Blog Ipsa Loquitur

From this TED Talk on whether athletes are really getting more athletic, or whether they’re just getting the benefits of improved technology:

Today, one in 10 men in the NBA is at least seven feet tall, but a seven-foot-tall man is incredibly rare in the general population – so rare that if you know an American man between the ages of 20 and 40 who is at least seven feet tall, there’s a 17 percent chance he’s in the NBA right now.

What’s weird is that the answer to the “human or technology” question seems to be “humans are getting weirder shaped, but overall performance isn’t improving very much.” I do appreciate the NBA’s monopoly on tall men, but my absolute favorite is the increased forearm length of water polo players.

Who even measures these things?

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

Twitter sells itself to investors and advertisers as the place for TV-related advertising. Just about every conversation about a TV show happens on Twitter. Twitter improves Nielsen ratings of shows. A TV show about lepers once brushed the hem of Twitter’s garment, and was rewarded with six seasons and a movie.

Twitter drives ratings. Fact. Except not according to an NBC executive:

“Why wouldn’t I want to say to you, ‘We have a potent new way in which we can drive ratings?’” But “it just isn’t true,” he added. “I am saying the emperor wears no clothes. It is what it is. These are the numbers.”

He was only talking about ratings for the Olympics, but still. If there are lots of tweets about a hashtag for a TV show, are people watching the show to keep up with the hashtag, or are people tweeting about a show they were already watching?

The only hashtag worth keeping up with is #sowhiteoutside, anyway; it’s only a matter of time until NBC airs a show based on that.

Published on under The Digital Age

NPR has a fun story about the foreign intelligence community doing something less controversial than “harvest every packet on the internet”: asking regular folks what they think. That’s right, spies making decisions by relying (in part) on the wisdom of the crowd. The idea is silly, right? People are idiots, right? Well…

The wisdom of crowds is a concept first discovered by the British statistician Francis Galton in 1906. Galton was at a fair where about 800 people had tried to guess the weight of a dead ox in a competition. After the prize was awarded, Galton collected all the guesses so he could figure out how far off the mark the average guess was.

It turned out that most of the guesses were really bad — way too high or way too low. But when Galton averaged them together, he was shocked:

The dead ox weighed 1,198 pounds. The crowd’s average: 1,197.

Also, Wired has a piece on what it calls the Sharing Economy. The behavior in this articles strikes me as the kind of thing we probably wouldn’t need to do if real wages had, like, increased since we land on the moon. People renting out their power tools or paying to eat dinner with you seems like the sort of thing North Koreans do because they spent their paycheck on Choco Pies. From the story:

“We are hopping into strangers’ cars (Lyft, Sidecar, Uber), welcoming them into our spare rooms (Airbnb), dropping our dogs off at their houses (DogVacay, Rover), and eating food in their dining rooms (Feastly). We are letting them rent our cars (RelayRides, Getaround), our boats (Boatbound), our houses (HomeAway), and our power tools (Zilok). We are entrusting complete strangers with our most valuable possessions, our personal experiences—and our very lives. In the process, we are entering a new era of Internet-enabled intimacy.”

Also, a college sports team makes more money each year than any NHL team and almost all NBA team. So players at some colleges want to unionize. Or the NHL can start calling its employees “Student-Athletes” next time there’s a lockout:

“Revenues derived from college athletics is greater than the aggregate revenues of the NBA and the NHL,” said Marc Edelman, an associate professor at City University of New York who specializes in sports and antitrust law. He also noted that Alabama’s athletic revenues last year, which totaled $143 million, exceeded those of all 30 NHL teams and 25 of the 30 NBA teams.

Oh, and the Governor of my state said a thing when a reporter asked if he’d interfered with an anti-corruption investigation he called for (by disbanding the commission before it finished the investigation), and whether that could be unlawful:

“It’s not a legal question. The Moreland Commission was my commission,” Mr. Cuomo explained. “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”

Next breath:

“There was something like 25 people on the commission or something. I appoint part of them, the attorney general appointed part of them.”

Exactly. Your commission.

Published on under The News

Via The Verge, how one converts Bitcoins into worthless fiat currency:

The ATM experience is far from seamless, however. To use it, you must submit your phone number, a PIN, a government ID, a palm vein scan, and let it take your photo.… Cashing out Bitcoin can take up to 15 minutes because the currency is designed so that every transaction must be verified by users in the network.

Also, because it’s Bitcoin, the amount of coins you own at any time is public knowledge. Ahh, the sweet smell of digital freedom from the tyranny of The Fed.

Sometimes, I think the J.P. Morgans and the Goldmans Sach of the world came up with Bitcoin as a way to prove that their asinine financial meltdown(s) could actually be worse; because this, apparently, is what Bitcoin looks like when it’s working.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

Via the Volokh Conspiracy, an instance of unqualified and uncertified bloodhounds which may not even be bloodhounds:

First, the state concedes the dogs used in the instant case are not pure breed bloodhounds. Officer Gallien testified that be believed their mother was a dog living at Angola and that dog mated with dogs living at other correctional institutions around the state. The state did not introduce any documentation concerning the dogs’ lineage.

Moreover, the state presented little information concerning the training of the dogs. [Police Officer] Gallien testified the dogs are not certified in any capacity, “but they are very good in my book.” He explained that trustees at the detention center train the dogs and that the dogs “are real good with their noses.”

As to their history of reliability, Gallien stated that one of the dogs recently located a missing person who had fallen off a dock and drowned. He further stated the dogs have “been used a good bit” to find people in the area.

And this goes on for quite a bit. Surprisingly, the appellate court ruled that the police failed to prove that the dogs (named “Bo” and “Trusty”) were reliable. I mean, they should have let the dogs testify if the cops were going to be that unprepared.

Now, the robbers had stockings over their faces and robbed a tobacco store with a handgun. The defendant’s brother was arrested in his car with… a handgun and stockings, which had the defendant’s DNA on them. The defendant and his brother had conflicting stories (which they changed) about where they were the night before the store was robbed, and also conflicting alibis.

However, the cops showed a photo lineup to three witnesses. Two of the witnesses, employees of the robbed store, identified someone other than the defendant as the robber. The third witness didn’t recognize any of the photos. Even better, of the photos the witnesses were shown, the photos of the defendant and his brother were twice the size of the “filler” photos. Real subtle, officers. Real subtle. Also, see above for the state’s complete and utter failure to use the dog evidence to do something other than make the rounds on snarky law blogs.

Result? A retrial, and Officer Gallien likely being assigned to track down the birth mother of his star pooches.

Published on under The News

A webcomic author/artist named John offered books of his comics via Kickstarter in early 2012. It’s 2014, and John is having a hard time sending books to over a thousand of his fans, who kicked in over $51,000 to get those books. He just announced that he is canceling the project and will not offer refunds:

You could try to obtain refunds through kickstarter or paypal, through your bank or credit card company. You could try to harass me or inconvenience me or tell other people negative things about me or this kickstarter in the hope that this will affect me negatively. Be aware that each attempt to contact me about this book will individually result in the burning of a book until the books are gone.

I am making the loudest sound I know how to make. I know that some people will be personally offended that I am doing this, but I am doing this in large part because our culture has developed in such a way that some of the intelligent, empathetic people who follow me will believe they feel more psychological pain because of books being burnt, their money and my attitude about them than because of the destruction of the natural world, the continuation of classist, racist, abusive patterns of behavior and representation, etc.

So essentially, “yes, what I’m doing is sucky, but not as sucky as these other things” which are, in fact, worse. Is that really raising awareness, or just adding to the amount of suck in the world? It doesn’t matter, anyway; he doesn’t have any of the $51,000 people gave him anymore. He says he is out of money because he refunded orders before Christmas which were 18 months behind schedule, so now he can’t fulfill the rest of the orders.

Then he announces, in an astonishing coincidence that has nothing to do with the fact that he’s spent everyone’s money, that he’s actually very much against the entire idea of exchanging “money” for “goods.” (Or owning property or goods at all. Except for his smartphone and its data plan, which he’s keeping. Like Thoreau!)

And that’s about where his update turns into a rambling, 4500-word screed against capitalism and the acquisition of wealth in general; he doesn’t feel like he should have to pay his landlord because his landlord is rich but also because his landlord didn’t fix the roof or protect him from his violent roommate and also because he’s not supposed to be living there and doesn’t have a lease? I don’t know.

I get the guilt over his privilege: over sleeping in a bed when there are millions of kids in some developing country somewhere sleeping on dirt floors, etc. Or feeling guilty about owning a warm jacket when there are thousands of kids in your own city who shiver on the way to school each morning. I get it.

But collecting $51,000 and promising to give people things for that $51,000, only to announce that you’re broke because you didn’t manage to do the math properly on how much it would cost to give people things? And that it’s not your fault, people should really be upset with capitalism itself, which you are now forsaking, conveniently after you pocketed thousands of dollars of other peoples’ money?

That’s pretty embarrassing.

An addendum presented without comment, via Rusty Foster:

In earlier updates [John] claimed to be faking depression for money, claimed to have been joking about faking depression for money, and questioned the ability of anyone to fake anything.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant