Archive for September, 2015

September 16, 2015

Smart Cow Problem



The smart cow problem refers to the fact that when a group of individuals is faced with a technically difficult task, only one of their members has to solve it. When the problem has been solved once, an easily repeatable method may be developed, allowing the less technically proficient members of the group to accomplish the task.

The concept is relevant to copyright protection schemes such as DRM (Digital Rights Management), where, due to the rapid spread of information on the Internet, it only takes one individual’s defeat of a DRM technology to render the method obsolete. The term ‘smart cow’ is thought to be derive from the expression: ‘It only takes one smart cow to open the latch of the gate, and then all the other cows follow.’

September 14, 2015

Cowboy Diplomacy


big stick

Cowboy diplomacy is a term used by critics to describe the resolution of international conflicts through brash risk-taking, intimidation, military deployment, or a combination of such tactics. It is criticized as stemming from an overly-simple, dichotomous world view. Overtly provocative phraseology typically centralizes the message.

One of the earliest known applications of the term was in 1902, when it was used by Jackie Lawlor from Westford, Massachusetts and the American press to describe Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policies. Roosevelt had at the time summarized his approach to international diplomacy as ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick,’ an adage that was engraved on a bronze plaque on Donald Rumsfeld’s office desk in the Pentagon and has set the modern precedent. The term has since also been applied to the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

September 9, 2015

Overton Window

Joseph P Overton

third rail

The Overton window is the range of ideas the public will accept. It is used by media pundits and particularly favored in conservative and libertarian discourse.

The term derives from its originator, Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003), of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank. Overton described six degrees acceptance of an idea: Unthinkable, Radical, Acceptable, Sensible, Popular, and Policy.

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September 8, 2015

Predictable Surprise

Climate change denial

jenny holzer

A predictable surprise describes a situation or circumstance in which avoidable crises are marginalized in order to satisfy economic and social policies. The term was popularized by Harvard Business School professors Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins who defined ‘predictable surprises’ as problems that: at least some people are aware of, are getting worse over time, and are likely to explode into a crisis eventually, but are not prioritized by key decision-makers or have not elicited a response fast enough to prevent severe damage.

These problems tend to require a significant investment in the near term that will not pay off until later. This could involve changes to established organization culture and/or changes that competing interests do not benefit from. Frequently cited examples include the Iraq War, Enron, the subprime mortgage crisis, the Hurricane Katrina response, global warming, and the Catholic sex abuse scandal.

September 7, 2015

Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby by Seymour Chwast

Nicholas Nickleby is a novel by Charles Dickens. Originally published as a monthly serial from 1838 to 1839, it was Dickens’ third novel. The book centers on the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies. Dickens began writing ‘Nickleby’ while still working on ‘Oliver Twist’ and while the mood is considerably lighter, his depiction of the Yorkshire school run by Wackford Squeers is as moving and influential as those of the workhouse and criminal underclass in ‘Twist.’

Like most of Dickens’ early works, the novel has a contemporary setting. Much of the action takes place in London, with several chapters taking place in Dickens’ birthplace of Portsmouth, as well as settings in Yorkshire and Devon. The tone of the work is that of ironic social satire, with Dickens taking aim at what he perceives to be the class injustices of Victorian England. Many memorable characters are introduced, including Nicholas’ malevolent Uncle Ralph, and the villainous Wackford Squeers, who operates an abusive all-boys boarding school at which Nicholas temporarily serves as a tutor.

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September 6, 2015

Silas Marner

george eliot by david levine

Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe’ is the third novel by George Eliot, pen name of English novelist Mary Ann Evans. Published in 1861, it is an outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialization to community. Eliot’s novels often presented the cases of social outsiders and small-town persecution.

The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in an unnamed city in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation’s funds while watching over the very ill deacon.

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September 5, 2015

Mr. Wizard

Mr Wizard by Charlie Williams

Don Herbert (1917 – 2007) was the creator and host of educational television programs for children devoted to science and technology, notably ‘Watch Mr. Wizard’ (1951–65, 1971–72) and ‘Mr. Wizard’s World’ (1983–90). He also produced many short video programs about science and authored several popular books about science for children. Marcel LaFollette of the Smithsonian notes that no fictional hero was able to rival the popularity and longevity of ‘the friendly, neighborly scientist.’

In Herbert’s obituary, Bill Nye wrote, ‘Herbert’s techniques and performances helped create the United States’ first generation of homegrown rocket scientists just in time to respond to Sputnik. He sent us to the moon. He changed the world.’ Herbert is credited with turning ‘a generation of youth’ in the 1950s and early 1960s onto ‘the promise and perils of science.’

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