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facts & arguments


Reading for freedom

"Brazil will offer inmates in its crowded federal penitentiary system a novel way to shorten their sentences: four days less for every book they read," Reuters reports. "Inmates in four federal prisons holding some of Brazil's most notorious criminals will be able to read up to 12 works of literature, philosophy, science or classics to trim a maximum 48 days off their sentence each year, the government announced. Prisoners will have up to four weeks to read each book and write an essay which must 'make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing,' said the notice published on Monday in the official gazette."

No news is good news?

"The leader of a Russian nationalist party has suggested all the country's journalists take a one-month vacation to relieve the 'news pressure' on the public," reports United Press International. "Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), said his party wants the country to take a month off from the 'news pressure' by ceasing all news media operations for a full month … Mr. Zhirinovsky said the State Duma recently rejected an LDPR proposal to limit negative news to 20 per cent of all televised news stories."

Going my way?

"Feeling attracted to the person sitting next to you on the bus? There's a reason for that," writes Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard magazine. "Sharing a life's journey is more pleasant if you and your partner are on parallel paths – literally. Studies in the U.S. and Hong Kong found that greater satisfaction with romantic relationships arose when couples took roughly the same route to work. 'This was true regardless of whether the partners left for work at the same or different times,' a research team led by Irene Huang of the Chinese University of Hong Kong writes in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Researchers found this pattern in both an online survey of 280 married Americans, and a man-on-the-street survey of 139 married adults in Hong Kong who ride the subway to their place of employment. … The apparent reason for all the interpersonal bliss: on a symbolic level that resonates deep in our psyches, similar routes imply matching goals, and this convergence 'increases interpersonal attraction,' according to Ms. Huang and her colleagues."

Computers can spot cats

"A Google research team has trained a network of 1,000 computers wired up like a brain to recognize cats," BBC News reports. "The team built a neural network, which mimics the working of a biological brain, that worked out how to spot pictures of cats in just three days. The cat-spotting computer was created as part of a larger project to investigate machine learning. … The work of the team stands at odds with many image-recognition techniques, which depend on telling a computer to look for specific features of a target object before any are presented to it. By contrast, the Google machine knew nothing about the images it was to see. However, its 16,000 processing cores ran software that simulated the workings of a biological neural network ."

The machine always wins

A robotic hand designed by scientists at the University of Tokyo, Japan, will beat a person at rock-paper-scissors every single time, says The Daily Telegraph. "Rather than any magic or mathematical algorithm, the robotic hand in fact cheats its way to victory by 'seeing' which of the three hand-shapes its human rival is about to choose before making the form of rock, scissor or paper accordingly. Using advanced motion-sensing technology, the robot's analysis is so quick as to be imperceptible to the human eye. "

Thought du jour

The superficiality of the American is the result of his hustling. It needs leisure to think things out; it needs leisure to mature. People in a hurry cannot think, cannot grow.

Eric Hoffer

American social writer (1902-83)

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