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Randy Smith
Worked at Google
Attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Lives in Arlington, MA
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Education
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Neuroscience, 1989 - 1992
  • University of Chicago
    Chemistry, 1982 - 1986
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Boston area computer hacker, ex-graduate student in Neuroscience, dancer and biker (the non-motorized kind :-})
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Computer Programmer
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  • Google
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Currently
Arlington, MA
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Chicago, Ill - Frederick, MD - Cambridge, MA - Jamaica Plain, MA - Piermont, NY

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Randy Smith

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I find this so cool, both in a "It's a new way to treat cholesterol plaques in the arteries!" way and "Intelligent laypeople drive doctors to try a treatment to save their own children and the rest of us win big!"  way :-} :-|

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/04/sweet-drug-clears-cholesterol-reverses-heart-disease-and-was-found-by-parents/
Here’s how parents of kids with rare disease found what may be blockbuster drug.
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Randy Smith

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Apparently a gene drive (forcing a particular chosen gene through a wild population, to, e.g,, drive that particular population to extinction)  is being considered for dealing with the Zika virus.  That's pretty scary.  A quote from one of the scientists that's been working on gene drive technology:

“Four weeks ago we were trying to justify why we are doing this. Now they’re saying ‘Get the lead out,’”

(Note: I'm not sure that it would be wrong to use this technology.  It's just powerful enough to really scare me that we're considering using it.)

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600689/we-have-the-technology-to-destroy-all-zika-mosquitoes/#/set/id/600732/
Fear of the Zika virus could generate support for gene drives, a radical technology able to make species go extinct.
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It was fairly horrifying, yes.
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Randy Smith

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In the past, my attitude towards police is that they have a hard hard job, and are generally doing the best they can.  That doesn't stop me from wanting to hold them to high standards; it's an important hard job, and doing it poorly or with ill intent can cause a lot of harm.  But that leads me to want to support them as much as possible, while having strong oversight for society to catch when they go wrong.

This ... changes that attitude.  I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to look at my local police the same way again.  

http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2015/12/10/new-england-police-union-endorses-donald-trump/cZemM3TxWTBpvbsWdF9uNJ/story.html#slide-1
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the endorsement of a New England union that represents police and corrections officers Thursday evening, and said that, as president, he would call for the death penalty for any person who kills a cop.
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The Hatch Act restricts the political activities of Federal law enforcement officers. Perhaps the states should have equivalent legislation?
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Randy Smith

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I think this summarizes a lot of why I've been feeling so despairing about America the past week or two.  I knew we were racist, but these weeks put in sharp relief just how racist we are.

(I'm being a little unfair; part of the reason there's a thread of treating right wing terrorists as alienated loners who regrettably turned to violence is that a large segment of our society shares their goals.  But that doesn't make me feel any better.)

h/t +Leah Bloom 
 
I just want to note that +The New York Times is running this as a headline. About a terrorist. 

I've got a more serious article brewing in my head about the entire situation – not merely the attack in Colorado Springs, but the attack in Minneapolis a week before, and the fact that there's a rising tide of terrorism within the US which both the media and the government seem determined to ignore – but that's not for tonight.

Right now, I just want to point out that when members of the radicalized far right in the US commit terrorist acts, they get human-interest pieces about their lives. Compare this, for a moment, to the stories we get when Muslims commit terrorist acts abroad (since they almost never do in the US): "should we expel all refugees?" Or the stories when an unarmed black man is gunned down, analyzing what he did that made someone shoot him.

And note that the radicalized far right has been the source of nearly all the terrorist attacks in the US for the past century and a half: the exceptions can be counted. (Anarchist and communist terrorism in the early 20th century; a few incidents from the radicalized far left in the 1960's; and 9/11) Yet this is how we choose to set our priorities.

Nor is the NYT alone in this; we have the Washington Post with the headline "Alleged Colorado gunman was adrift and alienated," showing off the editor's tic of saying "alleged" as an apotropaic talisman against libel suits; mercifully, that article is about how it was quite clear that he was a frightening and dangerous person for some time. But the article immediately next to it explains that "not until much more is known about alleged gunman Robert Lewis Dear Jr. and his motivations will the political implications of his actions become clear." (Have you ever seen this applied to a terrorist act elsewhere? Whence this benefit of the doubt?)

I won't even describe what's going on in the right-wing press, or on Twitter; look in to that particular pit of despair at your own risk. Let's just say that it's clear that there's a substantial fraction of the population which favors terrorism as well, and the news media is apparently split between "beholden to them" and "pusillanimous."

If I had not already been disappointed nearly beyond repair at the common sense of the editorial teams of many of our major newspapers, this would have done me in. 
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Right; and why did cops treat him as a good person who was doing something bad and deserved every opportunity to back down and be arrested safely, when they treat black people who haven't hurt anyone as so incredibly dangerous that the only proper response is to shoot first and ask questions later?
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Sharing because I found it fascinating, not because I think it's important: Someone working hard to bring back regional flours and breads bred for a much larger variety of characteristics than our flour currently is (including nutrition :-}).  I've never gotten what's so interesting about different varieties of wine, but I could totally see becoming a "Bread Snob" like some people do around wine.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/magazine/bread-is-broken.html?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email&_r=0

+Janice Lichtman Just to see both the good and bad sides of my foodiness :-}.
Industrial production destroyed both the taste and the nutritional value of wheat. One scientist believes he can undo the damage.
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I found the linked article really interesting in terms of what it says about happiness and how patterns of thought and behavior affect happiness.  Some of it was new and some of it not, but the direct and repeated link back to neuroscience studies was new, gives me more confidence in the recommendations, and generally makes my geek heart sing a bit :-}.  Recommended.  h/t +Lisa K Holsberg .  

I'll excerpt the take home for those in a hurry, but the whole article's worth reading:

+ Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.
+ Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
+ Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”
+ Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.


http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2015/09/make-you-happy-2/?utm_source=sumome&utm_medium=sms&utm_campaign=sumome_share
There's a lot of stuff about happiness on the internet, but what do neuroscientists say can *really* make you happy? Here are 4 things backed by research.
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Thanks for sharing, Randy. I love this kind of thing :-) 
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Randy Smith

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My apologies for a repeated advocacy (I've fanboyed about Hans Rosling before) but I just watched this video and wanted to recommend it specifically.  It's about very common bad heuristics people use when evaluating global economic and social changes (that generally lead to answering questions in those spaces at worse than chance level), and simple new heuristics you can use to much more often get the right answer.  

https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_and_ola_rosling_how_not_to_be_ignorant_about_the_world#t-172242

+Ed Kenschaft +Janice Lichtman just because I've had a couple of conversations with both of you about whether optimism or pessimism is a more accurate model for what's happening for the world as a whole.
How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.
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"""
They told the militants "to kill them together or leave them alone", a local governor told Kenyan media.

...

The militants decided to leave after the passengers' show of unity, he added.
"""
A group of Kenyan Muslims travelling on a bus attacked by Islamist gunmen protect Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, according to eyewitnesses.
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Why else do you think I'm posting it?  :-} 1/2 :-|
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Last week I mentioned (https://plus.google.com/u/0/102251509192760989541/posts/4XkCKT81KbX) the endorsement of Trump by the New England Police Benevolent Association.  Yesterday I sent the association the following letter.

Dear New England Police Benevolent Association,

My attitude towards police has historically been is that they have a very hard job, are generally doing the best they can, and that citizens should support them in that job.  I think that policing is a very important job, so I also think it's important to hold police to high standards.  There's just too much harm that occurs if the job is done poorly or with ill intent.  But I've believed in balancing those high standards with support and understanding for the challenges of the job, and giving police what they need to do their job well.

Your endorsement of Donald Trump has changed that attitude.  I see Trump as a fascist, advocating policies (an immigration ban on Muslims, rounding up and deporting 11 million people) and making statements (e.g. that Muslim-Americans cheered the planes crashing into the Twin Towers) that demonize loyal and productive Americans.  I think the best comparison to Trump's policies are those of Nazi Germany, in which Jews and other minorities were scapegoated, rounded up, and killed by the millions.  Many of my family died during that time.

For all these reasons, Donald Trump is my enemy.  He is the enemy of the America I believe in -- one that values religious freedom and diversity, and creates communities that span disagreements, ethnicity, religion, skin color, and upbringing.  I will do anything I can to stop him and the movement he currently leads from moving America further towards fascism.

Your endorsement has been a wake-up call to me.  I've thought of Trump's popularity as worrisome, but I've still had basic faith in my country.  I have not believed that he would get the Republican nomination, nor win if he did.  But part of how Hitler came to power was through paramilitary gangs, and a police union endorsing Trump violently raises that spectre.

As you can probably imagine, those images makes me afraid to send this letter -- afraid that, in defiance of anything I've previously believed, I might be attacked and targeted by the policemen that, in theory, serve my community.  With your endorsement, however, I think the situation has moved past the point where I can afford to be guided by my fear.

Because of your endorsement, you've lost the faith of at least one member of the community you serve, and I'm not sure how or whether you can regain that.  But nonetheless, I urge you to reconsider your support for Donald Trump.  He and his followers are very dangerous to the ideals and soul of this country.

Sincerely,



Randall Smith
In the past, my attitude towards police is that they have a hard hard job, and are generally doing the best they can. That doesn't stop me from wanting… - Randy Smith - Google+
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Beautifully written! And yes, do tell us if it gets a response.
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So I've previously shared links to articles about CRISPR/Cas9, which is a new, very effective and flexible gene editing technique that can be used to make pretty arbitrary genetic changes in a cell (see http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/03/new-dna-construct-can-set-off-a-mutagenic-chain-reaction/).  The specific technique that that article focusses on is one in a theoretical possibility in which the editing capabilities are also inserted into the genome, making whatever trait it codes for propagate to all descendants in defiance of the usual allele propagation rules.

Well, it turns out that now that's been done experimentally.  It's called a "gene drive" and the University of California Irvine has done it in mosquitoes: http://www.nature.com/news/gene-drive-mosquitoes-engineered-to-fight-malaria-1.18858 .  

On the one hand, wiping out malaria would be a wonderful thing.  On the other hand, I can't help but thinking this is a very powerful gun we're all of a sudden holding, and we might want to be really careful where we point it.  
Mutant mozzies could rapidly spread through wild populations.
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I've had similar musings :-J.
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I was recently made aware of a post by The Cato Institute that I find relevant to the current refugee crisis.  You might have heard of The Cato Institute?  They're a conservative think tank funded by the Koch brothers?  This is what they have to say about the danger posed by Syrian refugees:

"Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out.  That is one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted.  To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.  The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.  "

Sorta puts the bigotry and cowardice of a whole lot of politicians in perspective, doesn't it?  

(Sorry for the nastiness; this whole situation makes me angry and scared and disgusted with my country to a degree I haven't previously reached.)

http://www.cato.org/blog/syrian-refugees-dont-pose-serious-security-threat
The current refugee vetting system is multilayered, dynamic, and extremely effective.
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Scalzi's commentary is mild compared to the righteous anger of Fred Clark:

"Please don’t suddenly pretend you care about homeless veterans for just as long as it allows you to oppose helping refugees, because that’s hurting both veterans and refugees and it’s making you miserable" 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2015/11/20/please-dont-suddenly-pretend-you-care-about-homeless-veterans-for-just-as-long-as-it-allows-you-to-oppose-helping-refugees-because-thats-hurting-both-veterans-and-refugees-and-its-making-you-mi/
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I think there are a fair number of my friends who might be interested in an update on Lyme (and tick disease in general) research.  +Lori Kenschaft in particular.

http://www.nature.com/news/the-growing-global-battle-against-blood-sucking-ticks-1.18227
Scientists have no shortage of ideas about how to stop tick-borne illnesses. What is holding them back?
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Two members of my immediate family have had Lyme disease, and one has had Ehrlichiosis. Please, let's get another vaccine on the market ASAP.
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