Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness

From Wired:

Remember all those classics you devoured in comp-lit class? Neither do we. Research shows that we retain an embarrassingly small sliver of what we read. In an effort to help college students boost that percentage, a team made up of a designer, a psychologist, and a behavioral economist at Australia’s RMIT University recently introduced a new typeface, Sans Forgetica, that uses clever tricks to lodge information in your brain. The font-makers drew on the psychological theory of “desirable difficulty”—that is, we learn better when we actively overcome an obstruction. (It’s why flash cards create stronger neural connections in the brain and are a better method for recalling facts than passively studying notes.) Sans Forgetica is purposefully hard to decipher, forcing the reader to focus. One study found that students recalled 57 percent of what they read in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 percent of the material in Arial, a significant difference. No word yet on the retention rate of Comic Sans.

. . . .

When presented with incomplete visual information, like the random gaps in Sans Forgetica’s characters, our brain fills in the missing bits. “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process,” says Stephen Banham, one of the font’s developers.

. . . .

Your brain isn’t used to seeing sentences tilt to the left—it’s a typographic faux pas. It takes you a split second longer to recognize words in Sans Forgetica’s 8-degree back-slant, triggering deeper cognitive processing.

Link to the rest at Wired


No, Marie Kondo Doesn’t Want You To Throw Away All Your Books

From Book Riot:

 A lot of people seem to be convinced that a Japanese tidying expert wants them to get rid of all their books. Thanks to her new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, organizational guru Kondo and her “spark joy” philosophy are back in the news. I can promise you, though, that she is not saying to throw out all your books and never read again. In fact, I think Marie Kondo’s book tidying advice is just what many book lovers need to hear.

If you’ve read Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’re already familiar with the basic premise of her system. She sorts belongings into categories, piles all items in a category together, and picks up each one, waiting for it to spark joy. If it does spark joy, it stays. If not, it goes.

It’s a very simple way to declutter. There are other basic tenets of the KonMari system, like using small boxes in drawers to keep like things together, and her much-celebrated folding technique (which is pretty great!), but the whole thing revolves around the idea that the things in your home should spark joy in you. In the Netflix show, this system helps participants get rid of things like never-worn clothes, boxes and boxes of baseball cards, children’s toys, extra mugs, and yes, books.

. . . .

Kondo asks us to think about the purpose of each object in our home and the feeling it inspires in us. Apparently, some people are unaware that books are also objects. They’re objects that we love and cherish, objects that are also gateways to dozens of new worlds and experiences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t collect in piles or take up a lot of space in a small home.

. . . .

I’m a book lover. I work in publishing, I’m a former bookseller, and I write for Book Riot. Before I Kondo’d my books a few years ago, I also had DOZENS of books I had never read and probably would never read. Books given to me by exes. Books leftover from grad school. Books I’d read once and hadn’t particularly liked. Books I’d read once and had liked, but didn’t feel the need to read again. I didn’t feel joy when I looked at or touched those books. Sometimes I felt sad or wistful, but most often I just felt stressed and overwhelmed at how many there were. That was a far cry from how I felt when I held a Jane Austen novel or I Capture the Castle. I also lived in a small apartment, and books were everywhere, piled on most surfaces.

. . . .

Kondo suggests getting rid of unread books because if you haven’t read it by now, you probably won’t. I don’t agree with that advice, but here’s the thing about someone’s suggestions: you can take or leave them. Kondo is not actually in your house forcing you to set a pile of beloved books on fire.

. . . .

Kondo herself doesn’t seem to be a big book lover, and that’s fine. In the Netflix show, she allows people to decide what sparks joy based on their own hobbies and interests.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG doesn’t know about you, but he feels much better knowing Marie’s true message about throwing away books.

PG feels joy when he looks at his desk (microsample shown below). It’s familiar and he can (usually) put his hand on what he needs quite quickly.

As far as sparking joy is concerned, PG has a large part of his electric device collection connected directly or not-so-directly to his computer (no computer manufacturer includes nearly enough USB ports in their product design), so sparking is, unfortunately, not associated with joy in PG’s mind.


The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist

Nothing to do with books, but PG thinks he’s not the only one who enjoys stories and movies about art thieves.

From The New Yorker:

Long before the burglar Vjeran Tomic became the talk of Paris, he honed his skills in a graveyard. Père Lachaise, the city’s largest cemetery, is a Gothic maze of tombstones, in the Twentieth Arrondissement, that covers more than a hundred acres. Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde are among those buried there. Tomic recalled that in the nineteen-eighties, when he was an adolescent, the cemetery attracted hippie tourists, who flocked to the grave of Jim Morrison, and also drug dealers and gang members. Tomic was drawn by the tombstones. In one of twenty letters, written in careful cursive French, that he sent me during the past year and a half, he told me, “Observing them gave me the desire to touch them—to climb up to their peaks.” Tomic and his friends turned the cemetery into a parkour playground, leaping from the roof of one mausoleum to the next, daring one another to take ever-bolder risks.

. . . .

He was born in Paris in 1968, but the following year his mother became seriously ill, and his father, a car mechanic, sent Vjeran to live with his grandmother, in the Ottoman town of Mostar, in Bosnia. By the age of six, he told me, he had developed what he calls “a devious tendency,” adding, “I was showing some unhealthy intelligence.” He tormented his cousins by putting thorns in their shoes. They often played along the banks of the Neretva River, and Tomic became adept at scaling Mostar’s stone bridges; on reaching the top, he would leap into the water below.

At the age of ten, Tomic pulled off his first heist. He broke into a library in Mostar, climbing through a window that was nearly ten feet above street level. He stole two books, each of which appeared to be several hundred years old. (The older brother of a friend learned of the theft and returned Tomic’s plunder.) Tomic said of his early criminal adventures, “It was intuitive. Nobody ever taught me anything.”

. . . .

Despite the turmoil at home, Tomic said, he did well in school, and was a fine athlete. As a teen-ager, he developed a keen interest in drawing, and in his spare time he walked, alone, through the streets of Paris. One day, when he was sixteen, he was strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries when he noticed people lining up outside what appeared to be a greenhouse. It was the Musée de l’Orangerie, a structure that was built, in 1852, to shelter orange trees, and which now houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Tomic went inside. The museum is best known for its Monet murals of water lilies, but Tomic was enraptured by Renoir’s glowing renderings of happy childhoods: kids playing with figurines, practicing the piano, snuggling with mothers. As Tomic saw it, Renoir had used his paintbrush to create a “parallel universe”—an enchanted version of the grim Parisian life he had known. “Renoir has a way of seeing life from a magical realm,” Tomic wrote to me. “It’s as if he even came from this place.” It thrilled him to be “within a hand’s reach” of such spellbinding images.

On returning home, Tomic recalled, he told his mother about his transporting experience at the museum, and said that he wanted to paint—“that it was my passion, that other jobs weren’t worth anything, that they were wastes of time.” Fearing his father’s opinion, he entrusted her to “transmit the message” to him. His father soon approached him and declared that painting was a hobby, not a real job. He pressed Tomic to work at his garage, but Tomic resisted, and eventually “thought about fleeing.”

. . . .

In time, Tomic began robbing apartments in more affluent neighborhoods. His climbing skills continued to improve, and by the age of sixteen he could scale the façade of a multistory building with relative ease. In his letters to me, Tomic described his burglaries in oddly mystical terms, suggesting that his actions were compelled by invisible forces. (He used the French word tractent, which means “towed.”) He described canvassing neighborhoods before choosing his target: “I have to be in harmony with certain places, where I feel good. And then, at that moment, I see—like images from a movie—the places where I have walked in the past week, and some places attract me, and something is waiting for me in the end.”

. . . .

Tomic generally worked alone, scaling walls, leaping between rooftops, and picking locks. Once inside an apartment, he looked first for jewelry, because it was valuable and easy to sell. A burglary that took less than two hours often yielded enough cash to support him for six months on the French Riviera. In his letters, he recounted robbing various Parisian luminaries, including the French-Caribbean singer Henri Salvador and the Egyptian royal family. (He boasted to me that he stole “gold buttons” and some of “Lawrence of Arabia’s medals” from the Egyptians.)

Tomic often returned to an apartment many times without taking anything, in order to find the most expensive-looking items. He adopted this strategy when robbing the apartment of the designer Philippe Starck, in 2004. Starck recently told me, “I never knew anything about my burglar, but I’ve always had respect for his style—an admiration for his temerity—and a sort of intimate affection for him after I discovered that he’d been practically living with us in the apartment for a few days, spending his time sawing into my poor, small safety box without even disturbing us. It was very much a Gentleman Burglar situation, Arsène Lupin style.” (Lupin, the quintessential debonair thief, was invented by the French novelist Maurice Leblanc, in 1905.) Starck went on, “The only shadow was that the only thing he stole was my daughter’s jewelry—her only heritage from her deceased mother.”

. . . .

Many of the luxurious apartments that Tomic broke into had valuable paintings, but he tried to resist taking them, knowing that they would be difficult to unload. “To sell them was dangerous, and I didn’t have reliable sources abroad in order to flog them to collectors or receivers,” he told me. Occasionally, though, the allure of the art proved overwhelming, and Tomic took what he found—including, he says, works by Degas and Signac. “A decent amount passed through my home,” he wrote. He hid some pieces in a cellar, “and some stayed with me for a long time, on the wall, and it’s in these cases that I fell in love.”

This might sound like braggadocio, but Tomic did make off with some masterpieces. In the fall of 2000, in an episode that subsequently made the papers in France, he used a crossbow with ropes and carabiners to sneak into an apartment while its occupants were asleep and stole two Renoirs, a Derain, an Utrillo, a Braque, and various other works—a haul worth more than a million euros.

In May, 2010, Tomic was walking near the Seine when he came upon a large Art Deco building. Looking through a window, he noticed a Cubist painting hanging on the wall. Tomic later learned that the building was the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, known as the mam. But it was the style of thewindow, rather than the Cubist painting, that caught Tomic’s interest. He glanced up: there were cameras on the roof. Tomic walked up to one of the building’s other windows, which was blocked from the security cameras by a parapet. Studying the window’s metal frame, he became convinced that it was the same type that, years earlier, he had disassembled, screw by screw, in a heist. He took out a pocket knife, chipped away at the paint on the frame, and examined the screws that were embedded in the metal. He could easily break in, he decided. It astounded him that nobody had considered this vulnerability. “This made me realize that luck and my past experience were at a rendezvous,” he wrote. “I even asked myself if I was not in another dimension at that time.”

. . . .

On May 14, 2010, in the early hours of the morning, Tomic walked up to a window that faced an esplanade where skateboarders congregated during the day. At around 3 a.m., he saw a guard briefly patrol the galleries, then walk off. Tomic was carrying a piece of dark cloth, and he hung it like a curtain on the outside of the window, to give himself cover. Then he got to work on the window. It took him six nights to finish the job. First, he dabbed the window frame with paint-stripping acid, exposing the head of each screw. Then, after applying another solution, to eliminate rust, he removed the screws and filled the holes with brown modelling clay that matched the color of the window frame. It was a painstaking process, and Tomic didn’t rush.

A few hours before dawn on May 20th, Tomic returned to the site, in a hooded sweatshirt, with two suction cups, and silently pulled out the window. There was a lock holding a grate in place; using bolt cutters, he broke the lock. He entered the museum briefly, avoiding the few working motion detectors. Then he left and retreated to the banks of the Seine, where he waited for fifteen minutes, to insure that he hadn’t set off a silent alarm.

When Tomic went back inside, he spotted the Léger painting, took it off the wall, and maneuvered it out of its frame. He now had an object Corvez prized, but, standing in the museum in the dim light and the silence, he began staring at Matisse’s “Pastoral.” A Fauvist canvas from 1905, it depicts three pale nudes resting while a fourth figure, rendered in bronze tones, plays a flute. “I saw a deep, vivid landscape,” he recalled. “And the little devil playing his flute out of nowhere, as if by magic, as if he were the guardian of this environment.” He took it off the wall.

Then he noticed Modigliani’s “Woman with a Fan,” a portrait of the artist’s muse and obsession, Lunia Czechowska. Tomic fixated on the image, which depicted Czechowska in a yellow dress, her eyes a cloudy white. “The woman in the picture was worthy of a living being, ready to dance a tango,” he wrote to me. “It could have almost been reality.” He stole the Modigliani, too.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

There is an anti-privilege mood. It is hard to see private schools escaping unscathed

From The Guardian:

David Kynaston is a historian who has written books on postwar Britain, the City of London and cricket. His latest book, co-written with his old school friend Francis Green, is called Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem, and focuses on the unfair advantage offered by the independent education sector.

You are known for your forensic histories of modern Britain. What inspired this book?
It’s an issue I’ve become deeply interested in since my sons went to a state grammar school in 2007. They both played football for their school and standing on the touchline when they played against local private and state schools I saw the full spectrum of the unequal allocation of resources, the huge difference in the quality of facilities at state and private schools. The unfairness hit me terribly hard. A few years later in 2014 I gave the Orwell lecture, focusing on the private school question, and then at the end of that year my son George and I wrote a piece on the history and cultural significance of private schools in the New Statesman, which provoked five further articles the following week. That was the moment that made me think this was an issue that had some traction.

You argue that private schools add significantly to a child’s socioeconomic opportunities. What do you think would have happened to you, had you not attended Wellington college?
If one has had a very privileged education and then one achieves anything in adult life, there’s always that nagging thought – how much is down to the fact that one had good fortune and others didn’t? The academic advantages conferred by the private school are not dramatic but significant, and cumulatively over the course of a childhood they amount to quite a lot.

. . . .

What tangible advantages did going to private school give you?
In my case, boarding school provided an escape from my parents’ divorce. I was nine when it happened and school was friendly and cosy and it was nice to have another world to go to. Later, I had three very good history teachers and they really got me flying intellectually. In some ways I had better history teaching at school than I did when I was at Oxford. But perhaps the most important thing it gave me was confidence. Private-school students are taught that they are going to do well in life. That makes a huge psychological difference growing up.

There has been a discussion about reforming private schools for decades. Why has it not got anywhere?
I think the liberal left find it a difficult issue because parents want to do the best for their children and if they can afford it they’ll often educate their children privately, and that’s entirely understandable. But attitudes become very entrenched when people have made a significant financial investment. And if one’s been privately educated oneself there’s the question of having advantages that others have not had, and then throwing away the ladder one’s climbed up oneself.

. . . .

Should we bring back grammar schools?
It is an important question and I am a bit conflicted. When grammar schools were phased out at the end of the 1960s, something was lost. At that point, they were offering real academic competition to the private schools. But you also had the problem of selection, division within families and three quarters of the population being written off. I think overall there was a good case for abolition but it was a debatable case. I am not nearly as unsympathetic towards grammars as I am towards private schools.

What should be done now?
There’s obviously the question of outright abolition, but in our view to aim at that is impractical because it would be such a difficult thing to achieve. My starting point is where we are at the moment, with these highly resourced schools for, on the whole, children of wealthy parents, entrenching already existing advantages. So anything, in a sense, is better than where we are now. We’ve put our emphasis on changing the social composition of the schools. We call for a fair access scheme in which, initially, 33% of pupils at private schools would be state-subsidised.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says the Constitutional prohibition against titles of nobility is one of the lesser-known of the many wise decisions the founders of the United States made as they were crafting the fundamental legal principles that govern the United States.

OTOH, PG attended US public schools.

By any reasonable academic standards, PG’s high school would not have been highly-ranked. Out of 22 members (No, that’s not a typo) in his high school graduating class, only three completed college.

In college, many of PG’s classmates were graduates from private schools or top-ranked public high schools. He has to admit he never felt any injustice because they were more educationally privileged than he was nor did he feel any lasting harm arising from his own pre-college educational experiences.

PG sees no net benefit from any sort of limitation on or prohibition of private schools. If any individual is well-educated, regardless of the source of such education, PG thinks the larger society benefits.

PG knows a small number of families who have home-schooled their children with excellent results. No public funds were expended to pay for that education. Recently one of those families sent a daughter aged 16 and a son aged 14 to a local university and the children have adapted very successfully with excellent academic results. In another family, the oldest son has become a practicing physician as are several of his first cousins who were also home-schooled.

PG suggests that improving substandard schools while leaving those that are performing well alone is the most rational approach. Interfering with schools that are producing properly-educated graduates while being supported by private tuition payments and donations is the height of foolishness, especially where alternatives to such private education have not demonstrated they are able to deliver similar results.



Why I Disagree With the Konmari Tidying-Up Method for Books

From BookRiot:

New year, new resolutions, new approach to life! Now might seem like the perfect time for some life-changing magic, and perhaps the time to begin with some tidying up. Maybe even using the Konmari method that everyone seems to be talking about lately.

Marie Kondo’s ‘Konmari’ approach to tidying up has taken the world by storm, with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up published in English in 2014 (it was originally published in Japanese in 2011). A sequel, Spark Joy, was published in 2016, a graphic novel version, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, released in 2017, and a new series on Netflix, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, began airing in 2019. The main premise of her approach is to discard everything that does not spark joy and you will eventually surround yourself with only things that you love.

I love the idea, and when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the graphic novel version of the book, I was inspired to think about what my life and home would look like if I adopted the Konmari method. But there were some elements to her method that I disagreed with, particularly the ones related to books — actually, in retrospect, only the ones related to books. I think I could adopt her approach in every other part of my life. Probably.

. . . .

What is it about books that I disagree with? Kondo suggests that the books that you keep to be read eventually will actually never be read, and that the moment you first encounter a book is the moment to read it. If you don’t read it then, you are not going to, so it can be discarded.

She also argues that you are going to reread very few of the books, and you don’t need to keep the physical object after you’ve read it once; the experience of reading the book will stay with you even if you don’t remember everything in the book. You have experienced reading it, the book is a part of you, the physical object has fulfilled its purpose and therefore can be discarded.

The criterion for whether or not to keep a book using the Konmari method is whether or not you experience a thrill of pleasure when you touch it — whether the book sparks joy.

. . . .

But for me, there are two parts of this that do not work. Her premise that if you don’t read a book when you first encounter it then it has lost its moment and you will never read it is wrong for me. And you know what book most clearly exemplifies this? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, the very book about this approach. I find that quite amusing, actually. I bought the book in mid-2016. I had just moved to America, and my husband and I were trying to fit everything I had brought with me into his already-established apartment, and I thought the book might help. I read a chapter, then closed the book and didn’t finish it. You might think that the book lost its moment.

. . . .

The second part of her approach to books that doesn’t work for me is her argument that you will not reread. Because I do reread. Maybe not often, and maybe not every single book I own will be reread (and those are ones that I *would* be willing to part with), but I reread enough of my books that this criterion doesn’t work.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Let us start with the premise that PG is not the tidying up type, at least in the manner envisioned by Ms. Kondo.

As he analyzed his tidying or anti-tidying behaviors, he realized that at Casa PG, he unconsciously divides the interior space into common areas and private areas AKA lairs.

The common areas represent spaces where visitors are likely to exist and PG is more prone to tidying behavior around locations like the front door, the living room, spaces a visitor might be able to peer into from the living room, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best example of a lair is PG’s office.

In order to enter PG’s office, a visitor would have to go through the living room, move to a different level of Casa PG and beat PG to the door of his office before he closed it. There is even a lair lock on the door.

On a micro level, PG’s office is approximately rectangular in shape. The door to his office is at one corner of the rectangle and PG’s desk, computer equipment, etc., is at the opposite corner of the rectangle, as far from the door as the size of the office permits. PG spends the most lair time in the deepest part of the office.

As PG performed a tidiness assessment, he realized there are varying zones of tidiness represented in his office. In that respect, PG’s lair represents a creation akin to the layers of an ocean.



The entry to PG’s office is equivalent to Epipelagic or Sunlight Zone.

As one continues horizontally into the office, one passes through the Bathypelagic (Twilight) Zone and Abyssopelagic Zone (The Abyss). Finally, when the office diver reaches PG’s desk, he/she is fully-immersed in the Hadalpelagic Zone (The Trenches).

As he considered the potential impact of a tidying-up event on his office, PG realized that it would create an ecological disaster of immense proportions.

Should PG conduct a scientific audit of the microbiologic residents of his office, he is certain the results would demonstrate that the life forms which flourish in the Sunlight Zone differ substantially from those in The Trenches. Tidying up this exquisitely balanced little world would undoubtedly trigger a microbial mass extinction.

PG has no desire to be held up as an example of the worst sort of the speciesism which is already too prevalent in our society.

As a responsible steward of his office environment, PG hereby pledges to allow life in all its kaleidoscopic beauty to continue to live undisturbed and evolve in peace.

The face

The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.

~ St. Jerome

Affect Recognition

Not exactly about authors and books, but perhaps a writing prompt.

From The Intercept:

Facial recognition has quickly shifted from techno-novelty to fact of life for many, with millions around the world at least willing to put up with their faces scanned by software at the airport, their iPhones, or Facebook’s server farms. But researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute have issued a strong warning against not only ubiquitous facial recognition, but its more sinister cousin: so-called affect recognition, technology that claims it can find hidden meaning in the shape of your nose, the contours of your mouth, and the way you smile. If that sounds like something dredged up from the 19th century, that’s because it sort of is.

AI Now’s 2018 report is a 56-page record of how “artificial intelligence” — an umbrella term that includes a myriad of both scientific attempts to simulate human judgment and marketing nonsense — continues to spread without oversight, regulation, or meaningful ethical scrutiny. The report covers a wide expanse of uses and abuses, including instances of racial discrimination, police surveillance, and how trade secrecy laws can hide biased code from an AI-surveilled public. But AI Now, which was established last year to grapple with the social implications of artificial intelligence, expresses in the document particular dread over affect recognition, “a subclass of facial recognition that claims to detect things such as personality, inner feelings, mental health, and ‘worker engagement’ based on images or video of faces.” The thought of your boss watching you through a camera that uses machine learning to constantly assess your mental state is bad enough, while the prospect of police using “affect recognition” to deduce your future criminality based on “micro-expressions” is exponentially worse.

Link to the rest at The Intercept

From Business Insider:

Mark Newman founded HireVue in 2004 as a video interview platform. It saved recruiters time by allowing candidates to record answers to interview questions and upload them to a database where recruiters could easily compare how applicants presented themselves.

Four years ago, HireVue began the next phase of its life with the integration of AI.

HireVue uses a combination of proprietary voice recognition software and licensed facial recognition software in tandem with a ranking algorithm to determine which candidates most resemble the ideal candidate. The ideal candidate is a composite of traits triggered by body language, tone, and key words gathered from analyses of the existing best members of a particular role.

After the algorithm lets the recruiter know which candidates are at the top of the heap, the recruiter can then choose to spend more time going through the answers of these particular applicants and determine who should move onto the next round, usually for an in-person interview.

. . . .

As soon as I saw my face reflected back at me on the screen, I felt uncomfortable.

. . . .

I had 30 seconds to prep my answer, and then a couple minutes to give my response. Most importantly, I was given unlimited tries, as all HireVue users are.

With the unlimited answer feature, you can review your recorded response before moving onto the next question, giving you the chance to decide if you’d like to give it another shot.

I made liberal use of this feature, and the estimated 25-minute application soon stretched into 45 minutes. Larsen told me they experimented with unlimited and limited tries for questions, and said they found that the majority of users preferred unlimited.

. . . .

I came in second place, according to my “Insights Score,” which was 65%. This meant that according to the software, I had 65% of the qualities of the perfect customer service rep.

. . . .

The idea is that the AI helps highlight the top performers so that recruiters can dive in and spend time with the most promising candidates.

Larsen said that he understands that people first hearing about HireVue may find it to be scary or invasive, like something out of “Minority Report,” but he said that it’s a tool to make jobs — for humans — more efficient. “The idea is not to replace recruiters,” he said.

. . . .

The strength of HireVue, however, is also its potential weakness — the AI learns from the employee pool hiring managers choose to feed it. It can then be customized to remove certain biases, such as vocal tics, but that is also dependent on human judgment. Ultimately, the AI is automating how hiring managers already recruit, and if they want to correct for past mistakes, they need to be cognizant of them in the first place.

Larsen said that he and his team will be working on lessening the need for human intervention, refining their AI assessment toward an ideal that may or may not ever exist. In that case, after a candidate submits his or her application, “the algorithm is always right. It would be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No.'”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside – Part 2

Yesterday, PG posted an item from The Wall Street Journal titled, Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside, that generated a lot of comments and discussion.

Here are the lyrics from the song:

I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (i’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what’s your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (i’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (oh baby don’t hold out)
But baby, it’s cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)
Your welcome has been(how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)
But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I’ve gotta get home(but baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it’s up to your knees out there)
You’ve really been grand (i thrill when you touch my hand)
But don’t you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia and died)
I really can’t stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it’s cold
Baby, it’s cold outside
Songwriter: Frank Loesser
Baby, It’s Cold Outside lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

The song won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Here is the song as it appeared in the 1949 movie, Neptune’s Daughter:




Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside

From The Wall Street Journal:

 My greatest hope for 2019 is cultural. It is that the left will rise and do what only it can do—strike a blow against political correctness in the arts and entertainment. All artists are meant to be free and daring. Their job, whether in drama, comedy or music, is to approach the truth—to apprehend it, get their hands on it and hold it up for a moment for everyone to see. That’s a big job, a great one, and you can do it only if you’re brave. Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 Letter to Artists, noted something I have witnessed: The artist faces a constant sense of defeat. You’re working, you’re trying, but it’s never as good as you wanted, as you dreamed. Even your most successful work only comes close. Artists are looking for “the hidden meaning of things.” Their “intuitions” spring from their souls. There is an “unbridgeable gap” between what they produce and “the dazzling perfection” of what they glimpsed in the creative moment. They forge on anyway.

. . . .

At happy gatherings the past two weeks, talk turned to the controversy over Frank Loesser’s 1944 holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You know the argument. The song should be pulled from playlists and effectively banned because its lyrics, on close inspection, are somewhat rapey. It’s a song about sexual assault; there’s a clear power imbalance. This argument comes from young writers and activists of the #MeToo movement. Actually, the man in the song hopes to seduce, not rape; the song is flirty and humorous, a spoof of the endless drama between men and women.

From every conversation I witnessed liberal opinion is very much against banning the song, as is conservative opinion.

But companies hate controversy. Radio stations don’t want petitions at Christmastime, no one wants trouble. We’ll be hearing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” less as the years go by. It only takes a few highly focused idiots to kill a song.

. . . .

Political correctness is the enemy of art. Self-censorship is a killer of art. Censorship applied from outside, through organized pressure, is an assassination of art.

We have seen the political correctness of the social-justice warriors sweep the universities, hounding out those who would speak from an incorrect perspective, decreeing new rules of language and living. They do not understand that when you tell people, especially Americans, what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they don’t stop saying and thinking. They go underground, sometimes to the depths. And it is dark down there.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants

From The Wall Street Journal:

We humans take it for granted that plants are our inferiors. But they make earth habitable for us animals, by harnessing the energy of the sun to produce food and by releasing oxygen. That’s not the only trick they have up their leaves. In this thought-provoking, handsomely illustrated book, Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso considers the fundamental differences between plants and animals and challenges our assumptions about which is the “higher” form of life. It seems we have much to learn from our green companions—about everything from designing buildings to organizing society.

The evolutionary split between animals and plants came nearly half a billion years ago, as life migrated from the oceans to the land. While animals roamed around their new environment, plants rooted themselves in one place. From these diverse strategies stems what Dr. Mancuso considers the most important distinction between the two kingdoms—not whether they move or produce their own food but how individual organisms are internally organized.

Whether they are predator or prey, animals’ survival depends on efficient movement and quick decision-making. And so we have adopted a top-down structure, with a central brain and organs such as heart and lungs to perform other vital functions. Because we can run away from predators, animals can afford to put our cerebral, circulatory, respiratory and other essential eggs in just one or two baskets.

For stationary plants, on the other hand, individual organs would only be “points of weakness,” Dr. Mancuso writes, chinks in their defenses that would leave them vulnerable to predators. So plants hedge their bets by spreading single functions, including such vital ones as respiration and photosynthesis, throughout the whole organism—breathing and creating food with their entire body. Plants may be brainless, but thanks to this simple, decentralized structure they enjoy a “distributed intelligence” that serves them well in meeting the challenges of their environment.

Plants are exceptionally sensitive to their surroundings, constantly monitoring a host of factors, including light, gravity, moisture, oxygen, sound, the presence of other plants and the approach of predators. Recent research conducted in Dr. Mancuso’s laboratory at the University of Florence has shown that at least one plant is capable of learning and remembering: When Mimosa pudica, a tropical native also known as the sensitive plant, is exposed to gentle shaking, it responds at first by closing its leaves. But after seven or eight trials, the plant concludes the vibrations aren’t a real threat and keeps the leaves open—a lesson it can remember for more than 40 days.
. . . .
 Due in part to their distinctive organization, plants have thrived, colonizing every continent and accounting for at least 80% of the world’s biomass. Though plants are ancient they are, Dr. Mancuso writes, “the epitome of modernity: a cooperative, shared structure without any command centers,” which is the ideal melding of durability and innovation. “When you want to design something robust, energetically sustainable, and adaptable to an environment of continuous change,” Dr. Mancuso suggests, “there is nothing better on earth to use as inspiration” than plants.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 


Publishers Weekly Takes Over The Millions

From Publishers Weekly:

PWxyz, parent company of Publishers Weekly, has acquired the online magazine the Millions, plus its website, for an undisclosed price.

The Millions was founded in 2003 by Max Magee and offers coverage of books, arts, and culture aimed at a consumer audience. Magee had been its editor until 2016, when Lydia Kiesling took over the role. Moving forward, Adam Boretz, a longtime editor at PW, who also served at the Millions as Magee’s associate editor, will become editor of the Millions, and will be promoted to senior editor at PW. Kiesling will continue to be involved in various capacities.

Although Magee will no longer be involved with the magazine, the Millions writing and editorial staffs will remain largely unchanged. PW will look to beef up the magazine’s advertising efforts under the direction of PW publisher Cevin Bryerman.

“The Millions has grown over time into a vibrant and necessary project, and in recent years I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the project might live beyond my stewardship,” said Magee. “In Publishers Weekly, the Millions will gain a partner that is devoted to the site’s mission and we hope will make the site a lasting institution. We at the Millions uniformly believe this is a great outcome for the site and for its writers and readers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG cannot claim to be a frequent visitor to The Millions, but he had no idea that the site sold advertising.  He thought the business plan was Support The Millions by Becoming a Member.

For those who are not familiar with the site, it is a combination of book reviews (Are they the advertising the site sells?) and interviews with people with whom PG is unfamiliar (More paid advertising?).

Laura Adamczyk‘s stories are not for the faint of heart.

Since 2014, when Jeff Jackson and I roamed the AWP Writers Conference together, I’ve read everything he’s written—that I know of, anyway.

In early 2016, during a monthslong relocation to Barcelona, I fell under the spell of three contemporary masters of Spanish-language fiction: Javier Cercas, of Barcelona, Javier Marías, of Madrid, and Álvaro Enrigue, of Mexico and New York. Even now, back in the U.S., I feel with these writers the special connection you get when your reading life and your life-life come close enough to touch.

I met Feroz Rather one verdant summer in Kashmir, almost a decade ago. 

I interview Ottessa Moshfegh at Caffe Vita, in Silverlake, earlier this month.

What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago

From The New Yorker:

Prophecy is a mug’s game. But then, lately, most of us are mugs. 2018 was a banner year for the art of prediction, which is not to say the science, because there really is no science of prediction. Predictive algorithms start out as historians: they study historical data to detect patterns. Then they become prophets: they devise mathematical formulas that explain the pattern, test the formulas against historical data withheld for the purpose, and use the formulas to make predictions about the future. That’s why Amazon, Google, Facebook, and everyone else are collecting your data to feed to their algorithms: they want to turn your past into your future.

This task, like most things, used to be done by hand. In 1968, the Foreign Policy Association, formed in 1918 to promote the League of Nations, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by publishing a book of predictions about what the world would look like, technology-wise, fifty years on. “Toward the Year 2018” was edited by Emmanuel G. Mesthene, who had served in the White House as an adviser on science and technology and who ran Harvard’s Program on Technology and Society. It makes for distressing reading at the end of 2018, a year that, a golden anniversary ago, looked positively thrilling.

. . . .

Two things are true about “Toward the Year 2018.” First, most of the machines that people expected would be invented have, in fact, been invented. Second, most of those machines have had consequences wildly different from those anticipated in 1968. It’s bad manners to look at past predictions to see if they’ve come true. Still, if history is any guide, today’s futurists have very little credibility. An algorithm would say the same.

Carlos R. DeCarlo, the director of automation research at I.B.M., covered computers in the book, predicting that, in 2018, “machines will do more of man’s work, but will force man to think more logically.” DeCarlo was consistently half right. He correctly anticipated miniature computers (“very small, portable storage units”), but wrongly predicted the coming of a universal language (“very likely a modified and expanded form of English”). One thing he got terribly wrong: he expressed tragically unfounded confidence that “the political and social institutions of the United States will remain flexible enough to ingest the fruits of science and technology without basic damage to its value systems.”

Reporting on the future of communication, J. R. Pierce, from Bell Labs, explained that “the Bell System is committed to the provision of a Picturephone service commercially in the early 1970s,” and that, by 2018, face-to-face communication across long distances would be available everywhere: “The transmission of pictures and texts and the distant manipulation of computers and other machines will be added to the transmission of the human voice on a scale that will eventually approach the universality of telephony.” True! “What all this will do to the world I cannot guess,” Pierce admitted, with becoming modesty. “It seems bound to affect us all.”

. . . .

But the most prescient contributor to “Toward the Year 2018” was the M.I.T. political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool, whose research interests included social networks and computer simulation. “By 2018 it will be cheaper to store information in a computer bank than on paper,” Pool wrote. “Tax returns, social security records, census forms, military records, perhaps a criminal record, hospital rec-ords, security clearance files, school transcripts . . . bank statements,credit ratings, job records,” and more would, by 2018, be stored on computers that could communicate with one another over a vast international network. You could find out anything about anyone, without ever leaving your desk. “By 2018 the researcher sitting at his console will be able to compile a cross-tabulation of consumer purchases (from store records) by people of low IQ (from school records) who have an unemployed member of the family (from social security records). That is, he will have the technological capability to do this. Will he have the legal right?” Pool declined to answer that question. “This is not the place to speculate how society will achieve a balance between its desire for knowledge and its desire for privacy,” he insisted.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Classic Literature as Fortune Cookie Fortunes

From The Paris Review:

1. Lord of the Flies

An exotic trip is just around the corner.

. . . .

4. The Lottery

Expect an invitation to an exciting event.

5. A Christmas Carol

You will become better acquainted with a coworker.

. . . .

9. Metamorphosis

A dream you have will finally come true.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Love, hate and hypocrisy: the best books about animals and humans

From The Guardian:

A pack of wolves follows a sled, picking off the sled dogs and then the occupants one by one, to the last man. So begins Jack London’s White Fang, published in 1906. The wolf pack is led by a wolfdog, Kiche. The ensuing story is told from the viewpoint of Kiche’s wolf pup, White Fang, through whose gaze we view the violence of the parallel worlds of animals and humans. White Fang is the narrative mirror of London’s earlier The Call of the Wild, in which a pet dog, kidnapped and used as a sled dog, runs away to join the wolves. Wildness is the true nature of animals, though the challenges of survival in the wilderness can also turn man into a beast, London seems to say. White Fang ends up enjoying domesticity with his new master, many miles away from the Yukon. Humans have triumphed over nature, but nature is still out there.

. . . .

In Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez details the hate reserved for animals whom we cannot bend to our will. For centuries in the US, extermination was enacted against wolves. Lopez details the way they were treated as outlaws and criminals, subjected to public torture and execution. Crowds gathered to watch a particular wolf die as agonisingly as possible: drawn and quartered, and left to swing on the gibbet.

. . . .

“The way we think about other species sometimes defies logic,” writes Hal Herzog in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, which does a remarkable job of describing and explaining our emotionally complicated responses to animals. The truth is that, when we treat them with cruelty and indifference, this is often the way they treat each other. Animals, though, are not hypocrites, and Herzog must be applauded for calling out humans, among them “dog lovers” whose quest for the perfect breed has caused unquantifiable amounts of canine suffering.

Link to the rest at The Guardian