~ Archive for Uncategorized ~

Dating Tips


From a Facebook friend: a helpful list of 10 things to talk about on a first date. Some excerpts:

  • How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?
  • What is your understanding of settler colonialism and indigenous rights?
  • Do you think capitalism is exploitative?
  • Can any human be illegal?
  • Does your allyship include disabled folks? (pro tip: don’t ridicule the wheelchair-bound diner at the adjacent table, though it might be okay to condemn wheelchair-bound sex criminals)

The good news is that there is a correct answer to each of these questions!

How was the immigration of Akayed Ullah supposed to benefit native-born Americans?


According to “New York attack: What do we know about Akayed Ullah?” (BBC):

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Ullah entered the US on an F43 visa.

This means he was the child of someone with an F41 visa, which is available to people who are the “brother or sister of a US citizen at least 21 years old”.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission told CNN that Ullah held a taxi driver’s licence from March 2012 to March 2015.

The Inspector General of Police in Bangladesh, AKM Shahidul Haque, said Ullah had no criminal record in Bangladesh.

In light of the Port Authority bombing that he perpetrated, it seems safe to say Mr. Ullah’s life in the U.S. didn’t turn out well either for him or for us, but what was the best case scenario for native-born Americans? Mr. Ullah’s education and skills were presumably appropriate to the taxi-driving job that we expect to be eliminated by robots. Mr. Ullah settled in a city that most Americans regarded as already overcrowded when he immigrated.

[Mr. Ullah was a law-abiding citizen in Bangladesh, according to the BBC, so he likely would have been better off staying there.]

Readers: What is the theory that drove us to welcome Mr. Ullah?


Microprocessors ruining our lives


What could be more awesome than Jack Kilby’s 1958 integrated circuit, which led to the microprocessors in our desktop computers and smartphones?

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked says that our Silicon Age is not, in fact, awesome for humans:

Addictive behaviors have existed for a long time, but in recent decades they’ve become more common, harder to resist, and more mainstream.

Millions of recovering alcoholics manage to avoid bars altogether, but recovering Internet addicts are forced to use email. You can’t apply for a travel visa or a job, or begin working, without an email address. Fewer and fewer modern jobs allow you to avoid using computers and smartphones. Addictive tech is part of the mainstream in a way that addictive substances never will be.

Smartphones rob us of time, but even their mere presence is damaging. In 2013, two psychologists invited pairs of strangers into a small room and asked them to engage in conversation. To smooth the process, the psychologists suggested a topic: why not discuss an interesting event that happened to you over the past month? Some of the pairs talked while a smartphone sat idle nearby, while for others the phone was replaced by a paper notebook. Every pair bonded to some extent, but those who grew acquainted in the presence of the smartphone struggled to connect. They described the relationships that formed as lower in quality, and their partners as less empathetic and trustworthy. Phones are disruptive by their mere existence, even when they aren’t in active use. They’re distracting because they remind us of the world beyond the immediate conversation, and the only solution, the researchers wrote, is to remove them completely.

In 2000, Microsoft Canada reported that the average human had an attention span of twelve seconds; by 2013 that number had fallen to eight seconds. (According to Microsoft, a goldfish, by comparison, has an average attention span of nine seconds.) “Human attention is dwindling,” the report declared. Seventy-seven percent of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds claimed that they reached for their phones before doing anything else when nothing is happening. Eighty-seven percent said they often zoned out, watching TV episodes back-to-back. More worrying, still, Microsoft asked two thousand young adults to focus their attention on a string of numbers and letters that appeared on a computer screen. Those who spent less time on social media were far better at the task.

What are we doing with our short attention spans?

How long do you think the average office email goes unread? I guessed ten minutes. The truth is just six seconds. In reality, 70 percent of office emails are read within six seconds of arriving. Six seconds is less time than it’s taken you to read this paragraph so far, but it’s long enough for the average worker to disrupt whatever he’s doing to open his email program and click on the incoming email. This is hugely disruptive: by one estimate, it takes up to twenty-five minutes to become re-immersed in an interrupted task. If you open just twenty-five emails a day, evenly spaced across the day, you’ll spend literally no time in the zone of maximum productivity.

… the average schoolchild aged between eight and eighteen years spends a third of her life sleeping, a third at school, and a third engrossed in new media, from smartphones and tablets to TVs and laptops. She spends more time communicating through screens than she does with other people directly, face-to-face. Since the turn of the new millennium, the rate of non-screen playtime fell 20 percent, while the rate of screen playtime increased by a similar amount.

Children are especially vulnerable to addiction, because they lack the self-control that prevents many adults from developing addictive habits. Regulated societies respond by refusing to sell alcohol and cigarettes to children—but very few societies regulate behavioral addictions. Kids can still play with interactive tech for hours at a time, and they can still play video games as long as their parents will allow. (Korea and China have flirted with so-called Cinderella laws, which prohibit children from playing games between midnight and six in the morning.)

What is addiction anyway?

Addiction originally meant a different kind of strong connection: in ancient Rome, being addicted meant you had just been sentenced to slavery. If you owed someone money and couldn’t repay the debt, a judge would sentence you to addiction. You’d be forced to work as a slave until you’d repaid your debt [see some of the material within Post-Divorce Litigation for the modern equivalent!]. This was the first use of the word addiction, but it evolved to describe any bond that was difficult to break. If you liked to drink wine, you were a wine addict; if you liked to read books, you were a book addict. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with being an addict; many addicts were just people who really liked eating or drinking or playing cards or reading. To be an addict was to be passionate about something, and the word addiction became diluted over the centuries.

Inbox Zero also explains why workers spend a quarter of their days dealing with emails, and why they check their accounts, on average, thirty-six times every hour. In one study, researchers found that 45 percent of respondents associated email with “a loss of control.” This from a mode of communication that barely existed until the twenty-first century.

Fortunately America is packed with psychologists who can treat us, right? Hilarie Cash, a PhD clinical psychologist, started a  treatment center for game-addicted young people and then was surprised at their behavior:

“Our guys get sidetracked, and they develop intimacy disorders. They don’t have the skills to bring sexuality and intimacy together. Many of them turn to pornography instead of forming real relationships, and they never seem to understand true intimacy.” Cash referred to “our guys” because the center no longer admits women. “For four years we admitted women, but we had to revise our policy after a number of patients ignored the ‘no physical intimacy’ rule. We had many more male applicants in those days, so we decided to stop taking women. Now, with the rise of non-violent casual and social gaming, there are almost as many female applicants. We may have to reconsider our policy.”

What can a parent do?

It’s far easier to prevent people from developing addictions in the first place than it is to correct existing bad habits, so these changes should begin not with adults, but with young kids. Parents have always taught their children how to eat, when to sleep, and how to interact with other people, but parenting today is incomplete without lessons on how to interact with technology, and for how long each day.

How about a company?

[Daimler]’s one hundred thousand employees can set incoming emails to delete automatically when they’re on vacation. A so-called mail on holiday assistant automatically emails the sender to explain that the email wasn’t delivered, and suggests another Daimler employee who will step in if the email is urgent. Workers come back from their vacations to an inbox that looks exactly as it did when they left several weeks ago.

More: read  Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked


Why Facebook is so addictive: the Like button


How did Facebook destroy the audience for the public Internet? Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked is a good place to start looking for answers:

Thirty-seven years after Zeiler published his results [on pigeons, in 1971], a team of Facebook web developers prepared to unleash a similar feedback experiment on hundreds of millions of humans. Facebook has the power to run human experiments on an unprecedented scale. The site already had two hundred million users at the time—a number that would triple over the next three years. The experiment took the form of a deceptively simple new feature called a “like” button. Anyone who has used Facebook knows how the button works: instead of wondering what other people think of your photos and status updates, you get real-time feedback as they click (or don’t click) a little blue-and-white thumbs-up button beneath whatever you post. (Facebook has since introduced other feedback buttons, so you’re able to communicate more complex emotions than simple liking.) It’s hard to exaggerate how much the “like” button changed the psychology of Facebook use. What had begun as a passive way to track your friends’ lives was now deeply interactive, and with exactly the sort of unpredictable feedback that motivated Zeiler’s pigeons. Users were gambling every time they shared a photo, web link, or status update. A post with zero likes wasn’t just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation: either you didn’t have enough online friends, or, worse still, your online friends weren’t impressed. Like pigeons, we’re more driven to seek feedback when it isn’t guaranteed.

Facebook was a great idea (from the Winklevoss twins, now Bitcoin billionaires), but it didn’t become a super-addictive idea until the Like button, according to the author of this book. Why do people love this so much?

Social confirmation, or seeing the world as others see it, is a marker that you belong to a group of like-minded people. In evolutionary terms, group members tended to survive while loners were picked off, one by one, so discovering that you’re a lot like other people is deeply reassuring. When people are deprived of these bonds, they experience a form of pain so severe that it’s sometimes called “the social death penalty.”

How can people break free of Facebook addiction? The authors suggest saying “I don’t use Facebook” rather than “I can’t use Facebook,” but mostly putting a dog’s shock collar on yourself: Pavlok. Another idea is to use Facebook through an interface that hides all of the metrics: a Demetricator.

How powerful is gamification?

[Ian] Bogost demonstrated the power of gamification with a social media game called Cow Clicker. He designed Cow Clicker to mimic similar games, like FarmVille, which had dominated Facebook for many months. The game’s objective was simple: click your cow during critical periods and you’ll earn virtual currency known as mooney. Cow Clicker was supposed to satirize gamification, but it was a smash hit. Tens of thousands of users downloaded the game, and instead of playing once or twice, they played for days on end. At one point, a computer science professor sat atop the leaderboard with a hundred thousand mooney. Bogost updated the game with new features, adding awards for reaching certain milestones (such as the Golden Cowbell for one hundred thousand clicks), and introducing an oil-coated cow to commemorate the BP oil spill. He claimed that Cow Clicker’s success was a surprise, but really it embodied many of the traits that made other games addictive: Werbach and Hunter’s points, badges, and levels.

… and it will only get worse:

Behavioral addiction is still in its infancy, and there’s a good chance we’re still at base camp, far below the peak. Truly immersive experiences, like virtual reality devices, have not yet gone mainstream. In ten years, when all of us own a pair of virtual reality goggles, what’s to keep us tethered to the real world? If human relationships suffer in the face of smartphones and tablets, how are they going to withstand the tide of immersive virtual reality experiences? Facebook is barely a decade old, and Instagram is half that; in ten years, a host of new platforms will make Facebook and Instagram seem like ancient curiosities.

More: read  Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

New York Times discourages women from working


“My Generation Thought Women Were Empowered. Did We Deceive Ourselves?” (nytimes) is a 71-year-old woman’s tale of suffering at the hands of men in the workplace:

When I started out in journalism in the 1970s, … My first job was at the London bureau of a prominent international wire service. When I walked in the newsroom, the all-male staff gaped at me as if I were an oasis in a desert. … I felt lonely, in need of a friend. I suppose this is why I responded when one reporter began to engage me in conversation. My hopes rose — until I felt the hand slowly sneaking up my thigh. I dispatched him with an elbow in the torso. And the guy who grabbed my butt the next day got a swift back kick into the kneecap and a couple of four-letter words.

When you get older, gender discrimination gets easier, somewhat predictable and sometimes even funny. But it doesn’t stop — even if you’ve published four books and had a long journalism career. When my last book came out, I was interviewed by a certain talk show host, before he was stripped of his job because of gross sexual misconduct charges. I had hardly opened my mouth before he fell asleep. During the rest of the interview, he kept nodding off while the camera judiciously avoided him. When I left the studio, he had popped awake for his new guests. I saw him waving his hands enthusiastically while speaking with two high-powered male journalists.

I herald this latest female generation for their courage in revealing their humiliations for the chance to change society. We, the earliest female newswomen, were tough, ambitious, even cocky about our talent, but over the years, our self-confidence was often irreparably harmed. Our generation might have been smart, but there was much we just didn’t get. Grateful to win a place in the hierarchy of power, we didn’t understand the ways that gender degradation still shaped our work lives.

Suppose that young female readers of the New York Times assume that this story is representative of women’s experiences in the workforce, i.e., humiliation, groping, and irreparable harm. Why would a rational woman then choose to enter the workforce?

Now that everyone can agree that “news” is more about promoting an agenda of some kind, can we infer that the NYT’s agenda is to discourage American women from working?

Deportation bureaucracy meets aviation bureaucracy


Here’s some good news for Jet A suppliers: “U.S. Put 92 Somalis on a Deportation Flight, Then Brought Them Back” (nytimes). From the article:

Ninety-two Somali citizens were flown out of the United States under orders of deportation on Thursday, but their plane never made it to Somalia. The flight landed in the West African country of Senegal and, facing logistical problems, was rerouted back to the United States.

In an emailed statement on Friday, the agency said it was notified that a relief flight crew was “unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar,” so the aircraft and detainees spent time parked at the airport there. It added that “various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees.”

What about the notoriously efficient Germans? “Pilots stop 222 asylum seekers being deported from Germany by refusing to fly” (Independent):

Pilots have stopped 222 deportations of asylum seekers from Germany by refusing to take off with them on board.

Many of the pilots refused to take control of flights taking people back to Afghanistan, where violence is still rife following years of war and occupation by Western forces.

Some of the flights belonged to Lufthansa and its subsidiary, Eurowings.

The decision not to carry a passenger, was ultimately down to the pilot on a “case-by-case decision”, Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty…

German publication RBB24 quoted a Lufthansa pilot who did not want to be identified as saying pilots would normally refuse to take off if a potential deportee answers “no” when asked if they want to take the flight.

“We have to prevent anyone from being freaked out during the flight, and we have to protect the other passengers as well,” the pilot reportedly said.

Pilots can face disciplinary measures if they refuse to fly on moral grounds.

Lufthansa Group spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf told RBB24 that he was not aware of “any case where one of our pilots has refused to take them for reasons of conscience”.


Are you dumb enough to study aviation at MIT?


In an age of global deregulated economical air travel, is it a sign of intelligence to be in Boston in mid-January and endure waist-high snow drifts, freezing drizzle, etc.? If you think that the answer is “yes,” come to our three-day Private Pilot Ground School: http://philip.greenspun.com/teaching/ground-school/

As noted in the link, this will be all-day every day for three days: January 16, 17, and 18. If you’re an MIT student you get 3 units of credit. If you’re not an MITer you are welcome to attend and be signed off for the FAA knowledge test (the “written”). There is no cost for this class.

We’re going to cover the straightforward FAA-required stuff, but also add some engineering and mental challenges. We should have some exciting guest speakers as well.

Percentage of female aircraft mechanics


Plane&Pilot magazine covers exciting new developments in an industry where there hasn’t been significant innovation since the 1970s (glass cockpits) or 1990s (GPS). Thus, like the rest of America, the magazine has been reduced to covering gender issues. The December 2017 issue carries a “Plane Facts” column titled “Women in Aviation”.

The column reminds readers of the achievements of Jacqueline Cochran, back in the 1930s-1950s when it didn’t occur to people that women were the new children. Then there is a discussion of female pilot certificate holders, with an “estimated active pilot certificates held by women” going from 2.85 percent of all pilots in 1960 to 6.39 percent in 1980 and then more or less staying constant (6.71 percent in 2016).

[Note that these numbers don’t necessarily track the number of women working as pilots. Many pilot certificate holders don’t fly as part of their job. On the one hand, you might expect a higher percentage of female commercial pilots because pilots who identify as women are generally able to get jobs at the FAA minimum number of hours of experience for the position (“Affirmative Action” or “positive discrimination”). On the other hand, women have less incentive to continue working as pilots (and therefore living out of discount hotel rooms) because a woman who has sex with an airline Captain can obtain, depending on the state, a higher spending power than from working as a First Officer (see the Massachusetts chapter for one example of a woman who had three children with three different pilots; also “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”).]

Buried among the statistics is the percentage of women who hold FAA certificates entitling them to maintain certified aircraft: 2.28 percent.

Thus the gender ratio is roughly 13:1 among pilots and 50:1 among mechanics. Yet we are bombarded with stories about women pilots breaking the purported gender barrier while nobody seems to care how many female mechanics there are.

Maybe the answer is money? BLS says airline and commercial pilots earn a median $105,720 per year (not CFIs at flight schools, unfortunately!). The BLS number for mechanics is $60,170. On the other hand, if we adjust for working hours the mechanics may actually earn more. The mechanic never has to sleep in a Hilton Garden Inn. The mechanic has a lower risk of death or injury. (Though many light aircraft mechanics bravely go out with customers on test flights following maintenance!) The mechanic can generally start earning money sooner than the pilot and invests less in training (maybe essentially nothing, just working for 30 months as an apprentice and then taking a test). The mechanic’s job is far less vulnerable to economic boom and bust cycles (a plane needs an annual inspection if it is to fly even one hour during a year!).

Readers: Why the public passion for women in the cockpit, but no corresponding passion for women in the hangar?


When do we implement a bitcoin envy tax?


To judge by the media, Americans have become consumed with envy over the past 10 years or so. This is especially directed at people who obtained money without exerting sufficient (in the eyes of politicians, the nytimes, et al.) effort.

What has been more effortless than the newfound wealth of bitcoin billionaires? (“bitcoin bastards”?) They put in the price of a Manhattan date night back in 2011, left an encryption key in a filing cabinet, and today they are shopping for houses in the Hamptons (except for those unfortunates who lost the Post-It with the key!).

Some people who understand this market say that bitcoin should be worth over $100,000+ (or maybe “nothing”?). At what point in its rise will voters demand an envy tax? This is not an unprecedented idea. We’ve had taxes on “windfall profits” before. What has been more of a windfall than bitcoin’s rise?

For color, here’s a $2 million Pagani Huarya in Central Square, Cambridge, two blocks from various public housing units (allocated by qualified bureaucrats to the worthy poor!) operated by the Cambridge Housing Authority

Pearl Harbor Day: Marriage in the Digital Age


On this Pearl Harbor Day, a story about Americans are managing to attack each other without any Mitsubishi Zeros“How One Woman’s Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her” (WIRED):

In the fall of 2012, Courtney and Steven had been together for 12 years but had known each other for 20: They met in a high school biology class and reconnected later when Courtney was going through a divorce.

[note the conventional-for-American-journalism “going through a divorce” phraseology, as though it was something that happened without human agency, not “when Courtney was divorcing her husband” or “after Courtney’s husband had sued her”]

Marriage is boring for some folks:

At the time, Courtney was staying home with her toddler. She and Steven had made that decision together, but still, it was rough on their marriage: Steven was working long hours as an IT instructor and felt the stress of being the sole breadwinner. He often traveled for work. Courtney was a nervous new mother, afraid to let her son stay with sitters, which only increased her sense of isolation. She was often angry at Steven, whom she began to see as controlling and neglectful.

Eventually Courtney was spending a lot of time online with Zonis and pulling further away from Steven. She kept telling herself that they were just good friends, even when Zonis sent her a penis-shaped sex toy. … [Steven] confronted Courtney. She was furious that he had read her emails but said she would stop communicating with Zonis. Instead, she moved the relationship to her tablet, behind a password; she also labeled Zonis’ contact information with a fake name.

[Why not sue for divorce and be free to hang out with the new friend? Washington State family law caps child support at about $20,000 per year, so it is not nearly as profitable as suing under California law, for example. Also, alimony after a 12-year marriage would likely be just 3 or 4 years. One has to stick with the boring IT instructor spouse if one wants to spend the bulk of the boring IT instructor’s income.]

Two can play the Internet game:

A few days later, Steven contacted his parents and Courtney’s parents and told them about the relationship. He found Zonis’ wife and wrote and texted her. He looked up Zonis’ parents on a people-finder site. “I would ask that you encourage your son to stop this affair before it completely ruins our family,” he wrote, adding that he had heard that the Zonises had an open relationship. “If you have any questions or would like to see some of the evidence, please email me.”

Lawyers start to make money:

In March 2015, Courtney filed for a protective order against Zonis, which would make further contact a crime. Steven filed for a similar order for himself and their son the month after the “exposure,” but Courtney had believed that doing so would be too antagonizing. Zonis and his wife responded in kind by getting orders of their own.

Social media can be worse than a time-waster:

There were accounts impersonating Courtney and Steven; one Google Plus account, which included the videos and Courtney’s contact information, birthday, and maiden name, had more than 8,000 views. There was an account for their son. A Facebook account in the name of “Jennifer Jones”—Courtney recognized one photo as Zonis’ pet tortoise—sent messages to her friends and family accusing Steven of abuse and of having sent “Jones” threatening emails and photos of his penis. (Zonis denies creating any of these accounts, saying: “I’ve never been on Facebook in my life” and “Who puts a picture of their pet on a secret account they’re trying to hide?”)

The Allens contacted Facebook, Google, YouTube, and other sites to have the accounts taken down, with mixed success. One of the hardest to remove was the Facebook page in their son’s name. When Courtney filled out a form indicating that she wasn’t the one being impersonated, the site suggested she alert that person to have it removed; there seemed to be no expectation that the targeted person might be a 4-year-old. The account stayed up despite repeated requests. (It was finally disabled in late October, after WIRED’s fact-checkers asked Facebook for comment.)

The Internet antagonist somehow gets hold of their real info?

In the summer of 2015, the Allens found out that a new credit card had been opened in their names and that one of their existing cards had been used fraudulently. They could see that all the attempted charges were to access sites that might yield personal information: ancestry.com, a site that allows recovery of old W2s, a company that does background checks.

The war intensifies:

In late June 2015, K&L Gates filed the Allens’ lawsuit against Zonis, seeking damages and relief related to defamation, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, electronic impersonation, and invasion of privacy. Two months later, Zonis filed his own suit in federal court in Arizona, making similar claims against Steven.

Emails had begun coming to Steven’s account at the University of Washington—a job he thought had gone unnoticed until he got an anonymous email referencing the school’s mascot: “Public record. all. done.” Soon dozens of accounts, from the IT department to the university president, were getting emails about the Allens, often with images of Courtney. According to court records, two preschools in the Kent area also got emails that appeared to be from Steven; they said that he planned to come in with a gun and start shooting.“It wasn’t me!” Steven cried when the police called him at work. “I’m here!”

Taxpayers get involved:

Later that fall, two FBI agents appeared at the Allens’. The couple hoped again that their troubles were ending at last. But while the agents were aware of their case, they said they were required to tell the Allens to cease and desist because Zonis had contacted them with evidence that he said showed the Allens were committing credit fraud against him.

There is a trial two years after the lawsuits were filed:

By the end of arguments, the Allens’ legal team had introduced 1,083 exhibits into evidence. The chart Van Engelen made just to organize the emails was 87 pages long. It was a level of scrutiny that few cyberharassment cases ever receive—and an illustration of what victims face when dealing with such a complicated case, especially if they don’t have access to pro bono help. K&L lawyers and paralegals had spent thousands of hours digging through the evidence. The value of Van Engelen’s time alone was in the ballpark of $400,000.

The husband and wife who defended themselves didn’t do very well against K&L Gates:

The K&L lawyers had not asked for a specific amount of compensation. The Allens told their lawyers that their goal wasn’t money but simply an end to the harassment.

The jury also chose yes for “Was the electronic impersonation a proximate cause of the injury or damage to the Allens?” The form offered a blank space to write in the total amount of damages warranted. The jury’s answer: $2 million. … The jury did agree with Zonis on one count: The Allens had “intruded upon the seclusion” of the Zonises, but they found that no harm had resulted. When the amounts awarded to the Allens were totaled, they added up to $8.9 million.

[How does $8.9 million compare to what happens in an actual shooting war? The U.S. military pays a $100,000 “death gratuity” to the survivor of a soldier killed on active duty, including actual combat.]

Readers” What do you think? Have Internet and social media brought us to the point where we can get all of our fighting done without buying weapons and without involving foreign countries?

More: read “How One Woman’s Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her” (WIRED)

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