From our good friends at Gizmodo:
Stick 200 sheets of A5 paper into the back of this machine gun and instead of firing bullets when you pull the trigger, it will unleash a barrage of up to 120 paper airplanes every minute.
Comments, observations and thoughts from two bloggers on applied statistics, higher education and epidemiology. Joseph is an associate professor. Mark is a professional statistician and former math teacher.
Stick 200 sheets of A5 paper into the back of this machine gun and instead of firing bullets when you pull the trigger, it will unleash a barrage of up to 120 paper airplanes every minute.
Over the weekend, our President-elect fingered South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney to lead the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, Mulvaney will wield a significant amount of power over virtually every federal agency—and that should make anyone who values science very, very uneasy.
Mulvaney’s track record blends in quite nicely: He thinks climate change is a myth, and he has consistently voted against pro-environmental bills. He also voted for a bill that prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, and questioned the nthe logical ee, d for federal funding for Zika research.
There is one key difference between Mulvaney and the rest of Trump’s team of appointments, however. Rather than limiting his damage to one individual agency, Mulvaney gets to defecate on all of them.
The Office of Management and Budget is the largest arm of the executive office of the president, and possesses a correspondingly huge amount of power. It helps develop and execute the federal budget, oversees agency performance and management, and reviews “all significant federal regulations by executive agencies.”
For someone who will soon lord over government funding and the agencies that depend on it, Mulvaney is almost religiously opposed to federal spending. The New York Times notes that he’s totally cool with being part of the “Shutdown Caucus,” because of his “willingness to shut the government down” rather than raise the debt limit. He’s also continuously advocated for cuts to federal spending, and has repeatedly butted heads with his own party on spending issues.
All of this spells bad news for federal agencies and programs in general, but particularly those in the science, health, and environmental realms. Trump and his lackeys have already made clear their opposition to funding entire fields of scientific research—Bob Walker, a senior adviser, even suggested scrapping NASA’s Earth science division. Combine this staggering level of disregard with Mulvaney’s belt-tightening approach to federal spending, and the prospects for government-funded science research appear dimmer by the day.
“The White House Office of Management and Budget is central to good government—including its role overseeing science-based public health, safety and environmental protections,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS, said in a statement. “[Mulvaney] has backed legislation to change the regulatory process in ways that would give an even stronger influence to industry, increase political interference and undermine science-based decision-making.”
Chief among Rosenberg’s concerns is Mulvaney’s support for bills like the Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015, which would “[create] a commission tasked with eliminating and revising outdated and redundant federal regulations.” Notably, the bill was intent on protecting business interests, and was championed by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, among others.
While slashing “outdated and redundant federal regulations” may sound prudent on the surface, Rosenberg, a former regulator, says it’s often a smokescreen that can be used to block policy measures protecting public health and the environment.
“You can’t overturn the Clean Air Act, so you just mess up the process [by which it’s implemented],” Rosenberg told Gizmodo. He likened it to the battle over reproductive rights: There may not be enough support to overturn Roe v. Wade (yet), but that hasn’t stopped state legislators from inserting procedural roadblocks at every other step of the way.
As you may recall, Soylent ended up recalling its Food Bar a month after releasing it when Gizmodo reported that it was causing customers to have “uncontrollable diarrhea” and vomiting, sending some to the emergency room. Soon after, Soylent halted sales of the 1.6 version of its powdered formula after people reported similar symptoms. The company eventually concluded it was the high-tech algal flour in the bars and powder that caused the illness, and vowed to remove it from future products.
Making hiring and firing decisions based on age is illegal, but age discrimination is rampant in the tech industry, and everyone knows it, and everyone seems to accept it. What other industry operates like this? What would the world be like if doctors, lawyers, or airline pilots — or anyone, really, other than professional athletes — had to accept the idea that their career would end at age 40, or 50?
One excuse for pushing out older workers is that technology changes so fast that older people simply can’t keep up. Veteran coders don’t know the latest programming languages, but young ones do. This is bunk. There’s no reason why a 50-year-old engineer can’t learn a new programming language. And frankly, most coding work isn’t rocket science.
What’s more, most jobs in tech companies don’t actually involve technology. During my time at HubSpot fewer than 100 of the company’s 500 employees were software developers. The vast majority worked in marketing, sales, and customer support. Those jobs don’t require any special degree or extensive training. Anyone, at any age, could do them.
People born after 1980 do not possess some special gene that the rest of us lack. But Silicon Valley venture capitalists and founders somehow seem to believe this is the case. I suspect the truth is that tech startups prefer young workers because they will work longer hours and can be paid less.
Twenty years ago, when venture capitalists invested in young founders, they usually insisted that founders team up with older, seasoned executives to provide “adult supervision.” Lately the conventional wisdom has been that it’s better to let young founders go it alone. The consequences have been predictably disastrous. Young male founders hire young male employees, and spend huge money building kooky office frat houses.
In the tech industry the practice of bros hiring bros is known as “culture fit,” and it’s presented as a good thing. The problem with “culture fit” is that unless you’re a twenty-something white person, you don’t fit. People of a certain age, people of color, and women — most of us, in other words — are often unwelcome. This huge, dynamic industry, which is generating so much wealth, has walled itself off from most of the workforce, telling millions of people that they cannot participate. This situation obviously shortchanges a lot of workers, but it also hurts tech companies by depriving them of talent.
Age bias goes hand-in-hand with other forms of bias. HubSpot had many female employees, but few in top management positions. The company was run (and still is) mostly by white men. As far as I could tell, there were no African-American employees. Once, after sitting through a company all-hands meeting and being stunned by the ocean of white faces, I wrote to a woman in HR asking if the company had any statistics on diversity. HubSpot prided itself on possessing numbers for everything, and being a “data-driven organization.” I received a terse reply: “No. Why?”
I lasted 20 months at HubSpot. My time there was filled with incidents in which colleagues demonstrated they shared Halligan’s low regard for older workers. After I left the company, I announced I was writing a memoir about my experience as a 50-something guy trying to work in startup land. Apparently some of the company’s executives freaked out about what might be in the book, and they did something so crazy that I still almost can't believe it.
According to the FBI, which investigated, these executives tried to hack into computers to steal the manuscript, and also tried to prevent publication of the book by engaging in extortion. No criminal charges have been filed, but the hacking, extortion, and ensuing cover-up raised questions about HubSpot’s culture and the trustworthiness of its leadership. HubSpot's board fired the CMO, and sanctioned Halligan, the CEO. A vice president resigned before the board could decide whether to terminate him. The board still won't tell me what happened.
Indeed Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.Of course matters are not helped by this reporting from the Los Angeles Times:
After North Carolina lawmakers refused to repeal House Bill 2, the law that curbs legal protections for LGBT people and has cost the state millions of dollars in boycotts and lost jobs, Democrats and Republicans took to a predictable pattern: blaming each other for the unraveling of the deal.This is the lead sentence. Just how does the opposition party factor into this in any sensible way? Do the Republicans not currently have the Governor and a super-majority of seats in the legislature? Have they not been willing to pass other laws on short notice?
“It may have been doomed from the beginning,” said Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., who noted that many rural Republicans, who face re-election next year, would face outrage from their constituents if they repealed HB2. “It started off with both sides wanting a pound of flesh from the other side, and it just went downhill from there.”
[a] crowdsourced, volunteer-staffed company with a confusingly similar name, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. It was perhaps not a serious long-term threat — the company was run by a former Uber driver and a former Italian MTV VJ — but Hyperloop Transportation Technologies had a few months’ head start over Hyperloop Technologies, and the amateurish nature of his rivals didn’t help Pishevar in the credibility game, which he recognized was, at this point, the entire game.
Pishevar knew the power of a well-placed media exclusive to lubricate the creation of something from nothing. In fact, he had been keeping Forbes technology editor Bruce Upbin up to date on every development of his new venture since its infancy. “Shervin mentioned the Forbes piece early, maybe even the first day I met him,” BamBrogan remembers. By early 2015, Pishevar’s company was a few steps further along, having hired a general counsel (Pishevar’s brother Afshin, who was bunking in BamBrogan’s spare bedroom) and raised $7.5 million, primarily from Pishevar’s Sherpa Capital and from Formation 8, a VC firm run by the investor Joe Lonsdale. But the company was still in BamBrogan’s garage, with no health insurance, no company insurance, no HR processes, no website, and no office space. The only thing holding it together, at this point, was Pishevar’s estimable sales skills. With a big Forbes story now slated for imminent publication, the company was in a race to acquire enough of a patina of substantiality to merit prominent coverage in America’s most famous business magazine. “It was crazy,” BamBrogan recalls. “We’re spending time finding the right industrial space that we want to grow into but also that we can do for this Forbes shoot.”
A recently hired director of operations knew the landlord of a large campus in downtown L.A., and at the end of the month, BamBrogan and his handful of colleagues moved into a sliver of the space, a 6,500-square-foot former ice factory, before they had secured a lease. With the magazine deadline looming, the skeleton crew were unrolling carpets, BamBrogan was making repeated trips to Ikea in his Audi sedan to buy 16 Vika Amon tables and 64 Vika Adil legs, and the company was buying 25 computers and 50 monitors. Some of the computers had only one graphics card and couldn’t actually run two monitors, but the superfluous equipment beefed up the apparent size of the company. The day of the shoot, BamBrogan and his co-workers scheduled a flurry of job interviews in the office so that more people would be around.
In politics and economics, a Potemkin village (also Potyomkin village, derived from the Russian: Потёмкинские деревни, Russian pronunciation: [pɐˈtʲɵmkʲɪnskʲɪɪ dʲɪˈrʲɛvnʲɪ] Potyomkinskiye derevni) is any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is. The term comes from stories of a fake portable village, built only to impress Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787. While some modern historians claim accounts of this portable village are exaggerated, the original story was that Grigory Potemkin erected the fake portable settlement along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool the Russian Empress.
The cost to bus charter school students and advocates to rallies: $87,870.
The cost of providing them food from Subway: $14,040.
The cost of launching a media blitz including a new wave of television advertisements after state legislators failed to recommend funding new charter schools: $300,429.
The impact on students “trapped in failing schools” if this campaign drives funding to greatly expand charter school enrollment: Priceless, says Families for Excellent Schools, the nonprofit organization behind the effort.
According to spending reports filed with the Office of State Ethics Monday, the organization spent $413,000 in April — more than double what the organization spent during the first three months of the legislative session. This brings the organization’s spending to $667,000 so far this year. Add in what other groups advocating for charter schools are spending, and the total nears $1 million.
Sources close to Faraday Future, including suppliers, contractors, current, prospective and ex-employees all spoke to Jalopnik over a number of weeks on conditions of anonymity and said the money has been M.I.A., the plans are absurd and the organization verges on the dysfunctional.
A year ago, things seemed very different. In late November of 2015, Faraday Future burst onto the scene with promises as big as its name was mysterious.
Staffed by prominent industry figures poached from companies like Tesla, Apple, Ferrari and BMW, FF made bold, unprecedented promises: an electric car that could not only drive itself but connect to its owner’s smartphone and learn from their daily habits to become the ultimate personalized vehicle. And if ownership didn’t suit their lifestyle, fine; the company was eager to expand into ride-sharing and autonomous fleet services.
With a $1 billion facility in Nevada, the company promised production by 2017. Forget what you know about cars, the teaser videos proclaimed. A revolution is coming and we would see it at the CES trade show in Las Vegas. Everyone anticipated an actual car that could live up to these claims.
Then January and CES rolled around and the company revealed that yes, that wild rocket-looking supercar that leaked onto the internet via an app really was Faraday Future’s show car. But not its actual production car. That would come later, the company swore after an embarrassing debut that laid the hype and the buzzwords on thick but had seemingly little to back it up. In the meantime the company promised a “skateboard” modular electric platform that could be adapted to suit several different body styles.
But everything would be fine, right? After all, FF was getting $335 million in state tax incentives and abatements from Nevada for its plant, and it was sponsoring a Formula E team. And in the company’s own words, it would do for cars what the iPhone did for communications in 2007. And Faraday Future is funded by Jia Yueting, a tech mogul in China known for starting the country’s first paid video streaming service. It’s often nicknamed “The Netflix of China,” and it brought Jia the billions he needed to start a whole tech empire, selling everything from smartphones to TVs to cars.
What could go wrong?
That was in January. FF spent the next several months in the news over and over again, almost always for reasons no company wants to be in the news. There was the lag on payments to the factory’s construction company, the senior staffers jumping ship, the confusing debut of a seemingly competing car from the company helmed by its principal backer, the lawsuits from a supplier and a landlord who said they weren’t getting paid, the work stoppage on the factory, the state officials in Nevada who said Jia didn’t have as much money as he claimed (something that Jia denied in a haters-are-my-motivators statement), and the fact that leaders in that state copped to never really knowing much about FF’s financials before approving that incentive package.
I wish I could say this in front of every sentence I write about Faraday Future, but from everything I’ve seen there is good and serious engineering work getting done at the company.
If anything, Faraday Future has too many people working on one of the most interesting cars we’ve seen in years, engineers crammed computer to computer, even on fold up-picnic tables as one anonymous interviewee told Jalopnik. All-electric, eyes on autonomy, with incredible performance and design. “There’s a lot of good people there,” one source noted. “That’s the worst part.”
But you can’t have this engineering side without a solid business to back it up, and the good work at Faraday Future seems like it has been constantly undone by the unrealistic demands of its top leadership and a money gulf across the Pacific.
The thinking of business writers has become so muddled and, in places, so overtly mystical that the important fundamental drivers are completely lost in the discussion. Words like "disruptor" or "transformative" have such tremendous emotional resonance for the writers (and investors) that they blind them to the underlying business forces.
DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.We've been heading toward this for a long time. From the beginning, the idea of disruption never explained nearly as much as it was supposed to. There were always as many exceptions as cases and much of the appeal of the idea could be attributed to the way it played into popular narratives about visionary innovators.
Ever since “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” everyone is either disrupting or being disrupted. There are disruption consultants, disruption conferences, and disruption seminars. This fall, the University of Southern California is opening a new program: “The degree is in disruption,” the university announced. “Disrupt or be disrupted,” the venture capitalist Josh Linkner warns in a new book, “The Road to Reinvention,” in which he argues that “fickle consumer trends, friction-free markets, and political unrest,” along with “dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and mind-numbing technology advances,” mean that the time has come to panic as you’ve never panicked before. Larry Downes and Paul Nunes, who blog for Forbes, insist that we have entered a new and even scarier stage: “big bang disruption.” “This isn’t disruptive innovation,” they warn. “It’s devastating innovation.”
In front of the Senate subcommittee today, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson brazenly dismissed concerns of potentially anticompetitive behavior. The bespectacled executive, according to a New York Times report, told lawmakers that the merger would “disrupt the entrenched pay-TV models” and give customers more options.
The truth is a little more complicated than that. AT&T is already the second-largest US telecommunications company (with 133.3 million subscribers) and the largest pay-TV service in the US and the world. If it merged with Time Warner, the second-largest broadband provider and third-largest video provider in the US, it would create a media conglomerate with unspeakable power. Critics say it would be a conglomerate that many companies just couldn’t compete with.
United has announced a “new tier” of ticket, as the company calls it. The airline’s cheapest flights will now be called Basic Economy, and if you want to store something in the overhead bin, that’ll cost you extra. Passengers will be able to bring a carry-on that fits underneath the seat in front of them. But don’t even think about putting something above you. That’s for people who paid more.
Of course, the airline is positioning this move as providing “more options” for customers. But it seems like providing more “choice” always comes with a fee for something customers used to get for free.
“Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that,” Julia Haywood, executive vice president at United said in a hilarious news release. “By offering low fares while also offering the experience of traveling on our outstanding network, with a variety of onboard amenities and great customer service, we are giving our customers an additional travel option from what United offers today.”
Want to hear another fun aspect of “choice” that Basic Economy provides? Passengers won’t get an assigned seat until the day they depart.
Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi first flagged the graph in a blog post today. The graph shows technology (which is never defined) and its rate of change (which is never defined) and human adaptability (which is never defined). It’s the kind of thing you might see scrawled in feces in Ted Kaczynski’s prison cell but it’s now been conveniently committed to paper and given a much wider audience.
The truth is that technological adoption isn’t necessarily speeding up. Just look at consumer goods like television. In 1950 just 8 percent of Americans had a TV. Four years later, in 1954, a whopping 59 percent of American households had a TV. Here we are on the cusp on 2017 and I’m having a hard time thinking of any consumer technology that made any comparable jump since 2012.
Or let’s go back further. The Great Depression was a desperate time for most Americans. But technological leaps didn’t stop. Look at the mechanical refrigerator as another example of rapid change in a relatively short period of time. Just 8 percent of American households had a fridge in 1930. By the end of the decade roughly 44 percent had one. People much smarter than myself have argued that refrigeration did more to shape the United States than most other technologies of the 20th century. Yes, smartphones are revolutionary. But refrigeration tech arguably changed America as much, if not more.
Let's focus on the first sentence. This is a completely conventional assertion and it's entirely valid if you make certain standard (and always implicit) assumptions about what it means to benefit from a transaction. Unfortunately, the reasoning does not stand well when wee start tweaking that assumption.
When the benefits of trade are broadly spread then everyone benefits. But capturing all of the benefits and then using that political power to seize additional benefits is a great way to get very powerful but it runs the risk of undermining the political calculation. After all, if trade is the way that the "rich get richer" and the "poor get even less" then it starts to look like a very bad deal.
75 years of progress
While pulling together some material for a MOOC thread, I came across these two passages that illustrated how old much of today's cutting edge educational thinking really is.
First from a 1938 book on education*:
" Experts in given fields broadcast lessons for pupils within the many schoolrooms of the public school system, asking questions, suggesting readings, making assignments, and conducting test. This mechanize is education and leaves the local teacher only the tasks of preparing for the broadcast and keeping order in the classroom."And this recent entry from Thomas Friedman.
For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic.I know I've made this point before, but there are a lot of relevant precedents to the MOOCs, and we would have a more productive discussion (and be better protected against false starts and hucksters) if people like Friedman would take some time to study up on the history of the subject before writing their next column.
* If you have any interest in the MOOC debate, you really ought to read this Wikipedia article on Distance Learning.
The deeply flawed premise through which elites have long operated is that trade is a net plus for everyone as long as the winners compensate the losers. But in the real world, the winners both fail to do so and use their winnings to buy tax and deregulatory policies that further screw the losers.
Next Stop, Bethlehem?
By David Sarno
The Polar Express is the tale of a boy's dreamlike train ride to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. Like all stories worth knowing, it's rich enough in image and feeling to accommodate many interpretations. Chris Van Allsburg, the author of the book, calls his story a celebration of childhood wonder and imagination. William Broyles Jr., one of the screenwriters of this year's film version, calls it a kind of Odyssey in which a hero undertakes a mythic, perilous journey of self-discovery. And Paul Lauer, who is a key player in the film's marketing apparatus, sees The Polar Express as a parable for the importance of faith in Jesus Christ.
Lauer's firm, Motive Entertainment, is best known for coordinating the faith-based marketing of The Passion of the Christ. Motive helped spread early word of mouth about the filmby holding screenings for church groups and talking the movie up to religious leaders. When The Passion took in a stunning $370 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing R-rated film in history, Lauer and his cohorts got a lot of the credit. Earlier this year, Motive was hired by Warner Bros. to promote The Polar Express to Christians. But wait, is The Polar Express an evangelical film?
You'd certainly think so, considering the expansive campaign of preview screenings, radio promotion, DVDs, and online resources that Lauer unfurled in the Christian media this fall. This Polar Express downloads page includes endorsements from pastors and links to church and parenting resources hosted by the Christian media outlet HomeWord. There are suggestions for faith-building activities and a family Bible-study guide that notes, for example, the Boy's Christ-like struggle to get the Girl a train ticket. "The Boy risked it all to recover the ticket," the guide observes. "Jesus gave His all to save us from the penalty of our sins."
HomeWord Radio, which claims to reach more than a million Christian parents daily, broadcast three shows promoting the film. At one point, the show's host wondered excitedly if the movie "might turn out to be one of the more effective witnessing tools in modern times." Motive also produced a promotional package that was syndicated to over 100 radio stations in which Christian recording artists like Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Avalon talked about the movie as they exited preview screenings.
Some audience members—and a few Christian film critics—would argue that Santa Claus isn't necessarily a stand-in for Jesus Christ. Last month, Lauer told the Mobile Register that he sees The Polar Express as a parable, "not a movie about belief in God." But when Lauer speaks to a Christian audience, he tells a different story. Lauer told HomeWord Radio that when he asked Robert Zemeckis about all the biblical parallels he was seeing in the film, the director "winked and said, 'Nothing in a movie this big ends up in the script by accident.' " (Zemeckis was traveling and wasn't available for comment.)
A Texas Republican announced over the weekend that he plans to resign his post as a member of the Electoral College rather than cast a ballot for US President-elect Donald Trump, a man he deems "not biblically qualified for office."
Citing his Christian religion and his understanding of representative democracy, Art Sisneros wrote in a blog post that he could neither vote for Mr. Trump nor break his promise to do so by voting for anyone else. Texas does not require its 38 electors to vote in accordance with the state's presidential election results, but Mr. Sisneros says he made a pledge to the Texas GOP that his vote next month in Austin would follow the will of the general public.
"The reality is Trump will be our President, no matter what my decision is," Sisneros wrote. "Since I can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and yet have sinfully made a pledge that I would, the best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an Elector."
LA suffers from the too-dense-but-not-quite-dense-enough problem (overall it's a very dense city, but with a kind of uniform density that is a bit difficult from a transportation perspective).I have generally hold that density is a pure good for transit, but it seems obvious that "destinations" would make things work a lot better than thousands of point to point connections. The former (New York density) seems to make transit look super efficient. But if you are relatively dense everywhere, that almost makes a cab/uber style of transit look efficient.