Why is Gmail not smart enough to offer a Contacts modification when a message includes the phrase “my phone number is”?


I was recently arranging a meeting with an email friend (not as virtuous as a Facebook friend). She wrote “my phone is 347…” It seemed like an obvious situation for Gmail to include a link offering “add this to the contact information for her”. Yet this did not happen. Nor does Gmail offer any similar shortcuts in any of the emails where the sender wrote “my phone number is …”

Why do we believe in the Dawn of AI when an application such as Gmail, backed by literally infinite money and programming talent, can’t do what the lowest quality human assistant would be able to do?

Steve Wynn survived all of the competitors, but was destroyed by his decision to marry


A friend sent me “With Steve Wynn Gone, ‘Queen of Las Vegas’ Does Boardroom Battle” (nytimes):

Elaine Wynn, known as the Queen of Las Vegas for her long involvement with Mirage and Wynn Resorts, the casino and resort companies she founded with her ex-husband Steve Wynn, might seem an unlikely champion of shareholder rights and good corporate governance.

The outcome is of far more than academic interest, given that Ms. Wynn is now the company’s largest shareholder, with a 9 percent stake valued this week at nearly $2 billion.

For years, the terms of a shareholder agreement related to her 2010 divorce settlement prevented her from voting her shares independently of Mr. Wynn. But that changed earlier this year after The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Wynn had engaged in a long pattern of sexual harassment of Wynn employees, and had paid a manicurist $7.5 million after she told others in 2005 that Mr. Wynn had forced her to have sex.

The cash-for-sex transactions in which Mr. Wynn allegedly engaged were brought to the attention of journalists in a post-divorce lawsuit by the former beauty queen (Vanity Fair), who is generally credited with supervising the interior design of the casinos that Steve Wynn managed. Mr. Wynn no longer is a shareholder or a manager while the former Mrs. Wynn will likely soon be in charge.

My friend’s email: “For decades he prevailed over competition from Caesars, MGM, and the rest, but was taken down by the divorce plaintiff. I bet he wishes he had hired an interior designer instead of marrying one.”

He remarried Ms. Wynn in 1991, after an initial divorce in 1986 (Wikipedia). By that time Wynn had already launched the $630 million Mirage casino. It is kind of interesting that, despite the array of attorneys, risk management executives, etc. that would necessarily surround a casino project of this size, he couldn’t foresee the risk of being married (I don’t think that there have been huge relevant changes in Nevada law between 1991 and now (one big change is that the state defaults to a 50/50 parenting schedule, but the happy-to-unhappy couple did not have any children during this second marriage (Ms. Wynn was 49 years old when the second marriage began)). If we are to believe all of the allegations about Mr. Wynn’s frisky and cash-fueled sexual activities, it seems reasonable to assume that things were proceeding in a similar manner back in 1991. Wouldn’t that have been an additional obvious reason not to take the risk of marriage plus bringing the wife into the business partnership?

Separately, here’s another one where the thinking is tough to understand. “Geena Davis’ 4th husband files for divorce after nearly 17 years of marriage” (Newsday):

Jarrahy requested dissolution of their marriage under the title “Rob Doe vs. Veronica Doe.” TMZ, People magazine and E! News each said they confirmed this was for Iranian-American doctor Jarrahy, born in 1971 [i.e., he is 47], and Davis, 62.

Jarrahy’s filing, which states the couple separated late last year, cites irreconcilable differences and asks for spousal support and joint legal and physical custody of their children, daughter Alizeh, 16, and twin sons Kian and Kaiis, 14.

She had already been divorced three times so presumably she was familiar with California family law, a strongly pro-alimony system. How could she have imagined that the marriage would last when, as soon as she became an elderly woman, he would be able to get her to pay him to enjoy the Los Angeles singles scene as a wealthy middle-aged guy? (See “What I learned at my 35th MIT reunion“: The women who had been sued were the higher-earning spouse. For example, female physicians who survived 30 years of practice without a malpractice lawsuit had proved vulnerable to attack in family court. No-fault divorce for their plaintiffs was rephrased as “Would you like to discard your 55-year-old wife, take half of the money she saved from working as a medical specialist, take half of the money she’s going to earn going forward, and see if having sex with younger women is more exciting?”)

[The guy asking a judge to order Geena Davis to support him, incidentally, is a practicing plastic surgeon. That’s the beauty of California family court! Middle-class taxpayers fund a judge to listen to a prime-age-for-working guy who earns $750,000 per year explain why he can’t live on that and why a former sex partner who will soon be eligible for Medicare should be helping out.]


  • Nevada family law (unlike in many other states, it is difficult to earn court-ordered profits from a sexual relationship unless the sex partner can be persuaded to marry; child support from an unmarried encounter will yield less than $250,000 in revenue (tax-free) over an 18-year period)

Germans try to sort refugees


It is all a question of perspective…

“The Refugee Detectives: Inside Germany’s high-stakes operation to sort people fleeing death from opportunists and pretenders” (Atlantic):

Two years after the peak of the influx, more than 80 percent of refugees were jobless, in a general population whose unemployment rate is 5.5 percent. Successful integration is not assured.

“Germany’s Secret Labor Experiment” (nytimes):

In fact, Germany is moving at full speed with a plan to channel those refugees into its work force. Germany’s political class is doing the country an egregious disfavor by soft-pedaling its muscular, state-of-the-art efforts in labor market integration.

Germany does indeed face a demographic crisis, but it’s not from the influx of refugees. Its population is aging rapidly, and jobs are going unfilled. Over the next decade, Germany is going to need even more — not fewer — immigrants to keep its economy on track and cover growing pension outlays.

So Germany’s going with what it’s got: an abundance of young, overwhelmingly male foreign nationals, a relatively small segment of whom have advanced education or professional training.

Despite the bumps, there’s already evidence of success.

Economists say that a plausible best-case scenario is 50 percent or 60 percent of the current refugee population being employed five years from now — a prediction contingent on successful integration. If this happens, economists say that Germany can accommodate a net migration of about 700,000 people a year.

To get true public support, the country’s leaders have to change the public conversation from one that fears migrants to one that sees how integration can help everyone.

The purported airline pilot shortage


At dinner the other night I sat between a United Airlines B737 pilot and an American Airlines A320 pilot.

The purported airline pilot shortage has not hit the mainline carriers. The United pilot explained that for a white or Asian male it would be necessary to have substantial turbine-multi pilot-in-command time (i.e., have worked at a regional airline for 5-10 years so as to upgrade to captain). In other words, United and American are not poaching first officers (“co-pilots”) from regional airlines, nor are they hiring white/Asian men anywhere near the FAA minimums (1500 hours, possibly all but about 50 in a little four-seat single-engine plane).

[It is a different story for pilots who identify as “female” or who can claim membership in one of the sought-after racial groups. They will be hired if they meet the bare regulatory minimums (i.e., they skip out on the 5-10 years of time- and experience-building and can therefore be much more advanced in their careers at any age because, once hired by a United or American, it is all about seniority).]

What’s the easiest job at these airlines? Senior first officer on the B777, especially if one’s role is to be an en-route relief pilot (just sit in the right seat and maybe work the radios for four hours mid-flight). You literally get paid to sleep in a crew rest bunk for nearly all of your “working” hours. Due to your high seniority you get the best schedules and are probably home at least 20 days per month. This position can be gamed such that the relief pilot does not do three takeoffs and landings within 90 days. Then he or she is no longer legal to serve as a crew member and is grounded for a month while the airline figures out how to schedule simulator training to regain currency.

Down in the world of humble four-seat piston airplanes, the shortage does seem to be real. At our local airport, for example, a 54-year-old flight school shut down recently, saying that they couldn’t recruit and retain instructors. I can’t figure out whether that leaves our school in better or worse shape. On the one hand we no longer have any real competition other than people driving 30+ minutes to some other airport. On the other hand, this “competitor” was great at marketing (our school is great at maintenance) and brought a lot of people to the airport who learned to fly with them and then rented from us or got additional ratings with us.

[Can a flight school holler “shortage” when the retail price for an instructor is less than what the local gym charges for a personal trainer? No school would be short of instructors if it paid $150,000 per year ($200,000 including benefits and taxes?). But if the instructor teaches 500 flight hours per year, that’s $400/hour to the customer, currently paying $150/hour for the plane and $50-60/hour for the teacher. Customers would presumably wander off to find other hobbies if flight schools pushed dual rates from $200/hour to $550.]

Blockchain thieves and blockchain refugee camps


Most of the May/June 2018 issue of Technology Review, the MIT alumni magazine, is devoted to blockchain. Futurists will appreciate “Inside the Jordan refugee camp that runs on blockchain”, about Syrians living in a potential future of retinal authentication for spending crypto currency:

Haddad’s idea for Building Blocks was to start by creating an account on a blockchain for every family of Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp. Families wouldn’t then have to wait days for local banks to transfer their money, or have to share identifying information with the banks, where some unscrupulous employee might steal or misuse it. Meanwhile, the WFP, instead of forwarding money before it’s spent, could itself tally all refugee purchases and pay participating stores afterward in local currency. That’s a big deal, since upwards of 30 percent of UN assistance is lost to corruption.

It is great to do good for others, but what about folks who want to do good for themselves? There is an interesting article on hackers who have made off with crypto currency, not only the familiar Mt. Gox heist, but a January 2018 raid on Coincheck (the thieves netted about $250 million on $500 million stolen).

[The magazine also devoted space to its multi-year theme of female victimhood as evidenced by the paucity of cisgender female nerds (could also be celebrated as evidence of a society with so much opportunity for women that they can do interesting jobs instead; see “The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM” (Atlantic), which says “In countries that empower women, they are less likely to choose math and science professions.”). In the introduction to an interview with Amber Baldet, a JP Morgan Chase manager, the “cryptocommunity” is described as “an entitled boys’ club”. The magazine shows its commitment to gender bravery by interviewing this executive, not about technology or finance or what she and her team of coders might be accomplishing, but about “the state of diversity in the cryptocurrency world.” There are two full-page images of the subject, in both of which she shows enough skin to reveal multiple tatoos. (The editors chose to feature full-page images of multiple women in the issue, but men are generally shown at 1/4 or 1/16th this size. An alien reader would assume that women are literally bigger than men.) In the MIT-only section, an engineering professor who earned her PhD in 1964 is quoted as saying “If engineering doesn’t make welcome space for women then engineering will become marginalized.” The journalists doesn’t comment on the seeming cisgender-normative prejudice or denial of gender fluidity (how do the professor, journalist, and editors know that humans currently working as engineers will continue to identify as “male”?)]

Readers: Will journalists end up being some of the main beneficiaries of blockchain? (other than the obvious beneficiaries, such as vendors of illegal products and services) Every magazine or newspaper can recycle every old headline and most old stories by adding “with blockchain” for the next few years?


University sexual assault courts discover the miracle of plea bargaining


It is tough to convict people given all of the procedural safeguards that we have in place because we value fairness. In the old days, the remedy for this was to torture people until they confessed. Today we make the punishment after conviction 10X worse than it was previously, but offer the option to confess via a plea bargain and receive instead the former maximum sentence. This theme is explored in the classic University of Chicago Law Review article “Torture and Plea Bargaining” (Langbein).

I’m wondering if the sexual assault courts that the Obama Administration forced universities to create have discovered the same idea. “Lawyer: Yovino will claim at trial she was raped by SHU football players” (CT Post):

State prosecutors Tatiana Messina and Emily Trudeau contend Nikki Yovino, now 20, falsely claimed in 2016 that she was raped after having consensual sex in a bathroom with the two men, because she didn’t want to lose another young man as a prospective boyfriend.

Bridgeport lawyer Frank Riccio II, who represents the two men, said that as a result of Yovino’s rape allegations, his clients were scheduled for a school disciplinary hearing but on the advice of legal council agreed instead to withdraw from the university rather than face being expelled and having that on their records.

If three college kids are in the bathroom with the door closed it will be tough for anyone who wasn’t there to establish exactly what happened (and perhaps all three were drunk so even they don’t remember?). Thus, it makes sense to threaten sufficiently severe punishment that the accused will simply take the desired action in exchange for not suffering the maximum punishment.


What is the practical difference among same-wattage PC power supplies?


I have a three-year-old PC with a Corsair AX760i 760W power supply. It was a premium model at the time (2015), costing $183.

I left the PC plugged-in, but shut down, for a couple of days. When I returned and powered it up, the machine died after about 10 minutes of use, as suddenly as if there had been a power failure. After that, it wouldn’t start at all, seeming to start up and then shut down repeatedly at 1-2 second intervals. I left it unplugged overnight and the machine booted up and ran just fine all day.

I am thinking that it is time for a new power supply. In theory this thing has a warranty, but how can I live without it for days? Maybe they offer advance replacement? But how do they know it is actually broken and it isn’t something else shutting down the PC?

[Readers: Anyone have an idea for what could be wrong other than the power supply?]

Let’s assume that it is in fact time for a new power supply. The same company, Corsair, makes multiple 750-watt model: Bronze ($80), Gold ($130), and Platinum ($180). What is the conceivable practical difference among these? Will it be fan noise? They all claim to be quiet at idle, which is where my PC lives 99 percent of the time (Adobe Premiere compressing videos is my only heavy load). The high-end ones are slightly more efficient? But who cares if the PC is seldom under high load?

Thanks in advance for brilliant insights!

[Separately, I can’t see anything about today’s PCs that is significantly better than what I purchased three years ago (for a little over $2,000). The consumer (non-Xeon) motherboard in my desktop holds up to 128 GB of RAM (32 GB currently populated). Most of what’s in the market today seems to max out at 32 GB or maybe 64 GB. How is it that so many brilliant engineering minds can’t make something that inspires trade-ins?]


Modest requirements for an employer


From a Facebook friend:

I get so frustrated with operational problems at [the school where I work] that I sometimes think I’d leave if there was another Hispanic-serving trans-friendly women’s college in [the big metro area where I live] that would grant me tenure. (emphasis added)

If she ever does talk to a headhunter, I would love to listen in!

Passion for feminism not helpful when selecting romantic partners?


“Eric Schneiderman, Accused by 4 Women, Quits as New York Attorney General” (nytimes):

Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general who rose to prominence as an antagonist of the Trump administration, abruptly resigned on Monday night hours after The New Yorker reported that four women had accused him of physically assaulting them.

Two of the women who spoke to the magazine, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, said they had been choked and hit repeatedly by Mr. Schneiderman. Both said they had sought medical treatment. Another woman, a lawyer, said she was slapped violently across the face. A fourth woman said she had similar experiences.

Mr. Schneiderman has long been regarded as one of the state’s most progressive politicians, even before his 2013 lawsuit against Trump University and his subsequent suits against the Trump administration made him the darling of the political left.

One of the women, Tanya Selvaratnam, has “served on the board of The Third Wave Foundation, which is dedicated to youth activism and the feminist movement” and produced videos for the Women’s March. It does not seem unreasonable to describe her as a “feminist”. This New York Post article describes her relationship with the “progressive politician”:

Harvard-educated activist writer Tanya Selvaratnam told the New Yorker magazine that her yearlong affair with Schneiderman “was a fairytale that became a nightmare” — and quickly escalated into violence in the bedroom, even as he begged for threesomes.

“Sometimes, he’d tell me to call him Master, and he’d slap me until I did,” Selvaratnam said. … Soon, “we could rarely have sex without him beating me.”

I hope that we can all agree that this is a description of a below-average heterosexual relationship. The question then arises as to why an expert on feminism wouldn’t simply walk away from it. Can it be that years of studying feminism, marching, advocating, etc. have no practical value in this realm? If so, in what realm does being a feminist lead to a personal advantage?

[Separately, I know of a well-educated medium-income woman in her 20s. She was sufficiently passionate about feminism to go to the Women’s March in the off-the-charts-expensive city where she lives. She met a man in his mid-50s who owns a modest (i.e., $3+ million) house. She is now protesting the patriarchy by living in this man’s house.]


Blind tasting of $12 per bottle red wines


Friends run an annual blind wine tasting with $12(ish) bottles of red and one $40 “ringer” bottle.

In a field of about 15, the top-rated wine was Ava Grace Merlot 2015 from California, closely followed by a Moncaro organic Rosso blend from Italy and the $40 Gary Ferrell 2014 Pinot Noir (equalled by a Robert Mondavi 2016 cabernet; maybe the “private selection” that is about $11?).

People truly hated a popular Rioja and modestly priced Cotes-Du-Rhone and Bordeaux wines.

If you prefer wines crafted in Virginia you’ll be pleased to know that the Trump Winery’s 2014 Sparkling Rose earned 96 points in a competition in California (press release). From a recent Trump Winery email: “At the largest international wine competition in the world, our 2016 Sauvignon Blanc received a Double Gold medal with a 96 point rating. Of the nearly 200 Sauvignon Blancs entered from around the world, only 12 double gold medals were awarded: 10 from New Zealand, 1 from California, and ours!”

Log in