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Viking canards corrected

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Very interesting list of 10 common errors about Vikings. One I like:

2. Everyone in the medieval Nordic world was a viking.

Again, we can dispatch this one swiftly. No they weren’t. To the Norse, ‘viking’ was both a verb and a noun: a raid (víking) and a raider (víkingr). The Anglo-Saxons had a very similar word (wicing), which originally just mean ‘pirate’ but in time came to refer to Norse marauders. In any case, most vikings were young men off on their equivalent of a gap year, trying to get rich quick and have a few adventures before they settled down. In the Icelandic sagas, older men still going on summer raids are often presented as disruptive, antisocial elements within the community, who have never quite settled down or made much of their lives (like that single 40-something friend who still wants to stay up all night drinking and playing loud music when everyone else is ready to turn in for the night and the kids are asleep upstairs).

I imagine scholars who know the actual history have these little corrections down by heart, polished for quick delivery.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2016 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Trump may actually have done some good, educating men about how women get treated

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Men may have been (willfully?) ignorant before about sexual attacks as common experience among women, but Trump’s proclivities have opened a useful discussion that can be highly enlightening to many men. Jack Healy reports in the NY Times:

In 30 years of marriage, Nancy Fagin had never told her husband about “the handling” — how, as an eighth grader volunteering at a small natural history museum in Chicago, she was sexually molested by a security guard.

That changed last week. As the couple discussed Michelle Obama’s speech condemning Donald J. Trump’s treatment of women as “intolerable,” Ms. Fagin, 62, who spent her career running a specialty bookstore in Chicago, turned to her husband and said that something had happened to her.

“I just sort of had to say that,” Ms. Fagin later said in an interview.

Her husband, Ron Weber, 75, said he responded by talking about how his former wife had also been assaulted.

“It’s widely occurring, and most women don’t bring it up,” he said.

For the first time, women say, they are telling their husbands and boyfriends about the times they were groped at nightclubs or on a subway, flashed on the street, shushed or shouted down at work.

Some men, in turn, said they were starting to see how gender could shield them from needing to defensively palm their keys as they walk to a car, from being trailed home by a stranger, from having co-workers rate their bodies.

The conversations are revelations for people who have raised children together and shared the most intimate details of each other’s lives. They have brought some couples closer but splintered others, revealing a rift in how two partners view sexual harassment and men’s and women’s places in the world.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2016 at 5:09 pm

Posted in GOP, Daily life, Election

Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking

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Corporate spying on your every online activity is making great progress, though corporations don’t talk about it much at all. Julia Anguin reports in ProPublica:

After we published this story, Google reached out to say that it doesn’t currently use Gmail keywords to target web ads. We’ve updated the story to reflect that.

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literallycrossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.
The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people’s real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.

“The fact that DoubleClick data wasn’t being regularly connected to personally identifiable information was a really significant last stand,” said Paul Ohm, faculty director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.

“It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy,” he said. “That wall has just fallen.”

Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville emailed a statement describing Google’s change in privacy policy as an update to adjust to the “smartphone revolution”

“We updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices,” Faville wrote. She added that the change “is 100% optional–if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged.” (Read Google’s entire statement.)

Existing Google users were prompted to opt-into the new tracking this summer through a request with titles such as “Some new features for your Google account.”

The “new features” received little scrutiny at the time. Wired wrote that it “gives you more granular control over how ads work across devices.” In a personal tech column, the New York Times also described the change as “new controls for the types of advertisements you see around the web.”

Connecting web browsing habits to personally identifiable information has long been controversial. . . .

Continue reading.

NOTE: Later in the article it tells you how to turn off at least some Facebook ad-tracking/targeting.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2016 at 3:29 pm

Stir-fried iceberg lettuce and shrimp

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I made this recipe last night. I’ve never had stir-friend iceberg lettuce, so the recipe intrigued me:

I doubled the recipe, and two heads of iceberg lettuce make quite a pile when shredded. I have some very large bowls, so I put it in one of those, and I used my 5.5-qt All-Clad Stainless dutch oven, and it was totally full at first, though the lettuce did cook down some. The lettuce has a good amount of crunch when cooked according to the recipe times, which seem to be on the mark.

One important note: have everything ready before you start—lettuce shredded, garlic minced, ginger grated, shrimp shelled. Then it’s pretty easy and also quick.

I do not use peanut oil for sautéing: it has a bad omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (32:1) and the smoke point  (227°C, 440°F) is not so good as avocado oil, which has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 12:1. Avocado oil is also monosaturated oil and is high in vitamin E (which is an antioxidant and may account for the relatively high smoke point:  271°C, 520°F. (High-quality extra-virgin olive soil has a ratio of 13:1 and the smoke point is 207ºC, 405ºF. More info on cooking oils on this page.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2016 at 12:12 pm

Despite being shamed for overcharging patients, hospitals raised their prices, again

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Single-payer healthcare and non-profit hospitals look better and better. Lena Sun reports in the Washington Post:

A year ago, a study about U.S. hospitals marking up prices by 1,000 percent generated headlines and outrage around the country.

Twenty of those priciest hospitals are in Florida, and researchers at the University of Miami wanted to find out whether the negative publicity put pressure on the community hospitals to lower their charges. Hospitals are allowed to change their prices at any time, but many are growing more sensitive about their reputations.

What the researchers found, however, was that naming and shaming did not work. The researchers looked at the 20 hospitals’ total charges in the quarter of a year before the publicity and compared them to charges in the same quarter following the publicity. There was no evidence that the negative publicity resulted in any reduction in charges. Instead, the authors found that overall charges were significantly higher after the publicity than in previous quarters.


“We were thinking we would see a drop or lowering of some charges,” said Karoline Mortensen, one of the authors of the study published in the Journal of Health Care Finance earlier this year. “There’s nothing stopping them,” she said, referring to the hospitals. “They’re not being held accountable to anyone.”

Researchers say the main factors leading to overcharging are the lack of market competition, lack of hospital transparency and the fact that the federal government does not regulate prices that health-care providers can charge. Only two states, Maryland and West Virginia, set hospital rates.

When the original study was published, shares of Community Health Systems, which owns many of the 50 hospitals listed with the highest markups, traded with almost triple the volume of the preceding weekday, suggesting shareholders had concerns about the system’s pricing practices, the University of Miami researchers said. Share price fell by $1.39 that week, or more than 2.5 percent, but recovered by the end of that week.

Understanding hospital pricing and charges is one of the most frustrating experiences for consumers and health-care professionals. It is virtually impossible to find out ahead of time from the hospital how much a procedure or stay is going to cost. Once the bill arrives, many consumers have difficulty deciphering it.

After a Utah man posted a photo of his hospital bill on Reddit, showing a$39.35 charge for what he thought was for holding his newborn, his post triggered more than 11,000 comments. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2016 at 6:29 pm

Let Kids Play!

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A fascinating if somewhat ambivalent article by Melanie Thernstrom in the NY Times on the importance of allowing children to play without constant adult supervision.

t was a Friday afternoon at Mike Lanza’s house in Menlo Park, Calif., and the boys were going crazy. There were boys playing ball in the street, while in the backyard, boys were skittering along the top of the fence while others were wrestling on the trampoline. The house itself is nothing special — a boxy contemporary, haphazardly furnished — but even by the elevated standards of Silicon Valley, the Lanzas’ play space is extraordinary. It boasts a map of the neighborhood painted on the driveway, a fabulous 24-foot-long play river — an installation art piece, designed for children’s museums — and a two-story log-cabin playhouse with a sleeping loft, whiteboard walls inside for coloring and really good speakers, blasting Talking Heads.

Leo Lanza, who was 5 at the time, was taunting my kids, claiming they were too scared to climb 12 feet to the playhouse roof, using the toe holds, and then leap onto the trampoline, which has no surrounding netting. My daughter, Violet, the only girl there, continued to decorate the playhouse walls with a purple marker. “I don’t care if you get hurt,” she responded airily. Her twin brother, Kieran, scrunched up his round face, turning pink. “That’s not true!” he wailed. “I am not scared.”

My kids were in a prekindergarten program with Leo, the youngest of the three Lanza boys. I had heard a lot about Mike’s house, a few miles from our own, but that Friday-afternoon pizza party, a year and a half ago, was the first time I had gone there.

Through the glass doors of the kitchen, I could see Mike opening a bottle of wine for some guests. Mike is a well-known, if polarizing, figure in our community. An entrepreneur in his early 50s, he has a boyish grin, large hazel eyes and curly salt-and-pepper hair, and wears jeans and sneakers, like all the other middle-aged tech guys. After acquiring three Stanford degrees (a B.A., an M.B.A. and a master’s in education) and selling a handful of modestly successful start-ups, Mike decided to focus on his ideas about parenting. He began writing a blog and giving talks and eventually self-published a book entitled “Playborhood,” a phrase he coined to describe the environment he wanted for his kids. (He kept a hand in the tech world as well — an app he created, a map-based photo-sharing service called Streetography, is being released next week.)

Mike is a deep believer in the idea that “kids have to find their own balance of power.” He wants his boys to create their own society governed by its own rules. He consciously transformed his family’s house into a kid hangout, spreading the word that local children were welcome to play in the yard anytime, even when the family wasn’t home. Discontented with the expensive, highly structured summer camps typical of the area, Mike started one of his own: Camp Yale, named after his street, where the kids make their own games and get to roam the neighborhood.

“Think about your own 10 best memories of childhood, and chances are most of them involve free play outdoors,” Mike is fond of saying. “How many of them took place with a grown-up around? I remember that when the grown-ups came over, we stopped playing and waited for them to go away. But moms nowadays never go away.”

In Mike’s worldview, boys today (his focus is on boys) are being deprived of masculine experiences by overprotective moms, who are allowed to dominate passive dads. Central to Mike’s philosophy is the importance of physical danger: of encouraging boys to take risks and play rough and tumble and get — or inflict — a scrape or two. Central to what he calls mom philosophy (which could just be described as contemporary parenting philosophy) is just the opposite: to play safe, play nice and not hurt other kids or yourself. Most moms are not inclined to leave their children’s safety up to chance. I certainly am not.

Mike had invited me to drop the kids off — not to hover. But I could see Leo brandishing a long rubber tube, as if he were about to whack my son, who looked worried. Beneath the pleasantries, it was clear that Mike thought I was putting my son at risk of turning into what used to be called a sissy — a concept whose demise he regrets. And I was of the opinion that Mike was putting his son at risk of being a bully, a label Mike thinks is now used to pathologize normal, healthy, boyish aggression.

Mike came out to the yard, his wineglass in one hand and a piece of cheese in another. His wife, Perla Ni, a lawyer who directs a nonprofit, was working late. Where Mike has a loud, large and boisterous presence (a neighbor once compared him to a Labrador retriever, happily trampling everyone’s shrubbery), Perla is quiet, petite, deliberate and self-contained. The only child of Chinese immigrants, she wants her sons to have considerably more fun than she had.

“Uh, can you keep an eye on them?” I asked Mike, reluctantly gathering my stuff to leave. “The society of 5-year-olds is fragile and may fall into savagery!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he replied affably. “I’m a believer in that Rousseau theory — what’s it called?”

“Something about a Noble Savage?” I said. “I’m more a believer in the truth of ‘Lord of the Flies.’ ” My smile was thin and conveyed, For the love of God, can you please put your drink down and watch the kids?

His smile told me he wanted me to leave already.

In 2006, when their oldest son, Marco, was 2, Mike and Perla began what proved to be a two-year house search in Menlo Park and neighboring Palo Alto. They were yearning for the kind of classic neighborhood that Mike recalled from his childhood on the East Coast in Scott Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh. They were living in San Francisco, but they wanted to move out of the city to a playborhood — a version of American kid life featured in shows like “The Little Rascals” and “Leave It to Beaver,” in which kids build forts and ride bikes outside, unsupervised — free, skirting danger, but ultimately always lucky. (The oddness of needing a neologism for what so recently would simply have been considered a “neighborhood” only reinforces his point.) Mike drove around deserted street after street: The kids were off at Lego robotics classes, Kumon learning centers or diving practice or squirreled away with their screens.

Despite having achieved a higher socioeconomic status for his family than he had as a kid, Mike felt his sons were at risk of having a worse childhood. Growing up in a middle-class Italian-American family in the 1960s and ’70s, Mike rated school as boring-to-O.K., whereas after-school play time with the gang was awesome.

Like many places, Silicon Valley is sports-crazy, with kids participating in year-round travel clubs and working with private coaches. But Mike feels that organized team sports fail to teach the critical life skills that he and his friends learned in pickup games they had to referee themselves. They were forced to resolve their own disputes, because if they didn’t, the game would end. Their focus was not on winning and losing, as when adults are in charge, he says, but simply on keeping the game going.

Mike recalls how his gang was often short of a quorum for games. There were two other boys their age, but one was deaf and the other, he says, was “whatever the P.C. way to describe what used to be called ‘mentally retarded.’ ” Since they didn’t want to “stoop all the way to girls,” he says, giving me a smile, they found ways to change the rules to accommodate the two boys with special needs in their game — “not because a grown-up forced” them to be inclusive, Mike says, but because they were motivated to be. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2016 at 2:21 pm

A clear example of meme evolution: Making apps addictive

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Ian Leslie writes in the Economist:

In 1930, a psychologist at Harvard University called B.F. Skinner made a box and placed a hungry rat inside it. The box had a lever on one side. As the rat moved about it would accidentally knock the lever and, when it did so, a food pellet would drop into the box. After a rat had been put in the box a few times, it learned to go straight to the lever and press it: the reward reinforced the behaviour. Skinner proposed that the same principle applied to any “operant”, rat or man. He called his device the “operant conditioning chamber”. It became known as the Skinner box.

Skinner was the most prominent exponent of a school of psychology called behaviourism, the premise of which was that human behaviour is best understood as a function of incentives and rewards. Let’s not get distracted by the nebulous and impossible to observe stuff of thoughts and feelings, said the behaviourists, but focus simply on how the operant’s environment shapes what it does. Understand the box and you understand the behaviour. Design the right box and you can control behaviour.

Skinner turned out to be the last of the pure behaviourists. From the late 1950s onwards, a new generation of scholars redirected the field of psychology back towards internal mental processes, like memory and emotion. But behaviourism never went away completely, and in recent years it has re-emerged in a new form, as an applied discipline deployed by businesses and governments to influence the choices you make every day: what you buy, who you talk to, what you do at work. Its practitioners are particularly interested in how the digital interface – the box in which we spend most of our time today – can shape human decisions. The name of this young discipline is “behaviour design”. Its founding father is B.J. Fogg. [Note that the tools used are memes, and the memes control the humans hosting the meme. It’s like the fungus that affects ants and changes their behavior, except memes instead of fungus. – LG]

Earlier this year I travelled to Palo Alto to attend a workshop on behaviour design run by Fogg on behalf of his employer, Stanford University. Roaming charges being what they are, I spent a lot of time hooking onto Wi-Fi in coffee bars. The phrase “accept and connect” became so familiar that I started to think of it as a Californian mantra. Accept and connect, accept and connect, accept and connect.

I had never used Uber before, and since I figured there is no better place on Earth to try it out, I opened the app in Starbucks one morning and summoned a driver to take me to Stanford’s campus. Within two minutes, my car pulled up, and an engineering student from Oakland whisked me to my destination. I paid without paying. It felt magical. The workshop was attended by 20 or so executives from America, Brazil and Japan, charged with bringing the secrets of behaviour design home to their employers.

Fogg is 53. He travels everywhere with two cuddly toys, a frog and a monkey, which he introduced to the room at the start of the day. Fogg dings a toy xylophone to signal the end of a break or group exercise. Tall, energetic and tirelessly amiable, he frequently punctuates his speech with peppy exclamations such as “awesome” and “amazing”. As an Englishman, I found this full-beam enthusiasm a little disconcerting at first, but after a while, I learned to appreciate it, just as Europeans who move to California eventually cease missing the seasons and become addicted to sunshine. Besides, Fogg was likeable. His toothy grin and nasal delivery made him endearingly nerdy.

In a phone conversation prior to the workshop, Fogg told me that he read the classics in the course of a master’s degree in the humanities. He never found much in Plato, but strongly identified with Aristotle’s drive to organise and catalogue the world, to see systems and patterns behind the confusion of phenomena. He says that when he read Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”, a treatise on the art of persuasion, “It just struck me, oh my gosh, this stuff is going to be rolled out in tech one day!”

In 1997, during his final year as a doctoral student, Fogg spoke at a conference in Atlanta on the topic of how computers might be used to influence the behaviour of their users. He noted that “interactive technologies” were no longer just tools for work, but had become part of people’s everyday lives: used to manage finances, study and stay healthy. Yet technologists were still focused on the machines they were making rather than on the humans using those machines. What, asked Fogg, if we could design educational software that persuaded students to study for longer or a financial-management programme that encouraged users to save more? Answering such questions, he argued, required the application of insights from psychology.

Fogg presented the results of a simple experiment he had run at Stanford, which showed that people spent longer on a task if they were working on a computer which they felt had previously been helpful to them. In other words, their interaction with the machine followed the same “rule of reciprocity” that psychologists had identified in social life. The experiment was significant, said Fogg, not so much for its specific finding as for what it implied: that computer applications could be methodically designed to exploit the rules of psychology in order to get people to do things they might not otherwise do. In the paper itself, he added a qualification: “Exactly when and where such persuasion is beneficial and ethical should be the topic of further research and debate.”

Fogg called for a new field, sitting at the intersection of computer science and psychology, and proposed a name for it: “captology” (Computers as Persuasive Technologies). Captology later became behaviour design, which is now embedded into the invisible operating system of our everyday lives. The emails that induce you to buy right away, the apps and games that rivet your attention, the online forms that nudge you towards one decision over another: all are designed to hack the human brain and capitalise on its instincts, quirks and flaws. The techniques they use are often crude and blatantly manipulative, but they are getting steadily more refined, and, as they do so, less noticeable. . .

Continue reading.

Weaponizing memes, in effect: tailoring them to produce the desired effect.

Highly relevant earlier post.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2016 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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