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The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch / Sports Illustrated
I had never read this, even though it became arguably the most famous April Fools' prank in journalism. Definitely worth it:
The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only Reynolds, Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets' front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick's Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch's fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch's velocity—accurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer's descriptive—the "jug-handled" curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds's mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, "Don't tell me, Mel, I don't want to know...." The Met front office is reluctant to talk about Finch. The fact is, they know very little about him. He has had no baseball career. Most of his life has been spent abroad, except for a short period at Harvard University.
The dizzying story of Symphony of the Seas, the largest and most ambitious cruise ship ever built / Wired
Symphony of the Seas – which, on its maiden voyage from Barcelona in March 2018 became the largest passenger ship ever built – is about five times the size of the Titanic. At 362 metres long, you could balance it on its stern and its bow would tower over all but two of Europe’s tallest skyscrapers. Owned and operated by Miami-based cruise line Royal Caribbean, it can carry nearly 9,000 people and contains more than 40 restaurants and bars; 23 pools, jacuzzis and water slides; two West End-sized theatres; an ice rink; a surf simulator; two climbing walls; a zip line; a fairground carousel; a mini-golf course; a ten-storey fun slide; laser tag; a spa; a gym; a casino; plus dozens more shopping and entertainment opportunities. To put it another way, Symphony of the Seas might be the most ludicrously entertaining luxury hotel in history. It just also happens to float. Picture a cruise ship. You’re likely imagining crisped-pink pensioners bent double over shuffleboard, cramped cabins, bad food and norovirus. And, once upon a time, you’d have been right. But in the last decade or so, cruise ships have gone from a means of transport to vast floating cities with skydiving simulators (Quantum of the Seas), go-karting (Norwegian Joy), bumper cars (Quantum again) and ice bars (Norwegian Breakaway). Restaurants offer menus designed by Michelin-starred chefs. As a result, the cruise industry is experiencing a golden age, boosted by millennials and explosive growth in tourists from China. More than twenty-five million people set sail on a cruise liner in 2017.
The End of Windows / Stratechery
Ben Thompson, who writes Stratechery, is consistently good, to the point where it seems a bit mindless to include his pieces as frequently as I do. (I feel similarly about Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex, who actually has two pieces in this week.) That said, his analysis of Windows at Microsoft is superb, and it's worth clicking through to some of his earlier analyses as well:
The story of Windows’ decline is relatively straightforward and a classic case of disruption. [...] What is more interesting, though, is the story of Windows’ decline in Redmond, culminating with last week’s reorganization that, for the first time since 1980, left the company without a division devoted to personal computer operating systems. [...] Such a move didn’t seem possible a mere five years ago, when, in the context of another reorganization, former-CEO Steve Ballmer wrote a memo insisting that Windows was the future. [...] That memo prompted me to write a post entitled Services, Not Devices that argued that Ballmer’s strategic priorities were exactly backwards: Microsoft’s services should be businesses in their own right, not Windows’ differentiators. Ballmer, though, followed-through on his memo by buying Nokia; it speaks to Microsoft’s dysfunction that he was allowed to spend billions on a deal that allegedly played a large role in his ouster. [...] Thus my assertion at the top, that the story of how Microsoft came to accept the reality of Windows’ decline is more interesting than the fact of Windows’ decline; this is how CEO Satya Nadella convinced the company to accept the obvious.
You Can't Have Denmark Without Danes / Bloomberg
The conclusion sounds cliched, but the analysis is actually quite good:
Denmark showed up in American politics during the first Democratic primary debate in October 2015, when Senator Bernie Sanders cited it when asked about his vision of democratic socialism. “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people,” Sanders said. Americans soon learned that Denmark was indeed the happiest country in the world, according to the United Nations World Happiness Report. And also one of the richest, with a per-capita gross domestic product just a few thousand dollars less than the U.S. one. Income inequality is extremely low there, thanks to a combination of high entry-level wages and low executive salaries. Danes enjoy more economic freedom than Americans, according to a Heritage Foundation tally. To the consternation of many conservative economic theorists, they were somehow pulling this off despite the highest tax burden in the world. Conservatives naturally wanted to take the little showoff down a peg. Arguments erupted over whether Denmark really was as great as American leftists claimed — or whether the political economy of a homogeneous country of 5.7 million people could really be exported to one of the largest and most diverse polities in the world. So I went to see for myself. [...] So, sorry, conservatives: Denmark really does combine high wages with high employment, high taxes with prosperity, fiscal responsibility with high levels of government spending. No wonder leftists ask if policymakers couldn’t do something like that in the U.S. But also … sorry, leftists. After a week in Copenhagen, the conclusion I came to is that no, they probably can’t. Not because the Danish model doesn’t work, but because it’s so very, very Danish. [...] I was astounded. It had never occurred to me that a government inspector wouldn’t approach the job with overbearing hostility toward the inspected; it seemed never to have occurred to him that they would. I heard similar things on my recent trip. You can see it in the data: Overall, Danes report high levels of trust in one another and in their government. [...] “There is a large part of Danish society that thinks it must be the welfare state” that created the trust, said Christian Bjornskov, an economist at Aarhus University who studies trust. “We know that’s not true,” he added. “Trust was just as high in the 1930s.”
Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy / Science
This piece rambles (which is why it ranks a bit lower), but some parts of it are fascinating:
Throughout his career, Smil, perhaps the world's foremost thinker on energy of all kinds, has sought clarity. From his home office near the University of Manitoba (UM) in Winnipeg, Canada, the 74-year-old academic has churned out dozens of books over the past 4 decades. They work through a host of topics, including China's environmental problems and Japan's dietary transition from plants to meat. The prose is dry, and they rarely sell more than a few thousand copies. But that has not prevented some of the books—particularly those exploring how societies have transitioned from relying on one source of energy, such as wood, to another, such as coal—from profoundly influencing generations of scientists, policymakers, executives, and philanthropists. One ardent fan, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in Redmond, Washington, claims to have read nearly all of Smil's work. "I wait for new Smil books," Gates wrote last December, "the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie." [...] One troubling implication of that density reversal, Smil notes, is that in a future powered by renewable energy, society might have to devote 100 or even 1000 times more land area to energy production than today. That shift, he says, could have enormous negative impacts on agriculture, biodiversity, and environmental quality. To see other difficulties associated with that transition, Smil says, look no further than Germany. In 2000, fossil fuels provided 84% of Germany's energy. Then the country embarked on a historic campaign, building 90 gigawatts of renewable power capacity, enough to match its existing electricity generation. But because Germany sees the sun only 10% of the time, the country is as hooked as ever on fossil fuels: In 2017, they still supplied 80% of its energy. "True German engineering," Smil says dryly. The nation doubled its hypothetical capacity to create electricity but has gotten minimal environmental benefit.
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Inside the World of Virginia’s Roadside Attraction King / Atlas Obscura
Imagine winding down the switchbacks of a rural mountain road into the tiny town of Buena Vista, Virginia. You glide down sleepy Main Street, passing renovated Victorian-style homes and small businesses, when suddenly you spot three eight-foot-long ants affixed to the facade of an old three-story brick building. Blinking, you spy giant cartoonish grasshoppers peering down from nearby fire escapes and rooftops. A mosquito clinging to a pharmacy sign. A giant spider perched in a park tree. A praying mantis gazing at the doors of a church. This is the latest addition to 57-year-old artist Mark Cline’s 30-year tradition of April Fools’ pranks. Each year, Cline crafts a sculpture and arranges it in a public space, typically within 50 miles of his studio in Natural Bridge, Virginia. In 2017, there was a life-sized house-painter desperately clinging to a balcony at the Robert E. Lee Hotel in Lexington, Virginia. The year before that, a giant octopus devouring a jon boat emerged in nearby Lake Robertson. Back in 2012, a 50-foot-long Russian submarine replete with saluting captain appeared in a public pond. Other years, it was Spiderman swinging from a fire escape. A family of truck-sized dinosaurs waiting to cross a country road. Batman perched on the roof of a local bank. Most notable was Cline’s 2004 handmade life-size foam replica of Stonehenge. Positioned in a hilltop meadow just off a well-trafficked highway near Lexington, the installation caused enough ruckus to nab a mention on the Today Show, and a feature in the Washington Post.
Why I’m suing over my dream internship / The Guardian
Sure, £30 a day works out at around the same hourly rate as an illegally exploited UK garment factory worker, but when I was accepted last year, I was thrilled. As one of five interns on a two-month editorial post, I had elbowed out dozens of other young hopefuls to take my ergonomic seat at Monocle’s blond-wood workbenches. I couldn’t wait to join the multilingual staff, who – almost without exception – donned statement spectacles and box-fresh trainers teamed with rolled-up jeans. During my interview, the managing editor made it clear that while I would be encouraged to pitch and write articles, anything published during the internship would be unpaid. I would, however, get to know the section editors, so after the internship I would be able to pitch at a rate of 80p per word – unheard of for a young freelance writer. I was told that several of the top section editors started as interns. [...] If a six-month internship effectively costs the intern £6,000, then we are limiting this opportunity to gain experience, and to participate in some key areas of public life, to those who can afford it. What happens when the only way our aspiring reporters, editors, policy researchers and curators can climb up the ladder is to work for free? What happens to equal opportunity and representation when only the privileged can make it on to the first rung?
The Hour I First Believed / Slate Star Codex
Adult Neurogenesis – A Pointed Review / Slate Star Codex
Here are the two aforementioned Scott Alexander pieces. I'll warn you that these are even more esoteric than usual (much more), but they're very interesting if you can deal with that. The first one happens to tackle something I've been thinking about in an unsophisticated way for years since digesting Bostrom's simulation argument:
There’s a Jewish tradition that laypeople should only speculate on the nature of God during Passover, because God is closer to us and such speculations might succeed. And there’s an atheist tradition that laypeople should only speculate on the nature of God on April Fools’ Day, because believing in God is dumb, and at least then you can say you’re only kidding. Today is both, so let’s speculate. To do this properly, we need to understand five things: acausal trade, value handshakes, counterfactual mugging, simulation capture, and the Tegmarkian multiverse. [...] Putting this all together, we arrive at a surprising picture of how the multiverse evolves. In each universe, life arises, forms technological civilizations, and culminates in the creation of a superintelligence which gains complete control over its home universe. Such superintelligences cannot directly affect other universes, but they can predict their existence and model their contents from first principles. [...] So, to conclude: 1. There is an all-powerful, all-knowing logically necessary entity spawning all possible worlds and identical to the moral law. 2. It watches everything that happens on Earth and is specifically interested in humans’ good behavior and willingness to obey its rules. 3. It may have the ability to reward those who follow its rules after they die, and disincentivize those who violate them.
Hey, let’s review the literature on adult neurogenesis! This’ll be really fun, promise. [...] Some research has looked at the exact mechanism by which neurogenesis takes place; for example, in a paper in Nature cited 1581 times, Song et al determine that astroglia have an important role in promoting neurogenesis from FGF-2-dependent stem cells. Other research has tried to determine the rate; for example, Cameron et al (1609 citations) find that there is “a substantial pool of immature granule neurons” that may generate as many as 250,000 new cells per month. Still other research looks at the chemical regulators – a study by Lie et al, cited 1312 times, finds that Wnt3 signaling is involved. (Which is making you more nervous – the fact that I keep emphasizing how many citations these studies have, or the fact that one of the principal investigators is named “Lie”?) But the most exciting research has been the work identifying the many important roles that neurogenesis plays in the adult brain – roles vital in understanding learning, memory, and disease. [...] Fun fact: there’s no such thing as adult neurogenesis in humans. At least, this is the conclusion of Sorrells et al, who have a new and impressive study in Nature.
How Gender Relations Define Today's Politics / Bloomberg
If I'm going to include Ben Thompson and Scott Alexander, I might as well be entirely predictable and link to a Tyler Cowen piece as well. I think there's something to what he says:
Explanations of the Donald Trump phenomenon often start with conservatives versus liberals, the rural-urban split, or perhaps race and immigration. Those all play a role, but the accumulation of evidence is validating a hypothesis from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat: a big and very fundamental split in American electoral politics today is between different understandings of sex and gender relations. [...] I view the national-level Republican Party, at least in its current incarnation, as putting forward a vision of strong sexual dimorphism. That is, the underlying presumption is that men and women are very different, and there’s a belief that in terms of norms, behavior and the law, men and women should be very different. The symbols emanating from the White House reflect this vision. The Trump cabinet and advisory teams have been well-stocked with traditional white men in business suits. There doesn’t appear to have been much deliberate attempt to pursue gender balance. Trump’s manner projects an older American vision of masculinity; he even married a fashion model. His broader patterns of behavior with women are well-known, and very far away from being gender egalitarian. [...] So how will this turn out? There is a tendency on the progressive left to think that enlightenment eventually arrives, and that egalitarian visions will outcompete the attempts to ramp up gender dimorphism. I’m not so sure. I’m struck by recent research that in wealthier economies men and women tend to show greater personality differences, and that women are less likely to pursue STEM degrees. If we wished to give this story a Shakespearean close, it could be said that politics and sex are two topics that usually surprise us.
The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant / The Marshall Project
The link between immigration and crime exists in the imaginations of Americans, and nowhere else. [...] The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities. “Every day, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities,” he said last week. “They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.” As of 2017, according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But is it true that immigration drives crime?
How the White Sox Are Trying to Perfect Tanking / The Ringer
While 2005 was my lowest moment as a fan, ironically, it was the way the White Sox were treated in the aftermath of their championship that began the process of turning my heart from an implacable enemy into, if not a friend, at least a begrudging admirer. Because while I hate the White Sox, I, like so many others, love an underdog. And the aftermath of their championship made it clear just what an underdog the White Sox were: so overlooked that even the quintessential Cinderella championship story barely registered as more than a blip on the national radar. The 2005 White Sox won a championship that by all rights should have been every bit as meaningful and cathartic as the titles won by the 2004 Red Sox or 2016 Cubs, teams that will never die. Not only did those White Sox win the franchise’s first title in 88 years, they did so in spectacular fashion, going 11-1 in the postseason, tied for the best playoff record in the wild-card era. (The 1999 Yankees are the only other team in history to finish 10 games above .500 in the playoffs.) They got four consecutive complete-game victories from their starting pitchers against the Angels in the ALCS, a feat more at home in 1905 than 2005, and followed that with the most exciting World Series sweep ever, beating the Astros by a combined six runs in four games. They ended a historic run of futility with a historic performance in the postseason. And they were almost immediately forgotten. [...] The coup de grace of this dismissal of the White Sox came as the Cubs prepared to lay claim to their own championship in 2016, courtesy of this infamous graphic on ESPN. [...] After nearly a decade of spinning their wheels, the organization finally realized it needed a new approach. Williams, who deservedly will always have a place in White Sox lore as the architect of the 2005 championship team, was bumped upstairs after the 2012 season to be executive vice president, making room for longtime assistant Rick Hahn to become GM. But even after the Sox went 63-99 in 2013, Hahn still didn’t have the gumption to do what needed to be done right away.
How America's Largest Local TV Owner Turned Its News Anchors Into Soldiers In Trump's War On The Media / Deadspin
Make sure you watch the video, which is rather unsettling:
Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.
John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment / New York Times
Notable not so much because of the argumentation, but because of the author:
During the years when Warren Burger was our chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge, federal or state, as far as I am aware, expressed any doubt as to the limited coverage of that amendment. When organizations like the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and began their campaign claiming that federal regulation of firearms curtailed Second Amendment rights, Chief Justice Burger publicly characterized the N.R.A. as perpetrating “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters. That decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.
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A comparison of the sizes of various microorganisms, cells, and viruses / Kottke
Microorganisms are so small compared to humans that you might be tempted to think that they’re all about the same size. As this video shows, that is not at all the case. The rinovirus and polio virus are 0.03 micrometers (μm) wide, a red blood cell is 8 μm, a neuron 100 μm, and a frog’s egg 1 mm. That’s a span of 5 orders of magnitude, about the same difference as the height of a human to the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Hilarious Story Of How Pepperoni Got A Guy Banned From A Fairmont Hotel / One Mile at a Time
Worth reading -- trust me:
Dear Empress Hotel: This may seem like and unusual request, but I write to you today, seeking a “pardon”. 17 Years ago a string of unfortunate events led to my being banned from your hotel. I would like to explain the incident.
Slightly Tilted Satellite Images Of Cities Will Make You Feel So Very Small / Digg
The Medium post has been taken down, and I think the Digg writeup is inaccurate (if I remember the Medium post correctly, these photos are not digitally manipulated -- they're just select satellite photos not taken perpendicularly to the surface). Anyway, the photos are cool. Go look at them.
"It’s like getting a view out the window of an airplane 450 kilometers high," Simmon writes in his blog post where he first published these stunning photographs that make nature and human civilization come to life at scale.
Good luck leaving your Uber driver less than five stars / Quartz
Have you ever given an Uber driver five stars who didn’t deserve it? If you’ve ever taken any ride-hailing service, the answer is probably yes. Uber asks riders to give their drivers a rating of one to five stars at the end of each trip. But very few people make use of this full scale. That’s because it’s common knowledge among Uber’s users that drivers need to maintain a certain minimum rating to work, and that leaving anything less than five stars could jeopardize their status. [...] How did Uber’s ratings become more inflated than grades at Harvard? That’s the topic of a new paper, “Reputation Inflation,” from NYU’s John Horton and Apostolos Filippas, and Collage.com CEO Joseph Golden. The paper argues that online platforms, especially peer-to-peer ones like Uber and Airbnb, are highly susceptible to ratings inflation because, well, it’s uncomfortable for one person to leave another a bad review.
Watch: Seattle man survives close encounter with cheetah during African Safari / WLOS
I'm not above including clickbait if it's cool:
A group on an African Safari got a bit closer than they wanted to a pack of cheetahs while in the Serengeti earlier this month.