Vol 2.21 | 05.24.19

Vol. 2 | #22 | 05.31.19

“Alexa, Am I Depressed?”

Just typing that hypothetical question feels a bit silly, and yet that’s not too far beyond what Amazon is actually working towards: teaching a wearable, Alexa-enabled device to “recognize human emotions … [and] be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others.”

What we need are more algorithms shaping how we interact with other people, because Facebook and Twitter haven’t quite broken us yet.

“The Real You” by Andrew Jasinski

How Long Is Long Enough?

25 years ago, Michael Thompson began serving a prison sentence for selling 3 lbs of pot to a police informant. He is now 68 years old, and still has 15-35 years to go. (His sentence was enhanced because of a prior record and having a firearm in his possession at home – although it wasn’t used as part of the drug sale).

As of last year, selling marijuana — even 3 lbs (or ~$20,000 worth) — is no longer illegal in Michigan. As more states move towards legalizing the possession, use, and sale of marijuana/pot/cannabis, policymakers are going to be faced with more questions like this: should large numbers of people (mostly men and mostly minorities) continue to be locked away for acts that are no longer illegal?

As a former prosecutor who prosecuted my fair share of pot-related crimes, put me down in ink on the side of “No. No, they should not.”

Lessons From the Stealth Fighter That Lost

Almost 30 years ago, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman aimed their stealth Advanced Tactical Fighter prototypes at each other and went head-to-head in a design and performance competition. At stake was the multi-billion-dollar USAF contract to build the next generation replacement for the venerable F-15 Eagle built by McDonnell Douglas. Lockheed’s YF-22 won, and went on to become the F-22 RaptorNorthrop’s YF-23 lost, and the two prototype aircraft were donated to NASA and have been living as museum pieces in California ever since.

As the Air Force begins the study process for what will replace the Raptor, the legacy of the prototype plane that never turned into a production fighter offers some lessons.

“It’s like Moneyball for cattle.”

I knew that data collection and analysis is changing everything, but I never would’ve guessed it would be the reason great steaks can be had from places like WalMart and Costco as easily as at a Jeff Ruby steakhouse. (Of course, the difference worth paying Jeff Ruby for is in the cooking…) This from Bloomberg offers a fascinating look into how “science and math have transformed the steak industry in less than a generation.”

“It was bigger than hula hoops and bigger than TV dinners.”

Before you could search YouTube for a tutorial on painting a landscape, and before Bob Ross was helping PBS viewers appreciate the joy of painting “happy trees,” aspiring hobbyists had another way to learn to paint: paint-by-number kits. What started as a fad in the 1950’s continues even today, and all thanks to the creative invention of Dan Robbins. Artsy’s Alexxa Gotthardt has the story behind the staple of DIY pop art.

Vol 2.21 | 05.24.19

Vol. 2 | #21 | 05.24.19

Designing Japan’s Next-Gen Bullet Train

Aerodynamics, sonic booms, pressure waves … it makes sense to think about these things when talking about high-performance aircraft. Now, they are part of the conversation in designing trains. That’s aiming for speeds of up to 250 mph on rails through tunnels will do.

The Moon Isn’t As Full As It Used to Be

Using a fancy new algorithm to reanalyze nearly 40+-year-old seismological data from instruments left on the lunar surface by the Apollo astronauts, scientists have found that not only is the moon shrinking — it is likely an active, quaking place. Images obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter since being launched in 2009 corroborate what the mathematical analysis shows. Check out #2 below: an image showing a boulder that rolled down a hill, cutting a noticeable path through the lunar regolith

Photorealistic Painting

In a commercial in the ’70’s, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald shattered glass and viewers were asked “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” The idea of the ad was that the audio quality of a recording made one a Memorex cassette tape was indistinguishable from the real live listening experience. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that ad and question when looking at these images and realizing they are paintings, not photographs. Amazing.

What Investing in the Future Looks Like

Robert Smith knows investing: the billionaire founder of Vista Equity Partners surprised the graduating class of Morehouse College by making a surprise announcement during his commencement speech. It’s worth watching and hearing the wave of suspended disbelief turn to shocked joy throughout the graduates.

Harvard Law, Lawyers, and Mobs

It’s not a good thing when lawyers are made to suffer social and life consequences simply because of their willingness to provide legal representation to awful people charged with terrible crimes. When the people seeking to inflict those consequences on a lawyer are themselves students studying to become lawyers at the premier law school in America, something seriously wrong is going on.

Vol. 2.20 | 05.17.19

Vol. 2 | #20 | 05.17.19

Golden Spike’s 150th Anniversary

It’s difficult to appreciate just how momentous the finishing of the first trans-continental railroad was in 1869. Here in this modern age, the entire globe is wrapped in multiple layers of interconnectivity. Here’s the story behind the photo that captured the joy and accomplishment of the men who built it.

Getting the Shot

Take a look at the photo below and know this great image was captured in 1966 without the use of today’s miniature, high-definition photography tools. It was the work of Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer, and how he got the shot was featured in Smithsonian Magazine once upon a time.

How DataViz Has Changed the Game of Basketball

I’m not a fan of basketball, let alone the NBA’s version of it. However, this story of how the pro game has changed is a fascinating look into the power of visually displaying statistical data. Here, University of Texas professor Kirk Goldsberry combined existing data sets about NBA shot location, frequency, accuracy, and point value into a visual map. By combining existing data and displaying them in a creative, never-done-before way, Goldsberry unlocked insights that have either revolutionized the way the NBA game is played … or destroyed it (depending on your view). Fascinating either way!

Was Shakespeare Really Named Emilia?

Evidently there’s a well-known debate around the identity of William Shakespeare. The debate isn’t about who he was or whether he existed (both are well documented), but rather whether the William Shakespeare that we can prove existed was actually the author of all the great works of English literature that are associated with his name. Within this debate, there are a subset of scholars who contend that not only was the author of such classics as Romeo and JulietMacbethHamlet and Othello not William Shakespeare, but the author wasn’t even a “he.” This is an interesting look at the case for the “Bard of Avon” actually being a woman named Emilia Bassano.

Space Shuttle Launches Up Close

With over a million moving parts, the Space Shuttle was the most complex machine every built by humankind. Using the footage from over 125 high-speed cameras capturing some truly mesmerizing and gorgeous images, two NASA engineers narrate what happens during a shuttle launch, from engine ignition and liftoff through the roll program and SRB separation. Due to its stunning visuals and slow-motion majestic beauty, this video is “oddly satisfying” as my 14-year-old daughter would say.

Vol 2.19 | 051019

Vol. 2 | #19 | 05.10.19


Prime – “the greatest retail innovation of the internet age”

The story behind how a mundane detail like shipping costs led to Amazon rewiring the psychology of how we buy nearly everything in retail.


2Billionaire Town

San Francisco stands as a study in contrasts. On the one hand, the city’s growing homelessness crisis has led to a five-fold increase in “human feces incidents” on the city’s sidewalks and streets over the last 7 years. On the other hand, the City by the Bay holds the title as having the highest per capita concentration of billionaires in the world — 1 billionaire for every 11,600 residents — and it’s not even close. New York City ranks #2, with 1 billionaire for every 81,000 people.

3The P.C. PC

Not satisfied with a word processing software that merely catches misspellings and questionable grammatical construction, Microsoft has it’s eye on a new capability for its Word product: advising users when their word choice may be seen as insensitive or offensive. With all the failings and flailings we see in the social media space when it comes to Facebook or Twitter trying to figure out which user posts are sufficiently “bad” to merit removal, why would Microsoft want to wade into that minefield with its otherwise bland and perfectly useful Word tool?


4Could 3D Printing Make Organ Donation Obsolete?

When you can take a tissue sample from a patient, extract the necessary cellular material, use that material to create the “ink” for a 3d printer, and then use that ink to 3d print a replacement organ built with the cellular materials that the patient’s body will recognize as its own, the stories of people afflicted with illnesses waiting for a match with an organ donor will soon become a thing of the past. Scientists in Tel Aviv are working in that direction, as they’ve now produced a 3d printed heart with working blood vessels, a first in the field.

5Maybe a Sun Burn Isn’t So Bad After All?

Turns out the chemicals in topical sunscreen that protect against the harm done by sunlight can seep through your skin and deposit themselves directly into your bloodstream. Whether it’s actually bad for your to have avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule coursing through your veins remains to be seen. Studies are now underway.

Vol 2.18 | 05.03.19

Vol. 2 | #18 | 05.03.19


“Brain Resuscitation”

Used to be that a person would be declared “dead” when a lack of a pulse showed their heart had stopped beating. Thanks to modern understanding and things like CPR, that’s no longer necessarily the case. Now, scientists at Yale are working on doing the same thing for the brain.


2Runner’s Heart vs Swimmer’s Heart

The adaptability of human physiology to even the most subtle of environmental factors will never cease to amaze me.

Since swimmers exercise in a horizontal position, he says, their hearts do not have to fight gravity to get blood back to the heart, unlike in upright runners. Posture does some of the work for swimmers, and so their hearts reshape themselves only as much as needed for the demands of their sport.

3The Bizarre World of ASMR

This is a bit of an unintentional follow-up on an item from last week. While reading about the myriad of child social media “kidfluencers,” I kept coming across the acronymn “ASMR” in reference to a certain type of videos. It’s not that making ASMR videos is exclusively the domain of kid YouTubers — far from it. But the weirdness that is ASMR videos gets truly bizarre when it adults racking up millions of views (and the ad cash that comes with that level of views) on videos of a child whispering softly and eating weird things.


4Maybe Communication Shouldn’t Be So Easy

When you reduce the friction of something to essentially zero, you not only make it easy to do that thing once — you make it easy to do it a thousand times. This is the problem besieging the attention spans of white-collar knowledge workers everywhere. First with email, and now with group chat platforms like Slack, the ease with which anyone can communicate with anybody else means communication is more efficient to do, but nobody is enjoying the benefit of the time saved by doing it less.

5“$44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule”

There are cautionary tales about being unwilling to kill a project because of the inertia of chasing sunk costs, and then there’s the jaw-dropper of a boondoggle that is California’s high-speed rail project.