Herb Susmann (About)

Tobacco Industry Concessions that Weren't Concessions

The Cigarette Century by Allan M. Brandt

Last year I read The Cigarette Century by Allan M. Brandt, a history of the tobacco industry and a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. One of the points that has stuck with me is how regulations that were intended to curtail the tobacco industry ended up benefiting them.

In what appeard to be a blow to the tobacco industry, the arvertising of tobacco products on the radio and television was banned by the FCC in 1969. In 1967, a lawyer named John F. Banzhaf III successfully petitioned the FCC under the fairness doctrine to force radio and television to play anti-tobacco public service announcements if they played tobacco company ads. When the tobacco ads went off the air, so did the public service announcements. This was to the benefit of the tobacco industry who desperately wanted to suppress anti-tobacco information. Furthermore, the ban on advertising saved money being spent on expensive ad campaigns (the industry spent $230 million on television advertising in 1970 alone.)

In 1972, the FTC was finally able to require warning labels on tobacco products. Again, this perceived concession to the tobacco industry provided them with alternative benefits. Now the tobacco companies could argue that smokers were clearly warned of the health risks of smoking, and that they made an informed decision to start smoking despite the risks. Because these risks were accepted, the companies argued, they should not be liable for resulting health issues.

The tobacco companies negotiated regulations that, while appearing to be concessions, offered them benefits. That they were successful shows their savviness and the difficulty regulators have in reigning in companies that are determined to preserve their business model, and the profits that go along with it.

Performant R

I was fortunate enough to be able to present at UP-Stat 2014 on some of the things I’ve learned about writing performant R code while I was working on speeding up an R package for fitting mixed effects nested models. The talk seemed to be a big hit - I was awarded “Best Student Presentation”!

Raytracing in Bash

Last semester I took an introductory course in raytracing.

We practiced an iterative development cycle in which we built up more and more complex ray tracers over the course of the semester. The very first ray tracer was pretty simple: it had to be able to intersect rays with simple geometric objects and display the results, but there didn’t have to be any lighting calculations or anything yet.

Once I figured out the assignment in OCaml, I decided to give it a shot entirely in Bash!

(Well, not ENTIRELY in Bash. I will admit I shelled out to bc for floating point operations. A friend pointed out you could do floating point in Bash by having seperate variables for the integer and decimal components, but that’ll have to wait for version two)

It prints out the raytraced image directly to the console using special unicode characters and coloring through escape codes. Here’s what the result looks like:

Bash ray tracer output

Not exactly pretty, but it works! (if only there was a way to change the line spacing in gnome-terminal).

The script is available as a gist: raytracer.sh