1,022 Nouns

Significant Digits For Tuesday, July 30, 2019:

Chaser, a Border collie known as the world’s smartest dog, has died of natural causes at the age of 15. Chaser’s owner, a psychology professor named John Pilley, used “800 cloth animal toys, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees and an assortment of plastic items” to teach Chaser 1,022 nouns. Chaser is also said to have understood sentences including a prepositional object, verb and direct object. Rest in peace. I’m gonna go figure out how many nouns I know. [The New York Times]

(Via Features – FiveThirtyEight)
Not feeling great about my progress learning Japanese for some reason. /me looks for a Shinjuku store that sells cloth animal toys, balls, Frisbees, and assorted plastic items.

50 Must-Read Fantasy Books by Women | Book Riot

50 Must-Read Fantasy Books by Women | Book Riot:

What’s better than a truly transportive fantasy? The best fantasy stories keep you spellbound by intricate world-building, unforgettable characters, and riveting storylines. In the following list of 50 must-read fantasy books by women, you’ll find a range of sub-genres represented, from portal fantasy to epic fantasy and everything in between. Featuring middle grade, YA, and adult novels, these unmissable fantasy books by women authors reflect the diversity of the genre—and its endlessly magical opportunities.

(via Book Riot)
I like Rob Beschizza’s note on Boing Boing:

First pick is All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, which I’ve been looking forward to since Cory’s stellar review here at BB. Then I’m checking out Tomi Adayemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, recommended to me by none other than ██████████.

I’ve read about 10% of the books. Time to dive in!

The War On Encryption

No clue what to do about it, but sure something should be done about it, and picking the wrong thing to do about it: the Trump administration in a nutshell. There’s already been a “sensational case” – the San Bernadino one in 2016 – and the FBI paid an Israeli company about $1m to break into the iPhone in question, to find nothing useful. There was more, and better, data on the terrorists’ Facebook profiles.
unique link to this extract

(Via The Overspill)
Similar to my earlier post on AG Barr’s complete lack of understanding about how encryption actually works and benefits the entire economy.

How To Party Like An Existentialist

Existentialism has a reputation for being angst-ridden and gloomy mostly because of its emphasis on pondering the meaninglessness of existence, but two of the best-known existentialists knew how to have fun in the face of absurdity. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre spent a lot of time partying: talking, drinking, dancing, laughing, loving and listening to music with friends, and this was an aspect of their philosophical stance on life. They weren’t just philosophers who happened to enjoy parties, either – the parties were an expression of their philosophy of seizing life, and for them there were authentic and inauthentic ways to do this.

For de Beauvoir in particular, philosophy was to be lived vivaciously, and partying was bound up with her urge to live fully and freely, not to hold herself back from all that life had to offer. She wrote that sometimes she does ‘everything a little too crazily … But that is my way. I have rather not to do the things at all as doing them mildly.’

(Via Aeon)
That joie de vivre doesn’t come up in the early paragraphs says something about the quality of Cleary’s writing (and says something else about mine).
This is my favorite piece of the article:

Parties can cultivate our connections to others, bring meaning to one another’s lives, and reveal the world with them. They can also confirm one another’s existences, serving as a reminder to friends that they matter, and that one matters to one’s friends. Moreover, the warmth and laughter that authentic partying sparks can help people cope with the chaos of life.

This resonates with me as an introvert: the idea that just being in a place (a party) and interacting (to whatever level) provides a deeper meaning to friends – potential, new, and old – reduces the stress around the stressful activity.
And, life is short.

The Sorry State of Cybersecurity Imagery – Lawfare

The Sorry State of Cybersecurity Imagery – Lawfare:

The state of cybersecurity imagery is, in a word, abysmal. A simple Google Image search for the term proves the point: It’s all white men in hoodies hovering menacingly over keyboards, green “Matrix”-style 1s and 0s, glowing locks and server racks, or some random combination of those elements—sometimes the hoodie-clad men even wear burglar masks. Each of these images fails to convey anything about either the importance or the complexity of the topic—or the huge stakes for governments, industry and ordinary people alike inherent in topics like encryption, surveillance and cyber conflict. […]
This dearth of quality cyber imagery is a problem because it’s hard to wrap your head around something you can’t visualize. For too many people, the stereotypical hackers and hackneyed “computer” iconography the term “cybersecurity” conjures up are indicative of the blank space where greater understanding needs to be. The lack of visual storytelling language is not that surprising given the immaturity of the cyber policy field and its multidisciplinary nature. That is—the combination of technical, legal, policy, business and other dimensions of cybersecurity—makes a nuanced and sophisticated conversation difficult, whether communicating with words or pictures.

Amen! I’m pleased my employer largely ditched the cliché imagery in our materials and marketing. But there is still so much garbage out there.
I’m particularly pleased and surprised by this, again in the same article, which I recommend you read:

The Cyber Visuals Challenge launching today will help begin to answer those questions. Whatever the answers to them, we’re confident that the visual creators who take part will give us all something to think about and help move the state of cyber imagery beyond the tired hackers-in-hoodies visual clichés that fill stock image libraries today. 

21st Century Authentication

Citrix Completes Investigation into Data Breach:

“Unfortunately, this is analogous to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” Arshad Noor, CTO of StrongKey, told SecurityWeek. “Passwords are not just old, they are ancient – created for the mainframe to enable chargeback controls for time-sharing in the 1960s. That multi-billion-dollar companies continue to use this archaic technology to protect a multi-trillion-dollar economy is an anachronism of the 21st century. I would strongly encourage Citrix – and others – to look at FIDO Alliance’s new protocol (FIDO2) towards eliminating passwords entirely from their web and mobile infrastructure; it is a 21st century technology designed for a 21st century landscape.”

(Via SecurityWeek RSS Feed)
The Citrix breach is nothing new. In fact, they did what everyone seems to do these days: global password reset instead of fixing the problem. There are so many better ways to authenticate users these days. It would be good to see companies look into leveraging them to improve their customers’ security.
The quote above sums things up nicely. There is no perfect solution. But there is better and that should be the goal.

Can Neuroscience Understand Free Will? – Facts So Romantic

Can Neuroscience Understand Free Will? – Facts So Romantic:

Clinical neuroscientists and neurologists have identified the brain networks responsible for this sense of free will. There seems to be two: the network governing the desire to act, and the network governing the feeling of responsibility for acting. Brain-damaged patients show that these can come apart—you can have one without the other. […]
The results may not map onto “free will” as we understand it ethically—the ability to choose between right and wrong. “It remains unknown whether the network of brain regions we identify as related to free will for movements is the same as those important for moral decision-making, as prior studies have suggested important differences,” the researchers wrote. For instance, in a 2017 study, he and Darby analyzed many cases of brain lesions in various regions predisposing people to criminal behavior, and found that “these lesions all fall within a unique functionally connected brain network involved in moral decision making.”
Nevertheless, the fact that brain damage affects moral behavior only underscores the reality that, whatever the “will” is, it isn’t “free.” The sense of freedom we have to act on our moral understanding is regulated and vulnerable, and can break. In a 2016 paper, Darby noted that people who have behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia “develop immoral behaviors as a result of their disease despite the ability to explicitly state that their behavior is wrong.” This complicates how moral responsibility should be understood, he explains. People can be capable of acknowledging wrongdoing and yet be incapable of acting accordingly. Responsibility can’t hinge on any simple notion of “reason responsiveness,” Darby says, which is a view of how free will can be compatible with determinism—the idea, in the case of behavior, that brain activity causes feelings, intentions, and actions, moral or not. […]
The concept of free will doesn’t make any sense to me. As Kavka’s thought experiment shows, we don’t have much control over our thoughts. Take this article I’m writing: The words I’m committing to print pop into my mind unbeckoned. It’s less me choosing them and more them presenting themselves to me. The act of writing feels more like a process of passive filtration than active conjuration. I’m also convinced that humans can sensibly hold one another morally responsible even if we jettison the idea of free will. The reason is that, as a social mechanism, it has salutary effects. Generally, if people know that they will be held to account for moral violations, they will be less likely to commit them; and if they don’t know what the moral rules are, they will be motivated to learn them. Indeed, in the study on compatibilism, the researchers found that “participants reduced their compatibilist beliefs after reading a passage that argued that moral responsibility could be preserved even in the absence of free will.”

(Via Nautilus; Screengrab via The Good Place / YouTube; emphasis above is mine)
This article hit me at an interesting time. I strongly recommending reading the piece. There are many, many links for doing some more research if you’re so inclined.
I’ve long had the feeling that I’m of two minds when it comes to practices, routine, and such. Rationally I know I need to stay on my daily habits like exercise, journaling, and general moderation. Doing those things generally requires what we call will or discipline. One does not automatically lead to the other.
The opening quoted paragraph confirms my internal disconnected feeling is more than rationalization of what one could call laziness. Luckily, morality isn’t my shortfall in so far as mine’s been tested. Things like exercise I should do (similar to moral decisions though less weighty). The draw of Stoicism and similar philosophies might be the brain drying to bridge the gap.
At least Stoicism may be my brain trying to bridge the gap. I feel a bout of rumination on free will coming on.

Attorney General William Barr Really Wants to Read Your iMessages

Attorney General William Barr Really Wants to Read Your iMessages:

It is almost impressive how people with no clue about how encryption works have, time and time again, ignored the advice of actual experts in it. If [US Attorney General William] Barr were in charge of NASA, he’d demand a faster-than-light Space Shuttle even after being told that it is impossible.

(Via Pixel Envy)
This Ars Technica article is a pretty good summary of Barr’s latest attack on working encryption.