Canceled my Amazon Fresh subscription

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Earlier I asked Who loves AmazonFresh? The answer turns out to be “not me.” On a Saturday I placed an order and picked the following Tuesday morning as the delivery slot. After I placed the order I realized that Wednesday morning would be better. This was just a few minutes later. It was possible to add stuff to the order, change the payment method, etc., but not to change the delivery date/time. It was easy to reach Amazon Fresh support via chat, but unfortunately the answer was “you have to cancel the order and start over.” I canceled my $14.99/month subscription instead.

The more I used AmazonFresh the less I liked it. Peapod is a subset of all of the most popular items you’d find at a regular grocery store. You can get produce, Windex, and packaged food all in one order. With AmazonFresh you are constantly guessing as to what they might have (strange considering that Amazon is “the everything store”; why does their delivery service actually have way less choice than 30-year-old Peapod?). The inflexible interface was the straw that broke the delivery camel’s back.

Amazon does get some credit for having good customer service people. I didn’t walk away from the experience saying “I don’t want to use other Amazon services.”

Casting out the heretic at Google

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My Facebook friends are talking about the Google programmer’s memo regarding why there aren’t more coders at Google who identify as “women” and “Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap.” Here’s a representative comment:

female VC: Even if it were true that there were “population level” differences in women/men, Google doesn’t hire nearly enough people to make this relevant. Back when I worked at Google, it was a haven of rationality. Said man should be fired for inane use of statistics.

her friend: Did you read the entire document?

female VC:  No, just the first two paragraphs. It was very poorly written.

The article quotes the Google VP of Diversity:

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

The guy’s boss:

… we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful.

The Code of Conduct is available online. Will this guy ultimately be fired for violating “Each Googler is expected to do his or her utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination”? Among other things the guy says women are prone to “Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.” [Update: these are precisely the parts of the memo and the Code of Conduct cited by CEO Sundar Pichai in a company-wide response email.]

Separately, is the memo ridiculous on its face? If an employer is short of Worker Category X, isn’t the first explanation that these workers aren’t being offered sufficient pay? Google could have plenty of female workers in any category if they were willing to pay up, no? Why would an intelligent hard-working woman want to be a coder at Google, get paid 1/20th the cost of a decent house nearby, and stare at a screen all day when she could instead be a physician, get paid 2X the cost of a decent house near her office, and interact with people all day? (Alternatively, she could realize the spending power of a programmer by having sex with a couple of programmers.)

Programming is considered by most people to be a disagreeable boring job, a desk-bound analog of sewer cleaning or garbage pick-up, so, absent much higher pay to women, wouldn’t we expect there to be a similar male-heavy gender ID ratio as in other disagreeable jobs?

I asked the Facebookers in the thread why Google didn’t stop with the fine sentiments about diversity and instead just pay whatever it took to get the workers it wanted. One guy said “It would be illegal to adopt practices that specifically aim to increase pay for women.” (But why not instead pay for some characteristic that women tend to have in a larger quantity than men?) Another responded with “A very small data point but I sat on a small committee which placed a few hundred elite tech grads at Google and FB. In this limited sample size of high performers, women were making 40% more.” (i.e., the market is working; women programmers are more valuable to employers and therefore can command higher pay)

Readers: What do you think? Is this guy a pinhead? Will Google fire him? Once his name gets out, will any other employer be willing to take the risk of hiring him? (thus opening themselves to a slam-dunk sex discrimination case because they have created a “hostile environment” for female coders)

[Update: I broached this topic with a female programmer friend. She said that she thought there was some truth to the heretic’s point of view, e.g., that men were more willing to put in hours of dreary solitude when learning to code. I was able to convince her, however, that the only real problem was money. I ran through a list of mutual acquaintances, all of whom were smart, capable, and had great jobs. She agreed that all of these women would have been able to become competent software engineers and would indeed have done so if the compensation and working conditions were competitive with the career options that they’d actually chosen (e.g., medical specialist, Wall Streeter).]

[Update 2: A friend sent me this post from Slate Star Codex: “About 20% of high school students taking AP Computer Science are women. … which exactly matches the ratio of each gender that eventually get tech company jobs.”]

[Update 3: “No, the Google manifesto isn’t sexist or anti-diversity. It’s science,” by Debra Soh, a professor in Canada with a PhD in sexual neuroscience, says “the memo was fair and factually accurate. Scientific studies have confirmed sex differences in the brain that lead to differences in our interests and behaviour.” Thus the Hillary supporters at Google who mocked Trump voters for being “science-deniers” now find themselves denying neuroscience whose implications they don’t like. (Separately, I must part company with Professor Soh on a non-scientific point. She says “seeking to fulfill a 50-per-cent quota of women in STEM is unrealistic.” Give me a stack of cash and I will fill any quota!)]

[Update 4: In response to a Facebook posting characterizing the memo as containing “logical errors,” her friend responded with “I’d love your thoughts on what you think is illogical. You may not agree, but to me it was all a reasonable position to state, and I agree with most of it. I’m a woman in tech, and a woman CEO, and I know full well why there aren’t more women in my position and it has less to do with discrimination or bias than biology and lifestyle preferences. Would love your thoughts as to which bits you didn’t agree with?” (note that the response kind of proves the Google Heretic’s point; she softens her disagreement with “would love your thoughts”).]

[Moderator is removing some comments to keep the total within the 50-comment display limit of Harvard’s software.]

Related:

the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.

Where in the world are the current round-the-world pilots?

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My vote for World’s Bravest Person currently is Karl-Heinz Zahorsky, traveling around the world in a 1985 Continental-powered Piper Malibu. The Malibu is the best personal/family airplane ever designed… as long as you have a letter from God promising that the engine won’t quit. So far he and his copilot have made it from Germany to Sri Lanka (zahorsky.net). How stressed out is that engine? I was chatting with a pilot the other day who had done a lot of long-distance Malibu trips. Asked if she’d ever had any issues she replied “No. The engine never quit. Well, once we heard a loud bang and lost oil pressure [presumably a turbocharger] and had to land. All of the emergency equipment was waiting for us by the runway, but the engine never stopped.” This was conveyed in the same tone that a Cessna 172 pilot might use to describe the failure of a backup radio.

Shaesta Waiz, 29, is at least 10 years older than the youngest pilots, e.g., Matt Guthmiller, to fly solo around the world, but she expects to be the youngest solo female pilot when she lands her leased 2001 Bonanza back in Daytona Beach. So far she has made it at least to Indonesia (her site says “At this time, flight tracking is unavailable due to the region Shaesta is flying” but there are some recent news stories from Indonesian media). The home page is devoted to relating statistics about the lack of women in aviation and STEM: “450 female airline captains worldwide; 24 percent of U.S. STEM professionals that are female; 3 percent of pilots worldwide that are female.”

[Could a 25-year-old cisgender male pilot identify as a woman for a month, become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, and then switch back to a male ID?]

Related:

The paperwork blizzard following my annual physical checkup

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I had an “annual” physical this year for the first time in a while. This generated a lot of work for the U.S. Postal Service. I received some paperwork in advance via mail. Now I’ve got the follow-up mailings. One of these is a statement from the Obamacare insurance provider. My doc ordered four standard tests at Emerson Hospital, which tried to bill $558.60 for these services. The insurance company, Harvard Pilgrim, decided that the price should be $89.42 instead and apparently this amount was accepted. $23.73 of this was “deductible” applied, so the insurer actually paid out only $65.69 to the hospital. This triggered a hardcopy bill from the hospital for $23.73. I think that there is a theory for Obamacare policies (this one is a “silver” policy that costs about $8,500 per year) that screening procedures are not supposed to require a copayment, but somehow this one did? It looks as though the “lipid panel” was paid in full (well, not the $228.84 that the hospital asked for, but the $37.58 that was the negotiated price) but the “comprehensive metabolic panel” ($88 marked down to $23.73) had to come out of the deductible? ($10,000 per year?)

Related:

Americans interested in everything that goes on at universities except for the education part?

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“Don’t Weaken Title IX Campus Sex Assault Policies” (nytimes) is an op-ed coauthored by Jon Krakauer (see Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (a.k.a. majoring in partying and football)). There are hundreds of comments by Times readers.

Americans love to watch college sports. Americans apparently love to debate the appropriate post-sex litigation procedures for college students. Americans love to argue about whether applicants to college should be sorted by skin color (e.g., see Discrimination against Asian-Americans in Harvard admissions). The one thing that nobody cares about is whether colleges are effective at teaching?

The book Academically Adrift (2010) suggests that colleges are becoming increasingly ineffective at education per se. From my review:

At the heart of the book is an analysis of data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which requires students to synthesize data from various sources and write up a report with a recommendation. It turns out that attending college is a very inefficient way to improve one’s performance at this kind of task. After three semesters, the average college student’s score improved by 0.18 standard deviation or seven percentile points (e.g., the sophomore if sent back into the freshman pool would have risen from the 50th to the 57th percentile). After four years, the seniors had a 0.5 standard deviation improvement over the freshman, compared to 1 standard deviation in the 1980s.

Why isn’t this trend of convergence between the abilities of high school graduates and college graduates the big story? People just assume that college teaches something useful? Or nobody cares that a lot of people going to college don’t learn anything?

How to succeed in the academic math world: put on a dress

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A friend recently attended a big conference of American mathematicians. Out of 15 plenary speakers, roughly half were female. “There are women getting tenure-track jobs at Ivy League schools who, if they were men, would be stuck in a series of post-docs, each one at progressively lower quality institutions.”

theliberatedmathematician.com is a blog by Piper Harron, smart enough to be a professor in Hawaii (our happiest state), who says that she spends most her time “dealing with childcare, worrying about politics, or researching the history of social injustice.”

In this June 2017 post, Professor Harron notes that she “suggested we stop hiring white cis men.” There are three commenters (math is a small community!), two of whom are approving. Katrin Wehrheim, a Berkeley professor whose home page offers readers the opportunity to “chat about queer life in academia” and links to “LGBT resources,” says the following:

Practically, I hope that more of us can take a stand in their departments and voice the simple fact that any cis-white-male hire is a missed opportunity. (Yes, that’s a fact). The follow-up view that has coalesced for me thanks to Piper’s writing is the deduction from that fact that cis-white-male hires are thus never “the best” choice. More follow-up thoughts: * Yes, if we don’t have other ‘qualified’ candidates then that’s our recruitment and evaluation criteria failing.

Striving for tenure at a top school in the mathematics world is crazy hard (also irrational, as I discuss in “Women in Science”). For cis-white-males who’ve invested 10+ years in education in hopes of winning one of the handful of good jobs in this field, why not identify as women, at least while at work? The title of this post says “put on a dress,” but Professors Harron and Wehrheim, who seem to identify as women, are pictured wearing gender-neutral clothing. Maybe being transgender will keep a person out of the Trumpenfuhrer’s armed forces, but it would appear to be the ideal gateway to an academic sinecure.

Related:

Is the ad-supported Android app ecosystem collapsing?

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I’m using an Android phone for a project. I re-downloaded some of my previously selected apps. The ones that were “free with ad support,” such as Angry Birds Star Wars, now stop the game entirely for 10 seconds out of every minute, forcing the user to watch a video ad. Has the entire ecosystem morphed from “display ads at the top or bottom” to “video ads that stop you from using the app”?

Has the huge inventory of Facebook ads made the ad-supported app world unsustainable? Is it time to have apps that are free to use for 30 days and then, if you like them, you pay?

This experience has reduced my opinion of the entire Android platform. Interrupting a user with badly targeted video ads that are entirely unrelated to the app seems cheesy and cheap compared to the iPhone world (already pretty bad with pop-ups and other distractions; maybe iOS games also have video ads but I haven’t used one lately?).

Is it fair to say that the ad-supported Android app ecosystem is done?

Related:

  • June 2017 article on Apple’s policies, which state “Apps should not require users to rate the app, review the app, watch videos, download other apps, tap on advertisements, or take other similar actions in order to access functionality, content, use the app, or receive monetary or other compensation.”

Discrimination against Asian-Americans in Harvard admissions

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“Affirmative Action Battle Has a New Focus: Asian-Americans” (nytimes) is kind of interesting.

The young student, Austin Jia, who was rejected from Harvard is anti-Affirmative Action.  The young student, Emily Choi, who was accepted to Harvard says “I firmly believe in affirmative action.

Here’s an interesting turn of phrase:

A Princeton study found that students who identify as Asian need to score 140 points higher on the SAT than whites to have the same chance of admission to private colleges

More proof that Rachel Dolezal will be remembered as the most important American of the 21st century.

The same paper carries “Racial Justice Demands Affirmative Action”, from an executive at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Here the Asians who are suing Harvard to end Affirmative Action are characterized as unable to compete with their white overlords:

countless African-American, Native American, Asian and Latino students are still excluded from quality education at all levels. Undoing affirmative action now would reverse the gains we have made and dim the prospects for greater progress.

A commenting schoolteacher disagrees:

The author’s inclusion of Asian students in affirmative action is misplaced here and diminishes her overall thesis. After many years in public education at a diverse, elite public high school, I saw firsthand the struggle of (often economically disadvantaged) Asian students who faced longer odds for admission than their Latino and African American peers. Their SAT scores and GPAs needed to be significantly higher than students of color in order to have a chance at getting into elite schools. How can we claim the arc is moving toward racial justice when one group is treated so differently under admission policies?

Related:

  • my review of Academically Adrift, which gives data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment test indicating that Americans in a whole host of majors learn almost nothing during four years in college

Never Call Me a Hero book on dive bombing at Midway

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I listened to Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway (Jack “Dusty” Kleiss) on Audible.

Kleiss graduates from the Naval Academy in 1938 and, at a salary of about $24,000 per year in today’s dollars, serves on destroyers doing “neutral” patrols in the Atlantic after World War II had started, but before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Sailings are delayed for months by union workers trying to get paid more (going so far as to run off with critical components of the ship that have to be retrieved by armed Marines) and incompetence in ship handling leading to damaged turbines and running aground. Once out in the water, the test-firing of a destroyer’s 4-inch guns goes awry when it is discovered that nobody remembered to clean out the cosmoline. Peacetime duty had some hazards, e.g., commercial boat captains in the New York area would seek to smash into Navy vessels in such a way that a lawsuit could claim that it was the Navy ship’s fault. A year of litigation would ensue with at least some damages ultimately paid.

Kleiss served on the carrier Enterprise and flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. A bomb run required opening a window to help with air pressure equalization, taking a dose of ephedrine via the nose (same purpose), and then nosing over to 240 knots for the dive at more than 10,000 feet-per-minute. Pulling out of the dive imposed 6-8Gs on the pilot and rear-seat gunner.

Kleiss’s most serious injuries occur prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His squadron is helping to make a Hollywood film. The senior officer, to simulate being hit by the enemy, is supposed to roll and dive out of the formation and then release hydrofluoric acid to create the appearance of flames and smoke coming out of the plane. Instead the pilot of the lead plane released the acid first, right into Kleiss’s plane and face, and rolls/dives second. Kleiss barely managed to get the plane back on the ground and then spent nine days in the hospital for burn treatment.

Kleiss chronicles a tremendous number of takeoff and landing accidents, consistent with the Air Force statistics cited in Unbroken: “In World War II, 35,933 AAF planes were lost in combat and accidents. The surprise of the attrition rate is that only a fraction of the ill-fated planes were lost in combat. In 1943 in the Pacific Ocean Areas theater in which Phil’s crew served, for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents. Over time, combat took a greater toll, but combat losses never overtook noncombat losses.”

Kleiss is humble about his own role in the Battle of Midway. He says that, as one of the lead dive bombers, he was able to target a Japanese carrier before it was engulfed in smoke and flames from previous bomb hits. Also, as one of the lead planes he used less fuel keeping up in the formation and therefore was able to make it back to the carrier with a few gallons of gasoline in the tanks (1 percent of the total fuel available!), unlike squadron-mates who had to ditch.

Kleiss attributes much of the U.S. success in the Battle of Midway to code-breaking. We knew roughly where and when to expect the Japanese fleet. He attributes most of the losses to incompetence. Kleiss says that everyone in the Navy knew that the Mark 13 torpedo was useless, unable to hit even static ships in a harbor. His best friend dies as part of the “40 out of 44 torpedo bombers were lost at the Battle of Midway without scoring a single hit” (Wikipedia) and he has never gotten over this squandering of human life. Most of the dive bombers and crews that were lost were similarly due to incompetence/disorganization. The Enterprise planes were ordered to circle after takeoff to form up with dive bombers from another carrier. This wasted 40 minutes of fuel to achieve something that Kleiss said had no practical value (it was easier to attack in smaller groups). In any case, nothing was achieved because the other planes never showed up. Thus did the dive bombers head out to the extreme edge of their range minus 40 minutes of fuel and a lot of them ditched within about 30 minutes of the carrier.

As with Stefan Cavallo, World War II test pilot, who said “By our mid-20s nearly all of us were in what would turn out to be lifelong marriages and we already had kids,” (see What does the Greatest Generation think of us?) Kleiss married his first sweetheart, had five kids with her (two of whom were born during World War II), and the marriage ended with her death from cancer.

Kleiss served for roughly six months in combat and then worked stateside training Navy pilots before enrolling in a Navy-run engineering school. He says that the Navy tended to promote pilots based on bureaucratic accomplishments, such as hours flown, rather than actual proficiency. This was one of the things that led him to abandon flight operations in favor of engineering. Kleiss was enthusiastic about some of the top admirals, however, particular Bill Halsey, whom he describes as being able to remember personal details about all 2,000+ crewmembers of a carrier. Kleiss describes Halsey confronting officers who appeared in their dress white uniforms and saying “Go back to your cabin and change into khakis. This is a working ship.”

The book is interesting because it reminds us of how rapidly military technology becomes obsolete. We couldn’t put any autonomous guidance into the bombs so we risked smart humans to drop dumb bombs accurately. Wikipedia says that the great age of dive bombing lasted only a few years, mostly replaced by rockets. The bombs that were sufficient to sink the Japanese carriers were mostly 500 lb. and 100 lb., easily delivered today by a drone (see the Tomahawk, for example, which can carry 1,000 lbs.). Given that it takes 20+ years to develop a new military aircraft it is tough to imagine that a human-piloted airplane developed today could ever have military value.

Best tools for making a computer game?

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A young friend wants to spend the rest of his summer vacation making a computer game (could be Windows or iOS/Android). The theme will be maximizing welfare benefits, e.g., SSDI, Medicaid, OxyContin prescriptions, public housing, Obamaphone, TANF, SNAP, etc. The author had the idea of a player “trying to grab welfare checks like Pokemon,” which I think implies a 3D virtual world. The author has only a minimal programming background so this can’t be done by coding feverishly in C or Java.

One idea is RPG Maker, which seems to be able to target all popular platforms other than Xbox, PlayStation, and similar. Is that an appropriate tool for this? Or are there better tools?

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