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I listened to Hello Internet the other day. C.G.P. Grey went into details about how the attention media seems optimized to tug away at our brains’ attention. This comes a cost to our ability to focus. Personally, he noticed that he has a hard time reading books.
The part that stood out for me was when he mentioned how podcasts have seemingly taken over all the niches of silence in his day. In a later video, he mentions how some of his friends now listen to podcasts in the shower - the one place where good ideas are born.
He wants to reverse course and in what he calls Project Cyclops plans to abstain from listening to podcasts while still continuing to produce them.
The abstaining part resonated quite a bit with me.
Then I continued to listen through my own podcast queue.
Later this week, I came across this post by CJ Chilvers and I, too, wondered whether I should stop listening to podcasts. I do listen to podcasts a lot.
I started my own Project Cyclops this morning.
I have a few thoughts on my mind while I get this thing started:
Some ways that might be helpful in reclaiming your attention - I least I use these as a remedy myself:
Lately, I almost exclusively get unskippable ads for alcoholic beverages on YouTube. I consider it disgraceful in a big way. It’s like YouTube forces me to inhale second-hand smoke. What if I was an recovering alcoholic? What if my genes made me more susceptible to addictive behavior? What if I was a child? ↩
It reminds me of people that auto-crosspost to Twitter. They don’t care about you. They are just sales people. ↩
More often than not, people wear noise cancelling headphones in traffic. Knowing that traffic is one of the major health hazards for young people and one of the leading reasons why people die before the age of 30, I question the soundness of this habit. How can you increase the chances that you might die in traffic and not someone else? ↩
One of the main reasons an EV future can’t arrive soon enough. ↩
The most consistent show in this regard is Sam Harris’s excellent Waking Up which I am a paying supporter to and which I will most likely continue to listen to. ↩
I started to take cold showers last year, though, which does result in a significantly shorter daily shower time. ↩
As Nature put it, “The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar”.
The Ig Nobels1 are awarded for real scientific work that first makes people laugh and then makes them think.
The lineup of winners for 2018 is fantastic. Being an internist and a gastroenterologist, I was drawn to the winners in the field of medicine:
MEDICINE PRIZE [USA] — Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger, for using roller coaster rides to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones. REFERENCE: “Validation of a Functional Pyelocalyceal Renal Model for the Evaluation of Renal Calculi Passage While Riding a Roller Coaster,” Marc A. Mitchell, David D. Wartinger, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, vol. 116, October 2016, pp. 647-652.
MEDICAL EDUCATION PRIZE [JAPAN] — Akira Horiuchi, for the medical report “Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy.” REFERENCE: “Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy by Using a Small-Caliber, Variable-Stiffness Colonoscope,” Akira Horiuchi and Yoshiko Nakayama, Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, vol. 63, No. 1, 2006, pp. 119-20.
And here are a few of my favorites from years before:
2017 PHYSICS PRIZE [FRANCE, SINGAPORE, USA] — Marc-Antoine Fardin, for using fluid dynamics to probe the question “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?” REFERENCE: “On the Rheology of Cats,” Marc-Antoine Fardin, Rheology Bulletin, vol. 83, 2, July 2014, pp. 16-17 and 30.
2014 NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA]: Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast. REFERENCE: “Seeing Jesus in Toast: Neural and Behavioral Correlates of Face Pareidolia,” Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, Kang Lee, Cortex, vol. 53, April 2014, Pages 60–77. The authors are at School of Computer and Information Technology, Beijing Jiaotong University, Xidian University, the Institute of Automation Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, and the University of Toronto, Canada.
2014 ART PRIZE [ITALY]: Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam. REFERENCE: “Aesthetic value of paintings affects pain thresholds,” Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 17, no. 4, 2008, pp. 1152-1162.
2014 ARCTIC SCIENCE PRIZE [NORWAY, GERMANY, USA, CANADA]: Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears. REFERENCE: “Response Behaviors of Svalbard Reindeer towards Humans and Humans Disguised as Polar Bears on Edgeøya,” Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, vol. 44, no. 4, 2012, pp. 483-9.
Unfortunately, the Annals of Improbable Research are no longer produced in print.
A timeless horror story from the medical journal The Lancet:
A 29-year-old man came to hospital with an erythematous finger that had a distinct odour. The cellulitis and odour developed after he pricked his finger with a chicken bone in September, 1991, while at work dressing chickens.
Turned out he got an infection with a bacterium called Clostridium novyi:
Further treatments with the aim of eradicating the organism and reducing odour to improve his quality of life were attempted (antibiotics, isotretinoin, psoralen ultraviolet light treatment, colpermin, probanthene, chlorophyll, and antibiotic withdrawal to allow restoration of normal flora) but none had a sustained benefit. Although the clinical appearance improved, the most disabling consequence of the infection was a putrid smell emanating from the affected arm, which could be detected across a large room, and when confined to a smaller examination room became almost intolerable.
Remember this the next time you prep chicken for dinner.
It’s about time these criminals get locked out of business.
Speaking of conflicts of interests, the issue is obvious in tech journalism where reviews of loaner products, advertising and affiliate linking are widely practiced. Yet, most - I’d dare say almost all - publications and blogs that engage in these practices seem to lack a proper COI disclosure statement.
It’s bad practice and disqualifying.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.
Here is the thing, though: your baseline assumption should be that a COI does influence your work.1
When are conflicts of interests too much?
An investigative report in the New York Times shows how Dr. José Baselga failed to disclose a substantial amount of his financial ties to industry in his publications to top medical journals for years while being a leading figure in breast cancer research:
One of the world’s top breast cancer doctors failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from drug and health care companies in recent years, omitting his financial ties from dozens of research articles in prestigious publications like The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.
He blames the omissions on sloppiness:
“I acknowledge that there have been inconsistencies, but that’s what it is,” he said. “It’s not that I do not appreciate the importance.” […]
Dr. Baselga did not dispute his relationships with at least a dozen companies. In an interview, he said the disclosure lapses were unintentional. […]
The International Committee for Medical Journal Editors has put forward recommendations on the responsibilities of scientific authors. Those state that the “perceptions of conflict of interest are as important as actual conflicts of interest.”
“I have spent my career caring for cancer patients and bringing new therapies to the clinic with the goal of extending and saving lives,” Dr. Baselga said in the statement. “While I have been inconsistent with disclosures and acknowledge that fact, that is a far cry from compromising my responsibilities as a physician, as a scientist and as a clinical leader.”
Medical science is quick to stress the importance of its ties to industry and the fruitful results that come about for patients and science as a whole. However, while the entanglement between science and industry is profound, the actions that scientific journals take on the conflicts of interests of authors are minimal at best.1
How large can your conflicts become before you are no longer deemed eligible for publishing your findings?
For example, the Association of Scientific Medical Societies in Germany recommends abstaining from consensus votes in the development process of medical guidelines if participants have relevant conflicts of interests. ↩
Yahoo’s practice began more than a decade ago and expanded over the years, said a person familiar with the matter. The company has increasingly looked for new ways to wring revenue out of its aging portfolio of web properties, which have stagnated in the era of smartphones and social networking. […]
Email scanning has become one of the company’s most effective methods for improving ad targeting, said Doug Sharp, Oath’s vice president of data, measurements and insights. He said that the practice applies only to commercial emails in people’s accounts—from retailers, say, or mass mailings—and that users have the ability to opt out.
Mr. Sharp said that being served ads is part of the trade-off users make in exchange for free online services, and that Yahoo’s research shows they prefer ads that are relevant to them.
“Email is an expensive system,” Mr. Sharp said. “I think it’s reasonable and ethical to expect the value exchange, if you’ve got this mail service and there is advertising going on.”
Marketing people always wrongly presume that people like ads if only they are served the right ads.
What a bunch of criminals.
Who would have thought? ↩
It’s not just a “third world” story.
Facebook is a prime accomplice in hate crime and erosion of democratic principles in Germany. It’s helping authoritarians in the country blow the “refugee crisis” out of proportion and dominate the news with their antidemocratic political agenda.
Towns where Facebook use was higher than average, like Altena, reliably experienced more attacks on refugees. That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally.
Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.
Here is what happens to Facebook users:
Over time, they appeared to lose sight of the line separating trolling from sincere hate. Heavy social media users refer to this effect as “irony poisoning.” […]
In court, his lawyer would argue that Mr. Denkhaus had shown no outward animus toward refugees before that night. It was only online that he’d dabbled in hate.
Intended as exonerating — wasn’t the real world what mattered? — this defense underscored how Facebook can provide a closed environment with its own moral rules.
If you use Facebook, you have to accept that your knowledge of the world is written by internet trolls, Nazis and Iranian mullahs.
You are fundamentally signing out of the scientific way to understand reality:
When more casual users open Facebook, often what they see is a world shaped by superposters like Mr. Wasserman. Their exaggerated worldviews play well on the algorithm, allowing them to collectively — and often unknowingly — dominate newsfeeds.
“That’s something special about Facebook,” Dr. Paluck said. “If you end up getting a lot of time on the feed, you are influential. It’s a difference with real life.” […]
“Many people lie and fake things in the newspapers,” she said, referring darkly to matters of war and disease. “But with the internet, I can decide for myself what to believe and what not.”
If we don’t collectively fix this, we may be in for a grim future in which we repeat many mistakes of our past.
I teared up reading this story:
Since 1988, more than 75,200 South Koreans who applied to attend reunion have died without seeing their parents, siblings or children again. More than 56,000 South Koreans, the vast majority in their 80s and 90s, are waiting to be selected by lottery for the next round of reunions, which has yet to be scheduled.
This week, reunited family members are allowed to spend 11 hours together over three days, including a three-hour private meeting and lunch, before being separated once again.
The pictures and parts of the story are heartbreaking:
After more than six decades apart, many relatives could recognize each other only after giving the names of hometowns and parents. Many brought with them old photographs to help retrace memories.
Ahn Jong-soon, a 70-year-old North Korean, kept asking her 100-year-old father Ahn Jong-ho, whether he recognized her. Hard of hearing, Mr. Anh did not respond verbally, but tears streamed down his face.
One can’t possibly imagine how this must feel.
If you had to sign a user agreement for the Catholic church, this should be part of it. Somewhere in the find print it should say: “The ideology of our organization acts as a filter attracting sexually confused and conflicted and conscienceless men. And we employ these people. And hide their crimes. And we have done this for over a thousand years.
Now give us your kids.
I am guilty of tsundoku not only for books but also for print medical journals and read-later articles in Safari’s Reading List. ↩
The FIFA World Cup has been a shitshow in advertising since its inception. In Germany, Nutella is one of the most prominent soccer sponsors. During this year’s World Cup, Nutella ran a promotion by which you would score a football when you bought 35 glasses of the sugary spread. The advertiser’s association for self-control in advertisement, Deutscher Werberat, has rejected a complaint by the Green Party against the promotion. They saw nothing wrong with it:
Even foods with a relatively high sugar content are consistent with a healthy and balanced diet, if the amount is right.
35 glasses equals about 85.000 calories and each glass comes with a “best before” date of about 1 year.
Nick Heer on Twitter altering parts of its API which means third-party Twitter clients lose some of their functionality:
When I use the first-party client, I feel like I’m being played around with for business reasons.
When I use Twitter1, I feel like I’m being played around with for business reasons.
When I was using Twitter. ↩
Up front paid apps are going the way of the dodo. Whether you think that’s good or bad, it doesn’t matter. That’s where things are going.
I can’t help but feel that apps are going the way of the dodo.1
Apps as in indie apps. ↩
In competitive running, body type is destiny: If you’re a sprinter powering yourself over a short stretch of track, you better pack a lot of muscle onto your frame. But all that bulk is too much to carry through longer-distance endurance races, which favor more of a whippet type.
Swimmers, though, somehow seem to escape that endurance/speed/size trade-off, according to a new study published in July in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, which for the first time closely examines the morphology of a large group of world-class swimmers and runners. Its findings provide evidence that while there is a body type associated with success in each sport’s various distances, in swimming that body type is consistently the same.
When I watched the events at the European Championships last week I was surprised by how some of the body types in certain events appear to have changed over the years. Take for example the women’s 800m final.1 This year was won by Nataliya Pryshchepa from Ukraine. She and here competitors are very slender runners as you would find in longer distances like 1500m.2
I thought back of my youth when the 800m distance was dominated by Maria Mutola.3 In the gallery on the linked page you find pictures from back in the day. Just notice how much more “packed” the 800m runners were back then.
I found this could also be said about the men’s 400m. ↩
Somewhere in between 200m and 1500m lies a point where the metabolic cost of running with more developed musculature starts to exceed the benefit to generate bigger ground forces. ↩
Maria Mutola’s personal best for 800 meters is 1:55 while Nataliya Pryshchepa has her best at 1:58. Her winning time last week was 2:00. ↩
Another slice of my media diet this month:
The Americans’ final season. Perhaps my favorite TV series in recent years. Thrilling till the end. I thought the finale was great. (A)
Glow, Season 2, Episode 8. This is the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as you would watch it on TV. I loved the episode. (A)
Brain.fm. I have been using this service at work when I need to focus and zone out. An AI generates “neurostimulating” sounds for you. You can choose from different types of music. I prefer the piano sounds. (B)
The new Vainglory heroes Kensei, Kinetic and Anka. Vainglory is the only game I play.1 I have stuck with it since it launched a few years ago and it has continually expanded its greatness. In recent months since the update to a 5v5 gameplay, Super Evil Megacorp has added a bunch of new heroes which are all great. I can never decide between the three. I am also looking forward to the release of Silvernail. (A)
It’s also the only game ever to survive a presentation in an Apple keynote. Remember all those dead games from Clumsy Ninja, Super Mario Run to Anki Drive? ↩
In recent years, advertisement on podcasts has grown distinctively. On shows like those from the indy network Relay.fm or John Gruber’s The Talk Show, a single show is usually interrupted for three or more ad breaks.
It’s a disappointing development.
A notable exception to the trend has been Sam Harris with his podcast Waking Up. He relies entirely on listener support. Recently, he has been running a several minute long explanation at the start of his shows on why he doesn’t run ads. It’s a great statement that a lot of other producers should take to heart.
In his opinion, asking for direct support is the most straight forward relationship he can have with this listeners. He describes ads as a cost to the host’s honesty:
If I spent the first five minutes of every show trying to sell you a mattress, you could reasonably worry about whether my enthusiasm for it was sincere. What else might I exaggerate if I’m willing to assure you, week after week, that memory foam will solve all your sleep problems?
I assume the folks from Relay.fm or John Gruber don’t like ads on TV. Yet, they are bringing one of the worst things about television over to podcasts.1
Why should we expect great podcasts to be free?
Some shows by Relay.fm podcaster Jason Snell have even run ads for online gambling and home delivery services for alcohol in the past. ↩
Former German competitive cyclist Jan Ullrich, once considered the only athletic contender to Lance Armstrong, is on a free fall into a swamp of drug abuse, prostitution and criminal violence against women:
Because he is said to have choked an escort lady in a Frankfurt luxury hotel, the 44-year-old sits provisionally in police custody. During the act he is said to have been under “massive alcohol and drug influence”.
A few days before, he had been arrested in Mallorca because of a violent argument with his neighbor while on drugs.
Why would someone who arguably used to be the best endurance athlete on the planet ever start start smoking? ↩
Wasn’t the Magic Leap supposed to be a set of “cool-looking” glasses that augment your vision? Isn’t it supposed “to tap into your visual cortex”?
Scrolling through Magic Leap’s website does tap into my vestibular system and makes me seasick. The device itself looks like an ugly pair of modern Frenzel goggles and it has a computer attached to it by a wire. The software seems buggy and the UI is confusing. Meanwhile 1.500 people are supposed to be working on this thing.
How is this ever going to position itself against the smartphone?
If you ask me, this is the lame sequel to Google Glass.
When it comes to products like this and the surrounding buzz, I have grown suspicious of Silicon Valley startups.
I’d call this “dead before arrival”.
There still is no explanation why and how the plane MH370 went missing in Southeast Asia four years ago. From the report the Malaysian government issued yesterday, this strangely stood out to me:
Other possible factors — like lithium-ion batteries that could have caught fire and the presence of mangosteen fruit in the plane’s cargo, which was considered unusual — were considered. But such materials had been carried dozens of times before on the same route without incident, the report said.
How could a mangosteen down1 a plane?
From a study on the effects of wearing a necktie in the journal Neuroradiology:
The examination resulted in a statistically significant decrease of CBF [cerebral blood flow] after tightening the necktie (p < 0.001) while the venous flow did not show any significant changes.
Let these photographs brighten your day.
The Games are coming up on August 1st and this year I am pretty excited. The women’s roster is fantastic with so many incredible athletes and it’s hard to tell who will make it to the podium. I am vouching for Katrin Davidsdottir, Tia-Clair Toomey and Annie Thorisdottir. Annie is looking stronger than ever! I am also very much looking forward to the team competition. It’s always great fun to see the teams. I am not so much interested in the men’s competition, though. Not really a male athlete that is relatable and sympathetic to me. (Maybe Wellner and Bridges.) This year, the girls is where the action is, for sure.