Short notes from

‘Housing can’t both be a good investment and be affordable’

Joe Cortright, writing for

But even markets with large amounts of affordable housing demonstrate the contradiction. Since at least the second half of the 20th century, the vast majority of actually affordable housing has been created via “filtering”: that is, the falling relative prices of market-rate housing as it ages, or its neighborhood loses social status, often as a result of racial changes. Low-income affordability, where it does exist, is predicated on large portions of the housing market acting as terrible investments.

Huh? This is only a contradiction if the type of housing remains constant, which it does in zero-development, extreme-construction-cost markets like San Francisco where public policy forbids the modification of (almost) any housing to increase density.

Here’s how it would work otherwise: family buys single family home in year A for $100k. Lives there for a while, then sells in year B for $200k. The buyer is a developer, who then constructs a larger building on that same lot consisting of 4 apartments that now each sell for $100k again. Original family gains in wealth, developer makes tidy profit, new families can still buy a place to live for $100k. All numbers inflation-adjusted, you pick A and B to make whatever return you think is reasonable.

This is how densification happened almost everywhere until zoning laws went crazy mid-century.

Note what you don’t get out of this arrangement: a neighborhood that doesn’t change for 40 years; the ability to live in the same type of house your parents did, in the same neighborhood, for the same price. But you could have the same amount of (indoor) space they did, and outdoor space through public parks and the like.

What’s not sustainable is everyone having a suburban style detached single family home without increasing density in perpetuity. That is what leads to this contradiction.

The non-density alternative is sprawl, where prices rise in long-established neighborhoods, and outlying new developments are where you can buy new houses for less—which is what you observe all over California.

(via news.yc)

‘Did Uber Steal Google’s Intellectual Property?’

Charles Duhigg, writing for the New Yorker:

One day in 2011, a Google executive named Isaac Taylor learned that, while he was on paternity leave, Levandowski had modified the cars’ software so that he could take them on otherwise forbidden routes. A Google executive recalls witnessing Taylor and Levandowski shouting at each other. Levandowski told Taylor that the only way to show him why his approach was necessary was to take a ride together. The men, both still furious, jumped into a self-driving Prius and headed off.

The car went onto a freeway, where it travelled past an on-ramp. According to people with knowledge of events that day, the Prius accidentally boxed in another vehicle, a Camry. A human driver could easily have handled the situation by slowing down and letting the Camry merge into traffic, but Google’s software wasn’t prepared for this scenario. The cars continued speeding down the freeway side by side. The Camry’s driver jerked his car onto the right shoulder. Then, apparently trying to avoid a guardrail, he veered to the left; the Camry pinwheeled across the freeway and into the median. Levandowski, who was acting as the safety driver, swerved hard to avoid colliding with the Camry, causing Taylor to injure his spine so severely that he eventually required multiple surgeries.

The Prius regained control and turned a corner on the freeway, leaving the Camry behind. Levandowski and Taylor didn’t know how badly damaged the Camry was. They didn’t go back to check on the other driver or to see if anyone else had been hurt. Neither they nor other Google executives made inquiries with the authorities. The police were not informed that a self-driving algorithm had contributed to the accident.

Levandowski, rather than being cowed by the incident, later defended it as an invaluable source of data, an opportunity to learn how to avoid similar mistakes. He sent colleagues an e-mail with video of the near-collision. Its subject line was “Prius vs. Camry.” (Google refused to show me a copy of the video or to divulge the exact date and location of the incident.) He remained in his leadership role and continued taking cars on non-official routes.


‘The Partial Control Fallacy’

Josh Koppel, on his blog Path-Sensitive:

This, I dub the Partial Control Fallacy. It’s where, if there’s some outcome you want, and you only control a couple factors that affect that outcome, you decide how much to try to improve those factors as if you were actually improving the entire outcome. It’s closely connected to the 80/20 principle: it’s when you only have control over that last 20%, but you pretend it’s the whole thing and work on it accordingly. It’s when the 80/20 principle would suggest doing nothing at all.

It’s very tempting to do “whatever you can” to control the outcome of some process where you have very little control. I’ve certainly been guilty of this!

Losing this mindset has been huge for my personal happiness and professional success.

‘How a Kalman filter works, in pictures’

Tim Babb:

You can use a Kalman filter in any place where you have uncertain information about some dynamic system, and you can make an educated guess about what the system is going to do next. Even if messy reality comes along and interferes with the clean motion you guessed about, the Kalman filter will often do a very good job of figuring out what actually happened. And it can take advantage of correlations between crazy phenomena that you maybe wouldn’t have thought to exploit!

Kalman filters are ideal for systems which are continuously changing. They have the advantage that they are light on memory (they don’t need to keep any history other than the previous state), and they are very fast, making them well suited for real time problems and embedded systems.

Perhaps useful for robots?

(via news.yc)

‘We Made a Tool So You Can Hear Both Yanny and Laurel’

Holy cow! This blew my mind.

When I first played the sound, in the “middle” position, it sounded so much like “Yanny” that I could not imagine anyone possibly thinking it was “Laurel”. Even as I slid towards Laurel, it still sounded like Yanny, until I finally hit Laurel, almost at the end of the slider.

But then I could slide it almost all the way back to Yanny and still hear Laurel. The same sound sounded different to my brain depending on what I most recently heard. This is clearly a dynamic system.

It’s also clear that the Yanny and Laurel sounds are different frequencies.

I suspect this is a similar phenomenon to the “hello?” phone answer — it exists to prime your brain to understand the voice on the other end of the line. Hearing a particular voice primes you to pick out that voice from the noise. So once I started hearing Laurel, I was primed to hear the Laurel-speaking “voice” in the original sound.

Reminds me also of the McGurk effect.

‘These drones can plant 100,000 trees a day’

Charlotte Edmond, writing for the World Economic Forum:

First a drone scans the topography to create a 3D map. Then the most efficient planting pattern for that area is calculated using algorithms.

Wait, how exactly are they finding the most efficient planting pattern?

Oh, right, with algorithms. Obviously.

Snark aside, though, this is a cool project!

‘Mistakes in Time’

Aaron Harris, writing on Y Combinator’s Blog:

This lesson is something I should have been able to absorb much more easily. I had 4 different jobs, and 4 different career paths, in the 10 years after college. I was an investment banker, an analyst at a hedge fund, a founder, and then a partner at YC. Each time I started something new, I expected myself to be immediately great, and was hugely disappointed when it became clear that I was nothing of the sort. Each time I switched jobs and discovered this, I also realized that I’d gotten older, and started to fear that I did not have the time to get great. Maybe I did not even have the time to get good.


‘The Untreatable: The Spanish Flu’

In New York City the public health commissioner, Royal S. Copeland, eliminated rush hour by staggering shop, school and factory opening times. He was under pressure to close schools, but after infancy children were relatively unaffected by the virus, and Copeland argued that schools could help disseminate health advice to their communities. He opened 150 health centres to deal with the sick, and insisted that all flu patients who lived in shared accommodation be hospitalised. Public health information was distributed by an obliging press: the Italian-language Progresso Italo-Americano sold close to a hundred thousand copies a day in New York alone, and raised funds for an Italian hospital in Brooklyn. Copeland allowed children to go to school, but he banned them from theatres. When Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms came to New York in October, Harold Edel, the manager of the Strand Theatre, wrote: ‘We think it a most wonderful appreciation of Shoulder Arms that people should veritably take their lives in their hands to see it.’ Edel was dead within a week, of flu.


(via news.yc)

‘Bottle Jumping’

Sometimes you just need a little perspective.

(via reddit)

Daniel Jackson (MIT) gives a UMass Amherst CICS Distinguished Lecture

Every software engineer should listen to this talk — it contains many brilliant insights into how to structure and create sane interfaces.

Easily one of the most enlightening talks I’ve ever watched.

(via news.yc)

‘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

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.

‘Bernie Sanders’s New Political Group Is Met by Staff Revolt’

Alan Rappeport and Yamiche Alcindor, writing for the New York Times:

A principal concern among backers of Mr. Sanders, whose condemnation of the campaign finance system was a pillar of his presidential bid, is that the group can draw from the same pool of “dark money” that Mr. Sanders condemned for lacking transparency.

Politician acts hypocritically. News at 11.

‘Dinner, Disrupted’

Daniel Duane, writing for the New York Times:

One delicious irony, for Californians of a certain age, is the inversion of an old joke about Northern Californians hating the superficial glitz of Los Angeles and Los Angelenos never thinking much about Northern California. This made sense for the mid-to-late 20th century, when the entertainment and defense industries secured Southern California’s place at the center of West Coast economic power. Now Los Angeles is where San Franciscans move when they can’t afford Oakland. Every young artist and musician I meet in San Francisco tells me that he or she wants to move south for cheap rent and a better creative scene.

Sad but true.

Matthew Broussard on Conan

This self-styled “douche” is hilarious!

‘Who Are All These Trump Supporters?’

George Saunders, writing for the New Yorker:

It’s viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the other only “Game of Thrones.” What is the meaning, to the collective “we,” of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a “dove” and a “hawk,” say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional. (As a proud knight of LeftLand, I was interested to find that, in RightLand, Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed “way to the left” by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim. I expect that my interviewees found some of my core beliefs equally jaw-dropping.)

We are not one America.

‘Why European Children Are So Much Quieter Than Yours’

Carrie Lukas, writing for Acculturated:

The differences in the use of public spaces explain behaviors outside of the playground too. Americans find it jarring when they are sitting at a European café or restaurant and someone takes the empty seat at their table. If someone is sharing our space, we assume we have to interact. Europeans presume that they and others will enjoy privacy even in close quarters. Just as American parents teach their children to look people in the eye and politely greet them, European children are taught how to interact quietly to avoid bothering people around them.

Interesting analysis.

‘This Is Why You Shouldn't Interrupt a Programmer’

Spectacularly accruate!

‘My Mother’s Garden’

Kaitlyn Greenidge, writing for the New York Times:

My mother had decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. She did not want us to stay in this housing project forever. But, as she told me, the housing project administrators argued that her scholarships to graduate school should count as her income and that even though she was also working, being a full-time student meant she could not live in public housing.

There were other strange rules, too. My father unexpectedly sent a desktop computer instead of back payments for child-support. But the housing project forbade personal computers, because they used up too much electricity. My mother made a quick calculation — hours and gas spent driving back and forth to the university computer lab to work on papers versus the cash she could get if she sold it. She decided to keep it. The computer sat hidden under piles of bedsheets, far from any windows, in a dark corner of my mother’s room, a ghost of our need.

The absurdity here is infuriating.

‘No Time for Bullies: Baboons Retool Their Culture’

Natalie Angier, writing for the New York Times:

The new work vividly demonstrates that, Putumayo records notwithstanding, humans hold no patent on multiculturalism. As a growing body of research indicates, many social animals learn from one another and cultivate regional variants in skills, conventions and fashions. Some chimpanzees crack open their nuts with a stone hammer on a stone anvil; others prefer wood hammers on wood anvils. The chimpanzees of the Tai forest rain-dance; those of the Gombe tickle themselves. Dr. Jane Goodall reported a fad in one chimpanzee group: a young female started wiggling her hands, and before long, every teen chimp was doing likewise.

Great piece overall, but I found this particular learned dynamic most fascinating!

‘What Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand About ‘the Deal’’

Adam Davidson, writing for the New York Times:

Manhattan real estate development is about as far as it is possible to get, within the United States, from that Econ 101 notion of mutually beneficial transactions. This is not a marketplace characterized by competition and dynamism; instead, Manhattan real estate looks an awful lot more like a Middle Eastern rentier economy. It is a hereditary system. We talk about families, not entrepreneurs. A handful of families have dominated the city’s real estate development for decades: Speyer, Tishman, Durst, Fisher, Malkin, Milstein, Resnick, LeFrak, Rose, Zeckendorf. Having grown up in Manhattan myself, I think of these names the way I heard Middle Easterners speak of the great sheikhs who ran big families in Jordan, Iraq and Syria. These are people of immense power and influence, but their actual skills and abilities are opaque. They do, however, make ‘‘deals.’’

An authoritarian rent-seeker. Sounds like a great dictator.

‘An Artist Who Hunts, Emilie Clark Gets Her Gun, Then Her Dutch Oven’

Ligaya Mishan, writing for the New York Times:

She turned out to be a good shot, which surprised her. But she soon realized that hunting wasn’t about chalking up kills. “Going out in pitch dark, watching the sun come up, feeling the temperature change,” she said. “I had the strange sensation that my physical presence was void, with all this incredible activity around me.”


‘What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team’

Charles Duhigg, writing for the New York Times:

Most of all, employees had talked about how various teams felt. ‘‘And that made a lot of sense to me, maybe because of my experiences at Yale,’’ Rozovsky said. ‘‘I’d been on some teams that left me feeling totally exhausted and others where I got so much energy from the group.’’ Rozovsky’s study group at Yale was draining because the norms — the fights over leadership, the tendency to critique — put her on guard. Whereas the norms of her case-competition team — enthusiasm for one another’s ideas, joking around and having fun — allowed everyone to feel relaxed and energized.

For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

‘‘We had to get people to establish psychologically safe environments,’’ Rozovsky told me. But it wasn’t clear how to do that. ‘‘People here are really busy,’’ she said. ‘‘We needed clear guidelines.’’

A truly fascinating piece.

I’ve struggled to identify the differences between teams I’ve liked and teams I haven’t — psychological safety really is a huge piece of it.

One imagines that these results apply to many collaborative endeavors, including families, relationships, classrooms, etc!

‘The Wreck of Amtrak 188’

Intense and saddening.

‘In Search of Japan’s Hidden Culinary Revolution’

Eli Gottlieb, writing for the New York Times:

Why has this fish been elevated to the very top spot among sashimi lovers? Because kanburi uniquely fuses two qualities that are almost never found in the same animal. Take maguro, the tuna whose sashimi is most recognizable to Americans. There’s the red meat, or akami, version, with its firm texture and relatively mild flavor, and the pinker version known as otoro that is filled with delicious oils and fats. The problem is that the tasty otoro has a crumbly, falling-apart texture in the mouth likened disdainfully by Bob to “eating sashimi marshmallows.” Because texture, along with temperature and flavor, are part of the “mouth moment” of Japanese cuisine, the challenge is to find a firm fish that is also rich in oil.

Enter kanburi, which for that brief, miraculous period every winter, is both those things. The fish, in thick slabs, now lay fanned out on the plate before me, glistening with oil — oil that had leached out of it because the Master had intentionally let the fish “rest,” or cure for a day or so. Mind you, fish oil like this has nothing “fishy” about it. The kanburi was silky, pliant, yielding and tasted of a distilled, superclean essence of the sea. It seemed to exemplify everything that was best about Japanese cuisine, and mouthful by mouthful it put me into a kind of trance.


‘Many See I.R.S. Penalties as More Affordable Than Insurance’

Spectacularly depressing.

‘How to get rich in tech, guaranteed.’

Startup L Jackson:

But, as far as I know, startups are the only way to get 20 years of experience in five. The reason to join a startup is because you are awesome, you’re willing to work hard, and you don’t want to wait 20 years to be making decisions that impact the business. And if you go in with this mentality, even when startups fail, you succeed. If you put five years into building a company and team, you will end up with a great network of talented and motivated people, lots of first-hand experience, and often some management experience as well. Worst case, your next step could be going into Google at the VP level it would’ve taken you 15 years to get to joining out of college to “inject some startup DNA,” and catch up on salary within a few years. Unless this internet thing is a fad, that job will always be there for you. But for all that is good and holy, don’t join a startup for the fucking money.

100% spot-on fucking advice right here.

‘Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves’

Teddy Wayne, writing for the New York Times:

But in our digital conversion of media (perhaps buttressed by application of the popular KonMari method of decluttering), physical objects have been expunged at a cost. Aside from the disappearance of record crates and CD towers, the loss of print books and periodicals can have significant repercussions on children’s intellectual development.

I believe this will prove to be a bigger issue than presently considered.

‘Greenland Is Melting Away’

Coral Davenport, Josh Haner, Larry Buchanan and Derek Watkins, writing for the New York Times:

“We scientists love to sit at our computers and use climate models to make those predictions,” said Laurence C. Smith, head of the geography department at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the leader of the team that worked in Greenland this summer. “But to really know what’s happening, that kind of understanding can only come about through empirical measurements in the field.”

For years, scientists have studied the impact of the planet’s warming on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. But while researchers have satellite images to track the icebergs that break off, and have created models to simulate the thawing, they have little on-the-ground information and so have trouble predicting precisely how fast sea levels will rise.

Fascinating work.

‘Toyota Unintended Acceleration and the Big Bowl of “Spaghetti” Code’

From a blog post by Safety Research & Strategies:

Michael Barr, a well-respected embedded software specialist, spent more than 20 months reviewing Toyota’s source code at one of five cubicles in a hotel-sized room, supervised by security guards, who ensured that entrants brought no paper in or out, and wore no belts or watches. Barr testified about the specifics of Toyota’s source code, based on his 800-page report. Phillip Koopman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor in computer engineering, a safety critical embedded systems specialist, authored a textbook, Better Embedded System Software, and performs private industry embedded software design reviews – including in the automotive industry – testified about Toyota’s engineering safety process. Both used a programmer’s derisive term for what they saw: spaghetti code – badly written and badly structured source code.

Highly disturbing.

‘The (Planet-Saving, Capitalism-Subverting, Surprisingly Lucrative) Investment Secrets of Al Gore’

James Fallows, writing for the Atlantic:

The most sweeping way to describe this undertaking is as a demonstration of a new version of capitalism, one that will shift the incentives of financial and business operations to reduce the environmental, social, political, and long-term economic damage being caused by unsustainable commercial excesses. What this means in practical terms is that Gore and his Generation colleagues have done the theoretically impossible: Over the past decade, they have made more money, in the Darwinian competition of international finance, by applying an environmentally conscious model of “sustainable” investing than have most fund managers who were guided by a straight-ahead pursuit of profit at any environmental or social price.

A fascinating look at what investment firms might look like in 20 years.

‘Do We Really Need to Sleep 7 Hours a Night?’

Anahad O’Connor, writing for the New York Times:

But Dr. Siegel and his colleagues found no evidence of this. The hunter-gatherer groups they studied, which slept outside or in crude huts, did not go to sleep when the sun went down. Usually they stayed awake three to four hours past sunset, with no light exposure other than the faint glow of a small fire that would keep animals away and provide a bit of warmth in the winter. Most days they would wake up about an hour before sunrise.

In a typical night, they slept just six and a half hours — slightly less than the average American. In the United States, most adults sleep seven hours or more a night, though a significant portion of the population sleeps less.

Interesting study.

‘Roast Chicken, the Easy Way’

Melissa Clark, writing for the New York Times:

The first is to seek out a good-quality bird. Whether you buy it at the butcher, farmers’ market or supermarket, and whether you choose organic, air-chilled or antibiotic-free, the better the bird tastes from the get-go, the less you have to do on your end.

Always salt the chicken ahead if you have time. Even an hour makes a difference, giving the salt a chance to form a brine that can get at least somewhat absorbed into the flesh. If you can salt the chicken the day before, even better. Leave it uncovered in the fridge so the skin can dry out a bit. This gives you a crisper, more burnished result.

This recipe is so easy it’s a shame more people don’t just roast chickens once a week!

Under 20 minutes of prep, an hour of cooking, and you can have a delicious dinner and leftovers for the week.

‘How to Make Pizza’

So much for my diet.

NYT Cooking’s 10 Most Popular Potato Recipes

These all look delicious.

‘When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk’

George Johnson, writing for the New York Times:

By Dr. Doss’s calculations, most residents would have received much less, about 4 millisieverts a year. The average annual exposure from the natural background radiation of the earth is 2.4 millisieverts.

How the added effect of the fallout would have compared with that of the evacuation depends on the validity of the “linear no-threshold model,” which assumes that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, causes some harm.

Dr. Doss is among scientists who question that supposition, one built into the world’s radiation standards. Below a certain threshold, they argue, low doses are harmless and possibly even beneficial — a long-debated phenomenon called radiation hormesis.

Interesting linear bias here.

‘When in Rome, Learn to Cook Italian’

Taras Grescoe, writing for the New York Times:

Fat, slimy noodles of tonnarelli — a fresh, egg-based pasta that in Rome is acceptable as a deluxe alternative to spaghetti — are puddled with the soapy-looking water the pasta has cooked in. It is only the flick of the waiter’s wrist that makes them into something appetizing. With a spoon and a fork, he lifts the noodles from the bowl, at the same time giving them an energetic clockwise half turn. Every motion coats the pasta with the mound of finely grated pecorino, flaked with coarsely ground black pepper, that is hidden in the bottom of the bowl. The result is the cremina, a sauce whose unctuousness results not from butter or cream, but from the combination of the fat from the pecorino, the starch from the pasta and the residual heat of the cooking water. (This is also the way to make a real Roman Alfredo sauce, which consists of butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fettuccine, but not a drop of cream.) It’s a privileged display of sprezzatura at work.

Oh how I miss Rome.

‘My Great Grandmother's Industrially Processed Food’

Rachel Laudan:

Over the course of her lifetime, my great grandmother would have seen the price of sugar and flour fall in absolute terms, enabling her to make white bread spread with jam an everyday affair and a cake quite possible for special occasions.

My grandmother and her brother and sisters would have experienced the falling prices and ingenious new techniques when they made trips to the sweet shop, which by the end of the nineteenth century were opening on every street corner in Britain, a phenomenon as dramatic as the spread of hamburger joints would be in the United States following World War II.


‘Cuisine and Empire’

Eugene Wei:

Once, it felt like watching music videos on MTV was a form of rebellion in plain sight. Nowadays, the channel doesn’t play any music videos. Instead, we have dozens of food and cooking shows, even entire channels like The Food Network dedicated to the topic. Chefs have become elevated to the status of master craftsmen, with names that have risen above the status of their restaurants, and diners revere someone like Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame the way a previous generation worshipped the guitar sound of a rock god like Jimi Hendrix.

One of the best pieces I’ve read recently!

‘The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t’

Steven Johnson, writing for the New York Times:

It has never been easier to start making money from creative work, for your passion to undertake that critical leap from pure hobby to part-time income source. Write a novel or record an album, and you can get it online and available for purchase right away, without persuading an editor or an A&R executive that your work is commercially viable. From the consumer’s perspective, blurring the boundaries has an obvious benefit: It widens the pool of potential talent. But it also has an important social merit. Widening the pool means that more people are earning income by doing what they love.

The skills required to succeed in creative work have changed; the old gatekeepers are not the new gatekeepers.

Deconstructing Masculinity & Manhood

This is brilliant.

But I really hope the wall-of-text-in-animated-gif form doesn’t take off.

‘What Your Vacation Says About You’

Arthur C. Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

But if byzantine, hyper-planned trips bring great joy in the planning, they risk yielding almost no happiness in the taking. Research cited by the Harvard Business Review shows that people derive little to no happiness boost from vacations they perceive as stressful. Jam-packed itineraries and tight connections may look exciting on paper, but they could end up meaning you return no happier than when you left.

Thank you.

‘Rat Pack’ by Stuart McMillen

A mind-opening comic.

‘Web Design - The First 100 Years’

Maciej Cegłowski:

Grown adults, people who can tie their own shoes and are allowed to walk in traffic, seriously believe that we’re walking a tightrope between existential risk and immortality.

Some of them are the most powerful figures in our industry, people who can call up Barack Obama about the dangers of nanotechnology, and Obama has to say “Michelle, I need to take this.”

“Barack, it is three o’clock in the morning.”

“I know, but this guy is scared of sentient artificial intelligence and he’s a huge contributor.”

And then Obama just has to sit there and listen to this shit.

This bit made me laugh out loud. At 3am.

Easily one of the best pieces I’ve read all year!

‘My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required)’

Jeff Gordinier, writing for the New York Times:

It turns out that walking is a popular mode of transport in the Blue Zones, too — particularly on the sun-splattered slopes of Sardinia, Italy, where many of those who make it to 100 are shepherds who devote the bulk of each day to wandering the hills and treating themselves to sips of red wine.

Sounds good to me!

‘Four Steps to Choosing Your Major’

Nathan Gebhard, writing for the New York Times:

Most advice about majors includes the admonition “Follow your passion.” But passion is something you discover over time, by finding an interest, however small, and nurturing it. There’s no epiphany; it’s a collection of small decisions that move you step by tiny step.

Good advice.

‘How to Live Wisely’

Richard J. Light, writing for the New York Times:

Here are five exercises that students find particularly engaging. Each is designed to help freshmen identify their goals and reflect systematically about various aspects of their personal lives, and to connect what they discover to what they actually do at college.

Designed for freshmen, but useful to think about at any age!

‘S.F. bike riders’ Wiggle protest could stop traffic’

Michael Cabanatuan, writing for the SF Chronicle:

“We’ve heard they’re going to obey the law en masse,” said Officer Grace Gatpandan, a police spokeswoman. “We welcome any demonstration where people are going to be obeying the law.”


‘The Last European: Romanian Driver Navigates the Soul of the EU’

Juan Moreno, writing for Spiegel Online:

Talic sits next to her at her kitchen table and is too tired to talk. Tomorrow at eight he goes back to Romania. He says that he just remembered something. To the question, what it’s like to be a Romanian in Europe. He has the answer. Being Romanian in Europe is no nationality at all. Being Romanian is a job.

I hate to end with the conclusion, but…wow.

‘A Scientist Has Created the Perfect Tomato—but Supermarkets Refuse to Sell It’

Mark Schatzker, writing for Slate:

Tomato growers are open to growing better-tasting varieties in principle, but only if they get paid more for it. Supermarkets, on the other hand, insist that shoppers only care about price. And can you blame them? After decades of eating tomatoes that taste like wet paper towels, no one thinks tomatoes are worth much.


‘The Pixar Theory of Labor’

James Douglas, writing for The Awl:

This excess, epitomized as the complete entanglement of an individual’s private life with their employment, is at the core of Pixar’s conceptualization of what it is to be a person: In every Pixar film, the protagonist’s arc is oriented toward the ultimate goal of being an efficient, productive worker—whether employment has been thematized as being a father, princess, robot janitor, toy, ant colonist, harvester of screams, adventurer in South America, or otherwise. For Pixar, to live is to work. Cars is a film about an ambitious racecar who is forced to chill out and not be so competitive, except he really just learns that chilling out and not being so competitive is the key to being an even better competitor. This is coming from a workplace culture that, under the guise of compassion, has erased the distinction between free time and labor time, and expects their employees not to notice that they working that much harder. After all, free cereal! That means you can start work early enough for breakfast. In his New Yorker piece, Lane talks with voice actor John Ratzenberger, who remarks on the company’s “get up and go to work” ethos. “They really should be running Western civilization,” Ratzenberger says, a sentiment that scans as amusing at first and then sort of sinister.

This is a very American value system, in which the worth of an individual is defined by that individual’s output.

If you haven’t yet experienced living in any other value system, you should make this a high priority.

‘You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?’

Jon Mooallem, writing for the New York Times:

The first ride home Carlos and Roby did together was in February 2014. They were dispatched for an early-morning pickup at San Quentin, seven hours from Los Angeles in Marin County, and Michael Romano, the director of the Three Strikes Project, suggested they drive up the day before and stay at his house in San Francisco. He expected to take them out to dinner — get to know them, spoil them a bit. Instead, Carlos and Roby rolled in after midnight and unceremoniously bedded down on a couple of couches.

Lying there, it hit them how unusual this was: They were both still on parole at the time, but here they were, welcomed into this white lawyer’s home in the middle of the night, while his wife and two little children slept upstairs. ‘‘That really changed everything,’’ Carlos remembers. ‘‘It changed our perspective of how people actually viewed us.’’ He and Roby had been locked up so young that they’d never lived as regular, trustworthy adults. This, they told each other before falling asleep, must be what it feels like.


‘The Bicycle Thief’

Mab Jones, writing for the New York Times:

I looked at it. The table was very low. And that’s when I realized: It wasn’t just about me saying sorry. It was about me feeling ashamed as well. I had read that Japan was a shame culture, rather than a guilt culture. Humiliation seemed to be the point here. I knelt at the table, my head bent over the paper, and signed. I began to cry. I did feel ashamed.

‘Who Owns Your Overtime?’

Fran Sussner Rodgers, writing for the New York Times:

I once did a small study for a Fortune 10 company in which I talked to about 20 employees who were allowed to work four days a week and keep their jobs and benefits. These women (yes, all women) still had to meet all their previous responsibilities, for 80 percent of their previous salaries. I expected some anger and resentment, but they turned out to be some of the happiest employees I ever talked to. They told me that it was much easier to back out of meetings or work that they knew would be a waste of time. They loved being able to focus on the things that really mattered.

An interesting result for sure.

‘StarTalk Live! Big Brains at BAM’

Watch Neil Tyson, Bill Nye, Mayim Bialik, Heather Berlin, and a cast of supporting comedians debate questions of cognitive neuroscience.

Far, far more fun than I expected! Watch all three for extra points.

(via reddit)

‘The Post-Ownership Society’

Monica Potts, writing for the Washington Monthly:

When we rent a Zipcar for a few hours, Zipcar asks us to clean up after ourselves and fill the gas tank out of a sense of obligation to our Zipcar community. When we hire an Uber or a Lyft or rent a room on Airbnb, the person on the other end has a Facebook-style profile picture, and we chat like old friends on a big social network that purports to have taken the place of an economy. In reality, though, these are the same types of services that have always been around—private drivers and taxis, hotels, rental car companies—but their services are sliced up into tiny bits and provided by underpaid contingent workers, which is what we are ourselves. No one notices the money changing hands, and it may seem like we’re just sharing a service with friends. But in fact we’re enriching the owners of whatever app or platform we’re using, becoming just a data point on the path to their payday while we age without assets. It’s their world, and we’re just renting it.

Well, that’s a sobering perspective.

‘The Internet I.R.L.’

There’s something haunting about this photo series…

‘The Rat Paths of New York’

Ryan Bradley, writing for the New York Times:

Soon, thanks to a series of city- and state-sponsored greenway projects, the woods in the highlands that spill down to the Hudson will be interconnected, and a path will run along the river from the northernmost point of Manhattan down to the Battery — a great route for a bike ride or run, and a new, complete byway for the wild things coming down from the north. A fisher, a sort of weasel that preys on rodents, was seen in the Bronx last summer. That was unusual, but there could be more, moving farther south, as the paths into the city ease.

Interesting to think of NYC as a new type of habitat for animals, changing over time.

Also, I had no idea that earthworms are not native to North America!

‘How to write a great story’

Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling.

‘Swearing Off the Modern Man’

Jochebed Smith, writing for the New York Times:

Then I downloaded Tinder.

I walked up to my first (and only) Tinder date with heavy feet and a slow-boiling regret. I spent most of the date wondering what Byron was doing while calculating how drunk I would have to get to make this evening not awful. My date spent most of the time on his phone checking out the restaurant he picked (“I saw some great reviews on Yelp!”), tweeting that it looked as if it might rain, and posting pictures of his entree on Instagram.

Finally, at the end, he looked up at me with eyes I only just then realized were green and not blue (the glow of his phone had thrown off their true color) and said four fatal words: “Do you have Snapchat?”

“No,” I said. “I’m old-school.”

There is something delightfully charming about this piece.

Perhaps it’s just nostalgia though.

‘Let the Kids Learn Through Play’

David Kohn, writing for the New York Times:

Other research has found that early didactic instruction might actually worsen academic performance. Rebecca A. Marcon, a psychology professor at the University of North Florida, studied 343 children who had attended a preschool class that was “academically oriented,” one that encouraged “child initiated” learning, or one in between. She looked at the students’ performance several years later, in third and fourth grade, and found that by the end of the fourth grade those who had received more didactic instruction earned significantly lower grades than those who had been allowed more opportunities to learn through play. Children’s progress “may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status,” Dr. Marcon wrote.

Nevertheless, many educators want to curtail play during school. “Play is often perceived as immature behavior that doesn’t achieve anything,” says David Whitebread, a psychologist at Cambridge University who has studied the topic for decades. “But it’s essential to their development. They need to learn to persevere, to control attention, to control emotions. Kids learn these things through playing.”

‘How to Eat Healthy Meals at Restaurants’

Josh Barro, Claire Cain Miller, and Darcy Eveleigh, writing for the New York Times:

Most meals at American restaurants aren’t healthy. They’re packed with processed food and enough calories to cover two or three sensible meals.

Yet it’s entirely possible to eat both healthy and tasty restaurant meals. And because eating out is one of life’s great pleasures, we’ve put together this guide to smart restaurant eating. It ranges from undeniably healthy meals — with a rich variety of foods, heavy on fruits and vegetables, light on sugar — to fast-food meals that are at least better than the alternatives if you find yourself eating at McDonald’s.

Two words: portion control.

‘Humans 2.0’

Michael Specter, writing for the New Yorker:

The vivarium at the Broad houses an entirely different kind of mouse, one that carries the protein Cas9 (which stands for CRISPR-associated nuclease) in every cell. Cas9, the part of the CRISPR system that acts like a genetic scalpel, is an enzyme. When scientists originally began editing DNA with CRISPR, they had to inject both the Cas9 enzyme and the probe required to guide it. A year ago, Randall Platt, another member of Zhang’s team, realized that it would be possible to cut the CRISPR system in two. He implanted the surgical enzyme into a mouse embryo, which made it a part of the animal’s permanent genome. Every time a cell divided, the Cas9 enzyme would go with it. In other words, he and his colleagues created a mouse that was easy to edit. Last year, they published a study explaining their methodology, and since then Platt has shared the technique with more than a thousand laboratories around the world.




My Vietnamese dad still new to America in the late 70’s.

(via reddit)

‘What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work’

Adam Davidson, writing for the New York Times:

The Hollywood model isn’t good news for everybody. It clearly rewards education and cultural fluency, which are not distributed evenly throughout the population. But the Hollywood model does suggest that the winners in the new economy will be much greater than just some tiny 1 percent. It will be tens of millions of Americans, many of whom won’t have advanced degrees in engineering, but will have curiosity, creativity and more tools available to help them connect with their audience, whoever that may be.

Could be worse!

‘Love and Merit’

David Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement. Parents glow with extra fervor when their child studies hard, practices hard, wins first place, gets into a prestigious college.

This sort of love is merit based. It is not simply: I love you. It is, I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam.

The wolf of conditional love is lurking in these homes. The parents don’t perceive this; they feel they love their children in all circumstances. But the children often perceive things differently.

Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.


‘The End of California?’

Timothy Egan, writing for the New York Times:

What California still has, in great supply, is ingenuity. Three years ago, Mitt Romney compared the state to bankrupt Greece. It was laughed at and written off by conservative pundits. California now has a budget surplus and led the nation in job growth last year — far outpacing Texas.

Mitt Romney was full of it. Hold the presses.

Kidding aside, the fact that agriculture is 2% of the state economy, but uses 80% of the water means that the outcome of a prolonged drought is pretty clear.

Will urban users will be asked to cut back? Sure. But eventually there won’t be much left to cut back and the agriculture industry will need to take a long hard look at cherished beliefs.

‘Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat Is the Luxury You Won’t Want to Live Without’

Farhad Manjoo, writing for the New York Times:

“You don’t try to clean the rest of your body with a dry towel, right?” said Jerry Bougher, the marketing manager for toilet seats at Kohler, the plumbing fixtures company. Say you’re covered with mud, he said. “Will you clean yourself up with a bunch of paper? No, obviously, you’ll take a shower. It comes down to the same thing with this. Here in the United States we’ve used dry toilet paper to clean ourselves, and it doesn’t always do the job effectively. Cleaning with water is kind of like taking a shower. It’s just, you know, cleaner.”


‘L.P.D.: Libertarian Police Department’

Tom O’Donnell, writing for the New Yorker:

“Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®” I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. “Nobody move unless you want to!” They didn’t.

Easily one of the best satires I’ve seen all year. I literally laughed out loud at the above bit!


A kid discovers he can raise his own eyebrows

I think this is quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve seen in years!

(via reddit)

‘Dropping Science: XKCD Cartoonist Randall Munroe on His New Book’

Gavin Edwards, interviewing Randall Munroe for Rolling Stone:

I don’t know if this showed up in a What If answer, but it really surprised me that the pools at the bottoms of waterfalls aren’t hot. Heat is just kinetic energy, and I thought, okay, water’s falling this great height and has enough energy to run hydroelectric plants—there’s a lot of potential energy there. And water is heavy, and waterfalls are huge, so there’s a tremendous amount of energy being converted as the water falls from the top of Niagara Falls to the bottom, so the water on the bottom has to be pretty hot. I sat down and did the math: the mass of the water times gravity times the height, divided by the specific heat of water to come up with how many degrees the temperature increases per hundred meters. The temperature increase is barely measurable, and the reason is water just has an incredibly high heat capacity, it can soak up more heat per mass than anything except, I think, ammonia.

I love this man’s curiosity.

‘Turning to Education for Fun’

Greg Beato, writing for the New York Times:

These days, examples of what is often called edutainment are everywhere. As the word suggests, edutainment combines aspects of education and entertainment into products and experiences that seek to improve learning by making it not just painless but also pleasurable.

Greg, the ’90s called. They want their asinine jargon back.

The pun to end all puns.

I was recently reacquainted with the best pun I’d ever read, perhaps even the best pun on the Internet ever. Here’s the setup, a posting to AskReddit:

I’m 85% certain that there is an adult actress in my philosophy class.

Probably Lexi Belle, but I don’t know. Any suggestions on how I can know for sure? It would be too hard (and unethical) to take a picture and put it up here… and going up to her and saying, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” would probably be a bad idea.

To which someone proposed:

Ask Lexi Belle if she has any interest in philosophy. If she says yes, then ask her which philosophers she likes. Once you get her answer, strike up a conversation with the girl in your class about these very philosophers. This will get you laid.

And then our hero, dart22, replied with the epic pun:

Isn’t this putting Descartes before the whores?

Please enjoy.

‘China’s Long Food Chain Plugs In’

Alexandra Stevenson and Paul Mozur, writing for the New York Times:

Joyvio is taking on a bigger challenge: the entire food chain.

Started in 2009, it is now the largest provider of kiwis and blueberries in China. It controls everything, picking what seeds are planted, then tracking and collecting data each step of the way.

Its nurseries are the stuff of science fiction. The room temperature and irrigation schedules are automatic and can be controlled remotely via a mobile phone or a computer. Seeds are grown in greenhouses, and plant tissue is cultivated in research labs.


‘Let It Snow. There’s Work to Be Done.’

Matt Richtel, writing for the New York Times:

“The greater the amount of rain, the better you are at completing a task,” said Jooa Julia Lee, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Law School who conducted the research with scholars from the business schools at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. The productivity pattern holds for snow, too.

Another downside of California’s drought?

‘Believe in your fucking self. Stay up all fucking night. Work outside your fucking habits. Know when to fucking speak up. Fucking collaborate.’

Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher, creators of Good Fucking Design Advice:

Question fucking everything.

Fucking wonderful.

‘Wait, What, I’m a Millennial?’

Juliet Lapidos, writing for the New York Times:

Unlike people now in their mid-20s, I am not a true digital native. The Internet wasn’t a fact of nature. I had to learn what it was and how to use it. I wrote letters home when I was at summer camp; I didn’t have a mobile phone until I was 19.


‘My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2014 Edition’

My mind is blown by the available functionality on the iPad and by how many of these apps I’d never heard of — Federico is using the iPad Air as his main computing device, and has built up a collection of apps to help support that.

In particular, I’m really impressed by how much workflow automation appears on his list.

I find using the iPad in a way that requires switching apps to be an exercise in frustration, especially compared to the ease with which I switch between apps on the Mac. Maybe these workflow apps are a solution?

‘Britain Set to Approve Technique to Create Babies From 3 People’

Stephen Castle, writing for the New York Times:

Describing the move as “bold” but “considered and informed,” the health minister, Jane Ellison, argued in favor of legalizing the procedure, which is designed to help women with mitochondrial diseases. Defects in the mitochondria — energy-producing structures outside a cell’s nucleus — can result in a range of complications, including muscular dystrophy and heart, kidney and liver failure.

Science for the win.

‘Atop the Ferry Building, looking down on S.F.’

By Carl Nolte, writing for the SF Chronicle:

There are 10 flights of wide steel steps leading up 240 feet to the top. There are landings with wooden floors, like big rooms, thick with the dust of the years. People have written their names on the walls. The earliest mark was from July 1907, but it was hard to see the name. JJD wrote his initials inside the tower in 1921, WBD in 2001 and Big Al in 1967.

The machinery that runs the Ferry Building clock enclosed inside the tower in its own wooden house is on level six. You can peer in the dusty windows and see the clockwork gears slowly turning. The clock stopped twice in its history — on April 18, 1906, and Oct. 17, 1989. It took earthquakes to stop time at the Ferry Building, which otherwise seems timeless.

I’m by the ferry building quite frequently — add its clock tower to the list of places I’d love to visit.

‘“Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from’

Ann Bauer, writing for

I was dumbfounded. I wanted to leap to my feet and shout. “Hello? Alice Munro! Doris Lessing! Joan Didion!” Of course, there are thousands of other extraordinary writers who managed to produce art despite motherhood. But the essential point was that, the quality of her book notwithstanding, this author’s chief advantage had nothing to do with her reproductive decisions. It was about connections. Straight up. She’d had them since birth.

In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

The world is so full of unfair advantages that it’s often hard to succeed without them.

That those with said advantages would be so obtuse, however, is just sad.

‘Why Small Businesses Are Starting to Win Again’

Tim Wu, writing for the New Yorker:

But the small breweries came back. Their beers were not better advertised and certainly not better priced. Rather, the crafts went after an enormous blind spot for the big breweries—namely, flavor. I don’t entirely mean to be snide; more precisely, craft beer succeeded by opting not to compete directly, instead pursuing what can be called a “true differentiation” strategy. That means they established a product that, in the mind of the consumer, is markedly and undeniably different (as opposed to “false differentiation,” which is more or less the same thing with different packaging). True differentiation, if it works, actually changes consumer preferences. The dedicated craft-beer drinker, once he’s hooked, no longer cares if Coors Light costs three dollars less. Today there are once again thousands of breweries in the United States (more than 3,000, in fact).

Decommodification seems to work for large companies too: Apple, for instance, commands a premium on its products in largely the same way as craft breweries.

‘Reagan, Obama and Inequality’

Nicholas Kristof, writing for the New York Times:

Obama rightly heralded the fall in teenage pregnancy rates. But he had little to do with it (although the MTV show “16 and Pregnant” played a role!), and about 30 percent of American girls still get pregnant by age 19. Making reliable birth control available to at-risk teenagers would help them, reduce abortion rates and even pay for itself in reduced social spending later.


‘The network effect’

From The Economist:

How does one make the most of a networking opportunity, whether it is in a charming village in the Swiss Alps or in the conference hall of a soulless hotel next to a motorway? A few people are natural networkers. Bill Clinton is the superman of this world. He wraps people in his psychic embrace, persuading them, momentarily, that they are the most important person in the world to him. A few business leaders are also naturals. For example, Goldman Sachs’s boss, Lloyd Blankfein, has a knack of making people feel he has taken them into his confidence.

I’ve only met a few people like this, but it really can feel special to be in their presence.

‘Islam in Europe’

From The Economist’s Daily Charts:

European publics wildly overestimate the proportion of their populations that is Muslim: an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that on average French respondents thought 31% of their compatriots were Muslim, against an actual figure closer to 8%.

Easily the most depressing chart I’ve seen all day.

And it’s been a depressing day.

‘Unraveling the Key to a Cold Virus’s Effectiveness’

Carl Zimmer, writing for the New York Times:

At body temperature, the cells responded with a sophisticated defense, sending out warning signals to uninfected cells around them. Those cells prepared an arsenal of antiviral proteins, which they used to destroy the rhinoviruses.

But at a relatively cool 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, Dr. Iwasaki and her colleagues found, things changed.

The neighboring cells only managed a weak defense, allowing the rhinoviruses to invade them and multiply. This result pointed to an explanation for why rhinoviruses plague humans at low temperatures: In cool conditions, the immune system somehow falters.

Next time I feel a cold coming on, I’ll crank the thermostat up to 98.6 °F.

Further updates to follow.

‘Should Schools Teach Personality?’

Anna North, writing for the New York Times:

The focus on character, however, has encountered criticism. The education writer and speaker Alfie Kohn, for instance, argues that grit isn’t always helpful. In a Washington Post essay adapted from his new book, “The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting,” he writes that dogged persistence isn’t the best approach to every situation: “Even if you don’t crash and burn by staying the course, you may not fare nearly as well as if you had stopped, reassessed and tried something else.”

And, he said in an interview, an emphasis on children’s personalities could take attention away from problems with their schools. “Social psychologists for decades have identified a tendency to overestimate how important personality characteristics, motivation, individual values and the like tend to be relative to the importance of the structural characteristics of a situation,” he said. “We tend to think people just need to try harder, or have a better attitude,” but “this tends to miss the boat. What really matters is various aspects of the system itself.”

Well, this theory of the month seems to be winding down. I wonder what’s next in the club?

‘Fasting Might Boost Chemo's Cancer-Busting Properties’

Katherine Harmon, writing for Scientific American:

Most mice in the fasting groups were able to gain their weight back in five days or so. But humans, of course, are very different animals. Small fasting studies in cancer patients—some involving as long as 62 hours without food before treatment and 24 hours without food afterward—so far have produced only small side effects, Longo says, such as fatigue and headaches. And as Barcellos-Hoff notes, “I think humans would be much grouchier after two days without food.” But so far the method seems to be relatively well tolerated in small, carefully controlled studies. And “chemotherapy does make you feel really bad,” Barcellos-Hoff says. So fasting “is a lot less unpleasant than many of the things cancer patients are subjected to.”

Interesting approach!

‘A Teenager’s View on Social Media’

Andrew Watts:

Those are some reasons why many people my age tend to use Instagram more than they do Facebook. Everything about the application makes it less commercialized and more focused on the content, meaning more teens are inclined to visit it. When we do visit the application it is a much more pleasant experience so we are more inclined to Like and interact with the posts more. This increases our interaction with the application, meaning we will use it more, etc.

Facebook gets all of the photos we took — the good, the bad, etc—while Instagram just gets the one that really summed up the event we went to. It is much more selective and honestly people spend more time on the captions to make them relevant/funny. On Facebook we just throw up everything we got so people can tag each other and show our family members that we’re still alive.

Interesting perspective on what’s cool these days.

‘How Exercise Keeps Us Young’

Gretchen Reynolds, writing for the New York Times:

As it turned out, the cyclists did not show their age. On almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was much closer to that of young adults than of people their age. As a group, even the oldest cyclists had younger people’s levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.


‘7 Habits of Chronically Unhappy People’

A surprisingly good list. Fixing #3, #4, and #5 have made the biggest difference in my own life.

‘Healthy Body, Unhealthy Mind’

Pico Iyer, writing for the New York Times:

Reluctantly, I signed on at a local health club. Soon my time there became a highlight of my day. The huffing and puffing left me at once calmer and invigorated. I felt even better than when renouncing nachos with extra cheese.

I proudly reported this breakthrough to a quiet, slightly older friend. “You’ve never thought of doing this with your mind?” he said, a bit ungraciously, I thought. “Just sitting still for a few minutes every day, to give your imagination a chance to take a walk?”


‘Cracking the Sitcom Code’

Noah Charney, writing for the Atlantic:

Poet Philip Larkin described all plots as “a beginning, a muddle, and an end,” which is as good a description as any. Each episode begins with the protagonist stating a goal or problem that must be solved, and which we understand will be solved by the end of the episode. If the problem is solved too quickly, then the episode won’t stretch out to 22 minutes, so the first attempt at reaching the goal or solving the problem must fail (“the muddle”), requiring a new approach, before the episode ends and the protagonist either does, or does not, achieve what they set out to do. The goal might be Homer trying to make a fortune by selling recycled grease in The Simpsons, or Job Bluth setting out to sabotage the family’s banana stand in Arrested Development, or the Seinfeld crew looking for where they parked in a vast lot. Another hallmark of sitcoms is that the protagonists frequently fail, and we often want them to, because we do not want our favorite characters to change too much. If Leslie Knope ever left Pawnee for a career as a DC politician, we would be distraught. If Kramer got married and moved to the suburbs—whoa, now!

Amusing if a bit depressing!

‘Of Medicine and Mushrooms’

Jonathan Reisman, writing for the New York Times:

I noted that the mushrooms grew singly on the ground, rather than clumped on the side of a tree. I cut one off at ground level with a knife and picked it up to examine it more closely. Shaped like a tiny, delicate orange vase with the unblemished freshness of infancy, it had an underside lined with corrugated ridges flowing outward onto its flanges. I delicately lacerated the mushroom’s pale flesh with my knife and noted no milky, white latex bleeding from it. It smelled of humus and apricots.

I was confident these mushrooms were chanterelles, and, later, a delicious dinner with no ill effects confirmed my hunch. Such experiences slowly added up, and the number of edible species that I could confidently distinguish from their poisonous look-alikes grew.

An interesting bridge between two worlds.

‘Who Gets to Graduate?’

Paul Tough, writing for the New York Times:

Wedged in between the information about the meningococcal vaccine requirements and the video about the U.T. honor code was a link to Yeager’s interactive presentation about the “U.T. Mindset.”

Students were randomly sorted into four categories. A “belonging” treatment group read messages from current students explaining that they felt alone and excluded when they arrived on campus, but then realized that everyone felt that way and eventually began to feel at home. A “mind-set” treatment group read an article about the malleability of the brain and how practice makes it grow new connections, and then read messages from current students stating that when they arrived at U.T., they worried about not being smart enough, but then learned that when they studied they grew smarter. A combination treatment group received a hybrid of the belonging and mind-set presentations. And finally, a control group read fairly banal reflections from current students stating that they were surprised by Austin’s culture and weather when they first arrived, but eventually they got used to them. Students in each group were asked, after clicking through a series of a dozen or so web pages, to write their own reflections on what they’d read in order to help future students. The whole intervention took between 25 and 45 minutes for students to complete, and more than 90 percent of the incoming class completed it.

Going in, Yeager thought of the 2012 experiment as a pilot — simply a way to test out the mechanics of a large-scale intervention. He didn’t have much confidence that it would produce significant results, so he was surprised when, at the end of the fall semester, he looked at the data regarding which students had successfully completed at least 12 credits. First-semester credit-completion has always been an early indicator of the gaps that appear later for U.T. students. Every year, only 81 or 82 percent of “disadvantaged” freshmen — meaning, in this study, those who are black, Latino or first-generation — complete those 12 credits by Christmas, compared with about 90 percent of more advantaged students.

In January 2013, when Yeager analyzed the first-semester data, he saw the advantaged students’ results were exactly the same as they were every year. No matter which message they saw in the pre-orientation presentation, 90 percent of that group was on track. Similarly, the disadvantaged students in the control group, who saw the bland message about adjusting to Austin’s culture and weather, did the same as disadvantaged students usually did: 82 percent were on track. But the disadvantaged students who had experienced the belonging and mind-set messages did significantly better: 86 percent of them had completed 12 credits or more by Christmas. They had cut the gap between themselves and the advantaged students in half.

What a mind-blowing outcome for a relatively trivial intervention!

‘Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy’

Tim Urban:

I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group—I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.

So Lucy’s enjoying her GYPSY life, and she’s very pleased to be Lucy. Only issue is this one thing:

Lucy’s kind of unhappy.

To get to the bottom of why, we need to define what makes someone happy or unhappy in the first place. It comes down to a simple formula:

Happiness = Reality - Expectations

It’s pretty straightforward—when the reality of someone’s life is better than they had expected, they’re happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they’re unhappy.

An interesting perspective on specialness.

‘10 life lessons to excel in your 30s’

I hate to quote nonconsecutively, but I thought this list is too useful to not distill:

  1. Start Saving for Retirement Now, Not Later
  2. Start Taking Care of Your Health Now, Not Later
  3. Don’t Spend Time with People Who Don’t Treat You Well
  4. Be Good to the People You Care About
  5. You can’t have everything; Focus On Doing a Few Things Really Well
  6. Don’t Be Afraid of Taking Risks, You Can Still Change
  7. You Must Continue to Grow and Develop Yourself
  8. Nobody (Still) Knows What They’re Doing, Get Used to It
  9. Invest in Your Family; It’s Worth It
  10. Be kind to yourself, respect yourself

Mark’s piece includes many quotes from his readers that are actually worth reading!

(All that said, I’d add an 11th here: stop writing top-N lists in an attempt to get clicks.)

‘The Next Big Climate Question: Will India Follow China?’

Michael Greenstone, writing for the New York Times:

This pollution shortens lives and, in the process, undermines the economic growth emerging economies urgently need, as I and other researchers concluded in a recent study. Comparing China’s pollution in the north — where it’s worse, because of subsidies for coal heating in the winter — with the south, we found the north experienced reductions in life spans of about five years. That means people living in northern China are losing many billions of years of life expectancy because of heavy pollution. Keep in mind that southern China also has high pollution levels, which very likely reduces life spans there, too.


‘Abundance Without Attachment’

Arthur C. Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

I learned this lesson once and for all from my son Carlos. Five years ago, when Carlos was 9 years old, he announced that all he wanted for Christmas was a fishing trip — just the two of us, alone. No toys; no new things — just the trip. So we went fishing, and have done so every year since. Any material thing I had bought him would have been long forgotten. Yet both of us can tell you every place we’ve gone together, and all the fish we’ve caught, every single year.

Second, steer clear of excessive usefulness.

Our daily lives often consist of a dogged pursuit of practicality and usefulness at all costs. This is a sure path toward the attachment we need to avoid. Aristotle makes this point in his Nicomachean Ethics; he shows admiration for learned men because “they knew things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult, and divine, but useless.”

An uncommon perspective.

‘The Guerrilla Tactics of The Racket, and How It Almost Upended Journalism’

Mat Honan, writing for Wired:

“We outsourced Thomas Friedman to an Indian content farm, where they produce for pennies a word, any kind of material you want. Really, it’s terrible and I felt kind of guilty after I did this. But you hire them to write a blog post or an article, and I hired this company to write ten stories about globalization and the economy. I basically told them I wanted them to write a Thomas Friedman article, I told them I wanted then to write an article about globalization and its effect on the workforce that’s positive about globalization, speaks about the challenges, but in the end works out for everyone. I told them to quote a cab driver. I just gave them Friedman’s theses, and asked them to write 800 words, and they did.”

“The joke here is that Thomas Friedman is always talking about the benefits of globalization,” says Taibbi.

“And so instead of paying Thomas Friedman whatever the New York Times pays him, I paid a couple hundred bucks and got a month’s worth of columns,” said Pareene.

“To show the effects of globalization,” laughed Taibbi.

“Exactly!” agreed Pareene.

“We can have Thomas Friedman for 1,000 times less the cost,” said Taibbi, with his brow furrowed seriously now.

I love it.

Sad that The Racket didn’t make it!

‘BPA in Cans and Plastic Bottles Linked to Quick Rise in Blood Pressure’

Anahad O’Connor, writing for the New York Times:

Because of growing consumer concerns, some bottles and packaged food products now carry “BPA free” claims on their labels. However, these products often contain chemically similar alternatives – like bisphenol S. One study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that plastic products advertised as BPA-free still leached chemicals with estrogenic activity – and some of these chemicals were even more potent than BPA

Idiotic. Like a game of whack-a-mole.

‘Challah You Bake Yourself Is Worth It’

Joan Nathan, writing for the New York Times:

Homemade is better because it is most likely fresher and not so inflated with air. It may take more effort than picking up a loaf at the store, but it is worth it.

Sounds like grounds for an experiment.

‘Class Prejudice Resurgent’

David Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

“Proper” people of that era had both a disgust and fascination for those who lived in these untouchable realms. They went slumming into the poor neighborhoods, a sort of poverty tourism that is the equivalent of today’s reality TV or the brawlers that appear on “The Jerry Springer Show.”

Today we once again have a sharp social divide between people who live in the “respectable” meritocracy and those who live beyond it. In one world almost everybody you meet has at least been to college, and people have very little contact with features that are sometimes a part of the other world: prison, meth, payday loans, a flowering of nonmarriage family forms. In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.”

‘Like a Spy, He Photographs Marriage Proposals in New York City’

Corey Kilgannon, writing for the New York Times:

Mr. Leto arrived first and, like a sleuth, scoped out the area and texted a map and images of the location to the doctor. The doctor walked his girlfriend by and shot Mr. Leto a nervous side glance. Mr. Leto tailed them, shooting with no flash.

As the doctor began his proposal against a twinkling Manhattan skyline, a group of passers-by blocked Mr. Leto’s view. He hurdled a short fence and managed to capture the doctor getting down on his knee.

Vlad Leto, modern-day James Bond.

‘The Ambition Explosion’

David Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

The real contradiction of capitalism is that it arouses enormous ambition, but it doesn’t help you define where you should focus it. It doesn’t define an end to which you should devote your life. It nurtures the illusion that career and economic success can lead to fulfillment, which is the central illusion of our time.


‘How the Chicken Built America’

Andrew Lawler, writing for the New York Times:

Slaves laid the foundation for the American appetite for chicken, but it was the forced opening of China by the West in the 1840s that made the modern bird possible. American ships brought specimens of Asian chickens never seen in America. Breeders crossed the large and colorful exotics with their smaller but hardier Western counterparts to produce a bird that could lay more eggs and provide more meat. The results were famous varieties, like the Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red, that appeared just as the nation began to industrialize.

I had no idea about this history!

‘Why Is American Teaching So Bad?’

Jonathan Zimmerman, writing for the NY Review of Books:

Computers have a much wider range than these earlier machines, of course, and some American teachers have obviously put them to very good use. But the countries that are outpacing us at school, like Japan and Finland, are noticeably low-tech in their classrooms; they recognize that it’s the teacher that counts, not the technology. In America, by contrast, we’re always looking for the next gadget to improve—and, one suspects, to supplant—our beleaguered teaching profession.

Reading about teaching just makes me depressed these days.

‘Barbie F*cks It Up Again’

Pamela Ribon, on Gizmodo:

Despite having ruined her own laptop, her sister’s laptop, and the library’s computers, not to mention Steven and Brian’s afternoon, she takes full credit for her game design— only to get extra credit and decide she’s an awesome computer engineer! “I did it all by myself!”

Flip the book and you can read “Barbie: I can be an Actress,” where Barbie saves the day by filling in for the princess in Skipper’s school production of “Princess and the Pea.” She ad-libs and smiles her way through her lines, and charms the entire audience. Standing ovation, plenty of praise. At no point did she need anybody’s help. She didn’t even need lines! Just standing there being Barbie was enough for everyone in attendance. See, actors? It’s not that hard. Even Barbie can do it.

Holy fuck. I, honestly, cannot believe how horrible this is.

It’s like how truth is scarier than fiction, and somehow the truth is that someone actually wrote all the shit in this book.

How Much Public Space Belongs to Cars

I’m not sure why, but somehow this image is mindblowing.

(via reddit)

‘Micro Metros: Abstract City Models Carved from Wooden Scraps’


‘The Sixth Stage of Grief is Retro-Computing’

Paul Ford, writing for

This is what I remembered right then: That before my wife got pregnant we had been trying for kids for years without success. We had considered giving up.

That was when I said to my wife: If we do not have children, we will move somewhere where there is a porch. The children who need love will find the porch. They will know how to find it. We will be as much parents as we want to be.

And when she got pregnant with twins we needed the right-sized doll to rehearse diapering. I went and found that bear in an old box.

I was handed that toy, sitting on Tom’s porch, in 1992. A person offering another person a piece of advice. Life passed through that object as well, through the teddy bear as much as through the operating systems of yore.

Now that I have children I can see how tuned they are to the world. Living crystals tuned to all manner of frequencies. And how urgently they need to be heard. They look up and they say, look at me. And I put my phone away.

And when they go to bed, protesting and screaming, I go to mess with my computers, my old weird imaginary emulated computers. System after system. I open up these time capsules and look at the thousands of old applications, millions of dollars of software, but now it can be downloaded in a few minutes and takes up a tiny portion of a hard drive. It’s all comically antiquated.

If art is that which instills in others the emotions felt by the artist, then this, to me, is art.

Some of the comments on Hacker News are also worth reading.

Doughnuts in New York City

Ligaya Mishan, writing for the New York Times:

Since my colleague Pete Wells last assessed the city’s doughnut scene three years ago, some two dozen new doughnut contenders have emerged: bakeries, food trucks, freelance bakers hustling at outdoor markets and restaurants with a serious sideline in American viennoiserie. In the past three weeks, I’ve sampled 77 doughnuts from 22 vendors. A precious few I ate whole.

I have no regrets.

Oscar Mike Golf. I have a new plan for my next trip to NYC.

I do, however, anticipate regrets.

‘Du Jour Doughnuts Recipe’

Looks so Foxtroting delicious.

An aspirational doughnut.

Parkinson’s Law


Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

And how!

‘On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs’

David Graeber, writing originally for Strike magazine:

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

‘/etc/network/interfaces for nearly all occasions’

Pencoys, on the Raspberry Pi forums:

Having spent hours trying to get wireless WPA2 to work I have prepared this complete wireless dhcp interfaces config file for others to simply un hash their requirements.

Sweeter words have never been spoken.

‘Incredible Edibles’

John Lanchester, writing for the New Yorker:

The other techniques offered some successes: slow-and-low is a great way to cook beef, as long as you can spare the time, and can go to the trouble of making a sauce separately. The most instructive dish, however, was one of the failures, a slow-and-low chicken, cooked for several hours and served when its internal temperature had hit 149 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem was that, with all its juices still inside, it tasted far too chickeny. If you oven-roast chicken the regular way, you get used to the drying effect of the heat, and to the fact that some juices go into the pan and are recycled as gravy. With this version, the bird was so moist that its texture was almost jellied, the flesh was a faint pink, and the chicken-explosion of flavor was overwhelming. In a sense, it was too good. My roast-chicken-obsessed children threw down their cutlery in protest after a single mouthful.

The lesson was that no taste is inherently better than another: within certain physiological constraints, tastes are not innate but learned, and the acquisition of tastes is a kind of dance between the person at the stove and the person at the table. The dance between the cook and the eater goes on longest at home, which is why we grow up loving a food from our first and most sustained encounter with it: nothing will ever beat your mom’s chicken, or meat loaf, or whatever it was. No food can ever mean as much to you as that food once did. That is why most of all the cooking in the world is comfort food. It is food designed to remind us of familiar things, to connect us with our personal histories and our communities and our families. That has always been true and it always will be true.

I liked this piece, once I got over the authors characterization of Intellectual Ventures, Myhrvold’s patent trolling firm, as having “developed hundreds of patents”.

Though I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion — modernist cuisine may indeed become the province of the professional chef, bus so long as most of our experience with food is in the home, we’ll continue to be attracted to simpler tastes and experiences.

‘Our Failing Weather Infrastructure’

Kathryn Miles, writing for the New York Times:

But rather than address these shortages, in 2013 the National Weather Service was forced to put in place a hiring freeze and cut off funding for forecaster training and equipment maintenance, part of an 8.3 percent budget cut that came in the wake of the federal government’s budget sequestration. The National Weather Service now employs 288 fewer forecasters and technicians than it did when Sandy struck.

In the immortal words of infrastructure talking head from SimCity 2000: YOU CAN’T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!

…I always regretted it.

An underfunded weather program will ensure that future disasters could be equally catastrophic. This is a matter of national security. If we don’t empower forecasters to do their work, our nation is at risk of losing billions in property and untold numbers of lives. What will make that eventuality all the more tragic is the fact that it will have been almost entirely preventable.

‘Oleg Malakhov's blog: OS X, VirtualBox, NAT and static DHCP’

A useful primer on getting NAT set up under OS X using the new packet filter (pf) functionality. Key steps are:

  1. Enable IP Forwarding:

    $ sudo sysctl -w net.inet.ip.forwarding=1

    …or just stick it directly in /etc/sysctl.conf: net.inet.ip.forwarding=1

  2. Add the nat rule for the packet filter, to /etc/pf.conf after the nat-anchor rule:

    nat on en0 from to any ->
  3. Load rules and enable pf:

    $ pfctl -F all -f /etc/pf.conf -e

    …and make it permanent by editing /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ to add -e to ProgramArguments.

That’s it! You can also check status with:

$ sudo pfctl -s state

‘A Writing Retreat by Rail, From Paris to the Côte d’Azur’

Doreen Carvajal, writing for the New York Times:

Back in the 1950s, a locomotive steamed along the same southeast corridor as this bullet train. It carried the name Le Mistral, for the cold wind that gathers strength in the Mediterranean and blows northwest to freshen the sky of clouds and free the light. By the 1960s, it billed itself as the “Aristocrat of Travel” — the fastest train in the world, with luxuries like onboard hair salons and rolling bookstores.

The trains grew speedier when the TGV replaced the Mistral in 1982. But the modern lines still offer the same basic therapy — a tableau of light and blue tones of turquoise, cobalt and azure as the train roars along the viaducts toward Cannes, Antibes and Nice. The view of the sheer drop from the jagged cliffs to the Mediterranean below invariably provokes a sea change in mood.

I made this trip by car last month. My recommendation: take the train!

The beautiful photos in this piece are well worth a glance.

‘Three Supreme Court Justices Return to Yale’

Adam Liptak, writing for the New York Times:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has two Harvard degrees, was once asked whether it is healthy for the Supreme Court to consist of only justices with degrees from elite institutions.

“First of all, I disagree with your premise,” he responded. “Not all of the justices went to elite institutions. Some went to Yale.”

Two Harvard degrees and a biting wit.

‘A Bite to Remember? Chocolate Is Shown to Aid Memory’

Pam Belluck, writing for the New York Times:

The findings support recent research linking flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. But experts said the new study, although involving only 37 participants and partly funded by Mars Inc., the chocolate company, goes further and was a well-controlled, randomized trial led by experienced researchers.

Tastiest result ever!

But unless you are stocking up for Halloween, do not rush to buy Milky Way or Snickers bars to improve your memory. To consume the high-flavanol group’s daily dose of epicatechin, 138 milligrams, would take eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day — about seven average-sized bars. Or possibly about 100 grams of baking chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder, but concentrations vary widely depending on the processing. Milk chocolate has most epicatechin processed out of it.

New goal! On second thought, never mind.

‘Doctors Tell All—and It’s Bad’

Meghan O’Rourke, writing for the Atlantic:

What I was looking for, it turns out, was a doctor like Victoria Sweet, and the kind of care offered in, of all places, a charity hospital in San Francisco. A doctor who is able to slow down, aware of the dividends not just for patients but for herself and for the system: this is the sort of doctor Sweet discovered she could be in “the last almshouse in America,” as she calls Laguna Honda Hospital, a funky old facility for the destitute and chronically ill, where swallows flew through open turrets and 1,200 patients lay mostly in old-fashioned “open wards,” and where she worked for 20-some years. In her remarkable memoir, God’s Hotel, Sweet—who is also a historian of medicine versed in the medical work of the 12th-century nun Hildegard of Bingen—calls her radical solution for our sped-up health care “slow medicine.” Here is a doctor saying what patients intuitively know: being sick is draining, healing takes time, and strong medicine often has strong side effects.

Granted a capacious amount of time and freedom with her severely ill patients (many of them drug addicts, schizophrenics, or elderly and with few resources), Sweet is able to make diagnoses that her patients’ previous doctors missed. Relying on close observation to help her understand what’s really going on, she weans them from an average of 20 medications to six or seven. She finds that discarded medical practices—for example, manipulating the lymphatic system with an old-fashioned medical girdle—may have more to offer than contemporary interventions do. In one heartbreaking case, she realizes that an elderly patient is not suffering from Alzheimer’s following a hip surgery, as doctors at the woman’s former hospital concluded—a diagnosis that led to antipsychotic medicines, her removal from her own home, and her separation from her mentally disabled daughter. Rather, she is in pain: the hip had slid out of place, and no one responsible for her follow-up care had noticed.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

This doesn’t just sound like another era, it sounds like another universe!

O’Rourke’s real point is that medical care today is dehumanizing for both patient and doctor, and that yields worse outcomes for everyone. She attributes this dehumanization to the practice of cramming patients in to busy schedules, and claims that costs might actually drop if doctors saw fewer patients and thus made fewer bad calls.

Not sure I buy it, but I’d be willing to try it!

‘Where Young College Graduates Are Choosing to Live’

Claire Cain Miller, writing for the New York Times:

Denver has become one of the most powerful magnets. Its population of the young and educated is up 47 percent since 2000, nearly double the percentage increase in the New York metro area. And 7.5 percent of Denver’s population is in this group, more than the national average of 5.2 percent and more than anywhere but Washington, the Bay Area and Boston.

I visited Denver a few years ago — it was far more young and hip than I expected, and I had a good time.

Speaking more generally, this is a highly unsurprising finding. The old suburban ideal does not really seem to appeal very much to today’s young and educated. And when it does, it’s likely to be inner suburbs — cities like Oakland — than far-flung suburbs with tons of space and restrictions on housing development.

But I would be very curious to understand why different cities experience such different rates of growth in this regard!


Charles C. Mann, writing for the Atlantic:

Crediting Indians with the role of keystone species has implications for the way the current Euro-American members of that keystone species manage the forests, watersheds, and endangered species of America. Because a third of the United States is owned by the federal government, the issue inevitably has political ramifications. In Amazonia, fabled storehouse of biodiversity, the stakes are global.

Guided by the pristine myth, mainstream environmentalists want to preserve as much of the world’s land as possible in a putatively intact state. But “intact,” if the new research is correct, means “run by human beings for human purposes.” Environmentalists dislike this, because it seems to mean that anything goes. In a sense they are correct. Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its 1491 state, they will have to find it within themselves to create the world’s largest garde

I hate to just excerpt a conclusion, but in this case the conclusion is simply mind-bending.

Mann argues that the Americas were ecologically managed on a massive scale — at least as massive as Eurpean agriculture, but with completely different inputs.

Butt here’s something I wonder about: why were there no diseases of the Americas that wiped out European setlers? Is it simply because of the differences in animal domestication? A matter of luck?

‘The Vietnamese Noodle Salad Known as Bun Bo Xao’

David Tanis, writing for the New York Times:

Hot from the wok, a fragrant, zesty stir-fry of beef is spooned over freshly cooked room temperature rice noodles. Then come carrot, cucumber and radish slivers, and a sprinkling of crushed roasted peanuts and crispy fried shallots for good measure. A pile of sweet green herbs is at the ready. Now a generous splash of the traditional umami-laden dipping sauce called nuoc cham.

Easily one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, and really one of my favorite dishes period. (Though I do prefer it with pork rather than beef!)

It’s also one of the few dishes that I’ve continued to appreciate for more than 10 years.

‘How Wolves Change Rivers’

Fascinating video.

‘Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion’

Reza Aslan, writing for the New York Times:

The abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires. The same Bible that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to “kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity” (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5).

How a worshiper treats these conflicting commandments depends on the believer. If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs. If you are a peaceful, democratic feminist, you will also find justification in the scriptures for your point of view.

Religion is culture.

‘The Secret Service and the Political Class’

Thomas L. Friedman, writing for the New York Times:

Just look at Washington these days and listen to what politicians are saying and watch how they spend their time. You can’t help but ask: Do these people care a whit about the country anymore? Is there anybody here on a quest for excellence, for making America great?


One reason a career in politics is so unfathomable to me now.

‘What the Garbageman Knows’

Peter Hessler, writing for the New Yorker:

Many things in Egypt don’t work very well. Traffic is bad, and trains get cancelled; during the summer, it’s not unusual to have five electricity blackouts in a single day. One year, we couldn’t buy bottled water for months, because the plant that produced the water somehow caught fire. Since we moved into the apartment, the country has cycled through three constitutions, three Presidents, four Prime Ministers, and more than seven hundred members of parliament. But there hasn’t been a single day when the trash wasn’t cleared outside my kitchen door. As a whole, Cairo’s waste-collection system is surprisingly functional, considering that it’s largely informal. In a sprawling, chaotic city of more than seventeen million, zabaleen like Sayyid have managed to develop one of the most efficient municipal recycling networks in the world.

A beautiful piece about life and life in Cairo.

‘A Complete Guide to the Future of U.S. Freight Movement’

Dan Glass, writing for citylab:

Breakfast in Atlanta, as in many other U.S. cities, is a global affair. While the eggs may be from a farm 100 miles away, the pan and spatula used to cook them could be from Germany, and the refrigerator that kept them fresh was most likely manufactured in China, as was the toaster, flatware, and Swedish-designed table. The fruit salad alone probably represents four or five different countries, and the morning paper (they still exist) was printed on stock made from Indonesian wood pulp. The one breakfast item that might stand out as clearly “foreign” might be the coffee from Ethiopia.

That was fun.

More like a guide to the present, but still fascinating!

‘The Family That Couldn’t Say Hippopotamus’

Elizabeth Svoboda, writing for Nautilus:

Even the advancement of general cognitive skill, however, may be too narrow a picture of the evolution of language. University of Edinburgh computational linguist Simon Kirby argues that, while the human brain may be a necessary foundation for language, it is not sufficient to explain it. The beginnings of language, Kirby says, were profoundly shaped by the dynamic interplay of human culture itself.

Kirby took a unique approach to probing the origins of language: He taught human participants novel languages he had made up. He and his colleagues showed human subjects cards with different shapes and pictures on them, taught them the words for these pictures, and tested them. “Whatever they do, whether they get it right or wrong, we teach it to the next person,” Kirby says. “It’s rather like the game Telephone.”

Remarkably, as the language passed from one learner to the next, it began to acquire cogent structure. After 10 generations, the language had changed to make it easier for human speakers to process. Most notably, it began to show “compositionality,” meaning that parts of words corresponded to their meaning—shapes with four sides, for instance, might all have a prefix like “ikeke.” Thanks to these predictable properties, learners developed a mental framework they could easily fit new words into. “Participants not only learn everything we show them,” Kirby says, “but they can correctly guess words we didn’t even train them on.”

Wow, what a blast from the past!

In 2003 I took Patrick Winston’s graduate class on artificial intelligence (“The Human Intelligence Enterprise”), and my final project focused on exploring Kirby’s fascinating — and somewhat counterintuitive — 2001 paper on Spontaneous Evolution of Linguistic Structure.

In that paper, simple chunking rules in individual learners are enough for grammar to appear from repeated conversations made among a small group of simulated learning agents, after about 10 generations of learners. (Think random grunts to pidgin to creole.)

Kirby’s model assumed that meaning was conveyed along with utterances 100% correctly 100% of the time; my project tried to test this assumption by introducing noise to utterances and transmitted meaning, only to discover that this actually accelerated the appearance of grammar.

If you have an interest in linguistics and computation but haven’t read Kirby’s paper, you should!

‘Aboard Amtrak’


Crossing Nebraska, I listened to two older men talking. “Different public than it used to be.” “Computer had a lot to do with it.” “Probably only thing to do is move out to the country somewhere and get away from all that.” “Get a generator, stock up.” What made me angry, is that they said this as if this was virtuous.

We were on a cross-country train nationally subsidized. We had just passed a mile long double stack container train, tracked by a constellation of satellites, likely express from Shenzen over ocean and mountain, meditated by computer analytics from Bentonville. We were surrounded by corn fields that stretch to horizon. Corn for ethanol, to make beef, to make the syrup that fuels teenage athletes and the immigrant labor that brings organic produce to table. They spoke so righteously of their independent self-reliance using this English language, our Roman alphabet and Arab numerals. You think you can unsubscribe? You think you can stop eating and sleeping too?

A beautifully-written piece. It feels like I’m there.

‘Teaching Me Softly’

Alan Brown, writing for Nautilus:

Vapnik describes privileged information as a second kind of language with which to instruct computers. Where the language of brute force learning consists of technical measurements, such as shapes, colors, forces, and the amount you spent on groceries, privileged information relies on metaphor. And metaphor can make the difference between smart science and brute force science.

To see privileged information at work, we need look no further than the human (or robot) body. The body is special because it has particular ways of interacting with its environment. A room with chairs in it is understood differently by a human with legs than by a robot without them. The thousands of points of raw data describing the room collapse into a few simple ideas when subject to the constraints and demands of a physical body. If a teacher knows what it’s like to have a body, he, she, or it can pass these simple ideas to a student as privileged information, creating an efficient description of a complex environment.

‘The Invention Machine: Cleveland Duo Churns Out Ideas Worth Billions’

Dan Alexander, writing for

The process starts in a research lab in the church’s basement. Designers, engineers and prototype builders crowd into a small room on one side of a two-way mirror and watch through the glass as consumers use products like, say, a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. They take notes on potential problems, such as how sick people usually take two teaspoons instead of the suggested two tablespoons, underdosing themselves.

The designers then go to work on a solution: for instance, a dosage cup that fits onto the top of the Pepto-Bismol bottle. The product is built in an expansive prototype workshop, complete with industrial-grade saws, paint rooms and 3-D printers. Clients walk away with a patent plus a prototype they can send straight to a manufacturer. Sales climbed 30% in the year after Pepto-Bismol introduced a cap that measures dosage, and the design is now ubiquitous on medicine bottles.

That sounds fun!

‘The Shape of Ideas’

Super cute comic!

‘On a Warmer Planet, Which Cities Will Be Safest?’

Jennifer A. Kingson, writing for the New York Times:

“The answer is the Pacific Northwest, and probably especially west of the Cascades,” said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. “Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best,” he added. “You see a lot less extreme heat; it’s the one place in the West where there’s no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it’s a relatively small factor.”

Looking forward to living in newly-beachfront property sometime this century!

‘Taming the Asynchronous Beast with CSP in JavaScript’

James Long:

We already get a hint of how well you can abstract UI code with channels. There are essentially two components: the menu and the tooltip. The menu is a process with its local event loop that waits for something to come from hoverch and creates a tooltip for the target.

The tooltip is its own process that waits 500ms to appear, and if nothing came from the cancel channel it adds the DOM node, waits for a signal from cancel and removes itself. It’s extraordinarily straightforward to code all kinds of interactions.

I really liked this approach to UI. Interestingly, the channel he uses to send a trigger is basically a single-use binary semaphore.

‘Turning Microcelebrity Into a Big Business’

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, writing for the New York Times:

It quickly became clear that Luckett’s initial business model wouldn’t hold up. The studios balked at the “activation” fee, because promotion by their talent has traditionally been unpaid. “How is it different from going on Letterman?” a marketing executive at a major studio asked me. “It’s no different. It’s in your contract to sell the movie. . . . Just because it didn’t exist when we wrote the contracts doesn’t mean it isn’t part of it.” The endorsement plan didn’t work, either; it turns out that people like Hugh Jackman don’t really want to shill for corporations by gushing about new products on Facebook.

If megastars weren’t going to support theAudience, the founders realized, then maybe microstars could. This insight first struck when, during a meeting with a boy band called the Boy Band Project, Perlman was introduced to the group’s social-media manager, a 14-year-old girl named Acacia Brinley (YouTube: 460,928; Vine: 370,056; Instagram: 2,017,149). (All numbers were pulled at press time and almost immediately rendered inaccurate.) Perlman was considering working with the band, but he became drawn to Brinley instead. He was mesmerized by how many people were watching her on Instagram and YouTube. Back at Disney, Perlman had always been pushing the marketing department to try using YouTube stars to promote their projects. These days, he realized, the Acacia Brinleys of the world have almost as much influence as the Charlize Therons, perhaps more, and they engage better with their audiences too. Moreover, they were relatable and willing to use products — just about anything, really — and talk about them. And oh, right, they cost far less than a movie star. “I basically just put on the camera and then start talking,” Brinley said when I asked her to describe her process. “And then whatever happens, happens.”

This article made me suddenly realize why media is so focused on the young: adults don’t have time for pretend friendships.

‘Goodbye, Organization Man’

David Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

A few generations ago, people grew up in and were comfortable with big organizations — the army, corporations and agencies. They organized huge construction projects in the 1930s, gigantic industrial mobilization during World War II, highway construction and corporate growth during the 1950s. Institutional stewardship, the care and reform of big organizations, was more prestigious.

Now nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like start-ups, disrupters and rebels. Creativity is honored more than the administrative execution. Post-Internet, many people assume that big problems can be solved by swarms of small, loosely networked nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.

An interesting thought.

‘Off the Drugs, Onto the Cupcakes’

Abby Ellin, writing for the New York Times:

Research has found that food and drugs have similar influence on the brain’s reward center. A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that sugar, not fat, stimulates cravings.

And a widely cited study from that year found that Oreo cookies activated the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure or reward center, as much as cocaine and morphine, at least in laboratory rats.

That’s the scariest thing I’ve read all week.

‘Supreme Court ruling has wiped out 11 “do it on a computer” patents so far’

Joe Mullin, writing for Ars Technica:

Most recently, on Thursday September 11, a Florida court knocked out a patent held by a company called Every Penny Counts, or EPC. Lee explains that the company held a patent “on the concept of subtracting a small amount of money from each of many payments in order to accumulate a larger sum of money—using a computer.” Every Penny Counts has been suing financial companies since 2007.

It’s about time!

‘The Way to Beat Poverty’

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, writing for the New York Times:

James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, says that our society would be better off taking sums we invest in high school and university and redeploying them to help struggling kids in the first five years of life. We certainly would prefer not to cut education budgets of any kind, but if pressed, we would have to agree that $1 billion spent on home visitation for at-risk young mothers would achieve much more in breaking the poverty cycle than the same sum spent on indirect subsidies collected by for-profit universities.

Second, children’s programs are most successful when they leverage the most important — and difficult — job in the world: parenting. Give parents the tools to nurture their child in infancy and the result will be a more self-confident and resilient person for decades to come. It’s far less expensive to coach parents to support children than to maintain prisons years later.

‘When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School’

Peter Gray, writing for Psychology Today:

In sum, Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training. This was all the more remarkable because of the fact that those who received just one year of training were from the poorest neighborhoods—the neighborhoods that had previously produced the poorest test results. Why have almost no educators heard of this experiment? Why isn’t Benezet now considered to be one of the geniuses of public education? I wonder.

Well. That’s interesting.

‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’

Matthew Crawford, writing for

Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into “college prep” and “vocational ed” is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined. In college, by contrast, many students don’t learn anything of particular application; college is the ticket to an open future. Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement. Somehow, every worker in the cutting-edge workplace is now supposed to act like an “intrapreneur,” that is, to be actively involved in the continuous redefinition of his own job. Shop class presents an image of stasis that runs directly counter to what Richard Sennett identifies as “a key element in the new economy’s idealized self: the capacity to surrender, to give up possession of an established reality.” This stance toward “established reality,” which can only be called psychedelic, is best not indulged around a table saw. It is dissatisfied with what Arendt calls the “reality and reliability” of the world. It is a strange sort of ideal, attractive only to a peculiar sort of self — gratuitous ontological insecurity is no fun for most people.

As Sennett argues, most people take pride in being good at something specific, which happens through the accumulation of experience. Yet the flitting disposition is pressed upon workers from above by the current generation of management revolutionaries, for whom the ethic of craftsmanship is actually something to be rooted out from the workforce. Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because one wants to get it right. In management-speak, this is called being “ingrown.” The preferred role model is the management consultant, who swoops in and out, and whose very pride lies in his lack of particular expertise. Like the ideal consumer, the management consultant presents an image of soaring freedom, in light of which the manual trades appear cramped and paltry.

I recommend reading the full piece.

‘Learning How to Exert Self-Control’

Pamela Druckerman, writing for the New York Times:

At age 84, Mr. Mischel is about to publish his first nonacademic book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.” He says we anxious parents timing our kids in front of treats are missing a key finding of willpower research: Whether you eat the marshmallow at age 5 isn’t your destiny. Self-control can be taught. Grown-ups can use it to tackle the burning issues of modern middle-class life: how to go to bed earlier, not check email obsessively, stop yelling at our children and spouses, and eat less bread. Poor kids need self-control skills if they’re going to catch up at school.

‘To Make Streets Safe, Make Them Dangerous’

Jonathan Coppage writing for New Urbs in The American Conservative:

The Dutch, on the other hand, also applied Forgiving Highways to their highways, and adopted many of the same technology and education campaigns, but they took a very different approach to their built-up areas. Suburbs and cities were not treated as freeways, wide open roads to be blasted down with obstacles set at a safe distance. Instead, they created “self-explaining streets.” By accommodating all modes of transportation on their streets, not just the automobile, and by subtly signaling that cars would be sharing their space with pedestrians and bicycles, and most of all by shrinking the lanes and lines of sight available to their drivers, the Dutch put drivers in a position to slow themselves by common sense. And their fatalities have fallen from 3,200 in 1975 to 800 in 2008. Having started with a traffic fatality rate 20 percent higher than the United States, the Dutch presently enjoy a rate 60 percent lower. In the delightfully perverse phrase of “shared space” pioneer Hans Monderman (also Dutch), in order to make streets safe, you must first make them dangerous.

Counterintuitive but sensible.

‘New Answers About Carbs and Fat’

A follow up answering questions for readers of last week’s article about low-carb diets.

‘How a 19th Century Math Genius Taught Us the Best Way to Hold a Pizza Slice’

Aatish Bhatia, writing for Wired:

A surprising consequence of this result is that you can take a surface and bend it any way you like, so long as you don’t stretch, shrink or tear it, and the Gaussian curvature stays the same. That’s because bending doesn’t change any distances on the surface, and so the ant living on the surface would still calculate the same Gaussian curvature as before.

I love Gauss.

‘So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class ...’

Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for the New York Times:

Christian’s aim was not to offer discrete accounts of each period so much as to integrate them all into vertiginous conceptual narratives, sweeping through billions of years in the span of a single semester. A lecture on the Big Bang, for instance, offered a complete history of cosmology, starting with the ancient God-centered view of the universe and proceeding through Ptolemy’s Earth-based model, through the heliocentric versions advanced by thinkers from Copernicus to Galileo and eventually arriving at Hubble’s idea of an expanding universe. In the worldview of “Big History,” a discussion about the formation of stars cannot help including Einstein and the hydrogen bomb; a lesson on the rise of life will find its way to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. “I hope by the end of this course, you will also have a much better sense of the underlying unity of modern knowledge,” Christian said at the close of the first lecture. “There is a unified account.”

I want to take this class!

‘Area Woman Prefers To Get Same Advice From As Many People As Possible’

From the Onion:

Said Lim, who has also sought out a wide range of identical opinions on recipes, birthday gifts for her mom, and whether or not one of her shoulders is slightly higher than the other: “Calling on those close to me to endlessly reconfirm my worldview makes coming to conclusions that much easier.”


‘A Call for a Low-Carb Diet’

Anahad O’Connor, writing for the New York Times:

A typical day’s diet was not onerous: It might consist of eggs for breakfast, tuna salad for lunch, and some kind of protein for dinner — like red meat, chicken, fish, pork or tofu — along with vegetables. Low-carb participants were encouraged to cook with olive and canola oils, but butter was allowed, too.

Over all, they took in a little more than 13 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat, more than double the 5 to 6 percent limit recommended by the American Heart Association. The majority of their fat intake, however, was unsaturated fats.

“Not onerous” indeed!

‘Hi, I'm Liz’

Some of the cutest drawings I’ve ever seen, from Liz Climo of Simpsons fame.

(via reddit)

‘Gencon: My journey into the heart of the nerd kingdom’

Nate Anderson, writing for Ars Technica:

Nerds, especially those who have suffered from social rejection, can be a group accepting of radical difference. This is the attitude Gencon promotes. As the official program guide notes, the event bans all kinds of harassment based on “gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, or affiliation.” And the policy appears to work; where else can a couple dress in handcrafted his-and-hers night elf costumes and encounter nothing but public acceptance? But the nerd kingdom has its gatekeepers, too, who are as ready as their own tormentors were to exclude those who don’t measure up. Oh, your cosplay outfit is a Storm Trooper? Could you be any more obvious? And you’re carrying a rebel blaster. Moron. The “nerd police” can be especially vicious against women, accusing them of being “fake geek girls” who aren’t truly hardcore enough to belong.

Just a reminder that there is social psychology at work everywhere.

‘The House Collector’s Dilemma’

Steven Kurutz, writing for the New York Times:

He and Mr. Jacobson hadn’t been to the condo in six weeks. They lifted the blinds on the large living room windows and tidied up, though the place was spotless, the refrigerator nearly bare. Like all of their homes, the condo isn’t rented out or otherwise occupied when they aren’t there.

1% problems?

‘The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion’

Emily Bazelon, writing for the New York Times:

Ten women each gave Gomperts 10,000 Dutch guilders (about $5,500), part of the money needed to rent a boat and pay for a crew. But to comply with Dutch law, she also had to build a mobile abortion clinic. Tapping contacts she made a decade earlier, when she attended art school at night while studying medicine, she got in touch with Joep van Lieshout, a well-known Dutch artist, and persuaded him to design the clinic. They applied for funds from the national arts council and built it together inside the shipping container. When the transport ministry threatened to revoke the ship’s authorization because of the container on deck, van Lieshout faxed them a certificate decreeing the clinic a functional work of art, titled “a-portable.” The ship was allowed to sail, and van Lieshout later showed a mock-up of the clinic at the Venice Biennale.

A fascinating story — but how sad that we live in a world where this is necessary!

‘Late Bloomers’

Malcolm Gladwell, writing for the New Yorker:

“I was making pretty decent money, and we didn’t need two incomes,” Sharie went on. She has a calm, unflappable quality about her. “I mean, it would have been nice, but we could live on one.”

Sharie was Ben’s wife. But she was also—to borrow a term from long ago—his patron. That word has a condescending edge to it today, because we think it far more appropriate for artists (and everyone else for that matter) to be supported by the marketplace. But the marketplace works only for people like Jonathan Safran Foer, whose art emerges, fully realized, at the beginning of their career, or Picasso, whose talent was so blindingly obvious that an art dealer offered him a hundred-and-fifty-franc-a-month stipend the minute he got to Paris, at age twenty. If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true level.

Ugh. I really wanted to like this piece. Then I realized it was by Malcolm Gladwell and realized it was probably 90% bullshit or at least merely a collection of anecdotes assembled to fit Gladwell’s pre-chosen narrative and thus of little predictive value.

Oh well.

‘For Yazidis Betrayed by Arab Neighbors, “It Will Never Be the Same”’

One of the most depressing pieces I’ve read in ages.

Azam Ahmed:

But amid the chaos, an emotional truth has emerged: ISIS has destroyed the peaceful coexistence that many northern towns once cherished.

“We would like to go back to our village, but we will never have a relationship with the Arabs anymore,” Mr. Habash said. “It will never be the same.”

A generation of stability is needed before peace is possible. We are a long way off.

‘Hong Kong’

A phenomenal collection of photographs. I’d love these in higher resolution.

‘The Teacher Wars’

Dana Goldstein’s new book “The Teacher Wars” is reviewed by Claudia Wallis this week in the New York Times:

“The Teacher Wars” suggests that to improve our schools, we have to help teachers do their job the way higher-achieving nations do: by providing better preservice instruction, offering newcomers more support from well-trained mentors and opening up the “black box” classroom so teachers can observe one another without fear and share ideas. Stressing accountability, with no ideas for improving teaching, Goldstein says, is “like the hope that buying a scale will result in losing weight.” Such books may be sounding the closing bell on an era when the big ideas in school reform came from economists and solutions were sought in spreadsheets of test data.

Yes, a thousand times yes. I’ve already written about the absuridty of the current testing regime.

Like hoping that buying a scale will result in losing weight, indeed.

‘Dash of Salt Does No Harm. Extremes Are the Enemy.’

Aaron E. Carroll, writing for the New York Times:

It’s a cliché but true: In so many things moderation is our best bet. We have to learn that when one extreme is detrimental, it doesn’t mean the opposite is our safest course. It’s time to acknowledge that we may be going too far with many of our recommendations.

American culture is not interested in moderation.

‘My Daughter, Her Rat’

Julie Metz, writing for the New York Times:

EDEN’S true role became apparent quickly. High school had not been the happiest place. Let’s just say that Olivia, no extrovert, didn’t fit into the Girlworld cliques that thrived well into senior year. Eden’s unconditional love proved to be a soothing balm at home after a long day (there was just one infamous day when Olivia sneaked Eden into school, with consequences). Olivia seemed to relish having a companion who was a misunderstood outsider, like herself, and our acceptance of Eden raised our parental coolness factor by some measurable ticks.

Eden’s the pet rat, in case that wasn’t clear.

Such a charming tale. (Hah!)

‘Lesson From Old India: When an Economy Just Doesn’t Get Better’

Tyler Cowen, writing for the New York Times:

In 1750, India accounted for one-quarter of the world’s manufacturing output, but by 1900 that was down to 2 percent. The West became more productive as a result of the Industrial Revolution, and India lost much of its leading export sector, textiles. While the data is fragmentary, the best estimates show that India’s living standards declined through the middle of the 19th century and that its economy retrogressed, even as it borrowed some technological improvements from the West. India just didn’t do enough to move toward production on a larger scale or with better machines.

This was an interesting piece, but Cowen bizarrely ignores colonialism in India.

The discussion at news.yc is enlightening.

‘All You Can Eat’

Sam Apple, writing for Wired:

And yet for all the poking, prodding, measuring, and testing, the most remarkable thing about the $5 million undertaking may be that it’s designed to answer a question you’d think we’d have answered long ago: Do we get fat because we overeat or because of the types of food we eat? The Energy Balance Consortium Study, as it’s called, is one of the first to be backed by the Nutrition Science Initiative, a nonprofit that prides itself on funding fanatically careful tests of previously overlooked hypotheses. NuSI (pronounced new-see) was launched in September 2012 by crusading science journalist Gary Taubes and former physician and medical researcher Peter Attia. The three NuSI studies now under way, which focus on establishing the root causes of obesity and its related diseases, provide just a glimpse of Taubes and Attia’s sweeping ambition. NuSI has already raised more than $40 million in pledges and is in the midst of a $190 million, three-year campaign to fund a new round of studies that will build off the findings in the initial research. Together, the studies are intended as steps toward an audacious goal: cutting the prevalence of obesity in the US by more than half—and the prevalence of diabetes by 75 percent—in less than 15 years.

I’m glad that this research is happening, but I’m a little sad that such an important topic needs private funding.

‘How to Be Polite’

Paul Ford, writing for The Message, part of Medium:

She was surprised to see the stubborn power of politeness over time. Over time. That’s the thing. Mostly we talk about politeness in the moment. Please, thank you, no go ahead, I like your hat, cool shoes, you look nice today, please take my seat, sir, ma’am, etc. All good, but fleeting.

Enough to make me want to be polite!

‘Where We Came From, State by State’

I love these visualizations but I can’t say this is really my favorite. I’d love something a little more geographical?

Gregor Aisch, Robert Gebeloff, and Kevin Quealy, writing for Upshot in the NYT:

The patterns of migration continue to change. California, shown above, has long been the destination of American dreamers from other states. It no longer plays that role; residents are leaving for greener pastures out East. Today, the state is still pulling in foreign immigrants, but the percentage of American-born transplants has shrunk significantly as more people leave the state. There are now about 6.8 million California natives living elsewhere, up from 2.7 million in 1980.

‘A Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire’

Damn I love stuff like this!

‘SSC Gives A Graduation Speech’

Scott Alexander, writing at his personal blog

The system is not your friend. The system is not your enemy. The system is a retarded giant throwing wads of $100 bills and books of rules in random directions while shouting “LOOK AT ME! I’M HELPING! I’M HELPING!” Sometimes by luck you catch a wad of cash, and you think the system loves you. Other times by misfortune you get hit in the gut with a rulebook, and you think the system hates you. But either one is giving the system too much credit.

This is the best description of benign bureaucracy I’ve ever seen.

Overall I quite liked the piece, though I think giving everyone a basic income without requiring something social of them in return — starting at a young age — is a recipe for hardcore segregation. I suspect we, as a society, don’t want that.

(via reddit)

‘Sake With Your Burger? Japan Is Looking West to Save a Tradition’

Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, writing for the New York Times:

At a recent dinner at Hixter, a restaurant here, the head chef, Ronnie Murray, paired a plate of Launceston lamb and meaty girolle mushrooms with Mr. Shichida’s 75 Junmai, a full-bodied sake that uses unpolished rice, a rarity even in Japan. The Japanese generally prize sake that contains highly polished rice, which produces a flowery and smooth taste. By contrast, Mr. Shichida’s sake had a round, woody flavor with a tempered acidity that complemented the earthy lamb.

It’s a rare article that makes me as hungry as this one!




‘When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices’

Maria Konnikova, writing for the New Yorker:

North America, however, greeted him with constant abundance and leisure. As he pondered the contrast, Lipowski thought of Buridan’s ass: an apocryphal donkey that finds itself standing between two equally appealing stacks of hay. Unable to decide which to consume, it starves to death. The donkey got its name from Jean Buridan, the nominalist fourteenth-century philosopher and Catholic priest who wrote extensively about free will. Buridan posited that free will could sometimes lead to inaction: an inability to choose due to excess uncertainty and, potentially, excess choice. Buridan’s ass, in turn, became the mascot for that general principle (though no equines of any kind actually appear in Buridan’s writing). For Lipowski, this scenario helped to explain the type of anxiety that he was witnessing around him. He called it an approach-approach conflict: faced with enticing options, you find yourself unable to commit to any of them quickly. And even when you do choose, you remain anxious about the opportunities that you may have lost: maybe that other stack of hay tasted sweeter.

Story of my life.

Wine & Cheese Pairings

This looks like the best idea ever for a combination cheese plate and wine flight!

(via reddit)

‘In Sweden, Dinners Melt Cultural Barriers’

Suzanne Daley, writing for the New York Times:

In the months that followed, Ms. Akerman decided to try to change that, calling herself the minister of dinners in charge of the Department of Invitations and using Facebook and Instagram to try to bring individual Swedes and immigrants together for a meal, something like a dating service.

I love this idea.

‘For Coconut Waters, a Street Fight for Shelf Space’

A fascinating look at two (non-tech) startups.

‘Why Do Americans Stink at Math?’

Elizabeth Green, writing for the New York Times:

To cure our innumeracy, we will have to accept that the traditional approach we take to teaching math — the one that can be mind-numbing, but also comfortingly familiar — does not work. We will have to come to see math not as a list of rules to be memorized but as a way of looking at the world that really makes sense.

Great piece overall, but that particular quote stuck in my mind, in part because math education is so terrible that it is not in the consciousness of “I’m not a math person” people that math could be anything but the mind-numbing rules they saw in school.

‘I Was the Sick Passenger’

Anne Mcdermott, writing for the New York Times:

When the emergency medical workers arrived, the conductor got back on the train, and I urged the three women to do the same. “There’ll be another train right behind it,” the nurse said.

She must not have lived in New York City for long.

A wonderful look at the compassion (and occasional lack thereof) of ordinary New Yorkers.

‘Organic farming is so much harder than just getting stoned and picking tomatoes’

Nathanael Johnson, writing for Grist:

I mean, think about the rise of farmer’s markets. When they started it was just them out on a corner with another farmer, who really did just grow pot — and a few tomatoes on the side.


‘California’s next oil rush might be surprisingly delicious’

Nathanael Johnson, writing for Grist:

Mueller writes, “It’s rare to find authentic extra virgin olive oil in a restaurant in America, even in fine restaurants that ought to know better. It’s nearly impossible in some localities such as southern California, where large-scale counterfeiters pump out blends of low-grade olive oil and soybean oil dyed bright green…”


‘The Overprotected Kid’

Hanna Rosin, writing for the Atlantic, begins:

A trio of boys tramps along the length of a wooden fence, back and forth, shouting like carnival barkers. “The Land! It opens in half an hour.” Down a path and across a grassy square, 5-year-old Dylan can hear them through the window of his nana’s front room. He tries to figure out what half an hour is and whether he can wait that long. When the heavy gate finally swings open, Dylan, the boys, and about a dozen other children race directly to their favorite spots, although it’s hard to see how they navigate so expertly amid the chaos. “Is this a junkyard?” asks my 5-year-old son, Gideon, who has come with me to visit. “Not exactly,” I tell him, although it’s inspired by one. The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It’s only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. “Why are you rolling tires into the water?” my son asks. “Because we are,” the girl replies.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. Three boys lounge in the only unbroken chairs around it; they are the oldest ones here, so no one complains. One of them turns on the radio—Shaggy is playing (Honey came in and she caught me red-handed, creeping with the girl next door)—as the others feel in their pockets to make sure the candy bars and soda cans are still there. Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another. Occasionally a group knocks down a few pallets—just for the fun of it, or to build some new kind of slide or fort or unnamed structure. Come tomorrow and the Land might have a whole new topography.

Rosin’s piece is both fascinating and depressing at the same time. If you have time for a great long-form piece, read it.

There’s clearly a balance to be struck between laissez-faire childrearing and organized structured activities. We may have been unbalanced in the 1970s, but we’re certainly unbalanced now.

I hope the pendulum starts swinging back before I have kids.

‘Let’s Cool It in the Bedroom’

Gretchen Reynolds, writing for the New York Times:

The cold temperatures, it turned out, changed the men’s bodies noticeably. Most striking, after four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the men had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. Their insulin sensitivity, which is affected by shifts in blood sugar, improved. The changes were slight but meaningful, says Francesco S. Celi, the study’s senior author and now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “These were all healthy young men to start with,” he says, “but just by sleeping in a colder room, they gained metabolic advantages” that could, over time, he says, lessen their risk for diabetes and other metabolic problems. The men also burned a few more calories throughout the day when their bedroom was chillier (although not enough to result in weight loss after four weeks). The metabolic enhancements were undone after four weeks of sleeping at 81 degrees; in fact, the men then had less brown fat than after the first scan.

The message of these findings, Celi says, is that you can almost effortlessly tweak your metabolic health by turning down the bedroom thermostat a few degrees. His own bedroom is moderately chilled, as is his office — which has an added benefit: It “keeps meetings short.”

I want to see a study that recommends sleeping in a nice, warm bed.

‘The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often’

David Leonhardt, writing for the New York Times:

New York City, Salt Lake City, New York State and Massachusetts have all begun programs to link funding for programs to their success: The more effective they are, the more money they and their backers receive. The programs span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism.

The approach is known as “pay for success,” and it’s likely to spread to Cleveland, Denver and California soon. David Cameron’s conservative government in Britain is also using it. The Obama administration likes the idea, and two House members – Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, and John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat – have introduced a modest bill to pay for a version known as “social impact bonds.”

See my earlier post — let’s make sure we measure the right things please!

‘A Middle-School Cheating Scandal Raises Questions About No Child Left Behind’

Rachel Aviv, writing for the New Yorker:

Since the investigation, the stakes for testing in Georgia have escalated. Although the state is replacing the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test with a more comprehensive method of evaluation, this fall Georgia is implementing a new teacher-evaluation program that bases fifty per cent of a teacher’s assessment on test scores. The program, along with a merit-pay system, is required as a condition for receiving a four-hundred-million-dollar grant from President Obama’s Race to the Top program. Tim Callahan, the spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents eighty-four thousand teachers, told me, “The state is going down the same path as Atlanta, and we are not exactly enthused.” He said that many teachers have become so demoralized that they’re retiring early or transferring to private schools. He told me, “Our teachers’ best qualities—their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals—are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren’t measurable.”

That last bit is critical in my mind. It’s common among startup people to hear the phrase “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” But my gut response to that is always to say: then let’s make sure we’re measuring the right things!

It’s pretty clear that the the school district here was not measuring the right things. And frankly measuring education by exam performance is a farce — does anyone really believe that the greatest value of education is the ability to perform well on a contrived test? Of course not — it’s just easy to measure.

Well, the outcome is that we’re only improving student exam scores — and we’re not even doing that by improving our students’ performance on exams, we’re doing that by incentivizing teachers to cheat. And that improvement is coming at a huge cost.

Much worse than pointless, this policy is incredibly harmful. Not only does it worsen education, it teaches kids that knowledge is not a useful asset by itself but something to be gamed.

I’m not opposed to measuring teacher performance. But let’s not pretend exam scores really matter.

‘Your Summer Cooking Tool Kit’

What an incredibly delicious-looking assortment here!

‘Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away’

Robin Mckie, writing for the Guardian:

Not that they are alone. Most of Florida’s senior politicians – in particular, Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers – have refused to act or respond to warnings of people like Wanless or Harlem or to give media interviews to explain their stance, though Rubio, a Republican party star and a possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said recently. Miami is in denial in every sense, it would seem. Or as Wanless puts it: “People are simply sticking their heads in the sand. It is mind-boggling.”


‘5 Ways to Teach Kids About Money at the Grocery Store’

Ron Lieber, writing for the New York Times:

Like most families, the Ryans occasionally find that some of their fresh food goes to waste. After a few incidents of rotting green apples, Ms. Ryan had her girls add up the cost at the store. When their haul amounted to $15.75, they were surprised that it was so high and they stood in the aisle trying to plot how many apples everyone actually ate.

“I could see the wheels turning,” Ms. Ryan said. “And that’s why lots of people don’t do it. It took a few minutes.” The girls decided that it was better to buy less and risk running out by the end of the week than to keep wasting food.

I love this idea.

‘Seeker, Doer, Giver, Ponderer’

William Broad, writing for the New York Times:

James H. Simons likes to play against type. He is a billionaire star of mathematics and private investment who often wins praise for his financial gifts to scientific research and programs to get children hooked on math.

But in his Manhattan office, high atop a Fifth Avenue building in the Flatiron district, he’s quick to tell of his career failings.

He was forgetful. He was demoted. He found out the hard way that he was terrible at programming computers. “I’d keep forgetting the notation,” Dr. Simons said. “I couldn’t write programs to save my life.”

After that, he was fired.

This article is a lovefest. Who was Jim Simons really?

‘The Only Ice Cream Recipe You’ll Ever Need’

Melissa Clark, writing for the New York Times:

Here I offer a classic custard base using egg yolk. Yolks vastly improve the texture of ice cream, especially the kind made in small batches in home machines. (Industrial machines, like the gurgling goliath at Peter’s, are another animal.) It acts as an emulsifier, keeping ice crystals at bay and making home-churned ice creams scoopable even after they’ve firmed up in the freezer. The yolk, along with the cream, also gives the luscious mouth feel of a great ice cream, that tongue-coating velvet you just don’t get from sorbet.

Perhaps a good base for your next ice cream party? Wink, wink.

‘Visualizing Algorithms’

Mike Bostock:

Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.

But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.

It’s rare that I read a piece so mind-blowing. If you have any interest in visualization or developing technical systems, read Mike’s piece.

(Via Ian Johnson)

‘Huge Crowds Turn Out for Hong Kong Pro-Democracy March’

Keith Bradsher, writing for the New York Times:

The peaceful nature of the 2003 demonstration was dictated, to a considerable extent, by the participation of people of all ages. Many of the 2003 protesters — like Paul Chan, then a 45-year-old construction worker, and Sarah Ng, a 67-year-old seamstress — had never attended a demonstration before, not even the large Hong Kong protest in 1989 in response to the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

How big and representative does a protest need to be before it has its desired effect?

‘The Reality of Student Debt Is Different From the Clichés’

David Leonhardt, writing for the New York Times:

Those dropouts point to some of the big flaws that our higher-education system does have. Many colleges graduate fewer than half of the students they enroll — and resist policy makers’ attempts to hold them accountable for their results. Some public universities devote much of their financial aid to students who do not need it most, creating hardship for others. And recent state budget cuts have caused painful tuition increases on many campuses.

Sad but true. There’s something broken about higher ed.

Where is the money going?

‘An idea of a typeface’

Kai Bernau, designer of Neutral:

As the discussion with other designers unfolded, I found neutrality to be an elusive, ambiguous quality, one that I would have to explore in order to define for myself what it would mean for a typeface to be truly neutral.

‘We're Not Unhappy, We're Designers’

Found this gem through Hack Design — a website that, despite jumping on the absurdly faddish “hack” bandwagon, still manages to be interesting.

Morgan Knutson:

“That letter A is so poorly kerned it’s making my eyes water.”

“Shut up, she’s four.”

‘The hidden cost of Gangnam Style’

From the Economist:

It took 50m man-hours to complete the “supercarrier” USS Gerald Ford last year. Had people not been watching PSY—the South Korean pop star who released the song in July 2012—they could have constructed three such ships. Alternatively they could have built more than four Great Pyramids of Giza, or another Wikipedia, or six Burj Khalifas in Dubai (the world’s tallest building).

True. But that just goes to show that building awesome stuff at superhuman scale is a problem of leadership, not time.

‘The Man Who Saves You from Yourself’

Nathaniel Rich, writing for Harper’s:

Nobody ever joins a cult. One joins a nonprofit group that promotes green technology, animal rights, or transcendental meditation. One joins a yoga class or an entrepreneurial workshop. One begins practicing an Eastern religion that preaches peace and forbearance. The first rule of recruitment, writes Margaret Singer, the doyenne of cult scholarship, is that a recruit must never suspect he or she is being recruited. The second rule is that the cult must monopolize the recruit’s time. Therefore, in order to have any chance of rescuing a new acolyte, it is critical to act quickly. The problem is that family and friends, much like the new cult member, are often slow to admit the severity of the situation. “Clients usually don’t come to me until their daughter is already to-the-tits brainwashed,” says David Sullivan, a private investigator in San Francisco who specializes in cults. “By that point the success rate is very low.”

Fascinating piece.

‘4.5 Degrees’

There’s something unsettling about seeing climate change in such clear historical terms.

‘A Push to Save Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake’

Chris Berdik, writing for the New York Times:

Along with attributes like soil composition, elevation and vegetation, the digital Tonle Sap will soon have what the scientists call “agents,” including fish and people. Agents make choices. They change the lake and react to those changes, depending on factors like when enough fish swim into an area to attract predators and fishing boats.

I want to play with this simulation! It sounds thrilling.

I’m also shocked that I had never heard of this lake: it sextuples in size during the monsoon season!

‘Writing In The 21st Century’

Stephen Pinker, transcribed by

The literary scholars Mark Turner and Francis-Noël Thomas have identified the stance that our best essayists and writers implicitly adopt, and that is a combination of vision and conversation. When you write you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, that you are directing the attention of your reader to that thing in the world, and that you are doing so by means of conversation.

That may sound obvious. But it’s amazing how many of the bad habits of academese and legalese and so on come from flouting that model. Bad writers don’t point to something in the world but areself-conscious about not seeming naïve about the pitfalls of their own enterprise. Their goal is not to show something to the reader but to prove that they are nota bad lawyer or a bad scientist or a bad academic. And so bad writing is cluttered with apologies and hedges and “somewhats” and reviews of the past activity of people in the same line of work as the writer, as opposed to concentrating on something in the world that the writer is trying to get someone else to see with their own eyes.

‘Being Happy With Sugar’

James Hamblin looks at today’s anti-sugar crusade in the Atlantic:

That line of reasoning that merits an important distinction. Agave nectar and fruit-juice concentrate are not “natural” in the sense that whole fruit is natural, but they defend themselves the same way. The recently proposed FDA nutrition labels include the suggestion that the nutrition information panel add in a line that notes how many “added sugars” are used in a product. Many food companies, especially those that operate in the organic and “natural” space, are lobbying that fruit-juice concentrate should not be included as an added sugar on labels. Popkin says fruit juices are at least as dangerous as any other kind of sweetener. To even consider not including it as an added sugar on labels concerns Popkin deeply.

I hate to spoil the conclusion but this one really is a gem:

In Fed Up, Katie Couric refers to the 1992 food pyramid, which was all carbs at the bottom, but also to the popular practice of calorie balancing, which she says is based in misunderstanding. “What if the solutions weren’t really solutions at all? What if they were making things worse? What if our whole approach to this whole epidemic has been dead wrong?”

Rhetorical questions are the currency of extraordinary implications in documentaries. What if our whole approach to this epidemic has been part of an ongoing investigation into understanding the complex nature of human metabolism and nutrition, and it’s all building on itself, and there’s some validity to most of it?

Love it.


My third-favorite Xiao Long Bao, aka soup dumplings. I was impressed!

‘What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades’

Maria Konnikova, writing for the New York Times:

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

I had a professor in college who was big into taking notes freehand because it improved recall. It takes more work to write freehand and thus I had to think about what I was writing a little bit harder — I couldn’t capture it all, so I summarized. At the time I guessed that process is what makes the difference.

But maybe there’s something deeper at play?

‘High Line West: Chicago & LA on Track for Elevated Greenways’

Following in the footsteps of the United States’ largest urban center, the 2nd and 3rd most populous cities in the country are each (respectively) developing and building extensive elevated parks, inspired in part by the success of The High Line in NYC.

Awesome. Now I just need an elevated greenway I can bike on!

‘A Growing Challenge for Germans Who Live by Bread Alone’

Melissa Eddy, writing for the New York Times:

Industrial-scale baking and advanced freezing technology have made it possible for mass-produced loaves, rolls and pastries to be frozen and shipped around the country to supermarkets, where they can be heated up and sold for a fraction of the price of a hand-thrown equivalent from a traditional bakery.

Craft bakers: the anonymous victims of industrial freezing technology.

‘Absolute Zero is 0K’

Great and hilarious piece by Alan Bellows about a fascinating time in the history of physics. I will never again refer to James Dewar as simply the guy who invented the vacuum flask!

Here’s an excerpt:

Kamerlingh Onnes died in Leiden about three years later on 21 February 1926. He did so with the full awareness that he was among the last of a disappearing breed—the “classical physicists” who had the luxury of simply banging on matter until it did interesting Newtonian things. Science was thenceforth in the capable hands of quantum mechanics. His helium liquefaction apparatus remains on display to this day at Leiden University.

In 1937, researchers Pyotr Kapitsa and John F. Allen first formally observed and described the strange superfluid state of liquid helium that Onnes had lacked the foreknowledge to identify. They found that when one chills liquid helium below the lambda point—2.17 K—the boiling liquid falls suddenly, eerily still, and it takes on bizarre properties. The individual helium atoms blur into one another and become a single “superatom”, also known as a partial Bose-Einstein Condensation. This is a demonstration of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that the more precisely the momentum of a particle is determined, the less precisely its position can be known. Since particles below the lambda point have almost no movement, their momentums are almost entirely “known,” therefore by necessity their positions become so inexact that they begin to overlap one another. In this situation atoms stop behaving like discrete things and become ambiguous smears of quantum probabilities. If one physically scoops up a portion of the superatom, the elevated portion acquires more gravitational potential energy than the rest, and since this is not a sustainable equilibrium for the superfluid, it will flow up and out of its container to pull itself all back into one place. It also flows with zero friction, as Onnes observed, since it has no energy to lose. Matter is indeed strange stuff—it’s just seldom so easy to tell.

‘Climate Change Doomed the Ancients’

Eric H. Cline, writing for the New York Times:

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science found that the surface temperatures of the Mediterranean Sea cooled rapidly during this time, severely reducing precipitation over the coasts. The study concluded that agriculture would have suffered and that the conditions might have influenced the “population declines, urban abandonments and long-distance migrations associated with the period.”

Fascinating. One of the hallmarks of the modern nation-state is it’s ability to deal with regional climate variation.

In some sense, climate change in the eastern Mediterranean in the late Bronze Age was global climate change to its inhabitants of the time.

‘Fitness Crazed’

Daniel Duane, writing for the New York Times:

This raised a question: If all the latest cutting-edge scientific research says that outdated barbell movements have to be updated with core stability tricks and then integrated into super-short high-intensity muscle-confusion routines, how come none of that did much for me, while the same five lifts repeated for a year caused profound structural changes to my body?

The answer, it turns out, is that there are no cutting-edge scientific studies.


Of course, Mr. Gibala and his peers are not the problem. The problem is that everybody in the fitness industry grabs onto this basic science — plus the occasional underfunded applied study with a handful of student subjects — and then twists the results to come up with something that sounds like a science-backed recommendation for whatever they’re selling. Most gym owners, for example, want you to walk in the door on Jan. 2 and think, Hey, this looks easy. I can do this. So they buy stationary cardio and strength machines that anybody can use without hurting themselves, often bearing brand names like Sci-Fit (Scientific Solutions for Fitness), which might more accurately be described as scientific solutions for liability management.

As for personal trainers, I’ve known great ones. But the business model is akin to babysitting: There’s no percentage in teaching clients independence by showing them basic barbell lifts and telling them to add weight each time. Better to invent super-fun, high-intensity routines that entertain and bewilder clients, so they’ll never leave you. The science of muscle confusion, in other words, looks a lot like the marketing tradecraft of client confusion.

Amen to that.

Photo Series: ‘Holding Pattern’


(Via wired.)

‘Why Are We So Busy?’

Elizabeth Kolbert, writing for the New Yorker:

With the question of her own leisure left unresolved, Schulte decides to head to Paris for the annual meeting of the International Association for Time Use Research. (“There’s great interest in trying to understand why time pressure is increasing,” a sociologist from Oxford tells her. “This is the hot topic in time research right now.”) She visits the Yale Stress Center, in New Haven; meets with overstressed mothers in Portland, Oregon; and sits in on a focus group in Fargo, North Dakota. “Life is stressful in Fargo,” the organizer of the group says. Ostensibly in an effort to reduce her own stress, Schulte attends a trapeze academy and leaps off a platform twenty feet high. Along the way, she discusses various possible explanations for what she likes to call “the overwhelm,” as if it were something outside of us, like the Arctic or the Amazon.

“The overwhelm” sounds like a term coined by a Hunterite.

Too bad the piece was pretty thin on ideas new to me.

‘Always Hungry? Here’s Why’

David S. Ludwig and Mark I Friedman, writing for the New York Times:

In addition, the food industry — which makes enormous profits from highly processed products derived from corn, wheat and rice — invokes calorie balance as its first line of defense. If all calories are the same, then there are no bad foods, and sugary beverages, junk foods and the like are fine in moderation. It’s simply a question of portion control. The fact that this rarely works is taken as evidence that obese people lack willpower, not that the idea itself might be wrong.

Long on conspiracy theory, but short on actionable advice.

Still, the premise is probably sound.

‘The Economics of a Kickstarter Project’

Great piece.

(via news.yc)

‘Take It to the Limit’

Classic proof that the area of a circle is π·r².

‘Read, Kids, Read’

Frank Bruni, writing for the New York Times:

So I was crestfallen on Monday, when a new report by Common Sense Media came out. It showed that 30 years ago, only 8 percent of 13-year-olds and 9 percent of 17-year-olds said that they “hardly ever” or never read for pleasure. Today, 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 27 percent of 17-year-olds say that. Fewer than 20 percent of 17-year-olds now read for pleasure “almost every day.” Back in 1984, 31 percent did. What a marked and depressing change.

Reading feels like a luxury to me these days. Perhaps the newly relentless careerist focus of school is partially to blame?

‘Professors Are Prejudiced, Too’

Dolly Chugh, Katherine L. Milkman and Modupe Akinola, writing for the New York Times:

Professors were more responsive to white male students than to female, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese students in almost every discipline and across all types of universities. We found the most severe bias in disciplines paying higher faculty salaries and at private universities. In a perverse twist of academic fate, our own discipline of business showed the most bias, with 87 percent of white males receiving a response compared with just 62 percent of all females and minorities combined.

Depressing and fascinating at the same time.

Will Wright on ‘Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata, God and Go’

Celia Pearce on

CP: When you were first working on SimCity, what was going on in the game world at that time? Were you responding to games that were out there, were you wanting something different? Were there things that influenced you at all in the game world or were you just totally in a different mindset?

WW: There were things that influenced me—not many though. There was a very old game called Pinball Construction Set by Bill Budge which was great. He was kind of playing around with the first pre-Mac Lisa interface, which was icon-based. He actually put this in the game, even though it was an Apple 2 game. He kind of emulated what would later become the Mac interface. But it was very easy to use, and you would create pinball sets with it which you could then play with. I thought that was very cool.

Also early modeling things, like the very first flight simulator by Bruce Artwick which had this little micro-world in the computer with its own rules, kind of near reality to some degree, but at a very low resolution. But yet it was this little self-consistent world that you could go fly around in and interact with, in sort of limited ways.

CP: What kinds of responses did it give you when you did stuff?

WW: It was very open-ended and I could do whatever I wanted to in it. The first thing I did was I went in and started exploring the behavior space. Trying all the different things with the airplane. What happens if I go straight up? How far can I go? What happens if I crash? What happens if I do this that and the other? So I could carry out experiments in this world. And in running those experiments I could get a more accurate view of what the internal model was. So it’s kind of a scientific process. It’s kind of a “hypothesize, experiment, change your hypothesis” type cycle that was going on.

I read this piece a while back, but re-reading it in the context of “learning programming” has been very enlightening.

(via Bret Victor)

‘Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy?’

Alfie Kohn, writing for the New York Times:

A commitment to conditionality lives at the intersection of economics and theology. It’s where lectures about the law of the marketplace meet sermons about what we must do to earn our way into heaven. Here, almost every human interaction, even among family members, is regarded as a kind of transaction.

Interestingly, no research that I know of has ever shown that unconditionality is harmful in terms of future achievement, psychological health or anything else. In fact, studies generally show exactly the opposite. One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with “conditional regard.”

Over the last decade or so, two Israeli researchers, Avi Assor and Guy Roth, and their colleagues in the United States and Belgium, have conducted a series of experiments whose consistent finding is that when children feel their parents’ affection varies depending on the extent to which they are well behaved, self-controlled or impressive at school or sports, this promotes “the development of a fragile, contingent and unstable sense of self.”


‘Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World’

Ethan Watters, writing for Pacific Standard:

The test that Henrich introduced to the Machiguenga was called the ultimatum game. The rules are simple: in each game there are two players who remain anonymous to each other. The first player is given an amount of money, say $100, and told that he has to offer some of the cash, in an amount of his choosing, to the other subject. The second player can accept or refuse the split. But there’s a hitch: players know that if the recipient refuses the offer, both leave empty-handed. North Americans, who are the most common subjects for such experiments, usually offer a 50-50 split when on the giving end. When on the receiving end, they show an eagerness to punish the other player for uneven splits at their own expense. In short, Americans show the tendency to be equitable with strangers—and to punish those who are not.

Among the Machiguenga, word quickly spread of the young, square-jawed visitor from America giving away money. The stakes Henrich used in the game with the Machiguenga were not insubstantial—roughly equivalent to the few days’ wages they sometimes earned from episodic work with logging or oil companies. So Henrich had no problem finding volunteers. What he had great difficulty with, however, was explaining the rules, as the game struck the Machiguenga as deeply odd.

When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American. To begin with, the offers from the first player were much lower. In addition, when on the receiving end of the game, the Machiguenga rarely refused even the lowest possible amount. “It just seemed ridiculous to the Machiguenga that you would reject an offer of free money,” says Henrich. “They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game.”

Fascinating piece, with a wonderfully meta conclusion!

‘One Weird Trick to Fix Farms Forever’

Tom Philpott, writing for Mother Jones:

As I watch, I imagine the earnest agents fanning out across the Midwest to bring the good news about cover cropping and continuous no-till. And I wonder: Why aren’t these ways spreading like prairie fire, turning farmers into producers of not just crops but also rich, carbon-trapping soil resilient to floods and drought?

I put the question to Brandt. His own neighbors aren’t exactly rushing out to sell their tillers or invest in seeds, he admits—they see him not as a beacon but rather as an “odd individual in the area,” he says, his level voice betraying a hint of irritation. Sure, his yields are impressive, but federal crop payouts and subsidized crop insurance buffer their losses, giving them little short-term incentive to change. (For his part, Brandt refuses to carry crop insurance, saying it compels farmers “not to make good management decisions.”) Plus the old way is easier: Using diverse cover crops to control weeds and maintain fertility requires much more management, and more person-hours, than relying on chemicals.

An interesting look at alternative farming practices. But I do wonder if there’s more to the story than “it’s more work” as the reason more farmers don’t adopt Brandt’s practices.

CODEX Alimentarius

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by FAO and WHO in 1963 develops harmonised international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. The Commission also promotes coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

File this one in the “name sounds way cooler than it is” department.

‘A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt’

Will Haskell, writing for New York magazine:

One student told Inklings, the school newspaper, that “kids are just mean these days, and they needed a new way to insult each other.” Maybe. I remember when Formspring and Honesty Box infiltrated my middle school hallways. But Yik Yak felt different. It wasn’t just a new tool for the school’s bullies; it was also an equalizer. No one was safe, regardless of his or her place on the social pyramid. Bots and Amigos were targeted just as much, if not more, than the gays, the fat kids, the nerds, the friendless. “K. sounds like she has a cock in her mouth 24/7,” went a typical attack on an Amigo. Staples Guidance counselor Victoria Capozzi says that one student, prior to finding himself the target of a homophobic post, was completely unaware that his peers even questioned his sexuality. Suddenly, the social 1 percent was subject to the same sort of cyber torment that had in the past been directed at the students at the bottom of the pyramid. Yik Yak gave everyone a chance to take down enemies, reveal secrets, or make shit up in order to obliterate reputations. You didn’t need internet popularity in order for your post to be seen; you just needed to be within a 1.5-mile radius of your target and your audience.

I’m reminded of John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

(via boing boing)

‘Which States Are in the Midwest?’

Walt Hickey, writing for FiveThirtyEight:

I’m from New York, and I generally consider anything west of Philadelphia the Midwest. This admittedly unsophisticated designation is frequently criticized by self-avowed Midwesterners. My boss, originally of Michigan, has many opinions about what, precisely, falls into the Midwest. So I decided to find out which states Midwesterners consider to be in their territory.

Hard-hitting journalism from 538.

‘Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World’

According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

“I do not understand,” reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. “A booming voice is saying, ‘Let there be light,’ but there is already light. It is saying, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass,’ but I am already standing on grass.”

I love the Onion.

(via reddit)

‘Annals of Medicine: The Bell Curve’

Atul Gawande, writing for the New Yorker:

They bantered. She was doing fine. School was going well. Warwick pulled out her latest lung-function measurements. There’d been a slight dip, as there was with Alyssa. Three months earlier, Janelle had been at a hundred and nine per cent (she was actually doing better than normal); now she was at around ninety per cent. Ninety per cent was still pretty good, and some ups and downs in the numbers are to be expected. But this was not the way Warwick saw the results.

He knitted his eyebrows. “Why did they go down?” he asked.

Janelle shrugged.

Any cough lately? No. Colds? No. Fevers? No. Was she sure she’d been taking her treatments regularly? Yes, of course. Every day? Yes. Did she ever miss treatments? Sure. Everyone does once in a while. How often is once in a while?

Then, slowly, Warwick got a different story out of her: in the past few months, it turned out, she’d barely been taking her treatments at all.

I’m fascinated by the idea that a major difference between medical centers is not just the quality of the care provided, but the quality of the patients, and how effectively the doctors can evaluate and manipulate the patients’ desire for care.

Probably more of an issue for chronic ailments, but interesting nonetheless!

‘Look over the watchmakers' shoulders’


(via daring fireball)

‘Your Friendly Neighborhood Drug Dealer’

Roy Klabin, writing for the Atlantic:

Today, Max’s affluent Manhattan customers number in the high hundreds, and he’s earned a citywide reputation as the “sommelier of weed.” During one of our meetings, he shook several buds into a large glass bowl, inviting me to smell the aroma and asked if I could pick up any nuanced scents. He pointed out the fine purple leaves woven into the larger green leaves; he talked about heavy Indica strains, energizing Sativa strains, and the perfect hybrids. Many of his patrons use weed to treat medical conditions, he told me. “I’ve adapted more towards a strong clientele of people who have cancer, Tourettes, ADD, and they just don’t like pills. So I get specific strands that I know will help.”

Very interesting piece.

Hours of daylight by latitude by day of year

Another one for the cool chart collection.

Computer Problems

Randomly found this again. I love xkcd.

Atmospheric Electromagnetic Spectrum Opacity

Doing some research for a workshop today, I came across this diagram. Unsurprisingly, the visible light spectrum is the highest-energy photons that make it through the atmosphere.

Cool stuff!

‘It’s Time to End the War on Salt’

Melinda Wenner Moyer, writing for Scientific American:

This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

Hey look, a counterpoint the previous article. I’m shocked.

‘The Public Health Crisis Hiding in Our Food’

Thomas A. Farley, writing for the New York Times:

A lifetime of consuming too much sodium (mostly in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt) raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure kills and disables people by triggering strokes and heart attacks. In the United States, according to best estimates, excess sodium is killing between 40,000 and 90,000 people and running up to $20 billion in medical costs a year.

And speak of the devil. Is this correlation supported by more than just one study? The article doesn’t mention more than one. Given the pace of retractions and failed meta-analyses I’m disinclined to believe any of this.

‘An Apple a Day, and Other Myths’

George Johnson, writing for the New York Times:

The hypothesis that fatty foods are a direct cause of cancer has also been crumbling, along with the case for eating more fiber. The idea that red meat causes colon cancer is shrouded in ambiguity. Two meta-analyses published in 2011 reached conflicting conclusions — one finding a small effect and the other no clear link at all.

If hamburgers are carcinogenic, the effect appears to be mild. One study suggests that a 50-year-old man eating a hefty amount of red meat — about a third of a pound a day — raises his chance of getting colorectal cancer to 1.71 percent during the next decade, from 1.28 percent. Spread over a population of millions, that would have an impact. From the point of view of an individual, it barely seems to matter.

There needs to be a website titled “Causative Nutrition” that keeps track of what does and doesn’t make a difference in nutrition. Keeping track of everything is a chore — and more and more I get the sense that popular journalism is getting it wrong.

‘When to Hold Out For a Lower Airfare’

Kaiser Fung, writing for

Kayak’s wait recommendations for the 10 flights for which prices never fell below their initial amounts were false-positive errors in airfare prediction. Hoping to capture more savings opportunities — or in Target’s example, identify the pregnant shoppers — the algorithm overshot, asking travelers to wait to buy on more flights than it should have. As we saw earlier, only a fraction of the routes offered potential savings. How companies tune their predictive models depends on how they judge the costs of these false-positive errors.

I asked Farecast’s Etzioni and Kayak’s Zacharia about this. Interestingly, they didn’t agree on strategy. Etzioni believes showing too many buy recommendations creates distrust amongst users, an impression that Farecast is not working hard enough to find better prices. Farecast carefully managed the fraction of buy recommendations to be between 67 and 80 percent. Kayak has the opposite concern. When a buy recommendation errs, users don’t know about it because they don’t typically track subsequent price changes. But when users see fares continue to rise while they’re waiting, the error is highly visible, and they may even cancel their trips. So, Zacharia said, “Kayak wants to make sure our ‘wait’ recommendations are as accurate as possible, even if that means we sacrifice a little bit of the ‘buy’ accuracy.”

I’ve often wondered how useful the fare predictor is on Kayak. Now I know!

Have I mentioned that I’m really enjoying the new FiveThirtyEight?

Nest Uses Its Data To Turn Electric Utilities Into Cash Cows

Romain Dillet in TechCrunch on the Nest thermostat:

The company has negotiated deals with multiple energy partners in the U.S. Some utility partners are willing to spend $30 to $50 per year and per thermostat to be able to turn the air conditioner up when it’s a hot day. This way, the utility can levels load on the grid. Partners don’t have direct access to the thermostats, they just sign a deal with Nest, and then Nest has access to the thermostats.


I’ve never read a more confusing piece of journalism, and it reminds me of why I never read TechCrunch anymore.

The article makes it sound like utility companies are paying a thermostat manufacturer for the ability to arbitrarily increase electricity usage on hot days when usage is already high to “level load”? (And that typo makes the sentence ungrammatical.)

But thanks to a post on hacker news, I’m led to believe they’re talking about this: Rush Hour Rewards.

Fascinating stuff.

‘How Americans Die’

Interest charts and visual approach!

The End of Environmentalism

Daniel Smith, writing for the New York Times:

On the surface, it can indeed seem as if Kingsnorth is giving up. Last week, he and his wife made a long-planned move to rural Ireland, where they will be growing much of their own food and home schooling their children — a decision, he explained to me, that stemmed in part from a desire to distance himself from technological civilization and in part from wanting to teach his children skills they might need in a hotter future. Yet Kingsnorth has never intended to retreat altogether. For the past three years, he has spent a good portion of his time trying to stop a large supermarket from being built in Ulverston, in northern England. “Why do I do this,” he wrote to me in an email, anticipating my questions, “when I know that in a national context another supermarket will make no difference at all, and when I know that I can’t stop the trend caused by the destruction of the local economy, and when I know we probably won’t win anyway?” He does it, he said, because his sense of what is valuable and good recoils at all that supermarket chains represent. “I’m increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.”

I’d never heard of Kingsnorth, and this was a pretty depressing piece.

I (obviously) don’t agree that all technology is bad — and frankly, unless we’re willing to kill half the earth’s population, some technology is probably necessary — but I’m also saddened by the increasing conglomerization and uniformization of culture amd life.

Ultimately though it’s not up to me. I’m struck by the idea that culture is always changing, and maybe what we’re afraid of “losing” is really just a nostalgia for a specific time, for a specific culture, that just isn’t that old to begin with.

Are some aspects of modern culture bad? Could we better nurture the environment? Sure. But to overlook all the good is a mistake.

Benjamin Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld, and Tyler Cowen, author of Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World’s Cultures, had an interesting discussion about this topic in a (possibly heavily edited for ideology) Cato policy report in 2003.

I’m no libertarian, and I don’t think ideas, culture, and art should only be valued insofar as they attract money, but this dilemma and the demands to fix it are as old as time.

‘What If We Never Run Out of Oil?’

Charles C. Mann, writing for the Atlantic:

Environmentalists worry even more about black carbon’s role in climate change. Black carbon in the air absorbs heat and darkens clouds. In some places, it alters rain patterns. Falling on snow, it accelerates melting. A 31-scientist team from nine nations released a comprehensive, four-year assessment in January arguing that planetary black-carbon output is the second-biggest driver of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change; the little black specks I found on my glasses and clothes have roughly two-thirds the impact of carbon dioxide.

Natural gas produces next to no soot and half the carbon dioxide coal does. In coal-heavy places like China, India, the former Soviet Union, and eastern Europe, heating homes and offices with natural gas instead of coal would be a huge step. An MIT study chaired by Ernest Moniz, whom President Obama nominated for energy secretary in March, called natural gas “a cost-effective bridge” to a “low-carbon future.”

Fascinating piece.

‘How politics makes us stupid’

Ezra Klein, writing for Vox:

It’s what we might call the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, the thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting.

It’s a seductive model. It suggests our fellow countrymen aren’t wrong so much as they’re misguided, or ignorant, or — most appealingly — misled by scoundrels from the other party. It holds that our debates are tractable and that the answers to our toughest problems aren’t very controversial at all. The theory is particularly prevalent in Washington, where partisans devote enormous amounts of energy to persuading each other that there’s really a right answer to the difficult questions in American politics — and that they have it.

But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.

Somewhat depressing piece here. Klein believes that the solution to this problem will come from objective truth — from the fact that the economy is in shambles, or a war never ends. But in the current political system both sides have the same weapons — and most of those weapons serve to obfuscate the truth.

Complex effects have many possible sources, and it’s nearly impossible to isolate cause and effect, especially when the true cause may threaten your identity.

I think we’ll only see the end of this polarization when a new issue arises that divides the country along cross-ideological lines, as did the civil rights act of 1965.

Suspicious Minds: Adam Curtis on the origin of institutional distrust

Adam Curtis, writing for the BBC:

The present day system of power - that has replaced the old patronising authority - is a new kind of limitation. It treats human beings themselves as very simple machines. Instead of telling them what to do, as the old power used to, the new system increasingly uses computers to read data about what human beings want or feel. And then fulfils those needs.

Curtis spends this entire piece looking at the origins of institutional mistrust, but I have to say the end result is a little disappointing. Do people conspire to personal gain? Sure they do. They always have, and they always will.

The real question is whether the rest of civil society deals with it effectively: rooting out egregious cases, dealing fairly with perpetrators and innocents. Curtis claims not, but he conclusion of his piece undoes his argument for me.

‘How Japan Copied American Culture and Made it Better’

Tom Downey, writing for Smithsonian Magazine:

“I tasted my first bourbon in the basement bar of the Rihga Royal Hotel, a famous old place in Osaka,” Tatsumi says. “Then I spent years reading everything I could about bourbon at the American cultural center. I sent letters to Kentucky and Tennessee trying to set up visits to the distilleries. I even asked for help at the American consulate. And then I finally got to visit in 1984. I fell in love with America then. I’ve been back a hundred times since. I now own a house in Lexington, and I’ve even been named a colonel in Kentucky.”

I ask him how he found all these old bottles of bourbon. “I drive across America, only on the back roads and especially at night, when you can see the lit-up liquor-store signs in the distance,” he says. “I stop at every place I pass, and I don’t just look on the shelves: I ask the clerk to comb the cellar and check the storeroom for anything old. I can’t tell you how many cases of ancient bottles I’ve found that way. I’ll try any bourbon once, and if I like it I buy more.”

The next day I visit another bourbon bar in Osaka, Tonen (meaning “decade”), in a downtown neighborhood where salarymen go drinking. This is the bar of the bourbon master from whom Tatsumi originally learned. A pack of businesspeople parade into the place and one asks for one of the most expensive and rare contemporary bourbons around, Pappy Van Winkle, a bottle of which can cost more than $1,000. The bartender makes a big show of pouring this cultish favorite, laying the snifter down horizontally and swirling the bourbon inside it before presenting it to the man who ordered it, obviously the boss of the group. Then he comes over and we talk about his old bottles, and I see a glint in his eye. For someone in Kentucky or Tennessee it might be called nostalgia, but can you be nostalgic for a time and place you never knew? These two Japanese bourbon temples represent a bold act of imagination.

I love Japan.

‘Bookstores in Seattle Soar, and Embrace an Old Nemesis:’

Kirk Johnson, writing for the New York Times:

At 1,200 square feet, and about 5,000 titles on the shelves, it is a retail space that might have once fit a five-and-dime. Glass windows open onto the street where other local businesses like Bluebird Ice Cream, Caffe Vita and Cornuto Pizza line the block.

Part of Mr. Nissley’s optimism is that he believes local shops have increasingly found their feet in how to avoid competition with Amazon, or other giant retailers, by offering services or products that only a local can provide. He plans to offer, in addition to books, a line of paper goods, toys and vinyl handbags made by the business that his wife, Laura Silverstein, started.

This makes me want to move to Seattle! Though I do have two excellent bookstores within walking distance of home.

Fourier series visualisation with d3.js.

Absolutely gorgeous visualization of the Fourier series expansion of signals.

Also be sure to check out this StackExchange thread on visually stunning math concepts that are easy to explain.

(via news.yc)

What Fish Teach Us About Us

Claudia Dreifus, writing for the New York Times:

Have you been getting criticism from colleagues for “popularizing”?

Not to my face. [Laughs.] You know, it’s a different time from when Carl Sagan was denied membership in the National Academy of Sciences. These days everyone knows there’s a real threat from people antagonistic to science. You actually get thanks for communicating science.

Wow, what a different world — I had no idea about Carl Sagan!

Photos of New York City storefronts taken 10 years apart show gentrification and decay

This is one of the most depressing photo series I’ve seen in years.

I remember NYC in 2004, and it was already very bank- and Subway-ified compared to the 90s; to that think this process will continue until every street corner is boring makes me sick.

‘The Employer’s Creed’

David Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

Therefore, I’m asking you to think about the following principles, this Employer’s Creed. If you follow these principles in your hiring practices, you’ll be sending a signal about what sort of person gets ahead. You may correct some of the perversities at the upper reaches of our meritocracy. You may even help cultivate deeper, fuller human beings.

I wonder how many of the biases Brooks exhorts employers to select for are actually met by Brooks himself?

‘Translation Server Error’

Who doesn’t love a good translation error?

An Adaptation From ‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,’ by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis, writing for the New York Times:

Technology had collided with Wall Street in a peculiar way. It had been used to increase efficiency. But it had also been used to introduce a peculiar sort of market inefficiency. Taking advantage of loopholes in some well-meaning regulation introduced in the mid-2000s, some large amount of what Wall Street had been doing with technology was simply so someone inside the financial markets would know something that the outside world did not. The same system that once gave us subprime-mortgage collateralized debt obligations no investor could possibly truly understand now gave us stock-market trades involving fractions of a penny that occurred at unsafe speeds using order types that no investor could possibly truly understand. That is why Brad Katsuyama’s desire to explain things so that others would understand was so seditious. He attacked the newly automated financial system at its core, where the money was made from its incomprehensibility.

I’ve always been curious about how systems work, and Wall Street is no exception.

That said, whenever I read popular pieces about complex systems I wonder to what extent the truth was sacrificed for the narrative.

‘The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains’

James Hamblin, writing for the Atlantic:

Landrigan also calls it “a particularly egregious lapse” that when TSCA [Toxic Substances Control Act] was enacted, the 62,000 chemicals already on the market were grandfathered in, such that no toxicity testing was required of them. These chemicals were, as Landrigan puts it, “simply presumed safe” and allowed to remain in commerce until a substantial health concern came to public attention.

In the nearly 40 years since the law’s passage, more than 20,000 new chemicals have entered the market. “Only five have been removed,” Landrigan says. He notes that the CDC has picked up measurable levels of hundreds of these chemicals in the blood and urine of “virtually all Americans.” Yet, unlike food and drugs, they enter commerce largely untested.

Creeptastic. The EU does a somewhat better job, perhaps not surprisingly.

‘How to Think About the Risk of Autism’

Sam Wang, writing for the New York Times:

We can improve our chances of finding true causes by looking before the age of 2, when it becomes possible to diagnose autism. The risk ratio can give perspective where isolated news stories don’t. Media reports have focused on the risk associated with becoming a mother or father in one’s late 30s or after. The story has obvious appeal: Delayed parenthood is common, and readers are understandably anxious. However, parents-to-be should consider that the individual risk to the child is only around 1.4. The risk associated with enhanced or accelerated labor in full-term babies is about 1.2, after other complications are taken into account. And of course, the risk from vaccination is slightly less than 1 — there is no added risk. Even worse, incorrect beliefs about vaccines come with a cost. The return of measles in communities with falling vaccination rates is one recent example.

There’s a great chart accompanying this article — not to be missed!

‘Can Anyone Save French Food?’

Michael Steinberger, writing for the New York Times:

Last year, outraged headlines worldwide announced that as many as 70 percent of the restaurants in France were using ready-made meals produced offsite at large industrial kitchens. The real surprise was that anyone was surprised. France’s culinary tradition has been withering for decades, the decline reflected in any number of data points — from the disappearance of raw-milk cheeses (less than 10 percent of all French cheeses are lait cru now) to the fall in French wine consumption (down by more than 50 percent since the 1960s) to the fact that France has become McDonald’s’ second-most-profitable market in the world. Since the late 1990s, Paris has come to be regarded as a dull, predictable food city. The real excitement is in London, Tokyo, New York, Copenhagen, San Sebastian.

Suddenly, though, Paris is showing signs of renewed vigor, much of it coming from an unexpected source: Young foreign chefs. The city’s most-sought-after tables now are at places like Spring, whose chef, Daniel Rose, is American, and Bones, whose chef, James Henry, is Australian. These are not restaurants serving foreign dishes; they are restaurants serving French fare that happens to be produced by non-French chefs. At the same time, the most talked-about French chef in Paris these days, Gregory Marchand, did much of his training in New York and London and brings a distinctly Anglo-American sensibility to cooking and hospitality. As a group, these chefs are reviving an artisanal spirit that had largely vanished from French food culture, composing menus based entirely on what’s available in the market on a given day and cultivating relationships with individual vendors.

Fascinating to think about — the impact of globalization on French food.

I’m particularly pleased to read about Japanese chefs training and then remaining in France. As a devotee of Iron Chef in my youth, I heard many stories of young Japanese chefs training in the kitchens of Paris!

‘Why almost everything you've been told about unhealthy foods is wrong’

Joanna Blythman, writing for the Guardian:

As protein and fat bask in the glow of their recovering nutritional reputation, carbohydrates – the soft, distended belly of government eating advice – are looking decidedly peaky. Carbs are the largest bulk ingredient featured on the NHS’s visual depiction of its recommended diet, the Eat Well Plate. Zoë Harcombe, an independent nutrition expert, has pithily renamed it the Eat Badly Plate – and you can see why. After all, we feed starchy crops to animals to fatten them, so why won’t they have the same effect on us? This less favourable perception of carbohydrates is being fed by trials which show that low carb diets are more effective than low fat and low protein diets in maintaining a healthy body weight.

When fat was the nutrition establishment’s Wicker Man, the health-wrecking effects of sugar on the nation’s health sneaked in under the radar. Stick “low fat” on the label and you can sell people any old rubbish. Low fat religion spawned legions of processed foods, products with ramped up levels of sugar, and equally dubious sweet substitutes, to compensate for the inevitable loss of taste when fat is removed. The anti-saturated fat dogma gave manufacturers the perfect excuse to wean us off real foods that had sustained us for centuries, now portrayed as natural born killers, on to more lucrative, nutrient-light processed products, stiff with additives and cheap fillers.

‘Butter Is Back’

Mark Bittman, writing for the New York Times:

Rather, let’s try once again to pause and think for a moment about how it makes sense for us to eat, and in whose interest it is for us to eat hyperprocessed junk. The most efficient summary might be to say “eat real food” and “avoid anything that didn’t exist 100 years ago.” You might consider a dried apricot (one ingredient) versus a Fruit Roll-Up (13 ingredients, numbers 2, 3 and 4 of which are sugar or forms of added sugar). Or you might reflect that real yogurt has two or three ingredients (milk plus bacteria, with some jam or honey if you like) and that the number in Breyers YoCrunch Cookies n’ Cream Yogurt is unknowable (there are a few instances of “and/or”) but certainly at least 18.

Many things have gone awry with the way we produce food. And it isn’t just the existence of junk food but the transformation of ingredients we could once take for granted or thought of as “healthy.” Indeed, meat, dairy, wheat and corn have become foods that frequently contain antibiotics and largely untested chemicals, or are produced using hybrids or methods that have increased yield but may have produced unwanted results.


‘How Mark Twain became Mark Twain: The amazing story of the lectures that made him a superstar’

Ben Tarnoff, writing for

When the Ajax made its second voyage in March 1866, Mark Twain was on board. He had persuaded the editors of the prestigious Sacramento Union to pay him to write correspondence from the islands. The trip came at an opportune time: Twain had been getting sick of California and the indigent, itinerant life he led there. Despite the success of his jumping frog story, he remained a poor freelancer. “I am tired being a beggar,” he wrote his brother, “tired being chained to this accursed homeless desert.” In Hawaii he hoped to find a new world to explore, and the chance to capitalize on his recent triumph.

I’m pleased to know that even Mark Twain was once poor.

Bay Area Time-Scale Map

Love this map.

‘A 26-Story History of San Francisco’

Alexis C. Madrigal, writing for the Atlantic:

Winston Churchill paid a visit to 140 New Montgomery in September of 1929, about a month before the stock market crash augured the Great Depression. He and his wife called the family back home—both a transcontinental and transoceanic call—and reported back in a letter that they were “thrilled and cheered by the wonderful experience of talking to our family across the enormous distance of land and sea.”

It was, before modern telecommunications, quite a treat to speak with people far away. It was not assumed to be possible, let alone nearly free.

The copper through which Churchill spoke stayed in the building until the recent renovation. Though it was not a major location within the telephonic infrastructure of the area, Joshua Callahan of Wilson Meany told me that the building as vastly overserved. There were thick cords of copper wiring running into the place.

Replaced with fiber optic cables, the copper was sold as scrap metal for recycling into new products.

This was a fun read. Lots of enjoyable anecdotes. It’s crazy to think how cities change with time.

San Francisco itself has been redefined more than many other cities.

‘The Bugs in Our Homes’

Nancy L. Brill, writing for the New York Times:

An unexpected finding from our study is that book lice lived in just about every house. Recent molecular analyses, including research by Kevin Johnson at the Illinois Natural History Survey, have shown that book lice and head lice are more closely related to each other than previously thought. Together with bark lice, they are now joined in a single order, Psocodea. Our findings suggest that different lice are likely here to stay, whether parasitically living on our scalps in the perfect itchy storm or benignly eating mildew from our old books. As a parent who has experienced the head lice battle, I’ve come to the realization that I just have to accept there is no escaping these arthropods.

Indeed, we can conclude that having a diversity of insects and other arthropods in our homes is the norm, and there’s not much we can do about it. Plenty of houses that were sprayed regularly to kill pests still contained a wealth of arthropods. No homes were bug-free. Far from it.

Insects live near us, with us and on us, innocuous roommates in our urban dwellings – a veritable natural history museum in our homes.

This was not the right article to read just before bed.

‘How yield will transform Node.js’

Alex MacCaw:

I honestly think yield is going to really transform the way Node applications are written, and cleanup up some of the traditional callback spaghetti you find in asynchronous code. I also can’t wait until it’s available in more browsers, although I suspect that will take a while.

Awesome. I too can’t wait.

The Onion: ‘Millions Of Courageous Americans Overcoming Media Pressure To Be Thin’

“I’m not going to change my lifestyle just to live up to some media ideal of being an appropriate weight for my height or having a healthy body,” Dobbs added, pausing a moment to catch his breath. “And by setting a strong example, I hope I’m passing that same message down to my kids.”

Not even sure where to go with this.

‘Defying West, Putin Signs Treaty to Annex Crimea’

Steven Lee Myers, Ellen Barry, and Alan Cowell, writing for the New York Times:

Mr. Putin acted despite the first of a series of threatened sanctions imposed by the United States, Canada and Europe on Monday. He did so using the same arguments that those countries used to justify the independence of Kosovo — which the West generally supported — including a passage from an Obama administration document establishing the legal rationale for recognizing that country.

Welcome to the dangers of realpolitik.

‘The Challenge: How to Keep Fusion Going Long Enough’

Kenneth Chang, writing for the New York Times:

Now, however, scientists here have given the world some hopeful progress. Last month, a team headed by Omar A. Hurricane announced that it had used Livermore’s giant lasers to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce flashes of energy, like miniature hydrogen bombs. The amount of energy produced was tiny — the equivalent of what a 60-watt light bulb consumes in five minutes. But that was five times the output of attempts a couple of years ago.

When a physicist named Hurricane generates significant bursts of fusion energy with 192 mega-lasers, the Twitterverse revels in the comic book possibilities.

“Wasn’t he in X-Men?” one person tweeted.

“Awesome science story, but there’s a zero percent chance that a fusion laser scientist named Dr. Hurricane isn’t a supervillain,” another chimed in.

Such funny. Wow!

‘Satellite Firm Says Its Data From Jet Could Offer Location’

Chris Buckley and Nicola Clark, writing for the New York Times:

The plane sent out a series of such messages after civilian radar lost contact, he said. Those messages later stopped, but he declined to specify precisely when or how many messages had been received. Mr. Coiley said Inmarsat was sharing the information with the airline and investigators.

“It does allow us to determine where the airplane is relative to the satellite,” he said of the signal, which he likened to the “noises you might hear when a cellphone sits next to a radio or a television speaker.” He said: “It does allow us to narrow down the position of the aircraft” — at moment when the signal was sent.

Such equipment automatically checks in to satellites, much as a mobile phone would check in to a network after passing through a mountain tunnel, he said. Because the pings go over a measurable distance at a specific angle to one of the company’s satellites, the information can be used to help calculate the trajectory of an aircraft and narrow down its approximate location — though not necessarily its resting point.

I don’t warm to make light of a tragedy, but I’m really looking forward to the film adaptation of the hunt for MH370.

Measles outbreaks in NYC, Boston, LA, & SF.

Russell Saunders, writing for the Daily Beast:

But now, shoppers in Boston-area supermarkets get to worry that they may have been exposed when they stopped by for groceries. Commuters in the Bay Area now have to contend with the possibility that they or their children may contract the illness because they happened to get on the wrong train. Over a dozen people around Los Angeles have been diagnosed with measles already this year, nearly half of them intentionally unvaccinated.

This is sheer lunacy. Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country, and this year people are being hospitalized for it. All due to the hysteria about a safe, effective vaccine. All based on nothing.

Absurd, and sad.

I definitely understand the mindset that leads to the anti-vaccination stance. I get it: the institution of medicine doesn’t have a perfect track record. There are definitely drugs and “chemicals” and additives out there that aren’t tested enough. And it’s easy to get pulled into conspiracy theories and think that maybe, just maybe, there is a link between vaccines and autism.

But vaccination against debilitating, highly infectious diseases is too important to public health, and now people are starting to die. In the case of measles, the vaccine is worth the hypothetical consequences.

‘Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year’

Hunter Oatman-Stanford, writing for Collectors Weekly:

By the end of the 1920s, more than 200,000 Americans had been killed by automobiles. Most of these fatalities were pedestrians in cities, and the majority of these were children. “If a kid is hit in a street in 2014, I think our first reaction would be to ask, ‘What parent is so neglectful that they let their child play in the street?,’” says Norton.

“In 1914, it was pretty much the opposite. It was more like, ‘What evil bastard would drive their speeding car where a kid might be playing?’ That tells us how much our outlook on the public street has changed—blaming the driver was really automatic then. It didn’t help if they said something like, ‘The kid darted out into the street!,’ because the answer would’ve been, ‘That’s what kids do. By choosing to operate this dangerous machine, it’s your job to watch out for others.’ It would be like if you drove a motorcycle in a hallway today and hit somebody—you couldn’t say, ‘Oh, well, they just jumped out in front of me,’ because the response would be that you shouldn’t operate a motorcycle in a hallway.”

Great point!

‘5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus’

Luba Vangelova, writing for the Atlantic:

She doesn’t expect children to be able to solve formal equations at age five, but that’s okay. “There are levels of understanding,” she says. “You don’t want to shackle people into a formal understanding too early.” After the informal level comes the level where students discuss ideas and notice patterns. Then comes the formal level, where students can use abstract words, graphs, and formulas. But ideally, a playful aspect is retained along the entire journey. “This is what mathematicians do—they play with abstract ideas, but they still play.”

More of this, please!

‘Amazon’s War On The House Of Otto, Germany’s $18 Billion Family’

Adam Tanner, writing for Forbes:

Michael Otto joined the family’s catalog business in 1971 at age 28. Though the family had become successful, he remained a product of his hardscrabble roots. He paid for his own college education by starting a real estate business, which gave him street smarts to go with his eventual doctorate in economics. He’s still that way: He buys his suits off the rack, and while he has a direct line to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, helped Christo win permission to wrap the Reichstag in silver fabric and has a species of lemur named after him, he remains the prototypical northern German merchant, steeped in modesty and dignity. His favorite hobbies: gardening and traveling off the beaten path (he recently returned from a ten-day camping trip in Kazakhstan). “I have a good understanding how it is to be poor,” he says. “I sometimes cannot understand how people who became successful seem to be a different person.”

I had never heard of the Otto Group. But the Amazon connection seems tenuous to me. It’s unlikely that anyone will be able to compete with Amazon at general retail in the near future, but I also don’t expect all individual verticals to be owned by Amazon.

‘The Fat Drug’

Pagan Kennedy, writing for the New York Times:

To find out, Dr. Blaser and his colleagues have spent years studying the effects of antibiotics on the growth of baby mice. In one experiment, his lab raised mice on both high-calorie food and antibiotics. “As we all know, our children’s diets have gotten a lot richer in recent decades,” he writes in a book, “Missing Microbes,” due out in April. At the same time, American children often are prescribed antibiotics. What happens when chocolate doughnuts mix with penicillin?

The results of the study were dramatic, particularly in female mice: They gained about twice as much body fat as the control-group mice who ate the same food. “For the female mice, the antibiotic exposure was the switch that converted more of those extra calories in the diet to fat, while the males grew more in terms of both muscle and fat,” Dr. Blaser writes. “The observations are consistent with the idea that the modern high-calorie diet alone is insufficient to explain the obesity epidemic and that antibiotics could be contributing.”

Fascinating idea, that overheating taped the cowrie imbalance may itself be a symptom of something else.

‘The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul’

I’m not 100% sure I like the new SAT format, though it’s pretty clear the old one wasn’t great. I’ll reserve judgment until I can take a look at a few sample tests.

But one particular passage did catch my eye.

Todd Balf, writing for the New York Times:

A report released last month by William C. Hiss, a former dean of admissions at Bates College, and Valerie W. Franks, a former Bates assistant dean of admissions, supports Wake Forest’s experience. They reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or A.C.T. scores and found no significant difference in college G.P.A. or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who had not. Specifically, they saw that students with good high-school grades did well in college, even if they had weak SAT scores. But students with weaker high-school grades — even with strong SATs — did less well in college. Those who didn’t submit SATs were more likely to be minority students, women, Pell grant recipients or the first in their families to go to college.

So…college GPA and graduation rates correlate with high school GPA, that’s nice. Do any of these correlate with life happiness or financial success or anything that, you know, might actually matter?

‘Fake Outrage in the Kentucky Senate Race’

Mark Leibovich, writing for the New York Times:

All is fair in the fog of fake outrage. McConnell and Grimes may be the main combatants, but the front lines of affront in this Bluegrass State battle are occupied by the competing spokeswomen, Norton and Cooper. They brim with enthusiasm for their jobs, their candidates and their country. But perhaps more important, they are fluent in the lingua franca of chagrin, and eager to share with us — via clinically composed news release, email, tweet or whatever — how deeply troubled and appalled they are by something their opponent did, didn’t do or might possibly be associated with (they’ll leave it to the people of Kentucky to decide). Recently Cooper was beside herself that Grimes would accept a campaign donation from Woody Allen. Norton was horrified that McConnell, the Senate minority leader, would “laugh in the faces of more than 18,000 unemployed Kentuckians.”

I’ll be honest: I can’t stand the fake outrage. I stopped reading any of the political garbage in my inbox when it became email after email if “you won’t believe what XXX said today” — to me, it’s the equivalent of those “1 weird trick” and “doctors hate her” ads that reek of scams.

I guess this approach works on some people. But to me it just seems so desperate.

‘College, the Great Unleveler’

Suzanne Mettler, writing for the New York Times:

But by the late 1990s, Republican leaders championed the for-profits as the “private sector,” never mind that 15 of the large publicly traded for-profits receive on average 86 percent of their revenues from federal student aid. Plutocracy helped bring House Democrats onboard, as the industry wooed them through strategic lobbying and campaign contributions. The result? In the House of Representatives, where Democrats and Republicans agree on almost nothing, they have united to protect $32 billion taxpayer dollars for the for-profit college industry.

Is this who we are as a nation? Is this what we aspire to? The federal government must step up and lead. Tougher regulations of the for-profits, long overdue, are the quickest way to help the poorest Americans who seek college degrees. States, too, should be held accountable; a perverse incentive permits them to gain more in federal student aid if they commit less of their own resources to helping poorer students. Nonprofit schools must also be responsible partners with government in furthering opportunity. Lawmakers should curtail the money we spend on tuition tax policies and for-profits, and invest more in Pell grants and community colleges.

The subsidies are a red herring here, though obviously not ideal. Does it happen that kids go to college to get a job, and fail to get a job? Of course.

But when kids consistently fail to gain employment at a given college, and that college advertises strong career prospects, something needs to change.

‘When May I Shoot a Student?’

Greg Hampikian, professor of biology at Boise State, writing for the New York Times on Idaho’s proposed bill allowing guns on campus:

Once again, this reflects outdated thinking about students. My current students have grown up learning responsible weapon use through virtual training available on the Xbox and PlayStation. Far from being enamored of violence, many studies have shown, they are numb to it. These creative young minds will certainly be stimulated by access to more technology at the university, items like autoloaders, silencers and hollow points. I am sure that it has not escaped your attention that the library would make an excellent shooting range, and the bookstore could do with fewer books and more ammo choices.

I love satire.

‘Lawrence Lessig wins damages after rights holder demands YouTube takedown’

Megan Geuss, writing for Ars Technica:

Last summer, Liberation had a video of one of Lessig’s lectures (called “Open,” which is embedded above) taken down when the company found that he had used video clips with Phoenix’s music in it. Lessig, in collaboration with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, challenged the takedown and sued Liberation, arguing that he was well within his right to use Phoenix’s music under fair use policies. (Phoenix, for its part, wrote that it was happy to have its music remixed under fair use principles.)

Lessig teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to extract damages from Liberation under the DCMA’s section 512(f), which requires copyright holders to pay damages if they overstep their bounds in issuing a takedown. As Ars noted last summer, hardly any copyright holders have ever had to pay damages under 512(f).

How clueless does one have to be to issue a copyright threat against Larry Lessig, the tech world’s foremost authority on copyright and fair use?

‘The State of Arizona’

Gail Collins, writing for the New York Times:

Maybe we have reached a critical historical juncture. Struggles for human rights always begin with brave men and women who stand up, isolated, against the forces of oppression. But, in the United States, victory really arrives on the glorious day when the people with money decide discrimination is bad for business.

I know Gail is being tongue-in-cheek here, but I can’t tell if she’s right or not.

Rethinking Our ‘Rights’ to Dangerous Behaviors

Mark Bittman, writing for the New York Times:

Redefining the argument may help us find strategies that can actually bring about change. The turning point in the tobacco wars was when the question changed from the industry’s — “Do people have the right to smoke?” — to that of public health: “Do people have the right to breathe clean air?” Note that both questions are legitimate, but if you address the first (to which the answer is of course “yes”) without asking the second (to which the answer is of course also “yes”) you miss an opportunity to convert the answer from one that leads to greater industry profits to one that has literally cut smoking rates in half.

Great thought, but easier said than done.

‘The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia’

Lee Hutchinson, writing for Ars Technica:

That’s the way events actually unfolded. But imagine an alternate timeline for the Columbia mission in which NASA quickly realized just how devastating the foam strike had been. Could the Columbia astronauts have been safely retrieved from orbit?

During the writing of its report, the CAIB had the same question, so it asked NASA to develop a theoretical repair and rescue plan for Columbia “based on the premise that the wing damage events during launch were recognized early during the mission.” The result was an absolutely remarkable set of documents, which appear at the end of the report as Appendix D.13. They carry the low-key title “STS-107 In-Flight Options Assessment,” but the scenario they outline would have pushed NASA to its absolute limits as it mounted the most dramatic space mission of all time.

Crazy plan right here. No margin for error. Science taken to the limits.

Someone write a screenplay!

‘Can an Audacious Plan to Create a New Energy Resource Help Save the Planet?’

Raffi Khatchadourian, writing for the New Yorker:

Years from now—maybe in a decade, maybe sooner—if all goes according to plan, the most complex machine ever built will be switched on in an Alpine forest in the South of France. The machine, called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, will stand a hundred feet tall, and it will weigh twenty-three thousand tons—more than twice the weight of the Eiffel Tower. At its core, densely packed high-precision equipment will encase a cavernous vacuum chamber, in which a super-hot cloud of heavy hydrogen will rotate faster than the speed of sound, twisting like a strand of DNA as it circulates. The cloud will be scorched by electric current (a surge so forceful that it will make lightning seem like a tiny arc of static electricity), and bombarded by concentrated waves of radiation. Beams of uncharged particles—the energy in them so great it could vaporize a car in seconds—will pour into the chamber, adding tremendous heat. In this way, the circulating hydrogen will become ionized, and achieve temperatures exceeding two hundred million degrees Celsius—more than ten times as hot as the sun at its blazing core.

No natural phenomenon on Earth will be hotter. Like the sun, the cloud will go nuclear. The zooming hydrogen atoms, in a state of extreme kinetic excitement, will slam into one another, fusing to form a new element—helium—and with each atomic coupling explosive energy will be released: intense heat, gamma rays, X rays, a torrential flux of fast-moving neutrons propelled in every direction. There isn’t a physical substance that could contain such a thing. Metals, plastics, ceramics, concrete, even pure diamond—all would be obliterated on contact, and so the machine will hold the superheated cloud in a “magnetic bottle,” using the largest system of superconducting magnets in the world. Just feet from the reactor’s core, the magnets will be cooled to two hundred and sixty-nine degrees below zero, nearly the temperature of deep space. Caught in the grip of their titanic forces, the artificial earthbound sun will be suspended, under tremendous pressure, in the pristine nothingness of ITER’s vacuum interior.

A long but fascinating look at the politics surrounding the ITER reactor in France.

‘Closed Doors? Not a Problem’

A hauntingly beautiful set of photographs.

‘You Never Did Math in High School’

Jeremy Kun, writing in EdSurge:

So when a freshman college student tells me that he was always good at math, it translates to “I was very good at following obscure steps to manipulate mysterious symbols, without any real understanding of what I was doing.” Just as the pitiful music student from before, there is no evidence that the student was ever any good at mathematics. That’s not to say he can’t be good, but that he has just been misled his whole life.

But this raises the obvious question: if math isn’t about all of this drudgery, then what is it?

The simplest way to say it is that mathematics (especially at the elementary and secondary level) is about recognizing and reasoning about patterns. These patterns can come from anywhere: shapes, numbers, relationships at a party, physical systems, tournaments, card games, knotted rope, doodles with colorful pens, literally anything!

A great insight. Most math as taught in school is devoid of any intuition and enjoyment.

‘How to effectively use Civ IV in higher education’

John Timmer, writing for Ars Technica:

When it came to international relations, the Civ-playing students were able to formulate more sophisticated and probing questions. But, when handed a tactical situation to analyze, Schwartz suggested they were completely lost, and often failed to come up with any questions at all. For the Call of Duty players, the converse was true.

I learned some important lessons from the Civilization series of games. Lessons like “never trust Gandhi.”

I kid, sort of. In reality I do feel like I learned quite a bit about strategic thinking — there’s really nothing quite like putting yourself in someone’s simulated shoes.

‘Learning to Cut the Sugar’

Anahad O’Connor, interviewing Dr. Robert Lustig for the New York Times:

Q. A lot of the recipes in your book use fruit to add sweet flavors. Was this a way to limit refined sugar?

A. Exactly. People always say to me, “What about fruit? It has sugar.” But I have nothing against fruit, because it comes with its inherent fiber, and fiber mitigates the negative effects. The way God made it, however much sugar is in a piece of fruit, there’s an equal amount of fiber to offset it.

There’s only one notable exception: grapes. Grapes are just little bags of sugar. They don’t have enough fiber for the amount of sugar that’s in them. But I have nothing against real food, and that includes real fruit. Eat all the fruit you want. It’s only when you turn it into juice that I have a problem with it, because then it loses its fiber.

Hmm, interesting note about grapes.

I’ve always found that my weight tends to fluctuate with my mood much more so than with my diet.

Who’s with me on the “optimistic about the future” diet?

‘Klaus Teuber, the Man Who Built The Settlers of Catan’

Adrienne Raphel, writing for the New Yorker:

Pete Fenlon, the C.E.O. of Mayfair Games, said, “Our volume of sales will be such that, over time, Catan could, in terms of gross revenue, be the biggest game brand in the world.”

Teuber is still somewhat baffled by the popularity of his creation. “I never expected it would be so successful,” he said. Almost all board-game designers, even the most successful ones, work full time in other professions; Teuber is one of a tiny handful who make a living from games. “Going Cardboard,” a 2012 documentary about the board-game industry, includes footage of Teuber appearing at major gaming conventions, where he is greeted like a rock star—fans whisper and point when they see him—but seems sheepish while signing boxes.

I remember playing Die Siedler von Catan in Germany in the ‘90s with my cousins. Good times.

‘How Credit-Card Debt Can Help the Poor’

Shaila Dewan, writing for the New York Times:

Khadeja may have paid more to borrow, but she was also buying a service — being forced to pay. Most of us already make constant use of this service, managing our money by borrowing and saving at the same time. In 2000, two business-school professors found that 90 percent of Americans with credit-card debt also had liquid assets, and about a third of them had enough to pay off the entire debt. But they didn’t. One reason is that if you spend your savings, you’re back to zero quickly. So you may prefer to pay a little more to borrow while keeping something in reserve.

Interesting social theory there.

‘Pandora Suit May Upend Century-Old Royalty Plan’

Ben Sisario, writing for the New York Times:

Ascap, which stands for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, was founded by a group of composer luminaries including Irving Berlin and Victor Herbert. Its 100th birthday is this week. BMI, or Broadcast Music Inc., was created by broadcasters in 1939 as a competitor.

After federal antitrust investigations, both groups agreed to government supervision in 1941.

This system has hummed along for decades. But with the rise of Internet radio, publishers have complained that the rules are antiquated and unfair. They point to the disparity in the way Pandora compensates the two sides of the music business: Last year, Pandora paid 49 percent of its revenue, or about $313 million, to record companies, but only 4 percent, or about $26 million, to publishers.

I had no idea the structure was so byzantine. Fascinating.

‘Why Vitamins May Be Bad for Your Workout’

Gretchen Reynolds, writing for the New York Times:

Of course, that theory is still unsubstantiated and requires long-term testing in people, Dr. Paulsen said. It is possible, he said, that smaller doses of antioxidants or different formulations might be useful for athletes. Meanwhile, natural antioxidants from food sources, such as blueberries and red wine, are unlikely to be problematic, he said. “It’s probably only concentrated extracts that are potentially dangerous,” he said. It is also worth pointing out that the volunteers who took the concentrated extracts of vitamins C and E increased their endurance to the same extent as those taking a placebo.


‘Breeding the Tech Elite’

Libby Rainey, writing for the Daily Cal:

These disheveled, slightly nerdy types are the ones boarding the shuttles — the unlikely center of a growing controversy that paints techies as wealthy elitists, not as computer nerds with good intentions. Google, whose famous motto is “Don’t be evil,” currently operates about 100 buses at 80 shuttle stops throughout the Bay Area, making about 10,000 one-way trips daily, according to research published by UC Berkeley master’s students Danielle Dai and David Weinzimmer. Yahoo!, Genentech, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Netflix and LinkedIn all operate shuttle services today. These buses were created to save the environment from fossil fuels and get employees working on their commute — goals that do not propose evil in and of themselves. But the “two-tiered” community that they are painting in the eyes of San Franciscans poses a real and pressing question.

So maybe this is an image issue. The EECS majors navigating Sutardja Dai Hall or registering for “The Beauty and Joy of Computing” seem harmless, excited about technology and probably willing to fix your MacBook if you’re in a bind. But they also will face a question upon graduation: how and in what setting to navigate their newfound wealth and status.


I used to wonder why there wasn’t more of a backlash against tech. I think in part it was because wealth in tech was seen as earned rather than taken as in finance.

Many successful tech companies, for all their faults, are clearly producing a product that many consumers find valuable. I bet this makes them harder to hate. But perhaps people no longer see Facebook/Google/Apple as being really valuable?

I’m very curious to see how this backlash plays out.

‘A Grizzly Answer for Obesity’

Amgen senior scientist Kevin Corbit, writing in the New York Times:

Millions of years of evolutionary experimentation have produced genetic adaptations that enabled bears to cope with obesity, converting it to a benign state in which weight gain has much-reduced health threats. If nature has figured this stuff out for grizzlies, maybe we can for humans.

I salute Kevin’s optimism. My understanding is that there is a long path from knowing how a mechanism works in other animals to making use of it in humans.

But every path has a first step!

‘Misunderstanding Orange Juice as a Health Drink’

Adee Braun, writing for the Atlantic:

In the 1990’s “not from concentrate” orange juice hit the shelves and blew everything else away. Rather than vitamins in a can, we now had freshness and purity in a carton.

But as Hamilton details in her book, there is practically nothing fresh or pure about it. Most commercial orange juice is so heavily processed that it would be undrinkable if not for the addition of something called flavor packs. This is the latest technological innovation in the industry’s perpetual quest to mimic the simplicity of fresh juice. Oils and essences are extracted from the oranges and then sold to a flavor manufacturer who concocts a carefully composed flavor pack customized to the company’s flavor specifications. The juice, which has been patiently sitting in storage sometimes for more than a year, is then pumped with these packs to restore its aroma and taste, which by this point have been thoroughly annihilated. You’re welcome.


‘John Yudkin: the man who tried to warn us about sugar’

Julia Llewellyn Smith, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald:

The British Sugar Bureau put out a press release dismissing Yudkin’s claims as “emotional assertions” and the World Sugar Research Organisation described his book as “science fiction”. When Yudkin sued, it printed a mealy-mouthed retraction, concluding: “Professor Yudkin recognises that we do not agree with [his] views and accepts that we are entitled to express our disagreement.”

What crap.

‘Why Nutrition Is So Confusing’

Gary Taubes, writing for the New York Times:

The associations that emerge from these studies used to be known as “hypothesis-generating data,” based on the fact that an association tells us only that two things changed together in time, not that one caused the other. So associations generate hypotheses of causality that then have to be tested. But this hypothesis-generating caveat has been dropped over the years as researchers studying nutrition have decided that this is the best they can do.

One lesson of science, though, is that if the best you can do isn’t good enough to establish reliable knowledge, first acknowledge it — relentless honesty about what can and cannot be extrapolated from data is another core principle of science — and then do more, or do something else. As it is, we have a field of sort-of-science in which hypotheses are treated as facts because they’re too hard or expensive to test, and there are so many hypotheses that what journalists like to call “leading authorities” disagree with one another daily.


‘A Weekend in Hungary, Chosen at Random’

Seth Kugel, writing for the New York Times:

It was just before dawn on a wintry Saturday, and I had hopped off the Bucharest-to-Budapest overnight train in a place called Mezobereny. The town of almost 11,000 in the eastern Hungarian plains was my destination for the weekend, but I had chosen it quite at random, with a simple goal: to find out what was there. I knew what was not there: any notable tourist attraction, a hotel or restaurant with even a single TripAdvisor review, a concentration of English speakers. But first I had to use the bathroom, and that was presenting a problem, since the stick-figure-free signs read “FERFI WC” and “NOI WC.”

I gave a befuddled look to the only other soul in the waiting room, a bundled-up elderly woman. She pointed. Ferfi it was.

Love it.

Be Friends with Failure

When a baby makes a first attempt to talk…

“Ah ba da bah dah doh?”

…do you respond like this?

“Whoa! Fail! You suck at talking! You should quit before someone hears you.


‘What Machines Can’t Do’

David Brooks, writing for the New York Times:

But now the computer is the computer. The role of the human is not to be dispassionate, depersonalized or neutral. It is precisely the emotive traits that are rewarded: the voracious lust for understanding, the enthusiasm for work, the ability to grasp the gist, the empathetic sensitivity to what will attract attention and linger in the mind.

Unable to compete when it comes to calculation, the best workers will come with heart in hand.

I like this future Brooks describes. I hope he’s right.

‘Woo the muse of the odd’

A great transcript of a talk by Bruce Sterling.

‘The Scientist Who Took on a Leading Herbicide Manufacturer’

Rachel Aviv, writing for the New Yorker:

Hayes later e-mailed three of the scientists, telling them, “I was insulted, felt railroaded and, in fact, felt that some dishonest and unethical activity was going on.” When he explained what had happened to Theo Colborn, the scientist who had popularized the theory that industrial chemicals could alter hormones, she advised him, “Don’t go home the same way twice.” Colborn was convinced that her office had been bugged, and that industry representatives followed her. She told Hayes to “keep looking over your shoulder” and to be careful whom he let in his lab. She warned him, “You have got to protect yourself.”


‘The Generational Sweet Spot, Or Why Your Parents Have Such Bad Taste’

Laura Wattenberg, writing for the Baby Name Wiazrd blog:

That’s obvious on the face of it. We all know that name styles change dramatically over time. When it comes to our own personal taste, though, it’s hard to feel the generational influence. Here’s how I usually describe it: the names of your own generation sound too ordinary, your parents’ too boring, your grandparents’ too old. But by the time you make it back to your great-grandparents’ names, things start to perk up. You’ve never known a young Vivian or Julius, so those names sound fresh to you.

Interesting thought!

‘We Are Giving Ourselves Cancer’

Rita F. Redberg and Rebecca Smith-Bindman, writing for the New York Times:

While it is difficult to know how many cancers will result from medical imaging, a 2009 study from the National Cancer Institute estimates that CT scans conducted in 2007 will cause a projected 29,000 excess cancer cases and 14,500 excess deaths over the lifetime of those exposed. Given the many scans performed over the last several years, a reasonable estimate of excess lifetime cancers would be in the hundreds of thousands. According to our calculations, unless we change our current practices, 3 percent to 5 percent of all future cancers may result from exposure to medical imaging.

We know that these tests are overused. But even when they are appropriately used, they are not always done in the safest ways possible. The rule is that doses for medical imaging should be as low as reasonably achievable. But there are no specific guidelines for what these doses are, and thus there is considerable variation within and between institutions. The dose at one hospital can be as much as 50 times stronger than at another.


Scaling the Artisan

Tony Conrad, writing for on the True Ventures blog:

We believe Blue Bottle Coffee is at the forefront of a “consumer movement” or mega-trend in which consumers are moving to higher quality, artisanal micro-roasters of coffee, where quality, attention to detail, beauty and a distinctive experience are being sought over more mainstream alternatives

I appreciate what Blue Bottle is doing. I’m not a coffee drinker, but many of my friends love the company and the products.

But I can’t get past the irony of using “growth capital” to scale a business that is based on consumers’ preferences for artisanal micro-roasters and a distinctive experience. Doesn’t scale…destroy that value?

How to Remove an Invalid Debt From Your Credit Report

patio11, writing on Hacker News:

I have intimate personal experience with the FCRA. Sadly I don’t have an hour to talk about it at the moment, but ping me any time. Short version: it’s one of the most absurdly customer-friendly pieces of legislation in the US, assuming you know how to work it. There exist Internet communities where they basically do nothing but assist each other with using the FCRA to get legitimate debts removed from their credit report, which, when combined with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, means you can essentially unilaterally absolve yourself of many debts if the party currently owning it is not on the ball for compliance.

The brief version, with the exact search queries you’ll want bracketed: you send a [debt validation letter] under the FCRA to the CRAs. This starts a 30 day clock, during which time they have to get to the reporter and receive evidence from the reporter that you actually own the debt. If that clock expires, the CRAs must remove that tradeline from your report and never reinstate it. Roughly simultaneously with that letter, you send the collection agency a [FDCPA dispute letter], and allege specifically that you have “No recollection of the particulars of the debt” (this stops short of saying “It isn’t mine”), request documentation of it, and — this is the magic part — remind them that the FDCPA means they have to stop collection activities until they’ve produced docs for you. Collection activities include responding to inquiries from the CRAs. If the CRA comes back to you with a “We validated the debt with the reporter.” prior to you hearing from the reporter directly, you’ve got documentary evidence of a per-se violation of the FDCPA, which you can use to get the debt discharged and statutory damages (if you sue) or just threaten to do that in return for the reporter agreeing to tell the CRA to delete the tradeline.

No response from the CRA? You watch your mail box like a hawk for the next 30 days. Odds are, you’ll get nothing back from the reporter in that timeframe, because most debt collection agencies are poorly organized and can’t find the original documentation for the debt in their files quickly enough. Many simply won’t have original documentation — they just have a CSV file from the original lender listing people and amounts.

If you get nothing back from the reporter in 30 days, game over, you win. The CRA is now legally required to delete the tradeline and never put it back. Sometimes you have to send a few pieces of mail to get this to stick. You will probably follow-up on this with a second letter to the reporter, asserting the FDCPA right to not receive any communication from them which is inconvenient, and you’ll tell them that all communication is inconvenient. (This letter is sometimes referred to as a [FOAD letter], for eff-off-and-die.) The reporter’s only possible choices at that point are to abandon collection attempts entirely or sue you. If they sue you prior to sending validation, that was a very bad move, because that is a per-se FDCPA violation and means your debt will be voided. (That assumes you owe it in the first place. Lots of the people doing these mechanics actually did owe the debt at one point, but are betting that it can’t be conveniently demonstrated that they owe the debt.)

If the reporter sends a letter: “Uh, we have you in a CSV file.” you wait patiently until day 31 then say “You’ve failed to produce documentary evidence of this debt under the FDCPA. Accordingly, you’re barred from attempting to collect on it. If you dispute that this is how the FDCPA works, meet me in any court of competent jurisdiction because I have the certified mail return receipt from the letter I sent you and every judge in the United States can count to 30.” and then you file that with the CRA alleging “This debt on my credit report is invalid.” The CRA will get in touch with the debt collection company, have their attempt timeout, and nuke the trade line. You now still technically speaking owe money but you owe it to someone who can’t collect on the debt, (licitly [+]) sell it, or report it against your credit.

I just outlined the semi-abusive use of those two laws, but the perfectly legitimate use (for resolving situations like mine, where my credit report was alleging that I owed $X00,000 in debts dating to before I was born) is structurally similar. My dropbox still has 30 PDFs for letters I sent to the 3 CRAs, several banks, and a few debt collection companies disputing the information on my report and taking polite professional notice that there was an easy way out of this predicament for them but that if they weren’t willing to play ball on that I was well aware of the mechanics of the hard way. [+] Owing more to disorganization and incompetence than malice, many debt collection companies will in fact sell debts which they’re not longer legally entitled to. This happened to me twice. I sent out two “intent to sue” letters and they fixed the problem within a week.

‘What Losing 100 Pounds Taught Me About How We Treat Overweight People’

Jasmin Singer, writing for MindBodyGreen:

As my weight came off, I saw the world around me change. Men would enthusiastically hold doors for me. Women, with a snap of their gum and a flip of their hair, would compliment my “cute blazerrrrr!” Employees at coffee shops smiled at me, and made eye contact. Some of my well-intentioned but tacky friends would say that I looked “a lot better.” My (always thin) mother told me she was proud of me; she had the same gleam in her eye that she had when I completed graduate school.

As a fat person, I had been used to folks rushing ahead of me on the subway, not making eye contact at the store, or not smiling back when they passed me in the hallway of my apartment building. These behaviors were what I recognized as normal.

After a childhood of being bullied, and a young adulthood of being overlooked, when the world started behaving appropriately toward me (which occurred somewhere around when my weight reached the 130s), I was gobsmacked.

My initial reaction to this sudden onslaught of warmth, sweetness and gratitude from the world was suspicion that the joke was on me. Since I went from a size 16 to a six, there have been times when I have caught myself irrationally questioning people’s motives, just waiting for the paper snakes to jump out of the can.

Wow, this is fascinating. I wonder to what extent this difference in behavior depends on the gender of the recipient.

‘With Cameras Optional, New Directions in Photography’

Philip Gefter, writing for the New York Times:

Many works in the show are by international artists like Constantin Brancusi, who considered his studio as much a photographic subject as his sculpture. Another such artist is Geta Bratescu of Romania, who lived in her Bucharest studio in the 1970s, during the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausesu, and made a 17-minute film, “L’atelier” (“The Studio,” 1978) acquired by Mr. Bajac for MoMA, signaling the recognition of video in a photographic context.

“For Bratescu, of course, the studio was a place of open expression,” the curator said, an escape from the pressure to create propagandist art glorifying Ceausescu.

Always love catching snippets of Romanians in pieces about art.

‘What Drives Success?’

Ji Lee, writing for the NY Times:

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

Any individual, from any background, can have what we call this Triple Package of traits. But research shows that some groups are instilling them more frequently than others, and that they are enjoying greater success.

It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.

Ironically, each element of the Triple Package violates a core tenet of contemporary American thinking.

Interesting perspective on success in America.

Computers Are The Future, But Does Everyone Need To Code?


I do wish people knew more about their computers’ essential software. But knowing how to code and knowing how to make a computer do things you want it to do are very different skills. First let’s teach people how to use Google to answer their questions. Let’s teach them to be comfortable exploring software that lets them put up a basic website. That software and the necessary concepts change over time, so it’s not just a matter of learning one particular tool.

We live in a world dominated by electricity and mechanization. Nearly 100% of Americans rely on electrical power and motorized transport in a daily basis. But no one is clamoring for mechanical or electrical engineering to be considered an essential literacy. We all use computers today in the same way we all use electricity and cars: the interface for computers is just terrible by comparison.

As a side note: I remember my first hacks thin in high school — through it wasn’t really called that, my friends and I stayed up writing a simulator for an airport terminal layout. It didn’t quite work, but I think we won some award so I guess it was impressive enough! I also re,ember falling asleep around 7am and feeling pretty lame about it.

Some things never change.

‘How Steve Jobs Almost Put A Little Man In Every Mac’

John Brownlee, writing for Co.Design:

According to Hertzfeld, what ultimately put the kibosh on Mr. Macintosh was the original Mac’s paltry 128 kilobytes of memory. “Eventually, it was clear that we’d never be able to fit the bitmaps for Mr. Macintosh into the ROM,” writes Hertzfeld. Ultimately, the entire Macintosh operating system needed to be refined down to its absolutely must-have features, and a whimsical little man who showed up so irregularly that he would make users doubt their sanity didn’t make the cut.

This is so cute I can’t handle it.

Apple executives on the Mac at 30: ‘The Mac keeps going forever.’

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

“There is a super-important role [for the Mac] that will always be,” Schiller said. “We don’t see an end to that role. There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable.”

I have really fond memories of the early Mac days. Everythhing was all new and exciting!

‘Life Lessons from an Ad Man’

TED is somewhat passé these days, but this gem from 2009 tickled me.

In particular, I like the idea that context (metadata?) changes the perceived value of a good or service, and perceived value is what people base their decisions on.

Technology and Jobs

The Economist:

The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems. One of the reasons for the improvement in workers’ fortunes in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution was because schools were built to educate them—a dramatic change at the time. Now those schools themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking. Technology itself will help, whether through MOOCs (massive open online courses) or even video games that simulate the skills needed for work.

The definition of “a state education” may also change. Far more money should be spent on pre-schooling, since the cognitive abilities and social skills that children learn in their first few years define much of their future potential. And adults will need continuous education. State education may well involve a year of study to be taken later in life, perhaps in stages.

Interesting prediction. It’s true that schools were built to educate people during the industrial revolution.

But it’s not exactly true that compulsory education helped prepare workers with the actual skills they used in the factory. Those skills came from on-the-job training — the high school diploma was mostly just a signal.

The Invisible Hand and Consumer Manipulation

Tim Harford:

Now consider addiction by design. What is not understood about modern slot machines – certainly not by the UK’s Labour party, which recently tried to spark a moral panic on the subject – is that they do not try to drain your money away quickly. They do so slowly, by maximising “time on device”. The machines are cheap to run: what is the hurry? Machine gamers do not even play to win: they play to play. The aim of the machine is to deliver constant reinforcement – for instance, the “false win”, where a player is treated to fanfares and flashing lights after betting $3 and winning 60 cents.

Here, the natural analogy is with Facebook, Twitter and Google. These companies, ultimately, are selling one thing: our attention. Nothing about Facebook makes sense until you view it as a well-honed system for persuading you to check Facebook one more time.

Super creepy.

‘Phrases that Pay on Kickstarter’

While offering donors a gift may improve a campaign’s success, the study found the language project creators used to express the reward made the difference. For example, the phrases “also receive two,” “has pledged” and “project will be” strongly foretell that a project will reach funding status, while phrases such as “dressed up,” “not been able” and “trusting” are attached to unfunded projects.

An interesting look at an interesting question. (Here’s the actual paper.)

‘How vanilla became shorthand for bland’

Amanda Fortini, writing for

But the vanilla that wearies us is rarely vanilla at all. Anywhere from 90 percent to 97 percent of vanilla-flavored products are made with vanillin, a substance found in small quantities in natural vanilla but made synthetically for processed commercial foods. Real vanilla contains hundreds of different components that contribute to its nuanced taste and aroma. It is as different from vanillin as sugar is from Equal; vanilla possesses subtlety and depth, while vanillin is loud, brassy, superficial. And yet most Americans have become accustomed to the latter. Many actually prefer it. Food manufacturers thus have little incentive to choose real vanilla: Using pure vanilla extract costs American ice cream manufacturers approximately 73 cents a gallon of ice cream, as opposed to 12 cents a gallon for extract made from vanillin, Tim Ecott writes in Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid. It is primarily premium food products that contain pure vanilla—as well as, surprisingly, Coca-Cola, which industry insiders say contains the real thing. (Perhaps this is the meaning behind Coke’s slogan.)


CNC Machines Built Using Floppy Drives

Awesome collection of videos!

Men and Friendship

Lisa Wade, writing for Salon:

During these years [15-18], young men are learning what it means to be a “real man.” The #1 rule: avoid everything feminine. Notice that a surprising number of insults that we fling at men are actually synonyms for or references to femininity. Calling male athletes “girls,” “women” and “ladies” is a central part of motivation in sports. Consider also slurs like “bitch” and “pussy,” which obviously reference women, but also “fag” (which on the face of it is about sexual orientation, but can also be a derogatory term for men who act feminine) and “cocksucker” (literally a term for people who sexually service men). This, by the way, is where the ubiquitous slur “you suck” comes from; it’s an insult that means you give men blow jobs.

So men are pressed — from the time they’re very young — to disassociate from everything feminine. This imperative is incredibly limiting for them. Paradoxically, it makes men feel good because of a social agreement that masculine things are better than feminine things, but it’s not the same thing as freedom. It’s restrictive and dehumanizing. It’s oppression all dressed up as awesomeness. And it is part of why men have a hard time being friends.

I remember this shift in school. It hit me pretty hard. Unfortunately, the tech world has many men who never get past this dissociative impulse.

I’m lucky to have a few good male friends now, but there were a few dark years in there — and I was as responsible for it as anyone.

(via ny times)

Evgeny Morozov on the Maker Movement

Simply put, if you need to raise money on Kickstarter, it helps to have fifty thousand Twitter followers, not fifty. It helps enormously if Google puts your product on the first page of search results, and making sure it stays there might require an investment in search-engine optimization. Some would view this new kind of immaterial labor as “virtual craftsmanship”; others as vulgar hustling. The good news is that now you don’t have to worry about getting fired; the bad news is that you have to worry about getting downgraded by Google.

Hatch assumes that online platforms are ruled by equality of opportunity. But they aren’t. Inequality here is not just a matter of who owns and runs the means of physical production but also of who owns and runs the means of intellectual production—the so-called “attention economy” (or what the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in the early sixties, called the “consciousness industry”). All of this suggests that there’s more politicking—and politics—to be done here than enthusiasts like Anderson or Hatch are willing to acknowledge.

A great reminder that technology doesn’t live on its own.

‘Every Job In America, In 1 Graph’

Great graphic. I’d love to see a comparison with per-sector GDP share.

‘Flooding Theaters Isn’t Good for Filmmakers or Filmgoers’

An interesting look at indie film production and distribution.

‘4 Things I Learned from the Worst Online Dating Profile Ever’

Laughably depressing.

Unpopular Education Lesosns

Joanne Lipman, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

(5) Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children’s’ creativity. But Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg’s research suggests just the opposite. Prof. Weisberg has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso—and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.

(6) Grit trumps talent.

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.—all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.

Prof. Duckworth, who started her career as a public school math teacher and just won a 2013 MacArthur “genius grant,” developed a “Grit Scale” that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like “I finish whatever I begin” and “I become interested in new pursuits every few months.” When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school’s notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as “Beast Barracks.” West Point’s own measure—an index that includes SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude—wasn’t able to predict retention.

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism—the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

I’ve seen these lessons over and over. I wonder if they’re true or just Gladwellian simplifications of something else.

Bill Watterson on Creating Your Own Path

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Amen to that. (Website formatting is unfortunate, but the content is spot-on.)

‘Can Apple’s Angela Ahrendts Spark A Retail Revolution?’

Jeff Chu, writing for Fast Company:

Under Ahrendts, the two will be united for the first time. At Burberry, she pushed for a seamless consumer experience between online and brick-and-mortar. Everything about the messaging was unified, from the music played on the website and in stores to the photography and displays, all of which Bailey’s team curated and produced in-house. “The most vital thing is whatever they see on that landing page, they see in the windows,” she says. “If you walked into Men’s, in London, you should see those same looks on the mannequin at exactly the same time.”

In November, Apple introduced an Apple Store app for the iPad, a move that was widely seen as welcome but extraordinarily tardy. (There was already an Apple Store app for the iPhone, which was recently augmented with location-based technology.) The app quickly won praise for its design and user-friendliness, but it also highlighted incongruities with the website, which suggests that much work remains to be done to make all the different retail properties feel like parts of a whole rather than manifestations of the company’s fiefdoms.

This points to an even bigger challenge: How easily will Ahrendts merge the digital and retail staffs, who have never worked well together? The online team, long the less-favored child, will especially need a morale boost. “Online has such an inferiority complex. It has always had something to prove to retail,” says one former online team member. “But retail didn’t give a shit. Retail totally thinks they’re superior. There’s a real opportunity for Angela to bring a breath of fresh air and warmth to the culture.”

Fascinating piece. I’m very curious to see how the online/offline integration pans out.

‘A Makeover for Maps’

Quentin Hardy, writing for the New York Times:

“You’ve got information moving at a high velocity and distributed teams with different skill sets looking at it at the same time,” he said. “Good visualizations aren’t just about representing data well, but getting people to interact with it.”

Within ClearStory’s software is an inference engine that harmonizes the different ways data are recorded and figures out a common representation for all those categories. Mr. van der Molen’s software then picks a useful framework, like an unmarked map of the United States, where the data can be imposed. When new data is added, colors may become more intense, for example, or a particular state will pull away from the country as the information is presented.

I wanted to like this piece more than I actually did, sadly.

Most dangerous temps in decades push across US

Steve Karnowski and Rick Callahan, writing for the Associated Press, via the SF Chronicle:

More than 3,700 flights were canceled by late Monday afternoon, following a weekend of travel disruption across the U.S. Airline officials said de-icing fluid was freezing, fuel was pumping sluggishly, and ramp workers were having difficulty loading and unloading luggage.

That’s how you know it’s cold: the de-icing fluid freezes.

Personally I’m enjoying the high 60s here in sunny Oakland.

‘New York, the Silicon City’

Michael Mandel, writing for the New York Times:

The rapid growth of minorities in New York tech jobs reflects, in part, the soaring number of tech degrees earned by minorities in recent years. For example, bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences granted to Hispanic students have risen by more than 40 percent nationally over the past three years, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That supply is then sucked up by the tightness of the city’s technology and information labor markets, which has forced local employers to reach out beyond the usual sources.

This is great.

Instead, the true weakness in the city’s economy right now lies in the leisure and hospitality industry, which employs almost 400,000 workers in the city. The number of jobs has been rising, but real pay has fallen, perhaps because of continuing weakness in the financial and legal sector, which generates so much demand for hotels and restaurants. These real wage declines undercut gains in the rest of the local economy.

What lessons does this have for the new mayor? New York’s gains came, in part, from the aggressive efforts of the Bloomberg administration to stimulate the technology and information sector. These included funding tech incubators; the “Made in NY” marketing campaign to support small tech companies; the rapid extension of broadband access across the city; the city’s broad-reaching Open Data initiative, which makes city data available to the public and software developers; and the selection of Cornell and Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, to open a huge new campus on Roosevelt Island.

This reminds me that the SF Bay Area really needs some solid regional leadership.

Broadband is still a joke, and it seems like most city governments are content to live with tech companies, and don’t have a huge interest in supporting them.

Jonathan Franzen on ‘What's Wrong with the Modern World’

But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers. Plus it’s possible that the story isn’t over. Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers. Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

Only one part repugnant panoptical surveillance? Flattering.

I resonated with this essay, but I’m not 100% sure why.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that the model I had at 17 about the world and its inhabitants is wrong. People have always had anxieties and obsessions with the trivial. People have always had the propensity for jealousy, pettiness, judgmentalism, and shortsightedness, myself among them.

Maybe it’s not that the world is getting worse, but that the world I thought existed at 17 — the world where all, or at least most, adults acted like adults: hard-working, intelligent, driven, taking pride in their labors, and caring about the betterment of humanity — was a mirage constructed for me by my parents, teachers and mentors, in the hope that I might actually become one of those adults.

But the reality that many people are hard-working, intelligent, driven, and caring is lost to me now. My only interactions with such people today are through my work and my friends. My charmed childhood put me in contact with a greater-than-average share of those people, but my adult life does so to a much lesser degree. Instead my view of the world is now filtered not by people with my interests at heart, but by people with their own interests at heart: people who benefit from showing me a world I’m likely to find as addicting as watching a train wreck — I can’t turn away, but ultimately it’s meaningless.

Instead of recognizing that beautiful outcomes result from hard work assiduously applied over years, instead of recognizing that the sum of incremental improvements can yield a complex result that one would otherwise assume requires superlative ability — instead, the story strips the toil, the complexity is presented as simplicity, and we are left to assume the trivial is the real.

My model of the world needs an update.

‘This Is Your Brain on Gluten’

James Hamblin, writing for the Atlantic:

Even as someone who was seriously skeptical of Perlmutter’s story, after reading his 336 pages—and watching his whole YouTube channel and most every TV appearance—I have found myself hesitating around grain. His message is so ardently and unwaveringly delivered. That is how one-sided pop-science works. Katz wrote a tongue-in-cheek case that the 1974 advent of the Post-it note was the cause of the obesity pandemic, to show how easily correlations can be spun. If I read 336 pages on the evils of Post-its, I might set our office supply room on fire.

An interesting look at the latest fad diet.

‘What We Eat Affects Everything’

James Hamblin, quoting author Robynne Chutkan in the Atlantic:

Hippocrates said it first: All disease begins in the gut. The 10-day plan makes the information in the book more accessible to people. It’s very similar to the advice that I give patients in my practice. It’s not about eating a perfect diet every day. But ten days is actually enough time to make some changes and see some results. Maybe get rid of a lot of the sugary stuff, maybe get off the gluten, eat more plants, do some exercises using a light dumbbell on your tummy to get rid of gas. So it gives people some very simple but very effective things that they can do so that they can experience what it feels like to get rid of the bloat, to be regular, to not have digestive upset. And beyond not just having digestive upset, to experience a little of this gut bliss.

Something about the word bliss rubs me the wrong way. Not sure what it is.

‘The Sugar Addiction Taboo’

Robert H. Lustig, writing for the Atlantic, on sugar:

But oh, do we want it. As an example, rats are not big fans of lard. But if you lace the lard with some sugar (called “cookie dough”), that’s another story — indeed, in a controversial abstract at this year’s Society for Neuroscience meeting, rats were found to prefer Oreos to cocaine. And we humans are not far behind. A recent study by Dr. Eric Stice of Oregon Health Sciences University looked at our obsession, by parsing out the fat from the sugar. Subjects laying in an MRI scanner consumed milkshakes where the fat and the sugar concentrations were dialed up or down. Bottom line, fat stimulated the somatosensory cortex (in other words, “mouthfeel”), but only sugar stimulated the reward center. And adding fat to the sugar didn’t increase the reward any further. This study shows we want sugar way more than we want fat.

Prefer Oreos to cocaine? Damn.

‘Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population?’

Glenn A. Gaesser and Siddhartha S. Angadi, in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Gluten itself may actually be beneficial to the diets of individuals with dyslipidemia without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. In 24 adults with hyperlipdemia, increased consumption of wheat gluten for 2 weeks on a weight-maintenance diet reduced serum triglycerides by 13%. In this randomized crossover study, subjects consumed diets that differed with respect to gluten, wheat fiber, and bran content. The higher gluten content of the diet was achieved by having subjects consume bread that contained 53.1% protein. This increased gluten intake by 60 g/day, which accounted for 10% of total energy. High levels of wheat fiber and bran did not reduce triglyceride levels when gluten levels were the same in each diet. Only under the high-gluten condition, regardless of wheat fiber content, were triglyceride levels reduced. Therefore, it appeared that the reduction in serum triglyceride levels was attributable to the gluten itself rather than the wheat fiber.


Suspending objects in thin air with sound waves

Caleb Garling, writing for the SF Chronicle:

On New Year’s Eve researchers at the University of Tokyo and Nagoya Institute of Technology released videos that highlighted exactly what the group had accomplished in a paper submitted earlier in the month.

They set up two sets of parallel speakers, pointing at each other — a sound geyser from north, south, east and west. The ultrasonic waves are opposite in phase as they pass each other — this creates a little pocket inside the waves. The force generated by the speakers cancel, and after accounting for gravity, keeps the object suspended.

Wow, watch the embedded video. Amazing!

The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids

Po Bronson, writing for New York Magazine:

In a subsequent round, none of the fifth-graders had a choice. The test was difficult, designed for kids two years ahead of their grade level. Predictably, everyone failed. But again, the two groups of children, divided at random at the study’s start, responded differently. Those praised for their effort on the first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test. “They got very involved, willing to try every solution to the puzzles,” Dweck recalled. “Many of them remarked, unprovoked, ‘This is my favorite test.’ ” Not so for those praised for their smarts. They assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable.”

Having artificially induced a round of failure, Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.

An old piece, but a good reminder of the importance of seeing intelligence as malleable, not fixed!

Patrick Winston on Speaking

(Shamelessly copied verbatim from Cal Newport — thanks, Cal, for taking such great notes on one of Patrick’s most memorable talks!)

How to Speak

Every January, during MIT’s Independent Activities Period, Computer Science Professor Patrick Henry Winston gives a famed lecture titled: How to Speak. During this perennially popular event, Professor Winston walks his audience through a series of tips and strategies, developed and honed over decades, for mastering the art of speaking. I attended his lecture for the first time this year, and was not disappointed.

The crowd was literally at capacity. Every seat filled. Every step filled. The ground surrounding the podium filled. And a crowd spilling out into the hallway straining to hear. Having arrived early, I was able to snag a desk an thus take copious notes. In this post, I draw from these notes to present to you, in detail, the secrets behind the Patrick Winston Method.

The Formula

I = f(K,P,T)

Your Impact is a function of your Knowledge about speaking, Practice, and Talent — in decreasing order of importance. Winston’s advice focuses on your knowledge about speaking. This is the easiest way to gain the biggest increases in your impact.

How to Start

Some advice for starting your talk.

  1. Don’t start with a joke. The audience is not accustomed to you or your speaking style yet. Humor will be difficult at this point.
  2. Do start with a menu. Tell them exactly what you’ll be speaking about and in what order.
  3. Do provide an empowerment promise. Explain why your audience will come away from the talk better than when they entered.

The Big Four

A collection of four heuristics that make a talk work.

  1. Cycling. Deliver ideas first in brief, then in detail, then in summary. To use the lingo of artificial intelligence: let your audience load the schema, then fill in the details, then let them know what’s worth indexing for future reference.
  2. Verbal Punctuation. Provide a mechanism to help people who “fogged out” to easily rejoin the talk. For example: “We have just finished talking about the first heuristic, cycling, I am now going to talk about the second heuristic for helping to make your talks more interesting…”
  3. Near Miss. When explaining an idea, also describe other ideas that are close but not quite the same. This will help people understand what the important points are that define your idea.
  4. Ask Rhetorical Questions. Don’t make them too easy. Don’t make them too hard. Wait 6 seconds for an answer.

The Tools

Four tools that can make or break your presentation.

  1. Time and Place. If it’s in your control: mid-morning is the best time. Choose a location that will look full with your expected audience size. Make sure it is well-lit. Don’t let them turn down the lights. (“It’s easier to see slides in a light room then to seem them through closed eyelids.”)
  2. The Board. A blackboard lets you draw natural graphics that highlight your points. It also paces you. The speed of writing matches the speed with which people process information. Use a logo that captures the main point and that you can return to. (“I once saw a Sloan professor lecture for a whole hour about a triangle; it was amazing!”) It also provides a target. The best thing to do with your hands? Point at things on the board.
  3. Slides. Don’t use anything less than 24-point type. If you can’t fit the information at this font size then you have too much. Follow these four rules:

    1. Don’t read the slides! “A special circle in hell for those who…”
    2. Don’t stand far away from the screen. This requires divided attention from your audience.
    3. Have one meaningful picture per slide. If it’s found in Microsoft’s clip art gallery, it’s not meaningful.
    4. No pointers. Laser or otherwise. These are distractions. You’ll play with them. They’re annoying. Stand by the screen and point with your hand or refer to visual anchors on the slide. (“There is a special circle of hell for those who use laser pointers.”)
  4. Props. When possible, use a prop to illustrate an idea.

Special Cases

Three specific types of talks. (Notice, the first two are specific to academia, but the advice is none-the-less generalizable to other arenas).

  1. Oral Exams. Some strategies:

    1. Show your hand early on. Within five minutes have explained what you did and why it’s important.
      1. Situate your results in time, space, and field. That is, explain the trajectory over time of your area of concentration, where else people are working on the same problem, and the consequence of your result for the field.
      2. Practice. Ask your friends to listen to your talk. Tell them to try to make you cry.
  2. Job Talk. Here is what they want to see in a candidate:

    1. Has a vision.
    2. Has done something about that vision.
    3. Don’t finish with a conclusion slide. Instead have a contributions slides. Something that spells out clearly what you did.
  3. Getting Famous. If you want to become a world class speaker, try to deploy Winston’s Star. A five-point checklist of things to make your talk extra memorable:

    1. Symbol. Some icon that makes your ideas easy to hold on to.
    2. Slogan. A simple linguistic handle for your ideas.
    3. Surprise. Make people say: “did you see that talk…”
    4. Salient. Have an idea that really sticks out.
    5. Story. Tell stories that engage the audience.

How to Stop

Some things to keep in mind about concluding a talk:

  1. Deliver on your promise made at the beginning. Remind them what it was and summarize how you satisfied it.
  2. Tell a joke. They know you now. And if they leave happy they will assume the entire talk made them happy.
  3. Call for questions.
  4. Don’t thank the audience. It makes it seem like they did you a favor by listening to your boring babble.
  5. End with a salute. Compliment without thanking. (i.e., “You’ve been a great audience, I hope you learned a lot about how to give a great talk.”)


Beautiful photo. I wonder what it is!

Overturning the Myth of Valley Girl Speak

Jan Hoffman, writing for the New York Times:

In a study published last year in Gender and Society, he found that, “Men use uptalk more when surrounded by women contestants, and when correcting a woman contestant after she makes an incorrect response.” He concluded, “The more successful a man is, the less likely he is to use uptalk; the more successful a woman is, the more likely she is to use uptalk.”

Dr. Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania said that some studies suggest that uptalk has been used by the more powerful person in hierarchical exchanges, such as those between employer and employee, teacher and student, or doctor and patient. An office assistant, for example, would not be likely to say to the boss: “Are you following me on this? Do you understand what I’m saying?” In such instances, uptalk, rather than suggesting insecurity, may in fact signal confidence, paternalism, coercion or faux conviviality.

Fascinating. I love linguistics, especially these kinds of studies!

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

E. B. White:

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Great collection.

Saving the Lost Art of Conversation

Megan Garber, writing for the Atlantic, in conversation with Sherry Turkle:

The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says.

She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.

She advocates limiting our device usage in “sacred spaces” like the dinner table, the places where phones and their enticements may impede intimacy and interaction. She wants us to look into each other’s eyes as we talk. She wants us to read each other’s movements. She wants us to have conversations that are supremely human.


Architect’s Dream House: Less Than 200 Square Feet

Macy Miller, architect:

The most expensive component in the house is my toilet, actually. I didn’t want to put in a sewer line, so I have a composting toilet. And so to put that through all the tests it needs to go through to be regulated and OK’d by jurisdictions, it brings up the price tag on it quite a bit. So that was my most expensive part.

So cute!

Also check out the tiny house blog.

Vista Workers Told Their U.S. Health Plan Fails Test

Robert Pear, writing for the New York Times:

Thousands of private employers and state and local government agencies have revamped their employee health plans to meet the law’s requirements. But AmeriCorps says that its members are technically not employees, and that it does not have to provide them with the “minimum essential coverage” they need to comply with the individual mandate. “There will be no changes to the AmeriCorps Health Care Benefits Plan,” Ms. Strasser wrote.


If there’s one truly ridiculous part of the ACA, it’s the part that mandates employers provide insurance, but then allows that insurance to be so bad it couldn’t be sold in the individual market.

In Familiar Refrain, Prices Rose Again

Elizabeth Olson, writing for the New York Times:

In contrast, the price for most of the fowl held steady over last year, unlike 2012, when the cost of feathered creatures rose markedly after a widespread drought drove up feed costs. Over the long term, however, the hens soared 983.4 percent — to $165 for three of the French Houdon breed — up from $15.83 in 1984.

The fowl from the 12 Days of Christmas, of course.

Interesting piece!

Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids

Anahad O’Connor, writing for the New York Times:

Christopher, a high school student from Katy, Tex., suffered severe liver damage after using a concentrated green tea extract he bought at a nutrition store as a “fat burning” supplement. The damage was so extensive that he was put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

“It was terrifying,” he said in an interview. “They kept telling me they had the best surgeons, and they were trying to comfort me. But they were saying that I needed a new liver and that my body could reject it.”

Truly terrifying.

So many of my friends and relative consume significant quantities of these supplements of unknown effect. Please stop!

New York Times Dialect Quiz Map

I love this kind of stuff.

Fascinting to learn that my personal dialect has begun to more strongly resemble the NorCal/Bay Area dialect than my native New York!

Update: On a second try, though, “sneaker” apparently gave me away as a New Yorker.

Slow-Roasted Boneless Leg of Lamb With Garlic and Rosemary

Another mouthwatering piece from J. Kenji López-Alt:

After the lamb has rested for half an hour or so (which gives ample time for temperature differentials inside to even out), I pop it back into a 500°F oven for about 15 minutes to fully crisp. The lamb fat crackles and those bits of garlic and shallot brown, lending a rich sweetness to the salty crust. It’s all I can do to stop myself from picking it off before I get a chance to serve it.

Damn I’m hungry!

The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

J. Kenji López-Alt, writing for Serious Eats:

By keeping the total mass of egg added to a dough the same but altering the proportion of white to yolk, you can achieve a variety of textures. Two whites and a yolk, for instance, produces the more open structure of the top cookie in the photo above, while three yolks and no whites produces the denser, fudgier texture of the cookie on the bottom.

Turns out that the combination I like best is actually a 1 to 1 ratio of egg whites to egg yolks, which conveniently is exactly how eggs naturally come. Ain’t that something?

I love this guy. I also love that there is at least this much to know about the baking of chocolate-chip cookies.

(via boing boing)

Immigration Remakes and Sustains New York, Report Finds

Kirk Semple, writing for the New York Times:

Within the next several years, the man, Mr. Wang, was joined in New York by numerous relatives: cousins, uncles and aunts. Some came on family-related visas, others sneaked in, and still others were given asylum. There were marriages and children, the roots of the family tree pushing deeper into American soil. His extended family in the United States now numbers in the scores, many of them living in the Chinese enclaves of New York City.

An interesting look at the population patterns of one of my favorite cities.

Before the Web, Hearts Grew Silent

David Vecsey, writing for the New York Times:

Consider the ending of “Doctor Zhivago,” when a chance sighting of Lara on a city street leads Yuri’s heart to rupture as she disappears before he can reach her. Had the Internet been around during the Bolshevik Revolution, Yuri and Lara never would have lost each other. They would have been Facebook “comrades,” boring each other to death with snapshots of food (“Borscht!”) and ironic observations of proletariat struggle.

Cute piece!

DNA seen through the eyes of a coder

Bert Hubert:

It is far harder to ‘patch the running executable’, as any programmer can attest. It is just like that with the genome. To change a running copy (‘a human’), you need to edit each and every relevant copy of the gene you want to patch.

For many years, medical science has tried to patch people with SCID, or ‘Severe Combined Immunodefeciency’, which is a very nasty disease which in effect disables the immune system - leading to very ill patients. It has been clear for quite a while now which letters in the DNA need to be fixed in order to cure these people.

Many attempts where made to patch running people, using viruses that insert new DNA into living organisms, but this proved to be very hard. The genome is guarded far too well for such a simple approach to work - cells guard their code better than Microsoft!

Fascinating piece.

(via news.yc)

Japan’s Top Voice: High, Polite and on the Phone

Hiroko Tabuchi, writing for the New York Times:

Each contestant runs through a three-minute conversation. Judges scrutinize the conversations for impeccable Japanese phone etiquette: good tone, volume, speed, pronunciation, articulation and use of words. A strong contestant takes appropriate pauses between phrases, and stays friendly, but not overly friendly. Throughout, proper exclamations to signal attention and empathy must be used.

I love Japan.

Samsung: Uneasy in the Lead

Eric Pfanner & Brian X. Chen, writing for the New York Times:

Of course, no one blames the rigidity of Finnish or Canadian values for the downfall of Nokia or BlackBerry. Those companies were simply blindsided by Apple. Samsung was, too, but it managed to accomplish something the others did not — it bounced back, stronger than ever.

I definitely blame Finnish values for Nokia’s downfall. Who eats that much herring?

I kid, of course.

Epitaph for a Peach, and for the Sweetness of Summer

David Mas Masumoto, writing in the LA Times:

The experience of eating a Sun Crest peach automatically triggered a smile and a rush of summer memories and a childlike joy in the simple, savory pleasures of life.

Sun Crest was one of the last remaining truly juicy peaches. When you washed that treasure under a stream of cooling water, your fingertips instinctively searched for the “gushy” side of the fruit. Your mouth watered in anticipation. You leaned over the sink to make sure you wouldn’t drip on yourself. Then you sank your teeth into the flesh, a primal act, a sensory celebration that summer had arrived.

My dad planted our orchard 20 years ago, and those trees paid for my college tuition. But stricter and stricter quality standards coupled with a declining demand cut deeply into production levels. Our original 15 acres and 1,500 trees was down to a small patch of 350 this summer.

Every year, produce brokers advised me to get rid of the Sun Crests. “Better peaches have come along,” they assured me, “peaches that are redder, fuller in color, with smoother skin—and last for weeks in storage.”

“Consumers love the new varieties,” the brokers said. “They won’t buy Sun Crest.”

Sad. I wonder if alternate distribution models would’ve worked for David.

Also, LA Times, text ads in the middle of content? How low you’ve sunk.

Check out David’s book too, Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm.

In Food Cravings, Sugar Trumps Fat

Anahad O’connor, writing for the New York Times:

To their surprise, the researchers found that sugar was so powerful a stimulus that it overshadowed fat, even when the two were combined in large amounts. High sugar shakes that were low in fat ramped up the reward circuitry just as strongly as the more decadent shakes that paired sugar and fat in large quantities, suggesting that fat was a runner-up to sugar, said Eric Stice, the lead author of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“We do a lot of work on the prevention of obesity, and what is really clear not only from this study but from the broader literature over all is that the more sugar you eat, the more you want to consume it,” said Dr. Stice, a senior research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute. “As far as the ability to engage brain reward regions and drive compulsive intake, sugar seems to be doing a much better job than fat.”

I could’ve told you this. Easily matches my own experience. Anecdote + Anecdote = Anecdata?

How I introduced a 27-year-old computer to the Web

Jeff Keacher:

That left the serial port. I happened to have an old terminal emulator called Microphone already installed on the Mac. Microphone supported ZMODEM for file transfers, which you’re probably nodding your head about if you remember BBSes. Thus, to transfer files to the Mac, I SFTPed the questionably legal files I needed from my PC onto the Raspberry Pi, plugged the Pi into the serial port, fired up Microphone on the Mac as a terminal, and launched Minicom on the Pi from the Mac. I nervously struck the keys to initiate a ZMODEM transfer from Minicom, selected the files, and hit enter. Minicom obliged, there was a BEEP! and a “Save incoming file?” dialog popped up on the Mac. Some un-binhexing later, I found myself running new software on my old Plus. Huzzah!

So much nostalgia in this piece!

ZMODEM! I’m fairly sure that particular recess of my brain fully expected to remain untouched until my passing. Hell, I get a little shot of adrenalin just thinking about it.

(via daring fireball)

It’s Hard to Summon Sympathy for Big Banks

Floyd Norris, writing for the New York Times:

Two of the six largest United States banks in 2007 — Wachovia and Washington Mutual — were taken over by others during the crisis. Now the remaining four — Bank of America, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — are so dominant that there is no one left to buy any of them. If the fifth-largest bank by deposits, U.S. Bancorp, were to acquire the three banks just below it on the list — Bank of New York Mellon, PNC and Capital One — it would still be No. 5.

Holy cow.

New China Cities: Shoddy Homes, Broken Hope

Ian Johnson, writing for the New York Times:

Some residents wonder why they went through these travails when so little development is visible. Outside the town, most of the former township lies empty. Some hotels and office blocks have been built next to the airport logistics center. But mostly, one is confronted by mile after mile of empty lots — once farmland, now lying fallow, sometimes blocked from view by endless sheet-metal fences painted with propaganda about prosperity and development.

“Look at the empty fields,” said Wei Naiju, formerly of Guanzhuang Village. “That’s good earth; you could really plant something on it.”

Driving through the demolished villages with former residents is especially poignant. Some of the streets are still serviceable but mostly one is surrounded by a gutted, bombed-out landscape of foundations overgrown with scrub and small trees.

Given all the fallow land, claims that agricultural production would not suffer do not seem possible. Official propaganda material shows greenhouses that produce vegetables. Many greenhouses have indeed been built, but dozens were empty during a visit in June. Doors swung wildly in the wind and the clear plastic used to let the sun in was torn and flapping. Two greenhouses seemed to be functioning; local residents said they were used to make gifts of produce to visiting leaders as Potemkin-like proof of the still-vibrant agricultural sector.


The Urban Archipelago by The Editors of The Stranger

The Stranger:

To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. We’re going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy. We will no longer concern ourselves with a health care crisis that disproportionately impacts rural areas. Instead we will work toward winning health care one blue state at a time.

When it comes to the environment, our new policy is this: Let the heartland live with the consequences of handing the national government to the rape-and-pillage party. The only time urbanists should concern themselves with the environment is when we are impacted—directly, not spiritually (the depressing awareness that there is no unspoiled wilderness out there doesn’t count). Air pollution, for instance: We should be aggressive. If coal is to be burned, it has to be burned as cleanly as possible so as not to foul the air we all have to breathe. But if West Virginia wants to elect politicians who allow mining companies to lop off the tops off mountains and dump the waste into valleys and streams, thus causing floods that destroy the homes of the yokels who vote for those politicians, it no longer matters to us. Fuck the mountains in West Virginia—send us the power generated by cleanly burned coal, you rubes, and be sure to wear lifejackets to bed.

How does being the bigger douche make your life better?

Sortimo, part organizer to the stars

Looks like a pain in the butt to get domestically though.

Synthetic biology and the rise of the ‘spider-goats’

Adam Rutherford, writing for the Guardian:

We milk Freckles together and process it in the lab to leave only the silk proteins. With a glass rod, we delicately lift out a single fibre of what is very obviously spider silk and spool it on to a reel. It has amazing, and desirable, properties, which is why Randy’s seemingly bizarre research is so robustly funded. “In the medical field, we already know that we can produce spider silk that’s good enough to be used in ligament repair,” he tells me. “We already know we can make it strong enough as an elastic. We’ve done some studies that show that you can put it in the body and you don’t get inflammation and get ill. We hope within a couple of years that we’re going to be testing to see exactly the best designs and the best materials we can make from it.”


Though apparently this research is being wound down, as extracting the proteins from the milk was difficult to commercialize.

Lithium-air batteries breathe easy with TiC electrode

Chris Lee, writing for Ars Technica:

The performance of the current generation of lithium ion batteries is about to hit a wall, and if we want batteries with higher energy densities, an entirely new system will have to be developed. Among the many possible candidates, lithium-air batteries look very promising. When lithium oxidizes, it releases a lot of energy—so much so that, like sodium, it catches on fire. Lithium is also very light and reasonably abundant, making it the perfect element.

Keep an eye on this technology. Lithium-air batteries could potentially have ten times the energy density per kilogram compared to Lithium-ion batteries, the current star battery technology.

The Science and Art of Science Writing

Michelle Nijhuis, writing for the New York Times:

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it’s one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It’s about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it’s about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying — chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes.

Enough to make one want to become a science writer.

“I Spent a Month Living in a Romanian Sexcam Studio”

Jack Davies, writing for Vice:

Marius’s friend is almost 30 years old and lives in the southern United States. He hasn’t come out to his parents as gay yet, but Marius is coaching and supporting him through the process. Their relationship is non-transactional as well as non-sexual—Marius’s friend tries to wire him a couple of hundred dollars to help him out when he can, but Marius insists the friendship would continue even if the money stopped.

The cousins aren’t the only foreigners running studios in Bucharest. The internet is full of people from America and Western Europe looking for advice on setting up a studio in Romania, and plenty of studios were founded with foreign investment. There’s nothing particularly glamorous about the business, but the return on investment can be phenomenal. A talented model can generate $13,000 of revenue in a month, which is big money in one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Officially, the Romanian government is not a fan of adult entertainment. The law requires that anyone starting a porn site in the country must password protect it, and multiple laws have been proposed over the course of the last decade to allow for the blocking of adult websites. Unofficially, someone’s put a lot of work into the country’s telecommunication infrastructure, with the result that Romania now has a faster download speed than any G20 nation. Like it or not, webcamming is a great way of getting foreign capital into Romania, and that’s not going to change until someone finds a better alternative.

Interesting, if sad.

Timeless Advice to Young Men and Women in Science from Edward O. Wilson

Great selection of excerpts.

Freaky optical illusion

Mind unbelieveably blown. What is this I don’t even…

(via boing boing)

“How Did Pumpkin Become Beloved? Labor, Nostalgia, Refreshment And White Women”

Johannah King-Slutzky, writing for the Awl:

It’s incredible how formulaic cultural associations are when it comes to pumpkin. One of the most glaring facts of my social media survey of the pumpkin spice latte was how many PSL Instagrammers were female and white. I suspect this has less to do with actual consumer demographics and more to do with branding—the Pumpkin Spice Latte has an image that is in some way consistent with whiteness and femininity. (Not to muddy the waters, but for one thing, unlike pumpkin, the PSL is a dessert, which has its own gendered expectations.) My guess is that the PSL #whitegirltweet is about compliance and agency: white girls are expected to be unabraisive and docile—young women who still obey their fathers. Abstracting #whitegirl to those levels is useful because similar associations pop up in the late 1800s with the Victorians’ and Romantics’ mutual fixation on childhood.

A little on the judgemental side, but full of gems and fascinating little tidbits.

“Listening Skills, Reapplied”

What a cool series concept! I love learning how people find themselves and their work.

There’s Power in All Those User Reviews

Matt Richtel, writing for the New York Times:

Flash forward to the new experiment. It was similar to the first, except that consumers could have a glimpse at Amazon. That made a huge difference. When given three camera options, consumers didn’t gravitate en masse to the midprice version. Rather, the least expensive one kept its share and the middle one lost more to the most expensive one.


Stonehenge ‘was a prehistoric centre for rock music’

Sarah Griffiths and Amanda Williams, writing for UK tabloid The Daily Mail:

Stonehenge may have been built by Stone Age man as a prehistoric centre for rock music, a new study has claimed.

According to experts from London’s Royal College of Art, some of the stones sound like bells, drums, and gongs when they are ‘played’ - or hit with hammers.

I’m fairly sure this whole article, or the underlying study, is entirely fabricated just for the pun in the first sentence.

The Case for Filth

Stephen Marche, writing for the New York Times:

You may have had this argument yourself: Should housework be measured by the time spent on the task, or by effectiveness? What is necessary work and what is puttering? Should work that is physically taxing, like yard work, count more than work that isn’t, like the dishes? Questionnaires and housework diaries generally deal only in repetitive tasks like sweeping, doing the dishes and mowing the lawn. What about planning summer vacations? What about figuring out which washer to buy? And what about that far more important but far vaguer business of caring? We all know families that are held together because a woman knows who likes what in their sandwiches, who can or cannot read on a road trip, who needs cuddles after a hard day at school.

Conspicuously absent from this list: keeping the computers and internet running.

All that said, though, this guy doesn’t seem to get the difference between soft creative work and passive consumption of machismo:

Simone de Beauvoir was wrong. Millions of young women are deeply attracted to the gloomy vice of domestic labor. Martha Stewart has made an empire of immanence. The bizarre phenomenon of modern young women proudly making their own candles, knitting and raising chickens, coincides neatly with the rise of working women who actually do much less housework. One of Hillary Clinton’s major sources of relaxation is HGTV. The fetishization of the domestic is a mainstay of reality television. The fantasies of domestic perfection are the feminine equivalent of “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch” and beer ads. Domesticity is the macho nonsense of women. And, in this light, it is not surprising that men have not started doing more of it. Men might be willing to lose the garbage of their own gender stereotypes, but why should they take on the garbage of another?

‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’

David Simon, creator of The Wire, writing for The Guardian:

And that’s what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy. It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, their economic irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow.

That’s the great horror show. What are we going to do with all these people that we’ve managed to marginalise? It was kind of interesting when it was only race, when you could do this on the basis of people’s racial fears and it was just the black and brown people in American cities who had the higher rates of unemployment and the higher rates of addiction and were marginalised and had the shitty school systems and the lack of opportunity.

And kind of interesting in this last recession to see the economy shrug and start to throw white middle-class people into the same boat, so that they became vulnerable to the drug war, say from methamphetamine, or they became unable to qualify for college loans. And all of a sudden a certain faith in the economic engine and the economic authority of Wall Street and market logic started to fall away from people. And they realised it’s not just about race, it’s about something even more terrifying. It’s about class. Are you at the top of the wave or are you at the bottom?

So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody’s going to get left behind. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.

We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.

Great perspective on American class struggles.

We Say We Like Creativity, but We Really Don’t

Jessica Olien, writing for Slate:

Unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the place that should be most open to them—school. Studies show that teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring their satisfier classmates who more readily follow directions and do what they’re told.


The Unlevel Playing Field Between Mass Transit And Private Cars

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Slate:

This completely destroys bus operators’ flexibility. But I would also note that the traffic study is an outrageous burden on bus operations. If private car operators had to conduct a “traffic study” before getting permission to drive their cars on a particular route or stop in particular places, there would be no automobile industry in the United States. Buses are a much more efficient use of space, and at the margin shifting people out of single passenger cars and into buses reduces traffic. But if buses need to conduct traffic studies and private cars don’t, the regulatory system will always push people out of buses and into cars.

How true.

The New Muckrakers

Adam Curtis, writing for his blog The Medium and the Message at the BBC:

Of course our time is completely different from the age of the muckrakers. There isn’t the terrible poverty - nor the violent strikes where workers were gunned down by private armies.

But in other ways there are similarities. New technologies and giant financial systems are transforming society. They bring with them great benefits and exciting new ways of living - but at the same time there have been massive increases in inequality.

In Britain - the top 1 percent of people now pay 30 percent of all income tax. Thirty years ago the top 1 percent paid only 11 percent - and that was at a time when the taxes on the rich were much higher. At the same time the average wage has been static for ten years. All new increases in wealth, from productivity, go only to the rich.

The politicians seem to be helpless. The economic crisis of 2008 has revealed scandal after scandal in the financial system but there has been no real reform. When HSBC was revealed to have been laundering money for Mexican drug cartels no-one was prosecuted because doing so “might create instabilities in the system”.


Driving Is Going Out of Style

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Slate:

All of which is to say that while money is nice, what’s really needed is a much broader change of mind that doesn’t regard all alternatives to living in a detached single-family house with one car per adult as deviant behavior that needs to be regulated into a special box.


Japan in a Post-Growth Age

Norihiro Kato, writing for the New York Times:

In other words, people in Japan are beginning to wonder whether those “two lost decades” really were “lost” after all. Perhaps those years were simply the prelude to a new post-growth era. And maybe in this new age the end of economic growth is less scary than the dependence on nuclear power.

The wise will keep an eye on Japan to glean a preview or two of what faces developed countries in the next few decades.

Scanning the Economic Landscape, and Still Seeing Little on the Horizon

Rachel L. Swarns, writing for the New York Times:

The hard truth, as she has learned it: No one is eager to hire someone of her age — not Lowe’s, not the local nursing home, not the accounting and law firms where she once thrived.

This spring, a friend told her about a temporary position as an elementary school aide in Brooklyn. It paid about $21,000 a year, with no benefits. Ms. Scarino, who once earned $160,000 a year, didn’t think twice.

Some might marvel at her shifting circumstances. Ms. Scarino, whose dreams of retirement have collapsed along with her savings account, is just grateful for the work.

What’s the deeper meaning here, I wonder.

Was the demand for her former employer’s services low enough that it didn’t make sense to keep her on, even in a part-time capacity?

Was her former employer not interested in an employee as expensive as she was — was she replaced by a less expensive, younger worker?

If in fact she was producing $160,000 of value annually, it seems shocking to me that no one would offer to hire her for similar work at a lower rate. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when demand lessens?

But of course, I don’t know the specific details in this case.

6 Habits of Remarkably Likable People

I generally dislike “N [noun]s of [adverb] [adjective] people” articles, but this particular piece of advice from Jeff Haden stands out:

They “close” genuinely.

“Nice to meet you,” you say, nodding once as you part. That’s the standard move, one that is instantly forgettable.

Instead go back to the beginning. Shake hands again. Use your free hand to gently touch the other person’s forearm or shoulder. Say, “I am really glad I met you.” Or say, “You know, I really enjoyed talking with you.” Smile: Not that insincere salesperson smile that goes with, “Have a nice day!” but a genuine, appreciative smile.

Making a great first impression is important, but so is making a great last impression.

The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

Jessica Bruder, writing for Inc.:

Last, be open about your feelings—don’t mask your emotions, even at the office, suggests Brad Feld. When you are willing to be emotionally honest, he says, you can connect more deeply with the people around you. “When you deny yourself and you deny what you’re about, people can see through that,” says Feld. “Willingness to be vulnerable is very powerful for a leader.”

Too few people realize this. I’ve had the privilege of working with a few and it’s like a breath of fresh air.

Teachers Were Never The Problem

David Sirota, writing for In These Times:

So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing and education data, researchers found that that a majority of all public school students in one third of America’s states now come from low-income families.

How much does this have to do with educational outcomes? A lot. Social science research over the last few decades has shown that two thirds of student achievement is a product of out-of-school factors–and among the most powerful of those is economic status. That’s hardly shocking: kids who experience destitution and all the problems that come with it have enough trouble just surviving, much less succeeding in school.

All of this leads to an obvious conclusion: If America was serious about fixing the troubled parts of its education system, then we would be having a fundamentally different conversation.


Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Massachusetts Legal System In Turmoil

Tovia Smith, writing for NPR:

A scandal in a Massachusetts crime lab continues to reverberate throughout the state’s legal system. Several months ago, Annie Dookhan, a former chemist in a state crime lab, told police that she messed up big time. Dookhan now stands accused of falsifying test results in as many as 34,000 cases.

As a result, lawyers, prosecutors and judges used to operating in a world of “beyond a reasonable doubt” now have nothing but doubt.

Crazy. 34,000 tainted cases — what a legacy.

The Workers Who Bring You Black Friday

Gabriel Thompson, writing for The Nation:

If warehouse jobs serve as pathways to the middle class, someone forgot to hand out road maps to my co-workers. During my time at Ingram Micro—which is divided between getting the iPad Airs out the door and packing boxes full of products mostly destined for customers—I’ll learn that many of my co-workers have spent years bouncing from one temp assignment to the next. “They say they might keep you on past the holidays,” a woman named Martha tells me, “but they never do.” It makes for stressful living—weeks of steady, if low-paid, work can be followed by weeks, or months, of next to nothing—but in a region with high unemployment, there aren’t many other options. Temp work is the main game in town. One count puts the number of staffing agencies in Ontario at 275.

In the smaller warehouse, our shifts are dedicated to the iPad Air launch. A supervisor usually paces the floor while we work, occasionally calling us together to tell us to pick up the pace, or informing us of our output. (“You’ve done 18,000 units—good job!” he says after one shift, a rare word of praise.) Except when we’re waiting for pallets to arrive, we’re constantly in motion. The burliest folks in our group, men with veined forearms who drink workout shakes during breaks, take the assignment in stride. But others—like me—are soon complaining about sore hands and wrists, along with aching feet. As the line hums, workers steal a second here or there to stretch their hands and grimace. But the boxes don’t stop, and neither do we.


San Francisco’s Secret DC Grid

Peter Fairley, writing for IEEE Spectrum:

DC endures in San Francisco because more than 900 of PG&E’s customers still need it. Most of the utility’s customers transitioned to AC lightbulbs and appliances easily enough as competing power distributors coalesced within PG&E and harmonized their equipment around AC. But for some of these building owners, however, elevators were a problem.

DC-driven winding-drum elevators—the leading design until the 1930s—use a DC motor in the basement that winds and unwinds the elevator’s steel cable on a steel drum, thus lifting and lowering the car from pulleys atop the elevator shaft. DC drive was the only way to go at the time for a speedy elevator, because only DC could deliver variable-speed operation for smooth starts and stops. The DC motors were also energy efficient, capable of something that has only recently become possible with modern elevator designs: regenerating power when the elevator descends.

I love these kinds of stories. What other infrastructure is hidden above our heads and below our feet?

Reverse-Engineering a Genius: Testing Whether The Artist Used Mirrors and Lenses to Create His Realistic Images

Kurt Anderson, writing for Vanity Fair Magazine:

He was rigorous about painting only what he saw in his mirror, rather than referring to a reproduction of the Vermeer. Or to his gobsmacking memory of examining the real thing for 30 minutes on a wall in Buckingham Palace, wearing a surgeon’s binocular magnifiers. “We talked the Queen into showing it to us. I was, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s totally different from the reproductions. It’s more muted and bluish.” The biggest differences were the crazily meticulous details—the silver thread at the bottom of the woman’s skirt, the key ring on the teacher. In terms of detail, “It was goofy what he did on the harpsichord. It was eye-opening, astounding to see. I had no idea. My biggest takeaway was that I was an idiot. There’s so much in it.”

When I talked to him again recently, long after the painting and Teller’s documentary were done, I asked about his learning curve over the 220 hours he spent with brush in hand. “I started with the ceiling beams. They look horrible. I hadn’t thinned the paint. I was worried about how you make a smooth gradient, so my daughter showed me that. My brush stroke did get better. By the time I got to the rug I knew how to handle the brush. Not that I could sit down and paint anything today without the apparatus. It’d be a piece of shit.”

Great, often funny piece on a fascinating topic.

(via daring fireball)

‘Bends’ Marks Filmmaker Flora Lau’s Big-Screen Debut

Gerry Mullany, writing for the NY Times:

Ms. Lau, 34, a Hong Kong native, was educated at Columbia University, majoring in economics and working at Morgan Stanley before going to film school in London. As she returned to Hong Kong, she saw a city constantly changing, but one increasingly riven by economic inequality fueled by its growing prosperity. “At first, it was the Filipino domestic helpers’ situation that interested me,” she wrote in an email about the university graduates who had to leave their country to take up domestic work in Hong Kong.

“As I found out more,” she added, “it was their stories that touched me and I felt a need to study film as a language to express what I was observing. Since film school, I returned to Hong Kong once again and saw that the class divide — and the Hong Kong versus mainlander divide — was intensifying.”

Her movie captures the opulent lifestyle of the “tai tai,” the term for a prosperous married woman who need not work, a figure who is alternately ridiculed and envied in Hong Kong. In “Bends,” that character, Anna Li, played by Carina Lau (she is not related to the filmmaker), spends her days lunching at pricey restaurants with friends, downing wine at midday and being ferried about by her driver, Fai, played by Chen Kun. Fai has a permit to work in Hong Kong while his pregnant wife raises their daughter across the border in Shenzhen.

Fascinating. Makes me want to see this film!

Kern Type, the kerning game


Your mission is simple: achieve pleasant and readable text by distributing the space between letters. Typographers call this activity kerning. Your solution will be compared to a typographer’s solution, and you will be given a score depending on how close you nailed it. Good luck!

This game’s been around for a while. I still enjoy playing it periodically.

98/100 this time around.

Lethal Neutrinos

Randall Munroe, on XKCD’s What If?:

Supernovae provide that scenario. The physicist who mentioned this problem to me told me his rule of thumb for estimating supernova-related numbers: However big you think supernovae are, they’re bigger than that.

Here’s a question to give you a sense of scale: Which of the following would be brighter, in terms of the amount of energy delivered to your retina:

  1. A supernova, seen from as far away as the Sun is from the Earth, or
  2. The detonation of a hydrogen bomb pressed against your eyeball?

Applying the physicist rule of thumb suggests that the supernova is brighter. And indeed, it is … by nine orders of magnitude.

XKCD is one of the few sites that can make me laugh out loud through absurdism. I love it.

Emotion Regulation Predicts Marital Satisfaction

Findings showed that (a) greater downregulation of wives’ negative experience and behavior predicted greater marital satisfaction for wives and husbands concurrently and (b) greater downregulation of wives’ negative behavior predicted increases in wives’ marital satisfaction longitudinally. Wives’ use of constructive communication (measured between Waves 1 and 2) mediated the longitudinal associations. These results show the benefits of wives’ downregulation of negative emotion during conflict for marital satisfaction and point to wives’ constructive communication as a mediating pathway.

Interesting that their results are so gender-specific. I wonder why.

Of course, this being American science, I can’t find out

Ironically, there’s more information in a UC Berkeley news release.

Update: More form one of the authors in this piece in Psychology Today.

The Alron Brown Non-Diet

Extracted from Wikipedia:

Brown changed his eating habits in 2009 in order to lose weight and become healthier, losing 50 pounds (23 kg) over the course of nine months. He announced his weight loss and described the details of eating from the four basic lists without going on a typical diet on the January 4, 2010 episode “Live and Let Diet” of Good Eats.[36] His first list, which he eats from daily, includes fruits, whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, carrots, and green tea. His second list, which he eats from at least three times per week, includes oily fish, yogurt, broccoli, sweet potato, and avocado. His third list, which he eats from no more than once per week, includes red meat, pasta, dessert, and alcohol. His fourth list includes foods he avoids: fast food, soda (except for club soda, which is okay), processed meals (such as TV dinners), canned soups (salt), and anything labeled “diet,” because “this was not a diet.”

Good stuff.

Alton Brown made one of Food Network’s defining programs by throwing out the recipe

Genevieve Koski, writing for the A.V. Club:

The two test episodes aired and reran a few times on WTTW, but that’s not how they came to the attention of Matt Stillman. A programming developer at Food Network, Stillman ushered Good Eats onto cable the same year he brought the channel another unique take on food programming—and a future phenomenon—in the form of the original Japanese version of Iron Chef. Stillman read about the Good Eats pilot in a film trade magazine—in which it was featured for having used a new type of Kodak film stock—and found Brown and the episodes via the Kodak website. It’s an appropriately backward genesis for a food personality who only went to culinary school after he decided he wanted to make a cooking show. Brown was a cameraman and cinematographer throughout his 20s—he shot the music video for R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”—and decided when he was 30 that he wanted to do something new. Unlike other Food Network personalities who leveraged their time running restaurants and writing cookbooks into TV careers, Brown wanted to make good TV first, and went to culinary school to get the tools he needed to get there.

I did not know this about Alton Brown’s life. How interesting!

Love the show.

(via reddit)

The Period, Our Simplest Punctuation Mark, Has Become a Sign of Anger

Ben Crair, writing for The New Republic:

“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’” […]

Now, however, technology has led us to use written language more like speech—that is, in a real-time, back-and-forth between two or more people. “[P]eople are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing,” Clay Shirky recently told Slate. This might help explain the rise of the line break: It allows people to more accurately emulate in writing the rhythm of speech. It has also confronted people with the problem of tone in writing, and they’re trying to solve it with the familiar punctuation marks that the line break largely displaced.

I definitely use the line break in text messages and IMs, but I guess I just don’t communicate often enough with angry people that I’ve noticed the period-means-I’m-angry phenomenon.

The History of Inequality

Peter Turchin, writing for Aeon Magazine:

The ‘New Deal Coalition’ which ruled the US from 1932 to the late 1960s did so well that the business community, opposed to its policies at first, came to accept them in the post-war years. As the historian Kim Phillips-Fein wrote in Invisible Hands (2010):

Many managers and stockholders [made] peace with the liberal order that had emerged. They began to bargain regularly with the labour unions at their companies. They advocated the use of fiscal policy and government action to help the nation to cope with economic downturns. They accepted the idea that the state might have some role to play in guiding economic life.

When Barry Goldwater campaigned on a pro-business, anti-union and anti-big government platform in the 1964 presidential elections, he couldn’t win any lasting support from the corporate community. The conservatives had to wait another 16 years for their triumph.

But by the late 1970s, a new generation of political and business leaders had come to power. To them the revolutionary situation of 1919-21 was just history. In this they were similar to the French aristocrats on the eve of the French Revolution, who did not see that their actions could bring down the Ancien Régime — the last great social breakdown, the Fronde, being so far in the past.

The US elites, similarly, took the smooth functioning of the political-economic system for granted. The only problem, as they saw it, was that they weren’t being adequately compensated for their efforts. Feelings of dissatisfaction ran high during the Bear Market of 1973—82, when capital returns took a particular beating. The high inflation of that decade ate into inherited wealth. A fortune of $2 billion in 1982 was a third smaller, when expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars, than $1 billion in 1962, and only a sixth of $1 billion in 1912. All these factors contributed to the reversal of the late 1970s.


Art Makes You Smart

Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene, and Daniel H. Bowen, writing for the New York Times:

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Fascinating result.

But, please, don’t tell me how big a difference there is between the experimental group and the control, nor how statistically significant that difference is. Also, please go ahead and publish your paper in a journal that makes me pay $25 to answer those questions for myself.

I can’t believe we’re still doing science this way in 2013.

Inside the Apple Store: It’s a Trap!

J.K. Appleseed, writing for McSweeney’s:

The next week Jonah got my co-worker, Fred. I made sure to situate my own appointment nearby because I wanted to hear how things went. A minute later, Fred busts out laughing, and we all turn to look. Fred waves that it’s all right and regains his composure.

“Listen, kid.” Fred says. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve forgotten more about dating than you will ever know!”

Hilarious piece!

(via daring fireball)

Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays

Peter Turchin, writing for Bloomberg:

Slavery had been a divisive force since the inception of the Republic. For 70 years, the elites always managed to find a compromise. During the 1850s, however, intra-elite cooperation unraveled. On several occasions Congress was on the brink of a general shootout. (As one senator noted about his “armed and dangerous” colleagues, “The only persons who do not have a revolver and a knife are those who have two revolvers.”) Although slavery was the overriding issue dividing the elites, they also differed over tariffs and cultural attitudes toward immigration. In the decade before the Civil War these centrifugal forces tore apart the two-party system. The Democratic Party split into its Northern and Southern factions, while the Whigs simply disintegrated.

A very thought-provoking piece.

Why being a foodie isn’t ‘elitist’

Eric Schlosser, writing for the Washington Post:

But despite their talk of openness and trust, the giants of the food industry rarely engage in public debate with their critics. Instead they rely on well-paid surrogates — or they file lawsuits. In 1990, McDonald’s sued a small group called London Greenpeace for criticizing the chain’s food, starting a legal battle that lasted 15 years. In 1996, Texas cattlemen sued Oprah Winfrey for her assertion that mad cow disease might have come to the United States, and kept her in court for six years. Thirteen states passed “veggie libel laws” during the 1990s to facilitate similar lawsuits. Although the laws are unconstitutional, they remain on the books and serve their real purpose: to intimidate critics of industrial food.

In the same spirit of limiting public awareness, companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical have blocked the labeling of genetically modified foods, while the meatpacking industry has prevented the labeling of milk and meat from cloned animals. If genetic modification and cloning are such wonderful things, why aren’t companies eager to advertise the use of these revolutionary techniques?

The answer is that they don’t want people to think about what they’re eating. The survival of the current food system depends upon widespread ignorance of how it really operates. A Florida state senator recently introduced a bill making it a first-degree felony to take a photograph of any farm or processing plant — even from a public road — without the owner’s permission. Similar bills have been introduced in Minnesota and Iowa, with support from Monsanto.


Industrial agriculture is definitely an industry ripe for disruption.

The Obsolete Crime Lord: S.F. Tech Culture Begat the Silk Road and Its Replaceable Founder

What a crazy story.

The Economics of Star Trek

Rick Webb, writing for Medium:

Let’s start with the facts.

The Federation is clearly not a centrally planned economy, and therefore obviously not communist. Individual freedom of choice is very obvious. Everyone chooses their careers, and there are many mentions of this throughout the series — witness every single time someone waxes nostalgic about why they chose to enter Starfleet. Witness Bashir going on about why he wanted to be a doctor instead of a tennis player. Witness Wesley dropping out of Starfleet. Witness Vash being an archeologist and Kasidy Yates being a cargo ship captain.

Private ownership still exists — the biggest examples, to me, are Sisko’s restaurant and Chateau Picard, but many other examples abound from all the trinkets everyone owns in their quarters. Crusher’s family owns a (haunted) cottage on some old-Scottish settlement planet. The Maquis routinely refer to “our land,” which they presumably owned, and while an individual tribe may have collectively owned the land through a corporation, like the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, or through a co-op, they clearly “owned” the land, just like anyone else owned land, while the Federation was the superseding government that could give that territory away to another sovereign party, much like the ceding of the Sudetenland or Guam. Any alternative situation (the government owning the land and renting it to the settlers?) is never alluded to and in any case the words stated (“our land”) clearly indicate private ownership is still very much part of the cultural zeitgeist. Then we have JJ Abram’s Star Trek and it’s pretty unlikely that, what? The Federation owned that shack Kirk grew up in, that sweet Corvette or that roadhouse bar? Those items sure looked privately owned. Some spaceships were privately owned. Finally, let’s not forget Star Trek: Generations when Kirk says in the Nexus “This is my house. I sold it years ago.”

That was fun. If you’re a fan of Star Trek and economics, it’s worth a read!

Inside Google’s Driverless Car

A great read.


SFO reveals missteps after Asiana crash

Jaxon Van Derbeken, writing for the SF Chronicle:

The website - run out of a single network server in Denver - normally handled about 19,000 visitors a day and cost $180,000 to set up. It began failing within two minutes of the 11:28 a.m. crash and went dark completely in 30 minutes, hit by a wave of as many as 75,000 users, Schuler said.

WTF? Someone paid $180,000 for a server to handle 19,000 visitors per day?

That’s 13 visitors per minute. A person could handle that traffic volume with a cell phone.

The airport’s 8-year-old website was “ancient” by current standards, Schuler said. On Aug. 20, the airport replaced it with a system that works off an Amazon cloud-based platform.

“The plan was to move the website to a system that did provide redundancy,” Schuler said, “so our response would be better than what happened on July 6.”

An ec2.tiny instance should be enough.

When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s Everything Else We’ll Lose Too

Maryn Mckenna, writing for Wired:

If we really lost antibiotics to advancing drug resistance — and trust me, we’re not far off — here’s what we would lose. Not just the ability to treat infectious disease; that’s obvious.

But also: The ability to treat cancer, and to transplant organs, because doing those successfully relies on suppressing the immune system and willingly making ourselves vulnerable to infection. Any treatment that relies on a permanent port into the bloodstream — for instance, kidney dialysis. Any major open-cavity surgery, on the heart, the lungs, the abdomen. Any surgery on a part of the body that already harbors a population of bacteria: the guts, the bladder, the genitals. Implantable devices: new hips, new knees, new heart valves. Cosmetic plastic surgery. Liposuction. Tattoos.

Scary to think about.

The Man Who Fixed His Own Heart

Smitha Mundasad, writing for

As an engineer, Tal Golesworthy is no stranger to taking things apart, figuring out what the trouble is and putting them back together with the problem solved.

But for more than 30 years, he lived with a life-threatening issue that was less easy to fix.

That is, until he took an idea from the garden, combined it with some basic procedures borrowed from the aeronautical industry and came up with a “beautifully simple” solution to treat his own heart condition.

Tal Golesworthy, real-life Iron Man.

English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet

Megan Garber, writing for the Atlantic:

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.”


Mathematicians Team Up on Twin Primes Conjecture

Erica Klarreich, writing for Quanta Magazine:

It remains to be seen how much more can be wrung out of Zhang’s and Maynard’s methods. Prior to Maynard’s work, the best-case scenario seemed to be that the bound on prime gaps could be pushed down to 16, the theoretical limit of the GPY approach. Maynard’s refinements push this theoretical limit down to 12. Conceivably, Maynard said, someone with a clever sieve idea could push this limit as low as 6. But it’s unlikely, he said, that anyone could use these ideas to get all the way down to a prime gap of 2 to prove the twin primes conjecture.

“I feel that we still need some very large conceptual breakthrough to handle the twin primes case,” Maynard said.

Tao, Maynard and the Polymath participants may eventually get an influx of new ideas from Zhang himself. It has taken the jet-setting mathematician a while to master the art of thinking about mathematics on airplanes, but he has now started working on a new problem, about which he declined to say more than that it is “important.” While he isn’t currently working on the twin primes problem, he said, he has a “secret weapon” in reserve — a technique to reduce the bound that he developed before his result went public. He omitted this technique from his paper because it is so technical and difficult, he said, adding that he may publish it next year.

I love mathematicians in the way that only a son of mathematicians can.

Betting against London is tempting but no sure thing

Tim Harford:

It is possible for a neighbourhood to become a victim of its own success. Low rents attract artists, new businesses, experimenters and risk-takers. The neighbourhood becomes cool; rents rise. Eventually only middle-aged, middle-class squares live there. (Or – gasp! – rich foreigners.) But it is hard to see this applying across an entire city. Some fret that Manhattan is becoming a bore. It still seems passably diverting to this tourist, and even if Manhattan is tedious, Brooklyn is picking up the slack. As in New York, so in London: if Shoreditch becomes too pricey for bearded hipsters making artisanal pickles, there’s always Bow or Clapton Pond.

Interesting speculation on the future of London.

(via boing boing)

A Cold War Fought by Women

John Tierney, writing for the New York Times:

To see how female students react to a rival, researchers brought pairs of them into a laboratory at McMaster University for what was ostensibly a discussion about female friendships. But the real experiment began when another young woman entered the room asking where to find one of the researchers.

This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” meaning a “low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.” Sometimes, she wore a T-shirt and jeans, other times a tightfitting, low-cut blouse and short skirt.

Read on to find out the predictable result.

I’m glad to see this research is happening, but this piece is full of conclusions that seem highly speculative given the data, including many entirely hypothetical mechanisms of action presented as fact. A bit disappointing.

Merlin Mann on Finding a Passion

Tina Essmaker, interviewing Merlin Mann, creator of blog and podcast 43folders:

Did you have any “aha” moments when you decided what you wanted to do?

I dunno. I always felt like people who consider themselves to be successful, creative go-getters want to go out and win a contest, make a comic book, or write a rock opera in high school.

I, on the other hand, gave up on stuff very easily. I had so little experience with a lot of the things I thought I wanted to do that when I started doing them and it didn’t come easily, or I didn’t get great acclaim for it, I gave up very quickly.

I think we sometimes overlook things we don’t realize we’re already good at or have limited experience with. You may be beating yourself up about not having good enough grades in biology to go to medical school while overlooking the fact that you’ve been working in your family’s hardware store over the summer for eight years and have an extraordinary sense of how to deal with people. That’s a skill that a lot of doctors in their 50s would kill for: they’ve never learned to understand and be empathetic towards others. People have all kinds of soft skills that you can’t train someone to have, but they beat themselves up because it’s not the thing they think they’re supposed to be good at.

Everyone I know needs to read this piece. Yes, including you.

(via daring fireball)

The Insanity of Our Food Policy

Joseph E. Stiglitz, writing for the New York Times:

This is not how America is supposed to work. In his famous 1941 “four freedoms” speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt enunciated the principle that all Americans should have certain basic economic rights, including “freedom from want.” These ideas were later embraced by the international community in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which also enshrined the right to adequate food. But while the United States was instrumental in advocating for these basic economic human rights on the international scene — and getting them adopted — America’s performance back home has been disappointing.

How is it that politicians used to be able to work together to solve national problems? Or more to the point, how is it that today’s politicians repeatedly fail to do so?

Is it a problem of the politicians? Of politics? Of media? Or culture? Of something else?

What It’s Like to Fail

David Raether, former comedy writer for sitcom Roseanne:

On Christmas Day, 2001, I sat down at my Yamaha G2 grand piano, set up my metronome, and opened up a book of Shostakovich’s “Preludes.” It was late afternoon, and the warm, orange light of the fading day poured into my five-bedroom house - paid for by my $300,000 a year income as a Hollywood comedy writer - in San Marino, California, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. My wife, Marina, was cooking dinner for me and our eight children, and it was as happy a Christmas afternoon as I would ever have.

On Christmas morning, 2008, I woke up on the floor of the 1997 Chrysler minivan I lived in, parked behind the Kinko’s just two miles from my old house in San Marino. It was raining, and I was cold, even though I had slept in three layers of clothes. It was one of those blustery storms that regularly whoosh down from the Gulf of Alaska and pummel Los Angeles during the winter. I climbed out of the van and walked to a Starbucks five blocks away. Although I didn’t have any money, I had scavenged the Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle from another coffeehouse a couple days before. The baristas didn’t mind me sitting quietly for several hours every day getting warm and killing time.

Great read. Very inspring.

Empty London

A beautiful and sometimes haunting photo series from Robert Timothy.

A Crossword Based on the Adobe Password Leak

Hahahahahah, awesome.

(via news.yc)

37signals Valuation Tops $100 Billion After Bold VC Investment

Jason fried, writing on the blog:

In order to increase the value of the company, 37signals has decided to stop generating revenues. “When it comes to valuation, making money is a real obstacle. Our profitability has been a real drag on our valuation,” said Mr. Fried. “Once you have profits, it’s impossible to just make stuff up. That’s why we’re switching to a ‘freeconomics’ model. We’ll give away everything for free and let the market speculate about how much money we could make if we wanted to make money. That way, the sky’s the limit!”

Hilarious. I also found this comment from user wensing on news.yc pretty insightful:

Snapchat isn’t being valued on revenues or potential monetization, but rather as a piece of someone else’s (eg Facebook’s) business model.

In the Steve Blank sense I don’t think it’s even right to call Snapchat or any of these “growth looking for a home” things “startup”s. They aren’t actually searching for a business model. Their plan is to grow until they dock with the Deathstar.

(via news.yc)

Mount a single partition from an image of an entire disk

For those of you out there with Raspberries Pi who want to mount your SD cards on your Linux VMs:

  1. Get the partition layout of the image:

     $ sudo fdisk -lu sda.img
     Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
     Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
       Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
     sda.img1   *          56     6400000     3199972+   c  W95 FAT32 (LBA)
  2. Calculate the offset from the start of the image to the partition start:

     Sector size * Start = (in this case) 56 * 512 = 28672
  3. Mount it on /dev/loop0 using the offset

     sudo losetup -o 28672 /dev/loop0 sda.img
  4. Now the partition resides on /dev/loop0. You can fsck it, mount it etc:

     sudo fsck -fv /dev/loop0
     sudo mount /dev/loop0 /mnt

    and unmount it:

     sudo umount /mnt
     sudo losetup -d /dev/loop0

Super useful. Thanks arrange!

“Gravity Battery Concept”

Above the ground, each wire is spooled up and attached to its own coil. The coils are mounted along a central support axis which carries all the weight. Inside the support axis, there are two transmission axis, one for the charger and one for the generator. Each coil can be switched individually between the two transmission axis, through a gear system.

When energy is in surplus, the distributor routes it to the charger (an electric engine). The charger uses the electric energy it receives to spin its transmission axis, thus spinning all coils attached to that axis, and lifting their weights up to maximum height.

When a weight is at maximum height, its coil will automatically switch from the charger axis to the generator axis.

When energy is needed, the allocator switches off the break on the generator axis, thus causing the coils to unwind and spin the axis, powering the generator and creating electricity.

Another potentially interesting idea destroyed by the realities of physics.

A 1-ton weight in a 100-foot well could power a couple light bulbs for an hour — assuming no power losses, of course.

Physics, thou art a heartless master.

San Francisco Bay Area at Night

Holy cow the Bay Area is bright!

Cities Change Weather

Tim de Chant:

Late in the day on June 13, 2005, a thunderstorm was bearing down on the city of Indianapolis. As the main cell approached from the southwest, it reared up, convection currents pushing it higher and higher until it towered over the city. Luckily for Indianapolis, the cloud threatened more than it menaced, eventually dumping just an inch of rain on suburbs and farm fields to the northeast. On the surface, it may not have seemed particularly special. But for meteorologists studying the storm, it was perfect.

What set that storm apart from others, they suspected, was the fact that it passed over Indianapolis. The fact that the city was there—the subtle but significant change it made to the texture and composition of the Earth’s surface—was enough to alter the structure of the storm. Using a model they built to test the city’s impact, meteorologists couldn’t accurately simulate the June 13 storm without Indianapolis.

As a city person, I found this fascinating!

Recent surface warming has probably been underestimated

Scott K. Johnson, writing for Ars Technica:

Building a global temperature dataset is a huge undertaking, because that’s only the half of it. Lots of careful corrections need to be made to the raw measurements to account for things like instrument changes, weather station placement, and even the time of day the station is checked.

One of the most commonly used datasets, dubbed “HadCRUT4” in its current incarnation, is maintained by the UK Met Office and researchers at the University of East Anglia. That dataset lacks temperature records over 16 percent of the globe, mostly parts of the Arctic, Antarctic, and Africa. Each group that manages one of these datasets faces this problem, but deals with it a little differently. In HadCRUT4, the gaps are simply dropped out of the calculated average; in NASA’s GISTEMP dataset, these holes are filled in by interpolating from the nearest measurements.

Interesting. Though wouldn’t interpolation and omission have a similar effect on averages?

Probably depends on how they calculate the average.

Apple expands collaboration, adds folders and printing to iWork for iCloud

Jonathan Seff, writing for MacWorld:

Thursday’s update improves the tools by adding a collaborator list to show who’s currently in a document; a collaborator cursor that displays cursors and selections for everyone in a document; the ability to jump to a collaborator’s cursor by clicking the person’s name in the collaborator list; and collaboration animation that displays images and shapes animate as others move them around.

Sounds like EtherPad. Can’t wait to give it a go.

First World Problems

Coin: one card that takes the place of up to eight cards in your wallet.

Almost definitional.

Europe approves use of in-flight electronics during take-off and landing

I’ve often wondered why Europe follows the U.S. on these types of things.

Sadly, this piece doesn’t answer that question.

Viral Journalism and the Valley of Ambiguity

Annalee Newitz, writing for

To share a story is in part to take ownership of it, especially because you are often able to comment on a story that you are sharing on social media. If you can share a piece of information that’s an absolute truth – whether that’s how to uninstall apps on your phone, or what the NSA is really doing – you too become a truth teller. And that feels good. Just as good as it does to be the person who has the cutest cat picture on the Internet.

So that leaves us with the stories that don’t make it. These are the articles and essays that have fallen into the valley of ambiguity – reports on important scientific findings with difficult-to-interpret results, political news with a long and tangled back story attached, and opinion essays that require us to account for points of view that may be unfamiliar or strange. There is no satisfaction in knowing that the Higgs boson has sort of been found, but sort of not. And nobody wants to risk alienating friends with a piece of opinion writing that might or might not be offensive – you’re not even sure.

An intereting theory, but I’m not sure I get the spectrum Annalee draws out in her piece. To me the issue is simpler: if a piece offers some level of complexity that requires thinking about difficult issues, it’s unlikely to go viral.

But I don’t think the converse is necessarily true.

What Happens to Google Maps When Tectonic Plates Move?

George Musser, writing on the Critical Opalescence blog for Scientific American:

In contrast, NAD 83 sits atop the North American plate like a fishnet laid out on the deck of a boat. As the plate moves, so does the datum. Other regions of the world likewise have their own local datums. That way, drivers can find their way and surveyors can draw their property lines in blissful ignorance of large-scale tectonic and polar motion. “Most surveyors and mapmakers would be happy to live in a world where the plates don’t move,” Smith explains. “We can’t fix that, but we can fix the datum so that the effect is not felt by the predominant number of users.… Generally speaking, a point in Kansas with a certain latitude and longitude this year had that exact same latitude and longitude 10 years ago or 10 years from now.… We try to make the planet non-dynamic.”


(via boing boing)

The View From Saturn


How Engineers Use Ground Freezing to Build Bigger, Safer, and Deeper

Jessica Morrison, writing for NOVA Next:

The top of the tunnel would be just 10 feet below the bottom of the subway tunnel. Ground freezing pipes were laid horizontally and uncomfortably close to the subway’s support piles. The proximity meant that engineers had to be aware not only of where they froze, but how the frozen soil would behave. Because the density of ice is lower than the density of liquid water, as soil freezes, it expands or swells. That expansion can cause cracks and create large, air-filled spaces. If this happens, the functionality of the frozen soil could be lost.

“During the freeze periods, we were very careful not to have to much heaving. When water freezes, it expands, and there’s a rail above,” Horodniceanu says. Avoiding complications meant testing and modeling the characteristics of the soil long before freezing began. “We knew the limits, and we were constantly making sure that we stayed below the limits,” Horodniceanu says. “It sounds exotic, but this is done every day.”

Very cool. (Hah!)

(via boing boing)

Etsy’s Industrial Revolution

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, writing for the New York Times:

But last month, Etsy announced new policies that would allow sellers to apply to peddle items they produced with manufacturing partners, as well as to hire staff and use outside companies to ship their goods — all provided that the sellers demonstrated the “authorship, responsibility and transparency” intrinsic to handmade items.

I’m curious how they’ll enforce this — it seems like a vague enough requirement as to be useless.

Still, one can’t deny Etsy’s success thus far.

A Science Project With Legs

Stephanie Strom, writing for the New York Times:

All told, Mr. Millman and his mother, Ann Marks, gathered 213 samples of chicken drumsticks from supermarkets, butcher shops and specialty stores in the New York area.

Now they and several scientists have published a study based on the project in the journal F1000 Research. The results were surprising.

Almost twice as many of the kosher chicken samples tested positive for antibiotic-resistant E. coli as did the those from conventionally raised birds. And even the samples from organically raised chickens and those raised without antibiotics did not significantly differ from the conventional ones.


The secret world of cargo ships

Rose George, excerpted in The Week:

For a while they held up the march of the box, as did geography and physics. Ships that carried many boxes would have to be bigger, with deeper draughts. New ports had to be built: New York’s maritime wharves — too shallow, too narrow — became useless, and the massive Greater Port of New York–New Jersey was constructed instead. But the rewards of containerization were too great for the dockers to defeat change. Before containers, transport costs ate up to 25 percent of the value of whatever was being shipped. With the extreme efficiencies that intermodality brought, costs were reduced to a pittance. A sweater can now travel 3,000 miles for 2.5 cents; it costs 1 cent to send a can of beer. Shipping a container can cost next to nothing, an invaluable advantage in hard economic times, when there is more supply than demand.

Looking forward to reading the book!

“Even in a world of high-tech communications, story-telling can be the best way to get a message across.”

Dennis Nishi, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Atkinson suggests organizing your story into three acts and starting by establishing context. You want to let your audience know who the main characters are, what the background of the story is, and what you’d like to accomplish by telling it, he says. You might open, for example, by describing a department that’s consistently failed to meet sales goals.

Move on to how your main character—you or the company—fights to resolve the conflicts that create tension in the story, Mr. Atkinson says. Success may require the main character to make additional capital investments or take on new training. Provide real-world examples and detail that can anchor the narrative, he advises.

The ending should inspire a call to action, since you are allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about your story versus just telling them what to do. Don’t be afraid to use your own failures in support of your main points, says Mr. Smith.

I’ve gotten this advice repeatedly in the last few weeks.

I think there’s something to it.

75 Years In The Making: Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

Brent Lambert:

As you can imagine, the study’s discoveries are bountiful, but the most significant finding of all is that “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” In fact, alcoholism is the single strongest cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives. Alcoholism was also found to be strongly coupled with neurosis and depression (which most often follows alcohol abuse, rather than preceding it). Together with cigarette smoking, alcoholism proves to be the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death. And above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t prevent the damage.

With regards to income, there was no noticeable difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110-115 range vs. men with IQs above 150. With regards to sex lives, one of the most fascinating discoveries is that aging liberals have way more sex. Political ideology had no bearing on overall life satisfaction, but the most conservative men on average shut down their sex lives around age 68, while the most liberal men had healthy sex lives well into their 80s. Vaillant writes, “I have consulted urologists about this, they have no idea why it might be so.”

I remember reading about this back in April when the study was first released.

Personally, I’m most excited about comparing these results with those from a study ending 75 years from today.

How persistent is “what men need to live a happy life” — how culturally determined is it?

A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic?

Moises Velasquez-Manoff, writing for the New York Times:

Which brings us to farm milk. In Europe, the consumption of unpasteurized milk has repeatedly correlated with protection against allergic disease. In America, 80 percent of the Amish studied by Dr. Holbreich consume raw milk. In a study published earlier this year, Dr. Schaub’s group showed that European children who consumed farm milk had more of those regulatory T-cells, irrespective of whether they lived on farms. The higher the quantity of those cells, the less likely these children were to be given diagnoses of asthma. Here, finally, is something concrete to take off the farm.

None of these scientists recommend that people consume raw milk; it can carry deadly pathogens. Rather, they hope to identify what’s protective in the milk and either extract it or preserve the ingredients during processing. Microbes may not be the key ingredient in this case. Instead, farm milk may act as a prebiotic — selectively feeding good microbes within. Another possibility is that as with human breast milk, antibodies and immune-signaling proteins in cow’s milk influence the human immune system, steering it toward tolerance.

Stories like these remind me of how clueless we still are about immunology.

Is 'Huh?' a universal word?

Huh? is a word. An objection to our first finding might be that ‘Huh?’ is not a word after all. But our study finds that it is. Although the expression ‘Huh?’ is much more similar across languages than words normally should be, when we zoomed in and looked at the finer details, we discovered that this expression does differ across languages in subtle but systematic ways. These differences give us evidence that ‘Huh?’ is integrated into each linguistic system, thus supporting the view that it is, in fact, a word. Here are some of the subtle differences: In Spanish it’s e. In Dutch it often starts with /h/, as in hè. In Cha’palaa (an indigenous language of Ecuador) it has a falling tone and often starts with a glottal stop, as in ʔa Therefore: Huh? is not like those human sounds that happen to be universal because they are innate, such as sneezing or crying. It is a word that has to be learned in subtly different forms in each language.

Very interesting!

(via boing boing)

“An Opinion Piece On A Controversial Topic”

Edward Sharp Paul, writing for

I was inspired to write this piece by Currently Fashionable Polemicist, who summarised the Issue better than I could when they said “oversimplification that makes me feel smart”. I have a strong opinion on this Issue, and my sharing it with you at this time is in no way attributable to opportunism on my part, due to the Issue’s sudden prominence in the news cycle. I haven’t exaggerated my position in the interests of raising my public profile, and here I am casually dropping in a reference to a long-ago instance that proves I have cared about the Issue for longer than you.

Hilarious. Then you get to the comments.

Perhaps the only piece on the web with comments worth reading.

(via boing boing)

“It’s the Umami, Stupid”

Natasha Geiling, writing for Smithsonian Magazine’s blog:

By harnessing natural glutamates for their burgers, Umami Burger avoids negative connotations associated with MSG. But the “natural” glutamates in an Umami Burger aren’t chemically any different from glutamtes in MSG.

“The short answer is that there is no difference: glutamate is glutamate is glutamate,” says Richard Amasino, professor of biochemistry at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It would be identical unless different things created a different rate of uptake.”

Glutamtes that occur naturally in food come intertwined with different chemicals or fiber, which the body is naturally inclined to regulate, explains Amy Cheng Vollmer, professor of biology at Swarthmore College. MSG, however, comes without the natural components of food that help the body regulate glutamic levels. It’s like taking an iron supplement versus obtaining iron from spinach or red meat: the iron supplement creates an expressway between the iron and your bloodstream that you wouldn’t find in natural iron sources.

“The bottom line here is context is everything,” Vollmer adds.

Very interesting.

The “natural = not dangerous” meme is very strong in certain circles these days.

(via news.yc)

An introduction to infrastructure fiction

Paul Raven:

I hope it’s clear now, if it wasn’t before, that infrastructure fiction is less a methodology than a manifesto, a plea for a paradigm shift in how we think about our increasingly technology-saturated world. How exactly you take it on board, what exactly you do with it, will depend on who you are and what it is you do.

When I talk to my engineer colleagues about infrastructure fiction, I tend to pitch it as another sort of modelling, albeit almost purely qualitative and conceptual by comparison to the models they use most often. The tricky bit to get across to them is that in a design fiction, failure is not only instructive but desirable; engineers rarely waste time thinking about something which they already know can’t be built. This is the good thing about Musk’s Hyperloop: it got thousands of people thinking imaginitively and critically about infrastructure, talking about what it means, about what it should do, and how and for whom it should do it.

I love this kind of fiction myself.

(via boing boing)

The History of the Trapper Keeper

Erin McCarthy, writing for mental_floss:

Of course, anything as popular as the Trapper Keeper will almost inevitably face a backlash—but in this case, the backlash didn’t come from students. Crutchfield remembers that some teachers complained about the multiplication and conversion tables, which they said could help students cheat. “It was a controversy at one time,” he says. “One teacher said, ‘Hell, we can take the portfolios away from them while they’re doing their tests.’ Most of the teachers were very honest and said, ‘Anything that helps me pound it in their head is good.’”

Hilarious piece! I remember Trapper Keepers fondly from my childhood, though I don’t think I ever actually owned one.

(via daring fireball)

Convincing Millennials to ‘Marry a Nice Jewish Boy’

Fascinating. And a little creepy.

University physicists study urine splash-back and offer best tactics for men

Bob Yirka, writing for

It’s a problem males have dealt with since the advent of clothes and porcelain toilets—letting fly at the urinal inevitably results in some splash-back onto the floor, or worse, trousers. To better understand the problem, the team at BYU set up a water tank and nozzles (emitting colored water) to mimic the natural flow of human urine as it leaves the body. They then filmed the action using high-speed cameras. Scrutiny of the video allowed the team to clearly see which sorts of techniques cause the most, or least splash-back. They also set up another tank to mimic sitting on a toilet to pee, rather than standing at a urinal.

Sounds like an episode of Mythbusters!

(via reddit)

An In-Depth Introduction To Ember.js

I’ve been using Ember for various projects for some years now: Workshop Weekend and the admin pages of this blog both rely on it.

It’s exciting to see the framework develop, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

Looking for Intimacy in the Age of Facebook

Andrew Reiner, writing for the New York Times:

This dilating of my students’ apertures, I’ve come to believe, is exactly what they need both in and outside the classroom if they are going to have the kind of success and fulfillment they desire. That’s because the parts of their lives that truly matter to many of them during college — high marks and solid “A” social lives — are undermined by a widespread, constricting social anxiety that comes, paradoxically, from two of their greatest pleasures: texting and social media. A small but growing body of evidence suggests that excessive social media use can lead to an unhealthy fixation on how one is perceived and an obsessive competitiveness. Perhaps not surprisingly, this angsting can also lead to an unhealthy quest for perfection, a social perfection, which breeds an aperture-narrowing conformity.

I got my first glimpse of this at Towson University, where I teach. When I entered the classroom for the first time, I was baffled by glaring contradictions. Students arrived to class early yet they sat still, avoided eye contact and rarely took part in discussions. (If and when they finally spoke up, it usually came on the heels of another student’s comment, and they invariably prefaced their remarks by saying, “First of all, I agree with what you just said,” even if they contradicted their classmate in the next breath.) They handed in assignments (on time) that were formatted with the kind of attention to detail and design you might find in a shareholders prospectus. Yet the ideas darted in so many directions like dragonflies, never penetrating the surface.

Fascinating. And more than a little sad.

How China Profits From Our Junk

Adam Minter, writing for the Atlantic:

For the last two decades, much of the U.S.-and European-generated scrap metal exported to China flowed into Foshan, home of the Fontainebleau Hotel. But these days, if you’re riding on the elevated highway that cuts through and above most of Foshan, you won’t see any piles of metal, much less the smoke of burning wire and unvented furnaces. The people who live in Foshan’s expensive new high-rises won’t tolerate it. Instead, you’ll just see under-construction buildings and long strip malls filled with restaurants and small workshops that sell construction-related supplies.

Great read.

2 Lives Collide In Fatal Instant At Busy Airport

Jennifer Medina & Ian Lovett, writing for the New York Times:

Mr. Ciancia had assembled a small arsenal. Law enforcement officials said two legal guns registered to him were purchased early this year at The Target Range in Van Nuys, a suburban neighborhood of Los Angeles. The rifle recovered at the airport was also purchased by Mr. Ciancia in the Los Angeles area, according to a senior federal official.

My thoughts go out to the victims and their families.

Every time I read about violence in LA, the city names make me think I’m reading the plot summary of some Hollywood production.

The U.S. Needs a Constitution—Here's How to Write It

Alex Seitz-wald, writing for the Atlantic:

For one, the Public International Law & Policy Group, a pro-bono law firm that advises transitioning countries on the rule of law, developed a 222-page U.N.-endorsed “Post-Conflict Constitution Drafter’s Handbook” that practically offers constitution-writing by the word game Mad Libs. It comes complete with sample language (“The capital city of [State] is [Capital City]”), instructions on how to write a preamble, and a veritable choose-your-own adventure story of democratic forms of governance: Would you like to be a federal state, where power flows from the regions to the capital, or a unity state, where all power derives from the seat of government? Religious or secular? Democracy is available off the shelf.

“The crazy group of obstructionist politicians is [political party].”

I love it. Democracy Mad Libs!

Crimes Against Humanities

Leon Wieseltier, writing for New Republic:

The second line of attack to which the scientizers claim to have fallen victim comes from the humanities. This is a little startling, since it is the humanities that are declining in America, not least as a result of the exaggerated glamour of science. But some scientists and some scientizers feel prickly and self-pitying about the humanistic insistence that there is more to the world than science can disclose. It is not enough for them that the humanities recognize and respect the sciences; they need the humanities to submit to the sciences, and be subsumed by them. The idea of the autonomy of the humanities, the notion that thought, action, experience, and art exceed the confines of scientific understanding, fills them with a profound anxiety. It throws their totalizing mentality into crisis. And so they respond with a strange mixture of defensiveness and aggression. As people used to say about the Soviet Union, they expand because they feel encircled.

A few weeks ago this magazine published a small masterpiece of scientizing apologetics by Steven Pinker, called “Science Is Not Your Enemy.” Pinker utters all kinds of sentimental declarations about the humanities, which “are indispensable to a civilized democracy.” Nobody wants to set himself against sensibility, which is anyway a feature of scientific work, too. Pinker ranges over a wide variety of thinkers and disciplines, scientific and humanistic, and he gives the impression of being a tolerant and cultivated man, which no doubt he is. But the diversity of his analysis stays at the surface. His interest in many things is finally an interest in one thing. He is a foxy hedgehog. His essay, a defense of “scientism,” is a long exercise in assimilating humanistic inquiries into scientific ones. By the time Pinker is finished, the humanities are the handmaiden of the sciences, and dependent upon the sciences for their advance and even their survival.

I appreciate the content of Leon’s piece, but his tone is, to use the scientific term, utterly douchey.

For a minute, I thought his complaint that “scientizers” respond with a “strange mixture of defensiveness and aggression” was meant ironically, but then I read the rest of the piece.

Protecting Children From Toxic Stress

David Bornstein, writing for the New York Times:

This distinction is critical, because it opens the way to new opportunities to prevent a cascade of health problems. It is exceedingly difficult to alter the environments that produce major stress for families, particularly poverty. However, children can be shielded from the most damaging effects of stress if their parents are taught how to respond appropriately. “One thing that is highly protective is the quality of the relationship between the parent and the child,” explains Darcy Lowell, the founder of Child FIRST, a program based in Bridgeport, Conn., that has marshaled strong evidence demonstrating the ability to intervene early, at relatively low cost, to reduce the harm caused by childhood stress in extremely high-need families. “Early relationships, where adults are responsive and attentive, are able to buffer the damaging effects on the brain and body,” she says.


As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry

Tamar Lewin, writing for the New York Times:

Meanwhile, since the recession — probably because of the recession — there has been a profound shift toward viewing college education as a vocational training ground.

“College is increasingly being defined narrowly as job preparation, not as something designed to educate the whole person,” said Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies.

Treating college as a vocational program yields twentysomethings without purpose or understanding.

True Progressivism

The Economist:

At the core, there is a failure of ideas. The right is still not convinced that inequality matters. The left’s default position is to raise income-tax rates for the wealthy and to increase spending still further—unwise when sluggish economies need to attract entrepreneurs and when governments, already far bigger than Roosevelt or Lloyd George could have imagined, are overburdened with promises of future largesse. A far more dramatic rethink is needed: call it True Progressivism.

The closest thing I’ve seen in a while to a political manifesto I can get behind.

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with the Economist, perhaps most notably its endorsement of the disastrous George W. back in 2000. But it’s the most reasonable of the publications I read regularly.

Long-form YouTube: videos of entire long-distance train journeys

Cory Doctorow, writing for Boing Boing:

Case in point: subculture of YouTubers who post full-length train journeys, hours and hours’ worth — and if that’s not long-form enough, how about 134-hour sea crossings?

Awesome. I wish they were all HD!

Thoughts and Observations Regarding This Week's Apple Event Introducing the iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini

John Gruber, on Daring Fireball:

From what I’ve seen, and what Apple has said, the only differences between the iPad Air and the Mini are the screen size and $100. Same performance. Same storage capacity options. Same cameras. This is the iPad Mini I expected to see in October 2014, not 2013. The price for the new models has gone up, but given that the new Mini has achieved technical parity with the Air, and that the original iPad Mini remains available in a 16 GB configuration for just $299, the Mini’s pricing structure makes more sense than last year’s oddball starting price of $329.

I always enjoy reading Gruber’s analyses.

So You Want To Be A Writer? That’s Mistake #1

Ryan Holiday, writing on his personal blog:

What matters more now than any other single thing is that what you’re saying is different–that it’s interesting, that it provokes some response from people. You’ll only accomplish this if you’ve got something you have to say. Better yet, you need to have something that you can’t NOT say. If what you’re writing is a compulsion rather than a vehicle for your display how smart and well practiced you are.

High-Tech Window Cling is Like a Volume Knob for Real Life

Created by industrial designer Rudolf Stefanich, the Sono sticks to glass surfaces and literally allows you to dial down unwanted noise. After it receives a sound’s vibrations, it reprocesses them much like the active noise cancellation technology used in certain headphones. Sono’s interface acts as a dial, letting you choose which sounds you want blocked from your fortress of solitude.

Hilarious video.

Somehow I doubt this kind of device is actually possble!

Researchers Draw Romantic Insights From Maps of Facebook Networks

Steve Lohr, writing for the New York Times:

Their key finding was that the total number of mutual friends two people share — embeddedness, in social networking terms — is actually a fairly weak indicator of romantic relationships. Far better, they found, was a network measure that they call dispersion.

This yardstick measures mutual friends, but also friends from the further-flung reaches of a person’s network neighborhood. High dispersion occurs when a couple’s mutual friends are not well connected to one another.

Imagine Facebook’s version of the much-maligned Microsoft Office paperclip: “It looks like your relationship may be over within the next two months. Can I help you find a new partner?”


Amazon and the “profitless business model” fallacy

Eugene Wei:

But to me, a profitless business model is one in which it costs you $2 to make a glass of lemonade but you have to sell it for $1 a glass at your lemonade stand. But if you sell a glass of lemonade for $2 and it only costs you $1 to make it, and you decide business is so great you’re going to build a lemonade stand on every street corner in the world so you can eventually afford to move humanity into outer space or buy a newspaper in your spare time, and that requires you to invest all your profits in buying up some lemon fields and timber to set up lemonade franchises on every street corner, that sounds like a many things to me, but it doesn’t sound like a charitable organization.

Some people get it. When I had most of this post written, I started searching for articles analyzing Amazon’s business model, and I found this fantastic post by Benedict Evans which already states much of what I’ve written above. He understands Amazon to be a portfolio of businesses of varied maturity. But Evans is the exception, and so you can continue to expect a torrent of jokes each time Amazon releases its earnings and shows revenue growth but a negative net income. I’d love to see more external analysis of Amazon begin to focus on trying to break down its various investments in more detail and less time spent arguing whether its basic business model is profitable. Does the world need another story marvelling at how much Jeff can invest in his business? Is it that difficult to fathom that investing to try to be the largest retailer in the history of the world takes billions of dollars in investment?

A great look at Amazon and its business model.

(via news.yc)

In 'Flipped' Classrooms, a Method for Mastery

Tina Rosenberg, writing for the New York Times:

But a handful of innovative teachers are venturing further, using the flipped classroom to employ mastery learning — “flipped mastery,” as Bergmann and his fellow chemistry teacher Aaron Sams call it in their book, “Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.” Since the flipped classroom eliminates the whole-class lecture, they’ve realized, it has also eliminated the reason for students to work at a uniform pace.

Yes, yes, yes.

Italy Breaks Your Heart

Frank Bruni, writing for the New York Times:

“It’s unbelievable,” said Paolo Crepet, an Italian psychiatrist and lecturer whom I met on this trip. “We’re a creative people. We’re known around the world for our creativity.” But what he detects in his patients and audiences isn’t dynamism; it’s helplessness. “They’re waiting for somebody to lead them out,” he said. “They’re waiting for Godot.” Listening to him, I felt my stomach clench. Is fatalism what comes after too many years of pessimism? Is that where America is headed?

An interesting perspsective on Italy, and America.

It used to be that hard work alone got you somewhere. Now you need hard work and insight.

Successful people love to show off their insight — but hard work is often invisible. Everyone has to do work they don’t enjoy: do the work you hate so that you can do the work you love.

reCAPTCHAs are finally readable by normal humans

Jon Brodkin, writing for Ars Technica:

Google has figured out how to tell if you’re a human or a bot, and if you’re human you get an easy CAPTCHA. We’ve asked Google why a CAPTCHA would be necessary at all if the company already knows you’re human, but we haven’t received an answer yet.

Glad to see Ars Technica asking the right questions!

Masters of their universe

Francis Spufford, writing for the Guardain aboute Elite, the first exploratory space computer game:

From this followed a train of thought that went past at lightning speed:

  1. These games are crap, but sell for money.
  2. My games are not crap.
  3. Therefore my games could sell for money.

It was a moment of revelation, both philosophical and commercial.

Hilarious. Fun read!

(via news.yc)

The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think

James Somers, writing for the Atlantic:

Hofstadter wanted to ask: Why conquer a task if there’s no insight to be had from the victory? “Okay,” he says, “Deep Blue plays very good chess—so what? Does that tell you something about how we play chess? No. Does it tell you about how Kasparov envisions, understands a chessboard?” A brand of AI that didn’t try to answer such questions—however impressive it might have been—was, in Hofstadter’s mind, a diversion. He distanced himself from the field almost as soon as he became a part of it. “To me, as a fledgling AI person,” he says, “it was self-evident that I did not want to get involved in that trickery. It was obvious: I don’t want to be involved in passing off some fancy program’s behavior for intelligence when I know that it has nothing to do with intelligence. And I don’t know why more people aren’t that way.”

One answer is that the AI enterprise went from being worth a few million dollars in the early 1980s to billions by the end of the decade. (After Deep Blue won in 1997, the value of IBM’s stock increased by $18 billion.) The more staid an engineering discipline AI became, the more it accomplished. Today, on the strength of techniques bearing little relation to the stuff of thought, it seems to be in a kind of golden age. AI pervades heavy industry, transportation, and finance. It powers many of Google’s core functions, Netflix’s movie recommendations, Watson, Siri, autonomous drones, the self-driving car.

AI definitely went through a transition from trying to emulate the human mind to statistically replicate the results of human thinking.

I suspect that the human mind does a lot of statistical processing, but not only statistical processing, in its interpretation if the world. Someday we’ll have to return to the non-staristical parts.

Then again, Einstein didn’t like the standard model, but that didn’t make it go away.

The Grim Math of the Working-Class Housing Crisis

Sarah Goodyear, writing for the Atlantic Cities:

The abundant backlash to David Byrne’s essay included plenty of comments suggesting that people who want to find cheap rents and artistic ferment should just suck it up and leave New York, making their way to Newark, or Philadelphia, or Detroit, or Wichita. Fair enough. But even if you can’t bring yourself to care about the fate of sculptors being priced out of Bushwick, it’s surely time to realize that the lack of affordable housing is a profound threat to the ecosystem of the city itself. You simply cannot run a place like New York or Seattle or San Francisco without working-class people.


If each residential building in NYC suddenly doubled in volume, would this problem go away?

Could New York City Subways Survive Another Hurricane?

Robert Sullivan, writing for the New York Times:

The other sound he heard was at the Manhattan end of the Lexington Avenue line’s under-river tube — the Joralemon Street tunnel — which he entered via an emergency exit at South Ferry. What he heard there was as familiar to a tunnel inspector as a robin’s call is to a bird-watcher — a hard, rhythmic chug: chhhh…chhhh…chhhh…

It was the sound of old-school subway technology, a pneumatic pump powered by pressurized air from pipes that run all the way back up to 149th Street, where a compressed-air station was unaffected by Con Edison’s power outage downtown. There are dozens of air-compressor pumps all along the Lexington Avenue line; each one of them removes about 200 gallons of water per minute and is about 60 years old, having replaced early-20th-century models. Jezycki refers to these pumps as his Studebakers. They were struggling, but succeeding enough to keep the tunnel clear, draining the water that chased out Joe Leader before flowing downhill toward the East River tube. Aboveground, the plywood had kept the water out of the air vents.

Fascinating piece. I would love a tour of the NYC Subway that includes seeing all this industrial-era tech!

Fructose: the poison index

Robert Lustig, writing for the Guardian:

The EFSA has boosted the position of the sugar industry, either through incompetence or collusion. But it is clear that this recommendation is scientifically bogus. Nutritional policy should be based on science – not pseudoscience, as we have seen over the past 30 years.

Nutritional policy is based on the same thing as any other policy: the interests of those who draft and submit policies to legislators and policymakers. By and large, that’s people with a vested interest — one that’s usually not also in the public interest.

The inside story of Bombardier’s $4-billion gamble on a super quiet jet

Philip Preville, writing for Canadian Business:

At least, such is the craft’s promise. Thousands of hours of flight testing for both the 110-passenger CS100 and the larger, 135-passenger CS300 are still needed to prove their mettle. But it all starts with first flight, and when the moment finally arrived at least one promise was made manifest: as FTV1 lifted off, those in attendance, standing a mere 150 metres away, could barely hear it make a sound. It was a stark contrast to the clearly audible Global5000 jet that had taken off minutes before, and it was that silence that caused their hearts to skip a beat.

FTV1 flew for two and a half hours that morning, reaching heights of 12,500 feet. When it landed, just as quietly as it had taken off, the magnitude of the event began to sink in.

That sounds amazing. I can’t wait for quieter planes!

Wall Street Billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller Is Blowing the Whistle on Generational Theft—and Standing Up for Generation Y

James Freeman, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

One of the great ironies of the Obama presidency is that it has been a disaster for the young people who form the core of his political coalition. High unemployment is paired with exploding debt that they will have to finance whenever they eventually find jobs.

Indeed, this is one the sadder political realities of recent years.

A lot of the social welfare state as currently constituted suffers when growth stagnates. American economic growth has certainly been stagnant recently, so it’s not surprising we keep running into debt problems. Like Stanley, I don’t think the solution is higher rates for regressive taxes like the payroll tax; unlike Stanley, I don’t think the solution is means-testing welfare benefits.

Instead I think the solution is policies that support economic growth: better education, policies that support on-the-job training, greater investment in infrastructure, and fewer restictions on housing density — just to name a few.

But the entrenched interests fighting against the greater good when it comes to these policies are wealthy and well-organized. It will be a difficult battle.

The Economist Who Just Won a Nobel Prize Thinks Owning a Home Is a Terrible Investment

Emily Bagger, quoting Yale economist Robert Schiller on the housing bubble:

So, why was it considered an investment? That was a fad. That was an idea that took hold in the early 2000’s. And I don’t expect it to come back. Not with the same force. So people might just decide, ‘Yeah, I’ll diversify my portfolio. I’ll live in a rental.’ That is a very sensible thing for many people to do.

That all may be true, but it sure doesn’t feel like it here in the Bay Area.

Stephen King’s Family Business

Great piece by Susan Dominus in the New York Times. I especially like this gem:

One of Tabby’s favorite T-shirts reads, “If I’m speaking, you should be taking notes,” and frequently, her family members do. “When I wrote ‘NOS4A2,’ I wrote a really bleak ending, and I was artistically committed to it, come hell or high water — right up until Mum read it,” Joe said, sitting at the table with his family. “She said, ‘You know, Joe, that ending really won’t do.’ I was like, ‘Aww, all right.’ My artistic integrity lasted about 15 seconds on the phone with my mum.”

More on Chicken

Salmonella-contaminated chicken is still being sold. What an embarrassment for the FDA.

How Science Figured Out the Age of the Earth

Paul Bratermag, writing for Scientific American:

Nevertheless, by the late 19th century the geologists included here had reached a consensus for the age of the earth of around 100 million years. Having come that far, they were initially quite reluctant to accept a further expansion of the geologic timescale by a factor of 10 or more. And we should resist the temptation to blame them for their resistance. Radioactivity was poorly understood. Different methods of measurement (such as the decay of uranium to helium versus its decay to lead) sometimes gave discordant values, and almost a decade passed between the first use of radiometric dating and the discovery of isotopes, let alone the working out of the three separate major decay chains in nature. The constancy of radioactive decay rates was regarded as an independent and questionable assumption because it was not known—and could not be known until the development of modern quantum mechanics—that these rates were fixed by the fundamental constants of physics.

Interesting read. I’m a little sad now that basically all of physics is pretty much understood.

But at least there’s chemistry and biology to pick up the slack!

I wish I could read the full series without paying $9.99 though.

Life is all about killing the magic

Micael Widell, on his personal blog:

When I was a kid, the most magical things out there were computers. Over the years I killed that magic by learning everything about them. From the circuit board to the software that runs on the operating system. Today there is nothing magical or intriguing with computers to me.

Overall I like the sentiment here. But maybe the reason there’s nothing magical about computers for Mr. Widell is that he’s the CTO of a Swedish bargain-hunting website.


Mark Boulton, writing on his personal blog:

One of the other pain points of a complex dynamic website, where ‘pages’ are created with bits of content from all over the place is ‘where the hell do I go to find that bit of content to edit it?’. That is a painful moment in a content person’s daily life. Normally, after watching them, they go off deep into search, or ask someone else who knows better. Accessing these smaller nuggets of logic-based content is problematic. This is why inline-editing and WYSIWYG is coming to the fore – addressing the use case in the live environment.

Why is this a problem?

As I said before, it’s hiding the truth. That being, the content is more than you can see. Instead of inline editing of the content, why not just make the start of that journey a little easier? Why not provide a way of quickly getting to exactly that bit of content with a link? There we will see all of the stuff that is the content but not the words: the display logic, taxonomies, meta data etc. But if we want to change a type, we can do that with our little toolbar.

I think I agree with Mark here. Have a single, canonical editor, and allow multiple easy access points to it. (I’ve done this on my personal blog to great effect.)

That said, publishing — even on the web — relies a lot on how things look. No matter how much semantics you put into it, “how does it look?” will always be a critical question.

Presenting The Gold iPhone 5s

Gold is best.

Best. Best. Best.


The Economics of a Hit TV Show

Jon Nathanson, writing for the Priceonomics blog:

Viewing Subscribers grew like gangbusters in 2009 at 23% year over year (Breaking Bad premiered in 2008 and first gained traction in 2009; Mad Men had premiered in 2007). It increased at a respectable clip in 2010 and even in 2011, despite a small decline in Total Network Subscribers. And it grew at 19% from 2011 to 2012, the same year Breaking Bad doubled its audience size.

To determine the show’s effect on the network’s revenue, we need to hit the books. AMC Networks earned $1.25 billion in revenues in 2012, about 41.7% of which came from advertising, and 58.3% came from distribution and affiliate fees. As discussed, the 41.7% is the figure we care about in our analysis; it’s the one driven directly, year over year, by the shows on the network.

This was a fascinating read, and the comparisons to Venture Capital seem apt. There are a very small number of winners — and it’s hard to predict which — that really drive all the profits in the industry.

I’m waiting for someone to turn this industry on its head. In fact, the whole creative content distribution industry seems ripe for some change.

How the GOP Slowly Went Insane

Jon Lovett, writing for the Atlantic:

America needs a strong, rational, positive, practical conservative movement. It needs that bulwark against liberal delusion and hubris. It needs a voice that says we are imperfect, that life is complex, that government can create need even as it meets need, that you can’t fix everything and freedom is worth some danger and sorrow. And there are smart, honest conservatives at the ready to be that voice, to help govern practically and sincerely with that voice, but they are drowned out by the guttural scream of craven utopians raging against reality.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

(via boing boing)

Trouble at the lab

From the Economist:

In 2005 John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist from Stanford University, caused a stir with a paper showing why, as a matter of statistical logic, the idea that only one such paper in 20 gives a false-positive result was hugely optimistic. Instead, he argued, “most published research findings are probably false.” As he told the quadrennial International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, held this September in Chicago, the problem has not gone away.

Dr Ioannidis draws his stark conclusion on the basis that the customary approach to statistical significance ignores three things: the “statistical power” of the study (a measure of its ability to avoid type II errors, false negatives in which a real signal is missed in the noise); the unlikeliness of the hypothesis being tested; and the pervasive bias favouring the publication of claims to have found something new.

Many scientific fields have accepted statistical-significancy rates that produce far too many false positives. The bias towards positive results also means that most published papers that meet the 95% threshold many fields use are probably false positives.

It’s quite sad. We’ve let the scientific complex get in the way of, well, science.

Should You Eat Chicken?

Mark Bittman, writing for the New York Times:

To its credit, Costco pulled the rotisserie chicken from its shelves, as did a couple of other retailers. (To its debit, Costco left raw Foster Farms chicken on the shelves, once again transferring the burden of safety to the consumer, even though the store must have known that it couldn’t guarantee that cooking the chicken would render it safe.) Foster Farms has not recalled a single piece of chicken, although it’s arguable that this same contamination has been going on for months. And F.S.I.S. officially has no power to do so.

WTF? Ew.

The answer, at least in the short term, is a pretty obvious NO in my book.

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses

Joshua Davis, writing for Wired:

And yet the dominant model of public education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when workplaces valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else. (In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the “appearance of a machine,” one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”) We don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate mastery of a narrow set of skills—doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed, programmed, and quality-tested. School administrators prepare curriculum standards and “pacing guides” that tell teachers what to teach each day. Legions of managers supervise everything that happens in the classroom; in 2010 only 50 percent of public school staff members in the US were teachers.

The results speak for themselves: Hundreds of thousands of kids drop out of public high school every year. Of those who do graduate from high school, almost a third are “not prepared academically for first-year college courses,” according to a 2013 report from the testing service ACT. The World Economic Forum ranks the US just 49th out of 148 developed and developing nations in quality of math and science instruction. “The fundamental basis of the system is fatally flawed,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford and founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “In 1970 the top three skills required by the Fortune 500 were the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1999 the top three skills in demand were teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. We need schools that are developing these skills.”

That’s why a new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.

Yes! I feel like I’ve been saying this for years.

Living on $5,000 a year, on purpose

Nona Willix-Aronowitz, writing for NBC’s In Plain Sight:

More than two decades ago, then-33-year-old Dan Price had a wife, two small children, a high-interest mortgage, and a stressful job as a photojournalist in Kentucky. He worried daily about money and the workaday grind.

“I told myself, ‘buck up and pay the bills,’” said Price. “This is just the way normal life is.”

Then he learned about what he calls “the simple life.” Price read Payne Hollow, a 1974 book about author Harlan Hubbard’s rejection of modernity and his primitive home on the shore of the Ohio River. Price’s marriage dissolved soon after, and the whole family moved to Oregon, where he grew up. Price opted to move alone into a tiny cabin in the woods, then a flophouse, then a teepee, and finally into an underground “Hobbit hole” on a horse pasture near a river, where he still lives. During the winter, he decamps to Hawaii to surf and avoid the harsh weather.


TED talks are lying to you

Thomas Frank, writing for

What our correspondent realized, in that flash of bathtub-generated insight, was that this literature isn’t about creativity in the first place. While it reiterates a handful of well-known tales — the favorite pop stars, the favorite artists, the favorite branding successes — it routinely ignores other creative milestones that loom large in the history of human civilization. After all, some of the most consistent innovators of the modern era have also been among its biggest monsters. He thought back, in particular, to the diabolical creativity of Nazi Germany, which was the first country to use ballistic missiles, jet fighter planes, assault rifles and countless other weapons. And yet nobody wanted to add Peenemünde, where the Germans developed the V-2 rocket during the 1940s, to the glorious list of creative hothouses that includes Periclean Athens, Renaissance Florence, Belle Époque Paris and latter-day Austin, Texas. How much easier to tell us, one more time, how jazz bands work, how someone came up with the idea for the Slinky, or what shade of paint, when applied to the walls of your office, is most conducive to originality.

Hilarious. In fact, the whole piece is hilarious.

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?

Christine Gross-Loh, writing for the Atlantic:

The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications. Confucius, Mencius, and other Chinese philosophers taught that the most mundane actions can have a ripple effect, and Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the grocery clerk—change the course of the day by affecting how we feel.

That rush of good feeling that comes after a daily run, the inspiring conversation with a good friend, or the momentary flash of anger that arises when someone cuts in front of us in line—what could they have to do with big life matters? Everything, actually. From a Chinese philosophical point of view, these small daily experiences provide us endless opportunities to understand ourselves. When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations. Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.”

If the body leads, the mind will follow. Behaving kindly (even when you are not feeling kindly), or smiling at someone (even if you aren’t feeling particularly friendly at the moment) can cause actual differences in how you end up feeling and behaving, even ultimately changing the outcome of a situation.

Very interesting.

There’s an irony, though, to the tone of the article — it’s the typical attitude so common in post-TED journalism (“here’s a cool thing you can read about in 17 minutes that’s so powerful it may change your life”) but in an article about a philosophy of making consistent small changes over decades to better yourself.

Is Music the Key to Success?

Joanne Lipman, writing for the New York Times:

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.

Anecdotal, but interesting.

Don’t ask if BART earnings are fair

Lewis Lehe, writing on Medium:

Suppose there were some technology that rendered BART’s whole workforce unnecessary. Robots maybe. Or some super-efficient private contractor. The public would face a choice: we could lay off all the workers and use the savings to send trains more places, more frequently, and at a higher level of comfort and safety. Or we could carry on.

Using the technology would be unarguably worse for the workers…much, much worse than not receiving pay raises, because their current wages and benefits are so good they would have no chance to find anything similar anywhere else. But it would be much better for riders.

It’s not a stretch to assume we would make this decision without much ado. Voters would lay off the workers. Not because of some cost-benefit analysis about the gains to the riders against the losses of the workers, though. We would fire them all because making places accessible is what the system is for. It’s why we built it[.]

Just putting that out there.

Turning Education Upside Down

Tina Rosenberg, writing for the New York Times:

The results were dramatic: the failure rate in English dropped from 52 percent to 19 percent; in math, it dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent; in science, from 41 percent to 19 percent; and in social studies, from 28 percent to 9 percent.

The next year, in the fall of 2011, Clintondale flipped completely — every grade, every class. “On average we approximated a 30 percent failure rate,” said Green. “With flipping, it dropped to under 10 percent.” Graduation rates rose dramatically, and are now over 90 percent. College attendance went from 63 percent in 2010 to 80 percent in 2012.

Very interesting look at one school’s experience with the flipped classroom model.

On the one hand, common sense suggests that teachers spending more one-on-one time with struggling students can only be for the best.

On the other hand, one school’s experience doesn’t necessarily generalize. And the observed improvement could be due to a sense of “things changing” at the school, the kids feeling like they are a part of a movement greater than themselves, and thus finding more motivation in their schooling.

The Architecture of Autism

Is the pendulum of psychiatric care swinging back from treatment to exile?

Should we stop believing Malcolm Gladwell?

A critical take on a popular author. Paul Raeburn, writing for Knight Science Journalism blog, concludes:

I have long been an admirer of Gladwell’s; I wish I could put stories together the way he does. But I’m now afraid to read him. My work, my intellectual life, and even my social and emotional experiences with my family are based on knowing what’s really going on—not Gladwell’s made-up ideas of how things should be. I don’t want to base my reading, or my life, on Gladwell’s currency: things that might or might not be true, but which make possible masterful storytelling.

What Is the Higgs?

An interactive graphic from the NY Times on the Higgs Boson and its observation.

I … I think I actually kind of like it.

Health Exchange Tech Problems Point To A Thornier Issue

Elise Hu, writing for NPR’s All Tech Considered:

The primary contractor behind the federal health exchange software is a global firm called CGI Federal, which didn’t want to comment for this story. Johnson says it’s not that CGI or other contractors behind are bad. They’re probably just not the best, because the best people at these tech solutions don’t bother applying.

“In order to fix these problems in the long term, what we’ve gotta do is encourage the federal government to open its doors to smaller, more agile vendors who are better at solving these larger problems,” Johnson says.

Like I said.

Classical Musicians, Too, Make Berlin Their Capital

Rebecca Schmid, writing for the New York Times:

“It is interesting to live in a city that is undergoing permanent changes,” he said in the airy, high-ceilinged apartment he shares with his companion in the quiet district of Schöneberg. “Things are not completely solved. What I find extremely positive is that Berlin carries its history with such a level of cleverness, reflection and sense for justice. I think that’s a big lesson to mankind.”


The American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, 31, and her new husband, the conductor Rafael Payare, have plans to make the city their European base soon — not least because so many musician and artist friends are flocking here.

“Berlin is what New York was 30 years ago, and I mean that in the best possible sense,” she said by phone from her Manhattan home. “It has all the advantages but without the craziness. Because it’s so affordable, it is much more inclusive, in a way. There is such a sense of discovery and openness.”

Obamacare site hits reset button on passwords as contractors scramble

Sean Gallagher, writing for Ars Technica:

A test of the site this morning had me waiting four minutes to get to the signup page; others got on instantly. But problems persist beyond the front door. The contractors responsible for the exchange—CGI Federal for the website itself, Quality Software Systems Inc. (QSSI) for the information “hub” that determines eligibility for programs and provides the data on qualified insurance plans, and Booz Allen for enrollment and eligibility technical support—are scrambling to deploy more fixes.

I guess there are still companies out there that write crappy software.

It’s one thing to have an overload on day 1. It’s another thing entirely to drop password changes silently.

Could it be that the only web firms that apply for federal contracts are the ones that aren’t any good?

The Crazy, Intense Schedule of Competitive Youth Soccer? Bring It On

Lisa Catherine Harper, writing for the New York Times:

Already our daughter knows how to dig deep. Like us, she values expertise and excellence. As one team parent said to me, the world is no longer a liberal arts college. If it were, exposure would be enough. Increasingly, the world requires focused skill. The ability to specialize, to know what it takes to be an expert, these are vital. From this point of view, learning what’s necessary to kick a great penalty shot is a skill that translates.

Any serious athlete knows how to be coached, how to take direction, how to respond to criticism. These meta-skills are essential even in creative professions, and my husband and I believe they are among the greatest benefits of our daughter’s relationship with her skilled and demanding coach.

Critical skills in any field!

Writing Effective Cold Emails

Interesting take on sales. Iris Shoor, on her personal blog

When I started to cold email prospects I asked for feedback, thoughts or advice. It didn’t work. I found out that the more direct I am the more likely I am to get a meeting. If I’m mailing potential users I write that I want them to try out Takipi on their production servers. If I’m looking for advice I try to be as specific as possible (“I wanted to hear your opinion on SaaS vs. on-premises”, for example). When you’re seeking help, people are more likely to answer if they feel they can really help you. When you’re very specific and asking something directly related to their domain there’s a much higher chance they’d be interested in meeting you.

Good discussion too on hacker news.

That’s not autism: It’s simply a brainy, introverted boy

A fascinating look at common “symptoms of autism” and whether they really are so. Enrich Gnaulati, writing for

Granted, William is far more comfortable isolating himself and studying political geography and rock-and-roll memorabilia than he is hanging out at the mall. In addition, he can still explode emotionally when he is forced to switch activities, such as applying himself to his homework rather than researching Fender guitars or the geography of Iceland on the Internet. Moreover, he’ll only incorporate new food items into his diet when he has tried them at a fancy restaurant that doesn’t have kiddie foods such as pizza, hot dogs, or peanut butter sandwiches on the menu. However, these traits and behaviors don’t mean that he’s autism spectrum disordered. They reveal William to be a brainy, somewhat introverted, individualistically minded boy whose overexcitement for ideas and need for control cause problems with parents and peers.

Lots of great information in this piece.

U.S. Women Are Dying Younger Than Their Mothers, and No One Knows Why

Grace Wyler, writing for the Atlantic:

In May, Jennifer Karas Montez, a social demographer who studies health inequalities, co-authored a study that was the first to investigate how quality of life might be playing a role in the early deaths of female high-school dropouts. Montez found that while smoking accounts for half of the decline in life expectancy among these women, whether or not a woman has a job is equally significant. “Women without a high-school degree have not made inroads in the labor force, especially in post-recession America,” Montez said in an interview. In fact, only one-third of women without a high-school diploma are employed, compared to half of their male counterparts, and nearly three-quarters of better-educated women. When they are employed, Montez said, it is usually in low-wage jobs that offer no benefits or flexibility. Smoking and other destructive behaviors, she added, may just be symptoms of the heightened stress and loneliness experienced by women who don’t graduate from high school.


“If the 1% stifles New York's creative talent, I'm out of here”

David Byrne, writing for the Guardian:

Many of the wealthy don’t even live here. In the neighborhood where I live (near the art galleries in Chelsea), I can see three large condos from my window that are pretty much empty all the time. What the fuck!? Apparently, rich folks buy the apartments, but might only stay in them a few weeks out of a year. So why should they have an incentive to maintain or improve the general health of the city? They’re never here.

This real estate situation – a topic New Yorkers love to complain about over dinner – doesn’t help the future health of the city. If young, emerging talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been. Those places might have museums, but they don’t have culture. Ugh. If New York goes there – more than it already has – I’m leaving.

Every time I go back to NYC, I find that it has changed. It’s cleaner, safer, more upscale, less interesting.

Rich People Just Care Less

Daniel Goleman, writing for the New York Times:

Mr. Keltner suggests that, in general, we focus the most on those we value most. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.

Very interesting.

You Must Try, and then You Must Ask

Matt Ringel, writing on

When I was a wee little New Hire at my current employer, one of the things that came up a lot was the “15 minute rule.” That is, if you’re stuck on a problem, take a solid 15 minutes to bash your brain against it in whatever manner you see fit. However, if you still don’t have an answer after 15 minutes, you must ask someone. I shorten this down to “You must try, and then you must ask.”

It’s so rare that I read a piece of programming or workplace advice and agree with it fully.

This is one.

(via news.yc)

And Then Steve Said, ‘Let There Be an iPhone’

Fred Vogelstein, writing for the New York Times:

It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone — something Apple had never made before — he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. Even though the iPhone wouldn’t go on sale for another six months, he wanted the world to want one right then. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs.

The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.

Fascinating! An excellent read for those of you into the history of tech.

Star Wars...starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Dr. Spock

Another great clip, this time featuring Sir Patrick Stewart, one of my all-time favorite actors.

String Theory Set To An A Capella Rendition Of Bohemian Rhapsody

I’m having a hard time coming up with words that would effectively describe how amazing this video is.

Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law

Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff, writing for the New York Times:

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.


Cockblocked by Redistribution: A Pick-up Artist in Denmark

Katie J.M. Baker, writing for Dissent Magazine:

We can agree with pick-up artists that men and women exhibit some behavioral differences. But the PUA framework places their sources in evolution instead of the sexual and social division of labor. In her essay “A Marxist Theory of Women’s Nature,” philosopher Nancy Holmstrom argues that women’s lives are less free than men’s under capitalism “both because they are dependent on men and because they have children dependent on them.” Therefore, “traditional sexual values constrain women more than they do men,” and women “are less able to act to realize their own desires” and must be “more passive and oriented to other people’s wishes than men.”

But in societies with a less marked sexual division of labor, those sexualized generalizations dissipate. Marginalized women who need male spouses to flourish might, indeed, find pick-up artists alluring. But women in countries that have gender-equalizing policies supported by an anti-individualist culture may not.

I’m sure my enjoyment of this article was largely schadenfreude., US insurance marketplace which opened today, is snagged by technical problems, the California insurance marketplace, is struggling this morning too.

I have yet to be served any CSS files from the application portal; the site looks pretty broken to me.

Australia’s 1975 Government Shutdown

It ended a little differently.

Max Fisher, writing for the Washington Post:

Australia’s 1975 shutdown ended pretty differently, though, than they do here in America. Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative in Australia, Governor General Sir John Kerr, simply dismissed the prime minister. He appointed a replacement, who immediately passed the spending bill to fund the government. Three hours later, Kerr dismissed the rest of Parliament. Then Australia held elections to restart from scratch. And they haven’t had another shutdown since.

(via reddit)

Keep Farmland for Farmers

Lindsey Lusher Shute and Benjamin Shute, writing for the New York Times:

Once well-off city residents who are looking for second homes buy the land, farmer ownership is over. After they’ve added an air-conditioned home, a heated pool and an asphalt drive, the value increases so much that no working farmer can afford it. The farm, and its capacity to feed a community, is lost.

Thankfully, there is a solution. The Vermont Land Trust and the State of Massachusetts are keeping farmland in the hands of farmers through stricter conservation easements that limit who can own it, which keeps farms affordable and deters farm sales to nonfarmers.


Why new parents (and almost-parents) need pertussis vaccines

Maggie Koerth-Baker, writing for Boing Boing:

So why re-up on the Tdap before the birth of our baby? It’s all about the pertussis. Also called whooping cough, pertussis is particularly hard on infants. Pre-vaccine, it killed 4000 Americans every year, and most of them were new babies — and infections are on the rise in this country, so there’s actually a reasonable risk of a newborn coming into contact with the bacteria that causes pertussis. But the larger problem is with the pertussis vaccine, itself. It doesn’t have the staying power it once did. A little over 20 years ago, we switched the formulation for pertussis vaccines. There were good reasons for doing that — the “new” formula has fewer side effects. But it also doesn’t seem to protect people as well for as long. In fact, the protection starts to wear off within a year of vaccination.

I’m a little confused: is the vaccine actually less effective? Or does it just wear off faster?

Refuse NSA, Go To Jail?

Andrea Peterson, writing for the Washington Post:

Nacchio was convicted of selling of Qwest stock in early 2001, not long before the company hit financial troubles. However, he claimed in court documents that he was optimistic about the firm’s ability to win classified government contracts — something they’d succeeded at in the past. And according to his timeline, in February 2001 — some six months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — he was approached by the NSA and asked to spy on customers during a meeting he thought was about a different contract. He reportedly refused because his lawyers believed such an action would be illegal and the NSA wouldn’t go through the FISA Court. And then, he says, unrelated government contracts started to disappear.

Nacchio was prevented from bringing up any of this defense during his jury trial — the evidence needed to support it was deemed classified and the judge in his case refused his requests to use it. And he still believes his prosecution was retaliatory for refusing the NSA requests for bulk access to customers’ phone records. Some other observers share that opinion, and it seems consistent with evidence that has been made public, including some of the redacted court filings unsealed after his conviction.

Well, that’s scary.

(via reddit)

Who Goes to Work? Who Stays Home?

Stays home: NASA TV employees.

Must work: International Space Station scientists.

That’s a great table right there.

Time Is Short, but G.O.P. Leaders Say Shutdown Can Be Avoided

Brian Knowlton & Jeremy W. Peters, writing for the New York Times:

“There’s no reason the Senate should be home on vacation” at such a time, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, one of the sharpest critics of the health care law, said Sunday on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”

The same Ted Cruz who delayed this whole process single-handedly by nearly a day?

The hypocrisy in Congress blows my mind sometimes.

Imagining a Remapped Middle East

Robin Wright, writing for the New York Times:

“The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat.

Understatement of the year. One needs only look at the India/Pakistan conflict to see what happens to contested regions in a post-colonial separation.

Overall, an interesting piece — be sure to check out the accompanying map.

“A Nightly Dinner Out That’s Like Therapy”

Corey Kilgannon, writing for the New York Times:

Twice a week, a server there greets him, walks him to his usual corner table and brings his regular glass of chardonnay, his appetizer of raw salmon and tuna, and then the swordfish, skin removed, with vegetables specially puréed for his dentures to handle.

“The food and the ambience, it’s my therapy — it gives me energy,” he said.

Wow, this is quite possibly the cutest story I’ve ever heard.

Larry Lessig looks back on Eldred v. Ashcroft

A bittersweet look back on Eldred v. Ashcroft, the case that upheld the latest copyright extension act.

Copyright was not intended to be indefinite, and there is great harm in making it so. Despite that, Congress has repeatedly made it so.

A long read, and a little sad, but definitely worth it.

NodeBots, the Rise of JavaScript Robotics

Chris Williams, on his blog at

I say this because every day I hear more people making newer, brighter, more robotic things with node-serialport. I recently came across BreakoutJS which is nobly attempting to make it even easier to interoperate with sensors and devices. This makes me happy and it should make you happy as well, if just to witness the energy and excitement. For me, the hobbyist hardware domain is more real than programming code, it is crossing of the boundary from abstract to real-life and has a massive potential to do a lot of good for a lot of people. Should it eventually be coupled with a strong AI system like a Clojure? Absolutely, but for now, play and experimentation are the key.

Loving the use of JavaScript and Node.js in robotics and hardware!

Is It Safe to Eat Soy?

Anahad O’Connor, writing for the New York Times:

As far as any downside, most of the health concerns about soy stem from its concentration of phytoestrogens, a group of natural compounds that resemble estrogen chemically. Some experts have questioned whether soy might lower testosterone levels in men and cause problems for women who have estrogen-sensitive breast cancers. Animal studies have found, for example, that large doses of phytoestrogens can fuel the growth of tumors.

Fascinating. Are all these interactions well-understood? I seem to recall much of the debate around the new soylent meal replacement stuff could be boiled down to the question of how well we understand the effects of diet on the human body.

Kids + Social Media

Nancy Jo Sales, writing for Vanity Fair:

“On Tumblr there’s ‘The Rich Kids of Instagram,’ which is these kids trying to show off their wealth, and it’s so not O.K., it’s revolting, but it still makes me feel bad about myself—kind of like I’m not part of it.”

She said there was a term for this, FOMO—fear of missing out.

She told me about parties where girls “literally wear nothing” and kids take Molly, MDMA. “The ‘in’ thing for girls to do is to really just go nuts at parties, just go insane. They feel like the more they drink and the crazier they act, the more guys will come to them.” Crazy how? “Dancing around, flashing their boobs.”

Attention-seeking, insecure, and manipulative adolescents will always be attention-seeking, insecure, and manipulative.

The fact that they can now use digital media to transmit their attention-seeking, manipulative insecurities only makes it easier for the rest of us to see it.

It doesn’t make bullying and manipulation OK, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think these are new problems caused by new media.

Same old problems, still sadly unsolved.

Aerial photos of San Francisco in the 1950s

Love these older photos!

Peter Hartlaub, writing for the SF Chronicle:

San Francisco will always be a photogenic place, but I think the peak of raw beauty was probably the 1950s. Both bridges were built, and the largest buildings that now dominate the skyline were still a decade in the future. It was less of an architectural hodge-podge, before the classic and modern styles started to clash.

Why Szechuan Peppers Make Your Lips Go Numb

From Surprising Science on

Now, in a study that required some uncommonly compliant volunteers—they let their lips get brushed with ground Szechuan pepper—researchers found that the peppers produce the tingle by exciting tactile sensors in our lips and mouth. In other words, it seems that apart from tasting the peppers’ spiciness, we feel it too, as though our lips are being physically touched by the chemicals present in the Szechuans.


The Many Mysteries of Air Travel

David Pogue, writing for the New York Times:

Q: “Many of the three-letter codes for airports make no sense.”

A. The non-obvious ones are probably holdovers from the airports’ previous names. “MCO is derived from MCCoy Field, the original name for Orlando International. Chicago O’Hare’s identifier, ORD, pays honors to the old Orchard Field.”

I should mention, by the way, that this book is frequently funny. For example, the author notes, “A campaign was launched in 2002 to change the identifier for the Sioux City, Iowa, from SUX to something less objectionable. The campaign failed.”

Poor Siouxlanders. :(

Law professor denied boarding Easyjet flight for criticizing airline on Twitter

Mark Leiser:

So the the manager arrived and told me that based on my tweet they couldn’t let me board the flight because I wasn’t allowed to do that and I should know better. He then called over to the girl on the counter to instruct my bags be taken off the flight. It wasn’t until I asked him if he’d heard of free speech that the tone changed. He asked me if I was a lawyer and I told him I taught law at Strathclyde.

Someone call the douche police.

(via boing boing)

Linux UIs: why do they suck so?

John Gruber, on Daring Fireball:

By focusing on A.T. [“Aunt Tillie,” the archetypal nontechnical user], Raymond is ignoring the actual depth of the problem. It’s easy to say, The open source community needs to do better, we need to create software A.T. can use. But they’re so far away from this right now that even an expert like Eric Raymond can’t figure out how to use their software.

The “I thought I was the only one” letters that Raymond found so interesting aren’t coming from the A.T.-set; they’re coming from Linux geeks who read essays written by Eric Raymond. And they’re frustrated by open source software’s terrible usability. The problem isn’t just that dear old A.T. can’t use desktop Linux — the problem is that even Linux geeks have trouble figuring it out.

An interesting perspective on a decades-old problem.


“What I learned from getting shot”

Brian Beutler, writing for Salon:

Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact.

A very statistically sound perspective.

“The $200K lesson I learned from getting shot”

Brian Beutler, writing for Salon:

One of the less obvious consequences of serious accidents is that victims often become uninsurable on the individual market as a result. Freelance work just wasn’t an option for me.

Obamacare really will change that. But only if it works. And it won’t work if too many young people decide to roll the dice.

I’ve long thought the biggest positive effect of Obamacare — aside from providing healthcare for many who don’t have it today, of course — is that more folks will be able to work outside the traditional corporate structure.

I’m excited.

No, You Cannot be a Professor

Larry Cebula:

This is not because you are not bright enough. You are plenty bright. In any case, finishing a Ph.D. program is more a matter of persistence than intelligence. The reason you are not going to be a professor is because that job is going away, and yet doctoral programs continue to produce as many new Ph.D.s as ever. It is a simple calculation of odds—you are not going to win the lottery, you are not going to be struck by a meteorite, you are not going to be a professor. All of these things will happen to someone, somewhere, but none of them will happen to you.

Mom, this is why I didn’t go to grad school and try to become a professor.

How fast could you travel across the U.S. in the 1800s?

Michael Graham Richard, writing for Mother Nature Network:

I’m sure you immediately noticed the major change in the map above. By 1857, which is still within one lifetime from someone born around 1800, travel by rail (the fastest way to get around at the time — remember that the Wright brothers were not even born yet and air travel was far off in the future) had gotten significantly faster.

You could now do in a day or two what used to take a couple weeks. With a week’s travel you could get to the eastern border of Texas, and in about four weeks you could get to California. Only the Northwest took longer than a month to reach from New York City.

Some excellent and fascinating maps in here.

The American Dream, RIP?

From the Economist’s latest Lexington column:

Many voters remember a time when hard work was reliably rewarded with economic security. This was not really true in the 1950s and 60s if you were black or female, but the question still remains: what if Mr Cowen is right? What if the bottom 85% today are mostly doomed to stay there? In a country founded on hope, that would require something like a new social contract. Politicians cannot duck Mr Cowen’s conundrum for ever.


The Real Reason the Poor Go Without Bank Accounts

Lisa J. Servon, writing for The Atlantic Cities:

Being a regular at the check casher also brings more tangible benefits. Marta, another regular, came to my window one afternoon with a government issued disability check to cash. When I input the number from her RiteCheck keytag into my computer, the screen indicated she owed RiteCheck $20 from every check she cashed. I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to Cristina for advice. I learned that Marta had cashed a bad check awhile back, and that RiteCheck had worked out an arrangement in which she could pay RiteCheck back in installments.

“Pero no tengo los veinte pesos hoy,” Marta explained. Marta could not pay the $20 today—she needed her entire check to cover an unexpected expense.

“No te preocupes, mami—la próxima vez.” Cristina knew Marta would be good for her debt, and that accommodating her situation was good for business.


Why It Pays to Be the Youngest Kid in Class

Maria Konnikova, writing for the New Yorker:

Few researchers would dispute that, in the immediate term, being relatively bigger, quicker, smarter, and stronger is a good thing. Repeatedly, the studies have found exactly that—older kindergarten students perform better on tests, receive better teacher evaluations, and do better socially. But then, something happens: after that early boost, their performance takes a nosedive. By the time they get to eighth grade, any disparity has largely evened out—and, by college, younger students repeatedly outperform older ones in any given year.


(via news.yc)

My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me

Karl Taro Greenfeld, writing for The Atlantic:

I have found, at both schools, that whenever I bring up the homework issue with teachers or administrators, their response is that they are required by the state to cover a certain amount of material. There are standardized tests, and everyone—students, teachers, schools—is being evaluated on those tests. I’m not interested in the debates over teaching to the test or No Child Left Behind. What I am interested in is what my daughter is doing during those nightly hours between 8 o’clock and midnight, when she finally gets to bed. During the school week, she averages three to four hours of homework a night and six and a half hours of sleep.

Some evenings, when we force her to go to bed, she will pretend to go to sleep and then get back up and continue to do homework for another hour. The following mornings are awful, my daughter teary-eyed and exhausted but still trudging to school.

I don’t get this. If all the evidence suggests more homework does not improve anything, why do we still do it?

Who looks back on middle school and regrets not being assigned more homework?

The busywork especially rubs me the wrong way.

The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth

Roy Peter Clark, writing for the New York Times:

“Altogether,” wrote Mr. French, “he lived at Lowry Park Zoo for 35 years. He lasted there longer than any other creature and longer than any of the humans. Each of the 1,800 animals at the zoo is assigned a number. His was 00001.”

In an interview, Mr. French explained that the most telling detail in Herman’s story was that number: 00001. Herman was Elvis, No. 1, the primal primate, Adam in this garden of captives.

Finding that number — with all those zeros — is good reporting; how Mr. French decided to use it is more revealing. He could have listed it in a catalog of details. Instead, to deliver it full force, he placed the magic number at the end of a paragraph at the end of a section in the story’s shortest sentence. “His was 00001.”

Every now and again I come across an article that makes me think hard about how I write. This is one.

America’s Artificial Heartland

Venkatesh Rao, writing for Aeon Magazine:

The Hamiltonian heartland is a land of Brobdingnagian and Lilliputian proportions. It is a land of cryptic and inaudible conversations between radio-frequency ID scanners and passing railroad cars, and records too numerous for the Guinness Book to track. It is also a land of millions upon millions of serial numbers: on doors, pieces of equipment, cowlings, pipes, pylons, and an ocean of smaller technological artefacts so vast that, in economics classrooms, they have to be collectively obscured under the label widgets.

If the proportions of the Hamiltonian heartland defy our spatial intuitions, its pace of evolution defies our temporal intuitions. In the time it takes for the heartland to change significantly — 50 to 70 years on average, in the case of major technologies such as the railroad — human-scale heroes typically grow old and die. But change does occur. Periods of technological equilibrium are punctuated by periods of rapid change, creating technological epochs. Each such epoch creates a new layer of visible changes in the Hamiltonian heartland, and corresponding changes in institutions.

I like Venkat’s writing, and I liked this piece in particular, but mostly because of the reference to “infrastructure porn.”

It’s true that the Whole Foods-ian interface to a vast and unforgiving industrial production machine is a bit of a deceptive veneer, but Venkat is passing a value judgment on that veneer, a highly Jeffersonian act in itself: the infrastructure of consumer culture doesn’t care that he’s pulled back the curtain and found it lacking.

Three trends that will create demand for an Unconditional Basic Income

Lui, @yablochko, writing for

To put this in econometric terms, wages as a share of the economy have been in long term decline and recently hit a new low in the United States. Meanwhile corporate profit margins have hit an all time high. The last few years of economic turmoil has allowed industry to reduce staff numbers and reduce entry-level pay, without reducing capacity. If that trend continues, wealth creation will increasingly be confined to those with capital, and things start to follow a Marxist logic. The middle classes (and their elected representatives) will not let that happen.

An interesting thought overall, but Lui hasn’t been following US elections recently. The trend is for the middle classes to be swayed by arguments appealing to their ideology, regardless of the economic consequences. The trend is very much not for the middle classes to demand additional government support or services.

That said, there’s an alternate possibility too: some incredibly clever (and soon to be incredibly wealthy) entrepreneur might figure out a way to produce value by employing relatively unskilled workers.

Gong Bao Chicken With Peanuts From ‘Every Grain of Rice’

Looks yummy.

I also like the video’s style. Not high on content, but cute nonetheless!

Science Is Not Your Enemy: An Impassioned Plea to the Humanities

Steven Pinker, writing for The New Republic:

[T]he world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more fundamental principles, and so on. In making sense of our world, there should be few occasions in which we are forced to concede “It just is” or “It’s magic” or “Because I said so.” The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms. The processes of life, for example, used to be attributed to a mysterious élan vital; now we know they are powered by chemical and physical reactions among complex molecules.

Demonizers of scientism often confuse intelligibility with a sin called reductionism. But to explain a complex happening in terms of deeper principles is not to discard its richness. No sane thinker would try to explain World War I in the language of physics, chemistry, and biology as opposed to the more perspicuous language of the perceptions and goals of leaders in 1914 Europe.

Very well put. I also liked this gem:

We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are.

I was forunate to have taken a class from Pinker while he was still at MIT — he was one of my favorite professors there. One of his grad students once described him to me as “entering the ‘being famous’ phase of his career.”

I’m very pleased that he’s using his powers of fame for good.

There’s also an interesting response by Gary Gutting in the NY Times.

The Commodore 64 Spike

Jason Hutchens, writing for Medium:

There’s a problem with Computer Science education. Our kids enter primary school absolutely fascinated with computers and technology; each and every one of them. And yet somehow, after twelve years in the school system, fewer and fewer of them opt to pursue a career in IT. In Australia, the number of students graduating University with Computer Science degrees has been dropping year after year since the turn of the century.

Learning computer science in the traditional curriculum in an engeering setting is hard and unpleasant. No doubt enrollment spikes when cool computer-related stuff happens, but that includes the release of The Social Network.

stephengillie on Hacker News comments:

The problem isn’t a lack of devices with the bare bones showing, where tinkering will produce results to be learned. The problem is that some things, like iPhone apps, are so much more polished than anything the average 12-year-old can produce that anything they make is discouraging by comparison.

That may also be true, but that kids produce crappy drawings doesn’t stop them from trying. I suspect the same is true for programming — the experience of actually creating something is spectacular enough alone.

(via news.yc)

Study shows open plan offices attract highest levels of worker dissatisfaction

Sunanda Creagh, writing for The Conversation:

“What the data tells us is that, in terms of occupant satisfaction, the disadvantages brought by noise disruption were bigger than the predicted benefits of increased interaction,” said lead author Jungsoo Kim, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning.

No kidding. Has anyone who’s worked in an open plan office actually preferred it?

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Emma Coats, former Pixar story artist:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

…but really, they’re all pretty great tips.

Completely unrelatedly, when did Helvetica Neue Ultralight start to show up everywhere?

(via reddit)

How Do Good Ideas Spread?

Atul Gawande in the New Yorker:

Many of the changes took practice for her, she said. She had to learn, for instance, how to have all the critical supplies—blood-pressure cuff, thermometer, soap, clean gloves, baby respiratory mask, medications—lined up and ready for when she needed them; how to fit the use of them into her routine; how to convince mothers and their relatives that the best thing for a child was to be bundled against the mother’s skin. But, step by step, Sister Seema had helped her to do it. “She showed me how to get things done practically,” the nurse said.

“Why did you listen to her?” I asked. “She had only a fraction of your experience.”

In the beginning, she didn’t, the nurse admitted. “The first day she came, I felt the workload on my head was increasing.” From the second time, however, the nurse began feeling better about the visits. She even began looking forward to them.

“Why?” I asked.

All the nurse could think to say was “She was nice.”

“She was nice?”

“She smiled a lot.”

“That was it?”

“It wasn’t like talking to someone who was trying to find mistakes,” she said. “It was like talking to a friend.”

That, I think, was the answer. Since then, the nurse had developed her own way of explaining why newborns needed to be warmed skin to skin. She said that she now tells families, “Inside the uterus, the baby is very warm. So when the baby comes out it should be kept very warm. The mother’s skin does this.”

A fascinating look at how to successfully create behavioral change on a large scale. Hint: do it on a small scale.

On Campus, a Faculty Uprising Over Personal Data

Natasha Singer, writing for the New York Times:

“That information is absolutely private,” Michael Fiaschetti, Highmark’s president for health markets, said at the Penn State faculty senate meeting. He added: “We have never leaked that information.”

That in no way reassured Kimberly Blockett, one of more than 200 faculty members attending the meeting.

“As an English professor, I think I am having difficulty with your definition of ‘private,’” Ms. Blockett responded to Mr. Fiaschetti. “For me, discussing my reproductive plans with an unknown entity at an insurance company does not constitute private.”

University faculty finally experience the world the rest of us have been living in for the last 5 years. Welcome!

An analysis of Evgeny Morozov's “To Save Everything, Click Here”

Tom Slee:

To discard the importance of the details of our daily interactions, as the solutionists inevitably do, is to inevitably provoke unexpected responses, unintentional side effects, and unanticipated breakdowns of the solutionist schemes. When Brian Chesky of AirBnB complains that there are 30,000 different cities in which he wants to operate, and that it’s just not practical to negotiate with each one, he is not designing a bottom-up solution, he is imposing a top-down network. He is demanding that cities become “legible” in James Scott’s terminology, to his overarching (and simplistic) algorithms.

But despite these minor complaints, “Click Here” is an admirable and significant achievement. It identifies and makes a valuable and intellectually adventurous assault on what is becoming an increasingly obvious problem: the appropriation of democratic and “bottom-up” visions by those who seek to impose their own top-down networks on the rest of us, and who reduce us to simplistic nodes in the process. This is a valuable book: now if only someone could make a TED Talk of it.

I wasn’t familiar with the terms “solutionist” and “particularist.”

This piece really captures what bothers me when someone refers to some exploitative network as “bottom-up.”

The Social Life, on Facebook

Betsy Morais, writing for the New Yorker:

“People are so isolated when they’re at a computer,” he added. “There are all these things that are becoming the norm, like scrolling through someone’s pictures, or creeping. But no one has taken off the veil, to be like, ‘What does this mean? Why are we doing that?’”

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that teens are wary of excessive sharing, “stressful drama,” and the increasing adult presence on Facebook. But they continue using the network because it’s crucial to their social lives. Nineteen per cent of teens have posted updates, photos, or other content that they later regret sharing, and seventy-four per cent have deleted people from their network. More than sixty per cent post their relationship status.

81% of teens never regret anything they’ve ever shared on Facebook? They must still be teens, then.

Is Suburban Sprawl on Its Way Back?

Shaila Dewan, writing for the New York Times:

The price of sprawl has become been increasingly undeniable. Moderate-income families have seen their transportation costs balloon to more than a quarter of their income. Cities have discovered that low-density developments fail to pay for their own infrastructure. More recently, a new study of economic mobility suggested that sprawl, and its accompanying lack of transportation options, prevented access to higher paying jobs.

I’ve long found it fascinating to look at photos of American cities at the turn 1900s, like San Francisco or New York. The chaos quotient is high.

In many ways, they remind me of the industrializing economies of today. The streets and back-alleys of Africa and southeast and east Asia are just as chaotic as American cities once were. Regular folks move to cities in search of economic opportunity and advancement, but don’t really want to be there; their kids grow up in cities and don’t want to go back to the countryside. The cities struggle to handle the growth spurt at first, but city leadership eventually figures out how to keep order and build infrastructure.

I wonder how to get the good parts of smaller, tighter communities without losing the economic opportunity that makes large cities so vibrant.

US bid to name “Science Laureate” hits snag with climate denialists

John Timmer, writing for Ars Technica:

Science Insider also talked to someone from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who basically said that his group didn’t want to see scientists talking to the public. “There’s no way to make it work,” the person is quoted as saying. “It would still give scientists an opportunity to pontificate, and we’re opposed to it.”


Google’s lobbyists go big on climate change denial, raise money for Inhofe & Competitive Enterprise Insitute

Cory Doctorow, writing on Boing Boing:

Google’s lobbyists have discarded its ‘Don’t be evil’ philosophy. They’re now holding fundraisers for Sen. Jim Inhofe (“Global warming is a hoax’), bankrolling Competitive Enterprise Institute (‘CO2: We Call It Life’), and joining the American Legislative Exchange Council (‘Even substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States’).

It doesn’t look good, but it also strikes me that hypocrisy and quid-pro-quo are the name of the game in Washington these days.

The amount of money flowing through politics is sick. I don’t have a solution.

Misogyny and Tech

Anil Dash:

I hope that Pax’s friends in the pick up artist community take a few moments away from writing date rape manuals and sending me death threats to reflect on the fact that their new hero has at least some tiny bit of respect for the wife he’s been married to for 15 years. How crushed they will be.

There was also a pretty dogged pitch for his startup, which will get all kinds of warm huzzahs from the intersection of MRAs, Bitcoin fans, NSA critics and Redditors. I was pretty amazed that he went for it. He flat out said that he wants his startup to be funded and wasn’t sure if it’d be possible after all of his, and I replied that it realistically wasn’t going to happen without the say-so of someone like me, and I wasn’t inclined to give some VC the nod on this. On reflection, I’ll be explicit: If you’re a venture capitalist, and you invest in Pax’s startup without a profound, meaningful and years-long demonstration of responsibility from Pax beforehand, you’re complicit in extending the tech industry’s awful track record of exclusion, and it’s unacceptable.

Pax sounds like a Class-A douchebag. I’m not a saint by any means, but assholes like Pax, who take it to the next level, keep me away from the startup scene these days.

I can’t wait for finance to be cool again so all the bros go home.

BART board rejects call to give surplus to workers

Michael Cabanatuan, writing for the SF Chronicle:

Fang said the board should put the extra operating funds toward its employees. BART’s staff suggested it be used for replacing elevator floors rotted by urine, repairing a fire-damaged substation in Richmond, buying more portable radios, stabilizing a slipping hillside along BART tracks and studying improvements at the 16th Street Mission Station.

Split the difference?

On the one hand, I do want workers in the bay area to all earn a decent wage. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem fair to pay some workers so much more than other workers with similar qualifications — and I don’t see a BART station agent earning $80K at any other job with the same qualifications.

Why should getting a job at a state agency be like winning the lottery? Surely not just because they can gridlock the bay area by striking; that’s extortion.

Bike path flaws add millions to Bay Bridge bill

Jaxon Van Derbeken, writing for the SF Chronicle:

Caltrans ended up paying the eastern span’s main contractor, American Bridge/Fluor, more than $3 million to make the fixes in 2011. But that was not the end of the problems.

In the process of making the repairs, crews discovered that tapered pieces of metal inserted where the rail posts were bolted down on the path were too thin.

The metal pieces, known as shims, were supposed to keep the rail upright. They tended to slide out of place, creating a safety hazard, according to Caltrans documents.

While replacing the shims, crews also found that many of the bolts holding down the rail had been incorrectly welded and had sheared off. The bolts were supposed to be able to move as steel segments of the bike path expanded and contracted, depending on the air temperature, but had been welded too tightly. About 200 ultimately were replaced.

I don’t get it. Is this kind of crap workmanship typical? Pay $6 billion for a bridge that’s broken?

In what universe is this acceptable?

“Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?”

Jennifer Kahn, writing for the New York Times:

Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes that while one child may stay rattled by an event for days or weeks, another child may rebound within hours. (Neurotic people tend to recover more slowly.) In theory, at least, social-emotional training can establish neurological pathways that make a child less vulnerable to anxiety and quicker to recover from unhappy experiences. One study found that preschoolers who had even a single year of a social-emotional learning program continued to perform better two years after they left the program; they weren’t as physically aggressive, and they internalized less anxiety and stress than children who hadn’t participated in the program.

In my last few jobs, I’ve found that people vary widely in their abilities to regulate and productively channel emotion.

I wish I could say that those who were better at it enjoyed greater success, but unfortunately that wasn’t my experience — some emotional outbursts are clearly counterproductive, while others do yield results, especially for mediocre leaders.

That said, at this point I won’t work with anyone who can’t manage his or her emotions, so I hope my experience in the future will be different!

How One Response to a Reddit Query Became a Big-Budget Flick

Jason Fagone, writing for Wired:

It took him just 10 minutes to write 350 words about the marines’ first day in ancient Rome. He clicked save. A few moments later, he refreshed his browser and saw that he had gotten a couple of upvotes. Then he thought about what to write next.

Erwin needed to invent a good reason for the two armies to fight. Unsurprisingly, he happened to have read a lot of Roman history, and he knew that around 23 BC, some senators had attempted a coup on emperor Augustus. What if, just as the senators were plotting, a small army appeared out of nowhere “with a vast array of what appears to be bizarre siege machinery”?

I remember reading this story when James Erwin originally posted it to Reddit and getting completely hooked. James has a real talent. I can’t wait to see what comes of it!

(via boing boing)

Adrift: A time-lapse of SF Bay fog

Absolutely fantastic video.

Dana Edwards, quoting photographer Simon Christen in her piece for

“When I’m hiking out in the hills, watching the fog and the changing light,” Christen said, “I get this feeling, like this is the happiest I could possibly be right now. […] I hope this little film will make people feel a similar way while watching it.”

I know exactly how Simon feels; the fog in the bay area is one of the most beautiful meteorological phenomena I’ve ever experienced.

The Great Stagnation of American Education

Robert J. Gordon, writing for the New York Times:

Even in today’s lackluster labor market, employers still complain that they cannot find workers with the needed skills to operate complex modern computer-driven machinery. Lacking in the American system is a well-organized funnel between community colleges and potential blue-collar employers, as in the renowned apprenticeship system in Germany.

Every time I read a complaint like this one, I’m reminded that the problem is not the lack of qualified workers: it’s the lack of qualified workers willing to work for the wages employers offer.

In other words, the problem is with your exploitative business model; it fails when you run out of poor saps to exploit.

Inside the End of the U.S. Bid to Punish Lehman Executives

Ben Protess and Susanne Craig, writing for the New York Times:

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s eight-member Lehman Brothers team, having hit one dead end after another over the previous two years, concluded that suing the bank’s executives would be legally unjustified. The group, noting that prosecutors and F.B.I. agents had already walked away from a parallel criminal case, reached unanimous agreement to close its most prominent investigation stemming from the financial crisis, according to officials who attended the meeting, which has not been reported previously.

Here’s what’s frustrating about the whole thing: if what these guys did to (nearly) bring down the world financial system was legal, then isn’t that the problem? Why haven’t we created laws to make what they did illegal?

Isn’t that the point of laws?

Stop pretending we aren’t living in the Space Age

Annalee Newitz, writing for

More importantly, humans have continued the project that our grandparents and great-grandparents started in the 1950s when the Space Age began. Remember how that project got off the ground with remote-controlled satellites? Want to know why? Because that is how smart explorers do it. Believe it or not, we are actually clever enough monkeys that we are carefully doing a little reconnaissance in distant, dangerous places before we send people there. Which is why we have sent probes to Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, and even to several moons and comets.

That’s a great way to think about it.

(via boing boing)

“What to Expect From Apple’s September 10 Event”

Andrew Cunningham, writing for Ars Technica:

iOS 7 is the most extensive redesign Apple’s mobile operating system has gotten since its introduction in 2007. It brings new features, new APIs, and a brand new design that sheds faux-realistic textures in favor of flatter, brighter colors and gradients.

I’m really curious to see what the “general public” reception will be to the new look.

The tech world reception has been tepid to say the least, but that was true of the iPod too.

“What are some loopholes every American citizen should take advantage of?”

stopslammertime, on Reddit:

You unfortunately need to poop in Times Square? No problem. Walk into the Mariott Marquis, and head to the fifth floor. Don’t look around, don’t stop, dont take the elevators (theyre not like every other elevator). Just head for the escalators and walk it.

You’ll find clean, quiet, and large bathrooms just ready to be defiled by your disgusting filth.

[…] you can actually get away with quite a bit in NYC hotels as long as you look like you’re supposed to be there.

There’s some great advice in this thread.

What Happened to Psychiatry’s Magic Bullets?

Gary Greenberg, a psychotherapist, writing about antidepressants in the New Yorker:

The serotonin-imbalance theory, however, has turned out to be just as inaccurate as Schildkraut’s. While S.S.R.I.s surely alter serotonin metabolism, those changes do not explain why the drugs work, nor do they explain why they have proven to be no more effective than placebos in clinical trials. Within a decade of Prozac’s approval by the F.D.A. in 1987, scientists had concluded that serotonin was only a finger pointing at one’s mood—that the causes of depression and the effects of the drugs were far more complex than the chemical-imbalance theory implied. The ensuing research has mostly yielded more evidence that the brain, which has more neurons than the Milky Way has stars and is perhaps one of the most complex objects in the universe, is an elusive target for drugs.

Despite their continued failure to understand how psychiatric drugs work, doctors continue to tell patients that their troubles are the result of chemical imbalances in their brains. As Frank Ayd pointed out, this explanation helps reassure patients even as it encourages them to take their medicine, and it fits in perfectly with our expectation that doctors will seek out and destroy the chemical villains responsible for all of our suffering, both physical and mental. The theory may not work as science, but it is a devastatingly effective myth.

The placebo effect is strong. I imagine a fervent belief in the placebo’s efficacy by the prescriber strengthens the effect.

“Free Programming Tips are Worth Every Penny.”

Wil Shipley, founder of OmniGroup and author of Delicious Library, on optimizing code:

The time and place are AFTER YOU ARE DONE. Optimize methods ONLY after they work and are bulletproof AND you’ve done testing in Shark and discovered the method is critical.

Don’t optimize as you write. Why not? Because, in all probability, you’re wasting your time. The VAST majority of the code programmers optimize is executed so rarely that its total speedup to the program can be measured only in nanoseconds. Also, you’re probably not very good at it. No insult, but machines and libraries are complex systems, and your guesses as to what’s slow are probably pretty bad. You need to run testing tools to find out what is ACTUALLY slow. The results are often surprising.

I can’t believe I just found Wil’s blog now. Lots of gems in here!

Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity

Jodi Kantor, writing in the NY Times:

The students said they felt overwhelmed by the wealth that coursed through the school, the way it seemed to shape every aspect of social life — who joined activities that cost hundreds of dollars, who was invited to the parties hosted by the student living in a penthouse apartment at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Boston. Some students would never have to seek work at all — they were at Harvard to learn to invest their families’ fortunes — and others were borrowing thousands of dollars a year just to keep up socially.

I guess nice rich people don’t go to business school.

“For Cheaper Homes, Skip Manhattan”

In the NY Times. Slow news day?

The New Science of Mind

Eric Kandel, writing in the NY Times:

In a recent study of people with depression, Professor Mayberg gave each person one of two types of treatment: cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that trains people to view their feelings in more positive terms, or an antidepressant medication. She found that people who started with below-average baseline activity in the right anterior insula responded well to cognitive behavioral therapy, but not to the antidepressant. People with above-average activity responded to the antidepressant, but not to cognitive behavioral therapy. Thus, Professor Mayberg found that she could predict a depressed person’s response to specific treatments from the baseline activity in the right anterior insula.

It’s hard to change what you can’t measure, and we just discovered a measurement relating to depression.


A Japanese Social App Contacts New Shores

Eric Pfanner, in the NY Times:

Line executives say there is significant opportunity for growth, given that no single messaging app has gained dominance in the United States. They say they are negotiating with American pop stars, though they declined to provide names, who will be paid to use it and presumably spur others to follow suit.

I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of celebrity tech gadget endorsements in Asia. I wonder why they’re less effective in the US.

Maybe it goes against the cult of authenticity?

(via news.yc)

E-Cigarette Use Doubles Among Students, Survey Shows

Sabrina Tavernise, in the NY Times:

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine that is vaporized to form an aerosol mist. Producers promote them as a healthy alternative to smoking, but researchers say their health effects are not yet clear, though most acknowledge that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

So, kids are increasingly buying an unregulated and heavily-marketed product that squirts their mouths with a flavored addictive vapor spray?

I’m shocked. Shocked.

School is a Prison — and Damaging Our Kids

Peter Gray, in Salon:

Over many years, I’ve observed learning at one such place, the Sudbury Valley School, in Framingham, Mass. It’s called a school, but is as different as you can imagine from what we usually think of as “school.” The students, who range in age from 4 to about 18, are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. The rules, which are created democratically at the School Meeting by students and staff together, have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order and are enforced by a judicial system modeled after that of our larger society. The school currently has about 150 students and 10 staff members, and it operates on a per-student budget that is less than half that of the surrounding public schools. It accepts essentially all students who apply and whose parents agree to enroll them.

This sounds super fun.

My main concern is that these kids will go on to expect rules to be created democratically in the workplace too. Frankly, that isn’t today’s world. Yet.

The Truth About Brining Turkey

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, writing on Serious Eats:

These days, everybody and their grandmother (better known as the typical Thanksgiving gathering) has heard of brining, and more and more folks are doing it at home before Turkey Day. But it’s not all pie and gravy. There are a few distinct and definite downsides to wet-brining, and many folks are making the switch to dry-brining (A.K.A. extended salting). The question is, which method works best?

Which, indeed!

There are a number of great articles on the Serious Eats site (as well as one of my favorite Chicken Tikka Masala recipes). I also discovered tonight a few new tasty-looking chicken recipies in a slideshow:

I can’t wait to try one of these. Yum!

Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Gear

Ron Amadeo, for Ars Technica:

Manufactures can’t seem to release anything anymore without cramming a camera into it, and the Gear is no exception. Integrated into the strap is a 1.9MP camera. Considering this requires a smartphone to function, and all smartphones have cameras, was this really necessary? And a 1.9MP camera? How badly do you want to take a picture of something? They could have skipped the camera and made the Gear fit a normal (classier) watch band.

I don’t want to sound luddite-esque, but I stopped wearing wristwatches years ago, around the time I first got a cell phone. Why do I want a cell phone-tethered wristwatch with a camera? Am I missing some grand vision here?

The ostensible 1-day of battery is the final nail in the coffin for me.

What Works Clearinghouse

Did you know that the Institute of Education Sceinces (part of the Department of Education) has a website dedicated to proving and disproving hypotheses about what works in education?



Lots of Cars and Trucks, No Traffic Signs or Lights: Chaos or Calm?

I love reading about experiments like these:

“Shared space is a term that simply describes a shift in thinking away from the regulated highway towards using the natural skills that humans are blessed with to negotiate movement and allow the normal civilities of life to continue,” says road designer Hamilton-Baillie. “I think what Poynton has demonstrated is that it is possible to create a continuous-flow, low-speed environment, still cope with pedestrian crossing movements, and, most importantly, recreate a space, a place outside the church in Fountain Place, that is part of the town — and no longer merely an appendage to the highway.”

“It has a very calming effect,” says one resident in the film. “And I think we’re all being kinder to one another, motorists and pedestrians alike.”

Decrease the perceived separation between people and they suddenly become nicer to each other. Exactly what the psychology literature predicts.

(via reddit)

“How can they be so good?”: The strange story of Skype

Awesome look at the creation of Skype.

Walking While Black in the 'White Gaze'

I am moved.

Nintendo in Motion

I would absolutely buy a Nintendo-made game for the iPhone.

It would be my first-ever purchase from Nintendo.

Burning Man Becomes a Hot Spot for Tech Titans

Just when I thought Burning Man couldn’t be more appealing.

More Connected, Yet More Alone

I like the idea that smartphones are going through a “TV in the 1950s” moment.

Why The Sharing Economy Isn’t

Fascinating analysis.

(via news.yc)

War, What Is It Good For?

Ross Douthat, speculating in his NY Times column on how Obama might announce military action in Syria:

True, pushing back won’t necessarily make the underlying political and humanitarian situation better. But that isn’t why we do it. It’s not really about fixing problems or transforming regions or winning final victories. (That was the mistake that George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson made, and that Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower avoided.) It’s about demonstrating that there are limits to what other governments can choose to do without repercussions, and maintaining our credibility when we threaten to rain those repercussions down.

I wish politiciants were this honest.

Autumn Arrives in the South of England

Some real gems get posted to /r/EarthPorn, this one included.

Learning by Creating

An interesting piece from Phil Nichols in the Atlantic. There really is a difference between learning by creating and learning by reading facts — even interactive facts.

Learning by creating is much more powerful.

(via news.yc)

Travel Tips

Some great travel tips from David Pogue in his latest column.

I hope not many people heed one particular piece of advice, as I’d like to be the only one to do this:

Be brave in repacking the overhead bins. Ever since the airlines started charging for luggage, people began carrying more hand-held luggage. Those overhead bins fill up, and the next thing you know, you’re being asked to check your carry-on! That means 25 minutes of extra waiting when you land.

Why Wal-Mart Will Never Pay Like Costco

Megan McArdle, for Bloomberg:

If you want Wal-Mart to have a labor force like Trader Joe’s and Costco, you probably want them to have a business model like Trader Joe’s and Costco — which is to say that you want them to have a customer demographic like Trader Joe’s and Costco. Obviously if you belong to that demographic — which is to say, if you’re a policy analyst, or a magazine writer — then this sounds like a splendid idea. To Wal-Mart’s actual customer base, however, it might sound like “take your business somewhere else.”

Yeah, you mean upscale policy analysts and magazine writers, stop telling Wal-Mart what to do!

(via news.yc)

Building a Better Mass-Market Tomato

I wish them luck.

What Happened to Jobs and Justice?

William Jones on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, writing in the NY Times:

The march was so successful that we often forget that it occurred in a political environment not so different from our own. Kennedy’s victory over Richard M. Nixon in 1960 signaled a break from the conservatism of the 1950s. But like the election of Barack Obama in 2008, hope for a return to the liberalism of the 1930s was dampened by an administration that rejected “old slogans” like wage increases and public works in favor of tax cuts and free trade to stimulate growth.

Fascinating. I wonder in what other ways the political climate is different today .

Bring Your Lunch to Work

Mark Bittman, writing for the NY Times:

The key, as in so much good eating, is having a well-stocked pantry. I’m talking here not only about olive oil and vinegar and soy sauce, the kinds of things that every cook has. And I’m talking not only about tuna and sardines and maybe bread and tomatoes, the staples of many brown-baggers.

I’m also talking about building blocks, like tomato sauce, a pot of beans (or grains, equally valuable), a pan of roasted vegetables, perhaps even a roast chicken. These are the kinds of elements that you can put together while you’re doing something else — whether cooking a meal or watching a football game or catching up on e-mail — and that will last all week, adding substance, flavor and real appeal to whatever else you have lying around. Get that kind of thing going, and you’ll be overwhelmed not by the challenges of putting together a decent lunch before you leave the house but by the possibilities.

Easier said than done, but my problem at least is mostly just inertia.

Visit to the World's Fair of 2014

Even smart guys like Isaac Asimov have a hard time predicting the future. I did like this part though:

In 2014, there is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000. Boston-to-Washington, the most crowded area of its size on the earth, will have become a single city with a population of over 40,000,000.

Speculation time: To understand Apple’s A7, just look at its predecessors

Andrew Cunningham, writing for Ars Technica:

[A]ssuming Apple takes this step with the A7, expect GPU performance to leap forward where CPU performance merely hops.

A great overall analysis of the chip (probably) at the heart of the next iPhone. I’m really curious to see what GPU performance improvements will do to the next few generations of smartphones.

Sleepover in a Rooftop Camp

This sounds amazing!

The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person for the Entire U.S.

Pretty damn interesting.

Disruptions: A Blogger Mocks the Denizens of Silicon Valley

I remember Valleywag from the AppJet days. Usually good for a laugh. Like those celebrity gossip mags but for the startup set.

Sam Biddle heads up Valleywag, and says:

“There is a basic calculation where you add money and lack of self-awareness, and the higher those two values are, the better and easier my job is,” Mr. Biddle said in an interview. And Silicon Valley, he added, has a lot of both.

No denying that.

“Office search continues”

Joel Spolsky, when searching for office space in 2007:

Manhattan streets are exactly 264 feet apart.

Good to know!


I’m Thinking. Please. Be Quiet.

George Prochnik:

Is quiet a precondition of democracy? The Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter suggested it might just be. “The men whose labors brought forth the Constitution of the United States had the street outside Independence Hall covered with earth so that their deliberations might not be disturbed by passing traffic,” he once wrote. “Our democracy presupposes the deliberative process as a condition of thought and of responsible choice by the electorate.”

The quiet in Independence Hall was not the silence of a monastic retreat, but one that encouraged listening to others and collaborative statesmanship; it was a silence that made them more receptive to the sound of the world around them.

Fascinating. Growing up in NYC, I got very used to the white noise of the FDR Drive across the East River.

Now I wonder if it’s had some kind of subconscious effect!

(via news.yc)

Court Is ‘One of Most Activist,’ Ginsburg Says, Vowing to Stay

Great interview with Justice Ginsburg.

Golden Rice - Lifesaver?

Amy Harmon, writing for the NY Times:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

The destruction of the field trial, and the reasons given for it, touched a nerve among scientists around the world, spurring them to counter assertions of the technology’s health and environmental risks. On a petition supporting Golden Rice circulated among scientists and signed by several thousand, many vented a simmering frustration with activist organizations like Greenpeace, which they see as playing on misplaced fears of genetic engineering in both the developing and the developed worlds. Some took to other channels to convey to American foodies and Filipino farmers alike the broad scientific consensus that G.M.O.’s are not intrinsically more risky than other crops and can be reliably tested.

At stake, they say, is not just the future of biofortified rice but also a rational means to evaluate a technology whose potential to improve nutrition in developing countries, and developed ones, may otherwise go unrealized.


Can a Fake Smile Be Bad for Your Health?

Anahad O’Connor, for the NY Times:

After following the [bus] drivers closely, the researchers found that on days when the smiles were forced, the subjects’ moods deteriorated and they tended to withdraw from work. Trying to suppress negative thoughts, it turns out, may have made those thoughts even more persistent.

But on days when the subjects tried to display smiles through deeper efforts — by actually cultivating pleasant thoughts and memories — their overall moods improved and their productivity increased.


The demise of the DSLR

Ming Thein:

This may or may not come as a shock, but I’m predicting the slow death of the DSLR has already begun; firstly, quality of smaller systems has caught up; technology is mature enough that there are few, if any, compromises involved in using a mirrorless camera. If my OM-D had phase detect AF and a few more pixels, I’d probably be using that exclusively for my professional work – in many ways, it’s more flexible than the D800E, and for 99% of intended end use, there isn’t enough difference in image quality. It’s not just me, either: a lot of my other pro friends are either using the heavy gear (including medium format) solely for work, and anything personal is whatever fits into a pocket.

I haven’t followed developments in the digital camera world for a few years, but I’m not at all surprised that the trends taking place in consumer electronics are also affecting the pro digital photography world.

Kentucky Health Workers Pitch Obamacare At State Fair Alongside Corn Dogs, Fried Kool-Aid

Great perspective on Obamacare’s implementation.

The Science Behind Honey's Eternal Shelf Life

Natasha Geiling, for Smithsonian Magazine:

“Bees are magical,” Harris jokes. But there is certainly a special alchemy that goes into honey. Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent, by Harris’ estimate. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. On top of behavior, the chemical makeup of a bees stomach also plays a large part in honey’s resilience. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase. When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. “Then,” Harris explains, “hydrogen peroxide is the next thing that goes into work against all these other bad things that could possibly grow.”

I love quotes from scientists really excited by their subject of study.

Dino-Killing Asteroid Also Triggered Mind-Blowing Submarine Landslides

Scott K. Johnson, on Ars Technica:

It seems that the Chicxulub impact shook loose sediment along well over 2,000 miles of submarine slopes. That cascade of sediment probably triggered tsunamis—although the impact would have directly spawned tsunamis of its own in the Gulf of Mexico.

Another one for the “fun to watch” file, though this one would probably be more fun to watch from an orbiting spacecraft than, you know, on the planet.

Lōʻihi Seamount

Lōʻihi began forming around 400,000 years ago and is expected to begin emerging above sea level about 10,000–100,000 years from now.

Another for the “fun to watch” file!

Koʻolau Range

It is not a mountain range in the normal sense, because it was formed as a single mountain called Koʻolau Volcano (koʻolau means “windward” in Hawaiian, cognate of the toponym Tokelau). What remains of Koʻolau is the western half of the original volcano that was destroyed in prehistoric times when the entire eastern half—including much of the summit caldera—slid cataclysmically into the Pacific Ocean. Remains of this ancient volcano lie as massive fragments strewn nearly 100 miles (160 km) over the ocean floor to the northeast of Oʻahu.

That must’ve been fun to watch!

Wired Space Photo of the Day

Truly an amazing collection of photos!

Librarian Chastises 9 Year-Old Kid For Reading Too Much

Christopher Shultz:

Marie Gandron, a library director in Hudson Falls, NY, has advised 9 year-old Tyler Weaver to remove himself from participating in the annual public library reading contest, Dig Into Reading!, PostStar reports. Why? Tyler has read the most books five years in a row, and Gandron thinks someone else should have a chance to win.


(via reddit)

U.P.S. to End Health Benefits for Spouses of Some Workers -

Steven Greenhouse, writing for the NY Times:

U.P.S., the world’s largest package delivery company, said its decision was prompted in part by “costs associated with” the federal health care law that is commonly called Obamacare. Several health care experts, however, said they believed the company was motivated by a desire to hold down health care costs, rather than because of cost increases under the law.

Gee, ya think? Definitely takes “health care experts” to recognize this as a cost-cutting move.

Frankly I can’t wait for employer-based health insurance to die its long-overdue death.

Fifty years in Media: Changes in Journalism

David Burnham, again:

“Watch what we do, not what we say,” said John Mitchell, former Attorney General for the Nixon administration, while responding to reporter’s questions on the administration’s civil rights record. Mitchell’s “wonderfully sage advice”, Mr. Burnham argues, has been routinely ignored by most reporters. “Most reporters don’t report what the government has been doing but report what the people in government and people in corporations and people at Harvard University are saying,” Mr. Burnham says. The result has been the lack of concrete reporting about current events and while these trends have been bad for print media, they have been disastrous for TV news.

100% agreed here. I much prefer reading real investigative journalism!

Tacking Health Care Costs Onto California Farm Produce

Sarah Varney, writing for the NY Times:

Some farmers seem resigned to higher labor costs. “That cost is going to be borne by us at the end of the day,” said Scott Deardorff, a partner at Oxnard-based Deardorff Family Farms, which grows strawberries, cauliflower and chard, among other salad bar staples, all of which are likely to be more expensive for consumers down the line.

I kept waiting for a quote from the worker who could finally get health insurance, and whose life would now be better because he/his son/his wife’s debilitating illness would now be consistently treated.

I was disappointed.

In fact, in the whole article — about a marginalized population newly getting access to health care — there wasn’t a single positive point. But maybe I’m missing something.

For me, it’s a no-brainer: I’m more than willing to pay an extra 50¢ for my pound of strawberries or broccoli if it means the person who picked them can lead a more normal life, and can be less worried about bankruptcy or deportation if he or she gets sick.

Otherwise, really, it just feels like exploitation.

The Silent Power of the N.S.A. (1983)

David Burnham, for the NY Times, in March 1983:

No laws define the limits of the N.S.A.’s power. No Congressional committee subjects the agency’s budget to a systematic, informed and skeptical review. With unknown billions of Federal dollars, the agency purchases the most sophisticated communications and computer equipment in the world. But truly to comprehend the growing reach of this formidable organization, it is necessary to recall once again how the computers that power the N.S.A. are also gradually changing lives of Americans - the way they bank, obtain benefits from the Government and communicate with family and friends. Every day, in almost every area of culture and commerce, systems and procedures are being adopted by private companies and organizations as well as by the nation’s security leaders that make it easier for the N.S.A. to dominate American society should it ever decide such action is necessary.

(via boing boing)

Macklemore Says White People Have To Acknowledge Racial Privilege

Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, quoted on The Inquisitr:

A song like ‘Thrift Shop’ was safe enough for the kids. It was like, ‘This is music that my mom likes and that I can like as a teenager,’ and even though I’m cussing my ass off in the song, the fact that I’m a white guy, parents feel safe. They let their six-year-olds listen to it. I mean it’s just … it’s different. And would that success have been the same if I would have been a black dude? I think the answer is no.

Racial privilege is definitely a thing, no doubt about it.

But Macklemore’s lyrics also don’t glorify thug culture, sex, or violence. Despite the swearing, Thrift Shop is pretty tame.

I bet Sir Mix-A-Lot and Will Smith get some of the same privileges, just for having relatively tame lyrics.

(via boing boing)

People Don’t Recycle Things That Look Like Trash

John Timmer, writing for Ars Technica:

The behavior of their co-workers led them to formulate a hypothesis: If a sheet of paper is close to the normal size we use every day, then people will mentally categorize it as still useful and will be more likely to recycle it. If, in contrast, it’s a smaller size, then we’ll view it as damaged and less useful. As a result, we’ll tend to throw it in the trash.


Hacker Scouts sent a Cease & Desist for “trademark violations” by Boy Scouts of America

Samantha Cook, for Hacker Scouts:

Through various letters, we have tried to quietly come to a compromise, but the BSA position is clear: change our name or they will take us to court.

The BSA’s main argument is that they have a constitutional charter that they interpret to mean they have the right to use and trademark any word they choose. We disagree.

The word that comes to my mind as apt is a plural combination of a flexible container and a french shower.

(via ars technica)

“What a TV Show Can Teach Us About Capitalism”

Adam Davidson, writing about Orange is the New Black for the NY Times:

Prison commissaries are simply one extreme example of an economic arrangement that I think of as the third-party decider. There are lots of businesses in which the person selecting a product or service is not the person who will actually use it. And these are often the more frustrating parts of our economy.

One of my first memories of the corporate world is trying to use Oracle calendar at Google back in 2006, before Google used its own calendar product internally.

It was crap.

I used to wonder what manager at Oracle, sitting in a product review meeting for this utter monstrosity, exclaimed: “Looks great, guys! Ship it!”

Like with most enterprise software sales, the end-user wasn’t the decider. The quality of the product itself just didn’t matter.

Wireless Diagnostics

Ran in to this tool again recently. Very useful for debugging your wireless setup!

“The Quality of Life”

Another interesting piece on Ribbonfarm, the personal blog of Venkat Rao of The Gervais Principle fame.

It does not really matter if you generalize beyond income to various in-kind quality-of-life elements like a clean environment or access to healthcare. If you are not measuring prevailing levels of freedom you are measuring nothing relevant. Until people start answering $0 to the fuck-you-money question across the planet, you can be sure that they do not perceive themselves to be free enough to properly pursue quality of life.

The back-story here is a hypothesized future where the technological revolution reaches its long-promised goal of nearly entirely eliminating the need for most human work. In the era just after the industrial revolution, humans were still needed to control the newly-create machines and perform to intellectual tasks; Venkat’s future posits no similar use for human labor; only engineers are needed to make the machines and to make them go.

We’re already seeing the early stages of this hypothesized future: mechanically-produced goods (e.g., food, electronics, and other mass-produced items) drop in price over time, while labor-intensive services (e.g., healthcare and education) grow in price over time. The major difference between the two categories is worker productivity; the productivity of a farmer has increased hugely since 1700, while the productivity of a professor has not changed nearly as much.

If human labor is no longer cheap compared to “stuff” in the developed world, then prices will continue to increase in any industry where costs are dominated by some highly educated person’s time, relative to prices in automated industries. Measures of inflation that include both, like CPI, will make less and less sense.

I fully expect the actual production cost in human labor terms of the necessities of modern life — food, water, shelter, electrical power, basic medical care, internet access, and local transport — will eventually reach a floor quite close to 0.

Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes and Mint

Like bruschetta on eggplant instead of toast. My wife and I made it for dinner tonight — not our first time — and found it once again to be absolutely delicious.

Making Photographs: Light

Phil Greenspun’s Making Photographs has a great introduction to lighting in photography.

Shame the site has such a confusing layout.

Practical Typography

This is great — if you look at nothing else, read the introductory Typography in Ten Minutes.

On an unrelated note, I loved playing Kern Type the kerning game.


Global sea level rise temporarily dampened by 2010-11 Australia floods

Anjuli Bamzai, program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences:

The scientists conclude that the Outback region in Australia played a crucial role in trapping a large amount of rainfall when widespread floods occurred over the continent.

NCAR scientist John Fasullo, lead scientist on the project:

It’s a beautiful illustration of how complicated our climate system is.

The smallest continent in the world can affect sea level worldwide. Its influence is so strong that it can temporarily overcome the background trend of rising sea levels we see with climate change.

Can’t have said it better myself. Fascinating that we can track these infleunces now!

Thumbs up to the NSF for sponsoring this kind of research.

(via reddit)

507 Mechanical Movements

What an awesome collection.

From the days when all mechanical systems had an “attach massive steam engine here” input shaft.

What Bill Gates is reading this summer

I’m not sure how I feel knowing that Bill Gates and I share a number of personal interests.

Letters of Note: People simply empty out

Charles Bukowski, on leaving the rat race:

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

I bet there’s been some research looking into the effect of existential fear on human happiness and productivity. I’m guessing it’s not pretty.

When will this end?

Is It Nuts to Give to the Poor Without Strings Attached?

David Kestenbaum:

Lots of people, in fact, used the money in productive ways. An inordinate number, it seemed, used it to replace their thatched roofs, which are not only lousy but also weirdly expensive, as they need to be patched every few months with a special kind of grass. A metal roof costs several hundred dollars, but lasts for 10 years, making it a much better investment. Omondi was among those who bought metal roofs. He also purchased a used Bajaj Boxer, an Indian-made motorcycle that he uses to ferry people around, for a small fee; he is also currently paying off a second motorcycle, which he rents out.


But while Omondi and his neighbors have metal roofs, their houses still have dirt floors and no running water or electricity. And their prospects for making it to the middle class are pretty bleak. “You give people cash to start a business or expand their business, and in a lot of cases, they shoot forward,” Blattman says. “Then they start screeching to a halt when they hit the next constraint.” If Omondi wanted to further expand, he’d probably find it hard to get a small-business loan from a bank. The problems holding Omondi and his neighbors back — underdeveloped financial systems, bad infrastructure — are the generic but defining problems of the developing world, and they won’t be fixed by a one-time windfall.

Could this be the future of social justice? It’s an interesting intersection of capitalism and socialism.

Incidentally, I’m a huge fan of the work David and Adam Davidson have done on NPR’s Planet Money. If you haven’t yet heard it, do yourself a favor and listen. I recently finished listening to the whole back catalog — the coverage of the 2008 financial crisis was northing short of amazing.

Bolt Problem Won’t Delay San Francisco Bridge’s Opening

Norimitsu Onishi, for the NY Times:

The new stretch of the bridge is equipped with the latest in antiseismic design. But in March, 32 in a batch of 96 high-strength steel bolts holding shock-absorbing devices called shear keys snapped, a failure that Steve Heminger, the chairman of the [toll bridge program oversight] committee, later described as “catastrophic.”

It makes me feel really good inside when labels like “catastrophic” are applied to bridges I will soon frequent.

Man Taking Photo With iPad Oblivious To How Badass He Looks

“The way he’s holding the iPad all the way out in front of his body like that? Dude looks so awesome he doesn’t even realize it,” onlooker Jessica Walker, 25, said of the man, who, after taking one photo of the landmark, became the very essence of cool when he hitched up the waistband of his shorts, squatted down, squinted, jutted out his arms and captured a second image of the sculpture.

iPad Photo Man is joined in the pantheon of obliviousness by Segway-Riding Man and Google Glass-Wearing Man.


At Home With a Passive Pioneer

From In Pursuit of the Perfectly Passive:

The barn allows family members and friends to spread out in temperate weather, with its 25-foot long pine table coming in handy for entertaining. Come winter, the couple simply close the big doors and let it hibernate.

Yes, I’ll take one please.

What does mercury being liquid at room temperature have to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity?

I love this. My go-to example for “relativity in daily life” is GPS satellites, whose clocks have to account for relativistic effects.

Sounds like elemental mercury is liquid at room temperature only because of relativistic effects — and that’s pretty awesome too.

Here’s the meat of the piece by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

Recall from college chemistry that atomic orbitals come in different flavors; s, p, d and f orbitals are distinguished by different quantum numbers and different “shapes”. Metals are characterized by significantly occupied d orbitals. In addition, filled orbitals imply special stability. The singular fact that distinguishes mercury from its neighbors is that it has a filled outermost 6s atomic orbital. This means that the electrons in the orbital are happily paired up with each other and are reluctant to be shared among neighboring mercury atoms. Where the theory of relativity comes in is in accounting for subtle changes in the masses of the electrons in mercury and the atomic radii which nonetheless have profound effects on the physical properties of the metal.

According to special relativity, the apparent mass of an object increases as its velocity approaches the speed of light. From Niels Bohr’s theory of atomic structure we know that the velocity of an electron is proportional to the atomic number of an element. For light elements like hydrogen (atomic number 1) the velocity is insignificant compared to the speed of light so relativity can be essentially ignored. But for the 1s electron of mercury (atomic number 80) this effect becomes significant; the electron approaches about 58% of the speed of light, and its mass increases to 1.23 times its rest mass. Relativity has kicked in. Since the radius of an electron orbit in the Bohr theory (orbital to be precise) goes inversely as the mass, this mass increase results in a 23% decrease in the orbital radius. This shrinkage makes a world of difference since it results in stronger attraction between the nucleus and the electrons, and this effect translates to the outermost 6s orbital as well as to other orbitals. The effect is compounded by the more diffuse d and f orbitals insufficiently shielding the s electrons. Combined with the filled nature of the 6s orbital, the relativistic shrinkage makes mercury very reluctant indeed to share its outermost electrons and form strong bonds with other mercury atoms.

The bonding between mercury atoms in small clusters thus mainly results from weak Van der Waals forces which arise from local charge fluctuations in neighboring atoms rather than the sharing of electrons.

(via news.yc)

Germany Fights Population Drop

Suzanne Daley and Nicholas Kulish:

Demographers say that a far better investment would be to support women juggling motherhood and careers by expanding day care and after-school programs. They say recent data show that growth in fertility is more likely to come from them.

“If you look closely at the numbers, what you see is the higher the gender equality, the higher the birthrate,” said Reiner Klingholz of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.

I hope by “the numbers” they mean “talking to actual people to figure out why they didn’t have kids.”

1957 Postcard Showing San Francisco's Market Street (Photo Album)


Vintage 1957 postcard showing one of the widest thoroughfares in the country, San Francisco’s Market Street.

I love these seeing old postcards. I’m reminded that our cities are always changing, our fashions are always changing.

San Francisco, like my hometown of NYC, has a wonderful mix of old and new artchitectures often side by side. I love seeing the old mixed in with the new.

Crazy to think how much infrastructure in the Bay Area was built in the 1930s.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Learn to Read Korean in 15-20 Minutes

Both hilarious and informative!

(via reddit)

Google Fiber Continues Awful ISP Tradition of Banning “Servers”

From Google Fiber’s Network Management Guide:

Unless you have a written agreement with Google Fiber permitting you do so, you should not host any type of server using your Google Fiber connection

Please, Google, do better than this.

(via news.yc)

Triple Divide Peak, Montana

From Wikipedia:

Triple Divide Peak (8,020 feet (2,444 m)) is located in the Lewis Range, Glacier National Park in the U.S. state of Montana. It is a hydrological apex of the North American continent, where the Great and Laurentian divides meet at the summit of the peak. Thus, all water that falls at this point can flow to the Pacific, Atlantic, or Arctic oceans (when Hudson Bay is considered an Arctic tributary), making the locale (and surrounding Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park) one of the few places on the Earth whose waters feed three oceans.

Looks beautiful, too.

(via reddit)


The so-called “labyrinth fish” — Wikipedia:

The labyrinth organ, a defining characteristic of fish in the suborder Anabantoidei, is a much-folded suprabranchial accessory breathing organ. It is formed by vascularized expansion of the epibranchial bone of the first gill arch and used for respiration in air.

This organ allows labyrinth fish to take in oxygen directly from the air, instead of taking it from the water in which they reside through use of gills. The labyrinth organ helps the inhaled oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, labyrinth fish can survive for a short period of time out of water, as they can inhale the air around them, provided they stay moist.

Holy crap on a cracker!

(via reddit)

“One Year Later, the iPad Is Still My Favorite Computer”

Harry McCracken:

A few months ago, I attended a meeting of the national board of the American Society of Business Press Editors where four of 13 attendees were toting iPads with external keyboards. I don’t think any of them would describe themselves as hardcore geeks or lovers of bleeding-edge technology; they were doing it because they found it useful.

I’m pretty sure it’s not just journalists who are using iPads as computers. I see people doing it in airplanes. I’ve seen them doing it on the subway. When I’m out and about, strangers run up to ask me about my keyboard. Something’s happening here, and it’s happening quickly…

I’m glad some people are geting use out of their iPad-as-primary-device.

Call me when I can write an iPad app on an iPad.

Japan’s Debt Reaches 1,000,000,000,000,000 Yen

Every time I read about Japan I want sushi. Does that make me a bad person?

Also, I love Neil Tyson:

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, helpfully offered a few other ways to think about a quadrillion. “It would take you 31 million years to count to a quadrillion — one number per second, never sleeping,” he said in an e-mail, adding that “a quadrillion yen, stacked in 1,000-yen notes, would ascend 70,000 miles high.”


Walt Whitman & Breaking Bad

Kera Bolonik, writing for the Poetry Foundation:

Had Walt Whitman, an occasional proponent of Prohibition, lived today, he might have been horrified to discover that he in any way inspired a TV series about a murderous drug lord named Walter White. And stunned (though perhaps pleased) to find his magnum opus employed as the smoking gun leading to the man’s undoing.

Now I regret not watching this show!


More on the BART strike saga

From a piece titled BART workers’ benefits among nation’s best:

On the one hand, BART’s train operators come in no better than fourth in the nation in pay, and salaries for the system’s station agents lag far behind what Muni station agents make in San Francisco.

However, BART workers’ low-cost health care and lack of pension contributions and them in the top tier of transit agency workers throughout America, a Chronicle analysis shows.

This just makes me wonder why BART is much more expensive than, say, the NYC Subway.

Not getting a raise for years is frustrating, but I can’t help thinking that BART workers are getting a sweeter deal overall than most folks these days.

New Meta-Analysis Checks the Correlation Between Intelligence and Faith

Akshat Rathi writes:

The second set of studies is based on students of New York’s Hunter College Elementary School for the intellectually gifted. This school selects its students based on a test given at a young age. To study their religiosity, graduates of this school were queried when they were between the ages of 38 and 50. They all had IQs that exceeded 140, and the study found that only 16 percent of them derived personal satisfaction from religion (about the same number as the Termites).

I wonder when they ran this study. I don’t remember anyone from my elementary school being particularly religous — more so in high school.

My Wedding Anniversary

Two years ago today I married my best friend, Lauren Shapiro.

I have yet to find the words to describe our feelings for each other.



A little fun with photoshop…

(Thanks to charamelody for the original!)