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August 2021 Archives

Jim Salter at Ars Technica: "Learn to think in sed, awk, and grep"

Saltar provides an overview of redirection and three commonly used command line tools in a nice article at Ars Technica. While these may seem like esoteric utilities, they can be truly useful for a variety of data cleaning and processing tasks. While the article doesn't provide a comprehensive overview of the commands -- it would be impossible to do so in anything short or readable -- it does help one understand how the commands work and how they can be used. A recommended, quick read and longer-term reference. (h/t sixcolors.com)

Data Science Community Newsletter: COVID on campus - Worse this year than last?

ADSA's Data Science Community Newsletter is an excellent resource for data science news. It is catered toward academics, but I think likely would be of interest to folks far beyond the academy. Among many interesting topics -- climate, civil liberties, arXiv's 30th birthday, a new CDC center directed by Marc Lipsitch (!!!) -- there was this:

On some campuses already back in session, COVID is already playing out with worse outcomes compared to the same time last year. University of Wisconsin-Madison, which does not have a vaccination mandate, set aside empty dorms and used empty hotels last year for quarantine. This year dorms are at full capacity, hotels are full of football fans, and sick students are lodged in several family housing units in a complex with children who cannot be vaccinated. At University of North Carolina Wilmington, Professor Kevin McClure tweeted that they added "another 122 positive cases [yesterday]. over 300 cases total. 52 out of 150 quarantine beds in use. This time last year we added 3 positive cases." It would be unwise to make any broader assumptions about college operations based on two schools. Dr. Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, said "We've only gotten 18 months into this pandemic, and the pandemic is going faster today than it was in 2020 and much of 2021." ... "We've had 5 pandemic changing variants in the last 6-9 months and that isn't going to slow down." Humility remains a virtue as we decide how to proceed.

Shocking and stupid that major universities are not mandating vaccines. Mine is.

"And so on. Or else."

Kurt Vonnegut:

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on--during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now?... Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

(h/t kottke.org)

"Face masks make it harder to hear, but amplification can help"

Teaching through a mask has been on my mind of late, as I am leading a large, in-person lecture class that starts in a couple of weeks. The University of Illinois Augmented Listening Laboratory has done a nice set of research on face masks, their impact on vocalization and hearing, and how amplification can help. They looked at a common set of available face masks, including cloth, flannel, N95s, KN95s, and surgical masks. They did not take into account filtration efficiency -- that is not their area of focus or specialization.

This research showed that more breathable masks, such as surgical masks and plain-weave cotton, transmit sound better than plastic windows and densely woven fabrics. It is important to note that we did not evaluate how effective the masks are at blocking droplet transmission; it is possible that the most effective masks against the virus are the least effective for sound, and vice versa. Fortunately, all masks seem to work well with lapel microphones, which could benefit teachers and others who will need to be heard while wearing a face mask.

This is helpful guidance. I wish they had put more emphasis on some of the masks that perform better from a filtration efficiency (for example, the KN94s). My current thinking, after reviewing their paper and discussions in more public forums is to stick with a KN94 or an N95 in the classroom with a lapel mic.

Clear communication: NYU's Céline Gounder on the Ezra Klein Show

Ezra Klein, early in the interview:

Wonderful. Thank you for talking with me, Dr. Gounder. I'm going to go walk into the ocean now.

and then, a bit later:

Céline Gounder
... one of the problems we've had throughout this pandemic, is we've looked for silver bullets, simple solutions, and there's not one simple solution here. You really do have to combine multiple different public health measures. So that includes encouraging people to mask up again indoors, especially if there's a lot of transmission, while at the same time, incentivizing people who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated for them to be able to return to a more normal life, for all of us to be able to return to a more normal life.