Archive for July 2013
A surprisingly reasonable argument that summer vacations away from school aren’t just bad for education in general, but a strong driver of educational inequality. Matt Yglesias:
“While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer,” RAND concluded, “low-income students lose more ground in reading while their higher-income peers may even gain.” Most distressingly, the impact is cumulative. Poor kids tend to start school behind their middle-class peers, and then they fall further behind each and every summer, giving teachers and principals essentially no chance of closing the gap during the school year.
James Bamford’s piece about the NSA, its history, and it’s likely cache of legally-questionable data about US citizens is a valuable nugget of sanity among all the hubbub that’s followed the Edward Snowden’s data release. I liked this slice of history:
On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.
This is too appropriate to be the follow-on to Atul Gawande’s piece about changing social norms (LB). Oliver Burkeman has a brief column about how wrong we often are about that the Joneses are doing, and how correcting out misperceptions can change behavior:
Once upon a time, colleges used scare tactics, warning of the hellish consequences of overindulgence. Then they discovered something curious: whether students drank a lot or not, they reliably overestimated – a lot – how much other students consumed.
So the authorities tried a new strategy: ads reminding students that most of their peers, most of the time, drank moderately.
The always-worth-reading Atul Gawande has a new piece in the New Yorker about his role in working to improve practices around childbirth world wide and what it (and some more historical anecdotes) have to tell us about how you really change the world. The whole piece is good, but this part felt most notable to me:
Besides, neither penalties nor incentives achieve what we’re really after: a system and a culture where X is what people do, day in and day out, even when no one is watching. “You must” rewards mere compliance. Getting to “X is what we do” means establishing X as the norm. And that’s what we want: for skin-to-skin warming, hand washing, and all the other lifesaving practices of childbirth to be, quite simply, the norm.
(via The Browser)
As I’ve been publishing more consistently, mostly on Frozen Toothpaste and the Press Up blog, I’ve been giving more thought to how and what I want to publish. So this very relevant collection of questions about these very choices from Seth Godin caught my attention. The one I like most:
Who, precisely, are you trying to please? They don’t offer a Pulitzer for most of what we do, so if not the judges, then who?
(via The Browser, who in March broke my hard-won ability to link to their posting of any piece of media)
In the time I’ve been paying attention, I’ve seen a number of interesting ideas come out of Michael O. Church. This was the first one that felt both interesting and too useful to not share:
Most people do most of the work in their life under a subordinate context. If people can only conceive of doing difficult or taxing things when in a state of subordination, they will lose their drive to work. Over time, this will strip them of their creativity and ambition in general. If the conditioning is complete, they’ll become permanent subordinates, unsuited to anything else.
Probably more than a bit US-centric of advice, but it turns out if a store asks for your zip code it’s probably not because they need it for any good reason. It’s probably to get the last datapoint they need to definitively identify who you are.
“Users simply capture name from the credit card swipe and request a customer’s ZIP code during the transaction. GeoCapture matches the collected information to a comprehensive consumer database to return an address.” In a promotional brochure, they claim accuracy rates as high as 100%.
Whether or not you know or care who Boris Johnson is, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in Jonathan Coe’s essay about the role that his trademark self-depricating personality has played in making him a political winner. Coe starts with a capable history of of television satire and Britain and comes to a bit of a jarring point:
If anti-establishment comedy allows the public to ‘disclaim with laughter’ any responsibility for injustice, the sticking point is not really satire itself (for satire can take the gravest of forms) but laughter (or ‘sniggering’, to use Peter Cook’s term) in the face of political problems.
I’ve long agreed with the basic premise that the NCAA is one of the more morally dubious organizations held commonly in high esteem. And this piece about the misplaced outrage about a “transfer epidemic” is more fodder for the cannon. Josh Levin is clear-sighted and empirical about student transfers and how the NCAA’s strange rules surrounding them can change the lives of “student athletes” is spot-on. A brilliant and much-needed attack:
Let’s examine what this epidemic looks like. Transfer rates for Division I men’s basketball players have hovered between 9 and 11 percent each offseason over the last decade. By comparison, a 2010 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling indicated that 1 in 3 college students transfer during their scholastic careers. The only difference I’m seeing here is that English lit professors aren’t grousing about students running off with their copies of Moby Dick.
(via Daring Fireball)
Really interesting profile of all the psychological tricks game makers use which ensure “Free” Games are almost always at the top of Apple’s “Top Grossing Apps” lists. This idea, which they came back to repeatedly, felt especially sinister:
A game of skill is one where your ability to make sound decisions primarily determines your success. A money game is one where your ability to spend money is the primary determinant of your success. Consumers far prefer skill games to money games, for obvious reasons. A key skill in deploying a coercive monetization model is to disguise your money game as a skill game.
(via Daring Fireball)