I’m a Nerd and the NIST Hall of Standards Is My Valhalla: The Ampere Measurer

This gizmo, observed at NIST, is a Raleigh current balance and was used in the classic 1912 determination of the absolute value of the ampere. It was also used in 1938 to redefine the international ampere as 0.99985 absolute amperes:


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The Conservative Predilection For Making Welfare Bureaucracies

In an effort to triangulate against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton attacked Sanders’ proposal to make college tuition free:

I disagree with free college for everybody. I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college.

This is a conservative policy point–and it’s really no different from conservative efforts to make government benefits harder to receive:

Essentially, what Paul Ryan wants to do is create a government bureaucracy to monitor these ‘contracts’ (or, maybe monitor the Social Contract?). Conservatives have spent the last forty years railing against this very thing. Of course, people will disagree about whether they hit these ‘benchmarks’, so we’ll need to hire people to adjudicate that process. More ‘big government.’ It also opens people up to the predations and whims of ‘petty government bureaucrats.’ Maybe some will be lenient and kind, others might not….

When you look at the two of the most successful anti-poverty programs, Social Security and SNAP, they don’t involve a lot of monitoring (SNAP does have some limits on what can be bought). They just disburse money to those who need it. Ryan’s plan isn’t liberalism, it’s liberalism as designed by a fucking moron who hasn’t been paying attention for the last three decades.

Our current system requires a massive bureaucracy to figure out who gets aid and who doesn’t, whereas if tuition is essentially free, then government doesn’t have to play a gatekeeper role.

If you’re worried about rich people getting a free ride, then tax them more in a comparable amount to the tuition–just like we do for other ‘free’ stuff the government provides (boldface mine):

The way to not give Donald Trump’s kids free college involves increasing his taxes. Then give the kids “free college.” Democrats really need to get rid of their obsession with means testing everything. There’s a simple way to means test everything: increase taxes on rich people. It isn’t welfare. It’s what the government provides, to everyone, and the price of that is taxes.

We’re gonna get President Trump if the Clinton campaign doesn’t stop talking to itself. I’m sure they all thought this was a true zinger. It isn’t. Echoes of 2008 are still there.

We haven’t even had a single primary yet, and Clinton is already playing the same old New Democrat tune. Partying like it’s 1999…

Posted in Conservatives, Democrats, Education, Fucking Morons | Leave a comment

Links 11/24/15

Links for you. Science:

A Mistake About Making Mistakes
Racial bias continues to haunt NIH grants
A ‘supergene’ turns these male birds into female impersonators or sneaky mate thieves — for life
Animal rights group targets NIH director’s home
Meet the sea slug that looks like a fish, lives in the deep sea, and glows


New poll shows Sanders in landslide over both Trump and Bush
Why won’t Chris Christie lead? Why the governor of New Jersey is a political wimp (like most bullies)
One man’s escape from Damascus to Philly
DCPS schools put unmotivated students in AP classes. That doesn’t work.
How high can the minimum wage go?
D.C. Is Healthier Than A Decade Ago, But Major Disparities Remain
When Big Guns Go Down
Economists say cuts could cloud US jobs data
The French Way of War
The Disturbing Truth About How Airplanes Are Maintained Today
Confessions of an ISIS Spy
Why America’s sharing economy needs a massive expansion of the welfare state
In D.C., Hate Crimes Due To Gender Identity Are 10 Times The National Rate
Cameron Murray: Unpopular Economic Opinions
For TFA is it worse to be a charter critic or a Tea Party member?
This is why the Paris attacks have gotten more news coverage than other terrorist attacks.
Nothing to fear but fear itself?

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A Dollar Tester

A couple of weeks ago, I visited NIST. This gizmo, which tests how much abrasion a dollar bill can stand, blows my mind (you can see the dollar bill on the right):


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The Difference Between Middlemen and A Real New Economy

One thing about the new economy is that many of these supposedly new jobs are pretty much the same old ones:

When I look at the jobs most of the people who left [Amazon] had, these don’t appear to be extremely high skill jobs. No, you can’t just bring in five guys off the street to do the work: some business-related and professional skills are required. But these don’t seem to be the people who invent a new algorithm or possess a body of knowledge that is very hard to come by (‘domain expertise’). Their skills seem to be rather general (managing and service). In other words, many (or perhaps enough) college-educated people could do these jobs.

When there’s a lot of competition and you don’t have a concrete advantage (i.e., skills or specialized knowledge), the only way to stay ahead of your competitors–or at least not fall behind them–is to work really long hours while sniping at your competitors.

In a sense, while people think of the white collar jobs in the tech industry as requiring specialized skills such as coding, at Amazon, it appears they’re just the same middle management that U.S. industry has always had, just squeezed harder.

At the corporate level, we often see the same principle in ‘tech companies in name only’–the business model really isn’t novel:

You might have heard about the rash of non-compete agreements being inflicted on workers. These prohibit workers who leave a company from working for a competitor for a specific period of time (for the record I oppose these agreements–if you want to keep your secrets, do what it takes to keep your workers). While they traditionally have been applied to high-tech workers, they are now being applied to low-tech workers, such as Jimmy John’s sandwiches and Camp Bow Wow, a ‘doggy day care’ franchise (Jimmy John’s is all the more galling since they have been sued twice for wage theft).

These policies (which, at the low-tech end, many experts think are unenforceable) suggest that there’s a large bullshit economy. What I mean is that most of these businesses aren’t providing anything novel–there’s no reason why one couldn’t ‘clone’ Camp Bow Wow or a sandwich chain. These companies make money by being ‘first past the post’, large (allow expansion and business policies that chase out weaker competitors), and beating the shit out of their workers. But there’s very little that’s actually creative or truly proprietary.

… most companies aren’t providing something novel, so in a winner-take-all system (i.e., not local or regional businesses) the ‘breakthroughs’ aren’t technological at all, but time-honored monopoly, monosopy, worker exploitation, and political maneuvering.

So it’s very interesting that the CEO of the transportation company Bridj has this to say (behind paywall; boldface mine):

To put it bluntly, the latest boom in our industry has come on the back of the underemployed and poor. Rather than using the tremendous wealth our companies have generated for our teams and shareholders, companies in our industry have leveraged driving wages down to drive valuations up. It can’t go on….

As technology begins to control more and more of our physical world, the safety and social justice components of our technology become even more important. That’s why today, we’re announcing that we are the first major American technology startup to stand in solidarity with the #FightFor15 movement, by offering driver positions that have wages of at least $15 an hour with full benefits.

In our industry’s collective march to higher valuations, higher growth, and bigger IPOs, we’re divorcing our industry from the values of fair compensation for fair work may produce short term gains. Our choice, if left uncorrected, will be fatal as the harsh cloud of unmet promises to those who have built our businesses, buries our short term gains.

Well paid, well cared for people are the foundations of stable long term businesses, and the foundation of the next great wave of American technology companies.

One thing to note is that Bridj actually has physical assets (vans), unlike Über. In other words, their labor costs, while not trivial, aren’t the only cost that can be reduced. Uber, on the other hand, can only increase–or maintain–its profits by squeezing workers. That applies to most internet middlemen. Or if you prefer, “Service economy + smartphones = service economy.”

The other difference is that Bridj uses its own people–not subcontractors–to provide a service. That gives Bridj an incentive to retain its workforce.

Sometimes the 21st century isn’t all that different from the couple that preceded it…

Posted in Internet, Transportation | Leave a comment

Links 11/23/15

Links for you. Science:

The five habits of bad bioinformaticians
Getting a flu shot every year? More may not be better
The NIH Still Isn’t Doing Enough to Advance Women’s Health
40 Years Ago, Earth Beamed Its First Postcard to the Stars
Scientists say a plague of sea stars is devastating Pacific coral reefs


We Now Know The 6 Most Ridiculous Things About The 2015 Budget Agreement
Fearing Fear Itself
FreshPAC Worked For Muriel Bowser—Until It Didn’t
Sanders’ Momentum Stalls in Union Front Offices
The Best Speech in Iowa Didn’t Come From Hillary or Bernie
The true value of a city parking spot
The Return of the Warblogs
The Myth of the Ever-More-Fragile College Student (related post here)
From 2004 to 2014, over 2,000 terror suspects legally purchased guns in the United States
In The Beginning Were The Mushroom Clouds
We Need to Re-Learn the Lessons of the Iraq War
Resettling Syrian Refugees: An Alternative
What most Americans think of Islam today
To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account
Are These Women the Key to Safer Abortions in India?
After Paris Attacks, Here’s What the CIA Director Gets Wrong About Encryption
Gorgeous glass cabinets of curiosity

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Your Regular Reminder That Reformers Didn’t Suffer Through Education Reform Themselves

A former classmate of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, reminds him of what their educations were like (boldface mine):

Yesterday, I was alarmed when a friend of mine sent me a post from your own Facebook page endorsing “personalized” learning, as well as announcing your recent partnership with Summit Public Schools to promote this model.

I am quite certain that in doing so, you have genuinely good intentions. I also suspect that you have been heavily courted by reform-oriented groups and foundations, and that they have, through their carefully curated examples of “personalized learning,” presented nothing less than a miracle to you in hopes of gaining your support and endorsements

Let me assure you that “personalized learning,” as it is being pushed by the Gates Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Digital Learning Now Council, as well as countless educational technology companies, start-ups, and venture capitalists who have invested millions into personalized learning experiments (they call them “innovations”), is a far, far cry from the type of education we got at Exeter.

At Exeter, we sat around shiny hardwood tables debating meaning buried within novels that were carefully selected by our teachers; we disagreed about interpretations of historical events, and were sometimes drowned out by the passion of Harkness Warriors (I was never one of those, were you?). Our teachers had ways of guiding us toward particular insights, but they never held us hostage to specific outcomes, or “competencies” as they are called now, before allowing us to move on… If an outside observer had come into one of our classrooms, as happens now in many public schools, to ask us “What is your learning target today, and how will you know if you have met it?” I’m quite sure not many of us would have been able to say. Our teachers probably would have been appalled at such a question.

These are the constraints under which “personalized” learning models operate. Standards, competencies, learning targets and progressions, all of which must be tracked and monitored and controlled in order to work, are the ingredients of “personalized learning.” Students may be in control of their “learning trajectory,” in such a model, but not of their own minds, as we were at Exeter.

In my humble opinion, this is a bastardization of true education.

No successful person I know experienced the Boot Up the Ass philosophy. To the extent that they did, they excelled in spite of it. None of the people pushing these ‘reforms’ subject their own children to them–which tells you everything you need to know.

Real education reform would start with providing the same kind of education for rich and poor alike, certainly in terms of resources. To the extent students need to be ‘caught up’, those students should receive more resources.

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