----- 3 stars -----
Hideous Men / The Cut
Donald Trump assaulted me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room 23 years ago. But he’s not alone on the list of awful men in my life. [...] My first rich boy pulled down my underpants. My last rich boy pulled down my tights. My first rich boy — I had fixed my eyes on his face long enough to know — was beautiful, with dark gray eyes and long golden-brown hair across his forehead. I don’t know what he grew up to be. My last rich boy was blond. He grew up to be the president of the United States.
Greed, drugs, dirty cops, and the bitter sibling rivalry burning up an $800 million Louisiana family dynasty. [...] Bryan Knight was already sweating through his rumpled dress shirt when the cops pulled him over. It was June 4, 2014, and Bryan, then 54 years old, was incredibly stressed out. He had just left a mediation meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana, with his elder brother, Mark; his younger sister, Kelley Sobiesk; and their team of respective lawyers. Mark and Bryan had for a decade been locked in a battle over control of their family company, Knight Oil Tools, the largest privately owned oil-and-gas-equipment-rental company in the world. That might not sound like much to boast about, but the company was worth an estimated $800 million; each sibling was worth over $100 million. The meeting, at which Bryan’s inheritance was at stake, had been contentious, and he found it supremely coincidental that, after pulling him over, the sheriff’s deputy almost immediately asked to search his vehicle. The deputy had Bryan step out of his crystal-white Cadillac Escalade and quickly rummaged through the interior. He then reached under the driver-side door and retrieved two magnetic cases attached to the undercarriage. He opened them up, found a few grams of cocaine and 50 painkillers, and put Bryan under arrest. At the parish jail in downtown Lafayette, Bryan was interrogated for over an hour. He was a longtime drug user, even a locally famous one, but he kept insisting, over and over, that the drugs weren’t his. With his phone call, he dialed Kelley, who was at their mother Ann’s house. He knew he had been framed and that his brother had done it.
Hiroyuki Suzuki couldn’t be happier that his company is charging him and all other employees about $100 an hour to use meeting rooms. “People really cut back on useless meetings,” says Suzuki, 37, who works at chip-equipment maker Disco Corp. and is one of the company’s 5,000 employees taking part in a radical experiment in business management. At Disco, everything has a price, from office desks and PCs to a spot for your wet umbrella. Teams bill each other for their work, while individuals operate as one-person startups, with daily auctions of work assignments and battles for the best ideas in the aptly named “Colosseum.” Payments are settled in a virtual currency called “Will,” with balances paid in yen at the end of each quarter. “We’ve created a free economic zone, just like what exists outside the company,” says Toshio Naito, who designed the program and has continued to work on it since its implementation in 2011. “Work should be about freedom, not orders.” The approach has so far paid off. Disco’s operating margin has risen to 26% from 16% since the experiment was implemented eight years ago, and its profitability is the envy of the industry. Its share price has almost quadrupled in that period, to roughly 16,000 yen ($148), giving the company a $5 billion market value. Thanks to bonuses, worker pay is more than double the national average of 4.7 million yen, and in 2017, Disco was the first to win a new government award for creating an ideal workplace.
The first thing Kate Pierson did after unlocking the yoga studio that November afternoon was set the mood, plugging in the soothing waterfall, selecting a cheery lemongrass oil for the scent diffuser. The thermostat was turned up to 98 for the 5:30 class. Hot Yoga Tallahassee was styled as a calming haven for a mostly female clientele. The men who practiced there, Pierson said, were men at ease with the “light and love” mission of the place. But the man who walked in about 5:15 that Friday was different. Pierson was still alone in the lobby when he entered, a big guy whose maroon Florida State University T-shirt was stretched over a paunchy belly, the wrapper still on the yoga mat under his arm. A black Planet Fitness bag was strapped across his chest. Inside, she would learn soon, was a Glock 9mm pistol. The man wasn’t on the list of 11 students preregistered for the evening class, and he seemed disappointed so few were expected. Handing over a debit card for the $12 walk-in fee, he identified himself as “Scott . . . Paul,” hesitating between the two words. His name was actually Scott Paul Beierle, a 40-year-old former FSU graduate student who had driven 250 miles for a yoga class in the town where he had twice been arrested for groping female students and banned from campus.
The printing press is often said to have been created by Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, around 1440 AD, and it began taking root in Europe in the 1450s with the printing of the aforementioned Bible. Books themselves had been present in Europe long before then, of course, but only in hand-copied volumes that were accessible mainly to members of the clergy. Access to mass-produced books revolutionized Europe in the late 1400s, with advancing literacy altering religion, politics, and lifestyles worldwide. At least, this is how the story is rendered in most books, including, for the most part, The Lost Gutenberg. But a single sentence late in the book nods to a much longer story before that: “Movable type was an 11th-century Chinese invention, refined in Korea in 1230, before meeting conditions in Europe that would allow it to flourish—in Europe, in Gutenberg’s time.” That sentence downplays and misstates what occurred.
Still, even if Libra remains controlled by an ever-expanding-but-still-limited set of validators, that is likely to be a far easier “sale” than a Facebook Coin controlled by a single company. Leaving aside the fact Facebook is not exactly swimming in trust these days when it comes to users, why would any other large company want to adopt a currency with a single point of corporate control? Keep in mind the situation in the United States and other developed countries is much different than China: credit cards have their flaws, particularly in terms of fees, but they are widely accepted by merchants and widely used by consumers. China, on the other hand, mostly leapfrogged credit cards entirely; this meant that WeChat Pay’s (and Alipay’s) competition was cash: in that case the relative advantages of WeChat Pay relative to cash (which are massive) could overcome any concerns around centralized control. A theoretical Facebook Coin’s relative advantage to credit cards, on the other hand, would be massively smaller, which means obstacles to widespread adoption — like trusting Facebook exclusively — would likely be insurmountable.
Leading up to that start on a frigid April evening, Bauer hounded the video staff and its coordinator, the white-haired and studious looking Bob Chester, to make sure they got Edgertronic footage of Stroman. But in the first inning, as Clevinger pitched for the Indians, neither Chester nor the camera was in the camera well behind home plate. If this start wasn’t filmed, Bauer would be livid. Between innings, Chester and the Edgertronic appeared in the camera well. As Stroman started pitching, Chester attached the camera to a tripod directly behind home plate. He then left the area. But the camera view was obstructed. This was Bauer’s one chance to get a look at Stroman and his slider on the Edgertronic. The first inning was over, and there was no usable footage. But Chester, realizing the error, returned in the second inning and repositioned the camera more to the left of the plate, allowing for an unobstructed view of Stroman. It was perhaps the most important repositioning of a high-speed camera in the brief history of pitch design.
Bernie Sanders and other Democrats are embracing free college. Europe shows it can be done, but there’s a cost. / Washington Post
This actually doesn't sound that bad to me, particularly as it's hard to argue Germany's economy has suffered significantly from this...
But European educators warn that while their systems show what is possible when countries decide to treat higher education as a public good, there are trade-offs involved. Most European nations offer free or bargain-basement college. Some countries send cash to students to cover food and housing: Denmark pays undergraduates $1,017 a month. Others, such as France, charge an annual fee ($195) that is less than what many U.S. schools charge in a week. Some German universities — nearly all of which are public — experimented with tuition fees a few years ago. But after a firestorm of student protest, the last German state to charge fees did away with them in 2014. The fee that caused such sticker shock? It was 500 euros per semester, about $565. [...] The same straitened approach is evident across German campuses. Critics blame it for Germany’s perennially lackluster showing in international university rankings: Just three German universities placed in the top 100 world institutions in rankings compiled by Quacquarelli Symonds, a British education consultancy. (RWTH Aachen ranked at 144.) That means German schools are decent but not fantastic. “We are not playing in the top league. We are not at the peak,” said Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference, his country’s main higher-education association. “The top German universities are not the Ivies. But the system works broadly as a cost-covering system.” [...] “The best German universities look a lot like the University of Colorado. It’s not going to be like the top privates. It’s not even going to be like the top publics,” said Alex Usher, a Canadian education consultant who has studied how countries fund their university systems. “They’re perfectly good schools. They churn out good graduates. They’re not as focused on creating an elite. And in many ways that’s what the top systems in the United States are trying to do.”
A symmetric weapon is one that works just as well for the bad guys as for the good guys. For example, violence – your morality doesn’t determine how hard you can punch; they can buy guns from the same places we can. An asymmetric weapon is one that works better for the good guys than the bad guys. The example I gave was Reason. If everyone tries to solve their problems through figuring out what the right thing to do is, the good guys (who are right) will have an easier time proving themselves to be right than the bad guys (who are wrong). Finding and using asymmetric weapons is the only non-coincidence way to make sustained moral progress. The parts of The Secret Of Our Success that deal with reason vs. cultural evolution raise a disturbing prospect: what if sometimes, the asymmetry is in the wrong direction? What if there are some issues where rational debate inherently leads you astray? [...] Maybe with an unlimited amount of resources, our investigations would naturally converge onto the truth. Given infinite intelligence, wisdom, impartiality, education, domain knowledge, evidence to study, experiments to perform, and time to think it over, we would figure everything out. But just because infinite resources will produce truth doesn’t mean that truth as a function of resources has to be monotonic. Maybe there are some parts of the resources-vs-truth curve where increasing effort leads you the wrong direction. When I was fifteen, I thought minimum wages obviously helped poor people. They needed money; minimum wages gave them money, case closed. When I was twenty, and a little wiser, I thought minimum wages were obviously bad for the poor. Econ 101 tells us minimum wages kill jobs and cause deadweight loss, with poor people most affected. Case closed. When I was twenty-five, and wiser still, I thought minimum wages were probably good again. I’d read a couple of studies showing that maybe they didn’t cause job loss, in which case they’re back to just giving poor people more money. When I was thirty, I was hopelessly confused. I knew there was a meta-analysis of 64 studies that showed no negative effects from minimum wages, and a systematic review of 100+ studies that showed strong negative effects from minimum wages. I knew a survey of economists found almost 80% thought minimum wages were good, but that a different survey of economists found 73% thought minimum wages were bad.
If we weren’t the first industrial civilization on Earth, would we ever know? / MIT Technology Review
(Some) people who know me know this is my favourite highly-improbable-but-less-than-you-might-think idea...
The Silurians are fictional, of course. But the idea of advanced prehistoric life is an intriguing one and raises a variety of interesting questions. Not least of these is this: if an industrial civilization had existed in the past, what traces would it have left? Today we get an answer thanks to Gavin Schmidt at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York city and Adam Frank at the University of Rochester. These guys have a name for the idea that an industrial civilization may have predated humanity: the Silurian hypothesis. They study the signature that our own civilization is likely to leave behind and ask whether it will be detectable millions of years from now. Their conclusion is that our probable impact on the planet will be palpable but in some ways hard to distinguish from various other events in the geological record. Their work has some interesting implications for how we should study Earth and the impact we have on it. The research should also help astrobiologists decide what to look for elsewhere in the universe.
As people grow better-off, their attitudes to domestic animals change. Surveys by Euromonitor, a market-research firm, show that in emerging markets wealthy people are more likely than poorer people to describe pets as “beloved members of the family”, as opposed to merely well-treated animals. In 2015 a Harris poll of American pet owners found that 95% deemed their animals part of the family—up from 88% in 2007. Americans behave accordingly. More than two-thirds allow pets to sleep on their beds, and almost half have bought them birthday presents. People in the pet industry use the word “humanisation” to describe many of the changes they see. It does not imply that people think their pets are actually human (although sometimes you wonder: many cats and dogs have Instagram accounts, and a few people have symbolically married their pets). Rather, more pet owners have come to believe that their animals can do human-like things, such as understand them, calm them and love them. They have also come to believe that pets should be treated more like humans. In countries with long traditions of pet-keeping, these changes may be visible only with hindsight.
Eventually, some five hundred P.O.W. camps, scattered across forty-five of the forty-eight United States, housed some four hundred thousand men. In every one of those camps, the Geneva conventions were adhered to so scrupulously that, after the war, not a few of the inmates decided to stick around and become Americans themselves. That was extraordinary rendition, Greatest Generation style. [...] That’s the opening to a piece by Hendrik Hertzberg from 2011 and thus the piece is motivated neither by President Trump nor about separating children from their parents on the border. For that reason it is perhaps more relevant to these issues than otherwise. We can and have been worse but let no one say that we have not and cannot be better.
For years, we’ve been warning patients that their sleeping pills could kill them. How? In every way possible. People taking sleeping pills not only have higher all-cause mortality. They have higher mortality from every individual cause studied. Death from cancer? Higher. Death from heart disease? Higher. Death from lung disease? Higher. Death from car accidents? Higher. Death from suicide? Higher. Nobody’s ever proven that sleeping pill users are more likely to get hit by meteors, but nobody’s ever proven that they aren’t. In case this isn’t scary enough, it only takes a few sleeping pills before your risk of death starts shooting up. Even if you take sleeping pills only a few nights per year, your chance of dying double or triple. When these studies first came out, doctors were understandably skeptical. [...] P&a focus on benzodiazepines, a class of sedatives commonly used as sleeping pills, and one of the types of drugs analyzed in the studies above. [...] But unlike the other studies, they find minimal to zero difference in mortality risk between users and non-users. Why the difference? [...] They adjusted for three hundred confounders. This is a totally unreasonable number of confounders to adjust for. I’ve never seen any other study do anything even close. Most other papers in this area have adjusted for ten or twenty confounders. Kripke’s study adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, BMI, alcohol use, smoking, and twelve diseases. Adjusting for nineteen things is impressive. It’s the sort of thing you do when you really want to cover your bases. Adjusting for 300 different confounders is totally above and beyond what anyone would normally consider. [...] But I think it’s important to notice: if they’re right, everyone else is wrong. If you’re using a study design that controls for things, you’re operating on an assumption that you have a pretty good idea what things are important to control for, and that if you control for the ten or twenty most important ones you can think of then that’s enough. If P&a are right (and again, I don’t want to immediately jump to that conclusion, but it seems plausible) then this assumption is wrong. [...] This reminds me of how a lot of the mysteries that troubled geneticists in samples of 1,000 or 5,000 people suddenly disappeared once they got samples of 100,000 or 500,000 people. Or how a lot of seasonal affective disorder patients who don’t respond to light boxes will anecdotally respond to gigantic really really unreasonably bright light boxes. Or of lots of things, really.
Have you ever noticed that almost every barn you have ever seen is red? Here’s why.
Visual engineer Steve Giralt constructs bespoke robotic cameras to capture unusual scenes for TV commercials, many of which feature food. The behind-the-scenes videos of how these rigs are constructed and work are fascinating. These two short videos about Giralt’s work are a good place to start.
Kids these days are the ‘cautious generation,’ the evidence shows. [...] Today’s teenagers drink less than their parents’ generation did. They smoke less, and they use fewer hard drugs. They get in fewer car accidents and fewer physical fights. They are less likely to drop out of high school, less likely to have sex, and less likely to become pregnant. They commit fewer crimes. They even wear bike helmets.
Tell someone that everything will be great and they’re likely to either shrug you off or offer a skeptical eye. Tell someone they’re in danger and you have their undivided attention. Hearing that the world is going to hell is more interesting than forecasting that things will gradually get better over time, even if the latter is accurate for most people most of the time. Pessimism can be hard to distinguish from critical thinking and is often taken more seriously than optimism, which can be hard to distinguish from salesmanship and aloofness. [...] Optimists are often ridiculed as being oblivious to how risky the world is. I’ve found this to be a bad reading. They’re often quite aware of risks, but equally aware of risks being the soil optimism eventually grows out of.
When the driver rounded the final bend in the winding road to Diamond Head Crater, he pointed out Kahala below, an area filled with million-dollar homes and sparkling swimming pools. In the distance two small island humps rose from the ocean like a scene from South Pacific. The driver then interrupted the spell of my thoughts with unexpected commentary. “This is where the rich people live,” he said, “like you.” Like me? I winced. I saved ketchup packets from McDonald’s. My kitchen cabinets overflowed with pilfered napkins and plastic utensils from skuzzy fast-food joints. My boyfriend was the son of a building superintendent and a school cafeteria worker on the Lower East Side. A few years before his family lost their home of four decades in an eviction, along with everything but some photos, a pile of old clothes, and a tin of loose change. “We’re not rich,” I said but let it drop as he pointed out other tourist attractions as I sunk further into my seat. He’d said it so matter of factly, how could I argue?
But now tire manufacturer Michelin and the car giant GM are teaming up to eliminate the problem. How? By taking the air out of tires altogether.
In a paper from researchers Oliver Flynn and Arthur Shapiro, the "Perpetual Diamond" is described as producing "motion continuously and unambiguously in one direction despite never physically changing location." Here, take a look.
The speed of a hairy frogfish’s bite is the result of a vacuum in its mouth that can suck in its prey in just 1/6000th of a second. It’s so fast that even slow-motion video struggles to capture it.
We use lab experiments and field data from the Dutch Math Olympiad to show that women are more likely than men to stop competing if they lose. In a math competition in the lab, women are much less likely than men to choose competition again after losing in the first round. In the Math Olympiad, girls, but not boys, who fail to make the second round are less likely to compete again one year later. This gender difference in the reaction to competition outcomes may help to explain why fewer women make it to the top in business and academia.
Last week, Raikoke, an uninhabited Russian volcanic island, erupted for the first time in 95 years, and astronauts on the International Space Station were able to capture this spectacular image.