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.