The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Photographs of Newsstands From Around the World

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Photographer Trevor Trayner took photos of newstands from all over the world:

On 7/17/12 I shot my 1st newsstand near 6th Ave & 46th St. Drawn in by the vibrant colors & organized product placement, this series began its journey providing an instant time stamp via magazine covers and headlines.

Started out in New York, and expanded to include newsstands in LA, Lima, Tokyo, Jerusalem, Marrakesh, London, Rome, Paris, and several other places around the world.

Realtime 3D Map of Tokyo's Transit System

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3d tokyo train

A real-time 3D digital map of Tokyo’s public transport system by Akihiko Kusanagi that uses real-time data provided by Public Transportation Open Data Center API.

Visiting Tokyo recently from North America felt kind of like the fabled Gorbachev-sees-an-American-supermarket moment for me. Not only do the trains go everywhere, frequently, and reliably, but the condition of everything was astounding. The cleanliness was a big part of it, but also just how non-abused everything was. I was there for a week and didn’t once see a tag carved into the seats or walls of a train car or smell urine on a platform. I don’t think I even saw a single piece of litter on a train. The respect with which people treat public property was genuinely eye-opening.

The cleanliness of Tokyo is (at least) two factor: People are more clean in public (less graffiti, less littering, less spitting, less gum, less urine) and the maintenance spend for public infrastructure (roads, trains, etc.) is higher. That combination is the magic. Restaurants feel similar as well. Many are freakishly clean by any US/CAN/EU/AUS/NZ standards. Again, I would say the key is a combination of neat(er) customers and fastidious cleaning by the restaurant staff.

Thats the transferable lesson that we could apply here where dingy and defaced public infrastructure is just accepted as “the way things are in a big city,” when it’s demonstrably not inevitable.

Speaking of cleaning the Tokyo train system, here is a documentary on how Japanese trains are cleaned:

I can’t believe this level of cleaning is ever done in the NYC subway system.

A Walkable Community Devoid of Cars

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Lectric Ave

Oliver Milman reporting on a new housing development in Phoenix, Arizona that is devoid of cars :

But it is here that such a neighborhood, called Culdesac, has taken root. On a 17-acre site that once contained a car body shop and some largely derelict buildings, an unusual experiment has emerged that invites Americans to live in a way that is rare outside of fleeting experiences of college, Disneyland or trips to Europe: a walkable, human-scale community devoid of cars.

Culdesac ushered in its first 36 residents earlier this year and will eventually house around 1,000 people when the full 760 units, arranged in two and three-story buildings, are completed by 2025. In an almost startling departure from the US norm, residents are provided no parking for cars and are encouraged to get rid of them. The apartments are also mixed in with amenities, such as a grocery store, restaurant, yoga studio and bicycle shop, that are usually separated from housing by strict city zoning laws.

The European concept of of “third place” (1st place: work, 2nd place: home, 3rd place: communal spaces) directly correlates with quality of life / happiness of people.

The American obession with cars is killing us - relegating us to an isolated life of home/car/work. Thats surviving, in isolation. Glad to see that at least some attempts are being made to transition to a better way of life.

America Is Failing at a Fundemental Mission

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america failing

The Washington Post on the falling life expectancy of the US population:

The United States is failing at a fundamental mission — keeping people alive.

After decades of progress, life expectancy — long regarded as a singular benchmark of a nation’s success — peaked in 2014 at 78.9 years, then drifted downward even before the coronavirus pandemic. Among wealthy nations, the United States in recent decades went from the middle of the pack to being an outlier. And it continues to fall further and further behind.

A year-long Washington Post examination reveals that this erosion in life spans is deeper and broader than widely recognized, afflicting a far-reaching swath of the United States.

The frustrating thing is that the number one reason for this decline are completely preventable and manageable - chronic diseases. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and liver disease are the leading causes of death for people 35 to 64. This isn’t surprising - especially in a country where healthcare is prioritized over the health of its citizens.

America is failing to live up to its promise to the as stated by the United States Constitution in its opening line:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Promote the general welfare – our for profit health care systems need to be overhauled.

Workers Sue Over RTO Mandates

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You knew it was just a matter of time before lawyers weighed in on the matter. Hailey Mensik for writing for Worklife:

Last week a former Astrazeneca senior director sued the drugmaker saying it breached her contract by refusing to pay her a performance bonus of more than $120,000, and stock options valued at more than $65,000, due to her working from home last year, according to the suit.

She claims her former employer retroactively changed its bonus structure to include RTO requirements which she didn’t meet while working from her South Carolina home last year, where she has since she started in the role in 2016.

The only real answer to this debate/discussion is: What works for your staff at this moment in time? If they can WFH and it helps their lives and they stay productive, who cares? We don’t need to have these debates or get the courts involved. The problem, of course, is that so many people — and especially Americans — wrap their entire personal identity up in work (it’s all they have), and so they want to be worshipped and deified there, because they aren’t at home. That’s the entire reason we’re having this discussion, but no one really says that out loud too often.

Coffee Badging

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coffee badging

Jennifer Liu writing for CNBC Make It:

Yannique Ivey may be going back to the office, but she’s open about the fact that you won’t catch her first thing in the morning. Wait too long in the day and you’ll miss her, too.

Ivey, 27, works for a tech consulting firm in Atlanta and says she drives into the office once or twice a month. When she’s there, she commits to an 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule — just in time for a catered lunch, to catch up with colleagues for a few hours, and head out before traffic stalls her in a “hellish” commute home, she tells CNBC Make It.

She and her team are open about this arrangement. Spending a few shortened days in the office each month “takes needed time away from the actual work” to socialize and build community, she says, but “I’m a lot more productive when I’m home, so I get started there and wind down from there.”

It’s a new arrangement picking up across the U.S.: Workers are showing up for required attendance, but that doesn’t mean they’re sticking around for the full day.

Workers are voting with their feet. The new norm - offices exist for socialization and community building - the real work gets done from home.

It is time the management class stop fighting it.

Vaccines Are Molecular Loving-kindness

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nobel prize for vaccine

The Economist reporting on the award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their work that led to the development of the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines:

The World Health Organisation (who) says that vaccines have saved more from death than any other medical invention. It is a hard claim to gainsay. Vaccines protect people from disease cheaply, reliably and in remarkable numbers. And their capacity to do so continues to grow. In 2021 the who approved a first vaccine against malaria; this week it approved a second.

Vaccines are not only immensely useful; they also embody something beautifully human in their combination of care and communication. Vaccines do not trick the immune system, as is sometimes said; they educate and train it. As a resource of good public health, they allow doctors to whisper words of warning into the cells of their patients. In an age short of trust, this intimacy between government policy and an individual’s immune system is easily misconstrued as a threat. But vaccines are not conspiracies or tools of control: they are molecular loving-kindness.

The best way to further honour this extraordinary set of technologies is to use it more and better.

So make sure you get the COVID-19 booster this fall - and while you are at it get the flu vaccine also.

Walter Isaacson’s ‘Elon Musk’

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Elizabeth Lopatto writing for The Verge:

While Isaacson manages to detail what makes Musk awful, he seems unaware of what made Musk an inspiring figure for so long. Musk is a fantasist, the kind of person who conceives of civilizations on Mars. That’s what people liked all this time: dreaming big, thinking about new possible worlds. It’s also why Musk’s shifting political stance undercuts him. The fantasy of the conservative movement is small and sad, a limited world with nothing new to explore. Musk has gone from dreaming very, very big to seeming very, very small. In the hands of a talented biographer, this kind of tragic story would provide rich material.

While Musk has moved the car industry forward and managed to get Space X off the ground - the way in which he treats those around him and his greed for wealth and self promotion just makes him an awful human being.

Musk has a ‘Donald Trump’ complex.

One Revolution Per Minute

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Erik Wernquist made this fascinating short film One Revolution Per Minute:

It takes place aboard the “SSPO Esperanta” - a planetary orbiter that spins around itself at a rate of one revolution per minute (1 RPM). With a radius of 450 meters, the spin generates artificial gravity with an effect of approximately 0.5 g along its main deck.

With the “Esperanta” I wanted to create a leisure-like environment, such as a hotel or cruise ship, and explore what the views could be like onboard when the orbiter visits some of the worlds in our solar system. I was also particularly interested in how light and shadows from the sun play around in the interior as it spins around. For those reasons, I decided to keep all artificial lights off - with the exception of some emergency lights to avoid complete darkness - and to only let natural light illuminate the interiors. As this made the place appear quite desolate, I found it interesting to imagine someone being onboard…

Now this is what space tourism should be like. Just hope there are plenty of vomit bags available.

America Sucks at Everything

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Americans, despite living in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, have a much worse standard of living than people who live in poorer countries.

Whats worse is that these same Americans rail against anything that the progressives in the country try to do to benefit them. The political class has created many boogeymen - socialism, socialized medicine, communism, death panels, etc. - to scare the population so they can quietly transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the corporations and the well connected.

And this combination of fear and ignorance is so powerful that the population happily retreats into a make believe world where America is somehow pre-ordained to be the greatest country on earth.

The first part of solving any problem is to admit you have a problem. It is time for the US citizenry to admit that beyond child poverty, military power, number of incarcerated citizens, deaths due to gun violence - America sucks at everything.


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Mark Tyson reporting on UltraRam for Tom’s Hardware :

This potentially disruptive tech is designed to blend the non-volatility of flash storage with faster-than-DRAM speeds. The memory retains data even after power is removed, and the company claims it has at least 4,000X more endurance than NAND and can store data for 1,000+ years. It is also designed to have 1/10th the latency of DRAM and be more energy efficient (by a factor of 100X) than DRAM fabricated on a similar node, drawing the interest of industry heavyweights like Meta.

Impressive technology - its good to see that it is receiving funding. Will be interesting to see where this leads.

Merriam Webster Adds 690 New Words

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Merriam-Webster added 690 words to the dictionary last month including rizz, vector graphics, rewild, jorts, non-player character, jump scare, finsta, beast mode, simp, and thirst trap.

Spending Like There’s No Tomorrow

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spending like no tomorrow

Rachel Wolfe reporting on the consumer spending binge:

Consumers should be spending less by now.

Interest rates are up. Inflation remains high. Pandemic savings have shrunk. And the labor market is cooling.

Yet household spending, the primary driver of the nation’s economic growth, remains robust. Americans spent 5.8% more in August than a year earlier, well outstripping less than 4% inflation. And the experience economy boomed this summer, with Delta Air Lines reporting record revenue in the second quarter and Ticketmaster selling over 295 million event tickets in the first six months of 2023, up nearly 18% year-over-year. Economists and financial advisers say consumers putting short-term needs and goals above long-term ones is normal. Still, this moment is different, they say.

Not it isn’t. It’s just the latest self delusion to indulge in the American tradition of consumerism. I hope they enjoy their purses, trips and wild parties when they are broke and working at 70.

Why Rappers Stopped Writing

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Is this good for the music? The jury is out, even within hip-hop. But in this behind-the-scenes video — the latest entry in our Diary of a Song series, which documents how popular music is created — we track the generational shift through exclusive studio footage of young rappers like Doechii, Veeze and Lil Gotit, plus interviews with genre veterans including the artist Killer Mike and the producer Just Blaze, to track this creative shift and its effects on the still-experimental genre of hip-hop, 50 years after its birth.

I wouldn’t say this is just in the hip-hop community, but throughout most modern music.

Writing is hard. Committing words to paper requires thought, examination and revision. It forces you to ask the question - is this what I want to say to the world?

To me this is just being lazy. Its throwing things against the wall to see what works now. In the moment. Sure, this might work commercially today, but will any of these “punch-in” tracks be relevant 10, 20, or 50 years from now?

To the question ‘Is this good for music?’

No. It is not.

The Raspberry Pi 5

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Raspberry Pi 5 comes with new features, it’s over twice as fast as its predecessor, and it’s the first Raspberry Pi computer to feature silicon designed in‑house here in Cambridge, UK.

Key features include:

  • 2.4GHz quad-core 64-bit Arm Cortex-A76 CPU
  • VideoCore VII GPU, supporting OpenGL ES 3.1, Vulkan 1.2
  • Dual 4Kp60 HDMI® display output
  • 4Kp60 HEVC decoder
  • Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi®
  • Bluetooth 5.0 / Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  • High-speed microSD card interface with SDR104 mode support
  • 2 × USB 3.0 ports, supporting simultaneous 5Gbps operation
  • 2 × USB 2.0 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet, with PoE+ support (requires separate PoE+ HAT, coming soon)
  • 2 × 4-lane MIPI camera/display transceivers
  • PCIe 2.0 x1 interface for fast peripherals
  • Raspberry Pi standard 40-pin GPIO header
  • Real-time clock
  • Power button

The things I am most excited about is the R1 custom silicon with P10 and the built in GPU, realtime clock, USB power deliver and POE capability with PCIe interface!. And of course, the real reason to upgrade - a power button.

Current pricing:

  • Raspberry Pi 5 4GB - US$60.00 (EAN 5056561803319)
  • Raspberry Pi 5 8GB - US$80.00 (EAN 5056561803326)

I Feel a Little Bit Dumber

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Nikki Haley to Vivek Ramaswamy:

I feel a little bit dumber for what you say

The second GOP debate was a complete clown show - each of those candidates made Donald Trump look like a stable genius. But when questions about TikTok and emerging technologies came up, I felt a lot dumber for what was being said.

Both of these fools are a disgrace to the Indian American community.

What Happened to Amazon?

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Amazon has turned into a terrible place to shop - the situation is not good for vendors or their customers. It was part of Amazon’s plan all along to undercut local sellers by sacrificing profits and offering free deliveries until they essentially eliminated all competition. Now they get to price gouge both sides - the sellers and the customers. Amazon wins, no matter what.

Brian Barrett writing for The Atlantic:

Amazon feels less like an online Target or Best Buy than it does Big Billy’s Bargain Bin, dollar-store trinkets sold for name-brand prices. The problem isn’t that it lacks what you want, but that it offers infinite permutations of often unknowable quality. Many of the brand-name items aren’t any cheaper on Amazon than they are elsewhere.

The decline of Amazon is closely tied not just to its size but to how it has chosen to grow. Amazon is now less of a store than a mall, or maybe a sprawling bazaar. Last year, nearly 60 percent of units sold on Amazon came from third-party sellers rather than from Amazon itself. Want to set up a booth? There’s a nominal monthly fee to reserve the space. From there, though, the charges add up quickly, according to a report from the ecommerce-intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon takes a cut of every transaction, typically about 15 percent. For front-and-center placement, you’d better pay for one of those sponsored slots. According to the FTC, advertised products are 46 times more likely to get clicks. Call it another 15 percent of revenue. Oh, and if you want to qualify for Prime—and if you want any shot of making a sale, you do want to qualify for Prime—you’ll need to use Amazon to fulfill your orders. That’s another 20 to 35 percent off the top. All of a sudden, half of your revenue is in Amazon’s coffers.


Of course this is where Amazon wound up. The company spent years sacrificing profit for scale, until it had so many customers that sellers couldn’t ignore it. Now that it extracts billions each month from those sellers, it can afford to ignore those customers—or at least prioritize them less. Amazon gets paid by all of its vendors, no matter which products go in our cart.


… but in a world where so much of online retail runs through Amazon, choice is an illusion. Dare to offer a cheaper product elsewhere online, and Amazon might bury your listing on its platform. A heavily redacted portion of the FTC suit claims that the company “deploys a sophisticated surveillance network of web crawlers that constantly monitor the internet” for such sellers. (In his response, Zapolsky says that the FTC “has it backwards” and that the company doesn’t “highlight or promote offers that are not competitively priced.”)

There is only one solution - Amazon needs to be broken up.

Democracy Awakening

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Heather Cox Richardson has a new book out today about the health of American democracy: Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. From the Virginia Heffernan review of the book:

She has an intriguing origin point for today’s afflictions: the New Deal. The first third of the book, which hurtles toward Donald Trump’s election, is as bingeable as anything on Netflix. “Democracy Awakening” starts in the 1930s, when Americans who’d been wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash were not about to let the rich demolish the economy again. New Deal programs designed to benefit ordinary people and prevent future crises were so popular that by 1960 candidates of both parties were advised to simply “nail together” coalitions and promise them federal funding. From 1946 to 1964, the liberal consensus — with its commitments to equality, the separation of church and state, and the freedoms of speech, press and religion — held sway.

But Republican businessmen, who had caused the crash, despised the consensus. Richardson’s account of how right-wingers appropriated the word “socialism” from the unrelated international movement is astute. When invoked to malign all government investment, “socialism” served to recruit segregationist Democrats, who could be convinced that the word meant Black people would take their money, and Western Democrats, who resented government protections on land and water. This new Republican Party created an ideology that coalesced around White Christianity and free markets.

If you ever wondered how a person like Donal Trump can rise to the White House, read this book. And do checkout Richardson’s excellent Letter from an American substack.

The Captain and Danish Pete Visit Fender USA

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Lee “The Captain” Anderton of Andertons Music Co. & Peter “Danish Pete” Honoré take a trip over to Corona, California to have a guided tour of Fender’s famous USA guitar factory!

This is an older video - but is much more detailed than yesterday’s Popular Mechanics video and shows off the attention to detail at the USA factory. I have never been to the Fender factory, but someday when I go - I will be more of a fan boy then these two are. If that is possbile.

It literally blows my mind how every component is built in house, and some of it is still being manufactured with the same machines and techniques as was done in the 1950s. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it! Leo would be proud.