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Readings: 3 May 2016

Tina Rosenberg reports (in The Guardian) on a homeless shelter in Ottawa that stabilizes the lives of alcoholics by giving them alcohol under supervision:

The pour is calculated for each resident to be just enough to stave off the shakes and sweats of detox, which for alcohol is particularly unpleasant – seizures from alcohol deprivation can be fatal. The pour is strictly regulated: Young cuts off anyone who comes in intoxicated. They won’t be given another drink until they sober up.

Computational Imagination asked Tim Hopper how he stays current professionally:

Twitter! It would be hard to overestimate the value of following a bunch of smart, technical people over the last 5 years. Twitter keeps me apprised to what tools people are using, what things people are reading, what conferences people are attending. It gives me the opportunity to quickly bounce ideas off some of the brightest minds I know. I often end up at other websites related to my profession, but I almost always find them from Twitter.

I couldn’t agree more – to the general population, I think Twitter comes off as completely inane, but it has been a gold mine for easy access to the larger technical community. And of course, I follow Tim on Twitter to learn about interesting developments in Python data analysis tools and applied math.

The physics, math, and computer science communities publish their work on the pre-print server, so it can be available before journal publication. Airbnb has created what sounds like their own pre-print server for internal data analysis:

With these tenets in mind, we surveyed the existing set of tools that had solved these problems in isolation. We noticed that R Markdowns and iPython notebooks solved the issue of reproducibility by marrying code and results. Github provided a framework for a review process, but wasn’t well adapted to content outside of code and writing, such as images. Discoverability was usually based on folder organization, but other sites such as Quora were structuring many-to-one topic inheritance with tags. Learning was based on whatever code had been committed online, or via personal relationships.

Together, we combined these ideas into one system. Our solution combines a process around contributing and reviewing work, with a tool to present and distribute it. Internally, we call it the Knowledge Repo.

I would love to see an open-source version of this.

Sarah Perry has been writing on ribbonfarm about the value and consequences of ritual for the last year or so – her “Ritual Epistemology” (from last November) has been my favorite so far:

Objectively, our modern justice system may be no better at arriving at truth and justice than the Grand Amphibian system. But that is not its true purpose. The point is to resolve disputes in a manner that is generally recognized as final, such that its decisions have the reasonable support and respect of the community. A purely rational system that dispenses with ceremony in favor of accuracy would likely not serve this purpose at all. “Bring on the handcuffs,” perhaps – and the black robes, imposing architecture, and arcane rules.

This is the post-rationalist critique: that irrational-seeming systems often serve the interests of people better than purely rational systems that attempt to dispense with ceremony.