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Some posts from the last year on inclusion

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A sort of topic-specific collection of links from about the last year, broadly talking about inclusion in communities, online and off, especially in geek(y) spaces.

What kind of discourses and conversations do we want to encourage and have?

  • Nalo Hopkinson’s WisCon 2016 Guest of Honor speech: “There are many people who do good in this field, who perform small and large actions of kindness and welcome every day. I’d like to encourage more of that.” In this speech Hopkinson announced the Lemonade Award.
  • “Looking back on a decade in online fandom social justice: unexpurgated version”, by sqbr: “And just because I’m avoiding someone socially doesn’t mean I should ignore what they have to say, and won’t end up facing complex ethical choices involving them. My approach right now is to discuss it with people I trust. Figuring out who those people are, and learning to make myself vulnerable in front of them, has been part of the journey.”
  • “On conversations”, by Katherine Daniels: “I would love for these people who have had so many opportunities already given to them to think about what they are taking away from our collective conversations by continuing to dominate them, and to maybe take a step back and suggest someone else for that opportunity to speak instead.”
  • “Towards a More Welcoming War” by Mary Anne Mohanraj (originally published in WisCon Chronicles 9: Intersections and Alliances, Aqueduct Press, 2015): “This is where I start thinking about what makes an effective community intervention. This is where I wish I knew some people well enough to pick up a phone.”
  • “The chemistry of discourse”, by Abi Sutherland: “What we really need for free speech is a varied ecosystem of different moderators, different regimes, different conversations. How do those spaces relate to one another when Twitter, Reddit, and the chans flatten the subcultural walls between them?”
  • “Hot Allostatic Load”, by porpentine, in The New Inquiry: “This is about disposability from a trans feminine perspective, through the lens of an artistic career. It’s about being human trash….Call-out Culture as Ritual Disposability”
  • “The Ethics of Mob Justice”, by Sady Doyle, in In These Times: “But, again, there’s no eliminating the existence of Internet shaming, even if you wanted to—and if you did, you’d eliminate a lot of healthy dialogue and teachable moments right along with it. At best, progressive people who recognize the necessity of some healthy shame can only alter the forms shaming takes.”

How do we reduce online harassment?

  • “Paths: a YA comic about online harassment”, by Mikki Kendall: “‘It’s not that big of a deal. She’ll get over it.’ ‘Even if she does, that doesn’t make this okay. What’s wrong with you?'”
  • “On a technicality”, by Eevee: “There’s a human tendency to measure peace as though it were the inverse of volume: the louder people get, the less peaceful it is. We then try to optimize for the least arguing.”
  • “Moderating Harassment in Twitter with Blockbots”, by ethnographer R. Stuart Geiger, on the Berkeley Institute for Data Science site: “In the paper, I analyze blockbot projects as counterpublics…I found a substantial amount of collective sensemaking in these groups, which can be seen in the intense debates that sometimes take place over defining standards of blockworthyness…..I also think it is important distinguish between the right to speak and the right to be heard, particularly in privately owned social networking sites.”
  • “The Real Name Fallacy”, by J. Nathan Matias, on The Coral Project site: “People often say that online behavior would improve if every comment system forced people to use their real names….Yet the balance of experimental evidence over the past thirty years suggests that this is not the case. Not only would removing anonymity fail to consistently improve online community behavior – forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment….designers need to commit to testing the outcomes of efforts at preventing and responding to social problems.”

What does it take to make your community more inclusive?

  • “Want more inclusivity at your conference? Add childcare.” by Mel Chua and then “Beyond ‘Childcare Available’: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly”, by Camille Acey: “I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move ‘Childcare Available’ from just a word on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.”
  • Project Hearing: “Project Hearing is a website that consolidates information about technology tools, websites, and applications that deaf and hard of hearing people can use to move around in the hearing world.”
  • “Conference access, and related topics”, by Emily Short: “This is an area where different forms of accessibility are often going at right angles.”
  • “SciPy 2016 Retrospective”, by Camille Scott: “SciPy, by my account, is a curious microcosm of the academic open source community as a whole.”
  • “Notes from Abstractions”, by Coral Sheldon-Hess: “Pittsburgh’s Code & Supply just held a huge (1500 people) conference over the last three days, and of course I’d signed up to attend months ago, because 1) local 2) affordable 3) tech conference 4) with a code of conduct they seemed serious about. Plus, “Abstractions” is a really cool name for a tech conference.”
  • “The letter I just sent to Odyssey Con”, by Sigrid Ellis: “None of us can know the future, of course. And I always hope for the best, from everyone. But I would hate for Odyssey Con to find itself in the midst of another controversy with these men at the center.” (This is Ellis’s post from April 7, 2016, a year before all three of Odyssey Con’s Guests of Honor chose not to attend Odyssey Con because of the very issue Ellis discussed.)
  • “The realities of organizing a community tech conference: an ill-advised rant”, by Rebecca Miller-Webster: “…there’s a lot of unpaid labor that happens at conferences, especially community conferences, that no one seems to talk about. The unpaid labor of conference organizers. Not only do people not talk about it, but in the narrative around conferences as work, these participants are almost always the bad guys.”
  • “Emotional Labor and Diversity in Community Management”, by Jeremy Preacher, originally a speech in the Community Management Summit at Game Developers Conference 2016: “The thing with emotional labor is that it’s generally invisible — both to the people benefiting from the work, and to the people doing it. People who are good at it tend to do it unconsciously — it’s one of the things we’re talking about when we say a community manager has ‘good instincts’.”….What all of these strategies do, what thinking about the emotional labor cost of participation adds up to, is make space for your lurkers to join in.”
  • “White Corporate Feminism”, by Sarah Sharp: “Even though Grace Hopper was hosted in Atlanta that year, a city that is 56% African American, there weren’t that many women of color attending.”
  • “You say hello”, by wundergeek on “Go Make Me a Sandwich (how not to sell games to women)”: “Of course, this is made harder by the fact that I hate losing. And there will be people who will celebrate, people who call this a victory, which only intensifies my feelings of defeat. My feelings of weakness. I feel like I’m giving up, and it kills me because I’m competitive! I’m contrary! Telling me not to do a thing is enough to make me want to do the thing. I don’t give up on things and I hate losing. But in this situation, I have to accept that there is no winning play. No win condition. I’m one person at war with an entire culture, and there just aren’t enough people who give a damn, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing my health and well-being on the altar of moral obligation. If this fight is so important, then let someone else fight it for a while.”
  • “No One Should Feel Alone”, by Natalie Luhrs: “In addition to listening and believing–which is 101 level work, honestly–there are other things we can do: we can hold space for people to speak their truth and we can hold everyone to account, regardless of their social or professional position in our community. We can look out for newcomers–writers and fans alike–and make them welcome and follow through on our promise that we will have their backs. We can try to help people form connections with each other, so they are not isolated and alone.”
  • “Equality Credentials”, by Sara Ahmed: “Feminist work in addressing institutional failure can be used as evidence of institutional success. The very labour of feminist critique can end up supporting what is being critiqued. The tools you introduce to address a problem can be used as indicators that a problem has been addressed.”
  • “Shock and Care: an essay about art, politics and responsibility”, by Harry Giles (Content note: includes discussion of sex, violence and self-injury in an artistic context): “So, in a political situation in which care is both exceptionally necessary and exceptionally underprovided, acts of care begin to look politically radical. To care is to act against the grain of social and economic orthodoxy: to advocate care is, in the present moment, to advocate a kind of political rupture. But by its nature, care must be a rupture which involves taking account of, centring, and, most importantly, taking responsibility for those for whom you are caring. Is providing care thus a valuable avenue of artistic exploration? Is the art of care a form of radical political art? Is care, in a society which devalues care, itself shocking?”

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The world’s two most powerful telescopes are glorious—and vulnerable

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Enlarge / Keck 1 and Keck 2, near the summit of Mauna Kea. (credit: Eric Berger)

NEAR THE SUMMIT OF MAUNA KEA, Hawaii—Bill Healy stares into the primary mirror of the largest telescope in the world, and, for a second, he pauses. Even now, after nearly two decades of looking after this titanic instrument on top of a mountain, the immensity of the mirror still arrests him. “It sure is a hell of a view,” Healy marvels. “A hell of a view.”

It is. We’ve just ascended the tallest mountain in the Hawaiian islands, Mauna Kea, to see the pair of 10-meter Keck Telescopes, the largest and most powerful optical telescopes in the world. Hawaii lies 4,000km away from the closest continent, North America, making this the most remote archipelago on Earth. With clear skies, therefore, Mauna Kea has arguably the best “seeing” of any telescope site in the world.

The combination of big mirrors and dark skies has proven nothing short of revelatory. Since the first of the two Keck telescopes began observing the heavens in 1993, astronomers have used the instruments to discover dark energy, find outer Solar System objects that led to Pluto’s demotion, and more. On a given night, an astronomer might point a telescope toward volcano eruptions on the Jovian moon Io or study faint galaxies at the edge of the visible universe.

But increasingly, the mountain’s fair skies are clouded with controversy. Native Hawaiians dispute the right of outsiders to build large telescopes on their sacred mountain, and a proposal to build a much larger instrument, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), on Mauna Kea has galvanized the activists as never before.

Healy speaks with a Northeasterner's accent. An improbable path led him from a career in the US Marines to “retirement,” to becoming a middle school teacher in Hawaii, and to, finally, landing a job two decades ago as a caretaker for the telescopes. He has difficulty squaring his love for this facility, the mountain, and the groundbreaking science they enable with the antagonism bubbling up from the valley below.

“Up until a few years ago, all of the telescopes up here pretty much operated under the radar,” he explained during a tour of the facility. “People either didn’t care or they really didn’t know what was going on. But because of all the attention from the TMT, it’s kind of painted us all with the same brush. Where you normally would be happy to wear your Keck crew t-shirt while shopping at Costco, you may not do that today.”

For some natives, the majestic domes that house huge telescopes on top of the mountain seem more like pimples, best popped. As tolerance has turned to tension, legal actions have begun moving through the Hawaiian court system. No longer is it inconceivable that the magnificent telescope Healy and I are admiring, which has in no small way remade almost the entire field of astronomy, might one day be gone.

The site

Gerard Kuiper, who counted Carl Sagan among his students, is probably the greatest modern planetary scientist. He correctly predicted the composition of Saturn’s rings (ice) and that planets in our Solar System formed when a large cloud of gas condensed. He also proposed the existence of a now-eponymous belt of minor planets outside the orbit of Neptune, and he “discovered” Mauna Kea for astronomers.

After the University of Hawaii dedicated the Haleakala Observatory on Maui to study the Sun in 1964, Kuiper—then at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona—visited. He wanted to determine whether the Maui mountain, topping out at 10,000 feet, might also be suitable for planetary observations. It turned out not to be high enough to remain consistently above the regional inversion layer, so many nights were too cloudy for observations.

However, as Kuiper looked across the Maui Channel to the Big Island, he could see Mauna Kea looming 4,000 feet higher, above the clouds. Soon, Kuiper had persuaded the governor of Hawaii, John Burns, to provide funds to bulldoze a road and construct a small telescope for testing. The site was superb. By 1970, the University of Hawaii had built a 2.2-meter telescope on Mauna Kea. More would soon follow.

Eastern trade winds blow across the islands and, with no other mountains downwind, there is little turbulence. At the peak, water vapor levels are very low relative to most observatories. The inversion layer, too, is a boon at 14,000 feet. During the nighttime hours, clouds sink as the air temperature cools. Even though lights from towns along Hawaii’s coast don’t present that much of a problem, any light pollution from Hilo, Kona, and Waikoloa is often shrouded by these clouds.

Eric Berger

The Hawaiian mountain has one significant drawback relative to some of the other best sites in the world, including Chile’s Atacama desert: It loses more nights due to weather, such as clouds, humidity, and, occasionally, snow. The Keck telescopes generally have favorable weather for about 275 nights a year, compared to roughly 310 nights in Chile.

“On a clear night on Mauna Kea, you have the best seeing of any of the other major telescopes in the world,” said Rich Matsuda, chief of operations at the W.M. Keck Observatory.

Imagine asking someone unaffiliated, “Are these really the best skies in the world?” As you might imagine, astronomers won’t agree about the “best” site in the world, as there are many variables and different kinds of seeing, such as “free atmosphere” and “true” seeing.

In 2009, when astronomers were considering sites for the Thirty Meter Telescope, they analyzed five different locations: Cerros Tolar, Armazones, and Tolonchar in northern Chile; San Pedro Mártir in Baja California, Mexico and Mauna Kea. In the end, the study authors concluded, “The results show that all candidate sites are excellent and are clearly among the best ground-based telescope sites on Earth. They also show that not a single site is perfect or is the best, or worst, in all parameters.”

Even if Mauna Kea isn’t the best, it’s damn good. And for astronomers, it’s worth fighting for.

A ballet of mirrors

The University of California conceived of a 10-meter telescope on Mauna Kea in the early 1980s but didn’t have the resources to build it. The university system worked with the California Institute of Technology to raise funds for the project, and Caltech secured a $70 million grant from the Keck Foundation, named for the founder of Superior Oil, William Myron Keck.

To create such a giant mirror for visible and infrared observations, astronomers had to build the world’s first large, segmented mirror telescope. Three dozen mirrors would have to function in concert to form a single, primary mirror.

“Nobody thought it would work,” Matsuda said. “There were a lot of skeptics, because it relied on unproven computer technology to coordinate everything.” Nevertheless, when astronomers took first light in 1990, with just nine mirrors, they had their proof of concept that such a large, segmented telescope could work. Keck 1 began making scientific observations in 1993, and Keck 2—an, ahem, mirror copy—followed three years later.

Each of the mirror segments measures 1.8 meters from corner to corner, and keeping them all working together requires something of a ballet recital. “The trick is to not have 36 different telescopes, but one telescope,” explained Peter Wizinowich, who manages the Keck telescopes’ optical systems. When he came to the observatory more than two decades ago, part of his job was to work out how to “phase” the telescope such that all the mirrors did, in fact, work together.

Every mirror is supported by three actuators, and they can piston the segment up or down and tilt it. Sensors on each of the segments produce an interference pattern, and then essentially the telescope takes images until the peak is found. To accomplish this, each of the pistons can control actuators to within about five nanometers. Once phased, the telescope remains so for several months before eventually falling out of phase.

Learning how to do this intricate phasing was important for astronomers because such precision would later be a prerequisite for adaptive optics. This revolution in ground-based astronomy during the last two decades has allowed scientists to minimize the effect of distortions from Earth’s atmosphere. They accomplished this by measuring the deformations with a laser shot up from the telescope through the atmosphere. They also deformed the telescope's mirror in order to compensate for the distortion.

“Ever since Galileo’s time, people have been building bigger and bigger telescopes,” Wizinowich said. “But, in doing so, all they’ve done is collect more and more light. That has allowed us to see further back in time. But they haven’t taken advantage of the fact that, in theory, with a larger telescope, you should be able to see more detail. That’s true in space with a larger telescope, but, on the ground, the details have been limited by atmospheric turbulence. And that is what’s so great about adaptive optics, especially on a larger telescope like this one.”

The lasers used in adaptive optics are powerful indeed. Healy said one of his jobs used to be standing outside the telescope, often in sub-freezing temperatures, looking for airplanes. If he saw one, the laser had to be shut down. In recent years, this spotting process has, thankfully, been automated.

“It is brutal”

Imke de Pater, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, has used the Keck telescopes almost from the beginning. Just a few months after the first Keck telescope came online, astronomers began to plan for the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy on the planet Jupiter in 1994—an epic moment in planetary astronomy.

“The comet already had fallen apart into lots of pieces, and they were all going to fall into Jupiter,” de Pater said, recalling cold nights spent on Mauna Kea. “We saw it in real time, as it happened. This fireball appeared above the limb of Jupiter. At the time, we observed from the top of the mountain, and it was an experience you can never forget.”

As an astronomer with the University of California system, de Pater is one of the lucky ones. The system and Caltech split the majority of the telescope time, and so de Pater is able to visit Hawaii a couple of times a year to make observations, often of Uranus, Neptune, or volcanic eruptions on Io.

A single infrared image of Jupiter shows the fireball of Fragment G from Comet Shoemaker-Levy taken at the Keck Observatory on July 18, 1994.

A single infrared image of Jupiter shows the fireball of Fragment G from Comet Shoemaker-Levy taken at the Keck Observatory on July 18, 1994. (credit: Imke de Pater/Keck Telescope)

Despite her frequent visits, de Pater still gets nervous about losing time due to weather. “Of course, it does affect you,” she said. “I usually don’t check the weather beforehand when I go out there, because it’s just too demoralizing if there’s bad weather forecast. But even if the prediction is bad, you don’t know if it really will be bad or not, so you have to do all of your preparations regardless.”

Today, most astronomers with telescope time do not visit the top of Mauna Kea. Instead, they meet with a support astronomer in the lowland town of Waimea, about an hour’s drive from the summit. Because fully learning how to use the Keck telescopes takes several months, support astronomers such as Luca Rizzi sit with observers during the night. Typically, Rizzi will meet with a visiting astronomer during the afternoon for a few hours of training. Then the visitors are set free for dinner and told to come back at sunset.

“A lot of the training really boils down to making the observers comfortable,” Rizzi told Ars at the Keck headquarters in Waimea. “We’re here to help, because they are under enormous pressure. It’s very difficult to get the telescope time, of course. It may be tied to deadlines. If they are a graduate student, maybe they are working on a thesis.”

We then asked about the infamous weather concern.

And if it’s cloudy during their night?

“They get thrown back into the queue. There are no rain checks. You have to apply again, as if nothing ever happened.”

Is that really true?


Oh, that’s brutal.

“It is brutal. The time on the telescope is so valuable.”

So you’re sitting with someone who has maybe waited years for this, and then all of a sudden, maybe it’s too humid, and it will damage the optics, so you’ve got to keep the dome closed. Or maybe it’s snowing. What is that like?

“It’s really sad. You’ve got to bring a lot of chocolate. It’s really sad. But it’s part of being an astronomer.“

Astronomers who do get time, of course, can rewrite the history of the universe—and its future.

In 2005, Mike Brown used the facility to confirm the existence of Eris and its larger-than-Pluto diameter. This led the International Astronomical Union to create a new class of “dwarf” planets. Keck also played a leading role in the measurement of supernovae accelerating away from the Milky Way Galaxy and in the discovery of dark energy. The Hawaii instruments have also made a number of significant exoplanet discoveries, including imaging the first exoplanet system in 2008 and identification of the first Goldilocks planet, Gliese 581g, in 2010.

Hawaii history

When we meet Healy, he’s put the Ford Explorer into four-wheel drive, and we’re slowly rolling up a gravel road above 10,000 feet that leads to the summit. Observatory officials say about four miles of the summit access road have been left unpaved to save money. But the main reason is that the rough road discourages casual visitors.

Because this is state land, the summit remains open to anyone at any time of day or night. This allowed protesters to congregate on the mountain in recent years as opposition grew against the TMT proposal. In late 2014 and the spring of 2015, the situation boiled over as fundraisers planned a groundbreaking ceremony at the summit. Protesters blocked the vehicles and shouted down the ceremony. Later, construction convoys were blocked. It was, Healy recalls, “kind of a mess.”

Eric Berger

As we ascended the mountain two years later, the protesters are gone and the fight has moved to the state government. Among some native Hawaiians, the TMT has become a cause célèbre for a growing independence drive. “The bigger issue is a sovereignty movement that’s been simmering here in Hawaii for the last 15 or 20 years,” Healy says.

Earlier in the day, before Healy drove me up the mountain, I had met with Matsuda, the facility director, in Waimea. Although he was born in Honolulu and his family emigrated here more than a century ago from Japan, Matsuda is not an ethnic Hawaiian. Still, he understands the motivations of activists against the telescope.

Not all native Hawaiians oppose the TMT, and those who do have various reasons. For some, there is the sanctity of the mountain, Matsuda said. Mauna Kea is the tallest point in the islands, where Earth mother and sky father met to create the islands and the people. It’s a temple for some natives, something not meant for cars or roads.

On a more visceral level, there is the sense that rich outsiders have come in with money and power to overtake the mountain. First, there was just one telescope, then another. Despite perceived promises or assurances, more and more telescopes have been built during the last half-century. “This happened at a time when I think native Hawaiian activism didn’t have much of a voice, and there’s a feeling that they got trampled over, and now they’re pissed off,” Matsuda said.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, native Hawaiians feel as though they rightfully own Mauna Kea. Their grievances date back to the end of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which lasted from 1795 through 1893. Ultimately, this claim may pose the biggest threat both to the TMT and, potentially, the Keck telescopes as well.

Ceded lands

In 1893, local businessmen in Hawaii, with US Marines having landed nearby, overthrew the queen of the islands, Liliʻuokalani, with an eye toward eventual US annexation. At the time, the royal family still controlled about 40 percent of the real estate scattered across the islands. These lands were transferred to the provisional government and eventually to the state of Hawaii.

These “ceded” lands include some of the most valuable property in the islands, such as the Honolulu Airport. Today, they are managed by the state for the “betterment” of Hawaiian programs. The 12,000-acre science reserve on the top of Mauna Kea is among these ceded lands. In lieu of payments, the University of California gives University of Hawaii researchers one-eighth of the Keck instrument observing time, a similar arrangement to other telescopes on the mountain. This has certainly led to the betterment of the Hawaii university system’s astronomy program.

But is this arrangement legal? As one-sided and unfair as the US Government’s dealings with Native Americans on the mainland were, at least there was an exchange of money and other goods for land; the settlement was “legal” in the eyes of the US court system, too. There has never been any such settlement with the native Hawaiians and the ceded lands.

Some fringe movements among Hawaiian natives want to throw all foreigners out, Healy said. But most realize that will never happen. “Some of the smarter groups realize the value of the ceded lands,” Healy told me. “They want to take control of them, with some kind of a nation-within-a-nation agreement with the federal government.”

By this time, we’re nearing the summit of the mountain. About half-a-dozen domes are visible, as well as the large undeveloped site for the TMT project. Like the Keck telescopes, the TMT site is led by the University of California system and Caltech. After the Board of Land and Natural Resources issued a building permit to the TMT institutions, the State Supreme Court invalidated it in 2015 because proper state procedures had not been followed.

To proceed, the telescope needs both a permit to build and a permit to use the conservation district land. There’s no guarantee they’ll get either. The telescope organizers have made clear that, unless they have clearance to build by early 2018, they’ll move to an alternative site in the Canary Islands. The skies may not be as good, but the politics are better. Healy hopes the TMT leaders fight for the permits but, ultimately, he does not believe the super-sized telescope will be built in Hawaii.

“These protesters are not going to go away,” he said. “You’ll be in the news every night. There will be YouTubes, nightly news, and Web news of crying, chanting Hawaiians being dragged away by the police. Bad, bad publicity. If I were TMT, I’d stay in this contested case game, because you want to win it. You have to win that, even if you’re probably not ultimately going to build here.”

That’s because the master lease for the entire science reserve on Mauna Kea comes up for renewal in 2033. Healy worries about protesters winning a legal ruling that the TMT is an inappropriate use of a conservation-zoned district or that the TMT will pull out of the case before a decision is reached. If that happens, he says, what will it mean for all the other telescopes on the mountain?

Telescope race

The TMT project is running out of time in the race to build a new generation of super telescopes. A group of US and international organizations has begun building the 24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, and the The European Southern Observatory has taken significant steps toward constructing a staggeringly large 39-meter telescope in the same mountainous region of Chile’s Atacama desert. Both facilities could be online in the early- to mid-2020s.

Chile, which competes with Mauna Kea for the best skies in the world, is not free of native concerns, either. Chileans also believe in the sanctity of the mountains, said Nick Suntzeff, a Texas A&M University astronomer who is working on the Giant Magellan Telescope project.

“In Chile, we always had the mountains we were surveying studied by ethnographers,” Suntzeff said. “We excluded probably the best mountain I have ever seen—Cerro Quimal—because of the local beliefs. Quimal and Lincancabur have shadows that align twice a year, and for the Andean peoples, this was an important event.”

For astronomers, this is a difficult issue. They’re not trying to build another golf course or condominium for a profit. They seek rare, remote, and high places to see to the very edge of the universe, back to its birth, and potentially find whiffs of life in the atmospheres of exoplanets. These are fundamental questions important to all peoples, of all backgrounds. But should they be gotten by any means?

Truly, the summit of Mauna Kea feels otherworldly. Perhaps it is the lower oxygen levels, about 40 percent less than on the beaches that ring the island. Or maybe that feeling comes from watching clouds spill into the saddle road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, or it comes from watching distant smoke from the active Kilauea Volcano. Far below, charred lowlands testify to a major eruption within the last 200 years and the changing nature of the raw landscape.

Later that night, a deep stillness descends onto the mountain, and starlight spills out of the heavens. A faint jet of white light rises above the western horizon, about where Kona might be on the horizon. But those aren't city lights. No. Amazingly, it is zodiacal light, coming from sunlight scattered by dust in the plane of the Solar System. It is sublime, and grasping the reverence that native Hawaiians feel for this place, at a moment such as this, is not so difficult.

Healy understands this, too. Although recently retired, he’s given most of the second half of his life to tending the mountain and its world-class instruments for astronomers. On the mountain, everyone knows his name. But he can empathize with the native Hawaiians. “I have a nice view of the summit from my house,” he said. “From the Waimea side, you see all of the telescopes. I like remote, beautiful mountains as most people do. So they’ve got a point there.”

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10 days ago
In a better world, these kinds of concerns would have already led to building telescopes on the far side of the Moon.
Mountain View, CA
10 days ago
Washington, DC
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zi2zi: Master Chinese Calligraphy with Conditional Adversarial Networks

Generated samples. Related code can be found here Motivation zi2zi is the follow-up work for my last project , once again tackling the same problem of style…
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15 days ago
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Lawmakers propose law requiring warrants to search electronics at US border

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Enlarge / Pedestrians crossing the northbound US border from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Ysidro, California. People crossing the border are subject to having their electronics searched by US authorities. No warrant is needed. (credit: Punxsutawneyphil)

There's a big area in the US where the Constitution doesn't apply, at least when the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is concerned. It's called the US border, or port of entry. In that area, you and your electronic devices, whether you're coming or going to the US, can be searched without reason. You even can be forced to unlock or decrypt a device so the authorities can comb through your life, like your social media accounts, cloud accounts, you name it. This intrusion is known as the "border search exception" to the Fourth Amendment.

This invasive practice is on the rise, too. Consider that the Department of Homeland Security said it searched fewer than 5,000 mobile phones at the border without a warrant in 2015. The number mushroomed to 25,000 last year. And for the month of February, the DHS reports that it has already searched 5,000 devices of Americans and foreigners without a warrant at a border crossing.

Now, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is proposing the unthinkable. Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday floated legislation requiring US Customs and Border Protection agents to get a court warrant to search electronic devices of "United States persons." That's right—in an era when you can be accused of publishing fake news for even questioning the government, a few members of Congress want to expand your civil rights and require a judge to sign off on a device search.

"Americans' constitutional rights shouldn’t disappear at the border. By requiring a warrant to search Americans’ devices and prohibiting unreasonable delay, this bill makes sure that border agents are focused on criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time thumbing through innocent Americans’ personal photos and other data," said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. Along with Wyden, the "Protecting Data at the Border Act" is sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican of Kentucky; Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat of Colorado; and Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Republican of Texas.

Unwarranted invasion

It's doubtful that the rest of Congress will listen to these lawmakers and adopt this legislation. For starters, John Kelly, the DHS secretary, won't even respond to Wyden's call to answer a few basic questions about how the border search exception is used in practice. Last month, Wyden sent Kelly a letter asking the following:

What legal authority permits CBP (Customs and Border Protection) to ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person disclose their social media or email account password?

How is CBP use of a traveler’s password to gain access to data stored in the cloud consistent with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?

What legal authority permits CBP to ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person turn over their device PIN or password to gain access to encrypted data? How are such demands consistent with the Fifth Amendment?

How many times in each calendar year 2012-2016 did CBP personnel ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person disclose a smartphone or computer passcode, or otherwise provide access to a locked smartphone or computer? How many times has this occurred since January 20, 2017?

How many times in each calendar year [2012-2016] did CBP personnel ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person disclose a social media or email account password, or otherwise provide CBP personnel access to data stored in an online account? How many times has this occurred since January 20, 2017?

Wyden gave a March 20 deadline. He has yet to get a response.

However, the bill is getting widespread support from the privacy community, regardless of it likely being dead on arrival.

"A search of your cell phone or social media account is a direct look behind the curtain that covers the most intimate aspects of your life. A border stop shouldn't be an excuse for extreme surveillance such as downloading the entire contents of your phone," said Greg Nojeim, a director at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

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17 days ago
Mountain View, CA
18 days ago
Washington, DC
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1 public comment
18 days ago
If only the small government types stood on principle instead of using that soundbite as a smokescreen to sell out to the highest bidder
San Diego, CA, USA
17 days ago
Yep, not holding my breath that this actually happens. For now, need to remember to me careful with electronics at airports and border crossings (if I ever go to either place any time soon!).

karnythia: annlarimer: cleolinda: confusedkayt: minimoonstar: handful-ofdust: copperbadge: puk...

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Hey there other LJ users… what’s the go with the new user agreement? I had noticed that lj is no longer https last week… man. time to actually move over to dreamwidth maybe :-/

I just saw that today.  I’ve already set up at Dreamwidth but I’ve been resisting the final move because 80% of my people are still at LJ.

I haven’t read the full agreement yet, but we can’t read or post until we do agree, so I should mosey on over and see what BS they’ve got in their ToS….

I believe I have found the giant “fuck you” clause:

Section 7.4 of the new ToS: “Article 10.2 of the Federal Act of the Russian Federation No. 149 “ references this un-lovely tidbit of Russian legal malarkey:

Article 10.2. The Details of Dissemination of Generally Accessible Information by a Blogger

1. The owner of a website and/or a website page on the Internet on which generally accessible information is placed and to which access exceeds 3,000 users of the Internet per day (hereinafter referred to as “blogger”) when said information is placed and used, for instance when said information is placed on the given website or website page by other users of the Internet shall ensure the observance of the legislation of the Russian Federation, for instance:

1) shall not allow the website or website page on the Internet to be used for the purpose of committing the acts punishable under a criminal law, disclosing the information classified as state or another specifically law-protected secret, disseminating the materials containing public appeals for carrying out terrorist activities or publicly justifying terrorism, other extremist materials and also the materials propagating pornography, the cult of violence and cruelty and the materials containing obscene language;

2) shall verify the reliability of placed generally accessible information before it is placed and shall immediately delete unreliable information that has been placed;

3) shall not allow the dissemination of information about the private life of a citizen in breach of the civil legislation;

4) shall observe the bans and restrictions envisaged by the legislation of the Russian Federation the referendum and the legislation of the Russian Federation on elections;

5) shall observe the provisions of the legislation of the Russian Federation that regulate the procedure for disseminating mass information;

6) shall observe the rights and lawful interests of citizens and organisations, for instance the honour, dignity and business reputation of citizens as well as the business reputation of organisations.

2. The following is hereby prohibited when information is placed on a website or website page on the Internet:

1) the use of the website or website page on the Internet for the purpose of concealing or falsifying information of public significance, disseminating knowingly unreliable information under the disguise of reliable messages;

2) the dissemination of information for the purpose of discrediting a citizen or some categories of citizens on the basis of sex, age, race or ethnicity, language, religion, trade, place of residence and work and also in connection with their political convictions.

3. The blogger is entitled to:

1) freely search, receive, transmit and disseminate information by any method in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation;

2) set out on his website or website page on the Internet his personal judgements and assessment with an indication of his name or pseudonym;

3) place or allow the placement on his website or website page on the Internet texts and/or other materials of other users of the Internet, unless the placement of such texts and/or other materials contravenes the legislation of the Russian Federation;

4) disseminate advertisements on an onerous basis in keeping with the civil legislation, Federal Law No. 38-FZ of March 13, 2006 on Advertisement on his website or website page on the Internet.

4. An abuse of the right of disseminating generally accessible information that has manifested itself as breach of the provisions of Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the present article shall entail criminal, administrative or another liability in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation.

5. On his website or website page on the Internet the blogger shall place his name and initials and an e-mail address for sending legal-significance messages to him.

6. On his website or website page on the Internet the blogger shall place immediately after receiving a court’s decision that has become final and contains demand for its being published on the website or website page.

7. The owners of websites on the Internet who have registered as network editions in accordance with Law of the Russian Federation No. 2124-I of December 27, 1991 on Mass Media are not bloggers.

8. The federal executive governmental body carrying out the functions of control and supervision in the field of mass media, mass communications, information technologies and telecom shall keep a register of the websites and/or website pages on the Internet on which generally accessible information is placed and to which access exceeds 3,000 users of the Internet per day. For the purpose of ensuring the formation of the register of websites and/or website pages on the Internet the federal executive governmental body carrying out the functions of control and supervision in the field of mass media, mass communications, information technologies and telecom:

1) shall organise the monitoring of websites and website pages on the Internet;

2) shall endorse a methodology for assessing the number of users of a website or website page on the Internet per day;

3) has the right of requesting from organisers of dissemination of information on the Internet, bloggers and other persons the information required for keeping such register. Within 10 days after receiving a request from the federal executive governmental body carrying out the functions of control and supervision in the field of mass media, mass communications, information technologies and telecom said persons shall provide the information so requested.

9. In the event of detection in information-telecommunication networks, for instance on the Internet, of a website or website page which contain generally accessible information and to which access exceeds 3,000 users of the Internet per day, including the consideration of relevant applications of citizens or organisations, the federal executive governmental body carrying out the functions of control and supervision in the field of mass media, mass communications, information technologies and telecom:

1) shall include said website or website page on the Internet in the register of the websites and/or website pages on the Internet on which generally accessible information is placed and to which access exceeds 3,000 users of the Internet per day;

2) shall identify the hosting provider or the other person which ensures the placement of the website or website page on the Internet;

3) shall send to the hosting provider or the person mentioned in Item 2 of the present part a notice in electronic form in Russian and English concerning the need for provision of details allowing to identify the blogger;

4) shall record the date and time of dispatch of the notice to the hosting provider or the person mentioned in Item 2 of the present part in the relevant information system.

10. Within three working days after receiving the notice mentioned in Item 3 of Part 9 of the present article the hosting provider or the person mentioned in Item 2 of Part 9 of the present article shall provide the information allowing to identify the blogger.

11. Having received the information specified in Item 3 of Part 9 of the present article, the federal executive governmental body carrying out the functions of control and supervision in the field of mass media, mass communications, information technologies and telecom shall send a notice to the blogger informing that his website or website page has been included in the register of the websites and/or website pages on the Internet on which generally accessible information is placed and to which access exceeds 3,000 users of the Internet per day, with reference to the provisions of the legislation of the Russian Federation applicable to said website or website page on the Internet.

12. If during three months access to the website or website page on the Internet is below 3,000 users of the Internet per day that website or that website page on the Internet shall be removed on the blogger’s application from the register of the websites and/or website pages on the Internet on which generally accessible information is placed and to which access exceeds 3,000 users of the Internet per day, with a notice to this effect being sent to the blogger. The given website or website page on the Internet may be removed from that register when no application is filed by the blogger if access to the given website or website page on the Internet during six months is below 3,000 users of the Internet per day.

Sweet baby spaghetti monster.  Even allowing for shitty translations, I’ve spent the past few decades reading 20-page publishing contracts, and dealt with a handful of real estate contracts, and I’ve never seen such a dense block of legal excrement.  Well-played, Russian lawyers, and by well-played I mean Crowley would be impressed. 

Short version, as I see it: nothing obscene by Russian legal standards (in Putin’s Russia, LGBTA discussions could fall within that, much less actual smut), and even if you’re squeaky clean and hetero-vanilla, any and everything you say is subject to their (legal) judgement.  So yeah, for’ex, prohibiting “the dissemination of information for the purpose of discrediting a citizen or some categories of citizens on the basis of sex, age, race or ethnicity, language, religion, trade, place of residence and work and also in connection with their political convictions.” could be seen as protecting someone from abuse or libel, and that’s great - but it also means that if the Russian government decides they don’t like your political activism, they have the right to use that post as “abuse” that “shall entail criminal, administrative or another liability in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation.”  And then “the hosting provider or the person mentioned in Item 2 of Part 9 of the present article shall provide the information allowing to identify the blogger.”  

Shorter version as I understand it: Livejournal no longer pretends to adhere to the concept of Freedom of Speech and/or privacy as (still) practiced in the USA.  If any practicing (or perfect) legal beagles want to elaborate on how I’m right/where I’m wrong, I welcome the instruction.

I’m not surprised by any of this, I’m just sad that I’m not surprised.  

follow-up: even if I were willing to sign, holy shit this is a red flag, pun intentional:

ATTENTION: this translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address:

so, what you’re agreeing to isn’t the translation given, but the original user document.  Which is in Russian.  And might be exactly the same context as the translation… and might not.

Um.  Children, this is the point at which I say “get in the damn car and drive in the direction of Away Very Fast.”

I’ve resisted the move to DW but you better believe I’m moving now!

LiveJournal and what’s going on there. FYI.

For Mr @copperbadge. I thought this would be a interesting read for you.

I haven’t had a ton of time to research any of this, because holy shit wank ALWAYS HAPPENS ON LJ WHEN I’M ON VACATION. WHAT THE FUCK LIVEJOURNAL. 

But I do think it would be incredibly wise of people to make the migration to the Dreamwidth platform, which in function and structure is nearly identical but which in terms of ideology and philosophy is run by fans and fairly liberal. At the very least, I would back your LJ up on Dreamwidth (and throw them some dollars if you can, they work hard). 

Dreamwidth can import not just your entire journal but also the privacy locks on posts (I checked this morning), icons, comments, and communities and their comments as well. If you don’t have a Dreamwidth, once you make one you can literally pick up your entire LiveJournal content and plop it down in a Dreamwidth username of your choice. The only thing you’re likely to lose is your layout, and you may have to re-find some friends.

Import a Journal
Import a Community

You can backup multiple journals to a single DW journal, but for communities you will need to build a DW community and back your community stuff up to it (you also need to own, not just moderate, the community on LJ). I don’t know if you can put multiple communities into one DW community account. 

I’ve had a DW for ages, and I had all the plans IN PLACE to do the backup but was waiting until after vacation. So what I’ve done today is taken an account labeled cblj-backup, and backed my two significant LJs up there (Copperbadge and Sam_Storyteller) and my fiction community at originalsam-backup. More to come about this once the process is complete, which it isn’t yet. 

FWIW, Tumblr is now my main platform, but I do post to copperbadge on Dreamwidth, and all my fanfic is posted to and will remain at AO3 under the username Copperbadge there. 

Okay, off to Dreamwidth permanently, I guess. Shit.

Signal boost if anyone still hasn’t heard. Not that I post very much to either, but my LJ is completely backed up to DW, comments and all. 

Wow.  I need to be moving all of my Spuffy stuff on over!

I haven’t posted anything in a really long time just Because Life, but after what happened with the election, I decided that if/when did, it would be on my Dreamwidth or some other platform. I knew we were going to end up here.

At the very least, back up your LJ on DW. It’s super easy. 

I moved to DW ages ago & just kept my LJ for nostalgia. Now I guess I need to log in long enough to delete it. End of an era. 

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18 days ago
Probably best to delete all of the *content* from old LJ accounts, unfriend everyone, and change the password to a random string (use a password generator) -- but don't delete the account itself. That way, your handle can't be reused by a spammer, and old inbound links will remain clean 404s.
Mountain View, CA
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disgustinganimals: this hole was made for her

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this hole was made for her

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18 days ago
Aaaaaaaa no don't make kitty go into the hole, mysterious creepy holes
Mountain View, CA
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