August 20, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


Solar eclipse of 2017: Conroe ISD teacher, student weigh in on the event – The student in the article is none other than our Dante. By cautious about the eclipse. The sun is a huge orange flaming ball of gas and looking at it can cause serious damage. I saw something like that on twitter last week and my eyes still hurt.


How strong is Oobleck? – This YouTube video shows various backyard experiments with Oobleck, including shooting a balloon of it with a golf ball from a propane powered gun.


Ten Years Ago – Take a look at what some popular Internet sites looked like 10 years ago. Was it really ugly then or have our tastes just changed?


Here Is the Best Language Learning App for You – Want to learn a new language? I still think it would be much easier if we all just agreed to standardize on English. If you’ve watched virtually any science fiction movie, you know we will all speak English in the future anyway, so let’s get it done.


Strawberry Valley –Driscoll’s is the largest berry company. This is an interesting article on how they’ve developed the industry.


You’ll Never Be as Radical as This 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf – This guy was trippy. I love the story of his theatrical confrontation involving splashing blood on his fellow Quaker’s over their acceptance of slavery. This guy was a character.


Infographic of the fascinating timeline of the far future – Sorry the quick transition from blood spraying dwarfs of the 18th century to the far future, but this is an interesting look at where we are probably heading, including tidbits like the end of Niagra Falls (about 50K years from now) two when Voyager 2 will make its closest pass to Sirius.


Exposed: How maulvis take money for one-night stand with divorced women trying to save marriage – This was a weird one. Apparently there are imam’s that get paid by women to have one-night stands with them (basically getting married, consummating the marriage, and getting divorced all in one night). They do it because the women want to remarry their husbands and think that they need to do this for religious reasons first. I’m not sure what religious instruction they are getting, but I’d ask for a second opinion. This could be a good argument for the need to have some women in the clergy.


Japan Is Selling Ice Cream That Doesn’t Melt – I don’t understand this. One of the things that makes ice cream awesome is the way that it melts in your mouth. If it doesn’t melt, how is it ice cream?

Health – Physical and Mental

Why we fell for clean eating – Clean eating. It’s one of those vague terms that sounds good but doesn’t really mean much of anything. This article talks about it from a British perspective. My favorite is the insanity of the Blonde Vegan getting death threats when, after serious health issues, she decided to start eating fish.


Eating “Clean” Won’t Solve Any of Your Problems – This is a second article I came across that criticizes “clean” eating. Has a backlash started?


Art and Culture

The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television: Increases in the Use of Swear Words in American Books, 1950-2008 – This article uses Google N-Grams to show that the seven swear words listed by George Carlin have become much more common in books in the last few decades. I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world where swearing isn’t commonplace; we’re cursed.


Save Your Sanity. Downgrade Your Life. – Reading this lady’s article, I see how people were attracted to Amishism (or whatever the appropriate word is). “I cut out personal phone calls (unless the person is a continent away), then anything other than businesslike emails. If I want to catch up with a good friend or a family member, I wait until we actually see each other.” Then again, she writes articles to publish online.


Cheese Powder and Other Hobgoblins: A Double Standard in Risk Reporting – This article talks about our selective skepticism about science studies. We’re rightly skeptical about studies funded by companies that benefit from them but not nearly as skeptical when it is a non-profit or government agency that benefits from a study that they are backing.


The corruption of modern academic medicine — How your doctor was bought – This is a very skeptical article basically saying that far too many medical studies are untrustworthy because of influence by pharmaceutical companies.


Where is everybody? The implications of cosmic silence – A paper arguing that lack of evidence of any extraterrestrial intelligence is because once a species gets technically advanced enough, it kills itself.The idea is that technology increases our destructive power faster than our ability to wisely use that power. This would have been much easier to mock before last November.


Back to the past – This is a collection of studies on race. It’s a page of a daily blog by Kevin Lewis that I often scan to look for interesting studies.


How to Create a Strong Password – This is about the one millionth article exhorting you to use strong passwords, not share them between sites, and to store them securely. I’d go on about how crazy it is for people to keep writing articles on this topic, except for the fact that most people still do all the things they say not to do. Don’t you?


Charlottesville white nationalist demonstrator loses job at libertarian hot dog shop – Remember the article last week about the guy taking stranger’s pictures on subways and then searching for their faces online to see who they are? The same technique was used on the Nazi’s in the march. Before you get too excited about how great that is, remember that the same approach can be used on good people fighting for good but unpopular causes.

Politics and Policy

A STATE BROADCASTER IS AN ANACHRONISM – This is an argument for dropping the poll tax that supports the BBC. I don’t know why Britain, or the US for that matter, feels the need to use taxpayer funds to support domestic broadcasters. The funny thing is that the audience that they target with subsidies skews towards those most able to afford to pay for their own entertainment.


This University President Can’t Take a Joke – This is by the creator of the documentary Can We Take A Joke? It pokes fun of the president of Lawrence University for refusing to recognize a student group for showing the film because it upset other students. The overall gist of the article is positive, saying that the movie has been shown at about 250 theaters without other incidents.


Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals – This article blames neoliberalism (a vague term that roughly means people that like more individual freedom than the speaker wants them to have) for the difficulty fighting global warming. It appears to view ending capitalism as key to saving the world. What was it that Einstein said about the definition of insanity?


After Backing Alt-Right in Charlottesville, A.C.L.U. Wrestles With Its Role – The A.C.L.U. once again backed Neo-Nazi’s right to speak. They’ve taken a lot of criticism over it. I’m still a free speech extremist. Taking away the right to speak from anyone is conceding that it’s a right that can be taken away. At that point, is it really a right anymore? It reminds me of the old joke where the billionaire offers a woman $100,000,000 if she’ll sleep with him. She agrees. Then he says changes his offer to $50. She exclaims “what kind of woman do you think I am!” He responds “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just arguing over the price.” If we agree that we are country that censors people, we’re left arguing over who we will allow the right to speak.


The Misguided Attacks on ACLU for Defending Neo-Nazis’ Free Speech Rights in Charlottesville – Here’s a better defense of the A.C.L.U.’s stance than my prostitute joke.


Robert E. Lee Quote – “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.” It looks like those protesting the removal of civil war statues do so against the wishes of one of their heroes. Not that this will buy us anything. These people have proven beyond any doubt that they can hold their views in the face of any amount of logic or reason.


Why state-level single-payer health care efforts are doomed – I’ve been searching for a good explanation of why states with populations that overwhelmingly support single-payer don’t just do it at a state level. This article is sort of an argument for why they can’t. I found the few arguments they made to be weak. One is that sick people would move to those states. That could be mitigated by having a multi-year wait before getting the benefits. The other is that states have to have balanced budgets. That’s a frighteningly bad argument. The author appears to believe that it is OK to borrow money from future taxpayers to pay for current health expenses. Um, wow. Not sure what to say about that other than I’m glad he isn’t managing my finances.


Socialism – not oil prices – is to blame for Venezuela’s woes – Well, duh. How many times will socialism have to fail before people give up on the idea?


Why a Top Obama Adviser Is Looking at Concert Ticket Pricing to Help the Nation’s Economy – Concert pricing has always seemed a bit crazy. This is an interview with Alan Krueger on the topic.


Is “Buying Local” Even Possible? – This is an article showing how silly much of the “buy local” nonsense is.


The Fight For $15 Fizzles – The movement to ban all people not able to earn $15/hr from having jobs appears to be dying. I think this experience is a great lesson in the value of doing these things locally before making a national commitment. We’ve been learn enough to local experiments to see what a bad idea this is before ruining the lives of poor people across the country.


People Versus Machines: The Impact of Minimum Wages on Automatable Jobs – This study looks at the employment impact of minimum wage increases on jobs that are easy to automate. Not surprisingly, it finds that “increasing the minimum wage decreases significantly the share of automatable employment held by low-skilled workers.”


The U.S. trade deficit is a good thing. Really. – This is an op-ed by US Senator James Lankford taking the position that the trade deficit is actually a good thing. I think he’s correct in saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the deficit, but I don’t think you can necessarily conclude that it is good (or bad) to have one.


No. The U.S. Trade Deficit Is Not a Good Thing – This is a response by John Carney to the prior article. It’s full of bad economics (which is why it’s on Breitbart), but I thought it was good to read to see what arguments anti-trade people believe.


What John Carney At Breitbart Gets Wrong About Trade Deficits – Finally, here’s a response to Carney’s response to Lankford’s article claiming that deficits are good.


Evidence of a Toxic Environment for Women in Economics – An interesting study of comments on econjobrumors showing a disturbing level of misogyny there. I don’t know enough about the economics profession to say what that means for gender bias in the field versus what it says about the tendency of online commenters to be extremely misogynist. Why are online commenters so insane?


Will Robots Steal Human Jobs? – Short answer – no. The economy is not that limited. The more we can do, the more we’ll want. We’re very far from having robots do everything we want, so we’ll still be offering each other pay to do more things for us.


Google Memo – Week 2

Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd – This article argues that interpersonal skills and broader cultural knowledge are important in tech, so it is in company’s interests to be more inclusive. I think misses the mark. It is definitely true that in tech groups, you need people that can anticipate user’s desires, communicate to non-technical people, and all that. You also need some people to write code and those people need very little in the way of people skills. I think you’ll continue to see those roles filled by socially awkward people – often male, often living outside their native culture.


The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond – Perspectives on the Google Memo from social psychology professor, a personality psychology professor, an evolutionary psychology professor, and a science writer with a PhD in sexual neuroscience.


Some scientists respond to the controversial Google memo – This is primarily a reference to the article listed above, but it makes one fun point. People are simultaneously arguing that there is no real difference between male and female minds and so we should expect equal representation in tech jobs AND that we should push for gender diversity to reap the benefits of the different ways that men and women see and experience the world.


As a Woman in Tech, I Realized: These Are Not My People – This woman’s perspective is roughly that women generally aren’t as interested in tech as men are, but even for those that are, it is tougher than it should be and that companies should do more to make them feel more welcome. I think this article was the one that influenced my thinking on the subject the most.