September 17, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


The Winners of the Greatest Photoshop Battles Ever – Some photos could be made better with a little help. These are examples.


The Great Lengths Taken to Make Abraham Lincoln Look Good in Portraits – It appears that people have been “Photoshopping” pictures for a long time. Something seems a little dishonest about Abe in these pictures. I love the fact that the classic photo of Lincoln is his face on the body of slavery defending John Calhoun.


How Facebook Changed the Spy Game – The Russians are coming! This time they are invading through Facebook using propaganda. I don’t doubt it, but I’m more frightened by how we might react to this. “Any solution that we create will require a balance between national security interests and constitutional rights.” I’m guessing that I’ll see that balance differently than our counterintelligence agencies.


If You Want to Do Better in School, Ask for Help – School? This works well for most things in life. I’d say that the ratio of times I wished someone asked me for help compared with times I was annoyed by the request is more than 100 to 1. Of course, this is advice that I should also take more myself.


From Prison to Ph.D.: The Redemption and Rejection of Michelle Jones – Should having committed a crime over 20 years ago keep you out of Harvard. What if you’ve served your sentence in an exemplary fashion? What if your crime was killing your four year old son? What if the son was the result of your being raped at age 14? Not every question is simple.


Turn Your Outgoing Voicemail Into a Status Update During Emergencies – Interesting idea. It might be more effective than showing that you are OK by Photoshopping absurdist calamities.


Velocity School: Where Pitchers Pay to Throw Harder – More than you ever wanted to know about baseball pitching. Like everything, it is benefiting from science, data, and technology. I assume that somewhere there is something similar for hitters. If not, baseball is going to get even more boring.


In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling – An increasing number of Amish are using smartphones? Huh? This was a really interesting article. I learned a lot more about the Amish from reading it. I’m struck by the parallels between them and minimalist people that I know. They don’t live a primitive life because they think technology is evil. They think it takes them away from a better life. I prefer a more techno-focused maximalist lifestyle, but I can understand their perspective. I still remember how miserable I was when I tried using iTunes.


An Experiment Gives Cash Aid To The Poor. Is That Ethical? – Give cash to some people but not others to study how it impacts their lives. Did you just harm the people you didn’t give cash to? That’s the question behind this article.


The Long Death of Product 19, the Most Beloved Cereal You’ve Never Heard Of – I have only a vague recollection of Product 19. I guess that’s all I’ll ever have because it is no longer being made.


After Irma, a once-lush gem in the U.S. Virgin Islands reduced to battered wasteland – This was really sad. It was sad to see the destruction. It was also sad to see how many people responded.

Health – Physical and Mental

Relationship Problems? Try Getting More Sleep –Being tired and cranky isn’t good for a relationship. Who would have guessed that? Please remember that “sleep-deprived people are more unpleasant and even hostile” the next time I fall asleep in a meeting or a movie. I’m just trying to be a more pleasant and less hostile person.


Little evidence that light drinking in pregnancy is harmful, say experts – It’s a weird article. They aren’t saying that it isn’t harmful. They are saying that they aren’t really sure it is harmful. They still recommend that you don’t do it. It seemed like the main point was to relieve your anxiety if you did drink while pregnant. Wasn’t that what the drinking was for in the first place?


Vacation (after-) effects on employee health and well-being, and the role of vacation activities, experiences and sleep – “H&W [health and welfare] increased quickly during vacation, peaked on the eighth vacation day and had rapidly returned to baseline level within the first week of work resumption.” It looks like the key to maximizing health and welfare is to take a vacation and not to come back. If someone wants to raise the funds for me, I’ll be happy to put that to theory to test.


How to Bring Your Vacation Home With You – This article is a convoluted way of telling people to take time to enjoy and appreciate stuff in their regular lives. I do take exception with this: “I think back to all the people I observed on my recent vacation armed with smartphones and cameras, diligently documenting the beauty around them. It made me wonder whether in the attempt to record and preserve our pleasure, we become observers of our experience rather than full participants in it.” For me, striving to capture the essence of an experience with photos actually helps me go deeper into the experience, helping me to see and understand more.


HAPPINESS IS NOT ENOUGH – Starting off talking about a guy that seemed to always be happy, this article delves into importance of emotional diversity and understanding your emotions. The language is course, but it’s an interesting read.

Art and Culture

A de Kooning, a Theft and an Enduring Mystery – What do you do when you are a teacher and you’ve stolen a painting worth $100,000,000? You hang it up in your bedroom. There is a lot about this that is bizarre, particularly the question of why such an ugly painting is worth so much money.


A Game as Literary Tutorial – In this article, several writers talk about how role-playing games, Dungeons and Dragons in particular, helped them develop as writers.


Watch a Human-Powered Fleet of ‘Fireflies’ Create a Nighttime Dreamscape – I love stuff like this. It’s an art project by a Chinese artist equipping pedicabs in Philadelphia with LED lit paper lanterns.



New evidence of Viking warrior women might not be what it seems – Dang it. The bad-ass Viking warrior chick story might not hold up. They aren’t even sure the bones the sampled are the right bones.


Plants can grow their own glow-in-the-dark cotton, no genetic engineering required – I didn’t really understand this, but it looks like they are feeding cotton plants with glow-in-the-dark stuff and making glow-in-dark cotton. It sounds cool.


Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal – After reading the abstract, I’m still not sure what this about. I think it means that gambling addicts grossed out by holding gators felt worse and bet less, but those excited by holding gators felt better and bet more. Why the hell is someone studying the effect of holding gators on gambling addicts? Is this a thing? Maybe I need to get out more.


100 Images From Cassini’s Mission to Saturn – Lots of really pretty pictures of Saturn taken by the space probe Cassini.


India Opens Homeopathy Laboratory – This depressing article talks about a new homeopathy lab opening in India. The author once believed that scientific progress was inevitable but now he isn’t so sure. It’s worth opening just for the cartoon in it. For those not familiar with homeopathy, it’s the idea that you can take something harmful and turn it into a cure by diluting it so much that not even a single molecule is left. Of all the quack medical theories, it is easily the most stupid.


The Plan to Clone an Extinct Horse – More baby steps on the way to Jurassic Park.


Tesla flips a switch to increase the range of some cars in Florida to help people evacuate – Like magic, Tesla increased the range of some of its cars for a week to help people flee Irma. How? It turns out that the shorter range version had the same battery as the longer range version, but had its range limited by software. Remember that products are not priced based on what they cost but based on how much people are willing to pay. Companies create different versions of a product to get more money from those willing to pay more. It doesn’t matter if the more expensive versions cost more to make or not.


The iPhone Is Guaranteed to Last Only One Year, Apple Argues in Court – Someone is suing Apple because the iPhone 6 frequently failed shortly after 1 year. Apples defense: “To hold Apple’s Limited Warranty substantively unconscionable simply because Plaintiffs expect their iPhones to last the length of their cellular service contracts ‘would place a burden on [Apple] for which it did not contract'”.


Facebook Enabled Advertisers to Reach ‘Jew Haters’ – This is a “gotcha journalism” attack on Facebook. The ad-word process is automated, so it isn’t going to evaluate the appropriateness of ad-words. This shaming may encourage Facebook and others to automatically reject some ad-words in the future. I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with where they draw the line. Is there a clearing stopping point somewhere between banning this stuff and banning anything controversial? I remember when the Road Runner was taken off TV because nobody could figure out that some violence was OK.


Ford disguised a man as a car seat to research self-driving – It looks like Ford is struggling with the self-driving car thing. Instead of testing a real self-driving car, they dressed up a driver as a car seat and had him drive around to see how people would react. They totally ripped off Rahat. His was MUCH funnier.


Stop Leaving Your Smartphone’s Bluetooth On – There is another Bluetooth security vulnerability. They recommend that you keep BT turned off on your phone except when you are using it. So just turn it on and off every time you get into your car, use your headphones, use your BT speaker, or use any other Bluetooth device (like my new toothbrush). I think I’ll just leave it on and take my chances.


Can A Machine Tell Whether You Are Gay? – I mentioned this last week. A study at Stanford concluded that a computer can tell with 91% accuracy for men and 83% accuracy for women whether they are “gay” by looking at a picture of their face. The theory is based on the idea that sexual orientation is heavily influenced by the exposure level of androgen during gestation, which also influences the shape of the face. Here is the study.


Politics and Policy

A chance for Congress to get its mojo back – Presidents have been increasingly making laws/rules rather than simply executing/enforcing them. DACA was an example. This article argues that it would be a good opportunity for Congress to start trying to take back the rule-making power that they have been giving to the Executive Branch.


Canada Imports Precious Bodily Fluids – There is a shortage of sperm donors in Canada, apparently because you can’t get paid for your, um, “donation”. They are relying on imports from for-profit donors in the US. I guess that helps with our balance of trade.


The World Turned Upside Down (and what to do about it) – The author is depressed about how he sees things going. I’m more optimistic than he is, but I wholeheartedly agree with his advice. Good article by a great thinker.


The Democrats have become socialists – Republicans are incredibly vulnerable. Rather than take advantage of that by running a popular/centrist platform, Democrats are increasingly shifting further left. Their embrace of Sanders Medicaid for all is the primary example used in this article.


Three ways to do health-care reform – The article quickly rules out two of the three and concludes that tweaking Obamacare is the only realistic option. My favorite part is this 1987 quote from Senator Bernie Sanders: “If we expanded Medicaid [to] everybody. Give everybody a Medicaid card—we would be spending such an astronomical sum of money that, you know, we would bankrupt the nation.”


9 misdirected arguments against GMOs – This article talks about 9 common arguments used by people that oppose GMOs.

Economics, Business, and Money

New Census report refutes fears of a disappearing middle class – Actually, when I look at the graph, I clearly see the middle class shrinking. So is the lower class. It’s the upper income bracket that keeps growing.


Some charts from the Census data released this week on US incomes in 2016 showing impressive gains for Americans – More positive information from the recently released Census data.


“SNAP Benefits and Crime: Evidence from Changing Disbursement Schedules” – An interesting study on the timing of SNAP benefits. “We find that staggering SNAP benefits throughout the month leads to a 32 percent decrease in grocery store theft and reduces monthly cyclicity in grocery store crimes.”


America’s highest-earning state probably isn’t the one you would expect – Yeah, I didn’t expect New Hampshire to be at the top. I was not surprised to see Mississippi at the bottom. I wonder why there is such a large discrepancy between this Census data and the 2013 Gallup data on country’s median incomes in this Wikipedia article. I was curious to see which countries were above New Hampshire or below Mississippi, but the data does not appear to be comparable.


North Korea’s Secret Weapon? Economic Growth. – NK’s economy is growing? I had no idea. It’s still a desperately poor country, but it appears to be improving. That’ll make destabilizing it harder.


Liu Qiangdong, the ‘Jeff Bezos of China’, on making billions with – Interesting story about a really rich guy in China. “Liu’s family was so poor that until he went to university aged 18 he only tasted meat once or twice a year.” “Now he is 43 and worth nearly $11bn.” Incidentally, I linked to the article via Google Cache, which is another technique for reading stuff on sites that require a subscription when you don’t have a subscription.