Read time: 4 minutes


On Interpreting Statistics

A great essay on the challenges of properly understanding statistical data from the legendary evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Gould originally published this piece in 1985, three years after receiving the diagnosis of abdominal mesothelioma. It is that experience of being diagnosed with cancer that forms the lens through which Gould illustrates how to properly understand real-world statistics like abdominal mesothelioma has “a median mortality of only eight months after discovery.”

(Gould lived another 17 years after publishing this essay, and it was a different cancer entirely that ultimately ended his life.)

2“Sorry (not Sorry) for Stealing Your Tips”

This is an error that really should be easy to avoid making. Grocery delivery app Instacart has finally come to its senses in light of pushback from its “shoppers” (think Uber drivers but for groceries). While the app makes it easy for users to have groceries delivered to their home and both pay for the service and give a tip to their delivery shopper, it also made it easy for Instacart to essentially take those tips for themselves. The business’ opaque compensation scheme enabled it to count the tips the app collected towards the minimum delivery payment due to the drivers.

In essence, Instacart used this tip/wage offsetting scheme to offload some of their wage costs to the users without anyone being the wiser. That is, until drivers started noticing and posting their receipts online like this one.


In ultimately bowing to the pressure, Instacart is changing its policies. In his note explaining this, founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta described this tipping offset design as “misguided.”

Weasel words, given Instacart’s recent history of trying to turn driver tips into a “service fee” (ie – reportable revenue for Instacart) … shenanigans that cost the company $4.6M  to settle a class-action lawsuit.

Here’s to you, Instacart…

3It’s All About the Ads

Speaking of digital startups trying to turn your grocery shopping into new mountains of revenue, Cooler Screens (catchy) wants to turn the drink cooler doors at your favorite gas station and convenience store into a digital screen enabling it to host ads hoping to influence your purchase at the very moment it’s made. On its website, the company touts “the big and untapped opportunity to improve the customer experience.” I know how much I love the customer experience at the gas station of getting ads delivered to me through the screen at the pump, but your mileage may vary on that.

One of these days Silicon Valley will come up with a business model that does cool things and improves people’s lives without paying for it all with the currency of feeding us advertisements. That day is not today, however.

4Nurseries, Kindergartens, and Soviet “Upbringers”

A fascinating time machine look at life inside 1970’s Russia, through the eyes of young Soviet mothers. I found this archived New York Times article particularly interesting for a pair of reasons. First: my maternal Grandmother and Great-Grandmother emigrated to the United States from Europe after WWII as refugees from Soviet Ukraine. This article is an interesting window the world the left behind. Second: it’s date of publication — December 17, 1974. My own Mom was a young mother herself, as I was just over two months old at the time.

For a great read and the true story of my family tree’s move from Siberia to Ukraine to post-war refugee camps throughout Germany to Ellis Island, check out this book. The title character, Elena, was the younger sister of my Great-Grandmother, Pana, and their story spans two of the most significant events in 20th century history: the communist revolution in Russia, and the Nazi occupation of Europe.


5Shape-Shifting Robots

Think it’s hyperbole? Just take in the headlines from MIT’s Technology Review: “This robot can melt and re-form its legs to change how it walks”

Yes, it’s still in the most rudimentary of stages, but as the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” In this case, it’s a series of single steps utilizing radically different gaits made possible by reshaping the angles of the robotic legs. Here’s a video explainer from the team at Colorado State University who is doing the work. Here’s hoping that journey never goes down the road of liquid metal robotics.