August 10, 2016

ProPublica - Set It and Forget It: How Default Settings Rule the World 5min

Defaults are the settings that come out of the box, the selections you make on your computer by hitting enter, the assumptions that people make unless you object, the options easily available to you because you haven’t changed them. ... They might not seem like much, but defaults (and their designers) hold immense power – they make decisions for us that we’re not even aware of making. Consider the fact that most people never change the factory settings on their computer, the default ringtone on their phones, or the default temperature in their fridge. Someone, somewhere, decided what those defaults should be – and it probably wasn’t you. ... What if I told you there was one simple change you could make in a school cafeteria to get children to eat more salad? It doesn’t cost anything, force anyone to eat anything they don’t want, and it takes only a few minutes to fix. And it happened in real life: a middle school in New York moved their salad bar away from its default location against a wall and put it smack in the middle of the room (and prominently in front of the two cash registers, as seen in the diagram below). Salad sales more than tripled.

Quanta - A Unified Theory of Randomness 12min

Consider the most familiar random shape, the random walk, which shows up everywhere from the movement of financial asset prices to the path of particles in quantum physics. These walks are described as random because no knowledge of the path up to a given point can allow you to predict where it will go next. ... Beyond the one-dimensional random walk, there are many other kinds of random shapes. There are varieties of random paths, random two-dimensional surfaces, random growth models that approximate, for example, the way a lichen spreads on a rock. All of these shapes emerge naturally in the physical world, yet until recently they’ve existed beyond the boundaries of rigorous mathematical thought. Given a large collection of random paths or random two-dimensional shapes, mathematicians would have been at a loss to say much about what these random objects shared in common. ... have shown that these random shapes can be categorized into various classes, that these classes have distinct properties of their own, and that some kinds of random objects have surprisingly clear connections with other kinds of random objects. Their work forms the beginning of a unified theory of geometric randomness. ... “You take the most natural objects — trees, paths, surfaces — and you show they’re all related to each other,” Sheffield said. “And once you have these relationships, you can prove all sorts of new theorems you couldn’t prove before.” ... incoherent is not the same as incomprehensible. ... In practical terms, the results by Sheffield and Miller can be used to describe the random growth of real phenomena like snowflakes, mineral deposits, and dendrites in caves, but only when that growth takes place in the imagined world of random surfaces.

Bloomberg - The Canadian Housing Boom Fueled by China’s Billionaires 6min

The city, with its stunning views of the mountains and yacht-dotted harbor, has long been one of the world’s most expensive places to live but price gains have reached a whole new level of intensity this year. Low interest rates, rising immigration, and a surge of foreign money—particularly from China—have all driven the increases. ... After copious warnings over the last six months, including from the Bank of Canada, that price gains are unsustainable, the provincial government of British Columbia moved last week. Foreign investors will have to pay an additional 15 percent in property-transfer tax as of Aug. 2 and city of Vancouver was given the authority to impose a new tax on empty homes. ... Demand for luxury cars has risen alongside housing prices in Vancouver, with 1,100 high-end vehicles on the streets of Vancouver as of Dec. 31, 2015, almost double the 2009 count, according to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

The New York Times - The Brain That Couldn’t Remember 26min

Our world had spun around the sun more than 30 times since, though Henry’s world had stayed still, frozen in orbit. This is because 1953 was the year he received an experimental operation, one that destroyed most of several deep-­seated structures in his brain, including his hippocampus, his amygdala and his entorhinal cortex. The operation, performed on both sides of his brain and intended to treat Henry’s epilepsy, rendered him profoundly amnesiac, unable to hold on to the present moment for more than 30 seconds or so. That outcome, devastating to Henry, was a boon to science: By 1986, Patient H.M. — as he was called in countless journal articles and textbooks — had become arguably the most important human research subject of all time, revolutionizing our understanding of how memory works. ... Of course, Henry didn’t know that. No matter how many times the scientists told him he was famous, he’d always forget. ... one of the things about Henry that fascinated scientists: His amnesia often appeared, as they termed it, pure. There was an abyss in his brain that all the passing events of his life tumbled into, but on the surface he could seem almost normal. ... Even as a nonscientist, I couldn’t help noticing that some of the unpublished data I came across while reporting my book went against the grain of the established narrative of Patient H.M. For example, unpublished parts of a three-page psychological assessment of Henry provided evidence that even before the operation that transformed Henry Molaison into the amnesiac Patient H.M., his memory was already severely impaired. The causes and significance of Henry’s preoperative memory deficits can be debated, but their existence only underscores the importance of preserving the complete record of the most important research subject in the history of memory science.

Wired UK - Inside Red Bull's extreme bootcamp where athletes become winners 14min

The gym is the Red Bull High Performance Center, a 270m2 space inside the company's North American headquarters in Santa Monica, California. It's a vast building that includes a cinema, recording studio and gaming room. Here, the Red Bull-sponsored athletes are looked after by a team of performance experts and use an extensive assortment of equipment. ... Not all US-based Red Bull athletes participate in the High Performance Program. Those who do, such as Chamley-Watson, are part of one of the world's most sophisticated and experimental training programmes, whose partners include institutions such Cirque du Soleil, Intel, elements of the US Department of Defense and a vast network of universities and scientists. "We have all this talent and from the start we made a decision to learn as much from them as we could, to test them and understand their mastery," says Andy Walshe, Red Bull's director of high performance. "We started collecting data without knowing what we were going to do with it. Blood work, brain scans, psychometric questionnaires… It's not big data, it's complex data and we're just focusing on collecting as diverse a range as possible."