friday giant linked list: LiveJournal, Venezuela, Barry Bonds

Russian-Owned LiveJournal Bans Political Talk, Adds Risk of Spying – so, yeah…probably time to ditch LiveJournal if you haven’t already 😦

How Does Populism Turn Authoritarian? Venezuela Is a Case in Point – scary stuff.

What if Barry Bonds had played without a baseball bat? – I clicked on this because, hey, baseball! But this video was both wildly entertaining and really interesting. I was very impressed by the way he did a bunch of work with data and then did a bunch of work to make an interesting story out of it. Then I started looking up the rest of the Chart Party series which led me to SBNation’s Pretty Good series by the same guy and now I’m hooked!

Film Crit Hulk Smash: P.C. Culture Vs. The Big Joke – this is the best description of “PC culture” and 4chan, Breitbart, and Milo I’ve read. (thanks Ben L!)

TrumpBeat: ‘I Realized It’s Not So Easy’ – so yeah, this is an easy thing to (rightfully!) make fun of, and it’s not a good thing if Trump really just agrees with the last person to talk to him, but I find it hopeful that he is willing to listen and change his mind when he’s wrong. (you know, sometimes)

Our Dishonest President – speaking of Trump, this is a pretty remarkable series of editorials from the LA Times.

Trump Threatens Health Subsidies to Force Democrats to Bargain – also speaking of Trump, here he is threatening to make health insurance unaffordable for millions of people to gain “leverage” over the Democrats. Pretty terrible!

Justice Thomas’s Doubts About Civil Forfeiture – this is promising!

I Went to the ‘Contact’ Radio Telescope with the Astrophysicist Behind Twitter’s All-Time Sickest Burn – reads like hyperbole but that may, in fact, be Twitter’s sickest burn. Anyway, good interview and I followed her on Twitter!

Want to pay off a student’s lunch account in Austin? Here’s how – honestly not sure how to feel about this: happy that people are helping out kids, or angry that this is necessary in the first place?

A.I. Versus M.D. – What happens when diagnosis is automated? – interesting look at how AI may or may not help doctors.

– This is a pretty great website for a copywriter – just move the slider from left to right!

Texas plans to designate official state gun along with other weapons – oh, Texas! (thanks Stephen!)

United Passenger “Removal”: A Reporting and Management Fail – a good look at some aspects that haven’t been covered much. (also worth noting: “Calculated misery”: how airlines profit from your miserable flying experience – thanks David!)

Windows 10 gets major update as Windows Vista reaches its end of life – a good look back at Vista here and why it was (somewhat) unfairly maligned. (thanks Adam!)

Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones – compassion and kindness FTW!

How to Find Your Missing Keys and Stop Losing Other Things – very practical advice. I used to lose things pretty often, but I’ve gotten better at tending to put things down in the same places, so it’s easy to exhaustively search them.

Floating Point to Hex update, and writing tests as a sign of maturity

Over the weekend I published an update to my Floating Point to Hex calculator that allows you to swap the endianness of the hex bytes! Pretty exciting, no? (the answer is: meh)

It was actually more work than it looks like, because I decided to go ahead and update the backing script to Python 3, which meant I had to recompile the C module it uses. When I was about to start doing this I was disappointed to see that I didn’t have any tests in the project, so I went ahead and wrote those before changing everything. And even before I started changing things I found a few bugs (oh negative zero, you are tricky), so it was time well-spent!

I did have to refactor a few things to make the script testable, but I can’t imagine doing a refactor with only the help of spot-checking things, which is what I used to do. Just like writing clean code, writing tests is useful for future you as well as others!

honesty and false hope

1. When I used to go on recruiting trips for NI, often students would talk to me who were majoring in something we weren’t recruiting for. I would feel really bad for them, and I would generally take their resume and go through the process while saying something like “well, I know we do hire people with your background, let me see if I can talk to someone when I get back to NI”. I didn’t want them to leave the NI booth without hope! But it was false hope, because not once did that work out.

Eventually I realized this and started to say “Sorry, we’re not recruiting for people with your background today, but you can apply online for specific positions and see if one looks like a good fit for you”. And people seemed fine with it – they were at a career fair and there were plenty of other companies to talk to, and this way I didn’t waste their time or mine! It seemed less kind, but being honest was the more kind thing to do.

2. When I moved from LiveJournal to WordPress, I wrote a script to migrate posts and comments over and posted it to a WordPress support thread. A few days ago, I got a few emails saying part of the script had stopped working, and after investigating I figured out it was a problem with logging in to LJ – something has changed and I don’t know what. I didn’t respond to those emails for a day because I was trying to figure it out, and then I didn’t really want to respond to the emails at all.

But again, I (eventually) did the right thing and responded saying that something was wrong, I would keep looking at it but I don’t know when (if ever) it would be fixed. And one person emailed me back saying that she had found a different program that worked, and I was able to pass that along to the other people that had emailed me to help them out, which probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t said that I was pretty stuck!

Why health care isn’t like cupholders (or, why essential health benefits make sense)

Apparently the Republican effort to drastically weaken the Affordable Care Act isn’t dead after all, maybe. So I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at one of the issues that came up last time – getting rid of essential health benefits.

Essential health benefits are a list of 10 things that every health care plan is required to cover. (this was a new requirement under the Affordable Care Act) They include things like:

  • hospitalization and emergency care
  • maternity/newborn care
  • prescription drugs

and more. The libertarian/small-government conservative view of this is presumably something like:

Why should the government mandate what you can offer in a health plan? Let the free-market figure it out – if people don’t like what’s in a plan, they won’t buy it and the company will change it to improve sales.

or something along those lines. (I’m trying to make a good-faith representation here – if an actual libertarian wants to correct me, feel free!)

Here’s what I don’t think that makes sense.

Let’s say the government wanted to pass a law (because everybody loves cupholders!) that requires every new car sold to have at least two cupholders. This seems unnecessary for the following reasons:

  1. People know whether they want cupholders in their car
  2. It is exceedingly obvious how many cupholders a car has
  3. There are many car companies, so if a car company refuses to make a car with cupholders other car companies will step in to make cars with cupholders, because they will make more money doing so

Now, back to health care.

  1. The problem with health care insurance is that it’s not a good. If you never have to use your insurance, you’re happy! But you don’t know what kind of health problems you’re going to have over the next year, so expecting people to predict what health care problems they’re going to have and buy the appropriate insurance is pretty unreasonable.
  2. There were many stories before the ACA about people who bought insurance and then were surprised when it didn’t cover something catastrophic. Now, you could certainly argue that it’s the person’s fault for not reading details about their coverage closely enough.

    Here’s another way to think about it. In some poorer countries the water they get is contaminated with various microbes, and aid groups distribute chlorination tablets to make the water drinkable. People in those countries have to remember to use the tablets every time, or they’ll probably get sick. This is a mental burden on them even if they never forget to treat their water. In the US we can afford to provide clean water to everyone, and everyone benefits from it. (I think this example is from Why Nations Fail but I’m not sure)

    Having insurance that doesn’t cover what you think it covers can literally send people into bankruptcy. Yes, this makes premiums more expensive, but that’s why the ACA includes subsidies to help lower-income people afford insurance.

  3. There aren’t a ton of insurance companies, but more problematic is the idea of a “death spiral”. Let’s say company Gold provides a generous insurance plan that covers all sorts of treatments, etc. with a higher premium, and company Bronze provides a very bare-bones insurance plan with a lower premium. If I think I’m a healthy person with a Gold plan, this will make me want to switch to a Bronze plan since the premiums are cheaper. That means that the average person on the Gold plan is now less healthy, which means company Gold will have to raise their premiums to compensate. That will in turn drive more healthy people to leave the Gold plan, and the spiral has begun.

Hopefully this gives you an idea why essential health benefits are a good idea!

no foolin’ linked list: the gig economy, saving 100k lives per year, PHP

The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death – yeah, similar to my thoughts on Uber (but of course it’s better written than mine 🙂 )

Powdered Vaccine Raises Hopes Of Stopping A Top Killer Of Kids – wow this could save 100,000 children’s lives per year!!

PHP: a fractal of bad design – this really resonated with me because I spent a while porting Gallery from PHP5 to PHP7, which meant I ran into a few of these annoyances. (so many static functions that weren’t declared as such…) (thanks Ben!)

Can Religious Charities Take the Place of the Welfare State? – spoiler: probably not. Charities of all sorts are great, of course, but it seems unrealistic to ask them to take up social services. Those require a consistent funding source. (this is a topic because Trump’s proposed budget cuts tens of billions of dollars from social services…)

According To Harvard Psychologists: Parents Who Raise “Good” Kids Do These 5 Things – linkbait title, and I’m mostly posting it for future me. But, here you go!

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware – DRM makes sense in some cases, but disallowing third-party repairs is pretty shady. (for cars there’s a law saying the manufacturer has to honor your warranty even if you take it in to a third-party repair shop, at least according to the signs I see at Jiffy Lube!)

Grand jury decides that seizure-inducing GIF counts as a deadly weapon – what a great time to be alive, sigh. (this seems reasonable since the sender knew Eichenwald had epilepsy and it in fact did cause a seizure, although I’m not 100% sure about the “deadly” part)

This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account – no scandal here (although it’s interesting to see who he followed, including the Onion!), but a nice bit of detective work!

‘It Didn’t Pump Itself’ – depressing comic about an old contract that lent prisoners in Alabama out to do hard labor mining coal.

Camera falls from airplane and lands in pig pen – exactly what it promises, a pretty great minute-long video!

Obamacare survives! Some mostly jubilant thoughts

Yay! Here’s one of many articles covering it.

– While part of the problem was the House Freedom Caucus thought the bill didn’t do enough, there were also a chunk of moderates that wouldn’t support it. I saw a number of quotes from people saying they were getting thousands of calls against it and single-digit number of calls for it. Calling your representative can work! See:

– The bill itself was very unpopular (this poll had it at 17% approve 56% disapprove, and that was before they got rid of the essential health services!), which I guess isn’t surprising for something that would have made 24 million people lose health insurance in the next 10 years. This is a good example of how passing Obamacare moved the Overton window – just repealing it wasn’t acceptable to even most Republicans since so many people would have lost insurance.

– Margins matter. The estimates of how many votes the Republicans were short is in the neighborhood of 15 or so when it was closest to passing. If the Republicans had 30 more seats in the House it easily could have passed. (although who knows what would have happened in the Senate…but again, the Republicans have a very slim majority there)

– We’re going to lose a lot. It was great (and important!) to win this battle, but the Republicans still control the House, Senate, and Presidency, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pass some terrible tax bill or whatnot. So don’t lose hope when this happens, and don’t give up!