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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2018 - 22:36 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Pokémon Or Drug?

...with reference to the Medicine subreddit. Happily, one doesn't have to be an expert in both fields to do well... but now you know what happens when you transfer a poor Pokémon to the "Professor", and get "candy" in return.


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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2018 - 00:09 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

It's Never So Bad After All

...with recourse to fantasy.

The road was long and the road was hard,
And the sky was cold and grey:
The dead white moon was a frozen shard
In the dim dawn of day:
But thief and harlot, king and guard
Warrior, wizard, knave and bard
Rode with me all the way.

The wind was sharp as a whetted knife
As it blew from the wet salt seas;
The storm wind stirred to a ghostly life
The gaunt black skeletal trees:
But I drank the foaming wine of life
Wine of plunder and lust and strife
Down to the bitter lees.

A boy, from the savage north I came
To cities of silk and sin.
With torch and steel, in blood and flame,
I won what a man may win:
Aye, gambled and won at the Devil's game
Splendor and glory and glittering flame
And mocked at Death's skull-grin.

And there were foemen to fight and slay
And friends to love and trust:
And crowns to conquer and toss away
And lips to taste with lust:
And songs to keep black nights at bay
And wine to swill to the break of day
What matter the end be dust?

I've won my share of your gems and gold
They crumble into clods:
I've gorged on the best that life can hold:
And the Devil take the odds:
The grave is deep and the night is cold
The world's a skull-full of stinking mould
And I laugh at your little gods!

The lean road slunk through a blasted land
Where the earth was parched and black.
But we were a merry, jesting band
Who asked no easier track:
Rogue and reaver and firebrand
And life rode laughing at my right hand
And Death rode at my back.

The road was dusty and harsh and long
Crom, but a man gets dry!
I'm old and weary and Death is strong
But flesh was born to die:
Hai, Gods! But it was a merry throng
Rode at my side with jest and song
Under an empty sky.

I've heard fat, cunning priestlings tell
How damned souls writhe and moan:
That paradise they can buy and sell
For gold and gold alone:
To the flames with scripture and priest as well
I'll stride down the scarlet throat of hell
And dice for the Devil's throne!

I faced life boldly and unafraid
Should I flinch as Death draws near?
Life's but a game Death and I have played
Many a wearisome year:
Hai! to the gallant friends I made
Slave and swordsman and lissome maid
I begrudge no foot of the road I strayed
The road which endeth HERE!

- The Death Song of Conan the Cimmerian
Lin Carter

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Tuesday, Nov 20, 2018 - 22:44 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Moving In!

Me: Ho hum, don't often get visitors here. *opens door* A prank?! Wait, that doesn't make sense... *something brushes by feet* what the...

Mr. Ham: Okay, Mr. Robo, drop the luggage here. *turns nose up* I say, these digs aren't really done up to my taste, but we all make do, eh? First, that bookshelf has to go, and...

And what do we have here?

Mr. Ham: *urgh* Hi, human. Was going to give you advance warning, but you know how those dang crypto markets don't cooperate when you want them to. I told those investors that it was a long-term play, you know. Who could have known that exchanges foreclose your positions so promptly on 10x leverage? You wouldn't leave an old pal in the lurch, wouldja?

Me: I must admit, the thought is tempting...

Mr. Ham: *hops off* That's a yes, then. Great! I knew I could count on you. Mr. Robo, rummage through the fridge and see if there's anything suitable to mark this occasion, though I wouldn't hold out too much hope.

Me: Uh, just a second there.

Mr. Ham: *knocking table over* Whoops. Kind of cramped in here, isn't it? I'm requisitioning this bed, thank you. Please have the room cleared of your personal effects by tomorrow. My, that corner of the room wasn't on fire when I last saw it. Very careless of somebody. But not to worry, I have a line on the best insurance you can get for your money in Singapore, scout's honour, if you'd just put your name here...

*one extremely flattened hamster later*

Mr. Ham: You know, a ten-gallon tank isn't that bad either.

Me: Well, that's settled then. So, since you both are here, a couple of updates:

Hash Wars

The latest dip in crypto prices was likely precipitated by the telegraphed BCash split, which has seen Wu Jihan and Roger Ver become the good guys (to most BCash devotees, anyway) by beating off a hostile takeover attempt by the Calvin Ayre-backed Fake Satoshi. The latter had commandeered what had looked like a majority of hashpower in support of their Satoshi's Vision (SV) fork, but Ver's metaphorical resurrection by deploying his own miners decisively won the battle for the ABC upgrade, with the drama playing out in real time over multiple channels.

This happened to be a war that would have no winners, for the BCash community at least. Jihan and Ver might have prevailed, but only at the cost of committing a disproportionate amount of mining resources to the ABC fork, thus foregoing some half a million a day in opportunity costs. It's even worse for the Fake Satoshi gang, obviously; although the SV fork has maintained a nominal value of around US$70 somehow, there are nearly no public trading avenues for the SV token, and chances are it'll sink towards zero - the historical destination of most alt-coins and ICOs - once Fake Satoshi figures out his exit plan.

The tragedy of it all, though, should be how expected this outcome was, as Real Satoshi knew from the earliest days: all minority forks, given some hashing algorithm, are ultimately at the mercy of the majority fork. A few more-aware BCash supporters indeed realised that, in celebrating their power over the rebel SV fork (which has already attracted its own parodies), they are also acknowledging the ascendacy of the true BTC chain over BCash.

While the price movements have not exactly been ideal, they aren't much of a deal for those who have seen far crazier crashes, back when Bitcoin was rising from the low double digits. It may be all doom and gloom now, but the big boys are slowly moving in, and let's just say that it's nothing we haven't seen before.

Local Observations

Mr. Ham: About that, recall when Temasek Holdings explicitly denied investing in Jihan's Bitmain, which we lauded as a wise move for once? It looks like they've just bought into Binance, who've opened shop here. A classic case of see what they do, not what they say, in my not-so-humble opinion. Doesn't extend to the other kind of hash, note.

Me: Been relatively quiet on other fronts, with former PM Goh releasing his memoirs, and Ambassador-at-Large Koh keeping fresh with some big swings - there was his support for repealing Section 377A to keep up with the liberal paradise that is India, before his sounding-out on biased reporting by The State's Times (whew). Perhaps realising that he might have overreached somewhat, however, it was back to slamming the President of the United States for not attending the locally-hosted East Asia Summit, instead sending Pence in his stead.

An interesting realization, however, would be that there was no parallel comment about President Xi not making it, given that one can't quite mistake Premier Li Keqiang (who did attend) as being Numero Uno in China. About this, our own PM Lee seems to have seen the writing on the wall: the time of reckoning and picking of sides may be very near. My personal analysis on how this goes hasn't changed since 2017 and before. Closer to home, there may be... interesting... alliances in the works, as Singapore gears up for a probable Chan Mali Chan era.

On the Media and the Herd

Mr. Ham: ...and let it not be said that Mr. Ham is ungrateful. Nah.

Me: Murakami's Colorless? Second-hand, it seems. Eh, to be honest, I already have too much on my to-read list. Cigar? No thanks, I don't smoke, although it would have been welcome. Envy those fellas in a way, it appears an easy escape, but no, I'm afraid such habits turn into a crutch.

*settles back on couch*

It has come to my attention that... I may have been overly enthusiastic in my promulgation of certain political views. Too hortatory - just learnt that word, by the way. This sort of thing, it seems, can drive wedges between friends. I do believe I'll have that cigar, Mr. Ham.

Mr. Ham: Nuh uh, no takebacks. But, I hafta parable for ya:

An old man decided to buy some grain at the market, and brought his young grandson along. The duo were riding happily on their donkey, when a group of young ladies passed by.

"Poor animal! How can that wretched creature bear the weight of two people, and under the hot sun no less? These rural people are soooo cruel, can't you see."

Chastened, the old man hurriedly dismounted, and continued on now leading the donkey, with his grandson remaining seated on it. Soon, they passed a middle-aged couple.

"Look! Youngsters nowadays, no respect for their elders! He looks so pampered, alone on the donkey, while his poor grandfather struggles on rickety feet! For shame!"

Red-faced, the grandson begged his granddad to get back on the donkey after the couple had passed, and got down to walk beside it instead. No sooner had he done so, however, that some teenagers hanging out by the side said:

"What a heartless old git! Riding all high-and-mighty-like, while his grandson suffers trying to keep up! He doesn't even look eight years old, can his tender feet withstand it?"

With no other option, the old man too came down yet again, and both granddad and grandson set off walking alongside their donkey, until they came to a roadside inn. Upon witnessing the sight, the customers erupted in laughter.

"Have you ever seen such country bumpkins? A perfectly good donkey, and they don't ride it, and instead walk with it? The tales of inbreeding in those parts must be true, lads!"

At his wits' end, the old man knocked the donkey out, so that he could pretend it was for sale by hauling it with his grandson to the market, thus avoiding further criticism.

Me: Yeah, oldie but goodie. The usual telling does neglect another option they could have taken, though.

Mr. Ham: *puffing on cigar* Yep, they could have set off without the donkey in the first place, if they had applied forethought.

Me: Or just stayed home. Which is, in our case, the equivalent of not having any opinion, on any topic that could be construed as controversial. That's the only sure way to escape offending someone or other. But, we were never exactly Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, were we? We take stands, defend them, promote them, as it should be.

Which, as it happens, is why group conversations are seldom "deep". Topics are interesting, as it happens, because they are open for debate, oft from many perspectives. When multiple views can be passionately held and argued for. Honestly, very few groups - even among academics and the more-educated, in my experience - thrive under this dynamic. I believe that humans have been socially evolved to seek consensus and harmony within in-groups, with truth and procedural logic coming a distant second, as previously noted.

Maybe let's try a concrete example. Remember xenophobia? The favourite catch-all derogatory label of the local administration through the mid-to-late 2000s (seriously, you can DuckDuckGo to relive its prevalence in that period), as they cranked their issuance of permanent residencies up from 30000 a year to 80000 a year? I still recall the worried response from more than a few acquaintances at the university, when I expressed the view that perhaps it might not be the best idea to have immigration on this scale:

Are you xenophobic?

The irony, of course, was that they then proceeded to drop PR issuance back down to 30000 a year by 2010, due to various problems. Gee, sure looks xenophobic of the government. The point, then, is that there definitely were very good arguments against that degree of immigration. However, there was next to no effort made to discuss those tradeoffs over official and mainstream media channels, but instead an appeal to anti-xenophobia (of course, one suspects that they would have gone for the evergreen racist, had the immigrants not largely been ethnic Chinese themselves). How does one fight that?

Mr. Ham: It's like, they give you a cupcake, and you say, thanks very much. Then they tell you to eat three more cupcakes, and you start to politely hint that that's enough. Then they show up with twenty cupcakes, and then it's, are you cupcakephobic?

You... you... *dairyist*!
[Source: flickr.com]

Me: Yeah, that about captures it. We might also point out Roy Ngerng's arguments from a few years back. While some of his more personal accusations might be unwarranted, I believe his general complaints about the intertwining of CPF funds and HDB assets valid, as evidenced by the incumbents' latest walkback on HDB values - but, of course, you won't hear this acknowledgement in The State's Times.

Same goes for the plastic straw situation. While it may have driven some homegrown innovation, some NUS students have rightly lashed back on whether the gesture actually makes much if any sense. The extensive use of plastics in other foodware and packaging aside, the general effect of a straw ban by certain outlets appears to have merely knocked the demand on to their neighbours, making this seem destined to be another of those short-lived feel-good campaigns. I suppose they could force a token fee if they really wanted, but I've never seen it work for plastic bags - which tend to be recycled for the trash, mind.

I think, then, that we have established a long and consistent record of contrarian - more specifically, contrarian towards the party line - analysis. This too is for a reason: support for the common, standard, "accepted" view would have been well-trodden in the mainstream media. The question would then be: are those actually good supporting arguments, or are they actually expected to be taken by authority alone? Interestingly, our - we think justified - extended skewering of local politicos seems to have enjoyed tacit acceptance, unlike about others.

Now consider the ongoing Honduran migrant caravan story. While the establishment media has near-uniformly portrayed the deployment of the military to the border as a waste of effort, with reference to unnamed officials, the implications of simply allowing the thousands of migrants through remain tacitly undiscussed. What signal would that send? Wouldn't this mean that, if any group unilaterally wishes entry into the States, all they have to do is to gather into a large enough mob and force their way inside? Now, while I can be somewhat sympathetic towards those who have already resided within the U.S. sans documentation for years, especially those born there, surely some common sense has to come into play here. The Mexicans' patience seems to have already worn thin, and I'm not sure Good Guy Canada is willing to live up to their pledge and pick up the slack, but hey - cool socks, good P.R.

There should be a distinction made, I think, between respecting individual journalists, and respecting the mainstream media. Yes, there are many brave reporters sacrificing their lives towards uncovering the truth, but no, from what I can see, the press is collectively being an ass. And no, this is for once not a minority opinion: multiple polls have the American people ranking the American media as significantly more divisive than the current POTUS, and from how misrepresentative the media have been about ground opinion and actual happenings, I can't say that this breakdown of trust is undeserved.

Mr. Ham: Fascinating. Oh, look at the time, session's over. Will bill you later. Any last words?

Me: I'll go into it more in the future, but just this: if the Democrats are to mount a resistance, they need to master the meme - serious. Or the meme will master them.

In all of magic there is an incredibly large linguistic component. The Bardic tradition of magic would place a bard as being much higher and more fearsome than a magician. A magician might curse you. That might make your hands lay funny or you might have a child born with a club foot. If a Bard were to place not a curse upon you, but a satire, then that could destroy you. If it was a clever satire, it might not just destroy you in the eyes of your associates; it would destroy you in the eyes of your family. It would destroy you in your own eyes. And if it was a finely worded and clever satire that might survive and be remembered for decades, even centuries. Then years after you were dead people still might be reading it and laughing at you and your wretchedness and your absurdity.

Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They're not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being; that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment; things with which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we're waiting to die. It's not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn't be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.

- Alan Moore

[R.I.P. Jin Yong and Stan Lee, giants of fantasy; the former had a closer connection to Singapore than I had known]

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Sunday, Nov 11, 2018 - 21:47 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Daily Pattern Matching

Just realised a strange coincidence between two programmes.

Top: AI Singapore Technology Readiness and Activity Map

Bottom: Operationally Ready National Service Training Cycle

[Click to enlarge]

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Saturday, Oct 20, 2018 - 23:50 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert


South Park called it again
[N.B. Alas, my own 23AndMe test failed, back in 2013...]

The best timeline continues, and keeps giving. Elizabeth Warren, potential Democratic Presidential nominee and sometimes called Pocahontas, triumphantly released her DNA test results on Monday; long heckled by TRUMPISTS and Republicans for her abiding claim to Native American (more specifically, Cherokee) status, it was her moment to expose that Obnoxious Orange Liar for what he was, through the Power of Science. The Boston Globe broke the earth-shattering news, which was immediately publicized on the Reddit News subreddit under the headline, "Elizabeth Warren Releases DNA Results: She's Native American". NPCs around the world rejoiced, secure in their newly-confirmed diversity, and began Googling how to organize potlatches in celebration. Before the first smoke signals could be sent, however, some went as far as to read the source article:

"Senator Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that provides 'strong evidence' she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations... [she could be up to 1/32nd part native!]"

The Boston Globe bothered to recheck the math sometime after the scoop, which revised the estimate: "The generational range based on the ancestor that the report identified suggests she's between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American." The actual report by a Stanford professor claims that "...the total and average [DNA] segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher."; as such, it should be fair to continue the discussion using the expected value, which splits the difference at 1/256th, i.e. less than 0.5% Native American blood.

Does this sound like vindication? It sure as hell doesn't for me - but first, some background.

Ancestry Tales

The story, so it goes, was of family frontier-romanticism lore: a young and high-cheekboned Warren had been told that the maternal side of her family had Native American heritage, to the point that her parents had to elope (but not secretly enough for the wedding announcement not to be joyously announced in the local paper, so it seems). Fine, no biggie - most every little girl dreams of being somebody special, of being descended from a princess or somesuch (which they actually statistically all are anyway), I suppose. One of those phases.

The to-be senator held on to this hearsay heritage more than most, however, and here it begins to get a little tricky. First, a quick academic biography: she began at Rutgers (1977-78) as a lecturer of law, before moving on to the University of Houston (1978-83), and then the University of Texas (1983-87), with some visiting posts interspersed. She was then a full professor at the University of Pennsylvania (1987-1995), before leaving for Harvard. All in all, a glittering CV.

So where do the Native American claims come in? Well, Warren appeared to have listed herself as white up until and including her Texas stint, but this changed once she got into the Ivy League - she's explicitly listed as a minority in UPenn's 2005 Minority Equity Report. Harvard likewise listed her as Native American in official Federal statistics, and she was recognized as a "woman of color" in a Fordham Law Review article, and as a diversity hire in her Harvard Crimson welcome. This is corroborated by Warren's self-identification as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory, from 1986 to 1995. I believe these facts beyond reasonable dispute.

As it happens, there does exist a strict definition of Native American status for Federal records, as The Boston Globe notes, with reference to Harvard's reporting - a definition that Warren definitely doesn't qualify under. At the very least, this doesn't look too good on Harvard, especially as their trial for discrimination against Asian-American applicants opens. They gladly recognized a 99.5% white professor as a minority, for diversity brownie points - no two ways about it.

The next question is whether Warren had personally and professionally benefitted from her rebranding, as some right-wing sites accuse. Warren, Harvard and UPenn have vehemently denied any advantage, which is entirely plausible. After all, her terrible Berniesque policies apart, she has by all accounts been an entirely competent educator and academic. I feel it entirely unproductive to pursue this line of questioning. However...

That's Not The Point!

To recap the main assertions established here thus far:
  • Warren is genetically probably about 0.5% Native American, which is not significantly different from the average white American, who would be about 0.2% Native American

  • Warren has unambigiously represented herself as a Native American, at least from about 1986 to 1995

  • Warren has not directly benefitted professionally from this representation

Even accepting the third point - that Warren had at no time planned to benefit materially from stating that she was Native American - it cannot be denied that the first two points together are simply comedy gold, as demonstrated in the South Park excerpt above. Picture this: there's this stereotypically entirely Caucasian-looking guy, Bob. Bob says that he thinks he has some Oriental ancestry because "his eyes are a little bit slitty". Bob takes a DNAAndMe test, and finds that he's 0.5% Mongolian! He then proudly lists his race as Vietnamese (because the form didn't have Mongolian) at the next census, and gets a meaningless cool-Chinese-character tattoo. When his friends try to call him out on his bullshit, Bob flies into an unironic rage, and yells that they're disrespecting his heritage!

Man, I'd pay to watch this series.

So, back to Warren. By the way, did we mention that her DNA test didn't even have access to actual Native American DNA, and likely employed Canadian/Mexican/South American DNA as a stand-in? Or that she contributed to a cookbook titled "Pow Wow Chow" (now how's that not racist?), by plagarizing recipes from a French chef, while signing herself off as "Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee"? Now, her defenders might argue that there was never any malicious intent, and that it was all in good humour. This is precisely the point. This is exactly why she's being called Fauxcahontas for fun, in exactly the same way that 0.5% Mongolian Bob would be nicknamed Ching Chong Wong if he stubbornly persists in his unilateral self-identification by spamming updates on yak milk and yurt history on Facebook.

One might have hoped that Warren would have realised this, but she evidently didn't, from how she actually went and released the DNA test results. The Onion, hardly a conservative outlet, couldn't resist with their uproarious "Elizabeth Warren Disappointed After DNA Test Shows Zero Trace Of Presidential Material" jab. Never one to quit, Warren proceeded to flood TRUMP's Twitter like a spurned lover after TRUMP's alpha-male (and entirely deserved) "Who cares?" response. This goes on until the honest-to-goodness Cherokee Nation themselves released an official statement condemning Warren for "undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage", with an actual descendant of Pocahontas asking her to apologize besides. Oh, and a documented Warren ancestor probably took part in exiling Cherokee on the Trail of Tears.

You can't buy this entertainment, I tell you. This is truly the greatest timeline.


But wait: surely Senator Warren - a distinguished professor of law, mind you - couldn't have gone through all this trouble to shoot herself in her own agwalasideni? As it turns out, it was for a good cause. Apparently, President TRUMP had offered to donate US$1 million to charity if Warren took a DNA test proving her Native American heritage. And, as outraged r/politics Redditors rage, Drumpf has LIED AGAIN! So what if she's just 0.5% assorted-nonwhite-American? A bet is a bet! This angle - the dishonest TRUMP - has been expectedly heavily played up in the mainstream media. Is it warranted?

Well, let's examine the primary source, which said mainstream media somehow often neglects with GEOTUS:

Cough up the wampum, Nazi!

Note the actual spoken offer, even ignoring that it was framed within a hypothetical: "I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian." Well, it doesn't look like Warren has a tsinvsgeni to stand on here: 0.5% Native American blood and no actual engagement with the Native community (e.g. growing up on a reservation) wouldn't qualify anyone as an (American) Indian under any relevant Fed or tribal regulations, without even going into how the Cherokee Nation has explicitly disavowed her as, well, an Indian. Very few ever achieve that honour.

Likewise tone-deaf, The Washington Post "fact-check" argued that it's wrong to say that she's only 1/1024th Native, because it could be as high as 1/64th (1.56%; Three Pinocchios rating!), while The Daily Beast ran the tagline that "But for Trump and his allies, it seems, no evidence will ever prove sufficient". Basically, such refutations miss the point entirely - Warren not Indian, Warren claim Indian. Perhaps Warren's failure to comprehend stems from her legal background; she could, and seems to be, fighting this on technical grounds: 0.5% is greater than 0%, therefore she can claim Native heritage. Practically, consider the consequence of an underprivileged black kid bumped from a minority scholarship because 3%-black-ancestry Molly McJohnson qualified, which recalls the Rachel Dolezal backlash. This sort of stuff is why many don't like lawyers.

On the bright side, more self-aware liberals have recognized the Warren debacle as racism by another name, which the WSJ and others have suggested might bring about the end of identity politics in America. Frankly, I'd be chuffed at a fifteen minute time-out.

Fun, Peace and Laughter (Pass The Pipe!)

It would be downright shabby and ungrateful for the Shitlords of the Right to just pass on this opportunity for much lulz, and there have been many suggestions for TRUMP to donate US$976.56 because, well, she's like 1/1024th Indian, and a deal's a deal. Lindsey Graham, for all his other faults, knows TOP KEK when he sees it, and is scheduled for his own DNA test because he might turn out to be more Indian than Warren. Literal godling Shiva Ayyadurai, Ph.D. (MIT) and Inventor of Email is, of course, continuing his Fake Indian Barrage with full justification now, and loyal pedes have discovered that Obama was, after all, not the first black president because six POTUSes before him had more than 0.1% African DNA... DNA that should really be carefully protected, in the good Senator's case.

The best timeline.

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Monday, Oct 15, 2018 - 23:29 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

And We're Back

It's never easy to get back into the groove of blogging after a long (in this case, one month) hiatus, so I figured I'd just reset with a hodgepodge of topics, and slap down some old bookmarks that Mr. Ham has finally seen fit to help with, after getting wind of a hamster hero in Overwatch.

Beginning with some follow-ups on recent posts, the unrest brewing in China over slipping home prices (despite best-effort media gags) might be a pertinent case study for Singapore, given the similarities between our economic structures in that respect - up to and including historically moribund and/or suspected-manipulated domestic stock markets driving investors to property. The fissure between global and Chinese networks, postulated in academia, may yet also extend to the Internet itself, so says a former Google CEO. Well, it's not like Google's going to stand on free speech principles on that, given that they're unilaterally censoring in the US of A.

I hope that the danger of having a single entity being able to "disappear" information at will doesn't need further elaboration, which is why I'm striving to work DuckDuckGo and other search engines into my routine, even if they might be comparatively slightly lacking, especially in localization.

On the MEME WAR front, the absolute rout continues. Fresh off the hilarious OK = White Power hand gesture trolling, in which a bunch of 4chan autists managed to spark a media frenzy over how the innocuous (okay, most of the time) OK sign was actually a secret white supremacist signal - thereby exposing the eager and biased sensationalism of the American left - the chansters have moved on to characterize SJW normies as NPCs blindly regurgitating whatever position their thought leaders have seen fit to endorse, which seems to have struck a raw nerve... and, of course, invited unwarranted censorship.

This, as it happens, is why the GEOTUS-backed Republicans are now winning the culture war; they're now the edgy outsiders subverting their way across mainstream Big Tech-sponsored politically-correct diversity-whether-or-not-it-makes-sense, appearances-above-all tyranny. Remember when all the teens flocked to hippy communes, or togged out in skater gear, or grunge rock tees? Well, there's no cooler way of thumbing one's nose at stuffy authority nowadays, than donning a red MAGA hat. And, let's just face it, the guy's hilarious. Compare that to the contemporary eternally-offended can't-meme left, and it's easy to see the attraction of the New Creative Right.

Seriously, how can one hate this guy?
Key quote at 2:15: "The Establishment had become too full of themselves... they needed to be humiliated... they needed to be trolled."
[N.B. The Queen of England's not half bad at the trolling gig too]

As it happens, CNN and company don't seem to be taking this lesson to heart. Their cratering reputation probably wasn't helped by entirely groundless slander on the President having "racist thoughts" (I guess they can read minds now?), even as they roasted the very-woke Kanye West as "a token negro" and "what happens when negroes don't read". Not at all coincidentally, Taylor Swift's ratings would take a 25% hit in the GOD-EMPEROR's latest display of unadulterated MEME MAGIC.

And while we're on NPCs, Goblin Slayer might be worth a watch... or read. It's a fresh take on the D&D and gamebook genre, what with references to dice and Firetop Mountain, and manages to be engrossing despite the protagonist being interested in exactly one thing - goblins. Yes, that low-tier crap XP trash mob. Sorta Berserk-lite, for manga connoisseurs.

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Sunday, Sep 16, 2018 - 21:48 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

On Open Access

Earlier this month, eleven European countries (including Britain, for now) have committed to "Plan S": all scholarly work resulting from national agency grants must be published in freely-accessible open-access journals. Unsurprisingly, major academic publishers weren't charmed, with those in charge of Nature and Science stating that the move would "undermine the whole research publishing system" and "would not support high-quality peer-review, publication and dissemination" etc, without much in the way of elaboration. Elsevier's take was that "if you think information shouldn't cost anything, go to Wikipedia", perhaps not realising what happened to Encarta and the likes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It has been noted here last year, it happens, that the current academic publishing system makes little sense - scholars produce research funded by taxpayer money, submit papers to journals (oft edited by unpaid scholars), which are then reviewed (again unpaid) by yet more scholars. Upon acceptance, the publishing house arranges for proofreading, typesetting and printing (increasingly optional, these days), for which it reaps almost all the monetary benefits. The end product is then sold back - often to the very same community of scholars that produced the work - at monopoly prices. And people wonder why I doubt the efficacy of academic economic theorists when they operate in the real economy.

This overriding sense of injustice - taxpayers paid for the research, why should some private organizations charge them again for perusing it? - had been rankling for some time, alongside the ethos that knowledge should be free in the first place, and stakeholders have reacted in a variety of ways. One option was of course to simply make the papers available - they're just PDF files, after all! This was the tack that Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz took at MIT, for which he hanged himself after being confronted with 35 years in jail (compare kiddy diddlers in more tightly-knit organizations, but more on that next time). His spiritual successor was probably Alexandra Elbakyan (now in hiding), who founded *ahem* Sci-Hub.

Everyone does it, nobody admits it, like so many other things
(Source: arstechnica.com)

They might not have bothered for some fields; mathematics and its closest offshoots - such as physics and theoretical computer science - have always had a robust preprint culture, which has expressed itself as arXiv. Basically, the good stuff's expected to be there, though it can admittedly be challenging to sort through given the sheer volume of papers (but for which there are services such as Karpathy's Sanity Preserver).

Academics in these fields also appear somewhat less beholden to the lure of journal status, perhaps exemplified by Perelman not bothering to submit his proof of Poincaré conjecture to any journal after posting it on arXiv, because its truth was all that mattered. Closer to my own area, the editorial board of Kluwer's Machine Learning journal up and resigned to found the open-access Journal of Machine Learning Research in 2000, which has arguably long eclipsed its (still-extant) forebear because, in the end, it's the academics' content and regard that makes or breaks a journal. Nature's upcoming Machine Intelligence is facing a boycott from many prominent computer scientists, for much the same reasons.

This exercise of academic power to punish non open-access outlets has not found as much purchase in other areas of study, despite occasional calls. Nobel-winning cell biologist Randy Schekman, for example, is boycotting the "Big Three" of Nature, Science and Cell, but it is hard to overlook the fact that his four most-cited papers, and eight of his ten most-cited, were in these very "glamour mags". Aspiring young scientists might thus quite fairly question whether this is good advice for their career - a recognized Nobel winner's not going to have too much trouble acquiring reasonable funding either way, but how's a new kid on the block going to make a reputation?

[N.B. By the way, I am not entirely persuaded by Schekman's argument over "luxury" journals, even if they tend to have relatively more irreproducible research and retracted claims; the reason is that, as with most people, academics are as a group desirous of exclusivity and distinguishment. Given a venue with a restricted publication rate (and higher impact factor), and another venue with an unrestricted one, it is only natural that participants first shoot for the former to signal the value of their product, even if the curation process is noisy. This is observed with the usual submission order of e.g. NatureNature Comms (already fully open-access) → Scientific Reports, and would persist even if the current top journals were to suddenly disappear - new ones would just spring up in their place.]

Anyway, the state of academic publishing has long been regarded as a Prisoner's Dilemma (for the academics, at least). So this telling goes, academics (in the STEM fields particularly) would actually prefer open access and widespread dissemination of their work, because it's not like there's money in it elsewise. The problem, however, is that current top journals are mostly non (or at best, delayed) open access, and they have to publish in these very journals to get exposure and be credited by the admins for promotion and tenure. It would be ideal, then, were all academics (or minimally, enough of them) to shift to open access journals. However, without coordination, those who move "lose out" in terms of placing their work in less-competitive venues, while those who don't "win" in terms of easier publication in the still higher-prestige non open-access venues - hence the dilemma.

The pan-European Plan S can then be recognized as a bid to break that impasse through overt coordination. If the plan goes through as-is, a fair chunk of high-quality Euro work would immediately be out-of-bounds to CNS and other prestige outlets, with the recepients being open-access journals. Admins, who might otherwise be content with the old assessment metrics, would then be forced to accept that NewOpenAccess Journal is high-quality, given that it is indeed putting out some of the best work, which in turn attracts academics who aren't bound to Plan S, which further reinforces the open-access journal's status, in a virtuous circle.

What's more interesting is how the existing big non open-access journals will respond. It could be noted that if revenue is their concern, it may in theory be possible to maintain that while moving to open-access, by just charging upfront (i.e. the authors) upon acceptance, rather than downstream (i.e. libraries and private readers). Author costs would then be factored into grant funding (unfunded work is near non-existent in modern Big Science), with library funding withdrawn in tandem (since subscriptions are no longer required). The question, of course, is whether this model can preserve existing supernormal levels of profit.

We might consider arguments against open access, given that the AAAS for one has not seen fit to go into detail, and in truth not many of them are convincing. For example, one enduring argument is that academic papers can be misinterpreted in dangerous ways, to which the immediate response is that the news media already does that anyway, with the next observation being that the existing model suggests that such misuse is acceptable, as long as one is willing and able to pay (and which also smells of past religious proscriptions towards knowledge). The better objections are to me field-specific, as in some humanities disciplines expecting monographs instead, or relying on subscriptions to support their learned societies. Still, he who pays the piper should be able to call the tune.

One other worthwhile objection is that open-access journals that charge authors upfront have an added incentive to be predatory, since the more papers they accept, the more they earn; this is not the case under the existing consumer-pays model, since libraries would have no reason to subscribe to a dodgy title. However, it isn't as if this sort of thing isn't going on already, Plan S or no Plan S.

So, how will the big publishers react? They could cave, of course, by switching wholesale to the open access model (with the hybrid option of having only some papers being free explicitly disallowed by Plan S). That said, there is another possibility, which is said journals instead standing their ground and relying on non-European submissions - and I can see Asian (read: mostly Chinese) scientists being more than happy to pick up the slack. The decider, as I see it, would be whether Europe can rope the Americans into Plan S; if so, I can't see a journal holdout being tenable. If not - which is far from unlikely, given how motivated the publishers' lobby can be - we may be looking at a geographic split in the academic publication landscape...

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