Eyebrow on fleek

Look at the NBA's current league leaders in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and you'll find one player towering over the rest of the league by about the same margin as he towers over the average human being:

Rank Player PER
1 Anthony Davis-NOP 37
2 Brandan Wright-DAL 28.3
3 Stephen Curry-GSW 27.4
4 DeMarcus Cousins-SAC 27.2
5 Dirk Nowitzki-DAL 26.2
6 LeBron James-CLE 25.3
7 Chris Paul-LAC 24.8
8 Tyson Chandler-DAL 24.4
9 Derrick Favors-UTA 24.4
10 Dwyane Wade-MIA 23.8
11 Brandon Jennings-DET 23.7
12 Damian Lillard-POR 23.6
13 Gordon Hayward-UTA 23.4
14 Kyle Lowry-TOR 23.1
15 James Harden-HOU 22.9
16 Klay Thompson-GSW 22.8
17 Kyrie Irving-CLE 22.7
18 Jimmy Butler-CHI 22.6
19 Isaiah Thomas-PHO 22.3
20 LaMarcus Aldridge-POR 22.2

PER is a metric developed by John Hollinger who defined it this way: “The PER sums up all a player's positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player's performance.”

But without diving into the complex formula, all you need to know about Anthony Davis' current PER of 37 is that Michael Jordan owns the NBA record for career PER at 27.9. Jordan also owns the NBA career playoff record for PER at 28.6.

There are many great stories in the table above, but this is by far the most astonishing. Small sample size notwithstanding, what Anthony Davis has done thus far this season is play some of the best basketball that's ever been played. Just enjoy.

Eyebrow on fleek.

Total recall

Rob Smith uploaded photos from a holiday in France to Google+ which processed the pics using its AutoAwesome algorithm(s). When Smith went to look at the results, he spotted something peculiar with one of the photos.

It’s a nice picture, a sweet moment with my wife, taken by my father-in-law, in a Normandy bistro. There’s only one problem with it. This moment never happened.

I haven't opened Google+ in ages, I had no idea its algorithms would try to combine the best elements of photos shot in a burst. In this case, it looked to be trying to capture the best smiles from all the faces in the photo to put into a single composite.

You may say that the AIs in the cloud helped me out, gave me a better memory to store and share, a digestion of reality into the memory I wish had been captured.

But I’m reasonably sure you wouldn’t say that if this were a photo of Obama and Putin, smiling it up together, big, simultaneously happy buddies, at a Ukraine summit press conference. Then, I think algorithms automatically creating such symbolic moments would be a concern.

And why am I saying “then”? I’m certain it’s happening right now. And people are assuming that these automatically altered photos are “what happened”.

This was fairly seamless work on the part of the AI. Search for panoramic photo fails and you'll see some of the Frankensteinian horrors that can result from digital stitching gone awry. I half suspect the Human Centipede movies were inspired by a botched panoramic pic.

Book recommendations from Atul Gawande

Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today?

First, I should confess that while I’m an avid reader of fiction, I’m an amateur. I still have swaths to catch up on. But keeping that in mind, my all-time favorite novelist is Leo Tolstoy. He had this extraordinary capacity to see all the forces coming to bear on people at any given moment — desire, family, culture, history, accident — and to somehow bring the relevance of those forces alive without beating you about the head with it.

My favorite writing today: Hilary Mantel. I have zero interest in historical fiction, let alone historical fiction about the Reign of Terror or the court of Henry VIII. But she has that same Tolstoyan ability to make the odd and faraway worlds her characters inhabit feel like they matter to us. I want my writing about our own world to connect with people at least a little bit the way these writers do — meaning both viscerally and intellectually, and with a recognition of all the forces at work.

Who is your favorite doctor character in fiction?

Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve been hooked on Sherlock Holmes for years — every story is a kind of diagnosis — and Watson’s is the inviting voice of the entire series. He is intelligent, observant and faithful, the way we want all doctors to be. He is also guileless and naïve, where Holmes is neither, and that is his ultimate limitation in each mystery. But his lack of cunning is why we trust him — and why Holmes does, too.

It's no surprise Atul Gawande is as well read as he is. Great writers seem, without exception, to be great readers.

Ethics of fighting Ebola

I can't think of too many people better qualified to break down the ethics of fighting Ebola than Peter Singer.

In this respect, Ebola is – or, rather, was – an example of what is sometimes referred to as the 90/10 rule: 90% of medical research is directed toward illnesses that comprise only 10% of the global burden of disease. The world has known about the deadly nature of the Ebola virus since 1976; but, because its victims were poor, pharmaceutical companies had no incentive to develop a vaccine. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies could expect to earn more from a cure for male baldness.

Government research funds in affluent countries are also disproportionately targeted toward the diseases that kill these countries’ citizens, rather than toward diseases like malaria and diarrhea that are responsible for much greater loss of life.

The most accurate way to judge the efficacy of a vaccine is through a double blind trial. One group of patients suffering from the malady are given the potential vaccine, the other set a placebo, and neither the doctors nor patients know who received what. When dealing with a shortage of vaccines and a disease as deadly as Ebola, the usual rules may not apply. That may be okay.

But, when facing a disease that kills up to 70% of those who are infected, and no accepted treatment yet exists, patients could reasonably refuse consent to a trial in which they might receive a placebo, rather than an experimental treatment that offers some hope of recovery. In such cases, it might be more ethical to monitor carefully the outcomes of different treatment centers now, before experimental treatments become available, and then compare these outcomes with those achieved by the same centers after experimental treatments are introduced. Unlike in a randomized trial, no one would receive a placebo, and it should still be possible to detect which treatments are effective.

Walking vs running a mile: the caloric output

To use the above, simply multiply your weight (in pounds) by the number shown. For example, if you weigh 188 lbs, you will burn about 107 calories (188 * .57) when you walk a mile, and about 135 calories (188 * .72) when you run a mile.

As you can see, running a mile burns roughly 26 percent more calories than walking a mile. Running a minute (or 30 minutes, or an hour, etc.) burns roughly 2.3 times more calories than the same total time spent walking.

Okay, now a few caveats. These calculations are all derived from an “average” weight of the subjects; there may be individual variations. Also, age and gender make a difference, though quite a modest one. Your weight is by far the biggest determinant of your calorie burn per mile. When you look at per-minute burn, your pace (your speed) also makes a big difference.

These calculations aren't meant to be precise. They are good approximations, and much more accurate than the old chestnut: You burn 100 calories per mile.

Walking a mile does not burn as many calories as running a mile.

Reading any tables of calories burned per minute for any activity is sobering. Running only burns 11 to 16 calories a minute. The painful truth is that modern society provides many fast and easy ways to add calories but few ways to burn them off quickly.

The age of surplus: we are drowning in both information and food.

Trick to fixing every TV show and movie

From Vulture, Here Is the Simple Mind-Trick That Makes Every Movie and TV Show Seem Better.

It's a gag, and yet, trying to figure out the logical inflection point in every TV show and movie (once you read the article you'll understand what I mean) might be a way of pinpointing when many of those programs went off the rails. Entering some character's fever dream usually marks an end to any narrative suspense.

Serial and White Reporter Privilege

Also in the second episode of Serial, Koenig reads passages from Hae’s diary. Koenig notes, “Her diary, by the way—well I’m not exactly sure what I expected her diary to be like but—it’s such a teenage girls diary.” (My emphasis added.) This statement seems to suggest a colorblind ideal: In Koenig’s Baltimore, kids will be kids, regardless of race or background. But I imagine there are many listeners—especially amongst people of color—who pause and ask, “Wait, what did you expect her diary to be like?” or “Why do you feel the need to point out that a Korean teenage girl’s diary is just like a teenage girl’s diary?” and perhaps, most importantly, “Where does your model for ‘such a teenage girl’s diary’ come from?” These are annoying questions, not only to those who would prefer to mute the nuances of race and identity for the sake of a clean, “relatable” narrative, but also for those of us who have to ask them because Koenig is talking about our communities, and, in large part, getting it wrong.

The accumulation of Koenig’s little judgments throughout the show—and there are many more examples—should feel familiar to anyone who has spent much of her life around well-intentioned white people who believe that equality and empathy can only be achieved through a full, but ultimately bankrupt, understanding of one another’s cultures. Who among us (and here, I’m talking to fellow people of color) hasn’t felt that subtle, discomforting burn whenever the very nice white person across the table expresses fascination with every detail about our families that strays outside of the expected narrative? Who hasn’t said a word like “parameters” and watched, with grim annoyance, as it turns into “immigrant parents?” These are usually silent, cringing moments – it never quite feels worth it to call out the offender because you’ll never convince them that their intentions might not be as good as they think they are.

Koenig does ultimately address Syed’s Muslim faith in Serial, but only to debunk the state’s claim that Syed’s murderous rage came out of cultural factors. The discussion feels remarkably perfunctory—Koenig quickly dispenses with Syed’s race and religion. She seems to want Syed and Lee, by way of her diary, to be, in the words of Ira Glass, “relatable,” which, sadly, in this case, reads “white.” As a result, Chaudry believes Koenig has left out an essential part of Syed’s story—that his arrest, his indictment and his conviction were all influenced by his faith and the color of his skin. “You have an urban jury in Baltimore city, mostly African American, maybe people who identify with Jay [an African-American friend of Syed's who is the state’s seemingly unreliable star witness] more than Adnan, who is represented by a community in headscarves and men in beards,” Chaudry said. “The visuals of the courtroom itself leaves an impression and there’s no escaping the racial implications there.”

I found myself nodding as I read Jay Caspian Kang's excellent piece on the new hit podcast Serial.

The dancing around race throughout Serial has been the most glaring and particular choice in the series. I'm enjoying Serial, it has us all questioning why no one ported the serial genre to the podcasting medium earlier, but the more episodes I hear, the greater my frustration with having my attention in the case narrowly focused by Sarah Koenig's world view, and the more I just want to throw myself into the Serial subreddit, spoilers be damned, and start hearing from a more diverse group of detectives.

And I did, just for a bit. Rabia Chaudry, the civil rights attorney who originally reached out to Koenig to see if she might be interested in the case, posted a link there to a piece he just wrote about episode 8: Confirmation Bias FTW:

Raise your hand if you were surprised by what Jay had to say in this week’s episode. No one better have their hand raised. If you thought for an instant that “Mr. Your-Plea-Deal-Is-Good-Unless-You-Change-Your-Story” was going to do another “ok I come clean” when two random women show up at his door, I’ve got a bridge and a mid-east peace plan to sell you. You may have been surprised, however, with how Jay was described. Or you may have been confused. His is a catalog of contradictory personality traits, from goofy to mean, from animal lover to rat-eating-frog enthusiast (sorry, you kind of can’t be both – Google that ish and you’ll see what I mean). Unlike Adnan, who has overwhelmingly been described in similar terms by most people who know him, Jay poses a challenge to us. Other than being identified as the odd guy out, there was little similarity between what people had to say about him. What to make of his conflicted, yet beautiful, unconventionality? Nothing. That’s right. You make nothing of it. Because at this point if you really think you can assess the truth and reality of who a person is through a superficial, carefully edited and crafted, partial but maybe not impartial treatment of his (or any) character in a production, then you will forever be lost in crazy-making cognitive mazes. Is it too much of a stretch to say unless you know someone personally, you can’t really know them? You can’t. Trust me on this. Listeners will never be able to figure out whether Adnan is a sociopath or a nice guy, Jay is a psychopath or a victim, or Sarah is a bewildered glutton for punishment or a master weaver of addictive narrative (come on now). So let’s stop pretending we can psychoanalyze the depths of the souls of these people through 30-40 minute podcasts. If you still think you’re just special that way, I recommend you watch the documentaries “Paradise Lost“, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations“, and “West of Memphis” and get back to me. A TL;DR of that experience is that you, as the consumer of a show, are at the mercy of the storytellers, second and third hand narrators, and incomplete profiles of people. The only thing you can do in such a situation is try and pin down what you can, make an assessment with a sack of salt, and then forget that assessment the minute a new tidbit of information is revealed.

Like many other listeners to Serial, I've been bracing myself for the possibility of an open-ended conclusion, one in which we never learn whether Adnan was really guilty or not. Even if we find out he's innocent, maybe we never learn who the actual murderer was.

But perhaps we're obsessing too much over the details of one particular case, one which may be unsolvable with the facts at hand. The greater legacy of the podcast may be the exposure of the insidious ubiquity of confirmation bias, nesting in on itself recursively so that it's almost impossible for us to trace back to the origin.