The Big Think

August 27, 2014

Tax the Burger

Filed under: Education,Politics — jasony @ 9:36 am

Let me explain. Or actually, in the case of Burger King’s planned acquisition of Tim Hortons, let my colleague Matt Levine explain, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am, and has already nicely summed things up:

The purpose of an inversion has never been, and never could be, and never will be, “ooh, Canada has a 15 percent tax rate, and the U.S. has a 35 percent tax rate, so we can save 20 points of taxes on all our income by moving.” Instead the main purpose is always: “If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.”

What is he talking about? The U.S., unlike most developed-world governments, insists on taxing the global income of its citizens and corporations that have U.S. headquarters. And because the U.S. has some of the highest tax rates in the world, especially on corporate income, this amounts to demanding that everyone who got their start here owes us taxes, forever, on anything they earn abroad.

This is a great deal for the U.S. government, which gets to collect income tax even though it’s not providing the companies sewers or roads or courts or no-knock raids on their abodes. On the other hand, it’s not a very good deal for said citizens and corporations, especially because our government has made increasingly obnoxious demands on foreign institutions to help them collect that tax. Both private citizens and corporations who have a lot of income abroad are deciding that they’d rather renounce their ties to the U.S. than deal with the expense and hassle of letting it tap into income that they have earned using some other country’s roads and sewers and police protection.

If there are two car dealerships next door to each other and one offers a car for 20% less than the other (all-in), which one are you going to patronize? Sure, the coffee, environment, and paint job might be better at the more expensive dealership, and that might be worth paying more for, but at some point– 10%, 35%, 50% (and there is a point)– the benefits of going to the higher-cost dealer are outweighed by the economic comparison.

People who are arguing against Burger King leaving the U.S. and reincorporating in Canada are essentially saying that they must continue patronizing the more expensive store, and they are using guilt-trip tactics to argue their point. It’s what we have come to expect from a less economically literate worldview. I’m glad that we’re finally seeing such effective pushback. I hope it’s not too late.

Do I want Burger King to leave the U.S., taking a lot of tax revenue from us? No way. But I sympathize with their plight (being a small business owner, boy do I sympathize). It’s absolutely worth it to be a part of the U.S. economic system and, yes, I think they do “owe” something on some level to that system. But when that system constantly demands more and more while other countries are offering them better rates? It’s a no-brained decision to eventually leave for other shores.

Dear taxing authorities: if you get greedy, eventually you’ll get nothing. There’s a lesson here– there’s a trend going on here. You need to learn it before you have no business tax revenue left.

Tax sanely. Spend wisely and responsibly. Be good stewards of the economic trees. And the Burger Kings, and all of his friends, may come back.

August 26, 2014

Teaching

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 7:49 pm

I just experienced existentially bad teaching tonight. I mean BAD. No context, no overview, no tell-them-what-you’ll-tell-them-then-tell-them-then-tell-them-what-you-told-them (the basis of great instruction). It was made even worse that the topic was an extremely complex and deep software suite. The students were completely lost and couldn’t even get the screen to look the same as the instructors (this program is really deep).

As an educator (and one that has been teaching more and more lately), this sort of thing has graduated from being an irritation and annoyance to being almost, I don’t know, a righteous cause for me. Sitting in class tonight (before I got up and walked out), I suddenly remembered every single bad teacher in my education career and wanted to pull them each aside and demand of them: WHY DID YOU FAIL US?!?!

Teachers: if you can’t prepare, if you can’t communicate, if you can’t create a framework of knowledge in someone else’s mind and then methodically, confidently fill that framework with information that can be recalled and utilized by the student later, then I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not teaching.

August 25, 2014

How did the Napa earthquake affect sleep?

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 9:15 am

How did the Napa earthquake affect sleep?: “The South Napa Earthquake was the strongest to hit Northern California in 25 years. Our data science team wanted to quantify its effect on sleep by looking at the data recorded by UP wearers in the Bay Area who track their sleep patterns.”

Cool graph. I like that this sort of distributed accelerometer sensor data is being aggregated into interesting data sets. Neat what you can see.

August 19, 2014

You Have Been Eaten by a Grue

Filed under: Games,Hobbies,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:31 am

D&D For The Rich: Beautifully Crafted Gaming Tables | Geekologie:

“These are some examples of the beautifully crafted wooden gaming tables designed and built by Geek Chic. The tables range in price from $2,500 – $16,000 and ‘have two surfaces – a removable top and a recessed playing area. You can customize the number of player stations, drawers and rails and pick from walnut, maple or cherry wood.’ Plus you can get cup holders.”

More beautiful pictures at the link.

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August 14, 2014

Viv, Coming Soon to An Everything Near You

Filed under: Computing,Technology — jasony @ 3:15 pm

Siri’s Inventors Are Building a Radical New AI That Does Anything You Ask | Enterprise | WIRED:

“Viv is an open system that will let innumerable businesses and applications become part of its boundless brain. The technical barriers are minimal, requiring brief ‘training’ (in some cases, minutes) for Viv to understand the jargon of the specific topic. As Viv’s knowledge grows, so will its understanding; its creators have designed it based on three principles they call its ‘pillars’: It will be taught by the world, it will know more than it is taught, and it will learn something every day. As with other AI products, that teaching involves using sophisticated algorithms to interpret the language and behavior of people using the system—the more people use it, the smarter it gets. By knowing who its users are and which services they interact with, Viv can sift through that vast trove of data and find new ways to connect and manipulate the information.”

The Sound of Sport: What is Real?

Filed under: Audio,Business — jasony @ 9:43 am

Peregrine Andrews on the Sound of Sport: What is Real?: “Dennis started out recording music and for a time owned a studio. But, as he told me, it wasn’t an easy living. So when ESPN, the American TV sports network, started up in the 1980s, he found a new profession – as a sound supervisor for TV sport. He tried to apply the same standards, and some of the same methods, that he was used to in the recording studio, to the task of capturing sounds from the football pitch or basketballl arena. And when he took on the Olympics job in 1992, he brought in the use of a lot more close-miking, a technique borrowed from music recording, where many microphones are used, each placed close to a sound source. In archery, for example, this means putting a microphone right next to the archer for the launch sound and another right near the target for the hit. The whole picture is built by mixing these signals together in appropriate amounts. It allows for far greater definition and control than, say, a single distant microphone high above the action. But more microphones means more circuits to get the signals back, and more inputs on the mixer. But the introduction of digital pathways around events and digital mixing consoles mean that this isn’t the headache it was in the analogue past.”

Great article and short podcast

Propagandists with Bylines

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:52 am

Hamas Threatened Reporters in Gaza: ”

I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly: ‘It’s very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.’’

I understand why these reporters didn’t write about this while they were in Gaza. They could have been kidnapped or killed. Perhaps their editors back home kept quiet for the same reason, to protect their employees and freelancers.

There is a solution to this conundrum, however. Don’t send reporters to places where they are intimidated into lying by omission or commission.

The Gaza war was a huge story, of course, and it had to be covered, but it could just as easily have been covered from the Israeli side of the line. Covering both sides of the story is of course preferable whenever possible, but providing balanced coverage from Israel alongside censored coverage from Gaza is a form of journalistic malpractice. Stop it. “

(Via .)

August 10, 2014

Fab-ulous

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 4:04 pm

This looks like fun

Fab Academy:

“The Fab Academy is a Digital Fabrication Program directed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center For Bits and Atoms and based on MIT’s rapid prototyping course, MAS 863: How to Make (Almost) Anything. The Fab Academy began as an outreach project from the CBA, and has since spread to Fab Labs around the world. The program provides advanced digital fabrication instruction for students through an unique, hands-on curriculum and access to technological tools and resources.”

July 21, 2014

Tiny Worlds

Filed under: Science,Technology — jasony @ 10:00 am

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The First Image Ever of a Hydrogen Atom’s Orbital Structure:

“What you’re looking at is the first direct observation of an atom’s electron orbital — an atom’s actual wave function! To capture the image, researchers utilized a new quantum microscope — an incredible new device that literally allows scientists to gaze into the quantum realm.

An orbital structure is the space in an atom that’s occupied by an electron. But when describing these super-microscopic properties of matter, scientists have had to rely on wave functions — a mathematical way of describing the fuzzy quantum states of particles, namely how they behave in both space and time. Typically, quantum physicists use formulas like the Schrödinger equation to describe these states, often coming up with complex numbers and fancy graphs.

Up until this point, scientists have never been able to actually observe the wave function. Trying to catch a glimpse of an atom’s exact position or the momentum of its lone electron has been like trying to catch a swarm of flies with one hand; direct observations have this nasty way of disrupting quantum coherence. What’s been required to capture a full quantum state is a tool that can statistically average many measurements over time.”

Wow.

July 20, 2014

We Choose

Filed under: Space,Technology — jasony @ 9:57 pm

Not one of his political ones, but one of his best ones. We choose to do the hard things. Or at least we did. We can again.

July 19, 2014

Black Sheep

Filed under: Games — jasony @ 10:53 am

Goat Simulator review: Goat + physics sandbox = dumb fun:

“Goat Simulator aims for the moon and ends up hitting a car instead, its bruised and battered body rocketing towards the stars while everyone points and laughs. Of course, the goat will have the last braying laugh when it plummets back towards our mocking faces and headbutts us through a fence.

It’s hilarious. It’s dumb. It’s everything the Internet demanded. Goat Simulator gets at a fundamental human desire—we like to break things. And then watch those things explode. And then baa over the burning remnants.”

Well count me in.

July 16, 2014

Good to Know The TSA is On The Job

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:21 am

TSA:

“Justin Gray was flying home to D.C. from Orlando International Airport when according wftv.com, a TSA agent asked to see Gray’s passport because his D.C. driver’s license wasn’t a valid form of identification.  Gray works as a reporter in Cox Media Group’s Washington bureau.

‘.@TSA Agent in Orlando never heard of ‘District of Columbia.’  Demanded passport because he didn’t believe my drivers license was from US!?’ Gray tweeted on July 12.

The station reports that Gray’s license was up-to-date, but the agent didn’t seem to know what the District of Columbia was.”

But don’t worry, they’re there for our safety.

July 15, 2014

Fuligin Vader

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 8:03 pm

Vantablack – the blackest black: Scientists develop a material so dark that you can’t see it… – Science – News – The Independent:

“‘Many people think black is the absence of light. I totally disagree with that. Unless you are looking at a black hole, nobody has actually seen something which has no light,’ he said. ‘These new materials, they are pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine.’”

(Via .)

July 11, 2014

Lego Nation

Filed under: Games,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 7:51 am

This Is What All 50 States Look Like When Perfectly Captured In Lego: “Jeff Friesen puts us all to shame with his fantastic Lego dioramas. Hailing from Nova Scotia, this creative started building Lego representations of U.S. states in 2013, using nothing but the Lego in his daughter’s collection. Hard work and a very clever imagination resulted in an incredible project that contains all 50 states, each capturing a very defining aspect of the place’s history, geography or culture.”

My favorite is South Dakota

July 9, 2014

Quoth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:33 pm

Via Instapundit: “‘The journalists who populated America’s newspapers in the pre-Watergate 20th century by and large weren’t Columbia Journalism School graduates, but for the most part, blue collar types who could pound their Underwoods and had a keen sense for wanting to know who was screwing who over what and a desire to share it with the world. . . . No matter how many degrees they have on their cubicle walls, today’s MSM journalists are, if anything, much more ignorant about the state of their city and America — and certainly about the average Joe who reads their paper, whom they openly despise — than the hardscrabble predecessors who earned their papers’ reputations.’”

Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

Filed under: Business,Education — jasony @ 5:44 pm

Interesting article

The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek:

The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.

I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.

The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.

Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!

The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.

This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.

The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.

As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

July 8, 2014

Over-Notation Nation

Filed under: Business,Music — jasony @ 4:05 pm

Over-Notation Nation- deBreved – Tim Davies Website:

“You can put just about anything in front of them and the players will make sense of it. You can over- or under-notate, go out of range or forget that people need to breathe and nothing bad will happen. Like magic, it gets sorted out. This is both good and bad. Good in that the players make it work, but bad in that unless you ask, the best players will not tell you what they have done to make it work. You will never know that they divided that double stop, split a line up between two people, or did not need to be told to ‘breathe when needed’ on a whole page of unbroken quavers (there is really no choice). It is not their job to school us; they play and take pride in making it work. In order to learn what’s going on, you have to be proactive and ask your players. It is very easy to go through life doing redundant or incorrect things and never realizing the fact.”

Great website full of notation philosophy, tricks, and general discussion.

Little Black Dots

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 9:47 am

I’m doing some notation work right now for Kurt Kaiser. It always strikes me how much psychology is involved. It’s not just where the page turns are and how big the notes are, but subtle little things you never really think about until you’re the one making the decision. Where does that marking go? Why? What font/size? What about whitespace on the page? What’s the reasoning behind your page numbering scheme? How do you want to use word extensions to communicate intent?

The copyist works with the composer’s intent in a hundred subtle but vital ways. Music notation is such a fascinating and deep art. I love it!

No Place for Unobtanium

Filed under: Current Reading,Science — jasony @ 8:58 am

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Five Reasons Why Kids Need Hard Science Fiction:

“I understand that creative license is necessary in science fiction.  After all, I’m part of the generation that was officially okay with tachyon beams, lightsabers and Flynn getting sucked into the grid.  We can be okay with the science being fudged occasionally, but only after the story demonstrates some respect for our intelligence.  I don’t get that sense from modern popular sci-fi any more…

…So yes, we need hard science fiction and more to the point – kids need hard science fiction. It may not be readily obvious but these young minds are absorbing what we give them and if what we’re giving them is pure high-tech mumbo jumbo, then what they will imagine for themselves in the future will be the same. In the parlance of old geeks: Garbage In – Garbage Out. We must be giving these kids the fuel they need to imagine and create the future we’re leaving to them. That’s one reason that kids need hard science fiction. Here are five more:”

July 7, 2014

First Texas Honda takes the Long View

Filed under: Business,Disclosure — jasony @ 1:54 pm

In 2009 I bought my Tacoma through Toyota of Round Rock. For various reasons, it had to be this dealership (long story). It was an excruciating experience filled with all of the typical sleazy-car-dealer horror stories. “I’ve got to talk to my manager”, “what about my five kids”, “That price I promised you this morning isn’t the price any more”, “you have to have the undercoating”. You get the picture.

Erin has been needing a car for a while now and the time finally came. With great reluctance we stopped by First Texas Honda in Austin and talked to a salesman there. Not only are they a non-haggle place, but the TrueCar price we got through USAA was almost $1250 less than the similar “no haggle” price through Toyota of Round Rock. The sales guy (Greg, a ’91 Baylor grad who turned out to be the guy who mistook my apartment for his friend Steve’s place way back in 1989) spent probably five hours with us meticulously going through the entire process. Researching the car. Answering question. Multiple test drives. He seemed like he was having a blast not “selling” the car but really helping us find what was right for us. He even kept suggesting a less expensive Civic as opposed to the Accord Erin wanted since it might work better. What salesman does that? When we finally presented the USAA TrueCar price, which was $750 cheaper than even their “no-haggle” price, he met it without complaint.

After signing the papers today Greg and I had a long talk about how car dealerships and salespeople have largely earned the horrible reputation that they have, and he’s glad to see things changing, even if that means some of the bad dealers will close. Couldn’t agree more. What a night and day experience.

So just now the phone rang and it said “Toyota of Round Rock”. With a huuuge smile I answered it and talked to the salesman (who had been given our contact info as a result of the TrueCar contact info we filled out). Can I help you with anything? Why yes, yes you can. It really made my day to tell him “No offense, and I’m sure you weren’t even there in 2009, but that experience was so horrible that not only will I never return to Toyota of Round Rock, but I’ll make sure everybody I know hears about it as well. Oh, and your TrueCar no-haggle price? $1250 more than First Texas Honda. I wouldn’t come back to you if you paid me to. So no offense, and I’m not upset with you, but you need to tell your management that, if my experience is anything like the norm, you guys have some major reputation repair to do.” He thanked me and the call ended. It just made my day.

So we bought the car! Signed the papers and we’ll finalize everything on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a pic:

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If you’re in the market for a new car, go talk to Greg Ryan at First Texas Honda.

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