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October 16, 2015

Scam Baiting


419 scam by Robert Neubecker

Scam baiting is a form of Internet vigilantism, where the vigilante poses as a potential victim to the scammer in order to waste their time and resources, gather information that will be of use to authorities, and publicly expose the scammer. It is primarily used to thwart advance-fee fraud scams (e.g. ‘Nigerian Prince’ scams) and can be done out of a sense of civic duty (activism) by documenting scammers tools and methods, warning potential victims, or taking down fake websites.

A bait is very simply initiated, by answering a scam email, from a throwaway email account, i.e. one that is only used for baiting and untraceable back to the actual owner. The baiter then pretends to be receptive to the financial hook that the scammer is using, but requires increasingly ridiculous forms of security from the scammer before turning over funds. Scam baiters typically use jest in their attacks. However, some scam baiters have been accused of abject mockery, racism, and homophobia, and even scamming themselves.

October 3, 2015

Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein

Adderall Me

Joshua Foer (b. 1982) is a freelance journalist living in Connecticut, with a primary focus on hard sciences. He was the 2006 USA Memory Champion, whichwas described in his 2011 book, ‘Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.’ Foer set a new US record in the ‘speed cards’ event by memorizing a deck of 52 cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds. His book describes his journey from participatory journalist to national champion mnemonist, under the tutelage of British Grand Master of Memory, Ed Cooke. Penguin paid a $1.2 million advance for publishing rights, and the film rights were optioned by Columbia Pictures shortly after publication.

Foer was born in Washington, DC to Esther Foer, Director of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, and Albert Foer, the president of the American Antitrust Institute, an antitrust watchdog. He is the younger brother of former ‘The New Republic’ editor Franklin Foer and novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. Josh has organized several websites and organizations based on his interests. He created the ‘Athanasius Kircher Society,’ which had only one session, featuring savant Kim Peek and proto-astronaut Joseph Kittinger. He is the co-founder of the ‘Atlas Obscura,’ an online compendium of ‘The World’s Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica.’ He is also a co-organizer of ‘Sukkah City’ a Kosher architectural design competition, and Sefaria, a non-profit dedicated to building digital experiences and infrastructure for Jewish texts.

November 3, 2014

Near-death Experience

heaven help us by Alex Eben Meyer

Near-death experiences (NDE) are associated with several common phenomena such as feelings of detachment from the body, levitation, serenity, security, warmth, dissolution, and bright light. These sensations are usually reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead or has been very close to death. With recent developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of reported NDEs has increased. According to a 1992 Gallup poll, approximately eight million Americans claim to have had a near-death experience. Popular interest in the topic was initially sparked by psychiatrist Raymond Moody’s 1975 book ‘Life After Life,’ in which he interviewed 150 people who had undergone NDEs.

In 1981, the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) was founded and the following year began publishing the ‘Journal of Near-Death Studies,’ the only peer-reviewed journal in the field. Research from neuroscience considers the NDE to be a hallucination resulting from one or more of several conditions including cerebral anoxia (insufficient oxygen to the brain), hypercarbia (elevated carbon dioxide in the blood), or damage to the temporal lobes (which are responsible for giving meaning to events). Spiritual thinkers and an parapsychologists have long pointed to NDEs as evidence for an afterlife and mind-body dualism.

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August 30, 2014


wim hof

Human echolocation

A superhuman is a person with extraordinary and unusual capabilities enabling feats beyond anything a layperson could conceivably achieve, even through extensive training. Superhuman can mean an improved human, for example, by genetic modification, cybernetic implants, nanotechnology, or natural evolution. Occasionally, it could mean an otherwise ‘normal’ human with purported super-abilities, such as psychic/psionic powers, levitation or flight, herculean strength, or unique proficiency at some task.

Superhuman can also mean something that is not human, but considered to be ‘superior’ to humans in some ways. This might include a robot that easily passed the Turing test (an indicator of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior) that possessed greater than human strength, which is already common in robots today. A very intelligent or strong alien could be considered superhuman. In its most basic sense it means anything beyond (typical) human capabilities, e.g. a tiger may be described as having ‘superhuman strength.’

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June 17, 2014

Letter and Spirit of the Law


pound of flesh

The letter of the law versus the spirit of the law is an idiomatic antithesis (a common expression where two opposites are introduced for contrasting effect): When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words (the ‘letter’) of the law, but not the intent of those who wrote the law. Conversely, when one obeys the spirit of the law but not the letter, one is doing what the authors of the law intended, though not necessarily adhering to the literal wording.

‘Law’ originally referred to legislative statute, but in the idiom may refer to any kind of rule. Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language.

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March 9, 2013

Smart Mob

art mob

improv everywhere

A smart mob is a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links, enabling people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination. Parallels are made to, for instance, slime molds.

The concept was introduced by author and cultural critic Howard Rheingold in his 2002 book ‘Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.’ According to Rheingold, smart mobs are an indication of the evolving communication technologies that will empower the people. Smart mobs sometimes are manipulated by the dispatchers who control the ‘mobbing system’ (i.e., those who own the contact list and the means to forward instant messages to a group) and are induced to cause distress and aggravation to individuals who have been targeted or singled out for whatever reason. There is a tendency to keep the dynamics of smart mobbing ‘covert,’ and not to discuss such incidents on the internet.

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December 6, 2012

Terrorism Market


Dumb agent theory

The Policy Analysis Market (PAM), part of the FutureMAP project, was a proposed futures exchange developed by the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and based on an idea first proposed by Net Exchange, a San Diego research firm specializing in the development of online prediction markets. PAM was to be ‘a market in the future of the Middle East,’ and would have allowed trading of futures contracts based on possible political developments in several Middle Eastern countries.

The theory behind such a market is that the monetary value of a futures contract on an event reflects the probability that that event will actually occur, since a market’s actors rationally bid a contract either up or down based on reliable information. One of the models for PAM was a political futures market run by the University of Iowa, which had predicted U.S. election outcomes more accurately than either opinion polls or political pundits. PAM was also inspired by the work of George Mason University economist Robin Hanson.

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September 10, 2012

Amazon Tax

Amazon tax has been criticized for collecting sales taxes from customers in only the five states it has a major presence in. Several states have passed or are considering ‘Amazon tax‘ laws designed to compel Amazon to collect local sales and use taxes from customers. The U.S. has no federal sales tax. In most countries where Amazon operates, a sales tax or value added (consumption) tax is uniform throughout the country, and Amazon is obliged to collect it from all customers.

Proponents argue that Amazon has a comparative advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers, and the online company is under increasing legal and political pressure from state governments, traditional retailers and other groups because of its refusal to collect sales tax in 40 of the 45 states with a statewide sales tax. Those 40 states include at least 12 where Amazon has a clear physical presence via distribution centers and wholly owned subsidiaries.

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January 30, 2012

Positivity Effect


parental hindsight by lisa maltby

In psychology and cognitive science, the positivity effect is the tendency to make situational attributions about negative behaviors and dispositional attributions about positive behaviors for individuals one prefers.The term also refers to age differences in emotional attention and memory. Studies have found that older adults are more likely than younger adults to pay attention to positive than negative stimuli. In addition, compared with younger adults’ memories, older adults’ memories are more likely to consist of positive than negative information and more likely to be distorted in a positive direction. This version of the positivity effect was coined by Laura L. Carstensen’s research team.

Gender roles effect the behavior of the individual as well, and how they perceive others. Males tend to take more dominant roles, whereas females tend to be more nurturing and caregiving. Person-perception studies state that the characteristics of the perceiver are as important as the characteristics of the one being perceived. Since females are deemed to be the more nurturing and selfless by nature, they perceive others more favorably than men do. This is known as the ‘Female Positivity Effect.’ For example, women are more likely to be social and agreeable in a group task situation whereas the males are going to be mainly focused on the task at hand.

January 24, 2012

Soft Money

soft money

Political money in the United States is often divided into two categories, ‘hard’ money and ‘soft’ money. ‘Hard’ money is contributed directly to a candidate of a political party. It is regulated by law in both source and amount, and monitored by the Federal Election Commission (maximum $2500). ‘Soft’ money is contributed to the political party as a whole. Historically, ‘soft money’ referred to contributions made to political parties for purposes of party building and other activities not directly related to the election of specific candidates. Because these contributions were not used for specific candidate advocacy, they were not regulated by the Federal Election Campaign Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as McCain-Feingold) prohibited unregulated contributions to national party committees.

‘Soft money’ also refers to unlimited contributions to organizations and committees other than candidate campaigns and political parties (except, where legal, to state and local parties for use solely in state and local races). Organizations which receive ‘Soft money’ contributions are often called ‘527s,’ for the section of the tax code under which they operate. The term is generally used to refer to independent, nonprofit political organizations that are not regulated by the FEC or by a state elections commission, and are not subject to the same contribution limits as PACs. Such organizations can legally engage in political activity, but funds from ‘soft money’ contributions may not be spent on ads promoting the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

November 25, 2011

Hysterical Contagion

june bug epidemic


Hysterical contagion occurs when a group of people show signs of a physical problem or illness, when in reality there are psychological and social forces at work. It is a strong form of social contagion, which describes the copycat effect of imitative behavior based on the power of suggestion and word of mouth influence, because the symptoms often include those associated with clinical hysteria. The June bug epidemic serves as a classic example of hysterical contagion. In 1962 a mysterious disease broke out in a dressmaking department of a US textile factory. The symptoms included numbness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. Word of a bug in the factory that would bite its victims and develop the above symptoms quickly spread.

Soon sixty two employees developed this mysterious illness, some of whom were hospitalized. The news media reported on the case. After research by company physicians and experts from the US Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center, it was concluded that the case was one of mass hysteria. While the researchers believed some workers were bitten by the bug, anxiety was likely the cause of the symptoms. No evidence was ever found for a bug which could cause the above flu-like symptoms, nor did all workers demonstrate bites. Workers concluded that the environment was quite stressful; the plant had recently opened, was quite busy and organization was poor. Further, most of the victims reported high levels of stress in their lives. Social forces seemed at work too.

November 9, 2011

Mozart Effect

mozart mom by neubecker

The Mozart effect can refer to: A set of research results that indicate that listening to Mozart’s music may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as spatial-temporal reasoning; popularized versions of the theory, which suggest that ‘listening to Mozart makes you smarter, or that early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development. The term was first coined by Alfred A. Tomatis who used Mozart’s music as the listening stimulus in his work attempting to cure a variety of disorders.

The approach has been popularized in a book by Don Campbell, and is based on an experiment published in ‘Nature’ suggesting that listening to Mozart temporarily boosted scores on one portion of the IQ test. As a result, the Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, proposed a budget to provide every child born in Georgia with a CD of classical music. Subsequent studies have had limited success duplicating the Mozart effect, and its validity is debated.