Good reads of the week #5

We’re not the good guys: Osaka shows up problems of press conferences

[…]the world No 2 Naomi Osaka announced that she would be boycotting press conferences at the French Open in order to preserve her mental health.

On Monday night, after being fined and threatened with expulsion, Osaka quit the tournament altogether.

And so the modern press conference is no longer a meaningful exchange but really a lowest‑common‑denominator transaction: a cynical and often predatory game in which the object is to mine as much content from the subject as possible. Gossip: good. Anger: good. Feuds: good. Tears: good. Personal tragedy: good. Meanwhile the young athlete, often still caught up in the emotions of victory or defeat, is expected to answer the most intimate questions in the least intimate setting, in front of an array of strangers and backed by a piece of sponsored cardboard.

There’s an odd ritualistic quality to all this: the same characters sitting in the same seats, the same cliches, all these millions of wasted words, the unopened bottles of mineral water. Is there not a better way of doing this?

This dynamic is only exacerbated in women’s tennis, a highly visible enterprise that takes place not just in a largely white male space, but a white‑male‑with‑free‑food space. That sense of voracious, engorged entitlement often manifests itself in exceptionally creepy ways. Question: “I noticed you tweeted a picture. Are you prepared that if you go on a long run you may be held up as a sex symbol, given you’re very good looking?” (Genie Bouchard, Wimbledon 2013.) Question: “You’re a pin-up now, especially in England. Is that good? Do you enjoy that?” (A 17-year-old Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon 2004.) And of course there are plenty of decent, curious journalists out there doing decent, curious things. In a way, this is what makes the chronic lack of self‑awareness so utterly self-defeating. Read the room. We are not the good guys here. We are no longer the power. And one of the world’s best athletes would literally rather quit a grand slam tournament than have to talk to the press. Rather than scrutinising what that says about her, it might be worth asking what that says about us.

If Power to the Person was about technology empowering individuals, and The Great Online Game was about how the internet blurs the line between work and play, this essay is about how we play the game as teams of individuals or small groups

The 2021 AI Index provides insight into jobs, publications, diversity, and more

Number of AI Journal publications, 2000-20
Number of newly funded AI companies in the world, 2015-20
Global corporate investment in AI by investment activity, 2015-20

Can Exposure to Celebrities Reduce Prejudice? The Effect of Mohamed Salah on Islamophobic Behaviors and Attitudes


Can exposure to celebrities from stigmatized groups reduce prejudice? To address this question, we study the case of Mohamed Salah, a visibly Muslim, elite soccer player. Using data on hate crime reports throughout England and 15 million tweets from British soccer fans, we find that after Salah joined Liverpool F.C., hate crimes in the Liverpool area dropped by 16% compared with a synthetic control, and Liverpool F.C. fans halved their rates of posting anti-Muslim tweets relative to fans of other top-flight clubs. An original survey experiment suggests that the salience of Salah’s Muslim identity enabled positive feelings toward Salah to generalize to Muslims more broadly. Our findings provide support for the parasocial contact hypothesis—indicating that positive exposure to out-group celebrities can spark real-world behavioral changes in prejudice.

Evidence of brain damage after high-altitude climbing by means of magnetic resonance imaging

Results: Only 1 in 13 of the Everest climbers had a normal MRI […]

Conclusions: We conclude that there is enough evidence of brain damage after high altitude climbing; the amateur climbers seem to be at higher risk of suffering brain damage than professional climbers.

Good reads of the week #4

Anna Gat with a 11 sentence essay this time on remembering.

We are now in one of those times. The news headlines from around the world give us a continual stream of dark portents. Concentration camps and forced mass sterilization of minorities in China. Millions rendered stateless by a new law in India amid a retreat of secularism. A coup attempt and election denial as a normalized political strategy in America. Rising authoritarianism in Turkey, in Hungary, in Brazil, in the Philippines, in Israel. Protesters massacred in Myanmar, massacred in Iran, suppressed in Belarus, suppressed in Hong Kong. Mass surveillance everywhere. Internet shutdowns. “Anti-terrorism” laws.

But headlines are just anecdotes. Unfortunately data tells the same story.

There is a Darkness creeping over our world.

The article as a whole is a deep dive into internet culture and what influences it. How it evolves and ebbs and flows.

Quentin Bell’s theory of fashion-as-signaling. Bell says: cool people keep trying to come up with some external signal they can use to identify themselves as cool. Uncool people keep trying to copy the signal so they can look cool too. After a while, so many uncool people are using the signal that it’s no longer a good identifier of coolness, and so cool people need to switch to a new signal. Thus the fashion cycle and its constant changes.

This only works when information propagates slowly. If the Coolness Czar went on national TV and announced that this year’s fashionable color was red, then everyone, cool or uncool, would be equally likely to wear red, and the signal would be useless. So fashion has to be vague and complicated and gradual. It has to start with a core of trendsetters who are super-cool but hard to identify in advance. It has to be the sort of thing that only a few people close to the trendsetters will notice and copy. And then it has to spread gradually along the social graph, from the super-cool trendsetters to their mostly-cool friends to their kind-of-cool friends and so on. It has to be the sort of thing where if a totally-uncool person with no social-graph-connection at all Googled “what is the current fashion” and then tried to ape it, they would get something wrong, or embarrass themselves, or look desperate and pathetic in the way immortalized by the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme. This will at least buy the fashion a few years of lifespan as a vaguely-useful signal.

While we are on Scott Alexander

In order to produce a kilogram of bug-based food, you need about 10,000 bugs (mealworms weigh about 100 mg). On the one hand, bugs probably don’t matter much morally. On the other hand, 10,000 is a lot. If bugs had any moral value at all, factory-farming and killing 10,000 of them would be really bad.

Do bugs have moral value? Everyone will answer this question differently. I think of Shakespeare, who has his Jewish character Shylock argue for his own moral value like so:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?

And don’t bugs have eyes, limbs, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, and passions? Don’t they eat the same food as us, especially if we forget to put it in the refrigerator? Aren’t they subject to the same diseases – malaria, Lyme, bubonic plague? Aren’t they healed by the same means? If you prick them, do they not bleed creepy black hemolymph? If you tickle them, do they not hiss? If you poison them, do they not die? And if you wrong them – say, by throwing a stone at a hornets’ nest – will they not revenge?

[…]all else being equal you should generally prefer getting the same quantity of meat by eating fewer larger animals (eg one cow) rather than many smaller animals (eg 100 chickens). Thinking about insect farming is useful to test this hypothesis at the limit and see if our moral intuitions hold up.

There is a global experiment conducted on over 1.5 billion people across 70 countries twice a year. You know of this experiment. It is called Daylight Saving Time. According to a study published in 2014 in the journal Open Heart that looked at more than 42,000 hospital admissions for heart attacks, in the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, there is a 24 percent increase in heart attacks the next day.

The second benefit of REM dreaming is creativity. Consider my fellow Liverpudlian, Paul McCartney. His hit songs Yesterday and Let It Be both came to him by way of REM-inspired creativity.

Not to be outdone, the iconic opening guitar riff from the Rolling Stones’ bestseller Satisfaction was also gifted to lead guitarist Keith Richards when he was asleep. We can even turn to profound scientific discoveries like the construction of the periodic table, which came to Dmitri Mendeleev during a dream.

This is just a crazy story from end to end. A hype house for podcasting with shady business practices. This story isn’t finished.

In another story recounted by two sources, Vincer allegedly walked up to a group of people at Podcast Movement, another industry conference, in 2018 while wearing a fanny pack. He then asked if anyone wanted drugs, which these people believed were in the bag strapped to his waist.

Good reads of the week #3

Mobiles pose a dilemma for defence chiefs. A smartphone ban would hurt recruitment and morale. But a single mobile can betray a big operation “like a fire in the dark”, says Lieutenant-Colonel Rouven Habel, a former commander of NATO’s troops in Lithuania.

When I’ve been asked what a person should for security my go-to has always been to suggest using a 2-factor authentication and a password manager (I like 1Password, others are good as well), never leave your email or other info. I’ve also said that if someone wanted to get in, they would if they are powerful enough. State-sponsored hacking will only get better and when the first cyber war breaks out, we are not prepared. We are French soldiers in red pants against German grey in WW1 prepared.

Never got into the books. The Assassins Apprentice did not work for me on any level. A well-written text on aging. Happy 70th Robin!

I am just a normal happily married straight guy that loves Porsche’s, beautiful women, and likes to incorporate a skirt and heels into his daily wardrobe. Clothes and shoes should have no gender.

The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the long hours were worked.

Plans for an artificial island to house 35,000 people and protect the port of Copenhagen from rising sea levels have been approved by Danish MPs.

If construction goes ahead as planned, the majority of the foundations for the island off Denmark’s capital should be in place by 2035, with an aim to fully complete the project by 2070.

That’s some long-term planning, I like it! Seem like this is the normal timeframe for such projects. The port of Rotterdam had a similar project, it took 25 years.

Good reads of the week #2

[…]as with all fashions, once Six Sigma was picked up by the masses, fashionable companies lost interest and moved on to the next big thing. “These things have a life cycle: They get popular and then people start looking for something else,” says Art Swersey, a professor emeritus of operations research at the Yale School of Management. “These things run their course, and it has run its course.”

But at organizations built around Six Sigma, he says, “disruptive innovation is discouraged.”

Hard to “move fast a break things” when Six Sigmas goal is “99.99966% of its products or services are without flaws”.
I predict the same will happen with Agile management for the same reason. A management tool meant to solve one thing is being used to solve issues that it was not invented to fix. Sig Sigma is to manufacturing what Agile is to software building.

I have a friend who is an European investor who advised me never to invest in wine-drinking countries and only invest in beer-drinking countries due to cultural issues.

Balaji has a theory that cloud-based cultures are forming and superseding geographic cultures. That may be true, but it hasn’t happened comprehensively yet. Finally, there’s an issue of the local culture accepting foreigners. There’s a saying that anybody can be an American, meaning that anyone can be a first-class citizen here, but not anybody can be French or Chinese or German. I think there is truth to that, which brings me to . . .

Talent: Ultimately, the location where the most talented, smartest people live will matter if you are building a business that needs great talent. Historically, because America has welcomed foreign talent, that’s been our edge. I think half the companies in Silicon Valley are founded by immigrants. Immigrants by definition are hungry and motivated, and they are usually really fucking smart, too.

On how to solve big pharmas incentive to produce drugs for less profitable sickness:

An alternative scheme, called the Health Impact Fund, has been proposed, to which governments would contribute funds, and they would be allocated to the extent that a drug reduces the global burden of disease. Then the pharmaceutical companies would have an incentive to develop those products that would do the most to help people worldwide. That would be a much more rational system.

The story is best in the first half. You can skim the latter half. The journalist starts a line of questions that it doesn’t seem like Peter is on board with. For the New Yorker, it was badly edited. However, the freedom of speech arguments and journal project are interesting.

The English language media began amplifying the anti-mask message to the public:
“How to prevent coronavirus: Wash your hands and ditch the mask”   LA Times
“Why a mask won’t protect you from the Wuhan coronavirus” – National Post
“How to Avoid Coronavirus on Flights: Forget Masks, Says Top Airline Doctor” Bloomberg
“Top disease official: Risk of coronavirus in USA is ‘minuscule’; skip mask and wash hands” USA Today
“To protect yourself against coronavirus DON’T wear face masks” Metro
“Coronavirus London: Expert hits out at people wearing ‘completely useless’ face masks” Express

I forgot how many anti-maskers were in the “MSN”. It follows in the same vein as Vox when they accused Silicon Vally of being scared handshakes due to corona.

Well this didn’t help the pandemic response…

Fool me once… It almost sounds too stupid to write out, but here it goes. Frank Abagnale, from “Catch Me If You Can” the movie about a con man that was supposed to be based on a real story turns out to be mostly bogus. In the last decades, Frank has been a prominent public figure known for his heists. It’s all fake. What did we expect; for the scorpion not to sting?

Good reads of the week #1

Scott writes about a book I’ve been thinking about reading for a long time. Ditto for the other Charles Mann books, 1491 and 1493.

Critical of The Dictator, perhaps too much in hit piece territory. It does give an insight that other articles have not given.

Details the story of an Finnish psychiatry startup that was hacked and the customers who have told their therapist all their secrets have been contacted by the hackers. There will be more of these in the future, so better read up. As Kevin Kelly has said, privacy, as we know it today, is changing, for good and bad.

Suppose you’ve been gazing intensely at Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (1659), which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and later you’re told that this was actually a painting made by a deep-learning machine that had internalized Rembrandt’s style through exposure to his paintings. You immediately feel that something’s lost. The museum would certainly take the work off its walls. What’s the thing that’s lost?

Also a good read for understanding the value of originals and ownership – NFTs are coming.

Incels are going to become a larger problem in the next 5 years.

[…]The lesson to me was clear: comedy writing was the way to go. Easiest job on the planet.
Do you still consider comedy writing to be the easiest job on the planet?
No, sir. I do not.