The Big Think

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

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.”

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