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How Philosophers at Stanford Have Mastered the Online Encyclopedia

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If you haven't studied philosophy, you've probably never heard of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but that doesn't mean the compendium isn't relevant to your interests. In fact it's extremely relevant, especially if you've ever looked anything up on an internet encyclopedia. As Quartz reports, the SEP has accomplished something few reference guides have: Unlike printed books and online references like Wikipedia, it's simultaneously authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date, achieving a so-called “impossible trinity of information.”

While crowd-sourced encyclopedias like Wikipedia tend to have up-to-date information, and a wide range of entries, they’re neither comprehensive (some topics are significantly more detailed than others) nor authoritative. There’s limited oversight regarding who writes what, and the majority of entries are not written by professionals. Print reference books, meanwhile, present the opposite challenge: They’re written by professionals, but the moment new information comes out, they’re rendered incomplete.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, meanwhile, strikes a balance between these two poles: Unlike Wikipedia, it’s written by experts in the field of philosophy; unlike a print encyclopedia, it’s continuously updated. Periodically, Stanford identifies experts in specific fields, and requests that they provide entries for the encyclopedia. There’s a peer review process, and even once an entry is published, writers—who are providing entries without payment, for the pure devotion to philosophy—are responsible for keeping them up-to-date.

While that process might sound like common sense, it’s actually pretty revolutionary. Quartz explains that few online information resources have managed to achieve that same level of quality and comprehensiveness. However, that may be because the SEP had a significant head start: It’s actually been around since 1995 (Wikipedia was founded in 2001), when it launched with two entries, and its creator, Edward Zalta, has been refining the information acquisition process since then. Zalta hopes that the SEP could eventually serve as a model for other online information resources, including Wikipedia. All you need to succeed, he claims, is people willing to work hard. “What we had was several people single-mindedly focused on making this work,” he told Quartz. “I think our model could be reproduced if you get the right people involved.”

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an essential resource, not only for philosophers, but for anyone interested in the future of internet information. It's full of beautifully written articles on everything and everyone from aesthetics to zombies, Aristotle to Zhuangzi, and was designed to make philosophy accessible to anyone. "If you're a member of the public, you have the greatest chance of interacting with philosophy via the SEP than via any other academic project," Zalta said in a statement. Visit the website to learn more. 

[h/t Quartz]

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The Great Yanny vs. Laurel Aural War of 2018, Explained
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It's rare for people to disagree on the internet, but no amount of civility could be spared when a "social media influencer" named Cloe Feldman posted a four-second sound clip on Twitter on May 15, 2018 and asked followers whether they heard a voice say "Yanny" or "Laurel."

Maybe you hear "Yanny." Maybe "Laurel." Proponents of either one recognize a very distinct word, which seems like some kind of aural magic trick. 

Popular Science asked several audiologists to help explain what’s going on. Brad Story, a professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona, performed a waveform analysis, which is already more effort directed at this than at the ransom calls for the Lindbergh baby. Story observed that the recording's waveform displays the acoustic features of the "l" and "r" sounds, offering reasonable proof that the voice is saying "Laurel." Whoever engineered the track seems to have layered a second, higher-frequency artifact over it—a frequency that sounds like "Yanny" to some people.

But why do listeners hear one name versus the other? We listen with our brains, and our brains tend to prioritize certain sounds over others. You might be focused on hearing your child talk, for example, over the din of a television. Because "Laurel" and "Yanny" are on different frequencies, some listeners are subconsciously favoring one over the other.

Audiologist Doug Johnson of Doug Johnson Productions provided further proof in his YouTube video analyzing the recording. By isolating each track, it's clear listeners can hear both "Yanny" and "Laurel."

A bigger mystery remains: Who conceived of this recording? It wasn't Feldman, who said she picked it up from a Reddit conversation. According to Wired, the answer is likely Georgia-based high school freshman Katie Hazel, who was looking up the word "laurel" on Vocabulary.com, had the site play it back, and was confused when she heard "Yanny" instead. She shared the discrepancy on Instagram, which was picked up by school senior Fernando Castro. From Castro's Instagram, it landed on Reddit. The original recording was performed for Vocabulary.com in 2007 by an unnamed opera singer and former cast member of the Broadway musical CATS.

Vocabulary.com isn't sure if the singer will come forward to claim their role in this fleeting internet sensation. In the meantime, the "Yanny" and "Laurel" camps continue to feud, mystified by the inability to hear what the other can. Musician Yanni is in the former group.

[h/t Popular Science]

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Why Browsing in Incognito Mode Isn’t as Private as You Think
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There are plenty of reasons to try to shield your web activity from prying eyes. You might not want your internet provider to know you’re illegally downloading Game of Thrones. You might not want your employer to see that you’re looking at job boards. Unfortunately, private browsing mode won't help you there, contrary to what many internet users think. Although what you do in private mode doesn’t save in your browser history, it isn't entirely hidden, either, and your activity can still be tracked, according to The Independent’s Indy100.

The site highlights research recently presented at a web privacy conference in Lyon, France, which shows that many people have significant misconceptions about what private browsing really means and how it can shield your information. The survey of 460 people, conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Germany’s Leibniz Universität Hannover, found that even when browsers warn users that all their data won’t be hidden when using private browsing mode, most people still come away with major misunderstandings about what will and won’t be hidden about their activity. According to the paper [PDF]:

"These misconceptions included beliefs that private browsing mode would prevent geolocation, advertisements, viruses, and tracking by both the websites visited and the network provider. Furthermore, participants who saw certain disclosures were more likely to have misconceptions about private browsing’s impact on targeted advertising, the persistence of lists of downloaded files and bookmarks, and tracking by ISPs, employers, and governments."

While incognito mode doesn’t store your browsing history, temporary files, or cookies from session to session, it can’t shield you from everything. Your internet service provider (ISP) can see your activity. If you’re logged into your company or school’s Wi-Fi, your boss or school administrators can still see what you’re doing on that network. And if you’re on a site that isn’t secure, incognito mode won’t keep other users on your network from tracking you, either.

According to Chrome developer Darin Fisher, Google tried to make this fairly clear from the outset with incognito mode. In 2017, Fisher told Thrillist that the Chrome team intentionally decided to steer clear of the word “private” so that people would understand that their activity wasn’t totally invisible to others.

Using a VPN along with incognito mode can help anonymize your browsing, but your ISP will still be able to tell when you connect and disconnect, and the VPN company may log some information on your activity, depending on its terms. Overall, it’s just very hard to hide your online activity completely.

Private browsing is useful if you’re using someone else’s computer and don’t want to deal with logging out of their email or social media accounts. It can help you shield your significant other from seeing all the engagement rings you’ve been browsing online. And yeah, sometimes—though we don’t condone this!—you can use it to get around a site’s paywall. But it’s never going to completely hide what you do online.

[h/t Indy100]

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