Daily Show: It’s too easy to be a (pretend) bigot

Scott Shackford at Reason on a horribly ironic, self-defeating Daily Show segment:

If there were a serious, widespread problem with discrimination against gay people, they wouldn’t have had to set up a fake food truck, would they? They’d be able to just go down to North Carolina and go to one of the existing businesses who were discriminating against gay people and do one of those interviews where they get people to say stupid things so the viewers can feel superior.

But they didn’t. They had to fabricate a Seinfeldian Soup Nazi-style environment to try to present an exaggerated possibility. It’s an attempt at satire. It’s an attempt to comically present a potential logical conclusion. But the flaw is that it actually highlights how little interest there is in widespread discrimination against gay people. There are no scenes of Jim Crow-style behavior targeting LGBT folks. Yes, discrimination exists, but there is no widespread conspiracy to exclude gay and transgender people, and there is so much more cultural pressure that can resolve it positively without getting the state involved.

The irony here is that they’re exaggerating the potential threat of a problem to justify legal intervention controlling individual behavior, which is … exactly what Gov. Pat McCrory and supporters of monitoring public bathroom use are doing. There is little actual justification for the state telling transgender people which facilities to use because the potential threats to others are significantly exaggerated. This is what happens when you try to use laws to fight cultural issues. Every problem must be overblown in order to justify using legislation and courts to punish your cultural opposition.

Me on the “uber of giving”

Me at FEE.org yesterday:

That’s the key here—the difference that makes DonorSee an actual revolution in the way people give to the overseas poor. The app crowdsources fundraising and rewards aid workers who devise the most rewarding and effective ways to raise money. Almost like Reddit, users promote posts and projects they like the best—a function of the uploaders’ creativity and the details of the project itself.

Read the full article.

How to find a lost Android phone

Ever lost your phone? It’s the worst. So frustrating.

Google to the rescue (at least, for Android users).

Next time you lose your phone, go to myaccount.google.com. Scroll to the bottom and click “Get started” under Find your phone. Select your phone from the list, and you’ll see what to do next. You can have it ring on full volume even if muted. You can locate it (though if it’s in your house, that’s about as specific as you’ll get). You can even lock your phone or erase the data. It’s amazing, really.

That’s it. Don’t lose your phone. If you do, find it this way.

Just a helpful hint!

 

Fact: Obamacare is failing

Some sad facts on Obamacare (that is, this isn’t up for debate):

Average premium increases above 25%, roughly one-third of U.S. counties projected to lack any competition in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges next year, and enrollment less than half of initial expectations provide strong evidence that the law’s exchange program is failing. Moreover, the failure is occurring despite massive government subsidies, including nearly $15 billion of unlawful payments, for participating insurers. As bad news pours in and with a potentially very rough 2017 open enrollment period ahead, the Obama administration signaled on Friday that it may defy Congress and bail out insurers through the risk corridor program.

More from the Mercatus Center.

Online search comes full-circle

From Matthew Capala at TheNextWeb.com.

In his recent takedown of tech culture, Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble, Dan Lyons writes about blogging purely for SEO optimization — basically, great content that is devoid of value but stuffed full of buzzwords to fool Google’s search algorithm.

It’s a funny and probably overblown passage, but it raises a serious point for content marketers; in the past, they’ve had to write around keywords, often at the expense of creating content and telling stories people want to read. The introduction of Google’s Rankbrain could put an end to all this, once and for all.

With it’s honed ability to collect and interpret massive user data from Google.com, Chrome, and Android, Google now allows readers to give feedback — in the form of bounce-backs, click patterns, pogosticking, and click-through-rates — on whether your content piece actually does what it promised to do.

So if you wrote a compelling, educational piece, including a lot of research and diligence, you’re in the clear; but if you wrote a piece that didn’t provide enough value, you could easily lose the top spot if enough readers felt like you were wasting their time.

In short, keyword search is maturing. Google is getting smarter, and “hacking” content to boost its search engine rating isn’t going to work anymore.

In a sense, this is web search coming full-circle. In the very near future, online content creators aren’t going to worry about keywords. They will worry only about providing actual value to real human beings with their content. They won’t think anymore about the medium – AI is taking care of that – and won’t have to optimize their content for anything other than their audience’s preferences.

This is the web, in a sense, becoming “invisible.” The medium of the internet will be harder and harder to detect in the future. I don’t mean we won’t need to connect to WiFi or that we won’t ever have problems logging on. I mean our interaction with web content will be more intimate. There will be less and less “calibrating” that goes on between us and the content we’re consuming. It will speak to us more clearly and more directly.

The effect of this type of AI extends beyond our life online. It affects the evolution of our language and how we communicate with each other. That’s another topic, but suffice it to say that as AI improves our experience consuming web content, which interplays tremendously with language, we’ll see changes (improvements, I think) in language itself. For example, we may search for X, but AI means Google knows that information on Y is actually what we want, even though we don’t know it, and gives us information on Y. This changes the way we think about X and helps us understand better just what it is we’re all trying to get at, and thereby, just what words we really ought to be using.

 

All is speculation

From Philip Carret’s The Art of Speculation:

It is unfortunate that the word “speculation” immediately suggests the word “stocks” to most people. When his neighbors gather at the 19th hole of the local country club and discuss the apparent prosperity of Henry Robinson, the local miller, their natural comment is that Henry is a shrewd businessman. It occurs to no one to say that Henry is a successful speculator, though the flourishing state of his business may be due far more to his correctness in judging the wheat market than to his skill as a manufacturer or merchant. Though the speculation involved in the miller’s operations is incidental to his main business, it is speculation nonetheless.

It’s important to consider the extent of any action’s speculative aspect in light of a risk-reward paradigm. Is something more “speculative” or riskier because it entails a higher likelihood of major loss? It’s likely that such an action also entails a higher likelihood of major gain. This is about expected outcomes – if it’s no lower than alternative, less risky investments, then is it any more “speculative”?

Go with the flow

An interesting selection from Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

For Csikszentmihalyi, the signature experience of experts is flow, a state of complete concentration “that leads to a feeling of spontaneity.” Flow is performing at high levels of challenge and yet feeling “effortless,” like “you don’t have to think about it, you’re just doing it.”

For example, an orchestra conductor told Csikszentmihalyi:

You’re in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. … My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out by itself.

And a competitive figure skater gave this description of the flow state:

It was just one of those programs that clicked. I mean everything went right, everything felt good. …it’s just such a rush, like you could feel it go on and on and on, like you don’t want it to stop because it’s going so well. It’s almost as though you don’t have to think, everything goes automatically without thinking.

Csikszentmihalyi has gathered similar first-person accounts from hundreds of experts. In every field studies, optimal experience is describes in similar terms.

Hedge funds love Hillary

From yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Owners and employees of hedge funds have made $122.7 million in campaign contributions this election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics—more than twice what they gave in the entire 2012 cycle and nearly 14% of total money donated from all sources so far.

The lines around what constitutes a hedge fund aren’t always clear in the data, or in the financial industry. But the numbers are stark. The top five contributors to pro-Clinton groups are employees or owners of private investment funds, according to federal data released last week and compiled by OpenSecrets.org, the center’s website. The data show seven financial firms alone have generated nearly $48.5 million for groups working on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf.

The total for Donald Trump: About $19,000.

Some efficiency tips for noobs

My biggest pet peeves are clutter, unnecessary details and logistical messes.

I hate digging around for things in my own home. I can hardly stand watching someone try to find some important “lost” file on their computer because they weren’t thinking when they saved it the first time. I go crazy listening to people stress out while making last-minute decisions about where to eat, which route to take or who’s picking up which kid with which car from which friend’s house.

These things drive me nuts – more than they should, probably. I’m self-employed, which gives whole new meaning to the phrase “time is money” – if I miss a day of work, I miss a day of pay.

So in my never-ending attempt to avoid these frustrating situations, I’ve learned a few things about how to declutter and organize modern life. The three tips below barely scratch the surface of what’s needed to truly be organized and efficient, but they are three things most people don’t do that would otherwise massively reduce their day-to-day stress levels.

Use one digital ecosystem.

I don’t have experience beyond Microsoft and Google (I guess that leaves out Apple), but going all-or-nothing with one company’s solutions is really the only way they will help you, rather than cause frustration and anxiety. For example, I use Google almost exclusively—Gmail, Calendar, Chrome, Maps, Drive, Play, etc. Because these apps are all under one umbrella, they talk to each other. They coordinate events on their own in ways that make life easier for me. After a while, Google even starts to predict my behavior and informs me of things like traffic on my morning commute and weather on days I plan to fly.

ecosystem

Speaking of flying, I booked a flight last week on Expedia. Gmail “noticed” the email was a flight itinerary, so it “talked” to my Calendar and automatically added the flight to my calendar. And the day of the flight, Google will send me a note about when to leave my current location to get to my flight on time.

These things would not happen if I used, say, Microsoft for email, Apple for calendar and Yahoo! for maps. Instead, I’d have frustrating coordination problems that have me spending valuable time copy-pasting information from one app to another.

Use a calendar religiously.

I use Google Calendar for everything—work, personal and whatever falls in between. Both my wife and I update it immediately upon scheduling any appointment, which means we can see the future in real-time—we don’t have to call back and forth to confirm with our respective doctors, employers or family members when we’re available to do something.

calendar.png

Sound cluttered? It can be. But what’s great about most calendars is you can code events to appear on one calendar or another (work vs. personal, mine vs. my wife’s) and filter your view to see as many or as few calendars as you want.

For example, I regularly block off most weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on my calendar as “Work.” I code this as “Personal” so my wife can see it. Inside these blocks, I add my work meetings, calls, etc. But I don’t share these items with my wife. I share with her only what she needs to see in order to know when she can, say, schedule a massage for herself (i.e. have me watch the baby). She sees that I’m working that day without having to sift through dozens of me-exclusive items that don’t affect her, and I see what I need to do at work that day without having to manage separate calendars.

Make use of Sunday evenings.

I suspect Sunday evenings are down-time for most people – time to catch up on TV shows, recoup from a fun weekend, or simply zone out before the work week.

But taking just 15 minutes on Sunday evenings to review your upcoming week can make all the difference in the world. Review your schedule for the week and be ready for what’s coming ahead of time. You may even find yourself needing to look at your calendar less often during the week. I do.

My Plan

If you’re married or living with a partner, sit with them while you review your week. Then you can ask questions about confusing calendar items or tentative plans right then as they come up, instead of playing phone tag later in the week just to learn some annoyingly tiny but vitally important detail about some evening plan or another.

My personal gains from these 15 minutes, in terms of reduced stress and time saved during the workweek, are immense. I have avoided entire hours of coordinating and logistical planning. And I’ll bet the returns on this time grow exponentially as family size grows and the number of soccer practices, piano recitals, play dates and other engagements increases.