July 30, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


SLEEP IN THESE BUBBLES AND WATCH ICELAND’S NORTHERN LIGHTS – Sleep in a clear bubble in rural Iceland. Looks like fun. A bit lacking in privacy, though.


The Inside Story of Why Disney Spent Half a Billion Dollars on an Avatar Theme Park – Remember a movie called Avatar? The one with blue people, not the bald kid. It was a big hit a while ago but seems largely forgotten now. Disney is making a major park addition based on it. This article tried to explain the mystery of why they chose to do that. I still don’t get it.


There’s a scientific reason why 2-week vacations are actually a waste – This article claims that longer vacations show diminishing returns because it still amounts to one “memory”. I think that is a stupid way of looking at it. To me, getting away from work for more extended periods pays huge dividends in mental refreshment.


Ever wonder how Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) actually work? – Probably not, but if you have, here’s a YouTube video that does a good job of explaining.


How earthquake scientists eavesdrop on North Korea’s nuclear blasts – Ever wonder how we know so much about the North Korean’s bombs? This is a good explanation.


Ravens Are So Smart, One Hacked This Researcher’s Experiment – They seem very smart and logical. Hmmm… Does anyone know if ravens live to be 35 years old? Are ones born in the US considered to be “natural born citizens?” Add your own joke about tweeting here.


Why I’m never signing up for Amazon Prime – A bizarre rant about Amazon. The best example of the author’s inanity is “Insofar as possible, I think we should pay full price for the things we want.” You go ahead, buddy.


Why Don’t Whales Get Out of the Way? – It looks like ships hit whales fairly frequently because it hasn’t occurred to whales that this is a risk so they don’t bother to get out of the way.


How to Fix Traffic Forever – Freeway access lights, congestion pricing, roundabouts, and new intersection designs – there are a lot of improvements we could make.


How often you should wash your bed sheets, according to a microbiologist — and what happens when you don’t – They never really come out and say how often, but they make sheets sound disgusting and imply that weekly is the longest acceptable time. Then again, remembering what I learned last week, maybe having clean sheets makes your immune system weak.


Two days in an underwater cave running out of oxygen – This is one reason why I don’t cave dive. He seems like a total nut job to me. Then again, I’m sure I seem like that to some people when I go canoeing with gators, go hang gliding, or go eight days without washing my bed sheets.


Health – Physical and Mental

Apparently, People Who Fart In Front Of Their Partner Are More Likely To Have A Lasting Relationship – This is good to know. I never realized that this was the key to a successful marriage. From now on I’m dropping “Excuse me” in favor of “You’re welcome”.


Is Peeing in the Pool Dangerous or Just Gross? – What is with all the articles on peeing in pools this year? Is “pee week” going to replace “shark week”? Once again, they use a lot of scary chemical names to make it sound like a major health hazard. I still think the primary reason is grossness and that the health issues are overblown. Either way, if you are in a waterpark on a crowded day and you notice that there is almost nobody in the bathroom, don’t think too much about it.


Intrepid: Methods to detect and prevent sexual assault – With some people claiming that a fifth of women in college are sexually assaulted, you can see how there would be demands for ways to improve safety. This video shows an interesting approach. It’s like an electronic chastity belt. Take it off and your phone asks you to confirm consent.


110 N.F.L. Brains – Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to play football. Based on this examination of donated NFL player brains (admittedly not a random sample), it looks like football has serious negative long-term cognitive effects. I know it sounds crazy, but I think we need to start seriously considering a move to flag football at all levels of play.


U.S. proposes cigarette nicotine cut, shift toward e-cigarettes – Will cutting the nicotine in cigs work to reduce smoking? Will it create a black market in stronger cigs for addicts? If you say it is OK for them to do this, what would your argument be against banning high sugar levels in soda? I’d love to see fewer people smoking, but I don’t know if this is the right way to do it.


Don’t Let That Viral Drinking Water Database Scare You – The Environmental Working Group has a database you can use to check out the safety of your local water supply. Sadly, the standards it uses for what constitutes safe water are crazy. I think that this is just another case of people realizing that you can get a lot of attention and make a lot of money if you scare people.


Amazon has a secret health tech team called 1492 working on medical records, virtual doc visits – I sure hope this is true. We definitely need much more efficient provisioning of health care. I’m picturing a near future where I can “visit” a doctor online for routine stuff and not have to go in to an office full of sick people.


Time, not material goods, ‘raises happiness’ – The concept of this article (spending money on time not stuff) make sense, but some of the specifics seem daft. In particular, “The researchers found that fewer than a third of individuals spent money to buy themselves time each month.” Really? They didn’t spend money on driving or mass transit to save the time of walking to get places? They didn’t spend money on meals they could have made or groceries that they could have grown? I think we all trade money for time so often that we lose sight of how often we do it. Still, I see how people don’t do this as often as they should. We were driving someone home the other day and I had the opportunity to save a couple of minutes by spending $0.50 to take a toll overpass instead of exiting and going through a couple of lights. With four people in the car and roughly 2 minutes to save, that worked out to spending the equivalent of $3.50/person/hour for the time saved. My wife was surprised that I would spend the money and I was surprised that she would even consider not trading it for the time.

Art and Culture

Surprise! You’re at Our Wedding! – It appears that people are having parties and then, during the party, announcing that it is really a wedding. I don’t get it and the article doesn’t make the “why” very clear at all. I guess if you show up to big fancy party and your friend and their partner have invited a bunch of friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, be ready for a wedding to break out.


What Directors Really Think of Ballet Dancers Going To College – Apparently going to college isn’t a big thing for getting a job in ballet.


Half of the Milky Way comes from other galaxies – Great. We we’re appropriating from other galaxies even before we started evolving. Now we’ve got to worry about aliens in other galleries demanding reparations.


DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites – An interesting look at the DNA from the people living in the region of the Bible in an attempt to ascertain whether the Canaanites were wiped out or not.

Generation of blue chrysanthemums by anthocyanin B-ring hydroxylation and glucosylation and its coloration mechanism – Real blue chysanthemums without having to use dye or photoshop. I love science.

Technology and Data

A Tech Bubble Killed Computer Science Once, Can It Do So Again? – Looks like majoring in computer science is hot again.


17 helpful Google products and services you never knew existed – A list of some of the stuff Google offers. I didn’t know they had animal sounds.


This is How Google will Collapse – Is Google about to collapse? The author of this thinks so.


Trusted Contacts now on iOS – This is a handy Google app that we use. You install it on your phone and you tell it who you trust to see your location. At any time, they can ask your phone to send them your location. By default, it gives you 5 minutes to refuse, but the latest version lets you change that delay. This is handy for things like trying to figure out why you are late coming home or where you might have left your phone. It shows the person whose phone is being located that you checked up on them, so it doesn’t have the creepy feeling of other less transparent monitoring tools. It’s also very likely that Google already knows where your phone is, so you aren’t sharing your location with yet another company. Don’t think Google is tracking where your phone goes? Try this link to see. I can use it to see where my phone has been every day since 2014.


A Wisconsin company will let employees use microchip implants to buy snacks and open doors – I wear a badge at work to unlock doors, let me use the elevator, check in at the gym, and even buy lunch. This company is giving people the option of implanting the chip from their badge chip into their hands. Would you do it? I’d probably say no as long as I still had to carry an office key.


The Scottish Scoundrel Who Changed How We See Data – I never thought about it, but somebody must have invented pie charts. This is the story about a color character named William Playfair, that either invented or popularized a lot of visualizations that are common today.


Our World in Data – This is a cool site with lots of visualizations of data. Categories include population, health, food, energy, environment, technology, growth & inequality, work & life, public sector, and more. William Playfair would be proud.


Roombas have been mapping your homes for years, and that data’s about to be sold to the highest bidder – Want data about the size and layouts of people’s homes? Buy it from Roomba.


How Cellophane Changed the Way We Shop for Food – It’s kind of hard to see cellophane as technology these days, but it was 100 years ago. It had a profound effect on the way we shop. I thought that this quote was interesting in the context of the recent move to pick-up grocery shopping: “retailers depended on a consumer’s ability to see a product before buying it.”

Politics and Policy

Texas man ordered to pay $65G in child support for kid who isn’t his – If I understand this correctly, this guy has to pay back child support for a child that isn’t his and that he only met once because that was the amount of child support that accumulated before he proved his non-parenthood with a paternity test. That doesn’t seem right. I’m guessing that there is more to this story.


Cop Brutally Arrests Woman For Selling Flowers – You can’t just go around selling flowers wherever you want. We have laws to protect people from flower solicitors and we appear to have law enforcement offers that are quite zealous about protecting people from those modern-day Eliza Doolittles.


Claremont college suspends students who blocked access to event with pro-police speaker – Props to Claremont. They had an unpopular academic giving a speech on campus. Many students exercised their right to protest. Some took it too far and blocked other people from getting in to see the lecturer. Those students have been suspended for a year. I consider people that block others from speaking to be intellectual cowards afraid that their own views won’t hold up to being challenged.


Election Betting Odds – This has been one of my favorite sites for monitoring approaching elections because it uses gambling odds rather than polls. It has two interesting parts relating to the US Presidency. One is a prediction of who will win the 2020 Presidential election (current odds are 27% Trump, 10% Warren, 8% Pence, 5% Sanders, 5% Dwayne Johnson, …) and the odds that Trump will leave office by year (2017 – 11%, 2018 23%, 2019 – 15%, >= 2020 50%).


Trump Reversal on International Taxes Could Hurt U.S. Workers – This article sees the impact of ending our policy of taxing companies on overseas earning exactly opposite from me. I think it will allow US companies to bring overseas profits back to the US to invest here. The author sees it as an incentive to invest more overseas. I think it is important to recognize that the US is the only civilized country that tries to tax its domestic companies on overseas earnings.


Trump is something the nation did not know it needed – This article shows an interesting perspective on how Trump is affecting the Presidency. In the author’s view, people have been putting too much faith in and granting too much power to the Presidency. Trump is teaching them the folly of that approach, thereby restoring more balance between the three branches. I’ll believe it when I see concrete action taken by congress to restore the power that it has ceded.


San Francisco DA: Anti-theft law results in huge drop in stolen phones – It looks like mandating kill switches for phones has been a big help in reducing phone theft.


Business & Economics

The World’s Highest Paid Athletes – It starts with Renaldo, LeBron, Messi, Federer, and Durant. Serena Williams is the only woman on the list. In this article on that subject, Serena says “When the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts.” Surely she knows that’s not how it works. A lot of less athletically gifted people do “the same work and made the same sacrifices” and didn’t make nearly as much as she did. Athletes are entertainers and get paid based on how much money they make for sponsors. If she wants women athletes to get paid more, she needs to complain to the fans who clearly prefer male athletes.


P&G Cuts More Than $100 Million in ‘Largely Ineffective’ Digital Ads – Think the talk of Google being in trouble is just crazy talk? This article might make you take the threat more seriously.


We Need To Talk About Universal Basic Income – I thought that this was a really good explanation of Universal Basic Income along with some of the concerns about it.


Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll – According to this article, a lot of businesses are having a hard time finding workers that aren’t on drugs. If that is a problem today, imagine what it would be like with a Universal Basic Income, when people who want to sit at home stoned are guaranteed an income.


The opioid crisis is creating a fresh hell for America’s employers – This is a different article on the same topic drawing the same conclusion.


What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work – Here’s an article by someone that thinks that we’re moving to a world where people increasingly work as independent contractors hired to work on projects.


Is Amazon getting too big? – This is one of several article I saw this week on Amazon being “too big” and needing to be broken up by the government. Given that they aren’t close to a monopoly and that people clearly use them because they provided desirable services at good prices, this seems crazy to me. Can we at least wait until their customers hate them? Anyway, I thought it was interesting that this article appeared in Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post.


Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem? – An increasing percentage of young people view “capitalism” as a bad thing. They usually start with a bizarre description of it, like this article’s “a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital, and do it more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment we depend on.” Here’s another profanity laden diatribe on the same topic. I see this as a combination of youthful jealousy of successful people combined with a failure of education. It’s hard to understand how any reasonably educated person can look at the relative success of capitalist countries vs those where the state controls the economy and still think that capitalism is bad. When the world’s poor and disposed flee, do they run to capitalist countries or socialist countries?


Socialist Sweden – Swedish historian Johan Norberg explains why we should be cautious when people hold up Sweden as a successful example of socialism.