Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Jeffrey Yasskin
Jeffrey's posts

Post has shared content
Some things I need to say which will probably be fairly unpopular:

(1) Pauline Hanson is an excellent example of why I think multiparty democracy is a terrible idea. Increasing the political power of people at the fringes might help you get your particular favorite idea represented – but it also lets other people do that. Generally, it moves political power away from the center and towards the edges. And so you end up with people like this having the effective deciding vote in legislatures, able to block any bill if they don't get their way.

(2) In related news, Jill Stein is now talking about how wonderful Julian Assange is. If you haven't been following what Assange and his cronies have been up to lately, he's been (a) openly waging a campaign against Clinton, saying he's doing this specifically to harm her and he doesn't care what else happens, (b) doing massive data dumps without bothering to redact sensitive personal information about people who are in no way implicated in wrongdoing (e.g., people's SSN's and home addresses), and (c) going off on thoroughly anti-Semitic rants in public. In case you haven't noticed it, Julian Assange is grade-A scum who happens to have been involved in some decent things in the past – but, AFAICT, anything good he's done has been by chance, not design.

Stein's self-affiliation with him only serves to lower her even further in my eyes. (Her policy statements did a great deal to do so before this, ranging from her love affair with anti-vaxxers to her lengthy screed against the rights of sex workers)

(3) For those who think that third parties serve an important role in the process while living in a two-party system, I have to say: I completely and utterly disagree.

Third parties would play an important role if the purpose of elections were for people to express their political opinions, and for the country to come to some kind of conclusion as to how its government should operate at a basic level. But that's not what elections do. That's the purpose of the public square, of public discussion and debate. Elections have a very specific and concrete purpose: to choose who takes various elective offices. That's all they do.

A vote for a third party is simply a fancy way to abstain; it doesn't actually increase the chances that the third party will get funding in the future, or that their ideas will be more listened to, because these parties are the fringe of the fringe: they are so interested in the "purity of their ideals" that they won't even enter into the process of actual dealmaking, coalition-building, and so on. Their ideas will never have an effect, because they have given up on talking to the main bulk of the country and are instead spending their time either preaching to the choir or trying to convert the handful of people who are so far on the edge of their own parties that they're about to abstain anyway.

And to be brutally honest: abstention from important elections on matters of principle is irresponsible.

Elections do come down to small numbers of votes. Bush v. Gore came down to roughly 600 votes' difference. Local elections, even statewide elections, can come down to even less. And when you not only abstain, but encourage others to do so, you stand the risk of actually influencing the election – but rarely in the way you want. Because if you encourage people who are leaning mostly your way to cast a protest vote, you're telling people who would vote for a candidate that mostly agrees with you to stay home. Whether you're on the left or the right, what that does is cast half a vote for the other side.

Do not tell me that both of the candidates are the same. To say that at this point goes beyond the level of "deliberately obtuse." You know they aren't.

Do not tell me that neither of the candidates is speaking about the things you care about. There may be the one thing you care about more than anything else, but whoever is President, and whoever controls Congress, is going to be making decisions about a lot of things, including things you care about a great deal. You do not get to choose from all the people in the world, or from all the positions in the world, but you do get to choose between two options, and they aren't the same. They will not appoint the same people to the courts, they will not start the same wars, they will not do the same things to the economy.

(4) If you are seriously so isolated that you think you would do equally well, or badly, under either of them, then think about what would happen to the rest of the people in the country. They wouldn't.

(5) If you seriously don't care and just want to watch the world burn, then I stand corrected: please, go vote for a third party. Or stay home. Or emigrate. Those of us who have to live here don't welcome you.

Post has shared content
Missouri's public defender system is a wreck. It's a wreck for a very simple reason: the state, and in particular the governor's office, has worked hard to defund it for years, leaving it unable to hire lawyers to fill jobs even as caseloads balloon. This is true despite legal actions against the state by the Department of Justice, finding that poor black children (in particular) are being denied due process by the lack of legal representation. (If you know anything about Missouri's history, you will know that this outcome is not a coincidence)

This situation has left Michael Barrett, the director of the state's public defender system, with fewer and fewer options to keep the office open. In fact, he's down to one crucial state law that he's always (for good reason) hesitated to use.

All of this is background. What comes next is something I cannot possibly summarize without spoiling the ending. So instead, I suggest that you read Barrett's short letter to Governor Nixon. Read it through the end. Trust me.

I am seriously looking forward to watching how this case plays out. /popcorn

h/t +Andreas Schou

Post has shared content
What do you think about blacklisting firmware update services that don't default to checking signatures? Please raise your voice and help us find all firmware update services we can add to the Web Bluetooth blacklist.

Learn more at

Post has attachment
It says "XM INTELLIGENCE & DATA COLLECTION" and is from Texas. Anyone know what it is?

Post has shared content

Post has shared content

Post has shared content
The chromium team is currently thinking about adding a score to Chrome that measures your engagement with a site, and using that score to allocate resources (such as battery or disk) smartly among all sites requesting those resources.

You can get a sense of what's going on with engagement by enabling the experimental flag named "Site Engagement Service" at chrome://flags/#enable-site-engagement-service and visit the internal debug page chrome://site-engagement in Chrome Canary 🐥.


Post has shared content
When you do fieldwork in artificial intelligence, search, or other fields that require understanding how humans form judgments about things, one of the first things you learn is that it's insanely hard because humans tend to form surprisingly different judgments. "One man's meat is another man's poison" – or to use a somewhat more apt metaphor, "one man's porn is another man's street photography."

(Seriously. Potter Stewart's famous "I know it when I see it" line? Completely, utterly, wrong.) 

So the thing that caught my attention the most about this study is that people do, to a large extent, agree when someone did something stupid. 

The researchers were curious about how people judge stupidity, and so assembled a collection of 180 stories from news, blogs, etc., which described events which might be characterized as stupid, and showed them to 150 people, finding over 90% agreement. This seems like a very strong signal that we do, in fact, have a meaningful built-in "stupid detector:" i.e., whatever it is that we characterize as stupidity, there seems to be broad agreement over it, and we really do know it when we see it. 

Going further, they discovered that there seemed to be a real pattern in things marked as stupid: they fell into three distinct categories. First and foremost, "confident ignorance" – not only the most agreed-upon, but the one rated as stupidest. Second, behavior showing a lack of control, especially due to obsession or addiction. Third, and much weaker than the others, absentmindedness.

If I had to describe the common factor here, it would be cases where people failed to perform a baseline level of cognitive self-monitoring: to realize that they aren't as good at something as they think, to bring their impulses under control, or to pay attention when they needed to. 

That is, stupidity isn't an attribute we give to a lack of cognitive skills, but to a lack of meta-cognitive skills: it's the way we describe the behavior of someone who isn't "thinking about thinking." 

Combined with the robustness of the human stupidity detector, this suggests that we have a very sophisticated built-in cognitive self-monitoring system, and that we can recognize failures of others' self-monitoring very effectively. (Really, more people can spot stupid than can spot unhappy or most other affective states, so our detector for this is really robust) That suggests that this is something our brains consider either very important or (for some reason) anomalously easy. One possibility – and this is just bare conjecture on my part – is that better ability to detect stupidity in others helps us avoid stupidity ourselves.

h/t +rare avis.

Post has shared content
Reposting my response to this comment:

Willy, I think you’ve hit upon the exact spot where I and most of the senior Linux kernel developers disagree. I believe you can be technically brutal without being personally brutal and still get your message through. In fact, most times, your explanation of the issues will be clearer, because you’ll focus on expressing what they did wrong, rather than your own emotions.

As for your comments about the emotional mapping of Europeans to what they say, we will have to respectfully disagree. If you saying “I wish someone would kill you” is equivalent to feeling disappointment over someone’s skills as a maintainer, that mapping is just broken.

What do you say when you’re past disappointment into anger at a larger broken system? Well, in Linus’ case, it seems that he slips into homophobic slurs. That means he thinks that being gay is worse than being dead. What kind of message does that send LGBTQ developers who want to get involved with your kernel community? (I almost said “our community” there but it’s no longer my community.)

The most frustrating thing for me is that as a woman, I don’t get to participate in the same skewed emotional spectrum without harming myself professionally. I have had other kernel developers imply that I’m being “too emotional” and that I should “calm down” when I raise my voice even in the slightest. Women are socially trained to care about the community around them and other people’s feelings, and they get called nasty sexist slurs when they don’t have empathy.

From reading articles and talking to other minorities, they also feel the awful double standard here. Black men and women get labeled as violent or deviant when they speak in anger. Or get shot by police if they attempt to assert their rights. If they express anger at a system that oppresses them, they get told to pay attention to white men’s feelings. They can’t win.

When you say Europeans have a habit of exaggerating their emotions, to the point of tearing down other people, what minorities hear is “I have the privilege to not be able to care about other people’s emotions."

I would highly recommend checking out Scalzi’s post on privilege, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”. It explains privilege with as gaming metaphor that I think most people can connect to.

Post has shared content
Last Friday, the US bombed a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) [1] in Kunduz, destroying it in a nearly hour-long raid with many of its patients and doctors still inside.

On Saturday, the official statement was that this had been a mistake, a mistargeting in the fog of war.

On Sunday, MSF pointed out that not only did they routinely give the GPS coordinates of the hospital to US forces (most recently five days before the bombing), but they had been on the phone with military officials during the strike trying to get them to stop, with the US nonetheless continuing to bomb for another half hour, and that on top of this the other buildings in the compound were undamaged even as just the hospital was destroyed.

On Monday, the US rolled back its story, claiming that the strike had been deliberate, but had been necessary because the Taliban was using the hospital as a base and had been firing out of it, pinning down US and Afghan forces and requiring close air support.

On Tuesday, as film reviewed by the AP demonstrated that this was not, in fact, the case, and that nobody had been firing anything from the hospital, the US rolled back its story yet again, and is now claiming that while there were a lot of civilian casualties in the hospital, the attack was nonetheless justified because there were a lot of senior Taliban members in the hospital who were also killed.

As MSF's General Director, Christopher Stokes, said on Sunday, these latest official US statements "[amount] to admission of a war crime;" at this point, the statements amount to "yes, we blew up a hospital with people in it, and yes, we did that on purpose, but we were justified in doing so."

[Edited to add: And on Wednesday, the administration admitted fault and promised a "transparent, thorough, and objective accounting" for what happened. h/t +Cory Lui]

What seems to be the case, and what most sources have started to concede, is that the Afghan government has long hated the existence of this particular hospital, as (like all MSF hospitals) it has been known to treat whoever was sick or injured and came through the door, no matter which side they were on. 

My best estimate of the underlying reasoning, at this point, has to do with the Obama administration's ongoing negotiations with the Afghan government about the pullout of remaining US forces, and their urge to make extra-nice with the Afghans -- say, by blowing up some hospitals for them -- to try to keep them on our side for a bit longer after we leave.

The article linked provides an excellent timeline, as well as quotes from all sides as the story unrolled, so that you can see how the official statements have shifted as each line became untenable in turn.

[1] Disclosure: You'll find me on their major donors list for the past decade.

[This post has been edited with a substantial rewrite for clarity, since I wrote the first draft half-asleep.]
Wait while more posts are being loaded