July 12th, 2012

A map of Whiskey distilleries in the US.

An explanation of Photoshop blend modes.

Gene Expression offers an explanation for the absolutely brutal job market for law school grads:

Despite the “market signal” of the collapse of vast swaths of the legal industry in the wake of 2008, and the real correction in the number of applicants an students, these sort of data still imply that the supply of self-deluded suckers is large enough to saturate the market.

Marginal talent is being priced out of the middle-class.

A scandal none of us will understand:

“This is the banking industry’s tobacco moment,” says the chief executive of a multinational bank, referring to the lawsuits and settlements that cost America’s tobacco industry more than $200 billion in 1998. “It’s that big,” he says.

July 7th, 2010

Understanding what the Dunning-Kruger effect actually is:

The findings reported by Kruger and Dunning are often interpreted to suggest that the less competent people are, the more competent they think they are.

Unfortunately, Kruger and Dunning never actually provided any support for this type of just-world view; their studies categorically didn’t show that incompetent people are more confident or arrogant than competent people.

Rather, it’s that incompetent people think they’re much better than they actually are. But they typically still don’t think they’re quite as good as people who, you know, actually are good.

So there.


July 6th, 2010

I guess other people have photo albums.

Lined up on shelves, there are sections of everyone’s life clearly documented, maybe labeled. There are reservoirs of memories just waiting to be have their damns burst. Turn open the spigot and drown in the past.

My generation is living online. Our lives being documented in ever more disparate venues; our devices capturing every inane moment, sharing it, pushing it out and notifying everyone of what just happened, who was there, where it was. When romantic comedies are written about the next decade, endearing scenes of a hero’s family sharing his misadventures with the romantic interest will soon take place huddled around the mother’s Facebook account.

I’ve never had the stomach for it.

I don’t think we capture the right moments. The camera flashes and we pose. We pose. We create moments as artificial as the memory we want of them. We stare into lenses and lie, if only a little, so that the record shows we were there, enjoying or not enjoying ourselves, in precisely the way we’d prefer it.

But the perfect moments always allude us. The moments when we get the joke; when we decide; when we falter; the moments right before we succeed, right before we fail, before we’re sure. You can’t capture what you don’t expect, and so many of the things we should cherish are precisely the things we wouldn’t want a camera to see.

There is value to photography. Historical, candid, and artistic, they are evidence of what we’ve done, who we’ve known, where we’ve been. They are fragments we can stitch back together to form a narrative of our lives, however shallow and partial.

But I want no part in them. I don’t want to stare at some photo of me at 21 when I’m 50 and contemplate everything I was, or could have been. I don’t want to have to drown in partial truths, grasping at a falling memory to paint in details. I’d rather either remember, or not. Rather know, or forget. I’d rather be able to molt my life as it goes, letting the useless bits drop away as the important becomes more dear.

When I reach backwards into my life, I want to know what I find to have been defining. To have been something I couldn’t shake, couldn’t let go of. I want to forget the pointless birthday parties, and the group shots at the bars where so-and-so is making that face she makes, and I’m half-drunk, and look that’s what’s his face that guy who dated whoever that is. I want to reach and find the things I couldn’t photograph: the moments I knew, the moments we forgot; the street sign all lit up with sun as our car drove towards home; the view of the skyline when I left; the dodge balls as they barreled towards me; the way it felt to run in the rain, drunk and mad, screeching towards the bar like a five-year old on a sugar high.

I’d rather be able to forget, so that I can remember.

July 2nd, 2010

How Zoho recruits:

What we found over time was that there is a lot of really good talent in that pool, which the industry had overlooked. Based on a few years of observation, we noticed that there was little or no correlation between academic performance, as measured by grades & the type of college a person attended, and their real on-the-job performance. That was a genuine surprise, particularly for me, as I grew up thinking grades really mattered.

We started to ask “What if the college degree itself is not really that useful? What if we took kids after high school, train them ourselves?”

I landed my first professional job at 16, a high school drop-out without as much as a GED. Still don’t have one, and I’m hitting my 28th spin around the sun this summer.

Now that I own my own company, I’ve found myself not only completely ignoring education on resumes, but there’s an odd part of me that, when seeing a person with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, thinks, Wait, you had to go to school for this?

Which is an utterly asinine thing to think. But the neurons fire and I sneer a bit and wonder what they spent all that time learning.

I’ve had kids start with bachelor’s and while they tend to have a bit more experience building useless but interesting things, in the trenches they’re about even with the kids we’ve had that taught themselves code while they were busy trying to create something else. The school bound kids are generally more polished; better work habits, better code habits, less of a language barrier when I’m laying out the structure of what I want them to pull off. But after three months or so I’ve beaten the worst bits out of them and the differences are negligible at best.

I’d never say education is useless, but I stick firmly to the idea that how you get it doesn’t matter.

Thanks for the link, Gary, and thank you Deb for that first job.

July 1st, 2010

Everything you need to know about Homeopathy in one 19-page comic.

The 24 Types of Libertarians, a humorous cartoon.

June 30th, 2010

Spend a few hours at Design is History.

Watch as lightning strikes three of the tallest buildings in Chicago at the same time.

Because nature is awesome.

Is the white new shiny available and is it on Verizon yet?

Robin Hanson on conformity:

It sees to me that while people do vary in conformity, this variation is less in how much folks care about others’ evaluations, and more about which others they care about. “Conformists” tend to care about a common standard status audience – a usual mix of people weighted by a standard status. “Non-conformists,” in contrast, “march to the beat of a different drummer” by caring about non-standard status audiences.

The most interesting folks I know care very much about the opinions of others. It’s just often that the “others” aren’t anyone I know.

This American Life Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence:

“We’ve done it,” said senior producer Julie Snyder, who was personally interviewed for a 2003 This American Life episode, “Going Eclectic,” in which she described what it’s like to be a bilingual member of the ACLU trained in kite-making by a Japanese stepfather. “There is not a single existential crisis or self-congratulatory epiphany that has been or could be experienced by a left-leaning agnostic that we have not exhaustively documented and grouped by theme.”

Thanks for the laugh at the expense of everything I hold dear, Jason.

Trunk Club is basically like Netflix, but for clothes.

Absolutely brilliant idea.

Speaking of Wired and science, their look into Sergey Brin and his investments in Parkinson research is worth your time:

Many philanthropists have funded research into diseases they themselves have been diagnosed with. But Brin is likely the first who, based on a genetic test, began funding scientific research in the hope of escaping a disease in the first place.

Two things stuck with me.

Despite the inane Gattaca-inspired fear over the implications of genetic testing, the march towards using our genes as scientific palm readers is progressing:

People told that they were at dramatically higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life seemed to process the information and integrate it into their lives, often choosing to lead more healthy lifestyles.

Second is the notion of applying raw computing power to large data sets to mine insights into disease:

It’s hard to overstate the difference between this approach and conventional research. “Traditionally, an experiment with 10 or 20 subjects was big,” says the Parkinson’s Institute’s Langston. “Then it went up to the hundreds. Now 1,000 subjects would be a lot—so with 10,000, suddenly we’ve reached a scale never seen before. This could dramatically advance our understanding.”

David Brooks seems to think highly of Alcoholics Anonymous or least thinks highly of Wired’s article about it:

In the business of changing lives, the straight path is rarely the best one. A.A. illustrates that even in an age of scientific advance, it is still ancient insights into human nature that work best.

Only that’s not what the article, or even a shred of scientific evidence suggests.

While there is a good deal of conflicting data tossed about in regards to the success rate of A.A, the most widely cited, criticized, and defended are statistics from a paper published for A.A.’s internal use in 1990, Comments on A.A’s Triennial Surverys, which puts the programs success rate at around 5%.

The same rate as that of spontaneous remission.

The original Wired article glosses over the paper (and countless others), choosing instead to mention a single Stanford paper which shows a slight advantage to the A.A. program. In fact, the 5% statistic is mentioned in passing as a joke:

The group’s “cure rate” has been estimated at anywhere from 75 percent to 5 percent, extremes that seem far-fetched.

With no explanation as to why it’s so far fetched.

It can be said that no study exists which fairly invalidates A.A. as a treatment for alcoholism. But it’s just as easy to turn that around and point out that no study, single, meta or otherwise, fairly validates it either.

Meanwhile, we have scientific evidence that Varenicline Tartrate, marketed as Chantix™ by Pfizer, improves the chances of someone quitting smoking for one year from 8% to 22%.

In the age of scientific advance, science beats hokey wisdom every time.

Thanks, Jeffrey.

Your one stop website launch checklist.

Though, honestly, who tests for IE6 anymore?

Mike Labossiere ponders whether we should be kind to virtual beings by way of Kant and Fallout 3:

If Kant’s argument has some merit, then the key concern about how non-rational beings are treated is how such treatment affects the behavior of the person engaging in said behavior. So, for example, if being cruel to a real dog could damage a person’s humanity, then he should (as Kant sees it) not be cruel to the dog. This should also extend to virtual beings.

It never occurred to me to leave Dogmeat safe at home, though I would immediately reload to a saved game whenever he was killed.

So maybe I’m not all bad.

June 23rd, 2010

TigTab creates delicate scenes through light and stencil, laying them across decay in urban settings.

If you haven’t digested the entire NY Times piece on just what the hell went wrong at Deepwater, you should. If only in appreciation of the five-person team it took to write it.

Meanwhile, at the Economist’s Democracy in America blog, M.S. doesn’t have high hopes that exactly the same thing won’t happen again:

We don’t know whether the Deepwater Horizon blowout would have been prevented by a second blind shear ram, but it might have helped. If we actually care about preventing another such disaster, we’ll begin an immediate programme to get a second blind shear ram on every single drilling platform anywhere near American waters.

But I have a feeling we’re not going to do that… As a society, I’d bet, we’re going to decide that we don’t actually care as much about poisoning our oceans and our coastlines and befouling our planet with black crud as we do about the money it would cost to make it less likely.

I’d love to disagree, but I don’t know that I can.

June 22nd, 2010

At times angry, at times selfish, consistently moving, honest and informative, Katy Butler recounts the decline of her father’s health:

Their numbers grow each day. Thanks to advanced medical technologies, elderly people now survive repeated health crises that once killed them, and so the “oldest old” have become the nation’s most rapidly growing age group. Nearly a third of Americans over 85 have dementia (a condition whose prevalence rises in direct relationship to longevity). Half need help with at least one practical, life-sustaining activity, like getting dressed or making breakfast.

There are entire paragraphs of this article I could quote here. Sections I’ve now re-read a dozen times, over the last few days. But it’s the honesty of the piece that sits with you, and outside of the full context of the piece, excerpts may read offensively, or distantly.

Just know it’s a difficult thing to read, but worth the effort.

Honolulu, August 14th, 1945.

Melissa Petro, former stripper, current school teacher:

It is not sex work that society fears is dangerous, but sex workers in and of themselves. To many, I am dangerous. There is something wrong with me to have been capable of doing – freely and upon my own volition – something that any intelligent, decent woman would apparently never even consider doing. This something that is wrong with me, this logic clearly implies, is something that was there prior to my becoming a sex worker—something that which will remain forever.

Something that disqualifies me from working with children.

Thanks, Patrick.

A look at 100 years of propaganda and the people behind it.

Frank Chimero wonders where we’re going:

My parents had the moon. Before that, there was the west. And before that, America. Do we have any frontiers left? Frontiers exist for one reason: promise. Where do we go now to find promise? What direction? We are a people hungry for something to believe in.

June 21st, 2010

The Vatican has blessed the Blues Brothers as a “Catholic classic.”

“For them, this Catholic institution is their only family,” Vian wrote. “And they decide to save it at any cost.”

Stewart Brand and Mark Jacobson debate nuclear energy at TED.

Interesting how, when cornered, the opponents of nuclear power inevitably have to dip into the doomsday scenario.

Thanks, Andrew.

The story of Howard Engel, a novelist who can’t read.

Our brains are weird.

An excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, set to music and timelapse by director Michael Marantz.

Carl Sagan was the most uncommon of scientists. Yes, he was smart. Accessible. And even popular.

But more than anything else, he was inspiring.

How do you tell if what someone is saying is smart?

If you genuinely understand something — really, truly understand it — then it doesn’t seem complicated and you can explain it rather simply.

The tradeoff between being expert and being popular doesn’t actually exist. People who truly understand their subject should have no trouble writing for a popular audience. And, in fact, their writing will probably better than that of the professional popularizers.

Aaron is right in that there isn’t a tradeoff. You don’t have to choose between being popular and being an expert. He’s wrong in thinking that if you are an expert, you can explain your field.

The ability to explain a thing is just that, an ability. It requires empathy, patience. Requires an ability to communicate, and to be understood. To think as someone else for a moment, and to distill for them. It’s not a skill everyone possesses.

There’s a reason why out of all the scientists in their fields men like Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawkings, Richard Dawkins, and yes, Stephen Levitt, are popular. Reasons why long after they’re gone, we’ll still be quoting them. Still be using their words as a lens through which we see their field.

They’re rare.

They possessed that unique mix of intelligence and talent; able to make the complex facets of their world seem like simple facets of ours. They can distill down the minor debates, the major controversies and the specialized logic into something an outsider can grab ahold of; something we can understand.

“Smart” is a strange word to start with. It’s a shortcut word to mean “intelligent”, only that’s not actually what it means. And even “intelligent” is weighted. Something can be intelligent and be wrong. So can someone.

There is no shortcut in deciding whether what someone is saying is “smart”, or “intelligent”, or “right”. No easy way to tell if the person really knows what they’re talking about, or knows just enough to sound like they do.

Replacing one false positive (jargon) with another (understandable) is silly.

June 20th, 2010

FedEx and UPS are fighting an increasingly public war over language in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009:

It permits drivers for FedEx Express to organize into local collective bargaining units under provisions of the National Labor Relations Act and do away with the requirement that they hold national elections under the terms of the Railway Labor Act.

I spent the better part of an hour trying to understand this, then wrote a long winded summary for you, only to find this handy Reason.tv video seconds later which explained it better than I could.

FedEx’s current Brown Bailout campaign bugs me. The site makes no honest mention of what the actual change will be, and instead, plays up the corporate bailout language in an effort to co-opt some of the anti-bailout sentiment still creeping around the edges of the country.

It’s a cheap and utterly transparent.

If FedEx truly believed they were in the right, that theirs was a just cause against a despicable, bought and paid for underhanded anticompetitive play, they would provide a straight-forward page, or letter, or graphic explaining their case. They don’t. Instead, they mask it with anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-lobbyist speak.

They want us, the banner-digesting public, to believe that FedEx is entirely in the right, UPS entirely in the wrong.

But it’s hard to be against the change. Why shouldn’t FedEx employees be able to unionize locally, without being forced to do so at a national level? Why shouldn’t FedEx and UPS be governed under the exact same law?

The Railway Labor Act was designed to ensure that our nation’s railways and airlines could not be crippled by a local strike. But FedEx deserves no such special protection. If FedEx were crippled by a strike, packages would merely be routed through the postal service, or through UPS. The country, and its businesses, could go about their dealings suffering only a minor hiccup and perhaps some higher costs.

Walt Disney on how to train and what it means to be an animator:

The first duty of the cartoon is not to picture or duplicate real action or things as they actually happen - but to give a caricature of life and action - to picture on the screen things that have run thru the imagination of the audience to bring to life dream fantasies and imaginative fancies that we have all thought of during our lives or have had pictured to us in various forms during our lives.

This comes from an eight-page memo that Disney wrote in 1935, a year after Disney had begun production on Snow White, and two years before it was released.

June 18th, 2010

Pledge to See This Film is an animated call for you to see Waiting for Superman.

Watching both trailers, and reading through the site, it’s hard for me to determine exactly what the films take on the obvious, disgusting inadequacy of the American public school system is.

I see a few encouraging signs, such as Geoffery Canada and Michelle Rhee, both known innovators and leaders. Though Rhee seems to love public schools a bit much for my tastes.

Looking forward to seeing this.

Eric Spitznagel interviews the always contrarian, oddly reasonable and immensely passionate Penn Jillette:

You don’t have to keep killing people! You don’t! As a matter of fact, killing people is harder than not killing people. It’s harder and it’s more expensive. Just think of all the money and aggravation I’m saving by not killing people while I’m on the phone with you right now. I would be so fucking distracted. I’d be like, “Oh sorry, Eric. This bitch is still breathing. I’m going to put you on mute for a minute and kick her in the cunt.” It’s easier not to kill people. You can’t say Bush is making us kill people. You can just stop! Just stop!

Jillette represents the little-el libertarian side of politics, and does it immensely well. Yes, he oversimplifies some things. Yes, he’s biased. Yes, he says things in this interview that anyone of any political bent will disagree with.

But with quotes like this:

If you want to find utopia, take a sharp right on money and a sharp left on sex and it’s straight ahead.

… how can you not love him?

Saul Bass vs Lost.

Saul Bass vs Tron.

Thomas Allen constructs diorama scenes by tearing apart pulp paperback covers.

June 17th, 2010

The Hayabusa probe comes home, breaking apart into stars and dust.

The dying art of typewriter repair:

The craft of typewriter repair will not survive into the next generation.

“Once we go,” he says, “we’re taking it with us.”

David Pogue on the Sprint Evo 4G which John snarks on better than I could:

Sounds great: the Wi-Fi hotspot drains a full battery charge in an hour, you can’t get a full day of stand-by out of a full-charge, it takes six minutes to connect to 4G (if you happen to live in one of the few cities with 4G coverage).

I’ve noticed an odd tendency in Android device reviews. Their flaws, always major and always awe-inspiring in their insipidness, are inevitably attributed more to the device itself than to the underlying Android operating system. There’s a sense, not just from reviewers, but from fans of the device, that what Android really needs is just killer hardware.

Which is just absolute horse shit.

Android is an asshole of an operating system.

Stuck with an Android device for the last five days – the specific model of which I won’t mention because it doesn’t matter – I’ve been subjected to every inconsistency, idiocy and poor quality of thought Android has to offer.

The first clue came during the setup process. After being forced to walkthrough a tutorial on how to use the touch keyboard, which I could not find a way to skip, and setting up a few accounts, I was presented with not one, but three separate Yes/No dialog boxes, one of which actually said, verbatim, “Press No to cancel”. Apparently pressing Cancel to cancel never occurred to designers as an option.

Thereafter, I discovered software I could find no way to uninstall; programs which hung around after I was done with them with no way to quit I could find; interfaces which featured tiny poorly placed buttons near impossible to click without concentration; inconsistent search functionality where the “it’s right there on the phone” search button worked or didn’t work or did work but not as you’d think it’d work. I nearly started a tumblr called “Jesus Christ I Hate This Fucking Phone” just to document all the utterly asinine behaviors my iPhone-killer-anyday-now exhibited.

Everything Android gets right are things the iPhone got right first and still does better. Every “unique to Android” feature seems, at best, a technological demo.

Best I can explain it, Android is how an iPhone would work if Google designed it.

Hopefully, within the next month, I’ll have my Pre back, and I can return to a system which can honestly say its hardware is its worst feature.