Links for April 2022


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


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?


“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, 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.

Links for July 2021

From Wikipedia’s list of gestures:

  • “Loser, made by extending the thumb and forefinger to resemble the shape of an L on the forehead is an insulting gesture.”
  • “High five is a celebratory ritual in which two people simultaneously raise one hand and then slap these hands together.”
  • Somehow it has jazz hands (“used in dance or other performances by displaying the palms of both hands with fingers splayed”) but not spirit fingers, what gives?

The economy is endlessly fascinating, if occasionally terrifying, and a good story at the intersection of the two is this tale about the startup “Fronk”, now available for your reading pleasure thanks to an expired NDA.

You don’t often see project management fiction, but this one is amazing: Instruments of Destruction, a Star Wars fanfic 

Speaking of the fascinating details of management, consider this overview of the artillery practices of the major powers in WWII. Briefly, the Germans risked the lives of specially trained Forward Observers in a system that still came down to “guess and check”, the British assumed the earth was a perfectly flat, infinite plane and instead of worrying about accuracy, “just accepted the errors and tended to fire every available battery at the target”, and the Americans brute-forced the calculations for “a HUGE number of variations of wind/temperature, barrel wear, elevation differentials” beforehand, and then pulled out their reference materials to deliver extremely precise fire in only a couple of minutes.

The late, great Satoshi Kon passed away in 2010, at the age of 46. An interview from him in 2007 that had previously never fully seen the light of day has just been published on the substack Something Good

Before there was the replication crisis, there was the 0.1 second crisis, which rocked science and philosophy for most of the 19th century. Then, everyone stopped caring and most of us forgot, but this crisis may have created modernity. Also, for better or worse, it helped give us statistics.

Eighteen-Year-Old Tunisian Swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui Claims Gold in the 400m Freestyle at Tokyo Olympics, Commentators Struggle to Keep Up

Very fond of Visa’s charming twitter thread on Samantha Smith, “a 10 year old American girl from Maine, wrote a letter to the new leader of the USSR, Yuri Andropov, asking him why he wanted to conquer the world, and could we please have peace instead.”

Here at SLIME MOLD TIME MOLD we are very interested in alternative approaches to education, so we were very interested to see this piece on teaching the Iliad to Chinese teenagers. To complete the cycle, we would like to see a Chinese author write a piece on teaching Romance of the Three Kingdoms to American teenagers.

Also in unusual educational approaches, see welcome to class. We have no idea if this would work out well but it gets lots of points for being original. If anyone tries this or has tried it, please let us know. (h/t commenter Noah)

Our ongoing series A Chemical Hunger (Part I here) inspired reddit user pondgrass to create /r/spudbud/, advocating “The World’s most Legible Diet” based on a simple premise: “Eat Nothing but Potato”

In case you missed it, one of the authors of this blog won third place in the Astral Codex Ten Book Review Contest for a book review of On The Natural Faculties by Galen of Pergamon. Thanks Scott for hosting, and thank you to everyone who voted in the contest! Also, congratulations to the first and second place winners, Lars Doucet and Whimsi!

Links for June 2021

Antidepressant, or Tolkien Character? Not all that hard, but I made mistakes on more than I would like to admit. Don’t mix up Haldir and Haldol.

Look at two things — are they the same or different? We can do it, you can (hopefully) do it, ducklings can do it, BEES can do it — convolutional neural networks, ”one of the most powerful classes of artificial intelligence systems”, can’t really do it

Naturally this is but one of many ways you can confuse modern “artificial intelligence”. We’re particularly fond of “anti-face” dazzle makeup intended to disrupt facial-recognition software. We’d be very interested to see research on the effectiveness of different kinds of dazzle makeup at fooling these algorithms.

Some medical history we didn’t know — when the medical journal The Lancet was founded, it was intensely anti-establishment, which is part of why it is named after a cutting implement. Sadly, this no longer seems to be the case.

In other medical developments, consider this story of a patient who suspected doctors were using too high of a dose of Dexamethasone, convinced them to run studies on the effectiveness of a lower dose, and ended up saving a lot of lives.

On the even more extreme end of patient involvement, Benjamin Stecher describes what it’s like to be awake while a team of doctors is drilling into your skull so that they can install hardware for deep brain stimulation.

And now for something completely different: John Cleese referencing Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions on twitter. The crossover I didn’t even know I needed.

Designing antennas by hand is hard and takes a long time. Designing antennas with evolutionary algorithms is fast and easy, and as a little bonus, the antennas look really weird:

A new book (we haven’t read it) argues that getting hammered — and in particular, getting hammered together — made civilization possible. (h/t Roger’s Bacon) We’re paraphrasing. Naturally related to some of our previous work. We also feel obliged to reference Chinese poet Li Bai.

Maybe you heard that George W. Bush was a cheerleader. What you may not know is that he is not alone among US Presidents in this distinction.

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now about the dangerous wildlife in Australia, but did you hear about the mouse plague? (warning: not for the faint of heart) They’re in the middle of an especially bad mouse plague now. “The horror lurking in the darkness,” reports the New York Times, “is a throng of thousands of mice swarming above.” Other choice quotes from the article: “They used to say once they start eating each other, it’ll be over, but they’ve been eating each other since December, and it’s not stopping.”

Links for May 2021

A recent trend has people posting their ideal political platform. But no platform can beat Angelyne for Governor — she has the key to California. What is her secret? A lady never tells, but we suspect she is reading the Chinese classics. In The Way of the General, Zhuge Kongming says, “One person can teach ten, ten people can teach a hundred, a hundred people can teach a thousand, a thousand can teach ten thousand.” Angelyne says, “California will hire social workers to select individuals and help them one by one … Once a person has been homed/established, California will hire that person to help relocate another. And the social workers shall continue on, as well. And that becomes exponential! Voila! Everybody has a home and the streets are clean!”  Truly Angelyne is a 仁人.

Cinnamon and Avocados are closely related to each other. Bananas are more closely related to lilies and skunk cabbage than they are to papayas. Aloe vera is closely related to asparagus and onions, but not at all related to cacti, which are closely related to beets. There is no such thing as a tree.

A little birdie on twitter told me that there’s a group on discord that are trying to breed quail back into dinosaurs. We wish them success but also, uh… be careful guys.

Also from twitter: “I cannot stress enough just how much you need to stop whatever it is you are doing and watch the opening titles of this documentary. I promise you’re not ready for what’s coming.”

We love stories about what questionable research practices look like from the inside, not only because it humanizes the people involved (most of them don’t mean to do anything wrong) but also because it helps make it obvious how easy it can be to slip into this kind of behavior if you’re not careful. Here’s a new one from Devon Price, who was in graduate school right in the middle of the revolution.

Joe Hilgard, famous (or infamous) psychology research methods gadfly, recently left academia for a job as a data scientist, and writes about it in a post titled “Smell you later”. While we disagree with the author’s cocktail choices, his candor is quite interesting in saying, “I feel that a lot of the research that we do doesn’t matter.” We suspect many academics feel similarly, but it’s very rare to hear someone say it, even when they’re leaving.

One of the most interesting things about scams and grifts is just how audacious they can be while still getting away with it. Enter the Quadro Tracker, a bomb / drug / person / weapon / lost golf ball-detection device from the 90s that was sold at prices of up to $8,000 and turned out to be a box of dead ants. This does make cops and school districts look like a bunch of suckers, but I wonder if the real mark wasn’t everyone else. Seems like cops and school officials would love to have an excuse to accuse or search anyone they like, backed up by an $8,000 price tag. If the real nefarious purpose of the device was to manufacture reasonable suspicion and probable cause, I’m afraid to say that it may have worked (for a while).

New in cognitive science: If I fits I sits: A citizen science investigation into illusory contour susceptibility in domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus). In this project, Gabriella Smith and colleagues show that cats want to sit in imaginary boxes as well as real ones. The study is also notable for crowdsourcing citizen science, i.e. using bored cat-owners in pandemic lockdown to collect data.

Also new: researchers at University College London gave people a third thumb to see what it would do to their brain. The brain results are meh but you have to see the videos of this thumb in action. [Insert joke about being “all thumbs”.]

Finally, some news about us, the blog: We’re looking for an agent who can represent nonfiction trade books. We already have one manuscript written which early readers have called a “fascinating, comprehensive review” and “a wild new paper that blew my mind”. If you are an agent or know an agent who might be interested in representing us, please contact us!

Links for April 2021

“THOUGH TOMMY IS A MALE SQUIRREL HE HAS TO WEAR FEMININE CLOTHES BECAUSE TAIL INTERFERES WITH HIS WEARING PANTS,” Life Magazine reported defensively in 1944. “The Bullis family … took him on the road in their Packard automobile, where he … gave uninspiring radio interviews. … At the height of his fame his fan club numbered 30,000 members. … When he died in 1949 he was stuffed and mounted … and his nightmarish fate pursued him even into the grave.” Apparently the interview was along with FDR, so perhaps it was more entertaining than they say! Unfortunately we can’t find it. We also learned that in his journeys Tommy was “accompanied by a bulldog that had gold teeth and wore a fez. ‘He may very well have gotten the dog stuffed, too,’ Jim said. If so, its whereabouts are unknown.” The article also calls avocado “avocado pear” — truly the past is a foreign country.

In case you were wondering: yes, mice CAN hallucinate, and they hallucinate more than average when you give them ketamine. Apparently this is the kind of finding you need to get published in Science these days.

All you need to do to get into Nature, on the other hand, is brew cannabis using hacked beer yeast. The resulting beer is probably illegal but we’re guessing the yeast itself is not. Can you make sourdough with this stuff? What are the limits on this discovery? ARE there any limits??? 

The kids are more than all right, they’re playing 5-Dimensional Chess With Multiverse Time Travel. If you’re not afraid of the next generation yet, you should be.

Totally unrelated, Kelsey Piper at Vox argues compellingly that voting rights should be extended to young people regardless of age. How young? To “every American citizen who can successfully fill out a ballot.” We’ve made similar arguments about age in the past, but this is even more radical, and we approve. 

In 1997 Jim Kardach of Intel was reading Frans G. Bengtsson’s historical novel about 10th-century vikings The Long Ships in between working on wireless data transfer. When it came time to name the technology, he named it after King Harald Bluetooth and invented a logo based on the runes for H and B. Similarly, the peace symbol was originally for Nuclear Disarmament and is a combination of the flag semaphore characters for N and D.  

Also at the intersection of new and very old is the 🧿 Nazar Amulet Emoji, representing an eye-shaped amulet believed to protect against the evil eye.

You remember all those stories about the vibrator being invented to treat hysteria? Probably outright lies, invented in the ‘90s. The NYT reports: Everything You Know About the Invention of the Vibrator Is Wrong 

Werner Herzog interviewed by Jenkem, a skateboarding magazine. “I am puzzled because I am not familiar with the scene of skateboarding,” he says. “At the same time, I had the feeling that, ‘Yes, that is kind of my people.’ … You have to accept trial and error. And I see them doing a certain jump or trying to slide on a metal rail, and they do it 25 times and fail. The 26th time, they fail. The 30th time, they fail. It’s good that you accept failure and you don’t give up, and finally you land the right jump and you keep sliding and screeching down a handrail.”

Did you hear about the garden gnome shortage?

In other international news, a Russian man ‘trapped’ on Chinese reality TV show has finally been voted off, and the story is truly pitiable. “His lack of enthusiasm played out in half-hearted singing, rapping and dancing alongside the other, more eager contestants. … he urged the public to vote him out, saying he did not want to be among the 11 winners of the show, who are contractually obliged to form a boy band. ‘Don’t love me, you’ll get no results,’ he said on one episode. But viewers took to his dour persona and kept him in the running for nearly three months. … Fans, some earnest and some ironic, dubbed him ‘the most miserable wage slave’ and celebrated him as an icon of ‘Sang culture’, a popular concept among Chinese millennials referring to a defeatist attitude towards everyday life. ‘Don’t let him quit,’ one viewer commented on a video of a dejected-looking Mr Ivanov performing a Russian rap. ‘Sisters, vote for him! Let him 996!’ another fan commented, using the Chinese slang for the gruelling work schedule that afflicts many young employees, especially in digital start-ups.”

Sometimes it feels like everything has already been discovered, like there’s no possibility of progress in the modern world. But progress is alive and well, at least in the realm of pro NES Tetris, where a new technique has been discovered that is faster than Hypertapping!

Peer review doesn’t always work great. But you know what does work great, all the time, with definitely no problems ever? That’s right — tinder! This is the pitch for, which describes itself as, “Tinder, but for papers & preprints.” We can’t tell if this is brilliant or moronic. 

Links for March 2021

We cannot more highly recommend Tim Carroll’s pen-and-paper game Lineage, “a game about telling the story of a Royal family through the ages.” You and up to five friends (or enemies, I don’t judge) play as historians, piecing together the records of several generations of a great and powerful family. The resulting stories are prone to hilarity and tragedy, and are also “a handy world building tool for game masters, authors, and admirers of the sorts of diagrams that lurk in the appendices of thick fantasy novels.” While it was developed with royal families in mind, Tim notes that royals are not the only ones with insane family trees, and it could also be used to tell the stories of other kinds of families. Also interesting is that it was developed in the context of thinking about one-player role playing games. 

Apparently Regina George from Mean Girls was based on Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross. I knew she seemed familiar. Also, why is she named “Queen George”? Is Mean Girls an allegory for the Revolutionary War?

Relevant to recent discussions on alternative ways to structure the government: Thomas Jefferson thought that the constitution should automatically expire as soon as new generations make up a majority of the population, at which point the country should come up with a new constitution. McGill University political philosopher Víctor M. Muñiz-Fraticelli writes, “If a constitution is discussed, negotiated, and approved by citizens who are, necessarily, contemporaries, what normatively binding force does it retain for future generations who took no part in its discussion, negotiation, or approval?”

We’re glad to see Senator Sanders endorse almost the exact argument we made in our post about the Senate:

I come from one of the most rural states in America, and I lived in a town of 200 people for a couple of years. And I think there is not an appreciation of rural America or the values of rural America, the sense of community that exists in rural America. And somehow or another, the intellectual elite does have, in some cases, a contempt for the people who live in rural America. I think we’ve got to change that attitude and start focusing on the needs of people in rural America, treat them with respect, and understand there are areas there are going to be disagreements, but we can’t treat people with contempt.

The dead but amazing was the home of some of the best history writing of all time. A gem from the archives: Rah Rah, Rasputin. Here’s the pull quote. While their comrade was preparing to poison Rasputin: “…Felix’s friends were upstairs listening to Yankee Doodle Dandy, the only record they owned, over and over and over. Really.”

Zoom Escaper is a tool to help you escape Zoom meetings and other videoconferencing scenarios. It allows you to self-sabotage your audio stream, making your presence unbearable to others.” We do not officially endorse Zoom Escaper, but we do think you should know about it. Please enjoy responsibly. There’s also Zoom Deleter, which does what it says on the tin. 

Trust in the media is at an all-time low. Unusual proposal for a solution: replace journalists with CEOs, who are (apparently) much more trusted than journalists, especially the CEO of the company respondents work for. We appreciate how original this take is — we’ll also note that, if they want to go by this metric, scientists are even more trusted as a group, by at least 10 points.

Of course, scientists have their own limitations. In Questionable Practices by Researchers and Teenage Wizards, psychologist Sacha Epskamp compares Questionable Research Practices (QRPs) to his experiences as a teenager cheating at Magic the Gathering (MTG) in order to beat his older brother. I also sometimes cheated at card games when I was very young (by high school I knew better) — could that be part of why I find open science issues so intuitive?

Update from last month: NYU professor Todd Gureckis continues to impress with his attempts to improve video lectures based on insights gleaned from watching YouTubers. If any YouTubers read this, we would be very interested to hear what you think.

Honda makes capsaicin-impregnated duct tape to keep rodents from chewing on wires and hoses. “The report also noted that Honda was the target of a class-action lawsuit over its use of soy-based wraps in various vehicles, with the suit alleging that the delicious soy coatings in 2012-2015 models attracted rodents.”

We rather liked this video essay about Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking.

Just how much of an environmental impact do cryptocurrencies really have? We’re still not sure, but we liked this attempt from Visakan Veerasamy to come up with some numbers. We’d be interested to see more analyses along these same lines — send them our way if you have them!