The Big Think

October 5, 2014

What Makes Jon Stewart More Insufferable Than Bill Maher

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:28 pm

What Makes Jon Stewart More Insufferable Than Bill Maher:

“But in my defense, I have a unique grievance against Stewart. I’m a Millennial, the age cohort that was raised with the Daily Show in their living rooms, and the most annoying thing about my generation is its infatuation with Stewart. At least once a week a news story about some outrage appears in my Facebook feed with a comment like: ‘I just NEED Jon Stewart to address this tonight,’ as though his one-liners are booster shots or security blankets. It’s not enough to shake your head and disagree anymore. Offenders must face the thumbs up from the emperor and the roar of the colosseum.”

While occasionally funny, Stewart has long since disproven his self-applied label of unbiased commentator and court jester of the status quo. Especially ironic given that he can’t stand his own tactics being applied to him.

It used to be that appreciation of Stewart illustrated an educated and cosmopolitan worldview. Now it merely betrays lazy and shallow thinking. Part of the herd. Moo.

October 3, 2014

Not Yet, but Soon?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:04 pm

The Case for Panic:

“Over the last few years the divergence between what the government promises and what it delivers, between what it says is happening or will happen and what actually is happening and does happen, between what it determines to be important and what the public wishes to be important—this gap has become abysmal, unavoidable, inescapable. We hear of ‘lone-wolf’ terrorism, of ‘workplace violence,’ that if you like your plan you can keep your plan. We are told that Benghazi was a spontaneous demonstration, that al Qaeda is on the run, that the border is secure as it has ever been, that Assad must go, that I didn’t draw a red line, the world drew a red line, that the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups involved not a smidgen of corruption, that the Islamic State is not Islamic. We see the government spend billions on websites that do not function, and the VA consign patients to death by waiting list and then cover it up. We are assured that Putin won’t invade; that the Islamic State is the jayvee team of terrorism; that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction; that there is a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia.

…It is precisely the intersection of Ebola and globalization that worries me. The only response to a virus this deadly is to quarantine it. Stop flights, suspend visas, and beef up customs and security. It can be done. If the FAA can cancel flights to Israel, why can’t it cancel flights to and from the West African countries whence the outbreak originated?

Simple: because doing so would violate the sacred principles by which our bourgeois liberal elite operate. To deny an individual entry to the United States over fears of contamination would offend our elite’s sense of humanitarian cosmopolitanism. For them, ‘singling out’ nations or cultures from which threats to the public health or safety of the United States originate is illegitimate. It ‘stigmatizes’ those nations or cultures, it ‘shames’ them, it makes them feel unequal. It’s judgmental. It suggests that America prefers her already existing citizens to others.

Such pieties endanger us. They are the reason we were slow to contain the influx of Central American refugees, the reason we do not follow-up on illegal immigrants who fail to show up for hearings, the reason we remain unable to strip jihadists of U.S. citizenship, the reason that a year after two Chechen refugees bombed the Boston Marathon, America is preparing to expand resettlement of Syrian refugees. The imperatives of the caste, the desire to make actual whatever is rattling around Tom Friedman’s brain at a given moment, take precedence over reality.

The system can withstand only so many shocks. For the last two years it has suffered nothing but blows, traumas, national and international concussions. The response by our government has been denial and delusion. But that has further alienated the public, and it won’t be long before things get really weird. Maybe it is time for the political class to panic, too.”

Nom Nom Nom

Filed under: Business — jasony @ 10:57 am

Always Bite Off More Than You Can Chew…Then Chew Like Hell. by Leigh Ashton:

“Always the entrepreneur at the centre of attention offers some pearls of wisdom for those that aspire to be successful in their own business. A few words of advice, sometimes a few words of caution. What to do, what not to do.

The overall message for me is that, over the course of time they each overcame substantial challenges, yet they fought on, hung on and eventually came through.

I thought I’d reproduce some of those words of advice here. They have often helped me. They might help you too.”

Good quotes at the link.

Will Smith: “My father was in the military, so everything was really regimented.”
RD: Was he a taskmaster?
Smith: “Oh, yeah, he was very serious about things being a certain way. When my father got out of the Air Force, he started his own refrigeration business. I might have been 12 and my brother 9 when one day he decided he wanted a new front wall at his shop. He tore the old one down — it was probably 16 feet high and 40 feet long. And he told us that this was going to be our gig over the summer. We were standing there thinking, There will never, ever, be a wall here again.
We went brick by brick for the entire summer and into winter and then back into spring. One day there was a wall there again. I know my dad had been planning this for a long time. He said, ‘Now, don’t you all ever tell me there’s something you can’t do.’ And he walked into the shop. The thing I connect to is: I do not have to build a perfect wall today.
I just have to lay a perfect brick. Just lay one brick, dude.”

I had a situation many years ago when I got myself in way deeper waters than I thought I could handle. I ended up making a suggestion that was at the very edge of my capabilities and the client said “we’d love that!”. Uh oh, I thought.

UH OH

So I was stuck staring down the barrel of a quick deadline and a seemingly impossible task. Over the next few weeks I plowed through, sometimes spending hours trying to wrestle a few inches of progress. But a funny thing happened. I realized that the real job I was tackling wasn’t the whole big giant monster, it was just that single brick. That one element. Just one- one – note was all I needed to find. If I kept my eyes off of the whole job and didn’t let it scare me, the tiny bites I was capable of handling didn’t seem too impossible.

And over time I chipped and sanded and filed and slowly hammered away at it until one day I looked up and… I was done. I had done it.

That experience was something of a milestone for me professionally. Ever since then I’ve had a rock-solid internal conviction that I could do anything I was asked. And from that point on nothing has scared me or shaken my confidence. Because if I can do that, well, this next thing isn’t scary at all.

September 29, 2014

Senna Plans

Filed under: Hobbies — jasony @ 10:11 pm

Screen shot 2014-09-29 at 11.08.26 PM.jpg

September 24, 2014

The Camp Counselor vs. the Intern

Filed under: Business,Education — jasony @ 8:29 pm

The Camp Counselor vs. the Intern:

“But the clinching argument came from my daughter’s impassioned defense of camp counselors, and her outrage that someone glancing at résumés would believe that a 20-year-old who fetches coffee at Google is more impressive than one who spends days and nights nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting and inspiring…

“What I do there matters.”

September 19, 2014

Haters Beware

Filed under: Computing,Science,Space,Technology — jasony @ 9:17 am

NVIDIA’s new GPU proves moon landing truthers wrong:

“‘It turns out there is a lot of information about the astronomical bodies floating out there in space,’ he explains. ‘Starting with the sun. The sun itself is 128,500 lux — that’s lumens per square meter – but it turns out the moon is a crappy reflector of light.’ Daly discovered that the moon is only 12-percent reflective, and absorbs most of the sunlight hitting it. On the other hand, 12-percent of 128,500 lux is quite a lot. ‘It’s the equivalent to ten 100-watt lightbulbs per square meter of light bouncing off the moon.’ More than enough make Aldrin visible under the lander’s shadow.

While this exercise showed that the moon was reflective enough to highlight Aldrin, something was still wrong. Daly noticed that the astronaut’s side wasn’t lit the same in NVIDIA’s simulation as it was in NASA’s photograph, but he wasn’t sure why. ‘A couple of people really into the moon landing told me, ‘by the way, you should take into account Neil Armstrong and the light coming off of him.’ At first I was like, yeah, whatever — the sun is doing all the work — something the size of a guy in a space suit isn’t going to contribute much light.’ He quickly learned his assumption was wrong: the material on the outside of the astronaut’s suits is 85-percent reflective. ‘Sure enough, we put him in there, adjusted the reflectivity of his suit, put him in the position where the camera would be… and it contributed another 10% or so of light to the side of Buzz Aldrin.'”

Pretty neat pics at the link

September 16, 2014

Druids vs Engineers

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 9:19 am

Edge.org:

“There are two kinds of fools: one who says this is old and therefore good, and the other who says this is new and therefore better. The argument between the two is as old as humanity itself, but technology’s relentless exponential advance has made the divide deeper and more contentious than ever. My greatest fear is that this divide will frustrate the sensible application of technological innovation in the service of solving humankind’s greatest challenges.

The two camps forming this divide need a name, and ‘Druids’ and ‘Engineers’ will do. Druids argue that we must slow down and reverse the damage and disruption wrought by two centuries of industrialization. ‘Engineers’ advocate the opposite: we can overcome our current problems only with the heroic application of technological innovation. Druids argue for a return to the past, Engineers urge us to flee into the future.

September 12, 2014

Growth Mindset

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 8:24 am

The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart | Khan Academy:

“My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was ‘gratefully.’ He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, ‘Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.’ I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a ‘growth­ mindset.’ But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.

What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.”

Excellent stuff. I’m definitely a believer in praising students for their tenacity, patience, and ability to learn, and not for any sort of innate “smartness” that we may observe. I confess that my autodidactic polymathishness constantly struggles with the frustrating process of getting the old brain matter to learn something new (electronics and programming is really stretching me right now). It’s encouraging to see that effort does bear fruit, even when that fruit is slow-growing.

September 8, 2014

Life Here in the Future

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 8:12 am

Brain-to-brain ‘telepathic’ communication achieved for first time:

“For the first time, scientists have been able to send a simple mental message from one person to another without any contact between the two, thousands of miles apart in India and France.
Research led by experts at Harvard University shows technology can be used to transmit information from one person’s brain to another’s even, as in this case, if they are thousands of miles away.”

September 5, 2014

Mere Happiness

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 9:57 am

The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel:

“Victoria Osteen’s comments fit naturally within the worldview and message she and her husband have carefully cultivated. The divine-human relationship is just turned upside down, and God’s greatest desire is said to be our happiness. But what is happiness? It is a word that cannot bear much weight. As writers from C. S. Lewis to the Apostle Paul have made clear, happiness is no substitute for joy. Happiness, in the smiling version assured in the Age of Osteen, doesn’t last, cannot satisfy, and often is not even real.”

Good article.

Math is Hard

Filed under: Maker,Technology — jasony @ 7:16 am

New 3D printer concept looks amazing, and is a great step forward in the increasing competition/brainspace of 3D printing.

This one basically takes the old idea of a 3D printer, complete with rigid frame, comples drive mechanism, anti-backlash programming, platform levlelling, etc, and gets rid of most of it. Hook two stepper motors together with a platform, stick an extruder on top, and load some (extremely complex) interpolation software and you’ve got yourself a 3D printer. More accurate and reliable than the breakdown-prone MakerBots. This looks to be the next generation in the 3D printer space. Very cool.

September 2, 2014

A Workman Worth His Hire

Filed under: Business,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:06 am

A response to some work that was going to be referred to me.

No offense, and a sincere thanks for thinking of me, but my experience with most people is that they’re not willing to pay hourly rate plus materials that most accomplished woodworkers (with money invested in equipment) need to charge to make a living (hence why I’m not making a living woodworking!).

Most peoples’ expectations of price for custom woodworking comes from the fact that they can go to the furniture store and pick up, say, an entertainment center for around a grand-and-a-half for a decent one. However, “decent” means that it’s cheap particle board with a nice looking laminate on top (which means its value is only skin deep). If they’re lucky it’ll last a decade or until the first major move. But, hey, appearances are what most people go on. :)

Meanwhile I spent 9 months and 200 hours building our solid quartersawn red oak entertainment center with ebony inlays and custom stained glass. The materials alone (unfinished, unplaned, pretty much just a hunk of tree) cost me almost twice what a Fry’s entertainment center would cost. And that’s before hardware like hand-hammered brass latches and handles. Several coats of hand-rubbed, custom tinted coloration and shellac, hand cut glass, etc. It’s an heirloom piece that will be around for at least a century or two as long as it’s not mistreated.

When I asked the employee at the woodworking store what he’d consider a good price for the piece (and thinking he might say $4,000-$5000), he responded by saying that something like this would probably go for the mid-teens. As in around $15,000. I’m really proud of that.

So yeah, most people probably don’t want to pay for that sort of workmanship.

I’ve had a few people who understand hand work and heirloom quality contact me and I’ve done pieces for them. They’ve been thrilled. But then again they’re the kind of people who have an “art budget”. :)

Renovations and around-the-house kind of stuff is still charged at plumbers rates. In my experience, though, most folks are looking for someone who would be willing to charge minimum wage and also include the materials in that. It’s depressing.

And also the reason that most custom woodworking shops either cater to the wealthy socio-economic market (who understand the value of super high quality) or go out of business. You’ll rarely meet a woodworker competing downmarket who is happy with their situation.

August 31, 2014

Your Government At Work

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:07 am

Audit: Five-year review of Recovery Act finds $5 billion misspent

“More than five years after the stimulus was signed into law, a new audit reveals the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent nearly $5 billion in questionable costs and funded programs that were ‘inherently not shovel ready.’

‘As a result of these reviews, we also reported monetary exceptions of over $5.1 billion, including $4.9 billion related to questionable or unsupported costs,’ the audit said.

‘Most programs that received Recovery Act funds were expected to quickly pump money into the economy by immediately executing infrastructure and labor intensive projects,’ the OIG said. ‘These were known as ‘shovel ready’ projects.’

‘However, our reviews discovered USDA encountered challenges because several of its programs were inherently not ‘shovel ready,’’ they said.

Of the nearly $5 billion in unsupported costs, the USDA has recovered only $11 million. The OIG still has seven open investigations for fraud and abuse of Recovery Act funds.”

Just remember this the next time someone says “there’s no time to waste”. But apparently there’s plenty of money to waste.

August 29, 2014

Big Thinking

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 7:48 am

The Future Could Work, if We Let It:

“One persistent criticism of the tech industry is that it no longer works on big ideas. For all of Silicon Valley’s talk of changing the world, critics say, Google and Facebook mainly hire armies of coders to figure out how to serve you more relevant ads, while Apple and Amazon just want to keep selling you new stuff.

These are crude takes, but they get at the disillusionment with an industry whose recent innovations do not seem to have resulted in measurably more prosperous lives for most Americans….

‘What we haven’t yet done is put information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology into industrial technology. And once we begin to do that, we’ll open up technologies that are equally large as the invention of the airplane,’”

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.

gaming-tables-35.jpg

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

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