September 24, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting


JAMES FRIDMAN – Need some Photoshop help? Obviously, you wouldn’t trust it to me because I’ll probably do what I want rather than what you ask for. James is much more accommodating and much funnier.


SmartAss People Who Took Trolling To Another Level – 50 smartass signs and comments of varying quality. Written language warning (the video just plays annoying instrumental music).


THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE MYTH OF AREA 51 – It’s not aliens; it’s spy planes. At least that’s what “they” claim. Maybe a border wall isn’t enough. We need to build a huge dome over the entire country to keep out ALL illegal aliens.


How many ways are there to prove the Pythagorean theorem? – Betty Fei – It’s a video showing some different proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem, because who doesn’t want to watch cartoons of long dead nerds doing geometry?


Walmart wants to walk into your home and put groceries in your refrigerator – Walmart partnered with a security company. You order your food, they give some guy a one-time code to enter your house, your camera records that person putting your groceries in your fridge and leaving. I’m not nearly as busy as many people I know, but I have a hard time seeing lots of people signing up for this. I think a different brand would have more success and I think they’d want to assign you a specific shopper/deliver with whom you develop a relationship – like a maid, a childcare worker, or something like that.


Gone Girl – Back in January, a drunken woman disappeared from the streets of downtown Reykjavik at 5:00 AM and was later found dead. It was traumatic event for Icelanders who are used to a very low level of violent crime.

Health – Physical and Mental

5,000 ‘Dieselgate’ deaths in Europe per year: study – Remember when Volkswagen got busted for cheating on diesel emissions testing? According to this study, 10,000 premature deaths each year in Europe can be attributed to pollution from light duty diesel vehicles and they believe that half of those would have been avoided if car makers hadn’t cheated on tests.


What Doctors Want Kids (and Parents) to Know About Getting Tattoos – If your kid wants a tattoo, this offers some advice on how to do it safely. My advice is simpler. Tell them “no”.


All About CTE, the Brain Trauma Common in Football Players – More about CTE. “If you have symptoms like depression, memory loss, or poor impulse control, seek treatment”. I wonder if you can get it just from watching games because that sounds like a lot of Texans fans I know.

Art and Culture

NETFLIX, STREAMING VIDEO AND THE SLOW DEATH OF THE CLASSIC FILM – Netflix has only 43 movies from before 1970 available to stream. It’s focused on new material rather than classic films. The author is whining because they aren’t catering to his particular tastes. Every one of the classic movies he mentioned was available for streaming on Amazon, albeit for a $4 charge, so it isn’t like you can’t stream them at all. Is there a market for a streaming service that specializes in classic movies?


Incredible microscopic close-ups of a peacock feather – Want to see some really, really close-up pictures of peacock feathers? Sure you do.


Chinese maze: Village makes giant tech code from trees – Remember those annoying QR codes that showed up everywhere for a while? Apparently they are still big in China and some town decided to grow one with trees. I have no idea why.


Grilled-cheese, cocktail among terms now deemed OK by Quebec’s language watchdog – The whole notion of having a group of people that control a language seems silly, but at least now you can say “baby boom” instead of “bébé-boum” in French Canada while officially speaking French.


Songs Of Discomposure: Quietus Writers Pick Their Most Disturbing Pieces Of Music – Instead of an article listing books I’ve never read, here is one listing songs I’ve never heard. OK, I’ve heard ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Carmina Burana’, but none of the rest. What would I pick as the most disturbing song? Of current songs, I’ll go with “Shape of You” because it is a lousy song, inescapably popular, and the lyrics are embarrassing. Of all time, probably ‘Feel the Way I Do’ by Peter Frampton because it is just about the most awful thing that came out of the most awful period of music. If you want to ban speech, start with that song and you stand a chance of getting me on your side.


How Do You Decode a Hapax? (Also, What’s a Hapax?) – A hapax is a word that occurs once. Ever. Not sure why we needed a word for that, but I’m glad that they didn’t have to get approval for it.


Does the Right Really Think a Sombrero is just a “Straw Hat”? – I still don’t understand why “cultural appropriation” is a bad thing. Mocking people, yes. Cultural appropriation, no. Anyway, the only thing this article convinces me of is that its author is someone that likes to be offended. “I personally responded to this nonverbal gesture more strongly than to her words: the donning of a sombrero, an item commonly used to summarize and deride Mexican culture by, say, drunk white college students on Cinco de Mayo.” In other words, she prefers to see people’s actions through her stereotypes and then condemns those people because her stereotypes are bad.


We Read Hillary’s Book So You Don’t Have To – Rather than read her book, here’s a quick and humorous summary.


Scientific Papers Are Getting Less Readable – This seems true from the papers that I’ve read. Some of it seems necessary as papers have gotten more specialized and some of it seems to be because paper writers are just worse at writing. I thought this quote was odd: “While 100 years ago, terms like ‘notes’ and ‘observations’ were preferred, there has been a gradual shift towards more formal, specialized terms like ‘data’ and ‘results’”. Really? ‘Data’ and ‘results’ are formal, specialized terms? Am I missing something?


The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016 – Kids are “having sex, dating, drinking alcohol, working for pay, going out without their parents, and driving” later in their lives as compared with earlier generations. It’s ironic that this is happening at the same time that Toys R Us is going into bankruptcy. Apparently, Toys R Us was not the reason kids didn’t want to grow up.


The Big Bang Wasn’t The Beginning, After All – I didn’t really understand this article, but it sounds like there was a time when the energy in the universe was “bound up in the fabric of space” and then it eventually blew up in the big bang. I don’t know what the ramifications of this are. Should we adjust our calendars?


SCIENCE WARS – Acapella Parody – If you’ve been looking for a cloned couple singing about the various merits of chemistry, biology, physics, and math using Star Wars tunes, here it is. Warning, this is embarrassingly nerdy.


Genetics Spills Secrets From Neanderthals’ Lost History – Archeologists say that there were about 150,000 Neanderthals back in their day. Geneticists are putting the number in the few thousands. I’m betting against the geneticists on this one. Then again, maybe they are both sort of right. Maybe most of the Neanderthals were genetically identical clones.


Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why – They’re plotting something. I don’t know what, but I’m sure it’s something big.


The Washington Post’s robot reporter has published 850 articles in the past year – Maybe this is why so many articles are being written about automation taking over people’s jobs. I wonder if those articles are written by human journalists crying for help or robots gloating?


This is why you shouldn’t use texts for two-factor authentication – Good grief. It looks like the cell network is relatively easy to hack, so someone could intercept your authentication texts. I still think it is much better than not using two factor authentication. I think they recommend using something like Google Authenticator.


Artificial intelligence just made guessing your password a whole lot easier – Nice. With so many things we can use AI to help with, we’re working on hacking passwords. We could have been working on Fusion reactor power plants, or curing cancer, or even keeping ahead of the plots of humpback whales. Nope. Hacking passwords. Sigh.


How to Stop Hackers From Ransoming Your Mac or iPhone – It looks like people are exploiting the remote locking capability of iPhones to lock people’s phones and demand a ransom for unlocking them. They need to hack your Apple account first, so make sure you use a good password and two-factor authentication for that. Oh wait. Damn. I blame the whales.


Amazon ‘Reviewing’ Its Website After It Suggested Bomb-Making Items – This article dumps on Amazon because it alleges that when you buy one bomb making component, it’s “frequently bought together” suggestions include other bomb making components. I’m less troubled by Amazon’s algorithms reporting what people buy together than I am by the implication that there must be a lot of people are ordering bomb making stuff off of Amazon. Update: It looks like it is just people making black powder for homemade fireworks, blowing up stumps, and other fun stuff like that. I guess I should feel much better.


How to Clear Your Amazon Browsing History – If you do go shopping for bomb materials on Amazon and don’t want your spouse to know because it’s going to be their Christmas present, you can clear your Amazon browsing history.


Moo-ve over connected cows, the internet of bees is here – Technically, they aren’t hooking up the bees to the Internet; they are just sticking RFID tags on them – kind of like how companies make workers wear badges.

Politics and Policy

What Houston’s Critics Get Wrong – This article was interesting less as a defense of Houston’s lack of zoning and more because it points out how land use restrictions shape Houston. I often hear that Houston has no zoning, so I was surprised at how many restrictions we really do have on land use – things like minimum lot sizes, mandatory numbers of parking spaces, and minimum setbacks. The author contends that these land use restrictions decrease housing density which makes the flooding worse.


Goodbye to All That Democracy – According to this article, there are two kinds of constitutions – “Class Warfare Constitutions and Middle-Class Constitutions.” Ours is one of the latter, but the article says that with the middle class shrinking, we are in grave danger. I lost some respect for the author when she (I think Zephyr Teachout identifies as a “she”) said “For generations, the American middle class was the majority of Americans—no more, as of 2015” but neglected to mention that the middle class has declined because it is the upper class and not the lower class that has been growing.


Conservatives, liberals unite against Silicon Valley – More complaints about the growing “power” of Facebook and Google. There is growing sentiment for regulating these large tech companies.


Is Free Speech Really Challenged on Campus? – I read a lot of articles about crazy challenges to free speech on college campuses but I lack enough perspective to understand whether these are cherry picked incidences or whether there is a serious and pervasive problem. This article is a conversation by two professors debating the topic.


Even Speech We Hate Is Protected Speech – I thought this was obvious, but it bears repeating these days. Remember, if you are going to allow “hate speech” to be banned, someone who hates you is eventually going to define “hate speech” to include whatever you want to say.


Realism about democracy – This is an interesting perspective on Democracy. It stresses that Democracy is a means to and end rather than an end in itself. It stresses the importance of rights that cannot easily be trampled by the will of the majority.


99.7% of All Migration Is Legal – I’m very pro-immigration, so you’d think I’d like this article, but I didn’t. Its big claim is that 99.7% of entries into this country are legal. Um, so what? If I told you that 99.7% of the drinks I serve weren’t poisoned, wouldn’t you be nervous about drinking something I offered? It also says “How much would taxpayers be willing to pay to move that 99.7 percent compliance to 99.8 percent?  Very little.” Do you think they might respond differently if you said that you were going to eliminate a third of the illegal entries? It’s the same thing. I’d prefer to have the subject argued on real factors rather than be abusing statistics to distort the debate.


America’s huge problem with opioid prescribing, in one quote – This article adds some perspective on how prevalent opioid use is in the US compared with the rest of the world. My biggest objection to the article is the quote “So consider the amount of standard daily doses of opioids consumed in Japan. And then double it. And then double it again. And then double it again. And then double it again. And then double it a fifth time. That would make Japan No. 2 in the world, behind the United States.” Wouldn’t it be much clearer to say “32 times” rather than talk about doubling 5 times? And the comparison with Japan is a little unfair since it has one of the lowest uses of opioids. You’d only have to double Canada’s opioid use once to exceed the US levels and they don’t have the excuse of having to live in a country “lead” by Donald Trump.

Economics, Business, and Money

The gender wage gap just shrank for the first time in a decade – From less than 60% in the early 70s to over 80% now, the wage gap continues to shrink. The grade gap and life expectancy gap still favor women. It looks like there is also a huge gender gap in passing on mutations.


Stranded profits – One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about the US system of extraterritorial corporate income taxes is that it strands funds outside the US by making it expensive to repatriate them. This article counters that view by pointing out that financial tools like cross-border lending make it pretty easy to bring that money back into the US.


A Five-Year Basic Income Experiment Is Happening in the U.S. – Looks like another experiment to see how people respond to being given free money. How come I never get asked to participate in these things? Anyway, I’d love to see these experiments prove my instincts wrong and show that a universal basic income will lift people out of poverty without also hurting their will to work. I’d also love to see that the humpback whales have been getting together to write a sequel to Moby Dick. I don’t think either of those is likely.


Geneva Police Confiscate Euro Bills Clogging Up Toilets – This is one of the weirdest money stories I’ve read in a while. Someone is clogging toilets in Switzerland by stuffing them with Euros. The police are investigating, not because it is illegal to flush money down the drain (you could convict just about everyone in Congress if that was the case!) but because they think there is probably a criminal reason for it.