Links for August 2015

Didn’t quite make it on time this month…

  • Andrew Gelman on Steve Hsu’s analysis of Feynman’s cognitive profile.
  • AFM tips are crazy frickin’ small:

    100 nm = 1000 angstroms ~= 1000 atoms wide. The radius of curvature of that tip looks to be 10-20 nm. The grains in this photo are on the order of 10 atoms.
  • Luke Muehlhauser takes some interesting quotes from Schlosser’s Command and Control.
  • Wired article on CRISPR.
  • Amish barn raising, time lapse:
  • Katja Grace and Paul Christiano are offering bounties for historical examples relevant to their research:

    To start, we have two bounties: one for showing us instances of abrupt technological progress, and one for pointing us to instances of people acting to avert risks decades ahead of time. Rewards currently range from $20 to $500, and anyone can enter.

    Their current two best examples of abrupt technological progress are nuclear weapons and high-temperature semiconductors. More details here.

  • More progress on Malaria:

    A bed net is more effective than this vaccine [against malaria], but nonetheless it is a very significant scientific achievement. I see it as a building block towards much more effective malaria vaccines in years to come.

  • Toward a drone traffic control.
  • Good links from Scott Alexander.
  • Introductory blog post on haplodiploidy.
  • A sympathetic timelapse video of Pyongyang:
  • The score to the original Terminator movie is in 13/16 time. Yep: ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three-ONE-two-ONE-two.
  • I couldn’t care less about the issues surrounding Ellen Pao’s departure from Reddit, but the discussion by NY Times editor Margaret Sullivan about the Times’ coverage blew me away:

    I often hear from readers that they would prefer a straight, neutral treatment — just the facts. But The Times has moved away from that, reflecting editors’ reasonable belief that the basics can be found in many news outlets, every minute of the day.

    (H/t ageek123.) Hard to believe that the Times would described themselves as abandoning a straight, neutral treatment, and that they are doing this explicitly to attract readers. Guess I’m old fashioned. So where should I go for just the facts?

  • Claims about the effectiveness of incarceration:

    The research design leverages the random assignment of criminal defendants to courtrooms as a source of exogenous variation in both the extensive and intensive margins of incarceration.

    I measure modest incapacitation effects while defendants are in jail or prison: felony defendants are 6 percentage points less likely to be charged with a new criminal offense while incarcerated. This benefit, however, is offset by increases in post-release criminal behavior: each additional year that a felony defendant was in-
    carcerated increases the probability of facing new charges post-release by 5.6 percentage points per quarter.

    (The actual paper.)

  • An Image of the Earth Every 10 Minutes.
  • 2015 US National Drone Racing Championships:
  • Prediction of the material with highest known melting point from ab initio molecular dynamics calculations. (Journal link.)
  • The world is losing its only 3rd-order enclave.
  • Very surprising to me: In some climates, Fog collection is an economical way to collect drinking water on fairly large scales.
  • One of the many tiny signs that the risk of nuclear exchange continues to persist in the background: CoCom.

    once your GPS unit realizes it is traveling faster than 1200mph (1900kmph) at an altitude higher than 60,000ft (18,000m), it will automatically shut itself down in fear that it is being used in an intercontinental ballistic missile-like application….This is for any produced in the US or certain entreated countries. They are considering repealing this because of the ease with which you can purchase a working GPS unit from some country not bound by these rules. Usually people buy these if they are trying to do things like those weather balloon edge of space camera shots and want a GPS location of where the camera fell to. Note: The affected units don’t always start working after returnig to within the “safety” parameters.

  • NYC’s embarrassingly old subway system:

    (H/t Josh Goldenberg.)
  • The best article ever written about Canadian Robots.
  • Nick Beckstead of GiveWell argues that catastrophic events that do not eliminate the species have comparable probability of drastically eliminating humanity’s long-term potential as do true extinction events. Therefore, even if you grant the overwhelming importance of the far future (along the lines of Parfit, Bostrom, and Beckstead), this does not necessarily imply you should focus solely on extinction events; rather, near-extinctions and other merely catastrophic events are of comparable important.
  • The far side of Moon, crossing the Earth:

    I had never realized how much darker the Moon is than the Earth under sunlight.
  • North Korean broadcast announcing their plan to shift their time-zone away from Japan by 30 minutes on the annerversairy of Korean freedom from Japanese rule.
  • Accidental battery tech discovery.
  • Visualization of NYC Taxi pickups.
  • Apparently, Google thinks neutrality is more important than the New York Times does:

    …one of the first search results when you Google “What happened to the dinosaurs?” is a website called Answers in Genesis. It explains that “the Bible gives us a framework for explaining dinosaurs in terms of thousands of years of history, including the mystery of when they lived and what happened to them.” Scroll down, and you’ll find a collection of acerbic articles in response to the Biblical theory and another collection of articles responding to those responses.

    By contrast, if you search “Where did the dinosaurs go?” the algorithm will recommend a children’s song with that very title. Its opening lines:
    Sixty-five million years ago
    On the Yucatan peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico
    There crashed a mighty asteroid of ten miles wide, or so
    Sixty-five million years ago

    Google’s search engine—and that of Bing, DuckDuckGo, and most of the other tools out there—is indifferent to truth.
    Indifference to the truth happens to be part of the established philosophical definition of bullshit. “Bullshit is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true,” wrote Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt in his seminal 1986 paper on communication theory, “On Bullshit.” “It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.”

    I think there’s a pretty valuable distinction between someone reporting opinions/beliefs neutrally (as Google and newspapers ought to do) and someone stating claims as their own with an indifference to the truth thereof (i.e., bullshit).

  • CubeSat deployment:
  • Project Iceworm is one of the great real-life secret government projects that sound like science fiction:

    The secret Project Iceworm was to be a system of tunnels 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) in length, used to deploy up to 600 nuclear missiles, that would be able to reach the Soviet Union in case of nuclear war. The missile locations would be under the cover of Greenland’s ice sheet and were supposed to be periodically changed.

    The “official purpose” of Camp Century, as explained by the United States Department of Defense to Danish government officials in 1960, was to test various construction techniques under Arctic conditions, explore practical problems with a semi-mobile nuclear reactor, as well as supporting scientific experiments on the icecap. A total of 21 trenches were cut and covered with arched roofs within which prefabricated buildings were erected. With a total length of 3,000 metres (1.9 mi), these tunnels also contained a hospital, a shop, a theater and a church. The total number of inhabitants was around 200. From 1960 until 1963 the electricity supply was provided by means of the world’s first mobile/portable nuclear reactor, designated the PM-2A and designed by Alco for the U.S. Army. Water was supplied by melting glaciers and tested to determine whether germs such as the plague were present.

    Within three years after it was excavated, ice core samples taken by geologists working at Camp Century demonstrated that the glacier was moving much faster than anticipated and would destroy the tunnels and planned launch stations in about two years. The facility was evacuated in 1965, and the nuclear generator removed. Project Iceworm was canceled, and Camp Century closed in 1966.

    The project generated valuable scientific information and provided scientists with some of the first ice cores, still being used by climatologists today.

  • Organ on a chip for rapid drug discovery and safety trials. (H/t Ayesha Arefin.)
  • On the distributions of lols.
  • Martine Rothblatt has tragic personal reasons for pursuing xenotransplantation (organ transplants from one species to another), and her passion looks to be bearing fruit. Incidentally, I had no idea that these have already been done before, although not particularly successfully.
  • Jeff Atwood “tried VR and it was just OK“.
  • Filed under the many topics I wish I had time to take apart and check for depth: Sean Carroll on bridging different formulations of thermodynamics with Bayesian arguments.
  • A Simple Fix for Drunken Driving: Modest, immediate penalties can help get offenders to sobriety.”
  • Reconstructed video of New Horizons encounter:
  • The latest LORRI images from New Horizons are available here. Most of the RSS feeds are dead (e.g., last update: 2008), but the “New Horizons Science Images” feed from here is updated at a satisfying rate as new images are downloaded over the next 15 months.
  • Heat-assisted magnetic recording:

    Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) is a magnetic storage technology for hard drives in which a small laser is used to heat the part of the disk that is being written to. The heat changes the magnetic properties (its “coercivity”) of the disk for a short time, reducing or removing the superparamagnetic effect while writing takes place. This magnetic effect sets a limit on the areal density of magnetic recording (how much data can be stored in a given area of a disk). The effect of HAMR is to allow writing on a much smaller scale than before, greatly increasing the amount of data that can be held on a standard disk platter.

  • The Panama Canal is doubling it’s capacity. This will substantially increase the “Panamax” standard for the largest ship that can pass through the canal. Cities around the world are dredging their ports in order to accommodate the expected new wave of larger ships.
  • Variations on the unicycle, in decreasing difficulty
    Impossible wheel (aka B.C. wheel):

    Ultimate wheel:

  • The Economist covers the development of spin-resistant private airplanes.
  • (Obvious/boring maybe, but…) I agree with Noah Smith: there should be a realm and profession where people pursue objective empirical truths, doing their best to put aside normative considerations.
  • So Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is often criticized for not being well-supported empirically, but it turns out that there’s a new modern modification that actually fits the data very well.
  • US electromagnetic spectrum allocations.
  • Some more speculation on how cars and traffic will change with technology. (H/t Tyler Cowen.)
  • Tyler Cowen approves of Will MacAskill’s thesis. (See also comments by Tyle.)
  • It’s clear that schools that have more men tend to have more traditional dating situations, whereas the ones that are disproportionately female tend to have more intense hookup cultures.” (H/t Josh Goldenberg.)
  • Apparently, is working:

    We explore whether the number of null results in large National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) funded trials has increased over time….17 of 30 studies (57%) published prior to 2000 showed a significant benefit of intervention on the primary outcome in comparison to only 2 among the 25 (8%) trials published after 2000 (χ2=12.2,df= 1, p=0.0005). There has been no change in the proportion of trials that compared treatment to placebo versus active comparator. Industry co-sponsorship was unrelated to the probability of reporting a significant benefit. Pre-registration in clinical was strongly associated with the trend toward null findings….The number NHLBI trials reporting positive results declined after the year 2000. Prospective declaration of outcomes in RCTs, and the adoption of transparent reporting standards, as required by, may have contributed to the trend toward null findings.

    (H/t Scott Alexander.)

  • Grim news reported by the recent slate of 100 replication attempts of psychological studies. This image is terrifying:
  • “Virtual particles” are badly named; an excellent laymen’s introduction by Matt Strassler.
  • The perceived loss of personal identity associated with mental decline in old age, and mental illnesses, is much more closely associated with changing moral behavior than with memory loss. (H/t Diana Fleischman.)
  • Animation of DNA replication molecular machine:

    Similar animation of ATP synthases:

    I think the narration could use a lot more detail on the thermodynamics.
  • What happens if you take the Fifth in a civil case?
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One Comment

  1. Feynman’s cognitive style: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.”

    Evidently, psychologists should have embraced Feynman’s cognitive style long ago: “… in about 1947 or so … it seems to have been the general policy … to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happened.”

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