Thursday, November 22

Kidneys for sale?

Kidney Shortage Inspires A Radical Idea: Organ Sales (Wall Street Journal)
Flesh Trade (New York Times Magazine)

Two great articles about the lack of kidneys available for transplant in the U.S., and the potential solution of a regulated organ market. While I haven't completely made up my mind about organ markets, I am definitely a big fan of two other ideas: paired exchange (graphical explanation), and changing to an opt-out system of organ donation.

One of the main arguments against a market for organs is that the poor might feel unduly pressured into selling a kidney. Stephen J. Dubner argues the opposite, that the poor would actually benefit the most from a kidney market.

A costly war

What Does Iraq Cost? Even More Than You Think. (Washington Post)

Economics professor and blogger Tyler Cowen argues that besides the actual monetary cost of the Iraq war, there are also huge opportunity costs we face that will have even greater effects on the future of our country.

Six million surnames

In U.S. Name Count, Garcias Are Catching Up With Joneses (New York Times)

The article focuses on the recent entry of two Hispanic surnames into the top ten list of surnames in the U.S., but my family spent much more time discussing and debating this paragraph:

"Altogether, the census found six million surnames in the United States. Among those, 151,000 were shared by a hundred or more Americans. Four million were held by only one person."

Two-thirds of the surnames in the U.S. are held by only one person? How could that be? These are the best reasons we could come up with:
  1. Young immigrants who recently entered the country and are not yet married, many of whom could have a unique last name because of the myriad of ways you could translate their surname into English
  2. Married women who change their legal name to include a hyphen
  3. Others who change their surnames to be unique
  4. Uncommon variations of otherwise common names
  5. Data input errors by the Census Bureau
What do you think?

Western Union

Western Union Empire Moves Migrant Cash Home (New York Times)

This is fascinating stuff -- from the size and scope of their operation, to their creative marketing tactics, to their focus on promoting illegal immigration as way to maintain a customer base.

Earlier: Illegal immigration

Wednesday, November 21

Food for thought

You Call That Health Food? (Men's Health)

It can be hard to walk through a grocery store and actually understand what is good for you. Setting aside misleading food marketing, you've got a media that picks up on every new food-related scientific study and reports it as fact, and you've got a community of scientists and nutritionists that can't even agree on what type of fat you need or what the latest additive (aspartame, olestra, etc.) will do to your body.

Author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) offers the following nugget of wisdom, as a way to cut through all of the confusion: If your grandmother wouldn't recognize what you're eating, it's probably not good for you.

The laptop of the future?

Amazon's Breakthrough E-book (BusinessWeek)

Every e-book reader released to date has failed, and this reader (manufactured by may very well follow that trend. However, I'm convinced that something similar to this will eventually prove to be the "killer" convergence device -- one that causes you to abandon a number of other devices. Its size and weight, its seamless integration with the Internet via the cell phone data network, and its non-eyestrain-inducing screen ("electronic paper") are key features of what should eventually replace the laptop computer.

Learn more about the "Kindle wireless reading device" on Amazon's product page, or in this detailed review from Computerworld that calls the Kindle "revolutionary."

Saturday, November 10

The "all-volunteer" military?

I Want You ... Badly (Slate Magazine)

What does it say about the future of the American military, if it takes a ridiculous incentive package and a relaxing of standards to meet our present-day needs?

Something's gotta give.

Friday, November 9

Game theory

How to Win at Monopoly - a Surefire Strategy (

Perhaps you think that using the results of a statistical analysis to inform how you play a game is cheating, takes too much work, or violates the spirit of what a "game" is supposed to be -- but I just think this is fascinating stuff. (Oh those Railroads... I knew it all along!)

The end of capital punishment?

The machinery of death (Economist)

The U.S. Supreme Court has essentially imposed a national moratorium on the death penalty, resting on the question of whether the most common method of execution -- lethal injection -- is "cruel and unusual punishment." The Economist speculates that even if the Supreme Court bans the particular combination of drugs that is currently used, states will simply come up with other drug combinations. This sarcastic (but quite effective) commentary from Wired Magazine disagrees.

It has always seemed strange to me that the question of whether state-sponsored execution is legal rests upon whether the person being executed is in pain right before death. But such is our legal system, for better or worse, sidestepping the larger moral questions to address only the precise details.

Sunday, November 4

Image manipulation

Image resize (YouTube, 4:27)

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of manipulating digital images, in which software tools are used to adjust images in any number of ways. This is a short video demonstrating some cutting edge research into "seam carving," a new software technique that goes beyond basic image editing and fundamentally alters the content of images. Watch this video, and you will never again fully trust any digital image. This is amazing stuff, just as much for its sophistication as for its simplicity.

On a similar note, Dove created a campaign about a year ago centered around a video called "evolution" (YouTube, 1:14) that was designed to demonstrate how "our perception of beauty is distorted" by the (highly manipulated) images we see on billboards and in magazines. It's a worthwhile watch, as is this fantastic parody (YouTube, 1:16).