Archive for the ‘Worth Knowing’ category
I read this essay over the summer, but then forgot about it until I saw a tweet from Paul Ford. It’s an interesting consideration of the economics of bike theft. The heart of the issue, as you may already recognize, is this:
For all practical purposes, stealing a bike is risk-free crime. It turns out there is a near zero chance you will be caught stealing a bike (see here) and if you are, the consequences are minimal.
The list isn’t mind blowing, but it is interesting, as is the article that proceeds it. I valued their starting with this point:
Some questions you ask because you want the right answer. Others are valuable because no answer is right; the payoff comes from the range of attempts.
Some scientists are claiming that all mammals pee for exactly 21 seconds. I don’t know that I believe it, but it’s an interesting idea.
Combining this with data on mass, bladder pressure and urethra size, they were able to create a mathematical model of urinary systems to show why mammals take the same time to empty their bladder, despite the difference in bladder size.
Pankaj Mishra’s article is opinionated, but also a great primer on the recent history and current outlook for the largest and least-talked-about (at least in my little American experience) countries in the world.
There is talk once more of a ‘rising’ Asian economy (the Boston Consulting Group predicts that more than half the country’s 242 million people will qualify as middle class by 2020), though recent economic setbacks suggest, as with similar predictions about India, that this may prove to be fantasy. Wealth has brought disconcerting changes: large parts of Sumatra, ravaged by slash-and-burn investors, resemble a lunar landscape, and smoke from land-clearing fires started by palm-oil prospectors extends as far as the cities of Malaysia and Thailand, where doctors warn people with respiratory diseases to wear masks.
I didn’t expect to, but I actually found something interesting about Daniel Soar’s peeking under the corners of the NSA. Looking more closely than any one else I’ve seen, Soar reveals some unexpected (though understandably quite limited) details about how the NSA actually works:
One of the things these slides are most revealing of is the marketplace within the NSA. At your desk in S2C41, as you sit down to find the best way to home in on dodgy goings-on by senior Mexicans, you have a whole menu of sexy tools to choose from.
An interesting short piece about some of the impacts that electric cars are starting to and might have on the broad electrical grid. This hadn’t occurred to me:
In most parts of California, charging an electric car [with a dedicated high-voltage charger] of those is the equivalent of adding one house to the grid, which can be a significant additional burden, since a typical neighborhood circuit has only five to 10 houses.
Gary Sick’s primer on Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, and what he means for the countries relations with the outside world seems to walk carefully and well the line between optimism and realism about the future.
Khamenei appeared before the leadership of the powerful and conservative Revolutionary Guards Corps to remind them politely but firmly that their proper concern was national security, not politics. Since the Revolutionary Guards played a major part in undermining both of Rouhani’s predecessors, this was a unique and unequivocal demonstration of solidarity. It does not, however, guarantee indefinite support for Rouhani’s initiatives. The Guards and the senior clerical establishment will look for results and weigh their own interests. Thus far, Rouhani, with the help of the Leader, has stayed ahead of his domestic and foreign opposition, but in New York he and his associates gave every indication of being men in a hurry.
This article is about all the bogus benefits the NFL has, but it’s approximately true of all major sports leagues in the United States, and the mentioned tax incentives are realized by copious other businesses at smaller scales. Still, if you’re unfamiliar with the whole political structure of it, it’s hard not to be incensed by a summary like this:
Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It’s time to stop the public giveaways to America’s richest sports league—and to the feudal lords who own its teams.
Instapaper added a sort by length feature recently, and I’ve got a big backlog in there, so when I ordered by length descending this whopping takedown of the massively broken Ivy League college admissions processes came to the top. I read a fair amount, but not even I could slog through the whole thing — the Instapaper reading time estimate is 94 minutes — but I got a really interesting perspective from what I made it though. Including this theory that had truly never occurred to me:
Obviously, anti-Jewish discrimination in admissions no longer exists at any of these institutions, but a roughly analogous situation may be found with a group whom Golden and others have sometimes labeled “The New Jews,” namely Asian-Americans. Since their strong academic performance is coupled with relatively little political power, they would be obvious candidates for discrimination in the harsh realpolitik of university admissions as documented by Karabel…
To summarize, the case Ron Unz presents leaves little doubt that this and other softer forms of discrimination in the Ivy League admissions processes have been going for decades.
Venkat Rao can sometimes get too theoretical for my taste. But the idea at the heart of this essay was quite novel to me, and worthy of thinking about:
Collecting [people] is an unfamiliar behavior to connectors. When you connect with someone, the definition of the relationship is arrived at via consensus. Following is in most cases a degraded form of connecting — a partially defined asymmetric relationship that aspires to full-relationship status.
Collecting though, is a mode of relating that does not recognize or value the mutuality of relationships. Collectors do not see the philosophical point of arriving at a definition of a relationship through consensus unless there is a material reason to do so. At best, they are able to recognize the practical costs of non-consensual definitions and the computable utilitarian potential of “win win” frames.
I think the thing I’ve always loathed about the idea of “networking” — a talent I’ve long thought I completely lacked in life — is that it’s a “collecting” frame and mode. I don’t have anything against meeting people; I enjoy it. But it took me realizing that “networking” and “meeting people” can be the same thing for it be something I could do.
Sound like a robot?
With two diminutive legs locked into a leap-ready position, the tiny jumper bends its body taut like an archer drawing a bow. At the top of its legs, a minuscule pair of gears engage—their teeth interlocking cleanly like a zipper. And then, faster than you can blink, think, or see with the naked eye, the entire thing is gone.
Actually, its a small insect called the issus. And only adolescents have these gears for reasons we’re still not confident about. The world is awesome!
I was rather charmed with this piece about jet bridges, a small piece of everyday technology I’d never given a second thought. (Found it via The Browser, which you shouldn’t ignore.) But I was even more charmed to realize that it was part of a project from that The Atlantic, a book publisher, and a few educational institutions.
The latest NSA revelations are big, far-reaching, and made me wonder at my recent “don’t do news” policy. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, Kottke’s wrap-up is as good as you could hope for.
But what actually struck me was how apt the phrase “security nihilsim” is to my reaction to all these revelations. All my looking points to the idea that it’s a coinage by Micah F. Lee in the linked article.
(via Chris Hartjes)
Like most, I expect, I know very little of Central Asia. It’s hard not to know Pakistan and Afghanistan, but Ahmed Rashid gives a pretty good summary of what’s transpired in the other -stans since the USSR collapse. The short answer: not much.
This tidbit’s casual certainty terrified me more than a little:
Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan have each been in power for twenty-three years. According to human rights groups, Karimov has kept some ten thousand political prisoners in jail over the years, and torture by such methods as boiling people alive is well known.
Despite — or perhaps because — I rarely pay attention to sports anymore, Hang Up and Listen, which is Slate’s sports podcast, is one of my favorites. In the latest episode they talked about an exhaustive story about all the evidence that the famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs wasn’t really an even fight. It’s hardly a novel theory, but the amassing of evidence for Don Van Natta Jr. story makes it pretty hard to doubt that Riggs didn’t try to win the match.
Consider this is your monthly reminder that Oliver Burkeman is great and you should really read his column. This quote struck me as worthy of excerption:
The trick, I think, is to take his comment not as an instruction about how you ought to think, but a bare description of a psychological truth: if you didn’t mind what happened, then you’d never have any problems. That’s undeniable: “having a problem” and “minding something” are the same. It’s a restatement of the Stoics’ insight into human distress: no event can trigger upset without a belief that it’s undesirable.
Really strong (and long, because it’s the New Yorker) essay about how the way some civil forfeiture laws are written make them prone to reckless abuse, and how that abuse actually happens. It’ll probably make you at least a little angry, but knowledge of the practice is probably one of its most powerful antidotes.
They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.
“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.
Really good piece about the secret world of high volume internet backbone operators and how their small political squabbles redound on the average person’s ability to have the internet work in the way they want.
“Right now, YouTube doesn’t work too bad on Free,” Felten said earlier this month. “Three weeks ago it was horrendous. A 30-second video, like an Angry Birds solution video, would take 12 minutes before the first frame moved. Right now, you get some lags but it’s acceptable. I suspect whatever they’re doing, they’re constantly shifting it so it doesn’t look like it’s constantly horrible.”
As always when the topic of internet comes up in a US context, it’s worth noticing how much worse the problem is made by the near monopolies most television and high-speed internet providers enjoy in the areas they serve.