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.

View and Listen

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

View and Listen

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

Strange facts about the Greenland Shark

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

View and Listen

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.

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

Environment Geopolitics Politics Science Technology

Pigs, Resilience, Distancing, Vaccines, Agents

Cascading shortfalls in production upended supply chains and left swaths of the country with little meat in the spring and summer. While East Germans queued in long lines for their roasts and sausages, they also complained bitterly that the regime continued to prioritize meat exports abroad, even as their own citizens grew more irate. The same industrial system that arose in the GDR continues to churn in every corner of the globe. It remains capable of producing unprecedented amounts of meat, but also pollution, sickness, and ecological disaster. In the era of climate change, environmental disruptions will only intensify, and as they do, the system of industrial meat will become more and more precarious. Before too long, it will break. It’s a lesson that East Germans learned a generation ago. And it’s one we should heed closely.

Individual organisms often respond to cues of environmental challenge by changing their behaviour or by influencing the traits of their offspring. For example, in my own work on birds, mothers in crowded populations put more testosterone in their eggs and produce aggressive offspring. Because they are good competitors, these offspring can leave overpopulated areas to find new habitat elsewhere. In contrast, mothers breeding in newly colonised habitat with a low density of breeders produce more mild-mannered offspring that are more likely to remain and acquire a territory nearby. By breeding next to their parents, these cooperative offspring are buffered from competition and from the costs of moving to a new area. But producing less aggressive offspring works only when there is lots of extra space for families to divide up. This example shows how mothers can influence offspring traits in a way that prepares their kids to deal with the environmental challenges they are most likely to face.

Like other animals, humans have a long evolutionary history with infectious diseases. Many of our own forms of behavioral immunity, such as feelings of disgust in dirty or crowded environments, are likely the results of this history. But modern humans, unlike other animals, have many advantages when plagues come to our doors. For instance, we can now communicate disease threats globally in an instant. This ability allows us to institute social distancing before disease appears in our local community—a tactic that has saved many lives. We have advanced digital communication platforms, from e-mail to group video chats, that allow us to keep our physical distance while maintaining some social connections. Other animals lose social ties with actual distance. But perhaps the biggest human advantage is the ability to develop sophisticated nonbehavioral tools, such as vaccines, that prevent disease without the need for costly behavioral changes. Vaccination allows us to maintain rich, interactive social lives despite contagious diseases such as polio and measles that would otherwise ravage us.

When you’re planning a large vaccine drive, predictability is vital. The immunization campaign that allowed India to eradicate polio in 2014, for example, worked methodically through the country’s populace of hundreds of millions of children, backed by a bank of knowledge about how the virus behaved, what the vaccine’s properties were, and where new cases could be found. Such factors dictate not only how much vaccine is manufactured but also the production of a host of ancillaries: chemical additives such as adjuvants; hypodermics, glass vials, rubber stoppers, and other parts of an injection kit; and storage equipment such as deep freezers. Without this gear, a vaccine is just a fine formula, a cure in search of its disease.

If a physical product that is widespread in American society could be manipulated by an adversary—imagine an army of home-service robots whose operating systems could be attacked by a foreign power, and turned to hold families hostage inside their houses—it would be immediately addressed as a top-priority national security threat. But social media has long had a free pass for a number of reasons that apply to the information technology industry as a whole. Today, it is protected in distinctive and persistent ways because of its “speech” functions and the constitutional protections that these functions carry.

View and Listen

Merriam-Webster defines Baryons as any of a group of subatomic particles (such as nucleons) that are subject to the strong force and are composed of three quarks. Half of the ordinary baryonic matter has been tough to find but Fast Radio Bursts made it possible to detect the WHIM.

The most popular high-end coffee species – Arabica – is highly susceptible to Climate change. Video talks about how Columbian economy is impacted by the environmental crisis and could affect global coffee drinkers in the longer term.

Is the pursuit of GDP growth is the best priority for human society? Listen to an interesting conversation between Stephen Dubner and Kate Raworth.

Know more about monastic traditions of Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans.