Thursday, October 2, 2014

[tt] Lincoln Cannon: 8 Tools To Manage Technology for My Children

Lincoln Cannon: 8 Tools To Manage Technology for My Children

If you're a parent, like me, one of the challenges of accelerating
technological change is that of encouraging children to explore and
learn from our increasingly interconnected world while mitigating
risks inherent in all exploratory endeavors. Friends often ask me
how I do this with my children, and another just asked again today,
so it's probably time to write some of this down. Before I share
with you a list of some of the tools we use in our family, I have a
few comments about some behaviors that are probably more important
than the tools.
The first behavior is that of talking with children about technology
as neither a good nor an evil thing in itself, but rather as a
powerful thing that can be used for good and evil. I want my
children to know that technology has enabled humanity to connect and
empathize with each other in unprecedented ways, alleviate and
relieve suffering well beyond previous capacities, and provide far
broader and greater economic opportunities than ever before in
history. I also want them to know that technology has increasingly
enabled us to harass, denigrate, coerce, and of course kill each
other far more efficiently. So we talk about age-appropriate
examples of both the good and the bad.
The second behavior is that of modeling responsible technology use.
This one can be harder because actions are always tougher than
words. However, as most parents have figured out, our examples
usually speak louder than our words. I want my children to see that
I use technology to help others, to advocate ideas I value in ways
that are respectful of others even when we disagree (without
avoiding constructive disagreement), and to create and to support
creation of tools, processes, and institutions that leverage the
increasing power of technology to improve the vitality of our
bodies, minds, relations, and world. I also want my children to see
that I moderate my technology use according to the situation, such
as avoiding texting while driving, or maintaining focus on a
physical connection even when virtual connections would interrupt.
Am I perfect at modeling responsible technology use? Nope, but it's
still important to me. So I try to do that too.
Enough preaching, then, for now--I'll surely get back to that soon
enough. Here are some of the tools that we use to manage technology
for the children in our family.
1) iPhone Restrictions
We're an [136]iPhone family. Each of us has one, and we haven't had
a home phone since dinosaurs roamed the Earth--yes, my children
sometimes act as if I'm that old. On each iPhone for a child, I
enable restrictions before I hand it over. Restrictions are found in
the Settings app under "General > Restrictions". They allow me to
make decisions about how my child can use his phone. We turn off the
Safari app, so that general web browsing isn't available; my kids
browse the Internet on desktop computers, and I'll say more about
that later. We also turn off the "Installing Apps", "Deleting Apps",
and "In-App Purchase" options, so that the children have to talk
with me about the apps they would like to install or uninstall
before it happens; this is particularly important in relation to the
decision to turn off Safari because many apps have built-in web
browsers that would allow unrestricted web browsing. I set content
rating restrictions as age-appropriate for the particular child;
there's a relatively new feature that enables website filtering, but
I haven't tested it much yet, so we haven't begun using it. I also
lock "Location Services", "Share My Location", "Twitter",
"Facebook", and "Accounts", so that the children have to talk with
me about any changes they'd like to make to these services. Finally,
I turn off the "Multiplayer Games" and "Adding Friends" options,
mostly because I'm not sufficiently familiar with the social
environment in the Apple Game Center, and my kids haven't ever cared
about it.
2) iPhone Security
I'm also concerned about keeping my children's accounts devices and
accounts secure. I don't want them or the information in them to be
abused by others who may gain access to the device. So, before
locking in the restrictions as described above in #1, I go to
"General > Passcode" in the Settings app to turn on the "Simple
Passcode" option, as well as the "Erase Data" option. The latter
will delete all the data on the iPhone after 10 failed attempts to
put in the correct passcode. This may sound like it would be a pain
if ever someone messes around on the phone, trying to guess the
code, and causes it to erase its data. However, if you also have the
iCloud backup turned on then all you have to do is restore the phone
to the most recent backup, and your child is good to go, even after
a data erasure prevents someone from having too many chances to
guess the passcode.
3) Google Apps Accounts
We're also a Google Apps family. And, by that, I mean not just
Google accounts, but rather a full [137]customized Google Apps
domain (in our case, that's This allows me to have
much more control over and insight into the Google accounts that my
children use for email, calendaring, online documents and storage,
and the whole array of other Google services. With the full
knowledge of my children (this isn't about spying on them or
surprising them), I set up each of their custom Gmail accounts to
forward copies of all received emails to my account, which filters
them into subfolders that I can review from time to time. When I
review them, I'm generally looking to help unsubscribe them from
spam and ensure they're not being harassed in any way. I also set up
user groups that we can use for family mailing lists or shared
calendaring. One of the consulting services I offer is that of
assisting with the setup and maintenance of custom Google Apps
domains, so [138]contact me if you would like my help with that.
4) Google Chrome Accounts
Related to #3 above, I set up my [139]Chrome web browser such that
it can quickly log in to multiple accounts, using any of my
children's Google accounts and remembering the usernames and
passwords associated with all of the online services they use. You
can do this, in Chrome, by going to the "Users" section in Settings,
and adding a user for each child's Google Apps account. This enables
me, whenever needed, to provide support or make configuration
changes quickly, without having to log out of my own accounts, and
without having to memorize (or look up notes about) their accounts.
I always try to enable parental controls on the services my children
use. Some have better options than others. In any case, I always
require that my children share the usernames and passwords they use
to access online services, so that I can also have access. The
Chrome web browser, in conjunction with Google Apps accounts, makes
it pretty easy to use the access when needed.
5) Google Apps Security
My wife and I both use two-factor security on our Google Apps
accounts, as well as for other online services to the extent such
security is available. This makes it necessary for a person to know
a password and have access to a device before being able to access
our accounts. If you haven't noticed, there are people on the
Interest that want your naked selfies, and two-factor security makes
it much more difficult for them to hack your accounts. ;) I mention
this because I'm preparing to extend two-factor security to my
children's accounts too. I've experimented and found that both
Google Apps accounts and most other online services enable multiple
devices to be associated with two-factor security, so both my
child's phone and my phone could serve that purpose, thereby making
their information more secure, while still enabling me to access
their information as needed. Ways of setting up two-factor security
vary quite a bit from service to service. For Google Apps, you just
go to the [140]account security webpage, select the option to turn
on two-factor authentication, and follow the instructions. You'll
have the option of either using an app on your smart phone or text
messaging to receive codes on the device, and you'll use the codes
in addition to your password to sign in to your accounts from time
to time--there's usually a period of time (like a month) before a
service will ask you to authenticate again on the same device.
6) iBoss Internet Router and Filter
As mentioned in #1 above, my children generally browse the Internet
using desktop computers on our home network, which I run through an
[141]iBoss router with filtering built in. There are several
advantages to this setup. First, it's a lot easier to setup and
maintain a single filter on one device than many filters on all the
devices that might access the Internet through your home network. In
a single location, I can turn off access to sensitive website
categories, such as pornography or gambling, and the policy
immediately affects all devices accessing the Internet through my
router. Second, I can turn on or off Internet access for all devices
on my network from a single location. For example, I have our router
configured to turn off the Internet every day at 8pm, so that the
children can prepare for bed without distraction. Third, the iBoss
permits me to set up profiles based on devices or users, so I can
configure my devices to circumvent gambling restrictions (alas, I'm
too poor and too good at math to gamble seriously) and continue
accessing the Internet after 8pm. In conjunction with this, I've
also set up a VPN (virtual private network) to access my iBoss
router even when I'm not home, so that I can turn on/off the
Internet when away, as may be needed by the children. Setting up a
VPN is not a particularly easy thing to do, though, so
less-technical persons would almost certainly need assistance from a
more-technical person with this part.
7) AT&T Smart Limits
In conjunction with the iPhones, we use the [142]AT&T Smart Limits
service to manage the way our children use voice, text, and data
services. When already signed in to your AT&T account, you can find
Smart Limits by going to "myAT&T > Wireless > Smart Limits". I
configure this service differently, depending on the age of the
child. For younger children, I set up tight restrictions on phone
numbers they can call or text. As the child gets older, I relax
those restrictions. I'm also able, with Smart Limits, to control the
times of day when my children are allowed to use voice, text, and
data services. For example, during the school year, we shut down the
services at 8pm on school nights, although we allow usage later into
the evening on the weekends. Emergency calls and white listed
numbers will always work. Between this service, and the iBoss router
described above in #6, I'm easily able to establish general rules
for when Internet access is available across all of our children's
devices, and of course I'm also easily able to circumvent those
rules when exceptions are needed, such as for late night homework
emergencies. I've found that it's always easier to have an automated
general rule that makes me a good guy for granting exceptions than
it is to have a lack of automation and rules, which makes me a bad
guy for turning things off.
8) iPhone Location
Finally, returning briefly to the iPhones, I'll note that we use the
Find Friends app and Find My iPhone app and related online services
for all of our iPhones, sharing access among all family members, and
preventing the children from further sharing access to others (in
the restrictions mentioned in #1 above). In this way, we always know
where to find each other, both the children and the adults, without
the need to bug each other for as much information. Some adults may
find that sharing their own location with their children is
uncomfortable, but I've found it to be a good way of establishing
mutual trust. We're a family, so it makes sense to us to know where
each other is all the time. Of course, this service also helps us
(more often that we'd like to admit) to find each other's lost
devices. Note, too, that Apple has just recently updated these
services to make them even more family friendly during the
configuration process. I recommend that you configure the "Family"
option in the "iCloud" section of the Settings app.
There you go. Those are the main tools that I use to manage
technology for my children. The children now range in age from 17 to
10, and we've been using most of these tools for over 5 years with
positive results, both satisfying concerns my wife and I have had
and enabling flexibility my children have needed. Hopefully this
will be helpful for you. If you have questions, please post them in
the comments.


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[tt] NYT (BAYES): The Odds, Continually Updated

Best article I've seen on the subject.

The Odds, Continually Updated


Statistics may not sound like the most heroic of pursuits. But if
not for statisticians, a Long Island fisherman might have died in
the Atlantic Ocean after falling off his boat early one morning last

The man owes his life to a once obscure field known as Bayesian
statistics--a set of mathematical rules for using new data to
continuously update beliefs or existing knowledge.

The method was invented in the 18th century by an English
Presbyterian minister named Thomas Bayes--by some accounts to
calculate the probability of God's existence. In this century,
Bayesian statistics has grown vastly more useful because of the kind
of advanced computing power that didn't exist even 20 years ago.

It is proving especially useful in approaching complex problems,
including searches like the one the Coast Guard used in 2013 to find
the missing fisherman, John Aldridge (though not, so far, in the
hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370).

Now Bayesian statistics are rippling through everything from physics
to cancer research, ecology to psychology. Enthusiasts say they are
allowing scientists to solve problems that would have been
considered impossible just 20 years ago. And lately, they have been
thrust into an intense debate over the reliability of research

When people think of statistics, they may imagine lists of numbers
--batting averages or life-insurance tables. But the current debate
is about how scientists turn data into knowledge, evidence and
predictions. Concern has been growing in recent years that some
fields are not doing a very good job at this sort of inference. In
2012, for example, a team at the biotech company Amgen announced
that they'd analyzed 53 cancer studies and found it could not
replicate 47 of them.

Similar follow-up analyses have cast doubt on so many findings in
fields such as neuroscience and social science that researchers talk
about a "replication crisis"

Some statisticians and scientists are optimistic that Bayesian
methods can improve the reliability of research by allowing
scientists to crosscheck work done with the more traditional or
"classical" approach, known as frequentist statistics. The two
methods approach the same problems from different angles.

The essence of the frequentist technique is to apply probability to
data. If you suspect your friend has a weighted coin, for example,
and you observe that it came up heads nine times out of 10, a
frequentist would calculate the probability of getting such a result
with an unweighted coin. The answer (about 1 percent) is not a
direct measure of the probability that the coin is weighted; it's a
measure of how improbable the nine-in-10 result is--a piece of
information that can be useful in investigating your suspicion.

By contrast, Bayesian calculations go straight for the probability
of the hypothesis, factoring in not just the data from the coin-toss
experiment but any other relevant information--including whether
you've previously seen your friend use a weighted coin.

Scientists who have learned Bayesian statistics often marvel that it
propels them through a different kind of scientific reasoning than
they'd experienced using classical methods.

"Statistics sounds like this dry, technical subject, but it draws on
deep philosophical debates about the nature of reality," said the
Princeton University astrophysicist Edwin Turner, who has witnessed
a widespread conversion to Bayesian thinking in his field over the
last 15 years.

Countering Pure Objectivity

Frequentist statistics became the standard of the 20th century by
promising just-the-facts objectivity, unsullied by beliefs or
biases. In the 2003 statistics primer "Dicing With Death,"Stephen
Senn traces the technique's roots to 18th-century England, when a
physician named John Arbuthnot set out to calculate the ratio of
male to female births.

Arbuthnot gathered christening records from 1629 to 1710 and found
that in London, a few more boys were recorded every year. He then
calculated the odds that such an 82-year run could occur simply by
chance, and found that it was one in trillions. This frequentist
calculation can't tell them what's causing the sex ratio to be
skewed. Arbuthnot proposed that God skewed the birthrates to balance
the higher mortality that had been observed among boys, but
scientists today favor a biological explanation over a theological

Later in the 1700s, the mathematician and astronomer Daniel
Bernoulli used a similar technique to investigate the curious
geometry of the solar system, in which planets orbit the sun in a
flat, pancake-shaped plane. If the orbital angles were purely random
--with Earth, say, at zero degrees, Venus at 45 and Mars at 90--
the solar system would look more like a sphere than a pancake. But
Bernoulli calculated that all the planets known at the time orbited
within seven degrees of the plane, known as the ecliptic.

What were the odds of that? Bernoulli's calculations put them at
about one in 13 million. Today, this kind of number is called a
p-value, the probability that an observed phenomenon or one more
extreme could have occurred by chance. Results are usually
considered "statistically significant" if the p-value is less than 5

But there's a danger in this tradition, said Andrew Gelman, a
statistics professor at Columbia. Even if scientists always did the
calculations correctly--and they don't, he argues--accepting
everything with a p-value of 5 percent means that one in 20
"statistically significant" results are nothing but random noise.

The proportion of wrong results published in prominent journals is
probably even higher, he said, because such findings are often
surprising and appealingly counterintuitive, said Dr. Gelman, an
occasional contributor to Science Times.

Looking at Other Factors

Take, for instance, a study concluding that single women who were
ovulating were 20 percent more likely to vote for President Obama in
2012 than those who were not. (In married women, the effect was

Dr. Gelman re-evaluated the study using Bayesian statistics. That
allowed him look at probability not simply as a matter of results
and sample sizes, but in the light of other information that could
affect those results.

He factored in data showing that people rarely change their voting
preference over an election cycle, let alone a menstrual cycle. When
he did, the study's statistical significance evaporated. (The
paper's lead author, Kristina M. Durante of the University of Texas,
San Antonio, said she stood by the finding.)

Dr. Gelman said the results would not have been considered
statistically significant had the researchers used the frequentist
method properly. He suggests using Bayesian calculations not
necessarily to replace classical statistics but to flag spurious

A famously counterintuitive puzzle that lends itself to a Bayesian
approach is the Monty Hall problem, in which Mr. Hall, longtime host
of the game show "Let's Make a Deal," hides a car behind one of
three doors and a goat behind each of the other two. The contestant
picks Door No. 1, but before opening it, Mr. Hall opens Door No. 2
to reveal a goat. Should the contestant stick with No. 1 or switch
to No. 3, or does it matter?

A Bayesian calculation would start with one-third odds that any
given door hides the car, then update that knowledge with the new
data: Door No. 2 had a goat. The odds that the contestant guessed
right--that the car is behind No. 1--remain one in three. Thus,
the odds that she guessed wrong are two in three. And if she guessed
wrong, the car must be behind Door No. 3. So she should indeed

In other fields, researchers are using Bayesian statistics to tackle
problems of formidable complexity. The New York University
astrophysicist David Hogg credits Bayesian statistics with narrowing
down the age of the universe. As recently as the late 1990s,
astronomers could say only that it was eight billion to 15 billion
years; now, factoring in supernova explosions, the distribution of
galaxies and patterns seen in radiation left over from the Big Bang,
they have concluded with some confidence that the number is 13.8
billion years.

Bayesian reasoning combined with advanced computing power has also
revolutionized the search for planets orbiting distant stars, said
Dr. Turner, the Princeton astrophysicist.

In most cases, astronomers can't see these planets; their light is
drowned out by the much brighter stars they orbit. What the
scientists can see are slight variations in starlight; from these
glimmers, they can judge whether planets are passing in front of a
star or causing it to wobble from their gravitational tug.

Making matters more complicated, the size of the apparent wobbles
depends on whether astronomers are observing a planet's orbit
edge-on or from some other angle. But by factoring in data from a
growing list of known planets, the scientists can deduce the most
probable properties of new planets.

One downside of Bayesian statistics is that it requires prior
information--and often scientists need to start with a guess or
estimate. Assigning numbers to subjective judgments is "like
fingernails on a chalkboard," said physicist Kyle Cranmer, who
helped develop a frequentist technique to identify the latest new
subatomic particle--the Higgs boson.

Others say that in confronting the so-called replication crisis, the
best cure for misleading findings is not Bayesian statistics, but
good frequentist ones. It was frequentist statistics that allowed
people to uncover all the problems with irreproducible research in
the first place, said Deborah Mayo, a philosopher of science at
Virginia Tech. The technique was developed to distinguish real
effects from chance, and to prevent scientists from fooling

Uri Simonsohn, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania,
agrees. Several years ago, he published a paper that exposed common
statistical shenanigans in his field--logical leaps, unjustified
conclusions, and various forms of unconscious and conscious

He said he had looked into Bayesian statistics and concluded that if
people misused or misunderstood one system, they would do just as
badly with the other. Bayesian statistics, in short, can't save us
from bad science.

At Times a Lifesaver

Despite its 18th-century origins, the technique is only now
beginning to reveal its power with the advent of 21st-century
computing speed.

Some historians say Bayes developed his technique to counter the
philosopher David Hume's contention that most so-called miracles
were likely to be fakes or illusions. Bayes didn't make much headway
in that debate--at least not directly.

But even Hume might have been impressed last year, when the Coast
Guard used Bayesian statistics to search for Mr. Aldridge, its
computers continually updating and narrowing down his most probable

The Coast Guard has been using Bayesian analysis since the 1970s.
The approach lends itself well to problems like searches, which
involve a single incident and many different kinds of relevant data,
said Lawrence Stone, a statistician for Metron, a scientific
consulting firm in Reston, Va., that works with the Coast Guard.

At first, all the Coast Guard knew about the fisherman was that he
fell off his boat sometime from 9 p.m. on July 24 to 6 the next
morning. The sparse information went into a program called Sarops,
for Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System. Over the next few
hours, searchers added new information--on prevailing currents,
places the search helicopters had already flown and some additional
clues found by the boat's captain.

The system couldn't deduce exactly where Mr. Aldridge was drifting,
but with more information, it continued to narrow down the most
promising places to search.

Just before turning back to refuel, a searcher in a helicopter
spotted a man clinging to two buoys he had tied together. He had
been in the water for 12 hours; he was hypothermic and sunburned but

Even in the jaded 21st century, it was considered something of a
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[tt] NYT: Toolmaking May Have Risen Independently

Toolmaking May Have Risen Independently


The so-called Levallois technique--which early humans used to make
knives and other instruments by flaking off bits of stone--was
long thought to have originated in Africa 500,000 to 600,000 years
ago, then taken to Eurasia as part of an exodus from Africa.

Now a study in the journal Science throws the second part of that
assumption into doubt, suggesting that the technique evolved
independently on each landmass--and, more broadly, challenging the
notion that the movement of ancient humans can be tracked by the
tools they used.

Levallois tools and less advanced ones, like hand axes, are almost
never found together, so scientists thought that one type of tool
replaced the other as the migrants moved north. But archaeologists
working in Armenia have now unearthed Levallois tools in the same
layer of soil as hand axes. The most likely conclusion, the
researchers say, is that the Levallois method was not taken to
Eurasia by African migrants, but evolved there gradually and

Either that, or "you have two different groups of hominins with two
totally different toolmaking traditions occupying the same landscape
at the same time yet never intermixing," said the study's lead
author, Daniel Adler, an anthropologist at the University of
Connecticut. "We don't find evidence for that sort of thing anywhere
in prehistory."

"Ancient humans from this time period were very technologically
variable," he went on. "They could make all kinds of different stone
tools when they needed them. They weren't just locked into making
one kind."
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[tt] NYT: The Head-Scratching Case of the Vanishing Bees

The Head-Scratching Case of the Vanishing Bees

Play Video|9:39
The Mystery of the Missing Bees

Retro Report

In 1872, a merchant ship called the Mary Celeste set sail from New
York, and four weeks later was found by sailors aboard another
vessel to be moving erratically in the Atlantic Ocean 400 miles east
of the Azores. Curious, those sailors boarded the Mary Celeste, only
to find nary a soul. The cargo was intact, as were supplies of food
and water. But there was no sign of the seven-man crew, the captain,
or his wife and daughter, who had gone along for the journey. To
this day, what turned that brigantine into a ghost ship remains a
maritime mystery.

It was with a nod to this history that when bees suddenly and
mysteriously began disappearing en masse in Britain several years
ago, the phenomenon came to be known there as Mary Celeste Syndrome.
Beekeepers in this country were similarly plagued. Honeybees, those
versatile workhorses of pollination, were vanishing by the millions.
They would leave their hives in search of nectar and pollen, and
somehow never find their way home. On this side of the Atlantic,
though, the flight of the bees was given a more prosaic name: colony
collapse disorder.

What caused it remains as much of a head-scratcher as the fate of
the Mary Celeste, but the serious consequences for American
agriculture were clear. And thus it draws the attention of this
week's Retro Report, part of a series of video documentaries
examining major news stories from the past and analyzing what has
happened since.

The centrality of bees to our collective well-being is hard to
overstate. They pollinate dozens of crops: apples, blueberries,
avocados, soybeans, strawberries, you name it. Without honeybees,
almond production in California would all but disappear. The United
States Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly one-third of
everything that Americans eat depends on bee pollination. Billions
of dollars are at stake each year for farmers, ranchers and, of
course, beekeepers.

But in the fall and winter of 2006-07, something strange happened.
As Dave Hackenberg, a beekeeper in central Pennsylvania and in
Florida, recalled for Retro Report, he went to his 400 hives one
morning and found most of them empty. Queen bees remained, but
worker bees had vanished.

Mr. Hackenberg's distress resounded in apiaries across the country.
Some of them lost up to 90 percent of their colonies. Not that mass
bee disappearances were entirely new. They had occurred from time to
time for well over a century. But as best as could be told, no
previous collapse matched this one in magnitude. It became a
national sensation, down to predictable references in television
news reports to, yes, the latest "buzz."

Less predictable was how to explain the catastrophe. Theories
abounded. Some suggested that cellphone towers had disoriented the
bees. Others said the fault lay with genetically modified crops.
More likely, entomologists said, a pathogen might be to blame. Yet
other experts pointed damning fingers at pesticides, notably a group
known as neonicotinoids, which chemically resemble nicotine.
Neonics, as they are known for short, are "systemic" chemicals,
meaning that they circulate throughout a plant and reach its leaves
or flowers, where bees do their work. One underlying premise is that
the pesticides cloud the bees' brains, leaving them in a haze and
short-circuiting their sense of how to return home.

The European Union was sufficiently impressed by the evidence
against neonics that in 2013 it ordered a two-year ban on their use.
But France had imposed a similar ban for certain crops as far back
as 1999, and yet its disappearing-bee woes did not end.

A highly probable villain, some scientists say, is a parasitic mite
with the singularly unsavory name of Varroa destructor. It burrows
into a bee and compromises its immune system. Jeffery S. Pettis, an
Agriculture Department entomologist, said in testimony before a
House subcommittee in April that "Varroa destructor is a modern
honeybee plague." There is, too, a possibility that honeybees are
simply overworked. From season to season, colonies are routinely
trucked around the country to pollinate crops. It just may be, some
specialists in this field say, that the bees are like many modern
workers: They are stressed, and get tuckered out.

With so many theories in play, several federal agencies weighed in
last year, with a joint study that effectively checked the "all of
the above" box. A mélange of the various factors was behind the
colonies' devastation, the agencies' report said, putting no more
weight on one cause than on any other.

While Mary Celeste Syndrome--it sounds more lyrical than colony
collapse disorder, does it not?--caught everyone's attention, it
is not at the core of concerns over bees today. Colonies still die,
for a variety of reasons, but there have been fewer instances of the
mass collapse that caused so much anguish in 2006 and '07.
Beekeepers have replaced their dead hives. Experts interviewed by
Retro Report seemed unperturbed by thoughts that honeybees were
about to disappear.

Rather, what worries them is a gradual, steady shrinkage of the
honeybee population over the years. Two decades ago, the United
States had more than three million colonies; now it is down to an
estimated 2.4 million, the Agriculture Department says. And more
bees seem to be dying--from all causes, not just colony collapse
--in the normal course of what are referred to as the "winter loss"
and the "fall dwindle." Where annual bee losses were once in the
range of 5 percent to 10 percent, they are now more on the order of
30 percent. The fear is that this dying-off is too great for the
country's ever-expanding agricultural needs. That, specialists like
Dr. Pettis say, is what would really sting.

The video with this article is part of a documentary series
presented by The New York Times. The video project was started with
a grant from Christopher Buck. Retro Report has a staff of 13
journalists and 10 contributors led by Kyra Darnton. It is a
nonprofit video news organization that aims to provide a thoughtful
counterweight to today's 24/7 news cycle.

[tt] NYT: Jim Robbins: Building an Ark for the Anthropocene

Jim Robbins: Building an Ark for the Anthropocene

Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the
author of "The Man Who Planted Trees."

WE are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in
the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal
Science concluded that the world's species are disappearing as much
as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go
extinct. It's a one-two punch--on top of the ecosystems we've
broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more
damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all
Earth's species could be wiped out.

As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as
governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a
modern version of Noah's Ark. The new ark certainly won't come in
the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead
it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration,
seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where
species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out.

The questions are complex. What species do you save? The ones most
at risk? Charismatic animals, such as lions or bears or elephants?
The ones most likely to survive? The species that hold the most
value for us?

One initiative, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and
Ecosystem Services formed in 2012 by the governments of 121
countries, aims to protect and restore species in wild areas and to
protect species like bees that carry out valuable ecosystem service
functions in the places people live. Some three-quarters of the
world's food production depends primarily on bees.

"We still know very little about what could or should be included in
the ark and where," said Walter Jetz, an ecologist at Yale involved
with the project. Species are being wiped out even before we know
what they are.

Another project, the EDGE of Existence, run by the Zoological
Society of London, seeks to protect the most unusual wildlife at
highest risk. These are species that evolved on their own for so
long that they are very different from other species. Among the
species the project has helped to preserve are the tiny bumblebee
bat and the golden-rumped elephant shrew.

While the traditional approach to protecting species is to buy land,
preservation of the right habitat can be a moving target, since it's
not known how species will respond to a changing climate.

To complete the maps of where life lives, scientists have enlisted
the crowd. A crowdsourcing effort called the Global Biodiversity
Information Facility identifies and curates biodiversity data--
such as photos of species taken with a smartphone--to show their
distribution and then makes the information available online. That
is especially helpful to researchers in developing countries with
limited budgets. Another project, Lifemapper, at the University of
Kansas Biodiversity Institute, uses the data to understand where a
species might move as its world changes.

"We know that species don't persist long in fragmented areas and so
we try and reconnect those fragments," said Stuart L. Pimm, a
professor of conservation at Duke University, and head of a
nonprofit organization called SavingSpecies. One of his group's
projects in the Colombian Andes identified a forest that contains a
carnivorous mammal that some have described as a cross between a
house cat and a teddy bear, called an olinguito, new to science.
Using crowd-sourced data, "we worked with local conservation groups
and helped them buy land, reforest the land and reconnect pieces,"
Dr. Pimm says.

Coastal areas, especially, are getting scrutiny. Biologists in
Florida, which faces a daunting sea level rise, are working on a
plan to set aside land farther inland as a reserve for everything
from the MacGillivray's seaside sparrow to the tiny Key deer.

To thwart something called "coastal squeeze," a network of
"migratory greenways" is envisioned so that species can move on
their own away from rising seas to new habitat. "But some are
basically trapped," said Reed F. Noss, a professor of conservation
biology at the University of Central Florida who is involved in the
effort, and they will most likely need to be picked up and moved.
The program has languished, but Amendment 1, on the ballot this
November, would provide funding.

One species at risk is the Florida panther. Once highly endangered,
with just 20 individuals left, this charismatic animal has come back
--some. But a quarter or more of its habitat is predicted to be
under some three feet of water by 2100. Males will move on their
own, but females will need help because they won't cross the
Caloosahatchee River. Experts hope to create reserves north of the
river, and think at some point they will have to move females to new

Protecting land between reserves is vital. The Yellowstone to Yukon
Conservation Initiative, known as Y2Y, would protect corridors
between wild landscapes in the Rockies from Yellowstone National
Park to northern Canada, which would allow species to migrate.

RESEARCHERS have also focused on "refugia," regions around the world
that have remained stable during previous swings of the Earth's
climate--and that might be the best bet for the survival of life
this time around.

A section of the Driftless Area encompassing northeastern Iowa and
southern Minnesota, also known as Little Switzerland, has ice
beneath some of its ridges. The underground refrigerator means the
land never gets above 50 or so degrees and has kept the Pleistocene
snail, long thought extinct, from disappearing there. Other species
might find refuge there as things get hot.

A roughly 250-acre refugia on the Little Cahaba River in Alabama has
been called a botanical lost world, because of its wide range of
unusual plants, including eight species found nowhere else. Dr. Noss
said these kinds of places should be sought out and protected.

Daniel Janzen, a conservation ecologist at the University of
Pennsylvania who is working to protect large tracts in Costa Rica,
said that to truly protect biodiversity, a place-based approach must
be tailored to the country. A reserve needs to be large, to be
resilient against a changing climate, and so needs the support of
the people who live with the wild place and will want to protect it.
"To survive climate change we need to minimize the other assaults,
such as illegal logging and contaminating water," he said. "Each
time you add one of those you make it more sensitive to climate

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, beneath the permafrost on an island
in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Norway, preserves seeds from
food crops. Frozen zoos keep the genetic material from extinct and
endangered animals. The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Michigan,
meanwhile, founded by a family of shade tree growers, has made exact
genetic duplicates of some of the largest trees on the planet and
planted them in "living libraries" elsewhere--should something
befall the original.

In 2008, Connie Barlow, a biologist and conservationist, helped move
an endangered conifer tree in Florida north by planting seedlings in
cooler regions. Now she is working in the West. "I just assisted in
the migration of the alligator juniper in New Mexico by planting
seeds in Colorado," she said. "We have to. Climate change is
happening so fast and trees are the least capable of moving."
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[tt] NYT: Microsoft Begins a Push Into the Polling World

Microsoft Begins a Push Into the Polling World

by Alan Schwarz

People are slowly getting used to asking digital assistants like
Apple's Siri simple questions, like "Will it rain tomorrow?" and
"Where was Justin Bieber arrested?" Soon, cellphones may be the ones
doing the asking--surveying people on more serious matters like
their choice for president and how the United States should confront
the Islamic State.

On Monday, Microsoft is starting a relatively straightforward survey
website called Microsoft Prediction Lab, where users can submit
their views and predictions regarding politics, sports and other
subjects. The more novel part of Microsoft's plan will come later,
though, when Cortana--Microsoft's answer to Siri--could start
conducting interviews herself, imitating human pollsters.

Microsoft's entry into surveys could become another step in the
polling field's journey away from random-digit dialing of landline
telephones and toward newer technologies like cellphones and the
Internet. Polling analysts will watch Cortana not just because of
its novelty but also because of its potential to provide a
human-sounding voice at little cost.

"The field is in a state of flux--everyone in the profession
recognizes that there are a lot of challenges to our traditional
methods," said Scott Keeter, the director of survey research of the
Pew Research Center, one of the country's most respected polling
groups. "I think this kind of experimentation is overdue."

Microsoft's survey website derives directly from the company's
relatively quiet 2012 polling experiment with, of all things, its
Xbox video game console. Despite a sample that was overwhelming male
and heavily young, Microsoft researchers were able to weight the
answers to produce an outcome generally in line with major exit
polls and other probabilistic models, according to a paper published
in the International Journal of Forecasting.

"It's a pretty extreme example of a skewed population," said Douglas
Rivers, a professor of political science at Stanford and the chief
scientist of YouGov, a research firm that conducts Internet polls
and is providing online-survey data to The New York Times for this
year's midterm elections.

Mr. Rivers, who helped Microsoft analyze Xbox data for a study on
swing voters, added: "The belief is that the population is very
weird and unusual, and you can't say what's going on generally. It
turns out that it's a little less weird than you would guess."

Polls have traditionally relied on landline telephones because
random samples of phone numbers allows pollsters to approximate an
entire population, and such surveys generally remain the most highly
regarded. But as more people decline to answer poll questions, and
move toward cellphones that are harder to track, the advantage of
traditional polls has shrunk. The response rate of landline-phone
polls has plummeted from 36 percent in 1997 to just 9 percent in
2012, according to Pew, decreasing reliability and increasing costs.

With almost nine in 10 Americans now online, a new breed of survey
companies, from Google to SurveyMonkey, are competing with
traditional forms, trading the randomness of telephone polls for the
droves of data accessible cheaply over the Internet. The two
approaches share the same challenge: how to weight respondents so
that an unrepresentative slice of the population--those people
willing to indulge a telephone pollster, or those who volunteer over
the Internet--can become representative.

The easy part of Microsoft's 2012 experiment was asking 350,000
gamers whether they would vote for President Obama or Mitt Romney.
The challenge was analyzing the responses of a group that was 93
percent male and almost two-thirds aged 18 to 29.

Even though the sample had very few members of some demographic
groups--Hispanic women over 50, for example--it did have enough
Hispanics, women and people over 50 for the researchers to learn
about those groups' leanings more broadly. Statistical techniques
then estimated the probability that a random person with any of
176,000 combinations of characteristics would vote come Election
Day; no information from outside sources was used.

"Sometimes we have zero people in a specific demographic," said
David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research who led the
project. "But even if you don't have an exact match, those people
are made up of pieces of many groups. You can make predictions about

James J. Cochran, a professor of statistics at the University of
Alabama, said that Microsoft's nonrandom polling methods were
statistically sound but that they might not always work as well as
they did in 2012.

"The biggest concern is that it's one instance," Mr. Cochran said.
"You don't know if it will work again."

Microsoft will move away from the Xbox for this fall's midterm
elections to focus on its new website, allowing for vastly more
respondents from different demographic groups. It will communicate
through web browsers such as Apple's Safari or Google's Chrome, so
the interface can appear on all phones, tablets and computers, not
just those running Microsoft software. Dedicated polling apps for
iPhone and Android devices could follow.

The website will honor its playful Xbox roots through games that
allow users to wager points on the outcome of various events, from
local elections to "American Idol." Public standings would crown the
best prognosticators.

And Microsoft will continue to explore one of the more intriguing
aspects of online polling: the ability to monitor how and when
people change their minds about an issue. Telephone polls usually do
not reach the same person twice; the Microsoft polling almost
invites people to log back in and register their changing opinions.

The downside is that respondents may be far more interested in a
given issue than most people, although online surveys try to guard
against that risk. The upside is that a panel containing some of the
same people can track their views over time.

Such polls could allow the next Marco Rubio to assess the response
of an on-camera water swig not just immediately, but over the
ensuing days or weeks as ridicule fades. The National Football
League could track how men and women react as more evidence emerges
in scandals like the Ray Rice domestic abuse case and the Adrian
Peterson child abuse case.

As for Cortana's debut in asking questions, the company would not
give a specific time frame for adding that feature. Mr. Rothschild
said it would be "in the near term."

Mr. Keeter, a co-chair of the American Association for Public
Opinion Research task force on nonrandom polling, said that
Microsoft's replacement of a human pollster with a digital voice was
"not so weird."

"There are some robopolls out there with the recorded voice of a
real person asking the question--there have been experiments with
avatars administering polls to you," he said. "But there are issues
here, too. What's the accent? Does she remind you of an old
girlfriend or an ex-wife, and does that have an effect on your
answers? For sensitive questions like drug use, are people more or
less likely to tell Cortana the truth? This is why we need
experiments like this."
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[tt] WSJ: Scott McCartney: Air Travelers at Low Risk for Ebola Virus

Scott McCartney: Air Travelers at Low Risk for Ebola Virus; Even Those
Sitting Next to an Infected Passenger Would Not Easily Catch the Disease
WSJ 14.10.1

Airplanes are often active participants in the spread of deadly disease
around the world, usually by transporting sick passengers to other
continents. Passengers are at greater risk of catching the common cold.
But in the case of Ebola, health officials say there is little risk from
becoming infected simply by sitting next to a virus-carrying passenger on
your next flight.

The Ebola disease spreads through the exchange of bodily fluid. Health
officials say a sneeze could only spread the disease if infected fluid
were inhaled through the mucus membrane of the nose or taken in through an
open cut in the skin, for example.

Health officials tracking the Ebola-infected man now in a Dallas hospital
have focused on monitoring a dozen or so relatives and friends with whom
he had contact, but haven't contacted fellow passengers on his air travels
to the U.S. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
said Tuesday that they thought those who flew with the Ebola victim to
Dallas face no danger because he had no fever at the time he flew.
Airports in the affected regions are screening passengers for signs of
fever, and airline crews have been given guidelines from the CDC on how
best to deal with ill passengers in-flight, in light of the epidemic.

The World Health Organization has issued guidelines for airlines on
disinfecting planes that travel into and out of Ebola hot zone areas, and
airlines say they are complying. United Airlines made changes to its
cleaning procedures for aircraft flying from Lagos, Nigeria, to Houston,
for example. (Airline cleaning procedures vary, and in the U.S. there is a
lack of clear government standards for how to best carry them out.)

Air that is circulated on commercial aircraft passes through
operating-room caliber filters that are capable of removing many viruses.
Opening air vents can actually help protect against catching colds and
other illnesses from nearby passengers. In medical studies of the spread
of disease aboard airplanes, doctors have found the two rows in front of a
passenger and the two rows behind are the "hot zone" for passengers
spreading airborne diseases.

With Ebola, the concerns issued by the WHO deal more with disinfecting
bathrooms, tray tables and other surfaces where fluids might accumulate.
Some passengers, concerned long before Ebola that airline cleaning may not
be adequate, make it a regular practice to wipe down their own tray table,
arm rest and seat belt buckle with disinfecting wipes.
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