Rate-limiting steps

Bill and Melinda Gates are doing it right. From 1990 to recently, the childhood mortality rate has been cut in half. Why? Cause they pay attention to the things that matter. What kills kids worldwide? Malaria - and they’re hard at work on a vaccine. No worries about phantom illnesses or the craze of the week. Instead, they’ve got a solid focus on the things that actually matter.

So what do they propose to keep things going? Again – rate limiting steps...

How Bill and Melinda Gates are making the most of their philanthropy. It's no coincidence that one of GiveWell's top-rated charities is the Against Malaria Foundation.

Rate-limiting steps is a concept with metaphoric value in lots of spheres in life.

Buzzfeed: giving you what you'll share

The heavyweight personalization that social networks do either through something like the follow graph on Twitter or through more algorithmic approach on Facebook is designed to give people the stuff that they want. What we're focused on is giving people stuff that they think is worth sharing with other people. We want the stories we're doing to have the biggest possible impact. So if we do personalization, it would be more of a personalization about what you’re most likely to share or discuss with your friends.

That's Jonah Peretti on what type of personalization Buzzfeed focuses on, emphasis mine on what is a subtle but important focusing distinction for the service.

In the traditional news bundle, say in old school print newspapers, the mix of serious versus entertaining content was weighted much more to the former. Now that technology has allowed the creation of more personalized bundles of information, sites like Buzzfeed and the social networks like Facebook and Twitter are showing us people's natural preference in the mix of heavy versus light, and it turns out that ratio is much more weighted towards the fun.

As in the newspaper days, the entertaining content still subsidizes, to a large extent, the serious journalism. Buzzfeed is starting to do some original reporting, but more likely than not it's ad revenue from listicles and the more “frivolous” content that will pick up the tab for both. Plus ça change.

How Los Angeles came to have the best Chinese Food in America

Having lived in most of the major U.S. cities and sampled their best Chinese food, being Chinese-American, loving Chinese food, having a mom who taught Chinese cooking, having eaten Chinese food in China and Taiwan and Hong Kong, I throw my lot in with this thesis: the best Chinese food in America is in the Eastern suburbs of Los Angeles.

New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to cite Flushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists. But when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

“For probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story.

As I've written before, I think restaurant quality today is largely a supply-side problem, and that applies even more so with an ethnic cuisine like Chinese food in America. For a variety of reasons, if you're a great Chinese chef, living in suburbs like Arcadia, San Gabriel, and Monterey Park is highly desirable.

Honey badger had it right

The point is, most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. We give a fuck about the rude gas station attendant who gave us too many nickels. We give a fuck when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give a fuck when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend. We give a fuck when it’s raining and we were supposed to go jogging in the morning.

Fucks given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-fucking spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? Convenience? Easy comforts? A pat on the fucking back maybe?

This is the problem, my friend.

Because when we give too many fucks, when we choose to give a fuck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times, that’s when life fucks us.

Sorry about the language in this piece.

Actually, nah. I don't give a fuck.

Evolution of the ideal female body

This piece on the evolution of the ideal female body across the past century raises all sorts of questions:

  • Did the ideal female body evolve so quickly in past centuries as well, shifting from one decade to the next?
  • Why does the ideal female body change so quickly? Is it culturally influenced? The evolutionary argument has always been that a female's body is a key signal of physical fitness and suitability for child-bearing, but that shouldn't change so much over one century, and certainly not in the seemingly haphazard manner documented in this piece, jumping from thin to curvy to heroin chic to bootylicious. Perhaps the evolutionary argument is somewhat weakened?
  • Who drives the definition of the ideal female body more, men or women? The article does not come down conclusively one way or the other, but many of its profiles seem to lean towards women, especially celebrity women, defining each decade's standard.
  • Has the ideal male body also changed as much across the past century? If not, why? The only equivalent male standard that comes to mind is the Brad Pitt Fight Club look, a lean, muscular look with super-defined abs, and to me it feels just as unattainable an ideal as the supermodel standard must feel to women.

Spot the sniper

Given the unbelievable opening weekend box office of American Sniper, this photo series titled Camouflage is timely. Simon Menner worked with German military to stage scenes in which a sniper or soldier camouflages themselves. Can you spot the sniper in these without any clues? In every photo, the sniper is taking aim at the viewer/camera.

If you click through to Menner's site you get clues to help you find the sniper, but even with those I really couldn't spot them that cleanly. The most visible element is usually the round end of the rifle barrel, but without a red circle over them I have no idea if I've spotted the right thing.

In the movies like Blackhat or American Sniper, the telltale giveaway is always a brief flare when the sun hits the scope on the rifle or binoculars, but without that I have no idea how you spot them short of superhuman vision.

Element of smart teams

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

Results from a study of what makes some teams smarter than others.

The first feels intuitive; one thing that distinguishes good leaders, it's been said, is getting the most from a team, drawing out dissenting views from those who might otherwise be silenced by group dynamics.

The other two elements are more intriguing. I wish the article spent more time discussing how and why those two contributed to a team's superior performance. Is it in maximizing effort from everyone involved? Improved teamwork? Increased comfort in dissent or just greater honesty in general?