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Links, October 2022
Writing lots this month, finishing up the manuscript for Building With Ethereum: Products, Protocols, and Platforms. Decided to restructure it all halfway through the first draft, which has meant a lot of rewriting. I’m learning a lot about how to sustain an argument over ~300 pages, and what makes for clear, technical exposition.
Managed to dash out something small on AlphaTensor and research taste. Since I noticed this taste dynamic, it keeps popping up everywhere. It’s certainly not a new insight, but it’s something I see addressed an unfortunately small amount in the philosophy of science literature. The scientist is taken as some a priori given to most philosophical models of science, which, if my observation is correct, is skipping over perhaps the most important part of the analysis. Feyerabend gestures towards it in Against Method, but, again, doesn’t quite get there.
I’ve also been reading a lot. Winston Churchill’s My Early Life was a delightful, charming piece of Kipling-hued imperialism. His world-view is so remote from ours, so free of moral ambiguity. It’s a decidedly Victorian book, of heroes and adventures, a sort of anti-Le Carré. He is a wonderful writer and a gifted storyteller. Well worth a read.
Charles Petzold’s Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software was also extremely good. He builds up an intuitive model for digital computing, from the very basics of Morse code via flashlights to complex microprocessors. This was a fill-in-the-gaps book for me, something I could read quickly – I finished it in two days – but has meaningfully added to my basic understanding. I didn’t, for instance, have a clear idea of a CPU’s clock cycle, which this book has changed superlatively. It was funny, too.
Just finished Simon Morden’s The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars, which I’m reading in a cluster with some other Mars books. More top spacey content! Good passages on competing theories of crust formation and covers the basics of the protoplanetary disc super well. Makes me want to write something similar on Saturn (an infinitely more mysterious and beautiful planet.)
And, of course, Cosmos by Carl Sagan. It has taken me 27 years to read a book that I should have read in my early teens. I felt a flickering rememberance of days past, that wide-eyed, ambitious, weird young boy, trying to understand who he was and why he was so unhappy. If I had read this book then, I suspect I’d be a scientist now – and would have become much more content with my weirdness.
My first Interintellect Salon, Freedom and Love in the Music of Joni Mitchell is later this month. Should be wonderfully self-indulgent and fun.
A concrete vision of the liberal democratic future from Noah Smith, and a more pointed piece on the abundance agenda. This quote from Noah stuck with me:
The final thing that the liberal democratic vision needs is a way to accommodate conservatives. The divisions within the democratic world are the primary reason why the autocratic powers are able to make their case at all. But a great many people within any society, including liberal democratic ones, are socially conservative to a greater or lesser degree. If the vision of the future that liberal democracies present is one where conservative values have been wiped from the Earth, then conservatives will feel they have no choice but to embrace reactionary illiberalism.
Also from Noah, why per-capita emissions is a bad framing for the carbon debate.
Lots of anti-EA discourse began in our little corner of the Internet this month. Liam Kofi Bright made a fair point that the evaluative standards of the movement’s critics seem radically out-of-whack. David Shor gave a good reply about the psychology of the median EA member (via Nadia). And Nathan put together an attempt at a minimal set of EA axioms that is worth reading.
COLLISON: What kinds of blogs should there be more of in the world?
COWEN: Single-issue blogs on issues of importance. If you take something like penal reform, an underrated cause. Prisons, I think, are barbaric, but it’s not an easy problem to solve. There’s not a quick fix. Some people do need to be constrained in some way. The idea that there should be more blogs that track that and persistently deliver the message, “Something is wrong here.”
I would love to hear more about your single-issue blog ideas.
A great paper on The Economic Costs of NIMBYism:
Using hedonic methods I find that wind projects can impose significant external local costs, while solar projects do not. I then show that planning officials are particularly sensitive to local costs in their area. The resulting misallocation of investment may have increased wind power deployment costs by 10-29%.
Nearly-incredible AI-generated interview with Joe Rogan and Steve Jobs. We are months away from the uncanny valley.
Remote Collaboration Fuses Fewer Breakthrough Ideas. Across 20mn research articles and 4mn patents, Lin, Frey, and Wu find that, on average, the farther away the members of the team are from one another, the less likely the paper is to be disruptive.
Judah on the problem of too much money.
Galbraith on forecasting:
There are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.
And Bagehot on confidence:
Every banker knows that if he has to prove that he is worthy of credit, however good may be his arguments, in fact his credit is gone.