Wednesday, 30 August 2017

More on Amazon

So, Alexa is going to talk to Cortana, and vice versa.

Everything I read about Amazon reminds me of this piece,  supposedly by Jeff Bezos, headlined "My Advice To Anyone Starting A Business Is To Remember That Someday I Will Crush You".

Some links for you

1. A better job than that one in San Francisco? Probably.

2. Physiognomy is very bad. But you (yes, you) can tell how clever someone is by looking at them.

3. Literally rent-a-mob: "Whether your organization is lobbying to move forward a healthcare, financial or other social initiative, we can organize rallies and get media attention for your causes and candidates. We also assist individuals, companies and political organizations with protests and picketing campaigns. We’ve protested governments, corporations and everything in between." There's even a case study: "A foreign government hired Crowds on Demand to help generate a positive reception for its newly elected leader during the UN General Assembly. The concern was ensuring that the leader was well received by a US audience and confident for his work at the UN. We created demonstrations of support with diverse crowds. We also used the media primarily local and national outlets to bring more attention to these demonstrations which led to a mostly positive portrayal. The crowds that we deployed drew in more supporters creating a strong presence for this leader at the UN and an improved perception of him by the American public."

4. Have you ever wondered what had happened to Walid Jumblatt? Spoiler alert: he's still going.

5. Why do women wear so much make-up? Hmm. I don't think this is anywhere near being the whole story. I'd want to include signalling effects including 'making an effort'. The women were asked to do their make-up as if they were going out for the evening, not as if they were aiming to be as attractive as possible. Those are not the same thing. To take another example, I am quite prepared to believe that women consider men more attractive in clothes other than kilts, but at the same time would regard a man who went to the effort of putting on a kilt (the right man, on the right occasion) as being better dressed than a man who didn't. There are social norms about clothing and make-up that are only distantly related to attractiveness. I wonder what the results would be of asking the women to put on make-up as if "going to an undergraduate lecture in the morning but wanting to look attractive to a fellow student" or "going to a wedding and wanting to look more attractive than the other female guests" or "having Sunday lunch at your parents' house but there will be a guest there that you want to impress" or "for a job interview, where you think attractiveness will be a plus" or "for your only photo on a dating website"? 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Who would want to be in the centre party?

Hugo Rifkind makes a similar point to the one in a Vice article I linked to before, i.e. that the potential new centrist/anti-Brexit party is an endeavour motivated by a feeling that all is basically right with Britain at the moment, or that this is as good as it gets, or at least better-the-Devil you know. That is to say, it is an inherently conservative project. For reasons I explore below, I think that will doom it.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Three links with brief comments

1. Things to hang on your mental mug tree. Rory Sutherland and therefore recommended. His comment about architecture reminded me of an observation from Roger Scruton to the effect that the main consumers of architecture are the people on the outside of the building rather than the inside. It's not surprising that the owners of buildings are not prepared to pay much for the architecture. But he has a lot more to say, all worth thinking about.

2. This, from Megan McArdle, makes several good points about That Google Memo. Here's one: "A "natural" split of, say, 65-35 could evolve into a much more lopsided environment that feels downright unfriendly to a lot of women." Here's where the danger is. If the majority of people in a given profession consider (rightly or wrongly) that it is natural that one gender predominates then it's easy for them to create a culture that is ready to welcome people from that gender and harder to welcome the other. I suspect that doctors and lawyers, after a difficult initial period, just realised that there was no 'natural' reason for men to predominate. But think of those rooms in One Born Every Minute where the midwifes hang out drinking tea and eating chocolates in between delivering babies. Everyone there is going to be thinking (even if only subconsciously) that it is entirely natural that it is a female-dominated space. They are probably right about that too. But it could end up putting off a few good men from helping there too.

3. This distinctly dull article about abortion has one point to make (sometimes people talk about the foetus as separate from the mother, sometimes not, and they are not necessarily consistent about this as they pick and choose depending on the point they are making). Your average sixth former has thought about all this already. But this work has - bizarrely - "received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme". I'd like to think that Brexit will at least have some upside if this sort of thing gets left by the wayside in favour of funding actual research and innovation, or just plain tax cuts.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Raja of Mahmudabad

This little BBC video is subtitled, but only so that it can be shared on social media with the sound off. You should watch it with the sound on. Of all the unfortunate consequences of Partition, the legal affairs of the Raja, sitting in the better rooms of his crumbling palace, are among the less serious. But - perhaps because he is an educated man and speaks, to English ears, so nicely - he has my sympathy nonetheless. On the other hand, perhaps there are Indians who hear him and then a 'Vive la Revolution!' feeling wells up in their hearts.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Links worth a look

1. Two from Vice, each with a more imaginative (and also entertaining) take on modern politics than one normally finds elsewhere.

First, here is why people who want a new middle-ground party are fantasists. The writer imagines the party taking shape: "It was one of those cathartic moments: finally someone was saying what we were all thinking, which was: "Everything is pretty much OK, but could you make some minor adjustments?" and then the new party's campaigners "out on the streets bedecked in their new political home's colours of beige and grey – handing out leaflets, knocking on doors and winning round swing voters with rational arguments grounded in key metrics and meticulous use of data-based policy soundings".

Second, Sam Kriss, the Marmite of such writers, with an account of how some Remainers now sound like Leavers: "They are not left or right. They are not neoliberals or social democrats. They are Remain. As they look out on a world grinding itself apart, where zombie governments shovel themselves deeper into a mouldering power, where tower blocks blaze up fuelled by class warfare and cynical profiteering, where hundreds of millions of people are living in vast tracts of land that will shortly be as uninhabitable as the moon, there are people whose main political self-identification is still that they don't want Britain to leave the EU." I often find myself violently disagreeing with Kriss, but often agreeing with him about what is worth disagreeing about.

2. Gef, the talking mongoose of the Isle of Man.

3. Another anecdote about Britain hacking the US political system. All in a good cause.

4. This is quite rude, but this (carefully crafted) quotation from it isn't: "I am certain a large number of men are more attracted to overweight women than skinny women but try to date skinny women to impress their friends and family members.... the data from dating sites tells us that just about all men try to date skinny women. Many people don’t try to date the people they’re most attracted to. They try to date the people they think would impress their friends. ... There are a lot of single men and single overweight women who would be sexually compatible. But they don’t date, while the man tries and fails to date a skinny woman even though he’s less attracted to her. And then there are women who practically starve themselves to remain skinny so their husbands won’t leave, even though their husbands would be more attracted to them if they weighed more. The desire to impress people causes all kinds of inefficiency."

5. A Buzzfeed list of 14 things, but not at all amusing: 14 suspected killings by Russia on British soil; and here's a suspected one on US soil too. Read Bill Browder's testimony here.

6. "“There is no case on record in which a secular society has been able to uphold its birthrate,” Lord Sacks says." Well, maybe. I'm not totally impressed with the argument that something can't be done because it hasn't been done before: sometimes things get done for the first time. And if he is right, then religion will be fine - all the secularists will die out, so what's the worry? But Lord Sacks may well be right that the future for all religions (in the West at least) will involve them looking a lot more like Judaism.

7. "When all job differences are accounted for, the pay gap [between men and women] almost disappears". Tell that to Google.

8. Japan spends less on education than other countries but has better schools. Yawn. But what about this: "In a classroom I visited, all five second-graders in the school watched a teacher demonstrate flower-arranging as three other teachers surrounded them, helping them with each step." We need more flower-arranging in Western schools. Or at least - isn't it worth a try?