Monday Miscellany: Holograms, Hot Pockets, Helping Hands

1. You Won’t Believe What These Telescopes Found

2. Russia, annoyed with people parking in the handicapped spots, has guilt-tripping holograms of disabled people there to lecture cars without handicapped insignia.

3. Initial results from an attempt to replicate 100 psychology studies.

An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced.

But the situation is more nuanced than the top-line numbers suggest (See graphic, ‘Reliability test’). Of the 61 non-replicated studies, scientists classed 24 as producing findings at least “moderately similar” to those of the original experiments, even though they did not meet pre-established criteria, such as statistical significance, that would count as a successful replication.

4. Photographic printing: optimized for white skin.

Until very recently, if you got a roll of film printed in a photo lab, it was very, very likely that the shots were calibrated against a photo of a caucasian woman wearing black and white on a grey background. It didn’t matter what color your skin was or what color your subjects’ skin was, or what anybody was wearing. No matter what the model’s name was, technicians called the woman in the card “Shirley” after Shirley Page, the first woman to pose for one. Once she was on that card, she was “Shirley,” and her skin set the tone.

“She was the standard,” photo technician Jersson Garcia told NPR, “whenever we printed anything, we had to pull Shirley in. If Shirley looked good, everything else was OK. If Shirley didn’t look so hot that day, we had to tweak something — something was wrong.”

Color processing is an complicated and delicate operation with a lot of variables — the proportion of different chemicals in the developing solution, the timing of the different steps. Kodak distributed Shirley cards and the unexposed negatives of Shirley cards to photo labs as a mechanism of quality control. If the white dress looked yellow, or Shirley’s peach skin looked blue, or if her exquisite features were washed-out, the lab knew it had goofed up somewhere along the line.

6. Ozy on praiseworthiness.

7. Interested in helping out in Nepal? GiveWell collects advice based on their experiences in disaster relief.

Things I read this week:

Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle
Dark fiction, with a gamemaster main character. Very good.

To Be a Friend Is Fatal, Kirk Johnson
An American who worked in Iraq, on the plight of Iraqis employed by the U.S. government. Nice detour into the history of helping (or abandoning) native employees during wartime.

The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks
Agnosias are really damn fascinating.

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