Thursday, August 31, 2017

Crypto Gene Analysis

"Cryptographers and Geneticists Unite to Analyze Genomes They Can't See"

Tomato Fight

Images from La Tomatina, the world's largest annual tomato fight.

One example, lots more at the link:

The History of Tater Tots

"The Tater Tot Is American Ingenuity at Its Finest"

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


"Burger King launches WhopperCoin crypto-cash in Russia".

I think I'll take a pass on this one.

Rocket Safety Update

"Here Is the Safety Trick That Will Help SpaceX Fly You to the Moon". (Via H.R.)

Fake Male Startup Co-Founder

"These Women Entrepreneurs Created A Fake Male Cofounder To Dodge Startup Sexism":
That’s when Gazin and Dwyer introduced a third cofounder: Keith Mann, an aptly named fictional character who could communicate with outsiders over email.

“It was like night and day,” says Dwyer. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”
 It's too bad that the supposedly hip and "enlightened" world of start-ups is still as sexist as it is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: Changing Consent Rules For Organ Donation

My latest Forbes piece is now up: "Should The Government Require Your Consent To Be An Organ Donor?"

I discuss some controversial proposed changes to loosen the consent process for organ donation, including the pros and cons.  There are a lot of passionate advocates on both sides of this debate, and I tried my best to treat each position as fairly as possible (even though I do favor one side).

The Far Future

"Infographic of the fascinating timeline of the far future"

Robocall Hell

"Junk call nightmare flooded woman with hundreds of bizarre phone calls a day". (Via H.R.)

Related from NPR Planet Money podcast: "Robocall Invasion".

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cooking With Lava

"Here's How To Actually Cook Food Over Lava". (Via Alex Knapp.)

No Anonymous Online Comments In China

"China to Ban Anonymous Online Comments, Blacklist Users"

How Google Broke The Internet In Japan

"Google takes blame for error that crashed the Net in Japan"

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Accidental Medical Discoveries

"Accidental Discoveries that Revolutionized Medicine"

Ancient Math Table

"Mathematical secrets of ancient tablet unlocked after nearly a century of study":
The team from the University of New South Wales in Sydney believe that the four columns and 15 rows of cuneiform – wedge shaped indentations made in the wet clay – represent the world’s oldest and most accurate working trigonometric table, a working tool which could have been used in surveying, and in calculating how to construct temples, palaces and pyramids.

Fake Patients

"How retirees can make money as fake hospital patients".

I totally want this job when retire from the practice of medicine.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Flag Pillows

Gareth Soye: "Hmmmmmm"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Eclipse Vs. Porn

Heh: During the eclipse, porn traffic dropped 54% in WY, 42% in NE, and 39% in OR.

Designer Baby Update

Tyler Cowen: "The Drive for Perfect Children Gets a Little Scary".

In particular, "Mothers want extraversion over conscientiousness or intelligence for their children", at least within the sample studied.

QR In China

"16 Ways QR Codes are Being Used in China". (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Phone Hijacking Security Flaw

NYT: "Identity Thieves Hijack Cellphone Accounts to Go After Virtual Currency"

Better iPhone Security

"The Next iOS Update Has a Feature to Prevent Cops From Searching Your iPhone":
In the new iOS 11, if you quickly tap your home button five times, the phone reverts to a password-only screen lock (with an option to dial 911 if needed). Reverting to a password-only mode offers an extra layer of privacy protection from a police officer, or an abusive partner, or anyone else who may force or coerce a person into touching their iPhone to unlock it...

The new feature should be of particular interest to protesters or anyone else who would rather the police not read all their contacts and text messages. Currently, you have to navigate through settings and multiple screens to change how your phone is secured—which is difficult to do rapidly if you sense an impending arrest. With the update, if you think you might get approached by law enforcement, you can just reach into your pocket and tap the button five times.
This feature helps in jurisdictions where the police are allowed to compel you to touch a finger to the phone, but not allowed to compel you to disclose a password/passcode.

Pao On Sexism In Silicon Valley

Ellen Pao: "This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley"

Assuming her account is accurate, here are my initial reactions:

1) She wasn't treated well by her business partners. Certainly, the male physician partners in my own medical practice would not treat a female partner this way.

2) She's obviously giving her version of events, so take that for what it's worth.

3) I guess some folks in the SF Bay area don't necessarily live up to the region's reputation of "progressive", we-value-tolerance-and-diversity culture.

4) Pao later became CEO of Reddit. But had to resign after she made some very unpopular decisions, including firing a much beloved (female) senior staff member. And thus sparking a huge internal revolt. Pao's tenure at Reddit doesn't have any bearing on the merits of her claim about her lawsuit. But it does show how thing turned out when she was given top authority in an organization.

Monday, August 21, 2017

EFF On Free Speech

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) takes a strong stance in support of free speech, even for odious groups:
[T]he Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning of the dangers of censoring speech, no matter how horrendous or offensive.

'All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country,' the San Francisco-based online advocacy group said in a blog post Thursday. 'But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.'
Good for them!

Drug Drones

Drug cartels using heavy-duty industrial drones to smuggle drugs across the border.

Whiskey Better WIth Water

"Chemists Say You Should Add A Little Water To Your Whiskey. Here's Why"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Humans Love Blankets

"Why Do We Sleep Under Blankets, Even on the Hottest Nights?"

Campus Postmodernism

Scientific American: "The Unfortunate Fallout of Campus Postmodernism".

Take-home point: "If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don't be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Terminator Conundrum

"Earlier this month, the Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group made a low-key announcement with frightening implications. The company revealed it had developed a range of combat robots that are fully automated and used artificial intelligence to identify targets and make independent decisions..."

"Known informally inside the corridors of the Pentagon as 'the Terminator conundrum,' the question being asked is whether stifling the development of these types of weapons would actually allow other less ethically minded countries to leap ahead? Or is it a greater danger to ultimately allow machines the ability to make life or death decisions?"

Secret Amazon Brands

"Amazon owns a whole collection of secret brands"

Old Fruitcake

"100-Year-Old Fruitcake Found in Antarctica Is 'Almost' Edible"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Historical Reactions To Solar Eclipses

"A history of solar eclipses and bizarre responses to them"

Goldfish and Alcohol

"During the winter, goldfish and their relatives can have a blood-alcohol concentration beyond the legal limit for drink driving."

Dr. Smartphone

"The airplane had just taken off when one of the passengers lost consciousness."
Eric Topol pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and immediately performed an electrocardiogram (EKG) on the passenger. He used the device to do an ultrasound scan of the man's heart and measured oxygen levels in his blood. He was then able to give the all-clear and the plane could continue its journey. The man had lost consciousness merely due to a temporarily slowed heart rhythm.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Recipe Videos In The Style Of Famous Directors

"Hilarious recipe videos in the style of famous directors"

My favorite: "What if Tarantino made Spaghetti & Meatballs?"

Free Old Music

"Philly company digitizes 25,000 old records and they're free to download"

Russian Casino Hacker

"Meet Alex, the Russian Casino Hacker Who Makes Millions Targeting Slot Machines":
Alex defends his enterprise as cunning but by no means criminal. “We, in fact, do not meddle with the machines — there is no actual hacking taking place,” he says. “My agents are just gamers, like the rest of them. Only they are capable of making better predictions in their betting. Yes, that capability is gained through my technology, it’s true. But why should it be against the law? On the basic level, it’s like using a calculator for counting faster and more accurately, rather than relying on one’s natural capacity.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Eclipses Feel Weird

"A Total Solar Eclipse Feels Really, Really Weird"

Parenting As Viewed Through Cartoons

"Changing Parenting Attitudes, as Seen Through New Yorker Cartoons"

Malicious Code In DNA

"In a mind-boggling world first, a team of biologists and security researchers have successfully infected a computer with a malicious program coded into a strand of DNA"

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bad Password Rules

"The Guy Who Invented Those Annoying Password Rules Now Regrets Wasting Your Time"

Underwater Post Office

"Whale Mail Is the New Snail Mail at the World’s First Underwater Post Office"

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Comeuppance In SF

"Rich SF residents get a shock: Someone bought their street"

AI-Generated Beer Names

"Artificial intelligence proves that craft beer names are total nonsense"

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook

"Browse the British Library's online copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s 570-page notebook"

Fortune Cookie Math

"We Analyzed 1,000 Fortune Cookies To Unlock Their Secrets"

Monday, August 07, 2017

Ikea Capes

"Game of Thrones uses cheap IKEA rugs as capes"

Tesla Model 3 Review

"Driving Tesla's Model 3 Changes Everything"

Sunday, August 06, 2017

SR-71 Speed Check Story

"An SR-71 Blackbird Pilot Recounts His Infamous LA Speed Check Story".

As friend JRW notes, "Interesting story about flying the SR-71 — but go all the way to the end.  The last 60 seconds is hilarious."

Upgrading The Great Firewall

"China holds drill to shut down 'harmful' websites"

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Melt-Proof Popsicles

"Japan has engineered an ice cream that 'doesn't melt'"

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting may be lighter than usual for the rest of this week and next week due to external obligations.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Can You "Rape" A Sex Robot?

NYT: "The Trouble With Sex Robots".

The NYT author appears to think so, consistently using the term "rape" for males interacting with robots programmed to "reject" their sexual advances.

In contrast, this NPR story gets it right ("What's New In The World Of Robot Sex?"):
Today's robots are not conscious and thus "rape" is not the correct descriptor.

I want to be very clear about what I am saying here: The robots' lack of consciousness is fundamentally different from the state of a person who has lost consciousness or for some reason suffers from diminished mental acuity. For a person who has passed out, who is in a coma, or who is mentally compromised for any reason and is violently sexually assaulted, "rape" is absolutely the correct term.
I recognize that there is a potential issue of people acting towards robots that would otherwise be impermissible towards other humans. For instance, if I knew my next door neighbor got his jollies by engaging in mock serial killings of life-like robots, I'd be more than a little nervous. And it might be grounds for asking law enforcement to take a closer look at him. But you can't "murder" a robot any more than you can "rape" one.

AI Creating Malware

"AI quickly cooks malware that anti-viral software can't spot"

Splitting Water

"Scientists produce robust catalyst to split water into hydrogen, oxygen". (Via H.R.)