October 1, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

Other

The Untold Story of Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination – This is the surprisingly fascinating story of the execution of Kim Jong-un’s older brother Kim Jong-nam (they have a weird naming convention). He’s the guy that was poisoned in an airport. The story has hookers, binary chemical weapons, spies – everything a good murder mystery should have.

 

Scott Baldwin: Lion bites Ospreys’ Wales hooker – This article was all sorts of weird. Why is a hooker playing rugby? Why was the hooker allowed close enough to the lion to get his hand bit? How much rugby does a hooker have to play to get dumb enough to think that petting a lion is a reasonable thing to do?

 

Where is Pizza Most Expensive (and Cheapest) in America? – The cheapest state is Alaska. The most expensive is North Dakota. The most pizza places per capita is Orlando, but I wonder if that is because Orlando has the most people per capita. I know that sounds weird, but I’m guessing that the “capita” in “per capita” is a count of residents and not a count of people there right now. By city, Lexington is the cheapest and Buffalo the most expensive.

 

NCAA Threatens College Runner With Ineligibility for Promoting Water Bottle Company – Did he do a side deal with Desani? Is he pushing Perrier? No. He and a friend started a bottled water business in high school. We can’t let those student athletes get away with running their own business.

 

Five Ways Ancient India Changed the World With Math – The gave us “Arabic” numerals (should have locked up the naming rights), zero (sounds like nothing but is quite valuable), quadratic equations (forcing us all to spend an extra year on high school math), rules for negative numbers (which they called “debts”), and the basics of calculus (this last seemed like a stretch).

 

Reserve private bathrooms across NYC with a new app – I guess that it’s hard to find a public restroom in New York. They need Buc-ee’s. The weird thing is that you get an hour reservation for the bathroom. If you need an hour in the bathroom, you need more help than an app is going to provide.

 

THE INSIDE STORY OF THE GREAT SILICON HEIST – How do you literally walk out with 43 tons of valuable silicon? This is another interesting crime story. Sorry, no hookers.

 

What You Actually Got From Those Back-of-Magazine Ads – If you are old enough, you probably remember those weird little ads in the back of magazines and wondered what you actually got from them. This article reveals the truth. It was probably one of those ads that I answered that caused someone to come to my house when I was about 10 years old. He was trying to sign me up for

stenography school. My parents sent him away, which is how I ended up where I am today.

Canada MPs to loosen penalties for drunks in kayaks – Looks like they are going decriminalize KUI in Canada. The problem is that they were overbroad with their law against operating vehicles under the influence, so now they are redefining it to not include personally powered vehicles like kayaks and bikes. Not sure about dogsleds.

Health – Physical and Mental

As Workouts Intensify, a Harmful Side Effect Grows More Common – Work out hard, but not too hard, especially when doing something new. Rhabdo appears to be getting more common. You don’t want it.

 

New antibody attacks 99% of HIV strains – This will be welcome news if it proves itself in the real world. I don’t hear much about HIV here in the US anymore, but my understanding is that it is still a horrible crisis in Africa.

 

We Expect Too Much From Our Romantic Partners – This was kind of weird. I understand that people get divorced more often now and that they expect more from marriage than they did. It’s really not a bad thing that marriage is now more of a choice than an obligation. Still, I have to think that the mumbo-jumbo about Maslow and self-actualization is probably part of their marriage problem. No spouse wants to listen to blather like that.

 

Let Kids Play With Junk – I’m a big fan of the idea. I remember the day that the kids spent a morning playing with a box of Styrofoam packing. They made an incredible mess all over the family room, but then they had even more fun sucking it all up with a shop vac. Also, one of my favorite quotes was from a Christmas when our two year-old son unwrapped the box containing his large present. His reaction – “Wow!!! A BOX!!!”

 

The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life: the new sleep science – Have problems waking up in the middle of the night? This article will give you something to think about while you lay awake.

 

Get up at least once every 30 minutes. Failure to do so may shorten your life, study finds – This contradicts the prior story. If you get up once every 30 minutes, neither you nor your spouse are going to get enough sleep and your spouse will definitely shorten your lifespan.

 

The pursuit of pleasure is a modern-day addiction – This is a British story on the increase in drug addiction and subsequent shortening of lifespans there. They contend that dopamine tells the brain “This is good. I want more.” and serotonin tells the brain “this is good. I have enough.” The world is increasingly making dopamine easy to get and so we are getting less serotonin. I guess the lesson is to seek satisfaction rather than pleasure.

 

After 15 yrs in vegetative state, patient becomes minimally conscious – OK, “minimally conscious” is the key phrase here, but after 15 years, that’s still a big deal. Even teens don’t go that long without thinking.

 

Why Butter Used to Have Its Own Food Group – I love the thought of butter being a food group. “Kids, you have to finish your butter before you leave the theater!” Maybe some things in the past really were better.

Art and Culture

How The Negro Traveler’s Green Book Helped Black People Get Around in the 1950s – It was great that butter was a food group back in the day, but it sucks that people needed a special book to figure out where they could travel based on their skin color. Good for Victor Green for writing it and shame on the people that made it necessary.

 

The 100 Hardest Video-Game Bosses, Ranked – #1 was Skolas from House of Wolves. The toughest I’ve faced and beaten is #10 (Mike Tyson from Punch-Out!!). I’ve never heard of most of these.

 

There and Back Again – This is a celebration of The Hobbit on its 80th anniversary. I still love it and, while I wouldn’t call it my favorite book, it is the first book that completely engrossed me in a story.

 

Playing the Online Dating Game, in a Wheelchair – The author, who has been in a wheelchair for virtually her entire life, finds that online dating is harder when people see that she is in a wheelchair. That’s a shame, but it isn’t surprising. I’m sure that the same is true for people that are overweight, balding, unattractive, short, have low-status jobs, or any other “undesirable” traits. It would be interesting to see the relative negative weights of each. As a very short young man, I quickly learned that my height was a deal killer for many women. I also realized that it was a deal killer for women that I didn’t want to be dating anyway. It saved me from wasting time with shallow people and helped me eventually marry the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. It may suck for the author to feel rejected by so many men because of her wheelchair, but she’s probably better off not having to weed them out in a more time consuming way. Of course, I have to admit that I was attracted to my wife because she’s a hottie, so I’m not going to claim to be consistent here.

 

The Forgotten Man/Woman – I usually agree with the iconoclastic views that Bryan Caplan writes about, so I was surprised at how far off base he seems with this one. He’s basically taking the position that people of the opposite sex should avoid being alone together even at work for the sake of their respective spouses and families. Must suck to be a female grad student of his. I knew right away that I was going to disagree with the article because it started with “Even today, we rarely socialize with co-workers of the opposite sex.” Really?

Science

We seem to be getting stupider and population ageing may be why – IQ test scores had been increasing for decades. Now they are declining. Is it because of the stupid millennials? A side effect of smart phone use? The author suggests that it is because the test takers are getting older and older people have lower IQs. That was definitely true when I was a teenager.

 

The Stability of Implicit Racial Bias in Police Officers – “when officers slept less prior to testing they demonstrated stronger association between Black Americans and weapons.” It looks like police racism is worse for tired cops.

 

Entropy Explained, With Sheep – This article is a wonderful explanation of entropy, which is rarely explained well.

 

The world could run out of food two decades earlier than thought – When Malthus made his original claims about overpopulation, they probably seemed reasonable. When Paul Ehrlich got everyone excited about it again in the 70s, they were clearly foolish. Now, someone claiming that we are two decades away from running out of food is an idiot. Here’s a better counterpoint than my dismissive summary.

Technology

Genetically modified approaches to fighting malaria succeed in new tests – They may have a way to make mosquitos resistant to malaria. Personally, I’d prefer a way to just kill all the damn mosquitos, but I guess this is better than nothing.

 

Could lab-grown fish and meat feed the world – without killing a single animal? – People are investing a lot of time and money into developing ways to grow meat in lab. I wonder what percentage of vegetarians and vegans will eat lab grown meat. And why “fish and meat” instead of just “meat”? In what sense are fish not made out of meat?

 

Project management: A surefire way to kill your software product – OK, I find project management and project managers annoying, but I don’t have nearly as negative a view of them as this author does.

Politics and Policy

THIS FOOD FOREST ON A BARGE IN NEW YORK FLOATS THE IDEA OF FRESH FOOD FOR CITIES – This is pretty cool from a technology perspective, but it seems pretty pointless from a practical standpoint. It’s more like taking “Eat Local” far enough to the extremes to show why it is silly.

 

This Tiny Country Feeds the World – The Netherlands grows and awful lot of food in a very small space. I have a hard time believing that this makes economic sense, but that’s their problem, not mine. I probably benefit as they learn more about increasing crop yields.

 

THE POOR ARE CARRYING THE COST OF TODAY’S CLIMATE POLICIES – “Climate change is doing more good than harm. Climate change policy is doing more harm than good.” That’s a pretty unconventional viewpoint.

 

How the Debate on Climate Change Is Cooling Down – Good news! The climate isn’t warming as fast as was predicted. The bad news is that it is still warming, but the slower rate gives us more time to adjust.

 

Tech’s push to teach coding isn’t about kids’ success – it’s about cutting wages – This made me chuckle. The writer seriously thinks that the big push by people in the Tech industry to encourage people to learn to code is because they want to cut wages. So suddenly are short-sighted corporate executives only focused on this quarter are now planning decades in advance to marginally decrease labor costs.

 

Puerto Rico’s American Dream Is Dead – The island was in bad shape before it was crushed by Maria. Even if we repair the damage from the storm, Puerto Rico will still be an American territory that is a mess without easy solutions. Keep in mind, there is no immigration policy that prevents the millions and millions of Puerto Ricans (all US citizens) from resettling on the mainland, so this could result in an unstoppable refugee crisis.

 

Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal in Puerto Rico – How did Puerto Rico get this messed up? Rexford Tugwell helped lay the foundation. I suppose you could argue that they are the richest island in the Caribbean, but I don’t doubt that if we’d established the same laissez faire policies that the Brits applied to Hong Kong they would be much better off today.

 

What Happened to Myanmar’s Human-Rights Icon? – The usual story is that the oppressors are the bad guys and the oppressed are the good guys. It looks like the oppressed Suu Kyi was just another oppressor that happened to be oppressed.

 

The New Fight For Labor Rights – This article pushes the notion that workers should fight for their “rights” and then abuses the term “rights” into insensibility. One example is his claim that workers have a first amendment right to criticize their employers on flyers, T-shirts, or Twitter. Well, they do. His mistake is not understanding that this means that the government can’t punish them for what they say. It doesn’t mean that their employer can’t fire them.

Economics, Business, and Money

Warren Buffett shared his best investment advice, and said the ‘elite’ have wasted $100 billion ignoring it – “My regular recommendation has been a low-cost S&P 500 index fund.” I couldn’t agree more. Well, I’d go for a total stock market index fund like VTSMX, but it’s basically the same thing.

 

This Brilliant Email From Netflix Was a Master Class in Dealing With a Legal Issue – Most lawyer letters are boring and overbearing. This is a clever example that goes against type. Kudos to Netflix legal team for not being jerks.

 

Hurricane Doofonomics – This article explains that the result of damage from hurricanes may cause an increase our GDP, but that doesn’t make us better off. GDP measures economic activity, but it doesn’t account for everything (like the losses caused by hurricanes).

Football

OK, I have to come right and say that I think the whole controversy over the National Anthem at Footballs games is stupid. I don’t see the point of playing the Anthem before games. I don’t see why players should be compelled to come out and stand for it. I also think that coming out for it and then ostentatiously taking a knee is rude. It is the right of team owners not to hire an entertainer that their fans don’t want to cheer for (see my points about the first amendment not applying to employers above). Finally, I think we made a mistake in 1931 when we picked it to be our National Anthem. It’s a foreign song written by a slaver about a war that we lost. America the Beautiful is a much better choice. And as long as I’m offending everyone, someone needs to tell Colin to get a haircut. Long hair almost always looks silly on men and you can drop the “almost” when it is bushy.

 

Football Is Problematic, but Not Because of #TakeTheKnee – “There have been at least 44 different players who have been accused of physical or sexual assault in the last few years.” “Investigation has shown that many NFL teams have been violating federal laws when it comes to narcotic painkiller prescriptions.” “It’s been alleged that the NFL knew about the prevalence and negative effects of CTE and did nothing to warn players.” “So, the rampant drug use, physical and sexual violence, animal abuse, and widespread brain damage were fine, but the peaceful exercise of free speech is not? Duly noted, guys.”

 

In NFL Fight, Trump Embraces Political Correctness – The man elected because he wasn’t afraid to ignore political correctness and tell people what he thought is pushing for vengeance on someone not following his brand of political correctness. Nice.

 

Donald Trump and the USFL: A ‘Beautiful’ Circus – An interesting history of Trump’s history with the USFL. Most surprising fact – he paid Doug Flutie 40% more than Joe Montana was making coming off of a Super Bowl win. Weirdest fact – his celebrity judges to help pick cheerleaders included an offensive lineman, his wife, LeRoy Neiman (I loved his Olympics art), Beverly Sills (yes, the opera singer), and Andy Warhol. That’s right; Andy Warhol helped Donald Trump pick cheerleaders.

 

September 24, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

Other

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.

Science

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.

Technology

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.

September 17, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

Other

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.

 

Science

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.

Technology

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 JD.com – 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.

September 10, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

Are these still useful? I can’t really tell when I send them out whether anyone is reading them, finds them useful, is offended by them, or is entertained by them. If you want to stop getting them, let me know. Also, if you have any suggestions for improving them, I’m open to new ideas.

Other

HURRICANE HARVEY: A VIEW FROM A RUGGED COMMUNITARIAN – This article takes on the criticism of Houston and Harvey and promotes the city’s response as one of people helping people. The most fun view of this is this video of some rednecks with monster trucks rescuing a National Guard vehicle.

 

THE PLEASANT PLACES TO LIVE – A map of the US showing which areas have the most “pleasant” days. Those are days where the temperatures are in a reasonable range. It ignores sunshine, rain, and humidity, all of which have a huge impact on pleasantness.

 

Death of NFL inevitable as middle class abandons the game – According to this article enrollment in high school football is down significantly and this is the beginning of the end for football. I’ll hate to see it go, but if it is as bad for players as some are saying, it seems inevitable. I was excited to see that Texas A&M is testing a more non-contact style of defense.

 

The Urban Revival Is Over – Urbanization was the big trend for a while. That trend appears to have stalled and possibly reversed. It seems a bit early to say that it is “over”.

 

‘This is crazy,’ sobs Utah hospital nurse as cop roughs her up, arrests her for doing her job – This is more information about the woman that was arrested for refusing the illegal blood draw request in Utah.

 

GOOGLE, DON’T BE EVIL. – This site is by someone cut from a think tank after they were critical of Google (one of the think tank’s major donors). Their criticism of Google is that they are a too powerful monopoly abusing their market position. I guess I can see why Google wouldn’t want to fund that message.

 

A Serf on Google’s Farm – This is an article written about the prior site and adding more context. Many people on the left reflexively hate large corporations (except Apple) and people on the right reflexively hate people on the left. Given that companies like Google and Amazon are owned and run by left leaning people, the ingredients necessary to spur a government led reaction to them are in place. Expect more talk about breaking them up.

 

Chick-fil-A, Moe’s signs in Mobile make traffic more interesting – This was amusing. A hippy BBQ place and Chick-fil-A started a sign “battle”.

 

Inside the black market where people pay thousands of dollars for Instagram verification – I had no idea what Instagram (which I’ve never used) verification was. It appears to be common on other sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter as well. It’s a way of verifying that famous people/companies are who they appear to be. That makes getting verified a status symbol, so people are bribing people to get it. I am not verified, nor, quite obviously, are the pictures that I post.

 

The 100 Year Flood Is Not What You Think It Is (Maybe) – A short video explaining what the 100 year flood plain is. It means that you have a 1% chance of flooding, not that you’ll only flood once every 100 years. I guess Houston has been really unlucky the past few years.

 

Boston Red Sox Used Apple Watches To Steal Hand Signals From Yankees – What is it about Boston? I understand the old Chicago Black Sox scandal. Chicago is famous for cheating at everything. I guess Boston is vying for the title of the least honest sports city.

 

Ford: Why, Traffic, Why? – A little video on why we have traffic and what we can do about it. My favorite part is when they tell you to wait and merge at the end when a lane is going away. Yes, people will hate you for it, but traffic engineers all agree that it is more efficient.

 

The eclipse as a satellite saw it – This is way better than last week’s lame eclipse video. It’s still kind of boring (like the eclipse itself), but it is much better. You can see the shadow of the moon race across the ground from the perspective of a satellite. Yes, it’s only a shadow, but it’s a REALLY BIG SHADOW.

 

The mystery of the lost Roman herb – There was a Roman herb that was worth its weight in gold. Nobody is really sure whether it even exists anymore. They used it as a spice, a perfume, and a medicine.

 

Viking Warrior In Famous Grave Was A Woman – DNA evidence confirmed that a warrior found in the 70s in a Viking grave really was a woman and not just a man with wide hips. My favorite comment to the story, clearly from a nerd guy, was “Let’s clone her. I mean, she had swords *and* a gameboard? We can’t let that kind of awesomeness escape from the gene pool.”

 

Why You Can Claim Islands for the US if They Have Bird Poop – It’s true. The US passed a law a long time ago allowing any citizen to claim islands for the US if they had bird poop because we wanted to use it for fertilizer. That’s how we got all those islands and atolls in the Pacific. So I guess there is an odd relationship between where birds like to poop and where the US tested nuclear bombs.

Health – Physical and Mental

Explaining recent mortality trends among younger and middle-aged White Americans – Conclusion: “We find little empirical support for the pain- and distress-based explanations for rising mortality in the US White population. Instead, recent mortality increases among younger and middle-aged US White men and women have likely been shaped by the US opiate epidemic and an expanding obesogenic environment.” In other words, we’re not living as long on average because we’re doing drugs and getting fat.

 

Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study – This was a big study that basically showed us that eating a lot of carbs shortens your life but eating a lot of fats does not. More reason to eat bacon.

 

New Nutrition Study Changes Nothing – This article explains that the new study referenced above won’t get much press relative to really lousy studies that claim to show something novel. People see a lot of stuff written about lousy health studies because crazy ones get news coverage but boring ones don’t. Nobody wants to hear that you should eat a lot of vegetables and exercise.

 

Letting teens sleep in would save the country roughly $9 billion a year – Teens stay up later and sleep later. It’s normal. Our school system ignores that and starts school quite early, resulting in more traffic accidents and a decrease in learning. I imagine trying to learn something challenging at 10:00 PM when I’m half asleep and then driving home.

 

Actually, Location Sharing in Relationships Is Bad – It’s easy to share your location with your phone now. Should you share it with your partner/spouse? The author is solidly in the “No” camp. I agree that if someone is obsessively checking up on their spouse, that’s probably a bad sign for the relationship and that person’s emotional health. On the other hand, it’s a handy ability when you are worried about someone that is late or trying to figure out when someone will be home. Our phones are set up so that we can request each other’s location but the requestee will know that their location was requested.

 

America’s First Addiction Epidemic – The opioid epidemic is far from the first major drug crisis in America. When Native American’s first encountered alcohol, it ravaged several tribes. This tells about how one tribe deal with it.

 

Why Happy People Cheat – This is a weird story about the reason people cheat in relationships. It tries to take an understanding/non-judging tone, but it just doesn’t work for me. The fact that the “protagonist” in the article cheated as a form of self-actualization doesn’t make it any less loathsome however you try to frame it.

Art and Culture

What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civilization?: Lists by Brian Eno, Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly & Other Forward-Thinking Minds – Another list of books to read. Three sets of ten are listed. The only two I’ve read are The Illiad and The Odyssey, both of which I liked but don’t see how they’d be useful for rebuilding civilization. A History of the World in 100 Objects is the only book that appears on two of the three lists.

 

Rotten Tomatoes, explained – An explanation of how Rotten Tomatoes works and its limitations. In short, the main score is a critic’s score but it also includes a viewer’s score. The problem with the critics score is that it is simply the percent that thought that the movie was good with nothing to differentiate between a critic that thought it was OK and one that thought it was the best movie ever. The article still doesn’t explain how the dreadfully dull Wall-E got a 96% fresh rating. For those of you inclined to defend it, explain why virtually every other Pixar movie still has a following, sequels, spin-offs, and people still watching them but Wall-E has been almost entirely forgotten (except by me because I’m still angry about having to sit through the entire dreadful thing). My theory is that nobody enjoyed it but they all felt that they were supposed to like it so they convinced themselves that it was good but not so good that they ever watched it again.

 

Why Notoriously Litigious Disney Is Letting Fan Stores Thrive – Disney used to sue companies into oblivion if they wandered too close to Disney’s trademarks. Now they turn a blind eye to obvious violations. This article attempts to explain why. Basically, if it’s fans with a tiny business actually promoting Disney, it’s OK. If someone is making real money, it’s time to bring down the hammer.

 

The mysterious Voynich manuscript has finally been decoded – In the 15th century, someone put together a manuscript with lots of naked chicks, flowers, and cryptic writing. People have been puzzling over what it is about for many years. Someone just figured out that the writing is more shorthand than code and that it is a medical guide of sorts.

Science

City chipmunks are happier, heavier and healthier than chipmunks in the wild, says researcher – It’s good to see that chipmunks haven’t given up on urbanization yet.

 

The Greatest Cosmic Puzzle: Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe – We’re pretty sure that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. We also have a good handle on how to tell how old some stars are and some have been measured as being 14.5 billion years old. Something seems off. On this topic, I wonder what the universe’s birthday is. Can you have a birthday if you were born before the earth?

 

Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it – According to the article, many people have predicted that religion will disappear as science answers more questions about the world. It isn’t happening. I suspect it is because science and faith answer different types of questions. “How did we come to be” is a very different question from “why are we hear”.

 

Does Loan Officer Race Affect Mortgage Prices? Evidence from the Subprime Mortgage Market – Minorities pay more for loans. This study explored to see if that was true regardless of the race/ethnicity of the loan officer. They judged that by looking at loan officer’s surnames and concluded that having the same or different races/ethnicities between loan officers and borrowers doesn’t appear to have affected loan rates. Their conclusion was that the higher rates are from correlated factors. I wouldn’t completely discount the possibility that stereotypes of so prevalent that they are also shared by minorities themselves.

 

Two sciences tie the knot – MIT has started a new program combining computer science, data science, and economics. That sounds like fun! Sadly, MIT is in Boston, so we won’t be able to trust what comes out of it.

Technology

What machines can tell from your face – Facial recognition is becoming more prevalent and better. Now they are determining things like your health and your mood with facial recognition software. They were even better able to tell people’s sexual orientation via software than humans are, which the author concludes could have troubling implications for people in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

 

‘Designer babies’ won’t be a fad. It’s too hard to create them. – I thought this article was stupid. It concludes that we are safe from worrying about genetically engineered humans because it’s too hard to make them. Um, won’t that change?

Politics and Policy

To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now – This compares the life of an employee janitor at Kodak many years ago with that of a contractor janitor cleaning Apple’s buildings today, lamenting the loss of career development path and benefits open to people in positions like that. Some of that is, like the article explains, driven by the increasing specialization of firms and the contracting out of non-core services. What I would have liked to have seen mentioned is that the many regulations in place to improve the conditions of employees also make them more expensive for large corporations to employee, so companies are more inclined to contract out those roles.

 

Why a Canadian city tore down the staircase its residents had always wanted to build – a private citizen built a staircase in a park in Canada for a few hundred dollars. It was immediately roped off and then replaced by local government with one costing tens of thousands of dollars. This article explains that there was no evil intent by the government nor even incompetence. For government to function well and with minimal corruption, it has to follow a lot of rules and that makes things more expensive.

 

The Real Reason the U.S. Has Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance – Why do US citizens get their health insurance from their employers? Because we had wage controls during WWII but those didn’t cover benefits, so companies competed for workers by offering health benefits.

 

Transcript: Betsy DeVos’s remarks on campus sexual assault – This was one of the big news items of the week. It’s nice, when a big story like this comes out, to be able to read the original comments. In summary, she said that, while sexual assaults on campus are a terrible thing, we need to undo the measures put in place by the prior administration that stripped the accused of their rights to meaningfully defend themselves against such accusations.

 

The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy – This article in The Atlantic takes a hard look at why the sexual assault policies had to change. There is a lot in the article that is disturbing, but I was particularly intrigued by the section that talked about a drunk couple fooling around and being reported. Despite the fact that they both agreed that it was consensual, she was assumed to be a victim and he was suspended for a semester and forced to take indoctrination classes. So much for equality between the sexes.

 

Does Betsy DeVos care more about those accused of rape than its victims? – This article harshly criticizes Betsy Devos on her support for due process claiming that is shows that she cares more about those accused of rape than its victims. During the 1970s, when crime was increasing at a rapid pace, there was growing support for vigilantism and attempts to strip accused criminals of their rights. People on the left were stalwart in their defense of the law and helped protect us from becoming a police state. Sadly, when it comes to sexual assaults on campus, the tables have turned and now many that were appalled by state abuse seem to prefer a system where those accused of rapes are considered guilty until proven innocent.

 

The Left After Charlottesville – I found this article in the Socialist magazine Jacobin interesting. Surprisingly, I sort of agree with it on general principals. Nazis, Antifa, and confederate statues are fringe issues grabbing lots of attention while the big issues like health care are left unresolved. It’s the political equivalent of yelling “squirrel” and watching everyone go race off onto a tangent.

Economics, Business, and Money

Top 5 Ways to Manage Your Money – A nice little summary of different categories of ways that people manage their money. Which approach do you take?

 

The World Is Facing a Global Sand Crisis – Seriously? You want me to believe that we’re running out of sand? Once again, if someone says that we are running out of something and they don’t back it up with price data, they are almost certainly telling tales. It seems astonishing that they thought anyone would believe this, but I recall that thirty years ago almost everyone I knew was convinced that we were on the verge of running out of landfill space.

 

PRO-TRADE VIEWS ON THE RISE, PARTISAN DIVISIONS ON NAFTA WIDEN – Interestingly, support for NAFTA has been increasing. That’s because support among Democrats, primarily reacting to Trumps dislike of it, has increased. I see this as more evidence that most people support whatever their tribe supports rather than thinking through issues on their own. It’s easier that way.

 

How Wells Fargo Screwed $80 Million Out Of Customers Using Unnecessary Car Insurance – It appears that Wells Fargo bought car insurance for some people with car loans from them despite their already having the car insurance required by their loan terms. I find it odd that Wells Fargo has now repeatedly been shown to have been blatantly ripping of their customers but they seem to still be well-regarded by many people. I’m glad to be done with them. I hope their executives take up football. If they do, I’m sure that they’ll play for the Patriots.

 

The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do – Equifax was hacked and about 140,000,000 customer records were stolen including incredibly dangerous information like SSNs, driver license numbers, and birth dates. From what we know so far, this looks like the worst data loss in history. This story could be huge during the coming week. I’m not sure what to do yet, but I’m inclined to freeze our credit. That’s a pain when you need to get a loan, but that’s pretty infrequent for us. I’m chapped that I’ll have to pay Equifax $10 to freeze my credit. If anything, they should be paying me. I may also work with the IRS to require a pin before filing my tax return. I’ll probably write up more about this in next week’s letter.

 

September 3, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

Harvey

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.

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?

Science

Technology

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”.

 

Economics

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