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Fascinating example of the unseen benefits of government spending

Submitted by John on Tue, 05/17/2022 - 23:00

Check out this story of a career government official thinking about and solving a problem that winds up saving thousands of lives (embedded within a larger interview with Michael Lewis about his latest book):

So I took this list and picked someone at random. It was a guy whose name was on the top of the list: Arthur A. Allen. He won the alphabet contest. So I call him up and asked him if I could come visit him and just see what he’s doing. He had nothing else to do. He was sitting at home with nothing to do.

This is a guy who spent his whole career as the lone oceanographer in the Coast Guard search-and-rescue division, where he’d started in the late ’70s. There was a particular problem he was working on by himself, and the problem was costing a lot of American lives. It was people being lost at sea. The Coast Guard didn’t know how they drifted in the ocean. And Americans have this unbelievable talent for getting lost at sea, which is a whole other thing. On average, every day, the Coast Guard is saving 10 people who are lost in the sea and losing three. So you’re talking about thousands of people who are getting in this situation every year. 

The problem is that if you fall off a boat into the ocean, you’re going to drift differently than if you are in a life raft, or if you’re on top of an overturned sailboat, or if you have a life vest on — you get the point. So if the Coast Guard knows where and when you started, as they often do, they should be able to predict where you are in the ocean four hours later, knowing the currents and the wind and your drift. But they didn’t know the drift, until Arthur A. Allen figured it all out. He spent years of his own free time tossing objects into the Long Island Sound, where he lives, measuring the specific drift of like 80 different categories of objects.

That all sounds boring and tedious, I know. But he reduced the drift to mathematical equations and embedded them in the search-and-rescue software program, and instantly they were able to find people they never would’ve found before. Thousands of Americans are alive because of Arthur A. Allen. And thousands of people are alive around the world because of the work he did here. No one knows who he is. No one pays any attention to him. They furloughed him as if he’s useless.

The punchline to all of this, to your point about the way we treat these experts who save our tails over and over again, is that when I went to go see Arthur to talk to him about what he had done with his life, I spent three days with him, interviewing his family, going to see his old office, going to the Long Island Sound to see where he dropped his objects, asking him every which way the story of his career.

After the three days, I’m going back to the airport to head home and he calls me and says, with real wonder in his voice, “Hey, you’re a published author.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m a published author.” He says, “You’re like a real deal. You’re a real writer.” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Are you going to be writing about me?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s why I spent three days learning how objects drift. Yes. I’m going to be writing about you.” He goes, “Wow. I didn’t expect to get any attention for this.” And I said, “Well, what did you think I was doing for those three days?” He said, “I just thought you were really interested in how objects drift.”

This is the mental world of the government expert. They’re so used to nobody caring about what they do, even when what they do is mission-critical, that they can’t imagine us even taking an interest in them. We so don’t value them that they don’t value themselves.

We're so used to thinking of government spending as zero sum. The government takes from tax payers and gives to people in need (or gives to the undeserving, depending on your rough political beliefs), and this basic framework of taking and giving is so entrenched in basic assumptions of how we even think about the government and how it is run and how it spends money that we never question it. 

One thing I am interested in though is how government spending can expand the pie, so that we wind up with more than what we started with. This is almost never claimed as something that can actually happen, in fact, the first time I've ever heard of anyone saying that government spending can expand the pie is me saying this right here. (I'm sure there are many others who have said similar things, but I have never heard the "expanding the pie" metaphor ever used in the context of government expanding the pie.) 

How can we encourage more of this?


Her name is Kookacki

Submitted by John on Sun, 05/01/2022 - 13:22

A child’s stick drawing of an evil girl with four ears“This is a girl. Also, you should know she’s evil. She has 4 ears and super hearing. It’s her super evil power. And those are her toes!” - the 4yo.


What is the purpose of Twitter?

Submitted by John on Tue, 04/26/2022 - 11:44

Some people think Twitter is a megaphone. Its primary purpose is for shouting into. Whatever you want to say, it goes into the megaphone and out into the world. 

Some people think Twitter is a way to create and maintain a community. For checking up on one another, giving tips and advice, making space for others and overall community care. Somewhere where you can share memes with your friends, maybe a little more public than a group chat. 

People in the first group are very concerned about their free speech rights. They want to say whatever they want and not have any mechanisms in the platform, or the policies of the platform that would restrict their messages from being seen by anybody. 

No volume controls on the megaphones!

People in the second camp want restrictions! In the form of content moderation, and community norms. They want the ability to have their community space and talk to each other without someone coming along and shouting abusive invective at them. 

So yeah, now that Elon has put forth a bid to take Twitter private, what is Elon going to do? Is he going to save Twitter or ruin it?

I personally think Elon is the kind of guy who wants to crank up the volume on the megaphones. People who agree with him, that the megaphones need to be louder, are ecstatic. They seem to think that he's going to fix everything that is wrong with the platform. 

But the folks who come to Twitter for community do not want their communities invaded by abusive randos. If the abuse gets loud enough, they will leave. 

When I talk to folks who live in the GOP ecosystem, they seem to think that the only thing Twitter does, is seek out anything that is not the left wing consensus and just nukes it from orbit. On purpose, to silence conservatives. No other reason. 

This has not been my experience, by and large. Most of the banning I've seen has been ultimately because of harassment of minorities, or other straightforward violations of Twitter rules that are viewpoint neutral. 

Let's be honest. Nobody is getting kicked off Twitter because of their opinions on tax policy. But there are some people who REALLY want to be able to call other people racial and sexual slurs, without any consequences. If this is what "free speech" looks like to Elon Musk, the GOP and Fox News, and Elon cranks up that "free speech" knob, then I don't think people who are targets of those slurs are going to stick around.  

I don't think Musk is mentally capable of understanding the community aspect of Twitter. Twitter is performative shitposting to Elon Musk, as far as I can tell. (And hey, I admit that shitposting is fun, although I try to limit mine to jokes about the Canucks, mostly just for my friend <a href = "">Brad</a>.) [Edit: 😂 I'm leaving the link typo in!]

So yeah, I do think it's super likely that he's going to destroy the best parts of Twitter, at least for a large chunk of Twitter's users. When that happens, people are going to leave. 

Of course, this is assuming the sale goes through in the first place. He says he has funding, but the funding is based on mortgaging his share of Tesla... and Tesla stock has crashed on the news of the Twitter sale going through. So we'll see what happens next. 


Making hot sauce

Submitted by John on Thu, 04/14/2022 - 10:43

The kids started getting interested in making hot sauce. We’ve made a few batches (with varying levels of success). This one turned out… alright. The flavors don’t quite meld and it’s rough around the edges… but let’s be honest, neither I nor the children know what the heck we are doing. Maybe it will get better over time!

The kid who made this hot sauce loves it on his eggs, and I guess that’s all that matters.

Flames coming up around a pot of simmering green and red hot peppers

For this recipe we simmered two jalapeño peppers and four dried hot peppers I grew in my garden last year (they are weird hybrid peppers, I’d say they are maybe on the hot side of medium hot). We covered the peppers in vinegar. The fire was supposed to add smokiness (and it did) and cooking the peppers outside kept us from gassing the rest of the household (that part worked too).

A jar of finished hot sauce, reddish brown in the light

The hot sauce turned a wonderful reddish brown when blended. We cooked them outside for about 10 minutes.


More links, with a focus on personal development

Submitted by John on Sat, 01/29/2022 - 12:54
  • Everything must be paid for twice - You pay once in dollars for the thing, and you pay a second time in time/energy/effort to get the benefit of the thing you paid for.
  • How a Simple Math Equation Can Transform Your Productivity - An example: 0.8 * 0.2 = 0.16. Lesson: When we operate at a fraction, we compromise the output.

  • Effortless personal productivity (or how I learned to love my monkey mind) - Develop an awareness of your mental states. Figure out what you are good at in each state. Apply your todo list to your mental state and do the things you are good at in whatever mental state you are in.

  • Articulate and Incompetent - "An articulate, logical, and consistent argument is not required to have any relationship with actual reality. Temperament and experience does." When we look back at our successes, our verbal brain can make up all kinds of reasons, in retrospect, why we succeeded. Often, success depends on intuition. Intuition is poorly articulated. To get intuition: "Increase your vocabulary of granular words to describe emotions and sensations."

  • "Squid, Zen and The Abyss." - There's a LOT in this one, but it's mostly about how to break out of the thinking ruts our verbal brain keeps us trapped in:

    A system that endlessly repeats the same behaviors enters the “frozen zone.” A business or individual that cannot innovate and play, becomes fragile, then dies....

    The thing that gets between you and seeing the world clearly is all your protections, traumas, and defenses. In a business context, this is “the way things have always been done.” This is something that can actually get worse with age; we get more attached to our professional identity, status, and material possessions. But if you can’t evolve as fast as our accelerating world, you risk being left behind. As management icon Peter Drucker put it: “the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself but to act with yesterday’s logic.”

    The absolutely critical, yet oft-neglected, implication is that your old model needs to be destroyed before it can be replaced. This is usually INCREDIBLY UNPLEASANT.

  • The importance trap - Doing unimportant things makes you lucky. You know that whole thing about marking the things you do as important or urgent, and stay out of things that are neither important nor urgent. If you maximize your time on important and urgent things, you lose out on the ability to let your mind go, relax the analytical, and lose yourself in a hobby.

    Quadrant II [Important, but not Urgent] builds up your existing strengths, while Quadrant IV [Not Important or Urgent] exposes you to new abilities and trains you in less immediately needed skills. These “unimportant” activities are chosen by your subconscious. Your subconscious knows what you need.[1] Your conscious brain is much worse than your subconscious at identifying and prioritizing, because it’s too busy thinking of Quadrant II things. That’s why Quadrant IV activities invariably turn out to be useful, even though it doesn’t look like it when you’re doing them.[2]


Been a while since I've done a good old fashioned link dump

Submitted by John on Sat, 01/29/2022 - 11:54

Recent links I found that were interesting:


My internal dialogue as I woke up this morning

Submitted by John on Fri, 01/14/2022 - 06:29

Me, waking up with a sense of needing to do something today: Hello?

My internal voice: Hello.

Me: Uh. What's happening today? 

Voice: Pandemic.

Me: Yeah, right, Pandemic. That's not nearly specific enough. Do I have to get anything done? Are there deadlines? Should I be panicking? What's the metanarrative?

Voice: I don't know yet, I'm still waking up myself. 

Me: ... You're helpful. 

Voice: *shrugs*


Voice: It's a workday. You have some work related deadlines. Also looks like we have a series of in person things we have to do today, in the middle of Omicron flying around.

Me: Ah. Got it. Thank you for helping me calibrate my expectations. 


Speaking of Delicious Food

Submitted by John on Thu, 01/13/2022 - 21:04

I deeply enjoyed this recipe for tuna melts. I halved it and it worked great.

The cooking of the tomato in the oven was such a good idea (although, I think it's important to get the slices on the thin side so they cook through).

The kids were not fans. My wife said "I think it's too complicated for me", but I loved it.

  • 1/3 c. mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 (6-oz.) cans tuna
  • 1 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 2 dill pickles, finely chopped
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices bread, such as sourdough
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 8 slices cheddar


    1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes (if using).
    2. Drain tuna then add to mayonnaise mixture. Use a fork to break up tuna into flakes. Add celery, pickles, red onion, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
    3. Butter one side of each bread slice. Top an unbuttered side with approximately 1/2 cup of tuna salad, 2 to 3 slices tomato, and 2 slices of cheese. Top with another slice of bread, buttered side facing up. Repeat with remaining ingredients and place on a large baking sheet. Bake until cheese is melty, 5 to 8 minutes.


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    My canonical hamburger

    Submitted by John on Thu, 12/30/2021 - 22:11

    So my canonical cheeseburger has:

    • lettuce (preferably iceberg, sometimes leaf, sometimes shredded, sometimes both)
    • tomato
    • sauerkraut
    • ketchup
    • mustard
    • relish
    • pickles
    • rarely, but sometimes, mayo
    • pickled onions
    • sliced big circles of raw onions
    • sautéed onions
    • sautéed mushrooms & peppers
    • sometimes thinly sliced sautéed jalapeños
    • and a perfectly fried sunny side up egg right on top

    Burger itself is a blend of hamburger (prefer a fattier blend when grilling, but usually go with 85/15 on a frying pan on the stove), regular Quaker Oats (a bit more than a handful or so per pound of meat, and I have small hands), a raw egg, quite a lot of Worcestershire sauce (not optional!), and generous amounts of seasoning. Here's one option: salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, finely chopped fresh thyme or fresh oregano, and if no fresh herbs are on hand, dried oregano, kind of sparingly compared to paprika (cannot have too much) and garlic powder (use lots). Another option: cut back bit on all of the above and replace with Penzey's Turkish blend. 

    The goal of the oats is to bind everything together because you're adding a lot of liquid. If you have a fattier grind you could maybe add a bit more oats. 

    Layer the seasonings and the meat! Put in 3/4 of an inch or so of meat into the bowl, season with all powders, repeat. Then add the oats, egg, and Worcestershire. Hand mix, don't over mix. Let it sit out to take the chill off while you prepare the toppings above.

    Cheese! I try to avoid cheddar because it doesn't melt very good. I usually don't use blue cheese, but sometimes do if I am missing some of the toppings listed above. 

    The secret to how I make all of that above is the cast iron pan. And even though I am usually making burgers for 8 other people in my family, everyone else only wants lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, relish, and pickles, maybe a bit of onion. So I only have to prep everything else for just me, and since I'm only making one (large) burger, and that's a lot of different toppings, I only need to prepare a little bit of everything. 

    So the cast iron pan. I make burgers for absolutely everyone else in the house. Shoo them out of the kitchen, then I put my largish size patty on the cast iron. In the other corner of the cast iron, I put on the mushrooms, onions, peppers, and jalapeños (don't forget to season!). Depending on the size of the pan I am using, sometimes I can cram the egg in there too, but often times I use the smaller egg pan to get the egg right, if there's lots of crusties on the bottom of the burger pan. The egg won't flip right and it gets to be a problem. 

    Then it's a matter of cooking everything up so it finishes at the right time, and that takes practice. But when it's all done, I have this monster burger... that I eat all alone in the kitchen because everyone else has run off. Still delicious though.