Saturday, November 11, 2017

Taxing the externalities of the attention economy

The Economist has an excellent overview of the risks of the attention economy (11/4/17). The Gamergate connection is particularly good.

There is so much to say about all of the perverse consequences of funding the net through a tax on attention. I’m sure we don’t fully understand all of the implications; the reality may be even more grim than we know. It’s already grim enough though. So grim that the Russian assisted collapse of the US government has seized a fraction of our distracted attention.

It appears that most Americans are easily manipulated through modern meme-injectors like Facebook and Twitter. Vulnerability increases with lower education levels (among the privileged education is a rough proxy for cognition), but few are completely immune to distraction. We resemble a people who have never seen alcohol a few months after the whisky trade arrives.

If we believe the attention/ad funded economy is the mene equivalent of fentanyl or tobacco, what do we do about it? There are lessons from managing addictive and health destroying substances such as tobacco. It begins with with taxation.

We tax cigarettes heavily. We can similarly tax net advertising. Our goal should be to increase the cost of online advertising several fold. We raise the cost until few advertisers can afford it. At that point Facebook has to turn to other revenue sources to maintain services — such as charging a yearly fee to users.

This is obviously not sufficient, but it’s a beginning.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What percent of white women voted for Trump - really?

I’d read that 53% of white women voted for Trump and 45% of college-educated white women. I’ve quoted those numbers. Today I looked for an update. It was a bit harder than I expected, many numbers didn’t split out the white from non-white vote. In Jan 2017 FiveThirtyEight wrote

…Trump won among white women by an average of 6.5 percentage points, according to exit polls, and he did particularly well with white women without a college degree, winning among that group by about 24 percentage points…

That article cited a CNN exit poll last updated Nov 23 2016. It had what I was looking for:




The numbers that stand out for me …

  • 94% of black women voted for Clinton. Sanity lives in one cohort.
  • 44% of college-grad white women voted Trump. I’d thought it was closer to 50%. This is still horrible of course.
  • The white gender gap is smaller than I thought — 10%. White women are almost as a bad as white men.
  • Among whites college made a 17% difference - much bigger than gender.
  • 53% white college men voted T vs. 61% white non-college women. Among all whites college was a 17% gap. Education (or cognitive ability) was more important than gender.
  • There’s a 48% gap between black and white women T voters. Sisterhood died in 2016.
  • And, yes, 52% of white women, the majority, did make a horrible mistake.

The CNN page is worth remembering - my memory was only off by 1%. My takeaway was that race mattered above all, next education (or cognitive ability), and least of all gender.

Personal note - Google Scholar discovers something I maybe wrote and forgot long ago

Funny personal note.

While testing Google Scholar's new features I ended up creating a profile based on my (limited) academic publications.

It turned up one from 1981.…


I remember doing SURFEQL FORTRAN code for my friend Jim Young around 1980-81 as a Caltech undergrad (at the time Jim was a grad student and my boss). I imagine I might have written something at the time, but maybe Jim wrote the manual and put my name on it. I have absolutely no memory of this.

What a weird echo.

Understanding century 21 - IT, Globalization and urban-urban migration

In the 90s the world kind of made sense. Since then, not so much. I don’t know if teens truly are experiencing an anxiety epidemic, but any American growing up in the new millennium has reason to be anxious.

I think the root causes of our disruption are globalization (China and India) and information technology (AI, robots, advertising supported web, etc) leading to peak human/mass disability and the collapse of the GOP.

I’m now considering a third factor — namely urban-urban migration (though it may be a consequence of globalization and IT rather than a root cause). The population required to sustain a viable local economy keeps increasing; this is absolutely not what we expected when the net was young. Once a city of 10,000 was viable, then a city of 50,000, then a few hundred thousand. We seem too heading towards a million as baseline.

This is politically potent here because the structure of American government gives disproportionate power to low population density regions. The pain of these communities is politically consequential. This is usually described as a “rural” crisis, but these aren’t “rural” in the traditional sense. They are regions around large towns and small cities that are no longer economically viable.

I was a family medicine resident and a young physician in communities like these. Recent stories feel familiar — they remind me of my desolate drives along the Erie Canal and the IT driven end of the mill town. It’s a worldwide thing.

Humans have been migrating from rural areas to cities for centuries. It’s often been socially disruptive. It still is, particularly because of the way American government works. The dying regions have power, and as they lose their cognitive elite they are ever more desperate and easier to deceive.

See also

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Saint Paul Minnesota mayoral race: bikes and peds

The extraordinary St Paul Bicycle coalition has a couple of useful references on our upcoming mayoral race:

They are careful not to make a recommendation; they need to work with the winner.

Pat Harris is the Dem establishment favorite. He’s not bad on pedestrians but relatively weak on bicycles. Melvin Carter is probably the progressive favorite - strong on bikes and peds. Elizabeth Dickinson is green party - and as supportive as one would expect. I’d put Dai Thao between Harris and Carter/Dickinson.

We have started doing ranked choice voting. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Bike/ped/transit is big for my family, so I do like Mr Carter’s statements.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Small traps to watch out for: My Merrill Lynch unexpected brokerage fees

Life has lots of small traps. Sharing this one in case it’s useful.

I once worked for a firm that granted me stock options that were held by Merrill Lynch. I appreciated them. When I left that firm I thought I’d cleaned out the brokerage account. I was warned I’d need to pay $65 a year to keep it so I wanted the money out.

I didn’t quite close it though [1], so a late dividend of $72 went into the account. I missed that — busy with other things and Emily manages our statements. When she was able to get me to look Merrill Lynch said I was too late — a yearly fee of $65 had left only $7.

This time I did close the account — so next year I won’t owe them $58!

Moral of the story — don’t leave inactive accounts lying around. They will bite you in the butt. Get the damned things closed.

[1] Actually, I thought I did close it. I wonder if the dividend reopened it. Maybe there really isn’t a useful lesson to this story … except to have as few accounts as possible so you can track the darned things …

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Elenco SnapCircuits 500 block layout

I have bought things for my children that I dreamt of as a child — but were out of my parent's price range.

Shockingly, my children have not always appreciated these gifts. For example — I think the Elenco Snap Circuits Pro 500 is a brilliant toy. I tried it on all 3 kids and was 0 for 3. No interest whatsoever.

Years later I needed to find a good home for it — but the parts had been scattered in a storage bin. Even though the components are in perfect shape the box had been water damaged by a minor basement flood and the “block layout” guide was unreadable. I tried to find one online but came up empty — though in writing this I discovered Elenco had it online all along. Happily I had a photo I’d taken and I found nothing was missing. I even have a candidate victim child to give the unused kit to.

Today, since I couldn’t find a photo on the web and Google couldn’t find the dang block layout, here’s one for anyone searching for it. (Assuming, of course, that Google indexes this page. It doesn’t index this kind of content anywhere near as well as it once did. Not coincidentally, once Google would have found that layout.)

SnapCircuits500 1

SnapCircuits500 2

I bought the extra books too!

SnapCircuits500 3

and here’s the box …

SnapCircuits500 4

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Faughnan-Lagace Herald -- now Dilbert free

The first thing I did on the web, as a class assignment sometime between 1994 and 1995, was a personal profile. I just reread it. Ouch. I was pretty young well into middle age.

The Faughnan-Lagace Herald might have been the second thing I did. It was a quick way to visit a variety of favored news sources years before RSS, and Feedbin. The FLH would have started as HTML 2, but somewhere around 1995 or so I started using Microsoft FrontPage to edit it. It hasn’t needed many changes, which is good because about ten years ago I gave up on running FrontPage in an old XP VM.

It hasn’t needed many changes … but recently it started to become … irritating. It had a Dilbert problem:


Yes, a link to Dilbert — visible every time I visited my old news page. Once up on a time it kind of fit. It’s hard to remember now, but Scott Adams wasn’t always a de facto spokesperson for the white nationalists (Nati). Twenty years ago his comic strip was often entertaining. Today it’s embarrassing. 

Fixing this has been on my todo list for a while. It’s not that hard to edit FrontPage output in a text editor so today Arts & Leisure is much improved …

News xkcd

If only the rest the Trump world was as easy to fix.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

CrossFit 58

I’ve had a habit around each birthday to review where I’m at with my exercise addiction. This past week was the 58th. I bought myself a Canon SL2 and Emily made me a fabulous Black Forest cake. So time for an update.

I started on the hard stuff at 53. I’d done some exercise before that - mostly road biking, nordic skiing, inline skating and other soft stuff. At 53 though, I fell into CrossFit. Actually, I was pushed. By a friend.

Four and a half years later I’m 58 and I’m still a regular at CrossFit St Paul. I average 3-4 CF workouts a week, mountain bike 1-2 times a week, and do 1-2 days a week of recovery weights or road biking or ice hockey or nordic skiing.

I’ve had soft tissue strains and pains from all of those things, but by now I’m good at rehab. I have a suite that covers hamstring/gluteal/“piriformis”, lower back strain, shoulder things, achilles stuff, chondromalacia patellae and more. “More” includes a familial arthritis syndrome affecting my hands and knees. Sooner or later that will do me in, but hydroxychloroquine seems to slow the progression. When it was diagnosed 2 years ago I figured I’d be out of CF by now, but the arthritis hasn't been a big deal yet.

I work the rehab into my workouts. It’s all one thing. Mostly I’m pretty good.

Over time I lost about 20 lbs of fat and gained about 5 lbs of muscle. Alas, at 58 I have no more muscle stem cells — those seem to go away in the 30s. I may yet get a bit stronger with practice, but not a lot. I’ve bumped up some of my weightlifting records, but recently my overhead squat and snatch have sucked. Seems the small amount of muscle I added to my shoulders came along with decreased range of shoulder motion. Gives me something else to work on.

I still can’t do consecutive double-unders, I have to mix singles and dubs. I may set a record for longest time practicing without success. It’s a coordination thing — I’ve always been clumsy but age sucks. I’ll try a fourth jump rope; some say a slower, heavier rope works better for the old. I have a rope for every occasion now.

I haven’t been able to do a muscle-up - neither bar nor ring. I work on it. Maybe someday.

I got into this to keep my formerly bad back better and because the only things that seem to slow dementia onset are sleep and exercise. I need to slow the dementia - family circumstances mean my brain has to work until about 85, when I can finally keel over and die. It’s too early to tell if it works for the dementia, but my back is pretty good.

Happily I enjoy CrossFit. I travel for work and always drop in on a CF gym — they are almost everywhere (not Hot Springs South Dakota though). I’m almost resigned to being the slowest and weakest person in the box.

It’s a living.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Moving the body - how much is too much?

I’ve read that our national dumpster fire believes exercise is unwise. That’s not a surprise.

It does remind me though of an open medical question — what is the optimal amount of physical activity?

We know the optimal amount of activity is far more than most Americans do. We suspect there are limits though. Most people should not try to deadlift 400 lbs without a lot of training and some helpful genetics. Likewise few bodies will do well running a marathon every other week.

That’s a pretty wide range though. It would help to have a guide for various ages. For example, I’ve found I run into trouble if I do full CrossFit workouts more than 3-4 times a week, but I bet 30 years ago I’d have been ok at 5-6 times a week. Once I’d have done well mountain biking daily, now my arthritic knees prefer 2-3 times a week.

When our stem cells are happy we don’t wear out like a camera shutter. When they’re depleted we may truly have a limited number of clicks. On the other hand, sometimes a set of heavy back squats puts my knees right for a week or more. That’s just weird.

There’s quite a bit of research on this question. It’s worth following …

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Uninsured patients in US (mostly) no longer pay crazed "list price" for hospital care

I had no idea this situation had improved — and I follow health care fairly closely ….

The Pricing Of U.S. Hospital Services: Chaos Behind A Veil Of Secrecy Uwe Reinhardt

… Until recently, only uninsured, self-paying U.S. patients have been billed the full charges listed in hospitals’ inflated charge masters, usually on the argument that the Medicare rules required it.21 This is how even uninsured middle-class U.S. patients could find themselves paying off over many years a hospital bill of, say, $30,000 for a procedure that Medicaid would have reimbursed at only $6,000 and commercial insurers somewhere in between.22

Because uninsured patients often are members of low-income families, many of them ultimately paid only a fraction of the vastly inflated charges they were originally billed by the hospital, but only after intensive and morally troubling collection efforts by the hospital.23 After a series of searing exposes of these collection efforts in the press—notably by staff reporter Lucette Lagnado of the Wall Street Journal—Congress held hearings on these practices.24 Partly under pressure from consumers and lawmakers and partly on their own volition, many hospitals now have means-tested discounts off their charge masters for uninsured patients, which bring the prices charged the uninsured closer to those paid by commercial insurers or even below.25 Some very poor patients, of course, have received hospital care free of charge all along, on a purely charitable basis…

The whole article is essential reading for journalists and anyone working in health care policy or as a healthcare executive. Hell, I didn’t know California mandated publication of hospital charge masters. Progress really is being made.

Reinhardt, by the way, is 80 years old. Long may he write.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

All those "Democrats and white middle class" articles explained in four lines.

I’m going to translate the subtexts and signals of What’s Wrong With the Democrats? - The Atlantic into plain language:

  1. Democrats should have disowned Black Livers Matter.
  2. Democrats shouldn’t run a woman for the presidency.
  3. Democrats should have lied more.
  4. Democrats should have paid more attention to the economic collapse of the non-college (peak human, mass disability)

I agree with the fourth. I was worried about that before Trump took over. I don’t agree with #3, I think lying works a lot better on the GOP base than the Dem base.

Number one and two remind me of the Al Gore’s choice to embrace gun management measures. It was a progressive and brave act, but Americans showed they didn’t want it. Dems have not pushed it since.

I don’t think we’ll see a woman running for the presidency of the United States in the next ten years. Maybe 20 years. I was shocked that almost half of white college educated women voted for Trump. HRC was less excellent than Obama, but she was pretty good. Since white men are  hopeless the lack of support from white women was a killer.

I also think Dems will shy away from BLM like movements - at least for another decade. We won’t say that loudly, but watch what happens. American racism is stronger than many thought.

The are sad predictions. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t have a lot of faith in post-Trump America. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, can journalists top writing these articles?

Escape from the Wheel of Time

I finished ‘A Memory of Light’. And the thirteen Wheel of Time volumes before that. I feel like I’ve been released from Compulsion.

It’s not high art. Some of it was a slog and not every thread was accounted for. The twists and retcons reminded me of long run comic book sagas. It can entertain though. Jordan turned a single volume book into a trilogy and then into a monster — and he more or less held it together. That’s worthy of a prize, or, in his case, a fortune.

Jordan died after book 11 and Brandon Sanderson wrote books 12-14 from notes and imagination. I thought there were some odd word choices in his first chapters, but either he settled in or I got used to his style. It was fun that three of the heroic characters were writers; I don’t think any villains were.

Game of Thrones, which I abandoned after a particularly misogynistic volume, is clearly an heir to WOT. I read that there will be a WOT inspired TV series — that will require a bit of editing.

I can’t exactly recommend WOT, but if you get sucked in the ride isn’t all bad. Most libraries will have it and there are many used volumes floating around, so you don’t have to buy every volume new. I bought about 5 and borrowed the rest from a friend and the library.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

United airlines passenger assault: Blame the Feds.

Involuntary bumped seat leading to assault on a United Airlines passenger?

Blame the Department of Transportation (emphases mine):

If you’re involuntarily denied boarding, the Department of Transportation regulates what you’re entitled to. Here are the rules, as published by the DOT …

… If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum)….

The US government sets the maximum compensation amount. I suspect that amount was set years ago and hasn’t changed

The article I found this in calls $1,350 “sizable”. No. That is not “sizable". I was almost bumped myself because Delta couldn’t find takers of a similar offer. $1,350 was a reasonable offer in 1990. In our 2017 lives a reasonable offer starts at $5,000. If there has to be a  limit that limit should be around $10,000 — regardless of ticket price.

So, yeah, I hate United as much as most travelers. But this one the Feds own.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Broken world: applying for a minimum wage job via a corporate HR web site

My #1 son is a special needs adult. He’s excited to start at $10/hour job running food around a sports stadium. It’s work he can do — he’s got a great sense of direction and he is reasonably fit.

The job engagement process is run by an archaic corporate web site that looks like it was built for IE 3. The site claims to support Safari but warns against Chrome. It is not useable on a smartphone.

The HR process requires managing user credentials, navigating a complex 1990s style user interface, and working around errors made by the HR staff — who probably also struggle with the software. He would not have the proverbial snowball’s chance without my ability to assume his digital identity.

Sure, #1 is below the 5th percentile on standard cognition tests — but this would have been a challenge to the 15th percentile back in the 90s. In the modern era, where most non-college young people are primarily familiar with smartphones, this is a challenge to the 30th percentile.

Which means the people might want to do this job are being shut out by the HR software created to support the job. Which probably has something to do with this.

The world is broken.