July 16, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


PAPER AIRPLANE MACHINE GUN V2.0 – This is too cool. It’s a machine gun that shoots paper airplanes. OK, that only sounds a little cool. The super cool part is that you put in a ream of copy paper and it folds the paper into planes as they travel through the gun. Think of the practical applications – shoot “thank you” notes to all your guests as you leave your wedding, distribute pink slips in a mass firing, …., um, OK, I guess there aren’t really any practical uses for it, but it sure seems cool.


Would Your Dog Eat You if You Died? Get the Facts. – It appears that dogs sometimes eat the faces off of their owners when the owner dies. Read more details here. It’s not clear to me how they can be sure that these owners died before their dogs ate their faces off. And if you are wondering, this article is in National Geographic not National Enquirer. Also, cats are said to do this too, so don’t think you’re off the hook if you’re a cat person.


Our First Subway Was Much Nicer – This is a quick article on New York’s first subway. It looked like a steampunk version of the Hyperloop. Like the Hyperloop, it was pneumatic. Unlike the Hyperloop, it was practical.


Of money and morals – I knew that some religions forbid the charging of interest, but I didn’t realize that it was forbidden and then regulated by the Catholic Church for much of history. I think it is sad when people ban useful tools like interest. Without it, but savers and borrowers both miss opportunities to help each other. If you can rent other forms of property, why can’t you rent money?


Do Cats Purr When Humans Aren’t Around? – Yes. The purr when feeding as kittens. They purr when grooming each other. They are even known to purr when in great pain or dying. I bet they purr when eating their owner’s dead bodies.


Eagle Steals GoPro – This is a YouTube video taken from a GoPro that was “stolen” by an eagle. Very cool, but not as good as the classic video taken by the squirrel.


Amazon Prime does more for northern food security than federal subsidies, say Iqaluit residents – Think Amazon Prime isn’t a good deal? Try living in the remote northern parts of Canada. For them, Prime shipping is the greatest thing ever.


The most effective individual steps to tackle climate change aren’t being discussed – What are the most effective steps? In decreasing order of effectiveness – have one fewer child, live car free, avoid one transatlantic flight, buy green energy, eat a plant based diet. I’m counting bacon as “plant based” because the pigs eat plants.


America’s best states to live in 2017 – I find these sorts of rankings to be silly. There is no objective standard – just whatever the writer thinks is important. I think that a real “best places to live” would be based heavily on net migration. Where do people choose to live when they consider everything relevant to them?


Sweden: Uncensored – According to this, if you call +46 771 793 336, it “connects callers to a switchboard and then, wherever in the world they are, to ‘a random Swede, somewhere in Sweden.’” I’m going to have to try that. What should I ask a Swede? Do you guys really eat Swedish Fish? Is the Swedish Chef offensive? Do you all drive Volvos? What’s going on with all that refugee stuff I keep reading about? Do Swedish dogs eat their dead owners or are their diets plant based?

Health – Physical and Mental

Maybe Don’t Put These Things in Your Face – People get their placenta’s made into pills and eat them. Why? I have no idea. People are crazy. Don’t do it. If it seems like a good idea, this article will explain some of the drawbacks.


How Strength Training Changes Your Body For Good – It seems like just about everyone knows to do cardio work, but strength training isn’t nearly as popular. It should be.


28 Super Simple Tricks That’ll Make Your Life Easier (Even if You Only Try One) – As usual, there are some good ideas, some bad ideas, and some weird ideas on the list.

Art and Culture

Photos of Animals Retouched to Look Like Real-Life Minecraft Creatures – Animals made to look blocky like Minecraft creatures. Why? I have no idea.


Standard eBooks Is a Gutenberg Project You’ll Actually Use – If you read old books, you probably know that you can download many of them for free from the Gutenberg Project. You probably also know that the formatting is often awful. This is a project to clean them up.


The Golden Age of Bailing – The author says that we are living in a “golden age of bailing” where people cancel or no-show for social engagements. If it is true, I suspect it is because technology has made social engagement much easier so we value it less.


baremetalHW – This is a YouTube channel dedicated to restoring hot wheels. This video shows you a full restoration that includes every step.


‘I was hooked for life’: science writers on the books that inspired them – I haven’t read a single book on the list. Maybe that’s why I didn’t become a science writer.


Is It OK to Put My Kid to Bed Early So I Can Watch Game of Thrones? – If you are so obsessed with your soaps that you want to put your kids to be at 6:00 PM to avoid waiting a couple of hours to watch them, you have issues.


The massive volcano that scientists can’t find – We can see a lot of evidence about a huge volcano that exploded 700 years ago. The weird thing is that we don’t know where it was. Interesting story.


Nature’s Fireworks – A YouTube video on bioluminescence, which is one of the coolest things in the world.


Induced defences in plants reduce herbivory by increasing cannibalism – Some plants defend themselves by convincing their predators to become cannibals. Clever.


Logged In and Zoned Out. – Thinking about taking a laptop to class? This study concludes that you shouldn’t.


Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines – This paper predicts a biological catastrophe that we can only avert by taking drastic action now. It is being caused by “human overpopulation and continued population growth, and overconsumption, especially by the rich”. Don’t get too frightened. One of the authors is Paul Ehrlich who predicted in 1968 that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s because of overpopulation. He might be right this time, but after four decades of his crying wolf, I’m not going to get too fussed.


AI IS MAKING IT EXTREMELY EASY FOR STUDENTS TO CHEAT – This isn’t really an article about using AI to cheat. It’s about Wolfram|Alpha, which is an amazing AI based search site with a penchant for solving complex math problems and showing you how to do it. Is it cheating? I see it more like a tutor. I first heard about in a vague reference in the outstanding video This Is Engineering, which is the best (and nerdiest) thing to come out of Purdue since Neil Armstrong.


THE NETFLIX PRIZE: HOW A $1 MILLION CONTEST CHANGED BINGE-WATCHING FOREVER – How machine learning earned $1 million bucks for some college kids.


You can play this musical instrument with just your thoughts – I can assure you that you would not want to hear any music played by my thoughts. No beat. No melody. Just a lot of random discordant notes.


Can a Sideways Elevator Help Designers Build Taller Skyscrapers? – Instead of elevators, these are sort of like elevator cars that can move side-to-side in addition to up and down. That would allow you to have more cars running and to include horizontal movement between connected buildings. Cool. I wonder how the button panel would look.

Politics and Policy

Facebook can track your browsing even after you’ve logged out, judge says – Someone tried (and failed) to sue Facebook for tracking them on the web even after they logged out. Guess what; you are being tracked by bunches of companies as you surf the web. Don’t like it? Run something like Disconnect in your browser. It not only blocks them from tracking you, your pages load faster because you don’t have to wait on the trackers.


This Chart Shows How Your State Government Is Funded – An interesting chart the shows the proportion of tax revenue each state receives from different sources.


Ranking the States by Fiscal Condition 2017 Edition – This one rates each state by its fiscal health. Best – Florida. Worst – New Jersey. Texas ranked 23rd.


Will Trump Kill the Bourbon Boom? – Why would trump kill the “bourbon boom”? He wants to put high taxes on imported steel and this article suggests that Europe might respond with punitive taxes on bourbon. So we’ll pay more for steel, lose jobs in steel consuming industries, and lose sales of bourbon to Europe. Well, maybe more people in the US will take up drinking to get their minds off of the insanity.


Steel Tariff Letter – This is a letter cosigned by every living former leader of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (except Janet Yellen, who was not asked because that would be inappropriate). This isn’t a partisan thing. It includes the advisers from Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. From the letter: “The diplomatic costs might be worth it if the tariffs generated economic benefits. But they would not. Additional steel tariffs would actually damage the U.S. economy. Tariffs would raise costs for manufacturers, reduce employment in manufacturing, and increase prices for consumers.”


Why the drone industry actually wants more regulation – Well, not really. What they appear to want is the FAA to put some regulations in place that will allow for greater levels of commercial use of drones. So they want more regulation, but they want it in place of the outright bans that exist today. Eventually, the industry will mature and then they’ll want regulation to block competitors.


Alabama ABC says ‘no’ to Margaritaville with pitcher ban – You can’t buy a pitcher of margaritas in Alabama. Beer is the drink you can buy in a pitcher because, well, it’s Alabama.


Harvard Committee Recommends Banning Clubs – It isn’t just silly southern states that do stupid things. “A Harvard committee has today recommended banning all students from joining any final club or other unrecognized social organization.” They don’t like the choices some students are making on who they associate with.


The US had a clear shot at killing Kim Jong Un on July 4 — here’s why it didn’t strike – He was there at their July 4th missile launch (or was it a big fireworks show?). We knew it. We could have taken him out. We didn’t.


North Korea: a terrifying glimpse into what war with Kim Jong-un’s military would look like – We would “win”, but the cost would be very, very high.


The political beliefs of evangelical Christians – “Back in 2011, white evangelicals were the most likely group to say that personal morality was important in a president, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Since Mr Trump became the Republican standard-bearer, they have become the least likely group to say that, changing what seems like a fundamental issue of morality to accommodate their support for the president.” This is just more evidence that most people’s political views are derived more from tribal loyalty than logic or policy views.


Even the intellectual left is drawn to conspiracy theories about the right. Resist them. – I’ve avoided linking to any of the many criticisms I’ve read about the newly released book “Democracy in Chains”. It has been vigorously criticized by the economists I read, especially those that worked closely with Jim Buchanan, the Nobel Prize economist that is the focus of the book. This link is to a criticism, not by libertarian supporters of Buchanan, but by left leaning political scientists. Despite wishing what she said was true, they recognize that her work is fiction.

I feel compelled to give just one of many, many examples of how DiC twists the truth to tell a tale. In the book, she quotes Tyler Cowen as follows:

“The weakening of checks and balances” in the American system, Cowen suggested, “would increase the chance of a very good outcome.”

What he actually wrote was:

It is unlikely that the United States would be better off moving in that direction. While the weakening of checks and balances would increase the chances of a very good outcome, it also would increase the chance of a very bad outcome. Furthermore, the widely perceived legitimacy of the US Constitution suggests that such a change would involve disastrous transition costs.

If you want to read some other criticisms, you can see some here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Rather than making substantive responses defending her book (which is understandable given how hard it would be to defend), she has taken to Facebook asking for help in fighting the Koch conspiracy against her.