January 22, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


Leonard Nimoy – The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins – This rivals the Debbie Reynolds video in absurdity. Perhaps, in his quest to shed the overly-logical Spock image, he thought this would help. Seems like the sort of thing designed to be used in psy ops program.

5 Chrome Extensions That Help You Save Money – The only one of these that I use regularly is the Camelizer. It’s great for seeing if that Amazon Deal is really much of a deal. It’s also good for putting alerts on things that you’ll be if the price drops enough.

Ask a Librarian: What’s the Strangest Thing You’ve Found in a Library Book? – I think raw bacon was probably the oddest thing on the list.

How Close Do You Live to a Nuclear Bomb? – A cute little video on how where nukes are.

Nash loses FCPS social media job a week after being in Twitter spotlight – This lady got fired for a single, inoffensive, humors tweet. Oddly, some people wonder why school choice is popular.

Quickly Learn the Differences Between Most Home Design Styles With This Chart – Looked at this earlier in the week and then reviewed it again this morning. I did quickly learn the differences, but I just as quickly forgot them. There appears to be no room left in my brain to store the term “Stick-Eastlake.”

New report details 2011 Alaska grizzly bear attack on outdoors school students – Interesting story about a group of students attacked by a grizzly bear and how they did many, many things incomprehensibly wrong during the attack. Oddly, that should come as no surprise because when a bear attacks, people react by instinct rather than by carefully analyzing their options. Still, I would have expected at least one of them to remember that they had cans of bear spray.

Watch: Disney Finally Confirms Pixar World is Connected – Not sure if this really shows that Pixar films are part of a connected world or that they save money by re-using 3D models across movies.

How to Protest Safely and Legally – Seems pertinent in today’s polarized environment. I would add a couple more tips – don’t get in people’s way and try not to make too much noise. Protesting is not an excuse to be rude.

Stunning plans unveiled for world’s first floating city in French Polynesia – I think the odds of this being built are pretty low, but it seems cool. It would be even cooler if the entire thing could travel around the oceans.

‘Cigarette smoke hid the smell of fear’: what flying in the Sixties was really like – I can only remember one pre-smoking ban flight and it was truly awful. I still don’t think they should have completely banned it. There should have a place for people to sit outside on the wing and smoke during the flight.

Politics and Policy

Why Are Drug Prices So High? – We’ve had a lot of stories recently about greedy companies jacking up drug prices, but they can only do so because we make competing with them so difficult. This article gives a nice overview of why drug prices are so high.

Donald Trump and Peter Thiel vs. the FDA: Be afraid. Be very afraid. – A very different view on the FDA and drug safety from my own. I still think the right compromise is for people like this guy to be free to do whatever the FDA tells him and for me to be able to overrule the FDA for myself. I wonder how people that support the current FDA power to decide what is safe enough and effective enough reconcile their views with “pro-choice” and a “woman’s right to control her body.” She should have the right to an abortion but not the right to use sunscreen legal for sale in France?

Stuck in Place: Law and the Economic Consequences of Residential Stability – People are moving between states less than they used to, which seems odd given how much easier inter-state communication and travel have become. This change has significant policy impacts.

Obama’s Economic Record: Disappointing, But Not a Disaster – A look back on the economy under President Obama. I think perspectives on his tenure will depend heavily on whether people think he saved us from another depression or lead a weak recovery.

How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism – We are susceptible to this because we are inherently terrible at comparative risk assessment. I constantly see smart people make seemingly insane risk trade-off choices and am sure that I unconsciously do the same. This is one of the reasons why I eschew shows that focus on crime and criminality; I don’t want them coloring my pleasantly polyannish world view.

Can The Separation Of Powers In The Federal Government Be Righted? – A complaint about the growing power of independent agencies with limited accountability.

Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom – This article wants the Democrats to become the party of freedom by increasing the government’s regulation of business – primarily by focusing on anti-monopoly policies. It seems contradictory to me, but I’m crazy enough to think the same about Trump professing to shift power from Washington to the people by making the people pay Washington a YUUUGE tax if they have the temerity to buy something from an un-American seller. It seems like everyone wants to give me the power and freedom to do what they tell me to do.

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since Roe v. Wade – Regardless of where you are on the abortion debate, this direction continues to be good news.

The polity that is California – An example of to encourage tolerance by discriminating against people based on their membership in a group that also includes intolerant people. Remember, stereotyping people is bad unless it is against “those” people.

China trade has been a boon to the US, China, and the world. – A nice perspective on trade with China by one of my favorite bloggers.

A few pertinent questions for Commerce Nominee Wilbur Ross – Some good points about the direction our new administration may be heading on trade.

Oxfam Thinks $8-Coffee-Drinking Millennials with Student Debt are the World’s Neediest – Few datasets attract dumber commentary that ones on wealth distribution.

Chile is thriving – so why is socialism rising? – There is a huge disconnect between empiricism and socialism. Iwill cease mocking insects’ suicidal urge to fly into the light (especially since they are getting better) when people quit think that socialism is going to make people better off.

Paul Ehrlich Addressing Vatican Conference on Biodiversity – More evidence that it doesn’t matter how wrong you’ve been proven to be. If you tell people what they want to hear, you’ll always find an audience.

Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn’t listening – Iceland has dramatically cut substance abuse in teens. In fairness to the rest of us, it’s hard to take advice from people still marooned on a tiny island in the North Atlantic.

Don’t Give Silicon Valley More H1B Visas – I’d also like to see radical reform of the H1B visa program, but I’d go in a different direction. I’d remove the cap entirely and reform the program so that visa holders could move more easily between jobs. I’d prefer to have the option to import workers rather than just exporting the work.


Data Mining for Dates – This is an audio bit on using a supercomputer to become the top match on OKCupid. Very Amusing.

Natural selection making ‘education genes’ rarer, says Icelandic study – They studied genes related to education (huh?) and found that they have been decreasing in Iceland because educated people have fewer children. Iwonder if there is a relationship between the decline in education genes in Iceland and the decline in substance abuse?

How does a US president settle on his science policy? – “One of the president’s most important responsibilities is fostering science, technology and innovation in the U.S. economy.” I disagree. Those things can happen on their own and don’t need meddling from a President. A President does need good science advice. On that subject, Istrongly recommend Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller.

These Foods Aren’t Genetically Modified but They Are ‘Edited’ – This article is a good example of coming up with a definition of GMO. Is gene editing GMO or not?

Frankly, We Do Give a Damn – The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty – “We found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty.” Honestly, I think the study is total bullshit.

The Science of Swearing – Damn! Another article about swearing.

A bug for Alzheimer’s? – Claims that Alzheimer’s is caused by an infection. Like almost all science stories that herald a new understanding at odds with commonly held science views, it’s probably completely wrong.

Roly Polies Came From the Sea to Conquer the Earth – Who doesn’t like roly polies? OK, I was disturbed about the discussion of their flavor.

Endangered zebra shark hatches fatherless babies – Immaculate Conception in sharks. Off topic, but that got me to wondering about the DNA of Jesus. He couldn’t simply have Mary’s. Did God give him Joseph’s DNA? Or did he give him some unique male DNA?

Deadly superbugs may be spreading, evolving quietly among the healthy – This got me to wondering what happens if someone that is otherwise healthy is found to be a carrier of some dangerous virus. Can we lock someone away because of a germ they are carrying? I think that history says that we can and will.

Macropinna microstoma: A deep-sea fish with a transparent head and tubular eyes – A Youtube video of a really, really weird fish. I’m pretty sure these things are the result of some dalliance between fish and aliens.

The Man in the Zebra Suit Knows the Secret of the Stripes – Why zebras have their stripes. I always thought it was a fashion thing…makes them look slimmer, more active. Apparently, it’s an approach to debugging.

When The Brain Scrambles Names, It’s Because You Love Them – You can refer to this if you ever accidentally use a former lover’s name with your spouse. Don’t expect it to help.

Don’t Tell Your Friends They’re Lucky – It’s a glass half-full/half-empty sort of split, but my outlook emphasizes more on what people do with their lives rather than the luck they had in getting there. The author seems to have the opposite focus.  I understand both viewpoints, but I think that when you emphasize luck too much, it reduces motivation and the sense of empowerment.

New York Times’ Perry report another example of lapsed journalistic ethics – I’m not a Rick Perry fan, but I like seeing examples of the NYT being called out as basically the left’s version of Fox News.

Science falling victim to ‘crisis of narcissism’ – I think the crisis part is overblown. Scientists are people. They behave like people and it has always been that way. As a bonus it has a “narcissistic personality inventory” link at the end. I find the notion of a self-reporting test of narcissism quite amusing. I’d like to see an online humility testing site; I would be awesome at that.

VERY BRITISH VILLAINS (AND OTHER ANGLO-SAXON ATTITUDES TO ACCENTS) – A nice explanation of why villains so often use a British accent.

If you were an elephant … This was really weird, but interesting anyway.

Health, Food, and Fitness

25 Facts about Fitness – A Mental Floss video covering 25 fitness facts.

Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze – I have a generally negative view of mind altering drugs, but here is an article that celebrates the role of alcohol in history. It’s probably a lot more convincing if you have a few drinks before reading it. It doesn’t mention Iceland.

HOW TO MAKE A MOTHERBOARD CAKE – A Youtube video of an extremely nerdy cook making a motherboard cake.

10 Habits That Will Dramatically Improve Your Life – A lot of fairly typical self-help type advice, but mostly all good. I think the blue light at night stuff is overrated. I’d also modify the “stick to realistic goals” to be something more like “have insanely optimistic goals, but break those down into realistic steps.”


The Strangest Gadgets of CES 2017 – We’ve already covered the brush and heels. It also includes a laptop suitable for a giant, vacuum shoes, a device that stinks you awake in the morning, and another device for which Ihave no words.

Why we should all be having sex with robots – Is this what people are going to be doing in self-driving cars?

Nissan’s Path to Self-Driving Cars? Humans in Call Centers – Wait, the cars won’t always be self-driving? Sometimes someone in a call center is going to be driving my car with me in it? I know I’ve seen this before.

Japan’s hi-tech toilets to get standardised symbols – The world is getting weirder and weirder. I guess I’m just getting old.

January 15, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


Nifty Smartphone Study Links Happiness and Physical Activity – This study looks at cell phone movement as a proxy for physical activity and finds that active people are happier and people happier when they are active. Then again, it could be that people enjoy jiggling their phones.

Periodic Table of Stretching Exercises – I think that stretching is at the very top of my list for things that I know I should do more but don’t. I need more flexibility in my schedule.

Alcohol flips brain into hungry mode – This study claims that mice ate more when given alcohol. I’m not sure how significant the finding is given that the typical dose was equivalent to a bottle and a half of wine. I guess it is relevant if you are trying to cut down on your calories and plan to have 9 drinks in a sitting. If that’s the case, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about.


New Mac Candle – I wasn’t even aware that there was a “new Mac” smell, but if you like that scent, you can now get it in a candle. No word if there are any plans for a perfume or cologne.

How to Get Through a Miserable Winter With the Danish Concept of Hygge – I read this during our weekend of winter. It seems a little dated now that spring is here. Basically, it says that, to be happy, get cozy and relax during the winter. Just don’t forget to jiggle your phone.

Flaming Emoji Bag – If you’ve been looking for a bag with a flaming poop symbol on it, here it is.

Use the Fibonacci Sequence to Quickly Convert Between Miles and Kilometers – It’s not often that I see something and think derisively, “what a bunch of nerds”. It seems more complicated than just multiplying by 1.6.

What Happens When Algorithms Design a Concert Hall? The Stunning Elbphilharmonie – No clue how it sounds, but it sure looks awesome. I don’t go to many concerts, but I’d go to one there.

Employee-Free Bookstore offers a place to rest, and leisurely read – It isn’t just automation that is taking away our jobs, so is faith in the decency of other people. This store sells books without employees using the honor system. Obviously, it isn’t in D.C.

Virginia man spends $1,000 to deliver 300,000 pennies to Lebanon DMV – This guy paid his vehicle taxes in wheelbarrows full of pennies. When you read this, it comes across as a parable of what happens when obnoxious people have to deal with each other.

RIP, Lily Drone: $34 Million in Pre-Orders Isn’t Enough to Save It – This is a cautionary tale about buying things on Kickstarter or other crowd funding sites. They should be considered more in the category donations rather than purchases. People plunked down $500 each and will probably get pennies refunded to them (hopefully not in wheelbarrows).


Adventures in Science: How to Use a Multimeter – This is a nice intro to multimeters. Nothing really shocking.

This college just paid a $28,000 ransom, in bitcoin, to cyberattackers – Two points with this one. First, ransomware, the encrypting of people’s data and locking of their systems until they pay to the decryption and unlock keys, is getting to be a big business. Second, you need good backups. I highly recommend an online backup service like Backblaze (who we use) or Carbonite.

Chrome Has an Option to Export Passwords, Here’s How to Enable It – I wanted to share this mostly as a reminder that passwords saved in your browser aren’t secure. For important passwords, don’t do it. Get a password safe (Lastpass, Keepass, etc). Living without a password safe these days is like living without a lock on your front door. I suppose that this article could also be useful if you saved a password in your browser and forgot it, or if you want to steal a friend’s passwords.

Smart Heels: Yay or Nay? – Got the smart hair brush I mentioned last week, but you still feel like you aren’t getting enough data about yourself? Now you can get smart heels. These aren’t just activity trackers, they also allow you to control their temperature and height.

Japan researchers warn of fingerprint theft from ‘peace’ sign – Seriously? Now I have to worry about my fingers being visible in pictures? Sigh. This doesn’t work if they can only see the back side of a single finger, so most drivers I encounter should be OK.

Google Knows Where I’ve Been – This link is to a page that shows you the location information that Google has based on you (assuming that you are logged in with your Google account). It gathers this by tracking your phone. Your phone manufacturer and cell service provider also track information like this.  So do many other app providers, like Facebook.

I picked a day from our vacation last year and this is what it still remembered:

And for the record, I did not stay at the Pacific Grove Convalescent Home. I stayed nearby. I suspect that Google saw that I was in the area and that I wasn’t jiggling my phone much so they probably assumed that I was getting old.


JC in transition – An interesting blog post about a client scientist retiring to avoid the increasing politicization of science, particularly climate science.

A Nevada woman dies of a superbug resistant to every available antibiotic in the US – Humanity used to be wracked by horrible plagues. We seemed to have gotten that mostly under control. Time will tell whether we’ve really won that war or whether this was a temporary peace while the plagues adjusted.

Bird-loving vampire bats develop taste for human blood – Creeped out by bats? Not reassured when people tell you that they don’t attack humans? Now you’ve got something you can reference. That’s right; real vampire bats are being found with real human blood in them. As if Brazil didn’t have enough problems already.

Fossils from ancient extinct giant flightless goose suggests it was a fighter – Is this why geese are such obnoxious and aggressive animals? They haven’t lost that bully instinct after 6 million years?


Government Must Stop Protecting Cow Milk Producers from Competition – The dairy industry, already heavily protected by their well lobbied friends in government, wants to ban terms like “soy milk” or “almond milk” because they dislike people being aware of alternatives to cow’s milk.

European and American Views on Genetically Modified Foods – An interesting article on the different views of farming and GMO foods between Europe and the US. I still cling to my simple view that people should be free to grow whatever they want (within very broad safety guidelines) and people should be free to choose what they want to eat. I think GMO’s should be treated like we do successfully with Organics – come up with a generally agreed definition of “GMO free” and then let people apply that label to their food if it meets the criteria.

Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the domestic chicken – According to the study: “My overall conclusion is that chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas”. I would like to add that they are also tastier than most other birds and mammals.

Policy and Economics

Want More Productivity? Be Careful What You Wish For – A cautionary note that points out that improvements in productivity affect bad things as well as the good things. In this case, our productivity in producing addictive drugs has increased, which hasn’t necessarily been a good thing.

Without Uber or Lyft, Austin Experiences Skyrocketing DUI Rates – When Austin’s taxi lobby successfully changed the local regulations to drive off Uber and Lyft, DUI arrest rates went up. Ironically, the excuse the taxi industry used for the regulations was to improve safety.

Self-Driving Cars Will Make Organ Shortages Even Worse – Tragic traffic accidents, are a major source for donated organs. If we make driving safer, we’ll have fewer tragic accidents and fewer donated organs. To me, the simple answer is to encourage more organ donation by prioritizing those willing to donate ahead of others on the organ receiver lists and by allowing for compensation for organ donation. Both of these approaches would result in a large number of lives saved but are consider unethical by ethicists not in need of donated organs. An alternative would be to take Austin’s approach and encourage drunk driving.

Under President Trump, will Congress REIN in executive branch? – I had never even heard of the REINS Act until seeing this article. It looks pretty reasonable to me, which means that it is almost certain not to become law.  I have to say that I find it depressingly amusing to see people’s perspectives on whether the executive branch should have broad powers flipping 180 degrees depending on which party controls it.

How to Modernize Labor Law – A lengthy polemic on the inflexibility of federal labor laws. Sadly, instead of pushing real state flexibility, it argues for more waivers. That seems like a process bound to attract lobbyists and cronyism. I’d rather that they just devolve virtually all labor laws to the states and let them each do things their own way. If California wants to experiment with a $15 minimum wage, card check unionization, or 32 hour work weeks, let them. At the same time, if Texas wants to eliminate the minimum wage, collective bargaining, and mandatory overtime pay, let them.

The right look: Conservative politicians look better and voters reward it – This study alleges that politicians on the right are more physically attractive in the US, Europe, and Australia.

Are Democrats the Party of Science? Not Really. – Someone complaining that Democrats get a pass for their anti-science insanity. Republicans are already legendary for their anti-science insanity. The truth is that both parties are accountable to their voters and the vast majority of those voters have no understanding of science, so neither party is ever going to be free from this problem.

Stabilizing Social Security without Raising Taxes – An article about how to fix the projected shortfall in Social Security. It’s inevitable that you’ll see more of these over the years because it seems unlikely that we’ll do anything anytime soon and the problem won’t go away on its own. My solution – do nothing and just accept that fact that, at some point, SS payments will be about 70% of what was promised. Maybe people that believe promises from the government will learn something from that experience.

THE REAL REASON YOUR CITY HAS NO MONEY – This article posits that most cities cannot afford to maintain their infrastructure and that the answer is to live in more dense communities. I don’t agree with their facts or their conclusions, but I thought it was interesting.

The great lint migration – You’ve quit using plastic bags; you’re recycling and composting virtually all your trash; and you’re feeling like you are living in harmony with the planet. Don’t be too sure yet. It looks like your recycled plastic fleece jackets are on a rampage of environmental terror!

Hazmat Suits and 500 Shelter Cats: Rare Flu Forces New York Quarantine – I had no idea that they quarantined cats with the flu. Apparently there is a big cat flu going around.

Hugh Hewitt on the Interest Deduction – OK, I don’t think anyone on my list is going to find this interesting. It’s a blog post by an economics professor in California. I included it because I got mentioned at the end with a hat tip. I think that it is cool that you can reach out to authors and creators online and engage in conversations with them. Heck, Kathy once invited an author and his wife to stay as a guest at our house. It’s a small, weird, fun world.

By the way, the comment I made to the blog posting professor (David Henderson) was that in the original article, Hugh Hewitt was arguing against eliminating the home interest deduction because it would lower house prices by 10-15%. I was amused to see that someone thinking that lowering housing costs was a bad thing. I guess that as a homeowner, his perspective was so focused on the value of his home that he failed to see it from the perspective of potential home buyers.