Choosing Questions for the Turing Test Judges

sample ballot

Before the end of July, you the readers will start reading and evaluating the contestants in this year's Ideological Turing Test: Sex and Death Edition.  Last year, I added a few questions to the ballots, but I didn't make much use of them, so I'm inclined to drop the extras and save you time (since you'll be filling out the questionnaires once for each entry).Here's last year's sample ballot.And here are the questions I plan to use this year:What is your best guess of which side … [Read more...]

Why So Santo Subito?

santo subito-04

I am the child of two history teachers, so I grew up knowing that it was not done to study the recent past.  We need some time and distance to be able to make sense of the present and near past.  The full implications of a movement may take time to emerge, or some perspectives may take time to be heard.  In the short run, a historian focuses on preserving information (through oral histories, saving primary sources, etc) and waits to start analysis.I liked to picture a line of division swe … [Read more...]

Happy Fourth of July!


1776 is among my favorite movie-musicals (small wonder a Javert fangirl also fell hard for stubborn John Adams).  Of course, if you watched it, or had history teachers for parents, you know that July 2nd, the date the Declaration was approved but not signed, might be a more appropriate day for celebration.  John Adams wrote to Abigail: The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Ge … [Read more...]

Asking Computers What Our Ethics Are

looking at computer

In an essay on drone policy, Cyborgology is skeptical of our intuitive approach to ethics and empathy, for many of the same reasons as psychologics Paul Bloom.  In the Cyborgology piece, Robin James takes a critical look at why we prize 'the human factor' and feel unnerved by autonomous drones: In this view, drones are problematic because they don’t possess the “human factor”; they make mistakes because they lack the crucial information provided by “empathy” or “gut feelings” or “common sense”–f … [Read more...]

Requiescat in pace, Magister Rus

vladimir rus

In the spirit of Stephen Colbert's eulogy for his mother, I'd like to share some stories today about my high school Latin teacher, Dr. Vladimir Rus, who passed away this past week.  We never called him Dr. Rus; he was always simply Magister.  So it was easy to forget what his usual name and title was.  One day, after another teacher had popped into our classroom to ask him a question, one of my classmates to ask, "Magister, what is your doctorate in?"  He looked a little abashed and told us, "I a … [Read more...]

What comes after Google Reader? (besides weeping)


Sing a dirge today for Google Reader.  Tomorrow, it passes out of existence.I've decided to switch to Feedly, which has an easy one-step import for Google Reader users.  Their interface is nice enough, as is the app, but it was their import that won my heart, because it also pulled in my tags!  I've been using Google Reader as a filing system for a while, and now I'll be able to keep saving my clippings into categories that include:Cyberwar Drones Epidemics Football Human Flesh ( … [Read more...]

Happy Tau Day!


George Box once said "All models are wrong, but some are useful."  As we build up our understanding of the world around us, we find different parts of our maps fall short of the territory.  Sometimes our predictions end up out of joint with reality, but sometimes we just can't stand how inelegant our approximation is.  We're getting the right answers, but we suspect we haven't actually hit on why yet.  And we suspect that missing the beauty of the big picture will eventually lead us astray … [Read more...]