Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017


Gaming the System

Americans consume about 80% of the world's opioids. Some studies estimate as many as 100 million of us are suffering from chronic pain. Could a world filled with penguins and otters be the solution to an ever-growing problem? It turns out that virtual reality and other video games might be effective in treating everything from ADHD to severe pain. In one small study that used a VR program to treat severe discomfort, "only one person didn't report reduced pain ... Overall, the patients reported that their pain fell by 60–75 per cent (compared to baseline) during their VR session, and by 30–50 per cent immediately afterwards. The best morphine does is 30 percent." In the next year or so, you'll be hearing a lot more about the use of games to treat various ailments. From Quartz: Virtual-reality worlds are a promising alternative to painkillers. (You just have to hope wearing the VR goggles doesn't give you a stiff neck.)


Take a Byte Out of Crime

Even algorithms that seem relatively far removed and pretty benign can seem a little scary. But imagine if an algorithm sent you to jail. During a recent appearance, Chief Justice John Roberts was asked: "Can you foresee a day when smart machines, driven with artificial intelligences, will assist with courtroom fact-finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision-making?" His answer: "It's a day that's here, and it's putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things." From the NYT: Sent to Prison by a Software Program's Secret Algorithms.


A Big Bag of Dictators

The list is getting pretty long. "President Trump's affection for totalitarian leaders has grown beyond Russia's president to include strongmen around the globe." From WaPo: Trump keeps praising international strongmen. (One of my big concerns is that Trump simultaneously bashes journalists and lauds strongmen who have a habit of jailing or even killing journalists.)

+ NPR: 6 Strongmen Trump Has Praised -- And The Conflicts It Presents.

+ Quartz: The story behind Donald Trump and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's populist bromance.

+ "South Koreans, not easily rattled by their nuclear bomb testing neighbor to the north, find themselves increasingly baffled by the new leader of their strongest ally and military protector, the United States." AP: Trump 'smart cookie' talk on Kim baffles Seoul.

+ Michael Daly: What lies beneath Trump's fixation with strongmen like Duterte.


The Butcher’s Wife

"In Germany, Cuspert went by the rap name Deso Dogg. In Syria, he was known as Abu Talha al-Almani. He praised Osama bin Laden in a song, threatened former President Barack Obama with a throat-cutting gesture and appeared in propaganda videos, including one in which he was holding a freshly severed human head." CNN with the bizarre story of an FBI translator who went rogue and married an ISIS terrorist. (Can you imagine the phone conversation... "Hi mom, I'm just calling to let you know I met someone...")


When Your Internship Comes In

If you keep your head down and work hard, eventually you can work your way up the ranks and become an intern. That might sound crazy, but according to a recent survey, there are a lot of companies where interns make more than the average US salary.


When the Script Hits the Fan

"The cliffhanger announcement comes after several weeks of tense and sometimes contentious negotiations that included discussions over how much writers should be paid at a time of dramatic changes in the industry, in particular increases in pay and streaming residuals to counterbalance the effects of shorter TV seasons." At the last minute, the Writers Guild of America reached an agreement with studios and averted a major strike. (You already have like forty shows you've been meaning to watch. And this means there will be no break and the list will only grow.)


Gene Belly

"A wave of startups promises to optimize diet and fitness through gene-tailored regimens. Does it matter if they don't really work?" When it comes to diets, has it ever mattered whether they really work? From Backchannel: These DNA Diet Apps Want to Rule Your Health.

+ A rare bit of good news for chickens. The ones that live longer, taste better.

+ NYT: "Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that school meals would no longer have to meet some requirements connected with Mrs. Obama's initiative to combat childhood obesity by overhauling the nation's school menus."

+ Why your organic milk may not be organic. (It's got a picture of a cow on the side of the carton, how the hell could it not be organic?)

+ WaPo: People think juicing is good for them. They're wrong.

+ Guiness finally goes vegan.



"Sometimes the stories are bloodier and grimier. In 2011, in a different neighborhood, a man identified only as Kabeer had his ribs broken for calling out an alleged boss of the local water mafia. Some municipal councilmembers and local politicians own tanker fleets themselves or allow these illegal businesses to operate in return for kickbacks." An ominous look at Bangalore's present and what could be the future in many places: From Samanth Subramanian in Wired: India's Silicon Valley Is Dying of Thirst. Your City May Be Next.


Heart of the Matter

"We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all. You know, before 2014 if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you'd never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition and if your parents didn't have medical insurance you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition. If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make." NPR: Jimmy Kimmel Opens Up About His Newborn Son's Heart Surgery.


Bottom of the News

"All of our member schools have dedicated esports arenas on campus, and those esports arenas are all outfitted with all the equipment an esports program or team would need such as computers, headsets, keyboards, mouses. All of them have staff on hand that's paid for by the university or the college." From The Outline: Colleges are starting varsity programs for video games. (Cut to a decade from now when my son is complaining to his therapist that he could have gotten a full scholarship to any college in the country if I hadn't limited his screen time...)

+ The Met Gala fashion choices are often a trip. This year, more so than usual.

+ Were Trump musings on the Civil War just a random aside? Not really. A year ago, he told Jon Meacham that he thought he could have done a deal to avoid it. (He also thinks he could have done a deal to avoid the 1906 earthquake.)