January 21, 2016

Vanity Fair - Terrorism, Migrants, and Crippling Debt: Is This the End of Europe? 5-15min

Europe is beset by so many crises that it can be hard to remember them all. In rough order of prominence, they are: homegrown terrorism, the largest migration of people since World War II, sovereign debt, doubts about the euro’s viability, the rise of extreme right-wing parties such as France’s National Front, Russia’s menace to its western neighbors, growing Euro-skepticism (especially in Britain, which may easily vote to leave the European Union in a forthcoming referendum), the election of hard-line governments in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Catalan independence movement. Many of these are related—the sovereign-debt crises and doubts about the euro, for example—but they have combined over the last two years into a perfect storm which, with the notable exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, has shown Europe’s leadership to be wanting in both speed and imagination. ... This is exactly what ISIS wants: to shut non-Muslim Europe down, to close the schools and places of culture and have people trembling in their beds, which, to be fair, was what ordinary Belgians were saying. ... The last time I knew for certain that I was witnessing history was on the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 26 years ago, perhaps the most optimistic moment in Europe’s postwar era. Today, this trek of the needy and desperate through Europe’s hopelessly undefended borders may not be as cinematic as the images of people tearing down the wall between freedom and dictatorship, but it is every bit as transformative, and it does now threaten the “tranquil sway” of the Continent.

Wired - Power Play 5-15min

Most of us simply can’t shell out more than $70,000 for a Tesla. But comparatively affordable electrics like the Nissan Leaf still travel only about 80 miles on a charge—not far enough to dispel the dreaded “range anxiety” that such a low number provokes in most American drivers. A 2013 study by the California Center for Sustainable Energy found that only 9 percent of consumers said they would be satisfied with an electric car that can go 100 miles on a charge. Increase that range to 200 miles, though, and 70 percent of potential drivers said they’d be satisfied. ... over the past couple of years, a number of major auto­makers—General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen—have lined up with plans to offer an electric car with (yep) approximately 200 miles of range, for a price somewhere around the average cost of a new American car, about $33,000. They all hope to do so quickly, as fuel efficiency requirements are ratcheting up every year. And they all hope to get there before media darling Tesla does. Musk—billionaire, celebrity, space and solar-energy mogul, would-be colonizer of Mars—has said since 2006 that Tesla’s “master plan” is to work toward building an affordable, long-range electric car. ... In short, the electric car business has taken the form of an old-fashioned race for a prize—a race in very soft sand. There’s no Moore’s law for batteries, which are chemical not digital. Cell development is all slow, arduous trial and error. When your goal is to drive energy efficiency up while driving costs down on a mass industrial scale, there aren’t many shortcuts or late-night inspirations to be had. But now it looks pretty clear who the winner will be. And it ain’t Tesla.

Nature - Why boredom is anything but boring < 5min

There is no universally accepted definition of boredom. But whatever it is, researchers argue, it is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant — a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioural, medical and social consequences. ... Researchers hope to turn such hints into a deep understanding of what boredom is, how it manifests in the brain and how it relates to factors such as self-control. ... The scientific study of boredom dates back to at least 1885, when the British polymath Francis Galton published a short note in Nature on 'The Measure of Fidget' — his account of how restless audience members behaved during a scientific meeting. But decades passed with only a few people taking a serious interest in the subject.

The New York Times - The Happiness Code 5-15min

As self-help workshops go, Applied Rationality’s is not especially accessible. The center’s three founders — Julia Galef, Anna Salamon and Smith — all have backgrounds in science or math or both, and their curriculum draws heavily from behavioral economics. Over the course of the weekend, I heard instructors invoke both hyperbolic discounting (a mathematical model of how people undervalue long-term rewards) and prospect theory (developed by the behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky to capture how people inaccurately weigh risky probabilities). But the premise of the workshop is simple: Our minds, cobbled together over millenniums by that lazy craftsman, evolution, are riddled with bad mental habits. ... Some of these problems are byproducts of our brain’s reward system. ... logical errors may be easy to spot in others, the group says, they’re often harder to see in ourselves. The workshop promised to give participants the tools to address these flaws, which, it hinted, are almost certainly worse than we realize. ... Most self-help appeals to us because it promises real change without much real effort, a sort of fad diet for the psyche. ... CFAR’s focus on science and on tiresome levels of practice can seem almost radical. It has also generated a rare level of interest among data-driven tech people and entrepreneurs who see personal development as just another optimization problem, if a uniquely central one. Yet, while CFAR’s methods are unusual, its aspirational promise — that a better version of ourselves is within reach — is distinctly familiar. The center may emphasize the benefits that will come to those who master the techniques of rational thought, like improved motivation and a more organized inbox, but it also suggests that the real reward will be far greater, enabling users to be more intellectually dynamic and nimble. ... CFAR’s original mandate was to give researchers the mental tools to overcome their unconscious assumptions. ... What makes CFAR novel is its effort to use those same principles to fix personal problems: to break frustrating habits, recognize self-defeating cycles and relentlessly interrogate our own wishful inclinations and avoidant instincts.

BuzzFeed - The Tennis Racket 5-15min

Secret files exposing evidence of widespread match-fixing by players at the upper level of world tennis can today be revealed by BuzzFeed News and the BBC. ... It has been seven years since world tennis authorities were first handed compelling evidence about a network of players suspected of fixing matches at major tournaments including Wimbledon following a landmark investigation, but all of them have been allowed to continue playing. ... The investigation into men’s tennis by BuzzFeed News and the BBC is based on a cache of leaked documents from inside the sport – the Fixing Files – as well as an original analysis of the betting activity on 26,000 matches and interviews across three continents with gambling and match-fixing experts, tennis officials, and players. ... Players are being targeted in hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered $50,000 or more per fix by corrupt gamblers. ... as the 2016 Grand Slam season begins on Monday with the Australian Open, former integrity chiefs from within world tennis are breaking ranks to accuse the sport of failing to stamp out match-fixing.