Thursday, February 9th, 2023


You Bettor, You Bettor, You Bet

When we were in our 20s, my friend Norman and I somehow got connected to a couple bookies named Rocky and Al. Once someone in the network vouched for your credit, you'd call on Sunday morning and lay your bets, and either Rocky or Al would yell you through the process with phones ringing in the background. If you weren't ready, if you paused, they hung up. There was no time to suffer fools as kickoff approached. We didn't bet big. But we bet often because putting a little money on game that would otherwise hold no interest can turn three hours of boredom into four quarters of adrenaline-pumping, dopamine-firing excitement. That's one of the ways sports bettors get hooked. But back then, we had some guardrails to keep our weekly hobby from turning into a degenerate addiction. There was the barrier of getting a bookie; the fact that what you were doing was illegal; the difficulty of physically moving cash money from place to place; the concern that if things got out of hand, Rocky and Al might have to break one of your parts. Today, those barriers are gone. It's easy to bet on sports and in many states it's totally legal. With smartphones, the casino is always right in your pocket (and that also mean kids are finding ways to bet). Betting has become completely normalized. It dominates sports advertising and even the Disney-owned ESPN is fully on board with sharing odds, making picks, and covering big wins and bad beats. That's good news for the companies taking the bets and those who can control their habit. But it's bad news for a lot of people, especially young adults who are about the same age as I was when I first dabbled. For a preview of what's coming, let's head to New Jersey where sports betting has been legal for a while and warning signs are flashing like a jackpot-hitting slot machine. Data from New Jersey is a warning sign for young sports bettors. How bad will this problem get as sports betting goes even more mainstream? Bet the over.


Stoking Grass

"It's a life that began with a fateful decision: Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, Toma decided that he wouldn't become a coal miner like his father, who had died of black lung. To help his mother and sister, Toma worked at a nearby farm. He was paid 50 cents a day. On Saturdays, he could kill two chickens and take all the vegetables he could carry. He learned how to water crops, prep and plant seeds and aerate the land, skills that would help him for generations. He was a born groundskeeper. As children, he and his friends would clear a field near his house so they could play. Toma would drag springs from old mattresses across the ground to create a smooth surface. He used white coal ash for the lines." NYT (Gift Article): All Hail the ‘God of Sod,' Groundskeeper for All 57 Super Bowls.


Blurred Speech

"Think of ChatGPT as a blurry jpeg of all the text on the Web. It retains much of the information on the Web, in the same way that a jpeg retains much of the information of a higher-resolution image, but, if you're looking for an exact sequence of bits, you won't find it; all you will ever get is an approximation. But, because the approximation is presented in the form of grammatical text, which ChatGPT excels at creating, it's usually acceptable. You're still looking at a blurry jpeg, but the blurriness occurs in a way that doesn't make the picture as a whole look less sharp. This analogy to lossy compression is not just a way to understand ChatGPT's facility at repackaging information found on the Web by using different words. It's also a way to understand the 'hallucinations,' or nonsensical answers to factual questions, to which large-language models such as ChatGPT are all too prone." Here's the article all my nerd friends are raving about today. Ted Chiang in The New Yorker: ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web.


Crime Plays

"The club had racked up nearly a century of hard time. The manager had been a top mob consigliere; the relief pitcher, who took the field in hot pink shoes, had once been sent to kill him. But on a cloudless day last March, these hardened ex-cons met their match: the Parent-Teacher Association of Nakanodai Elementary School. The P.T.A. showed no mercy, hitting pitch after pitch out of the scruffy park in suburban Tokyo. Midway through the game, the scorekeeper stopped counting." NYT (Gift Article): What's a Japanese Mobster to Do in Retirement? Join a Softball Team.


Extra, Extra

Caveat Renter: "Long the bedrock of family wealth for the middle class, single-family homes have been snatched up in the thousands by private equity firms and publicly traded companies, converted into rental properties and bundled into complex investment vehicles." A special report from The Atlanta Journal Constitution: American Dream For Rent: Investors elbow out individual home buyers.

+ Absent: "An analysis ... found an estimated 240,000 students in 21 states whose absences could not be accounted for. These students didn't move out of state, and they didn't sign up for private school or home-school, according to publicly available data. In short, they're missing." Since the pandemic closures, thousands of kids are missing from school. Where did they go?

+ Quake Update: The Turkey/Syria earthquake toll continues to rise (now more than 20,000), as rescuers continue to dig. Here's the latest from The Guardian. Survivors are asking questions about the safety of buildings. Why did the modern structures supposedly built to withstand a quake of this magnitude still crumble? And photos like this: Father Holds the Hand of His Daughter Who Died Under Rubble Near Earthquake's Epicenter in Turkey.

+ SpaceX Marks Its Spot: SpaceX admits blocking Ukrainian troops from using satellite technology for military purposes (like controlling weaponized drones). Whether you agree with that decision or not, this story is yet another reminder that big tech companies are big players in geopolitics.

+ Soddy Rule: "I think it's bizarre that FIFA has looked to have a Visit Saudi sponsorship for the Women's World Cup when I, myself, Alex Morgan, would not even be supported and accepted in that country. I just don't understand it." Alex Morgan calls potential Saudi sponsorship of Women's World Cup 'bizarre.' (That's a pretty nice word to use in this situation.)

+ Hit List: Among his most celebrated efforts with with lyricist Hal David were "Walk on By," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "What the World Needs Now Is Love," "What's New Pussycat?" "(They Long to Be) Close to You," "Alfie," "This Guy's in Love With You" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Composer Burt Bacharach, Smooth Virtuoso of 1960s Pop, Dies at 94.


Bottom of the News

"It is certainly easy to shame these large adult sons for being a lifelong burden to their mothers, for being too big and bulky to catch their own salmon, for inevitably preventing the birth of new calves needed to revitalize the population. Perhaps they remind us of our own human sons ... who do not pull their weight around the house and all the other grown men who are excused for awful behavior as if they were still children. But these big boys are poorly equipped living entirely on their own." Large Adult Orca Sons Are A Terrible Burden On Their Poor Mothers.