June 25, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


Why The US Military Made GPS Free-To-Use – An interesting video on how the GPS system works, how it came into existence, and how it came to be free to use. Well, that’s the first half of the video. The second half was a really long ad that I skipped.


If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it – A very short article that makes a useful point. I’ve seen it in myself many times. If I understand something well, I can explain it. I find this concept so powerful that when I’m struggling to master a topic I think about how I would explain it to someone. That helps me see the bits I’m struggling with.


Here’s How To Get Used Motor Oil Off Of Your Walls – Short answer: Scrubbing Bubbles. I wonder if I can use it to get oil and grease stains off of leather seats.


Would You Trust Tom Selleck With Your Life Savings? – An interesting article on how celebrities are chosen to represent financial products to old people. I have to admit that I find it odd that people would trust an actor’s word on whether a financial product made sense for them. I would assume that even if the actor were speaking honestly he wouldn’t have the expertise to know.


Mortgages for Seniors? Available, but Exacting – It’s a relatively dull article about the challenges for retired seniors to get a mortgage. The one bit I found amusing was this quote from one of the couples in the article “but our financial adviser suggested that we get a mortgage so we can get a tax deduction, and our money keeps working for us.” Keeping the money working for who? Let’s not forget that the advisor doesn’t get paid to manage the money once it goes into buying a house. Of course he thinks you should keep the money invested with him and get a mortgage instead.


Taking On the Scourge of Opioids – A long and interesting article on the opioid epidemic sweeping white rural America. It is interesting how much more empathy there is than when drug crazes swept through black urban America.


The Case Against Work-Life Balance: Owning Your Future – I thought one of their points was interesting. Working extremely hard in early life can bring results that compound over the rest of your life, which is a good argument for working really hard when you are younger and then slacking more as you get older. It’s just a coincidence that I find this interesting and happen to be one of those people that is getting older.


What Latin Sounded Like – and how we know – A video on how we know what Latin actually sounded like.


Health – Physical and Mental

How to Survive the Summer When Summer Makes You Miserable – They’ve invented a new malady called “Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder” for people that are sad during the summer. I understand that summer heat can be miserable, but seriously, this seems a little silly.


Dear EWG, Sunscreen Is Essential For Summer Safety – The Environmental Working Group is using some dodgy science to warn people about what they claim is a cancer risk from using sunscreen when the science is very clear that not wearing sunscreen in the sun is a much bigger cancer risk. Makes me sad just thinking about it.


The science of sunscreen – How does sunscreen work anyway? This gives a bit of an explanation. Most interesting line: “With sunburn, the cause of the inflammation is deliberate cell death, known as apoptosis. Cells are intentionally killing themselves to prevent potentially cancerous mutations occurring.”


How to Start Working Out in the Mornings – Does this really require an article? Go to bed a little earlier. Wake up a little earlier. Use that extra time to exercise. It’s that simple.


Yoga Works as Well as Physical Therapy for Back Pain – I’ve done yoga. I’ve done physical therapy. They seem pretty darn similar to me, so this doesn’t surprise me. PT costs more, but they don’t drone on and on about mystical crap or my breathing. On the other hand, they don’t touch me when I do yoga.


Breast Implants Might Give False Heart Attack Readings, New Research Suggests – Not something I would have expected. “(1) If you’re considering having breast implants in the future, have a ECG performed before the surgery to serve, if needed, as a baseline; it can be kept on file. (2) If you already have implants make sure your doctor is aware of their existence prior to having an ECG, and ask about any new research on this topic prior to performing the test.” And I thought it was an EKG not an ECG.


Meet the chef who’s debunking detox, diets and wellness – The Angry Chef. He’s the author of “Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating”. Sounds like a sensible guy…and not really very angry. I think the food hysterias of our age will be something people look back on this era and laugh about.



Art, Culture, and Society

Future Classics: 50 Literary Greats – Barnes & Noble (they’re still around?) put together a list of 50 books they think will be literary giants. Or maybe it’s just books they have overstocked. I’d only heard of one of them and that was only because they made a movie I haven’t seen from it. I should probably try reading more literature. Maybe next year.


Young Men Are Playing Video Games Instead of Getting Jobs. That’s OK. (For Now.) – A surprisingly lengthy discussion of the impact of video games on society – particularly young, non-college educated males.

How to Think About Bill Cosby and ‘The Cosby Show’ – Cosby was one of my biggest heroes as a child and I loved the Cosby show. I’m deeply saddened by the dark truth that has been exposed.

Free Speech Madness

Who’s Afraid of Free Speech? – A half-hearted defense of the anti-speech stances taken at many colleges. The author’s depiction of the complaints of the right don’t seem like the complaints I actually see. He sees them as complaining about the left’s counter-speech but I see them complaining about being blocked from being able to speak. Very different things.


Evergreen State College Controversy (HBO) – A video on the handling of racism at Evergreen. The craziness is strong in this one.


The Dalai Lama Is the Latest Speaker to Cause a Campus Freakout – Wait, what? Apparently the Chinese students at UC San Diego wanted to get the DL disinvited because he’s a divisive figure.


The Canadian Taliban – An amusing editorial about some of the Taliban-like behavior of the politically correct Canadian Writers’ Union from one of my favorite economists. Best line: “If I were to graph the fraction of the articles I read each day that seem indistinguishable from an Onion parody, it would have risen from under 1% in 2000 to perhaps 5% today.”


Humans Evolved Big Brains to Keep Track of Friends – As people evolved, their social groups grew. This article theorizes that this was related to an increase in brain size. Now after millions of years of evolution, we have online social networks. Does that mean that our brains will shrink?


How Cats Used Humans to Conquer the World – A history of cats as told by their DNA.

Cats are an extreme outlier among domestic animals – Another article on the same study. It says that cats have changed surprisingly little for “domesticated” animals. Cats disagree, saying that they’ve changed humans enormously since they domesticated us.


This Common Butterfly Has an Extraordinary Sex Life – Weird stuff. Males deliver a sperm packet about 13% of their body weight mean for the females to consume over time. This is not an article to read for dating tips.


Panhandling in Downtown Manhattan: A Preliminary Analysis – Interesting research on panhandling, touching on topics like the allocation of locations and strategies used by professional panhandlers. I glossed over most of the equations, but it was an interesting read nonetheless.


Revealed: Facebook exposed identities of moderators to suspected terrorists – Oops! Imagine that you agree to work undercover with Facebook to moderate groups of suspected terrorists. Wouldn’t you want to do that anonymously? Looks like Facebook revealed their moderators personal info to the groups. Never share anything with Facebook that you don’t want made publicly available regardless of what promises they give you.


Call it a comeback: Typewriters attracting new generation of fans – Are typewrites becoming chic? The author thinks so, but I don’t agree. Here’s a quote from an upcoming film: “I hate getting email thank-yous from folks. Now, if they take 70 seconds to type me out something on a piece of paper and send to me, well, I’ll keep that forever. I’ll just delete that email.” I can understand wanting something hand written, but typed? What’s different from that and just printing the e-mail?


An Incredibly Clever Lock Design from 1680 – As much as I dismiss the return of typewriters, there is something undeniably appealing about complicated little mechanical machines. Here’s a really cool lock made over 300 years ago.


12 ways to study a new programming language – I’m surprised that they didn’t include the most traditional method. You get assigned to help out on a project using a language you don’t know with an unrealistic deadline. You dig in and try to survive. You learn primarily from seeing the results of the mistakes made by the team.


Introduction to Python, Data Science & Computational Thinking: Free Online Courses from MIT – Didn’t have time to take the Python class while you were at MIT? Here’s your chance to make it up.

Avocados with laser-printed labels go on sale at M&S in bid to cut paper waste – Cool! I want laser printed food. OK, technically it is laser etched, but that’s even cooler. I wonder if they could laser etch nutrition labels on them.


Apple Gets Greedy in China – Ever heard of WeChat? I hadn’t. It is huge in China and it looks like it is doing battle with Apple over platform control.

Politics and Policy

Ballot language approved for age limits on smartphone sales – It is one thing to believe that there is an age below which it isn’t appropriate for your child to have a smartphone. It’s quite another thing to believe that you have the right to tell other people at what age they can give their kid a smartphone. It looks like Colorado is putting that on the ballot. If you want to read a really longwinded article on smartphones, try A Sociology of the Smartphone.


Reforming land use regulations – Want to lower the cost of housing? Reform land use regulations. It isn’t going happen because existing home owners don’t actually want housing costs to be lower.


Right-to-Carry Laws and Violent Crime: A Comprehensive Assessment Using Panel Data and a State-Level Synthetic Controls Analysis – A study on the impact of RTC laws on violent crime levels. “The magnitude of the estimated increase in violent crime from RTC laws is substantial in that, using a consensus estimate for the elasticity of crime with respect to incarceration of .15, the average RTC state would have to double its prison population to counteract the RTC-induced increase in violent crime.”


Raise the Wage Act-Intern Analysis – This is amusing. It is a list of the Senators and House Members sponsoring the “Raise the Wage Act” along with how much they pay their interns. In almost all cases, it’s $0. It looks like they believe you should have to pay employees $15/hour or fire them, but they don’t believe their offices should have to pay people at all. Nice.


The US Government Wants to Permanently Legalize the Right to Repair – There is a battle slowly building around whether you have the right to repair stuff you own. Manufacturers are fighting to make it impossible but consumers are fighting back and pushing legislation.


How the Rhetoric of Responsibility Hurts the Welfare State – This article makes a case against demanding responsibility from welfare recipients. I’ll briefly make the counter-argument and say that if you make welfare too easy and too complete, you’ll needlessly ensnare a lot of people into a life of poverty that would make it on their own if pushed. Every parent with a teenager knows this.


Supreme Court Stuff

Supreme Court Deals Blow to Property Rights – In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of the government to decimate the value of private property without compensation as long as it isn’t completely taken. Disappointing. I’d rather some approach that when changes in the regulatory environment take over some amount (30%? 50%?) of the value of a property, the property owner should be compensated.


SCOTUS Says You Can’t Lose Your Citizenship for Lying About Your Weight – In better news, the SC decided 9-0 that immaterial lies can’t cause you to lose your citizenship. “Can a naturalized American lose his citizenship because he misrepresented his weight on his application form, neglected to mention that he once belonged to a Barry Manilow fan club, or failed to acknowledge the various occasions on which he exceeded the speed limit without being caught? The Justice Department, under Barack Obama as well as Donald Trump, said yes. Yesterday the Supreme Court unanimously disagreed.”


Clarence Thomas Attacks Civil Asset Forfeiture, Lower Court Follows His Lead – Here’s one more. “In March the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case filed by a Texas woman fighting for the return of over $200,000 in cash that the police seized from her family. Although neither Lisa Olivia Leonard nor any of her relatives were ever charged with any underlying crime connected to the cash, the state’s sweeping asset forfeiture laws allowed the authorities to take the money.” The court didn’t take up the case, but Justice Thomas put out a statement anyway and it appears to have influenced some lower courts.


Amazon’s Move Signals End of Line for Many Cashiers – I say, bring on the automation! The faster you can make it for me to get out of the store, the happier I’ll be. Those cashiers can do the same thing that washerwomen, computers (the people that computed before we had machines do it), and elevator operators did – adapt and move on to something else.