Links for September 2022

Pig music

What is this cartoon? Tens of thousands of people on twitter looked, and for a long time, no one could identify it. But eventually they managed to track it down — it’s a still from a 1991 TV movie about how “’soulmates’ from another planet” teach Earth people that confidence can help to save Christmas. Sometimes it takes a million eyes to solve a mystery, but on the internet, we HAVE a million eyes.

Middle schoolers in Rhode Island come together on Discord to document how their teacher treated female classmates. Now the Discord archive is in the hands of the US attorney’s Office, the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families, the state Department of Education.

Normally in English you can turn a verb into a noun by adding “-er” to the end (travel -> traveler, rule -> ruler, etc.). You can also make compound nouns by giving the verb an object and putting the verb second (fight fire -> firefighter). But there are also a couple dozen “exocentric verb-noun compound agent nouns”, where the noun starts with the verb and ends with the object. Almost all these nouns are vaguely unsavory (like pickpocket, cutthroat, and sellsword), almost all of them were coined in the same 150-year period, and we don’t really know where they came from.

Aella releases the results of a new study where she “asked trans people how much their preference for various sexual things changed after hormone replacement therapy”. She describes her sample size as “real low”, but 300 is much higher than most psychology studies (which famously often have a mere 20 people per condition). Some criticism from Liminal Warmth on twitter here — Lim says “I don’t think much at all can be drawn in terms of generalizable or solid conclusions from this data set” and points out that there are alternative explanations for Aella’s findings. This is true, but we think it’s the wrong way to look at things. There are always alternative explanations, and the value of a study usually depends on how many explanations it rules out, how much it narrows things down, not how many alternatives are left. Someone might predict, for example, that taking estrogen would make a person much less interested in most sexual preferences, but Aella’s results provide pretty strong evidence against that story. There are limitations to the dataset but there was basically nothing before and now there’s something, so kudos to her. This is what research looks like, and we’re excited to see what Aella does next.

Minimum Viable Airships

One of the earliest pieces to argue against the use of tobacco is the treatise A Counterblaste to Tobacco, written by King James VI of Scotland / I of England. James blames Native Americans for this public-health scourge, but you have to admit that he writes with some style — he calls smoking “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.” 

Links for August 2022


“Historically, the dinkus was often represented as an asterism, though this use has fallen out of favor and is now nearly obsolete.”
 

Nutshell, Nicky Case’s new tool to make “expandable, embeddable explanations”, is out now!

Hearing aids will soon be available without a prescription. This is both a common-sense reform we’re glad to see, and movement towards one of our predictions for 2050.

Eukaryote Writes Blog reviews the book Barriers to Bioweapons (an old review actually, from 2017). Among many other things: “​​the book also relays an anecdote from Shoko Ashara, the head of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, who after its bioterrorism project failure ‘speculat[ed] that U.S. assessments of the risk of biological terrorism were designed to mislead terrorist groups into pursuing such weapons.’”

Megalovania, called by some “the most infamous song off of the soundtrack” of the hit indie game Undertale, being performed in front of the Pope.

“We present an ablation study and results demonstrating how our method outperforms the current state-of-the-art on nine text games, including the popular game, Zork, where, for the first time, a learning agent gets past the bottleneck where the player is eaten by a Grue.” (h/t davidad)

Did you know you can just rent a whole climate-controlled MRI machine in a trailer? It ain’t cheap, though.

We want to look into this more, but it’s interesting that Stephan Guyenet thinks that “psychological treatment for chronic back pain” might be effective.

Possible weird externalities: ”Car seats prevent around 57 deaths of children a year, but have lead to around 8,000 fewer births per year.”  

Drought conditions in Europe are revealing ancient “Hungersteine”—or “Hunger Stones”—markers of previous times of drought and famine. 

Speaking of which, this anecdote from reflections on the extraordinary power of slow water:

The skill of these once ubiquitous mammals has been recognized by U.S. authorities, who on various occasions in the past parachuted beavers into wilderness areas to restore watersheds.

The U.K. is also conducting controlled trials using the animals to slow water along river systems and prevent flooding, Gies said, but some folks aren’t waiting for official outcomes. 

“Some people have been releasing wild beavers illegally. Guerrilla beavering, if you will, because of their ability to heal ecosystems.”

That’s some good illegalism.

The comment from user left_the_center on this NY Mag piece — “‘Quiet quitting’, ‘cancel culture’, ‘identity politics’ – these are all press-ready phrases designed to stir up disingenuous debates that center responsibility for bad systems on the people subject to those systems.” Whether or not you agree with the conclusion, it highlights how so much culture war is based around attempts to reframe things without drawing attention to the reframing.

Rambling essay on don’t read the news / talk about risk in order to act, don’t just complain / Pets.com was good, actually / “modern especially western societies is multiple generations of people not asking themselves if things are good or bad and instead asking if things are legal or illegal.” Roundabout in places but a good attempt to point at some pretty common brainworms.

Étienne Fortier-Dubois on Prompt Engineering for Humans. A really nice roundup of some great old writing techniques.

A diagnostic and treatment taxonomy of burnout from Emmett Shear. 

Rachel B. (@Procraftinate) on twitter pointed us to this psychiatrist claiming that moderately high doses of zinc (“15 mg twice per day for adolescents, and up to 30 mg twice per day for adults”) is an effective treatment for anorexia. We suspect that anorexia is a paradoxical reaction to whatever contaminant(s) cause obesity, so we’ve been looking into it more. We found some studies suggesting that zinc can protect against the negative side-effects of lithium exposure, with hints of some other relationships (all in rats, naturally). Curious to know what people think or if this suggests any more connections. FWIW, we asked a physician we know who said, “this article has a bit of a fishy vibe imo. Specifically, I find it really irritating to read because it’s awfully sloppy.”

For the people who are still worried about their gains on the potato diet: New study illustrates that potato protein ingestion strongly increases muscle protein synthesis rates at rest and during recovery from exercise (h/t Joey No Floors Freshwater, h/t Smack_Check)

Vampire Survivors Success: An opportunity in the Steam marketplace. The essay is theoretically about games, but the design lessons are good in general – “Ryanair has figured out that the only thing people really, truly, care about is getting from one spot to the next safely and cheaply. People complain about the lack of amenities but in reality, passengers actually care more about the price. That is why Ryanair focuses EVERYTHING they have on those things: getting people to where they need to go safely, cheaply, and on time. To hell with everything else. “

Learn piano in AR. Piano Hero. Honestly surprised that it’s taken this long.

The Truth About Pig Toilets In Ancient China. That truth seems to be “yes, they pooped on the pigs.”

We haven’t confirmed any of these claims, but check out this thread on the history of the atomic bomb. “The timing of the bombs was not due to any strategic or political calculus. It came down to the weather — an operational choice. The people on Tinian dropped a second bomb because they had a second bomb ready to go, and because their strike order was open-ended. … many of the military-operational types didn’t think one or two bombs would cause Japan to surrender anyway … General Marshall was having his people think about how to use the bombs in conjunction with an invasion — imagining a world in which they might have an atomic bomb to use every 10 days or so … they had a pipeline that they thought could make 3.5 atomic bombs per month, and the military wanted to use them.”

Where do recommended daily values for vitamins and minerals come from? This is something we hope to learn more about, but sometimes at least, the RDAs appear to be entirely made up. (h/t Swapnil Hiremath, MD

The US Air Force built a fake town in the middle of the Arizona desert to practice bombing, and they named it “Yodaville”. Surprisingly this town does not seem to have been named after the Star Wars character — it was named after the call sign of the guy who had the idea of making a fake bombing-target town in the first place, though his call sign presumably came from the Star Wars character.

Large pieces of space junk land in a field in Australia. “I think it’s a concern it’s just fallen out of the sky,” says a local. “If it landed on your house it would make a hell of a mess.” Also: “I’m a farmer from Dalgety, what am I going to say to NASA?” 

Gods of Salt — Uh, claims? About what you would expect from a theory of history posted on DeviantArt, but a pretty good read nonetheless.

Ikea’s Blåhaj Shark Comes To Life To Sell Tiny Apartments In Tokyo

Links for July 2022

In case you aren’t already familiar: High quality horizontally spinning rat.

There is fanfic about Mr. Collins’s Exemplary Vegetables.

When filming The Return of the King, they shot the whole wedding of Faramir and Eowyn, including the kiss, but it’s never been included in any LOTR cut. 

This arXiv preprint from 2022 concludes that academic rickrolling is an “inspiring force for students and scholars alike” and is on the rise.

You may know that the Icelanders historically kept slaves and would go and raid Europe intermittently to get them. But you probably didn’t know that in the summer of 1627, pirates from Algiers ran a series of slave raids on Iceland, captured almost 400 Icelanders, and sold them into slavery in North Africa.

Comparing historical prices is hard, what with inflation and all, but looking at “hours of work required to buy it”, present-day products compare pretty favorably with the listings of the 1980 Sears catalog.

Some translation stories are more interesting than others — this one, about one woman’s quest to translate The Egyptian Book of the Dead, is more interesting than most. 

pokemon cellular automata — “we quickly see areas of fire > water > grass > fire, electric sweeping over, ground frontiers taking over etc etc … Bug is always obliterated almost immediately”

Intestinal Methane Production in Obese Individuals is Associated with a Higher Body Mass Index (h/t Bee on twitter)

explainjargon.com, a tool that converts any scientific jargon to plain English built on GPT-3 (h/t victoriacarr_)

When an essay begins “Should you eat boogers practice automucophagy?”, you know it’s going to be good about eating boogers. Seriously, it’s an interesting post, and ends with two proposed experiment designs.

The Overedge Catalog documents a list of new types of research organizations.

Vice: The Surprising Reason that There Are So Many Thai Restaurants in America

Got ya! Here’s the actual rickrolling paper.

Get tall on foods. Normal problems with correlation and causation, but pretty interesting nonetheless.

Fiddler on the Roof was well-received in London, but it was REALLY well-received in Japan. Joseph Stein, the librettist for the play, went to Japan to oversee the first non-English production. When he got there, the Japanese producer asked him, “Do they understand this show in America?” Bonus video: L’chaim in Japanese with a Japanese cast dressed as Jews from the old country.

Yes, you can hook up a 360º camera to a VR headset and get 360º vision (h/t alyssamvance), we would like this please… inb4 Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Thomas Davenport was a Vermont blacksmith who worked with his wife Emily Davenport to construct the first American DC electric motor in 1834. They first used it to operate a small car, and in 1837, received the first American patent on an electric machine. The Davenports went on to use their electric motor to print a newspaper called The Electro-Magnetic and Mechanics Intelligencer, the first newspaper printed using electricity. Based on the eccentric character of the publishers and the name of the newspaper, we’d like to culturally claim this as the first blog as well. Like most good blogs, it lasted only a few issues.

The Atlantic recently released its full archive dating back to the 1850s, and people have discovered such gems as “I Married a Jew” by Anonymous (h/t this tweet, looks like the account got suspended…). It is uh, it is a lot. Literally every paragraph. It makes it hard to know what paragraph to quote for you, but well, here’s one: “I try to tell Ben,” the anonymous author says of her husband, “that Hitler is merely writing another page in a history that will continue so long as the status quo between Jews and Gentiles remains—a status that only the willing shoulders of both protagonists can remove. But it is hard for Ben to take the long view. He looks upon Hitler as something malignantly unique, and it is no use trying to tell him that a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century.” In this and other stories from the archives of The Atlantic, there’s a definite air of “haha oh why are the Jews so worried about antisemitism? (THE YEAR IS 1939).” Presumably The Atlantic regrets this error.

Ok, ok, here’s the actual rickrolling paper. “Based on a careful manual assessment, we confirm that there are 24 academic documents for which the intention is clearly to rickroll the reader, with no relationship between the topic of the document and the link. This means that rickrolling is significantly more practiced (33x) than studied (10x) in the academic literature.” Seriously, click on it. Go ahead. We would never let you down.

The ACX book review of Haidt’s The Righteous Mind this month was particularly interesting. We had two thoughts we wanted to share. First, we loved the political analysis, but we’re surprised that still no one has pointed out that if the purity foundation is conservative, and purity is about avoiding disease, it seems like Haidt’s model would have predicted that conservatives would freak out majorly about COVID and liberals, who lack the purity foundation, would blow it off. Clearly this was not what happened, and it seems like a strike against the theory. Second, the author of the book review expresses concern that Haidt “doesn’t show his work” and “there’s no explanation of how he got from his data to his moral foundations”. In defense of Haidt’s data, if you feed responses to Haidt’s MFQ survey items into a factor analysis, the factors really do come out into those five foundations like he says they do. Whether those items are a good selection is a thornier issue.

Claims: Queen Elizabeth II is a distant descendant of Muhammed

Air pollution in China is associated with weight gain; “Specifically, a 1 μg/m3 (1.59%) increase in average PM2.5 concentrations in the past 12 months increases BMI by 0.31%, and further increases the overweight and obesity rates by 0.89 and 0.19 percentage points, respectively.” (h/t arpitrage)

Links for June 2022

A research project has been culturing 12 populations of E. coli since 1988 and tracking their evolution. “My bias going into the experiment was that all the strains would go off in very different directions. I was thinking that the roles of chance and contingency in evolution would have been larger than they were. And over the years, we’ve actually seen just striking amounts of reproducibility. So although a typical line has improved its relative fitness compared with the ancestor by maybe 70% or 80%, the variance in competitive fitness between most lines is more like just a few per cent. So they’ve all tremendously increased, but very similarly to one another.”

Slime Mold Time Mold endorses Becca Balint for US Congress. One part of her platform jumped out to us in particular — she hopes to make rent, the largest cost-of-living expense for most people, tax deductible.

Bad news, the AI already has a secret language.

you could cook an egg on that brain [disclaimer: do not cook an egg on your brain]

Jewel-shaped greenhouse opens like a flower. We want one.

“Pentagon guru” Edward Luttwak, 79 years old, spills the beans on geopolitics, Xi Jinping’s obsession with Goethe (and Faust in particular), and what it’s like to grow up with the Mafia bosses’ children in Sicily.

Scott Alexander is running another book review contest. As former ACX Book Review bronze medalists, here are our favorites so far: The Future Of Fusion Energy for an engaging technical overview and optimistic take on fusion power in the next few decades, The Dawn Of Everything for a critical take on a provocative book and a surprisingly strong argument that prehistory was socially very much like high school, The Castrato for lots of weird facts about Castrati and speculation “that sometime this century a new landscape of biological and psychological possibilities will open up before us”, and Making Nature on how the journal Nature went from a pop science venue to a prestige publication in a surprisingly brief window. Excellent work, chaps.

New in Interactive Instruction: Mark Brown has a new platformer toolkit interactive which “drops you in to a crummy-feeling platformer – and then gives you all the tools to make it better.”

And: Interactive Typography Tutorial (kind of railroads you into specific design choices, but a good start.)

Also relevant: Nicky Case’s collection of similar projects.

Iñupiaq numerals were invented by “a bunch of middle schoolers in 1994” and are all kinds of wild and amazing.

silenceinbetween reviews a paper that asks, how much computation can a single neuron do by itself?

Twitter user long_ziti pointed us to the Reddit thread, “I know there is a correlation between elevation/altitude and suicide. I moved to a place at 8000 ft 7 years ago. I now have 6 people I know that have killed themselves. I had zero before moving here (in my 40’s). Why?” on r/askscience, and points out, “if obesity is a contaminant and that contaminant is lithium, this would be expected.”

Links for May 2022

Weird and bad drug interactions are everywhere. Here’s one we didn’t hear about until recently: Combined use of SSRIs and NSAIDs increases the risk of gastrointestinal adverse effects. Here’s a meta-analysis from 2021.

We talked about Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, his amazing wife, and his awesome house in a previous links post; now he’s running for the Senate.

An interesting breakdown of Effective Altruism’s recent ill-fated $14 million introduction to politics and an attempt to describe what an actually effective, Realpolitik approach might look like.

It’s always weird to learn about new historical figures we happen to have caught on film: here’s an interview from 1927 with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about writing Sherlock Holmes and having, in his words, “psychic experiences”.

bad news about cockroach sex — or as the twitter thread says, BUGS SUGAR SEX MAGIK

Bringing empiricism to new topics will be one of the signatures of the 21st century; here’s a great example of finding the perfect author photo with the clever application of photoshop and crowdsourcing. “It also might become my real-life look,” he says. “Because my lovely wife Cassandra said I looked hotter this way.”

More internet science from Troof on nootropics. Hopefully the first of many projects! 

Wikipedia is already well-known for being the repository of all human knowledge, but it still sometimes manages to surprise us. Consider for example the page, ​​Order of battle for the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. If this is anything close to correct, maybe is Wikipedia now one pillar of the intelligence community?

We’ve wanted something like this for a while, and here it is: A list of ways AIs have learned to cheat at videogames. Bad news for attempts to align AI with human values but good news in that some of their strategies, while inventive, are not exactly Skynet. For example, consider: “Agent kills itself at the end of level 1 to avoid losing in level 2.”

Speaking of preparing for the cyberpunk future: comics about self managed abortion and sources of abortion pills, just in case.

In other future news, Futurama was right:

Love food but hate herbicides? How do you feel about LASERS

We’ve kind of been sleeping on Bartosz Ciechanowski but something like this is clearly the future of engineering textbooks. What is this guy’s day job? Should someone just hire him (and a small team?) to create open-source internet engineering manuals for the 21st century? 

Purple.com was “a single-page website created [by Jeff Abrahamson] in 1994. It consisted of no links or text and its only content was a purple background.” This was until November 2017, when it was sold to the internet mattress company, Purple, Inc. for around $900,000. So Jeff created ISoldPurple.com

Cannons: 

First-year recap on a startup that tries to do local/community news different. Kind of surprised they’re still focusing on an ad revenue model but we agree that local news is an undervalued area.

Guy tweets at Microsoft and asks them to release the source code for movie maker from 1995 and they said “okay here you go”

Links for April 2022

TABERNAC

Data visualization in R has officially gone too far.

Stephan Malina does a great book review on the work of polymath ​​scientist / inventor / psychologist Elmer R. Gates, one of the great scientists history pretty much forgot. Among other things, he talks about a “scientifically determined method of mentating”, genetic memory, and developing precise control of the body… if this guy wasn’t a huge influence on Frank Herbert’s Dune, we would be very surprised.

Remember stumbleupon? 

Interesting review on twitter of nutritional wisdom. Basically: your body knows what you need and directs you to eat things that give you those things. This makes sense to us, how else did people stay alive 10,000 years ago? 

Good news in PFAS remediation. You probably know that these terrible compounds are in your blood, where they bind to serum proteins; turns out you can get rid of them just by donating blood (h/t Lars Doucet). This makes perfect sense — the PFAS are bound to the blood, you get rid of the blood, you get rid of some PFAS, and your bones make fresh blood with no PFAS. Wait, did bloodletting maybe work? Like if you had a ton of lead in your body or something, would this get it out? There used to be lead in everything, we imagine if you swallowed some, came down with sweats and a fever, went to a doctor and they let your blood go, it might help with the lead poisoning. Compare also with “dilution of harmful factors in old blood” as a life extension technique. We might look into all of this a bit more when we get a chance.

Politics, Ho Ho Ho. No seriously, Santa Claus is running for US House Representative for Alaska. And we want to take a moment to say, he has the official Slime Mold Time Mold endorsement.

Rat On! is an album by R&B anti-hero Swamp Dogg. You must hear the reviews. Here’s one from ‘Denzel’: “This man has the greatest album covers of all time. Whether riding a giant rat or posing as some kind of hot-dog/man hybrid; Swamp Dogg never disappoints the senses whether audio, visual or otherwise.” Swamp Dogg do you want to collab?

“According to Waters, the hole had an unknown depth of at least 80,000 feet. He claimed to have measured its depth using fishing line and a weight, although he still had not hit bottom by the time 80,000 feet of line had been used. He also claimed that his neighbor’s dead dog had been seen alive sometime after it was thrown into the hole. According to Waters, the hole’s magical properties prompted US federal agents to seize the land and fund his relocation to Australia.”

Magnetic slime might be the next big thing in medicine. The twitter comments are about what you would expect. 

We haven’t seen much of new show “Winning Time”, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s review on Substack is worth reading for being a whole new level of articulate and cutting. Why didn’t anyone tell us he’s one of the greatest living writers? 

I Caught Covid And All I Got Was This Lousy Ambiguous Data

A Chinese math teacher is “one of Pornhub’s biggest stars” — for his calculus lectures. He keeps his clothes on. You might think this means you can create something unusual and special on any platform. No. You can only create something unusual and special on PornHub.

Where in Pi is Waldo? Not in the first billion digits, apparently. Or maybe he is, depending on how much you cheat.

Atoms vs Bits asks, who made the best predictions? Their candidate: Charles Darwin

”A mysterious leaden sarcophagus discovered in the bowels of Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral after it was devastated by a fire will soon be opened and its secrets revealed.” DON’T OPEN IT 

Advertising firm Ogilvy will no longer work with influencers who edit their bodies or faces for ads. Very cyberpunk.

The Average Fourth Grader Is a Better Poet Than You (and Me Too). “Here are some lines written by students in grades 3rd-6th: … [Writing about a family member’s recent death:] ‘My brother went down / to the river and put dirt on.’” Related: 

Dynomight shares an interesting first-person account of being recruited to (probably) a cult.

The Guardian reports: The big idea: should we get rid of the scientific paper? YES

If you are facing a werewolf and want to cast your own silver bullets, it’s very hard but probably not impossible. (h/t Lars Doucet)

How do you defend your livestock from coyotes? Well obviously your farm just needs the coyote’s most terrible natural enemy (content warning: coyote slaughter):

On the use of StackOverflow and Cunningham’s Law.

Aella comes out as Wikipedia nerd. We always suspected.

Links for March 2022

THIS BUG hAAS A CUTE FACE

It’s been a good month for Georgism. Vox comes out in favor of a Land Value Tax; cameo by friend of the blog Lars Doucet. Also, a great essay on why Georgism is so attractive in our current situation (Basically, it cuts against ideologies and encourages pragmatic harmony. Havel would be proud.). 

Interesting take on how to get “the news” in our modern ecosystem. Briefly, the proposed solution is “use twitter not at all in the way it was intended to be used”. 

“These biosensors function as permanent colorimetric pigments. Instead of tattoo ink, researchers injected the pigments into the thin dermis layer of tissue that hosts nerves, blood vessels, and interstitial fluid (ISF). Sensors vary in color as they come into contact with biomolecules. Placed appropriately, a diagnostic tattoo can reveal biomarker changes faster than conventional testing and the appearance of symptoms.” (But why did they call it Dermal Abyss???) If tattoos are too much of a commitment, they’re also working on diagnostic stickers that work more or less the same way.

Ben Kuhn on lognormal distributions and outliers. In our experience, understanding lognormal distributions is pretty easy and opens up all kinds of low-hanging fruit. This is a good intro to the concept and why it comes in handy.

Slate: Russians are racing to download Wikipedia before it gets banned. Takeaways: Wikipedia is smaller than you might expect, small enough to fit on a flash drive. The Russian-language Wikipedia is only 29 GB, and: “The entirety of English Wikipedia, from ‘List of Informally Named Dinosaurs’ to ‘Floor’ to ‘Skunks as Pets’ and everything in between, is 87 GB with pictures or 47 GB without.”

When a high voltage is applied to pure water filling 2 beakers kept close to each other, a connection forms spontaneously, giving the impression of a floating water bridge.

If you’re familiar with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, then you know about “the label”. (If not, a sample: “In all we do, let us be fair, generous, and loving to Spaceship Earth and all its inhabitants. For we’re All-One or None! All-One!”) It turns out that the story of how the label was born is even more interesting than you might think.

Sumerian dog joke good; scholarly discussion of what it means great

Article from 2007. On a phone call, the author offhandedly mentions that his wife is good at Game Boy Tetris — “She can get 500 or 600 lines, no problem.” — and learns that the current world record for Game Boy Tetris is 327 lines. They go to New Hampshire and she becomes the new world record holder with a total of 841 lines.

In Japan, crows have learned to attack solar power plants with stones. No one knows why: “It is unknown why crows bombard solar panels, possibly it is a game. The stones seldom directly crack panels, but the crows are experts at placing stones or other garbage just so that they stay on top of the panel, soon causing overheating and destruction or permanent damage.” The only way to keep crows away is to use falcons. “One trained falcon making 60 attack sorties a day can protect 100,000 solar panels from vengeful crows.”

Yet another example of a potato-only diet, complete with a book. Amazon reviews are anecdotal, of course, but they’re very positive. Not affiliated with us, in fact predates our work by a couple of years, looks like this got started in 2015 or 2016.

uhhhh wat

Links for February 2022

all aboard

Lady Wonder “was a mare some claimed to have psychic abilities and be able to perform intellectually demanding tasks such as arithmetic and spelling. … Lady was said to have predicted the outcome of boxing fights and political elections, and was consulted by the police in criminal investigations.“

Did you ever spend time in… middle school? If so, you may recognize some of these urban legends about drugs. Who can forget such classics as “Bananadine” or “Man permanently thinks he is an orange and is terrified of being turned into a glass of orange juice.” We love that Wikipedia has an article on this. 

Monte Testaccio is an artificial hill in Rome over 100 feet high, and 1 km in circumference, composed of fragments of broken ancient Roman pottery dating from the time of the Roman Empire. Gotta go back to Rome so I can look at this friggin’ bing.

Also per Wikipedia: Albert Einstein loved the children’s puppet show Time for Beany. “On one occasion, the physicist interrupted a high-level conference by announcing, ‘You will have to excuse me, gentlemen. It’s Time for Beany.’”

Possible good news about PFAS

Beautiful houses in Oman.

Our predictions for 2050 are already coming to pass in small ways. Delivery robots are so common in some cities (e.g. Milton Keynes in the UK) that there are already delivery robot traffic jams. (Also reminded of the time a delivery robot caught fire on Berkeley campus and students made a memorial for it.) This furry did the Moderna vaccine we told you science was gonna get weirder and cooler.

Alex Wellerstein writes a retrospective on 10 years of NUKEMAP. “Historians should not be surprised by the passing of time, but people are, and historians are people, so, well, here I am, continually surprised.” Relatedly, if you ever think nuclear war is about to occur, consider taking a 90-day trip to New Zealand.

Other explosions: According to Fire in the sky — a history of meteoritics, there are a lot more documented cases of asteroid impacts than we realized! It’s only a matter of time before an asteroid wipes out a town — and THIS time, we’ll capture it on video

Or maybe Russia will crash-land the International Space Station in our backyard, who knows.

In animation, Worthikids is the guy to watch. Here’s a good interview with him about his process.

Breastfeeding by humans of animals — much more common than you might think! “The reasons for this are varied: to feed young animals, to drain a woman’s breasts, to promote lactation, to harden the nipples before a baby is born, to prevent conception, and so on. … In far northern Japan, the Ainu people are noted for holding an annual bear festival at which a captured bear, raised and suckled by the women, is sacrificed.”

Best in Blogging this month: 

  • Adam at Experimental History describes bureaucratic psychosis. “The best way I’ve found to keep it at bay is to simply excuse myself from other people’s Renaissance Fair realities and go play somewhere else. Let the obtuse administrators, sadistic gatekeepers, and conmen consultants rule their blob-land; I am happy sharing a little corner of the world with people who see me as a person.”
  • Applied Divinity Studies put out a two-part series on the purported shoplifting wave in San Francisco (Part 1, Part 2). We recommend reading it in full, but to summarize, ADS thinks that this supposed crime spree is a complete fantasy, driven by selective reporting and “an abject failure to do even the bare minimum of background research”. Seriously chilling implications about how much you can trust reporting and for our political landscape. “If you stick though this series, you’ll get to hear… how we ended up in this weird and wacky world where libertarian VCs somehow end up agreeing with liberals like Nancy Pelosi and London Breed, and where the stance they all agree on is that we should be tough on a crime, a stance historically antithetical to both parties’ platforms.”
  • If you’re still concerned about the downfall of civilization, consider this series (Part I, Part II, Part III) from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry on the question, “how bad was the fall of Rome (in the West)?” Choice quote from the ending: 

The collapse of the Roman Empire in the West is a complex sequence of events and one that often resists easy answers, but it is a useful one to think about, particularly as we now sit atop our own fragile clockwork economic mechanism, suspended not a few feet but many miles above the grinding poverty of pre-industrial life and often with our own arsonists, who are convinced that the system is durable and stable because they cannot imagine it ever vanishing.

Until it does.

Independent hacker P4x fucks up North Korea.

Check out this “glitch art object”! We want one. Actually, here’s a build log.

Edward Snowden: “it’s not VR if i can’t get into a fistfight with kermit the frog”

Links for January 2022

There’s a new blog in town. All the old blogs are still here of course. Our small mining town is filling up, it’s shoulder-to-shoulder blogs in here. Blogs in the ditches, blogs in the pantry, blogs under the floorboards. Last night I went to my room and found three strange blogs asleep in my bed. Send help. Anyways this new blog is Experimental History. The name comes from the author’s defining argument that psychology is best understood as the study of bothering people. “It’s nearly impossible to do psychology without bothering somebody,” he says, “and the moment you do, you’ve made experimental history.

MichelangEmoji Bot is by far our favorite AI art project. In particular, it seems like a good argument against the idea that AI will remove human creativity from the process of creating art. The tools get weirder and weirder, but some genius still had to come up with templates like “EMOJI EMOJI – Landscape Series -” and “Portal to the EMOJI EMOJI Dimension”.

Our header image this month is Portal to the 💥💗 Dimension. Please enjoy this additional selection: 

And a similar idea: Horror design based on; 😂🎃🦈 Listen, uh… is she single?

Hmmm. Given all this, are emoji the hieroglyphs of the internet? Yes. There’s even an emoji Alethiometer.

Interesting two-part series about how (and when) the New York Times tests multiple headlines for a single article and what kinds of articles make it to the front page.

Speaking of which, we know that whoever wrote the headline for “Scientists fight crab for mysterious purple orb discovered in California deep” was doing it to get us to click, and listen, it worked.

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet of course, but this is big if true: autistic redditor claims that prescription oxytocin nasal spray temporarily suppresses his autism.

End of history disproven by awesome sink.

In Florida they don’t have snow days, but they do have Iguana Warnings.

Noah Smith: “There’s no stopping [the technology] bus. I can only promise you that it’s going to get weirder.” Strap in! 😀 

In other future-predicting news, expect cloaking devices on cars by 2030.

When Timothy Leary (the LSD guy, Harvard Psychology Professor, etc.) finally ended up jail in 1970, this happened:

On January 21, 1970, Leary received a 10-year sentence for his 1968 offense, with a further 10 added later while in custody for a prior arrest in 1965, for a total of 20 years to be served consecutively. On his arrival in prison, he was given psychological tests used to assign inmates to appropriate work details. Having designed some of these tests himself (including the “Leary Interpersonal Behavior Inventory”), Leary answered them in such a way that he seemed to be a very conforming, conventional person with a great interest in forestry and gardening. As a result, he was assigned to work as a gardener in a lower-security prison from which he escaped in September 1970, saying that his non-violent escape was a humorous prank and leaving a challenging note for the authorities to find after he was gone.

If psychedelics are not your thing, consider the exciting and unusual world of hobby tunneling, where random people go full mole and sometimes dig elaborate series of tunnels beneath their house, yard, local public park, etc.

Notable examples include: 

Cray cray indeed: 

On twitter, Anton argues: what if we fixed San Francisco by doing crimes? “illegalism is a political philosophy which says that under unjust systems of control, doing crimes is a political act and revolutionaries ought to establish a parallel illegal economy” He also includes a list of “good crimes to do”, saying, “there’s a lot of really great crimes you can do if you have the resources and the will”. 

In related news, Applied Divinity Studies writes absolutely-not-medical-advice about how you can get fluvoxamine for less than $100 and a few minutes on a video call. We’re reminded of similar work by Scott Alexander, like Mental Health On A Budget and his “long post is long” post, Navigating And/Or Avoiding The Inpatient Mental Health System.

Also see this great thread by Maia Bittner, including tips like “literally no doctor cares if you’re tired or in pain or can’t work. *but* they do care about Activities of Daily Living (ADL). … Show up in kind of a decrepit state. Doctors are power freaks and they dismiss you if you’re put together. Super over-do your ADL- if you can’t put on socks, walk in barefoot. They need to see evidence of how your problem negatively affects your life when you walk in the room.” and “you know how every doctor gives you a 5 page form to fill out with all your family history of every possible disease? just skip it and give it back to them blank. they don’t even notice or look at it”. We’re not doctors so we don’t know if this is true, but either way, more stuff like this please. Medical praxis seems like incredibly valuable low-hanging social good, and most of it isn’t even illegal! Someone should make a manual. In fact, if you want to make a manual, let us know

Speaking of stoopid laws: The secret history of jaywalking

Surprising boondock etymology – “1910s during or around the Philippine–American War after the Spanish–American War, from Tagalog bundok (‘mountain’), adopted by occupying American soldiers serving in the mountains or rural countryside of the American-occupied Philippines under the United States Military Government of the Philippine Islands. The term was reinforced or re-adopted during World War II under the U.S. military, where terms like boondockers (‘shoes suited for rough terrain’) came originally in 1944 as U.S. services slang word for field boots. It was later shortened to boonies by 1964 originally among U.S. troops serving in the Vietnam War in reference to the rural areas of Vietnam, as opposed to Saigon.”  Can you guess why we looked up this etymology this month? 

Bad news for the West, friends — the world’s first classical Chinese programming language is out. It’s also beautiful: 

Pike squares were developed to fight cavalry. Slings could be used to panic war elephants. So too the answer to cheap modern drones may be motorcyclery — essentially, militarized biker gangs.  

If you are looking for new characters for your fiction novel, please please enjoy this list by Jess Nevins of the best characters from the pulps who were created in 1926 and thus fall into the public domain starting this year. Who among you will bring back the Crimson Clown: “The Crimson Clown is a ghastly frickin’ nightmare, of course—just *look* at that picture I posted two tweets back—it’s a clown with a gun, drinking Scotch! Pure nightmare fuel—which is why bringing him back and making him *really* scary would be a great idea.”

A video! Watch to the end.

Q: We’re going to ask this neighbor here, what do you think is happening in Telde?  What do you think is happening here? Hey, sir, I’m talking to you, don’t turn your back on me, man. What happens in your yard? Zapatero. What is your opinion on Zapatero’s government? What is your opinion on the Canary government? And of the city council of the island? Let’s ask him if he receives a subsidy from the government. Do you receive a subsidy from the government? Let’s see. What is going on with the mayors? What is happening with the president of the government and what is happening with the mayors of the island? What is happening with the city councilors? What’s happening…? Let’s see. Let’s see. Come here. Please. Don’t turn your back on me man, I want to talk to you. Look: What is going on with the mayor of Telde? What is going on with the mayors of the island?

A: WUALLLHHHHHHHH

“Excited to share a new study led by Shachar Givon & @MatanSamina w/ Ohad Ben Shahar,” begins this tweet. “Goldfish can learn to navigate a small robotic vehicle on land. We trained goldfish to drive a wheeled platform that reacts to the fish’s movement.” This is exciting but turns out home hackers have been letting fish control robot cars since at least 2014. Compare also to studies in teaching rats to drive tiny cars — researchers say the rats find this relaxing. Ok, new prediction for 2050: robot exoskeletons for small animals that let them navigate the human world, drive, take jobs, etc. Everyone was worried about automation, no one was worried about the goldfish taking our jobs. Alternatively if the self-driving cars don’t arrive on schedule, we can get rats or goldfish to do it.

“While recording the audiobook version of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White needed 17 takes to read Charlotte’s death scene because he kept crying.”

Magawa, the landmine-sniffing hero rat, dies aged eight. Rest in peace hero 😢🥇🐀

Links for December 2021

…and now, back to your regularly-scheduled SMTM links posts.

Barcode scanners: the cool new instrument, especially if you strap one to your skateboard.

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry takes an extremely close look at the operations and logistics of two sieges depicted in The Lord of the Rings — the Siege of Minas Tirith in six parts and the Siege of Helm’s Deep in eight parts! In both series, the Pedant makes a compelling case that the logistics on both sides of each siege are effective characterization of the commanders involved — you learn a lot about Théoden, Saruman, Denethor, and the Witch-King of Angmar by how they conduct their operations. This blog is great in general, but we’ll refrain from making any other specific recommendations, he just has too many good posts. He keeps hitting that sweet spot of “incredibly long but so good it’s worth reading anyways”.

Other people who really get it: BREADSWORD on Disney’s Robin Hood and the Death of Color. Why mirth and joyousness are important — and if you don’t get it, “these pages are not for you”. To prepare for this video, Breadsword watched every Robin Hood movie and TV show ever made, it’s worth seeing. And as you may know, this tradition is an interest of ours.

Lars Doucet, who won the first ACX book review contest with his review of Henry George’s 1897 book Progress & Poverty, is back with the first three parts of an extensive series on Georgism, kicking the tires to see if it’s worth taking these ideas seriously. He goes after the big three critiques people have of Georgism —  is land really a big deal?, can landlords just pass land value taxes on to their tenants?, and can the value of land be accurately estimated separately from the buildings sitting on top? He’s planning to keep the series going at gameofrent.com, so this story ain’t over yet.

Many of you were amused at the historical dildo reference we found in the 1674 anonymous WOMEN’S PETITION AGAINST COFFEE REPRESENTING TO PUBLICK CONSIDERATION THE Grand INCONVENIENCIES accruing to their SEX from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling LIQUOR, which we mentioned in our essay Higher than the Shoulders of Giants; Or, a Scientist’s History of Drugs. So here’s some more scholarship on historical dildos, focusing on an 18th-centry piece “​​fitted with a plunger to simulate ejaculation”. Lots of juicy quotes from this one, but we’ll refrain — read it for yourself.

What made The Matrix so special? One possibility: “They have this really admirable view of people, that everybody is as smart as they are, which is one of the reasons why The Matrix is such an unusual movie. … The Wachowskis always think people are gonna get it. They always think of people as smart.” Bonus trivia: before he got woken up, Morpheus was a barber.

You will never love anything as much as Biquette the goat loved punk rock. “To put it plainly,” reports VICE, “Biquette was a goat who loved grindcore.” Her favorite food, cigarette butts “in all [their] forms (butts from the ashtray, lit cig in your hand….)”, may have contributed to her early demise. 

Forcing your smart toaster to play the 1993 first-person shooter DOOM is a standard benchmark in computer science. Now psychologists are getting in on the fun: training rats to play DOOM in VR. See also the technical report here. So far the rats can walk down a hallway and sometimes shoot monsters, but research is ongoing. 

Rita Levi-Montalcini made major discoveries in neuroscience from her bedroom, using a couple of microscopes, a camera and paper, some melting wax, chicken eggs, and “an egg incubator that her brother built with a thermostat and a fan”. All this through the Allied bombing of her home town of Turin. She later went on to win a Nobel Prize and become the first Nobel laureate to live to 100. 

From the Unicode Consortium: The Most Frequently Used Emoji of 2021. Among many other things: “it appears that reports of Tears of Joy’s death are greatly exaggerated 😂.”

Borgen presents a view of politics in which little is at stake beyond the central character’s attainment of deserved power and success; government is merely an arena for self-realization. … The viewer gets the sense that to acknowledge the impacts of government actions on the public at large would somehow spoil the fun, complicating our identification with the heroine.” An analysis of “a social stratum in the modern West that sees politics as a realm of spectacle and personal drama” through the lens of a critically-acclaimed and critically-naïve Danish political drama

Smaller-scale but similar issues; a vignette on political talk and small talk. What do you do when someone tries to rehash a conversation that both of you have heard, point for point, a hundred times before?

What happens if you use human stem cells to make a brain organoid? Well, they “generate primitive sensory structures that are light sensitive and harbor cell types similar to those found in the body.” We like mad science but this is kinda creepy even by our standards.

Everyone knows that the microbiome is important to your health. Turns out the quality of black tea is also impacted by ITS microbiome. Has anyone tried rubbing yogurt on their… you know what, forget it.