Categories
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.

https://www.propublica.org/article/the-big-thaw-how-russia-could-dominate-a-warming-world

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.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/gXLqCxELLKZRTWoMc/ideal-chess-drop-chess-perfected

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.

https://ciechanow.ski/cameras-and-lenses/

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?  

https://engelsbergideas.com/essays/challenging-the-great-reset-theory-of-pandemics/

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.

https://onezero.medium.com/apple-v-facebook-c53efb4c0ad4

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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.

https://overcast.fm/+WaLGTwfE4

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.

https://overcast.fm/+Ip9KpItl8

Categories
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.

https://www.wired.com/story/how-to-escape-sinking-ship-like-titanic/

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.

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

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.

https://onezero.medium.com/the-modern-world-has-finally-become-too-complex-for-any-of-us-to-understand-1a0b46fbc292

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.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/mathematician-solves-centuries-old-grazing-goat-problem-exactly-20201209/

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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.

https://overcast.fm/+QLhWzqYxk

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

https://overcast.fm/+G2W3x3ox8

Categories
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.”

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2020/11/abolishing-the-economics-nobel-isnt-enough

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.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a25633042/autopsy-history/

  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.

https://aeon.co/essays/the-gaia-hypothesis-reimagined-by-one-of-its-key-sceptics

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.

https://engelsbergideas.com/essays/in-search-of-lebensraum/

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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 

https://overcast.fm/+TSJm2x3jM

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

https://overcast.fm/+YsPRzoge0

Categories
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.

https://interconnected.blog/jack-ma-bund-finance-summit-speech/

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.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/sT6NxFxso6Z9xjS7o/nuclear-war-is-unlikely-to-cause-human-extinction

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.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02986-y

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?

https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/the-big-lessons-from-history/

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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.

https://lnns.co/k0uADMWdrGz

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

https://lnns.co/apd9o-GKwhv

Categories
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).

https://aeon.co/essays/crested-cacti-show-medicine-the-possibility-of-adapting-to-cancer

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.

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/jerome-powell-federal-reserve-profile.html

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.”

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/54273/100-years-dirty-dog-history-greyhound

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.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-11-06/trump-wont-be-last-american-populist

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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?

https://www.politico.com/video/2020/10/28/space-the-final-economic-frontier-096908

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

https://lnns.co/4p1XscAMamk

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

https://overcast.fm/+gDgAIqzTE

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 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