Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 2018

Radley Balko’s links to law-enforcement problems

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In the Washington Post, a few items from Balko’s list:

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 11:59 am

Why hiring the ‘best’ people produces the least creative results

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Scott E Page, the Leonid Hurwicz collegiate professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute, posts in Aeon what seems to be an extract from his new edition of The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy (2017):

While in graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took a logic course from David Griffeath. The class was fun. Griffeath brought a playfulness and openness to problems. Much to my delight, about a decade later, I ran into him at a conference on traffic models. During a presentation on computational models of traffic jams, his hand went up. I wondered what Griffeath – a mathematical logician – would have to say about traffic jams. He did not disappoint. Without even a hint of excitement in his voice, he said: ‘If you are modelling a traffic jam, you should just keep track of the non-cars.’

The collective response followed the familiar pattern when someone drops an unexpected, but once stated, obvious idea: a puzzled silence, giving way to a roomful of nodding heads and smiles. Nothing else needed to be said.

Griffeath had made a brilliant observation. During a traffic jam, most of the spaces on the road are filled with cars. Modelling each car takes up an enormous amount of memory. Keeping track of the empty spaces instead would use less memory – in fact almost none. Furthermore, the dynamics of the non-cars might be more amenable to analysis.

Versions of this story occur routinely at academic conferences, in research laboratories or policy meetings, within design groups, and in strategic brainstorming sessions. They share three characteristics. First, the problems are complex: they concern high-dimensional contexts that are difficult to explain, engineer, evolve or predict. Second, the breakthrough ideas do not arise by magic, nor are they constructed anew from whole cloth. They take an existing idea, insight, trick or rule, and apply it in a novel way, or they combine ideas – like Apple’s breakthrough repurposing of the touchscreen technology. In Griffeath’s case, he applied a concept from information theory: minimum description length. Fewer words are required to say ‘No-L’ than to list ‘ABCDEFGHIJKMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ’. I should add that these new ideas typically produce modest gains. But, collectively, they can have large effects. Progress occurs as much through sequences of small steps as through giant leaps.

Third, these ideas are birthed in group settings. One person presents her perspective on a problem, describes an approach to finding a solution or identifies a sticking point, and a second person makes a suggestion or knows a workaround. The late computer scientist John Holland commonly asked: ‘Have you thought about this as a Markov process, with a set of states and transition between those states?’ That query would force the presenter to define states. That simple act would often lead to an insight.

The burgeoning of teams – most academic research is now done in teams, as is most investing and even most songwriting (at least for the good songs) – tracks the growing complexity of our world. We used to build roads from A to B. Now we construct transportation infrastructure with environmental, social, economic and political impacts.

The complexity of modern problems often precludes any one person from fully understanding them. Factors contributing to rising obesity levels, for example, include transportation systems and infrastructure, media, convenience foods, changing social norms, human biology and psychological factors. Designing an aircraft carrier, to take another example, requires knowledge of nuclear engineering, naval architecture, metallurgy, hydrodynamics, information systems, military protocols, the exercise of modern warfare and, given the long building time, the ability to predict trends in weapon systems.

The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: the idea that the ‘best person’ should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.

Believers in a meritocracy might grant that teams ought to be diverse but then argue that meritocratic principles should apply within each category. Thus the team should consist of the ‘best’ mathematicians, the ‘best’ oncologists, and the ‘best’ biostatisticians from within the pool.

That position suffers from a similar flaw. Even with a knowledge domain, no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team. Each of these domains possesses such depth and breadth, that no test can exist. Consider the field of neuroscience. Upwards of 50,000 papers were published last year covering various techniques, domains of enquiry and levels of analysis, ranging from molecules and synapses up through networks of neurons. Given that complexity, any attempt to rank a collection of neuroscientists from best to worst, as if they were competitors in the 50-metre butterfly, must fail. What could be true is that given a specific task and the composition of a particular team, one scientist would be more likely to contribute than another. Optimal hiring depends on context. Optimal teams will be diverse.

Evidence for this claim can be seen in the way that papers and patents that combine diverse ideas tend to rank as high-impact. It can also be found in  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 11:48 am

Games technical education: Becoming more established

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Game design and development have found a home in academia: a recruiting ad for Assistant Professor or Instructor of Game Design and Development:

The Department of Interactive Media at Bradley at Bradley University seeks a dynamic individual to join our award-winning and nationally ranked game program beginning August 2018.

The department welcomes applications from candidates working in industry, academia, or both. The successful candidate will be able to teach students the game development process. Candidates with a background in game art, game programming, game design, game production, or game studies are all encouraged to apply. Professional experience and college-level teaching experience is preferred, but not required. Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience and qualifications.

This position may be either a non-tenure-track or tenure-track appointment. . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: My son is chairman of that department.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 10:07 am

Posted in Business, Education, Games

The Extinction of the Early Bird

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Fascinating article that examines the interplay of the restaurant business and changing demographics. Jaya Saxena writes in Eater:

The east coast of South Florida feels like purgatory. There’s Miami, and there are beaches, but drive for 20 minutes outside of either, and it’s just vast plains of boxy, beige retirement villages, distinguishable only by their names, which all sound like euphemisms for a place you go when you die — Valencia Isles, Windward Palms, Mangrove Bay — and the relative elaborateness of their welcome fountains. The sky is a flat blue, and the temperature ranges from a chilled 62 degrees indoors to a muggy 85 degrees outside. Entire strip malls have been colonized by medical centers, generically advertising “Eye Care” or “Dermatology,” and every home purchase comes with a subscription to Nostalgic America magazine. “If Florida is the Great American Escape, it is also less enticing: the Great American Dumping Ground,” wrote Gloria Jahoda in Florida: A History in 1984. “It is where Mom and Pop go to die.”

My husband and I ventured into this limbo a couple of years ago to visit his grandparents, Seymour and Isabel Lubchansky. Their retirement community, Majestic Isles, in Boynton Beach — located about two hours north of Miami, it’s one of a cluster of towns that might sound as familiar to a Northeasterner with Jewish grandparents as a Florida lifer — was built in 1996, and it’s open to anyone 55 and up. The Lubchanskys’ covered patio, complete with a glass table and four scratchily upholstered chairs, looked out on manicured crabgrass and a man-made pond, where an occasional visit from a snowy egret or a roseate spoonbill would remind you that the Everglades were only 25 miles away. Majestic Isles has a clubhouse where you can play cards, a theater where retirees put on plays, and a shuffleboard court that is only used by visiting grandchildren, and only ironically.

Struck by a vision of faded tropical button-ups, card games, and steam trays full of baby carrots, we decided to go full-old person for the weekend: We’d play shuffleboard, take a slow walk around the block, find an early bird special, and be in bed by 7:30. I was especially charmed by the idea of living the early bird life. An emblem of South Florida’s retiree culture, the early bird is the dietary aspect of the lifestyle one expects to buy into down there — a slice of comforting, if boring, heaven — a time and place where doing the same thing every day is a sign that you’ve got it made. More than an affordable meal, it’s a fully packaged experience that brings elderly people together to gossip over poached sole and to complain about something being too salty before everyone returns to their identical homes in their identical developments.

The first stop on our early bird tour was Mamma Mia, an Italian restaurant in a strip mall whose large portions — perfect for cutting up and storing in the fridge for three days — made its special especially popular, according to Isabel. But at 4:30 p.m., there were no elderly in sight, just teens and young families ordering enormous platters of chicken Parmesan or personal pizzas to go. The hostess assured me that the early bird is always slow.

The next day, we ventured to Scully’s Restaurant, a place that seemed more in line with the “traditional” idea of the early bird — steaks and chops with a vegetable side. At 5 p.m., just three tables were occupied. “You know, I’m surprised with our early dinner menu, that we don’t get more customers,” owner Kevin Scully told me at his bar. “I’m surprised with what we offer before 5:30 that the place isn’t packed.” (This past October, Scully retired and closed the restaurant; in its place will be Driftwood, which is the kind of the place that has “hand-crafted” custom menu holders and $12 riffs on classic cocktails.)

A day later, we drove to a diner that multiple local guides said had the best deal in town, and warned to arrive early to fight for a seat. The parking lot was straight-up empty. Where were all of the old people? What of the need for an $8.99 chicken breast with a pair of watery, steamed-vegetable sides? What happened to the early bird special?

The short answer, I learned, is that the retirees who heralded the early bird are going away, and that their replacements, while burdened by the overall decline of the middle class, have different expectations about what retired life should look like — mostly, they do not want to be reminded in any way that they’re old now, especially if they can afford that luxury. Millennials might be killing chains, but boomers are driving the early bird to extinction.


The phrase “early bird” does come from the proverb about catching the worm, which dates to 1636, but the first appearance of “early bird special” isn’t until 1904, when it shows up in a department store ad hawking a deal on “men’s summer underwear” from 8 a.m. to noon. It pops up on menus sometime in the 1920s, according to Andrew P. Haley, an associate professor of American cultural history at the University of Southern Mississippi, due to a combination of the democratization of restaurants and prohibition. “More people are dining out, the middle class is dining out on a regular basis, they have a broader audience,” Haley told me. “But you have a problem with Prohibition. It hurts the existing restaurant model of fine dining as being the end all of dining.” Without alcohol to offer, restaurants had to find ways to target new audiences, and a family deal at non-peak hours filled seats.

The economic disruptions in the 1930s and 1940s kept these deals popular, and by the 1950s, it was common enough to find an “early bird special” at restaurants of all stripes. In a 1952 ad for San Francisco’s Goman’s Gay 90’s, a vaudeville nightclub that was probably not a hotspot for bluehairs, the early bird was advertised as a “dinner that includes a cocktail, fried chicken, hot biscuits, honey, shoestring potatoes, coffee, and after dinner drink — all for a couple of bucks,” Haley said. “The early bird idea means you have to come before 7:30.”

Another Prohibition-era innovation to get people in the door was targeting specific demographics. In 1921, for instance, the Waldorf-Astoria introduced one of the first children’s menus to reel in families, since liquor was no longer available. Throughout the Depression and into the postwar era, diners became particularly adept at pinpointing groups of people, and eventually they zeroed in on the old. “Diners were very sophisticated in thinking about filling the restaurant through the entire day,” Haley said. “They still appealed to working-class men in the morning and at lunch, they just targeted families at dinner time. And they targeted the elderly as well as any segment that could fill in the afternoon hours.”

Social Security benefits, which arrived with the New Deal expansion of the welfare state, ushered in a new category of personhood — the retiree, who could live independently, if frugally. In the 1950s, lured by the sun and low state taxes, retirees began flocking to South Florida, which had been practically terraformed for them in the preceding decades by real estate developers who tamed the fetid swamps and snarls of trees into a paradise of wide roads, accessible beaches, and endless fields of tract housing. “I can live comfortably, have a whale of a good time, and save money on an income of about $40 per week,” one retiree wrote in a 1956 pamphlet, The Truth About Florida.

As restaurants in Florida adapted to the growing population of the elderly, demographic targeting intersected with the promise of comfort and the value of the early bird special. “In 1972 with inflation on the rise, Social Security benefits are indexed to the consumer index, and that results in an elderly population that is much better cared for in the U.S.,” Haley said. “So you have a richer elderly population that’s now worth investing some resources into. The early bird special, which had made sense because it kept restaurants full at times they were not necessarily full, kind of takes off then.”

As the 20th century progressed, the greatest generation aged into a valuable consumer group. In 1980, 26.3 percent of Americans over 60 who moved chose Florida as their new home; in 1985, there was a joke about the early bird on Golden Girls, cementing the relationship between Florida, the elderly, and the early bird in pop culture. “It is popular with those on a budget, senior citizens, and especially in resort areas like Florida,” the 1994 Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink said of the early bird. By 1995, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that “senior citizens represent in reality an imposing discretionary spending bloc for food service operators,” and that restaurateurs were adding amenities to make their restaurants more appealing to seniors.

For a moment, economic necessity even brought the gospel of the early bird to the young. In 2010, the New York Times reported that the early bird was booming in Florida, as the recession enticed younger diners to partake in off-hours eating. But as the economy recovered, they abandoned it, just like their parents and grandparents.


It’s impossible to talk about retirement trends in America without talking about the Villages, the 115,000-person retirement community in central Florida that is the country’s fastest growing metro areaBuzzfeed described it as “a notorious boomtown for boomers who want to spend their golden years with access to 11 a.m. happy hours, thousands of activities, and no-strings-attached sex, all lorded over by one elusive billionaire.” It’s the epitome of what modern retirement can be for the wealthy and white (of which the Villages is 98 percent) — wild, carefree, and not dictated by Social Security checks. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 9:55 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Why We Applaud Woody Allen’s Misogyny

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Mimi Kramer has an excellent analysis of Woody Allen’s cruel and mean-spirited speech at the American Film Institute’s tribute to Diane Keaton:

A friend asked me, a few months back, whether I’d seen Woody Allen’s speech at the American Film Institute tribute to Diane Keaton in June, when she was awarded the AFI Life Achievement Award.

I hadn’t. I’d seen most of the event. It was shown on TCM, and I often have TCM on in the background. But I’d turned the sound down when Allen made his surprise appearance at the end.

I don’t like Woody Allen and haven’t for a while — since around 1979, when he made a movie about a self-involved, middle-aged comedy writer dating and dicking around a 17-year-old. I thought Manhattan was creepy, but not half as creepy as the way Allen got lionized for basically filming his own life in black-and-white and giving it a Gershwin soundtrack. So I missed the part of the AFI tribute when Allen proved, yet again, that being him means you can do almost anything and get people to shower you with praise.

“He did what?” I asked my friend.

“He called her a ‘fellatrix.’ I think that’s what he said.” She was sounding a little less sure now.

She warned me that the video clip of the speech on YouTube, while short, was hard to take, but said I should watch it through to the end.

Much of what I’ve accomplished in my life I owe, for sure, to her. She’s really astonishing. This is a woman who is great at everything she does — actress, writer, photographer, fellatrix, director. Diane Keaton, winner of the 45th annual AFI Life Achievement Award.

I called my friend back.

“Is that what he said?” she asked.

“That’s what he said,” I said.

“And that’s what it means?”

“That’s what it means: ‘a woman who gives blow jobs.’ Only he pronounced it funny, almost as though he were speaking Latin.” I embarked on a lecture on how the word fellatrix should be pronounced in English — with a long a, like dominatrix. Or like fellatio. Allen had given it a flat a, so that it rhymed with the plural of Patrick. We set about pronouncing the word fellatrix, and then fellatio, with long a’ s and short — and also dominatrix, but mostly fellatio and fellatrix — back and forth, over and over, until we were helpless with laughter.

I was still laughing when I went to bed that night. But I keep thinking about Allen’s speech, especially as his character has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks. Yesterday, Alec Baldwin went on Twitter to defend Allen against his stepdaughter’s account of having been molested by Allen as a child. Baldwin called Dylan Farrow a liar — an actress, in fact, suggesting that the rage and anguish she has expressed at what she’s perceived for decades as Hollywood’s complicity is a performance. But of course, Allen is the veteran actor in this scenario. If you look closely at his own performance at the AFI tribute last spring, you can see some of the tactics he uses to project a demeanor of plausibility and harmlessness, and how they mask the deliberation and craft behind his routine. You can also watch him making Hollywood complicit before your eyes.

Allen’s speech at the AFI tribute to Diane Keaton was an example of stealth misogyny. He engineered things so that at the climax of the award ceremony, when everyone thought they were applauding Keaton, they were actually applauding him for demeaning her. Allen was the very last speaker; he was to present the award in the next moment. So he knew that, no matter what he said, at the end of his speech everyone would jump up and cheer. By dropping the word fellatrix into the list of Keaton’s professional accomplishments, though, Allen completely undercut everything he seemed to be saying. And by giving it an unconventional pronunciation, he made it unlikely that anyone would understand or be sure what he’d said.

It’s a classic–if byzantine–example of how covertly abusive men force or seduce others into collusion. The AFI tribute to Diane Keaton was covered by five or six industry publications, but none of them commented on Allen’s use of the word fellatrix in his speech. In general, most of them characterized it as a comedy routine or a roast that ended in a loving tribute. Which isn’t at all what it’s actually like. What you miss on the page are the mannerisms, the fake pauses and stammers, the gestures (Allen bringing his hand to his face, fingering his lip, playing with his ring) that made it seem like he was nervous or considering what to say, creating a patina of spontaneity.

It’s a highly rhetorical speech, for all the assumed hesitancy, full of devices drawn from classical oratory as well as classic misogyny. Allen starts with a coercive joke, likening Keaton to “the fictional movie character Eve Harrington.” (The audience is forced to laugh or risk giving people around them the impression that they’ve never seen All About Eve.) “Which is not to suggest,” Allen goes on, “that Diane, when I met her, was ruthlessly ambitious.” That’s called “praeteritio” — where you say something in the act of saying that you’re not going to say it. But the rhetorical flourish there isn’t in the words so much as in the moue of disgust Allen makes after he says “ruthlessly ambitious” — an expression which seems to be saying, “And that’s putting it mildly.”

The speech relies heavily on a combination of aposiopesis (breaking off from speech and not finish a thought), paralepsis (drawing attention to something by seeming to ignore it), and a kind of non sequitur (sometimes called anacoluthon), where you purposely start a thought in a way that creates a false expectation as to how it will finish, then change direction. One striking example of this occurs when Allen is talking about Keaton’s appearance. “She dresses, as you know, to hide her sexuality — and always has, and has done a great job, ’cause it’s never emerged over the years. But,” he goes on, “she’s a beautiful girl.” It feels there as if Allen is going to say something nice, or quasi-nice, or not awful. Then he finishes, “And she’s never succumbed to any face work or anything. She’s very uncompromising. She prefers to look old.” (At this point the camera dwells briefly on Reese Witherspoon, looking at her phone and shaking her head, a pasted smile on her face.) . . .

Continue reading. And do read it all.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Maternal mortality as a measure of a healthcare system’s quality

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post, from which I took these two charts:

That’s certainly a heartening trend, is it not?

Here’s the US:

Not an encouraging trend, is it? Of course, many hold to the belief that the US has the best healthcare system in the world, but those generally do not look at statistics such as this. And the situation in the US will probably get worse once the GOP demolition of the Affordable Care Act is complete.

Do read the whole post.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 9:46 am

Maggard 22mm synthetic, Meißner Tremonia Woody Almond, Fatip Testina Gentile, and B&M Reserve Spice

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In my previous shave with the Fatip Testina Gentile, I noticed that it was not quite so efficient, so I changed the blade, and this is the first shave with the new blade.

The prep was good, and Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond has an almost intoxicating almond fragrance. This is the shave paste, and the lather was excellent, as it is for all the Meißner Tremonia soaps I’ve tried. The Maggard 22mm synthetic is a superb brush at a very low price, and I continue to recommend it.

Three passes with the Fatip showed that the previous shave had indeed been done with a blade that had declined a bit—not much, but enough to require some extra effort under the jawline. Today’s shave was noticeably more efficient, so the problem was simply a blade past its prime.

A good splash of Barrister & Mann Reserve Spice, and we meet the middle of the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 9:37 am

Posted in Shaving

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