Wednesday Links -- 19 August 2015

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.
I dunno which is the more depressing scenario, that the New York Times exposé about (white-collar) working conditions at Amazon might be true, or that this Amazon manager-of-managers' rebuttal might be true.

The guy who invented Soylent (the food substitute) certainly has some... interesting ideas about his necessity to the species. If that doesn't sound cult-manifesto enough for you, check out this (long) piece about how one Silicon Valley thought leader literally wants to turn brands into cults.

Michael O. Church on the paradoxical usefulness of anger as a social motivator—paradoxical, since anger is rarely positive for the individual holding on to it, and yet is great for pushing for social change:
The reason, when I discuss Silicon Valley’s cultural problems, for me to mention Evan Spiegel or Lucas Duplan (for the uninitiated, they are two well-connected, rich, unlikeable and unqualified people who were made startup founders) is because they inspire resentment and hatred. Dry discussions of systemic problems don’t lead to social change; they lead to more dry debate and that debate leads to more debate, but nothing ever gets done until someone “condescends” to talk to the public and get them pissed off. For that purpose, a Joffrey figure like Evan Spiegel is just much “catchier”. This is why founder-quality issues like Duplan and Spiegel, and “Google Buses”, are a better vector of attack against Sand Hill Road than the deeper technical reasons (e.g. principal-agent problems that take kilowords to explain in detail) for that ecosystem’s moral failure. It’s hard to get people riled up about investor collusion, and much easier to point to this picture of Lucas Duplan.

The ultimate lifehack...? Bring back handwriting!

"No general procedure for bug checks will do./ Now, I won’t just assert that, I’ll prove it to you./ I will prove that although you might work till you drop,/ you cannot tell if computation will stop." A proof of the undecidability of the Halting Problem, in Seussian verse: Scooping the Loop Snooper

The Peanuts comic used to be really dark. Then Snoopy showed up and mediocritized it: How Snoopy Killed Peanuts

New user KGxvi at Little Green Footballs posts In Defense of Birthright Citizenship:
Eliminating birthright citizenship doesn’t make America better. In fact, it weakens our society. It would promote xenophobia and racism by allowing a certain segment of the population to hold everyone that doesn’t look (or sound) a certain way as suspect. It would create a costly new bureaucracy that would put the onus on ordinary citizens to prove something that we all take for granted. And, it would not solve any real problems.
Pretty darn awesome for a first contribution! Plus he has the legal knowledge to back it all up.

Markets are social constructs. Sometimes the rules we lay down naively have stupid, but competition-based (free market!!1!) consequences: How Free Competition Can Create Dumb Costs

Phil Gyford comments about yet another book I should probably read:
I’m fascinated by how societies change over time, and [The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth, by Steve Fraser] is about how everyone-for-themselves capitalism has become the only acceptable political position, when there used to be more alternatives.
In "human civilization, f*** yeah" news, the World Health Organization declares Africa(!) to be free of 'wild' cases of polio(!!):
Nigeria, the last endemic country in the African region, marked one year without a case of wild polio on 24 July 2015. If continued lab results in the coming weeks confirm no new cases in Nigeria, and if the WHO African Region then goes 2 more years without a case of wild polio in the face of strong surveillance, it could be certified polio-free by the Africa Regional Certification Commission.
More generally, Donald Prothero at Skeptic magazine's Insight blog sings the praises of "science affirmers," who definitely don't get enough appreciation compared to the (deserved!) lambasting of science deniers:
So it gives me great pleasure to praise public figures who stand up for science and science-based policy, and pass laws that benefit people and the environment, rather than powerful special interests and the science deniers of every stripe. Nowhere is this more apparent than my home state, California.
And speaking of science, this study in Nature of cephalopod genomes suggests that octopi are super weird in all sorts of ways, genetically. But more intriguingly, it seems that gene complexes connected to higher-order cognition may have evolved separately. Lots of fascinating implications there.