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3 stars

The Scammer Who Wanted to Save His Country | Wired

Last year, a hacker gave Glenn Greenwald a trove of damning messages between Brazil’s leaders. Some suspected the Russians. The truth was far less boring.

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The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse | The Atlantic

A historian believes he has discovered iron laws that predict the rise and fall of societies. He has bad news. […]

The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surging—­­to a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (“Not all of human history,” he corrected me once. “Just the last 10,000 years.”) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an “age of discord,” civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldn’t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early ’70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.

The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions.

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How Hard Is It to Overturn an American Election? | Lawfare

And so it has come to this: The president of the United States is trying to overturn the results of a national election he unambiguously lost with a combination of petulant whining, spiteful and flailing executive action, and magic. […]

In other words, to appoint a pro-Trump slate of electors, a state legislature would have to proceed in the face of (1) a known popular vote that went for Biden by some thousands of votes, (2) official certification of that result by the elected officials of the state, (3) public statements by responsible state officials conceding that the election had not seen substantial irregularities, let alone fraud, (4) court actions rejecting challenges to any claims of fraud, (5) in some states, state law obstacles to such a course, (6) possible federal constitutional law obstacles to such a course, and (7) the clear preference in federal statute for electoral votes certified under rules established in advance of the election. […]

But what happens some years down the line when an election is a little bit closer than this one, the evidence of voting irregularities is a little bit better, and the legal questions are a little less open and shut? What lesson will some future president take from Trump’s behavior now and his party’s support for it?

Third, the president’s behavior will undermine trust among many people in the integrity of the election. It already has. An astonishing 70 percent of Republicans polled by Morning Consult report not believing the election was free and fair. Sustained campaigns to undermine trust run by entire political movements tend to work. And Biden will suffer from a lost perception of legitimacy among a major segment of the electorate as a result of this one.

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Daniel Ek | The Observer Effect

Welcome to the second interview on 'The Observer Effect'. We are lucky to have one of the most influential founders/CEOs in technology and media - Daniel Ek, Founder and CEO of Spotify. This interview was published on 4th October, 2020.

Daniel does things very differently from other business leaders and was generous to go deep with us on his leadership style, time management, decision making, Spotify's impact on the world and much, much more. Enjoy! […]

One time, I listened to this interview with Elon Musk. Everyone walked away with the reasoning from first principles. That's not the mental model that I took away from what he said.

I actually took away the mental model where learning resembles a tree: you see the trunk, you see the branches, and you see the leaves. When I set out to tackle something – to solve some problem or create something new – in the beginning, it just seems insurmountable. When you enter a new field, you don't know anything; you don't even know what people are talking about! It sounds like it's a foreign language that people are speaking. But, I know from my experiences – going back to my five year-old self – that if I just persevere, if I keep going in this direction, eventually I'll start seeing what resembles a branch or a trunk, and then a leaf or two, and then I can start putting them together. Eventually, I'll see the whole tree. I just know that's the process. I try to repeat it often enough so it becomes a habit.

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2 stars

Progress, stagnation, and flying cars | The Roots of Progress

Hall sets out to tackle the title question: why don’t we have flying cars yet? And indeed, several chapters in the book are devoted to deep dives on the history, engineering, and economics of flying cars. But to fully answer the question, Hall must go much broader and deeper, because he quickly concludes that the barriers to flying cars are not technological or economic—they are cultural and political. To explain the flying car gap is to explain the Great Stagnation itself. […]

Before reading the book, I had assumed that the flying car was one of those ideas that sounds good on its face, but turns out not to work or be interesting in practice. Maybe they’re inherently too hard to fly, too dangerous, or just not all that valuable. This book changed my mind. […]

And he concludes that there is no technological or economic reason why we can’t have flying cars with existing technology—indeed, why we couldn’t have had them already, if sustained work on them had continued past the 1970s. […]

The potential capabilities of mature nanotech are mind-blowing. The incredible speed alone would dramatically lower the price of literally every physical product. Hall estimates that the entire capital stock of the US—“every single building, factory, highway, railroad, bridge, airplane, train, automobile, truck, and ship”—could be rebuilt in a week. And nanotech would allow materials with extreme properties, such as the strength of diamond, to be used for everyday manufacturing and construction.

The possibilities are straight out of science fiction. The “space pier”, a set of towers a hundred kilometers tall with a magnetic accelerator to shoot payloads into orbit, saving the fuel required to escape Earth’s gravity well and bringing down launch costs by three orders of magnitude. Or the “Weather Machine”, a fleet of quintillions of centimeter-sized balloons floating in the stratosphere, made of nanometer-thick diamond, with remote-controlled mirrors that can reflect light or allow it to pass through, forming a “programmable greenhouse gas” that can regulate temperature and direct solar energy. And of course, affordable flying cars.

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The Polls Weren’t Great. But That’s Pretty Normal. | FiveThirtyEight

Finally, there’s a slightly meta point here: Voters and the media need to recalibrate their expectations around polls — not necessarily because anything’s changed, but because those expectations demanded an unrealistic level of precision — while simultaneously resisting the urge to “throw all the polls out.”

So, yeah, it’s complicated. […]

Next question: Are polls becoming less accurate over time?

The answer is basically no, although it depends on what cycle you start measuring from and how your expectations around polls are set. Polls were quite accurate in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, for instance, and this was also a time when polling received increased media attention. The 2012 election was undoubtedly also good for polling’s reputation since polls identified the winner correctly in almost every state, although they did underestimate then-President Barack Obama’s margin of victory by a few points.

Polls have had a rougher go in the past, however.

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‘Women’s Work’ Can No Longer Be Taken for Granted | New York Times

New Zealand is pursuing a century-old idea to close the gender pay gap: not equal pay for equal work, but equal pay for work of equal value. […]

Based on what they had learned about social work, each side came to the table with proposals for comparable male-dominated occupations, but quickly realized they were better off identifying a set of agreed-upon criteria (that these jobs should be at least 66 percent male, have a collective bargaining agreement and also be public sector jobs) to create an initial longlist. This list included several outliers, such as surgeons (who undergo highly specialized training) and park rangers (who face no barrier to entry into the profession), that were quickly tossed out.

What remained were four occupations that all parties agreed were potentially comparable with social workers in different aspects of the work: detectives and family violence constables in the New Zealand Police, engineers employed by the Auckland City Council and air traffic controllers for Airways New Zealand. All of these roles require alertness and focus and therefore rate highly on sensory demands. On the other hand, they vary widely in the degree of physical effort or emotional skills involved (a published analysis of the occupations noted that air traffic controllers, for example, “operate within a highly codified environment,” which reduces the need for interpersonal skills.) […]

The final settlement included an average 30.6 percent pay increase, phased in over two years. It was, to Ms. Ross’s surprise, a higher figure than the union had historically promoted — and a powerful argument for going through the job evaluation process with the goal of eliminating gender-based undervaluation, rather than targeting a specific pay hike.

The job evaluation process yielded another unexpected benefit. Ms. Ross said many social workers found the analysis of their work “more valuable” than the pay raise itself. Some, on seeing the many skills and competencies they brought to work every day spelled out in a detailed assessment, were moved to tears.

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The Husband-and-Wife Team Behind the Leading Vaccine to Solve Covid-19 | New York Times

Two years ago, Dr. Ugur Sahin took the stage at a conference in Berlin and made a bold prediction. Speaking to a roomful of infectious disease experts, he said his company might be able to use its so-called messenger RNA technology to rapidly develop a vaccine in the event of a global pandemic.

At the time, Dr. Sahin and his company, BioNTech, were little known outside the small world of European biotechnology start-ups. BioNTech, which Dr. Sahin founded with his wife, Dr. Özlem Türeci, was mostly focused on cancer treatments. It had never brought a product to market. Covid-19 did not yet exist.

But his words proved prophetic.

On Monday, BioNTech and Pfizer announced that a vaccine for the coronavirus developed by Dr. Sahin and his team was more than 90 percent effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers who had no evidence of having previously been infected. The stunning results vaulted BioNTech and Pfizer to the front of the race to find a cure for a disease that has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide. […]

Early in his career, he met Dr. Türeci. She had early hopes to become a nun and ultimately wound up studying medicine. Dr. Türeci, now 53 and the chief medical officer of BioNTech, was born in Germany, the daughter of a Turkish physician who immigrated from Istanbul. On the day they were married, Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci returned to the lab after the ceremony. […]

Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci sold Ganymed for $1.4 billion in 2016. Last year, BioNTech sold shares to the public; in recent months, its market value has soared past $21 billion, making the couple among the richest in Germany.

The two billionaires live with their teenage daughter in a modest apartment near their office. They ride bicycles to work. They do not own a car.

“Ugur is a very, very unique individual,” Mr. Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in the interview last month. “He cares only about science. Discussing business is not his cup of tea. He doesn’t like it at all. He’s a scientist and a man of principles. I trust him 100 percent.”

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Apple’s Shifting Differentiation | Stratechery

This integration is at the core of Apple’s incredibly successful business model: the company makes the majority of its money by selling hardware, but while other manufacturers can, at least in theory, create similar hardware, which should lead to commoditization, only Apple’s hardware runs its proprietary operating systems.

Of course software is even more commoditizable than hardware: once written, software can be duplicated endlessly, which means its marginal cost of production is zero. This is why many software-based companies are focused on serving as large of a market as possible, the better to leverage their investments in creating the software in the first place. However, zero marginal cost is not the only inherent quality of software: it is also infinitely customizable, which means that Apple can create something truly unique, and by tying said software to its hardware, make its hardware equally unique as well, allowing it to charge a sustainable premium.

This is, to be sure, a simplistic view of Apple: many aspects of its software are commoditized, often to Apple’s benefit, while many aspects of its hardware are differentiated. What is fascinating is that while modern Apple is indeed characterized by the integration of hardware and software, the balance of which differentiates the other has shifted over time, culminating in yesterday’s announcement of new Macs powered by Apple Silicon.

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The Distinguished Medieval P—— Investigators | Narratively

Censored not out of prudishness but rather to avoid overzealous spam filters:

In fourteenth-century England, one of the only ways a woman could get a divorce was if her husband was impotent. But first, she had to prove it in court. […]

Outrageous as it seems, the case of Lambhird v. Saundirson is one of multiple late medieval English annulment cases on record that focus on the question of impotence — which is still grounds for divorce in plenty of places today, including parts of the United States.

In the Middle Ages, impotence was one of the few grounds on which a woman could successfully obtain a divorce, since the Catholic Church believed that spouses owed the “marital debt” of sex to one another. But in order to confirm the husband’s impotence and to ensure that the woman wasn’t simply making false claims to escape the sacrament of marriage — after all, women were thought to be inherently less trustworthy and more prone to lying than men — the courts needed witnesses.

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The Lucky Breaks That Prevented an Election Meltdown | Slate

Trump had a plan to to disrupt the vote. Here’s why it didn’t work. […]

2. No Red Mirage in the Southwest. The fabled “red mirage” did appear in some states, but the opposite happened in others. In Nevada and Arizona, Biden jumped out to an early lead. This threw a wrench in Trump’s “the early vote is the only real vote” narrative. Trump tweeted “STOP THE COUNT!” on Thursday morning. But if counting actually had stopped nationwide at that time, Biden would have won 270 votes and the presidency thanks to his slim leads in Arizona and Nevada. This put Trump in the awkward position of calling for every vote to be counted in some states but stopping the count in others. Even for him, this was tough to pull off and it seemed to leave some of his supporters confused about tactics: Armed Trump supporters forced officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, to close their ballot-counting facility to the public on Wednesday night, even though that county was Trump’s best hope of taking the lead in the state.

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Is there a male breadwinner norm? Don't look at spouses' income to find out, study says | PhysOrg

Previous research seems to show the tendency of women to sabotage themselves in order to earn less than their husbands. But a closer look at the data reveals that might not be the case.

A 2015 paper, now well known in economics research, details a graph that appears to show women's behavior in marriage reinforces the stereotype of a male breadwinner—that is, in heterosexual couples, women prefer to be married to a man who makes more than them. […]

"It looks like there's something going on that's related to this breadwinner norm—it could be coming from who's marrying whom or wives doing some manipulation where they withdraw from the labor market a bit or don't take that better job to avoid making more money than their husbands. But what our paper shows is this is actually just an anomaly driven by this little spike of people who are exactly at the 50% mark," said David Lam, director of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and a professor of economics. […]

When Lam and Binder zoomed in on incomes at exactly the 50% mark, they found a surprisingly high number of couples who earn exactly the same amount of money. When the researchers removed the equal-earning couples, the discontinuities just before and just after 50% disappeared.

Lam says the discontinuities are likely a statistical anomaly generated by those couples who earn the same incomes—couples who co-own businesses, or those like school teachers who are in the same occupation and industry and have identical salaries.

The researchers say their investigation cautions against inferring social norms from observed differences in spousal attributes—in this case, income earnings.

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1 star

The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud | New York Times

Election officials in dozens of states representing both political parties said that there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race, amounting to a forceful rebuke of President Trump’s portrait of a fraudulent election.

Over the last several days, the president, members of his administration, congressional Republicans and right wing allies have put forth the false claim that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump and have refused to accept results that showed Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner.

But top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic.

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The 2014-15 Kansas City Royals Were One Of Baseball’s Great Underdog Stories | FiveThirtyEight

With that unfinished business in mind, Kansas City reloaded for another run in 2015. But despite coming off a World Series appearance, they carried only +3300 championship odds at the end of spring training, according to SportsOddsHistory.com — which was tied for just 18th-best in baseball. (After adjusting for the cut, +3300 odds would translate to a mere 2.2 percent chance of winning the World Series.) Since 1985, only two World Series teams were ever disrespected so much by the oddsmakers going into the following season: the fire-sale 1998 Florida Marlins (+8000) and the 1999 San Diego Padres (+5000). […]

That play — Hosmer’s Mad Dash, as ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian later immortalized it in this oral history — represented everything special about Kansas City’s playoff runs in 2014 and 2015. Nobody saw it coming, and by the time they did, it couldn’t be stopped. “That’s what I’m most proud of, how aggressive and fearless [Hosmer] was,” Yost said. “He was not afraid to make a mistake. He played to win. He saw a way to win the game. That is what we do here — we play to win.”

When the Royals scored five in the top of the 12th inning and shut down the Mets with lights-out closer Wade Davis a half-inning later, Kansas City had gone from an out-of-nowhere playoff oddity to world champions.

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How 100 Billion Cranberries Are Harvested In 6 Weeks - Big Business | YouTube

Starting in mid-September, Ocean Spray farmers across the Northeast start hustling to harvest 100 billion cranberries in just six weeks. But just as harvest was beginning this year, a TikTok featuring a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-raspberry juice went viral. Soon, retailers struggled to keep cranberry juice on shelves as millions recreated the video. For Ocean Spray, the sudden demand made a rushed harvest even harder. The company had to hire seasonal employees and increase production. Business Insider visited a Massachusetts bog and manufacturing facility to see how the company's handling demand, harvest, a pandemic, and an upcoming holiday season all at once.

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What in the World Is a $590 Scratch-and-Sniff T-shirt Doing in 2020? | New York Times

The New York Times purchased, on sale, one cherry-scented cherry shirt and one grape-scented blackberry shirt for a total, after taxes and shipping, of $631.24, and to whom should the apology be issued?

To A. G. Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher, for allocating a portion of his publication’s budget in this way?

Or to a person who could have really used $631.24 — for instance, any resident of Florence, Ky., who was recently transported by ambulance and subsequently charged that city’s standard $630 ambulance fee? […]

The thing about a $590 T-shirt is that, upon acquiring one, you immediately become the human assistant to a $590 T-shirt. Your compensation for this role is capped at the amount of joy you personally are able to derive from the act of wearing it.

Besides the basic maintenance of the T-shirt — which involves ironing out the stubborn creases formed in its cardboard journey across land and sea, and handwashing the cotton to preserve the scent of the fruit cartoon (the cherry scent vanished after a single wash and wear; the blackberry shirt was never washed for fear of same) — there is an additional component of mental exhaustion.

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Paige Harden on Genetic Differences and the Left | Marginal Revolution

In this article, Erik Parens urges me and other scientists working in the field of social genomics to “curb [our] optimism” regarding how genetic discoveries could be used to advance progressive and egalitarian social goals. In my view, however, it is Parens and other critics of social genomics who need to curb their optimism, in two ways.

First, Parens is overly optimistic that social science can ever hope to be successful without genetics. In reality, social scientists have failed, time and time again, to produce interventions that bring about lasting improvements in people’s lives. There are many reasons for that failure. But one reason is that many scientists continue to engage in what the sociologist Jeremy Freese has called a “tacit collusion” to avoid reckoning, in their research designs and in their causal inferences, with the fact that people are genetically different from one another.

All interventions and policies are built on a model of how the world works: “If I change x, then y will happen.” A model of the world that pretends all people are genetically the same, or that the only thing people inherit from their parents is their environment, is a wrong model of how the world works. The more often our models of the world are wrong, the more often we will continue to fail in designing interventions and policies that do what they intend to do. The goal of integrating genetics into the social sciences is not to design boutique educational interventions tailored for children’s genotypes. It is to help rescue us from our current situation, where most educational interventions tested don’t work for anyone. This track record of failure plays directly into the hands of a right-wing that touts the ineffectiveness of intervention as evidence for its false narrative of genetic determinism.

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2.000 drones illuminate the way to the future of mobility | Volkswagen

Yes, this is an advertisement. But it’s stunning — with 2,000 drones creating an animation in the skies above Shenzhen.

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SNL Had 85 Minutes to Re-create Kamala Harris's White Pantsuit For Maya Rudolph — Here's How They Did It | PopSugar

Kamala Harris walked onstage in Wilmington, Delaware, to address the nation as vice-president elect around 8:30 p.m. ET. In that moment, the Saturday Night Live cast and crew had just began dress rehearsal for the show, which starts promptly at 11:30 p.m. ET. The mood? Intense, especially for the costume department, which includes Producer and Costume Designer Tom Broecker and Wardrobe Supervisor Dale Richards, who was in charge of making the outfit actor Maya Rudolph would wear as Harris for the cold open. Rudolph had already perfectly pulled off Kamala's Converse sneakers on the show — would she do this Carolina Herrera white victory suit, and coordinated silk pussy-bow blouse, as much justice? Of frickin' course — even with such a limited amount of time.

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Virtual Sets Are Replacing Green Screens | Kottke

The green screen is a staple of visual effects for movies and TV. You film actors in front of a green or blue screen and then use digital editing technology to replace the solid color with any background you’d like. But as Phil Edwards explains in this video, the effects teams for some movies and shows (like Disney’s The Mandalorian) have swapped green screens for virtual sets. In lieu of block colored backgrounds, the actors are surrounded by massive LED panels that display the background and background action so everything can be filmed in one go.

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Sweden Covid-19 update | Marginal Revolution

Even Sweden’s public health agency admits its earlier prediction that the country’s Nordic neighbours such as Finland and Norway would suffer more in the autumn appears wrong. Sweden is currently faring worse than Denmark, Finland and Norway on cases, hospitalisations and deaths relative to the size of their population.

…The number of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 is doubling in Sweden every eight days currently, the fastest rate for any European country for which data is available. Its cases per capita have sextupled in the past month to more than 300 new daily infections per million people, close to the UK and way ahead of its Nordic neighbours.

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How Soy Sauce Is Made Using Traditional Methods | Kottke

I don’t know how traditional some of those massive machines are, but this is still a good video:

Since 1789, Fueki Syoyu Brewing has been making soy sauce using simple ingredients, big wooden barrels for aging, and traditional methods handed down through the generations to ensure the signature richness and taste of their product. This video from Eater takes us inside the brewery to see how the magic happens.

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Right-thinking Henry Olsen on Trump voter fraud | Marginal Revolution

Mass voter fraud should be relatively easy to detect, even if it might be difficult to prove. […]

None of these early warning signs of fraud appear in the results.

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Q: What Is a Hole? A: We’re Not Sure! | Kottke

How many holes does a donut have? That’s pretty easy: one. What about a straw? Two (one at each end) or just one? (Isn’t a straw just an elongated donut?) Does a coffee mug have one hole or two? Does a bowl have a hole? If no, then what about a hole in the ground or a hole in a wall that doesn’t pass all the way through? Does a basketball have a hole? A Reddit user asked 1600 people how many holes were in various objects and the results are fantastically all over the place.

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