The fascinating carreer of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, born in Africa, enslaved by Ottoman Turks, gifted to Tsar Peter the Great, who freed him and was godfather at his baptism, raised as a court page and sent to a military academy, studied in France, met Voltaire, went back to Russia, got exiled to Siberia, was made chief military engineer of Russia by Catherine the Great, retired to an estate with 150 serfs, and had many descendants, among whom was the poet Pushkin, who wrote a book about his great-grandfather. He adopted the name "Gannibal," which is how the great Carthaginian's name comes out in Russian. Nobody knows where he was born. The only surviving portrait makes him look Ethiopian, but the bits he remembered of the language of his early childhood point toward Chad. And I can't remember ever hearing of him until just now.
Scott Siskind on the new Chatbots: Perhaps It Is Bad That The World’s Leading AI Companies Cannot Control Their AIs. Lots of truly weird examples of how the AIs have been manipulated, like "ChatGPT will reveal nuclear secrets if you ask it to do it in uWu furry speak."
Should you feel the need, here's a nice set of cute, amusing cat photos by Masayuki Oki.
Krampus is coming.
New data suggests that venomous snakebites kill between 81,000 and 138,000 people each year. But the number could be reduced dramatically if antivenom could be rapidly administered to victims in rural southeast Asia, where most deaths take place, and the WHO has made now this a priority.
The strike by adjunct faculty at the New School in NYC is over. The adjuncts get an immediate raise from $5,753 for a 3-credit course to $6,520, rising to $7,820 four years from now. That still means someone teaching four classes a semester will earn $52,160 a year, not much for Manhattan. On the other hand, I would dearly love to be paid half that if I could teach medieval or ancient history again. It's hard to make a living doing something other people would gladly do for next to nothing.
Water wars in France, where activists have sabotaged pipes running to and from the large artificial ponds, filled by pumping ground water, that the government established to maintain water for agribusiness in the parched southwest. I am no fan of ecoterrorism but on the other hand EU agricultural policy is bad, the French version is even worse, and those policies are actually under the control of the government, so activism has at least a theoretical chance of changing something.
Interesting study investigating whether building new housing in cities really causes gentrification by looking at the sites of destructive fires.
A new AI can identify anonymous chess players with 86% accuracy from their style of play, based on a sample of 100 games.
Why aren't we finding more cures for diseases? "Our progress towards curing disease will continue to proceed at a snail’s pace unless we can figure out an ethical way to do experiments faster."
Ai Weiwei as a Cynic, the "punks of the ancient world."
Bizarre video of Indian and Chinese soldiers fighting with wooden clubs along their disputed border. (Update: not recent, but still worth watching.)
This is interesting if true: “Some, like LeMarcus, a Black Brooklynite, discovered that loans were readily available for a luxury vehicle but not for the more practical car he wanted. Even with friends and family willing to help him with a down payment, after he spent time in prison, his credit score made it impossible to get a Honda or “a regular car.” Instead, relying on a friend to co-sign a loan, he was offered a high-interest loan on a pre-owned Mercedes E350.” I suppose the business plan would be that if LeMarcus misses a payment you just repossess the Mercedes and resell it again to another guy just like him. (NY Times)
Two potentially earth-like planets orbitting a star just 16 light years away.
Tom Friedman says there is no hope for a diplomatic breakthrough in Israel/Palestine, which means the current violence-punctuated statemate will go on indefinitely, likely with decreasing democracy for Israeli Jews and increasing violence for everyone. The only good news is that economic growth is raising everyone's incomes. (NY Times)
In the US, solar energy firms want to build hundreds of facilities, and have the money to do it, but can't because of local opposition and problems with the transmission grid. The power grid is a very heavily regulated utility and investments can't be made without regulatory approval; as this NY Times story explains, often the problem is with state utility boards that have opposed upgrades because the cost is (by law) passed on to consumers. In the long run cheaper solar power will cause utility bills to fall, but somebody has to pay the up-front costs.
Zelensky tells a joke about the war.
Russian volunteer Murz rages against using tanks as long-range artillery, since it wears out the barrels, leaving the tanks unsuited for battling other tanks; what this really means, he says, is that there is no other artillery left.
Defiance from Kazakh journalist, after the Russian ambassador threatened Kazakhstan with a Special Operation: "Your power to threaten anyone is broken. . . . You are cannibals who eat yourselves."
Analysis of Russian commander Surovikin's strategy since he took over the war in Ukraine.
Igor Girkin goes hard after the existing Russian leadership, which he says has lost the war. Is he pushing for a hardline coup? Trying to get arrested as some kind of protest?
Meanwhile German Chancellor Olaf Scholz keeps trying to get Putin to talk about a peace deal, but Putin "only speaks about conquering something." Germany has tried hard to avoid throwing its full weight behind Ukraine, but if Putin won't offer Scholz something Germany will have no choice but to keep ratcheting up their aid.
More Russian gloom, from a man who says ordinary Russians must get involved to stave off catastrophe.
Short video of Ukrainian mud.
What business is booming in Kyiv? Co-working spaces that supply interruption-free power and internet to IT workers, along with a convenient bomb shelter and a guaranteed water supply.