Sheryl Sandberg proves that Facebook is a monopoly?


Yesterday, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a two-page manifesto regarding what “workplaces” should do to eliminate sexual harassment. Does this post suggest that Facebook is a monopoly whose profits are no longer tethered to the efforts of its employees? The COO of a company in a competitive industry wouldn’t have the time to tell managers at other enterprises how to run their respective shows.

Arguably Sandberg is actively harming the interests of the Facebook shareholders. She is enlightened, presumably, and Facebook is thus a paradise of gender equality and female advancement. Why not stay quiet about Facebook’s methods so that the most able women will quit their jobs elsewhere and join Facebook?

Alternatively, maybe the example of Sandberg will discourage employers from hiring women. Shareholders pay a COO and she spends a lot of her time telling competitors, unrelated companies, non-profit and and government employers, etc. how to do stuff. Wouldn’t shareholders be better off hiring a boring white male that nobody outside the company wants to interview or hear from?

[Separately, would a rational reader of Sandberg’s elaborate prescription simply refrain from hiring any men? In an all-female company the managers wouldn’t have to spend 24/7 thinking about sexual harassment issues. There don’t seem to be any practical penalties for employers who discriminate against men (New York Times will even celebrate you for it!).]


Coco the movie should credit ISIS and Kevin Spacey?


Who else has seen Coco the movie? It is an impressive visual spectacle and we enjoyed it, but wouldn’t take children under age 7.

The movie is preceded by a “short” populated by the Frozen characters. It is so long, dull, and vapid that people behind us in the theater said “Thank God that’s over” at the conclusion. I’m wondering if ISIS is actually behind Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. It is difficult to think of a better way to get Americans to turn away from Christianity, though the short is too embarrassed to mention Christmas explicitly (but at the same time is not neutral regarding religion because there is a huge Christmas tree created at the end; a token Jewish family is depicted, but everyone else seems to be Christian). Because the word is impolite to utter, Christmas is referred to as “That Time of Year”. Certainly it is tough to think of a better reason to convert to Islam than this film. If there is any danger of this short being shown I would advise getting to the theater no earlier than 30 minutes after the official start time.

Coco itself has some dialog that relates to the current Hollywood Sexual Cleansing. A big star points out that “Success doesn’t come for free. You have to do whatever it takes to seize your moment.” Could this have been written by Kevin Spacey? Or perhaps one of the young actors who got a boost in his career by “doing whatever it takes”?

Dog-lovers will appreciate the on-screen time and effort that went into depicting a canine character.

I wonder what the cultural appropriation police think of this movie. Gingo honchos at Pixar make a movie about Mexican culture and then substitute an ugly-sounding language for Spanish.

Readers: What did you think of Coco?


Windows update required as much computation as all scientific analysis through what year?


A recent Windows 10 Creators Update ran for roughly one hour on my desktop PC. The boot drive is an SSD and therefore I don’t think that much of the time was spent waiting for the hard drive. I don’t think that the update process per se requires much network access because the operating system told me that it had already downloaded the update. In any case, the computer is hard-wired to Verizon FiOS at 75 Mbps so there can’t have been too much network delay.

The CPU is an Intel CORE I7 5820K clocked at 3.3 Ghz. This machine has 6 cores. If we assume that an average of 3 of the cores were busy for the entire hour, that is equivalent to all of the scientific computation done through what year?

Instructions done in one second: 3 cores times 3.3 billion = roughly 10 billion instructions (the i7 is at roughly one instruction per cycle?). Instructions done in one hour: 36 trillion (3.6×10^13).

Good old days: The IBM 360/95 that was still kind of exciting when I worked on the Pioneer Venus project at NASA did 3.8 million instructions per second (Wikipedia). It would have taken 9.5 million seconds to run 36 trillion instructions on the IBM 360/95. That’s about 110 days continuously. So plainly by 1968 when the IBM 360/95 had been delivered to Goddard Space Flight Center there had already been more than 36 trillion instructions run.

How about the IBM 7090 workhouse circa 1960? Wikipedia says it could do 100,000 floating point operations per second. If the i7 can do floating point instructions at the same speed as other instructions (a big assumption? I’m not sure that Web page JavaScript is bound by FLOPS), it would take the room-sized mainframe roughly 10 years to execute 36 trillion instructions.

So I’m going to guess that my latest Windows update took roughly as much computation as the first 11 years of modern computing (start with EDSAC in 1949 and through 1960). Not all of that was done for scientific purposes, though, so maybe 1949-1962 is a better estimated period?

Readers: Corrections? Better ideas?

Who understands the House and Senate tax bills?


My grand theory that “any law that can be passed already has been passed” seems to have been proven wrong. Both the House and the Senate have passed significant changes to U.S. tax rates, at least on business, but the changes are at least slightly different? When does the final bill reach the Trumpenfuhrer in the Reich Chancellery?

My Facebook friends are preparing for Armageddon. Here is a sampling:

[from a university professor who is guaranteed to get a paycheck until she is too senile to navigate into the office (i.e., she has tenure)] I just got out of a meeting of shell-shocked professors and deans, staring wide-eyed at the disaster that is about to befall higher education in America.

My physician friend explains how the GOP tax bill has the potential for catastrophic effects on her patients’ health, and describes her experience when calling various senators about the bill’s implications.

If you have Republicans representing your interests in government, please read about how they are stampeding to screw 99% of their constituents over with a tax bill they dare not debate in public, and which the father of Reagan’s tax bill regards as insane in its particulars.

To my friends in states with GOP senators who are wavering on this catastrophic tax bill, thank you for calling them!

The tax “reform” plan is as dumb and evil as the health care “repeal and replace” plan. Getting rid of the estate tax, which only affects the very wealthy, will be expensive.

… as a Middle Class New Yorker I am angry that I will face a tax increase under the Republican Party’s “soak the middle class” tax plan.

[from a former university professor] Speaking of taxes, this might be a moment to remember that the lying, treasonous, self-dealing, justice-obstructing, nepotistic, emolumental, sexually abusive moron has never published his.

From what I have heard, it is unclear why this is a disaster. Tax rates for both corporations and individuals will end up pretty close to what the UK runs (some of their personal income tax rates seem higher than U.S. federal rates, but when you add in what U.S. states and cities charge, the overall government rake should be the same). Why shouldn’t our government be able to live on what is sufficient to feed the UK government? Especially given the fact that the UK government rolls health care into their direct government spending. (I guess one could argue that the U.S. government is spectacularly inefficient compared to European counterparts and therefore needs a larger percentage of GDP.)

One question is what the real tax rates will be. Alternative minimum tax has been retained for both individuals and corporations? If so, how can anyone who is not a CPA even estimate his or her tax liability?

Estate tax is gone or not? (If so, there will be a lot accountants and lawyers needing to find new work! Most of the estate tax workarounds rely on professional advice.)

How about the hedge fund managers’ favorite tactic of stuffing all earnings into a Bermuda insurance company and thus deferring income tax liability for 50 years? Is there anything in the bill to make that tougher? (see also New York Post)

What about taxing the bogus “free tuition” that universities pretend to give graduate students? NSF and DARPA fund a lot of graduate students. Presumably they aren’t going to want to see their budgeted funds drained away by the IRS and put back into the Treasury for other agencies to spend. (See Ugliest part of the Republican tax plan: What if universities were forced to calculate the value of a graduate education?)

Readers: Does the stock market go crazy after this? Or are most publicly-traded companies already so good at tax-avoidance that the cash differences will be minimal?


The Hollywood Cleansing


Sometimes teenagers are the wisest among us. I promised to send something to my nephew, a high school student, and asked him to nag me if I didn’t inform him that it had shipped. His reply:

Please take your time Uncle Philip. I know you’re extremely busy especially now that your weblog needs to keep up with the Hollywood Cleansing -which is up to about three guys a day now.

When will the sexual harassment fervor reach the world of classical music?


I asked a young violinist whether the world of classical music could be the next domino to fall as American society purges itself of accused sexual transgressors. “It’s rampant,” he responded. How can be positions be traded for sex, though, when many auditions are blind? “It is still possible to trade sex for access to the best teachers. I know of an 83-year-old teacher with a 26-year-old girlfriend. She seems to be okay with it.”

All-American Example of Begging the Question


One thing that Americans can’t do is use the term “Begging the question” correctly.

How about this real-life example that might stick in American minds…

friend: (pointing to open box on kitchen island) Look at this rifle that I got today. [an IWI Tavor]

me: (to the 11-year-old girl on the other side of the kitchen island, using a knife to sculpt a diorama for an English class) Why does your dad need another gun?

girl: Because he’s my dad.

What do logic- and philosophy-minded readers think? Was the girl begging the question?

Facebook is bad for us


“How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos” (Guardian) says that if only the nerds behind Facebook and Google had a humanities education, these Internet monopolies would enrich our lives instead of degrading them:

Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter. Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines – intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history – or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.

As one perceptive observer Bob O’Donnell puts it, “a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of today’s social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.”

(Coincidentally, the author of the piece, John Naughton, had a career teaching humanities…)

The Guardian doesn’t seem to have done any fact-checking with Wikipedia, which says that Mark Zuckerberg had about $200,000 of education, including the humanities, in a Westchester County public school system before picking up additional humanities education at the Phillips Exeter academy for rich kids: “On his college application, Zuckerberg stated that he could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek.” Zuckerberg also had two years at Harvard.

Let’s assume that this can be legitimately described as “no exposure to the humanities.” And that explains why Facebook does not give greater prominence to approved points of view. Is that why Facebook is degrading us as human beings and degrading our society? The book iGen, however, suggests that Facebook is inherently bad:

In seven years, social media sites went from being a daily activity for half of teens to almost all of them. That’s especially true for girls: 87% of 12th-grade girls used social media sites almost every day in 2015, compared to 77% of boys. The increases in use have been even larger for minority and lower-income teens—in 2008, white and higher-SES (social scientists call this socioeconomic status, or SES) teens were more likely to use social media sites every day, but by 2015 the race and class differences had disappeared.

For example, 8th graders who spend ten or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to be unhappy than those who don’t. Admittedly, ten hours a week is a lot—so what about those who spend merely six hours a week or more on social media? They are still 47% more likely to say they are unhappy. But the opposite is true of in-person social interaction: those who spend more time with their friends in person are 20% less likely to be unhappy

Teens who visit social networking sites every day are actually more likely to agree “I often feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends” (see Figure 3.7; there are fewer activities on this list than for happiness because the loneliness measure is asked on fewer versions of the questionnaire). In contrast, those who spend time with their friends in person or who play sports are less lonely.

Forty-eight percent more girls felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared to a 27% increase for boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them more opportunities to feel left out and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media are also the perfect medium for the verbal aggression favored by girls. Even before the Internet, boys tended to bully one another physically and girls verbally. Social media give middle and high school girls a 24/7 platform to carry out the verbal aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls. Girls are twice as likely as boys to experience this type of electronic bullying (known as cyberbullying); in the YRBSS survey of high school students, 22% of girls said they had been cyberbullied in the last year, compared to 10% of boys.

Social media might play a role in these feelings of inadequacy: many people post only their successes online, so many teens don’t realize that their friends fail at things, too. The social media profiles they see make them feel like failures. If they spent more time with their friends in person, they might realize that they are not the only ones making mistakes. One study found that college students who used Facebook more often were more depressed—but only if they felt more envy toward others.

Azar, the high school senior we met in earlier chapters, is an astute observer of the patina of positivity on social media covering the ugly underbelly of reality. “People post pretty Instagram posts, like ‘My life is so great.’ Their lives are crap! They’re teenagers,” she says. “[They post] ‘I’m so grateful for my bestie.’ That is b.s. You are not so grateful for your bestie, because in two weeks she’s going to, like, cheat with your boyfriend, and then y’all gonna have a bitch fight and y’all gonna, like, claw each other’s ears off. That is what a teenager’s life is.”

More: Read iGen.

It costs $15 to buy a cup of coffee with Bitcoin… plus the cost of the cup of coffee


When Bitcoin was new (and cheap!) I remember it being sold as a way to do payments efficiently, especially for small payments, e.g., across international borders.

I recently learned from a Bitcoin expert, however, that handling payments has become a weak spot for Bitcoin. “It costs at least $15 to get a transaction recorded by the miners,” he said. What if you don’t pay that much? “Your transaction will languish out there for a few days before finally dying. If you want it to settle within a few minutes you have to pay $15.” (the money for this fee is split up)

Does this make Bitcoin useless? “Think of it as a store of value, like gold bars in a vault,” he said. “It is not a replacement for a credit card.” So it is a digital Fort Knox, but it doesn’t hold anything other than numbers (and, of course, there is no way to lose by investing in Bitcoin because they’re not making any more numbers).

This guy has a couple of businesses centered around Bitcoin trading, etc. But he also bought a small quantity of Bitcoin back in 2010. How did that work out over the past seven years? He sought out my advice regarding which turbine-powered helicopter to buy for family weekend trips. (I recommended a used AStar for $1.5 million.)

[Should you dive in and buy? He thinks the price will fall in the short run, but eventually go to $100,000 to $300,000 per coin.]


Remembering Garrison Keillor


A few times on this blog I have referenced Garrison Keillor and/or Prairie Home Companion.

My link to the 2006 show is broken. Apparently everything the 75-year-old Keillor did has now been stuffed down a memory hole and the replacement is not very funny, e.g., “Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is terminating its contracts with Garrison Keillor and his private media companies after recently learning of allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.” (YouTube hasn’t been thoroughly scrubbed yet, though, here’s an example.)

I will miss a June 2, 2007 show featuring Yvonne Freese, a teenager at the time, singing “God Help the Outcasts” (template used for a song to entertain the toddlers: “Mindy the Crippler”).

Readers: What will you miss about Garrison Keillor? Maybe this blog post will one day be the only Web-based evidence of his existence.

[Separately, does it make sense that it is easier to find sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki than TV or radio shows associated with those accused of mixing sex and business?]

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