my happy place

When I’m having trouble sleeping (which was more of a problem before I had kids!) or trying to calm down, I would close my eyes and picture something peaceful. Usually this was something I remembered from one of our Hawaii vacations – nighttime on the beach, hearing the waves come in and go out, etc.

This weekend I left David with the kids to go pick up takeout. I wasn’t gone for very long but it took a little longer than I thought, so I was a bit stressed coming home that Vanessa would get to bed late. When I walked in, I heard David say “there’s Daddy!” and Vanessa said “Daddy!” and ran up to me and gave me a big hug. So I have a new happy place now 🙂 (for future recollection, she was wearing her yellow monkey shirt 🙂 )

(she also will say “Hi Daddy!” randomly even when we’re in the same room which is totally adorable!)

middle o’ the night linked list: coming-out videos, facebook fueling anti-refugee attacks, restaurants with no-poaching agreements??

The Ever-Evolving Art of the Coming-Out Video – kids these days! But seriously, this:

What compels people to take this deeply intimate moment and put it out there for anyone and everyone to see? It’s simple: Many people create these videos because they want the LGBTQ people watching them to feel even a tiny bit less alone.

and this

By focusing so much on “coming out” as a single moment, most cultural conversations misrepresent the reality of being LGBTQ. For many LGBTQ people, coming out is a never-ending experience. Regardless of how long they’ve been out, or how many people in their lives they’re out to, most will never stop having to say “Actually, I’m—” or “Yes, I’m—” or “No, my pronouns are—.” It’s not something they do just once, twice, or even ten times; it’s a lifelong reality. There is always a first time you come out, but there is not a last time.

rang very true for me. Good for them!

Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests – this:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

Nationwide, the researchers estimated in an interview, this effect drove one-tenth of all anti-refugee violence.

The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

is incredibly damning.

8 Restaurant Chains Agree To End ‘No-Poach’ Agreements Under Threat Of Lawsuit – good for Washington state; this really ought to be illegal, as it’s just a way for owners to limit wages for workers. Of course high-tech companies in Silicon Valley were also guilty of this a few years ago. (also I’m not a huge fan of the word “poaching” for this as employees are people that can leave a job if they want, not animals…)

Walt Disney World Workers Reach Deal for $15 Minimum Wage by 2021 – this is why unions are important!

Life-Threatening Heart Attack Leaves Teacher With $108,951 Bill – he asked from his hospital bed whether his health insurance would cover this, and was told yes. This was the hospital where both my children were born, and the teacher apparently lives down the street from an acquaintance of ours. Kudos to NPR for this series (and the hospital slashed his bill after all of this publicity), but geez, what are you supposed to do as a patient? Note that Lloyd Doggett, a Democratic congressman from south Austin, proposed a bill to end this surprise billing but it went nowhere 😦

Stacking concrete blocks is a surprisingly efficient way to store energy – a giant mechanical battery, basically!

The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History – long article, but interesting. I didn’t reaiize it was so devastating, and caused $10 billion in damages. (although I would maybe take that estimate with a grain of salt…)

Meet a new kind of book, designed for the age of Peak TV – I’m not sure how I feel about this; I like serialized TV, but I also like books as they are right now. Maybe I’ll give one of these a shot?

Exclusive: Fitbit’s 150 billion hours of heart data reveal secrets about health – interesting data! I guess resting heart rate is a decent proxy for heart health? And it’s pretty cool how you can see the author’s resting heart rate line up with life events…

Cuban ‘acoustic attack’ report on US diplomats flawed, say neurologists and Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers and Cuba’s “Sonic Attack” on the U.S. Embassy Could Have Been Merely Sounds Emitted by a Listening Device and as a layman the sense I’m getting is “people don’t agree what this is right now”.

Gatwick flight information screens fail – hooray for whiteboards!

Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents – yikes…OPSEC is hard, but this seems like a huge screwup.

The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking review

The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball ThinkingThe Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking by Russell A. Carleton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(should be 4.5 stars)

What an interesting book! The author, who got a PhD in psychology before living the dream of writing about baseball analytics (yeah, it sounds pretty great) looks at a series of topics. Each chapter begins with a seemingly random section about something non-baseball related, then transitions to a baseball topic (that turns out to be related).

Probably my favorite chapter was when he talked about parenting; the mechanics of parenting aren’t hard (we trust 14-year-olds to babysit, after all), it’s the fact that you rarely get to leave “parent mode” and don’t have autonomy over your own schedule. (this is so true!) Then he talks about “the grind” of a 162-game season, and how managers have to try to keep their team fresh, deal with player conflicts that may or may not be baseball-related, and so on. These are things that fans rarely have to think about, since it’s much easier to focus on tactical decisions. (“why did he bunt there?”, “why did he leave the starting pitcher in?”, etc.) It turns out the tactical decisions that a manager makes do have an impact on how many games a team wins, but not as many as you think. Conversely, there’s a noticeable effect over the course of a season where hitters get a little worse at deciding what pitches to swing at – it’s small (on the order of 0.25% when you get 180 days away from Opening Day), but it has a bigger impact than you’d think because it affects every single pitch. And some managers seem to be better at keeping their hitters from getting worse over the course of a season, and this effect is almost as big as the tactical decisions!

Another interesting chapter was the effects of the shift and why players don’t just bunt against it, which dives into game theory and leverage and whatnot.

Anyway, the book is quite good and unlike a few other baseball books I’ve read recently, it talks about stuff I hadn’t thought about/read before. The writing is also good; it was a joy to read!

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ProbabilityToFriendlyString for Javascript/Python/C#!

The 538 forecast for the House recently came out, and one of the things they’re trying is expressing probabilities in a friendlier way to try to make them more intuitive. So instead of “72.3%” it will say “5 in 7”, etc.

This seemed like a neat idea, so I wrote probabilityToFriendlyString, a library in Javascript/Python/C# to do this! Here’s a live demo.

I went through the effort to publish it on npm and NuGet. It’s pretty cool that I published these this week with no notice or anything, and already they’ve been downloaded a total of almost 50 times. Are these actual people using it already? Or some kind of automated…something?

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery review

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer MysteryThe Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(probably closer to 3.5 stars)

I picked this up because I’m a big fan of Bill James’s Popular Crime. This was fairly different – it’s about retroactively tracing a serial killer and figuring out who he was.

About halfway through the book I thought “man, is this whole book just going to be describing a series of murders that are all pretty similar?”, because it was getting kind of boring even though I do enjoy Bill James’s writing style. But some of the crimes got more interesting, and the end where he looks back at all of them and proposes a solution is also fascinating. (and convincing!) I did have trouble getting to that point, though – there are so many crimes and so many people introduced and dispatched quickly that it all can blur together.

But there were definitely some interesting bits about the nature of “police work” in the early 1900s!
– Newspapers from that era were happy to opine about who had done it. Here’s an excerpt from the Trenton Times in 1900:

Robert Hensen, a Trenton colored man with an unsavory reputation, is the one suspected of having done the shocking dead. […] the civil authorities are at work collecting evidence which, it is expected, will fasten on him, beyond a doubt, the monstrous crime, and send him to the gallows […]

So basically “he’s obviously guilty, now we just need some evidence!”
– Especially in rural areas, for tough crimes the victim’s family would try to raise a “reward fund” of donations from the townspeople, then use that money to hire a private detective. Back then private detectives would mostly just try to infiltrate gangs of criminals and see if someone would admit to committing the crime.
– In Cottonwood, Alabama, a private detective became convinced that that a man he hired to bring him meals knew something about the case, so he hired a ventriloquist to come with him and secretly throw his voice to the man’s mule and ask him questions! This kinda worked, as the man said who he thought had committed the crime, which was enough for the police to arrest that person(!) but he wasn’t convicted, thankfully, because there was no evidence.
– What happened in the aftermath of the Villisca, Iowa killings was probably the most interesting part of the book. (these are the most famous murders, although I hadn’t heard of them before this) The detective investigating the crime and the sheriff both believed the murders had been committed by a serial killer from out-of-town; however, J. N. Wilkerson (a private detective) came on to the scene two years later and decided to pin the murders on Frank Jones, who was a successful businessman and politician in the small town. The author compares him to Harold Hill, the con man from the movie “The Music Man”, which happens to be set in a small city in Iowa around the same time. Wilkerson was charismatic and essentially tried to blackmail Jones by getting a compatriot to claim that there was a report that had evidence that Jones had committed the murders, and for $25,000 (a lot of money back in 1915!) the report would never see the light of day. The idea was that if Jones showed interest this would be evidence against him. Jones didn’t bite, but Wilkerson started spreading rumors and raising money from townspeople who thought that Jones was guilty. This started to work, and Jones lost a primary, then started to fight back by hiring his own private detective. Then Wilkerson hatched a plot to break in to Jones’s store to try to “gather evidence”, but Jones knew about it because of his private detective (i.e. spy) and foiled it. It continues on from there; the story is pretty incredible, but eventually Wilkerson got banned from practicing law in the state, ran for county attorney(!), and basically lost.

The book is impressively researched, and I enjoyed it once I got past the first half or so.

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friday linked list: how America uses its land, Altuve’s sprint speed, giving panhandlers eye contact

Cows, trees, corn, and golf – how America uses its land – this is a very interesting infographic!

A Story of Sprint Speed and Burst: How is José Altuve able to keep up with elite speedsters? – a very nicely done infographic about baseball (an Astro, no less!) that uses Statcast data = me bait!

Everyone can afford eye contact with those who have nothing – I’m very conflicted about giving to panhandlers, but I do try to at least make eye contact.

Political advertising on Google – Kudos to Google for making this available (in such a nice format!) – hopefully this will prompt other major advertising websites *cough Facebook* to do the same.

A Japanese medical university lowered women’s test scores because it was a “necessary evil” – The “necessary evil” was because the women might get pregnant and drop out of the workforce, which…wow. This sounds like a story out of the 1950s but actually happened within the last few years. Also:

According to Japanese media reports citing the education ministry, universities are allowed to set their own gender ratio if they make such quotas public when taking in new students. Tokyo Medical University’s conduct was problematic as it did not announce such quotas, said a ministry official.

What the hell, Japan??

From Tokyo to Paris, Parents Tell Americans to Chill – I think I would like to be a somewhat-free-range parent, although it is hard in the US…

Even Anonymous Coders Leave Fingerprints – I guess I’m not surprised that this is possible, but I am surprised at how little data is needed. (and that you can do it on compiled code!)

In a Town of 11 People, Mysterious Disappearance Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor – I call dibs on the movie rights!

How 2,000-year-old roads predict modern-day prosperity – neat!

Vietnam’s Newly Opened Pedestrian Bridge Lifts Visitors with a Pair of Giant Weathered Hands – neat, but this looks terrifying, right? Not sure I would walk over this bridge…