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Baby sharks eat migrating song birds

May 24, 2019

National Geographic describes some evidence that baby tiger sharks regularly eat migrating passerines that are downed by storms or exhaustion. Long distance migration has its hazards, and for birds, baby sharks are among them. From the conjunction of birds and sharks, to the image of a biologist rushing the feathered mass of a shark’s vomit back to the lab for analysis, to the subsequent study done by capturing baby tiger sharks, stomach pumping them, and then releasing them — allegedly unharmed — the article is pure clickbait for sailors and birders.


Google, Apple, China

May 23, 2019

Google has profited greatly from Android, which has become the world’s dominant cellphone platform. It now enjoys over 75% market share, with the majority of those billions of phones in China and India. The US trade actions against Huawei mean Google cannot further license Android to it. Huawei has its own OS in the wings. While it might be technically unready, the real impediment to creating a new platform is the rather large moat the dominant platforms establish through the profusion of applications, through confidence in future updates and fixes, through channel relationships, and through user familiarity. One of the few things that can launch a new platform over that moat is a trade war, where the companies serving a large market must move to a new platform, and the consumers in that market are driven to do so through a combination of availability, national pride, social pressure, and regulation.

Apple is owner of the world’s second most popular cellphone platform, enjoying a bit over 20% market share. Normally, it would benefit from anything that puts pressure on Android. But Apple also is taking a black eye in China from this political turn. And because most of its business is selling integrated devices, it will suffer from Trump’s tariffs on components bought abroad.

I wonder, in five years, if we will look back on recent US trade actions as spelling the end of the US’s complete dominance in cellphone platforms. A China OS could become one of the world’s larger platforms quite quickly. China has 1.39 billion people. Hundreds of millions of them will buy new cellphones in the next three years. If those are not running Android or iOS, that will be a seismic shift in the tech industry. One that weakens the US tech industry in favor of China’s.

That prognostication could be entirely wrong. Trump could do an about face, Huawei might fall flat on its face, any number of things could leave the Chinese using only Android and iOS phones for years to come. Still, I see too little attention paid to this potential for a momentous economic turn. If the Chinese government had insisted on Chinese cellphone companies shifting away from US platforms as a matter of policy, that would have generated significant fear and resistance from the rest of the world, would have required significant work by the Chinese government to align the internal players, and would generate many volumes of news reports and analysis. Even were that to succeed as a matter of top-down policy, it would take time. Trump is handing that gift to Xi Jinping. Who might have some hesitation over it, even while realizing its long-term opportunity. Both for China’s economic prospects in the decades to come, and for the Chinese government’s ability to exert social control through digital platforms.

Obligatory disclaimer: I still am long Alphabet. Though these events put to question one of the assumptions behind that.

Eat your veggies

May 22, 2019

The Smithsonian as well as other outlets tout a study (cite) as showing that vitamins and other nutrients are beneficial only when eaten in actual foods. There is quite a bit of speculation about why that might be the case. Perhaps plants have other nutrients that are required to best utilize the primary nutrients studied. Perhaps those other nutrients are what really matters in our day when most people get plenty of the most known vitamins. Perhaps the problems from junk food are so great they cancel out everything else. Perhaps there are confounding differences between those who take supplements and those who don’t. Perhaps a combination of several of those and other causes yet unknown. This kind of negative result doesn’t provide as crisp a message as science writers want.

Whatever the cause, the practical bottom line is easy, for the typical person without some medical issue indicating otherwise. 1) There is zero evidence that supplements generally are useful. Save your money. And if you’re attracted to some health adviser or site recommending supplements, be suspicious. 2) There is quite a bit of evidence that eating vegetables is important. Much more so than present in the standard American diet. Shop in the produce aisle. Pulses count, and they are just one aisle over.

Exxon predicted today’s warming three decades ago

May 21, 2019

Thirty two years ago, scientists at Exxon projected both atmospheric CO2 increase and global warming because of that. As with all such models, they recognized that such predictions depend on the choices people made. The one that turned out pretty spot on, both with regard to CO2 increase and consequent warming, was their:

..“high case” scenario, which assumed fossil fuel use would quicken and that the world would be able to tap new reserves in the late 2000s from at the time unreachable shale gas.

The politics of global warming is far more convoluted than the basic science of it. Scientists, including those working for the oil companies, in the contexts where those institutions want the straight dope, tell the unvarnished facts. Those facts aren’t palatable to the fossil fuel industry, which is running a one-time experiment driving earth’s climate to a state unknown during the evolution of our species. So that industry, in the context of marketing and lobbying, funds think tanks and economists and PACs to generate all sorts of doubt, from Pollyanna views of the consequences to outright nonsense about what is happening. Because of those efforts, there are large numbers of people who believe that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax. Indeed, that view now is a major part of right-wing politics in the US. For the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. Whose own scientists are not the least bit fooled by it.

If you’re fooled by it, you should ask yourself why.


May 16, 2019

Many a recreational drug develops a certain cachet among its fans. Freud wrote glowingly about cocaine. But it’s best to be realistic about them. As much as I enjoy wine in the evening, I recognize that alcohol, even in moderation, increases my odds of some cancers. And I recognize that those who become addicted destroy their lives thereby. Some marijuana aficionados credit it with a kind of magic, a cure-all for the ails of humanity. It isn’t. It’s just another plant. THC is just another drug. It is not the least surprising that reactions to it vary. Some are ugly. Anything labeled hyperemesis syndrome is bound to be ugly.

I’m skeptical of this glowing write-up that binge-watching serial TV shows is good for relationships:

Psychologists at the University of Rochester found that assigning couples to watch and discuss a relationship-themed movie was as effective as a skills-based clinical intervention at preventing divorce over a 3-year period.

First, that doesn’t tell me that either are more effective than voodoo potion. Then, there is the deeper question about when it is good to prevent divorce. Not every relationship deserves a lifeline.

Manage your pleasures carefully, lest they manage you.

What self-driving cars see

May 15, 2019

Jalopnik has two short videos showing a bit of the internal model from Waymo’s software. In the argument with Musk, I suspect Waymo engineers are correct that a variety of senses are better than too much reliance on a couple. Especially if some provide information about object velocity directly. Obligatory disclaimer: I am long Alphabet and short Tesla.

Seth Rich, redux

May 14, 2019

Until now, I had credited the conspiracy theories around Seth Rich’s murder to the general ability of the right wing’s media sphere to create and propagate those, and to its professional liars, such as Jerome Corsi, Alex Jones, and Sean Hannity. so it was interesting to read this article suggesting that the Russians boosted it. Seemingly, Seth Rich’s brother still is pursuing lawsuits against some of the slanderers named above.

The Russian hacking that has come to light all has been simple-minded and low tech. Any security expert would point out that it has worked nonetheless, and that is the nature of most hacking.

While Twitter bots have obvious political valence, there are all sorts of reasons that the internet is both increasing the use of bots, and increasing the need to distinguish bots from people. These days, I see captchas only when opening accounts. There is, of course, a difference between services identifying bots, and other internet users doing so.