Part of Elizabeth’s rationale is that no one else in her family has allergies. In fact, it’s so rare that her parents initially didn’t believe the diagnoses. They argued that “back in their day,” everyone ate everything and was fine; food allergy was made-up nonsense. But when both Viola and Brian landed in the ER repeatedly for food-related anaphylaxis, her parents realized these allergies were indeed “real.” […]
Although allergy researchers may disagree on definitions, symptoms and methodology, all agree on one thing: Allergies have grown worse over the last few decades, and the staggering numbers of allergy sufferers worldwide is likely to continue growing. An estimated 235 million people worldwide have asthma, and anywhere from 240 to 550 million people globally may suffer from food allergies. Drug allergy may affect up to 10% of the world’s population. […]
If you want to better understand how our modern lifestyles might be behind some of our biggest problems with allergy, you will end up talking to a diminutive, deeply intelligent, empathetic woman named Cathryn Nagler, who is one of the best immunologists in the world. Her decades of research primarily focuses on the role our gut microbiome plays in the development of children’s food allergy. She remembers when food allergy rates first began climbing in the late 1980s.
“I saw it myself,” Nagler said, loading graphs onto her computer in her University of Chicago office on a sunny spring afternoon. “I have kids that are 23 and 27, so I followed this in real-time because cupcakes were excluded from the classrooms as my kids went through school. Right around the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when food allergy rates were starting to increase, the American Academy of Pediatrics said to withhold peanuts and allergenic foods from pregnant mothers, from nursing mothers and from children with risk of allergy until they’re four years old. That was exactly the wrong advice, and that fueled the fire and caused even more increase. Now all of the push is for early introduction.”
Right before he heaved the million-dollar shot, the one that would launch an era of sports contests and change his life forever, Don Calhoun took a long look at his shoes.
He was only out here standing on the floor of Chicago Stadium on April 14, 1993, 15 feet from Michael Jordan and the Bulls, because of his shoes. "Those won't scuff the court," an arena worker said as she signed Calhoun up for a $1 million, three-quarter-court contest shot that the Bulls had been running every night. […]
But then, a calm came over him. He thought about his brother Clarence, who had told him five years earlier, just before he died, that Michael Jordan would soon be the best player in the NBA and the Bulls would be a dynasty. He thought about his bittersweet feelings toward the sport of basketball -- he loved the game and was good at it, but he never made his high school team.
It might sound ridiculous, but as Calhoun stood there and heard his name announced, he became sure -- 100% certain -- that the shot was going to go in. The last thing he remembers is the steady hum of 18,600 people rising to cheer for him. As the Bulls huddled up nearby, Calhoun palmed the ball in one hand. The free throw line warning was bouncing around inside his head, and for a second, he felt his flow get disrupted.
But the flow came back as he stepped past the end line. He took one fast dribble, thought to himself, "This is for Clarence," and then threw a high-arching rocket.
Most defaults are small. This fact drives everything about debt collection; it has to be done scalably, by the cheapest labor available, with a minimum of customization or thoughtful weighing of competing interests. The average defaulted credit card debt is on the order of $2,000, the median is between $500 and $1,000. These are processed like McDonalds burgers, not like grant proposals.
Debts are sold as part of a portfolio, where (typically) thousands of relatively similarly situated debts in a cohort are sold as a packet. The value of portfolios is a huge discount to the face value of the debts; at the point where a lender has only worked it themselves and the debt is a few months delinquent, portfolios generally fetch about 5 cents on the dollar. That value will continue to decay over time. There is an entire ecosystem of brokers supporting contractual infrastructure to convey these debts to buyers and insulate the issuing financial institutions from the actions of the debt buyers. […]
The debt collection industry is, and I say this as someone who is capitalist as the day is long and attempts to be non-political in public, among the most odious hives of scum and villainy as exists in the United States. The business is sordid and virtually immune to reform, despite decades of trying.
#15. Play Deficit as Cause of Decline in Children’s Mental Health | Play Makes Us Human | Play Makes Us Human
Jonathan Haidt has recommended Peter Gray as another researcher worth reading on the decline of children’s mental health (despite some disagreements):
You would think it would be obvious that taking away free play and other freedoms to act independently would make children anxious, depressed, and in some cases suicidal, but we adults are remarkably skilled at burying our heads in the sand on this issue. If you read the popular press, you would think the problem is screens and social media, or almost anything else other than the fact that we have more or less locked children up around the clock. So, here is some of the evidence we spelled out in the Journal of Pediatrics article.
One of the defining characteristics of play is that it is voluntary (see Letter #2). You start to play at something because you want to do it, but then at some point you no longer want to do it, and then you quit. If for some reason you can’t quit, even if that reason comes from some compulsion within your head (such as the belief that you must finish what you start), then the activity is no longer play.
The right to quit is part of what makes play so valuable for children’s learning and development. This right is why children dare to try things in play that they would be afraid to try otherwise. The young girl wants to climb a tree. In the condition of play, where nobody is judging her, nobody is forcing her or even urging her to go higher, she is in complete control of how high she goes. She enjoys the thrill of a degree of fear coupled with a sense of triumph as she climbs. But at some point the fear overwhelms the joy, so she quits and comes down. The next time she will, on her own volition, go a little higher before it becomes too frightening. What is true for climbing trees is true for all sorts of activities that entail a degree of risk (see Letter #8 on risky play).
In social play (play with others), the right to quit underlies children’s learning to negotiate, cooperate, and generally attend to the desires of others, not just their own desires. Suppose you and I are children who start playing together and I am a bit of a bully. I insist that we play what I want to play, in the way I want to play, and I ignore your facial expressions of unhappiness and requests to do something different. The result, if you are a healthy, self-respecting child, is that you will quit. You will go off and play with someone else.
Vladimir Putin really did seem to appear on Earth - or at least in the corridors of power in Russia - fully formed. At each step in his career, he was promoted for no particular reason, or because he seemed so devoid of personality that nobody could imagine him causing trouble. This culminated in his 2000 appointment as Yeltsin’s successor when “The world’s largest landmass, a land of oil, gas, and nuclear arms, had a new leader, and its business and political elites had no idea who he was.”
My source for this quote is The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise Of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, a rare surviving Russian investigative journalist. As always in Dictator Book Club, we’ll go through the story first, then discuss if there are any implications for other countries trying to avoid dictatorship.
During the glastnost days near the fall of the Soviet Union, activists set up “Hyde Park”, named for the famous London location - an event where people would speak freely in public about their opinions. The authorities disbanded them, but they came back, and:
Rather than chase them away again, city authorities apparently decided to drown them out with sound. One Saturday, “Hyde Park” participants showed up [at their usual spot] in front of the cathedral only to find a brass band playing in front of it. The band came complete with its own audience, whose members shouted at the debators: “Look, the band is here so the people can relax, this is no time for your speeches”. During a break in the music, [activist] Ivan Soshnikov tried to chat up the conductor, who immediately volunteered that the band had been stationed in front of the cathedral by some kind of authority.
Ekaterina Podoltseva, a brilliant forty-year old mathematician who had become one of the city’s most visible - and most eccentric - pro-democracy activists, produced a recipe for fighting the brass band. She asked all the regular “Hyde Park” participants to bring lemons with them the following Saturday. As soon as the band began playing, all the activists were to start eating their lemons, or to imitate the process of eating if they found the reality of it too bitter. Podoltseva had read or heard somewhere that when people see someone eating a lemon, they begin, empathetically, producing copious amounts of saliva - which happens to be incompatible with playing a wind instrument. It worked: the music stopped, and the speeches continued.
It’s 3am. Paul, the head of PayPal database administration carefully enters his elaborate passphrase at a keyboard in a darkened cubicle of 1840 Embarcadero Road in East Palo Alto, for the fifth time. He hits Return. The green-on-black console window instantly displays one line of text: “Sorry, one or more wrong passphrases. Can’t reconstruct the key. Goodbye.”
There is nerd pandemonium all around us. James, our recently promoted VP of Engineering, just climbed the desk at a nearby cubicle, screaming: “Guys, if we can’t get this key the right way, we gotta start brute-forcing it ASAP!” It’s gallows humor – he knows very well that brute-forcing such a key will take millions of years, and it’s already 6am on the East Coast – the first of many “Why is PayPal down today?” articles is undoubtedly going to hit CNET shortly. Our single-story cubicle-maze office is buzzing with nervous activity of PayPalians who know they can’t help but want to do something anyway. I poke my head up above the cubicle wall to catch a glimpse of someone trying to stay inside a giant otherwise empty recycling bin on wheels while a couple of Senior Software Engineers are attempting to accelerate the bin up to dangerous speeds in the front lobby. I lower my head and try to stay focused. “Let’s try it again, this time with three different people” is the best idea I can come up with, even though I am quite sure it will not work.
The key in question decrypts PayPal’s master payment credential table – also known as the giant store of credit card and bank account numbers. Without access to payment credentials, PayPal doesn’t really have a business per se, seeing how we are supposed to facilitate payments, and that’s really hard to do if we no longer have access to the 100+ million credit card numbers our users added over the last year of insane growth.
This is the story of a catastrophic software bug I briefly introduced into the PayPal codebase that almost cost us the company (or so it seemed, in the moment.) I’ve told this story a handful of times, always swearing the listeners to secrecy, and surprisingly it does not appear to have ever been written down before. 20+ years since the incident, it now appears instructive and a little funny, rather than merely extremely embarrassing.
More significantly, people naturally gravitate towards either getting things done, or not getting things done, and remote work allows them to become the fullest versions of themselves. As a result, there is a strict bimodal distribution of remote work advocates:
Driven, independent, highly motivated killers who form the backbone of your company. They tackle new work and make things happen independently with minimal oversight as long as you stay out of their way. Don’t distract them; they’ll get twice as much done if you don’t breath down their necks or throw them off their game.
People who want to hang out, rest-and-vest, and quiet-quit their way through their careers. These people are an anchor that your team has to drag around. If it feels like they’re sitting around at home watching Sportscenter, running errands, and napping, that’s because they are.
The earth contains a lot of titanium - it’s the ninth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. By mass, there’s more titanium in the earth’s crust than carbon by a factor of nearly 30, and more titanium than copper by a factor of nearly 100.
But despite its abundance, it's only recently that civilization has been able to use titanium as a metal (titanium dioxide has been in use somewhat longer as a paint pigment). Because titanium so readily bonds with oxygen and other elements, it doesn’t occur at all in metallic form in nature. One engineer described titanium as a “streetwalker," because it will pick up anything and everything. While copper has been used by civilization since 7000 BC, and iron since around 3000 BC, titanium wasn’t discovered until the late 1700s, and wasn’t produced in metallic form until the late 19th century. As late as 1945, there was no commercial production of titanium, and the metal only existed in tiny amounts in labs. But less than 10 years later, thousands of tons of it were being made a year. And 10 years after that, it formed the literal backbone of the most advanced aerospace technology on the planet.
A beautiful, broken America: what I learned on a 2,800-mile bus ride from Detroit to LA | The Guardian
I recently completed the road trip of a lifetime. I struck out from Napanee, Ontario, to Los Angeles, California – a 2,800-mile trip that I had been planning since before Covid times. I wanted to take this time to think deeply about our overreliance on cars and our love affair with the open road.
There was a catch: as a non-driver, I would be crossing the country by Greyhound bus. It would have the advantage of getting me closer to the people I wanted to talk to, and the issues I knew I’d witness.
When I headed from Detroit towards Los Angeles, I knew I would encounter ecological catastrophe. I expected the poisoning of rivers, the desecration of desert ecosystems and feedlots heaving with antibiotic-infused cattle.
What I found was more complex, nuanced and intimate.
But how do you decide when an invocation of the 20th Century’s most famous villain is an unhelpful exaggeration and when is it a prescient warning?
I read William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich because I wanted to be able to answer this question. You could consider this book review as the spiritual sibling to Scott’s dictator book club. Scott writes in his review of The New Sultan:
[A]s a libertarian, I spend a lot of time worrying about the risk that my country might backslide into illiberal repression. To develop a better threat model, I wanted to see how this process has gone in other countries, what the key mistakes were, and whether their stories give any hints about how to prevent it from happening here.
Hitler’s skyrocketing rise to power is great data for building our threat models. But Mike Godwin is right: it’s easy to see Hitler everywhere. And if we say “Watch out: this is exactly how Hitler came to power!” once a week, eventually no one will even bother turning their head to look.
My hope is that this review of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich can help us identify what it looks like when Hitler is actually about to come to power, so that we can save that most urgent alarm bell—the one marked with the swastika and the Charlie Chaplin mustache—for this one situation only and avoid a boy-who-cried-wolf-scenario. Consider this an exercise in fine-tuning our threat models so that we can tell the difference between bad and this-is-stage-one-in-Hilter’s-rise-to-power bad.
Let’s get started.
You have probably heard of left-digit bias—the idea that $7.99 seems cheaper than $8, even though $8 is only negligibly different than $8.01. Left-digit bias is widely observed in pricing but the effect is more general. A car with 39,990 miles on the odometer, for instance, sells for more than a car with 40,005 miles (so be smart and buy the car with 40,005 miles). Could left-digit bias show up in medicine?
People who end up in the emergency room complaining of chest pains a few weeks before their 40th birthday are very similar to people who end up in the emergency room with chest pains a few weeks after their 40th birthday. But on a chart, the former are 39 years old and the latter are 40.
The big 40 is a heuristic among physicians for potential heart attack. Looking at more than five million patient records, the economist Stephen Coussens found that patients who were slightly over the age of 40 were almost 10% more likely to be tested for a heart attack than those just under 40. The difference shows up as a discontinuity, a jump up in the probability of being tested as patients cross their 40th birthday.
The English, said Sir John Fortescue (c. 1470), "drink no water, unless at certain times upon religious score, or by way of doing penance." Looking at reconstructions of beer consumption from the middle ages to the pre-industrial era this was only a slight exaggeration. When estimating consumption from the amount of beer provided to soldiers, convicts, and workers or reconstructing consumption from tax revenues on beer we see that the average person consumed about a liter of beer a day, this is around four times as much as consumption in modern beer-drinking countries.
This post was cooked on a griddle that has the grease stains of 1,000 arguments on and about the Internet. I’ve aimed to keep it to a reasonable length, and a lot of the arguments could be developed further. However, they are not casually tossed-off ideas. They reflect many years of thinking about American politics and many years of experience I’ve had working in the mainstream media (for The New York Times, ESPN and ABC News). Let’s begin with my core hypothesis:
In American media and political discourse, there has been a fundamental asymmetry during the Trump Era. Left-progressives, liberals, centrists, and moderate or non-MAGA conservatives all share a common argumentative space. I call this space the Indigo Blob, because it’s somewhere between left-wing (blue) and centrist (purple). The space largely excludes MAGA/right-wing conservatives — around 30 percent of the country.
I’ll sometimes see progressives lament that there is no left-wing equivalent to Fox News. Mostly, I agree that there’s an asymmetry. For example, if you average out all of the content on their respective platforms, The New York Times maintains a much higher level of journalistic quality than Fox News does, and is much less partisan.
However, that’s largely because partisan, progressive, pro-left wing, pro-Democratic Party media is embedded within the mainstream media.
Let me be very specific here. This does not mean that all or necessarily most mainstream media content has a progressive bias. […]
The Indigo Blob also encompasses many ostensibly nonpartisan institutions such as the media, science, government, academia and even many types of businesses. It can be hard to distinguish partisan people and institutions from those that seek to maintain pluralism or nonpartisanship.
If you add up the numbers in the graphic above, you’ll find that they sum to zero. That is, the modest left-wing bias of the mainstream media roughly cancels out the flagrant bias of the (smaller) right-wing media, and vice versa. The equation balances. But which side gets the better half of the deal?
I don’t think it’s close. I think the left does.
Small bits of material in the asteroid contain isotopes made in specific stars.
Over the last couple of weeks, you may have encountered a viral video of a small floating rock that took the internet by storm. The pebble is hovering above a material called LK-99. In a July 22 preprint paper, a team of South Korean researchers claim that this copper-and-lead crystal is the zenith of condensed matter physics: a room-temperature superconductor.
It’s a bold assertion – and, unfortunately, it appears to be bunk. In the days following the preprint's publication, a number of labs, including Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, China's Huazhong University of Science and Technology and the University of Manchester in the UK, rushed to synthesize their own LK-99 samples. None of them observed flawless superconductivity in the material. In fact, the latest evidence from the National Physical Laboratory of India suggests that LK-99 is not only not a superconductor, but that it might be anti-superconducting, becoming more resistive at lower temperatures.
False alarms are nothing new in the world of room-temperature superconductors. They have a long scientific shadow, stuffed with hearsay, hope, near-misses and outright lies. What follows is a brief history of the science and its enduring appeal.
1. Markets are mostly efficient. Most people, most of the time, cannot “beat” the market. […]
2. Intelligence is real, important, largely heritable, and not particularly changeable. […]
3. Learning styles aren’t real. There’s no such thing as being a “kinesthetic,” “visual,” or “auditory” learner. […]
4. The world around us is explained entirely by physics. […]
5. People are overweight because they eat too much. It is also really hard to stop. […]
6. Children don’t learn languages faster than adults, but they do reach higher levels of mastery. […]
7. We’re better off than our grandparents. We’re vastly better off than our ancestors.
Regulations imposed in 2020 by the United Nations’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) have cut ships’ sulfur pollution by more than 80% and improved air quality worldwide. The reduction has also lessened the effect of sulfate particles in seeding and brightening the distinctive low-lying, reflective clouds that follow in the wake of ships and help cool the planet. The 2020 IMO rule “is a big natural experiment,” says Duncan Watson-Parris, an atmospheric physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We’re changing the clouds.”
By dramatically reducing the number of ship tracks, the planet has warmed up faster, several new studies have found.
I have said previously that "even on my busiest day, I will drop everything to watch a video of pencils being made". Still true! This video from Process X of a Tokyo pencil factory really hits the spot. My favorite part of watching pencils get made is always the sharpening of the finished pencils by belt sander.
New research details how this Japanese water beetle travels through the bowels of its predator to emerge out the other end, alive and unharmed
But air travel changed that. Planes eliminated the main reason to take a ship somewhere, and ocean liner business plummeted. So the industry pivoted and began selling a ship as the destination itself. The cruise ship was born. But the ocean liners, built for a voyage, weren't ideal for the purposes of a cruise, and over the next few decades, the cruise ship began its evolution. And it has culminated in the behemoths we see today.
Popularized in England, These Wavy Walls Actually Use Fewer Bricks Than a Straight Wall | Twisted Sifter
How cool is this! Popularized in England, these wavy walls actually use less bricks than a straight wall because they can be made just one brick thin, while a straight wall—without buttresses—would easily topple over.
Scrabble is one of those games where pro/expert gameplay differs so much from amateur/novice gameplay that it might as well be a totally different game. In this entertaining recap of the finals of the 2023 Scrabble World Championships, former US champ Will Anderson explains how finalists David Eldar and Harshan Lamabadusuriya think and strategize throughout the best-of-seven series.