- Bryan Caplan reviews Hanson and Simler, and in several cases makes critiques similar to mine.
- Viruses face strong adaptive pressure to have small genomes and, as a consequence, their external structure is made of a small number of repeating proteins. This is why they often have a high degree of geometric symmetry.
Virus genomes also make use of overlapping genes to wring out more efficiency.
Daniel Bernstein is the author of qmail. Bernstein created qmail because he was fed us with all of the security vulnerabilities in sendmail. Ten years after the launch of qmail 1.0, and at a time when more than a million of the Internet’s SMTP servers ran either qmail or netqmail, only four known bugs had been found in the qmail 1.0 releases, and no security issues. This paper lays out the principles which made this possible
- Luke Muehlhauser excerpts Daniel Ellsberg.
One of the concepts pursued for ICBM defense:
Project Excalibur was a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) research program to develop [a space-based] x-ray laser as a ballistic missile defense (BMD). The concept involved packing large numbers of expendable x-ray lasers around a nuclear device [on an orbiting satellite]. When the device detonated, the x-rays released by the bomb would be focused by the lasers, each of which would be aimed at a target missile. In space, the lack of atmosphere to block the x-rays allowed for attacks over thousands of kilometers.
- Jeff Kaufman reports on the excellent news that Charity Navigator is beginning the slow push to accounting for effectiveness! GiveWell deserves tremendous credit for instigating this long ago.
- Useful, basic arguments for and against whether cryptocurrencies (and tokens) are good for anything. (H/t Eric Gastfriend.)
- Review of the Tesla 3.
- Dylan Matthews’ column dissecting the academic debate on measuring recent increases in economic inequality is impressive as a model of journalism. He summarizes academic papers from several economists that are in tension and makes a good effort at reconciling them. And for such a politically charged topic, Matthews takes a cool tone. My cynical side says this brand of journalism can’t survive, but I’ll take it while it lasts.
- On the blackness of the feathers of birds of paradise:
…this light-trapping nanotechnology can absorb up to 99.95 percent of incoming light. That’s between 10 and 100 times better than the feathers of most other black birds, like crows or blackbirds. It’s also only just short of the blackest materials that humans have designed. Vantablack, an eerily black substance produced by the British company Surrey Nanosystems, can absorb 99.965 percent of incoming light. It consists of a forest of vertical carbon nanotubes that are “grown” at more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The birds of paradise mass-produce similar forests, using only biological materials, at body temperature…
- Very interesting HN discussion on machine learning in medicine.
- Introduction to free-electron lasers at DESY.
- Update on the status of Crispr startups. The first clinical trial of a Crispr-delivered therapy began in China more than two years ago, but none of those trial have yet released results. No Western trials have yet started.
- On the importance of the evolution of lignin-digesting ability in fungi.
- The Future of Life institute is holding another AI safety grant competition. (Dan Selsam discussed his work on this blog in July, which was funded by last year’s FLI grant.)
- Tyler Cowen reports on a stunning-if-true paper that hundreds of thousands of excess US deaths can be directly viewed in data due to above-ground nuclear testing. Would this have implications for the debate about the linear no-threshold model? I wish I knew more about this.
- Bump roughness and the last barriers to photorealism in CGI.
- 50-km lava tubes with surface access on moon. (H/t Robin Hanson.)
- The small deer species known as muntjac has some crazy genetics:
Muntjac are of great interest in evolutionary studies because of their dramatic chromosome variations and the recent discovery of several new species. The Indian muntjac (M. muntjak) is the mammal with the lowest recorded chromosome number: The male has a diploid number of 7, the female only 6 chromosomes. Reeves’s muntjac (M. reevesi), in comparison, has a diploid number of 46 chromosomes.
- Teenagers in extant hunter-gatherer tribes don’t get acne.
Links for January 2018
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