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Yonatan Zunger
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Attended Stanford University
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Yonatan Zunger

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This graph is Greek to me. Actually, it's Chinese, as my native language is Hebrew and that's our metaphor for incomprehensibility. Were it Chinese, I would say that it's Heavenly Script to me, instead.

Reminds me of the old joke about how people say that something isn't brain surgery. So someone asked a bunch of brain surgeons what they say, and the answer was "it's not rocket science." Rocket scientists, in turn, say that it's not theoretical physics; theoretical physicists say that it's not car mechanics.
Fascinating graph. "The phrase actually comes from a Medieval Latin proverb, “Graecum est; non potest legi,” meaning “It is Greek; it cannot be read.” From there, the phrase filtered into many European languages. Today, English, Spanish, Polish, Norwegian and Swedish all use Greek as a metaphor for incomprehensibility.

Mark Liberman, a professor linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, started wondering what the equivalent was in different languages. Drawing on a variety of sources, including Wikipedia, Omniglot and user comments, he created the graph above, which shows the language that other languages use to describe things that are hard or impossible to understand."
English speakers say, “It’s all Greek to me,” when they find something hard to understand. Shakespeare used the phrase in “Julius Caesar” (“Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me”). It’s also common in Spanish, where some people think it gave […]
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Merci, Yonatan
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Quoth +Saladin Ahmed: Every other science fiction illustration is bullshit compared to this. ht @PulpLibrarian.

And, seriously, can you argue with that? Although I'm not sure, between the man and the giant chicken, which is meant to be the food and which the god.

(h/t +Chris Stehlik for finding this among Saladin's tweets, where I somehow missed it)
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My new desktop image!
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I really shouldn't find this article quite as amusing as I do. But I suppose this article was inevitable: one way or another, the truth would out.
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Well if Frank really was the one who turned the crank then Joe would probably make it go.
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In case you were wondering: Yes, cadaver dogs can tell if you left a dead body on the carpet and then moved it later. 

And I won't even ask why you were already wondering about this. But that does explain the carpet cleaning bills.
Three Reasons Not to Leave a Dead Body on the Carpet (more on cadaver dogs)
So many places to hide a dead body. That’s what my mom remembers thinking on her first drive cross country during honeymoon number one. Maybe this ...
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Secret's in the sauce!
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Some interesting calculations: What would it look like if our Sun were replaced by various other stars, from the tiny, red, Barnard's Star, just 14% of its size, all the way up to Aldebaran, 70% more massive but 44 times the diameter.

Why doesn't this image show what would happen with even bigger stars? Because you would very quickly be seeing an image of nothing but blinding bluish-white light taking up the entire sky. And stars which are even only a bit larger than Aldebaran start to pose bigger problems: if our Sun were replaced with Deneb, we would almost be inside it. And Deneb is far from the largest star known; that would be UY Scuti, merely ten times our Sun's mass, but large enough that not only Earth, but even Saturn would be engulfed by it; it almost reaches out to Uranus. (And at 340,000 times the total brightness of the Sun, the view from inside it could best be described as "bright")

Also on this site: pictures of what it would look like if the Moon were replaced with various other bodies. ( However, I don't think that one adequately captures the brightness impact: by my quick calculation, a night by the light of a full Jupiter would be about as well-lit as the interior of a well-lit home at night. 
The Sun replaced with other stars, "based on the absolute brightness, spectral class, and radius" of the various substitutions. Which is to say, the artists are aware that more than the sky would look different if you actually made the substitution.

I do wonder about the colors, I think we all learned from that dress business that these things are tricky at best.
Sun replaced with other stars. Internetmaps by JaySimons. This visualization shows how the sunset could look like to a human observer if our Sun was replaced by some of the other stars in our galaxy with different sizes and magnitudes, namely Barnard's Star, Gliese 581, Tau Ceti, Kepler-23, ...
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Nice!  Too bad no white dwarfs or planetary nebulae!  Our Sun will become a planetary nebula 6.9 billion years from now.   The astronomer Bruce Balick said what that will be like:

Here on Earth, we'll feel the wind of the ejected gases sweeping past, slowly at first (a mere 5 miles per second!), and then picking up speed as the spasms continue - eventually to reach 1000 miles per second!! The remnant Sun will rise as a dot of intense light, no larger than Venus, more brilliant than 100 present Suns, and an intensely hot blue-white color hotter than any welder's torch. Light from the fiendish blue "pinprick" will braise the Earth and tear apart its surface molecules and atoms. A new but very thin "atmosphere" of free electrons will form as the Earth's surface turns to dust.
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How do you keep mosquitos out of a hospital in the jungle? With a laser sentry gun, that's how.

This thing optically tracks bugs, identifies them, and then shoots them with a short, high-powered laser pulse. It can apparently keep bugs out of a large area very effectively - including areas where netting is completely impractical.

For example, in our new Enrichment Center.

h/t +Rugger Ducky
This model of a laser bug zapper, which will soon be manufactured in the US, uses a photonic fence to track bugs within a specified area and kill them. The inventors hope it can be used in places like African hospitals to rid them of mosquitos that carry malaria and cause major issues.
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+LM Stewart​ we were lucky enough to have two barn swallow nests on our house last summer. It was fun to watch the mamas teach the babies how to swoop and eat mosquitos and other flying bugs. 
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An important reminder: pit bulls are actually very sweet-tempered dogs and are known for being good with children. The infinite media reports about how they (or various other breeds; the panic of the day varies) are somehow "inherently dangerous" are nothing but sloppy reporting; they don't have magical locking jaws, or a native bloodlust, or anything else other dogs don't have. If a dog is vicious, that's because of the way it's been reared - and any dog can be reared viciously.

There are serious consequences to this media frenzy: cities and apartments set up "breed restrictions" which force dogs or residents out, and dogs die in shelters because people are afraid to adopt them.

Don't fall for this nonsense. If you're looking to adopt a dog, keep an eye out for these unloved breeds - they're great dogs and need you badly.
Despite their reputation, the United Kennel Club doesn't recommended using pitbulls as guard dogs because they're too friendly with strangers.
Despite their reputation, the United Kennel Club doesn't recommended using pitbulls as guard dogs because they're too friendly with strangers.
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+Hugh Messenger I believe you made the right decision. I don't think you should question or beat yourself up about it. If a dog is unmanageably aggressive from puppyhood the dog may have to be put down. It's right to take responsibility rather than passing the problem on to someone else.

I am not claiming, I would never claim that there is no such thing as a problem dog. Just that it doesn't map to breed reliably enough for breed specific policies to make sense. I'm also old enough to have watched different breeds go in and out of style as the ones "everybody knows" are unsafe. Often based on not much in the way of evidence.
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There's a new paper out in Genome Research which shows something rather fascinating that seems to have happened in human history, right after the agricultural revolution. The two graphs below show the number of men (left) and women (right) alive at various times in history whose genes are still around today. (We can measure this separately because Y-chromosome DNA is transmitted only through men, and mitochondrial DNA only through women) 

There are lots of reasons that you would expect this curve to increase as you move forward in time. The simplest part of this is the "common ancestor" effect. If someone is your ancestor, then all of their ancestors are your ancestors, too. This means that, as you go farther back in time, anyone who's along your family tree is an ancestor of a bigger and bigger chunk of people. In fact, once you go far enough back, you'll encounter a person who is a common ancestor for everyone in your population group, or even in the world -- and once you've encountered this first common ancestor, every one of their ancestors is a common ancestor, too! This means that a bit further back in time, you suddenly pass a second threshold: at that point, everyone who was alive then is either a common ancestor of everyone alive today, or of nobody alive today. (If you're curious about this, there are a few famous papers by +Douglas Rohde and a few others on this subject, where with a combination of historical population data and computer simulations, they managed to show that the most recent common ancestor of all humanity probably lived only a few thousand years ago, and in either southeast or northeast Asia:

So because of this effect, you would expect that as you go far back in time, the number of people who are ancestors of people alive today would end up being a roughly fixed fraction of the population: everyone's either a common ancestor, or not an ancestor at all.

Now, the other important thing about the agricultural revolution is that it made the population boom: grain fields can support orders of magnitude more people than hunting and gathering or nomadic herding. (This is also why the agricultural revolution leads to the original rise of cities)

If you look at the curve on the right -- estimated number of women who are ancestors of living humans today, as a function of time -- you see exactly that. Right around 15,000 years ago (15kya), the number of women skyrockets, and starts to level off around 10,000 years ago. This is exactly what you would expect if nutrition suddenly improved by a lot, and it suggest that it was the early agricultural revolution -- that first cultivation of crops, rather than the rise of effective mass agriculture and the rise of early cities -- that had the biggest effect.

But the plot for men is bizarrely different. At 15kya, the gauge for men doesn't move. And then at 10kya, when the "big" agricultural revolution hits and cities start to emerge, the number for men plummets, only to recover and show the giant population-related spike around 5,000 years ago. At its most extreme, the ratio of female to male ancestors was 17:1!

What happened here? The authors suggest that this was most likely a cultural effect, rather than a mysterious plague which only affected men. My own quick summary of thoughts:

(1) The effects which created the initial surge in female long-term reproduction, around 15kya, don't seem to have affected men much at all. This suggests that we're seeing a huge nutritional effect on the success rate of pregnancies.

(2) The crash in male reproduction around 10kya suggests that most men were suddenly unable to reproduce, even as lots of women were doing so. This means that small numbers of men were having lots of children, and most weren't having any at all, or at least none which appear to have survived. Since you would suspect that most men might object to this, that suggests rather extraordinary application of force: i.e., the rise of the agricultural state brought with it tremendous power asymmetries and the rise of very wide polygyny. 

(3) Around 5kya, this effect seems to have vanished even more quickly than it appeared. If anything, that's more fascinating, because 5kya is already within visibility of the literary record. (The story of the marriage of Inanna, for example, contains some fairly clear allusions to the tension between nomadism and agriculture) A change this rapid, from extremely concentrated harems to some kind of more level marriage system, would seem to require a tremendous social event going with it, something big enough that I'm surprised that we don't see at least allusions to it in a wide range of early literary records.

In fact, this third point is enough to make me actively suspicious: this is a huge effect, something which would have defined human society for hundreds of generations and the response to which would likely have had effects for hundreds of generations to come. Its uniformity across geographic regions (colors in the graph) is similarly surprising: cultural shifts affecting the entire world don't Just Happen.

So I'm going to take this result with a great deal of caution until there's further confirmation, but the questions which it poses are fascinating, and this is clearly a direction worth more research.
An analysis of modern DNA uncovers a rough dating scene after the advent of agriculture.
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+Eric Ruberson​ They weren't; the study sampled several population groups across Africa, as well as African-Americans as a separate grouping. 
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The New Horizons spacecraft is quickly approaching Pluto, and we will soon have high-resolution maps of this distant world's surface. The New Horizons team has decided to do something unusual: they're opening up a public campaign to nominate and vote for names for the surface features that will be discovered.

Names will come from three different themes: the history of exploration, the literature of exploration, and the mythology of the underworld. (You can read more about the themes, and why they were chosen, on the site) The ballot will be open until April 7th. 

For all those who want to join in leaving our mark on an alien world, now is the time!
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+Matt Schofield They have an entire thematic category for visitors to the underworld, though, so I think it should work out.
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This is a very interesting essay on the cognitive and social psychology of religion: about how religious belief and ritual serve to stabilize societies and achieve important ends. This can range from enforcing rules about stealing and charity (in urbanized societies) to resource conservation and border management (among Siberian herders). Generally, the idea of this article is that religion is a strategy for social organization.

And it includes some interesting and non-obvious results about how our minds work. For example:

"There appears to be a rule, then, deep in our mental programming that tells us: minds without bodies know more than those with bodies."
God is an evolved organizational strategy that made people think they were being watched:  
Punitive Big Brother; cosmic petty-thief-catcher; vigilant landlord. Why is God so interested in bad behaviour?
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After misreading your response, +Christof Harper, I suddenly realized I have a modest preference for canitheistic dog-based religions where running so very fast with your ears thrown back is a form of prayer.
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Zoom in on this picture. You won't get its full majesty up small. When you look at it up close, you'll see the roiling storms on the Jovian surface, and how amazingly three-dimensional Europa appears, floating above it.
Europa / Jupiter, by NASA Voyager. (credit: NASA/Kinetikon Pictures) via +reddit.
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Merci, Yonatan
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This is not a satire piece. I want to try to emphasize that. 

Yes, a State Department spokesperson did respond to allegations that we were involved in some putative coup planning around Venezuela by saying that "[a]s a matter of long standing policy the United States does not support transitions by non-constitutional means." Yes, she did get called on it by a reporter who asked her just what "long-standing" is supposed to mean. She even managed to keep an almost-straight face while answering that -- but even she seems to have been on the verge of breaking out laughing.

I'll let Claude Rains give the appropriate commentary on this:

h/t +Kee Hinckley​ 
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Agreed, written policy is sometimes observed in the breach.  
Which may be sufficient to make this press gaggle humorous, and the statement somewhat literally ironic [dictionary meaning of both words].
But the humorous statement is on its face correct: the anti-coup policy is indeed long-standing; very few would consider Carter a 'recent' president today. The flak was not well briefed; should have cited Carter directive in response to the dredging up of 1970s and to define "Long Standing", and pointed that US advance knowledge of Venezuala 2002 was not active support, whatever the Chavezistas assert. 

I suspect the legal justification of drone strikes parses the long-standing anti-assassination EO as applying only to leadership of a recognized country (e.g. stopping the embarrassing string of botched attempts on Fidel) and perhaps other non-military political leaders there-in (non-insurgent peaceful opposition), under the historical meaning of assassination. Picking out high value individual military targets has been a US practice since Kentucky long-rifles picked off Red Coat Colonels and Generals in our Revolution who thought themselves safely out of range, including FDR approving personally targeting Adm Yamamoto in "Operation Vengeance"; FDR did not however target the Emperor or Prime Minister. 

Terminologically, not every non-democratic change of government is a "Coup d'Etat". Since the forms of their Constitution were ostensibly followed in both Orange and Euromaidan "revolutions", the Ukrainian volte-faces are nominally democratic and constitutional though unscheduled changes of government. Supporting friendly elements in a turbulent quasi-democracy such as Ukraine with non-violent resistance training etc is not the equivalent of giving arms and intelligence to a disaffected Colonel who mobilizes his Battalion to overthrow the ancien regime and install our preferred puppet. Provocation, interference, subversion, Yes; Coup, No. 

One may (and should) object to our interference in other states' internal politics when it's in our State interest(*) -- just as we object to others' interference in ours for their benefit -- but to say our drone strikes in regions not currently under any state's control or our support of Ukrainian west-facing factions breached our truly long-standing stated public policies against Assassination of state leaders and promoting Coups d'État (†)  is beyond an over-reach; it's a rhetorical rejection that words have any meaning.  

One might instead argue that failure to support Coup plotters against a few of the worst tyrants is sometimes immoral. A well-executed Coup leaving the Organs of State intact may do less harm than popular revolt, militia formation, and a decade or three of civil war in a failed state. But who decides and how, that is the intractable problem ! 

(*)  one hopes we don't interfere when it is NOT in our interest, but that appears to have happened too :-(
(†) which are two sides to one coin, given the usual result of a coup for the prior leader!
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Chief Architect, Google+
Lots of people ask me what my job title means. I'm the senior engineer on the Google+ team, and my primary responsibility is to oversee and guide the technical design of Google+ and all of the things related to it. In practice, I'm also involved in lots of non-technical issues as well: my job is to make Google as fun, exciting, social, and pleasant a place to be as it can possibly be.

(I've been at Google since 2003, but you probably haven't seen me before this, because I worked deep in the back end: planet-scale storage, very large-scale search, ranking, and so on. Lots of teams whose unofficial motto is "if we told you, we'd have to kill you" -- as opposed to Google+, where we get to go out and talk and interact with our users.)

For those who just came here, welcome to the Google+ Project. It's something that we're all very passionate about, and which (as its name indicates) is going to continue to develop and improve at what we hope is an amazing rate. I'm avidly interested in hearing user feedback, and while I can't guarantee that I'll have time to respond to all of it, it will most certainly be listened to.

And the obligatory (very important!) disclaimer: I'm not on this system as an official representative. While I'm listening to user feedback and interacting about the system, I'm also here for perfectly ordinary social networking purposes. If I am saying something official on behalf of Google, I will make that explicitly clear; anything else that I say here is not the position of Google, or of anyone other than myself.

In fact, most of what I post about has nothing to do with CS at all. If you want a taste of it, take a look at my blog.
  • Stanford University
    Ph. D., Physics, 2003
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    B. A., Mathematics, Physics, 1997
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