Categories
Economics History Politics Society

Fama, Xi, Skepticism, Long-live, Mystery

Every day we hear a story about the movement of stock prices. But the story is different each day. So basically, these stories are made up after the fact. But when we look at it systematically, we don’t see a big effect of Fed actions on real activity or on stock prices or on anything else. That’s why I use to say that the business of central banks is like pornography: In essence, it’s just entertainment and it doesn’t have any real effects.

https://themarket.ch/english/inflation-is-totally-out-of-the-control-of-central-banks-ld.2476

It is unusual that Xi “does not perceive his power to be completely consolidated, even eight years in,” said Sheena Greitens, a professor of public affairs who studies Chinese approaches to security at the University of Texas at Austin. Xi may be launching this campaign to prepare for 2022, when he will transition into an unprecedented third term, she said.

But a political system prone to crackdowns can turn suspicious and brittle, with everyone afraid to point out problems or admit mistakes. It is what allowed the initial cover-up of a virus spreading in Wuhan last winter, at the cost of thousands of civilian deaths. When things go wrong, however, Xi has used a classic technique: punishing local officials while keeping the emperor free of blame.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-10-22/china-xi-jinping-mao-zedong-communist-party

Unfortunately, if you want to do new things, you’ll face a force more powerful than other people’s skepticism: your own skepticism. You too will judge your early work too harshly. How do you avoid that?

This is a difficult problem, because you don’t want to completely eliminate your horror of making something lame. That’s what steers you toward doing good work. You just want to turn it off temporarily, the way a painkiller temporarily turns off pain.

http://www.paulgraham.com/early.html

Institutions can be mapped across the pace layers diagram as well. Take Apple Computer, for example. They’re coming out with new iPhones every six months, which is the fashion layer. The commerce layer is Apple selling these devices. The infrastructure layer is the cell phone networks and chip fabs that it’s all built on. The governance layer—and note that it is governance, not government; they’re mostly working with governments, but they also have to work with general governing systems. Some of these companies are hitting walls against different types of governments who have different ideas of privacy, different ideas of commercialization, and they’re now having to shape their companies around that. And then obviously, culture is moving slower underneath all of this, but Apple is starting to affect culture. And then there’s the last pace layer, nature, moving the slowest. At some point, Apple is going to have to come to terms with the level of environmental damage and problems that are happening on the nature pace layer if it is going to be a company that lasts for hundreds or a thousand years. So we could imagine any large institution mapped across this and I think it’s a useful tool for that. 

The notion of weaponizing microwaves dates back to the Cold War, when, in 1961, an American biologist named Allan Frey discovered that irradiating a human head with microwaves could produce the sensation of sound—even in deaf ears, even from thousands of feet away. Playing with the frequency and intensity of the microwave beam could produce a range of different sensations in a person. In 2018, Frey told the New York Times that the Soviets took immediate notice of his work and flew him to Moscow, where they squired him around secret military facilities and asked him to give lectures about the effects of microwaves on the brain.

https://www.gq.com/story/cia-investigation-and-russian-microwave-attacks

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Simple equation creating complex behaviors and the Feigenbaum constant

Making the New York Subway map

Why hasn’t space tourism taken off by Richard Branson

A Dog’s world-view by cognitive scientist and dog devotee Alexandra Horowitz

https://overcast.fm/+WaLHgXLug

An absolute pitch by Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin and musician Jacob Collier

https://overcast.fm/+HhSexJo-0

Categories
Economics Geopolitics History Science Society

Predictions, Creativity, Noses, Alaska, Pill

There is a better way, one that would allow the United States to make decisions based not on simplistic extrapolations of the past but on smart estimates of the future. It involves reconciling two approaches often seen to be at philosophical loggerheads: scenario planning and probabilistic forecasting. Each approach has a fundamentally different assumption about the future. Scenario planners maintain that there are so many possible futures that one can imagine them only in terms of plausibility, not probability. By contrast, forecasters believe it is possible to calculate the odds of possible outcomes, thereby transforming amorphous uncertainty into quantifiable risk. Because each method has its strengths, the optimal approach is to combine them. This holistic method would provide policymakers with both a range of conceivable futures and regular updates as to which one is likely to emerge. For once, they could make shrewd bets about tomorrow, today.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-10-13/better-crystal-ball

The atomic bomb marked the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. The creativity of Manhattan Project scientists and engineers has been abundantly celebrated by later commentators, not so much in the immediate aftermath: the word ‘creativity’ doesn’t appear in the official Smyth Report (1945) on the Project. And the only invocation of the notion of genius is deflationary and morally exculpatory: ‘This weapon has been created not by the devilish inspiration of some warped genius but by the arduous labour of thousands of normal men and women.’ But the new atomic world was just the institutional and cultural environment in which creativity emerged, flourished and was variously interpreted.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-did-creativity-become-an-engine-of-economic-growth

Ancient Egyptians were an African people who created a distinctive, stable, and long-lasting civilization in the Nile Valley by at least 4400 BCE. They believed that images — objects representing the human form, rendered in stone, metal, wood, clay, or even wax—could be activated to host a supernatural power. This power could be either divine or the soul of a deceased human who had become divine at death. The occupied image was a meeting point between the supernatural and the terrestrial. It was also a physical body enabling such powers to act in our material world. Without an image, supernatural forces could not intervene in events on earth.

When the hapless JFK is assassinated in 1963, it seems that America may be on the losing side of history. The USSR has put a man in space, extended its influence in Latin America and it also has a large nuclear arsenal in the American SSR. The explosion of the Apollo 11 rocket on the launchpad in 1969, killing everyone on board, set against a background of civil unrest and the disastrous war in Vietnam, becomes a bitterly potent symbol of a nation that has lost its way. A year later Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, becomes the first man to walk on the moon.

Advocates of psilocybin-assisted therapy tout it as the solution to the burgeoning mental health crisis. But, like MDMA, psilocybin is far from a culturally neutral drug, carrying both the shame of Schedule 1 status and a checkered social history. It too may need to build the kind of politically heterogeneous coalition of supporters that MDMA-assisted therapy enjoys.

But to generate a breadth of appeal, one challenge stands out: psilocybin seems to make people more liberal. Scientific reports associating psychedelic use and liberal values stretch back as far as 1971, and although these findings have been replicated more recently, a noncausal explanation is readily available. Those with conservative attitudes tend to look more disapprovingly on illicit drug use, making them less likely than liberals to try a psychedelic drug in the first place.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-if-a-pill-can-change-your-politics-or-religious-beliefs/

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Story of blood transporter in Nigeria

Inventing a mechanical basketball hoop – an ingenious work of engineering creativity

Morgan Freeman narrates a mini-doc about the ocean’s newest species: plastic

Sound designer Al Nelson and paleontologist Julia Clarke talk about how the cries of dinosaurs were created for the Jurassic Park films

https://overcast.fm/+HhSdPhwEk

An interesting discussion on Life and works of Alan Turing.

https://overcast.fm/+IPNyeaXDQ

Four hundred years ago Galileo Galilei’s scientific findings were rejected because they didn’t fit the prevailing beliefs of the time. His story is disturbingly relevant today. Astrophysicist and author Mario Livio talks about its relevance.

Categories
Economics Environment Science

Defense, Tongue, Vending machines, Chick, Fear

An injured plant also produces traumatic acid, known as the “wound hormone,” which stimulates cell division to close up a laceration in much the same way that blood clots in an animal’s wound. These responses happen within minutes of attack: Plants begin patching themselves up while still fighting off invaders. A plant must therefore constantly decide how to divide its resources between defense and regeneration.

http://nautil.us/issue/90/something-green/when-plants-go-to-war-rp

Cats do have a highly developed sense of savory taste—dubbed umami in Japanese (delicious savory taste)—and this makes sense because they are consuming protein all the time. What would it be like to eat meat with a cat’s tongue? It’s impossible for science to say for certain, but one can imagine for a sensory system specifically tuned to taste savory flesh, it must be delicious.

On the other hand, you would never want to eat a salad with a cow’s tongue because cows eat grass all day—something they would never be able to do if they were actually able to taste it the way we do. Unlike humans, with our dozens of bitter receptors, cows are highly insensitive to bitter foods. They still detect it, but apparently not so well.

https://neo.life/2020/10/taste-2-0-is-here/

It is estimated that roughly ⅓ of the world’s ~15m vending machines are located in the US.

Of these 5m US-based vending machines, ~2m are currently in operation, collectively bringing in $7.4B in annual revenue for those who own them. This means that the average American adult spends ~$35 per year on vending machine items.

What makes the vending industry truly unique is its stratification: The landscape is composed of thousands of small-time independent operators — and no single entity owns >5% of the market.

The encouraging feature of chicken sexing is that the process, although mysterious, is quickly learned. As a result, knowing what the brain does when it accurately determines the sex of a bird could soon bear on how soldiers distinguish friend from foe in combat, how doctors make accurate diagnoses, how bird watchers identify species on the wing, how scientists interpret seismic data, and even how kids learn to read. Industrial sexers are worth investigating because, as quickly trained experts who have to make split-second decisions, the way they learn to see chicken genitals might one day help clarify how the rest of us learn to see the world.

https://psmag.com/magazine/the-lucrative-art-of-chicken-sexing

Fear is a powerful force not just for wintering dunlins, but across the natural world. Ecologists have long known that predators play a key role in ecosystems, shaping whole communities with the knock-on effects of who eats whom. But a new approach is revealing that it’s not just getting eaten, but also the fear of getting eaten, that shapes everything from individual brains and behaviour to whole ecosystems. This new field, exploring the non-consumptive effects of predators, is known as fear ecology.

https://aeon.co/essays/fear-of-being-eaten-shapes-brains-behaviour-and-ecosystems

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A beautiful time-lapse video of a sailing trip from Rotterdam to Amsterdam.

8 years of time lapse video on buildings in Singapore

New advances in cell and gene therapies that offer the potential to transform medicine.

What it means to be alive? – A conversation with Nobel Prize winning scientist Paul Nurse.

https://lnns.co/bROtSCA28Kh

New York during and after pandemic.

https://overcast.fm/+WaLEeIoEw

Categories
Economics History Science Society

Airlines, Weight, Vaccination, Ecology, Iceland, Babylon

But the true leaps in efficiency were achieved by new craft, which airlines began to request from manufacturers in the early 00s. The Boeing 787, for example, claims to burn 20% less fuel than its older sibling, the 767. Van Hooff recalled how, when KLM inducted its first 787 into its fleet in 2015, a pilot accustomed to the 747 was appointed to fly it to Dubai. “The 747 is beautiful, but it burns around 11,000 kilos of fuel per hour on a trip like this, so he was used to seeing around 100,000 kilos on his storage gauge when he got into the cockpit,” Van Hooff said. “This time, he saw 50,000. He put in a call to dispatch to ask: ‘Are you really sure this is enough?’ Of course, he knew it was. But he couldn’t get past his gut feeling that he needed more fuel.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/29/inside-the-airline-industry-meltdown-coronavirus-pandemic

The reason we gain or lose weight is much less mysterious if we keep track of all the kilograms, too, not just those enigmatic kilojoules or calories.

According to the latest government figures, Australians consume 3.5kg of food and beverages every day. Of that, 415 grams is solid macronutrients, 23 grams is fibre and the remaining 3kg is water.

What’s not reported is that we inhale more than 600 grams worth of oxygen, too, and this figure is equally important for your waistline.

https://theconversation.com/when-we-lose-weight-where-does-it-go-91594

A vaccine is, in essence, a trick—a sleight of hand that convinces your body to mount a counterattack to a given pathogen before that pathogen actually infects you. There are various ways to pull the trick off: vaccines can be made with a weakened virus, or a killed virus, or just a key part of the virus, or a part of the virus piggybacking on a different, benign virus, or an instruction manual for making that part of the virus yourself. In each approach, you get the benefits of an immune response without the messy business of a disease.

Advances in the study of plant silica micro-fossils (phytoliths) have helped trace banana cultivation from the Island of New Guinea more than 7,000 years ago – from where it spread through Island Southeast Asia, and eventually across the Indian Ocean to Africa, more than a millennium before Vasco da Gama navigated from Africa to India. These techniques have also revealed unforeseen agricultural origins – such as the forgotten cereal, browntop millet. It was the first staple crop of South India, before it was largely replaced by crops such as sorghum that were translocated from Africa. Many people might be surprised to learn that the early farming tradition in the Mississippi basin relied on pitseed goosefoot, erect knotweed and marsh elder some 3,000-4,000 years ago, long before maize agriculture arrived in the American Midwest.

https://aeon.co/essays/revolutionary-archaeology-reveals-the-deepest-possible-anthropocene

Why Iceland?  Because it was founded in the late-9th century by Vikings, and when they arrived the island was uninhabited except for possibly a handful of monks who did not stay.  This means it has been populated almost entirely by its original Norse inhabitants and their descendants. Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson acknowledged to me that this set up the conditions for the creation of a unique society because, compared to a country like the U.S., Iceland has had the benefit of developing free from the guilt of having displaced native inhabitants to do so. As a result, almost 100% of Icelanders today can trace their genes to their Viking founders. This is unusual in the western world and has given Iceland the distinction of having one of the most homogenous gene pools in the world.

We can trace the Seven Wonders back to Herodotus, an Athenian scholar who set out circa 450 BC to write a history of the then-recently concluded Greco-Persian Wars; such, that is, was his ostensible purpose. But Herodotus was, bless his heart, a curious sort, and as he traveled all over the ancient world in the course of his research he just couldn’t resist writing down all of the interesting things he saw and heard about. Thus, in addition to being a massively important historical text, the only source we have describing countless pivotal events, Herodotus’s Histories can also be seen as the world’s first travel memoir. We know that he distilled from his longer work a list of Wonders of the World, presumably the first ever of its kind, but it exists today only as a passing reference in other works; the last extant copies of it were likely burned along with the Library of Alexandria during the early centuries after Christ. His bucket list would, needless to say, make for fascinating reading today.

https://analog-antiquarian.net/2020/09/25/chapter-1-the-ancients-bucket-list/

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Interesting video on socially awkward situations.

A millimetre makes a world of difference when calculating planetary trajectories

How COVID in US blew up

A brief history of mathematics

https://lnns.co/61SAaKDoUqO

How “Not” to Start a Sentence

https://overcast.fm/+gW90VPMi8

Categories
History Science Society Technology

Venus, Nero, Ice, Distribution, Vikings

The idea of detecting life through an otherwise inexplicable anomaly in a planet’s spectrum dates back to the 1960s, when it was given voice by James Lovelock, a British chemist and inventor. It came into its own when astronomers started discovering planets around other stars, or exoplanets. Most of these planets are in inhospitably unearthlike orbits, but some sit within what astronomers call the “habitable zone”—the zone in which, under various conditions, the surface might support liquid water. Astrobiologists like Sara Seager of MIT started putting real effort into working out what anomalous gases might be visible once they got telescopes good enough to analyse the spectra of such planets’ atmospheres.

A few years ago some of the scientists who work with Dr Seager and in her team started to get interested in phosphine. Though it is not clear how microbes make it, or something which decomposes into it, its association with life is pretty clear (among other things, penguin guano seems rich in the stuff). There seem to be no appreciable mechanisms for making it abiotically either in the depths of the Earth or through the “photochemical” reactions driven by sunlight which create other short-lived gases in the atmosphere. And it has some nice distinct spectral lines which should be eventually observable in the infrared light from some sorts of exoplanet.

https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2020/09/14/scientists-find-possible-signs-of-life-in-the-clouds-of-venus

But what if Nero wasn’t such a monster? What if he didn’t invent the spectator sport of throwing Christians to the lions in the Colosseum? What if he wasn’t the tyrant who murdered upstanding Roman senators and debauched their wives? Indeed, what if the whole lurid rap sheet has been an elaborate set-up, with Nero as history’s patsy? After all, we have no eyewitness testimony from Nero’s reign. Any contemporaneous writings have been lost. The ancient Roman sources we do have date from considerably after Nero’s suicide in A.D. 68. The case against Nero, then, is largely hearsay, amplified and distorted over two millennia in history’s longest game of telephone. Besides, no one really wants to straighten out the record. Who wants another version of Nero? He’s the perfect evil tyrant just the way he is.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/new-nicer-nero-history-roman-emperor-180975776/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+smithsonianmag%2Fhistory-archaeology+%28History+%26+Archaeology+%7C+Smithsonian.com%29

The impact theory is in some senses comforting. We have big telescopes, we can see into space now, in theory, if we knew an impact event was coming, we could prevent it. If it takes an impact to cause a catastrophic melting and sea level rise event, then we’re mostly safe from it happening. If the melting was caused by an impact, then it means our current climate models which estimate around a meter of sea level rise by the year 2100, are largely accurate. 

But if these melting spikes were not caused by an impact, then it means something on earth which we currently do not understand triggered them. Something caused the ice sheets to suddenly and rapidly destabilize and release a large quantity of meltwater over a relatively brief period. If such an event were to occur today, the effects would be globally catastrophic. If an event caused a one-meter sea level rise over the course of a few years, it would render many of the world’s coastal cities uninhabitable. 

In 1803, the [Spanish] king, convinced of the benefits of the vaccine, ordered his personal physician Francis Xavier de Balmis, to deliver it to the Spanish dominions in North and South America. To maintain the vaccine in an available state during the voyage, the physician recruited 22 young boys who had never had cowpox or smallpox before, aged three to nine years, from the orphanages of Spain. During the trip across the Atlantic, de Balmis vaccinated the orphans in a living chain. Two children were vaccinated immediately before departure, and when cowpox pustules had appeared on their arms, material from these lesions was used to vaccinate two more children.

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/09/the-distribution-of-vaccines-in-the-19th-century.html

If the Norse did reach Chichén Itzá, how did they get there? A possible Viking ship appears in a mural in a different building called Las Monjas, or ‘The Nunnery’. (The Spaniards assumed that any building with a large courtyard nearby had to be a nunnery, but the Maya had no nunneries.) Built before 950 CE, the Nunnery contains murals that might have been painted slightly later.

One Nunnery mural shows no captives but depicts a boat with clearly delineated planks, or strakes. The use of planks indicates that the Nunnery boat couldn’t have been a local craft because the Maya, like most of the peoples living in the Americas, made their canoes by burning and hollowing out tree trunks. Only one Amerindian people ever made boats with sewn planks, the Chumash, who lived in modern-day Santa Barbara, California. The sharply outlined strakes in this mural are better evidence of Norse presence at Chichén Itzá than the paintings of the blond-haired captives.

https://aeon.co/essays/did-indigenous-americans-and-vikings-trade-in-the-year-1000

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Impact of loneliness on human brains – a case study on quarantine and isolated living during COVID.

The attention economy – How to keep freedom of attention in the times of digital distraction

This is an Indonesian miner’s story of hard work, courage, and suffering all in the name of family.

PULSE – A new image upsampling algorithm

How to survive in conflict zone economies? Terrifying report on protection money model.

https://overcast.fm/+WaLFyIi9c

FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss advises how to be more assertive

https://overcast.fm/+SwsfejX4o

Categories
Economics Ethics Law Science

Breath, Murder, Edison, Island, Forecasting

‘The intimate relation made the students very concerned about the wellbeing of their patients,’ Kirk wrote. First-year medical students usually encountered patients only through textbooks and lectures. Now, they had their first human patients – and each student, alone, kept their patient alive. ‘They were exhilarated at every positive sign but were also very sad when things went downhill.’

Many of the medical students burned out and quit. ‘At worst,’ Kirk writes, ‘the patients died during the night.’ In the dark, a student couldn’t tell that their patient had died: as Vesalius had shown, a corpse’s lungs still fill and empty. The student sat beside the patient all night, compelling their inhales, breathing air mixed with their exhales – sharing air, life, in such proximity – yet the patient could slip, unseen, into death. The sun rose, light spilled into the quiet hospital room, and the student saw that they had spent unknowable time ventilating a body. The student didn’t have time to mourn the strange loss. There were always more patients who needed air.

https://aeon.co/essays/the-human-story-of-how-ventilators-came-to-breathe-for-us

In 176 BC a strange but revealing murder case came before the Roman praetor, M. Popillius Laenas. A woman, unnamed in the sources, was brought before the court on the charge of murdering her mother by bludgeoning her with a club. The woman happily confessed to the monstrous act of matricide. Her fate, then, seemed sealed when she entered Laenas’ court; but she introduced a defence that was as irrefutable as the wickedness of the killing of a parent. She claimed that the deed had been a crime of grief-fuelled vengeance resulting from the deaths of her own children. They, she said, had been deliberately poisoned by her mother simply to spite her and her own actions were therefore justified. 

https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/how-get-away-murder

Edison patented his innovations, and went on tour making sure to align his name with the invention of the lightbulb as much as possible. Swan and Edison eventually sued each other for patent infringement – and Swan won. So legally, one might argue that Swan invented the commercial lightbulb. Edison’s solution was to partner with Swan, forming a joint company, and then totally buying out Swan several years later. So Edison acquired the patents for the lightbulb from others as much as he earned them himself.

Edison does get credit for popularizing the electric lightbulb, and for connecting this to public electricity generation and distribution. Once he had all the patents, his company continued to iterate and improve the technology. This is also where Biden’s “black man” comes in. He was referring to Lewis Howard Latimer. Latimer received a patent in 1882 for a process for improved production of carbon filaments for lightbulbs. Latimer then went to work for the Edison Electric Light Company. Latimer made a significant contribution to the manufacture of lightbulbs, but he didn’t “invent” the lightbulb by any stretch, and is at best a footnote on this interesting history.

Blowing up my island. You’re a hard-ass. I only get .501 coconuts for 1 banana. I’ve tried walking away, but we both know you will out-wait me. I’ve tried fakings skills, but you won’t bite. Because we are non-violent, I can’t coerce you. But there’s nothing wrong with hurting myself, is there? I build a machine that monitors inter-island commerce. If there is ever a trade that is not 1 coconut for 1 banana, the machine activates a bomb, my island sinks into the ocean forever, and I die. If I try to disable the machine, the bomb activates. When we next meet I say “OK. I can’t out bad-ass you. However, because of this machine, it will forever be against my interests to agree to a non-even trade. There’s no point in you waiting. Even if I did agree to an uneven trade, I’d sink into the ocean, and you’d have to gather your own coconuts!”

Blowing up your island if I threaten to blow up my island. You are smart. You are also a hard-ass. As soon as the bridge appears, you know you can out-wait me to get a good rate. You immediately realize that my only option is to build the island destroying machine described above. Before we meet, you construct a machine that monitors my island for the presence of machines. Your machine is connected to a bomb on your island. If at any point, a bomb-activating machine is constructed on my island, your bomb activates, your island sinks into the ocean, and you die. When we meet, you explain that you’re a hard-ass, and that no island-destroying machines can help me. My best bet is to accept terms that barely improve my situation at all. You win.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/eLRSCC7r4KinuxqZX/comparative-advantage-and-when-to-blow-up-your-island

 The Economist’s “The World in 2020”, published in late 2019, brings together experts from business, politics and science to fill 150 pages with projections for the year ahead.

Editor Daniel Franklin summarised the issue’s predictions on 2020’s economic outlook: 

“Banks, especially in Europe, will battle with negative interest rates. America will flirt with recession—but don’t be surprised if disaster fails to strike, and markets revive.”

 Just over two months later COVID-19 struck, the world went into lockdown and we fell into one of the largest recessions on record.

 Perhaps this critique is unfair. The Economist wasn’t to know that we were on the precipice of a pandemic. So let’s review our success rate during more stable times.

https://www.alexmurrell.co.uk/articles/the-forecasting-fallacy

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Hamming codes – a way to overcome errors in CDs

A beautiful video on the growth of 4 different types of molds.

Some of the best, most beautiful, video microscopy in the world.

Using artificial intelligence, someone can make an algorithm that sounds just like you. And then they can say… whatever they want you to say.

https://lnns.co/Ew3f9PjKsmv

To what extend we don’t know overfishing.

https://lnns.co/cSXLqPjytIO

Categories
Government Politics Science Society

Plato, Volcano,Taiwan, Super-Recognizer,Stuttering

Improving the intellectual and moral quality of people going into government strengthens modern electorates’ faith in its leaders and handing some power from electorates to experts can also strengthen the core of democracy – or as an American academic, Gareth Jones, has put it, 10% less democracy can be better democracy. Giving independence to central banks has kept inflation under control; Sweden’s decision to ask specialists to review the pension system to prevent it from going bankrupt has put the public finances on a sound foundation (not something that can be said of the United States which contemplated a Swedish-style solution but backed out at the last moment). Plato’s most important insights hold true regardless of his strictures about democracy: that government matters immensely – and can make all the difference between a society thriving or going into decline.

The Covid-19 crisis has shocked us by revealing the weakness of Western government, particularly in the United States and Britain, and the strength of the Chinese government. 

https://engelsbergideas.com/essays/leadership-in-crisis-why-the-west-needs-plato-more-than-ever/

Within Mount Vesuvius, a dangerous process is beginning to take place. Because the gassiest magma exits first, as the eruption enters its later phases, less gas is forced through Vesuvius’ vent and its jet loses power. This may sound like a positive development. It is not. Instead of rising miles into the atmosphere, the dense mix of searing hot ash and gas will rise only a few hundred yards and then fall, picking up velocity so that when it reaches the ground, it hugs and flows like a superheated sandstorm moving at autobahn speeds. These “pyroclastic flows” can be 1,800 degrees F, dense enough to suffocate you, and they flow for miles. In the early morning hours of the 25th, a surge will kill everyone remaining in Pompeii. You need to leave long before then.

As to where to go, you have two choices. Mountains block your path to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea blocks your escape to the west. You could try to wait for a boat at the beach, but (a) archaeologists have found a large group of bodies in a boathouse in nearby Herculaneum who appear to have attempted that, (b) the prevailing winds are against you, and (c) tsunamis.

https://www.wired.com/story/how-to-escape-from-erupting-volcano/

In part, the Taiwanese government’s multi-faceted communications strategy reflects an attempt to make up for past mistakes. The government’s mishandling of the SARS epidemic in 2003, which had a lower case count but a higher death rate than COVID-19, severely undermined public trust at the time. Unaware of the highly infectious nature of SARS, one woman’s visit to an emergency room set off a chain of transmission that spiraled out of control. In a desperate attempt to contain the virus, the government sealed off Hoping Hospital, with more than 1,000 people, infected and uninfected, locked inside. The inhumaneness of the approach shocked Taiwanese citizens. Twu Shiing-jer, Taiwan’s Minister of the Department of Health, resigned in the aftermath. 

Post-SARS, Taiwan immediately began planning for the next health crisis. It could not afford to be caught off-guard again—especially since it had been clear during the SARS epidemic that Taiwan would have little to no direct communication with the World Health Organization, because it is not a member. Taiwan is isolated, and on its own. This realization may have proven decisive in its pandemic response, as Taiwan was one of the earliest countries to sound the alarm on COVID-19 and begin monitoring the virus

https://logicmag.io/care/inside-the-paradise-bubble/

There’s a part of the brain called the fusiform, which is in the frontal lobe, I believe. It’s the part of the brain that recognizes faces—everyone has it—but there’s something weird about my one. It’s something you’re born with and something you can’t learn. It’s a scale. There are people called prosopagnosics who can’t recognize faces whatsoever. That’s how it all came to be discovered. People with face blindness don’t recognize their own face in the mirror, or their mums or their dads. It’s a really awful thing. From that far end of the scale, you have people on the other end and those are the super recognizers.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ep487p/how-police-are-using-super-recognizers-like-me-to-track-criminals?utm_source=reddit.com

Maguire has been tackling stuttering from a very different angle: investigating the role of dopamine, a key signaling molecule in the brain. Dopamine can ramp up or down the activity of neurons, depending on the brain location and the nerve receptors it sticks to. There are five different dopamine receptors (named D1, D2, and so on) that pick up the signal and respond.

During the 1990s, Maguire and colleagues were among the first to use a certain kind of brain scan, positron emission tomography, on people who stutter. They found toomuch dopamine activity in these people’s brains. That extra dopamine seems to stifle the activity of some of the brain regions that Chang and others have linked to stuttering.

https://www.knowablemagazine.org/article/mind/2020/new-neuroscience-stuttering

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Uniqueness of lighting in the beautiful paintings of Caravaggio

A touching perspective of the geese that stuck the airplane over the Hudson river

The most viral tweet of all time by a sparrow

Matt Yglesias argues that America could thrive as a billion-person country

https://overcast.fm/+TSJkEAA4k

Strange facts about the Greenland Shark

https://overcast.fm/+SWiW9d6kA

A thoughtful discussion by Michael Sandel, David Goodhart and Elif Shafrak on meritocracy and resulting inequality.

https://overcast.fm/+IPPGhlVAc

Categories
Geopolitics Science Technology

Jellyfish, Labs, Questions, Surveillance, Rice

In the hope of solving this, some naturalists proposed a new grouping. Dubbed ‘protozoa’ or ‘protoctista’, it would consist of all those ‘indeterminate’ or ‘incomplete’ subjects, that seemed to bear no relation to anything else. But no one could agree whether it should be a class, a phylum, or a kingdom – much less what it should contain. 

This left jellyfish in limbo. There were, of course, some who still believed that they were animals. In 1843, Richard Owen (1804-92) gave an exceptionally detailed description of their anatomy and argued forcefully for their inclusion in Animalia. But he struggled to explain why. He had to admit that, at certain stages in their life cycle, they actually looked more like protozoa – and when pushed, had to fall back on the ‘essentialist’ arguments of old. 

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/natural-histories/jellyfish-problem

No one is quite sure why the lab model failed. It’s obvious that a scenario where Xerox is paying scientists to do research that ultimately mostly benefits other firms, potentially even competitors that help to put it out of business, could never survive. Similarly, the tension between managing scientists with their own pure research goals in such a way that they produce something commercially viable, while still leaving them enough latitude to make important leaps, seems huge. But these problems were always there in the model. What is harder to identify is an exogenous shock or set of shocks that changed the situation that existed from the 1930s until somewhere between the 1960s and the 1980s.

One possibility is antitrust enforcement. From 1949 authorities pursued a case against AT&T’s Bell Labs, which ultimately resulted in the forced divestiture of their non-telecoms arms, separation from their vertically integrated manufacturing, and compulsory no-fee licensing of all 7,820 of its non-telecoms patents (1.3% of the total stock of patents in force in the USA at the time). There is evidence that this move rippled across the US economy, providing a foundation for many of the great innovations of the next fifty years. But this would be true of almost any mass patent invalidation: the monopoly restrictions of patents once they are granted are the cost we pay for the investment in innovation that came before.

People frequently ask us what high-impact research in different disciplines might look like. This might be because they’re already working in a field and want to shift their research in a more impactful direction. Or maybe they’re thinking of pursuing an academic research career and they aren’t sure which discipline is right for them.

Below you will find a list of disciplines and a handful of research questions and project ideas for each one.

They are meant to be illustrative, in order to help people who are working or considering working in these disciplines get a sense of what some attempts to approach them from a longtermist perspective might look like. They also represent projects that we think would be useful to pursue from a longtermist perspective.

In 2018, a columnist for The Guardian asked Google to give him all the data it had collected on him. The company turned over 5.5 gigabytes of information—the equivalent of three million Word documents. When I repeated this experiment in March 2020, Google informed me that I was being “tracked across fifty-one products” and that I should be patient while my data were being assembled. “This process can take a long time (possibly hours or days) to complete,” the company wrote. “You’ll receive an email when your export is done.”

Ten hours later, Google emailed to say that my “archive” was complete. When I unzipped the files, they contained 214.47 gigabytes of data, roughly equal to streaming 214 hours of movies on Netflix. As a book printed in 10-point Arial, it would be 13,893,796 pages long. The archive included all my contacts, photos, search history, purchases, call logs, and correspondence—pretty much everything I had done on the Internet from its origins to the present. Like everyone else, I had agreed to this surveillance by clicking “yes” to unread agreements that promised to “enhance your user experience.” Apart from Google, I am being tracked by a host of other companies. They scrape data from my financial transactions and then sell it back to me as my credit rating or pass it on to Bluffdale, Utah, as part of the NSA’s effort to comprehend information in its totality.

https://theamericanscholar.org/our-post-privacy-world/#.X0_KjS2w0Wo

The thing to note about rice is that it is both much more productive on a per-acre basis than wheat or barley, but also much more labor intensive; it also relies on different forms of capital to be productive. Whole-grain wheat and brown rice have similar calorie and nutritional value (brown rice is somewhat better in most categories) on a unit-weight basis (so, per pound or ton), but the yield difference is fairly large: rice is typically around (very roughly) 50% more productive per acre than wheat. Moreover, rice plants have a more favorable ratio of seeds-to-plants, meaning that the demand to put away seeds for the next harvest is easier – whereas crop-to-seed ratios on pre-modern wheat range from 3:1 to 10:1, rice can achieve figures as high as 100:1. As a result, not only is the gross yield higher (that is, more tons of seed per field) but a lower percentage of that seed has to be saved for the next planting.

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The history of universe using 13,799 dominoes.

This video from KQED’s science documentary series Deep Look offers carnivorous close-ups of the Cape sundew – a bog-dwelling plant species native to South Africa.

Everyday life in the Secretive North Korean capital

An introduction to some of the finest architects and fiercest warriors of the insect world 

Interesting story on the history of air conditioning.

https://overcast.fm/+M46cOt44k

Cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter discusses about the limits of translation.

https://overcast.fm/+L-tCyw

Categories
Economics Ethics Fintech Science Technology

Gold, Viruses, Tuna, Bitcoin, Law, Go

The unique thing about gold is that it doesn’t get used up. The main way we consume the yellow metal is by storing it, say in vaults or by wearing it as jewellery. Compared to how we use an industrial metal like copper, this sort of usage is very safe. Copper parts in machinery, for instance, are dissipated by abrasion and wear. But gold just sits there, untouched.

Nor does gold depreciate. Unlike most materials, it is almost indestructible. Copper corrodes, steel rusts, wood rots, and concrete crumbles. But a gold coin from 200BC is still perfectly lustrous.

Nor does the yellow metal suffer from technological obsolescence. Gold keeps doing the same thing it has done for thousands of years.

And obviously we don’t eat the stuff.

https://jpkoning.blogspot.com/2020/08/the-case-for-banning-gold-mining.html

The fact that viruses have only a tenuous claim to being alive, though, hardly reduces their impact on things which are indubitably so. No other biological entities are as ubiquitous, and few as consequential. The number of copies of their genes to be found on Earth is beyond astronomical. There are hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy and a couple of trillion galaxies in the observable universe. The virions in the surface waters of any smallish sea handily outnumber all the stars in all the skies that science could ever speak of.

Back on Earth, viruses kill more living things than any other type of predator. They shape the balance of species in ecosystems ranging from those of the open ocean to that of the human bowel. They spur evolution, driving natural selection and allowing the swapping of genes.

https://www.economist.com/essay/2020/08/20/viruses-have-big-impacts-on-ecology-and-evolution-as-well-as-human-health

And for what purpose? Bluefin is neither a staple nor a necessity. It’s a luxury. The person who dines on North Lake’s bluefin may want to connect to the people who caught it and the ocean it came from, but they are also buying a trophy, just as surely as Captain Jack did when he shelled out $3,000 for his charter experience. The word trophy comes from the Greek tropaion, a “monument of an enemy’s defeat.” It is, by definition, a spoil of war. North Lake’s relationship to bluefin tuna has always been adversarial. Fishermen are said to “fight” the fish, and they are celebrated as heroes when they win this unequal battle, armed with technologies that make the finding and killing ever more efficient, despite diminishing financial returns and the dwindling size of the catch. Commercial cod and lobster fishermen have also long seen themselves in competition with bluefin—hungry giants that feed on the same fish they needed to fatten up their catches.

This vision of wild creatures as targets of conquest or competition to be eliminated may have made some sense when human beings felt their everyday lives to be at the mercy of the natural world. But in the Anthropocene, the environment is often at our mercy, even when the ways we alter it ultimately harm our own species. Not only do humans en masse have the means and numbers to fish out entire species, we also have the power to change migration patterns by destroying habitat and warming ocean waters.

Bitcoin has already made significant ground on gold — going from whitepaper to over $200 billion in market capitalization in under a decade. Today, the market capitalization of above ground gold is conservatively $9 trillion. If we are right about using a gold framework to value bitcoin, and bitcoin continues on this path, then the bull case scenario for bitcoin is that it is undervalued by a multiple of 45. Said differently, the price of bitcoin could appreciate 45x from where it is today, which means we could see a price of $500,000 U.S. dollars per bitcoin.

All of this does not factor in the possibility of bitcoin displacing some portion of the $11.7 trillion dollars of fiat foreign exchange reserves held by governments. Foreshadowing this, at least one publicly-traded U.S. corporation has begun holding bitcoin as a treasury reserve asset. If central banks start to diversify their foreign fiat holdings even partially into bitcoin, say 10%, then 45x gets revised upward towards 55x or $600,000 USD per bitcoin, and so forth.

About the only existing law governing space is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. But the treaty focuses almost entirely on what nation-states can and cannot do (e.g., deploy nuclear bombs, seize celestial bodies). It’s virtually silent on what private companies or individuals can do—which suddenly seems like a glaring loophole given the rise of private space companies like SpaceX, which recently transported its first astronauts to the International Space Station. These private vessels are far murkier in a legal sense.

To be sure, a clause in the Outer Space Treaty does require nations to monitor their own citizens in space, which works fine when astronauts are few. But when hundreds or thousands of people reach orbit, that will become increasingly untenable. And so far, most crimes in remote places like T-3 have involved the citizens of one country alone (e.g., one Russian attacking another).

https://slate.com/technology/2020/07/arctic-t3-murder-space.html

In the case of Korea, there are about 380 professional players certified by the Korean Baduk Association, and about 50 top players can be considered tournament players. Last year, the top player in Korea earned about $1 million US dollars from tournaments alone, while the 10th player earned about $120,000 US dollars.

The development of superhuman Go AI has impacted the professional Go world in many different ways. Here, I want to highlight three areas, one that affects both types of players, one area for tournament players, and one for teaching players.

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Video on takeoff and flight sequences of insects spanning 8 different taxonomic orders captured at 3,200 fps! – usually ignored when we see in nature.

Sand art in a different dimension

https://www.wired.com/video/watch/obsessed-sand

Interesting conversation by Steven Levitt and Steven Pinker on language, cognition and various topics of interests.

https://overcast.fm/+gDgCp-J6k

Michael Sandel on why meritocracy sounds like a good idea in principle, but not a good idea to practice? – Need to practice the dignity of work.

https://overcast.fm/+RIhVGc

Categories
Economics Ethics Politics Science

Future, Pyramids, World-scrapping, NOlympics, Cooperation, Salmon

Since our current technologies advance exponentially on a timescale of several years, our future habitat on Earth will look entirely different a million years from now. What does a mature technological civilization look like after such a long time? Can it survive the destructive forces that its technologies unleash? One way to find out is to search for technosignatures of alien civilizations, dead or alive. Inevitably, all forms of life eventually disappear. The universe cools as it expands, and all stars will die 10 trillion years from now. In the distant future, everything will freeze; there will be no energy left to support life.  

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-if-we-could-live-for-a-million-years/

Perhaps, instead, captured CO2 could be injected into porous rock, such as subsurface basalt, similar to a technique pioneered by Carbfix in Iceland. Over a process of several years, carbon dioxide would solidify into calcite crystals and this bedrock could be quarried for use as a building material. As in ancient Egypt, monolithic slabs of stone could form pyramids, either built in situ to help bolster tourism in Iceland, the African Rift Valley, and other areas rich in malfic rock; or conveyed over unfathomably long distances for reasons that might seem obscure to future generations. Such structures would be durable and their construction would likely employ large masses of people, but the process would be extremely energy-intensive. Moreover, the majority of these pyramids’ volume would be taken up by the host rock, not sequestered carbon, meaning that we would need to construct far more than our original 138,462 pyramids.

https://strelkamag.com/en/article/138-462-carbon-pyramids

Worldscraping has incredible potential. We’ll be able to extract our own data without needing Amazon or Google’s permission. We can make a better food database, a better catalogue of plants and wildlife, a better map of the world, anything you can imagine that requires information about the real world, all with far less work and in far less time.

The big losers from worldscraping will be incumbent companies and tech giants. They’ll want to keep worldscraping for themselves, and they’ll say it’s because only they can be trusted to use it.

But they aren’t the only ones who can keep us safe. There are ways to secure computing devices without unaccountable gatekeepers or expert users. Contrary to what Apple would have you believe, we all use software every day that’s as safe as anything inside their walled garden, if not safer. We need to support and learn from those third-party companies and open source communities as we head into the next generation of computing devices.

Should the Olympics cease to exist? It’s a question I never thought I’d ask. I did gymnastics when I was younger and have been thoroughly obsessed with the sport ever since. I even built my writing career around gymnastics, so the Olympics — where the sport is a perennial favorite — factor heavily into my work (and my income).

“I had an emotional attachment to the Olympics growing up as an athlete,” Itani said. “It’s such a well-produced media spectacle. It’s amazing to see these athletes, the quality of the camera, the angles, the stories of the athletes in the Olympics that are covered by the media.”

I experienced the same emotional attachment that Itani described — and still do. I was aware of all of the harm that the Olympics brought to communities but I took a reformist approach: we could preserve the good and eliminate the bad through smart policies and transparency. But reform hasn’t worked. In 2014, the IOC introduced Agenda 2020 to make reforms to the bidding process and curb the excesses of hosting the Games. Yet the tab for Tokyo 2020 is more than triple what was originally projected.

Game theory shows us that, regardless of what an individual believes, it is in their own self-interest to wear a mask.

While the conflict surrounding wearing masks will persist, these insights shed light on a new perspective on the benefits of wearing masks during this time, even outside the realm of public health and science. Next time you encounter a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a stranger who is against wearing masks, consider explaining that their decision, although self-interested in the short-run, only hurts them in the long run.

Just like in the prisoner’s dilemma, cooperation results in the most efficient outcome. If we cooperate and wear masks, the pandemic will be better mitigated and we may finally find true freedom again.

https://thedecisionlab.com/insights/health/game-theory-can-explain-why-you-should-wear-a-mask-regardless-of-what-you-believe/

Salmon are at home in color. Whipping her tail, a female salmon spends two days making a depression in the riverbed called a redd—the word probably comes from the Early Scots ridden, meaning “to clear”—into which she deposits her roe. Fertilized, these red spheres of nutrients encase young salmon, who eat their way out, taking the color inside. Once the eggs are depleted, salmon swim to the ocean in search of food. There, they feed on red-pink crustaceans, mostly shrimp and krill, as well as small fish with even smaller crustaceans in their digestive systems. From these, they absorb yellow-red orange fat-soluble pigments, called carotenoids, that tint salmon salmon.

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Listen to Your Key: Towards Acoustics-based Physical Key Inference

Monstrosity of group theory

An interesting video on asteroid mining that could be the future of resource extraction and the possibility of endless technology.

How did they do it? The Antwerp diamond heist, dubbed the “heist of the century” – a depiction by a Belgium detective.

https://overcast.fm/+Ip9Jb2GP0

Sound recordist visits some of London’s historic palaces and captures what he hears there.

https://lnns.co/hnLFOCdGr15