Pluralistic: 27 Aug 2020

Today's links

Principles for platform regulation (permalink)

As the EU works through the contours of the new Digital Services Act, my EFF colleagues Svea Windwehr, Christoph Schmon and Jillian York have published a set of four principles for sound digital platform regulation.

I. Give Users Control Over Content: Let users decide how their feeds are ordered, mandate interop so that it's easy for users to install plugins that do this work for them, ban ToS that forbids reverse-engineering and interconnection.

Abandon the idea that platforms have the final word about what is and isn't objectionable and/or harassing. Let users choose what they want to block and what they want to see, rather than petitioning platforms and hoping they get a hearing.

II: Algorithmic Transparency: Platforms should divulge the criteria they use for recommendation and flagging, and explain in clear terms when/why/how algorithmic systems are used. Allow third-party and regulatory audits of algorithms.

III. Accountable Governance: Make platforms notify, explain and consult on content policy changes, require meaningful consent to new policies and allow for opt-outs, and make policies machine readable and accessible to humans without specialized knowledge.

IV. Right to Anonymity Online: Ditch "real names" proposals aimed at fighting disinformation and respect the will of individuals not to disclose their identities online.

That was my summary, but I urge you to read the original: as befits their prodigious communications skills, it's a sprightly and eminently readable doc!

Hagoromo, mathematicians' cult chalk (permalink)

Mathematicians have an almost mystical reverence for Hagoromo chalk, a Japanese stationery product that was manufactured from 1932 to 2015, when the company shuttered, prompting mass panic-purchasing of the remaining stock.

In a multimedia piece for CNN, Trisha Gopal, Jacqueline Omanoff and Evan Chung give us a taste of how mathematicians describe the chalk:

"It'd be like Picasso using Sharpies on a piece of waxed paper instead of using an actual canvas and oil paints…It's like skiing fresh powder." -David Bayer/Barnard College, on why he won't use other chalk

"The legend around this chalk is that it's impossible to write a false theorem using the chalk, but I think I've disproved that…" -David Eisenbud/UC Berkeley

"Hagoromo definitely has a cult following, but that cult might be nearly all mathematicians at this point." -Wei Ho/UMich

"I assume the special ingredient in Hagoromo is angel tears" -Max Lieblich/U Washington

Mathematicians who hoarded the final production run sell the chalk at steep markups, up to $25/box.

But there's another supplier: Shin Hyeong-seok is a Korean teacher who discovered Hagoromo on a trip to Japan and fell in love with it.

Shin cultivated a relationship with Takayasu Watanabe, president of Hagoromo and grandson of its founder; when Watanabe was dying of cancer in 2014, Shin talked him into transfering the manufacture to a new company Shin founded in Korea.

Prior to his death, Watanabe blessed Shin's first batches of chalk, giving them his stamp of approval. Today, that chalk is manufactured under the name "Fulltouch" by Shin's company, Sejong Mall.

(Image: Contri, CC BY-SA)

Gender and the Hugo Awards (permalink)

Swarthmore CS/Linguistics undergrad Jake Chanenson did some data-mining for an intro stats course to investigate the relationship between gender and science fiction's Hugo Awards.

He mined 11 years' worth of Hugo data for best novel/novella/novelette, cross referenced it with authors' Wikipedia entries to ascribe their pronouns, and analyzed the results.

He excluded multi-author works for convenience and caveats that this skews the results a little, as did his decision to exclude the short story category.

That said, the outcomes are pretty stark.

What's more, the gender bias gets worse the deeper you dig, because a small number of prodigiously talented women dominate the she/her category – meaning the median male author has a much higher chance at a nomination than the median woman author.

That is, when you look at authors, rather than nominations, you find that about a third of the she/her results come from a small cohort of prodigiously talented women.

It's even worse for nonbinary people: "Representation for people who donโ€™t use she/her or he/him pronouns is abysmal at just 3 out of 118 nominated authors over the past 11 years."

Outdoor education beat TB in 1907 (permalink)

In 1907, a pair of Rhode Island physicians created an experimental, year-round, outdoor school in hopes of curbing a raging TB epidemic, where students learned in insulated bags with heated soapstones placed at their feet.

The experiment worked: there were zero TB transmissions among students. Two years later, there were 65 open-air schools across the region.

As Ginia Bellafante writes in the NYT, there's a growing body of evidence in support of outdoor education even when there isn't a pandemic, and during THIS pandemic, there's good evidence that being outdoors seriously reduces transmission risk.

Bellafante moots sending K-2 students – a third of NYC's student body, and the kids who'll struggle most with maintaining distance and hygiene – to outdoor schools in community parks, freeing up space in school buildings.

NYC has a surprising amount of parkland, and it's well-distributed, with sufficient outdoor spaces even in low income neighborhoods.

And as she points out, the challenges of teaching in a park are not any greater than the challenges of teaching over Zoom.

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Elaborate spear-phishing attempt against global Iranian and free speech activists, including an EFF staffer

#5yrsago Rowlf the dog gives a dramatic reading of "Grim Grinning Ghosts."

#5yrsago After Katrina, FBI prioritized cellphone surveillance

#5yrsago Germany's spy agency gave the NSA the private data of German citizens in exchange for Xkeyscore access

#1yrago Rage Inside the Machine: an insightful, brilliant critique of AI's computer science, sociology, philosophy and economics

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Memex 1.1 (, Kottke (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 542 words (54201 total).

Currently reading: Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum.

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