Geopolitics Politics Society Technology

100, Privacy, Amazonian, Covid, Poison

98. People don’t realize how much they hate commuting. A nice house farther from work is not worth the fraction of your life you are giving to boredom and fatigue. 

99. There’s some evidence that introverts and extroverts both benefit from being pushed to be more extroverted. Consider this the next time you aren’t sure if you feel like going out. 

100. Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.

The black market for data, as it exists online in India, resembles those for wholesale vegetables or smuggled goods. Customers are encouraged to buy in bulk, and the variety of what’s on offer is mind-boggling: There are databases about parents, cable customers, pregnant women, pizza eaters, mutual funds investors, and almost any niche group one can imagine. A typical database consists of a spreadsheet with row after row of names and key details: Sheila Gupta, 35, lives in Kolkata, runs a travel agency, and owns a BMW; Irfaan Khan, 52, lives in Greater Noida, and has a son who just applied to engineering college. The databases are usually updated every three months (the older one is, the less it is worth), and if you buy several at the same time, you’ll get a discount. Business is always brisk, and transactions are conducted quickly. No one will ask you for your name, let alone inquire why you want the phone numbers of five million people who have applied for bank loans.

We have a product called Snowmobile. It’s a gas-guzzling truck. There are no public pictures of the inside, but it’s pretty cool. It’s like a modular datacenter on wheels. And customers rightly expect that if they load a truck with all their data, they want security for that truck. So there’s an armed guard in it at all times. 

It’s a pretty easy sell. If a customer looks at that option, they say, yeah, of course I want the giant truck and the guy with a gun to move my data, not some crappy system that I develop on my own.

A year into the pandemic, STAT is outlining a portrait of SARS-CoV-2 based on what scientists learned as the virus raced around the world, crippling some economies, societies, and health systems in its wake.

How the virus cracks open cells and wards off the body’s first-line attack. How it can spread before people start feeling sick. How it’s changed since the dawn of the pandemic, and what, if anything, that means. How the omnivorousness of the disease it causes, called Covid-19, reaches not just the lungs but into the heart, brain, gut, and beyond.

How this virus has caused the damage it has, unlike other respiratory viruses that also prey on our impulses to get together — to pack into crowds, to laugh, to sing — and use them as stepping stones in their mission to infect cells and make copies of themselves.

While Kudryavtsev makes it clear that he was not part of the operation that administered the poison, he positively answers “Maxim’’s question where the highest concentration of residue of the toxin might be expected to be found on Navalny’s clothes. Kudryatvsev promptly answers that this must be the inside of Navalny’s underpants, and in particular the seams in the crotch area. On a follow-up question by “Maxim” if those would be “the grey boxers”, Kudryavtsev specifies that as far as he remembers they were blue. In fact, the “grey underpants” was a decoy question, as Alexey Navalny told us he was hospitalized in blue undepants, and that these were part of the clothes that were left behind at the Omsk hospital.

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In 2020, the study of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was undoubtedly the most urgent priority. But there were also some major breakthroughs in other areas.

Using high resolution cameras with macro-lenses, the drying out process that takes hours, days or even weeks is shot in time-lapse.

Does our efforts to make ourselves more productive making us feel even busier and even more stressed? – A conversation with Oliver Burkeman – author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, discuss basic questions about human behaviour and well-being

Geopolitics History Politics Technology

Russia, Chess, Photography, Reset, Tech-war

In the long term, agriculture presents perhaps the most significant illustration of how a warming world might erode America’s position. Right now the U.S. agricultural industry serves as a significant, if low-key, instrument of leverage in America’s own foreign affairs. The U.S. provides roughly a third of soy traded globally, nearly 40% of corn and 13% of wheat. By recent count, American staple crops are shipped to 174 countries, and democratic influence and power comes with them, all by design. And yet climate data analyzed for this project suggest that the U.S. farming industry is in danger. Crop yields from Texas north to Nebraska could fall by up to 90% by as soon as 2040 as the ideal growing region slips toward the Dakotas and the Canadian border. And unlike in Russia or Canada, that border hinders the U.S.’s ability to shift north along with the optimal conditions.

Shogi is the version of chess that is native to Japan, and it is wildly different from western chess – both western chess and shogi have evolved continuously from the original chaturanga as the game spread out from India. The core difference between shogi and the familiar western chess is that once a piece has been captured, the capturing player may later place the piece back on the board as his own piece. But if that was the only difference, it would make for a very crazy game, since the pieces in western chess are so powerful while the king is so weak, that the game would be filled with precarious situations that would require the players to always have their guard up for an unexpected piece drop, and checkmate is never more than a few moves away unless both players are paying close attention.

Pictures have always been a meaningful part of the human experience. From the first cave drawings, to sketches and paintings, to modern photography, we’ve mastered the art of recording what we see.

Cameras and the lenses inside them may seem a little mystifying. In this blog post I’d like to explain not only how they work, but also how adjusting a few tunable parameters can produce fairly different results.

Covid-19 appears to have engendered a similar crisis in our world, the main difference being in scale. Whereas the crisis Thucydides describes was confined to Athens, the coronavirus pandemic has destabilized governments from Brazil to Belarus, not just that of a 5th century city-state. The political reckoning has been particularly rapid in the United States, where Donald Trump’s inability or unwillingness to check the spread of the coronavirus was a key factor in his recent election defeat. Now, the lockdowns and social distancing measures look set to plunge the world into the worst economic depression since the 1930s, raising the spectre of further political instability.

Given the wide-ranging social, economic and political impacts of Covid-19, it is natural to assume that the same must have been true of past epidemics and pandemics. But is this the case? Do pandemics really have the historical impacts that are often claimed for them or are these claims simply the product of particular narratives and readings of history?

Today, the U.S. internet giants resemble expansionist empires jostling for power, influence, and market position around the world. Each has its impregnable base of power — e.g., search for Google, social networking for Facebook, online shopping for Amazon — but their spheres of influence are so great that they can’t help but overlap. At times, their drive for growth brings them into conflict in outlying territories, such as streaming, messaging, voice platforms, and cloud services.

That seems to be happening more often, or at least more publicly, of late. And it may be because we’re nearing the end of a digital Pax Americana — an epoch of internet history in which lax regulation and unfettered access to global markets allowed the great U.S. tech powers all to flourish at once.

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How China changed the recycling industry by a two page notification to WTO.

Eddy Goldfarb, who is ninety-eight – The Man Who Invented More Than 800 Iconic Toys.

On December 3rd, 2020, an international three-person team of codebreakers made a breakthrough with the Zodiac Killer’s unsolved 340-character cipher.

An interesting conversation on the mushiness of Dr. House.

A wine merchant – John Baker hears that Stalin’s wine collection, including bottles looted from the Tsars, is up for sale, after being hidden for decades in Georgia.

Geopolitics History Opinion Science Society

Titanic, Billionaires, Dual circulation, Complex, Goat

Eighty-four years later, a scientific expedition to the bottom of the Northern Atlantic ocean recovered a chronometer from the bridge of Titanic. It stopped the moment it hit the water, at 2:11 am.

In other words, you will have 151 minutes to escape.

That seems like it would be enough time, but out of Titanic’s 702 steerage passengers, only 178 survived. That’s for a few reasons. The first is simple logistics. Titanic had lifeboats for only half of its passengers, and in steerage you’re not only bunked the farthest from them, but the escape route is a labyrinth of unmarked and heretofore off-limits tunnels and ladders. And even if you do somehow find the way, crew members haphazardly block steerage passengers from ascending to the upper-class decks. Even with the best preparation, your odds of acquiring a seat are low. And if you fail, a long arctic swim awaits. But do not be alarmed. The maze, discrimination, chaos, and cold can be overcome if you make a few bold and counterintuitive choices.

The ideal combination is the group of founders who are “living in the future” in the sense of being at the leading edge of some kind of change, and who are building something they themselves want. Most super-successful startups are of this type. Steve Wozniak wanted a computer. Mark Zuckerberg wanted to engage online with his college friends. Larry and Sergey wanted to find things on the web. All these founders were building things they and their peers wanted, and the fact that they were at the leading edge of change meant that more people would want these things in the future.

Many experts have noted a changing Western consensus on China, as leaders in Washington abandoned the idea that economic modernization would inevitably lead to political liberalization in Beijing. But there has been a comparable shift in China’s internal conversation on the West too. Beginning with semiconductors but potentially expanding to all manner of other areas, China now expects it will have to develop technologically on its own. Xi’s new theory now sits at the heart of the country’s 14th five-year plan, which covers development from 2021 to 2025, and was unveiled in draft form in October. The result will accelerate China’s decoupling from the West, while also increasing the importance of trading links forged with other parts of the world — for instance, via Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. Put more bluntly, while the world was distracted by the drama of the U.S. presidential election, Xi quietly unveiled an economic strategy fit for a new Cold War. Both for China and for globalization itself, the results are likely to be profound. 

There are currently over 17 million shipping containers in circulation globally, and at any given time, about 5 or 6 million shipping containers cross the sea. The U.S. alone imports over 20 million shipping containers’ worth of products a year. While it’s common to talk about iPhones and high-end sneakers when we talk about imports from China and Asia, the truth is the vast majority of those containers are stuffed which much more mundane goods: socks, umbrellas, pencils, paper, packing materials, bedsheets, fruit, car parts, frozen food, pharmaceuticals — the endless inventory of physical items that make our modern lives possible.

Imagine a circular fence that encloses one acre of grass. If you tie a goat to the inside of the fence, how long a rope do you need to allow the animal access to exactly half an acre?

It sounds like high school geometry, but mathematicians and math enthusiasts have been pondering this problem in various forms for more than 270 years. And while they’ve successfully solved some versions, the goat-in-a-circle puzzle has refused to yield anything but fuzzy, incomplete answers.

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Possibilities of mind uploading and Digital immortality.

How does a Christmas tree grow and is harvested?

The short documentary Spoils: Extraordinary Harvest profiles three groups, each with their own philosophies and motivations, converging on the grocery story Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn to mine for imperfect but still-very-much-edible foods that would otherwise be bound for landfill. 

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist and primatologist, talks about how stress and poverty can produce deep and damaging changes in the ways people think and behave.

William Davies on truth in statistics, trust in statistics, and the threat to both from big data

Economics History Politics Science

Nobel, Autopsy, 52, Earth, Hitler

Criticism on grounds of diversity is familiar and extremely fair, especially given that the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests has prompted the discipline to reexamine its relationship with race. The Nobel Prize in Economics has only ever been awarded to two women and three non-white economists out of 86 recipients and has once again gone to two white dudes from the United States, neglecting not just the work of women and people of color within the mainstream of the discipline but also a vast array of approaches outside it—work disproportionately done by marginalized groups. Catriona Watson of the organization Rethinking Economicscalled it “disappointing” that the prize had gone to “two white men from the global north working on auction theory.” Devika Dutt, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, called it “predictable” that the prize had been awarded to “two old U.S. white men from the same Ivy League uni” adding that “we are in a moment of reckoning as regards structural discrimination” and that this prize “looks like closing ranks around the existing power structures in econ.”

1962. On August 5, the day of her death, Marilyn Monroe showed signs of advanced rigor mortis, leading coroners to believe she died between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on August 4. The toxicological analysis determined the cause of death: acute barbiturate poisoning.

1968. U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark requested four physicians to examine photographs, X-rays, and other evidence and to evaluate their significance relating to the medical conclusions in the autopsy report pertaining to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. They concluded that Kennedy was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind him, one of which traversed the base of his neck on the right side, without striking bone, and the other entered the skull from behind and exploded its right side.

  1. Most cities plant only male trees because it’s expensive to clear up the fruit that falls from female trees. Male trees release pollen, and that’s one of the reasons your hay fever is getting worse. [Jessica Price]
  2. In China, 🙂 doesn’t mean happy, it means “a despising, mocking, and even obnoxious attitude”. Use these, instead: 😁😄😀. [Echo Huang]
  3. The hold music you hear when you phone Octopus Energy is personalised to your customer account: it’s a number one record from the year you were 14. [Clem Cowton]

The idea that the Earth itself is like a single evolving ‘organism’ was developed in the mid-1970s by the independent English scientist and inventor James Lovelock and the American biologist Lynn Margulis. They dubbed it the ‘Gaia hypothesis’, asserting that the biosphere is an ‘active adaptive control system able to maintain the Earth in homeostasis’. Sometimes they went pretty far with this line of reasoning: Lovelock even ventured that algal mats have evolved so as to control global temperature, while Australia’s Great Barrier Reef might be a ‘partly finished project for an evaporation lagoon’, whose purpose was to control oceanic salinity.

The key to understanding the strategies pursued during the Hitler dictatorship is the concept of ‘territoriality’ – a concern with Raum, a word usually rendered not very successfully in English as ‘space’. When the term was first used by the German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel, it was understood not to refer to a particular geographical location, but rather to denote the space necessary for a people to be supplied with adequate land and resources in order to permit a superior race and culture to survive. Ratzel was the first to call this kind of space ‘living space’ (Lebensraum). With this deeper meaning, the concept of ‘space’ had an essentially geopolitical character, because additional territory was regarded as the fundamental condition for the political health and economic viability of the race. The idea of space as a fundamental issue for German identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries derived in part from a continual concern with the nature of the geographical character of Germany as a very recently created nation. The Reich, founded in 1871, was an artificial construction and as such prompted uncertainty not only over the internal unity of the federal system, but also over the ‘unfinished’ character of the German nation, which had failed to incorporate all Germans (the ‘Gross- deutsch‘ solution) or to acknowledge the wide cultural and linguistic influence that Germans had historically exercised in central and eastern Europe.

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The inside story of the DeepMind team of scientists and engineers who created AlphaFold, an AI system that is recognised as a solution to “protein folding”.

10 rules for learning math

A creative masterpiece that blends in  picturesque landscape and riding style.

Biographer of John Maynard Keynes discusses Keynes’s life and work

Why is food so expensive in sports stadiums? Could lowering prices benefit stadium franchisees and people?

Geopolitics Science Society Technology

Frogbirds, Asia, IoBodies, Physics, Dads

It is interesting to ask if birds and frogs in physics can be broadly classified. The boundaries can be fluid, but generally speaking, Cartesian thinkers tend to be birds while Baconian doers tend to be frogs. This is partly because thinking about a broad landscape of ideas is easier than getting your hands dirty even on a single, well-crafted scientific experiment. Similarly, physicists who are unifiers tend to be birds, while physicists who are diversifiers tend to be frogs. One of the great and continuing themes in the history of physics is that of unifying different theories and different forces of nature.

Asia’s experiment with larger government comes at an interesting geopolitical moment, too. Regional leaders once looked westward for inspiration on public services reform. But disastrous pandemic responses from the likes of American President Donald Trump and Britain’s Boris Johnson have undermined faith in once-admired Western models, denting along with them the ideas of freedom and limited government that thinkers in the U.K. and U.S. have often espoused.

Earlier attempts to use the human body to communicate have usually shied away from these lower frequencies because the body is typically high loss at low frequencies. In other words, signals at these lower frequencies require more power to guarantee that a signal will make it to its destination. That means a signal from a glucose monitor on the abdomen might not make it to a smartwatch on the wrist before it’s unreadable, without a significant boost in power. These previous efforts were high loss because they focused on sending direct electrical signals, rather than information encoded in potential changes. We’ve found that the parasitic capacitance between a device and the body is key to creating a working channel.

The 21st century is often called the age of biology. Or artificial intelligence. Or any other emerging field. This relegates physics to the previous century — the golden days when the revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics shook the world, and the discoveries of elementary particles led to a string of Nobel Prizes. Nowadays, people worry about a “desert scenario,” where no new particles will be found for many decades to come, if ever.

As with other vertebrate parents, when human fathers come into contact with their offspring (in our experiment, through a photo) it activates the dopamine hub and the motivational system in the midbrain. The more the midbrain was activated, we found, the more involved the father was in caring for the child. This could mean that fathers who were more rewarded by their child became more involved in caregiving, or it could mean that, as fathers became more involved and formed stronger bonds with their child, they came to find the child more rewarding. Viewing pictures of their child also activated a number of other brain regions not included in animal models of parental brain function. These areas, including the anterior cingulate, the thalamus and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, all play a role in empathy. In humans, and likely many other species, parenting involves not only the motivation to deliver care but also the ability to perceive and understand the needs, feelings and mental states of the offspring.

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Former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez talks about some of the tactics, gadgets and disguises CIA operatives used in the field during the Cold War.

 Satisfying lasagna cooking video

What to learn from bumblebee?

How a pitch-correcting algorithm became the signature sound of modern pop music

Yuval Noah Harari talks just about everything in a Marathon discussion

Environment Science Society

Particle, Mammals, Serendipity, Life, Fire-ants

With any other object, the object’s properties depend on its physical makeup — ultimately, its constituent particles. But those particles’ properties derive not from constituents of their own but from mathematical patterns. As points of contact between mathematics and reality, particles straddle both worlds with an uncertain footing.

Mammals rarely engage in repeated stereotypical behaviour when presented with a task wherein they cannot directly obtain their goal, but will change their behaviour and attempt different strategies. This could provide one possible definition of intelligence in animals: the more complex the improvised strategy, the more intelligent the animal. Other behaviours can also be used as markers of intelligence and there are gradations in intelligence.

It still feels hard, if not reckless, to imagine the upside of Covid-19. We may not have even seen the worst of it yet.

But everyone in the world has suddenly been exposed to problems they had never seen before. They’ve become aware of new risks. New constraints in how they live, work, and play. A whole new set of perspectives on how to keep your family safe, run a business, and use technology.

Some of the changes that will bring are obvious. We’re already better and faster at creating vaccines than we were a year ago. Doctors are more knowledgeable. Remote work is more efficient. Travel is less necessary.

Then there’s a second tier of change: perhaps using our new knowledge of mRNA vaccines to treat other diseases, like cancer. It seems likely, but who knows.

Whether we are creating new forms of life in a lab on Earth or elsewhere in the Universe – we are currently creating new chemical possibilities, and therefore new potential forms of appreciation and value that can affect the way we live. The technological possibilities of applied prebiotic chemistry are only now beginning to be resolved. We can imagine using chemical reactions to perform computational processes much more efficiently than silicon chips. We can imagine self-organising organic chemical systems engineering solutions to pressing environmental problems. We can imagine hybrid systems composed of Earth life and prebiotic chemical systems greatly expanding and stabilising human exploration of the solar system.

Over the last 90 years, fire ants have irrevocably altered the southeastern United States. Some 30–60 percent of the human population there is stung every year, to say nothing of the wildlife and livestock. In their quest for protein, swarms can kill calves and strip the bones. The ants have displaced many native species, reduced biodiversity, spread disease and even likely caused one species of lizard to evolve longer legs just to provide more leverage for flinging them off. The costs are not just physical. Fire ants cost the U.S. around $6.5 billion annually on a combination of control, medical treatments, livestock and crop loss, and vet bills. We are not alone in our suffering. In just the last 20 years, fire ants have colonized China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Macao, the Caribbean and Australia.

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A video on life and size of living things – magic of diffusion

Types of bridges – Every Bridge For Every Situation, Explained By an Engineer

A brilliant ad by German government on staying indoors during COVID

Discussion with Jimmy Wales of how Wikipedia works, why it works, and how well it can go on working if the culture wars continue to escalate.

Food scientist Harold McGee talks about the workings of smell, and its connections with taste

What to do if the plane crashes?

History Science Society Technology

Ma, Limbs, Nukes, Brain, Risks

Today’s financial system is a product of the Industrial Age, a comprehensive financial system designed to address the needs of industrialization and to fulfill the two-eight theory. What is the two-eight theory? It’s about investing in the 20% to solve 80% of the problem. And the future of the financial system is about the eight-two theory, helping 80% of small businesses and young people to drive the other 20% of people. We must transition from the old way of people looking for money, businesses looking for money, to money looking for people and money looking for good businesses. The only standard to evaluate this system is whether something is universal, inclusive, green, and sustainable. The cutting-edge technologies backing this standard, like big data, cloud computing, and blockchain are already ready today to take on this huge responsibility.

Ramachandran had the genius idea to place a mirror next to the amputee’s intact limb. When the patient sits in the right position and the mirror is set at the proper angle, the reflection of the intact limb looks to the patient just like a copy of the missing limb, and in a location where that missing limb would naturally be. Movements of the intact limb are visually processed by the patient’s brain as copycat movements of the missing limb as well. Thus, if a patient is feeling pain in their phantom right arm, watching a mirrored reflection of their left hand clench and unclench a fist can train their brain to realize that the (missing) right arm is not at all contorted in a manner that should cause pain. For cramping and other muscular pain in the phantom limb, Ramachandran’s procedure is remarkably effective.

This post discussed the three plausible mechanisms of human extinction caused by nuclear weapons. The fact that one of these mechanisms, nuclear winter, wasn’t characterized until the 1980s, is a good reminder of the possibility of unknown unknowns. While nuclear tests provided information about the effects of these weapons, the test environments were significantly different than war environments. Large model uncertainties remain. Given that the greatest existential threat from nuclear war appears to be from climate impacts, it would be great to see more researchers study the climate effects from nuclear war and the resilience capacity of different human groups.

Almost all scientists and ethicists agree that so far, nobody has created consciousness in the lab. But they are asking themselves what to watch out for, and which theories of consciousness might be most relevant. According to an idea called integrated information theory, for example, consciousness is a product of how densely neuronal networks are connected across the brain. The more neurons that interact with one another, the higher the degree of consciousness — a quantity known as phi. If phi is greater than zero, the organism is considered conscious.

Two things happen when you’re caught off guard. One is that you’re vulnerable, with no protection against what you hadn’t considered. The other is that surprise shakes your beliefs in a way that leaves you paranoid and pessimistic. Driving by car surged after 9/11 as people avoided air travel, leading to more excess car deaths than casualties from the actual terrorist attacks. After Pearl Harbor it was a foregone conclusion, doubted by few, that Japan would soon attack California.

An important lesson from history is that the risks we talk about in the news are rarely the most important risks in hindsight. We saw that over the last decade of economists and investors spending their lives discussing the biggest risk to the economy – was it Ben Bernanke’s monetary policy? Barack Obama’s fiscal policy? Donald Trump’s trade wars?

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Fast-forward through a history of human artefacts, from arrowheads to plastic toys

A cyclical, forgetful Universe – Roger Penrose details an astonishing origin hypothesis

A group of Swedish skiers and snowboarders travel by train and boat from Stockholm, through Russia, to Japan

Clifford Woolf, a renowned expert on understanding pain, talks about the biology of pain.

John Mackey, the C.E.O. of Whole Foods, speaks about “conscious leadership” to the behavioral roots of the obesity epidemic.

Economics History Politics Science Society Technology

Cancer, Clusters, Powell, Greyhound, Populist

One critical problem with traditional chemotherapies is that the rapid high doses – which are aimed at eradicating the tumour – can actually end up selecting for cancer cells that are resistant to the drugs. When the cancer grows back (as it often does), the drugs no longer work because all of the cells that remain are ones that grew back from the few resistant cells that survived the high-dose therapy. Ironically, the higher the chemotherapy dose, the stronger the selection pressure favouring drug-resistant cells (because the differential fitness between sensitive and resistant cells is higher with stronger treatment).

Historically, clusters have been pivotal in driving long-term US growth and for creating innovations that improve the lives of billions of people around the globe. As economists William Kerr and Frederic Robert-Nicoud summarize, there has been a continual movement of leading tech clusters over time in the US. In the 1800s, Lowell, Massachusetts was the center for textile mills relying on water power. By the early 1900s, Cleveland, Ohio was instrumental in pushing forward the frontier on electricity and steel. Detroit, Michigan, of course, developed into the powerhouse for automobile manufacturing in the mid-1900s. 

Currently, US tech clusters are the envy of the world. There are only four trillion dollar companies in the world. Two of them are based near San Francisco (Apple and Alphabet), and two near Seattle (Amazon and Microsoft). Of the global top 30 Internet firms, 14 are based in SF alone.

In March, as panic over the coronavirus caused stock prices to crash and made banks and bondholders skittish about lending, the Fed acted to support the economy by flooding it with extra cash it hoped would help keep normal what could be kept normal. It cut interest rates from 1.5 percent to zero, announced it would purchase $700 billion in Treasury bonds and other assets to push down long-term interest rates, and provided liquidity to keep corporations able to borrow and banks able to lend. The Fed’s actions have saved Wall Street — the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which bottomed out at 18,214 on March 23, regained half its losses by mid-April and returned to near-record levels in early September — and have also done a great deal to reduce the pain on Main Street by keeping consumer credit available and interest rates on mortgages and credit cards low. Through its swift and sensible action, the Fed helped forestall corporate bankruptcies and prevented the job losses of the spring from being even worse. The Fed did not — and could not — fix everything that was wrong in our economy with the tools it has available. But imagine if this year had featured a new financial crisis on top of over 220,000 deaths and tens of millions of job losses, and you can see what we have the Fed to thank for.

Wickman, it turns out, pretty much invented intercity bus travel—which for most Americans equals Greyhound, the company that emerged from that long-ago Hupmobile ride. “Greyhound has become generic for bus travel,” says Robert Gabrick, author of Going The Greyhound Way. “Like Kleenex for tissues.” Indeed, this classic American business icon—which, as it happens, is now owned by a British conglomerate—today has more than 7,300 employees, with estimated yearly sales of $820 million and 2,000 buses serving 3,800 destinations in 48 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces. “I’m amazed at Greyhound’s brand recognition,” says DePaul University professor Joseph Schwieterman, an authority on intercity bus travel. “It’s an American success story.”

Right-wing populism did not emerge in the United States because of Trump’s deranged charisma. Nor did it begin with the news media’s infatuation with his outrageous statements, or with Russian meddling, or with social media. Rather, right-wing populism resurged as a potent political force at least two decades before Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party—remember Pat Buchanan? And it has analogs all over the world, not just in mature democracies reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs but in countries that have benefited economically from globalization, including Brazil, Hungary, India, the Philippines, Poland, and Turkey.

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A documentary on the Cold War – particularly Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet lieutenant colonel who saved the world.

A mesmerizing video on Monsoon – a result of 30,000+ miles, hundreds of thousands of time-lapse frames captured and 60+ days chasing

Conversation on Space exploration – The final economic frontier?

An interesting conversation with Fahmi Quadir, known as the assassin of Wall Street on short selling.

Nathan Myhrvold, a computer scientist and physics student of Stephen Hawking speaks about his interests

Environment Geopolitics Science Technology

Inspiration, Seat belts, Space conflicts, PDF, Longevity, Apple

Termites are considered among the greatest architects on Earth. A couple of years ago, a network of termite mounds in Brazil was discovered that is as large as Great Britain. Inside each mound, which is a few meters tall, millions of millimeter-sized termites live. That’s comparable to humans living in buildings a few kilometers high. The mounds are built to harness the environment — places where temperature, humidity and gas concentrations are well controlled.

We have studied the function of termite mounds in both India and Namibia, and most recently have begun to understand the principles of how they are built. Our experiments showed that the mound operates like a lung, breathing once a day in response to external temperature changes. And we have a mathematical model that shows how the mound geometry, environmental conditions and termite behavior are all interrelated.

Seat belts, or safety belts, or restraints, have been around since well before airplanes, or even cars, having been patented in the U.S. for the first time in 1885. They were not found in early cars, and remained at best an option in certain forward-thinking automaker lines, most notably Saab, until the late 1950s. In 1966, the publication of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, which attacked the auto industry for refusing to institute basic safety features in its cars, prompted the first American law to require all vehicles (except buses) to provide safety belts.

For the U.S. more than anyone else, space war could be ruinous. The country relies heavily on its satellites to transmit signals for GPS, credit-card transactions, hospital systems, television stations, weather reports; the list goes on and on. But it depends more than any other country on its military satellites for communication and surveillance. And all satellites—bright and moving in predictable, public orbits—are essentially sitting ducks, nearly impossible to defend; space war is what the military calls “offense-dominant.”

Basically, every year just before tax season, the IRS would mail out tax forms to hundreds of millions of people around the United States. This annual mailing was, during non-Census years, the largest annual mailing that the postal service had to deal with—around 110 million individual mailings annually, according a 1991 New York Times article. And the IRS, dealing with a complicated tax code, had to manage and deal with a wide variety of exceptions and differing forms, for both businesses and individual taxpayers.

This was not only incredibly wasteful—never a good thing when you’re the Internal Revenue Service—but it represented something of a logistical nightmare, because it also hinted at the ways that paper gummed up the works throughout the federal government.

We shouldn’t overestimate how much we understand aging, and we shouldn’t underestimate how much progress we can make without full understanding.

On the margin I agree with Open Phil that basic research and engineering for biotech tools are likely to have the biggest impact on longevity, whether this research is called “longevity research” or not. I’d say this is especially true for tools to do large-scale phenotypic assays. The hard(er) part of building the atomic bomb wasn’t the nuclear physics, it was building the bomb, and I suspect longevity is similar.

For example, if a person’s face was to be photographed from behind chicken wire, it was not possible to construct an algorithm that would capture the chicken wire to the side of the face with the same sharpness as the chicken wire in front of it. The wire to the side would be as blurred as the background.

One might say, “Who cares about the chicken wire case? That’s exceedingly rare.” But for the team, sidestepping rare or extreme situations—what engineers call corner cases—would violate Apple’s strict engineering standard of zero “artifacts,” meaning “any undesired or unintended alteration in data introduced in a digital process by an involved technique and/or technology.” Corner cases sparked “many tough discussions” between the camera team and other teams involved, recalls Myra Haggerty, the VP of sensor software and UX prototyping, who oversaw the firmware and algorithm teams. Sebastien Marineau-Mes, the VP to whom the camera software team ultimately reported, decided to defer the release of the feature until the following year to give the team time to better address failure cases—“a hard pill to swallow,” Hubel admits.

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Cosmic inhomogeneities – why is universe perfectly distributed?

Geo-engineering – might not be a distant future as we think.

An ad – but reflects the struggle of small businesses today

History and economics of fabrics and textiles – an intereresting conversation with Virginia Postrel

The science of food a discussion on hangover honey trap

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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

An absolute pitch by Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin and musician Jacob Collier