Amazing explainer websites

Bartosz Ciechanowski makes web pages with interactive visuals to explain things like gears, four dimensional cubes, the orbit of the earth around the sun, transparency in digital imaging, lights and shadows, and RGB color spaces. Read the rest

Explaining the con that is private equity

Emily Stewart's private equity explainer for Vox is a great explainer on how the PE con works: buy up businesses, load them with debt, sell off their assets, slash their costs, then walk away as the house burns, leaving society to put out the fire -- all while enjoying special tax status on your gains. Read the rest

Everything you wanted to know about money-laundering but were afraid to ask

"If we were serious about crime, we’d take most of the cops off the streets and replace them with accountants": this, from the introduction to CZ Edwards' amazing Twitter thread about the nuts-and-bolts of money-laundering and how it applies to modern geopolitics, including Trump's assassination of an Iranian government official and the role that Trump's real-estate, failed businesses and casinos played in the global money-laundry, without which most serious crime would collapse. Read the rest

Great backgrounder on the Hong Kong protests: what's at stake and how'd we get here?

Vox's 9 questions about the Hong Kong protests you were too embarrassed to ask by Jen Kirby does an excellent job of sketching out the political relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China, the history that created that relationship, the political controversies since the handback of Hong Kong to China in 1999, the eruption of protests last spring, the state's (mis)handling of those protests, and the political situations in both China and Hong Kong that led to the catastrophic failures in Chinese leadership. (Image: Studio Incendo, CC BY) (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest

Explainer video: why is gold expensive?

Why is gold ($41,149/kg) more expensive than other metals that are as rare or rarer, such as ruthenium ($9,000/kg)? This video explains why.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Matt Taibbi finally makes sense of the Pentagon's trillions in off-books "budgetary irregularities"

The finances of the US armed forces have been in a state of near-continuous audit for decades and despite spending billions of dollars and thousands of person-years trying to make sense of what the military spends, we're no closer to an answer, and no one disputes that there are trillions of dollars' worth of unaccountable transactions (but importantly, not trillions of dollars in spending) that make it impossible to figure out whether and when and how the Pentagon is being ripped off, or wasting money, or both. Read the rest

Me, Myself and Microbes: the relationship between microbes, brains and behaviors

Leon Hong writes, "I made this science-y animation for my wife Elaine Hsiao's research — with the hopes that people will learn something new about how all the microbes that live in and on us affect our brains and behavior." Read the rest

Can the future influence the past? The scientific case for quantum retrocausality

Quantum physics gets real weird real fast, and one idea gaining more currency of late is the concept of quantum retrocausality, where a decision made in our experience of the present may influence what we experience as the past.

These aren't a bunch of Time Cube type cranks, either. From a helpful overview by Lisa Zyga:

First, to clarify what retrocausality is and isn't: It does not mean that signals can be communicated from the future to the past—such signaling would be forbidden even in a retrocausal theory due to thermodynamic reasons. Instead, retrocausality means that, when an experimenter chooses the measurement setting with which to measure a particle, that decision can influence the properties of that particle (or another particle) in the past, even before the experimenter made their choice. In other words, a decision made in the present can influence something in the past.

Huw Price has done some great introductory lectures like this on the concept:

WTF is Quantum Retrocausality? (YouTube / Seeker) Read the rest

John Oliver on monopolies, anti-trust and the death of real competitive markets

Lax anti-trust enforcement is destroying American democracy, growth and equality; it laid waste to minority-owned small businesses and "fleeced" the middle class, creating its own parallel "justice" system and laying waste to whole industries, with the complicity of the Democratic party (and the $1,000/hour expert "consulting" by superstar economists), and there's no end in sight, from Yahoo to Whole Foods. Read the rest

The basics of crypto, in 4.5 pages, using only small words lawmakers can understand

Ed Felten (previously) -- copyfighter, Princeton computer scientist, former deputy CTO of the White House -- has published a four-and-a-half-page "primer for policymakers" on cryptography that explains how encryption for filesystems and encryption for messaging works, so they can be less ignorant. Read the rest

What's happening to Trump's popularity? Parsing the polls with Nate Silver

Silver's predictions of the election outcome took much of the shine off the statistician-pollster-guru, and no amount of statistical spin ("we were expressing our confidence that the unpredictable wouldn't happen, but we left open the possibility of the unpredictable!") can restore it to its former glory, but this Fivethirtyeight explainer on the polls that show a huge variance in Trump's approval and disapproval ratings is the kind of detailed analysis that is mostly light, with little heat. Read the rest

Reminder: if you have one penny, your net worth is equal to the combined wealth of the world's poorest 40%

Every year, Oxfam publishes a headline number about global wealth inequality that takes this form: "The richest X people own more than the poorest Y billion people on Earth" (some examples: 2014, 2016, 2017, UK edition). Read the rest

Webcomic explains how weakening the Voting Rights Act led to voter suppression in 2016

On The Nib, Andy Warner posts a quick primer on the Voting Rights Act, which was weakened in a 2013 Supreme Court case that struck down the requirement for districts with a history of racist voter suppression to get federal oversight for changes to their voting procedures; of note is the section on Jeff Sessions, whose Attorney General confirmation hearing is underway right now. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest

How to be less wrong about the First Amendment

Former federal prosecutor and frequent plain-language law explainer Ken "Popehat" White has done the (American) Internet the immense service of producing a master(ful) post about the First Amendment, explaining why the American constitutional basis for free speech includes abridgments on speech by some private actors and why it can be invoked in civil cases. Read the rest

25 GIFs that explain how things work

Would you like to see how a sewing machine works? How braces straighten teeth? How a key and lock works? How an ant walks? This collection of 25 GIFs will show you. Read the rest

Why the war on drugs is unwinnable

The DEA, the prison industry, politicians, and drug cartels all know the war on drugs is unwinnable, but they make so much money from the catastrophic effects of drug prohibition that they have little motivation to try harm reduction policies, which are proven to be much more effective than a hard-line approach. I enjoyed this explainer video from Kurzgesagt (German for "In a Nutshell"), which bares the truth about the dumb and destructive war on drugs. Read the rest

Why "All Lives Matter" instead of "Black Lives Matter" is such a stupid thing to say

This is a great Reddit thread.

More posts