The Guardian's published a long excerpt from Cathy O'Neil's essential new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, in which O'Neil describes the way that shoddy machine-learning companies have come to dominate waged employment hiring, selling their dubious products to giant companies that use them to decide who can and can't work.
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Having driven the LA to Vegas route more times than I can recall, I've often marveled at the Zzyzx Road sign. I'd been told the name was intentionally chosen to ensure it the last spot on a list of US road names. Seems there is a little truth in that...
Road Trippers shares:
Zzyzx (AKA Camp Soda and Soda Springs) is located at the end of Zzyzx Road, a 4.5-mile-long rural road off Interstate 15, in San Bernadino County, California. The unicorporated community is also located within Mojave National Preserve. In its former life, it was the the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. What makes Zzyzx, California such a weird and wonderful place is that it was founded by a crackpot preacher who stuck his middle finger up at the government when he named the town with the last letters of the alphabet.
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So, who the heck came up with that crazy name?!
Well, that's where things get a little weird. Curtis Howe Springer was one of those old-timey radio evangelists, way back in the day. However, he wasn't actually a minister of any kind. He was born in 1896 in Birmingham, Alabama, and spent much of his early life convincing people he was a doctor. He proclaimed himself to be the "last of the old-time medicine men", but the American Medical Association disagreed. They proclaimed him "King of the Quacks" in 1969.
Throughout his life Curtis also claimed to be a boxing teacher in the U.S. Army, the "Dean of Greer College" (a defunct/bankrupt school in Chicago), he was a rabble-rouser during Prohibition (he was in favor of it, and railed against "Demon Rum").
Confidential File was a television series that ran from 1953-1959, hosted by Paul Coates. In the episode above, they tackle quack medical treatments and devices.
And here's a sensational episode of the program created to scare people about comic books, which were villainized as corrupters of young minds in the 1950s:
Related: 1950s live television: tricks of carnival game swindlers
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These machines look like they are doing all the work.
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Yartsa gunbu (summer grass-winter worm) is a fungus that parasitizes moth larvae by devouring them from the inside-out and sprouting from their exoskeleton. It has been used for centuries by Tibetan and Chinese doctors to "improve breathing, metabolism, sexual function, mental clarity, and more."
Demand for the mushroom has skyrocketed, according to Epoch Times:
Tibet has enjoyed a vigorous caterpillar fungus trade with China for centuries, but in recent decades prices have skyrocketed. A pound of yartsa gunbu was less than two dollars in the 1970s, and close to $100 in the 1990s. Today, a pound of high quality specimens could sell for as much as $40,000 or more. Total revenue from yartsa gunbu comes to about a $1 billion a year.
Ecologist and mushroom specialist Daniel Winkler says, “I know Chinese people whose friends are willing to spend half of their income on this, because they feel like, ‘Well, I’m getting old. I’m falling apart. This buys me life.’ That’s why people are willing to pay this incredible amount." Read the rest
Electrical engineer David L. Jones explains why claims made on behalf of The Batteriser--a gadget promised to get up to 8x life out of alkaline batteries--are nonsense.
The Batteriser is a really neatly designed product (apart from the shorting issue), I love the miniturisation technology in it, and I’ll be buying some once it goes on sale to check out how they have done it. And yes, it can and certainly will work on some, perhaps many products and get some extra life out of it. But the 800% claims are demonstrably untrue, and unfortunately this is what every media outlet ran with. They took a blue sky marketing estimate and ran with it because it made a great story. There was no basic fact checking. All the electronics engineers who immediately questioned the claims were right in doing so, it’s trivial to prove there are issues with even the most basic of engineering due-diligence. There are just way too many downsides and unanswered questions on this product. I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see until they start shipping so we can get one and actually test it.
Just get Eneloops, civilian. Read the rest
It Betteridge! Jon Phillips reports on the Batteriser, a metal sleeve promising "up to" 8X more life from disposable batteries.
It’s essentially a voltage booster that sucks every last drop of useable energy from ostensibly spent batteries. So, instead of using just 20 percent of all the power hidden inside of your Duracells and Energizers, Batteriser makes effective use of the remaining 80 percent. Voltage boosters are nothing new, but Batteriser scales down the technology to the point where it can fit inside a stainless steel sleeve less than 0.1 mm thick. Roohparvar says the sleeves are thin enough to fit inside almost every battery compartment imaginable, and the combined package can extend battery life between 4.9x for devices like remote controls and 9.1x for various electronic toys.
Here's the published patent application, which is not a patent.
Red flag: Phillips writes that the creator proved he wasn't selling snake oil by demonstrating the gadget for him, but there's no description of independent testing. Did the guy just play with it in front of you? Who provided the batteries? What were the test controls? Boosting voltage at the expense of amperage and getting 800% more operational time, really? Turned down VC because the "money trail" led to battery companies, in favor of Indiegogo? Consumers with mountains of nearly-dead alkaline batteries want to know! Read the rest
"Quacks and Nostrums" is a 20-minute film from 1959. We meet a woman who purchases a "South Seas" herbal tea with alleged powerful healing properties. The woman's son becomes concerned and visits the family doctor to ask him what he thinks. The doctor, who has all the time in the world to chat, recommends that he visit the local branch of the Food and Drug Administration to learn more about what the government is doing to crack down on snake-oil paddlers. He does, and a gentleman from the FDA invites him into his office for a chat, and he is shown a number of bizarre quack remedies confiscated by the FDA.
Unfortunately, the man's mother doesn't listen to her son's pleas to seek legitimate medical help and develops a serious gall bladder problem that is unaffected by the tea she bought from Alooka Ka'humana. I won't spoil the ending for you.
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You are Not So Smart is hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener.
Where is the line between medicine and alternative medicine? Are Eastern medicine and Western medicine truly at odds, and if so, who is right and who is wrong? What harm is there in using complementary or integrative treatments in an effort to improve wellness?
In this episode we discuss alternative medicine with Tim Farley, creator and curator of What's The Harm, a website that tracks the harmful effects that result from seeking out alternative treatments and cures before or instead of seeking out science-based medicine. Tim also created the website Skeptical Software Tools, and he tweets at @krelnik.
This episode of You Are Not So Smart is brought to you by Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create you own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and ten percent off go to Squarespace.com and use the offer code PIPE.
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Happy Read Comics in Public month! In honor of the world's fourth favorite made-up geek holiday (August 28th -- happy early birthday, Jack Kirby!) here are some picks to help you get started on your outdoor sequential art consuming skills. This time out, we've got something for the history buffs, something for the kids, something for the metal heads and, of course, something for the unemployed turtles.
The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln
By Noah Van Sciver
That’s short for “hypomania,” Lincoln’s self-prescribed melancholy, a lifelong battle with depression that hit like a ton of bricks in the young lawyer’s mid-20s. For those who have had some trouble accessing one of the most mythologized figures in American history (a category I'd imagine applies to most of us), Noah Van Sciver offers a pretty good place to start -- a young Lincoln moving to a new city, confused and awkward in love and life, given to bouts of darkness and moody poetry. It’s a short small snapshot of the future president’s life -- and it’s in this limited scope that the book finds its success, not beholden to the birth to death summations that often entrap graphic biographers. Instead, The Hypo's relatively limited scope afford the cartoonist the ability to approach the historical giant as a human, offering an empathetic examination of a troubled individual destined for greatness.
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