Mazda will take down Tesla?


“Mazda announces breakthrough in long-coveted engine technology” (Reuters):

The new compression ignition engine is 20 percent to 30 percent more fuel efficient than the Japanese automaker’s current engines and uses a technology that has eluded the likes of Daimler AG and General Motors Co.

A homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engine ignites petrol through compression, eliminating spark plugs. Its fuel economy potentially matches that of a diesel engine without high emissions of nitrogen oxides or sooty particulates.

Mazda’s engine employs spark plugs under certain conditions, such as at low temperatures, to overcome technical hurdles that have hampered commercialization of the technology.

On a pure “energy-consumed” basis it was always tough to justify an electric car compared to putting a super-efficient diesel engine in a lightweight vehicle, right? Now it seems that Mazda will be changing the efficiency calculations. But maybe it doesn’t matter because people buy electric cars with their hearts, not their heads? (or at least governments use their hearts to hand out electric car subsidies to virtuous rich people?)

Separately, this would be truly revolutionary if it could be adapted to aircraft. People have used Mazda rotary engines in experimental planes before. Imagine this new engine in a legacy airframe, such as the Cirrus. The range could be extended from about 1000 miles to at least 1250 miles, for example (or payload increased due to the need to carry less fuel on any given trip).


  • Porsche PFM 3200 engine, about 80 of which were sold in the 1980s. This Flying Magazine review highlights the lack of vibration compared to the conventional 1950s engines, and implies that efficiency was improved by at least 20 percent (fuel capacity was reduced from 75 to 60 gallons).

The unfortunate events in Charlottesville


My Facebook feed has been filled up with postings about the unfortunate clash between white nationalists in Charlottesville and those who came out to protest them.

“White supremacy: Are US right-wing groups on the rise?” (BBC) suggests that roughly 10,000 Americans might qualify as active white supremacists. In a population of 325 million, that’s roughly 1 out of every 27,000 people old enough to hold a firm political point of view.

How is it that such a small percentage of the population can capture such a large mindshare? Here’s an idea from UK-based Brendan O’Neill:

It’s becoming so clear now why the war of words between SJWs and the new white nationalists is so intense. It isn’t because they have huge ideological differences — it’s because they have so much in common. Both are obsessed with race, SJWs demanding white shame, the alt-right responding with white pride. Both view everyday life and culture through a highly racialised filter. SJWs can’t even watch a movie without counting how many lines the black actor has in comparison with the white actor so that they can rush home and tumblr about the injustice of it all. Both have a seemingly boundless capacity for self-pity. Both are convinced they’re under siege, whether by patriarchy, transphobia and the Daily Mail (SJWs) or by pinkos and blacks (white nationalists). Both have a deep censorious strain. And both crave recognition of their victimhood and flattery of their feelings. This is really what they’re fighting over — not principles or visions but who should get the coveted title of the most hard-done-by identity. They’re auditioning for social pity. “My life matters! My pain matters! I matter!” The increasing bitterness and even violence of their feud is not evidence of its substance, but the opposite: it’s the narcissism of small differences.

[Note that I don’t subscribe to the characterization of a clash that left a woman dead as a “war of words,” but perhaps the above was written prior to the confrontation in Virginia?]

Friends who are reasonably analytical are inferring from news coverage of this gathering of a few hundred people that Nazi ideology is sweeping the U.S. Is that reasonable? What if the media had simply refused to cover this gathering? None of the counter protesters would have showed up (and therefore none would have been killed). Nobody other than locals in Charlottesville and their Facebook friends would ever have found out about it. Especially if you don’t agree with it, why give a platform to an ideology that is persuasive to 1 in 27,000 adult Americans? Is there some concrete political advantage to be gained by featuring this fringe group?

Sampling of what I’ve seen on Facebook:

Racist white nationalist groups showing your colors: you will only unite us against your hatred. Thanks to the true patriots who speak out against you.
Trump supporters: When Trump refuses to call out the bigots (unlike virtually everyone else, Republican or Democrat), it’s because he thinks they’re his base. [i.e., Trump is desperate for 10,000 extra votes spread across the nation]

There was a terrorist attack in the United States today. But our commander-in-chief chose to play to his base — rather than call it for what it was.

White supremacy laced bigotry lingers everywhere, even in the left-leaning bastion of Berkeley. I’m hopeful that before too long, we can look back on this disgusting period of revitalized hate and discrimination thankfully in that some long festering pockets of discrimination have now, finally, openly exposed themselves. Now that we can all witness the ugliness in plain sight, we just need to root them all out. More of this! [link to “Berkeley’s Top Dog fires employee who went to white nationalist rally” about a purported white supremacist named “Cole White“! Next question: does having unpopular political views qualify someone for disability benefits? Who is going to hire this guy?]

Just to be clear, those were actually white supremacists in Charlottesville and they’ve found an ally in Donald Trump [gathered a response: “Trump cannot specifically disavow the KKK, racists, Neo-Nazis, or White Supremacists as they represent a substantial portion of his base and he fears alienating them.”]


Eclipse prep one week countdown


What are readers doing to prepare for the 2017 total eclipse?

I went to Harvard Bookstore and, amidst the social justice titles (featured prominently were She Persisted, for children, MAD About Trump: A Brilliant Look at Our Brainless President, and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which turned out not to be about the limitations of MySQL compared to Oracle) found Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024, which I recommend ordering in hardcopy (too many illustrations and photos to be handled gracefully by the Kindle).

Totality explains clearly why there are more solar eclipses than lunar and why there are more annular eclipses than total solar eclipses. It also contains some practical information for eclipse viewing.

[It seems that most of the text of this book is lifted from a 2009 version, at which point the topic of gender ID for science nerds wasn’t front and center for the public. So the book is missing the discussion of female astronomers that occupies much of a more recent work that I reviewed. On the plus side, leaving out the chapters on female victimhood left room for actual explanations of the orbital mechanics. Note that these are non-mathematical and heavily illustrated so you don’t have to bend your mind around Calculus 101-type material.]

My personal plans are to fly from KBED to KCKV, KCEU, or KCAE, depending on which has the best forecast. All of these airports are in the path of totality. I would be delighted to meet any readers who find themselves at one of these airports.

Readers: How are your eclipse plans shaping up?


The Google Heretic and American education


One of the (many) things that I love about the Google Heretic, aside from the fact that Americans are more interested in him than the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea, is what the discussion reveals about American education levels and reasoning styles.

A friend who earned a Ph.D. and is now a business school professor shared “‘Dear Mr. Google Manifesto’: Epic Response From Chemical Engineer, Corp VP, Mom Of 5” as a Facebook status, adding her own “Epic response to “Mr Google Manifesto” guy. Nothing to gain from fueling a war of the sexes — but sometimes one has got to respond.”

The author, Melissa Aquino, is listed by Bloomberg as the VP of Marketing and Director of Human Resources at McCrometer, a water meter business with about $32 million/year in revenue. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and is apparently smart enough that she no longer has to work as an engineer. The journalist at Patch describes her as “a chemical engineer who serves as a corporate vice president for a Fortune 200 company” (part of the confusion may be that this small company where Ms. Aquino is a VP was acquired by a large company; Fortune itself suggests that $14 billion/year is the threshold of Fortune 200).

Summary of the conversation between James Damore and Melissa Aquino:

  • Research on a sample population shows that the median woman has a lower tolerance for stress than the median man
  • I climbed the corporate ladder while pregnant with five separate children

[The last part is interesting. The “epic response” uses the term pregnant five times. It seems that being in an air-conditioned house on maternity leave and then parking an infant in daycare is sufficient for claiming modern-day Sacagawea status. See also Bill Burr.]

An equivalent conversation:

  • The distribution of age for Hispanics in the U.S. has a lower median age than that of the general population (Pew)
  • That can’t be right because I met this old Cuban guy at a jazz club.

(Separately, Ms. Aquino says that she studied engineering and then addresses the Google programmer as “a fellow scientist“.)

I pointed out that she was responding to a hypothesized distribution with a data point. The B-school professor’s (male) friends responded:

  • No. She is telling her story. And it is a very common story. I see it all the time. (this guy is not a chemical engineer, so it is unclear what part of Melissa Aquino’s story he might have seen)
  • Google broflake doesn’t realize that women in tech, worldwide, are heavy into coding. India, Malaysia and others have over 50%. While the number in the US are lower, it is more a cultural phenomena in the West that they do not participate. He needs to see the world and get out of his bubble before he makes baseless claims. The only thing he normalized in the whole thing was that there should be an increase in Silicon Valley.

India and Malaysia rank lower in gender equality (UN) than the U.S. Can we can infer that women in those countries are willing to toil in front of a screen all day because better jobs are not available to them? Or is it that these societies are especially gender-equal in computer nerdism while being gender-unequal in everything else?

[I’m still kind of surprised that people see the male-heavy ratio of computer nerds as signs that computer nerdism is the world’s best job or requires special mental skills. When Hillary arrives at an FBO in her Gulfstream and finds that the people pumping Jet-A in -10 degree temps and 20 knot winds are men and the people sitting behind the front desk in the luxurious lounge are women, does she say “Pumping Jet-A in cold, rain, heat, snow, and/or wind must be a great job that women are excluded from”? When that Gulfstream needs new paint and the people sanding off the paint in the 100-degree hangar are men while the people designing the scheme in an air-conditioned office are women, does anyone say “This shows that men have brains that are genetically better suited to sanding Gulstreams”?

If we step back from the inter-gender issues being debated, we find that engineering grad students are mostly foreigners (Inside Higher Ed). America’s most unpleasant jobs have typically been done by immigrants. Why don’t we infer from the unwillingness of young Americans to study engineering that engineering of all types is unpleasant? Then if we want to go back to the inter-gender issue the question can be handled more generally as “Why are there more men than women doing unpleasant jobs?”]

I wonder if people in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, China, Germany, et al., will look at this discussion and say “Let’s make sure that if we invest in the U.S. it is something that doesn’t require hiring people with math or analytical skills.” James Damore highlighted some already-well-known research results so his memo wasn’t interesting per se. But maybe his memo itself can be considered an experiment in “How capable are the best-educated Americans at reasoning about distributions and synthesizing research results?” He essentially administered something like the Collegiate Learning Assessment to middle-aged people.


  • “Women in Science”
  • Glassdoor on McCrometer, the company where Melissa Aquino is Director of HR: “Backward people, the company is run by 20 year employees that do as little as they can to get by.”; “Management consists of human jellyfish. …  Exploitation of people’s skills and a lot of lip service about advancement but ZERO action to actually help people advance”; “Management has no clue as to what the customer wants and needs”
  • David Brooks in the NYTimes:

Which brings us to Pichai, the supposed grown-up in the room. He could have wrestled with the tension between population-level research and individual experience. He could have stood up for the free flow of information. Instead he joined the mob. He fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.” That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

(Response from a former Googler: Brooks is smart, but his position makes no sense, so let’s look at the fundamentals: Sundar is one of the highest paid executives on the planet, and he’s looking out for #1 (that’s Sundar), and his political nose told him that the heretic had to be burned to please the important executives at Google, so he did the right thing for himself… what’s to hate about that, and why should he resign? There is a famous saying on the street, “don’t hate the player, hate the game,” and Sundar’s game is formidable: I’m sure he’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars at a minimum. Does Sundar even care about his issue? I suspect not, unless it interferes with his ability to get paid. [Factcheck: CNBC says Pichai made $200 million last year.])

Song for Sundar Pichai to sing


The Google Heretic is the gift that keeps on giving…

From my recent Facebook feed, both from current (i.e., not-yet-purged) Google employees:

The last one is interesting. If this union consists of “scientists,” how come they can’t tell the difference between engineering and science?

Lyrics samples:

What price for a woman?
You can buy her for a ring of gold,
To love and obey, without any pay,

The boss he says “We pay you as a lady,
You only got the job because I can’t afford a man,
With you I keep the profits high as may be,
You’re just a cheaper pair of hands.”

You got one fault, you’re a woman;
You’re not worth the equal pay.

Well, I listened to my mother and I joined a typing pool
Listened to my lover and I put him through his school
If I listen to the boss, I’m just a bloody fool
And an underpaid engineer
I been a sucker ever since I was a baby
As a daughter, as a mother, as a lover, as a dear
But I’ll fight them as a woman, not a lady
I’ll fight them as an engineer!

Despite the first bit having been made obsolete by changes in California family law during the intervening 47 years, I think it would be awesome for CEO Sundar Pichai to sing this song next time he is at a “Girls Code” or similar event (or maybe for the all-hands meeting if they can ever feel safe again on their own heavily guarded corporate campus?).

Separately, I wonder if Google is discouraging women from pursuing computer nerdism as a career. The company is in the news for being attacked by the Federales on the grounds that women at Google are paid less than men. By not having a “Boys Code” event, the company is suggesting that boys can learn to program by sitting down at a PC and teaching themselves while girls need special assistance (what better evidence of lower natural aptitude? You don’t see too many “Learning how to retrieve a tennis ball” classes for Golden Retrievers). Finally, by talking about the critical importance of protecting female employees, the company is suggesting that women are under constant attack once they get into a software development workplace.

Why would an intelligent diligent young woman look at the Google harlequinade and say “I’ll drop out of pre-Med and switch to software engineering”?

The fly in the electric bike ointment: lack of a standard battery size, shape, and connector


My Trek T80+ bike is now two years old (review) and the battery is getting weaker. The Bionx battery system design seems to be something like seven years old.

A replacement battery for this bike costs $819, i.e., substantially more than what a Chinese consumer would pay for an electric bike with a similar battery capacity and a healthy fraction of the $1,300 that I paid for the (discontinued) bike.

Given the reductions in costs and improvements in battery technology that we’ve seen in the electric car world, it seems reasonable to expect cost reductions and improvements in the electric bike world, but there is a bewildering array of battery sizes, shapes, and connectors. Our local bike store has bikes costing from $2,500 to $5,000 with at least 10 different types of mutually incompatible batteries. Next year’s battery might be better, but it seems unlikely to fit on last year’s bike.

Readers: Is the lack of a standard for batteries, with the possibility of lower prices and better quality every year, keeping smart American consumers from spending $2,000+ on an electric bike?


If employers want 50 percent women, is it obvious that they must pay them more?


The Google Heretic is the gift that keeps on giving for anyone publishing a blog.

The Heretic’s memo and firing wouldn’t have happened but for Google’s desire to have a workforce that is “representative” of the general population, i.e., roughly 50 percent women. Despite management’s noble sentiments and the preponderance of Hillary supporters within the company, Google failed at their stated goal. This led the former science grad student (and current heretic) to turn to his science journals while it led me to ask “Why not pay women more if you’re so keen on hiring them?”

Supposedly it is illegal to pay women more simply because they are women. I’m not sure if this is true in practice because we are told by various politicians that employers pay women less because they are women.

I’m wondering if the sex discrimination laws that were enacted to help women get higher pay are now working to reduce female pay below market-clearing levels.

BLS data show that male labor force participation rate for ages 25-54 was 88 percent in 2014. Female labor force participation rate the same age range only 74 percent. With approximately equal numbers of men and women in this age group, there will be 88 men for every 74 women in the labor force, right? If every employer wants to have a 50/50 gender ID distribution not all of them can succeed. In a market economy, the typical way in which a scarce resource is allocated is via pricing. Women should be worth more in the labor market than men and companies such as Google would have to outbid other firms that seek gender ID balance in order to achieve it.

Readers: What am I missing? Now that being seen as pro-women is a business necessity, given the relative scarcity of women in the American labor force, are laws requiring equal pay to men and women working against women?


Who hires those cleared of rape charges by Title IX tribunals at universities?


“Judge Drops Rape Case Against U.S.C. Student, Citing Video Evidence” (nytimes):

In the early hours of April 1, neither student at the University of Southern California knew what the other had had to drink. An Uber was called, and the male student was seen on video following the female student into her dorm, where they had sex.

The woman later told the police she did not remember the encounter, and in May, prosecutors charged the male student, Armaan Premjee, 20, with rape. But a California judge dismissed the case last week after reviewing security video from the Banditos nightclub in Los Angeles and the woman’s dorm.

The videos showed the woman leading Mr. Premjee from the club, taking his photograph, following him into an Uber and, at her dorm, swiping an access card and allowing him inside.

The judge said during a preliminary hearing last week that he believed that the sex was consensual and that the videos were a “very strong indication” the woman was the initiator, according to reports.

Employers Googling for background won’t find anything when the accuser (“the woman”) applies for a job, but for in any background check on Armaan Premjee, “a junior studying business administration,” it will be tough to miss this unfortunate incident.

Premjee isn’t in the clear yet:

A student misconduct investigation involving Mr. Premjee within the university’s Title IX office remains active.

But let’s assume that he does beat the rap. Who is going to hire him? What employer would take the risk of having an accused rapist as a business manager? Google won’t be hiring Mr. Premjee to replace James Damore, right?

New York Times and Piketty show that rich people are the most energetic?


“Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart” (nytimes) shows that the highest-income Americans are also the ones with the “largest income growth.” I wonder if Thomas Piketty and friends followed individuals over time or just looked at brackets of income that contained different people from year to year. If they followed individuals then these data suggest that the most energetic and motivated Americans are the richest. Instead of slacking off and enjoying their yachts, Gulfstreams, and 7 luxury homes worldwide, they are doing something that gives them a 6% pay raise every year.

If they didn’t follow individuals, though, aren’t the stated conclusions wrong? Suppose that the income of rich people is highly variable, e.g., inflated one year due to selling a company and comparatively depressed the next year. In that case, from simple volatility and economic growth you might see that the high end of the income scale was doing well (how else did those people get to the high end of the scale?) but it wouldn’t be the same people year after year. Similarly, for those with low income, someone who goes onto a diet of SSDI and OxyContin might have the same income as last year’s consumer of SSDI/OxyContin.

[Separately, the chart note suggests that it includes “transfers and non-cash benefits” for the poor, but I wonder how that is possible. Ever since the Clinton-era “welfare reform,” simple cash transfers have been a small component of modern-day welfare in the U.S. The non-cash stuff is tough to track and value. When a new apartment building is constructed, for example, the developer may be required to hand over 10 percent of the units to a government housing ministry for distribution to the poor. The value of these units are not on the government’s books. And if real estate prices go up, does the person who lives in a free apartment in Manhattan experience a boost in income according to Piketty and friends? Collecting child support and alimony is a big part of the U.S. economy and there are no convenient authoritative sources for the total cashflow (generally from higher-income defendants to plaintiffs with lower wage income).]

The article came to me from a hedge fund manager friend:

First, there has always been a distribution of income and we know it is skewed right. It pretty much has to be, if income is bounded by 0 but not limited on the upside. Allowing for negative income tax rates (the earned income credit) creates some weird growth rates. Overall, growth rates are compressed for people receiving income-based transfers when those transfers are progressive.

There is a tautological aspect to the results. People whose income rose the fastest (e.g. Steve Jobs) ended up in the 1% or the 0.1% because of that growth. So it shouldn’t be surprising that people who now have the highest incomes also had faster rates of growth in that income. That is how they got into the right tail. Few people complain when Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg leapfrogs into the high income brackets but it really bothers economists like Thomas Piketty that the averages behave different from the averages of other income brackets. Remember, we are measuring how fast the average moved, not how fast the income of a third-generation trust baby’s income rose over that period. Their income may have determined the average in 1980 but they are not part of the tiny super-high income brackets any more. Those brackets are reserved for people who grabbed the brass ring and held on for a meteoric rise in pay.


Modest proposal for the Google all-hands meeting


“Google cancels all-hands diversity meeting over safety concerns: Google feared questioners would face threats if their names leaked online.” (ArsTechnica) is disappointing to any Lisp or SQL programmer because it was a missed opportunity to use the headline “Group of C programmers say that they feel unsafe.”

Apparently the issue is that adherents can’t anonymously suggest or vote on questions for the high priests. If done with Google’s existing discussion infrastructure, real employee names are attached to postings.

What if Google told everyone who wanted to participate in this process to sign up to AOL and get a username such as “SupportDiversity2017”? Then they could use AOL’s infrastructure to gather questions, vote questions up/down, etc.


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