Sunday, February 7, 2016

[tt] NYT: Wood Shop Enters the Age of High-Tech

Wood Shop Enters the Age of High-Tech
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/education/edlife/forward-tinkering-colleges-make-room-for-maker-spaces.html

By JOHN SCHWARTZ

You remember wood shop. You made that swan-shaped planter your
parents pretended to like. And then you moved on.

These days, tinkering is a bit more high tech. The blending of
technology and craft in tools like 3-D printers and laser cutters
has made it possible for ordinary people to make extraordinary
things. And many ordinary people, living as they do, more and more
in their heads and online, are yearning to do something with their
hands.

So the "maker space" movement--D.I.Y. communities to get people
creating, be it for fun, for art or for entrepreneurship--is
booming. Maker Faires are held around the world. Commercial
operations like TechShop have popped up across the country. And
tinkering is being promoted on college campuses from M.I.T. to Santa
Clara University, as well as in high schools and elementary schools.

There's even a massive open online course, offered by the MOOC
provider Coursera and taught by three scientists from the
Exploratorium in San Francisco, called "Tinkering Fundamentals: A
Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning."

Yes, tinkering is now a pedagogy.

Taking things apart and putting them together--skills children
used to absorb in Dad's or Mom's workshop--has an important role
to play in learning, according to Karen Cator, the chief executive
of Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization created by Congress
that focuses on the use of technology to improve education. "You're
exploring creativity, you're exploring design thinking, you're
developing a sense of persistence," she said. Building something new
requires planning, trying and, yes, failing, and then trying again.

"These are incredibly important mind-sets for today's world," she
said.

Ms. Cator, who served in the Department of Education during the
first Obama term, talked excitedly about students who have designed
child prostheses. "That's what they're going to remember their
entire life," she said. "They aren't going to remember sitting in an
electronics lecture."

At Rutgers, a bustling maker space can be found in a moldering
wood-frame structure on the Livingston campus in Piscataway, N.J.
The building once served as the command headquarters for Camp
Kilmer, a transportation hub for soldiers mobilizing for World War
II; today, the building, still called Headquarters, houses computer
repair offices and the division of continuing studies. And upstairs,
there are wonders.

On any given day, as many as 20 students could be working on the
array of equipment that the center offers training on and time to
use, said Stephen M. Carter, who directs the university's Center for
Innovation Education and co-founded the New Jersey Makerspace
Association in 2012. Students might be working on a class project,
doing "something entrepreneurial" or making Halloween costumes, he
said. "We support all of it."

There are 3-D printers, which can be programmed to create wildly
inventive shapes out of plastic or resin (like a decent copy of the
Iron Throne from "Game of Thrones" or a bust of Groot from
"Guardians of the Galaxy"). There is a laser cutter to etch
materials like fabric, marble or wood and cut through plastic. Next
door is an electronics shop, with racks upon racks of parts. Close
by are drill presses, a router and a key cutter, which Mr. Carter
refers to as "our gateway drug," a piece of equipment neophytes can
use to produce something they really need. A common space with
couches and a television gives students a place to talk, show off
their projects or just hang out.

Mr. Carter cobbled it all together "by hook and crook and grants and
saving."

Students love it. Alexandra Garey, who graduated from Rutgers in
May, credits tinkering with changing the course of her studies, and
life: "I went from somebody who was majoring in Italian and European
studies to someone who was designing and prototyping products and
realizing any product that came into my head."

October of senior year, she wandered into the maker space because
she'd heard "you can make cool products" and was interested in
exploring entrepreneurship and learning some business skills. "I had
no idea what I was doing," she admitted. But the students who used
the place, mostly in science and engineering disciplines, were
accommodating and patient, and soon she was on her way.

A month in, she got a call from a friend who wanted help coming up
with a tool for children on the autism spectrum--a grip for a
pencil or crayon that could be fitted with an extension so the
teacher could guide the hand of students who dislike being touched.
By January, Ms. Garey had designed and fabricated a piece through
3-D printing and it was being tested in New Jersey classrooms; she
later modified the design for stroke victims and people with brain
injuries. Now she is working on making French presses and coffee
mugs out of Illy cans.

Then there's Jason Baerg, an M.F.A. student from Canada, who paints
in acrylics on paper or wood, and uses the laser cutter to etch the
paintings and cut out shapes that he arranges into assemblages. "It
allows me to bounce between abstract and figurative spaces in
production and presentation," he said. "I'm liberated."

He appreciates that this is not a sterile engineering environment.
The setting's funkiness makes it "probably the perfect place to do
this work," he said, "like an exploratory safe space for you to go
and try out your ideas."

That kind of enthusiasm tells Mr. Carter he is on the right track.
"U.S. schools are very good at finding the brain-smart people," he
said. "They are also very good at finding the best athletes." But
they are not so good at finding and nurturing people who, he said,
describing himself, think with their fingers. The next Steve Jobs
and Steve Wozniak, he said, are more likely to emerge from a maker
space than a garage. Besides, he said, "it keeps kids off the
street."

John Schwartz is a science reporter for The Times.
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[tt] NYT: Helen Macdonald: A Hint of Danger in the Forest

Helen Macdonald: A Hint of Danger in the Forest
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/magazine/a-hint-of-danger-in-the-forest.html

Helen Macdonald teaches at the University of Cambridge. Her most
recent book, "H Is for Hawk," won the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize
and was the 2014 Costa Book of the Year.

A few years ago, I walked through an English forest with an old
friend who told me there was something living in it that I had never
seen before. Intrigued, I stood with him by a barbed-wire fence
running across leaf litter dappled with sunlight. It was very quiet
--just the sifting of a faint breeze through the trees and a robin
singing from a holly bush. My friend whistled, called, then whistled
again, and I felt a flicker of recognition as a dark shape flitted
between trees about 60 or 70 yards away and then ran toward us. It
was a wild boar. I've seen images of them all my life: razor-backed
beasts on ancient vases, in illustrations in medieval manuscripts,
slumped in front of men with rifles in old trophy photographs. And
now here one was, called into the real world.

This creature was not what I expected. It had the forward-menacing
shoulders of a baboon and the brute strength and black hide of a
bear. But it was not really anything like a bear, and what surprised
me most was that it seemed nothing like a pig (boars are the wild
ancestors of most of our domestic swine). The beast trotted up to
us, a miracle of muscle and bristle and heft. I turned to my friend,
and he grinned.

For the first time in many centuries, free-roaming wild boars are
living and thriving in British woods, descendants of animals bred
for meat that escaped or were purposely released from captivity.
Adaptable and resilient, wild boars are increasing across
Continental Europe and in places far from their natural range, which
spans Eurasia from Britain to Japan. From the first introduction of
boars to New Hampshire in the 1890s, boarlike wild pigs have now
been reported in at least 45 states in the United States. In
Britain, their strongholds are Sussex, Kent and the Forest of Dean
in Gloucestershire, an ancient hunting preserve that doubled as an
alien planet in the latest "Star Wars" movie. Sixty farm-reared
animals were secretly and illegally dumped there in 2004; in 2015,
nighttime thermal-imaging surveys suggest that the population has
grown to more than a thousand.

When I lived near the forest some years ago, I went looking for
them. My motives were more than just natural-historical curiosity:
Their presence made the woods feel to me like the near-mythical
"wildwood" of ancient times. I never saw them, only signs that
they were there: deep ruts and broken ground on woodland paths and
grassy roadsides where they had rooted for food. Boars change
woodland ecology. Their wallowing holes become ponds where
dragonflies breed, their rough coats spread seeds and burrs and
their rooting opens up vegetation on the forest floor and affects
the diversity of woodland plant species.

Knowing that boars shared this environment with me charged the
English countryside with a new and unusual possibility: danger.
Boars, particularly farrowing sows protecting their young, can be
aggressive, charging and attacking intruders. Since the boars'
return to the Forest of Dean, there have been reports of walkers
being chased, dogs gored, horses becoming nervous on familiar paths.
As I walked, I found myself paying a different quality of attention
to my surroundings than I ever had before, listening apprehensively
for the faintest sounds and scanning for signs of movement in the
undergrowth. It made the forest not only a wilder place but in a
sense far more normal. Conflict between humans and dangerous
wildlife is commonplace in much of the world, from elephants
trampling crops in India and Africa to alligators in Florida eating
pet dogs. In Britain, where wolves, bears, lynxes and boars were
long ago hunted to extinction, we have forgotten what this is like.

The boar I met up against the fence wasn't a threat. It was a
captive boar, safely behind wire, but all the same, it forced me to
consider my own place in the world. Because Britain had no boars for
centuries, nearly everything I know about them is made of older
stories. I couldn't help thinking of this boar as a semilegendary
beast charging straight out of the medieval literature I read in my
undergraduate years. This was the quarry hunted in "Sir Gawain and
the Green Knight" and Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur," a
creature renowned for its formidable ferocity and power. In medieval
romances, boars are seen as a challenge to masculinity and hunting
them a test of endurance and bravery. What animals mean to us is
made of everything we've ever heard and seen and read about them,
and when we meet them, we expect them to conform to these remembered
stories. But there is always a gap of surprise. Crows, for example,
seem less like murderous vermin after you've seen a pair sliding
playfully down a snowy roof. Living animals resist the meanings we
give them.

Humans have a long history of territorial anxieties about wild
animals intruding on our spaces. In the 17th century, the English
garden writer William Lawson advised on the tools you need to keep
your property free of marauding beasts, including a "fayre and
swift greyhound, a stone-bowe, gunne, and if neede require, an apple
with a hooke for a Deere." Concern about the danger posed by boars
has led the Forestry Commission to try to reduce their population in
the Forest of Dean: 361 were shot in 2014 and 2015, despite
anti-hunting activists' trying to get in the way of hunters to
prevent the cull. The controversy over how to manage English
wild-boar populations points to the contradictory ways that we
understand animals. Wolves can be depredators of livestock or icons
of pristine wilderness; spotted owls can be intrinsically important
inhabitants of old-growth forests or nuisances that inhibit logging
and livelihoods. These creatures become stand-ins for our own
battles over social and economic resources.

When animals become so rare that their impact on humans is
negligible, their ability to generate new meanings lessens, and they
come to stand for another human notion: moral failings in our
relationship to the natural world. As the boar ran up to the fence
on that summer day, I felt a huge and hopeful pressure in my chest.
The world has lost half its wildlife in my own lifetime. We are
living through the earth's sixth great extinction; climate change,
habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and persecution have meant that
vertebrate species are dying out up to 114 times as fast as they
would in a world without humans. Seeing this single boar gave me a
sense that our damage to the natural world might not be
irreversible, that creatures that are endangered or locally extinct
might one day reappear.

But many other things were affecting about this encounter: The
calling-forth of an animal icon into flesh, and also the realization
that there is a particular form of intelligence in the world that is
boar-intelligence, boar-sentience. Being considered by a mind that
is not human forces you to reconsider the limits of your own. As the
boar looked up at me, it was obvious that my knowledge of boars was
limited, and only now, face to snout with a real one, its eyes fixed
on mine, did I wonder what a boar really was and, oddly, what it
thought of me. I had fit the boar into my memories of medieval
hunting traditions, but my friend, who was once a boxer, admired its
physique. Its cutlass-curved, razor-sharp tusks. Its small legs and
hindquarters that work to steer the huge muscular bulk of the front
end. Its manifest, frightening power.

As he spoke, the boar pressed itself up against the fence and
sniffed loudly through its wet nostrils. Rashly, I moved my hand
toward it. It looked up, flat-faced, with red boar eyes considering,
and sniffed again. I drew my hand away. Then, after a while, I
lowered it again. The boar stood. It allowed me to push my fingers
gently into its arched black back. It felt like a hairbrush with too
many bristles and backed with thick muscle, not wood. There was wool
underneath the hair. I scratched the beast's broad hump, and it
grunted. Then I felt, as the seconds passed, that some tiny skein of
aggression in its heart was starting to thrum. Suddenly we both
decided that this was enough, my heart skipping, and the boar
grunting and feinting. Wandering off, it sank onto its knees, nose
to the ground, then with infinite luxury, sat and rolled onto its
side. Ripples ran down its hide. I was entranced. For all my
interest in this creature, the boar had become bored with me and
simply walked away.
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[tt] NYT: Jane Karr: Who Needs Advanced Math? Not Everybody

Amen. Whenever I introduced 9th grade algebra that the big wigs would
read, I was told, "Frank, they won't understand this." I worked at the
U.S. Department of EDUCATION, of all places, too.

Amen again. The market will establish the ratio of astrologers to
astronomers. I think it is 2:1 in the United States. It will be much
higher in other countries. The alarms about nursing shortage resulted in
subsidies, followed by a glut. Same will happen with STEM subjects.

Jane Karr: Who Needs Advanced Math? Not Everybody
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/education/edlife/who-needs-advanced-math-not-everybody.html

Andrew Hacker has taught political science at Queens College, City
University of New York, for nearly 45 years, plus quantitative
reasoning for the last three. Not one to decelerate, at 86 he is
doing nothing less than taking on the mathosphere, where, he admits,
he has few fans. His experimental course requires no geometry,
algebra or calculus; instead, he teaches facility with numbers. He
calls it adult arithmetic, and it involves statistics, analytic
thinking and rigorous computation. Further challenging convention,
his new book, "The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions," published
next month, argues against the requirement that all high school
students take a full menu of math.

Q. Why take on mathematics?

My reason is not very popular. At the very time we should be honing
and sharpening quantitative reasoning skills we punch students into
algebra, geometry, calculus. The Math People take over and ignore
much simpler needs. Arithmetic is super essential--we quantify
everything.

It began to bother me: One in five of our ninth graders fails to get
a high school diploma, and the single biggest academic reason is
that they fail math. And this is getting worse with the Common Core.
A CUNY study of its mandated algebra course found that 57 percent
failed.

Q. Aren't algebra and geometry essential skills?

The number of people who use either in their jobs is tiny, at most 5
percent. You don't need that kind of math for coding. It's not a
building block.

Colleges do require math to get in, much more than their students
will need. It's a "rigor" ritual that makes them feel better about
themselves.

Q. What about those entrance exams?

If a college wants its applicants to have some math, they can
scrutinize high school transcripts. On the whole, I'd be happy if
the ACT and SAT quietly disappeared. Speed may be necessary for
firefighters and airline pilots. But not in the intellectual
enterprise. And yet, on many fronts, test scores in math provide an
edge for awards and admissions.

Q. Girls have lagged on the SAT math section for decades, by 31
points on average in 2015. The belief is that boys are better at
math. You don't buy that.

Research shows that girls do better than boys in math class, where
sentient teachers evaluate their work. An ACT review of high school
transcripts found girls' math grades to be about 4 percent higher
than boys'--and yet boys beat the girls by about 4 percent on the
ACT. A College Board survey of college freshmen had girls doing 6
percent better, but in a report on college-bound seniors, the girls
do 6 percent worse on the SAT.

There are many reasons for this. More boys take physics and computer
science, which hone quantitative and spatial skills. What ultimately
pulls girls' scores down, though, is their tendency to be
conscientious, to overanalyze and to recheck answers on tests, which
squanders crucial seconds; they are also more apt to skip a question
if they aren't sure, whereas boys take a stab.

I'll give you my definition of education: 17 years of sustained
sitting. Boys are much antsier than girls. Girls are better studiers
than boys.

Q. Will the revised SAT, debuting next month, result in higher
scores for girls?

Perhaps it will. What may help are new data-based questions, which
can draw on their analytical strengths. The hitch is that more of
the math will be couched in paragraphs, which may intensify the
pressure for speed.

But the new SAT will emulate the ACT's format, going from five to
four options, which should save a few seconds on each item. And like
the ACT, it will cease penalizing guessing. We'll soon see if this
will make girls more daring.
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[tt] WaPo: Elizabeth King: I'm an atheist. So why can't I shake God?

Steven Reiss in _Who Am I_" used factor analysis to group desires and came
up with 16 independent ones. He tried to find a 17th independent desire
for religion/spiritualiy and failed. He wrote an essay about how
individual are attracted to specific religions, based upon their own
rankings of the "16 Basic Desires." Those who prize order are attracted to
Roman Catholicism, for example.

I think his failure stems from the fact that Bronze Age religions came
about too recently to be coded into our genes. I asked him about this and
he just fed his back to me. I wrote him back and asked if thought
that the fact that here is no 17th desire goes to settle the debate over
when religion arose. And answer came their none.

I append a list of the 16 Basic Desires.

Elizabeth King: I'm an atheist. So why can't I shake God?
https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/04/im-an-atheist-so-why-cant-i-shake-god/

Turns out it's pretty hard to believe in nothing when your psyche is wired
for faith.

Elizabeth King is a writer in Chicago. You can find more of her work
at elizabethcking.com.

I spoke in tongues when I was a kid. I went to church twice a week
with my mom, stepdad and five siblings. I prayed before every meal,
every night before bed and at various times throughout the day. I
believed in the Bible, and I feared hell. Until my mid-teens, I was
a "born again" Christian who loved God with all her heart. These
days, though, I'm an atheist with nothing to prove.

The story of my departure from the church resembles those of many
others who have abandoned the flock. When I was about 16, I started
asking questions during services that my youth pastors couldn't or
didn't want to answer: Why is it a sin to be gay? Why is it okay to
spank children? Where does the Bible say we can't have premarital
sex?

Youth leaders at my church smugly told me, when they answered at
all, that I must be struggling with some things in my own heart to
be so concerned about these topics; sometimes they pointed to a
vague Bible passage. When I persisted, I was told to just "have
faith."

Soon, I didn't. I didn't believe there was a God, or heaven and
hell. It wasn't even a choice that I made. I just slowly stopped
believing until all of it was gone.

Or so I thought.

Although I've been a content atheist for a decade, somehow God has
found a way to stick around in my mind. Not the God of the Bible who
created heaven and Earth--the God that lingers with me is harder
to explain. The best way I can think of to describe it is like a
character from a movie that I've seen over and over, or like the
memory of my first friends. He's not real, but He's present.

The idea of God pesters me and makes me think that maybe I'm not as
devoted to my beliefs as I'd like to think I am and would like to
be. Maybe I'm still subconsciously afraid of hell and want to go to
heaven when I die. It's confusing and frustrating to feel the
presence of something you don't believe in. This is compounded by
the fact that the God character most often shows up when I'm already
frustrated.

"Why, God, why?" I ask myself when I've procrastinated before a
deadline and am scrambling. When I experience mansplaining, I think,
"I swear to God ... " And I don't merely say these colloquially or
as a joke. It's more a habit, from having spent so much of my life
believing that I could expect answers to these questions. Even
though now I know that nobody is "up there" to reply, I can't help
but ask.

It's of some comfort to me, though, to know that I'm not the only
one who feels this way. According to a Pew Research Center poll
about religion and atheism last year, 8 percent of self-identified
atheists believe in God or a "universal spirit." Not a huge
proportion, but considering that an atheist is by definition a
person who denies the existence of God, that 8 percent highlights
something very curious about belief.

If asked whether I believe in God, I would answer with a quick and
emphatic "no." But given that I will send a word up to a proverbial
heaven if I'm on a turbulent flight, or silently ask that someone
make sure my little niece and nephew stay safe, I can appreciate how
some atheists may be inclined to say they believe.

God's lingering presence in my psyche could be thanks to the
inner-workings of the human mind--our brains demonstrate a
physical response to spiritual activity. In one study, Franciscan
nuns, Tibetan monks and Pentecostals all showed similar brain
activity on a scan when engaged in prayer, meditation or speaking in
tongues; blood flow changed between different lobes of the brain,
inducingpowerful emotions. As the researcher on the study, Andrew
Newberg, put it, "It certainly looks like the way the brain is put
together makes it very easy for human beings to have religious and
spiritual experiences."

According to Pascal Boyer of Washington University in St. Louis,
research suggests our cognitive systems evolved in a way that makes
believing easy. In a 2008 essay for the journal Nature, Boyer wrote
that several features of the human brain predispose us to religious
belief. Among the psychological tendencies complemented or satiated
by religious beliefs are an ability to relate to unreal or unseen
figures (imaginary friends, deceased relatives), a desire to avoid
danger and the uniquely human ability to be a part of and maintain
massive social structures. Boyer's research also suggests "that
people best remember stories that include a combination of
counterintuitive physical feats ... and plausibly human
psychological features.... Perhaps the cultural success of gods
and spirits stems from this memory bias."

Boyer contends that there is not one part of the brain solely
responsible for religious belief, but rather that the particular
overlap of several cognitive systems renders religious beliefs
desirable to, and easily accepted by, the human mind. This also
means that when we opt for atheism, we are doing hard work to battle
against what our minds are generally inclined and well-equipped to
do: believe.

Boyer's hypothesis rings true for me. Believing in God felt very
natural. Internal red flags about logic and the ethical consequences
of my faith didn't start appearing until I was nearly an adult and
had begun the difficult work of thinking through my beliefs. This
meant research, debate and critical thinking before I eventually
arrived at an atheistic understanding of the world. Not only is this
enterprise mentally taxing, but for people who move from belief to
nonbelief, it can also be painful.

I remember the exact moment I noticed that I was an atheist. Though
I had rejected church doctrine earlier, it wasn't until my freshman
year of college that I straightened my posture and nodded when one
of my philosophy classmates asked, "So you're an atheist?" while
debating Descartes. "Yeah," I said. "I am." This identification was
both a tremendous relief and a new burden. It hurt to realize that
the beliefs I had held so dear for so long were (in my mind) totally
wrong. I also hated the idea that I probably had hurt others as a
result of my religious devotion, a realization that brought about7
feelings of shame and regret. Meaningful epiphanies are not always
pleasant.

Even within what seem like black-and-white issues of religious or
nonreligious, God or no God, there are subtle differences in the way
we believe. In 2015, Pew reported that 89 percent of Americans
believe in God, and 63 percent feel certain that God exists--which
is to say, they don't harbor doubt about whether there is a God.
(The share of people who say they are certain of God's existence has
dropped; it was 71 percent in 2007.) The same survey found that 97
percent of religiously affiliated Americans believe in God, meaning
a curious 3 percent of self-identified religious people do not. So
although I, the atheist, can't stop myself from tossing up the
occasional prayer, someone is out there kneeling in a pew, head
bowed but mind free from any thought of a higher being. They do say
faith is mysterious.

I'm not sure what to do about God. If I could figure out a way to
banish this figure from my psyche, I would. But psychology is not on
my side. Having been conditioned to believe in God for so many
years, and having a brain hard-wired for belief, I may be stuck with
his shadow forever. While I remain steadfast in my (non)belief, I
also feel I have no choice but to accept that I'm an atheist with a
sense for God and that without this kink in my beliefs, I might not
strive to understand myself better.

---

STEVEN REISS' 16 BASIC DESIRES

1. Curiosity. The desire to explore and learn. End:
knowledge, truth.
2. Romance. The desire for love and sex. Includes a desire
for aesthetic experiences. End: beauty, sex.
3. Independence. The desire for self-reliance. End:
freedom, ego integrity.
4. Saving. Includes the desire to collect things as well
as to accumulate wealth. End: collection, property.

5. Order. The desire for organization and for a
predictable environment. End: cleanliness, stability,
organization.
6. Family. The desire to raise one's own children. Does
not include the desire to raise other people's
children. End: children.
7. Idealism. The desire to improve society. Includes a
desire for social justice. End: fairness, justice.
8. Exercise. The desire to move one's muscles. End:
fitness.

9. Acceptance. The desire for inclusion. Includes reaction
to criticism and rejection. End: positive self-image,
self-worth.
10. Social Contact. The desire for companionship. Includes
the desire for fun and pleasure. End: friendship,
fun.
11. Honor. The desire to be loyal to one's parents and
heritage. End: morality, character, loyalty.
12. Power. The desire for influence including mastery,
leadership, and dominance. End: achievement,
competence, mastery.

13. Competitiveness. Includes vengeance. End: winning,
aggression.
14. Status. The desire for social standing. Includes a
desire for attention. End: wealth, titles, attention,
awards.
15. Tranquility. The desire for emotional calm, to be free
of anxiety, fear, and pain. End: relaxation, safety.
16. Eating. The desire to consume food. End: food, dining,
hunting.

Source: Steven Reiss, _Who am I?: the 16 basic desires
that motivate our actions and define our personalities.
NY: Penguin Putnam: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman, 2000. I
have changed his exact wordings in a few places, based
upon the fuller descriptions in his book and upon his
other writings, and have ranked them by the strengths,
I think, of my own desires. The ends given in the table
are taken directly from page 31.
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[tt] WaPo: Michael Kinsley: How the Internet will disrupt higher education's most valuable asset: Prestige (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 7 Feb 2016 21:02:07 +0000 (GMT)
From: Frank Forman <checker@panix.com>
Subject: WaPo: Michael Kinsley: How the Internet will disrupt higher education's
most valuable asset: Prestige

Michael Kinsley: How the Internet will disrupt higher education's most
valuable asset: Prestige
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-the-web-will-disrupt-higher-educations-most-valuable-asset-prestige/2016/02/05/6bddc1ee-c91e-11e5-a7b2-5a2f824b02c9_story.html

Mike's is a columnist for Vanity Fair magazine and a
contributing columnist for The Post.

It happened to newspapers. It happened to magazines. It happened to
books. Now it's happening to higher education: another industry
thrown into turmoil and shock because its business model has been
overturned by the Internet.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, the newspaper industry was just awakening
to the implications of moving online. At first, those implications
seemed miraculous. Newspapers were already more or less monopolies
in all but a half-dozen U.S. cities. Now, some of their biggest
expenses--for printing, for delivery, for the paper itself--were
about to disappear.

But as newspapers put their content online, the industry changed
virtually overnight from a collection of separate geographical
monopolies into one giant competitive market in which every
English-language outlet competed with all the others in the entire
world.

Something not identical but similar is going on in the prestige
corner of the higher-education industry. Start with an uncomfortable
truth: The prestige of a diploma from a prestige university comes
not from graduating but from getting in. Almost no one who applies
to, say, Yale University is admitted, but almost everyone who gets
in graduates. To maintain their prestige, these universities must
limit the number of people who are admitted.

The Internet makes this harder. To take the most mundane example,
the biggest lecture hall on campus may hold 900 seats. That used to
put a ceiling of 900 on the number of students who can take the
Great Man's famous lecture course on Jane Austen. Now, though, many
thousands can watch this lecture on video. It's not the same?
Perhaps not. But it's awfully close. Is the difference worth
$200,000? Or is most of your $200,000 for four years of college
tuition actually buying something else, like status, like
connections, like prestige?

As MOOCs (short--but not very--for massive open online courses)
become more common, it will become easier and easier to get
something awfully close to an Ivy League education through the Web,
and it will be harder and harder for Yale to explain what it offers
for all that money except a piece of paper that says you went to
Yale. As the Internet chips away at the practical reasons for
limiting the student population, the real reason Yale limits the
size of its classes will become more obvious.

The analogy to newspapers isn't perfect. Among other things, the
universities have realized from the beginning that "shovelware"--
just shoveling their content onto the Internet--isn't enough. They
must offer interactivity, podcasts, hyperlinks, lots of bells and
whistles, including some things that probably haven't been thought
of yet.

Then there are those for-profit universities with the implausible
names that advertise on television and take full advantage of email,
e-textbooks, online tutoring, etc. "Southern New Hampshire
University" may be no threat to Yale today, but over the next
decade, one or two of these companies is bound to get good, which
will further raise the question of what the point of Yale is.

We are much concerned these days, and rightly so, about inequality.
And the focus is turning from economic inequality to broader social
inequality. Frank Bruni of the New York Times wrote a column
recently brandishing a study from somewhere showing--no surprise
--that admission to prestigious universities is skewed to favor a
self-perpetuating elite. (You know who you are.) Bruni and the
report call on the United States' elite universities to show more
imagination and diversity in their admissions policies. But why
reform the admissions office when you can dismantle it?

Decisions about admissions to highly selective colleges are a guess
about the future: Which of these kids will turn out best under our
guidance? But why guess? Why not wait a few years and see?

A 2014 report by a provost-convened committee at Columbia University
declares in its introduction that the university's "primary
commitment" should be to "provide educational opportunities of the
highest quality to students who meet our admissions standards." By
that measure, Columbia is deeply failing, since it provides
educational opportunities of the highest quality to only a small
fraction of those who meet its admissions standards.

If you take one of its courses online, Columbia may give you
something it calls a "Statement of Accomplishment." Congratulations.
But don't hold out hope for a diploma. Those are for people who
really went to Columbia, if you know what I mean.
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[tt] (Cryptography) DH non-prime kills "socat" command security (concat) (fwd)

----- Forwarded message from Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com> -----

Date: Tue, 02 Feb 2016 17:43:51 -0800
From: Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com>
To: cryptography@metzdowd.com
Subject: [Cryptography] DH non-prime kills "socat" command security

For the past year, the Linux command "socat" has been assuming that the
following number is prime; thus breaking its crypto security.

14331936439490594261714896808578599103914668374026899657956682701558096
91247024938331090743438798945866534651922222519090748320381515854480347
31101690454685781999248641772509287801359980318348021809541131200479989
22079392594151856814372197299325182316616493333479662500817485143037796
6394594186901123322297453

isn't prime, and Maxima's primep function sez so.

The number above is divisible by 271 and 13,597, but primep sez that
even after dividing out these two factors, the 1002-bit result

38894884397634366007356454548332370646972724268802781973440208895542936\
165564656473524541403310393405820598366261673173802130771236325314878371830363\
723788045821711985461441675679316058246609104355161134470046705337593170498462\
616195650378975298117141144096886684800236261920005248055422089305813639519

still isn't prime.

Does anyone have a fast factoring machine for 1000-bit numbers?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/02/03/socat_backdoor_fix/

Socat slams backdoor, sparks thrilling whodunit

Year-old bug ruined crypto

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----- End forwarded message -----
----- Forwarded message from Peter Gutmann <pgut001@cs.auckland.ac.nz> -----

Date: Wed, 3 Feb 2016 02:41:55 +0000
From: Peter Gutmann <pgut001@cs.auckland.ac.nz>
To: Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com>, "cryptography@metzdowd.com"
<cryptography@metzdowd.com>
Subject: Re: [Cryptography] DH non-prime kills "socat" command security

Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com> writes:

>For the past year, the Linux command "socat" has been assuming that
>the following number is prime; thus breaking its crypto security.

For the years before that, the Linux command "socat" has been assuming
that a 512-bit prime is secure; thus breaking its crypto security.

They also do things like tell you how to set up the SSL tunnel without
any mention of validating certs so it's unlikely they check those, and
various other signs that they're not doing crypto very well.

Peter.
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----- End forwarded message -----
----- Forwarded message from Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com> -----

Date: Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:30:45 -0800
From: Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com>
To: mok-kong shen <mok-kong.shen@t-online.de>
Cc: cryptography@metzdowd.com
Subject: Re: [Cryptography] DH non-prime kills "socat" command security

At 02:14 AM 2/4/2016, mok-kong shen wrote:
>Am 03.02.2016 um 02:43 schrieb Henry Baker:
>> For the past year, the Linux command "socat" has been assuming that
>> the following number is prime; thus breaking its crypto security.
>
>[snip]
>
>Among possible causes I surmise that possibly Miller-Rabin test was
>used to find a prime, which however can't guarantee that the result
>is a prime (only highly likely a prime when a sufficient number of
>rounds of the test get passed).
>
>Anyway, I suppose one should in crypto replace prime generation with
>probability tests by provable prime generatión.
>
>I have coded Maurer's algorithm of generation of provable primes in
>Python and found that (at least in Python, which is interpreted and
>hence less runtime efficient) Maurer's algorithm is quite comparable
>in cpu time with the method that uses the Miller-Rabin test.
>
>See http://s13.zetaboards.com/Crypto/topic/7234475/1/

The purported prime in the socat news story doesn't pass any of the
simple primality tests of the type that you describe, so it is obvious
to include such primality tests in the QA for these socat algorithms.
After factoring out the two small factors 271 and 13,597, the
resulting 1002-bit number *still doesn't pass* simple primality tests,
but I wasn't able to further factor it in 15 minutes on my really old,
really slow laptop. So someone was criminally stupid, or else
purposely installed this non-prime backdoor.

There is an outstanding problem: if we all use the same primes, large
nation-states can build log (rainbow-like) tables for these primes; if
we use different primes, we then have to prove to our correspondent
that the "prime" we propose is really prime. Generating such primes
and generating such easily-checkable proofs appears to take too much
time for normal HTTPS ecommerce.

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----- End forwarded message -----
----- Forwarded message from david <davidwong.crypto@gmail.com> -----

Date: Fri, 5 Feb 2016 14:08:00 -0600
From: david <davidwong.crypto@gmail.com>
To: Henry Baker <hbaker1@pipeline.com>
Cc: cryptography@metzdowd.com, mok-kong shen <mok-kong.shen@t-online.de>
Subject: Re: [Cryptography] DH non-prime kills "socat" command security

On 2/4/16 8:30 PM, Henry Baker wrote:

> The purported prime in the socat news story doesn't pass any of the
> simple primality tests of the type that you describe, so it is
> obvious to include such primality tests in the QA for these socat
> algorithms. After factoring out the two small factors 271 and
> 13,597, the resulting 1002-bit number *still doesn't pass* simple
> primality tests, but I wasn't able to further factor it in 15
> minutes on my really old, really slow laptop. So someone was
> criminally stupid, or else purposely installed this non-prime
> backdoor.

I'm digging into the topic and summarizing everything on this github
repo: https://github.com/mimoo/socat_backdoor

it would be interesting to try several factoring algorithm like
pollard's p-1, ECM, p+1 ... Also, try and provide some estimations. If
the factorization of the last composite has a lower bound of X =>
Pohlig-Hellman won't work.

Another question: if it was indeed a mistake, how could that number
would have been generated? And what are the probabilities that the
factorization would include big primes/small primes if generated this
way?

David
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----- End forwarded message -----
----- Forwarded message from Phillip Hallam-Baker <phill@hallambaker.com> -----

Date: Sat, 6 Feb 2016 12:04:52 -0500
From: Phillip Hallam-Baker <phill@hallambaker.com>
To: Ray Dillinger <bear@sonic.net>
Cc: "cryptography@metzdowd.com" <cryptography@metzdowd.com>
Subject: Re: [Cryptography] DH non-prime kills "socat" command security

On Fri, Feb 5, 2016 at 7:14 PM, Ray Dillinger <bear@sonic.net> wrote:
>
>
> Well crap. The fermat test got this on the first iteration.
>
> Before we worry about provable primes, we can implement much simpler
> probabilistic primality tests that clients can use to at least try to
> disprove primality. This particular number yields instantly to every
> probabilistic primality test that's been tried on it as far as I can
> tell.
>
> And honestly there's been no case ever of a nonprime discovered that
> fools both the Fermat test and Maurer's algorithm for 100 iterations,
> and at least in the civilian world as far as I know nobody has any
> idea how to find one.

Is there any particular reason to think anyone thought it was a prime
as opposed to just a large random number?

DH works fine in a non prime field. It is just less secure.

Before worrying about whether this is an example of a Fermat test
prime that turned out to not be, ask if this is simply a test vector
that was meant to have been replaced that wasn't. Or alternatively
someone didn't understand that the tests have to be done multiple
times or they mucked up the code.

For open standards the point is now moot as we will be doing ECDH on
fast prime curves.
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[tt] (ESO) ALMA finds unexpectedly cold grains in planet-forming disc

[

http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1604/

]

(... links deleted ...)

European
Southern
Observatory

eso1604 — Science Release

The Deep-Frozen Flying Saucer

ALMA finds unexpectedly cold grains in planet-forming disc

3 February 2016
[eso1604a.jpg]

Astronomers have used the ALMA and IRAM telescopes to make the first
direct measurement of the temperature of the large dust grains in the
outer parts of a planet-forming disc around a young star. By applying a
novel technique to observations of an object nicknamed the Flying
Saucer they find that the grains are much colder than expected: −266
degrees Celsius. This surprising result suggests that models of these
discs may need to be revised.

The international team, led by Stephane Guilloteau at the Laboratoire
d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux, France, measured the temperature of large
dust grains around the young star 2MASS J16281370-2431391 in the
spectacular [547]Rho Ophiuchi star formation region, about 400
light-years from Earth.

This star is surrounded by a disc of gas and dust — such discs are
called protoplanetary discs as they are the early stages in the
creation of planetary systems. This particular disc is seen nearly
edge-on, and its appearance in visible light pictures has led to its
being nicknamed the [548]Flying Saucer.

The astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array
([549]ALMA) to observe the glow coming from carbon monoxide molecules
in the 2MASS J16281370-2431391 disc. They were able to create very
sharp images and found something strange — in some cases they saw a
negative signal! Normally a negative signal is physically impossible,
but in this case there is an explanation, which leads to a surprising
conclusion.

Lead author Stephane Guilloteau takes up the story: "This disc is not
observed against a black and empty night sky. Instead it's seen in
silhouette in front of the glow of the Rho Ophiuchi Nebula. This
diffuse glow is too extended to be detected by ALMA, but the disc
absorbs it. The resulting negative signal means that parts of the disc
are colder than the background. The Earth is quite literally in the
shadow of the Flying Saucer!"

The team combined the ALMA measurements of the disc with observations
of the background glow made with the [550]IRAM 30-metre telescope in
Spain [551][1]. They derived a disc dust grain temperature of only −266
degrees Celsius (only 7 degrees above [552]absolute zero, or 7 Kelvin)
at a distance of about 15 billion kilometres from the central star
[553][2]. This is the first direct measurement of the temperature of
large grains (with sizes of about one millimetre) in such objects.

This temperature is much lower than the −258 to −253 degrees Celsius
(15 to 20 Kelvin) that most current models predict. To resolve the
discrepancy, the large dust grains must have different properties than
those currently assumed, to allow them to cool down to such low
temperatures.

"To work out the impact of this discovery on disc structure, we have to
find what plausible dust properties can result in such low
temperatures. We have a few ideas — for example the temperature may
depend on grain size, with the bigger grains cooler than the smaller
ones. But it is too early to be sure," adds co-author Emmanuel di Folco
(Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux).

If these low dust temperatures are found to be a normal feature of
protoplanetary discs this may have many consequences for understanding
how they form and evolve.

For example, different dust properties will affect what happens when
these particles collide, and thus their role in providing the seeds for
planet formation. Whether the required change in dust properties is
significant or not in this respect cannot yet be assessed.

Low dust temperatures can also have a major impact for the smaller
dusty discs that are known to exist. If these discs are composed of
mostly larger, but cooler, grains than is currently supposed, this
would mean that these compact discs can be arbitrarily massive, so
could still form giant planets comparatively close to the central star.

Further observations are needed, but it seems that the cooler dust
found by ALMA may have significant consequences for the understanding
of protoplanetary discs.

Notes

[1] The IRAM measurements were needed as ALMA itself was not sensitive
to the extended signal from the background.

[2] This corresponds to one hundred times the distance from the Earth
to the Sun. This region is now occupied by the Kuiper Belt within the
Solar System.

More information

This research was presented in a paper entitled "The shadow of the
Flying Saucer: A very low temperature for large dust grains", by S.
Guilloteau et al., published in Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters.

The team is composed of S. Guilloteau (University of Bordeaux/CNRS,
Floirac, France), V. Piétu (IRAM, Saint Martin d'Hères, France), E.
Chapillon (University of Bordeaux/CNRS; IRAM), E. Di Folco (University
of Bordeaux/CNRS), A. Dutrey (University of Bordeaux/CNRS), T.Henning
(Max Planck Institute für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany [MPIA]),
D.Semenov (MPIA), T.Birnstiel (MPIA) and N. Grosso (Observatoire
Astronomique de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an
international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the US
National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of
Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of
Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in
cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the
National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation
with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and
Space Science Institute (KASI).

ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member
States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by
Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by
the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East
Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership
and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of
ALMA.

The Institut de Radio Astronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) is supported by
INSU/CNRS (France), MPG (Germany), and IGN (Spain).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe
and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory
by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the
Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the
Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the
United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an
ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation
of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to
make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in
promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO
operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla,
Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large
Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical
observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and
is the world's largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is
the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in
visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical
project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is
building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT,
which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".

Links

* [554]Photos of ALMA
* [555]Science paper

Contacts

Stephane Guilloteau
Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux
Floirac, France
Email: [556]stephane.guilloteau@u-bordeaux.fr

Emmanuel di Folco
Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux
Floirac, France
Email: [557]emmanuel.di-folco@u-bordeaux.fr

Vincent Pietu
IRAM
Grenoble, France
Email: [558]pietu@iram.fr

Richard Hook
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: [559]rhook@eso.org

(... links deleted ...)

References

547. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rho_Ophiuchi_cloud_complex
548. http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso0214/
549. http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/alma/
550. http://www.iram-institute.org/
551. http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1604/#1
552. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_zero
553. http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1604/#2
554. http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/search/?adv=&subject_name=Atacama%20Large%20Millimeter/submillimeter%20Array
555. http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1604/eso1604a.pdf
556. mailto:stephane.guilloteau@u-bordeaux.fr
557. mailto:emmanuel.di-folco@u-bordeaux.fr
558. mailto:pietu@iram.fr
559. mailto:rhook@eso.org
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