Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 4, The electoral college

The electoral college is an old throwback to when it was tricky to count votes over such a populous and dispersed country as the USA. It allowed each state to elect a set of people that would travel to the capital and cast the actual vote for the president. There are many problems with this, the obvious one is that the president isn't actually elected by gaining the most amount of people to vote for him. In fact a president could be elected with almost as little as 25% of the vote (Highly unlikely obviously). Other problems with the electoral college is that different states have different number of delegates per votes. For instance Rhode Island has 4 delegates for roughly 1 million people (1 delegate per 250 thousand) while California has 55 delegates for roughly 38 million people (Less than 1 delegate than 600 thousand).

The cool thing about this problem is that this might actually already be on the way to be solved by the Popular Vote Compact that is already adopted in many states. The whole idea is that once enough states to represent more than 50% of the electoral votes have joined the compact all the states under the agreement pledge that all their electoral delegates will vote not to the winner of the states election, but to the winner of the popular vote. Since each state's legislator can decide how its delegates should be assigned this can be done without any change to the US constitution (Although most states would need to change their constitutions). The last state to join the compact was California and with this 132 of the needed 270 electoral votes have been pledged to the compact so we are already almost halfway there.

If you live in a state that has a very strong bias to either the right or left this is good news for you. Until now your voice has been largely ignored during the presidential elections since usually all delegates in a state goes to whoever gets more than 50% in the state and since the state already has a strong bias the money and effort to win your state is better spent in other states that are more closely contested. With the compact however, every vote counts the same regardless of which state it comes from so all of a sudden a vote converted to Republican from Democrat in California is worth as much as one in Texas. If you are from a populous state you will also get more say given that today there are a lot less votes per delegate in smaller states than larger states and with the compact every vote will count exactly the same.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kinnect eat your heart out

This looks like a totally amazing motion detection system. Leap Motion are still very cagey about how this system works but it looks completely awesome from the demo.

I can't wait until this is built into my laptop instead of the touch pad we have today (I would still want my track point though).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How the Navy is building their new super carrier

Check out this video of how the Navy is constructing the next generation aircraft carrier. Just straight up military porn.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eat right, loose weight, without being hungry

As you must know the only way to loose weight is to live with a caloric deficit over a fairly long period of time. Sure you can do some sort of weird fad of the week crazy diet but in the end the only way you will burn off the fat reserves stored in your body is to consume less calories than your body need, no matter how you do it.

That said you don't have to actually go hungry or eat boring food as long as you eat the correct food and here is a long list of food that you can eat almost as much as you want of and still keep your caloric intake low. It's divided by type of food and there is something for everyone in there. For instance low fat popcorn or Kimchi are both delicious and low on calories.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Could this be why it's so hard to stream TV over the internet?

If you ever wondered why it's so hard to do internet streaming from cable companies. This might be one of the reasons. The Time Warner Cable CEO has apparently never heard of AirPlay and also doesn't know how an Apple TV works.

As Gizmodo quotes: "The current Apple TV, the little thing, the hockey puck, really doesn't do anything to help enable you to get Internet material on your TV". Follow the link to enjoy as they say at the top of the article "'s edition of Oblivious Rich White Guy".

Source Gozmodo

Saturday, May 26, 2012

If you're a parent you should know about Kahn Academy

If I had kids I would give them some kind of indestructible table (For instance a Kindle Fire in a sturdy case) and lock it down to only be able to access Kahn Academy. If you have never heard of this website you should check it out right now as long as you are still interested in learning new things and if you have children I would say it is practically mandatory.

Originally the site started out as with mostly math and science courses and this is still the most developed subjects but it also contains courses in economics and history and tons of other stuff (There are currently over 3000 lectures available on the site). Each individual lecture is never longer than 10 minutes long so it's easy to sneak one in when you have a few minutes left over. There are also practice courses that help you apply what you have learned that are using all the latest "gamification" methods making it really fun to do them (I like doing it myself when bored). The courses start from the very basics and then build on each other onto increasingly advanced topics.

Kahn Academy started out with Salman Kahn realizing that he was spending a lot of time helping to tutor his relatives and friends and started putting short courses on YouTube. It grew into a very popular channel and in the end led to quit his job in finance as a hedge fund analyst at Connective Capital Management and work on it full time. The Bill and Melissa Gates foundation is an enthusiastic backer of the project and Bill at one time was quoted saying "I'd say we've moved about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category. It was a good day his wife let him quit his job".

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cool video explaining the concept of different magnitudes of infinity

This video goes through and explains the concept of different magnitudes of infinity in a way that is easy to follow, something that can generally be really tricky to grasp intuitively.

If you are interested in what I think is the fascinating world of numbers I can absolutely recommend this very easy to follow Teaching Company course on the subject called Zero to Infinity: A history of Numbers. I listened to it a few months ago and found it fascinating.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 3, Voting is too hard

When designing how the democracy in the US works it seems that who ever though it out really went out of their way to make it as complicated as possible.

Something that has always struck me as odd in regards to how voting works in the US is that you have to "register" to vote. This means that sometimes months in advance of an election you have to remember to register with the government your intention to vote. Even more incomprehensible is that you when you do this declare what you intend to vote?!? To me this is completely absurd and I don't understand at all what the purpose of this could be except to keep people from voting.

Before someone start complaining about that the reason for this is to keep voter fraud down I have to call bullshit on that. First of all there seems to be plenty of voter fraud going on already so it doesn't seem to work (Not to the point where it actually changes the outcomes of elections normally though so I don't think it's a big deal). Secondly, in todays age of computers what can you possibly check during a period of a few weeks that you can't check instantly? And I can't imagine that the check being done now to check if someone is eligible to vote is longer than it can't be done on the spot while voting. You don't hear about throngs of people being hired to check voter registration forms around elections do you (Not like the sensus).

The only thing I can think of why this is being done is to keep people from voting. And if statistics is any indication it seems to be working since even in a presidential election usually no more than around 50% of all who can vote do so. This is the lowest voting rate of all countries in the entire world that have "free" elections (Free is in quotes because some of the elections included in the list are not necessarily that free, like for instance Venezuela). From the previous link you can also see that almost all "Western Democracies" have a voter turnout of at least 75% except for the US.

Another thing that I'm sure keeps people away from the polls is that there is simply too many things to vote on. Looking over the ridiculous list of propositions that every voter is subjected to during each election here in California I am not surprised why people opt to stay at home. Even more so at least here in California a proposition doesn't have to be balanced. This means that if there is a referendum you get to choose between two well defined choices, both of which have merit. So here you can have a proposition that just says "Vote yes for lower taxes" with no mention of what needs to be cut in the budget to achieve these lower taxes, or the opposite "Vote yes for more money to schools" without any mention of how to fund it. Who wouldn't say yes to either of these?

In the same vein I find it odd how many petty state functionaries are elected here. For example "City Comptroller", "School Board", the list goes on and on. Most people would probably not have any idea of what most of these posts even do, much less who are running for the posts. Because of this few people vote in these elections which leads to a small but dedicated minority can sometimes completely derail an election by making sure they all vote for a person that hold their minority view. The obvious example of this to me is religious groups banding together to elect people to the School Board who make sure that it is mandated to teach Intelligent Design and other such nonsense as science in schools.

I think the US would be better off if we just elected the politicians with a few occasional balanced referendums (At the very most one or two per election but preferably less) and then let the politicians deal with actually weighing the pro's and con's of the budgets and such problems. And we should definitely stop electing people to posts that would better be filled by bureaucrats. Finally we need to stop this nonsense with registering to vote, it should be enough if you just show up on voting day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Awesome new ketchup bottle technology

This is the biggest innovation in food technology since the invention of the seedless grape. Check out the amazing non stick ketchup bottle of the future.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Have you checked your vitamin D level recently?

If you know me you have probably heard me being fairly skeptical about weird dietary supplements like anti oxidants and such. However for about a year and a half I have been taking Vitamin D supplements. It all started with me listening to an episode of Security Now that veered off it's normal trail of talking about computer security and talked about Vitamin D in general and I encourage anybody who is interested to listen to this podcast.

Vitamin D first of all isn't technically a vitamin since the body can produce it internally from cholesterol as long as it has access to sunlight. However, this ability is reliant on pigment and most white people have a shortage of Vitamin D, especially if you life in a place that doesn't have much sun. I live in Southern California, drive a convertible and generally spend quite a lot of time in the sun and I had a pretty severe shortage when I tested myself during my last check-up about a year and a half ago. My doctor suggested I would start eating supplements and I did.

Having low levels of Vitamin D can lead to any number of serious health problems (Source Wikipedia).

  • Bone Health
  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Immune Deficiency

I can just from a personal note say that I have not had a serious cold or flu since I started taking Vitamin D supplements and I usually get sick at least once a year normally (Usually in the early spring). It's also ironic that something that improves by tanning is also good to prevent cancer, but so seem to be the case.

As always with anything medical if you want to test this out, check with your doctor. Too high levels of Vitamin D can also be harmful so take a blood test, my doctor told me that this was just recently added as something they normally test for during a routine check up here in the US, but I would ask about it just to be sure.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Upgrade your memory with this instructional video

This video shows a really cool example about how you can improve your memory by visualizing what you need to remember in an interesting way.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Do you know how fast you can read?

Staples has put together this really cool test to see how fast you are reading. It's technically a marketing scheme to sell E-readers, but who cares? I was surprised to see that I apparently read around twice as fast as the national US average with around 535 words per minute which surprised me because I've always considered myself a slow reader.

Go and check out the test it only takes a few seconds.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mayans didn't believe the world would end on the 21st of December this year

I wish people would stop talking about the world ending on the 21st of December this year. As this article explains not even the Mayan's believed that this years winter equinox (And my birthday) was the end of the world, all it meant to them was that their calendar started over. Roughly like the year 2000 was to our calendar and same as all the doomsayers stated then we all know that civilization as we know it did end 12 years ago and I'm sure it will end just as much this year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 2, Money & special interests

You jokingly hear the quip "America, the best democracy that money can buy" every once in a while and I wish dearly that it wasn't so true. For those of you not paying attention, currently corporations in the US have no rules or limits on how much money they can contribute after a US Supreme Court ruling last year.

To me this is easily fixable. Given the whole notion that corporations are people. Why not take it to it's logical conclusion and apply the same limits on corporations contributions as is done on personal contributions (And of course any wholy owned subsidiary does not count since otherwise it would just be too easy to circumvent). Currently any person is limited to donate no more than $2500 per candidate in a federal election, you are also allowed to donate no more than $5000 to a Political Action Committee (PAC). I would be totally OK with Haliburton, GM and JP Morgan being able to donate each to a presidential campaign instead of the untold millions I am sure they are all currently sinking into the campaigns.

Finally we just have to stop the Super PACs, not only do these currently have no limits on how much can be donated to them, they also don't have to explain where the money comes from or even how it is being spent. Russia, Iran or China could be funding a Super PAC to help elect the next president of the US and we wouldn't even know it. Am I the only one who gets a little bit queasy about that?

But same as always the people who needs to change this are the people who are benefiting the most from the current system so I am not confident that anything will be done soon about this.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

California bans employer from prying into your Facebook

Even though the federal bill is still a long way off from becoming law if you are lucky enough to be living in California you are already set to keep your Facebook account private as the California State Assembly just passed a bill to ban employers from mandating that employees hand over their passwords to their favorite social network.
Source The Verve

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How much are you worth to Facebook?

This is a really cool site where you answer a couple of questions and they will estimate roughly how much you are worth to Facebook in their upcoming IPO at the end of this week.

I'm apparently worth roughly $67 dollars to them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why would it be so bad to cut US military spending?

Republicans in the House of congress are now try avoid the mandatory spending cuts to the military that were part of the deal struck for last years increase of the debt ceiling. What I don't understand is why it would be so bad to cut the US defense budget.

According to Wikipedia the US spent roughly $711 billion dollars on the military in 2011. Not only is this the highest percentage of GDP of any larger world economy except for Saudi Arabia but it is also almost half of all military spending in the world (The total is $1630 billion). Also if we look at the top 15 list of countries that spend the most on the military only Russia and China are not either members of NATO or staunch allies of the US. The number two on the list China spends less than 20% of what the US spends on the military. Would it really be so bad if we only outspend every country in the world with just 100% instead of 400%? That change would save us at least $400 billion a year. Sure, we wouldn't be able to run around the world starting wars all the time like we are doing now, but would that really be so bad?

Given that I know this will not come to pass because the US will never willfully give up it's current military hegemony I also like this article in the Wall Street Journal who talks about business leaders meeting with congress to impress on them the importance of actually starting to talk to the people on the other side of the isle and figure out a solution to this problem that will probably be hard to swallow for either side since it will probably need to contain both hard budget cuts and raised taxes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Be sure not to miss the solar eclipse on May 20th

There is a solar eclipse that is going to be visible from the US west coast on the evening of May 20th this year. This is fairly rare (This is the first one during the 21st century to be visible from the continental US) so make sure you don't miss it!

Did you know the US under invests in infrastructure by almost $100B a year?

The US is apparently under-investing at an estimated $94 billion dollars a year currently. This means that every year, our roads, bridges, airports and sewage systems to name a few are getting worse than they were the year before. This will manifest itself in a more polluted environment, more congestion and more frequent delays. This article in The Economist estimates this will cost every household in the US an estimated $10600 over the course of the current decade.

The article also goes on to talk about several ways to get the private sector to help filling this gap of which the federal government is currently not doing any. Obama has been trying but congress is, as usual, standing in the way.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Awesome Chrome plugin to visualize who is snooping on you

Collusion is a really cool plugin available for Chrome that visualizes all the sites that are linked in when you access a site so that you can easily see who is tracking as you wander around the internet. In the latest update it also gives you the option to block known tracking sites.

You can get it in the Chrome Web Store or if you want to read more about it you can also read about it on Gizmodo.

Iran's web censorship censors Khamenei’s fatwa on online censorship

Gotta love the irony that apparently Ayatollah Khamenei's fatwa last week confirming the country's new online auto filtering tools got filtered by same tools so none of it's citizens were able to see it because it contained the word "antifiltering".

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Did you think it was dangerous leaving a plastic bottle in your car?

I've heard that leaving a plastic bottle in a hot car was dangerous plenty of time and just found this video explaining that it isn't. The main thesis that came to this conclusion was flawed. The contaminant found in the experiment wasn't even present in the plastic tested but by the time that was discovered the media had already picked it up and run with it so now everybody knows that you shouldn't do this.
Source inFact

What's the difference between Sunni & Shia Muslims

I'm sure you all have heard the words Sunni & Shia Muslims, but do you know the difference. Originally the split occurred when Mohammed died. The Shia's believe that the leader of the Muslim nation (At the time both a religious and political entity) should be kept among the direct descendants of Mohammed. The Sunni on the other hand believe that the leader should be chosen among those who are capable. This was what actually happened when Abu Bakr, not a descendant from Muhammed became the first Caliph after the prophets death. The word "Sunni" in Arabic comes from a word meaning "one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.".

The Shia belief is also that the descendant of Muhammed who is elected as the new leader is appointed by god and infallible. To me the easiest similarity that I can draw from this is that the Shia faith is similar to the Catholics in Christianity where the one world wide leader is the equivalent of the pope. One difference between Christians & Muslims in this regard is that there does seem to be a lot of strife between the two branches of Islam. The Economist recently ran this article about the current status of the infighting between the two branches. Not that Christians haven't been doing a lot of infighting in history, but most of that was settled a few hundred years ago.

You can read more about the differences between Shia & Muslims on

Immigrants twice as likely as Americans to own their own business

Forbes has an interesting article about why immigrants seem to be imbued with more entrepreneurial spirit than regular Americans. According to the article immigrants (Based on a report from Public Policy Institute of California) are twice as likely as Americans to start their own business.

I have my own completely unsupported theory on why this is (Granted as an immigrant myself I might be biased). I think it is just a matter of selection bias. It is always easier to stay where you are and keep doing what you have always been doing. By taking the initiative to migrate to another country, no matter what the reason, you already have shown quite a lot of initiative to take a plunge into the unknown. This is very similar to the kind of trait that would cause a person to try to take a leap and attempt starting their own business.

I would guess that if you look at almost any country in the world you will find a higher number of entrepreneurs from immigrants precisely for this reason. I very much doubt that Americans would be less adventurous in this respect than any other culture. In fact I would be surprised if the difference isn't more pronounced in other countries precisely because the culture in this country if anything puts a higher emphasis on the virtues of being your own boss and owning your own business than in other places.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Interesting infographics on app development economics

This is an interesting info-graphic on app development economics. I guess I should count myself lucky because I am both in the 12% that made more than $50K and in the 52% that have no spent any money on marketing. Promising for the future though if I ever manage to figure out the marketing thing though (It's just that it is so boring!).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Visualizing the scale of everything

This totally cool site allows you to easily understand the scale of everything in the universe. It starts at the Planck length and then you can slowly zoom out all the way to the size of the universe going through atoms, bacteria, animals, Earth, Sun and the Milky Way and everything in between!

There is also another version here.

Perhaps Obama supporting gay marriage isn't such a good thing

The Economist makes an interesting case why perhaps Obama supporting gay marriage is bad for gay rights overall.

The thinking is that until now gay marriage hasn't been seen as a partisan issue and several of the more liberal republicans have come over on the side of supporting gay marriage. With Obama's latest announcements this is going to be harder as they will now seem more left leaning than before Obama came out for this cause.

Also it is debatable if we want an election where gay marriage is again an important issue. Some right leaning evangelicals who would otherwise have been skeptical about voting for a Mormon might now feel more compelled to do so.

I still don't understand why anybody but gay people would feel that it is so important but that seems to be the world we live in. Myself I feel strongly about this issue because if you replace gay with for instance black it just becomes so obvious that this is discrimination against a minority (Remember it wasn't that long ago that interracial marriages were illegal too in many states).

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 1, Partisanship

I've decided that I'm going to start writing up things that I think are wrong with US politics and it's style of democracy in series of blog posts. I have a couple of topics I already want to tackle and I thought I would do one at a time instead of doing one huge post and keep going until I feel that I am done.

The first and one of the biggest problems as I see it with US democracy is how bipartisan it is. The problem should be pretty obvious to anybody who has been following US politics lately and it seems to be getting worse at least from what I can see.

I don't see this problem going away anytime soon and unfortunately due to how US elections are done it is as far as I know uniquely designed to exacerbate this problem. The problem starts with that all elections in the US is winner takes all. That means that you really can only have two major parties because if someone started another significant party on either the left or the right that would immediately lead to that side consistently loosing all elections since that side's votes would be split two ways (I am reminded of the interview by Bill Maher on Realtime where he urged Ralph Nader not to run for President in the Bush-Kerry election in 2004).

This problem is made even made worse by how how the candidates are selected during the primaries. Not that a lot of people vote in the elections in general, but only a very tiny minority of people vote in the primaries which choose the candidates. Also the people who do tend to participate in primaries are usually the ones that lean very far to the left or the right. This means that instead of getting two people who are fairly close to what most people might be OK with in the middle of the political spectrum we tend to end up with two candidates each of which are far to the left or to the right. And given that the winner takes all a difference of a few votes could be the difference between a very left leaning candidate and a very right leaning candidate. And then when they all go to Washington these very right and left leaning candidates need to try to compromise and we all know how well that is working out.

One way that I think this could be made better is if you stopped having representatives that all represent one specific district for each state. Instead of having a congressman represent some weird selection of counties in his state he would represent the whole state. And the election for congress would not be several winner takes all races, it would be allotted based on how much each of the political parties have won in that state. A candidate could still run by himself as now, but instead of having individual elections for the state the parties would run in the elections with a list specifying the order of the candidates that they will field. You could also add in some sort of weighting where you as a voter can pick certain candidates that you prefer on the list and they would be able to skip up the list if enough people did so (As we do now in Sweden). This way a larger state like California you could have a party that only has 10% of the vote but they would still successfully field around 5 representatives in congress since California has 53 delegates. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure that it is up to the individual states how you elect your representatives so this change could even be enacted by individual states.

But since everybody currently elected belongs to one of the two dominant parties why would they change the law to make it easier for smaller parties to be heard?

Don't Rush to judgement

"We've arrived at a point where the president of the United States is going to lead a war on traditional marriage" Rush Limbaugh said on his show Wednesday.

His first, second, third or fourth wife could not be reached for comment.

Another reason to loose weight

If you need another reason to loose weight a recent article published in Maternal and Child Health Journal seem to indicate that obese women seem to have children that are statistically worse in math and reading tests than other children when adjusted for other factors such as socioeconomics status, parental levels of education etc.

Going to start being a bit more active online

I'm doing an experiment with my online presence. I'm going to try to be a bit more active with my blog (Last post was in 2009 which is ridiculous). I don't think it will be that big of a change for me given that I was already usually emailing links I found interesting to people. I will just post them here instead from now on until I get tired of it.

Also as part of this I've spend a little while to set up so that whenever I post something on my blog here it should also be posted to Facebook, Twitter and also Google+. I've also added some connections to also share my media center automatically generated top-list with the world (Although I'm sure nobody cares).

All of this is handled by using some clever magic on, a really cool site for automating stuff happening to you online. IFTTT is short for If This Then That and basically it allows you to define triggers and then an action that should be performed if triggered. As an example I have a rule for when I post here it should also duplicate that post on Facebook & Twitter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pebble is one of the coolest gadgets I've seen in a while

Pebble is one of the coolest gadgets I've seen in a while and I can't wait to get my hands on it. I unfortunately missed the "hacker" pre-release cut-off so September cannot come fast enough

I always thought it would be super cool to be able to write applications for something in the form factor of an iPod Nano and here it is, even better it has connectivity through Bluetooth and your cell phone, and it uses an E-Ink display which means you can easily read it in sunlight.

This is the first time I've ever used Kickstarter so I'm hoping it works out (And given that this is the highest funded project in it's history I'm sure it will).