Links for February-March 2018

Extrapolating my current trajectory, I will combine more and more links posts into larger and larger multi-month collections until eventually I release one giant list for all time and shutdown the blog.Just kidding. I will get back to actual, non-link blogging before too long…a  

  • FHI report on China’a AI ambitions, based on recent translations of their policy whitepapers.
  • Relatedly: 80k on China and Ben Todd specifically on why not to translate EA writing into Chinese.
  • If someone’s veins are too diseased to reliably deliver intravenous fluid, an alternative is intraosseous infusion.
  • New Waymo self-driving video:
  • The $100M US Drone base outside Agadez, Niger.
  • I support the use of FaKe LaTeX. (H/t Daniel Filan.) What’s amazing about this is that Microsoft Word could obtain most of the beauty of LaTeX if only they set some good defaults!
  • Hawking obituary by Penrose. Commentators seem to agree this one gives the best summary of Hawking’s technical contributions.
  • Larry Page’s Flying Taxis.
  • Can’t get enough Robin Hanson:

    We socially unskilled people tend to prefer things to be out in the open and clear, where we can read them and understand them and react, at least at some very basic level. That’s who I am. I am a nerdy person. So personally, I prefer things to be more out in the open where I can have some idea what the heck’s going on, and I will notice them.

    But I think that has given me some advantage in being a social scientist, in that when you’re really socially skilled and you move about in the social world, you just intuitively do all the right things, and you don’t think explicitly about it. You don’t really notice that your theories that you might write on the chalkboard about social science don’t actually fit your behavior or the people around you. You can just not notice that conflict.

    Whereas, if you are a nerd like myself, you go through the social world noticing that you don’t understand what’s going on, and your theory of what people are doing doesn’t fit what they’re doing, and you’re just puzzled by that. And you bring in social science to try to help, and you realize it’s not helping you that much either. [laughs] Social science is not giving you a lot more progress to help this strange behavior in the people around you, so it’s a struggle.

  • What it looks like when a plane makes an emergency landing with the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System:

    (H/t johnnybgood.)
  • The caveats modulo which Ethiopia and Liberia were the only African countries never colonized by Europeans.
  • Xenophyophore:

    …are giant multinucleate unicellular organisms found on the ocean floor throughout the world’s oceans, at depths of 500 to 10,600 meters (1,640 feet to 6.6 miles).They are a kind of foraminifera that extract minerals from their surroundings and use them to form an exoskeleton known as a test.

    They were first described by Henry Bowman Brady in 1883. They are abundant on abyssal plains, and in some regions are the dominant species. Fourteen genera and approximately 60 species have been described, varying widely in size. The largest, Syringammina fragilissima, is among the largest known coenocytes, reaching up to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in diameter.

    See also how the Mariana trench is mapped.

  • Stealth start-up launches nanosats on ride-share launch in defiance of FCC. Incredibly, the FCC claims authority to regulate telecommunications satellites not just based on their radio transmissions but also on their risk of generating space debris, though I guess this is old news. (H/t Alyssa Vance.)
  • Lots of coverage of the new and privately funded Commonwealth Fusion Systems start-up that is investing in fusion research at MIT. (Press release here.) This is the approach, championed by MIT Prof. Dennis Whyte, that is enabled by new type of compact superconductors and discussed previously on this blog.
  • In Conway’s Game of Life, “this is the first elementary spaceship to have a new slope in 48 years”:

    It also happens to move exactly 2 vertical units for each 1 horizontal unit of motion, and carries this out in 6 time-steps (the theoretical minimum). Thus, in some sense it has the simplest movement of any possible knightship.

  • What hyena laughter sounds like:

    See also the Jackal howl.
  • Naively, it might seem that seeing a black raven cannot decrease your credence in the claim “All raven’s are black”. However, Good’s Baby give an edge-case counterexample.
  • Spencer Greenberg on guilds (FB).
  • Slightly misaligned graphene layers may superconduct a la the non-BCS high-temp cuprates, suggesting that high-temp superconductivity might be a simple, generic phenomenon rather than something depending on the complicated details of high-temp materials. (H/t Sabine Hossenfelder.)
  • Newly discovered large viruses contribute to discussion about whether viruses arose from free-floating cellular components or whether they are de-volved from non-viral cells. Line between viruses and prokaryotes blurs slightly.
  • When physicists go to Vegas:

    …the week of the ’86 [American Physical Society] APS April meeting found the gaming floor almost completely empty, leaving the casino with its record-low take; in the (probably apocryphal) words of one casino waitress: “They each brought one shirt and a ten-dollar bill, and changed neither.”

    That was the lowest revenue week ever in the history of the MGM Grand. No Las Vegas hotel ever again bid on a contract to host an APS meeting.

  • Primative Technology preparing slacked lime:

    (Turn on closed captions for sparse commentary.)
  • John Baez on carbon sequestration.
  • Due to the convolution with the response of human cone cells, the apparent color of a black body approaches a particular shade of light blue (in both hue and saturation) as the temperature goes to infinity, rather than simply running off to the most violet possible perception. (H/t cantab314.) To within human visual acuity, a black body achieves this color at around 100,000 K.
  • Pretty good popular level discussion of the recent proposals for tests (confirmations) that gravity can mediate entanglement and hence is “quantum”.
  • My brother and Anish Sarma cover academic work on novel approaches to drawing political districts.
  • Ethereum Creator Vitalik Buterin Donates $763,000 to Machine Intelligence Institute”.
  • Jeanne Calment had the oldest confirmed human lifespan, living to 122. She did not pursue much variability in housing:

    In 1896, at the age of 21, she married her double second cousin, Fernand Nicolas Calment (1868–1942)…Fernand was a wealthy shop owner and she moved into the apartments above his shop Grands Magasins de Nouveautés (which still exists as of 2017, at the corner formed by rue Gambetta and rue St-Estève in Arles), where she lived until the age of 110.

  • Gamma-ray bursts were first detected by the high-Earth-orbit Vela satellites, which had been tasked with monitoring for nuclear explosion tests in space by the USSR that would have violated the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
  • Casting mirrors in a rotating furnace for the billion-dollar Giant Magellan Telescope:
  • God bless Waffle House:

    Waffle House refuses to close even when locations have no power or water — it uses these secret emergency menus instead.

    H/t Tyler Cowen. Also from Cowen: New theory of the Moon’s Origin reveals I know essentially nothing about the conventional origin theory, especially what observations can and cannot be easily explained. And waterbeds for cows, as part of look at the decline of waterbeds.

  • Adversarial Examples that Fool both Human and Computer Vision” (H/t Eric Rogstad.)
  • Solving the drift problem in inertial guidance chips by re-identifying the zero-velocity frame each footstep:

    During each step, the heel is anchored to the ground for about 100 milliseconds. Guo figured out how to measure this instant of stillness, and use that to correct for the false motion in drifting data from the IMU. “You reset the position calculation with every step, so you do not accumulate error,” says Young.

  • This reads as heavily biased, but it’s still an interesting interview with some of the pilots of the F-35 about the new aircraft’s capabilities. And needless to say, it’s not clear whether these aircraft are worth the extraordinary cost regardless of how good they are. (H/t Accipitriform.)
  • Chris Olah’s nice visualizations of the what the simplest neural networks do during training.
  • The most popular formulation of “operationalism” as a philosophical idea in science comes from Percy Williams Bridgman, who was a high-pressure physicist.
  • The indomitable Jacy Reese on why we should concentrate more on getting people to care about non-human suffering and less on AI. Here’s his TEDx talk on the topic of his forthcoming book, The End of Animal Farming:

    Jacy is one of the most intellectually honest and thoughtful voices on this topic, and I highly recommend that you check him out.
  • The duties of John von Neumann’s assistant”. HN comments with the full story about working with Frederick Riesz. (H/t Godfrey Miller.)
  • Mission Hedging: why climate change foundations should invest their endowment in fossil fuel companies.
  • More from Dan Selsam on the Future of Life Institute grant: NeuroSAT – “Learning a SAT Solver from Single-Bit Supervision” (code).
  • Emanuele Viola: “I believe P=NP” (H/t Graeme Smith.)
  • Surprisingly fast drifting of Australia’s tectonic plate is messing up GPS there: 2.7 inches per year, which has integrated to almost 5 feet since 1994 when it was last adjusted. (North America is only moving at 1 inch per year.)
  • Churchill as a mass murderer, in his own words. (H/t Robin Hanson.)
  • Paul Christiano on concrete steps that can be taken now in order to help future organizations credibly commit to transparency surrounding risks like a safety.
  • Parahawking:

    Parahawking is paragliding and interacting with a trained bird of prey in it’s own natural environment. By combining paragliding with the ancient art of falconry, we have successfully trained Vultures to fly with us and guide us through the sky as we fly.

  • Charlie Duke on losing a wedding band during an Apollo mission.
  • My great and long-time friend Brian McDonald from TJHSST is an atmospheric scientist at UC Boulder. His recent work in Science shows that, due to the improvements in automobile exhaust over the past decades, local air pollution (i.e., ground-level ozone formation and airborne particulates, not CO2) in urban areas now receives similarly sized contribution from volatile chemical products like deodorant and cleaning agents as from combustion engines. (Popular coverage here.) The annual economic and health costs of airborne particulates is in the hundred of billions, and understanding the exact sources is of course crucial for designing regulations that get the most benefits at the least cost. If you want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, check out Brian on NPR’s Science Friday.
  • The Good Judgement Project is partnering with ScotusBlog to focus forecasters on upcoming Supreme Court rulings.
  • WeChat, the dominant messaging app in China, explicitly filters messages based on their political contents.

    For example, they found that messages in both English and Chinese referencing a crackdown on human rights lawyers beginning on July 9, 2015 (referred to as “709”) were not sent to the recipient, with no notification given to the sender.

    Coordination is probably even more important than political messages:

    Totalitarian societies know the power of common knowledge very well. When Gary King’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science reverse-engineered the Internet censorship practiced by the Chinese government, they found that the government cared less about insults and criticisms than one might expect. What it censored aggressively were social media posts making plans to meet in person. Online, talk is cheap: but face-to-face people can build common knowledge.

  • Climate model of the annual modulation of CO2 absorption by plants (more in the summer, less in the winter):
  • Russ Roberts’ Twelve Rules for Life

    While I do not subscribe to every tenet of the effective altruism movement, they are on to something — [tithe] your money so it’s effective.

  • Observations about utility poles.
  • Room-temperature mega-pixel array of single-photon detectors, on a chip. (Journal article.)
  • The benefits of weightlifting to sports performance is smaller than you might think a priori:

    Improvements in squat strength (when due to better neuromuscular coordination) don’t yield improvements in vertical leap height. Improvements in power output for a certain movement show little transfer to even to the same movement at different speeds. For example, increasing your power output at moving a five pound object may yield little to no improvement when moving a 50 pound object in the same manner.

  • Popular-level taxonomy of nuclear isomers.
  • I previously linked to a story about the salvage of Salyut 7. Here’s some footage:
  • Better electronic feedback control of gimballed engines is why modern rockets generally don’t need fins.
  • Planes piloted from the aft.
  • Charlie Bennett, my great friend and former boss, has won the Wolf Prize
    for founding and advancing the fields of Quantum Cryptography and Quantum Teleportation”.

    The Wolf Prizes in physics and chemistry are often considered the most prestigious awards in those fields after the Nobel Prize. The prize in physics has gained a reputation for identifying future winners of the Nobel Prize – from the 26 prizes awarded between 1978 and 2010, fourteen winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, five of those in the following year.

    Charlie is also widely known for making fundamental contributions in cellular automata and reversible computing. And he discovered the concept of Logical Depth, which quantifies the intuition that the current state of complex systems is robust evidence that they have performed non-trivial computations in the past; it is the natural generalization of Kolomgorov complexity to complex dynamical systems.

  • Robin Hanson discusses the relevance to ems to one of my favorite things I know little about: the neurological basis of mind-wandering (“default mode network”) and the normative assessment thereof. This topic strikes me as both important and neglected by philosophers, although there could be a huge literature I’m not aware of.
  • Human egg cells grown in lab with commentary by Gwern.
  •, an experimental SciRate competitor. (HN discussion.)
  • So many great links and video from the Falcon Heavy demo. This one wasn’t as popular, and gives a sense of what it’s like to see the dual boosters return in person:

    If you want more discussion of the sound, see here. (H/t Michael Wiebe.) And this is a pretty visual of a fluid simulation for the Falcon heavy separation event.
  • Ways to make the UI for an options dialog non-terrible. This doesn’t actually fix any of the terrible designs I use commonly, but I get a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that these issues are known, fixable, and might one day get fixed…
  • The longest vitamin-supplemented fast was performed by a 27-year old man who went 382 days without food. Besides water, he consumed only multi-vitamins, yeast, potassium, and sodium. His weight dropped from 456 pounds to 276 pounds. (Journal article.)
  • Robert McIntyre and his company 21st Century Medicine won the “Large Mammal Brain Preservation Prize” from the Brain Preservation Foundation for deep freezing and warming a pig brain while mostly preserving the connectome. McIntyre plans to commercialize this, and his company Nectome just went through YCombinator.PSA: “MIT Tech Review” doesn’t have anything to do with MIT anymore; you should think of it like Popular Science.b  

    My concern: They are not waiting for legal death and instead will be using California’s physician-assisted suicide option. Doctors basically everywhere are allowed to perform procedures that hasten death so long as there is a legitimate (non-death) primary goal and death is the side effect, e.g., fatal doses of opiates for pain relief, or removing assisted-breathing equipment so that patients can die at home. (See principle of double effect.) Patients are also allowed — at least insofar as their wishes aren’t disputed — to decline medical care that will inevitably lead to their death, and they don’t need to have any justification at all. Thus if the mainstream scientific community were likely to recognize cryonics as a legitimate patient desire anytime soon, I would expect Nectome to pursue approval using the double-effect justification rather than physician-assisted suicide. It sounds like Nectome does not expect to convince regulators or doctors that a well-informed patient would accept early death for the chance of revival offered by the procedure. Instead, by only operating in cases where suicide is already approved, they don’t have to convince anyone besides the patient that what they are doing is valuable, just like a funeral home doesn’t need to convince anyone besides the family that an expensive casket is valuable.

    This may be a method of getting an additional suspension option in the hands of some people as soon as possible (although note less than 200 people use the assisted-suicide provision in California annually), but my guess is that it will further damage the mainstream legitimacy of this industry.

  • Head stabilization in a Cheetah during pursuit:

    (H/t Will Riedel, RolloTom.)

  • On the importance of email immutability.
  • Japanese nanosat launch system — a S-series sounding rocket retrofitted to carry a third orbital-insertion stage — was successfully tested. (Link has very detailed description of launch profile and events.) It is the smallest orbital rocket ever, and aims to routinely put 5-kg payloads in LEO for half a million dollars.
  • The final Edge questions. (H/t Garrett Lisi.)
  • World map by drainage basin:

    Boundaries of the basins are known as continental divides. The North American detail map contains additional divisions for the Arctic Ocean: Labrador Sea vs. Hudson Bar vs. Beaufort Sea. The Great Basin in the American West is endorheic, i.e., rather than draining into the ocean, it collect water toward the interior of a continent, which leaves only by evaporation (and underground seepage). Much larger endorheic basins exist in central Asia and central and northwest Africa.
  • I was under the impression that, in order to avoid the N^2 explosion inherent in trying to translate directly between any two languages, Google translate employed what was effectively a universal intermediate language (presumably encoded in some neural net); in this way, you would just translate from the first language to the intermediate to the second language, reducing the number of needed translators to 2N. But apparently this intermediate language is just English?

    Cho says that this [universal intermediary] approach, called zero-shot translation, still doesn’t perform as well as the simpler approach of translating via an intermediary language. But the field is progressing rapidly, and Google’s results will attract attention from the research community and industry.

    Indeed, if you translate between two gendered languages, the gender information seems to be lost exactly when the English word is ungendered, i.e., with “teacher” but not “actor”/”actress”. Probably a consequence of the larger corpus of English language text they have.

  • Flyover video of Jupiter’s Europa”:

    NASA engineer Kevin Gill stitched together images from two 1998 observations of Europa by the Galileo spacecraft to create this super smooth flyover video of the icy Jovian moon. The details:


    Processed using low resolution color images (IR, Green, Violet) from March 29 1998 overlaying higher resolution unfiltered images taken September 26 1998. Map projected to Mercator, scale is approximately 225.7 meters per pixel, representing a span of about 1,500 kilometers.


    Images of Europa from the Galileo spacecraft reveal a complicated terrain of grooved linear ridges and crustal plates which seem to have broken apart and rafted into new positions. That could indicate subsurface water or slush. In the image above, blue tints represent relatively old ice surfaces while reddish regions may contain material from more recent internal geological activity.

  • Mathematical ideas that took long to define rigorously”.
  • Aerocapture a the method of dropping into orbit around a planet using the atmosphere to slow down but not fully re-enter.
  • Images from the salvaged Akatsuki mission to Venus.
  • Kevin Simler’s new project after Elephant in the Brain is Intent, a chrome plugin that tries to reduce the amount of time you waste on the internet. (Or, at least in my case, to redirect that time toward something interesting, like these links, rather than boring, like Facebook.)
  • The Skin effect:

    Skin effect is the tendency of an alternating electric current (AC) to become distributed within a conductor such that the current density is largest near the surface of the conductor, and decreases with greater depths in the conductor. The electric current flows mainly at the “skin” of the conductor, between the outer surface and a level called the skin depth. The skin effect causes the effective resistance of the conductor to increase at higher frequencies where the skin depth is smaller, thus reducing the effective cross-section of the conductor. The skin effect is due to opposing eddy currents induced by the changing magnetic field resulting from the alternating current. At 60 Hz in copper, the skin depth is about 8.5 mm. At high frequencies the skin depth becomes much smaller. Increased AC resistance due to the skin effect can be mitigated by using specially woven litz wire. Because the interior of a large conductor carries so little of the current, tubular conductors such as pipe can be used to save weight and cost.

  • Natural language search of surveillance footage is commercially available.
  • Jeff Kaufman on when today’s conventional financial advice for laymen became standard.
  • Newly discovered wreckage of the USS Lexington from WWII:
  • I scrape the arxiv to check for comments left in posted papers in the quant-ph category.” – @QuantPhComments. (H/t Jonathan Oppenheim.) Pure gold.
  • ChaosBook: “Lyapunov exponents are uncool”. Incidentally, did you know that the singular values majorize (dominate) the absolute values of the eigenvalues? In fact, they log-majorize them.

  • First primate cloned (macaque monkeys). (Journal article.)


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  1. Just kidding. I will get back to actual, non-link blogging before too long…
  2. PSA: “MIT Tech Review” doesn’t have anything to do with MIT anymore; you should think of it like Popular Science.
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  1. Wrong link for Jeff Kaufman on financial advises. Perhaps you meant this one: ? I was just curious because I never purposefully read financial advises before.

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