Archive for the ‘Worth Knowing’ category
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.
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.
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%.
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)
It was written as a joke, but it’s strange, creepy and fascinating: Wikipedia has a page holding a Terminal Event Management Policy which is a plan for how the encyclopedia would allow for historic preservation “in the event of a non-localized event that would render the continuation of Wikipedia in its current form untenable”.
It’s actually not a bad idea, but clearly not feasable in it’s current incarnation. But it’s hard to not be a bit unnerved by the idea of the end of the world talked about so frankly and presently, even as a joke.
It’s not a new story (I’m slowly making progress on a dauntingly large backlog of stuff to read), but an interesting one, especially to someone who advocates (and is currently practicing) calorie-counting for weight loss. Nothing Rob Dunn says really negates the basic merits of calorie counting, but I’ve rarely seen his points made elsewhere. Among them:
Peanuts, pistachios and almonds all seem to be less completely digested than their levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber would suggest. How much? Just this month, a new study by Janet Novotny and colleagues at the USDA found that when the “average” person eats almonds she receives just 128 calories per serving rather than the 170 calories “on the label.”
There’s much to like in this piece, but the most memorable bit was this fact I’d not known. It does seem to explain quite a lot of the adds I see though:
What’s the best way to predict whether an advertisement increases sales or not? The marketing field has searched for the answer to this question for decades. … Of all the measures, “likability” was the surprise winner.
An interesting list: the least commonly visited countries in the world. The thing that elevates it beyond mere trivia is that they list the reasons no one goes, the reasons people might want to go, and other interesting details about the counties.
A nicely long article about the weakness of the promotion of self-esteem and an introduction of a thoroughly sensible alternative.
As I’ve defined it, self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.
I’d heard these names a few times, but couldn’t have really told you what they meant. Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern do a good job explaining what they did, but I’ll go ahead and take their concluding paragraph to tell you why you should care:
One truth we can affirm: Hitler had no greater, more courageous, and more admirable enemies than Hans von Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both men and those closest to them deserve to be remembered and honored. Dohnanyi summed up their work and spirit with apt simplicity when he said that they were “on the path that a decent person inevitably takes.” So few traveled that path—anywhere.
Prison rape is so common in America that most confronted with the reality either go for the joke or greet it with a “well they shouldn’t have gone to prison, then” attitude rather than face the catastrophe that it is. It’s good to know that the Obama administration has created a program that, though late, has some reasonable hope of bringing the problem under control.
As someone who’s never experienced it, I enjoyed Michael Friedman’s undramatic retelling of what it was like to get arrested in New York City for an old, unpaid speeding ticket.
The guards are clearly angry that the police have brought so many people to the Tombs on a Sunday, the police are angry that we aren’t being processed quickly enough for them to bring in more prisoners and make their quotas, and the public defenders seem furious at the whole thing. No one explains what is happening to the prisoners. It is unclear how long any of this will take.
I like the frankness with which this article from Michael Finkel strips away the glamorous blissfulness people so often expect when they hear the term meditation.
I try to relax and focus on my nose, but the waterfall continues. I think about home, where it’s getting-the-kids-ready-for-bed hour, and I envision the whole process, the bath and the splashing, the argument over which video to watch – no, it’s not a SpongeBob night – the brushing of teeth, the reading of books – Harold and the Purple Crayon, something about mermaids – the complaints about needing to pee, the Band-Aids pasted over hidden owies, a round of ?”Twinkle Twinkle.” And in this way an hour passes.
Aaron Swartz has been publishing a series whose founding idea is very resonant with the kind of thinking that’s dominated my life for the last few years. The series itself isn’t bad (but mostly a review of already-known stuff to someone who’s been furrowing in the same field) but the introduction states the issue rather well:
Life comes with no instruction manual and the advice parents give is all over the place. TV and the newspapers don’t offer much more than narrow Quick Tips and I never saw a course in this stuff at school. There are self-help books and self-improvement courses, of course, but … they’re usually less about working through tough problems and more about energizing you to Get Up And Go!
Venkat Rao remains one of the most interesting future-focused thinker I regularly read. This little idea definately seems sound to me:
I am calling it Godwin’s Corollary for Technology: every online discussion about technology that goes on long enough will eventually mention the Singularity or Collapse.
He goes on to say a number of other wise but less pull-able things about the role of both “good” and “bad” waste in the advance of technology that I really would encourage you to give some time.
Two things are relevant to this piece:
- Venkat Rao has been writing amazingly deep and intelligent analyses on his site since the biography of the corporation one I linked a while back.
- While I’ve been meaning to read him for most of intervening months, my time-available vs value-to-gain calculus usually means I don’t get more than a few paragraphs in.
This then, is one of the few pieces I read in its entirety, and recommend. It’s an interesting idea with a pretty neat analysis on top. The thesis:
My new explanation is this: we live in a continuous state of manufactured normalcy. There are mechanisms that operate — a mix of natural, emergent and designed — that work to prevent us from realizing that the future is actually happening as we speak. To really understand the world and how it is evolving, you need to break through this manufactured normalcy field. Unfortunately, that leads, as we will see, to a kind of existential nausea.
It’s just a reddit comment, but it’s a damn good one.
In response to a fond reminisce — of less generously, a repost — of the “How to be Alone” video that made the rounds a few years ago (I posted it here), itsCHOWDAH posted a comment that includes these wise words:
When you’re alone, there’s nobody to impress but yourself, nobody to judge you but you. Soon you start to realise just how much of the way you act, the things you say and who you eventually become is based on a sort of a subconscious performance that you put on in this strange effort to appeal to others, because deep down you don’t value yourself. You rely on their validation and appreciation to survive. Learning to break this addiction to social validation and appreciate yourself solely for who you are is immensely powerful.