September 3, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


Harvey Track – A GIF showing the track of Harvey across Texas and Louisiana.


‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,’ says man who rode out Harvey with wife, four dogs in a truck – I don’t know everything that this guy has done, but he’s probably right. Staying in their home in Port Aransas was pretty darn stupid. It does make for an interesting story though.


Hurricane Harvey Could Spur Congress to Act on Flood Insurance – Our flood insurance system is a wreck. It was near its credit limit going into the storm, so something has to change. My guess, a lot of arguing resulting in very little change except raising the credit limit.


How Washington Made Harvey Worse – A criticism that the way our national flood insurance program is structured encourages building in flood prone areas, making floods worse.


Houston’s Flood Is a Design Problem – This one blames Houston for having too much concrete and not having enough ways to let the 50” of rain that fell soak in. My idea – using tunnel boring machines to build huge drains that lead to the Gulf. During dry times, we could use them as subway tunnels to Galveston.


THE AGONY OF DECIDING TO EVACUATE A CITY – It’s a tough call. This article claims that 100 people died on the road during the Rita evacuation. Evacuations are dangerous and costly in many ways. I think that they did the right thing not ordering an evacuation. Incidentally, I learned that in 2009 Texas changes to law to allow for mandatory evacuations.


Why It’s Misleading to Say That Houston Showcases “America at Its Best” – It’s hard to describe this article as anything other than an attempt to downplay the public spirit that Houston showed during the crisis. She’s basically saying that absent a crisis, people are jerks, so don’t get too excited. I remember when I got a flat tire on Huffsmith-Korville. The hardest thing about changing it was that so many cars get stopping and asking if Ineeded help. Sorry, lady, but most people aren’t jerks most of the time, at least not where I live.


This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same – By many measures, it was the worst flooding storm in recorded history.


Houston flooding in historical perspective: no, zoning would not have stopped Harvey – This article talks about a lot of the historical floods Houston has had. Harvey may have been the worst, but we seem to get major floods every 10 years or so.


Hurricane Harvey’s Public-Health Nightmare – People needing dialysis, lost medications, mold, mosquitos – it’s going to be a busy time for health care workers.


Bangladesh under water: monsoon floods hit South Asia – This isn’t really about Harvey. It’s about a place on the other side of the world going through something similar only being much poorer. It’s the sort of story that is easy to glance at and overlook when it isn’t happening to people you know or people “like you”.


Just as an aside, I find people’s viewpoint flexibility amusing. When there is a blizzard, you hear the global warming skeptics mocking the global warming believers and saying that this shows they are wrong while the global warming believers say that only a fool tries to draw conclusions about a single, local weather event. Then when we get a heatwave or a flood like Harvey, they unembarrassingly switch rhetorical clubs and keep beating each other.


CAN THE TRUTH BE REPUGNANT? SHOULD IT BE? – There are repugnant opinions, but there aren’t repugnant facts. This article talks about some subjects being so sensitive that we’ve become afraid to investigate them for fear of finding facts that we don’t like.


How Geography Gave the US Power – A video on how the geography of the US shaped its history. It was good to have separation from strong enemies and to have rivers to ship stuff.


How to Stop a Riot – This video talks about how police manage crowds at volatile protests, or at least how they are supposed to do it.


E-Sports Found a Growing Niche. Now They Start to Find Homes. – E-Sports keep growing and now they are building small “arenas” for fans to watch the games. I attended some e-sports events at a geek con in Austin. Ihave a hard time seeing in-person attendance becoming a big thing. To be fair, though, I’d never have imagined that you could fill stadiums with people willing to spend well in excess of $100 a ticket to watch sports or concerts but I’ve been told that it happens regularly.


The Hotel Room Hacker – Remember several years ago when it came out that electronic hotel room locks could be easily hacked? This is a story about a guy that decided to make a living exploiting the flaw. He traveled around stealing stuff from hotel rooms.


Why Western Pennsylvania dirt is used in the infields of most MLB stadiums – I never gave any thought to the dirt they use on baseball fields. Apparently, most stadiums get it from a business in Western Pennsylvania because it is good baseball dirt. Go figure.


ESPN Football Analyst Walks Away, Disturbed by Brain Trauma on Field – A successful football analyst quit because he couldn’t stand being part of the system that was leaving so many people brain damaged. After all the reading I’ve done on the subject, I’m not sure whether I’ll be comfortable watching it this year. On one hand, the players now know what they are getting into and are making their own decision. On the other hand, it still seems like it will be hard to watch.


Arrest of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels – This is a disturbing video of a nurse being arrested. Her offense? She wouldn’t take a blood sample from an unconscious person brought in by a police officer because her hospital’s policy forbid her from doing so without a warrant or without the unconscious person being under arrest. The police officer didn’t like that answer, so he got mad and arrested her.


Ancient Elephant Was 50 Percent Bigger Than Modern Cousins – I’m waiting for the next fad diet “secrets of the elephants” – how you can lose 50% of your weight and keep it off for hundreds of thousands of years.


Spite Houses: 9 Homes People Built Just To Annoy Their Neighbors – I guess some people get really mad and have a hard time letting it go. This shows 9 homes that were built in spite. Some are really cute.


Underwater ruins of lost Roman city discovered in Tunisia – Lost? It’s hard to get more lost than that. “Honey, we’re in the wrong country and were at the bottom of the ocean. Are you sure we aren’t lost?” “Be quiet! I can’t hear the GPS.”


In a Fragile Partnership, Dolphins Help Catch Fish in Myanmar – Wild dolphins work with fisherman in Myanmar for a share of the catch.


How to spot a psychopath – An interesting article on the traits of psychopaths. Here are some of the characteristics to watch for. “Glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour.” What national figure does that remind me of?


WHY THOSE FLOATING FIRE ANT COLONIES IN TEXAS ARE SUCH BAD NEWS – Fire ants are not native to Texas. I think they came here from hell. Still, they are impressive in their evilness.


With a Simple DNA Test, Family Histories Are Rewritten – Cheap DNA tests are revealing things that were hidden. Kids are finding out that some ancestors weren’t really biological ancestors. Adopted children are finding their families. Sometimes the best kept secrets are revealed in ways that people didn’t expect.

Health – Physical and Mental

The REAL Justice League! – An awesome collection of pictures of kids with health issues dress as superheroes. I can’t describe it well. You’ll just have to see it to understand.


Is wellness culture creating a new kind of eating disorder? – Another article on orthorexia, the disorder of getting overly stressed about eating the right stuff.


How Online Filter Bubbles Are Making Parents Of Autistic Children Targets For Fake “Cures” – Having an autistic child is already enough of a parenting challenge, but this article talks about another problem – there is a huge industry of scammers and nutters catering to parents of autistic children.


Science-Backed “Secrets” to Living a Long, Healthy Life – Nothing we didn’t already know. Exercise. Eat healthy. Don’t smoke. Have friends. It wasn’t in the article, but I would also add “have a lot of money” and “have good genes.”


How marriage changes people forever – Some information on how marriage changes people’s personalities.


Nanomachines that drill into cancer cells killing them in just 60 seconds developed by scientists – Cool. Tiny little machines that attack cancer cells when you shine a light on them. Stuff not clear in the article – how do they know which cells to attack? How do you shine a light on them when they are in the patient’s body?

Art and Culture

Do We All See the Man Holding an iPhone in This 1937 Painting? – Amusing. It’s a painting from 1937 that clearly shows a guy on an iPhone. Coincidence or time traveling painter?


A quick beginner’s guide to drawing – I should try this. I probably won’t.


Check out the crowdsourced “Eclipse Megamovie” – This was the lamest eclipse related thing I’ve seen. It’s exceptional in its lameness. I was taken aback by just how lame it was.


Membit – The sappy videos almost ruin this, but the concept is really cool. When you go somewhere, you can see pictures of the same place from the same perspective on your phone, sort of like looking at the place you are in at a different point in time.


THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS Wide Open (feat. Beck) – Cool effect video. It’s a dancer in an empty industrial space. As she dances, more of and more of her body is replaced by a lattice structure that you can see through. It’s cool to watch even though the song and the dancing weren’t the best. (Behind the Scenes: The Chemical Brothers ‘Wide Open’)


Insane Clown Posse: ‘We’re First Amendment Warriors’ for Juggalo Nation – I’d never heard of ICP or Juggalos before seeing this. Apparently, they are a white rap clown act that got labeled as a gang for reasons unclear. On September 16, the Insane Clown Posse will lead the Juggalos in a march on the National Mall. I swear that I’m not making this stuff up.


First Amendment Protects Cinema’s Right to Show Unicorn Masturbation Scene While Serving Alcohol, Says Judge – Wait, what? I didn’t see Deadpool, but I had no idea that it included unicorn masturbation, that Utah didn’t allow alcohol to be served during R rated movies that included sex scenes, and that they paid cops to buy beer and watch those movies. I guess that’s better than arresting nurses for doing their job. Still, I think it is time for them to reassess their crime fighting priorities.


Yale saves fragile students from a carving of a musket – What is it with universities trying to one-up each other in displays of idiocy? Yale put a fake rock over the musket in a stone carving showing a Puritan and a Native American. Oddly, they left the bow uncovered. Imagine what these kids will be like in the workplace. If they see a stone they don’t like, are they going to start a petition to have it removed?



Facebook Figured Out My Family Secrets, And It Won’t Tell Me How – The author claims that Facebook matched him up with a relative that he didn’t know he was related to and with whom he had no friends in common. He writes as though FB has frightening powers to associate people. I checked my FB “People You May Know” and they were all just lists of friend’s friends. Should I be relieved or disappointed?


‘Cortana, Open Alexa,’ Amazon Says. And Microsoft Agrees. – It looks like Alexa and Cortana are talking to each other. Maybe I should give Cortana a try someday.


AR Experiments – Look at some of the weird stuff people are doing with Android’s AR capabilities. I like the one where you draw a stick figure with a pen and then your phone makes it dance.


Rental Camera Gear Destroyed by the Solar Eclipse of 2017 – A camera lens is a magnifying glass. If you point it at the sun, bad things can happen. Here are pictures of some of the bad things that did happen.

Politics and Policy

KTVU anchor: ‘I experienced hate firsthand’ at Berkeley rally – Recently, President Trump was criticized for drawing parallels between extremist left-wing and extremist right-wing protesters in Charlottesville. Antifa set out to prove him right by holding a violent protest in Berkeley. I find it ironic that their name derives from “anti-fascist” but they seem indistinguishable from fascists. Maybe somebody can explain the difference to me.


The hypocrisy of antifa – Here’s another article critical of antifa. I haven’t run across anyone defending them to read as a counterpoint. They seem like poster-children to illustrate the point that the ends don’t inherently justify the means.


Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side’ – This is a strange piece by a Canadian Professor of Philosophy. I can’t tell whether he’s being serious or sarcastic. Here’s his summary: “Curbs on speech and strict rules of engagement – no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points – may be the right answer here. We already, in this country [Canada, not the US], ban hateful speech. Let’s go farther and insist on discourse rules, limits on public outrage and aggressively regulated social media. We could even ban media panel discussions.” Maybe he’s trying to show that banning hate speech really is a slippery slope to banning dissent.


Thousands in St. Louis likely to see wage drop with new law – They are lowering the minimum wage in St. Louis. Sort of. Missouri just removed the ability of cities to set their own minimum wages, so St. Louis is reverting to the lower statewide minimum wage. I have mixed feelings on this one. I don’t see any reason why the state shouldn’t let the people of St. Louis do what they want on this. On the other hand, I think not allowing low skilled people to work if they can’t meet some arbitrarily high wage standard is cruel. My compromise would be to have the state pass a new law that gives each and every resident of the state the ability to set their own minimum wage.


Why do presidents have unfettered power to pardon? – I found it hard not to want to constrain the pardon power after the events of this last week, but this article provides a nice explanation of why it is relatively unconstrained. Keep in mind, the president can only pardon people for federal crimes, so it isn’t an absolute power.


FDA Deems MDMA, Banned Since 1985, a ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ – This is kind of surprising. The FDA may approve a recreational drug for therapeutic use for PTSD.


Celebrate Labor Day by supporting national paid family leave – Seems like a nice idea and I can see why a lot of people support it. But how would you pay for it? I think the fairest way would be via a payroll deduction that goes into an account. When you take leave, you can draw from that account. If you haven’t accumulated enough, the account does negative and you pay interest. Whatever you have left at the end of your career, you get to keep. Maybe we could call it something catching like “Savings”.



NATURAL DISASTERS ARE NOT A BOON TO ECONOMIC GROWTH!!!!!!!! – This comes up sometimes after a disaster. People talk about how it will bring lots of jobs and maybe even be a net positive. That’s stupid. Yes, it creates a lot of jobs, but those are jobs where people are working to get things back to where they were before. Those same workers could have been making things better if they weren’t employed fixing the damage. It reminds me of a story about Milton Friedman talking to a bureaucrat in Asia at a canal project. He asked why most people were digging by hand and why there were so few machines. The bureaucrat explained “This is a jobs program”. He replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”  We get richer not by simply working but by actually creating value.


Study: a universal basic income would grow the economy – This article talks about a recent study that shows that UBI will actually grow the economy rather than shrink it as I fear will happen. Of course, the study made to assumptions that seem silly on their face: UBI won’t discourage work at all and increased taxes won’t cause behavioral changes. It is good to know that UBI will work great in fantasyland.

Price Gouging

Here is a collection of articles and blog posts on price gouging. In Texas, when a disaster strikes, our government switches from believers in free markets to a more Venezuelan style of price controls. The rough logic on one side is that companies will exploit people by overcharging when there is a crisis and the rich will get all the gas and water. The logic on the other side is that if prices rise, people will horde/waste less and people will try harder to supply more, so fewer people will have to do without gas/water. I recognize that almost everyone prefers the price controls method, but I think that’s a mistaken approach.


Price Gouging – They Attorney General


Price Gouging – John Stossel


Memo to economists defending price gouging in a disaster: It’s still wrong, morally and economically


Bad Economics and Hurricane Harvey


How “price gouging” could help Houston right now


More Google Memo Stuff

I’m An Ex-Google Woman Tech Leader And I’m Sick Of Our Approach To Diversity!


Why Google was wrong: Did James Damore really deserve to be fired for what he wrote?


I’m a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you.


We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo.


The e-mail Larry Page should have written to James Damore