August 27, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


Montgomery County Flood Plain Map – A map of the flood plain for Montgomery County. Comforting or disturbing based on what you see. It shows the 100 year and 500 year flood plains.


DriveTexas – Road closures in the state of Texas. It’s a really busy map right now.


LA Speed Check – A classic little video about the fastest plane in the sky asking for a speed check.


The Smiley Index: Ranking Countries, Companies & Jobs by ‘Smileyness’ – Thee Smiliest country is the United States and the least smiley is Romania. The smiliest industry is “Staffing and Recruiting”, all of whose smiles are fake and the least smiley is Computer Networking. The industry surprise was that accounting made the top 10 smiliest. The least smiling company is Verizon and the most smiling (by far) is Disney.


Another Variation on the Selfie: Get Ready for the Elfie – What? People are getting cosmetic surgery to look more elves.


Chiune Sugihara – I’d never heard of this guy. He was a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during WWII. He illegally provided exit visas to thousands to help them flee the Nazis.


100 trips everyone should take in their lifetime, according to the world’s top travel experts – These premise of this article is stupid. How many people actually take 100 trips in their lifetime? And if any appreciable amount of them did, some of these “off-the-beaten-track hidden gems” would be overrun. If you ignore the headline and think of it as 100 places you might want to visit, it’s not a bad article.


We tried to buy people’s Powerball tickets – This was weird. They went to a place selling lottery tickets and tried to buy people’s tickets right after they bought them. Most people refused to sell even though they could have taken the money (double what they paid for the ticket) and bought more tickets.


Thanks to Amazon, Seattle is now America’s biggest company town – Wow! I had no idea how much Amazon has come to dominate downtown Seattle. They control almost 20% of all prime office space in the city.


A Texas newsroom predicted a disaster. Now it’s close to coming true. – This talks about what would happen if a strong hurricane hit the Houston Ship Channel directly. The results could be much worse that the terrible situation we are facing with Harvey.


A London family is offering their future nanny $129,000 and access to a Maserati – Want to make good money and hang out with rich people? OK, you’ll be spending all of your time with rich kids, but you’ll still be in nice places.


Health – Physical and Mental

The $37 billion supplement industry is barely regulated — and it’s allowing dangerous products to slip through the cracks – Supplements aren’t really regulated, which means that the FDA isn’t testing them to see if they are safe or effective. I’m OK with that.


Cancer, Herpes, Metformin and the FDA – An interesting look at interactions with the FDA. The most interesting part is that Metformin, a very cheap diabetes drug, appears to have outstanding cancer preventing characteristics.


The Texas telemedicine breakthrough – This is cool! It looks like we can use online doctors in Texas now. I need to research this more. This could be a really cheap and convenient way to deal with a lot of minor medical issues.


NIX – This company appears to be making a wearable (stick on?) device that shows when you should drink to maximize performance. I thought we already came with a sense of thirst, but maybe this will be better. Their video had my BS meter pretty active with phrases like “a performance impairment up to 29%” (unusual precision), “nanotechnology” (buzzword alert), and “hybrid photonic system” (sciency word salad).


Art and Culture

Underpass Studio Workspace – This guy built a really clever workspace under a freeway overpass.


The History of Ink – This has nothing to do with tattoos. It’s an online copy of the book “The History of Ink”, which is a book from about 1860.


All the Ways You’re Secretly Being Rude Abroad –Asking someone what they do for a living is rude in France? Good grief. I do agree that using a handkerchief instead of a tissue is gross. That’s true here too. It looks like it is impossible to arrange your fingers in a way that won’t upset someone, so don’t even worry about it.



Birth of farming caused jaw-dropping changes to the human skull, scientists find – This article claims that farming made people’s jaws smaller and weaker by showing that people in areas that adopted agriculture did, in fact, have smaller jaws. I’m not dismissing the possibility that smaller jawed people invented agriculture to protect their fragile jaws – correlation doesn’t imply causation.


Assessing the accuracy of perceptions of intelligence based on heritable facial features – Apparently, some people look smart. I wonder if it is just the nerd glasses. I’d love to see full study if anyone can find an ungated copy of it.



The App Allows Parents To Send Emergency Texts Kids Can’t Ignore – This looks like the texting equivalent of a Howler from Harry Potter. I can see the use, but I also fear abuses. The controlling boyfriend/girlfriend. Leaving your phone in your office or locker and annoying the hell out of everyone around it. I’m sure that some kids need this, but I’m going to pass.


How To Choose A Microcontroller – Nothing is more embarrassing than showing up to a hacker party with the wrong microcontroller. I have nightmares about it.


There’s a world championship for Excel spreadsheets – It’s only open to youngsters (ages 13-22). I only pray that we don’t hire anyone in this competition.


How To Download All of Wikipedia Onto a USB Flash Drive – This could be useful.


Politics and Policy

Digital Rights Don’t Stop at the Border – What the heck? They can demand to search your phone when you come back into the country? That doesn’t seem right. Maybe what we need is an app that hides everything on your phone and puts it into a state that looks like an almost entirely factory reset phone. Then, once you get through customs, you do something that restores everything.


Taxpayers will pay a high price for loss of flood protection standards – This is a pre-Harvey article about President Trump rescinding President Obama’s policy that “limited federal subsidies to build in areas likely to flood.” Our flood insurance program is a total mess.


How Hurricane Harvey Could Cause Long-Term Devastation – Here’s another article on the problems that National Flood Insurance is facing. We definitely need some real reform, but it is going to make some people very unhappy.


Greece Should Copy New Zealand’s Dramatic Policy Reform – I don’t think this is likely to happen at all. It seems like most leaders don’t want to do what has been shown to work for countries as a whole. Instead, they want to do what works best for leaders, which is usually big, invasive governments.


Walter Williams: Suffer No Fools – An interesting show on African American intellectual Walter Williams. He’s an interesting thinker.


The Tenure Track Is Too Rigid to Help Diversity – Lots of valid complaints about the tenure system at universities.


This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley – A first person account of sexism in the Silicon Valley venture capital business.


America, Home of the Transactional Marriage – This article takes the position that low income marriage is in decline because of the loss of relative earning power of low income men.


First Amendment in Peril? – This article argues that, with their control of 98% of mobile phone OSes, the duopoly of Apple and Google effectively have the ability to censor apps.


Don’t Demonize Immigrants, My Fellow Conservatives – The change to demonization of immigrants is the saddest recent changes to the Republican Party. I’m all for making sure that all immigrants are legal, but to make that work, we need to make it much easier for many more people to come here legally. This will be especially true as we look for help in rebuilding SE Texas after that most unwelcome immigrant Harvey came to visit.


The Conservation of Coercion – This was a weird essay that seems to be saying that there is a certain natural level of coercion in society and that if you liberalize the government, informal rules will increase to fill the void.


The Socialism America Needs Now – This guy is arguing that instead of replacing capitalism with socialism, we need to grow socialism within it. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be driven by a recognition that socialism doesn’t work and needs to rely on markets. Rather, it is an argument for incrementalism and getting as much socialism as is politically feasible.


An Intellectual Historian Argues His Case Against Identity Politics – A criticism against a book written by a left leaning professor who opposes identity politics.


Three Generations of a Hackneyed Apologia for Censorship Are Enough – This is a nice review of the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” defense of censorship. It shows how the view that the government can censor “dangerous” opinions is no longer the law of the land.


Local NAACP Leader Defies Own Group, Supports New Florida Charter School – The battle over charter schools is an interesting one because it pits two usually aligned constituencies against each other.


PEDIATRICIAN FIRED OVER ANTI-DIVERSITY MEMO – This is a somewhat amusing mocking of the Google Memo situation using pediatricians (a group that skews heavily female) as an example. I wish it had been either funnier or more thought provoking, but it wasn’t bad.



Economist: Cigarette tax debate should include lawlessness – Oklahoma’s Supreme Court struck down a huge cigarette tax increase on the grounds that smuggling would completely undermine it. I don’t know if they make the correct legal decision, but it seems to have been the right economic decision.


An Open Letter to the Attorney General of Texas – I know that the anti-price gouging laws seem like a good idea, but they are stupid. We are running out of things like water and gasoline because people are buying far more than they really need because it is cheap. If we let prices increase, people wouldn’t horde as much AND suppliers would work harder to increase supply. So arguing for anti-price gouging laws makes you sound generous, but the truth is that you are causing shortages that leave people unable to get the things that they really, really need in favor of people hording stuff that they might use.