An assortment of things to read as you sip your coffee, my dears.
From Nautilus: The Case for More Intellectual Humility.
It’s not easy changing someone’s mind, especially if what you’re trying to change is something like their settled opinion. Only rarely does persuasion succeed in replacing one belief with its opposite, even among scientists. As the late philosopher of biology David L. Hand once wrote, “The objectivity that matters so much in science is not primarily a characteristic of individual scientists but of scientific communities. Scientists rarely refute their own pet hypotheses, especially after they have appeared in print, but that is all right. Their fellow scientists will be happy to expose these hypotheses to severe testing.”
When you’re persuaded, though, it can be memorable. The feeling of having your view change when you didn’t want it to, or weren’t expecting it to, is, at first, a little disorienting, like putting on a new pair of strong prescription glasses. But you quickly find that you appreciate the resulting clarity. [continue]
OMG, did you read this? From CBC: Study finds average swimming pool can have up to 75 litres of urine.
I’ve been thinking about trying out the new swimming pool at the university, but maybe I’ll stick to swimming in the ocean instead.
Article summary: “As automation reduces the need for human labor, some Silicon Valley executives think a universal income will be the answer — and the beta test is happening in Kenya.”
If that sounds like your kind of article, go read the rest at the New York Times: The future of not working.
Related link: Give Directly.
Well, this explains a lot! From the Washington Post: A strange but accurate predictor of whether someone supports Donald Trump.
Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, conducted a poll in which Republicans were asked four questions about child-rearing. With each question, respondents were asked which of two traits were more important in children:
- independence or respect for their elders;
- curiosity or good manners;
- self-reliance or obedience;
- being considerate or being well-behaved.
Psychologists use these questions to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call “authoritarianism.” That many of Trump’s supporters share this trait helps explain the success of his unconventional candidacy and suggests that his rivals will have a hard time winning over his adherents. [continue]
Frustrated with traffic? Of course, but you realize that most commuters resign themselves to the annoyance. What else can one do? Elon Musk, though, has had quite enough, so he has decided to tunnel underneath it all instead. Grist explains: Elon Musk has started digging a tunnel under Los Angeles.
In December, when Musk got stuck in traffic, instead of leaning on the horn or flipping off the other drivers, he decided to build a new transportation system. An hour later, Max Chafkin writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, “the project had a name and a marketing platform. ‘It shall be called The Boring Company,’” Musk wrote.
Musk told employees to grab some heavy machinery and they began digging a hole in the SpaceX parking lot. He bought one of those machines that bores out tunnels and lays down concrete walls as it goes. It’s named Nannie.
Musk is the grown-up version of the kid who decides to dig to China: He doesn’t pause to plan or ask what’s possible, he just grabs a stick and starts shoveling. Maybe that’s the approach we need. As Chafkin points out, “Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago.” And Bent Flyvbjerg, an academic who studies why big projects cost so much, says that the tunneling industry is ripe for someone with new ideas to shake things up. [continue]
From the New York Times: Trespassing in Christina’s World.
We pull up to the farmhouse to find a courtly white-haired man trimming the hedge with a set of clippers. “It’s him!” Dad whispers. He rolls down his window and leans out. “Hello, good sir!” The man seems a little nonplused. “I have a car full of young readers here who’d give anything to meet their favorite author. A word from you, and they’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives.” What choice does the poor man have? Within a few minutes, the famously reclusive E.B. White is demonstrating to a cluster of little girls in bathing suits that when you crush pine needles between your fingers and hold it to your nose, the smell is as strong as patchouli. And Dad is right — we never will forget it.
My childhood was rife with moments like this. Dad was always going out on a limb, befriending people who didn’t necessarily seem to want new friends, trespassing on private property, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior in quest of adventure. His philosophy was that you don’t need money or plans, only a willingness to be present in the moment and to go where inspiration takes you. If you don’t, you’ll miss the entire point of being alive. [continue].
Bloomberg.com tells us of Thomas Hargrove, who is “building software to identify trends in unsolved murders using data nobody’s bothered with before.” Sounds interesting, hmmm? Here’s a bit from the article: Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm.
He spent months trying to develop an algorithm that would identify unsolved cases with enough commonalities to suggest the same murderer. Eventually, he decided to reverse-engineer the algorithm by testing his ideas against one well-known case, that of Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, who confessed to killing 48 women over two decades in the Seattle area. Hargrove thought that if he could devise an algorithm that turned up the Green River Killer’s victims, he’d know he was on the right track.
“We found a hundred things that didn’t work,” he recalls. Finally, he settled on four characteristics for what’s called a cluster analysis: geography, sex, age group, and method of killing. For gender, he stuck with women, since they make up the vast majority of multiple-murder victims who aren’t connected to gang-related activity. When he used women between the ages of 20 and 50—the cohort most commonly targeted by serial killers—the algorithm lit up like a slot machine. “It became clear that this thing was working,” he says. “In fact, it was working too well.”
The Green River Killer came up right away in this algorithm. That was good news. Hargrove’s algorithm also pulled up 77 unsolved murders in Los Angeles, which he learned were attributed to several different killers the police were pursuing (including the so-called Southside Slayer and, most recently, the Grim Sleeper), and 64 unsolved murders of women in Phoenix.
Then there was a second group of possible serial killers, those unrecognized by local police. “The whole point of the algorithm was to find the low-hanging fruit, the obvious clusters,” Hargrove says. “But there were dozens and dozens of them all over the country.” [continue]
Did you get up and light the fire this morning? Is there snow all about? You might like to read No Tech Magazine’s article on a medieval heating system that lives on in Spain.
In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood.
Remarkably, the gloria is alive and kicking. Several villages, especially in the wider region around Burgos, still have houses with subterranean fireplaces of which some are in working order.
In January, my friend Pedro took me to his uncle’s house in Hontangas, a tiny village at some 100 km from Burgos. The uncle, now in his late sixties, fires the gloria once every morning during the “nine months of winter”. [continue]
From Nautilus: Against Willpower.
Ignoring the idea of willpower will sound absurd to most patients and therapists, but, as a practicing addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the very concept of willpower, and concerned by the self-help obsession that surrounds it. Countless books and blogs offer ways to “boost self-control,” or even to “meditate your way to more willpower,” but what’s not widely recognized is that new research has shown some of the ideas underlying these messages to be inaccurate.
More fundamentally, the common, monolithic definition of willpower distracts us from finer-grained dimensions of self-control and runs the danger of magnifying harmful myths—like the idea that willpower is finite and exhaustible. To borrow a phrase from the philosopher Ned Block, willpower is a mongrel concept, one that connotes a wide and often inconsistent range of cognitive functions. The closer we look, the more it appears to unravel. It’s time to get rid of it altogether. [continue]
Ha! I love this, and have been meaning to blog it for ages. From Rory Sutherland’s article in The Spectator: Why I’m hiring graduates with thirds this year.
Let me explain. I have asked around, and nobody has any evidence to suggest that, for any given university, recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds (if anything the correlation operates in reverse). There are some specialised fields which may demand spectacular mathematical ability, say, but these are relatively few.
So my game theoretic instincts suggest that if we confine our recruitment efforts to people in the lower half of the degree ladder we shall have an exclusive appeal to a large body of people no less valuable than anyone else. And such people will be far more loyal hires, since we won’t be competing for their attention with deep-pocketed pimps in investment banking.
The logic is inarguable: the best people to hire (or date) are those undervalued by the market. [continue]
Have you heard, over the last few years, of restaurants that have ended tipping altogether? I keep coming across articles about these, like this one in the New York Times:
Instead of expecting customers to tip the people who wait on them, tip-free restaurants pay all employees wages that reflect their skill and seniority. The customer pays a fixed amount, stated in writing (in menu prices), as in virtually every other kind of consumer business, from Nordstrom to Netflix to The New York Times. [continue]
Maybe one of these days a restaurant in my area will try this, but I’m not holding my breath.
From The Independent: ‘Robin Hood’ cafe in Madrid is charging rich customers to give to the poor.
A cafe in Spain is charging customers by day, and using the proceeds to serve meals to homeless people free of charge at night.
The Robin Hood restaurant opened on a side street in central Madrid on Tuesday, operating a simple but unique business model.
At breakfast and lunchtime the initiative runs as an ordinary Spanish bar, selling coffee, croquetas, and cigarettes, before reopening in the evening as a restaurant, serving a sophisticated sit-down supper to people who cannot afford to pay. [continue]
The Guardian has a story on this place, too: Charge the ‘rich’ to feed the poor: Madrid’s Robin Hood homeless cafe.
What a fantastic idea.
From the LA Times: ‘You want a description of hell?’ OxyContin’s 12-hour problem.
The drugmaker Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin two decades ago with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications.
Patients would no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to take their pills, Purdue told doctors. One OxyContin tablet in the morning and one before bed would provide “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night.”
On the strength of that promise, OxyContin became America’s bestselling painkiller, and Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue.
But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.
The problem offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history. [continue]
I liked this article for the understanding it gave me of just how somebody might wind up addicted to opioids. And oh, those drug-making companies, how they often do annoy me.
From The Guardian: The shelter that gives wine to alcoholics.
On a grey January morning at 9.15, residents of the Oaks shelter for the homeless started lining up, coffee mugs in hand, at a yellow linoleum counter. At half past the hour, the pour began. The Oaks’ residents are hard-core alcoholics. They line up to get what most people would consider the very last thing they need: an hourly mug of alcohol.
Dorothy Young, the Oaks’ activities coordinator – a stocky, always-smiling middle-aged woman who is part cheerleader, part event planner, part warden, part bartender – stood behind the counter at a tap that dispenses cold white wine. She poured a measured amount of wine into each cup: maximum seven ounces at 7.30am for the first pour of the day, and five ounces each hour after that. Last call is 9.30pm.
The pour is calculated for each resident to be just enough to stave off the shakes and sweats of detox, which for alcohol is particularly unpleasant – seizures from alcohol deprivation can be fatal. The pour is strictly regulated: Young cuts off anyone who comes in intoxicated. They won’t be given another drink until they sober up. [continue]
From The Guardian: How Uber conquered London.
Every week in London, 30,000 people download Uber to their phones and order a car for the first time. The technology company, which is worth $60bn, calls this moment “conversion”. Uber has deployed its ride-hailing platform in 400 cities around the world since its launch in San Francisco on 31 May 2010, which means that it enters a new market every five days and eight hours. It sets great store on the first time you use its service, in the same way that Apple pays attention to your first encounter with one of their devices. With Uber, the feeling should be of plenty, and of assurance: there will always be a driver when you need one.
When you open the app, Uber’s logo flaps briefly before disappearing to reveal the city streets around you, and the grey, yet promising shapes of vehicles nurdling nearby. The sense of abundance that this invokes can make you think that Uber has always been here, that its presence in your neighbourhood is somehow natural and ordained. But that is not the case. To take over a city, Uber flies in a small team, known as “launchers” and hires its first local employee, whose job it is to find drivers and recruit riders. In London, that was a young Scottish banker named Richard Howard. [continue]
This is a long and comprehensive article; a good read altogether. There are even interesting historical notes!
Do you take Uber? It doesn’t exist in my neck of the woods, though I did try it in London. And I must say, it was just wonderful.
In case you still feel like reading, here’s another, quite different, article about Uber: Capitalism Without the Das Capital: Welcome to Uber’s Gig Economy. That’s from WeMeantWell.com.
Every time I read about Iceland, I learn about another aspect of life that is pretty much awesome there. Here’s the latest, from the New York Times: Iceland’s Water Cure.
Every Icelandic town, no matter how small, has its own pool. There are ramshackle cement rectangles squatting under rain clouds in the sheep-strewn boonies. There are fancy aquatic complexes with multilevel hot tubs and awesomely dangerous water slides of the sort that litigious American culture would never allow. All told, there are more than 120 public pools — usually geothermally heated, mostly outdoors, open all year long — in Iceland, a country with a population just slightly larger than that of Lexington, Ky. “If you don’t have a swimming pool, it seems you may as well not even be a town,” the mayor of Reykjavik, Dagur Eggertsson, told me. I interviewed him, of course, as we relaxed together in a downtown hot tub.
These public pools, or sundlaugs, serve as the communal heart of Iceland, sacred places whose affordability and ubiquity are viewed as a kind of civil right. Families and teenagers and older people lounge and chat in sundlaugs every day, summer or winter. Despite Iceland’s cruel climate, its remoteness and its winters of 19 hours of darkness per day, the people there are among the most contented in the world. The more local swimming pools I visited, the more convinced I became that Icelanders’ remarkable satisfaction is tied inextricably to the experience of escaping the fierce, freezing air and sinking into warm water among their countrymen. The pools are more than a humble municipal investment, more than just a civic perquisite that emerged from an accident of Iceland’s volcanic geology. They seem to be, in fact, a key to Icelandic well-being. [continue]
From The 180 show’s section of the CBC site: Ontario man pitches braking with the left foot, instead of the right.
Trevor Frith is a retired engineer, and he got in touch with us about his campaign to have the government study which foot is safer to use to brake a car.
Driving schools in Canada teach students to use their right foot to brake. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia says you should always brake with your right foot. Safe driving advocates say it’s the safe method.
But Trevor Frith, the man behind leftfootbraking.org, thinks right foot braking could contribute to pedal error, a situation where someone thinks they’re stepping on the brake, but are actually pushing the accelerator. Pedal error can lead to collisions like this one in 2012.
While he doesn’t advocate people switch over immediately, Frith would like provincial governments, or the federal government, to study the issue. [continue]
The independent video store where I’ve worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the “disruption” of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.(…)
I spent 25 years of my life in an industry that no longer exists. Maybe I’m not the most ambitious guy. But that time has provided me with an up-close look at not just how the industry is changing but how people’s tastes, and the culture those tastes create, have changed with it.
Here’s what I’ve learned. [continue]
This delights me. From the Beeb: The names that break computer systems.
Jennifer Null’s husband had warned her before they got married that taking his name could lead to occasional frustrations in everyday life. She knew the sort of thing to expect – his family joked about it now and again, after all. And sure enough, right after the wedding, problems began.
“We moved almost immediately after we got married so it came up practically as soon as I changed my name, buying plane tickets,” she says. When Jennifer Null tries to buy a plane ticket, she gets an error message on most websites. The site will say she has left the surname field blank and ask her to try again.
Instead, she has to call the airline company by phone to book a ticket – but that’s not the end of the process.
“I’ve been asked why I’m calling and when I try to explain the situation, I’ve been told, ‘there’s no way that’s true’,” she says.
But to any programmer, it’s painfully easy to see why “Null” could cause problems for software interacting with a database. This is because the word ‘null’ can be produced by a system to indicate an empty name field. Now and again, system administrators have to try and fix the problem for people who are actually named “Null” – but the issue is rare and sometimes surprisingly difficult to solve. [continue]
The article is The Interview, from the New Yorker Magazine. It’s most interesting, but wow, pretty upsetting, too. What kind of insanity is this “technique” anyway?
Well. These seem awesome! From the Guardian: Lovin’ their elevator: why Germans are loopy about their revolving lifts.
As the paternoster cabin in which he was slowly descending into the bowels of Stuttgart’s town hall plunged into darkness, Dejan Tuco giggled infectiously. He pointed out the oily cogs of its internal workings that were just about visible as it shuddered to the left, and gripped his stomach when it rose again with a gentle jolt. “We’re not supposed to do the full circuit,” he said. “But that’s the best way to feel like you’re on a ferris wheel or a gondola.”
The 12-year-old German-Serb schoolboy was on a roll, spending several hours one day last week riding the open elevator shaft known as a paternoster, a 19th-century invention that has just been given a stay of execution after campaigners persuaded Germany’s government to reverse a decision to ban its public use.
That the doorless lift, which consists of two shafts side by side within which a chain of open cabins descend and ascend continuously on a belt, has narrowly escaped becoming a victim of safety regulations, has everything to do with a deeply felt German affection for what many consider an old-fashioned yet efficient form of transport. [continue]
The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá is a NYT article about two sets of twins. The article summary:
After a hospital error, two pairs of Colombian identical twins were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins. This is the story of how they found one another — and of what happened next. [continue]
It’s long. It’s interesting.
Every once in a while a tale like this one shows up: Traffic accident in Australia ends 40-year-old mystery in Florida. These stories capture my imagination, and I like them.