‘Co-Parenting With Alexa’

Rachel Botsman, writing for the New York Times:

It’s these kinds of intersections – like this small collision between robot “helpfulness” and a latent commercial agenda — that can make parents like me start to wonder about the ethical niceties of this brave new bot world. Alexa, after all, is not “Alexa.” She’s a corporate algorithm in a black box.

Grace doesn’t like it when I tell her what to wear. How would she feel about Alexa judging her? Would she see it as helpful or crushing? This could well be one of our parenting tasks in the near future — preparing our children for the psychological repercussions of such personal interactions with computer “people.”


‘Things More Heavily Regulated Than Buying a Gun in the United States’

Sarah Hutto, writing for McSweeney’s:

Having a fucking bake sale

Building a fucking shed in your own backyard

Pumping fucking gas


‘Parents Who Pay to Be Watched’

Kim Brooks, writing at thecut.com:

I’d talked to mothers who’d given up their own careers and made a career out of getting their children into the “right” charter school. I’d been to parties where adult socializing screeched to a halt for a good 20 minutes to negotiate a disagreement between two 6-year-olds over a disputed toy. I’d spoken to parents who’d sold homes and cars to pay for violin lessons and high-end SAT tutoring, and to parents who spent much of their time tracking their teenage children’s whereabouts through a GPS app on their phone. I’d come to believe there was simply no way to escalate or intensify our communal quest for parental control without the development of exo-uterine technology and retrofitting mothers as marsupials. But Cognition Builders proved me wrong.

Its existence seemed to highlight how for families like Jason and Elizabeth’s, and for other families, too — families across the country in the affluent middle and upper-middle classes — parenthood is not what it used to be. Specifically, it is more than it used to be. More money, more time, more organization, more engagement, more supervision. Just … more. Of everything.

In Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, social scientist Robert D. Putnam describes how, beginning in the 1980s, “the dominant ideas and social norms about good parenting have shifted from Spock’s ‘permissive parenting’ to a new model of ‘intensive parenting.’ ” “Between 1983 and 2007,” he notes, “spending per child by families in the top tenth of the income distribution increased by 75 percent in real dollars.” Many of these dollars are devoted to the increasing costs of child care and education, but a significant portion is spent on enrichment and a wide array of educational and therapeutic interventions for children who struggle to meet parental expectations. Indeed, the cost of raising children in America, teaching them, and keeping them stimulated and safe has been privatized by design and default, as families take on burdens once shouldered by extended families, neighborhoods, and public schools. The leap from a Kaplan SAT course to Cognition Builders might not be as big as it seems.


(via news.yc)

‘Identity Theft, Credit Reports, and You’

Patrick McKenzie:

Mean words cannot hurt a bank. Threats cannot hurt a bank. Paper trails, though, are terrifying to regulated institutions. Your bank’s customer support representatives are taught to evaluate whether someone looks like they’re competent and collecting a paper trail. If they are, the CS rep is supposed to stop touching the case immediately and instead escalate them to a supervisor or to the legal department.

The legal department (or an analogous group – it is different at every bank) is not scored on cases resolved per week. They are scored on regulatory incidents per quarter, and their target for success is likely zero. Shockingly senior people will be involved to avert regulatory incidents.

Great stuff, and great advice.

‘New Study Favors Fat Over Carbs’

Nicholas Bakalar, writing for the New York Times:

Compared with people who ate the lowest 20 percent of carbohydrates, those who ate the highest 20 percent had a 28 percent increased risk of death. But high carbohydrate intake was not associated with cardiovascular death.

People with the highest 20 percent in total fat intake — an average of 35.3 percent of calories from fat — had about a 23 percent reduced risk of death compared with the lowest 20 percent (an average of 10.6 percent of calories from fat).

The surprising part of this for me is the independence of cardiovascular death.

‘The Walls We Won’t Tear Down’

Richard D. Kahlenberg, writing for the New York Times:

Wealthy property owners usually win in American politics, but not always, as an important 2010 vote in Massachusetts suggests. Back in 1969, the state passed an “anti-snob” zoning law that empowered state officials to alter local zoning laws in communities where less than 10 percent of housing stock was deemed affordable. In 2010, an effort to overturn the law through a statewide referendum was opposed by 58 percent of voters.

Hah. I wonder what kinds of “alterations” they made?

‘Vermont Medical School Says Goodbye To Lectures’

Audie Cornish, writing for NPR’s All Things Considered:

Have you had pushback to this move?

Certainly, we’ve gotten some pushback, but what I tell the average clinical faculty member is: “OK, if you like doing appendectomies using an old method because you like it, and you’re really good at it, but it’s really not the best method for the patient, would you do it?” Of course, the answer is always no. And then you turn around and say, “Well this method of teaching is actually not as good as other methods. Would you do that?” When confronted with a question like that, medical faculty typically tend to understand and agree.

I first heard about Active Learning at Minerva — my CCA students have been great beneficiaries.

It’s a lot more work to teach this way, but in my anecdotal experience, it’s substantially more effective, in large part beacuse students have a teacher and other students available when they get stuck doing something.

‘Please Forgive Us at Blue Apron for This Week’s Meals. We’ve Been Having a Tough Time Lately’

Lucy Huber, writing for McSweeney’s:

This box contains the ingredients and recipes for this week’s Blue Apron meals. We know you’ve come to expect a high standard of quality from Blue Apron and normally we are happy to provide you with the best quality recipes and ingredients possible, but look, stuff has been rough for everyone lately and we’re doing our best. Things kind of got away from us this week.


‘Lyme Disease’s Worst Enemy? It Might Be Foxes’

Amy Harmon, writing for the New York Times:

Interestingly, the predator activity in Dr. Hofmeester’s plots did not decrease the density of the mouse population itself, as some ecologists had theorized it might. Instead, the lower rates of infected ticks, Dr. Hofmeester suggested in the paper, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, may be the result of small mammals curtailing their own movement when predators are around.

The ecologists must have theorized multiple possible mechanisms of action.

I wonder what else was on their list.

‘Is This the Next Green Revolution?’

Marla Broadfoot, writing for Scientific American:

Typically a plant can detect when pests are afoot by the presence of special chemicals called elicitors in the saliva of chewing insects. Gary Felton, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, and his colleagues discovered that some beetles and caterpillars can mask these telltale molecules by spitting up gut microbes onto the leaf, tricking the plant into reacting as if it were bathed in bacteria rather than ravaged by bugs. The misguided response to microbes actually disrupts the plant’s ability to defend against insects.

Fascinating stuff.

As a non-expert, the complexity of biological systems in the wild often feels to me that it defies our ability to manipulate it. Take antibacterial resistance, for example: how does it take a specific baterial population to develop resitance to a specific antibacterial? Does resistance always appear?

We can understand a system and yet not know how a new input will modify it. Do we win these battles because we can adapt to new system states faster than the system overcomes our new inputs?

‘She was the PTA mom everyone knew. Who would want to harm her?’

Holy cow.

A good reminder that people like this exist.