As the drama surrounding the United States government shutdown escalated last week, I thought back to last year’s presidential election. Unrelated to politics, I found myself almost shocked to think that nearly a year had passed since I was at home with my wife watching the debates between President Obama and Governor Romney. As my mind wandered, I was overwhelmed at the rate and magnitude of change over the preceding year.
During this time in 2012, I was fighting internal doubt and frustration while trying to complete my dissertation in time for a December graduation. I was also a mere 28 years of age, so thoughts of life’s brevity were still obscured by youthful ignorance. My wife and I had only began to discuss having children, meaning our biggest worry revolved around who was making dinner. Fast forward to today, and everything has changed.
I completed my Ph.D. in December, and have worked since January as a postdoctoral research fellow. I am filled with confidence and excitement because I get to work on really cool problems with really smart people. I turned 29 this past March, so of course I began to think about 30, which were really just thoughts about life writ large. My wife and I learned in June that we were going to have a baby sometime in late February or early March of 2014. Things are definitely much different than in 2012.
All of this led me to today. I’ve run this website for over two years, with daily postings starting over 21 months ago. I’ve posted some 920 stories, of which 892 have occurred on 652 consecutive days. The site has been visited by nearly 50,000 people, with over 35% originating from outside the United States. A few reviews and personal stories I did were very popular, with one post reaching over 10,000 page views. I have even been contacted by Facebook to update a tutorial I posted because it was ranked fairly high. All of the above far exceeded my expectations when I began this experiment in late 2011. Needless to say, it has been a very fun experience.
Despite all of the positives, I will no longer publish this website in its current form. There are many reasons for this decision.
Firstly, I haven’t enjoyed doing it for several months. Trying to find something to share everyday feels like a burden, and I simply don’t care about most of the subject matter. That is why the site has been dominated by linked posts instead of original writing.
Secondly, no one really cares. I started the site because I wanted to share things I found cool in a voice that hopefully resonated with visitors. In reality, the site is nothing more than a version of what many were already doing - that is copying the Daring Fireball format of linked posts with a bit of commentary. The site does not offer anything new, and so it is largely a wasted effort. Stated another way, the site is yet another place that does nothing but add to the vacuum of soulless internet garbage.
This leads to my final reason. There is no clearer motivation than life’s nagging reminder of one’s mortality. I want to do things in life that matter. I want to do things that will make my friends and family proud. I admire my wife because she had many opportunities to sell-out in medical school by choosing a field that would make her rich. Instead, she chose one of the relatively lower paying fields (pediatrics) because advocating for children was her passion. In the past, she has volunteered at “free” clinics, served on various boards, and worked in Peru for month where she served poor children. Most recently, she has focused on abuse prevention and awareness. I could not be more proud of her. However, the light of her generosity has illuminated the inadequacies of my own life. I am in a fairly rare position for Oklahoma by having an advanced degree and not immediately leaving. I have been afforded a standing in our society that, whether deserved or not, has the potential to open many doors. I want to open doors that positively affect people. This site is not one of those things.
I might write here occasionally when there is something important to say, although those times will likely be infrequent. In the meantime, I will spend my efforts on a few projects that I think are worth my time. I have a mobile application that aims to improve the efficiency of pediatric medical professionals. I also have a few more application ideas that I want to pursue. In addition, I am working on launching a website that will focus on politics - not in the typical hyper-partisan way, but in a way that illustrates how our lives are shaped by our leaders’ decisions. Finally, I want to pursue an idea on improving education in Oklahoma. The idea is to focus on the time between when school lets out and when it starts anew the following day. The idea might broadly be considered a Variety Care for education.
In parting, I want to offer thanks to everyone who has visited and given feedback. I have really enjoyed interacting with people I might not otherwise have met. I especially welcomed when my ideas were challenged and debated. You’ll hear from me in the future when I feel I have something meaningful to contribute. Until then, I’ll be taking a much needed hiatus - thank you, all.
Congress has gone through periods of relatively high partisanship before — for example, at the turn of the 20th century. But the degree of polarization in the Congress is higher than at any point since the Great Depression by a variety of measures, and is possibly at its highest point ever. (Most of the evidence suggests the trend is asymmetric: Republicans in Congress have become much more conservative, while Democrats have become only somewhat more liberal.)
On Saturday, October 12th, the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns will meet in the Cotton Bowl for the 108th edition ofRed River Rivalry. Unlike many past match-ups, Texas is down this year. With a record of 3-2, and several poor performances, most analysts aren’t expecting the Longhorns to provide much competition for the Sooners. As a Sooners fan, I always try to remain skeptical of such talk.
One of the great improvements this year for Oklahoma is their defense. I began poking around the statistics and noticed that Oklahoma has not faced a team ranked better than 79th in total offense. This was particularly intriguing because Texas is ranked 39th. I began to wonder, beyond the “anything can happen in a rivalry” wild card, if there were any statistics that might point to a closer game than most expect.
First, I looked at the offensive performance by each team: scoring, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. I took both team’s output in each game and normalized them by their respective opponent’s average in the category of interest. This value was found by subtracting the opponent’s average from either the Oklahoma or Texas output, and then dividing by the opponent’s average. For instance, if Oklahoma’s opponent surrendered an average of 14 points and the Sooners scored 28, then the normalized value would be unity. The same was done for each team’s defensive performance.
Positive (negative) values indicate a performance that exceeds an opponent’s offensive (defensive) average, while the opposite sign indicates a performance that lags an opponent’s average. In other words, positive (negative) values indicate a “good” offensive (defensive) performance, while negative (positive) values indicate a “bad” offensive (defensive) performance. The relative level of “good” or “bad” increases with increasing magnitude.
Offensive production from Texas and Oklahoma. Values are normalized by their opponents’ respective average.
In looking at the offensive plot, Texas has more positive scoring performances than Oklahoma (4/5 vs. 3/5), while Oklahoma has the more impressive relative single scoring output. Passing performance illustrates a rather stark difference between Oklahoma and Texas. Outside of the one particularly strong outing from the Sooners, their passing output has been relatively poor when compared to Texas. Generally, the opposite is true for rushing.
On the defensive side, the Oklahoma Sooners have more impressive defensive outings than Texas in all categories. This is especially evident in scoring and pass defense.
Defensive production from Texas and Oklahoma. Values are normalized by their opponents’ respective average.
However, these figures can be misleading. On offense, the positive (negative) outliers can arise from playing weak (strong) opponents. The opposite is true for defense. To account for this, I added a weighting term to the normalized values that took into account the opponent’s national rank (out of 123 teams) in each respective category. The idea was to penalize each team for poor performances against weak opponents and to reward good performances against strong opponents. The weighting procedure is very ad-hoc1, prescribed for offense as:
weight = 1 - (opponent ranking-1)/123
if (normalizedValue > 0):
normalizedValue = weight*normalizedValue
normalizedValue = (1-weight)*normalizedValue
and for defense as:
weight = 1 - (opponent ranking-1)/123
if (normalizedValue > 0):
normalizedValue = (1-weight)*normalizedValue
normalizedValue = weight*normalizedValue
The hope in applying a weighting factor is that the spread among data points, and thus the subsequent interpretatios, are more meaningful.
Offensive production from Texas and Oklahoma. Values are normalized by their opponents’ respective average and weighted by their opponents’ respective rank.
Indeed, examination of the offensive data shows that the spread of each category is reduced. We see that Oklahoma isn’t a scoring juggernaut like in the days of Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. Comparatively, Texas has performed slightly better than the Sooners. Total yards are fairly similar, while the components of the total are different. Oklahoma’s offense appears to thrive in the running game, while the Longhorn’s offense is driven by passing.
Defensive production from Texas and Oklahoma. Values are normalized by their opponents’ respective average and weighted by their opponents’ respective rank.
Likewise, inspection of the weighted defensive data indicates that Oklahoma remains ahead of Texas, although the differences aren’t as drastic as they originally appeared. We see that Oklahoma is largely on the “good” side of each defensive category. A lone exception is the running game, where the Sooners are less consistent. Texas, on the other hand, seems to yield relatively more yards, with the bulk of the damage coming from their opponents running game.
So, where does that leave us? It would seem that the Sooner’s offensive strength plays directly into the Lonhgorn’s defensive weakness. I would expect Texas to attempt making Oklahoma a one-dimensional passing team. Conversely, the Sooner’s defensive strength matches the Longhorn’s offensive strength. I imagine that the Longhorn’s will try and run the ball in an effort to take pressure off of their quarterback.
My bet is that the Sooners shut down the Texas running game and force a few turnovers in the passing game. I also expect the Sooners to have success running the ball. I am picking the Sooners to win, although in a closer game than most expect2.
The Oatmeal offers a smart reminder that Columbus Day is one of the dumbest holidays observed by the United States Federal Government:
The point I’m trying to drive home is this: Christopher Columbus was awful. He discovered the New World much like a meteorite discovered the dinosaurs. And good ol’ Chris Columbus, sex slaver, mass murderer, and champion of sociopathic imperialism, has his own federal holiday. This is an honor shared by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I repeat: the father of the transatlantic slave trade is honored on the same level as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Update: My friend Scott shared a link to reddit that pushes back slightly against this Oatmeal piece.
Katerina Cizek, introducing her cool online interactive presentation on The New York Times
I’ve always loved archival films built of photographs, but I’ve found myself wanting to touch the photographs. Now we’ve made this possible — virtually. We’ve built an accordionlike interactive film experience that allows viewers to dig deeper into the films’ stories and archival materials.
Ultimately, this story is less about buildings than it is about people. It is about the places we call home, and how we decide who will live where. If you look closely, seemingly ordinary buildings can reveal the values of the society that has created them.
This project, created for The New York Times Op-Docs, is part of the National Film Board of Canada’s continuing HIGHRISE project, an Emmy Award-winning multiyear, many-media collaborative documentary experiment.
Check out the project here. So very neat.
Katie Drummond, The Verge:
In a rare opportunity, I’ve been invited to spend the day at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), an isolated, 800-acre compound in Princeton, NJ, that has for 83 years called itself home to many of the world’s most brilliant scientists: Albert Einstein, Alan Turing and Kurt Godel, among dozens of other notable scholars, all worked on some of their most seminal research at IAS.
In one of my favorite passages, Drummond interviews particle physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed and asks about the philosophy and expectations at IAS:
“There is a purity of principle to what we do here,” he says. “The Institute understands that progress often comes in increments, and you need a lot of time, a lot of failure, and a lot of work to answer these big, fundamental questions. Patience for that is more and more rare in our society.”
This is the absolute antithesis of the idiotic desire from politicians to only fund commercially-viable science. Perfect.
Colin Nissan, writing for McSweeney’s, with a rather NSFW ode to autumn:
Have you ever been in an Italian deli with salamis hanging from their ceiling? Well then you’re going to fucking love my house. Just look where you’re walking or you’ll get KO’d by the gauntlet of misshapen, zucchini-descendant bastards swinging from above. And when you do, you’re going to hear a very loud, very stereotypical Italian laugh coming from me. Consider yourself warned.
Seriously, if you don’t like the f-word, don’t click the link. Otherwise, enjoy one of McSweeney’s best. They even have a new mug - a perfect companion to this one.
Gregory Berns, writing for The New York Times:
FOR the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans.
Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too.
Berns goes on to detail how his findings might shape society’s view on pets in terms of property rights. My wife and I have a young dog, Riley, who has a personality that rivals any person. It has never crossed my mind to think of her as property. She’s simply just one of the family.
Geoffrey Gray, Grub Street:
It’s not hard to find a chef that dislikes traditional menus: “They’re boring,” Ferran Adrià tells Grub Street. Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm agrees: “They make the meal too much of a transaction — not something you would do among friends.” In this golden age of eating, high-quality food choices are more varied than ever before, high-end restaurants are democratized so all are welcome, and going out to a nice meal is a relatively affordable reality. Menus have changed, too, but not necessarily for the better. Today’s menu formats have many problems, and it’s time to rethink them.
Fred Vogelstein, writing for The New York Times, with a thorough historical look at the lead-up to the iPhone’s unveiling in 2007:
Jobs rarely backed himself into corners like this. He was well known as a taskmaster, seeming to know just how hard he could push his staff so that it delivered the impossible. But he always had a backup, a Plan B, that he could go to if his timetable was off.
But the iPhone was the only cool new thing Apple was working on. The iPhone had been such an all-encompassing project at Apple that this time there was no backup plan. “It was Apple TV or the iPhone,” Grignon says. “And if he had gone to Macworld with just Apple TV” — a new product that connected iTunes to a television set — “the world would have said, ‘What the heck was that?’ ”
Ben Popper, The Verge:
Twitter has filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission to become a public company, which will allow outside investors to buy and trade stock in the company in the coming months. The San Francisco company will trade under the symbol TWTR when it goes public, it revealed in the S-1 document it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Despite not being profitable, they hope to raise $1 billion during the initial public offering.
Every so often this article makes the rounds and it annoys me. That isn’t how traffic works and the proposed solutions won’t fix anything. Maybe you can eliminate the annoying stop-and-go, but no one gets home any faster. In fact you can prove that you and everyone behind you get home strictly later than if you had just gone along with the stop-and-go traffic.
The important fact: there is a limit to the number of cars that can pass by a given point on the highway in a given amount of time, and that limit is one car every 2 seconds, per lane.
Liszka discusses the role of merging, bottlenecks, and catastrophe. He even includes code for a model of traffic flow.
HappyPlace on an awesome letter written by a young boy, Flint, to a local meteorologist who visited his school:
If Flint grows up to be a local TV weatherman, we are immediately packing our bags and moving to that city. Think this kid would settle for just putting a pair of Ray Bans on the sunshine graphic? His sunshine graphic would ride a harley while juggling rescue puppies. Every time a nice day was predicted we’d probably get to see his sunshine graphic disembowel a raincloud graphic with the tusk of a narwhal.
Flint included all of the essential things for an awesome letter: a bacon tuxedo, a cyborg unicorn, and a space shuttle engulfed in flames.
(via: Brian Bridges)
Jay Porter, owner of the Linkery restaurant in San Diego, details his decision to disallow tipping in favor of a flat service charge. Porter’s results show promise and he addresses concerns with his policy:
I can hear your objection now: How could servers be motivated to do a good job without tips?
This is a common question, but it is also a silly question. Servers are motivated to do a good job in the same ways that everyone else is. Servers want to keep their jobs; servers want to get a raise; servers want to be successful and see themselves as professionals and take pride in their work. In any workplace, everyone is required to perform well, and tips have nothing to do with it. The next time you see your doctor, ask her if she wouldn’t do better-quality work if she made minimum wage, with the rest of her income from her patients’ tips. I suspect the answer will be a version of “no.”
Earlier this year I argued for this very system:
Instead of simply adding a service line-item on bills, employers leave it to confused, math-challenged, and often immature customers to decide the service fee. Not only does that eliminate fairness, it leaves employees susceptible to the sexual and racial judgements of their customers. In short, it’s 2013 - tipping as currently constructed is dumb.
It seems, at least in Porter’s anecdotal evidence, that such a system can work. I hope more restaurants switch to a similar model.
A good explanation on the correct usage of quotation marks:
“Smart quotes,” the correct quotation marks and apostrophes, are curly or sloped. “Dumb quotes,” or straight quotes, are a vestigial constraint from typewriters when using one key for two different marks helped save space on a keyboard. Unfortunately, many improper marks make their way onto websites because of dumb defaults in applications and CMSs. Luckily, using correct quotation marks and apostrophes today is easier than you think.
Jeff John Roberts, GigaOm:
Who knew Martha Stewart had it in for patent trolls? The decorating queen’s media empire has filed a lawsuit to crush Lodsys, a shell company that claims the Martha Stewart Weddings iPad app infringes its patents.
Shane Cole, AppleInsider:
MLB demonstrated the new technology on Thursday at the New York Mets’ Citi Field, showing off several potential applications. Fans who purchase their tickets from MLB could have the tickets’ barcode automatically displayed on their device as they approach the gate, for example, alongside a map of their seat location. Those who visit a concession stand might be given a virtual “point card,” while fans shopping for merchandise can be served coupons upon entering the team store.
This sounds like a cool idea. MLB has done a great job of embracing new technology. Just last year, they were one of the early adopters of Apple’s Passbook. Too bad the same can’t be said of the NFL.
Allison Aubrey, reporting for NPR:
Fast-food giant McDonald’s has made a commitment to stop marketing sodas as a beverage option in kids’ Happy Meals.
Instead, the chain has committed to market and promote only milk, water and juice with the children’s meals.
This is a welcome move, however, the company (and more importantly parents) should be careful about how milk and juice are marketed to children in terms of health.
Here is a brief comparison of the respective nutritional values:
- Coca-Cola (child size): 100 calories, 28g carbs, 28g sugars
- Milk (1%): 100 calories, 12g carbs, 12g sugars
- Chocolate Milk (fat-free): 130 calories, 23g carbs, 22g sugars
- Apple Juice (box): 100 calories, 23g carbs, 22g sugars
Based on a single serving, cola isn’t substantially worse in terms of calories, carbs, and sugars when compared to most of the other options. Now, I presume one major benefit is that the cola alternatives are not refillable. That’s exactly why portion control and responsibility should be the larger message directed to children. For instance, if a child were to drink a large amount of juice because they believe it is inherently “healthy”, they can still gain weight. Conversely, if a child enjoys a rare single soda in the context of a well-rounded diet, they will be okay. I worry that rebranding juice and milk as “healthy” in the absence of portion control education will do little to curb our current childhood obesity issues. That said, I believe this is a great start from McDonald’s.
Gretchen Reynolds, writing for The New York Times:
For some time, psychologists and other researchers have been studying how personality traits affect health and health-related choices. Not surprisingly, they have found that people blessed with innate conscientiousness, meaning that they are organized and predictable, typically eat better and live longer than people who are disorderly. They also tend to have immaculate offices.
What has been less clear is whether neat environments can produce good habits even in those who aren’t necessarily innately conscientious.
I’ve never really thought about this. As my officemates can tell you, the state of my desk’s organization is rather manic. Following the results of this study, however, it seems my desk is an extension of what kind of focus I require on a particular day. In other words, on days that I need regimented focus, my desk must be clean. Conversely, on days when I need creative freedom to solve a problem, my desk goes to hell.
… because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.
I, for one, applaud Popular Science’s decision. Comment sections are largely cesspools of anger and ignorance.
If you have a hard time avoiding the comments below an article, I suggest you follow this wonderful twitter feed for a bit of inspiration.