Posts with mood exhausted (3)
megagiant Sunday links: football, vacations, programming languages as weapons
Posted on 2014-09-28 21:28:00
I am running out of words for "big" here...I remember a time when I'd post these every week or so. To be fair, this one goes back to before we were in Hawaii, about which I will post pictures when I have the energy.
- I'm quitting football - sadly, I am too. Which hurts, because not only does football have the perfect number of games per season, but it's exciting and a real cultural bonding point. (and I don't want this to come off as a "holier than thou" stance...) But the thing that really got me was the head injuries and the fact that players are often on painkillers during games so they can perform. And I don't see how the game can possibly change to fix these issues without becoming something else entirely. (see also Brain Trauma to Affect One in Three Players, N.F.L. Agrees, which is pretty horrifying)
- Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain - or, taking breaks/vacation is really good for your brain. I will admit to lightly browsing through my work email while on vacation, but I didn't think about it much, and it was nice :-)
- If programming languages were weapons - this was spot-on, at least for the languages I've used. (although, really, C# is pretty excellent!)
- How to Get Ahead as a Woman in Tech: Interrupt Men - this is both depressing and uplifting. Just interrupt more, women, I guess! (thanks Christi!)
- The Law-School Scam - to be clear, this is talking about for-profit law schools, and it sounds like they're borderline scamming the government for federal aid for their students.
- Can the Crowd Solve Medical Mysteries? - obviously this wouldn't scale, but in truly desperate cases this sounds very promising.
- After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know - ack! One more reason why medicine (especially when you're in the hospital!) is not a free market at all...there's no pricing transparency at all.
- How to Be Polite - this is kind of a weird article, but it seems like there's some good advice in there.
- Introducing Tweet-a-Program - hey, that's pretty cool! I wish I remembered my Mathematica syntax...
- The Secret Rules of Adjective Order - neat, there are rules that explain why "big red barn" sounds good while "red big barn" sounds weird!
Everything is Bullshit review
Posted on 2014-09-13 20:59:00
Tags: reviews books
Everything Is Bullshit: The greatest scams on Earth revealed by Alex Mayyasi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really enjoy the Priceonomics blog, so I was happy to support them even though this is just a collection of essay from the site.
Some of these I considered pretty obvious (demand for diamonds was created by DeBeers! Companies that make packaged foods lobby Congress a lot and get laws passed!), but there are definitely a few gems here. I specifically enjoyed the article about how a comedy writer became homeless (which honestly didn't have much to do with the book's premise, but was gripping and well-written), the donate cars for charity article, and the bicycle thief one.
So it all depends on what you know or have read before. I'd recommend it regardless and just skip to the next chapter if you get bored.
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Poor Economics review
Posted on 2011-07-31 15:31:00
Tags: reviews books
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Poor Economics is about the world's poor (living on the equivalent of 99 cents a day, not including housing) and how best to help them. There are basically two broad schools of thought on how to help: for example, in education one group (the "supply wallahs") says we just need to get kids into schools with good teachers, and the rest will take care of itself. (i.e. ensuring the supply of education will solve the problem) The other group (the "demand wallahs") says there's no point in doing this if the parents don't believe there's value in education, and it's a waste of money (and possibly screws up the free market) to spend aid dollars on it.
It should come as no surprise that people generally are in one group or the other based on ideology. This book was written by the cofounders of the Poverty Action Lab, which conducts randomized control trials to actually figure out what ways of helping the poor are the most effective.
One of the big questions is whether a "poverty trap" exists with respect to a particular issue. A "poverty trap" means that if you're stuck at a very low income level, there's no good way to increase your income without getting an infusion of cash. "Supply wallahs" generally believe that poverty traps exist, and giving aid will help people get out of the trap and support themselves, while "demand wallahs" generally believe that poverty traps don't exist and aid will be wasted.
Now, to randomly call out parts I found interesting: (yay for Kindle highlighting!)
- A nutrition poverty trap would be if people were hungry enough to make them weak and unable to work, and thus spiral down into making less and less income. This does not seem to be the case for most adults, as when the poor get more money to spend on food they tend to spend it on better-tasting calories instead of more calories, thus indicating that they weren't seriously short on calories in the first place. However, getting proper nutrients to children is a problem, and giving away food with lots of nutrients does make children develop better. Each year of improved nutrition for a child increases their average income as an adult.
- Malaria is a serious problem in a lot of poor countries, and one simple preventative measure is to sleep under a bed net to keep out mosquitos. Poor people seem to realize this is a generally good idea, but bed nets are rather expensive (equivalent of $10) and the effects are hard to see immediately. (it's hard to quantify _not_ getting sick in the short term) Poor people, like all of us, are prone to procrastination in these sorts of circumstances, and so giving away bed nets does help to break the cycle. In fact, after being given a free bed net, they're more likely to buy one at full price when given the opportunity later. More developed societies have lots of ways to force us to do things that are good for us but that we might put off otherwise - for example, schooling is mandatory for children, and vaccination is mandatory to enroll in school; our drinking water is chlorinated for us; and our sewage is piped away. This lessens our cognitive load so we don't constantly have to make important decisions and fight the urge to procrastinate. Research has shown that we have a limited supply of willpower that gets drained when we have to have decisions, and it's no surprise it's harder to make good ones when you have to make them all the time.
- In Brazil, the state doesn't promote family planning, but when telenovelas (soap operas) with female characters with small families (none or one child) first became available in an area, the number of births would drop dramatically.
- Microfinance does help people make money, but the effects weren't as radical as many had hoped.
- A study in Uganda showed that only 13 percent of money allocated by the government for schools actually was received by the schools. (presumably the rest was lost to corruption, etc.) This, of course, is depressing and is why some think most foreign aid is useless without good governmental institutions. However, these results were reported in Uganda and there was an uproar, and when the study was repeated 5 years later, the number was up to 80 percent, showing that just having people care about corruption can be powerful in itself.
There's more good stuff in the book, but I'm all summarized out. You can read more about it at the book's website pooreconomics.com.
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