All posts by Nathan Taylor (praxtime)

About Nathan Taylor (praxtime)

I blog at http://praxtime.com on trends in science, tech and economics. Follow @ntaylor963 for me the person. Follow @praxtime for my blog posts.

Saturday Links 20-Jan-2018: Spotted Toad on Opiods, Amazon HQ2 as tech monopoly marketing, Blue Planet II

1. More people should read and follow Spotted Toad to learn about the Opioid Crisis. Yes it’s true. Someone is writing about the Opioid Crisis under the pseudonymous handle Spotted Toad. As he(?) noted on twitter this week: Lol, US Senators are holding public hearings based on blog posts they read from “Spotted Toad”. AndIf this had happened under my own name it would be the Most Important Thing That Ever Happened To Me but fortunately it’s all under a ridiculous pseudonym.

Mr Toad (if you will) has written extensively about the correlation between the rising intensity of the Opioid crisis and the rollout of expanded Medicaid, part of Obamacare and the ACA. Wait! I know this kind of thing can be easily mishandled, making people angry. That’s not my goal. We all know Obamacare/ACA can be a tribal political indicator. Some on the right believe you can say no good about it. And some on the left believe you can say no bad about it. Lest you help your enemy. Sigh. Which is precisely why I think Spotted Toad should be given his due, especially if you support the ACA. He’s saying supporting the ACA is fine! (Nuance warning). But there can be unintended downsides to even a good thing. Here’s the chart, a version of which Republicans showed in congress:

From Mr Toad’s post:

Senator Ron Johnson held a public hearing  and issued an accompanying report yesterday on unintended consequences of Medicaid expansion on the opioid crisis. You can read discussions of the event ranging from Vox’s condescending dismissal, to ThinkProgress’s righteous indignation, to Newsweek and the LA Times‘s tendentious rebuttals, to a fairly sympathetic writeup from USA Today, and a standard he-said she-said from the Washington Post.

Since I believe, I think without much delusion, that I started this ball rolling last March and have kept it rolling pretty well since then, I obviously don’t have a totally dispassionate view. Even so, I recognize there are multiplefairly  strong lines of argument against Medicaid playing a significant causal role in the divergence between expansion and non-expansion states. However, the basic fact is that there is a very large divergence to explain.

And

Look, I’m just a pseudonymous coward, and as I’ve said before, I’m not a public health expert or an expert in addiction and recovery or pharmaceuticals. I very well may be wrong in arguing that the Medicaid expansion had a large, causal effect on overdoses. However, the failure of a single academic public health expert to make a good faith effort to grapple with the existence of a very large divergence as a plausible effect of the ACA expansion and recognize it as an important empirical puzzle rather than an easily dismissed partisan claim is deeply disturbing to me. The ability of almost every single high-status news organization similarly to treat this as just “another case of those wacky Republicans grasping at straws” rather than a serious hypothesis with multiple competing explanations is equally depressing. The anti-empirical turn in America is real.

Prince and (revealed this week) Tom Petty both died of opioids. It’s devastating. So anyone who helps shed light on what’s going on is doing good work. And for that, I’d recommend following Spotted Toad on twitter, or reading his blog.

2. Amazon creating a second headquarters sure seems like a very successful ploy to lobby for less tech monopoly regulation. As I mentioned on twitter last year:

Maybe I’m just cynical. But we saw another zillion news stories this week on which cities made the top 20 Amazon HQ2 shortlist. Who’s in. Who’s out. It’s American Idol for pundits, with Amazon as the idol. Betting markets say Boston is the favored choice. So if Amazon picks Washington D.C. instead, giving Amazon more access to lobby against monopoly tech regs, I’ll claim I was right on what’s behind this. And really. You have to hand it to Jeff Bezos regardless of where HQ2 is finally located. It’s been an absolutely brilliant and successful marketing campaign already. Genius.

3. The craft beer revival is the strangest, happiest economic story in America. Really enjoyed this piece by Derek Thompson. He argues the craft beer revival is a showcase for how small companies focused on providing artisanal products make for an excellent economic growth model. Plus craft beer is quite tasty, if I do say so.

4. Reaction to Trump adultery is a sign of the political parties swapping roles on being prudish. Michelle Goldberg’s piece was the most interesting one I read on the Donald Trump/Stormy Daniels 130k payout.  In particular this point:

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the right’s tacit embrace of a laissez faire approach to sexuality — at least male, heterosexual sexuality — coincides with attempts on the left to erect new ethical guardrails around sex.

In the 1990s, many feminists defended untrammeled eros because they feared a conservative sexual inquisition. Elements of that inquisition remain; attacks on reproductive rights have grown only more intense. Still, Trump has reconciled reactionary politics with male sexual license. In doing so, he’s made such license easier for feminists to criticize.

5. Moses Farrow on Woody Allen allegations. Previously I’d leaned toward believing Woody Allen had molested Dylan Farrow, based on Dylan’s testimony. But this book excerpt changed my mind. Now I’m unsure, or perhaps lean a bit towards believing Woody Allen may be innocent. Moses Farrow claims Mia Farrow was an extremely manipulative parent, and it’s utterly convincing.

6. 2018 will be a good year for twitter. So argues M.G. Siegler: “I think Twitter is going to have a good year in 2018, while Facebook has a bad one.” FWIW, agree. Also, don’t miss this wonderfully spot on parody (note the March 2018 tweet dates) of The 29 Stages Of A Twitterstorm In 2018.

7. Blue Planet II Is the Greatest Nature Series Of All Time. So claims Ed Yong, who has watched and ranked all 79 episodes of Attenborough’s documentaries. So I’m good. Blue Planet II was released last year in the UK. But starts in the US today (Saturday, Jan 20). I’ve set my DVR. Should be awesome to watch with the family. Looking forward to it.

Saturday Links 13-Jan-2018: CES and Apple, Facebook newsfeed, IQ genomics, Star Wars

1. Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Apple.  Here’s a good piece on the continuing rise of voice interface at CES. My favorite CES read was by Ben Bajarin (link), who begins with the unfortunately necessary caveat “For the record, Apple is not doomed.” Then gets to his primary point:

Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.

Continue reading Saturday Links 13-Jan-2018: CES and Apple, Facebook newsfeed, IQ genomics, Star Wars

Saturday Links 06-Jan-2018: Meltdown, Tabby’s dusty star, live tweeting Fox, aDNA from Alaska

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I plan to write a links-with-commentary blog post every Saturday in 2018. Today being the first one. I’ll keep these newsletter style casual, with minimal edits. Hopefully that will increase the chance I’ll post every Saturday this year. Mostly I’ll pull from what I’ve recently shared on twitter.

Continue reading Saturday Links 06-Jan-2018: Meltdown, Tabby’s dusty star, live tweeting Fox, aDNA from Alaska

My Soylent review: decent with a very annoying packaging flaw. Plus disruption frameworks.

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Soylent started in 2013 as a Rob Rhinehart crowdfunded experiment in food replacement. The name and food replacement angle attracted lots of enthusiasm, for example see what happened when I ate only Soylent for 30 days. Answer: farts. Evil ones. With the 2.0 version coming out in Sep 2015 as a prepackaged drink, I bought some to try it out. On my Friday commute I often listen to Ben Thompson and James Allworth’s Exponent podcast, and their latest episode covered disruption in the internet age. Drinking Soylent while listening, the two seemed (somewhat) related. Let me explain, finishing with my Soylent review.

Continue reading My Soylent review: decent with a very annoying packaging flaw. Plus disruption frameworks.

On the harsh reaction to Paul Graham’s post on inequality. Adapting Tyler Cowen’s laws to writing on the internet.

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On January 2, technology investor Paul Graham published two posts. One on Refragmentation, about 20th century mass organizations breaking into pieces. Another on inequality, about why it’d be best to directly fix problems like poverty rather than fix inequality per se. What puzzled me was the visceral hate the inequality post produced, even by a number of tech insiders. Graham went so far as to write a second version using very simple words on Jan 4 (the implication of writing a dumbed down version wasn’t lost on anyone). Then on Jan 8 he wrote a response to Ezra Klein’s take. Now that this has mostly blown over, I remain puzzled. Why did this blow up? What does it mean about writing on the internet, if anything?

Continue reading On the harsh reaction to Paul Graham’s post on inequality. Adapting Tyler Cowen’s laws to writing on the internet.

Praxtime 2015 year end review. My favorites in science, tech, econ, pop culture. Grading and making predictions.

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I’ve always been a fan of year-in-review lists. So here are some of my favorites from this year. Then at bottom I grade my tech predictions for 2015, and provide new ones for 2016.

My most viewed blog posts this year:

  1. Understanding AI risk. How Star Trek got talking computers right in 1966, while Her got it wrong in 2013.
  2. 2015 is a transition year to the (somewhat creepy) machine learning era. Apple, Google, privacy and ads.
  3. The algorithmic hand is replacing the invisible hand. But Hayek still applies.
  4. Homo naledi and the braided stream of humanity. It’s miscegenation all the way down.

Continue reading Praxtime 2015 year end review. My favorites in science, tech, econ, pop culture. Grading and making predictions.

Why a new Star Trek is a bad idea, even though a new Star Wars is fine. Science Fiction ≠ Fantasy.

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(note: no spoilers below! I haven’t even seen the new Star Wars movie yet.)

As mentioned in an earlier post, a few years ago my son came home from school saying Darth Vader was Luke’s father. The problem? He hadn’t seen Star Wars. Grade school playgrounds being the source of many hard truths. As good parents we soon watched all six movies. The kids loved it. Then this year my daughter came home from school asking about Spock. Who is Spock? Why are people talking about Spock? So we watched Star Trek II The Wrath of Kahn, the best movie with the original cast. And this time my kids were, well, rather bored. Which was painful since I had always liked Star Trek better than Star Wars. Yes, the Star Wars movies are better made, with more kid appeal. But it’s more than that. With a new Star Trek TV series due in 2017 and the new Star Wars movie just out, time to take a stand. No more Star Trek. Continuing Star Trek betrays what it represents. Even though more Star Wars is fine.

Continue reading Why a new Star Trek is a bad idea, even though a new Star Wars is fine. Science Fiction ≠ Fantasy.

Since cars replaced horses, won’t robots replace people? The future of technological unemployment.

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My favorite analogy for understanding technological unemployment is “peak horse.” Below is the version told in Greg Clark’s book A Farewell to Alms:

there was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early twentieth century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. Though they had been replaced by rail for long-distance haulage and by steam engines for driving machinery, they still plowed fields, hauled wagons and carriages short distances, pulled boats on the canals, toiled in the pits, and carried armies into battle. But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late nineteenth century rapidly displaced these workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than two million. There was always a wage at which all these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.

Continue reading Since cars replaced horses, won’t robots replace people? The future of technological unemployment.

Using Hannah Arendt to understand the Islamic State. And other recommended reads.

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The primary focus of my blog is understanding how trends in technology, society and economics will unfold over the next 5-10 years. So on twitter I follow people like Nick Szabo, arguably the world’s most famous cryptocurrency expert. Last week, in regards to Syrian refugee policy, Szabo retweeted this:

Continue reading Using Hannah Arendt to understand the Islamic State. And other recommended reads.