Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reading Review: Week 3

Racing with Machines: The Rise of Technological Unemployment

There have been many articles written in the last couple of years about automation replacing too many jobs to achieve full employment.  This article is a good representative, as the author kept it short and didn't insert a lot of politics into the discussion.  Of course, automation has been replacing manual labor for centuries, and yet in the boom times, there's still enough work for everyone in developed countries.  There has been a resurgence of this view in the last year or two, however, as we reach certain technological milestones.  But I have to say that I don't share this negative view.  Humans will always dream of new things and experiences, invent them, and others will desire to have them.  Even if most jobs around us today will eventually be automated, I believe an entirely new set of jobs will be created by this endless cycle.

Richard Preston: The Mysterious Lives of Giant Trees

This TED talk discusses the canopy of coastal redwood trees.  It's an interesting and understudied ecosystem with many surprises.  (There are crustaceans in redwood canopies?  Really?)  I was also happy to see that Richard Preston, who sold more than 2.5 million copies of The Hot Zone twenty years ago, was still learning and exploring, and not just playing golf after all that money and success.  It's also awesome that he takes his kids along and let's them camp out in the canopy.  (Don't worry; they are tethered to a harness.)

Watch the Amazing Flight Patterns of Birds

This article is fun to read and watch, and also shows how we can miss the obvious until we look at a common thing in a new way.

Calling the Shots: Realistic Commentary Heightens Video Games

I'm not really into video games at all, but one thing that's always fascinated me is how realistic the announcing seems to be in many sports video games.  This article discusses how modern games have audio libraries of a quarter million phrases which are dynamically chosen by the game play.  Thus, the play-by-play announcer speaks with more excitement when the score is close or the clock is running out.  Crowd noises are also changed based on these factors.  Additionally, the color commentator discusses a whole range of facts and trivia about the players and the teams in between plays.  The end result is a very realistic final product.

Confessions of a Recovering Op-Ed Columnist

This was a pretty unremarkable piece except for one paragraph that really struck me:
"After 17 years I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion."
I hope that us bloggers will also take this point to heart.  The pressure of schedule and the desire for readership is indeed pushing many bloggers in this direction.  Because a balanced and carefully written article does not always draw immediate readership, many resort to contrived opinions at one end of the teeter totter.  Titles like "Anyone Who Doesn't Budget Is A Loser" and "Budgeting Is A Complete Waste Of Time" unfortunately draw a lot of readers, but it that really what we believe?


  1. Love the links! I've been following along since you started posting these. Lots of good stuff in there.

    1. Thanks! I've enjoyed writing them.


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