The Big Think

August 31, 2016

Just A Million Eggs Broken

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 8:33 am

IRS doesn’t tell 1 million taxpayers that illegal immigrants stole their Social Security numbers – Washington Times:

“The IRS has discovered more than 1 million Americans whose Social Security numbers were stolen by illegal immigrants, but officials never bothered to tell the taxpayers themselves, the agency’s inspector general said in a withering new report released Tuesday. Investigators first alerted the IRS to the problem five years ago, but it’s still not fixed, the inspector general said, and a pilot program meant to test a solution was canceled — and fell woefully short anyway. As a result, most taxpayers don’t learn that their identities have been stolen and their Social Security files may be screwed up.  

‘Taxpayers identified as victims of employment-related identity theft are not notified,’ the inspector general said. The report alarmed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who were shocked that the IRS had gone for so long without fixing the issue. ‘It is stunning that the IRS has chosen to aid and abet identity thieves for so long instead of protecting the innocent victims of the theft,’ said Sen. Daniel Coats, Indiana Republican.”

Oh yes, let’s be sure to mention that a Republican was “shocked”. As if that’s a relevant point.

*Yawn* Move along, nothing to see here. It’s just the little people who are affected.

August 29, 2016

Carrying the Light

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 2:16 pm

Exercises in Unreality: The Decline in Teaching Western Civilization | Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Educating for Liberty:

“Now, it should seem a matter of course to say that if you do not know who Michael Faraday and William Harvey are you have no business setting yourself up as a judge of a course in the history of science. It is fascinating that that same ignorance does not prevent people from judging, with loud effusions of righteousness, a course in the development of Western civilization. The reason is not that they believe our course is wrongly taught. They believe it is wrong to teach it at all.

They would not say anything comparable about a course in the development of Chinese civilization or Indian civilization. Far from it; they would hail such a thing as the next Great Leap Forward in the history of our school, despite the plain fact that they would know even less about Chinese dynasties than they know about the Tudors and Stuarts, and that, forget being acquainted with Latin and Greek, most could probably not even name the holy language of ancient India, Sanskrit. That is because they conceive of education almost wholly in terms of their own current political aims. Their horizons end in the backyard. It is not heaven over their heads, open and vast, but a political drop ceiling, the same everywhere, pocked with ephemeral headlines and reductive polls. Had they been present at the raising of Lazarus from the dead, their first question would be whether he was a Pharisee or a Sadducee….

If students are encouraged to think persistently enough, they may think themselves right into a personal relationship with Truth Himself.”

An excellent and worth-while article for anyone interested in education. Highly recommended.

August 25, 2016

Dispatch from the Future

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 11:59 am

The world’s first network of fully self-driving taxis is up and running – Recode: NuTonomy, a self-driving company that spun out of MIT and is based in Singapore and Cambridge, Mass., has just launched the first-ever public test of a commercial fleet of fully self-driving cars.

August 11, 2016

Oh THERE’s My Surprised Face

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 3:00 pm

Surprise! Obamacare critics were right | Washington Examiner: “In an editorial, Investor’s Business Daily declared: ‘Obamacare is failing exactly the way critics said it would.’ The outlet explained that Aetna had already lost $200 million thanks to Obamacare, but had expected to break even in 2016. That didn’t happen, so the company will no longer expand into five additional states and is rethinking whether it will stay in the 15 states it already offers Obamacare plans.

Aetna is just the latest insurance company to deal a blow to Obamacare supporters and those who were forced to purchase plans through the exchanges. UnitedHealth Group announced in April it would leave most Obamacare exchanges, after expecting to lose $650 million from the exchanges this year.”

Previously vocal supporters could not be reached for comment.

I’m reminded again of the quote I saw online: “Even if it bankrupts America, we have the moral obligation to provide everyone with health insurance”. Not they didn’t say health care. So yeah, if you were in favor of this (or just unquestioningly supported politicians who were), when everyone was shouting that this would happen and you closed your ears and chanted liberal slogans. Yeah— you bear some of the moral blame yourself. And you wonder why people think liberalism is a rotting corpse? “Reality-Based Community” indeed.

August 8, 2016

Coffee and Education

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 12:02 pm

We just discovered a wonderful place in Colorado Springs called “The Principal’s Office”. It’s a coffee shop/restaurant/cocktail bar that is, quite literally, an old principal’s office in a 100 year old school. Limestone and brick walls, wide board wooden floors worn down soft, artisanal ingredients assembled by tattoo-bedecked hipsters. But the thing is, the whole place is super non-pretentious and fun, with amazing coffee.

Erin and I got to talking to the Tyler the manager and got a 90 minute education in really good coffee. The economics, growth, roasting, and techniques of making a stellar cup of coffee. Tyler is passionate about coffee. Not just drinking and brewing it, but roasting, sourcing, and caring for the entire global ecosystem of coffee. Did you know that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world? Next to oil, coffee has the biggest presence in the global financial markets. And yet something like 2/3rds of coffee growers live in poverty. He’s passionate about not only educating consumers about the difference between a truly great, top-1% cup of coffee, but about educating everyone about how much good can be done in the world through making the economics of coffee better for everyone.

For instance, the soil used to grow coffee can also be used to grow cocaine. And if a farmer in a third world country can make 3 times the money for an illegal cocaine crop, why not grow it? But if he is educated in how to grow really great coffee beans and make much more for it, then not only do we increase the supply of good coffee in the world (for which he gets paid a higher price), but we organically decrease the commensurate amount of cocaine on the streets. And because of supply and demand, that cocaine is now more expensive to boot.

Tyler shared his passion with us, answering question after question about what he loves about coffee, why he’s devoted his life to this pursuit, the bigger picture issues surrounding the industry, and how he’d like to have an impact from the bean all the way to the coffee cup. At the end of the conversation he handed us what was probably a $20 bag of freshly roasted top-1%-in-the-world beans as a gift. Really looking forward to brewing some.

Tyler is on a mission, not just to brew the top 1% of coffee in the world, but to change the world. It’s amazing and inspiring what you can learn if you just ask passionate people a ton of questions and then let them take you on a journey.

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August 3, 2016

Life Savers on the Moon

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 5:42 pm

Some of the most incredible experiences come completely out of the blue. Today was such a day.

I’m a space nerd. I love space: NASA, the space program, space history, flying things, science, Mars, you name the space tech and I’m probably in love with it. So when we discovered a space museum in Colorado Springs, I knew we’d have to make a visit.

The Space Foundation Discovery Center is located on the western side of Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. It features artifacts and displays covering the history and technology of space flight. A lot of it was already familiar to me, but some of it was new and unique. The museum is geared more toward kids (as most of these places are), so for the first hour or so the adults were outnumbered by the children by 10:1, with elementary age students sprinting around the place and now, shall we say, getting the full educational opportunities out of it. But once the school busses departed, Erin and I were left more or less on our own with maybe 20 people in the whole place. We went into the incredible “Science Sphere” room where four synchronized projectors throw a near-3D image of the Earth onto a 6′ diameter white opaque sphere. The illusion it creates is that of a perfect globe floating in the middle of the room with moving video representing weather patterns, airplane flights, tectonic plates, ocean currents, or anything else that the clever software can display. There’s a similar (albeit smaller) one at the Denver Children’s Museum. It’s stunning. I want one. This giant ball-of-Earth dominating the darkened room is overwhelming.

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So Erin and I sat down and listened to the presenter, a 70ish year old man named Lou. Lou did a great job of sharing his love for space, showing off the incredible Earth projection (and Mars/Venus/Sun/Etc) and, since there were only five people in the room at the time, he let us get him talking about his background and experience.

Jackpot.

Because, you see, Lou no only loves space, he’s lived it, spending over fifty years working at NASA on various projects. When he casually mentioned being involved in the Apollo program, I knew I had to corner him for an impromptu interview. I think he saw how eager I was to hear his stories. At this point I usually ask my victim if I can buy them lunch and just ask them questions. People are always very open to sharing their stories, and I love hearing them, but unfortunately another tour group was coming in so even though I got to ask him a couple of questions I figured I’d never get the full interview I really wanted.

So you can imagine my joy when, a little while later and in another part of the museum, I felt a presence at my elbow and turned to find Lou standing there with big smile. He’d sought us out! He asked if we had a few minutes. What followed was nearly 90 minutes of absolutely incredible stories from the golden age of space exploration, from a man who, quite literally, was right there at the very edge of the envelope.

Lou worked on the Apollo program. Not just that, he worked on the LEM lunar landers. And as if that wasn’t enough to punch your Cool Card forever, Lou was responsible for everything that went in the Apollo LEM landers before flight. For every mission. He worked directly with the astronauts to make sure they had the gear they needed, stowed in the place they needed, and that each piece of gear met the payload and safety requirements of each mission. Need a shovel? Talk to Lou. Don’t know where Day 3’s dinner is stowed? Lou does. Can’t figure out where to stash the backup roll of toilet paper? That’s Lou’s job. So when a couple of astronauts bemoaned the fact that they didn’t have any Life Savers candy, Lou was on it. But it turns out that, even post Apollo 1, the Command Module and Lunar Module were both still flying with 100% oxygen. This is so the partial atmospheric pressure could be kept down to a modest 4.7psi instead of the sea level 14psi. Walls could be thinner (not as much pressure to hold in) and materials lighter, using less fuel on takeoff and allowing more payload. But, as Apollo 1 tragically showed us, sending a spacecraft to the moon on 100% oxygen ran the risk of fire or explosion, so any source of ignition had to be very carefully eliminated.

Have you ever gone into a darkened room and chewed on a Life Saver? When you bite down on a Life Saver it is just possible to cause a tiny little spark (for a magnified version of this, go look into a mirror in a dark room and chomp on a wint-o-green life saver. Sparks!). In your bathroom at home, this is entertaining. In the 100% oxygen atmosphere of a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, a single spark could result in a very bad day. On the moon, even these innocuous little rings of sugar can kill you. The engineers were so afraid of blowing up the LEM that they had the nutrition people absolutely forbid lifesavers to the astronauts.

Lou to the rescue.

Because, see, Lou wasn’t just supplying some anonymous mission with some sugary goodness. No, the guys who wanted a little candy break and who came to Lou to see if they could get one, were none other than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And when the First Men on the Moon ask you for life savers, well, you tend to ignore what the room full of egghead engineers and nutritionists say.

So Lou went and bought a pack of Life Savers, snuck into the LEM after the astronauts’ personal gear had been stowed (but before the LEM was loaded onto the Saturn V), cut into the plastic storage bags, and stashed a roll of life savers where they wouldn’t be found until the LEM was on the surface. Thanks to Lou, Neil and Buzz were able to have a little snack when they were, you know,… on the moon.

The only thing Lou asked in return? He made Neil and Buzz make the most solemn promise that, whatever happened, whatever distraction or emergency or moon maiden they might come across when they were on their history making mission, would they please promise Lou that they wouldn’t chew the darn things? He just couldn’t stand the idea that he might be responsible for blowing them up while they were out there.

Neil and Buzz said yes, the flight launched, and since Apollo 11 returned to Earth safely eight days later (minus one roll of Life Savers), we can know for a fact that they kept their word.

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Lou and me standing in front of a model of the LEM, which he helped design. If you’ve ever seen “From the Earth to the Moon’s” episode called “Spider”, Lou was one of those guys who worked on the LEM. Today I talked to a hero I never knew I had.

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