The Pipwick Papers

It is a Sunday and I have just finished the most stressful game of Dota I’ve played in a long time. I might need a second weekend to properly recover. But while I munch coffee from the jar and attempt to refrain from napping, here are some links to interesting things from this week:

  • Thing 1: The Single Ladies dance syncing with Ducktales or “When Huey, Dewey and Lewie grew up, got dressed and learned to dance”
  • Thing 2: George Buckenham (who I know) has created this Cheap Bots Done Quick tool for making Twitterbots. I haven’t tried it out myself yet (because of the coffee/nap/Dota situation) but I really like some of the results I’ve seen – mazes and gardens and deserts and and and…
  • Here’s one from Unicode Garden:

    And one from the Abhorrent Erotica bot

    And Miniature Mazes

    But Infinite Deserts it my favourite:

  • Thing 3: Why The Oldest Person In The World Keeps Dying, by David Goldenberg of Fivethirtyeight
  • People are getting older on average, but the oldest are still dying around the same age as ever. Thus, when one of them does take over as the oldest, she doesn’t have much time left. The average age of the oldest-ever people has increased over the past 40 years from around 112 to around 114.

  • Thing 4: If you’ve seen that infographic about the death toll of migrant workers in Qatar making a point about the World Cup and comparing that figure with other sporting events, read The Washington Post’s updated “The Human Toll of FIFA’s Corruption” to know what exactly those figures are describing.
  • Thing 5: Speaking of football: when I wrote about FIFA 16 including a dozen women’s international teams a helpful commenter included a link to this fascinating BBC piece about women’s football in the early 20th century – specifically the effect of World War I on its growth and then a post-war climate which pushed it away again.
  • “She had a shot so hard she once broke the arm of a professional male goalkeeper. She also earned the distinction of being the first woman to be sent off in an official football match for fighting.

    “At 6ft tall (1.83m), Lily Parr was remarkable in many ways. She scored more than 1,000 goals during her 31-year-playing career, according to the National Football Museum. Of those, 34 were in her first season when she was aged just 14.”

  • Thing 6: “I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.” A valuable read by John Bohannon on the meaninglessness of some scientific studies. It’s basically about how you can game small sample sizes to give you particular results, or at least to stack the likelihood of getting a “meaningful” result in your favour. It also goes on to explain how you can then employ that result to maximise your chances of getting media coverage.
  • As a personal aside, “studies” and “surveys” crop up in my inbox all the time and I do try to pick into the results when I can. Some are obviously bullshit marketing nonsense, others are a little more covert – sometimes, if it looks promising, I’ll send them a reply asking about the methodology or numbers of participants or sampling if it’s not clear. Some are press releases for scientific journals but they’re not above scrutiny either. If it’s interesting enough I’ll email for access or simply buy it if it’s paywalled [UGH THAT STUFF IS NOT CHEAP] because I hate relying on the abstract. But then, I now work in an industry where I have a bit more wiggle room on that front. I don’t have to deal with the HEFTY page-view-carrot or the HEFTY missed-page-view-stick which comes with pre-packaged diet science or any listicles with a celebrity name attached. I also have more time as I’m not a slave to that 24 hour news cycle in the same way.

  • Thing 7: Ars Technica follows what happened to Ross Ulbricht from the moments before his arrest for charges related to running the Silk Road to his being sentenced to life in prison – it’s a detailed account of the case including both the defence and prosecution told by Joe Mullin who attended the whole trial.

    1. Lacero says:

      On the topic of dread pirate roberts, this economist graph is inetresting.
      link to

      the online drug market is now twice the size it was when silk road 1.0 was closed down and seems to respond to closures very quickly.

    2. Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      ‘Oh Tim Schafer!’ they whispered hoarsely. ‘I want to bang you like an ibis!’

      Zeus, Gaia, Dionysus, Xenu, Jigglypuff, Tim Schafer, … Sure, why not!

      Good gravy, I haven’t had this concentrated a dose of absurdity since Axe Cop. (Probably even before that, really.) It’s starting to wear thin already as a result, but thanks for the link and the laughs! Better stash it in the “check this out sometime” bookmark folder while it’s ahead.

    3. Person of Interest says:

      For paywalled scientific papers, you can check link to to see if someone’s already “exercised their fair use rights” to open the paper in question for “wider circulation”.

      • bartleby says:

        Also try library genesis. Pretty extensive. There’s probably a link in that subreddit.

      • Awesomeclaw says:

        At least in my field (Computer Science), many papers are put online directly by the authors on departmental web sites.

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          particlese says:

          Even in cases where self co-publishing isn’t allowed, a normal google/duckduckgo/whatever search of the paper name in quotes, plus perhaps a name drop or two, can often still lead you, somewhere, to what you need. The answer to the question of ethics in these cases is left as an excercise to the reader. :)

          It’s a sad state of things, given that so many of these copy-protected papers arise from partially or fully publically-funded work, but there is some work being done and debates being had to change this in fields such as physics. Not sure what the current state of that debate is, though, besides that arbitrary example link I threw in there. As in other industries, the publishers can provide a number of valuable services difficult to find or create otherwise (peer review and publishing standards ftw), and there can be a fair amount of politics involved (and of course money, wee!), so it’s an annoyingly persistent problem in affected fields.

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            particlese says:

            So, erm, a lot is happening, it turns out. If someone else is curious but doesn’t have the inclination to go Googling all over the place, Kohlrabi posted a link below to Wikipedia’s page on Aaron Swartz. Lots of interesting stuff, even without getting lost in and informed by the links and references aplenty.

      • Gap Gen says:

        In a bunch of fields of physics people put their stuff on (in astronomy basically everything since 1997 is there). But yeah, paywalled research is such bullshit.

        • Gap Gen says:

          I’m also gonna say that to me the idea that people wouldn’t put all the papers from the field in one place for free is utter madness. I appreciate that astronomy is a small field compared to some others, but it’s almost like you’re trying to make it hard for people to find your work.

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          Bluerps says:

          Not that I disagree with you in principle, but aren’t papers sold, instead of made accessible for free, to provide money for journals?

      • Kohlrabi says:

        It’s a bit ironic to mention reddit for anyone remembering Aaron Swartz, who was basically bullied to death by the state, MIT, and a science journal.

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          particlese says:

          Hey, thanks a lot for that link. I don’t know how his existence flew completely under my radar even though I rarely touch Reddit, but I’m glad I know about him now and the changes which happened or are happening because of him. That’s awesome.

    4. Radiant says:

      Man, last thing we need is more twitter bots.
      One of these days one of those things is going to become sentient and then boom we’re all working from home earning 75000 dollars an hour just….

    5. BlueTemplar says:

      The “Eat Chocolate to Lose Weight!!!!” documentary is going to be shown next Friday :
      French : link to
      German : link to
      (and available for free for a week after that, as usual with ARTE)

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Also, I can confirm that, I eat dark chocolate every day, and I’m quite slim!!

        • subedii says:

          To be honest, I feel like Dark Chocolate can be helpful (not the same as making you lose wait, but helpful).

          Regular milk chocolate has been designed, researched and refined to the point where it will be easily wolfed down by the consumer in the space of a few minutes, and more-ish enough that you can easily want for more afterwards (whilst funnily enough at the same time, once you’re used to dark chocolate, doesn’t taste as nice as it used to). It’s almost like (and this is my own subjective interpretation) it’s slamming your pleasure centres with the right combination of sugar and flavourings and light texture to give you the pleasure sensation of eating it and wanting for your next fix.

          With decent dark chocolate though what I find is that I’ll take maybe ‘a’ square, set it in my mouth, and just let it melt whilst I experience it. And after that I feel satisfied, and the density of it means I don’t have a craving for another piece. A bar of dark chocolate will often have as much suger in it as other regular chocolate bars, but unlike them a good bar can usually last me well over a week or even more.

          Since I started eating dark chocolate I’ve found I’m eating much less chocolate overall than I used to. Of course, YMMV.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Dark chocolate turns me into a raging, irritable psychopath. I shit thee not. I just don’t eat it anymore. Apparently quite common, according to The Internet.

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              particlese says:

              Holy balls, that is fascinating. I have never heard of this before, but yeah, a Thing on the Internet says it does happen in a “small percentage of the population”, which could of course translate to massive over-representation on our beloved Internet. I don’t have anything resembling that reaction myself, but I am intrigued now. Tomorrow: Investigation! While eating 72% cocoa squares. Not mega-dark, granted, but just into that “Lookit me, I’m so cool, I ea– oh, man, this is frickin’ delicious” zone.

              *proofreads* Yep, bedtime.

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              kfix says:

              That may explain certain things about me. Interesting. Don’t care, still eating it.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            I don’t really like milk chocolate anymore : it generally has too much sugar to my taste, and less *chocolate* taste to boot. Though I also don’t particularly enjoy chocolate so dark it becomes bitter. Except with even bitterer coffee.

            All the while I think I also now eat more chocolate than before when I still liked milk chocolate…

          • Windows98 says:

            I give this exact advice to people too, dark chocolate scratches the sweet itch much harder than anything else.

    6. Robstafarian says:

      Regarding Thing 6: You seem to have missed Chris Lee’s Op-Ed On Ars Technica, which criticizes that endeavor’s inherent ethical breaches. My own take is that illustration by demonstration (e.g. Anonymous) is never a good idea.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Fascinating link, thanks. My takeaway is that the authors took the piss out of a whole bunch of gullible journalists and consumers as a form of entertainment both for themselves and others, making them no better than any other internet troll despite their attempt to wrap the whole exercise in pseudo-scientific credibility.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          My take is they used math and scientific language to lie to a bunch of people (who probably should have done a better job fact checking) to further their careers (profit). I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the journalists they fooled but I’ve greater contempt for their stunt.

          • AngoraFish says:

            I think, perhaps, that your take and my take are the same?

      • Gap Gen says:

        I’ve kinda got to the point where I expect science journalism in the mainstream media to kill people occasionally (see the MMR thing) and there’s not much anyone can do about it short of destroying Western capitalism in its current form.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          Its not just science journalism – ask anyone who’s an expert in something what they think of the quality of journalism in their field is like.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        “Do the ends justify the means?” Hmm, maybe?
        “Are there better means by which the same ends can be achieved?” If there are, nobody seems like it has used them successfully, considering the state of the health industry.
        IMHO making people believe that (dark) chocolate helps weight loss is pretty benign.
        And hopefully this will finally make some people wake up and help with better standards in science and science reporting.
        Putting the blame on the trickster is ridiculous when you consider how much the health industry has contributed to the destruction of the respectability of science :
        link to

        • AngoraFish says:

          It’s not benign though. It feeds into a pretty popular and widely accepted myth, based on a wide range of similarly misinterpreted scientific studies, that chocolate in general is basically a health food.

          Given that obesity is arguably the greatest health crisis of the developed world, what the entire exercise has done is create one more (false) data point to reinforce what is already an extremely unhealthy message. They may as well have produced a “smoking is good for you” study instead, although of course nowadays that wouldn’t receive anything like the same amount of traction.

          What the documentary makers might have done instead, as the editorial correctly points out, is demolish a few of the other myths around chocolate’s supposed health benefits, since there are no shortage of examples of exactly the same thing on exactly the same topic already.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            Sorry, but I don’t think you can put dark chocolate wrt obesity on the same level as smoking wrt cancer.

            I’m a bit concerned that some people might be misled into thinking that high-sugar content milk chocolate (and associated sweets) are not that bad, or even good for your health (while diabetes can be a concern here), but still – not nearly on the same level as smoking.

    7. Awesomeclaw says:

      RE the Twitterbots, a friend of mine (who also knows George Buckenham) created Legit VG Cheats: link to, which produces such reliable cheat codes as “In World Championship Boxing Manager, in order to get all parrots, press Home 24 times, then press ↖ 4 times.” and “In Dig-Dug, in order to catch Mew-Two, press ←↙↓+A.”

    8. ffordesoon says:

      Re the “Oldest Person” article:

      Chop the “Why” off and you have a decent title for an SF short.

    9. Raoul Duke says:

      “The average age of the oldest-ever people has increased over the past 40 years from around 112 to around 114.”

      Surely this quote can’t be right – “oldest-ever” implies that the only new additions to the group are older than the previous members. Taking an “average” of such a data set makes little sense.