tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:/posts The Iron Yuppie 2015-06-25T18:21:28Z David Aronchick tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/873857 2015-06-25T18:21:28Z 2015-06-25T18:21:28Z Our Coming Immortality

I find myself obsessed with a lot of the concepts that Wait But Why has been covering recently, but one that got me really thinking about is our immortality. To quote a section in a piece about AI:

Kurzweil talks about intelligent wifi-connected nanobots in the bloodstream who could perform countless tasks for human health, including routinely repairing or replacing worn down cells in any part of the body. If perfected, this process (or a far smarter one ASI would come up with) wouldn’t just keep the body healthy, it could reverse aging. The difference between a 60-year-old’s body and a 30-year-old’s body is just a bunch of physical things that could be altered if we had the technology.

It's a pretty compelling vision! But wait, you may ask, this could never happen - the engineering is way too hard. Is it? As a thought experiment, I tried to think about something that we've already built that achieves the kind of engineering that would be required here. My first thought? The car.

Come on, you might say, my car breaks down all the time! Yes, yes it does. But think about what we've done. Let's say:
  • Your car lasts 100k miles, with fairly minor updates (oil changes, hose replacements, break repairs, but no significant damage to the engine)
  • Your car has to go through highly varied environments (cold, hot, rocky, smooth, etc)
  • Your car travels, on average, 30 mph (this is an average, so all your high way driving is evened out with your street driving)
  • Your engine goes at an average of 4k RPMs
  • You drive 30 minutes per day, and 10k miles per year

I don't think anything is too far off about this. By that logic, your wheels have rotated 69,000,000 times by the time you're done, and your engine has gone through 438,000,000 rotations. That's some pretty amazing engineering for something that is effectively unchanged tech in the past 50 years!

Given that our hearts beat about 1 billon times in our lifetime, it seems practically impossible that we wouldn't be able to out engineer that with the technology we have at our finger tips today, let alone in 10-20 years.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/805292 2015-01-31T17:00:00Z 2015-01-31T18:19:09Z Human Beings as Air Gap

Everyone appears to be rattling sabers about AI being the next big threat (where "Everyone" = Bill Gates & Elon Musk, and a bunch of other people whose names are not generally well known). I think they're way smarter than me, and probably have nothing to add to that particular conversion.

However, one thing I caught today that I loved was the comment from the Netflix head of content that "The Netflix Engine" is "70% tech and 30% human." This is exactly right! I think that machines will (for some time, anyway) really struggle with that last mile and not falling into the "uncanny valley". This is exactly where humans can excel! Imagine you have a car production line, and need to finish putting in the very fine gear shift handle. You can either build a robot that has the sensitivity to not break an egg, but also handle spot welding the engine block, or you can focus the robot on the hard stuff, and give a human being the last little bit. I think we'll see humans continue to manage this last mile for a long time; it's so much easier than handling the 1% case with a general purpose bot. 

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/785481 2014-12-19T00:37:38Z 2014-12-19T00:37:38Z Thoughts on Sony and Cyberterrorism

The news has been everywhere that Sony is LITERALLY worse than Hitler that they have canceled "The Interview." Hold your horses there, Hollywood elite.

First, I love Rogan and Franco, and would probably see them in anything. Now that I'm an old man, it reminds me of a simpler time - a time when smoking weed and being an idiot was consequence free. Well, technically it still is, but I'm going to pretend it isn't in case my kids stumble on this at some point in the future and need guidance about living life (NOTE: If you are in some way related to me, please ignore the previous paragraph). So having less of movies starring these folks is generally not a good thing.

Second, I think it's ridiculous to pull a movie based on one post to PasteBin. It's an anonymous network, is this all it's going to take to cancel movies going forward? What happens if someone posts to PasteBin they hate Michael Bay, will that be enough?

But, third, and most importantly, much as I don't like it, Sony is probably making the exact right move here. Opening a movie is one of the most fragile things you can do in business; virtually anything can throw it off - rain, snow, parades, holidays, non-holidays, who knows. There's just a million different ways for it to go wrong - that's why studios fight over big weekends, and make sure it opens on more than 3,000 theaters, and have huge week-long press junkets leading up to the release to make sure there is as small a chance as possible that you won't show up on the first day.

Even worse, you could have a great opening, but some surprise comes along and knocks you to #2 - your movie is basically worthless at that point. Movies have a HUGE drop off (even great movies) the second week and forward, and, while there are always exceptions, it is basically a 1 in 100 chance that you'll see anywhere NEAR your opening weekend audience in week two, let alone going forward. Because you're now a #2 movie, that means you don't get to be the tentpole when it's time to sell the entire bundle of movies to Netflix/HBO/USA/whatever. And, at this point, not being #1 is virtually guaranteed when you factor in movie theater chains are starting to pull showings ("Let's see, we can show Annie, which is totally neutral, or show The Interview, which, while it got a bunch of news, which would be good, but has an ever so small chance of scaring people  to not coming. No brainer.").

On top of that, let's say Sony opens the movie, and there is a 1 in 100,000 chance that someone does something crazy and kills one person in a movie theater on the other side of the world after the movie opens. At that point, Sony Pictures is basically over. It's just too crazy to even think about, and risking an entire studio over one $42M picture is a cost-benefit ratio that is too big to handle.

So, with all this lining up against the movie, they pull it. It's not awesome to have a miss, especially on Christmas, but it's built into the studio system, and Sony knows how to survive that.

The far more concerning thing is that it appears that unrelated studios are now pulling ancillary products, like Team America: World Police or a Steve Carell movie set in North Korea. That's really worrisome - does that mean Seth Rogan and James Franco are now done making movies? Hollywood is a very skittish sort; they're going to give as wide a berth as possible just to make sure nothing bad ever happens. Not that there's some huge demand for North Korean movies, I just think this is beyond stupid.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/739785 2014-09-10T22:57:35Z 2014-09-10T22:57:35Z Why All The Belly Aching on Buzzfeed & Listicles?

BuzzFeed has had an absolutely amazing run, leading up to a $50M investment by Andressen, Horowitz, the hottest VC firm in the world. However, Frédéric Filloux of Monday Note is decidedly less enthused. A key point in his open letter is below: 

Fact is, quality content does exist in BuzzFeed (an example here), but in the same way as a trash can contains leftovers of good food: you must go deep to find it. 

Well, trash (one assumes) is stuff no one wants. A listicle of "17 Ways the 90s Were the Best Decade" is wanted, whether you like it or not. But going beyond that, why the hate for listicles at all?

I have two theories - either it's a distaste for ads, or a distaste for the medium. To evaluate both these ideas, let me take you to a simpler time - the year is 2000, the year that the newspaper business had the highest revenue in its history, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (a paper with over 175k subscribers) has its 36 pages broken down in the following way:

  • 10 pages of majority news (though 4 of these are reprints of stock quotes)
  • 16 pages where news makes up 50% or less of the content (with the remainder being ads)
  • 8 pages of classified ads
  • 2 pages of comics

Perhaps that's too recent for you? How about September 10, 1914 - World War I is well underway, and here's a copy of the Times Dispatch:

Of the 14 pages in the newspaper, it appears that it is made up of:

  • 1 page of pure news
  • 11 pages of between 40%-65% news (with the rest ads)
  • 2 pages of pure ads (classified)
  • Three quarter page comic strips

There's quite a bit more stuff in there that's not exactly news either - my favorite is a 100 year old native ad!

By contrast, this listicle of 26 Animals From Around the World has just 1 300x250 ad, and one native ad (at the bottom). That's practically pristine!

Is the issue the fact that Buzzfeed repackages other content and draws in users? I'm not a huge fan, but that isn't exactly the end of the world either. It's all free (e.g. the reddit content they repackage is just as free as their content is) so if you don't like it, go to the source - where hundreds of links are scattered between countless pages and make it nearly impossible to find it all.

Or perhaps the issue is that news isn't 100% of the paper at all. But that can't be the case, since news has ALWAYS been advertising funded as evidenced by the examples I listed earlier.

An interesting alternative to just bad mouthing listicles is to think about news organizations as having always been made up of two parts - the news, and the other stuff that funds the news. In newspapers, this was made up of classifieds and ads; on the web, it's listicles and ... ads. There may be variations of this equation in the future (how much time and real estate a publication can/will spend on each),  but it seems highly unlikely there will be too many sites that have the former without having at least some of the latter.


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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/732206 2014-08-25T23:53:10Z 2014-08-25T23:53:16Z Amazon's Huge Win From Going Into Physical Stores

(I don't know if this needs saying, but the following post has absolutely no information contained therein that I learned while working at Amazon. Also, I have a position in and am long on AMZN).

You know what sucks? Margins in retail. 

With margins of 2-8%, you're working with basically no leeway for any failures, and pricing pressure is extreme. Yet, Amazon wants to expand even more deeply into the market with things like a credit card reader and an in-store POS. (http://recode.net/2014/08/24/predicting-amazons-secret-plans-in-physical-retail/?mc_cid=b2bc6b1782&mc_eid=66f6efcef4). Why would you do that? Three reasons come to mind:
  1. Amazon makes the vast majority of its goods selling online today. But, 85-90% of total purchases occur in the physical world. Amazon wants a piece of that.
  2. Amazon is all about selection. They're "Earth's Biggest Selection". Can't have selection without every single product in the world - online and off.
  3. Most importantly, Amazon has the opportunity to close the loop - to keep money flowing through its system, and never let it out. 

The third point would be absolutely transformative. Think about it this way - today, I go to Target and buy some sheets. Target goes and buys some floor cleaner. The floor cleaner company pays their employees. The employee goes and buys a Nintendo DS at Best Buy. 

Everyone of those transactions require a percent off the top for credit card, debit and ACH fees (on average about 2%, similar to low end retail margins). 

Now imagine that Amazon is the player at each step - they sell the sheets, floor cleaner, gift cards (or creates a "store your money with Amazon"-style bank), and Nintendo DS. Without doing a single thing they don't do already today, Amazon has participated in 4 transactions with zero processing fees. Instantly they've doubled their margin.

Amazon could drop their prices and demolish retail, or keep their prices the same and vastly improve their cash flow. Regardless of their choice, it's such a huge strategic win, I'm not sure why everyone is focused on all the other points. Keep the money and you win by default.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/708939 2014-06-30T03:35:56Z 2014-06-30T03:35:56Z What I Would Do To Improve Soccer

There's a spirited discussion over on the excellent Wait But Why on Why Americans Don't Love Soccer.

I think the majority of the items are spot on correct - they're some really basic items that just seem like no-brainers. They would not affect the flow of the game at all, and improve the fairness (reducing things like incentives for flopping and fake injuries). However, they missed a big one that I think would be even better - more refs.

If you look at the other major sports - Football, Basketball, Hockey and Baseball - they all have much higher square-footage to ref ratio. For example:

  • Football:  110m x 48.7m = 5,363 m² / 7 refs = 766 m² / ref
  • Basketball: 28.65m x 15.24m = 436.6 m² / 3 refs = 145.5 m² / ref
  • Hockey: 61m x 30.5m = 1,860.5 m² / 4 refs = 465 m² / ref
  • Baseball: Varies, but around 100k ft² = 9,290.3 m² / 4 umps = 2,322 m² / ump
  • Soccer: 105m x 68m = 7,140 m² / 3 refs = 2,380 m² / ref

Soccer has the MOST square footage necessary to cover for each ref. And, if you change baseball to just looking at the infield (where most of the action requiring umpire evaluation happens anyway), soccer has a practically 4x greater difference than the nearest other sport. Yet fouls in soccer are just as serious (or worse) than other sports. 

More refs would massively improve the game - diving would be less likely and more bad behavior would be caught and punished. I love the idea of changing the rules (particularly the two tier penalty in the box to prevent cheap dives to get penalties), but let's start with just more accurate calling of the game.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/606274 2014-05-30T16:00:02Z 2014-06-08T11:46:36Z Amazing Video on Alternative Medicine (and Why Global Warming Denial is a Religion) Just fantastic.


Apart from being written entirely in prose, which I have a weakness for, the core of this video is exactly what frustrates me most about politics and positions today. That core is summarized as follows: 
If you have a position, back it by data. If you get new data that contradicts your existing position, either fix your data or change your position.
Somehow, we've gotten into this mindset that changing positions is wrong, or that it's our job to dismiss data so that we can remain true to our original belief. If the data is valid, why can't you change your position? To paraphrase the video:
If you can prove I'm wrong, I will change my mind. I’ll spin on a fucking dime.
It is this particular point that makes me so frustrated with the current global warming debate. Especially with the discussion of the melting of the West Antarctic Glacier, it is more than a little terrifying the world we are leaving for the next generation.  Yet people still deny the science. To go back to the video:
Science adjusts it's beliefs based on what's observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
Time and again when I get into a discussion of any kind with those who do not believe the climate science, they cannot say a) what the motivation would be behind a near universal conspiracy of climate scientists (grant money?) or b) what data they WOULD accept that would cause them to change their opinion. This blows my mind. 

Religion, on the other hand (and which, by and large, I have no objection to) is faith-based. It requires a structure, and then faith in that structure, to the exclusion of all data. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as it's self-regarding only. The problem is when it starts to affect other people, which denial of global warming CERTAINLY does.

This is why I consider climate change deniers to be a religion - they form an opinion, and, no matter what facts are presented, they cling to their faith. So, like all religions, I believe they should be contained within purely self-regarding behavior only, and restricted from doing anything that impinges on the freedoms of the populous as a whole.

The hilarity of the situation is that they claim the exact reverse, that climate science is a religion. So, I'll ask this now, if your position of global warming denial is based in fact, what are the facts that would change your mind? Please base your question in some form of scientific structure, that takes into account the natural variability of the Earth and geologic time scales we're talking about here. Tell me, and we'll find them. Not that I have any hope of changing your mind.
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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/601426 2013-09-15T09:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:29:58Z Why We're Really Unhappy

This is just a fantastic article about why Gen Y is unhappy (despite the not-obviously-great title): Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy

The TL;DR is just that we (I think it's we, I might be on the border between X and Y), for our entire lives, have set our expectations high and, by definition, not everyone can be exceptional. Or, basically, this awesome equation:

The only bad part about the article is that there's effectively no way to break the cycle without a) a massive depression of expectations (in this generation or the next) or b) millions of people working to hard to be happy with what they've got. I don't see either happening any time soon.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/601174 2013-09-13T01:38:33Z 2013-10-08T17:29:53Z The Atlantic & Tyler Cowen on Why Jobs Go Unfilled (and Why It May Not Be The Worst Thing)

I heard a great piece by the always excellent Tyler Cowen on the radio today. One quote of particular interest:

"Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that say, lives in parts of Brooklyn," Cowen explains. "... It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence." (Tired Of Inequality? One Economist Says It'll Only Get Worse)

It overlapped with a piece I've been meaning to blog about for a while "Why Jobs Go Unfilled Even in Times of High Unemployment".

Of all the near term future views, this feels the most correct. But it's not (necessarily) a bad thing!

Let's go back 100 years, and compare the same lower middle class existence. You worked in a factory 50 hours a week, lived in a hovel, had a million kids  and died before you turned 50.

What will the same lower middle class people have today? Earn $40k/year, save nothing, have a car, iPhone, clean water and plenty of food, commute about 45 minutes each way to work and probably live to 70. And that's all before the robots!

This does remove a ton of choice - it's not like they can choose to travel the world after they retire, or even retire - and, to use Mr. Cowen's excellent choice of words, "a fragile existence", but it's also not backbreaking labor. If the wealthy chip in an even stronger social safety net, these people may even go out and take some risks - we'll see if that ever comes to pass. I have long thought that the wealthy have a huge benefit to (partially) funding the non-wealthy's leisure; I would argue that giving them money to spend encourages them to spend the money on the things the wealthy's firms produce - win-win!

As an aside, the skill thing feels a little bit off - or at least it feels like a rural only thing. In many cities, there are actually many jobs that can be filled by even people of modest skills. The other day I spoke with a Postmates delivery kid - he said he worked 30 hours that month, and earned $1800. CRAZY.

EDIT: Someone pointed out the very interesting review of The Lights in the Tunnel which also covers this very thing. It's going to be a race - utopia provided by automation vs. the jobs that automation kills.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/598173 2013-08-31T01:04:55Z 2013-10-08T17:29:14Z An Unparalleled Level of Growth You (Likely) Will Never See Again

In 2001, the fastest computer in the world (ASCI White) clocked in at an astounding 7.6 TFlops/sec and cost $110M.  This is versus the fastest main stream computer processors which was around 10 GFlops or 1000x slower.

In 2012, the fastest computer in the world (Titan) clocked in at a mind bogglingly fast 17 PetaFlops/sec and cost $97M. This is versus the fastest main stream computer processors which was 177 GFlops or ~96,000x slower.

(I am well aware I'm comparing a single processor vs. a multiprocessor machine, but that's the best I can do)

Roughly, this is 2315x growth in efficiency/power in 10 years FOR LESS COST.

That is absurd growth for an industry that is already 50 years old (just for fun, to build a 17 Petaflop computer in 1961, would have cost roughly $141 Quintillion (or $141,000,000 Trillion). This means if you allocated 100% of US GDP to the paying this off, would take about 9.4M years).

To compare another highly specialized industry - this would be equivalent to a 2001 F1 Racer which topped out at around 250 mph now traveling at 578,750 mph and costing less. 

I cannot think of another industry where more will be available for less over time.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/597678 2013-08-28T19:41:56Z 2013-10-08T17:29:07Z Our Hidden Fingerprint (and Why the NSA STILL Doesn't Need To Read Your Email)

There was a wonderful analysis of How Robert Galbraith was found to be JK Rowling the other day, and, basically, beyond the anonymous tip, it was the fact that a textual analysis of her work matched her OTHER known work more closely than any other author. This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say the NSA does not need to read your email - we're all leaving EXTREMELY DETAILED digital finger prints ALL THE TIME that identify us, locate us - basically reveal anything that anyone would need to know.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/591244 2013-08-22T18:59:32Z 2013-10-08T17:27:48Z Apparently the Completely Disfunctional Cable Market Works In Our Favor

The Atlantic covered the true costs of unbundling ESPN (or projected, since no one would actually do it), and I'm shocked it's so high. Well, not really shocked, just confirming what seems like a shocking number.

Apparently, the cost of unbundling these things (all sports, so anyone not interested in sports, please look away) would be far larger than keeping them in your current (horrible) package. This is not a surprise as the above numbers, if anything are an UNDERESTIMATE!

Currently, the Cable Networks Group (read as "ESPN and some other various nothings") makes up 36% of Disney Revenue, and 62% of operating income. 62%!  (10Q Filing) No wonder they are so hesitant to do anything to screw that up.

The fact is that only a model that mimics that profitability will encourage those content providers to unbundle - and that will require enormous subscription fees. The very fact that there are #x Million people, who looked away above because they don't watch sports but are still being charged, is why the entire system works.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/596213 2013-08-21T15:58:56Z 2013-10-08T17:28:49Z Race and Intelligence: Where Are All the African Nobel Prize Winners?

There was an incredibly fascinating interview on Fresh Air with the author of The Sports Gene (off to my Kindle it goes). A particularly interesting highlight:

"Most of our ancestry as humans has occurred in Africa, so people have been in Africa for far longer than they've been outside of Africa. So genes for hundreds of thousands of years were evolving, changing inside of Africa, and then just a tiny group of people — maybe no more than 150 people, or a small group — left East Africa en route to populating the rest of the world. At each stop, their genes changed to accommodate their environments and sometimes just by random chance. ... But what this means is that most of the genetic differences that have been built up in our history are all still in Africa. All of us outside of Africa are just tiny subsets of a tiny subset that left Africa. So if you got rid of everyone in the world outside of Africa you would lose a little, but you would preserve most of the genetic variation for all of humanity.

"... [For] a particular trait, you might find the most diversity within an African population, as opposed to comparing someone in an African population and someone in a European population. So you might find the fastest 10 runners and the slowest 10 runners. But nobody is looking for the slowest 10 runners."

This makes COMPLETE sense to me. Of course where you have the most genetic diversity will you get the highest opportunity for extreme of the human population on both ends of the spectrum, both the fastest and the slowest.

But the conversation should not stop there, shouldn't we see genetic variability in all areas? Curliest hair? Straightest? Bluest eyes? Lightest blue? And so on.

Even further, when you get into more significant traits, we should see these in extremes as well. Specifically, I'm thinking of intelligence. If we believe there is some genetic component to intelligence (which it appears there are), then just as we would expect to see the fastest and slowest runners in Africa due to the genetic diversity, we should expect to see people at the extremes on the predisposition to intelligence in Africa.

However, according to this (http://www.cp-africa.com/2012/05/27/list-of-african-nobel-prize-winners/), there have been only 5 Nobel prize winners from Africa in anything other than Literature or Peace. I'm sure much of the reason is that there are not as many facilities for African research and science, but this seems like it needs to be addressed immediately.

To be clear, this book and research indicates there should be RIGHT NOW a set of folks in Africa that are as genetically predisposed to intelligence as anyone who has ever lived. One could argue it is humanity's responsibility to find these folks. IMMEDIATELY.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/586935 2013-08-20T16:22:59Z 2013-10-08T17:26:57Z Dangerous Waters: The Only Article You Need to Read on Abortion

Jonathan Chait had a really measured piece on an incredibly sensitive subject the other day - Abortion. Let me stand out of the way for most of it:

There's no real resolution to this dispute. Nobody even makes much of an effort to resolve it. Both sides advance arguments that only make sense if you already accept their premise about what a human life is. That's what Perry's doing here. He's saying we should force women to give birth even when they don't want to, because babies born in bad circumstances can be happy anyway. That isn't an acceptable burden to place on women, in my opinion, but it surely is if you think abortion is murder.

Likewise, liberals often call conservatives hypocritical for wanting to shrink government while expanding government's power to ban abortion. Except, if you think abortion is murder, then banning abortion is the sort of thing government ought to be able to do, even if it does very little overall. "Stopping murder" is one function of government that even Grover Norquist would endorse. Anti-abortion conservatives aren't hypocritical, they're (from the pro-choice standpoint) wrong about what a murder is.

The fact is that this is not a resolvable debate - stop attempting to convince the other side. If you believe that life begins at conception, then everything after that is murder. If you believe that life begins at viability, then everything before that is a non-moral choice.

There is NO middle ground. 

The best suggestion I've ever heard was from a professor I had in college for the Philosophy of Medicine. Rather than even arguing about this, we should be aggressively trying to move the age of viability (or the ability to freeze zygotes) as close to zero days as possible. If, for example, you had the ability to extract a zygote (and freeze it for future implantation) that was a mere 1 day since fertilization as easily and safely as you could perform an abortion, then everyone on both sides would agree that would be the correct path.

All energy directed towards anything else ultimately will not swing anyone one way or the other.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/589510 2013-07-25T10:30:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:27Z Turning It Up To 11... Of What?

I'm quite addicted to Car2Go. While the driving experience is perfectly adequate (I'll discuss this in a future blog post), the gamefication of mileage is pretty fun. Basically they show you a little leaf that indicates how in each category (acceleration, cruising and deceleration) you're doing on a gas efficiency stand point. And to say I'm the GREATEST of all time, is not much of an overstatement. OBSERVE AND FEAR!

The interesting thing is that first column - damn you acceleration! But it leads to an interesting question - I do not even know what to do. I mean, theoretically I know what to do, but I need more feedback.

Which brings up this WTF error I just saw the other day:
In the history of software error programs this isn't even the worst. Even so... what application? what files? what will happen if I don't? What the fuck?

Which brings back to the slug of this article (which I can't seem to change). Gamefication, or user feedback, is only useful if you tell me what to do NEXT. Not my eventual goal, or even the five steps after this one, NEXT.

File under UX 101.
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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/588450 2013-07-13T03:59:17Z 2013-10-08T17:27:16Z Corporate Access To Data is FAR More Chilling

NSA/Snowden/Metadata = blah blah blah. Seriously, I don't stay up for FIVE MINUTES at night worrying about that.

What I do worry about is THIS:

A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.
The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it fordumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.

The "sweeping" subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Agh ... WHAT? I generally try pretty hard to understand the opposite side of any case, but this makes no sense to me. Why would a private company have a right to demand private information from other private companies? Even if it was a conspiracy, how does that have any relevance? To leave it to the EFF lawyers:

According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”

Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?

I would take 1000 government workers staring at every mail I ever sent over ONE of these private guys. Yikes.]]>
David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/587915 2013-07-09T18:02:35Z 2013-10-08T17:27:09Z I'm In Love with The Wirecutter (and Sites Like It)

Brian Lam at The Wirecutter had a terrific post about nine months ago I just came upon:

Sure, if you really care, go ahead and spend your time and energy researching. But if you can’t be bothered, well, that’s kind of what I’m trying to do for you at Wirecutter. Half of it is the research. Half of the service is just spitting out an informed decision so you don’t have to sweat the details.

Oh man, this is my new philosophy. As my friend likes to say, "There is one version of the truth." That's what I'm seeking - not the truth, just the folks I trust to TELL me the truth. You know cars? You're my car truth guy. You know dieting? You're my dieting truth guy. That's it. I'm on a mission to put together a portfolio of those folks and I'm done trying to figure those things out myself.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/587275 2013-07-05T23:32:57Z 2013-10-08T17:27:01Z A Short Analysis of Evernote vs. One Note

I quite love OneNote. It feels amazing, the way it works so similarly to how I would work in a notebook - allowing me to cut and paste all over the place, taking text formatting and promoting it to be active (such as bullet point lists out of asterisks) and all the subtle little things - like the screen capture or picture to text capability. For example, check this out!

For the previous blog post, I went to this google search result for Bill Buford's Heat, and was presented with a block of text:

Not bad - but it's all an image, so I could either type out the excerpt that I was looking to quote or buy the Kindle version. Have no fear, OneNote to the rescue. I used the "Copy Text From Picture" and presto:

Why don’t more people use pasta water at home? Sometimes I thought it should he bottled, because there is no way that your home water could ever achieve the starchy viscosity of a restaurant’s. Ir would be cheap—being liquidy leftovers—and the jar should he very large, probably darkly tinted, like a vine bottle, because there would he no reward in looking too closely at what was floating inside.

The thought also made me curious about the monwnt in the history of American cooking when efficiency won out over taste and, instead of using a pair of tongs and pulling the spaghetti straight out of the pot, people starwd using a colander (an evil instrument) and letting all that dense, murky rich “water” rush down the drain. The practice ¡s described in the original, 1931 edition of Tut’ Jmt of Cooki,, in its “Rules for Boiling Spaghetti, Macaroni, Creamettes and Noodles,” along with the even more alarming one of taking your colander full of spaghetti (rather mushy, since you’ve boiled it for an hour) or macaroni (easy to che after being boiled For twenty minutes) or creamettes (no longer a supermarket item, alas, but once the essential ingredient ¡n a baked creamette loaf) and rinsing it ¡n cold warer—oh, heresy of heresies—just to make sure nothing ¡s clinging to ir. I hold the author responsible for the many plates of sauce—heavy spaghetti that, as a fea ture of my own American childhood, were prepared by my mothei who was born two ‘ears after the cookbook was published. To be fair to both my mother and the authoi; a plate oF spaghetti with meat sauce remains an eternal comfort food, even if the meal was not about the pasta. Still, the cultural disregard for the noodle contributed to my ignorance of ¡t. It also contributed to my prejudice about dried pasta, a prejudice that I finally overcame in an epiphany of sorts.

Pretty outstanding! It's not perfect (the bolded / underlined portion is where OneNote tried to handle italics), but saved me at least twenty minutes. 

However, in my current project to eliminate all extraneous paper and article clippings, I'm not using OneNote - I'm using Evernote, which I consider to be a much worse interface. Why? It's just more ubiquitous on input. I can clip from Web pages, my phone, my iPad, my Mac and so on in a much more fluid way and that makes all the difference.
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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/587272 2013-07-05T23:22:32Z 2013-10-08T17:27:01Z The Expertise Lies Not Just In The Act But All Leading Up To The Act

Have you ever watched a professional window washer work? I recall one London vacation afternoon when I was having a cup of coffee with my family, I was just staring across the street and watching a window washer work on the front panes of a storefront. Unlike we home windows, keeping these things clean (and see through) materially affects the store owner, so it pays to have them cleaned often. Watching him do windows that were three times the square footage of my home windows, and in probably half the time, I marvelled at his technique. He would soap up the window with his left hand and, with as near as I can recall, one continuous stroke, clean the entire window with the squeegee and then smoothly wipe it off on the towel hanging from his leg.

My organic chemistry professor in college had a very similar technique. He would wipe the board with his right hand (he was left handed) as he needed more space for writing, and fill in the newly clean area with new formulae. He did it so smoothly, it was often difficult to keep up writing.

I was reminded of this when I read a passage in Bill Buford's excellent Heat:

Why don't more people use pasta water at home? Sometimes I thought it should he bottled, because there is no way that your home water could ever achieve the starchy viscosity of a restaurant’s. Ir would be cheap—being liquidy leftovers—and the jar should he very large, probably darkly tinted, like a vine bottle, because there would he no reward in looking too closely at what was floating inside.

The thought also made me curious about the moment in the history of American cooking when efficiency won out over taste and, instead of using a pair of tongs and pulling the spaghetti straight out of the pot, people started using a colander (an evil instrument) and letting all that dense, murky rich “water” rush down the drain. The practice is described in the original, 1931 edition of The Joy of Cooking, in its “Rules for Boiling Spaghetti, Macaroni, Creamettes and Noodles,” along with the even more alarming one of taking your colander full of spaghetti (rather mushy, since you've boiled it for an hour) or macaroni (easy to che after being boiled For twenty minutes) or creamettes (no longer a supermarket item, alas, but once the essential ingredient ¡n a baked creamette loaf) and rinsing it in cold water—oh, heresy of heresies—just to make sure nothing ¡s clinging to it.

I think about this often - the expert not only does the obvious (wash the window, mix the chemicals), but all the little pieces in-between that make what is ordinary, extraordinary.

 

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/587243 2013-07-05T19:25:48Z 2013-10-08T17:27:01Z 99.9% Food Commentary on the Web = Grievously Simple-Minded

Holy crap, my head almost literally exploded the other day. Yes, LITERALLY. The world turned red and I had a throbbing in my skull about half way through this article: "How Pepperidge Farm Duped My Family". I know this is probably a bit of hyperbole, but Vani (aka the Food Babe, way to lean forward!), should be arrested for committing outright fraud - either because she is hopelessly naive or maliciously forwarding an agenda based on insanity. There is no middle ground; she could not actively believe what she claims in that article without either doing ZERO (LITERALLY ZERO) scientific research or having with some alternate plan. I mean, who else would highlight that "sugar" is a potentially harmful or unexpected ingredient in a COOKIE. That's a hell of a research job there, Vani.

It was almost enough to make me comment in their comment section. "Someone on the Internet is Wrong!"

I came upon someone else who actually took to their blog to respond to the absurd Buzzfeed article about unhealthy things in food. Let me get out of their way:

The author of the BuzzFeed article knows painfully little about chemistry and biology. But that apparently wasn't a barrier: righteous conviction (and the worldview mentioned in the above three paragraphs) are enough, right? Wrong. Ten minutes of unbiased reading would have served to poke holes all through most of the article's main points. I've spent more than ten minutes (as you can probably tell), and there's hardly one stone left standing on another. As a scientist, I find sloppiness at this level not only stupid, not only time-wasting, but downright offensive. Couldn't anyone bebothered to look anything up? There are facts in this world, you know. Learn a few.

WELL SAID.


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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/586934 2013-07-03T16:46:49Z 2013-10-08T17:26:57Z NSA Redux: Kyllo vs. United States Supreme Court Decision Will Decide This All

A TERRIFIC news story with a German Politician detailing what T-mobile was able to learn from his phone presence ALONE:

They knew everything - where he was, who he was talking to, when he was actively engaged in something, or where he was on vacation. Turning off the phone before the meeting wouldn't even matter - because they had the trace right up to the point he turned it off!

Whether or not this makes us safer is another question, but it does not seem to me to be remotely illegal (e.g. a cop has a right to sit outside a coffee shop and write down everyone who enters and leaves over the course of a day, in public view). If we want to change THAT law, then fine, let's do that. But stop belly-aching about "illegal activity".

I will say I heard one compelling argument the other day:


Much like Kyllo vs. United States, if "the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion" - in this case technology to explore private companies' databases and networks - then they've broken the law. But I do not think they've gotten anywhere near to that.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/584802 2013-06-18T23:47:08Z 2013-10-08T17:26:33Z Why The NSA Isn't Listening To Your Calls

People are wrong about the NSA. I promise you, they do not listen to your calls en masse. My proof? Let me pull up this quote:

“We didn’t care what they were saying,” he says. “What we cared about was who was saying it, and where they were saying it from. Nobody was interested in listening to people’s conversations.”

There you go. What was that from? Donald Cooper of the ASA. Haven't heard of it? Probably because it's from East Germany in 1958.

Even some 50+ years ago, intelligence folks did not need to listen to calls, it's just expensive (manpower & techwise) and does not provide any more information than just listening to the meta-data.

Would you like a more recent example? How about the AOL Data Leak? AOL released anonymized information about search queries to researchers and it leaked out. Now, it had no information about the users, but researchers QUICKLY discovered people and what they were interested in - real people, not their pseudonyms or accounts. 

Why would you waste time and money when all the information is there already? The fact is the NSA isn't not listening BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE TO. 
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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/584171 2013-06-14T21:49:14Z 2015-04-16T11:35:14Z Getting Out of Your Head (and iOS 7)

There's a wonderful study (covered in the excellent Made to Stick ) which asks people to tap out a song using a pen on a desk but with no other music. People think that they do a perfect job but the people across the desk have NO idea what they are doing. Ultimately, this comes from the tapper having the song running in their head at the same time they're tapping, and being ineffective at communicating that with just the beat.

On reading this INCREDIBLY harsh commentary of iOS 7, I realize this what the most recent design of the product suffers from. Look at this comparison of the icons:

These icons are NOT GOOD. Well, let me correct that. They're not good ON THEIR OWN. In comparison, or as a riff, on the original icons, they're not bad. Kind of a study on a nice original work. But that's not what you have - you have icons that need to stand on your own - and these just don't. Advice for all product people - be aware of your context and make sure your work can stand solo!

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/584030 2013-06-13T23:50:15Z 2013-10-08T17:26:24Z Genuine Reality TV

Every year I watch the NHL playoffs and think, "I love sports, why don't I watch more of this?" I was EXTREMELY pleased to see they had their best opening night numbers in 16 years:

Almost simultaneously, I saw this OUTSTANDING video overlaying the great new Daft Punk album (Random Access Memories) with a Soul Train video from the late 70s:

First, marvel in the dance. And the music. But mostly the dance.

Second, this is just reality television today minus about 40 years. These folks loved to have an audience to watch them do their thing, and we loved it (and love it today!) 

But, third, I reflected on both the dancing and the NHL playoffs and I realized what I loved about both vs. a lot of what I see today on reality TV (I'm looking at you, Real Housewives of *). It's actual skill + actual emotion = SOMETHING. This is different than: audience + insane people = NOTHING. I'm as into trashy stuff as the next guy, but you have to do two things in order for me to love watching you:

  1. Be good at something
  2. Love doing that something

You cannot do that, you have lost me as a viewer. Now pardon me, there's a Top Chef marathon on.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/583759 2013-06-12T01:25:31Z 2013-10-08T17:26:19Z The NSA and Line Drawing

That NSA story is sticking around far longer than I would have thought - cross a threshold of atmospheric pollution unseen in 100,000 years (Source: Scripps Institute)  and it barely even warrants a mention, but if you record the fact that I called my mistress in Peoria, IL at 2:16 am on March 23, you're gonna pay!

The best article I have read on the subject is the piece in the Atlantic today: "Why Should We Even Care If the Government Is Collecting Our Data?" The power imbalance does "feel" like the biggest issue here - not that they're going to break down my door at any moment but the fact that I have to cede my privacy to a hidden organization presided over by a hidden court and congressional oversight behind closed doors.

As a former government employee, I could not be LESS concerned about this. The government is made up of a bunch of people who generally work their 40 hour a week jobs and are terrified of being the ones hung out to dry in a screw up. Nothing would make a government worker more terrified than being the guy identified as the culprit in some malfeasance - they all just want to do their job and, almost universally, in the public interest. If there is one group I do trust my information with, it is these guys.

On the other hand, if there is one group I do not trust my information with, it is the people I necessarily have to engage with in order to have the service in the first place - the telecommunications industry. These folks are constantly terrified of becoming dumb pipes and so need to leverage every bit of my information in order to make a nickel. Sell the fact that I called Japan three times in the last month to JAL so they can send me special discounts in the mail? That probably happens ten times a day, and twenty on Friday. 

Yet here is where we have completely ignored the ridiculousness of our current concerns. You know who ALREADY has 100% of our data? Corporations. I get every call I made every month on my phone bill. They can do data mining up the wazoo. Hell, they don't even NEED to hand the information over to the government - the NSA could just set up a Web service and say, "Hey Verizon, anyone call 212-555-1212 in the past three months? Who else did they call?" and Verizon could hand it over in twenty seconds - TODAY. If we're drawing lines, I'm not sure why the fact that the NSA has the data is the one we are drawing. 

I have a personal opinion and that is that I do trust congress and the FISA courts to be as right as reasonably possible (call it 1 out of 100 were done on completely innocent people). This is probably as good as regular warrants - if I have a greenhouse in the backyard that pulls 100x as much energy as my neighbor and no income because I am independently wealthy, I don't think that a judge would be in the wrong for issuing a warrant of probable cause that I could be growing marijuana. 

I believe the only thing we could do to make this better is just have more judges and more oversight, not stop the activity altogether or make it 100% transparent. Ultimately, the only way to have this work is to have institutions and people that we trust with checks and balances all the way down.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/583565 2013-06-10T21:59:29Z 2013-10-08T17:26:16Z A Lot to Love And Hate in iOS 7

The fact is that iOS 7 is looks great - it feels far more unified and smart than an Apple product has looked or felt in ages. Some examples:

  • Exactly right auto-organization of photos
  • Reader auto paging between reading list - I will DEFINITELY be using this (to the detriment of MANY publishers)
  • Single page of common tools available from every page
  • Lots more little things - I don't even need to detail it here.

There are a few giant problems that I see:

  • Still a bias to form over function. I believe useful can be beautiful, but there is a line, and Apple seems to cross over a lot more than they should. The demo with the Weather is a perfect example - they LOVED having those clouds moving behind the text ("Awesome, it's a cloudy day!"), but now you have words that are half unreadable. Translucency is not done well either - Just look at this, almost entirely unreadable.

  • A complete lock down - still. I love the fact that maps on the computer is tied to maps on the phone, that's a great and integrated feature. But I don't use maps on my phone, I use Waze. And because there are no hooks to allow me to tie in other apps, I'm stuck. Same deal with dialing (Google Voice) or email or messaging, etc. I understand that Apple's not going to make THEIR services available on other devices, but let us use other services on YOUR devices, Apple.
  • The innovation gap - Apple did not innovate on a single software tool, as near as I could see. The auto-organization of photos I compliment above has been in every photo gallery since 2009. Swiping tabs is available in Chrome. Editing full office documents is available in Skydrive (and is useful beyond a Mac). I saw lots of very nice copying and decent integration across platforms, but are we done innovating in software? Hardly.
  • iTunes Radio - are you kidding? Why'd they put even a single engineer on this? There are tons of other platforms out there and now, having to split their focus between downloaded music and streamed, I will be quite surprised if anything comes of this (Note: The previous sentence is available for clam chowder).

Phil Shiller said that nice quote on stage "Can't innovate any more, my ass!", and the funny part is, he's right. IN HARDWARE. That's ultimately why I think these WWDCs have gotten less and less interesting over the years; by and large they are software conferences and that is just not what Apple does that well.

Wake me when they have a new piece of hardware to roll out.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/583419 2013-06-10T03:00:51Z 2013-10-08T17:26:15Z The Question is not IF the NSA Data Mining, but is it LEGAL (HINT: It Is!)

Of all the NSA Data Mining info I've seen recently, the Snowden revelations seem to be the most interesting today. A snippet:

“I had full access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world,” he told the Guardian. In a video posted on the website, Snowden claimed that “Any analyst at any time can target anyone … I, sitting at my desk, certainly have the authorities to wiretap anyone — from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.”

Source: http://swampland.time.com/2013/06/09/four-things-to-know-about-surveillance-leaker-edward-snowden/#ixzz2VmGWElxP

The most important question here is not IF he could do this, but was it LEGAL. For examples, the cops could break into my house while I am away, put mics all over the place and record everything, but that would not make it legal (a neighbor could do the exact same thing, and it would be just as illegal).

If congress was briefed, and the FISA courts were briefed, there does not seem to be anything wrong here - we elected these people and let them create this security kabuki theatre, are we really surprised that it has gone this far? My only problem is that this activity - which I believe actually WILL help reduce threats - is being killed while idiotic stuff - such as the TSA and does NOT help us significantly be more secure - is still kept around.

The biggest issue here is that we just have not drawn the right analogues to the non-digital world. Can a cop camp out in front of my house and watch all the people that go in and out? Yes. Can they do it via a camera they have set up on the corner? Yes. Could one person with access to all the cameras in America record everything and then go back and look at the recordings? Yes - the Boston bombing showed that was correct. So why is the fact that two people called each other (not the content of the calls, but the fact that they spoke) not up for recording?

I'm not ecstatic, but of all the things our government does, this isn't even on the top 10 that I'd kill on day one.
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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/533062 2012-08-07T04:52:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:21Z A Microcosm of Our Dickish Society

While traveling across the 520 bridge in Seattle this past weekend, we had the displeasure to get stuck in traffic as they raised the midspan. Here's what the traffic jam looked like...

In one direction:

And the other:

Fantastic. Remember the other direction had the same backup... for 30 minutes.

And what was all this wait for? One fucking sailboat, with a 45+ foot tall mast (I was too far back to take a picture).

I honestly don't care if this was a 1-percenter or an 80-percenter, the thought of one person causing (what I would assume) was at least 1000 people to wait around for a half hour is RIDICULOUS. How does that make any sense in a society? And the government supports it! Why not force all non-commercial boats to make the transition between 9 pm and 6 am? It's just common courtesy people.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/533071 2012-05-21T16:46:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:21Z Outbound Marketing 101

In running Hark, I've learned a ton about being a Web publisher, some day, if I have the time, I'll write a book, or series of blog posts, or at least a tweet or two, summing it all up and making it slightly easier for the next folks.

But one of the most illuminating thing is how bad everyone else is at seemingly simple things. Today's example comes from an ad network who wants to advertise against our site - they reached out to say how much they loved us, and wanted access to our audience. Great! Now they turn around and as what our traffic is to a whole litany of countries. This is visible in any number of tools, and you need to get it from me? Plus, what do you care? It's all ad networks, you could just throw up the tags and tune (or passback) as much as you want.

My outbound marketing 101 is when you fail to do even basic research about the person you're trying to get something from, your chance of success drops enormously. The LEAST you can do is look up the simple stuff saving every one time in the process.

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David Aronchick
tag:ironyuppie.com,2013:Post/533081 2012-05-09T19:06:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:22Z You May Just Get What You Wish For, Economy Edition

Simple data analysis (my favorite kind!) in The Atlantic:

Basically, this says that if the US dropped Missouri, Tennessee and Kansas from the union, and kept everything else the same, we would have INSTANTLY balanced the budget, saved healthcare, etc etc etc. I'm not for doing this in any way, but why again are they so against government spending?

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David Aronchick