Weekly Roundup 169: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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The Activist(s) Corner (Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
Too Smart To Fail – via The Browser – America suffers three big self-inflicted wounds in barely a decade: “New Economy” bubble, war in Iraq, banking crash. Yet nobody gets held to account, nobody gets shamed. Neither among the principals, nor the pundits
Bosco Enriquez Was Beaten and Raped After Helping Miami Cops Bust Latin Gangs – via Longform – His horror story is emblematic of a bigger problem that lawmakers in Florida and across the nation have only recently begun to recognize: Cops employ confidential informants — sometimes very young ones — to bust criminals. But there’s little oversight, and the result of police carelessness can be horrific.
Viktor Bout, Arms Dealer, and His Rise and Fall : The New Yorker – via www.newyorker.com – The rise and fall of the world’s most notorious weapons trafficker.
The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) via Wired.com – Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
Best Reads of The Week:
Michael Sandel: What Isn’t for Sale? – Magazine – via The Atlantic – We live in a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.
The Evolutionary Biology of Obesity– via thesituationist.wordpress.com – Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, speaks about the evolutionary origins of today’s obesity epidemic.
Alan Turing’s Reading List: What the Computing Pioneer Borrowed From His School Library – via Brain Pickings – “You are a mashup of what you let into your life,” it’s been said. Since creativity is combinatorial, the architecture of mind and character is deeply influenced by the intellectual stimulation we choose to engage with — including the books we read. There is hardly anything more fascinating than the private intellectual diet of genius — like this recently uncovered list of books computing pioneer and early codehacker Alan Turing borrowed from his school library. Though heavy on the sciences, the selection features some wonderful wildcards that bespeak the cross-disciplinary curiosity fundamental to true innovation. A few personal favorites follow.
Science Is The Only News via Edge – Here’s a selection of conversations published on Edge that are currently resonating in the media and cybersphere as the ideas appear in books, articles, reviews, op-eds, blogs, NPR, television (Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report, Bill Moyers), YouTube and other online media, talks and panels at Davos, TED, DLD, Zurich.Minds.
Michael Mauboussin’s Latest on Luck & Skill via www.michaelmauboussin.com –
The Baloney Detection Kit: A 10-Point Checklist for Science Literacy – via Brain Pickings – After last month’s vintage-inspired short films on critical thinking for kids comes this “Baloney Detection Kit” for grown-ups from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer — a 10-point checklist for assessing the believability of a claim, covering everything from telling the difference between science (e.g., SETI) and pseudoscience (e.g., UFOlogy) to detecting personal agendas.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)– via The Browser – “Russell’s work has had a lasting significance for logic, mathematics, set theory, computational science (theory of types), the philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.” This is the story of his life and work
Buy the Right Thing – via GOOD – Indeed, the global economy is big and messy. As toms says on its website, ethical manufacturing is “a learning process,” and toms is committed to making it transparent. The company has published thumbnail photographs of some of the men and women who produce its shoes in Chinese, Argentine, and Ethiopian factories. “Regular visits by our production staff and third party audits ensure not only that the product meets standards, but that our factories provide a clean, safe place to work, fair wages and treatment, and never employ underage labor,” toms says. The faq doesn’t address potential follow-up questions like, “What constitutes a fair wage?” and, “Where are the results of the audits?”
A Big Idea: Y Combinator Now Lets Founders Apply Without… An Idea – via TechCrunch – If you’re a prospective founding team (or a uniquely promising individual), it is now letting you apply to join its next class of founders without an idea. This might sound contrarian at first, but it perfectly fits the early-stage startup model, where the team is what makes the company win, rather than the initial concept. Here’s more, from the description out today from Paul Graham and Co:
Defining Property – via www.paulgraham.com – As a child I read a book of stories about a famous judge in eighteenth century Japan called Ooka Tadasuke. One of the cases he decided was brought by the owner of a food shop. A poor student who could afford only rice was eating his rice while enjoying the delicious cooking smells coming from the food shop. The owner wanted the student to pay for the smells he was enjoying. The student was stealing his smells!
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Curation” – via Brain Pickings – First things first — “curation” is a terrible term. It has been used so frivolously and applied so indiscriminately that it’s become vacant of meaning. But I firmly believe that the ethos at its core — a drive to find the interesting, meaningful, and relevant amidst the vast maze of overabundant information, creating a framework for what matters in the world and why — is an increasingly valuable form of creative and intellectual labor, a form of authorship that warrants thought.
George Edwards and the Powerless Presidential Bully Pulpit : The New Yorker – via www.newyorker.com – Like many political scientists, Edwards is an empiricist. He deals in numbers and tables and charts, and even curates something called the Presidential Data Archive. The studies he read did not impress him. One, for example, concluded that “public speech no longer attends the processes of governance—it is governance,” but offered no rigorous evidence. Instead, the author justified his findings with vague statements like “One anecdote should suffice to make this latter point.”
Cuing Consumerism – via pss.sagepub.com – Correlational evidence indicates that materialistic individuals experience relatively low levels of well-being. Across four experiments, we found that situational cuing can also trigger materialistic mind-sets, with similarly negative personal and social consequences. Merely viewing desirable consumer goods resulted in increases in materialistic concerns and led to heightened negative affect and reduced social involvement (Experiment 1). Framing a computer task as a “Consumer Reaction Study” led to a stronger automatic bias toward values reflecting self-enhancement, compared with framing the same task as a “Citizen Reaction Study” (Experiment 2). Consumer cues also increased competitiveness (Experiment 3) and selfishness in a water-conservation dilemma (Experiment 4). Thus, the costs of materialism are not localized only in particularly materialistic people, but can also be found in individuals who happen to be exposed to environmental cues that activate consumerism—cues that are commonplace in contemporary society.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk:
Needs instigate positive fantasies of idealized futures – via Wiley Online Library – One form that mental time travel takes is fantasies about the future. Research to date has not established when people generate fantasies that depict an imagined future as particularly positive. We identify need state as a variable promoting positive fantasies about relevant stimuli (i.e., those that could address the need). In four studies, people with an aroused need (or with a stronger need) generated more positive fantasies depicting idealized future scenarios that were relevant to addressing the need, compared with people without this need (or with a weaker need). These results held for a variety of needs (meaning in life, drinking, relatedness, and power) and whether needs were manipulated (Studies 1–3) or measured (Study 4). The findings shed light on when and why people depict imagined futures as particularly positive.
Why Interacting with a Woman Can Leave Men “Cognitively Impaired”:– via www.scientificamerican.com – In one experiment, just telling a man he would be observed by a female was enough to hurt his psychological performance
Science Weekly podcast: Mental athletics at the Memory Olympics – via guardian.co.uk – On the show this week Alok Jha is up against former mental athlete Joshua Foer. They’re discussing his book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, his chronicle of a year in which he attempted to report on, and compete in, the USA Memory Championship.
Suppressing Feelings of Compassion Makes People Feel Less Moral – via Association for Psychological Science – Choosing not to be kind is a common experience. “Many of us do this in daily life,” Cameron says—whether it’s declining to give money to a homeless person, changing the channel away from a news story about starving people in a far-off land, or otherwise failing to help someone in need. “In past work, we’ve shown that people suppress their compassion when faced with mass suffering in natural disasters and genocide. To the degree that suppressing compassion changes how people care about or think about morality, it may put them more at risk for acting immorally.”
When Sexually Deprived Flies Turn To Booze – via Value Investing World– Guys, when your sweetheart says “No thanks” to sex, do you knock back a few stiff drinks to feel better? Turns out fruit flies do pretty much the same thing.
Checking Off Symptoms Online Affects Our Perceptions of Risk – via Association for Psychological Science – The findings could prove useful for public health education, Kwan says. “With certain types of illnesses, people tend to seek medical attention at the latest stage.” Meanwhile, “people also go to doctors asking all the time about illnesses that are very rare.” To encourage people to seek earlier health screenings, grouping common and mild symptoms might be wise. To limit overreaction, the rare ones should top the list. Reaching particular populations is also a public health challenge. “College students think they are invincible,” says Kwan. “There are ways to structure information to help them realize there are diseases that don’t discriminate.”
Enclothed Cognition – via thesituationist.wordpress.com -“The main conclusion that we can draw from the studies is that the influence of wearing a piece of clothing depends on both its symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes,” Adam and Galinsky write. “There seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a piece of clothing.”
A Rational Case Against the Irrationality of Tipping – via rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com – At many restaurants in the United States you are served by a waiter or waitress who is paid a dismally low wage, usually one that is so low that the server wouldn’t do their job without the possibility of tips. Whatever the reason, consumers generally tend to find this situation palatable and participate in this bizarre cultural custom called tipping, where the diner leaves a tip in the 10-25 percent range based on the perceived quality of the service.
I Really Like You: Scientific American – via www.scientificamerican.com – Saying you are fond of someone might make you actually like that person, according to a study in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes. Psychologists showed 39 students a series of photographs of people who had been previously judged as neither pleasant nor unpleasant and instructed them to say the word “likable” or “unlikable” while viewing each one. Later, the students saw the pictures again in a random order and expressed how they felt about every person. They said they liked people 17 percent more often when they had previously been told to say “likable” compared with when they had said “unlikable.” The study used a method that has been shown to circumvent any conscious memories of which image went with which label; the subjects truly seemed to feel more warmly toward those they called likable. The results are something to consider the next time you politely say you like your boring dinner date or noisy office mate.
The Cognitive Processes Underlying Risky Choice – via Wiley Online Library – In this article, we tested two concepts of decision making: expected utility theory and heuristic choice. In Experiment 1, we applied think-aloud protocols to investigate violations of expected utility theory. In Experiments 2 to 4, we introduced a new process-tracing method—called predict-aloud protocols—that has advantages over previously suggested research methods. Results show the following: (i) people examine information between rather than within gambles; (ii) the priority heuristic emerges as the most frequently used strategy when problems are difficult; and (iii) people check for similarity when problems are easy.
Capitalism, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
How does Google keep innovating? – via Qn: A Publication of the Yale School of Management – In its early days Google didn’t have a marketing team. Now with many brands to support, the company has brought its data-driven approach to its relationship with users and advertisers. Qn magazine spoke with Claire Hughes Johnson, VP of new products, media, and platforms, about the role of marketing in launching new products.
Red Bull’s Billionaire Maniac – via Longform – A profile of Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, who wants to make his drink a lifestyle.
Life Insurance & Charitable Remainder Trusts – via www.slideshare.net – A lecture on tax planning that combines life insurance with charitable remainder trusts, specifically through use of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT)
Caught In A Rat Trap – via PsyFi Blog: -As natural sources of fuel deplete there is, not unnaturally, a concern to introduce more efficiency, to conserve our resources. The idea is that by producing more efficient cars, heating systems or whatever we’ll decrease fuel use and buy ourselves more time to do whatever it is we need to do: melt the polar icecaps, most likely.
The Man Who Broke Atlantic City – via www.valueinvestingworld.com – Don Johnson won nearly $6 million playing blackjack in one night, single-handedly decimating the monthly revenue of Atlantic City’s Tropicana casino. Not long before that, he’d taken the Borgata for $5 million and Caesars for $4 million. Here’s how he did it.
Emanuel Derman on EconTalk – via www.valueinvestingworld.com – Emanuel Derman of Columbia University and author of Models. Behaving. Badly talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about theories and models, and the elusive nature of truth in the sciences and social sciences. Derman, a former physicist and Goldman Sachs quant [quantitative analyst], contrasts the search for truth in the sciences with the search for truth in finance and economics. He critiques attempts to make finance more scientific and applies those insights to the financial crisis. The conversation closes with a discussion of career advice for those aspiring to work in quantitative finance.
Map of the US Melting Pot – via Chart Porn – Bloomberg created this interactive map of heritages according to the 2010 census. You can select any two and see how they compare across the country. It struck me a bit odd that neither “native american” nor “african american” is included – it’s probably some strange dataset problem.
High Costs of US Medical Procedures – via Chart Porn – A recent study compared the cost of procedures across different countries. It’s interesting to me that some people think our “free market” medical system is the best, without realizing that health care services here in no way resemble a market. The related article runs through a number of ways our system is dysfunctional.