Tag Archives: vox

Quote

No area should get cocky when it comes to their dealing with the coronavirus

Because as this shows, How California went from a coronavirus success story to a new hot spot – Vox,  all you need to do is let your guard down and the disease comes back. I am reading stories of many places having surges and many places are having to go back into lockdown. I understand why people want to read stories of places like New Zealand where life has returned to normal. Life hasn’t returned to normal: all places have done is managed through strong measures to stop it from spreading in their area. Meanwhile it is spreading to other areas of the globe, like India. All it will take is enough relaxing of controls and it could come back stronger.

We know very little about this disease. Social distancing and masks seem to be helping to control it. That’s what we have for now: some level of control. No medicine is coming to help us yet. No mutation is coming to blunt it yet. We may have a long way to go.

Quote

Inequality is a fundamental problem over many centuries


At least, according to this:  700 years of Western inequality, in one chart – Vox

The chart shows the percentage of wealth owned by the top 10% since 1300. There are only two times it takes a major drop: during the Black Death in the 14th century and during World War II in the 20th century.

If true, it means that wealth concentration will continue unless another major catastrophe occurs (pandemic? global warming?).

There is lots to debate in all this. The numbers themselves are debatable (i.e. just how accurate and representative are they?)  As well, there is an argument to be made that it doesn’t matter how inequally distributed wealth is  if generally life for the 90% is good. But the Vox piece argues that such inequality leads to political instability and other problem, and that a good life for the majority isn’t enough.

Read the piece and consider it for yourself.

 

Quote

How living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life (and this was before the pandemic)


This is a really good explanation piece on how living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life (Vox).

It is focused on the United States, but is not unique to it. Well worth reading. It can also explain why people who live in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to suffer the effects of the pandemic.

Quote

How to get started reading the classics


Well this advice is fraught with assumptions, but if you are hankering to read the classics and have an open idea of what “the classics” are, I recommend this:  So you want to read classic books during the coronavirus pandemic – Vox

Basically, there are quite a number of books that are considered classic, but not all classics are approachable. You might pick up one in anticipation, get stuck, and abandon the idea of ever reading such books. To prevent that from happening, read the advice given in Vox. Start slow, and go from there.

Finally, there has always been a debate over what consists of the classics. Many of them will not appeal to you. And other books not considered “Classic” by many might just be old enough for you to fill your appetite for something you consider classic. (e.g. A fan of science fiction might consider Jules Verne classic. ) I consider it good to read from different times: it gives you a better appreciation of your own time, among other reasons. So put down those contemporary writings and go find your own classics to read and love.

Quote

The effectiveness of Bernie Sanders

Whatever else you think of Sanders and his politics, if you think he is ineffective, then I recommend these two pieces:

  1. Vox.com
  2. Politfact.com

I used to wonder if he was effective, but not anymore. Based on those piece, I think he has been effective, and if anything, very effective in certain years.

 

Quote

What is the Internet?


I have long ranted against people who confuse the Internet with the (World Wide) Web or social media or basically the part of the Internet they are familiar with.

Well now I no longer have to rant. I can just point people to this: The internet, explained – Vox.

The writers are Vox have done a fine job of explaining what the Internet is. Take a few minutes and read it. I’ve been on the Internet since the late 80s (email was the main use back then).  While it is constantly evolving, the fundamental aspects of the Internet don’t change much. Read that piece and you will be good for a few decades.

 

Quote

No, you cannot nuke a hurricane (and the alternatives aren’t great either)

Yes, nuking a hurricane is a bad idea. (duh.) There are better ideas,
but as Vox explains, even those are prone to problems. For example…

In one of the most infamous attempts to slay a hurricane, Nobel laureate Irving Langmuir led a US military experiment in 1947 to seed Hurricane King with ice in hopes of sapping its vigor. The storm at the time was sliding away from the United States and losing strength.

In an excerpt in the Atlantic from his book Caesar’s Last Breath, author Sam Kean explained Langmuir’s idea: Growing ice in the eye of the hurricane would make the eye grow wider and collapse the storm. But Hurricane King didn’t respond as expected. “To everyone’s horror, it then pivoted — taking an impossible 135-degree turn — and began racing into Savannah, Georgia, causing $3 million in damage ($32 million today) and killing one person,” Kean writes.

So yeah, it’s no small thing to stop hurricanes. But given that climate change may make things worse, it could be worth it.

Quote

Why it’s so hard to finish a notebook or journal?


If you are like me and have too many half finished or unfinished notebooks and journals, you will want to read this: Why it’s so hard to finish a notebook or journal – Vox.

I can’t say reading that piece will help you finish them, but it will help you better appreciate some of the difficulty MANY of us have with doing so.

My take on it is: buy ones that are either small or have pages that are easy to tear out. After awhile go through old ones and tear out things of note and then toss them aside. And then go buy more! 🙂

 

Quote

The math behind why you should take care of yourself

wΔz=cov(wi,zi)+E(wiΔzi)

That equation can be found in this odd article here: Evolution: biologist George Price’s life and death – Vox.

It tells the story of George Price and how his extreme altruism led to his death. Well worth reading, especially if you think self care is bunk.

In short, take care of yourself to some degree, or you end up not benefitting anyone. And if you are not benefiting anyone, you are not being altruistic after all.

Ten good wellness links


Because we all could use some good advice as to how to be healthier and happier:

  1. The Health Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation: The Science Behind The Practice | SELF
  2. The Little Handbook for Getting Stuff Done : zen habits
  3. Give Up Comfort : zen habits
  4. When Negative Thoughts Keep You Down: How to Break the Addiction
  5. In a Hurry? Try Express Weight Training – The New York Times
  6. Two psychologists have a surprising theory on how to get motivated — Quartz at Work
  7. How to Cope with a Toxic and Estranged Family Relationship
  8. If You’re Too Busy For These 5 Things: Your Life Is More Off-Course Than You Think
  9. What I Learned Doing Push-Ups Every Day for a Month
  10. Surprisingly simple tips from 20 experts about how to lose weight and keep it off – Vox
Quote

How to sleep better – Vox

More good advice about sleeping from Vox: How to sleep better

I agree with most of this, but there is one part I want to highlight:

If you’re not sleeping and getting anxious about not sleeping, just get out of bed and leave the bedroom. Sleep specialists have established that staying in bed while you’re anxious or not sleeping is one of the most common contributors to chronic insomnia, because it trains the brain and creates bad associations.

The part in italics is key. If you are not getting anxious about it, you likely can stay there until you fall asleep. At least that works for me. I have tried getting up and I find that more disruptive. Now when I can’t sleep, I tell myself that at least I am getting rest and I will likely fall back to sleep, and almost always I do.

Quote

A good clear look at Antifa

Can be found here: Unite the Right rally: the counter-protesting group Antifa, explained – Vox.

It covers the things most people can agree with (opposing Nazis) and other things many people would disagree with (opposing liberalism).

Antifa is a term taking in many different groups, some very fringe, some violent.

Read this post before just assuming they are simply positive (or simply negative).

Quote

Weekend goals: getting a better night sleep

If you are like most people, you don’t get enough sleep. Also, you likely wish you could get more sleep. If you fall into both of those categories, why not read this guide right now: The 2-minute guide to getting better sleep – Vox. (It will take you 2 minutes: you have time). Take some notes, then make this weekend your goal to get more sleep.

Get some rest; improve your life.

On gun control and the Overton Window

In reading this: Trump: “THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED!” – Vox,  I’ve come to the conclusion that progressives in the U.S. are making a mistake by not looking to shift the Overton window, especially on the issue of gun control. If anything, they have an opportunity at this time to shift the Overton window immensely. Moreover, what they should recognize from watching Trump is that you can shift the Overton window in all sorts of ways with very little pushback. Progressives should line up and say that nothing moderate will ever work. That’s what Justice Stevens argues, and more progressives should line up with him and force the Overton window all the way over if they want to be successful. Moderation is not working and has rarely worked.

 

YouTube’s fight with its most extreme creators highlights the problem big IT has on it’s hands

Here’s a really good piece highlighting a big problem the Frightful Five / Big IT have right now with user generated content: YouTube’s messy fight with its most extreme creators – Vox.

Some background is in order. For years, content creators on Youtube (part of Google/Alphabet) have been jacking up the extremism in their videos to get more views. Extremism in all senses of the word, including political extremism. Some do it for Fame, but many do it for Fortune. This was going well for them until….

In March this year, 250 advertisers pulled back from YouTube after reports that ads were appearing on extremist content, including white supremacist videos. As a result, YouTube demonetized a wide range of political content, including videos that didn’t include hate speech but might still be considered controversial by advertisers. Creators called it “the adpocalypse” — they saw their incomes from YouTube evaporate without fully understanding what they’d done wrong or how to avoid demonetization in the future.

And this is the problem for Youtube and other platforms…how to maximize both traffic and profit. For a long time the formula was simple: more extreme videos = more traffic = more profit. Now they are hitting a wall, and advertisers and consumers are fed up.

The question big IT will be struggling with is: how to draw the line? In case you think the line is easy to draw, I recommend you watch the video by Carlos Maza of Vox. He makes a case that it is very difficult, even if at first glance it should be obvious what should be removed.

I don’t think there is a simple answer to this. If anything, it is going to be one of the major political debates of the first part of the 21st century, as global IT companies deal with national laws and policies.

On the recent German election

Good news: Merkel won by moving to the center.

Bad news: AfD, a far right party, has surged and won seats.

This could either be a blip and AfD could fade after this election.

Or it could be the start of big and bad changes for Germany, Europe and the world.

For more on this, see this good piece: Angela Merkel wins 4th term as chancellor of Germany in Vox

On ASA, Tylenol and Advil

Aspirin
If you take any of these meds then you really should read this: Should you take Tylenol, Advil, or aspirin for pain? Here’s what the evidence says. – Vox

I was surprised by what they said about Tylenol.  You might be surprised by what’s in here as well.

As for me, I have found when I have had a sore back, ASA was the best thing to relieve the pain.

Like any medicine, consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking. You should especially consult with them if you are taking such medicine on a regular basis.

(Image from bayer.com)

Wages, Nash equilibrium, and the productivity paradox: a small theory of my own

Economists write a lot about the mystery of why productivity is not increasing, with pieces such as this. There’s even a section on it in Wikipedia.

My own theory is that limited wage increases is also limiting the benefits of productivity aids. How I think this works is so:

  1. Employers wont raise wages for employees.
  2. Employers deploy technology that should result in productivity gains.
  3. Employees take the technology deployed and use them to decrease their efforts.
  4. The employer sees some productivity gains and assumes that is the limit for the technology deployed.

Look at this chart:

In much of the world economy, all the job growth is in the services sector (green line), not the manufacturing sector (red line). Achieving productivity gains in the manufacturing sector is more straightforward: replace people with robots and you are done. It’s not as straightforward as that in the services sector. In some services sector jobs, it is not possible to decrease effort without it being visible. But in many services sector jobs, it is. If employees cannot improve their lives by making more money, they may decide to do so by working less and working right up to the point where they don’t lose their job.

If you look at employment as a game, then we currently have a Nash equilibrium where the employees know that they won’t get paid more working for the same company, because that is the best strategy for the company. Therefore the best strategy for the employee is to minimize their effort without getting fired and while showing little if any productivity gains.

That’s to me is key reason why I think we have the productivity paradox.

I would add that the reason this is a paradox is because no one wants to admit that this is happening. It seems like a failure on both the employers and the employees side. The employee wants to be seen as a good worker and the employer doesn’t want to admit it could be paying more. Instead technology is brought in to solve an organizational problem, which is something technology cannot do.

(Chart from Business Insider).

 

 

Foodism and the problem with home-cooked meals

I was prepared to argue with this article in Vox from some time ago: The problem with home-cooked meals , because I am a big proponent of such meals.  However, the closer I read it, I think the main issue I have with it is the title. If it was titled “The difficulties in preparing home-cooked meals”, I would have been more receptive. Read the article. If you are a foodist like myself, it might seem hard to understand at first that people have difficulties with home-cooked meals, but like many things, the difficulties arise from lack of time, knowledge, and resources (money but also access to good food, even if you have money).

I believe that there are a number of ways to address those difficulties. First, I think city governments need to treat access to food the same way they treat access to other things such as transportation, water, parks and even sunlight. If housing doesn’t have access to water or electricity or transportation, then developers shouldn’t be allowed to build it and people should not be expected to move there. Access to good food should be part of that set of restrictions.

Second, we need to better educate people on how to prepare food.  Too much of our education system is spent on academic topics. Kids should be taught a wide range of subjects, and one of those should be how to prepare food no matter how much time or a budget you have. (They should also be taught how to manage finances, how to do basic home repairs, and how to deal with personal difficulties, among other topics.) There is a wealth of information available on food preparation, but often to me it seems aimed at foodists and is aspirational. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to make good food. In addition, though, people should learn how to make straightforward nutritious food, with anything from 2 ingredients on up, with or without a recipe, in 2 minutes or over 2 days.

Third, we need to change our emphasis on a form of eating. There is a belief that some North Americans have that home cooked meals should be prepared and eaten a certain way. Often this certain way involves 30 minutes to an hour of food preparation followed by an equal amount of time eating it. Culturally that may have been the way it was done, but there is nothing that says we must continue to eat that way. You should be able to prepare and eat good meals with the resources you have.  If that means a 5 minute preparation and a 5 minute stand up meal, so be it. Better that than 30 minutes spent eating over processed food in a chain restaurant.

Finally, we need a more expansive and less snobby approach to what constitutes good food. If you are a foodist and you want to cook with homemade stock, fresh herbs, wine and hard to source ingredients, and that works for you, that’s great. For most people, if you have limited access to good food, then you can still make good meals with what you have available, and there is no shame in that.  Besides, the social status of ingredients come and go: eat the best you can with what you have, be that a roasted chicken and a salad or a bowl of chunky vegetable soup.

For many people, food is a means to an end: I’m hungry, I eat food, I’m no longer hungry. For others, their life revolves around food. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, having an open mind about how others eat and being open to alternative ways to dealing with food will benefit everyone, including yourself.

(Image is of a ham, painted by Manet.)

P.S. In case you don’t think it is a word, here is the definition of definition of foodism, from the Oxford English Dictionary:  “A keen or exaggerated interest in food, especially in the minute details of the preparation, presentation, and consumption of food.” Therefore people who have foodism are foodists.

 

 

A great primer on self driving trucks that everyone should read. (Really!)

This piece, 1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then? (Vox) is a great primer on self driving trucks and how they are going to have a major impact sooner than later.

If you are interested in IT, AI or robots, it really shows one of the places where this technology is going to have a significant impact.

If you are interested in economics, politics, or sociology, then the effect of robots replacing all these truck drivers is definitely something you want to be aware of.

If you drive on highways, you definitely want to know about it.

In any case, it’s a good piece by David Roberts. That is his beat and I find he always does a great job of breaking down a topic like this and making it easier to understand and relevant to me. I recommend any of his pieces.

The rich stay richer and the poor stay poorer (now with data to back this up)

I was impressed by this study of economic mobility over many generations in Florence: What’s your (sur)name? Intergenerational mobility over six centuries | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal. They make a good case that the richer families stay richer and the poorer families stay poorer regardless of the many other changes that occur in an area.To add to this, VOX reviews it and also references a study done in Sweden that finds something similar (Today’s rich families in Florence, Italy, were rich 700 years ago – Vox).

It’s depressing, but not surprising to me. I suspect that while individuals may rise and fall in terms of economic mobility, specific families work to insure that the wealth acquired is maintained through marriage and inheritance. Worse, conditions for poorer families are such that they can never acquire enough wealth to move them from the lower percentile to a higher one.

Are you in terrible shape? Not so terrible but bad enough shape? Do you need help? Here you go

Like most people — for instance, me — , you may need to get in better shape. In doing some research on it, I came across the following links that I found interesting, inspiring, and useful. I hope you do too:

Why you should not buy insurance for rental cars, toys or video games

Sales people asking you if you want insurance at a counter leans on your anxiety and often leads you to end up buying it. Should you? Well, if it is rental car insurance, Vox says no and does so persuasively, here: Why rental car insurance is usually a rip-off – Vox.

Two other places I see people wasting money on insurance is toys and video games. Toys R Us used to push insurance on me all the time. Before you buy it, consider how your child plays with a toy. Chances are, the insurance doesn’t buy you anything. If it is the only toy you are going to buy your child and the only one they will play with for a long time, then sure. But most children will play intently with a toy for awhile and then the interest drops.

Likewise with video games. Perhaps your child will play with it for a year and it will be their favorite game. Most times, I’ll bet they play intently for awhile, and then the interest drops.  During that time, the chance of damage is very slight.

The insurance for toys and video games is low, but it buys you next to nothing. If the store said: do you mind if we charge you an extra 5-10% on this item, you would laugh and say “no!”. Yet that is what they are doing with insurance.

Skip it and use the few bucks to treat your child to a sweet or yourself to a coffee or give it to someone in need.

Here’s what Vox and others miss when it comes to multitasking

Over at Vox is your typical article critiquing multitasking: Multitasking is inefficient. Here are 6 tips for a more productive workday. – Vox.

If you do a search on the word multitasking, you will find similar articles. Like the Vox piece, they are all reasonable, and they all offer good advice.

What they all miss is why we multitask.  I think there are three key reasons why we do, and they go hand in hand:

  1. We have too much to do in the little time you have.
  2. The tools we use are not responsive and/or support multitasking.
  3. You will be penalized for not appearing busy.

To give you an example of what I mean, consider your day. You likely have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Now let’s look at the tool you have at hand in an office. First, you have a computer and you use software like email and your browser. With email, you can start a number of tasks, but you cannot complete them. With your browser, you ask for information, then you wait for a response. If you are using a mobile device, a similar lag in request and response occurs. Now, you could just sit there and wait for a response to complete your task, but remember, you have too much to do and not enough time. As a result, you start other tasks. You are ….multitasking. You are maximizing your idle time while you wait for tasks to complete. Now you could just sit there, look out the window or go for a walk, but that would be ignoring the third point, which is that you will be penalized for not appearing busy.

If you are fortunate, you can focus on one task, complete it, and then move on to the next one. If you are like most of us, you have to multitask for the reasons above.

 

Obama’s moneyball approach to diplomacy

This Vox piece on how Obama does diplomacy is good. While it focuses on Iran, it’s a much broader and more thoughtful analysis of how Obama approaches foreign affairs. Key quote:

Obama’s “undoctrine” starts from the position that there is no need to find a universal foreign policy framework. It’s enough to find specific wins, he believes, and minimize losses.

In his view, foreign policy isn’t a matter of showing strength or trying to make sure that every US action furthers its interests around the entire world. It’s a moneyball approach to foreign affairs: Don’t focus on playing a beautiful game, focus on racking up points at the lowest possible cost. To Obama, that’s how you win.

Obama plays to win, so this shouldn’t surprise people.

A good Vox piece.

Why aren’t we becoming more productive with all this new technology?

Vox raises that question here: All this digital technology isn’t making us more productive – Vox, and it implies that because people are slacking off on the Internet. I think that is incorrect, and here’s why.

The chart that Vox piece has shows big producitivity gains from 1998-2003 and smaller gains after that.

From 1998-2003 was the peak adoption of the Internet by companies. In the early 1990s, companies started to adopt email. In the later 1990s companies started adopting the Web. To me it is not surprising that companies would become more productive and they shifted away from snail mail and faxes to email. And then companies shifted further and started offering services over the Web, I imagine they became much more productive.

Slacking off on the Internet has been a problem since the Web came along. I know, because I used to monitor web server traffic.  I don’t think that is the issue.

I think it is more likely that companies grabbed the big productivity gains from the Internet at the beginning, and then those gains slowed down after.

So what about smartphones? Have they made people more productive? I think they have, but I also think that the gains in being able to access information remotely may have been overtaken by the sheer amount of information to deal with. Being able to deal with email remotely makes you productive. Having to deal with way more email than you ever had to in the 1990s because now everyone has it makes you unproductive.

Furthermore, many of the features on smartphones are aimed at personal use, not professional use. I think smartphones make us more productive personally,  but less so professionall.y

 

What do Renaissance artists and animators have in common?

Cartoons! Well, there’s more to it than that, as this fascinating post shows: The secret to great Renaissance art: tracing (Vox).

I knew Renaissance artists did sketches: I didn’t know that they used them as stencils. In hindsight, it makes sense: to make such great paintings, it is best to work them out in detail first and then focus on paint.

Twitter is in trouble! Again!

Since I have been using Twitter, it’s been in trouble. And according to this really good piece, Twitter is in trouble. Here’s why. – Vox, it still is! What is new is the the type of trouble it is in. Previous troubles were technical and then social. Now it’s business trouble.

My take:

  1. they need to be less controlling and make it a platform.
  2. they need new leadership.

Otherwise they are going to become MySpace.

 

This is why we can’t have interesting politicians or politics

Vox has a good piece on the mistake that Obama recently made (“Randomgate”) and how the resulting follow on stories about that mistake illustrates why we can’t have interesting politicians. Their conclusion?

Long-term, the problem here isn’t just news consumers find themselves listening to bullshit gaffe stories. It’s that politicians learn the same lessons over and over again: unscripted moments are dangerous and generally to be avoided. Don’t give interviews and don’t stray from talking points.

The media will bemoan lack of access and robotic, scripted answers. But it will also punish deviations from the script. And it will do so in the most trivial ways. No minds were changed during Randomgate and nobody learned anything. A couple of spokespeople had a bad afternoon. Some websites (including this one) got some extra pageviews. And every politician learned to be that much more boring in the future.

I think this way of dealing with politicians doesn’t just make them uninteresting: it also make our politics dumber. Here’s hoping this changes, though if anything, I think it will get worse before it gets better.

Reasons to be optimistic in 26 charts

The folks at Vox have put together this: 26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better.

One of my favourite statistics/charts is this one:

Even hardcore pessimists have a difficult time with that one. 🙂

The other 25 charts are worth checking out. They highlight significant areas where life is getting better. If you need a reason to be optimistic or to be more optimistic (or to be less pessimistic), you owe it to yourself to see the Vox post and then think about it.

 

This needs to happen: it’s time to abolish daylight saving time

Vox has more on that, here: It’s time to make daylight saving time year-round.

I hate daylight savings time mainly because the days feel shorter than they are due to coming out of work into darkness. If anything, I would rather the clocks more forward, giving me more time to enjoy sunlight after work.

That aside, the entire switching of clocks is an idea whose time has come and gone.  The next time it is time to switch, let’s campaign to abolish it.

Economic inequality is rising, plain and simple.

As this piece at Vox shows , economic inequality really is rising, no matter how you fuss with the data. Possibly because of the skepticism from some, Vox explores this using differing analysis. The conclusion is always the same: economically, things are getting worse.

Data aside, this anecdotal argument at the end of the piece nails it for me:

Outside the sphere of political debate, you also see the real world impact of inequality. Merrill Lynch recommends an investment strategy to its clients based on the growing economic clout of plutocrats, Singapore Airlines is now selling $18,400 first class cabin tickets, and observers think Apple is going to start selling a $10,000 watch. Conversely, Walmart is now primarily worried about competition from dollar stores. The executives at these companies are not hysterical liberals trying to drum up paranoia about inequality, they are trying to respond to real economic conditions — conditions that have entailed very poor wage growth paired with decent returns for those proserous enough to own lots of shares of stock.

Worthwhile and recommended.

Link

Vox does maps well

It’s a quirky feature of vox.com that explains things with diagrams versus “listicles”. I like it, and of the various posts that they’ve done, I got the most from this one: 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire

Should you share this with kids? It depends: one of the 40 items talks frankly about sex. If you are ok with that, then yes! for the overall piece is highly education. Kids or not, I highly recommend it to you.