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Whitlam Oration

This guy is smart – I honestly learnt more about Australia’s place in international affairs from this video than from a subscription to a newspaper.

More word shortcuts

(See also this previous blogpost.)

For nuclear reactions: (_atomic number ^mass number )element

Knowledgeable individuals protect the wisdom of crowds

Andrew Kingfrom the Royal Veterinary College found that it falls apart, but only in certain circumstances. At his university open day, he asked 82 people to guess the number of sweets in a jar. If they made their guesses without any extra information, the wisdom of the crowd prevailed. The crowd’s median guess was 751.* The actual number of sweets was… 752.

This collective accuracy collapsed if King told different groups of volunteers about what their peers had guessed. If they knew about the previous guess, a random earlier guess or the average of all the earlier guesses, they overestimated the number of sweets. Their median guesses ranged from 882 to 1109. King likens this effect to real-world situations where people collectively drive the prices of items above their value and create economic bubbles. It’s what happened to create the recent US/British housing market crash or, more historically, the tulip mania of 17th century Holland.

Jan Lorenz recently found the same thing. Swiss college students can form a wise crowd when answering questions independently, but once they could find out what their peers had guessed, their answers became more inaccurate. In his summary of the study, Jonah Lehrer wrote, “The range of guesses dramatically narrowed; people were mindlessly imitating each other. Instead of canceling out their errors, they ended up magnifying their biases, which is why each round led to worse guesses.”

Is the crowd doomed to groupthink? Not quite. King found that he could steer them back towards a wiser guess by giving them the current best guess. When this happened, the median returned to a respectable 795. So the crowd loses its wisdom when it gets random pieces of information about what its members think, but it regains its wisdom if it finds out what the most successful individual said.

The myth of the non-decomposing hamburger

Of course, all of these arguments are variations on the naturalistic fallacy, and they can be easily disproven with some simple experimentation.  In fact, a number of home-grown experiments have been performed which show that the reason why McDonald’s food, and any kind of food for that matter, doesn’t decompose in these examples is because it is allowed to dry out.  And if you know anything about preserving food (hint: think beef jerky), one way to do it is to simply dehydrate it.  If the food dries out, then there is no moisture to support the growth of mold, bacteria, and other microorganisms which would otherwise decompose it.  Essentially, the food is mummified.

Comments on Why does a McDonalds meal never seem to rot?

Not all burgers or fries don’t rot. Any fry done thicker, any burger done juicier, WILL rot. McDonalds made a very conscious decision as to the thickness and moisture content of their fries. Alt emulates fries as they are made by McDonalds (he could not, I claim, repeat this with Five Guys or Outback fries), Synapse does the same and proves that adding moisture (a particulate specifically eliminated by McDonalds) changes the outcome…What specifically engineered techniques and ingredients contribute is a controlled environment. Think about this for a second – 65,000 workers in the United States are expected to conform to a specific routine to create food that falls within 1% of acceptable thresholds in moisture content, crispness, juiciness. None of these people are trained food workers. The reason this works so well is work like mine with McDonalds (yes, I am ashamed of that) to create oil blends and oil purity standards that make it easier for the worker to conform there.

So the engineering and training, the specifically built friers, the treatment of the spuds, the treatment of the cut spud, the setup of the transport, all this contributes to a world where six billion packs of virtually identical fries are served.

The question is, now, what is more important. The very simple chemical and biological truth that dehydration retards spoilage (every amateur knows that one) or the fact that McDonalds specifically employs a large number of control points (outlined in their HACCP[1]) and has set up its own production chain to eliminate the mistakes that are inherently possible in an operation of that size.

(another comment)

It’s not so much genetic and chemical as it is pedantic. In other words, from French Laundry to Wendy’s over my humble place, we all use techniques and approaches that have been developed by McDonalds over the decades and given away into the public domain. A staggering majority of food safety work is done by those guys’ lab coats and usually published in full for everyone to peruse.

fuck theory: Scum

The facts really speak for themselves, so here are a few more choice quotes:

“The district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, alleged that the men were part of an effort to protect a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidic community, Nechemya Weberman, who has been accused of 88 counts of sexual misconduct, including oral sex with a child younger than 13 years old…
“In the Williamsburg case, the accuser was in sixth grade when she was referred to Mr. Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, by her Williamsburg religious school…Her parents were told she would be expelled from school unless they paid $150 an hour for him to provide her with therapy…Instead, Mr. Weberman, who is now 53, repeatedly sexually molested her over three years, when she was 12 to 15, and told her that she would be expelled from school if she told anyone…
“And this week, Mr. Hynes’s office is suffering an embarrassing reversal in another abuse case involving an Orthodox Jewish accuser. After revelations that Mr. Hynes’s office had failed to share exculpatory evidence with defense attorneys, lawyers said Monday that all charges against four men accused of raping and forcibly prostituting a Chabad Lubavitch woman from Crown Heights for nearly a decade would be dropped…”

The Catholic Church has nothing on these people, and there are two things I find absolutely mind-blowing.  First, the sheer systemacity of this abuse.  It’s not a large number of isolated incidents, so to speak:  it’s an elaborate system in which rapists and abusers are enabled and protected by an entire community in which the extent of the rape and abuse is an open secret.  In case you missed that little detail, a 12-year-old girl’s school required her parents to send her to an unlicensed “therapist” who abused her.  This is collusion on a pretty extensive scale.

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