A blog about biology, self-improvement, and the future

Tag archive: Links

A weird psychadelic poster saying "Secure all classified material"

  • The NSA has released an archive of old security posters. (h/t Schneier on Security).
  • There is a unit of radiation called the banana equivalent dose (h/t The Prepared).
  • [I]f the chief executive officer of a public company commits sexual harassment, he is probably also guilty of insider trading“.
  • ‘Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do.’ This was the opening sentence of Derek Parfit’s philosophical masterpiece, Reasons and Persons… However, there was a problem. Derek did not, in fact, own a cat. Nor did he wish to become a cat owner, as he would rather spend his time taking photographs and doing philosophy. On the other hand, the sentence would clearly be better if it was true. To resolve this problem Derek drew up a legal agreement with his sister, who did own a cat, to the effect that he would take legal possession of the cat while she would continue living with it.”
  • China’s Supreme People’s Court is not happy with Wuhan police for suppressing “rumours” of a pneumonia outbreak: “It … undermines the credibility and chips away at public support for the Communist Party. It could even be used by hostile overseas forces as an excuse to criticise us.”
  • Speaking of hostile overseas forces using this as an excuse to criticise China, Scott Sumner argues that authoritarian nationalism is bad for your health.
  • The robots are coming for your blood.
  • Grey seals clap underwater to show dominance (maybe).
  • Speaking of seals, did you know some fur seals in Antarctica have sex with penguins? Sometimes they eat the penguins afterwards, sometimes they don’t.
  • Gun owners aren’t happier, don’t sleep better at night.” No opinion on the research itself, but I love the headline.
  • Miami has issued a falling iguana warning. (h/t The Prepared)
  • Intimidation is the father of silence and the mother of lies.”
  • This building exists.
  • Which emoji scissors close?? “If you could file those parts down, you could close [these scissors] a lot more. But you couldn’t, because 📁 is the only file you can get in emoji”. (h/t The Prepared)

Happy New Year! More links abound. As always, these are “new” only in the sense that I read them recently; some of them are actually quite old.

  • More on the Blackmail Paradox: David Henderson and Robin Hanson in favour of legalising blackmail, Tyler Cowen, Scott Sumner and Paul Christiano against. Hanson has written a lot on this; see the linked post for extra links if you want to go digging. Currently I feel the theoretical arguments probably support legalising blackmail, but this feels like one of those Secret-Of-Our-Success-y cases where tradition says blackmail should be illegal and we don’t have a compelling enough case to risk screwing around with it.
  • Given Aumann’s agreement theorem, should you persist in disagreeing with a painted rock? Should you double-crux with one?
  • However, it is unfortunate that for billions of people worldwide, the quadratic formula is also their first (and perhaps only) experience of a rather complicated formula which they must memorize. Countless mnemonic techniques abound, from stories of negative bees considering whether or not to go to a radical party, to songs set to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel.”
  • I’m pretty confused about flossing and I think you should be too.
  • A classic in observer selection effects from Nick Bostrom: cars in the next lane really do go faster.
  • Rather than steal a load of cool links from another linkpost, here’s the post itself. I can’t vouch for their epistemic standards though.
  • There are at least 4,500 speakers of Kannada in Canada. All of whom are presumably delighted that you’ve brought up how funny that is.
  • Wikipedia has a dedicated talk page for arguing about the spelling of alumin(i)um. I don’t have strong feelings about it1, but it’s undeniably entertaining. See also Wikipedia’s list of lamest edit wars.
  • A university in Serbia is accused of plagiarising a research ethics code from another university. On the one hand, this is obviously pretty funny, but on the other if I’d produced a research ethics code I thought was good I think I’d want as many people as possible to copy it, with or without credit.
  • I’ve seen some bad websites in my time, but this one achieves the dubious feat of being genuinely physically painful to read. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this.
  • British naming habits have changed a lot in the last 30 years.
  • Andrew Gelman points out that the opposite of “black box” is not, in fact, white box.
  • I always vaguely assumed that “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” was some sort of memento mori thing, but it turns out I was totally wrong about this, as reading the whole poem makes clear. I might memorise this one. I also never realised before that “for whom the bell tolls” and “no man is an island” are quotes from the same poem, so TIL.

  1. This is a lie, but it’s one I endorse. 

Here are some more links I read recently that I thought were cool. No guarantees any of them are actually new in an absolute sense; if it’s relevant, make sure to check the date before using them in an argument or something.

  • The blackmail paradox is my current favourite thing in common law – to the extent that I’m now very open to the possibility that blackmail shouldn’t be illegal, or perhaps even be considered a thing. (I mean, probably that’s a terrible idea, but I’m honestly not really sure why.)
  • This post by Robin Hanson both gives a nice counterargument to the Bostromian Vulnerable World thesis and illustrates what happens what the world would be like if Nick Bostrom were attacked by a swarm of rabid ellipses. And also quotes this bombshell tweet from Anders Sandberg in 2018, which I’m amazed hasn’t seen more play.
  • I really like Winograd schemas, a form of linguistic puzzle that humans find trivial but machines find challenging; in 2016 the best-performing system managed 58% accuracy.
  • I’ve been thinking about information hazards a lot lately; maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. Anyway, for countervailing views, check out Bruce Schneier’s interview with 80,000 Hours and this post on the EA forum.
  • Like first-past-the-post voting, pre-performance competition for public resources is an intuitively appealing idea that turns out to work horrendously badly — in this case, eating up vast amounts of time and money, most of which is wasted. That it also happens to be the way we allocate almost all of our scientific funding might therefore be considered something of a disaster. This Vox piece does a good job laying out the case for one of many much-better alternatives (grant lotteries), though it does kinda pivot away into weak-sauce objections at the end. (h/t Vlad Sitalo for the EconTalk link, which I was struggling to find in the archives.)
  • DNA can hold over 200 petabytes of data per gram. Why not use it for long-term storage?
  • I am a fan of Stephan Guyenet and am pretty strongly convinced by his scepticism of the “woo fats boo carbs” narrative that seems to have taken over in many circles these days. Here he is pointing out that, actually, fat seems to be at least as addictive as sugar. (NB: I think I might have actually got this one from an SSC linkpost.)
  • Harvard is setting up a research/teaching program called “Embedded EthiCS”: because it’s a collaboration between the philosophy and computer science departments GET IT? It’s probably a good thing that this exists, but I’m not sure how I feel about august institutions choosing their naming conventions based on puns.
  • Ada Lovelace’s reputation is somewhat fraught these days, caught between all those people who want to claim her as “the world’s first computer programmer” and splash her name everywhere, and people who think she’s badly overrated. Stephen Wolfram was also confused by this and decided to dig into it; he seems to rate her. I still think her story is more one of tragically wasted potential than actual lasting achievement, and we should maybe find some more women in computer science to name things after, but this and a couple of other things have definitely updated me regarding the depth and originality of her vision, and how great a tragedy her early death really was. (Content note: Stephen Wolfram’s primary fascination is always Stephen Wolfram, so as always he mentions himself more often than you might naïvely think would be necessary, were you not aware of how great Stephen Wolfram is.)
  • Finally, did you know that the Online Etymology Dictionary (one of my favourite websites) has a blog? It’s true! And it’s fascinating and grumpy and great. Highlights include my favourite ever discussion of autoantonyms, discussions of the knotty histories of “fast” and “gun”, and lots of very entertaining ranting about how, no, your favourite word is not a fucking acronym.

Stuff from me

I put up two more pieces on the EA Forum that I didn’t think needed to be on this blog: a question about Bostrom’s “Disneyland without children” and a followup to my previous post about ageing-based welfare measures with some concrete suggestions for future progress in the area.

New stuff

Technically, much of this stuff is not actually new, but I only came across it recently and it’s my blog.

  • Lately I’ve been enjoying Jason Crawford’s blog Roots of Progress: “an intellectual project, which may take many years, to understand the nature and cause of human progress.” Highlights include his discussion of the fundamental artificiality of “natural resources” and his public boggling at the wonders of iron and cement.
  • The classic story of how blind auditions reduced discrimination against women in orchestras may not be real.
  • The Dutch have a special symbol called the flourish of approval.
  • A mole of moles is a lot of moles.
  • The UK is experimenting with new ways of paying for antibiotics.
  • Part of what makes us happy is the satisfaction of actually (or likely) helping people. Consequentialism can ask us to give up even this.”
  • Here’s an actually-quite-old post about Really Big Numbers. I still don’t really comprehend Graham’s Number, but at least I’m starting to get an inkling of how unimaginably vast it is.

Golden oldies

Here’s some older stuff that I read a while ago, but has been on my mind for one reason or another.