs aren’t working anymore?

Source: What if jobs are not the solution but the problem? | Aeon Essays, by James Livingston, professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, author of many books including Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul (2011) and No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea (2016)

These days, everybody from Left to Right – from the economist Dean Baker to the social scientist Arthur C Brooks, from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump – addresses this breakdown of the labour market by advocating ‘full employment’ … Shitty jobs for everyone won’t solve any social problems we now face.

what social scaffolding other than work will permit the construction of character … imagine a world in which the job no longer builds our character, determines our incomes or dominates our daily lives.

what purposes could we choose if the job – economic necessity – didn’t consume most of our waking hours and creative energies?

Can we let people get something for nothing and still treat them as our brothers and sisters – as members of a beloved community?

Where have all the insects gone? | Science | AAAS

Surveys in German nature reserves point to a dramatic decline in insect biomass

Source: Where have all the insects gone? | Science | AAAS

A weather station for biodiversity

Researchers in Germany hope to develop a set of automated sensors that will monitor the abundance and diversity of plants, animals, and fungi with the help of pattern recognition and DNA and chemical analysis.

The mass of insects collected by monitoring traps in the Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve in northwest Germany dropped by 78% in 24 years.

In 1989, the group’s traps in one reserve collected 17,291 hover flies from 143 species. In 2014, at the same locations, they found only 2737 individuals from 104 species.