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Friday morning reading

I’m very gratified to say that my Lede Program for data journalism at Columbia is over, or at least the summer program is (some students go on to take Computer Science classes in the Fall).

My adorable and brilliant students gave final presentations on Tuesday and then we had a celebration Tuesday night at my house, and my bluegrass band played (didn’t know I have a bluegrass band? I play the fiddle! You can follow us on twitter!). It was awesome! I’m hoping to get some of their projects online soon, and I’ll definitely link to it when that happens.

It’s been an exciting week, and needless to say I’m exhausted. So instead of a frothy rant I’ll just share some reading with y’all:

  1. Andrew Gelman has a guest post by Phil Price on the worst infographic ever, which sadly comes from Vox. My students all know better than this. Hat tip Lambert Strether.
  2. Private equity firms are buying stuff all over the country, including Ferguson. I’m actually not sure this is a bad thing, though, if nobody else is willing to do it. Please discuss.
  3. Bloomberg has an interesting story about online PayDay loans and the world of investing. I am still on the search for someone who knows exactly how those guys target their ads online. Hat tip Aryt Alasti.
  4. Felix Salmon, now at Fusion, has set up a nifty interactive to help you figure out your lifetime earnings.
  5. Felix also set up this cool online game where you can play as a debt collector or a debtor.
  6. Is it time to end letter grades? Hat tip Rebecca Murphy.
  7. There’s a reason fast food workers are striking nationwide. The ratio of average CEO pay to average full-time worker pay is around 1252.
  8. People lie to women in negotiations. I need to remember this.

Have a great weekend!

Categories: musing, news

Aise O’Neil at Gotham Comedy Club

I don’t usually blog about my kids, but my 14-year-old son has explicitly given me his blessing to post his recent stand-up performance at the Gotham Comedy Club:

The look he gives the audience at the end is my favorite part.

Categories: musing

Advice for anxious sleepers

When I was young I used to suffer from depression from time to time, sometimes pretty badly. But ever since I had kids, I suffer much more from anxiety. It’s never been paralyzing but it means I have trouble falling asleep about once or twice a week because I can’t stop fretting. I’m jealous of people that can wander off into fantasy land and imagine landing on the moon or walking across a grassy plain in a magical land, but that’s not me. I basically have no imagination and spend my brain cycles trying to solve really concrete problems, and if there’s something out of my control then it bugs me and I have trouble letting go.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem, and maybe I should be learning to meditate or something so I’m better at flexing my imagination muscles. Bring on the advice. In the meantime I’ve developed intense and complicated coping mechanisms. Here are a few in the form of friendly advice to all who suffer from anxiety at night:

  1. First of all, don’t worry about being worried. Chances are the next night you will be super exhausted and catch up on sleep, no harm done. Important to keep in mind!!
  2. Second, I really like to listen to the radio. Sports radio is almost always soothingly boring (although lately, what with all the wife beating talk, it has been less than helpful), and of course an actual baseball game is perfect, because nothing ever happens.
  3. But my husband can only sleep in total silence. Here’s the solution to this problem, which helps a LOT:

    Product motto: "This pillow speaker has saved a marriage or two ..."

    Product motto: “This pillow speaker has saved a marriage or two …”

  4. If that isn’t enough, then I usually go to the living room and watch boring movies on Netflix.
  5. I found the best, most boring movie EVER yesterday which I wanted to share with you. Namely, Nature’s The Private Life of Deer. That was seriously boring, and yet funny and nice too, especially when the “ghost deer photographer” was whispering to the camera about his strategies in tracking the ever-elusive albino deer in the northern woods.
  6. The video for that is available here, but I urge you to save it for when you have trouble sleeping and are trying not to think of something anxiety-provoking, it’ll be perfect.
Categories: musing

The app effect

I have a theory which I’m slightly embarrassed about but whatever, that’s what blogs are for, I’m going to talk about it. And I have no data for this whatsoever, although I’d be interested to hear thoughts on how to collect some.

Namely, I think a sizable amount of social change we’ve seen in the past few decades, for better and for worse, can be ascribed to what I call “the app effect,” namely the tendency for everyone, but young men in particular to be playing games on their phones or their xbox360’s or whatever rather than interacting with each other.

Look at crime rates. I am not claiming that crime rates have fallen solely because of the app effect over other reasonable effects, like the availability of abortions, or less lead paint, or people having more air conditioning.

But, let’s face it, when I was growing up in Boston in the 1980’s, you’d just see way more people out on the streets on summer evenings because it was too freaking hot to do anything inside and people were damn bored. That’s when the trouble would start. Nowadays you just don’t see that nearly as much. What are people doing? My guess is that they’re playing a shit load of video games. Tell me if I’m wrong.

Here’s another example. People are less politically engaged. Partly it’s because Congress sucks, but partly – yes – it’s because people are playing Candy Crush! They used to maybe spend time going to work reading the paper and otherwise doing the civic duty thing but nowadays they’re just trying to pass level 187. I’ve been there so I know about it.

Also, when the train stops? In the tunnel? And it’s dark and really hot? Everyone just plays their games even harder, where you used to maybe start talking, or shouting, or freaking out. It is a pacifier for grown-ups, a nationwide babysitting service that keeps people in line.

It’s good and bad. Sometimes getting out of line serves a purpose, sometimes it’s just destructive and the wrong thing to do. My worry, as a person who wants to see political engagement, is that we have trained an entire population to take refuge in a pointless activity that doesn’t serve any real purpose except to distract us and to mollify us, not to mention collect our data for later marketing purposes.

Another way to imagine this is, if all the apps and all the video games stopped working for a few weeks, what would happen? What would people do with themselves?

Categories: musing

Unsolicited advice about having kids

You know how it’s better to have a discussion with someone when you’re calm and they haven’t just done something that drives you absolutely nuts? Well I’m going to generalize to the parenting advice realm: best time to give parenting advice is not when you’ve just seen a kid get poorly parented or a parent stress out about stupid stuff. Best time is when you’re alone in your pajamas, nowhere near other people’s kids. That way those of you who have kids won’t feel defensive.

Also, here’s another rule about parenting advice: never take parenting advice from anyone, because the people who are actually eager to give it are usually super weird. Look at Tiger Mom as Exhibit A.

In spite of that very wise second rule, I’ma go ahead and give some advice that’s pretty good, if I do say so myself in my own weird way.

  1. Before having kids, think of all the reasons not to. They’re loud, expensive, and they weigh you down immensely. You will never be able to stay up with friends after 10pm again if you do it. So don’t do it.
  2. Unless… unless you just absolutely cannot help it because of all those freaking hormones and how cute they look in summer dresses (boys included, yes, they don’t care, they’re babies). Then do it, but think hard and plan well for the noise, the expense, and the inconvenience.
  3. In terms of how you parent a baby: think long-term about stuff. Are you gonna want to get up a million times every night for the rest of your life? No, you’re not. So figure out how to get the damn baby to sleep through the night. This cannot be forced until the kid is 6 months or so, and the moment you can manipulate their sleep is characterized by the moment they can try to manipulate their sleep and stay awake to hang out with you. That’s when you start the 6pm bedtime ritual, including songs and books and 6:30 lights out. They will cry for like 10 minutes three nights in a row and after that you will be golden. Long term thinking, remember. Even if they cry for an hour, it’s an investment for a lifetime, namely yours.
  4. In terms of how you parent a little kid: think super long-term about stuff. Don’t raise your voice unless they are doing something actually dangerous, like walking into traffic or sticking a fork into an outlet. Make sure you let them get really dirty and try to eat weird things, too – their tongues are like extra hands at this age, it helps them explore the world. The only thing a little kid really needs is regular meals and a 6 or maybe 7pm bedtime ritual. They can spend 2 hours ripping up a newspaper for entertainment. Once a week baths would be good.
  5. In terms of how you parent a school age kid: think super duper long-term about stuff. If you do their homework for them, they will never do it themselves. So let them figure that out, but do remind them to do it if they’re forgetful. If you structure all their time, they will never figure out what they love to do, so make sure they get bored sometimes. Keep lots of good books and nerdy puzzles and interesting people around the house but don’t make them “do math” with you unless they ask for it. Don’t make them take music lessons. Instead, wait for them to beg for music lessons, and then say no for a while until you’re really sure they want them. Don’t just tell them to be nice, exhibit nice behavior to them and to others in front of them. Reward them for pointing out your hypocrisies, and make them watch Star Trek: The Next Generation (or equivalent) with you for its moral education and for the popcorn, and have fun listening to them pointing out the bad physics. And the most important of all: enjoy them and have fun with them, because that’s the best kind of way to role model for your kids, plus it’s fun, and they’re people who will move away pretty soon and you’ll miss them.
  6. In terms of how you parent an older kid, I have no idea because my oldest kid is 14. But so far we’re having a blast. I’m pretty sure they’re already mostly raised in terms of my role anyway by the time they’re 12.

One last, general thing for today’s anxious parents: don’t feel guilty, you’re doing your best. Guilt is a waste of time and gets in the way of enjoying the popcorn.

Categories: musing

Clearwater Festival and Pete Seeger

After recording my weekly Slate Money podcast this morning I will be off to the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson. The weather’s supposed to be gorgeous all weekend, which is good because I’m camping in a tent, and the last few times I went to bluegrass or folk festivals and camped in a tent it rained and I ended up sleeping in puddles. If you’ve never done that, let me tell you that there’s something gross and creepy about wet pillows.

My bandmate Jamie, who plays the mandolin and washboard, convinced me not only to go but to be a volunteer at this festival, which as it turns out means I’ll be preparing food in the kitchen. There are 1,000 volunteers at this festival, so who knows how many people go; I’m preparing for a lot of diced carrots and onions no matter what. Or maybe I’ll be doing dishes. I love doing dishes for some reason.

So this Clearwater Festival was Pete Seeger’s baby, he came every year, and since he passed away this past winter, the entire weekend will be a tribute to his life and his work. Some incredible musicians are going to be there to honor Pete, and I am hoping my kitchen duties don’t conflict with my old favorite, Marty Sexton (Sunday at 4pm), as well as my new favorite, John Fullbright (Saturday at 2:30).

Stuff I’ve packed for the trip: tent, sleeping bag, pillow (dry so far), bluegrass juice (of the Jack Daniels variety), my fiddle, my banjo, a wooden bowl and utensils, and some metal coffee cups and shot glasses. Oh, and some clothes.

You should totally come by for either day or for the whole weekend if you’re nearby and in the mood for some really old hippy reminiscences! And really, who isn’t.

 

Categories: musing

Circular arguments, eigenjesus, and climate change

No time for a post this morning but go read this post by Scott Aaronson on using a PageRank-like algorithm to understand human morality and decision making. The post is funny, clever, very thoughtful, and pretty long.

Categories: modeling, musing
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