Broody hen compared to gravid human in the office


“Human Husbandry” by Elaine Ou is fun:

Domestication is a rather unnatural form of selection. As a population’s per-capita GDP increases, average fertility decreases. This phenomenon has been termed the demographic-economic paradox, but it’s really not paradoxical at all. Raising children carries a huge opportunity cost – remove this cost and the population has way more productive capacity. It’s no coincidence that San Francisco, home of the most advanced civilization in the world, also has the lowest share of children out of any major city in the country.

Just as a broody hen negatively impacts a farmer’s productivity, a gravid human poses a significant inconvenience to her employer. That’s why companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple pay for female employees to extract and freeze their eggs. It’s great to see tech companies empowering women the same way that factory farms empower their battery hens!

Marc Andreessen and his wife hired a surrogate to carry their biological child. While not scalable, it’s always heartwarming to see billionaires take time out of their busy lives to reproduce like the rest of us mere mortals. Even if it does involve some outsourcing.

She also writes about Bitcoin:

Paul Krugman doesn’t know anything about anything, but I’ll grant him this one: There’s nothing to backstop a cryptocurrency’s value! If people come to believe that Bitcoin is worthless, it’s worthless. There’s no tether to reality.

One of the greatest tragedies of modern money is the decoupling between a store and display of wealth. Or, more accurately, the societal decoupling between wealth and status. For most of human history, the functions of display and storage were condensed. Even before people wore clothing, they wore piercings and tattoos. A full-body ink job isn’t transferable, but it’s a sort of proof of work.

here’s a better way to flaunt crypto wealth. … Secure multi-party computations were first introduced in 1982 as a solution to the Millionaires’ Problem: Multiple millionaires want to know their relative wealth standing, but no one wants to reveal their actual net worth.

One solution is to distribute shares of a secret to each participant. Each person combines the secret with the value of their net worth, broadcasts the result, and a blinded function processes the values to arrive at the final rankings. This function evaluation forms the basis for a zero-knowledge proof.

This can be done with any cryptocurrency. Instead of self-reporting a net worth, each participant signs a message to prove ownership of an account. The message is combined with a secret share, resulting in an output that indicates the user’s balance relative to everyone else. Turn the output into crypto-bling by mapping it to a unique identicon. Bitcoin can now be used as a visual display of wealth.

(This would work against “Secret bitcoin billionaires will renounce their U.S. citizenship before cashing in?“)

Owning 95,000 patents


“After 10 Years, Nathan Myhrvold’s $3 Billion Of Private Equity Funds Show Big Losses” (Forbes) is interesting for a tidbit on the second page:

In total Myhrvold’s firm has acquired 95,000 patents…

Just imagine the number of hours that has gone into writing these patents, examining them, deciding whether or not any of them are relevant, etc.!

Be skeptical about global warming but buy a house on higher ground


Back in 2016 I wrote “Are markets so inefficient that global warming isn’t being priced properly?

If sea level rise is imminent, why were people willing to pay $8 million for a Ft. Lauderdale house that was “approximately the same height above sea level as a crushproof cigarette pack”?

Three Harvard eggheads have looked at this more carefully in “Climate gentrification: from theory to empiricism in Miami-Dade County, Florida” (Environmental Research Letters, April 23, 2018)

They have to work pretty hard, but they do find a correlation between height above sea level and price appreciation.


California is the center of American racism?


“Number One in Poverty, California Isn’t Our Most Progressive State — It’s Our Most Racist One” (Forbes) is kind of fun in the same way as me offering my neighbors with the Black Lives Matter posters a minivan ride down to the Fresh Pond McDonald’s for a viewing of some people of color.

For me the most powerful part of the argument concerns real estate regulation and taxation. By making it tough to build anything new, California enriches owners of existing property. Most of these folks are white or Chinese investor visa immigrants. Prop 13 taxes long-time homeowners at much lower rates than recent home buyers. Guess what color the average person who has been in the same house since 1978 is?

California also has sales taxes, which are regressive, much higher than what other states charge.

The author attacks Califronia for running public schools for the benefit of unionized school employees and the politicians who receive their reliable votes. Nobody in California cares what the students learn. But how is that different from other states?

Modern Sequels to the Marriage of Figaro?


Some music-oriented friends and I were trying to come up with titles for modern operas that would be sequels to The Marriage of Figaro.

We quickly came up with

  • The Divorce of Figaro
  • The New Gender Identity of Figaro

But then we stalled out.

Readers: What would be a good update to this 18th century story? It has to be something that is reasonably likely to happen in the 21st century, but not in the 18th century.

Meet at the Rhode Island Air Show this weekend?


Semi-local readers: Would anyone like to meet up at the Rhode Island Air Show this weekend? Due to overwhelming kid-based demand, I plan to be there on both days. The show is free. Fly in before about 10:00 am (PPR).

Explaining World War II to a young person


A friend’s son was playing violin in a chamber music concert recently. At the after-party we were chatting about summer plans with the violist. I mentioned plans to go to Oshkosh (more propertly, EAA AirVenture) and noted that people who have restored World War I and World War II airplanes will fly them in. She looked politely blank so my friend said “Those were wars before you were born.” I added “Donald Trump was leading the Germans in World War II. Well… actually it was someone who was very much like Donald Trump.”

If you’re going to let academically weak students into your exam schools, why have exam schools?


“In a Twist, Low Scores Would Earn Admission to Select Schools” (nytimes):

Students with low test scores are usually shut out of New York City’s best public schools.

But next year, such students could be offered a quarter of the sixth-grade seats at even the most selective middle schools in Manhattan’s District 3 as part of a desegregation plan being debated in the district, which stretches from the Upper West Side to Harlem.

The plan is unusual because it focuses explicitly on low-performing students, and seeks to achieve “academic diversity” across the district’s middle schools.

Although it might be the last race-neutral government program in the U.S., I have never been a huge fan of the NY system of sending the smart kids off to a nerd farm. It seems unfair to those who are left behind. They’ll never see the top 10 percent of achievers and therefore will overestimate their abilities. If I were a school dictator, I would set up individualized instruction and extra challenges delivered to the brightest students who stay within a regular school, reserving the magnet schools for special subjects such as arts and music.

If New York is now going to have quotas for academically weak students in their schools for the academically strong, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more sensible to tear down the entire exam school system. Just have “schools” that can cater to both the good and bad students.

Readers: What do you think? Does an exam school become pointless if people who fail the exam are also admitted?

[Separately, a friend’s daughter recently graduated from what is perhaps America’s toughest high school: Stuveysant. She crushed the entrance exam, got grades near the top of her class, and scored 1580 out of 1600 on the SATs. She rejected advice to “pull an Elizabeth Warren” and check a box to identify as a member of a victim group. She was in turn rejected by Yale, despite being, objectively, one of the best-educated 18-year-olds in the United States. To me this shows just how tough the U.S. has become for young people. When I was in high school (late 1970s), anyone who was reasonably bright and willing to work hard would get into an Ivy League college. To young people who might be impressed that I have an undergrad degree from MIT… close to 50 percent of people who applied to become members of the Class of 1982 were admitted. It was a different world!]

How to demolish and build green without guilt


Our town wants to demolish a 140,000 sf school that is in basically good condition and replace it with a “Net Zero” building (I created a mini-site just for my thoughts on this school). A handful of the town’s environmentalists question the “greenness” of pushing an apparently usable building into a landfill.

My brilliant idea to relieve the guilt: Tesla bulldozer. Model B!

Longfellow Bridge reopens


The Longfellow Bridge that joins Boston and Cambridge has reopened. The number of car travel lanes has been permanently reduced from 4 to 3 as part of the renovation.

In “Cost to renovate Longfellow Bridge compared to its construction cost” (2013), I wrote that the project would be done in 2016 and cost $260 million, roughly 4X the original cost of $65 million (2013 dollars).

In “Longfellow Bridge repairs will now take about as long as the original construction” (2015) I gave an updated completion time.

The bridge is not quite finished, but it is open, and the cost to repair came in at roughly $300 million, about 4.6X the cost to build. See “Longfellow Bridge Reopens After $300 Million Reconstruction Project” (NECN).


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