I’m looking for good resources to learn math that use visuals and give the intuitions behind the math. 3B1B is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for. I’m interested in learning a bunch of areas but I’m currently most interested in cryptography.

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Why do business leaders consistently refer to their highly educated workforce as "talent"?

This talk of "attracting talent" and "retaining talent" is everywhere I look. (I first thought it was an artefact of tech/Silicon Valley culture, but I hear it in interviews with CEOs in other areas of business too.)

My impression is that they are often very happy to hire someone who learned their skills through extensive experience, rather than being born with them.

I think it's a convenient shorthand for "people with the skills we need", and I admit I don't know a great alternative shorthand. But I don't think this one is great either, as I believe it sends a very exclusionary message.

Is my impression right? If so why did we pick "talent"? And what could we say instead?

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I am reaching out for help as I am struggling with anxiety and mental illness relating to an Information Hazard / AI thought experiment. I am currently being treated by a psychiatrist but I feel like I need to talk to someone who understands simulation hypothesis arguments and related issues.

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Can anyone recommend a good offline variant of github? That is, my company has a git repository that lives on an offline network, and primarily I want the better UI experience that github provides relative to the CLI. I think this + lots of other bells and whistles can be had via Enterprise Github for $21/person/month; I'm wondering if there are cheaper alternatives (with fewer bells and whistles) out there.

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I just suffered a heart break, realizing that I missed the Berlin meetup. Hope there will be another one soon!

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I've recently saw this TED Talk (uh oh, red flag!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrJAX-iQ-O4 ("Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski: The cure for burnout (hint: it isn't self-care) | TED")

And I'm curious what do people think about this "stress is a tunnel, it's only a problem if you get stuck in it"?

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A criticism of space shows like Star Trek is that, even if an alien planet's atmosphere were chemically identical to Earth's, it still wouldn't be safe to breathe since it would contain microorganisms and toxic particles. Humans who visited would need to wear space suits, which they never do in most space shows.

If you used a time machine to visit the Mesozoic era, would there also be a risk of you breathing in microorganisms or biotoxins that would kill you? Do we have evidence for or against this?

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TL;DR: I don't think this is political, though I suppose the ramifications might be, but I'm concerned about how poverty is calculated in the US and recent articles that point at statistics generated using a newish monthly methodology based on the also newish Supplemental Poverty Measure. I'm wondering if anyone knows about this and can clarify whether these measures are an improvement, better capturing poverty rates or just political hay making numbers.

For fun, I answer Metaculus prediction questions. One I was recently looking at was: https://www.metaculus.com/questions/7963/will-the-large-child-tax-credit-be-extended/

As I was investigating this I read this claim:

"At the center of the American Rescue Plan is a monthly payment structured as a tax credit for the vast majority of families — of $300 per child under 6 years old or $250 per child between ages 6 and 17. The benefit has been well received in polls, and studies say it quickly lifted millions of U.S. kids out of poverty."

Something about it seems wrong to me but I can't put my finger on it. With the rise of inflation across a variety of consumer indices (CPI up 5.3%) as well as a quantitative easing (size of Fed balance sheet doubled since last year to over $8 trillion), it's hard for me to imagine anyone was 'lifted' out of poverty.

I've been looking at this study and the associated methodology to try and get a better view into this claim: https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/forecasting-monthly-poverty-data

The big change here is that they calculate poverty on a monthly basis instead of an annual basis, stating numerous times this method is supplemental to annual measurements. The reason they think this is important is that "the average family with children receiving income support in 2018 received more than a third of those transfers in a single month through a one-time tax credit payment." They believe it's important to understand this because month-to-month income volatility is a better representation of how families actually experience poverty. this seems like a reasonable claim.

Still something seems off to me and I'd be glad to hear if anyone else sees flaws in their methodology. The more I read into it, the more it seems like they are making a lot of guesses about what monthly income actually is from data that doesn't provide that level of detail. Furthermore, there seem to be noted issues with the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) that might over-report poverty and fail to account for a number of inputs like home-ownership and health insurance. Do these issues compound if calculated monthly?

Info: https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/addressing-the-shortcomings-of-the-supplemental-poverty-measure/

I don't actually expect anyone to look at this stuff, but it was definitely an interesting and eye-opening look into official poverty statistics and it seems like the kind of thing that was developed specifically for political football. My bias has me feeling strongly suspicious, but I might be very wrong and would love to hear some other opinions.

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Some time ago there were news about something good happening in USA healthcare, with some transparency rules being created. And now

> In addition to a number of other changes, the Final Rule repeals the price transparency requirement for hospitals


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Who are some people who look strongly "English"? I visited England several years ago and thought that most of them looked the same as white Americans. However, a minority of them had a strongly "English" appearance that set them apart from white people from other European countries. It was hard to put my finger on what was different, but it was definitely there.

People I'd nominate as strongly "English-looking":

Charles Dance

George Washington

Ken Miles

Bernard Montgomery

I guess they all have big, bony noses and big chins.

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If anyone from Paris sees this, please tell the organizer I might be 20+ minutes late.

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I'm pretty sure this is satire.


"With the right investment grade trained arabian hunting falcon or falcon derivative financial product, things don't have to fall apart. The center *can* hold. Falcons always hear the cry of the falconer, keeping a tight, stable gyre.

This is brilliant. Just keep reading. It gets better and better.

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Iranian data seems to indicate that natural immunity didn't do much to slow subsequent COVID-19 surges...


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Wouldn't a greenhouse be most efficient if its ceiling were only a little higher than the plants it was intended to have inside of it? A lower ceiling means a lower internal volume, which I presume would maximize the humidity inside the greenhouse since the water vapor wouldn't be dispersed throughout a larger interior volume. Also, a low ceiling keeps heated air around the plants. A lower ceiling height also means the greenhouse's construction requires less material, making it cheaper to create.

A typical eggplant is only 24 inches tall, so wouldn't the ideal eggplant greenhouse be 25 inches tall? Assume robot farmers of arbitrarily small size can enter the structure to do work that human gardeners would normally do.

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Today in nominative determinism that somebody should really have seen coming:

> More than 500 cases of Covid-19 have been linked to the TRNSMT music festival


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Have fun in Berlin and Paris!

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Are birds dinosaurs?

Let me rephrase this question: Should birds be considered dinosaurs in the same way that, for example, primates are mammals?

I'm not asking whether birds descended from dinosaurs – the evidence is pretty clear on that. It's rather the claim that "dinosaurs didn't go extinct, because birds are dinosaurs" which seems wrong to me. After all, mammals descended from amphibians, and yet nobody claims that "mammals are amphibians".

I'm neither a biologist nor an archeologist (or whoever is responsible for such matters), and my terminology is probably wrong. Maybe the question doesn't even make sense from a scientific perspective, but I don't know how to formulate it properly.

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There's a program which strips out everything but the punctuation-- it turns out that punctuation patterns are distinctive.

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SSC/ACX got a shoutout on today's Ben Shapiro show, episode 3150, 26 minutes in. Shapiro likes the _Revolt of the Public_ book review and spends several minutes quoting a big chunk of it. He especially likes the notion of the public wanting experts to press - or criticizing for failing to press - a secret "cause miracle" button.

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For your consideration, a link from twitter: https://gidmk.medium.com/is-ivermectin-for-covid-19-based-on-fraudulent-research-part-4-f30eeb30d2ff

Re. a hilariously badly faked data set.

In a further bit of humor, a user on said hellsite pointed out that the data repeats every 22 rows, and 22 rows is the amount viewable on screen in a default install of excel at 100% zoom.

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Reading Kyle Harper's "The Fate of Rome," I was struck by a reference in a table entitled "All Known Epidemics, 50 BC - AD 165" (on page 89, for those of you who may have the book). The description of an epidemic in 90 AD -- the source being Cassius Dio -- reads:

"People died from being smeared with needles, not only in Rome, but virtually the whole world (This obscure notice has defied understanding, and Dio does not actually claim there was an epidemic.)"

Naturally, this raised the question, "What? What the - what? What?" At least, those were my thoughts.

So I looked up the mention in Dio LXXIII:14:3, describing events during the reign of Commodus. (Heh.)

Cassius Dio LXXIII:14:3


"Moreover, a pestilence occurred, the greatest of any of which I have knowledge; for two thousand persons often died in Rome in a single day. 4 Then, too, many others, not alone in the City, but throughout almost the entire empire, perished at the hands of criminals who smeared some deadly drugs on tiny needles and for pay infected people with the poison by means of these instruments."

(Note that 3 is referencing a disease of some sort; the needle thing comes in at 4.)

That's when I discovered that there had been another such run years before in the reign of Domitian!

Cassius Dio 67:11:6


"During this period some persons made a business of smearing needles with poison and then pricking with them whomsoever they would. Many persons who were thus attacked died without even knowing the cause, but many of the murderers were informed against and punished. And this sort of thing happened not only in Rome but over practically the whole world."

So....what in the world was going on here? Some sort of mass hysteria? Ninja porcupines? Strangely aggressive pine trees? Johan Larson's aliens with blowguns?

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Is it bad that twitter is a strawman factory?

The first paper I had to write in college had a sentence like "Some people argue [POSITION I NEED TO ATTACK]". The paper came back with that underlined, and a comment: "who says this?" Of course, no one said this. And if they did say it, it would probably have enough nuance that their position would require a more complex counterargument. I knew about strawmanning before before I wrote that, but like now I had a very nice concrete way to check if I was doing it — if I said something like "people think X", an alarm would go off and I'd go do research on what people actually think, and make sure I had an actual representation of their argument.

But like, now, if I was writing that I FOR SURE can find a tweet that says whatever I was strawmanning. I can link the tweet, say look at this, here's why it's wrong. And it will be so shortly phrased that it won't contain any of the couching or caveats that good arguments always have. And it will be phrased in the most controversial (incorrectest) form, because that's what twitter likes?

Maybe there are two notions of strawman:

1. An argument you construct that no one actually holds

2. An argument you construct that no INFORMED person actually holds

I guess maybe it's ok to counter 2? Because if people are tweeting 2, and people are reading 2, I guess it's worth explaining why it's wrong. But like, no one reading your blog will think 2, because they are INFORMED, right?

Anyways, I wonder if banning twitter arguments is an epistemic best practice.

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I came across this paper from Roger Pielke Sr. Thought I'd share. Over the years I've come to respect Pielke's fortitude in being a gadfly to climate modelers. He's been called a denialist, but he's not denying AGW, but rather he's pointing out that models aren't doing a very good job of prediction when compared to the observed.


Please note, I'm not just ranting about climate models here. I'm ranting about models in general! ;-)

I've often heard the platitude about models that they don’t necessarily try to predict what will happen, but they can help us understand possible futures. But it seems to me that a model should logically be seen as a hypothesis. If it can't make an accurate prediction, something is wrong with assumptions being made in the model. Saying a model will "help us understand our possible futures" is a cop out in my view. Assuming that the laws of probability rule the workings of many events, what good does it do us if a model or the models keep predicting the improbable?

Over the past pandemic year-and-a-half I've been tracking the COVID-19 epidemiological models posted up on the CDC website. None of the epidemiological models for COVID-19 have been able to predict case-loads beyond two weeks out—and only a minority of the models can do it moderately within that two-week time horizon! So, the best epidemiological models are working at about the level of weather forecasting, and those can give us an OK picture of where what the case-loads will be in a week to ten days. But the rest might as well be based on astrology. Worse yet, these models don't seem to be improving as we learn more about SARS-CoV-2. And no one seems to be discussing the elephant in the room. What good is knowing the range of all possible future worlds when most are absurdly unlikely?

On the other hand, weather forecasting models have become much more accurate over the past couple of decades. I suspect it’s because their results get a lot more attention from a wider audience, and the predictions are such a short time horizon, that the modelers can see whether they’re off track within a few days.

On the longer term, from the data I’ve seen *most* of the long-term climate models have been overpredicting the actual warming we’ve observed. I’ve been tracking the global warming narrative/arguments/predictions* since 1985. I was taking a course in Glacial Quarternary Geology to familiarize myself with the climate history surrounding the emergence of genus Homo. The geologist teaching our course introduced us to the theory of climate modeling—and he did so when the tide of climate modeling opinion had flipped from the prediction that we’d soon be entering an ice age to one where we’d soon be entering a hothouse. Personally, I was alarmed by the some of the predictions (>3°C by 2025) that I continued to follow the research in Science and Nature — and the advent of the World Wide Web, gave me access to wider range of papers. It became clear to me around 2005 that initial model predictions were wrong. By that time newer models had churned out somewhat more conservative predictions, but I had become less enamored of the usefulness of these models — and any sort of predictive modeling in general.

I see a model as being a hypothesis that is trying to describe a system in way that’s accurate enough to predict the outputs. If the model outputs (predictions) don’t match the observed results, then there’s something wrong with the system described in the model. I complained to a Physicist friend that if you run any of the climate models backwards they can’t predict the past states of climate history. He pointed out that all scientific models fail on that count! It took a while for the implications of that idea to sink in!

* it’s difficult to find an agnostic term to describe the debate that isn’t pro or con to the theory

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Laurie Anderson is a spectacularly good and weird artist. She is dong a big show at the Hirshhorn in DC. She's 72 and they wanted her to do a retrospective, but she's not interested in going over her past work, so it's a new show, running September 24 to July 31.

Note that a visit could be combined with Worldcon.

She might be of interest for the evolution of art discussion. Her work is avant garde, but it isn't hostile. She's trying to introduce people to non-obvious things, but she isn't punishing them for not seeing them already.

I saw Anderson's Forty-Nine Days in the Bardo which was about pet dog that died.



I'd have sworn I wrote something about it, but I can't find it.

Thing to learn: if you want a really great remembrance after you're dead, be loved by an excellent artist.

Anyway, here are some things I remember. A little statue of the dog which had the cremated ashes worked into the clay and a description of bringing back the smell of wet dog.

A little white statue (maybe a madonna) with a film clip projected on it, giving an illusion of 3D movement. I'm surprised people haven't done more what that technology.

BIG black and white paintings. The only one I remember is a portrait of the dog's face. I think there were others about the confusion of being between lives.

A song from the exhibit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG8PPLP3ROM

Not something I remember, and I hope the afterlife isn't that challenging.

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For all the math and physics nerds, a clue from today today's NYT's XWord:

Clue: Obtain a sum via special relativity?


Not one of their most perversely creative word play clues but it seemed like it might find an audience here.

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Pew does a detailed analysis of American Christian sermons, while admitting that just doing word counts misses a lot.

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To what extent do the terms "nice/kind person" and "asshole" map onto "submissive person" and "dominant person"?

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I enjoy the shill/classifieds thread since it's fun to see what ACX readers are up to, and it's a chance to signal-boost cool things by people without name recognition. It is unfortunate that these threads are just up for a few days. I tend to look at things that someone else has left a positive comment on, and there's just not enough time for most posts to get enough engagement, especially the ones that are advertising a 200,000-word novel.

I would be interested in some way of curating or increasing the engagement time on the classifieds post. One idea would be to do something like what was done for the reader-selected book reviews: compile a giant list of classifieds under different subjects (coding, fiction, history, etc... probably best to exclude personals from this) and have readers rate random postings in domains they are knowledgeable in. Then you can make several posts with a couple at a time of the top-rated classifieds in the body, so people can adequately investigate them.

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Alice, Bob and Carol are chess players who play lots of games against each other. Bob beats Alice in 80% of their games. Carol beats Bob in 80% of their games. What is the percentage of games in which Carol beats Alice?

Does the answer change dramatically if instead we choose Go, Starcraft or Tennis?

Also, suppose we try to continue the chain - we look for a player who beats Carol in 80% of games, and then for another one who beats *that* player in 80% of games, and so on. How many players can we have in the chain before we reach a perfect or almost-perfect player and we can't continue the chain anymore?

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Ooh an even thread. What do people think of the latest Bundestagswahl? Traffic light seems the most likely but the best option for the FDP and Greens to exert leverage would be to keep Jamaika in play as a BATNA.

The compromise between spending public money on welfare, spending public money on the environment and not spending money looks like it will be a sticking point.

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Inspired by the Noah Smith poll (https://twitter.com/noahpinion/status/1446350023621373958?s=21). Who would win a war—Mongolia or Peru? The war is over control of New Zealand.

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SSRI question for the chat here: I am visiting a psychiatrist for the first time in a long while for anxiety, and they want me to take SSRI's (zoloft first if it matters). I am concerned about permanent side effects, even if I desist from the medication, which can make it risky to experiment. The least amount of data around seems to be on permanent sexual dysfunction, which in the SSC guide is considered "rare" but with nothing concrete, and every published article I have found is qualitative or descriptive.

Anyone out there have literature/knowledge on how common a side effect long-term sexual dysfunction is? Is it dose-dependent? And maybe most importantly since I am experimenting, is it duration dependent - equally like after 2 months as it is after 2 years, something more likely the longer you are on, etc? Would be really helpful guidance as I evaluate the right treatments, thank you all.

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"Odd-numbered open threads will be no-politics, even-numbered threads will be politics-allowed. This one is even-numbered"

193 is an odd number. On the other hand, the URL for the thread has 192. I'm guessing that the thread title was a typo.

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I've been meaning to comment this for a while now: why do people so commonly conflate "complex" with "good" when it comes to aesthetics? A lot of judgement on e.g. "declines" in pop music look at how pop songs have gotten simpler in terms of composition over time, or the "decline of cinema" due to the dominance of MCU movies, or even looking at Scott's recent post on architecture has a lot of allusions to technical decorations and flourishes being seemingly indicative of greater feats of accomplishment in the past. Isn't the ability to distill something more potent and simple out of complexity an equally admirable task? I say this as someone who felt righteous as a teenager being into metal (how could a song be good without an excessively complex guitar solo?!) and then came to appreciate the simpler compositions of general rock and punk music alongside many others.

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Anybody interested in meetups on the big Island in Hawaii?

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This thread has been mislabeled; it is the second OT #192.

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Scott Alexander won't be there (I don't actually recall if announcing cities up top means he'll be there), but Robin Hanson is supposed to be attending & speaking at this Saturday's Chicago Rationality meetup.

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Can someone help me understand the stock market, and the forces that drive stock prices?

In particular, I know that the price is mechanically determined by the price someone is willing to pay. Basically supply and demand - if more people want to buy than sell (at the current price point) then the stock "goes up". But what I've always had a hard time understanding is, WHAT CAUSES people to suddenly want to buy or sell a stock?

I know the answer is generally along the lines of "people buy a company's stock because they think the company is doing well...or WILL do well". And as expected, a company's stock jumps when news is released of positive news (e.g. strong sales). But, since the stock's price directly reflects supply/demand and NOT it's performance or the news...the market could all decide to sell the stock after a positive news release. Or, a stock could go up a whole percent on any given day, when there is little to no good news released to justify it (or vice versa, going down).

So I guess the best way I could succinctly phrase my question is: Why should I buy a stock because I think the company will do well? Shouldn't I buy a stock because I think OTHERS will want to buy the stock in the future (and the price will go up, so that I can sell it for a profit)?

And if the latter is true, then how do we determine which stock to buy? We just said we want to buy a stock not based on the company's performance, but on how we think the stock will perform after we buy. So how do we figure that out?

Yes I know dividends exist...but I don't know any serious investors that trade stocks for profits who buy stocks because they produce dividends, since the dividends are usually so small.

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We’re also having an Orlando meetup tomorrow!

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What's the latest thinking on what causes COVID waves to end? We saw many instances over the past 1.5 years where waves just stopped in particular countries/regions even though far fewer than all or even most people had been exposed. Is it just a seasonal thing? If so, what explains the different month-by-month behavior from 2020 to 2021?

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Claim 1: Tech companies are learning fast how to work with a 100% remote workforce (or nearly). This is already compressing the pay difference between the coasts and the middle of the US.

Claim 2: For most tech companies, it's more cost-effective to do contract SW development with cheaper offshore workforces. The main reasons companies avoid it are (a) IP protection, (b) management difficulty, and (c) regulatory concerns.

Conclusion: As US companies make remote workforces a fully first-class citizen way of working, they will gradually then all of a sudden get rid of their expensive (100k/year) US developers and start directly hiring 20k/year developers in India, Eastern Europe, etc. SW development is going to be a bad career in the US starting in the next few years.

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The local period of extra warmth and sunshine is coming to a close soon. That is our Indian Summer is almost over. The local news morning chat program took a stab at coming up with a name for this morning bringing in the meteorologist.

They proposed things like ‘Fallsummer’ and carefully avoided looking like they had any knowledge of the traditional term. As if it had been wiped from their memories. It was kind of painful to watch. They couldn’t even mention the possibly offensive term in quotes and say something about coming up with a new name that wouldn’t have the potential to offend anyone.

I know it’s possible that I’m just not adapting quickly enough but this seemed… I don’t know. Words really fail me here. To my admittedly old mind this seemed to have the same effect as a check written out to help re-elect that guy.

You know the one that made my head explode with four years of cruelty and ignorance.

Does this kind of walking on eggs behavior really make sense?

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Wired published an article entitled "Biohackers Encoded Malware in a Strand of DNA" [https://www.wired.com/story/malware-dna-hack/]

"In new research they plan to present at the USENIX Security conference on Thursday, a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. "

"When the researchers sent their carefully crafted attack to the DNA synthesis service Integrated DNA Technologies in the form of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs, they found that DNA has other physical restrictions too. For their DNA sample to remain stable, they had to maintain a certain ratio of Gs and Cs to As and Ts, because the natural stability of DNA depends on a regular proportion of A-T and G-C pairs. And while a buffer overflow often involves using the same strings of data repeatedly, doing so in this case caused the DNA strand to fold in on itself. All of that meant the group had to repeatedly rewrite their exploit code to find a form that could also survive as actual DNA, which the synthesis service would ultimately send them in a finger-sized plastic vial in the mail."

I'm not sure if someone would have the appropriate domain knowledge to answer this question but I'm very interested: Could you create an organism with hacker-DNA that was viable? I think the worry would be that someone would create the DNA in a lab to try to hack but what if they tried to turn it into a living organism? If a company was gene sequencing a all the animals in a zoo, could I go in and replace a zebra with my hacker-DNA zebra? I'm thinking it might not be possible for this hacker-DNA zebra to actually exist but it would be cool if it did.

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For depression there’s dysthymia and for mania there’s hypomania. Is there an equivalent concept for psychosis? A lower, less severe grade of psychotic symptoms that might not even impair someone.

I’m aware of the concept of “prodrome” but that assumes people will progress to a full blown episode and also may have its own distinct features.

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I have a linguistics/neuroscience question. Could a baby naturally assimilate a conLang like Ithkuil (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_x_PQ85_0k), providing the parent was a fluent speaker? I’m interested given the language seems unlike any natural human language in the way it packages concepts and information. Has anyone ever tried, tested this thing etc?

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Here is a really nitpicky comment/suggestion: for some reason, my eyes glaze over every time I see the sentence "Odd-numbered open threads will be no-politics, even-numbered threads will be politics-allowed."

I would find it much simpler to digest if each open thread just opened with the statement for that thread, instead of the general rule:

"This is an even-numbered thread, so politics is allowed."


"This is an odd-numbered thread, so no politics."

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I'm a traditional horary astrologer looking to practice his art; drop me a line at FlexOnMaterialists@protonmail.com and I'll use the tools of traditional horary astrology to answer your question. This can be as simple as a yes/no query or as complex as untangling a difficult situation. I am as discreet as a courtesan.

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Some thoughts on Cain and Abel and why Peter Thiel's Zero to One is a book of theology more than it is a book of business advice:


The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 is a story about competition leading to envy and violence. It’s a story about scarcity, be it real or perceived, leading to enmity. Yet the story might have gone a different way. God tells Cain—whose sacrifice is rejected:

“Why are you distressed,

And why is your face fallen?

Surely, if you do right,

There is uplift.

But if you do not do right

Sin couches at the door;

Its urge is toward you,

Yet you can be its master.”

Peter Thiel argues in Zero to One that the most successful people and companies are those who find a way to do something that nobody else can imitate, something with which nobody else can remotely compete. This imperative goes by different names: “Pursue a blue ocean strategy,” “Be a category king,” “Create a personal moat,” etc.

Influenced by literary theorist René Girard, Thiel’s point amounts to an injunction to transcend the Cain-and-Abel dynamic of fraternal competition. If you become so wholly you that nobody can imitate you, you won’t even be enviable. While the economic risk of competition in business (as in life) is that you will be forced to shrink your margins, the existential risk is deeper. People hate those who are similar to them, but not those who are incomparable.

At a strategic level, Cain and Abel are both condemned, so long as they are competing for divine love on the same axis. One is condemned to death, the other to murder.

But in God’s cryptic admonition to Cain, I hear a call for Cain not to compete, a call to walk away from the tournament for divine affection. It is a test that Cain fails, but one that we can hope, reading his cautionary tale, to pass in our own lives.


To read Thiel’s Zero to One as a business self-help book is to make a category error, to treat it as one book amongst others, a strategy book that competes with other strategy books.


Thiel says that monopolies pretend to be competitive while competitive companies pretend to be unique. The same is true of the book itself. It pretends to be another business book, but is actually a work of theology. Thiel is secularizing the Biblical insight that the human being is created in the divine image, that is, created to be a unique being. Cain fails to affirm his uniqueness and so looks to compare himself with Abel for validation. This basic sense of insecurity ensures a violent world. Many people and businesses can succeed in a narrow sense through imitation, but they fail to meet the human calling to be differentiated.

The subversive reading of Zero to One is that it’s not necessarily going to make you a good business founder, but it’s going to make you a more fulfilled person, win or lose, by taking you out of a tournament mindset.


Why do so many prodigies burn out? They can’t take the stress of competition. They don’t want to be Cain or Abel. What is the solution to the conundrum? To transform a desire to beat a competitor into a desire to find beauty in the game itself. Aesthetics moves us from asking “How can I win?” to “How can I appreciate?”


The desire to win and to compete isn’t going away any time soon. Neither is the desire for validation through comparison. But the extent to which we can be singular is the extent to which we can free ourselves from the stress of the game. To the extent that our doing this inspires others to do so, we are elevating the human condition.


In one reading of Thiel’s book, the appeal of the author as successful entrepreneur and investor, is just cover, just marketing for an argument that should not depend upon a popular, cultural conception of success. If it did, the book would be a self-contradiction. In fact, the loss is ours that we need the message, “Be unique,” to come from the mouth of a wealthy celebrity.


Pirkei Avot teaches that one can pursue a noble goal for the wrong motivation and eventually come to correct one’s initial motivation. Perhaps this is the undertow of Zero to One. The moral is not that you, too, can build the next Google or become the next Lady Gaga (Thiel’s examples). You can’t. But that in reading a book that pretends to tell you to become the next Google or Gaga, you can free yourself from needing to be anything other than what you want to be.

Paradoxically, this rejection of consensus may the best chance you have of being the next Google. But morally and spiritually speaking, that’s besides the point. Come for the start-up advice, leave for the Kingdom of Heaven.

article link here for further reference: https://whatiscalledthinking.substack.com/p/peter-thiel-on-cain-and-abel

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I have a question.

We all know the principle behind bicycles is the gyroscopic force that keeps the machine and rider upright while the wheels are turning. However, sometimes when you are riding slowing the wheels are barely turning at all (when starting or stopping or fooling around at signals). You can still keep the bicycle upright in the same way you can balance on one foot: by making small instinctive movements to your weight to counteract tipping forces.

So what I've been wondering is to what extent the bicycle is really being held up by gyroscopic forces and how much of it is the unconscious balancing of the rider? Has this been studied?

As far as I can tell, most of the time a unicycle's wheel is barely moving at all; that seems to be almost 100% rider's balance.

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