June 4, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

This is much shorter than usual. It was a busy week for me, so I didn’t read much.


The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts – People steal nuts. In bulk. By the truckload. Regularly. I’d heard of a few cases, but this article tells about how common it is and how it works.

Wedge-tailed eagle captured swooping on drone – Just a picture; no video. A farmer in Australia was monitoring his barley seeding equipment with a drone when an eagle objected.

My Short Life On a Real Ranch – A city boy in college goes to stay with his friend on their family’s ranch. It sounds like ranching involves a lot of work, much of it done early.

When Buying Life Insurance Was Deemed Immoral – What? Apparently people thought that insuring against death was tantamount to challenging God’s plan or something. Interestingly, buying life insurance became popular as people moved from farms to the cities because the financial consequences of death increased.

Revealed: Sergey Brin’s secret plans to build the world’s biggest aircraft – If I had tens of billions of dollars, I think I’d make a giant airship too.

New York Pizza Styles: A Complete Guide – A list of a bunch of different New York Style pizzas. Some are familiar here. Neapolitan (Grimaldi’s). NY Style (RC’s, Brothers). We have some local styles that I didn’t see on the list– Biba’s very doughy Greek style. Greek Tony’s sweet sauce. I often hear that you can’t get NY pizza anywhere else. That’s just a fantasy. It is undoubtedly where a lot of great pizza was originated, but nothing stopped people from taking those same ingredients and techniques to other places.

Ray Spencer Didn’t Molest His Kids. So Why Did He Spend 20 Years in Prison for It? – Back in the 80s, the country was caught in a Salem witch-trial like mania regarding stories of child molestation. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen. But prosecutions got so zealous that they railroaded innocent people by manipulating kids into making stuff up. This is a story of a relatively typical case. It should serve as a reminder that even when awful crimes are alleged, you should still require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict people. Could something like this happen again? Absolutely. Look at the way sexual assault charges are prosecuted on college campuses.

5 choices you will regret forever – This is one of those articles on what dying people regret, presumably to help us not make the same mistakes. I think they all make the mistake of assuming that a dying person has a perfect perspective. For example, “They wish they hadn’t worked so hard”. My guess is that as death approaches, they focus on the missed opportunities from working hard (and the bigger concern is probably working long hours), but they don’t think about how much materially better off their lives were or how much earlier they were able to retire because of that hard work. So listen to dying people, but put their advice in the proper perspective or you may regret it.

Health – Physical and Mental

The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working – An interesting collection of information on dieting and how successful diets vary. What works for some people doesn’t work for others. Well, eating fewer calories than you burn always works, but how to do that sustainably varies. Given how many people try very, very hard to lose weight and keep it off, it seems clear that the answer isn’t simple.

How to Warmly Greet People Without Having to Touch Them – This article doesn’t live up to its billing. One defense it suggests against huggers is to preemptively stick your hand out for a handshake, but that involves touching them. I’ve found that an icy glare works best, but some people are still oblivious and insist on hugs. I think I’m going to start coating my clothing with Iocane powder.

Popular People Live Longer – Well, at least I made it to my 50s. The thrust of this article is that people live on average longer if they have good social connections. They stress that this means real friendships and not just having high social status but not really being connected to people.


A cognitive scientist has devised a drug-free sleep trick for your restless mind – My first thought when I saw the headline was “staff meetings”. Then I read it and realized that was exactly what this was about. “lull the brain into that groggy state that precedes a sleep cycle by asking it to focus on random words and images, without making connections between them.” I rest my case.

“They Basically Reset My Brain” – Jermichael Finley rights about his concussion issues. Very moving. Seems like things are getting better for him, but this story rarely ends well. Once again I have to ask whether switching to flag football might not be a better option that the maiming that occurs regularly in the NFL and even college football.

Art and Culture

Japan is suffering from a ninja shortage amid huge demand from foreign tourists – Add this to the list of jobs not likely to be taken by robots anytime soon. Well, maybe in Westworld. Or would that be Eastworld?

Colleges Celebrate Diversity With Separate Commencements – There is a weird tension between people wanting to celebrate their cultural differences and complaining about being seen as different.

I Was a Proud Non-Breeder. Then I Changed My Mind. – I’ve never been fond of the intentionally inflammatory term “breeder” for people who have children, but I sympathize with the frustration that couples not having children must feel with the constant nagging they get to have children. This is by a woman that changed her mind and had a child. The best takeaway from this is to be careful about making judgments about how you’ll behave in the future. Don’t close doors without a good reason.

Johnny Depp: A Star in Crisis and the Insane Story of His “Missing” Millions – Gossip about Johnny Depp’s financial mismanagement. Who doesn’t want to read about how someone that earned over half a billion dollars is a drunkard in financial trouble?

16 dining etiquette rules every professional should know – I’ve always found etiquette rules to be fascinating. Some make logical sense, saying “please” and “thank you” to the wait staff. Others seem terribly silly and arbitrary, like we’re some sort of primitive tribe following rituals – “Wait for the host to take his or her napkin before touching yours” or “Always break bread with your hands”. Some just seem stupid, like “Never ask for a to-go box” or “Do not push away or stack your dishes”. I’d add in a #17, which is “Don’t judge business associates by how well they adhere to some arbitrary set of eating utensil handling rules unless that probably has something to do with the business you are engaged in.”


Snakes can actually hunt in packs – Just in case you didn’t have enough to worry about. This study done in caves in Cuba showed that snakes coordinate the attacks because attacking as a group is more effective. It may only apply to communist snakes.

Two minds – An article about the brain differences between men and women. My favorite line (because it confirms what I’ve observed: “Navigation studies in both humans and rats show that females of both species tend to rely on landmarks, while males more typically rely on ‘dead reckoning’: calculating one’s position by estimating the direction and distance traveled rather than using landmarks.”


Colossal Cave Adventure – The granddaddy of all computer adventure games has been open sourced. If you aren’t familiar with the game, you can read about it on Wikipedia here. It was the first significant computer game that I ever played.

King Chrome: Microsoft’s browsers sidelined on its own OS – I’ve switched to using Chrome as my default at work. It’s best with plugins. The ones I use at home are uBlock (ad-blocking), Disconnect (tracker blocking), Camelizer (Amazon price history), Google Dictionary, Personal Blocklist (to block specific sites from coming up in search results), Pocket (save pages for referencing later), HTTPS Everywhere (increased security), MightText (texting via my computer), Disable HTML5 Autoplay (to stop videos from playing without me starting them).


Emotional Intelligence Is The Real Secret To Getting Promoted Faster – It certainly helps, but it is neither a secret nor the only ingredient.

Politics and Policy

Why Toyota is an American Car – A short article explaining that because supply chains are global, talking about a complex product like a car as “American” or “foreign” is nonsensical.

A Tax Cut Might Be Nice. But Remember the Deficit. – An article on the trade-off between tax cuts and deficit spending by former GBW economic advisor Greg Mankiw. I think the focus should be on tax simplification and spending reductions rather than tax reductions. Cutting taxes without cutting spending is just another way of deferring taxes.

You’re Not Going to Change Your Mind – The gist of the article is that if people would just look at the facts, they would agree more on political issues. I think it is misguided for many reasons. First, most political views are the result of tribal loyalties and not an assessment of the facts. Second, many views derive from different value judgments (balancing increases in wealth vs inequality, trading off freedoms for safety, etc).

Students harass white professor for refusing to leave campus on anti-white ‘Day of Absence’ – Evergreen State College has had a tradition in which all non-white students and faculty are absent on a particular day. This year, they decided to reverse it and have all white people leave campus, but one prof didn’t want to. That made a lot of people really angry, with some of them demanding that he be fired. OK….scratch Evergreen State off the list of potential colleges for my kids.


The Indestructible Idea of the Basic Income – A good overview of the concept of a state supplied universal basic income. I’m still very skeptical of the idea. To me, it is an idea whose time has not yet arrived, but I’d love to see some places (in which I am not a taxpayer) experiment with it.

The world is sitting on a $400 trillion financial time bomb – It’s a pretty dumb article, but an interesting topic. It insists that we need to save more for people’s retirement. But if we all save more, won’t that further depress returns on capital?

Paris Climate Agreement

I didn’t read anything very good on the climate agreement or the US rejection of it. My instinct says that it was probably an unenforceable agreement without much substance, like Kyoto was. It certainly seems that climate change is real and largely human related, but saying that doesn’t automatically mean that any given proposal to do something about it makes sense. To know that, you have to be able to estimate the effects of taking the course of action – both the costs and the benefits and compare those to the cost of not taking the action. I almost never see anyone trying to do that. Everyone seems to just be for or against a proposal based on which team they cheer for. If I were to do anything about the climate today, I would focus on two things – spending money on research and experimenting with carbon taxes. The former will help us understand the consequences of more warming (which seems inevitable) and the latter will help us understand the costs of carbon reduction.