Linky Friday #18


[E1] Are we reaching the end of product placement? I wouldn’t guess it from how characters seem to have a new smartphone every episode.

[E2] Reading fiction can make us more empathetic.


[F1] When I find myself worrying about the end of antibiotic effectiveness, I find myself feeling better when I read things like this. It gives me hope that we will have some tricks up our sleeves.

[F2] Cutting Medicare payments can backfire.

[F3] Public opinion on anti-obesity laws is a mixed bag o’potato chips.

[F4] The case against junk food is itself junk, according to Barton Hinkle. The toll of overeating is quite scary, though.

[F5] I don’t know how I am going to handle my smoking habit when it comes to Lain. According to LiveScience, I shouldn’t admit to it even if I’ve quit.


[A1] The pingpong machine and the industrial revolution. Also, legos that knit!

[A2] The skyscraper of the future?

[A3] Batman!

[A4] Ex-lab chimps improving with anti-depressants. Also, monkeys controlling robots.


[H1] How the U-Boat was sunk.

[H2] How we might be able to reconstruct early human languages with software.

[H3] Anti-semite Joseph Stalin accidentally saved some of Poland’s Jews.

[H4] All these years later, comic buffs are still battling the legacy of Fredric Wertham.


[D1] Honeybee democracee.

[D2] Dave Schuler: The politics of feeling good.


[B1] No, cable does not have a 97% profit margin.

[B2] Does the (ostensibly supportive) press has a tendency to be harder on female executives than male ones? They certainly get more scrutiny. It’s unlikely Yahoo would get nearly the attention if their CEO was male (or a less photogenic female). That’s a double-edged sword, to say the least.

[B3] Some of the biggest obstacles of women in the workplace are other women. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox thinks young men won’t help because they’re on the defensive. AM Slaughter thinks we need to take gender out of the work-life equation and focus on improving the balance for everybody.

[B4] How our credentials may be holding us back.

[B5] David Frum wants to know… what happened to Peak Oil? Are we passing Peak Renewables? Will geothermal change the game?


[N1] Will we be severing area codes and areas? It seems to me that “national area codes” are an unquestionable good, though I do have an attachment to local area codes, too.

[N2] Given the same constituency within the US senate, you really wouldn’t expect pairings like this.

[N3] How stressed and screwed are the Millenials?


[W1] Old photos of Singapore.

[W2] The Dutch’s efforts to legalize prostitution has not been without its problems. My impression is that it’s been working out well in Nevada?

[W3] How much is China’s relationship with North Korea revealed by meth?

[W4] Will the unraveling of genetics and IQ happen in China?


[I1] Even the Internet is better when you’re rich.

[I2] For sale! Girlfriends on Facebook. For a real girlfriend, perhaps you should photoshop yourself onto a Centaur.

[I3] It’s interesting the extent to which the internet and social media may inhibit, rather than promote, free behavior. I am Trumwill largely on the basis of googlability.

[I4] Immigrant courting and marriage in the Age of Skype.

[I5] Zombie-twitterers!

[I6] Mall cop, Internet hero.


[Y1] How to combat bullying. The notion of teaching kids to “step in” was undercut by every policy that every school I ever attended had. Not without reason, but getting involved at all was more likely to get you detention than any accolades.

[Y2] The case for a hippie-dippie approach to education. [Ed note, see Kazzy’s response below]

[Y3] A lot of parents have a favorite child, and other interesting tidbits from The Telegraph.


[G1] Is the S4 Samsung’s last attempt to ape Apple’s success? They seem to have big plans. Plans that may not involve Android. Google is apparently worried about Samsung.

[G2] Something seriously must be going on at Microsoft if they are even remotely considering Office for Linux.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. H1: From my knowledge of the subject, it’s not that anything in the review was really wrong, but the tone seems to be of one trying too hard to ‘correct the record’ on the subject. (e.g. the use of radio direction finding (RDF) for WW2 anti-submarine warfare is pretty well known by laypeople with interest in the subject). Also, and maybe I’m just wrong about this, but my impression that the early obstacles to radar employment was not so much institutional inertia, but by the fact the early systems were just too massive and power consuming to fit on ships.

    Though it may be a second order institutional inertia thing – it’s easier for radar to distinguish aerial targets at range than surface skimming ones (because of wave clutter) and one thing that was definitely true of the Admiralty on both sides of the Atlantic was an institutional preference for dreadnaught / battleships, at the expense of naval aviation (and undersea warfare).

  2. F1: Huge advances are being made in cancer therapy, much along these lines. There’s a fascinating firm I’ve been watching, NantWorks, which is approaching cancer therapy via genomics.

  3. A1 — Legos that knit. Amazing. But (as a professional knit-wear designer) let me tell you what the legos are actually knitting: I-cord. Where the “I” stands for “Idiot,” so named by one of my heros (listed on Burt’s survey of heros), Elizabeth Zimmerman.

    The wikipedia article credits her with ‘inventing’ I-cord; but she would dissent. Though she was amazingly prolific in bringing new techniques to the knitting public, she didn’t call it inventing, she was quite sure someone had done it before; she called it unventing; and this term is commonly used amongst knitters. (She also coined ‘tink’, which is un-knitting stitch by stitch, and ‘frog,’ taking the work off the needles and rip it rip it rip it back.)

    I’d have to agree that I-cord is old; children were often given a spool knitter or Knitting Nancy to make I-cords.

    The pithy direction for hand knitting would be to work with two double-pointed needles, cast on 4 stitches. Knit 4. *Slide the stitches to the other end of the needle, pulling the working yarn tightly across the back and knit 4.* Repeat to desired length.

    Thanks for the Knitting Lego Robot, a great way to start the day.

  4. H2: I see a few problems with language reconstruction. Languages mostly propagated demotically, a word at a time. Consider the use of the number Zero. Latin only had nulla. By the time it arrived in Europe, it had gone through three or four separate languages to get there.

    It may be impossible to come to terms with how much contact early cultures had with each other; so much has been lost in time. I suspect there was plenty. But we can look at words like Zero, which surely started out in India and observe how it morphed as it moved west. Rather than Functional Load, which says sounds are important because they serve to distinguish words, I’d say Demotic Movement uses the sounds available to migrate a word into a new language.

  5. W2:

    As the linked study itself points out, prostitution can change rapidly, so it’s possible things have changed since 2013. Nevertheless, the study seems to make many of the points of the Spectator article look dubious. The study reports that approximately half of Amsterdam prostitutes are registered, or perhaps a bit more. Obviously, it’s difficult to get accurate information on illegal prostitutes, but that does make me skeptical of Bindel’s 5% figure, different by an order of magnitude (and the difficulty of finding accurate numbers applies to everyone). The Bindel isn’t clear on what she means by “young, vulnerable girls”, but if she means underage, again the study found underage prostitution in Amsterdam to be rare.

    They’re not the Daily Mail, but I think it’s clear The Spectator and Julie Bindel have an agenda that they’re pushing here. Maggie McNeal has an agenda too, and the Dutch study doesn’t support all of her conclusions, either (in particular, it looks like there’s considerable, though not universal, coercion among street and window prostitutes). But I’d take BOTH sides of the argument with a grain of salt.

  6. Y2:

    Two things…

    1.) I’m sort of uncomfortable labeling the advocated approach “hippie-dippie”, in part because it is an approach I advocate but I do not consider myself to be “hippie-dippie”. More to the point, I fear that labeling it as such is going to immediately influence people’s opinions based on political allegiances when the issue isn’t really a political one at all. There is room to disagree on the approaches to education in terms of ideology and methodology, but such disagreements need not break down along political lines. Terms like “holistic” or “whole child centered education” would be more accurate.
    2.) Regarding President Obama’s children attending Sidwell Friends… he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Anyone who is anyone in the DC area sends their children to Sidwell, in large part because it is the only facility capable of securing the safety of those children. Even if Obama wanted to send his kids to another independent school or public schools, most would need to do undergo major reforms, both on the policy level and on the physical level, to meet the needs of housing the President’s children.

      • Thanks, Kolohe. I didn’t realize that (the Carter years were before I was born). More broadly, I think criticizing Obama for sending his kids to a school that operates differently than what he advocates for is, as Will notes below, a special case. I was teaching in an independent school in DC at the time of Obama’s election and Inauguration. While I remember there being some media reports that he might or should send them to public school (a la Carter) and some behind-the-scenes school chatter about where they’d go… everyone quickly realized, “Duh… he’s sending them to Sidwell.” I highly doubt he and Michelle sat down and picked through school websites and went on open house tours and made an informed decision. They simply sent their daughters to one of the top DC schools and one uniquely prepared for housing the children of very powerful people. Obama might not even know what their mission statement says (which wouldn’t make him all that different from most parents in independent schools).

        • To be clear, where Malia and Shasha Obama go to school is nobody’s business but theirs and their parents.

          • Agreed. But it seemed as if the author of that piece was saying, “Obama says this about education but then does that about it.” Which isn’t an entirely unfair point to make if there seems to be a gross inconsistency between what the President advises the nation to do and what he himself does. But we should also be mindful of the unqie circumstances POTUS finds himself in and how many personal life choices are largely out of his hands.

          • I’m not sure, but I think Obama’s kids went to private school before he was president, too.

          • Mr. Blue,

            The issue here isn’t public versus private, but Obama pushing STEM and then sending his kids to a school that embrace the arts and other non-STEM programs.

    • 1) You’re quite right. I had actually meant it in a self-depricating way as much as anything, as the essay was quite earnest and thought-provoking. The next sentence might have been “I prefer the myopic killjoy approach myself.” But it wasn’t and the intended tone did not come through. So I apologize.

      2) I agree. I think there is room to point out when politicians send their kid to private school when they oppose school choice (Obama’s views are not to my liking on the subject, but more nuanced than blanket opposition). However, I think the correct approach is more along the lines of “We want to try to extend the same opportunity you have to parents that otherwise can’t afford it” rather than “Blasted hypocrite!” And, as you point out, I don’t think we can apply it to the President anyway. It’s a special circumstance.

      • Cool… got it. I often refer to my former schools, all of them progressive (in the education sense of the word, not the political sense) as “hippy liberal”… but I’m a bit of a hippy-liberal-progressive teacher, so I reserve the right to use such terms. 🙂

        And I didn’t mean to overstate my reaction. I know you well enough to know you didn’t mean it in such terms. But that term sometimes gets thrown around in education conversations, often as a criticism, with the implication being that such approaches are not thoughtful ideologies but just a bunch of hippies singing Kumbaya.

        Regardless, I’m glad to see the views and approach getting a thoughtful treatment. Do you foresee it impacting your and Clancy’s approach with Lain?

        • It serves as a good reminder not to go too far off in the myopic killjoy direction. Truth be told, I probably am closer to hippie when it comes to PreK-5. I think unstructured playtime doesn’t get enough attention. I think doing away with (or cutting into) recess (and to a lesser extent PE) is a crime (if I had any doubt about this, substitute teaching alleviated me of it).

          My views start getting more mercenary (and killjoy) around middle school. Even then (and onward) I do believe in cultivating any expressionistic interests that appear thereafter.

          But when they go to college, they do so with a self-supporting career path in mind. And I do want a lot of high school geared towards that.

          • Suppose Lain showed neither the aptitude nor interest for STEM subjects. She had enough of the basics… she could balance a check book and calculate a tip and boil water… but beyond that, it just wasn’t an area of strength or interest. But she *was* a phenomenal artist, showing real promise and a real passion and love for her craft. How would you handle her middle and high school education? (For the purposes of this exercise, assume a roughly equivalent job market and economy structure as what we see today and imagine you have access to any existing educational institutions, from LaGuardia High (the school that the musical “Fame” is based on) to Sidwell Friends to some tricked out STEM Academy.)

          • Sidwell, from what I know*. A good high school, but neither a techie high school or an artsy one. At least, that’s my initial reaction.

            There might be room to negotiate, though. Okay, you can go to this artsy high school if you agree not to go to art school for college (assuming the artsy high school is rounded enough not preclude going to a traditional state university).

            * – Although private versus public high school itself is not something Clancy and I are completely on the same page on (though we are not *too* far apart).

          • Cool.

            I’m curious to hear your and Clancy’s thoughts on the private/public issue. As an independent school teacher who greatly believes in a strong public school system, it is an issue I wrestle with professionally and, soon, personally. Only if/when appropriate, of course!

          • Suppose Lain showed neither the aptitude nor interest for STEM subjects. She had enough of the basics… she could balance a check book and calculate a tip and boil water… but beyond that, it just wasn’t an area of strength or interest. But she *was* a phenomenal artist, showing real promise and a real passion and love for her craft.
            I think this is sort of a false dichotomy. Oh, there are certainly people who are bad at math but good at art, but in my experience they’re in the minority. Most creative people I know are anywhere from decent to amazing at math. I’ve also met more than a few people who claim to be bad at math but good at art, but were frankly not very good at either.

            Because art’s so subjective, it’s easy for people who are not particularly good at any intellectual discipline to claim proficiency that, on careful examination, just isn’t there. But the truth of the matter is, brains is brains. This isn’t some Sherlock Holmes story where knowing Copernican theory takes up space in your head that is better filled by knowledge of tobacco ash. When you study math and science, you’re exercising your brain in ways that will make you better at art. And when you learn about art, you exercise your brain in ways that will make you better at math and science.

            That’s why I support a truly well-rounded education. I know a lot of people in STEM fields, and the ones who have spent time studying creative and communicative disciplines are better thinkers, even specifically within the realms of math.

            But too often I see people use the term well-rounded when what they really mean is lop-sided in the opposite direction. Let’s not forget that Geometry and Music are both liberal arts.

          • Alan,

            I don’t really disagree with anything you’ve said. I’ll acknowledge that my hypothetical was a bit of a false dichotomy but it was a hypothetical intending to explore that dichotomy because it does in fact exist, even if rarer than people tend to think.

            While I agree that “well-rounded” is an oft-abused phrase and can sometimes mean lob-sided the other way, it is also important to factor in context. I might offer a class that is highly lob sided and justify it with “well-roundedness”. And while my individual class might not be well-rounded, looking at it on balance with a bunch of other classes that are lob sided the other way, I may be helping to achieve a more well-rounded curriculum overall. So, it really depends on what altitude you are viewing things from.

            Ultimately, my preference is to expose kids to as many different avenues as possible, ideally in interdisciplinary ways (such that would make more evident the connections between, say, art and math), and support them in choosing a path that becomes more focused but not myopic. So I’d still require that kids focused on STEM topics take some sort of art class (but it certainly could be computer graphic design) AND require that kids focused on the arts take STEM classes (but it could be set design with an engineering focus); I wouldn’t require everyone to take the same liberal arts schedule.

          • Kazzy, the short version is that we are both “pro public school” but only so long as the public school is okay. Neither of us put a lot of stock in saying that it must be a five-star school and can’t be a three-star school. But it can’t be a one-star school. Of the six elementary schools I subbed at, I would deem one to be unacceptable. There was another similarly low-grade school, but there the administration and teachers hadn’t given up.

            Where we part ways, a bit, is that if we have Lain finds herself in a really bad situation at the public school, I am more quick to say that we should look at private school options than she is. And for college, I am more quick to say that paying for a private school (if we can) is okay so long as the private school has something unique to offer. She, on the other hand, wouldn’t want to bankroll Harvard whether we could afford it or not. I think our disagreement springs from her greater sensitivity to our child thinking herself above others while my greater sensitivity is fear that she will think or find herself below others.

            It’s not a great difference, but one we have nonetheless found.

          • Got it. We are somewhat similarly situated. Zazzy and I are both the product of public schools and, provided a quality school, would prefer our child go to one… for reasons that are both financial and otherwise. Where we draw the line on “quality”… 5-star vs 3-star vs 1-star will remain to be seen. The other issue is that it is unlikely we will be able to send our children to a private school unless it is the one I teach at; tuition remission is a huge benefit that would make it possible there but would not exist elsewhere. So, we wouldn’t be comparing our local public school to a wealth of private schools. It’d just be the one, one I know intimately, and thus would not be an apples-to-apples comparison.

            If I remain where I am, we wouldn’t start the child until at least Kindergarten. I’m the only PreK 4 teacher in the building and I would not want to teach my own child. I’d love him/her to have the PreK 3 teacher, but I wouldn’t want to bring him in for a year only to switch her out for the next.

            But, I know the K teacher… very well… and I’m not that impressed. When I share that with Zazzy, she’s like, “Well, then we’re definitely not sending BabyK to Kindergarten!”

            But, the K teacher isn’t a bad teacher… just not a great teacher… probably middle of the road. If we go to a public school, there is probably a 50/50 or so chance BabyK gets a better teacher and 50/50 or so a worse one. But that is still a tempting offer because A) at least the decision is out of our hands and B) knowing how the sausage gets made at my school adds a far dicier element.

            Ultimately, school is but one factor in the education of a child. And though I teach in one, I don’t think that independent schools are the oasis of amazing that they like to think they are. For a lot of people, they don’t justify the expense. It’s a complex balance of the child’s educational and social needs (which are sometimes better served in the public system and sometimes in the private), the family’s financial situation, logistical issues, and the specific schools being considered. I’d just caution against the assumption that the private school is, by default, going to offer a better educational environment than the public, even a great public; it’s simply not the case.

            On a tangent, I was actually thinking about you the other day and whether you even have private schools where you are. I forget why, but I was thinking about the frequency and quality of independent schools in more isolated parts of the country. Do you have non-parochial independent schools? If so, how many? Even in my immediate area, we are the only non-parochial option within about a 35 minute radius of our school; and we’re a highly populated suburb of New York.

  7. F4 the Reason piece is an exercise in missing the point. There was no case against junk food, but more a generic libertarian press swipe at liberals. The piece in the Times he criticizes talks at length about how food is engineered to not just be liked and wanted but to unconsciously create more demand. Companies making stuff people like and want is fine. But what is missed is that the science of food engineering can take advantage of biological processes and effects only specialists have any idea about. Those engineers also aren’t making something we will like more but something that will make us eat more. Apparently Cheetoes are designed to have a likable crunch then to melt away in our mouths which triggers unconscious feelings of not being full and wanting more. That is not making something we want to buy but using our own biology to get us to give them more money.

    If a restaurant tells me they made my burger with jalapeños, spicy mayo and onions then i can buy it knowing that is going to be a good burger. I can make a conscious decision to gobble that baby down. They are selling me what i want. If the restaurant engineers the meat to make me unconsciously feel like i haven’t eaten anything so that i buy another burger then they are secretly manipulating me. That is the key difference: open honest selling and secret manipulation of biological processes.

    • Greg, you make some good points here. I am a bit uncomfortable with the things that soft drink companies do to make their drinks just make us thirstier. On the other hand, I can’t quite say that’s not what consumers want. Especially when it comes to snack foods like Cheeto’s where “Don’t spoil your dinner” is as much of a motivation as “I am hungry, I’ll have some Cheetos.”

      • I stopped reading after you said i made some good points.

        But anyway, if people want a pail full of Cheetos while they blog in their parents basement that is their choice. What consumers want is delicious creamy double double chocolate cake that is both sinfully good and doesn’t make their ass giant sized.

        “What consumers want” is a bit of an odd phrase. What companies want is to be able to manage and manipulate consumer demand. Saying something is being done because it is what consumers want is evasive in that is takes any responsibility or culpability off of the company for doing some shady things. What consumers want is very often created through various means by companies. Making foods , or cigarettes, more addictive or less filling so people buy more is not answering a consumer need. Or at least a need that wasnt created at least in part by the company.

        • greginak, both of these comments are very insightful and accurate (to me). Thanks for making them.

        • There is, for me, no feeling greater than standing on some tall balcony, taking a puff from my cigarette in very light winds, looking down on something interesting. It is just one of those moments, whenever I can do it. The problem is that I don’t want a single cigarette, I want as many as five as many as four times a day. This is because cigarettes are engineered to make me want more. But along the way they create an experience. Cheetos and coke. Could they do it without making them addictive? Maybe. But I think there is something in there for “the experience.”

          I don’t know where that leaves me, though, because I do see the problem you allude to. I smoke it most days and it’s inconvenient and it could kill me. But I also see their point of view, which is that it’s bundled in with a product that can be quite simply amazing.

          • That’s funny. When I read Greg’s comment at the top of the thread, I thought of cigarettes: how they were always marketed as being just tobacco leaves cured, dried, and wrapped in paper when they were actually complex chemical engines designed to deliver nicotine, and that we only know this because Jeffrey Wigand dared to break trade secrecy and reveal it.

          • I used to smoke marlboros. Then I switched to american spirits, before they were purchased by reynolds. I went through serious marlboro withdrawal.

            then I quit, and went through nicotine withdrawal.

            But I quite clearly recall the untreated smokes didn’t hit the craving I thought was nicotine; it was nicotine and something more.

            And now I need to stop because just thinking on it makes me want.

            It’s really hard.

          • I tried American Spirits, but they didn’t… taste. I’m not a snobby smoker. I prefer the cheap stuff. But the cheap stuff that tastes. I joke in a not-very-funny way “not enough rat poison, I guess.” My current trifecta is Maverick, USA Gold, and Pyramid. The marquee brands do nothing more for me than that.

            (Oh, and thank you for the kind words in the other thread. And I repay you by talking about this. Sorry!)

          • Will- How much of the “experience” is simply the high from using the drug? I know there is more to it than that. I mean Bogie is ultra cool when he is smoking and all. But for drugs with stronger highs, it is clear you getting stoned on the drug. I think with cigs the high isn’t as strong so it isn’t seen as getting a high nearly as much. Also in that vein, what are clearly withdrawal symptoms from not having nicotine in the blood stream are often called other things by smokers.

          • Greg,

            Some of it, surely, but not all of it. It wouldn’t be the same if I could inject it. It’s also not the same if I am smoking an ultra-light.

            Withdrawal is withdrawal. Days 3, 4, 5, and beyond… a whole lot of that is physical. Which is why nicotine patches work. But not all of it, which is why nicotine patches fail.

            I’m not really arguing that it’s not the chemicals. I’m arguing that the chemicals, the addi(c)tives, may do a lot to create the experience. Giving me not only something that will make me want another, that will intentionally leave me unsatisfied like the melting Cheeto, but that something providing the experience that I am having. And I wonder if the melting Cheeto isn’t doing something similar, apart from short-circuiting satiety.

          • How much of the “experience” is simply the high from using the drug? I know there is more to it than that. I mean Bogie is ultra cool when he is smoking and all. But for drugs with stronger highs, it is clear you getting stoned on the drug. I think with cigs the high isn’t as strong so it isn’t seen as getting a high nearly as much.
            And is a chemical high not something people want?

    • I’m really skeptical of the claims about the black magic performed by these food engineers. Why? Because it’s easy to cook up food at home that’s just as addictive. Just about any combination of fat and sugar or fat, starch, and umami will stimulate the brain’s reward centers and promote overconsumption. Yes, they can tinker around the edges a bit and get you to buy their hyperpalatable junk food instead of their competitors’, but the basic formula is ridiculously simple, and quite effective at promoting overeating.

      All they’re really doing is making stuff that people enjoy eating. I’m not saying that that’s not problematic—it is, because hyperpalatable food promotes overeating and thus leads to obesity. But the foods you can cook up in your own kitchen are no less problematic.

      • Maybe a little Brandon, but not much. Yeah you can load up food at home with fat and deep fry it to hell and back. But even if its only 10% more “addictive” or in promoting over-consumption that is still significant. For one thing if you do it at home its a lot more work. Also if you do it, you know what is going in, not having your lower brain being tickled by food engineering.

  8. B1: I worked in the cable industry during the Great Consolidation of the 1990s and the ensuing build-outs of the hybrid fiber-coax networks needed to support two-way voice and data services. The companies were never profitable, and the amounts of debt taken on were staggering. The big debate at the time wasn’t whether the companies could ever retire that debt; it was whether or not the cash flow would allow them to service it (ie, make the interest payments). The Federal Reserve has been a great friend to the cable industry for the last decade, making it possible for much of that time to roll loans and bonds over at much lower interest rates.

    G2: Arguably, Microsoft has become an office-suite company that sells a few other things, including an operating system, on the side. It is increasingly difficult to add enough improvements to get people to upgrade their Office installation regularly. Where, then, can you sell additional copies?

    • As Windows craters, it’s certainly the case that Office is becoming more important as an indispensable tool in their arsenal. I’m keep trying to migrate away from it, but it’s still pretty critical and will continue to sell lots of copies.

    • They’re trying to turn Office into an online service that you continuously pay for, sort of like GoogleDocs. In that respect they’re already available for Linux users.

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