The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Harvard Admits First White Student

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Leave it to The Onion to point out the absurdity of the SCOTUS’s ruling to strike down affirmative action:

After nearly four centuries in existence, we are finally able to leave behind our woeful legacy of discrimination and accept our first student of Caucasian descent.

Twitter 2.0 - Sound-on Video Ads

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Twitter’s new CEO Linda Yaccarino solution to lure back the advertisers who abandoned the platform under Elon Musk’s ownership? Populate the site with annoying video ads.

From the Ars Technica:

Twitter’s new chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, is preparing a series of measures to bring back advertisers who had abandoned the platform under Elon Musk’s ownership, including introducing a video ads service, wooing more celebrities, and raising headcount.

The former NBCUniversal advertising head, who started as chief executive on June 5, is seeking to launch full-screen, sound-on video ads that would be shown to users scrolling through Twitter’s new short-video feed, according to three people familiar with the situation.

Yea - lets annoy users even more by bombarding them with loud obnoxious videos. That’ll work. How do these people get hired? At least they are going to hire more people (after the 80% reduction in staff had disastrous results) to keep the ads flowing.

Twitter's API Keeps Breaking

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Matt Binder for Mashable:

According to developers paying Twitter, since the switch over to Elon Musk’s paid API subscription plans, Twitter’s API has experienced frequent issues that make it extremely difficult to run their apps.

Twitter’s API issues have frustrated developers in each of Twitter’s new API access tiers. Those with Basic or Pro plans — paying $100 and $5000 a month for API access, respectively — have experienced unannounced changes to their plans, numerous bugs, and often receive zero customer support. And developers shelling out for Twitter’s Enterprise API Plan, which starts at $42,000 per month, are experiencing sudden outages and disappointing service considering the money they’re paying.

“Everything used to work fine before we started paying half a million per year,” shared one developer in a private Twitter developer group chat shared with Mashable.

You mean everything used to work fine before Elon fired 80% of the Twitter workforce.

The Death Cult of the American Car

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Ryan Cooper writing in the American Prospect:

Last week, the Governors Highway Safety Association released its annual preliminary report on pedestrian safety in the United States for 2022. It projected that pedestrian deaths will have increased for the 12th consecutive year, nearly doubling from 4,302 in 2010 to an estimated 8,126—the highest number in more than 40 years. Back in April, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its preliminary report on motor vehicle fatalities in 2022, finding a slight decrease from the prior year but still a 32 percent increase compared to 2011.

It’s not hard to discover why American roads are so deadly, particularly for pedestrians. There are too many cars and trucks that are too heavy and tall, driving too fast on streets that are too wide, with too many points of conflict. The typical pedestrian death is an SUV or truck running someone down on a “stroad,” the classic suburban arterial street-highway hybrid with many lanes, high speed limits, regular stoplights, and drivers constantly turning on and off. (This is also the most dangerous type of road for drivers, particularly on motorcycles.)

The European Union, by contrast, has been pushing road safety policies for decades now that have cut down on road deaths by 22 percent since 2012. Best practices include road narrowing, traffic-calming devices like speed bumps, lowering speed limits, taxes on excessive vehicle weight, seat belt compliance efforts, protected bike lanes and sidewalks, pedestrian safety regulations on automakers, “daylighting” intersections (which involves removing parking spots close to intersections to improve visibility), timing traffic lights to give pedestrians a head start in the crosswalk, and so forth.

It is as if the average American citizen is playing a life or death version of Frogger at every crossing. That increase in deaths would be a hair-on-fire emergency in any other rich country. But here in America, as in healthcare and gun violence , the government is comically in bed with the various comercial industries.

Michelle Obama on Overturning of Affirmative Action

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Michelle Obama’s statement on SCOTUS overturning affirmative action:

But the fact is this: I belonged. And semester after semester, decade after decade, for more than half a century, countless students like me showed they belonged, too. It wasn’t just the kids of color who benefitted, either. Every student who heard a perspective they might not have encountered, who had an assumption challenged, who had their minds and their hearts opened gained a lot as well. It wasn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt that it helped offer new ladders of opportunity for those who, throughout our history, have too often been denied a chance to show how fast they can climb.

Of course, students on my campus and countless others across the country were — and continue to be — granted special consideration for admissions. Some have parents who graduated from the same school. Others have families who can afford coaches to help them run faster or hit a ball harder. Others go to high schools with lavish resources for tutors and extensive standardized test prep that help them score higher on college entrance exams. We don’t usually question if those students belong. So often, we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up like I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level.

If SCOTUS is going to eliminate affirmative action, they should seriously think about getting rid of legacy admissions also.

Google Search - Death by a Thousand Cuts

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Matt Rickard talks about how Google’s search results will get progressively worse by major sites going behind login or paywalls:

Google will lose results, site by site — it will be Google Search’s death by a thousand cuts.


One by one, search results become dead links and are removed from the index. Users will start to rely on site-specific searches behind walled gardens. The first page of search results will not only be filled with ads but will be missing key results. Google may try to augment results with AI-generated answers, but (1) not all of these answers will be good enough, and (2) the data needed to train these answers will increasingly be found behind login or paywalls. Search might progressively get worse over the years until a new alternative arises.

The only real option that Google has is to cut a deals with Twitter and Reddit and everybody else. But is that financially scalable? Maybe everyone else will cut deal as its mutually beneficial. It keeps driving traffic to content sites and it keeps Google relevant.

I just don’t know how scalable that can be.

Generative AI Systems Are Designed to Generate Bullshit

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HAL 9000

Anil Dash argued that today’s AI is unreasonable:

Amongst engineers, coders, technical architects, and product designers, one of the most important traits that a system can have is that one can reason about that system in a consistent and predictable way. Even “garbage in, garbage out” is an articulation of this principle — a system should be predictable enough in its operation that we can then rely on it when building other systems upon it.

This core concept of a system being reason-able is pervasive in the intellectual architecture of true technologies. Postel’s Law (“Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.”) depends on reasonable-ness. The famous IETF keywords list, which offers a specific technical definition for terms like “MUST”, “MUST NOT”, “SHOULD”, and “SHOULD NOT”, assumes that a system will behave in a reasonable and predictable way, and the entire internet runs on specifications that sit on top of that assumption.

The very act of debugging assumes that a system is meant to work in a particular way, with repeatable outputs, and that deviations from those expectations are the manifestation of that bug, which is why being able to reproduce a bug is the very first step to debugging.

Into that world, let’s introduce bullshit. Today’s highly-hyped generative AI systems (most famously OpenAI) are designed to generate bullshit by design.

I would be very slow and careful in deciding to run AI systems in mission critical applications. We all know how 2001: A Space Odyssey ends.

Human Groundwater Pumping Shifts Earth's Tilt

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earh axis

Aara'L Yarber writing for The Wahington Post:

Rampant removal of groundwater for drinking and irrigation has altered the distribution of water on Earth enough to shift the planet’s tilt, according to a sweeping new study. The finding underscores the dramatic impact that human activity can have on the planet.

Humans pump most of our drinking water from natural underground reservoirs called aquifers. Researchers calculate that between 1993 and 2010, we removed a total of 2,150 gigatons of groundwater — enough to fill 860 million Olympic swimming pools.

According to the new study, published on June 15 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, moving all that water has shifted Earth’s tilt 31.5 inches eastward.

We really need to be better stewards of Earth’s resources.

Using Miniatures to Create Distinctive Worlds

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Prop & model maker Simon Weisse talks about the perhaps surprising popularity of miniatures in contemporary filmmaking, when the technique works and when it doesn’t (e.g. when unscalable elements like rain or fire/explosions are involved), and why certain directors use it instead of CGI.

Older movies, like 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, had no choice but to use miniatures to make their worlds feel real. But even in the modern day of CGI, filmmakers are still using minis — just look at projects like The Mandalorian, Blade Runner 2049, Harry Potter, and The Dark Knight series. In those movies, miniatures are used for expansive sets that establish the world of a film, otherworldly vehicles like spaceships, and more.

Its amazing how Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope still looks good - the original version, not the bastardized version LucasFilm created with digital special effects. The locations, objects and creatures appear to have a soul. Not some afterthought that looks silly or painted on.

Raiders in Black and White

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A examination of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Making the movie black & white and taking away all of its score and dialogue allows us to focus only on the film’s visual storytelling. Seeing Raiders in black & white easily reveals Steven Spielberg’s efficient and dynamic shot selection.

Your Herbs and Spices Might Contain Arsenic, Cadmium, and Lead

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A fascinating article by Kris Newby in the Stanford Medicine Magazine on the work by Stephen Luby and Jenna Forsyth to hunt down the causes of lead poisoning in pregnant women in Bangladesh:

Color matters to turmeric purchasers, and turmeric that is more vibrantly yellow typically sells for higher prices. The Stanford University team learned that this color-linked perception of quality may have started in the 1980s, when a flood interrupted the drying process, turning rhizomes brown and moldy.

To mask flawed turmeric, some processors began dusting the roots with lead chromate — an orange-yellow industrial pigment used to color plastics and furniture. From the interviews, Forsyth learned that this coloration step continued for four decades after the flood and that most processors weren’t aware that the pigments were toxic. But, with Forsyth’s help, this would soon change.


In July 2017, three years into her PhD research, Forsyth and the team shared their stunning findings: Turmeric mixed with lead-chromate pigments contained lead levels up to 500 times the Bangladesh legal limit of 2.5 micrograms per gram, making it the most likely cause of the lead poisonings.

And before you think this is a problem in remote under developed parts of the world only, the United States has no regulations regarding heavy metal level in food. Only New York has enacted limits for heavy metals in herbs and spices.

Lisa L. Gill for writing for Consumer Reports:

The lack of regulation leaves much of the monitoring of heavy metal levels to companies. CR contacted all the ones with products in our tests to see how they limited heavy metals.

Of the companies that replied to our questions—Al Wadi Al Akhdar, Costco, Bolner’s Fiesta, Gebhardt, Litehouse, McCormick, Roland Foods, Spice Islands, Target, and Whole Foods—a few said they require their suppliers to have a program for controlling or testing for heavy metals. But only three—Al Wadi Al Akhdar, Bolner’s Fiesta, and McCormick—specifically said they test products in their manufacturing plants for heavy metals.

Costco, Litehouse, and McCormick said their goal is to have heavy metals as close to zero as possible, but no company provided the thresholds they consider acceptable.

An excellent read with some excellent suggestions on how to protect yourself. Here is a simple test if you want to test your herbs at home.

The Semi-rich Are Feeling Semi-bad

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Emily Stewart writing for Vox:

The American economy is, in many ways, predicated on winners and losers. We’re told the story that a level of inequality is necessary for growth. The discomfort of some workers — largely at the bottom echelons of the economy — is part of the deal we’re supposed to strike for the comfort of everyone else. Except that people higher up on the economic ladder have increasingly been feeling that discomfort, too.

Part of what’s at play is the ever-increasing costs of housing and college and child care, which have caused upper-middle-class Americans to experience more of a crunch for years. Other issues are more recent, like inflation, which everybody hates.

What this amounts to is people who aren’t used to financial insecurity feeling uneasier than they’re accustomed to. The bottom hasn’t fallen out for them, but the ground is less solid in a way it hasn’t been in the past.

America’s semi-rich are feeling semi-bad, and they do not like it.

In a way this is a blessing in disguise. We just might see policies that will finally help the poor and lower middle class - primarily affordable housing, free public universities, universal healthcare, and affordable childcare.

After all, when the semi-rich and wealthy classes start feeling the crunch, the politicians start to pay attention.

Eating Microwave Popcorn Increases the Level of PFAS in Body

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UCLA Health reporting:

Studies have linked PFAS to adverse health effects, including high blood pressure, decreased fertility in women, liver damage, cancer, low birthweight and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.


Research suggests that people who regularly consume microwave popcorn have markedly higher levels of PFAS in their bodies. A study published in 2019 analyzed a decade of data about the eating habits of 10,000 people, which was collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2003 and 2014. Blood samples from the study participants were also collected. The researchers found that people who ate microwave popcorn every day over the course of a year had levels of PFAS that were up to 63% higher than average.

Considering the questions that continue to surround the safety of consuming PFAS, we think it would be reasonable to curtail the daily use of microwave popcorn. Instead, you could save it for an occasional treat. If your kids are flexible, you might switch to a different type of evening snack. Or if it has to be popcorn, you could turn the process of making stovetop popcorn into a family project.

So much for movie night popcorn.

History of Coffee

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coffee beans

A fascinating article on the origins of coffee:

In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, later called New York by the British.

Though coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favored drink in the New World until 1773, when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference to coffee.

Simplicity Is the Ultimate Sophistication.

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Apple Macintosh

A great interview with BYTE Managing Editor Phil Lemmons and the design team for Apple Computer Inc.’s new Macintosh computer in 1983. I think this is the first time I see Steve Jobs really voicing is key insight that has made Apple a 2 trillion dollar tech behemoth - having excellent hardware foundations is just table stakes, its the software / hardware integration that determines greatness.

And there isn’t any company on the planet that is better at exploiting hardware/software today than Apple.

If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there.

One of the things we really learned with Lisa and from looking at what Xerox had done at PARC [Palo Alto Research Center] was that we could construct elegant, simple systems based on just a bit map… no character generators…and save tons of chips if we had software fast enough to paint characters on the screen, given the processor. Apple was the first company to figure out how to do that with a microprocessor…and really still is the only company that’s doing it with a microprocessor. That’s what Bill figured out how to do with Quickdraw.

The real reason that we chose originally to use the 68000 was so we could pick up Quickdraw. Macintosh uses the exact same graphic structure and package, the exact same code, as Lisa does. So, by paying a little more for the microprocessor, not only were we able to give the customer an infinitely more powerful chip than, say, an 8-bit chip or one of Intel’s baby micros, but we were able to pick up this amazing software, and that allowed us to throw tons of chips out of this thing. We didn’t have to get special custom text or graphics chips. We just simplified the system down to where it’s just a bit map on the screen, just Bill’s amazing software and Burrell’s amazing hardware, then in between that the other amazing software that we have. We tried to do that in every single way, with the disk and with the I/O …rather than slots.

When we first started off with Apple II, the variability— how you customize your machine— was with hardware; you plugged in a card. And because we didn’t have any idea what these computers were going to be used for, that variability was very important. But now we have a much greater understanding of what people are using these products for. And the customization really is mostly software now. The way I customize my machine to do what I want is by sticking in a disk more than anything else.

Hunt for the Titan Submersible

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titan sub

Betsy Reed, in an editorial in The Guardian:

A massive operation is under way to find and save a stricken vessel and its passengers. As time passes, anxious families and friends wait with growing fear. The US coastguard, Canadian armed forces and commercial vessels are all hunting for the Titan submersible, which has gone missing with five aboard on a dive to the wreck of the Titanic in the north Atlantic. The UK’s Ministry of Defence is also monitoring the situation.

It is hard to think of a starker contrast with the response to a fishing boat which sank in the Mediterranean last week with an estimated 750 people, including children, packed onboard. Only about 100 survived, making this one of the deadliest disasters in the Mediterranean.

The incredible 24-7 coverage 5 white rich thrill seekers received, not to mention the millions of tax payer money spent on their rescue, while the 600+ immigrants who died barely got any mentioned in the media.

Such a sad commentary on our collective priorities.

Why Popular Radio Stations Sound the Same

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Phil Edwards explores the question of why all pop music radio stations in the US sound the same. You should watch the video for a detailed analysis, but the quick answer is - as it is for most thing in the US - consolidation caused by deregulation.

A Weekend of Carnage: The Alarming Surge of Mass Shootings This Past Weekend

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dozens of mass shootings

Over the weekend, the United States experienced a staggering sixteen mass shooting events. There have been a total of 246 mass shootings recorded so far this year, averaging more than one per day. Since the Uvalde school shooting in Texas, there have been an additional 33 incidents, resulting in 191 injuries and 34 fatalities. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an event that causes the injury or death of four or more people.

To put that into perspective, the highest number of U.S. soldier casualties in a single weekend during the U.S. war in Afghanistan occurred on August 6-7, 2011. During that time, 30 U.S. service members were killed. The United States today is more dangerous than anytime during the US - Afghanistan war.

Yet we as a country still do not do anything to controll the amount of guns in our country or pass any laws to limit gun violence. We are a sick country.