Blog Ipsa Loquitur

A great Vox article summarizing the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency:

The Founding Fathers were rebelling against an out-of-control monarch. So they constructed a political system with a powerful legislature and a relatively weak executive. The result is that the US President has little formal power to make Congress do anything. He can’t force Congress to vote on a bill. He can’t force Congress to pass a bill. And even if he vetoes a bill Congress can simply overturn his veto. So in direct confrontations with Congress — and that describes much of American politics these days — the president has few options.

If you’ve ever wondered why the President doesn’t just invade this or repeal that or privatize this or socialize that, you may be part of the Presidential Green Lantern Corps without even knowing it.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

From a recent Slashdot submission titled “Why Mobile Wallets Are Doomed,” noting the failure of Square Wallet.

…it’s natural to consider loading payment information onto [cell phones] as an alternative to cash or plastic cards. The problem comes when this logical entrepreneurial spirit merges with an industry segment that is classically illogical. The payments system in the United States is a mess of entrenched interests, fragmented business opportunities, old infrastructure (like point-of-sale systems), back room handshakes and cut throat competition.

Look, rent-seeking makes it hard for new entries into the market, and yeah, paying for stuff with my phone is new and shiny and I like doing it. But come on. The collective rent-seeking of an imperfect market is not illogical. It’s completely logical for the incumbents to lock out new competition instead of just giving up when someone has a new app.

Is this what nerds do when our favorite startups fail to disrupt markets? Cry wolves of wall street?

Published on under The Digital Age

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