Open Thread 80.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

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341 Responses to Open Thread 80.25

  1. Sniffnoy says:

    Since this is an open thread… I wonder if other people have “bathroom tile games” they play when they’re sitting on the toilet looking at the tiled floor of the bathroom. Example: Given a floor made of square tiles some of which are white and some of which are black, imagining a ray of light moving diagonally through the white tiles and bouncing off the black tiles. I’ve asked several people about this, and have gotten answers from “yes I also do the light ray thing” to “no I don’t do anything like that” to “no but I do other vaguely similar things when looking at bathroom tiles”.

    I wrote a Dreamwidth entry going into more detail about mine. I’m wondering if other people do any of the same ones or what other ones they do.

    This doesn’t really relate to anything, but I figured this was a place I could ask where I might actually get some responses, since so far I haven’t really elsewhere.

    • J Mann says:

      I used to count various shapes, but I haven’t done it for a long time.

      Now I either go over things I’m trying to commit to memory or read things on my phone.

    • Aapje says:

      I’m a white tile supremacist, so I can’t do this at home and the black/white floors that I’ve seen are typically a checkerboard pattern. So my answer is:

      So: What games, if any, do you play with bathroom floor tiles?

      Foot fetish/dominance games, where I walk over the floor and don’t allow it to get up.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Not the light ray thing, but similar stuff. I’d need bathroom tiles in front of me to tell you exactly what, but I definitely once saw and could not unsee regions where, if you drew a circle just right, the grout lines inside it would form a swastika.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      I would imagine a ray of light (well, not that specific, but basically) which would move forward until it touched a random tile, then move around it until it reached the place where it began on that tile, but shot off in a perpendicular direction. After four of these, you have a four-tile circle.

    • kenziegirl says:

      I see how big a shape I can hold in my vision without identifying markers like color to differentiate the shape. Can I see a 6×6 square and hold it in my head? How about 7×7? And up and up… sometimes I do alphabet letters too.

    • Civilis says:

      It’s odd… I do exactly this, and always assumed it was a strange quirk, although I default to edge aligned rather than center aligned. With three or more colors, I tend to combine the two closest colors. I also tend to mentally pick out the largest contiguous block of each specific color.

      Another thing I tend to do that may be similar is that whenever I see a complex pattern, most noticeably with fabric patterns, I try to see if I can mentally mark off and visualize one repeating section.

    • Corey says:

      I imagine removing random ones (random as in no conscious pattern; I don’t use a PRNG or dice). Or sometimes fastening objects to them. Usually on wall rather than floor tiles, though.

    • winchester says:

      I sometimes stare at a 3×3 of square tiles, and repeatedly force a perceptual shift between seeing the cross shape and the diagonal.

    • SamChevre says:

      I look for the repeating patterns, and try to decide how big the composite tiles were and what their pattern was.

    • Well... says:

      Newer vinyl tiles do a very good job of imitating natural materials, but there’s a pattern that repeats eventually, if you can find it. That’s what I like to do lately.

      As far as the bouncing off diagonals thing, I’ve been doing that in 3D since I was little: imagine a beam of light shooting out of my eyes and into a corner of the room, or out the window and off a building across the street, and imagining some quattuorvigintuple bankshot it could make in order to end up back in my eyes again.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I used to do this while riding in the car, basically imagining a Breakout game with the painted lines (bonus points for getting one in the storm drain)

    • Shion Arita says:

      I focus my attention to see different shapes formed by multiple tiles, like for hexagonal tiles, differently sized traingles, stars, linear regions, etc.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      As a child, when walking on regularly spaced, properly-sized tiles (such as the ones on my kitchen floor at home) I would often try to move in the chess knight pattern.

      I’m not particularly skilled at or interested in chess, it just was an interesting pattern. Usually very easy to keep moving forward, but turns often became complicated.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Lately, having often ended up in the same bathroom with a floor drain and a sort of diamond-like grille, I’ve just been trying to figure out why I have visible jitter when looking at the bars of the grille on that little drain but not the lines of the tile. Is it the black background and depth?

    • BBA says:

      Lately I’ve been envisioning the tiles as a low-resolution matrix display and try to figure out how few pixels I need to make all the letters I need to spell a word.

    • neciampater says:

      I do this!

      For as long as I remember.

      I look at all the possible tessellations and imagine it expanded across the entire floor. Or I cut a square/diamond into smaller triangles.

  2. JulieK says:

    What is the reason to have a mnemonic for the colors of the spectrum (Roy G Biv)?
    a) Isn’t the order of the colors obvious already?
    b) How does it help to know the order, anyway?

    • J Mann says:

      I find it helpful when drawing a rainbow. Otherwise, I would probably have trouble remembering indigo, and definitely have trouble remembering the order.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      It’s not obvious if you’ve never thought about it before, and the mnemonic is usually taught to young people who don’t already know. How would it be obvious otherwise? You’ve got to look closely at a photo of a rainbow or a prism refracting light. There’s a first time for that for everyone, and for many it’s in school and comes with the mnemonic so they are more likely to remember.

      The sky is blue because blue is a shorter wavelength, sunsets are red because red is longer wavelength. In the lab I work in the green laser has a different effect on the atoms than the red laser because green is shorter wavelength. “blu ray” can fit more data because it uses a shorter wavelength laser.

      So the order of the colours is just a piece of scientific knowledge that may or may not be useful for other things you’re learning.

      I guess if you’re an artist you might want to draw rainbows accurately too.

      • I don’t see how it’s obvious even if you have thought about it.

        • doubleunplussed says:

          Well. “Thought of” enough to look up stuff about it. Not suggesting everyone discover the field of optics themselves!

        • Shion Arita says:

          It’s obvious to me; the qualia of colors that are close in wavelength are more similar, so the spectrum kind of adds up and makes intuitive sense.

          • albatross11 says:

            We don’t precisely perceive the wavelength of light though–we perceive something related to the wavelength, but with interesting artifacts due to the way our eyes work. Thus, I can make you see yellow by mixing blue and green light.

      • JulieK says:

        What I mean is that (although this may be an example of how thinking patterns differ) it just seems evident to me that red is similar to orange, and orange is similar to yellow, and so forth, each color shading into the next.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Check out color wheels, which can intuitively shade colors into each other in ways that don’t represent wavelength adjacency!

        • beleester says:

          Red is also similar to violet (the color wheel being, well, a wheel). I imagine that you’d at least have to know that the spectrum starts with red and ends with violet before you can make that deduction.

          I don’t know if the colors in between provide additional value (who really cares about indigo, anyway?), but it’s such a compact mnemonic I don’t think it makes much difference.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            who really cares about indigo, anyway?

            Sure – at least ‘very dark, slightly purplish blue’ isn’t in the rainbow as it normally appears, by any stretch of the imagination. But for someone whose favourite colour is purple, it sure is disappointing when someone sets out to create a rainbow-coloured thing and just misses purple off entirely, or replaces it with some murky brown or brown-ish burgundy colour.

            And since I’m on this hobby horse, why is purple so vastly under-represented among national flags? You have pairs of countries with basically the same flag turned around or slightly rearranged, like Poland / Indonesia, or Italy / Hungary / Bulgaria, or France / Russia / the Netherlands, any of which could have benefitted from changing one of its colours to something that someone else wasn’t already using, but according to Wikipaedia, there is exactly one nation state with any purple in its national flag, and it’s a tiny nation with a tiny amount of purple. And not even a rich, saturated Cadbury’s chocolate purple, but a sort of disappointing washed out violet.

            Do most humans have about as strong a dis-preference for purple as I have a preference? Because it certainly seems to be used far less than you would expect by chance.

          • BBA says:

            In the western tradition, purple symbolizes royalty. This makes it much less likely to appear on the flag of a republic. As for the few remaining monarchies… (random speculation) it would be for the monarch’s own use and improper for a national flag? Though looking at a few Royal Standards they don’t use much purple either.

          • CatCube says:

            To piggyback off of BBA, wasn’t it also the color of royalty because of its expense? Prior to modern dyes (when most flags were developed) it probably wouldn’t make sense to have a very expensive color on the banner you want to have everywhere.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I don’t know whether there are people who hate purple, but perhaps you will feel better to know you aren’t the only person who really loves purple.


        • Charles F says:

          I think I agree that the gradient is intuitive, but I wouldn’t necessarily automatically know which direction frequency increases in or which ones were first/last without the mnemonic. YGBIVRO or VIBGYOR would make just as much sense to me as ROYGBIV. Really, all I need is R->V, but Roy G. Biv, is easier to remember.

          • LHN says:

            If anything, naive intuition would be potentially misleading, since blue is “obviously” a cooler color than red, and so lower energy/larger wavelength.

        • Brad says:

          You can get the end points by recalling infrared and ultraviolet and knowing what the roots infra- and ultra- mean.

        • J Mann says:

          I guess once you knew what the seven colors were, most people could eventually put them in order, by some kind of bubble sort. (E.g. “Yellow and blue make green, so green is probably between yellow and blue, assuming they make green in light and not just in paint, which they probably do. Orange feels like it’s in between red and yellow, so probably it’s R-O-Y-G-B.”*) I’m less confident that people could name all seven colors without the mnemonic, and I think it would definitely take me longer.

          * On the other hand, I don’t intuitively see that green is naturally closer to blue than it is to violet and I don’t have any internal representation of what color indigo is at all. I work backward from Roy G Biv and assume it must be some kind of color between blue and violet.**

          ** Also, when I think violet, I imagine “purple,” FWIW.

          • random832 says:

            I think the “blue” of the rainbow mnemonic is meant to be a more cyan color, and “indigo” is basically the blue primary we use for computer monitors.

          • Charles F says:

            I’m less confident that people could name all seven colors without the mnemonic

            Nitpicky, but there aren’t just seven discrete colors in the spectrum, those are just what we happened to name some fuzzy regions.

          • rahien.din says:

            Newton proposed the color indigo in order that the visible spectrum have seven colors, in accordance with his occult beliefs.

            (IIRC the color orange has a similar historical provenance.)

          • Mary says:

            Indigo is a color Newton threw in because he wanted the mystical significance of “seven” in the rainbow.

          • J Mann says:

            @Rahien.Din and Mary – thanks, I didn’t know that!

            Yeah, looking at representation of the color spectrum, I intuitively see bands, but not one for indigo. (It’s more like blue is much more variant than the other colors – most of the others have a fairly narrow interface with the next color, but blue just gradually shades into purple.)

            So I guess the mnemonic is helpful if you want to draw a Newtonian rainbow, since apparently working knowledge of physics will produce a more realistic one . . . 🙂

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            You may already know this, but blue and yellow light don’t make green.

            Colors of light are additive– mix them all together and you get white light.

            Pigment colors are subtractive– mix them all together and, in theory, you get black. In fact you get muddy brown, and I have no explanation for why you don’t get black.

            game about additive color


            Also, why is it plausible to have a color wheel that wraps around, considering that red is very different from blue?

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            Also, why is it plausible to have a color wheel that wraps around, considering that red is very different from blue?

            There is a lot of woo about this on the Internet, but the answer is very simple. Red-sensitive L cones are activated by violet. See the diagram on page 505 of this article. Magenta is essentially a trick we play on our brain by combining red and blue to stimulate L and S cones in a manner resembling violet.

          • Charles F says:

            Also, why is it plausible to have a color wheel that wraps around, considering that red is very different from blue?

            Given the reasoning “red is very different from blue” why would it be acceptable to have a gradient from red to blue at all? Why is it only once we have a second gradient going back that it becomes strange?

            Whether we’re dealing with additive or subtractive color, we generally have three components to work with, rather than just two. This gives us two directions from which to gradually approach any color. If we’re using CMY, and we’re at pure C, we can move away from it by adding M and removing Y, or the reverse, so we get a nice wheel where every color blends into the next.

          • Mary says:

            Pigment colors are subtractive– mix them all together and, in theory, you get black. In fact you get muddy brown, and I have no explanation for why you don’t get black

            You get muddy brown because you didn’t add enough blue. Brown is desaturated orange. Add blue to get gray.

            The reason you don’t get black is that in reality, the red goes on reflecting red, the blue, blue, etc. What you get is a mix where all the shades of the rainbow are absorbed equally and reflected equally.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            Given the reasoning “red is very different from blue” why would it be acceptable to have a gradient from red to blue at all? Why is it only once we have a second gradient going back that it becomes strange?

            It’s surprising because

            1. Color is closely related to wavelength.
            2. There is no wavelength wheel.

            Wouldn’t you be surprised if we had a height wheel for people’s heights? Given the reasoning “5 feet tall is very different from 7 feet tall”, why is it be acceptable to have a gradient from 5 feet to 7 feet at all? Why is it only once we have a second gradient going back that it becomes strange?

          • Charles F says:


            Valid points. I wasn’t sure how to read “very different.” Whether it was supposed to be “qualitatively different” or “far apart by some continuous measurement” and ended up with a not-very-coherent argument.

            But the point in the second part – that we can break down the colors as we perceive them into three components, and so there are multiple directions from which we can approach any particular point – is correct, I think.

          • Charles F says:

            There is a lot of woo about this on the Internet, but the answer is very simple. Red-sensitive L cones are activated by violet. See the diagram on page 505 of this article.

            Two questions about that. 1) From that graph it looks like green receptors are activated just a little bit more than red ones across what google says is the violet range of light (400-450nm). Why doesn’t violet light look green?

            2) It’s hard for me to tell what google image results of prisms* are actually photographs rather than rendered, and it’s possible that there are some confounding factors, like the white light they use not having very much of the higher end of the spectrum in it, but where the colors cut out at either end look very different to me, if I just connected them it would not be smooth at all. Are violet light and red light supposed to look similar?

            *using prisms instead of rainbows because rainbows are naturally nested, so I don’t have a good way of knowing whether the violet end is actually violet light looking reddish or red light from the next one bleeding into the outer one’s violet area.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      When I was young the mnemonic was Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, which taught me about both the colours of the rainbow and the Wars of the Roses.

      • Protagoras says:

        Well, it taught you a little about the Wars of the Roses. Richard of York was in more battles than Bosworth Field, and many of the others he won.

  3. bean says:

    Naval Gazing:
    What is AEGIS?
    (Series index)

    I mentioned AEGIS extensively in Sunday’s column, but didn’t explain what it was. So I’ll do that today, in a slightly simplified manner.

    Let’s start in the early 1980s. The naval air defense systems in use then were based on rotating radars (which take several seconds to complete a search, valuable time when facing missiles) and required that each missile be guided by a dedicated illuminator radar to provide the signal that the missile homes in on. Due to electronic interference, it wasn’t possible to fit more than two radars to each end of a ship, for a maximum of four. (Missile ships were classified as single-end or double-end. Each end had a twin launcher.) So you had a maximum of four missiles in the air at once. It typically takes two missiles to shoot down a target. No ship can engage more than two targets at once. Later missiles might let you double up on use of illuminators, so you can have 4 targets at a time. Now, each launcher fires about once per minute, with two missiles, but you’re usually limited by how many guidance radars you have. Even a long-range missile ship might only get 10 salvos off per end, for 20 targets killed per ship. More typical systems, more like half that.

    Now, enter AEGIS. Your main radar is the SPY-1 phased-array, so it searches practically instantly across the whole area around you, and provides much more precise tracks. The missile has an autopilot, so it only needs an illuminator for the last few seconds of flight. The autopilot is updated by the ship, based on information from the main radar, which is accurate enough to get the missile very close before the illuminator locks on. (Note that the autopilot also means that you can fly a more energy-efficient trajectory, approximately doubling range.) Also, you now have vertical launch systems, which means that you can fire the missiles basically as fast as you want. Maybe a 1-2 second gap per end. Now you can take out one target per end every 10 seconds (or less), regardless of range. Oh, and the modern missiles are more accurate than the old ones, too. A Ticonderoga has four illuminators, a Burke three.

    There was an intermediate step between the two, called the New Threat Upgrade (NTU). It involved fitting older missile ships with the autopilot system, although they still had lower target-handling capability than AEGIS. The main reasons was that with AEGIS the track was precise enough that the illuminator could be pointed directly, while NTU illuminators had to search. Also, the radars on NTU ships were still rotating models.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Previous mentions led me to think of AEGIS as a missile defense system. So it’s actually a general-purpose targeting system that’s good enough to target incoming missiles?

      • bean says:

        Sort of. (It depends what you mean by ‘missile defense’, and I didn’t cover the BMD aspects in the OP, which was a mistake.)
        AEGIS was a project started in the 60s to deal with saturation attacks, although the roots go back to Typhon, which McNamara cancelled. It finally entered service in the mid-80s, primarily to deal with Soviet air-launched cruise missile attacks, the idea being that the fighters would try to take out the bombers, and AEGIS would deal with missiles that got fired, and also provide general air defense.
        However, it had really good radars and powerful computers, and in the 90s, they decided to develop a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system from/alongside/based on it when the wackier aspects of SDI fell apart. It’s been in service for about 10 years, and seems to work pretty well. At the moment, some of the Ticos and the newer Burkes have the BMD variant, along with some Japanese ships. I’m not sure of the exact differences offhand, but I know where to look if somebody really, really wants to know. There’s also been talk of AEGIS ashore, as an option for BMD, although no firm deployment plans yet. There’s also been continued development of regular AEGIS, moving to an open architecture system.
        (If your head is starting to hurt, that’s normal. Military combat systems are fantastically complicated.)

      • cassander says:

        To add to what bean says, if you want to find a target with a radar then guide a target to it, you need two things from your radar. You need to be able to generate wide beams to search large areas, and small beams to accurately guide missiles. Older combat systems managed this by having separate search and targeting radars, but this was not a very satisfactory solution. It was difficult to get the radars to talk to one another, and the need for multiple radars reduced the maximum size and power of each radar in the system.

        AEGIS solves the problem by doing both simultaneously with a single radar, using electrical current to control the direction and intensity of radar beams instead of physically pointing it at things, which allows you to search literally hundreds of times faster than with a mechanical radar, generate beams of different sizes and shapes, and then electronically dis-entangling the resultant returns. This means you can have one big powerful radar (actually 4, one pointing in each direction) instead of a bunch of smaller weaker radars.

        • bean says:

          AEGIS still has separate illuminators. The Ticos have 4 SPG-62s, the Burkes 3. SPY-1 is S-band, while SPG-62 is X-band, which probably had something to do with it. (Although it may not technically be a radar. Apparently, it has no receive elements, and is simply pointed by AEGIS.) But yes, it did in theory bring all of the various other air-search radars together, although the Ticos do still carry SPS-49. That may have been part of games with Soviet ESM, or for some other reason. If I get time, I may look it up in Freidman’s destroyers.

          • cassander says:

            My understanding, which might be wrong, is that AEGIS is capable of illumination, the SPG-62s are just better at it, because of higher frequency.

          • bean says:

            I’ve never heard that, and I’m not sure it makes sense. If the Standard’s seeker is X-band, it’s not going to pick up the S-band signals from the SPY-1. There is a mode to set the illuminators for wide beam (est 60 deg) and it basically just launches all the missiles, for last-minute counter of attacks that are too numerous to deal with individually. I’m not sure that would happen if you had SPY-1 illumination capability.

          • cassander says:

            Ah, I figured it out. I was pretty sure I recalled that the SM-2 has a s-band receiver, and I was right! But still wrong, because that receiver is only used for mid course correction, not terminal guidance, and I was conflating the two.

          • John Schilling says:

            There are multifunction radars that combine search, tracking, and illumination capability in a single phased-array antenna set, e.g. the Dutch APAR. But these are shorter-ranged systems for ships that are going to e.g. defend themselves using ESSM missiles, rather than reach out to 100+ km and cover an entire task force. For long-range search, you want S-band. For an illuminator(*) you pretty much need X-band and for long-range performance a dedicated dish antenna is still best. AEGIS is all about maximizing performance and meant for people that can afford big ships with lots of electronics.

            *An “illuminator” in this context is the microwave equivalent of a color-coded searchlight, used to highlight targets for an otherwise half-blind and dimwitted missile. The USN’s Standard missile family has become progressively less dependent on illuminators over the past ~40 years, but we aren’t ready to get rid of them for a while yet.

          • bean says:

            I’d forgotten about APAR. Good catch. What John says is correct, although I’d point out that ESSM has a longer range than the original marks of Terrier. These days, it’s a light area-defense weapon, and adequate for navies that don’t have the same level of threat that the USN does.

    • Aapje says:


      This is all well and good, but I’ve just been informed that the 3rd Zumwalt is going to make this obsolete by mounting a fricking rail gun. Since the first Zumwalt was a huge success, this is going to just make the rest of the fleet obsolete, obviously.

      Seriously though, it looks very early in the development stage and seems to get hyped a lot, but the video is quite awesome. I gather that the main advantage is low cost per shot and high ammo carrying capability, at the cost of not being able to fire as fast as a rocket system.

      • bean says:

        Whatever problems they may have, they’re going to make decent trials ships. They’re big and have lots of power, and won’t take useful ships out of service.
        I believe that they’re looking at integrated electric propulsion on future Burkes, which should let them carry a railgun. There’s a lot of hype, definitely. Not sure where it will end.

        • Aapje says:

          My quick googling indicates that the hybrid propulsion would be for low speed sailing, which is an inefficient use of the gas turbines, as they run poorly at partial power. As these ships normally travel at low speeds during peace time/non battle conditions, this results in high fuel consumption, which could be mitigated with hybrid engines. Then during an attack the ship would go to full turbine power and the electric generators could instead be used to power the rail gun or other high electricity equipment.

          I imagine that they would have to power up a huge condenser to gather enough energy for a shot, which would limit the rate of fire.

          Also, I forget to add that the lack of gunpowder is an obvious big advantage. Pure kinetic rounds could presumably be stored close to the gun with no need for extensive (and somewhat slow) safety procedures to prevent magazine explosions.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve occasionally thought that a small turbine, preferably with a recuperator attached, would be a good choice for the gas-powered component of a series hybrid system in the automotive world. Turbines have occasionally been used as vehicle engines (the Abrams tank is probably the most famous example, but they’ve also been used to e.g. power motorcycles, which is wonderfully insane), and they have lots of advantages: simplicity, packaging, very high power-to-weight ratios. But they have crappy throttle response, they take a lot of juice to spin up, and their efficiency sucks unless they’re being run at full power, which a regular car engine almost never is.

            Those are fatal flaws for a regular car’s engine. But they almost don’t matter for a series hybrid. Just run on batteries, then as soon as they start to run low, you spin the turbine up to peak efficiency and keep it running there until you’ve recharged them.

          • bean says:

            Integrated electric has several advantages. Not only is it more fuel-efficient at low power (and some ships have diesels for low-speed work) but electricity is more than ever becoming the vital element of combat effectiveness for ships. As an example of how much electrical power is drawn by current ships, a Tico running the SPY-1 flat-out sees her range drop from 7000 nm to 5000 nm. And it’s only going to get worse. Being able to tap some of that for a railgun is really handy, and you get all sorts of nice layout advantages. Scatter the turbine-generator units throughout the ship for damage resistance. Put them in the superstructure, where you don’t need big uptakes to save volume. That sort of thing.
            I suspect a lot of the rounds would still have explosives. Mach 3 isn’t that fast in the grand scheme of things, and an HVP is going to be very good at punching small holes. Not at making explosions.

            Recuperative turbines have a long and rather terrible history. Congress kept trying to force a system called RACER down the USN’s throat for the Burkes. It eventually failed, which was probably a good thing. The Type 45s have a recuperative system (can’t remember details right now) which doesn’t seem to work very well, and keeps ending up in the news. I’d be skeptical you could make it work in a car.

          • Bean: scattering turbine generators would seem to imply many small ones, which my intuition says would be considerably less efficient than one honking turbine — no?

          • bean says:

            Bean: scattering turbine generators would seem to imply many small ones, which my intuition says would be considerably less efficient than one honking turbine — no?

            Not exactly. Most ships run several turbines already. The Burkes, for instance, run two per shaft, four in total. Turbines are most inefficient at idle or when lightly loaded, so the usual mechanism for them is to run on one turbine per shaft, then bring the other one in as needed. Instead of concentrating them in engine rooms, like you do for geared turbines today, you’d have them in four widely-separated spaces, without increasing the number of turbines. This could also lead to even greater efficiency, as you could run on only one turbine for cruise. (Turbines throttle very quickly by naval standards.)
            I think (low confidence) that size scaling at typical naval scales for gas turbines is pretty weak.

      • rahien.din says:

        So fucking cool:

        The HVP also has another major advantage—military researchers are working to fill it with resistant electronics so it could be fired using GPS. This technology, combined with the projectile’s speed, and advancing radar missile-detection systems, could allow the HVP to serve as an effective missile-defense platform, shooting missiles out of the sky with a Mach 3 spear of tungsten before they get close.

        Mach 3 Spear of Tungsten sounds like an awesome speed metal band.

        • Aapje says:

          Is that a spear of tungsten in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

        • bean says:

          Yes, it does sound really cool. I’ve also heard that the electronics are not working very well, and that this is unlikely to change in the near future. (Not trying to be a curmudgeon. Just explaining why I don’t think it will be here soon.)

      • Protagoras says:

        I thought the fatal problem of rail guns so far wasn’t the amount of power they needed, but the enormous strain that firing put on the gun itself, such that they wore out (or more likely failed more dramatically) quite quickly. Have they in fact solved that, or have they just done some more dramatic test firings of a weapon that’s not actually of any practical military use yet because it can’t be re-used more than a few times?

        • bean says:

          This is something that they haven’t told us yet. In theory, the problem is solvable. In practice, we don’t know yet.

    • James Miller says:

      Does the AEGIS receive constant realistic testing, or is the navy careful to only expose the AEGIS to testing that’s unlikely to cause embarrassment to the navy? In a real war with the Russians or Chinese, would you expect contact with the enemy to reveal serious problems with the AEGIS?

      • bean says:

        Obviously, a lot of this stuff is classified. However, in operational situations, not just testing, AEGIS has historically worked very well. In the 80s, they were often used when AWACS support was lacking, and the one major incident involving the system, the Iran Air shootdown, was basically the result of poor UI.
        (The symbology, designed for war with the Soviets, didn’t have a symbol for ‘neutral’, just ‘unknown, presumed hostile’. And the system merged the track Vincennes had produced with one one of the other ships nearby had produced, using the other ship’s track number. It then reassigned the original number to a fighter landing on a carrier a long way away, which wasn’t, in theory, supposed to happen. The operator asked for the altitude data on the original track number, and got told it was descending.)
        Obviously, there could be some deeply-hidden bug that’s going to disable AEGIS when the balloon goes up. But given the thoroughness of US military test procedures and the age of the system, odds are that the fatal flaw will be in our opponent’s systems, not ours.

  4. JulieK says:

    Uh-oh, it’s the return of the mislabeled thread, this time pitting the calendrists against the word of the rightful caliph…

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      He is testing us. I am trying to figure out how to cheat.

      Also, please tell me someone got the golf gag….

  5. Jaskologist says:

    Glenn Loury has an interview with Bret Weinstein, the professor being attacked at Evergreen State College, which may be of interest to many here.

  6. Anonymousse says:

    Is the current humble bundle of cybersecurity books worthwhile?

    Particularly, are any of the books interesting for a non-practitioner? I’m interested in cryptography but don’t have any plans to put it into practice outside of a personal hobby.

    • Iain says:

      Here’s a review. I will add that, as I understand it, Applied Cryptography (which that review calls obsolete) is a pretty good read if you are not worried about actually implementing a secure modern system. (More on the relationship between Applied Cryptography and Cryptography Engineering here.)

      • pontifex says:

        Is there any actually good book on modern applied cryptography for developers? I don’t really want to read something a dozen years old that proposes things that may not be safe any more…

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Cryptography for Developers Table of Contents:
          Chapter 1: Don’t Roll Your Own
          Chapter 2: Seriously, Don’t
          Chapter 3: Under Any Circumstances
          Chapter 4: FOSS Libraries That Probably Don’t Suck

          • Brad says:

            Thomas Ptacek has chapter 4 covered:

            Collin Percival, the author of the 2009 version (and scrypt) has some responses / quibbles here:

            but you really can’t go wrong following Ptacek’s list.

          • Nornagest says:

            There at least needs to be some attention given to what constitutes “rolling your own”. In practice everyone uses OpenSSL or one of a few wrappers around it, but OpenSSL exposes something like four or five different levels of abstraction, and (especially at the lower levels) calls to it in the wrong order, done in the wrong way, or with missing pieces are just as fatal as trying to reimplement TLS from scratch.

            (I’ve never seen really good documentation for it either, which doesn’t help.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            OpenSSL would, unfortunately, probably not make Chapter 4.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think that’s being a little too hard on it. Its code is some of the worst I’ve ever worked with, but that’s about engineering practice, not security; in my opinion its high-profile failures recently are mostly because it’s popular and so it has a lot of eyes on it. Its FOSS competitors — NSS, the native crypto in Python etc., maybe BoringSSL if that diverges sufficiently — probably wouldn’t do much better in the same position, and from what I’ve seen proprietary crypto is usually a couple of steps worse.

          • Brad says:

            I’d try to use boringSSL or libreSSL over openSSL but for various reasons that’s not possible in a lot of projects, especially existing ones. I’d much rather use openSSL than any of the obscure libraries like GnuTLS or PolarSSL.

        • Controls Freak says:

          This is still in progress (the current draft includes Part I and half of Part II), but so far, it’s looking pretty nice (and the price is right).

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t know of a good generic guide to modern crypto.

        One problem is that the field is really broad–go to Crypto (the big crypto conference in the US, in Santa Barbara every year) and you’ll see talks that are purely theoretical computer science results, down-in-the-bits cryptanalysis of symmetric crypto, clever number-theory or lattice results, stuff about quantum computing and quantum-resistant algorithms, design and analysis of cryptographic protocols, etc. You can have a conversation between respected, productive members of the field where one guy is basically a mathematician who has never dirtied his hands with anything more physical than a pencil, and another spends his days reverse-engineering secure hardware. Next to them, there’s a refugee physicist who works on post-quantum algorithms[1], someone who does malware analysis for a living, and someone involved in a blockchain startup.

        Applied Cryptography was a really wonderful book in its day, for introducing you to the range of what was possible with crypto. (It led a lot of people to try to roll their own crypto and make broken things, but it also led a lot of people into the field, and left a lot more knowing that these clever ideas like blind signatures or oblivious transfer existed.) But the field has advanced a lot since then. I wish someone would write the modern version, but it’s such a broad field these days it would be hard for one or two people to manage it.

        Cryptography Engineering is an attempt to talk about a much smaller subset of crypto that’s practically useful and nail it down more carefully. It’s worthwhile but not mind-expanding like Applied Cryptography.

        I’ll second the review someone linked–if you’re just trying to use crypto without hanging yourself with all the helpfully-provided rope, use NaCl. It won’t do everything, so you may find yourself needing other tools, but on the other hand, they seem to have spent a lot of time trying not to give you the tools to hang yourself with.

        [1] Public-key algorithms that won’t be broken if someone manages to get a large (hundreds or thousands of entangled qbits) quantum computer working sometime.

    • Brad says:

      I haven’t read any of those books, and so can’t comment directly. However, on the subject, I would highly recommend Boneh’s coursera course, and the cryptopals and microcorruption exercises.

      The first gives a great overview of crytography from an implementation point of view and the others a concrete idea of how exploitation actually works in practice.

    • Anonymousse says:

      Thanks for all the replies, helpful stuff!

  7. AnonYEmous says:

    I’d like to open a discussion on this article by Freddie de Boer:

    As I understand it, he’s basically suggesting that the math requirements in college be taken an ax to, or at the very least that remediatory algebra classes could be switched out for stats classes. I couldn’t agree more, but I know it’s controversial.

    (Also: looks like he’s been banned from Twitter or deleted his account. Thoughts?)

    • Corey says:

      Haven’t RTFA, but probably related: I’m a big fan of the approach taken by my college calculus series, “Calculus & Mathematica”.

      In a lab full of shiny new NeXTStations (to date myself), we’d meet and learn calculus, with, as the name implies, the Mathematica software doing the heavy lifting. IMO it was great for learning the concepts (to which I had not been exposed; my podunk high school had no such thing). Part of the reason for that is I’m too careless with algebra, despite understanding it just fine, so when I try to do symbolic stuff by hand there’s always some mistakes, but letting the computer “turn the crank” mitigated my particular difficulty.

    • J Mann says:

      DeBoer doesn’t reach the final question, although it sounds like he’s written about it elsewhere. If I understand him correctly, this article argues basically:

      (1) As we try to get more people through college, increasing numbers arrive unable to complete an Algebra I class.

      (2) The study DeBoer cites indicates that attempting to bring them up to a level where they can pass Algebra I through remedial pre-algebra isn’t very promising.

      (3) Therefore, if a college degree is increasingly the gatekeeper to the middle class and a requirement that students be competent at Algebra is preventing a large group of students from getting that degree, maybe we should consider substituting easier classes like statistics.* That would give the students some degree of numeracy and increase the number of student who gain whatever other benefit there is from college other than algebra.

      * Note: if students are finding statistics easier than algebra I, what are they teaching in those stats classes? I find it hard to believe that students who can’t pass algebra I understand least squares or a t test in any depth.

      • Nornagest says:

        I think stats would have been a better choice for your average mid-to-low-tier college grad in a non-technical job than Algebra I would, but not because it’s easier. (It wasn’t when I took it, though I may have gotten a hard stats class.)

        • hlynkacg says:

          What exactly are you going to do in a stats class that doesn’t include at least a sizable chunk of Algebra 1 as a prerequisite?

          • Nornagest says:

            Relearn a sizable chunk of Algebra 1 in a stats context, I assume. The class I took didn’t have any prerequisites that I remember, but I think they assumed incoming freshmen would have that level of background already. Or I’ve forgotten; that’s also possible.

    • pontifex says:

      I think it’s really sad if college students spend four years at college, accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and still can’t do high school algebra. At that point, maybe the whole system needs a rethink.

      • Randy M says:

        At the least it should be criminal to sell people on 5 digit debt when they are unable to comprehend compound interest.

        • baconbacon says:

          Isn’t it worse to send them into 5 digit debt and teach them about compound interest on the way? At least the other way they get the “ignorance is bliss angle”, teaching them several years into accumulating the debt is just mean man.

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, if you don’t believe they have any connection to their future selves. The reason ignoring reality is bad is not because you need to know everything, it’s because many facts have consequences, and there are different strategies to deal with debt, and understanding the repercussions of interest will help in choosing them, even if it is too late to avoid taking it on.

            But that’s so obvious I think I’m ruining your joke? In which case, ya, sure.

      • Shion Arita says:

        It is really sad, and the saddest thing to me is that I don’t think any changes in the system can really do anything about it. From my experience having seen lots and lots of students, both from the perspective of the student side and the teaching side, probably only ~25% of people have brains that are physically capable of understanding high school algebra.

      • JulieK says:

        If people arrive in college not knowing the algebra they should have learned in 9th grade, I think most of them probably have no aptitude for math, and it would be a waste to try to teach them.

        Let them study something in college that doesn’t require math.

      • johan_larson says:

        Someone who can’t do high school algebra probably should not have been admitted to a four-year college in the first place. If they’re just out of school they should be directed to some sort of vocational training. Or if they are older and ready to try again having changed their ways, they should go to some sort of high-school-for-adults program since what they propose to study is properly high school material.

      • Why? Not everybody needs to learn mathematics. It’d be sad if they didn’t learn anything from college. But there are things to learn other than mathematics.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Freddie has a very useful talent: he’s too bright a guy and too clear of a writer to obscure the flaws in his reasoning.

      What we’re attempting is to admit millions of more people into the higher education system than before, almost all of whom come from educational and demographic backgrounds that would once have screened them out from attendance. Because those backgrounds are so deeply intertwined with traditional inequalities and social injustice, we have rightly felt a moral need to expand opportunity to those from them. Because the 21st century economy grants such economic rewards to those who earn a bachelor’s degree, we have developed a policy regime designed to do so. I cannot help but see the moral logic behind these sentiments.

      This is cargo cult thinking at its finest.

      Highschool graduates were more likely to be employed and had better life outcomes. But not everyone could graduate highschool if they required highschool level work. So they reduced the level so that more students could pass and enjoy success in life.

      Now college graduates are the ones more likely to be employed and have better life outcomes. But not everyone can graduate college if they require highschool level work. So they want to reduce the level so that more students can pass and enjoy success in life.

      This inversion of cause and effect is clearly insane if you put it in plain English. Deboer’s writing is invaluable for that reason.

      • Brad says:

        It’s insanity from the omniscient viewpoint. At the level of individual institutions, you have employers embracing the cargo cult of degrees. With little control over that, what are bottom tier four year state schools to do? They can hand out the pieces of paper that open doors using standards that many of us would consider inadequate for high school or they can shut down. I don’t see any other options. If they shut down the slack in the market is likely to be taken up by much more expensive for-profit online universities.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Why would they have to shut down?

          There’s no mandate that every applicant must be accepted, nor that every student once accepted must be graduated. They already know who the remedial students are and that remediation is ineffective. All they need to do is to say that they won’t graduate anyone who can’t handle pre-calculus.

          There are a lot of people who don’t belong in college, “almost all of whom come from educational and demographic backgrounds that would once have screened them out from attendance.” Rather than trying to force them through the system like a square peg in a round hole we could just… not do that.

          Their problems aren’t due to lack of a degree, otherwise the bar wouldn’t have raised from highschool to college in the first place. It’s due to lack of ability.

          EtA:. A decent trade school system, like the German one, would do wonders to reduce credentialism and give people useful educations. I’d enthusiastically support it being free for all qualified citizens. But there are some people who really just can’t be educated and we need to acknowledge their existences.

          • Brad says:

            Their problems aren’t due to lack of a degree, otherwise the bar wouldn’t have raised from highschool to college in the first place. It’s due to lack of ability.

            I don’t think that’t true. Someone with a degree and no additional knowledge or skills is materially better off than he would be without the degree.

            We could say this is insane. We could brainstorm how to make it no longer be true. But I don’t think it makes any sense to just pretend it isn’t.

            Why would they have to shut down?

            Because the tier of school in question mostly serves the population you are claiming should not be in college. I don’t think there’s some non-trivial alternative population that qualifies under your criteria with unmet educational needs they could pivot to instead.

            Edit: missed a not

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:


            I don’t want to sound like I’m talking down to you because I think you already understand this point. I just want to make it explicit.

            A degree is only valuable to the extent that it can serve as proof that have certain knowledge and skills. Giving degrees to people who don’t have have that knowledge or those skills depreciates that value.

            You can’t print degrees forever and expect them to hold their current value. It’s even worse than currency inflation because a degree is ‘backed’ by something real and not mere fiat.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal:

            I’m confused as to what you consider the “real” backing of a degree to be. As far as I can tell, it’s collective belief all the way down. The reputation of the institution and the reputation of the certifying bodies, if any.

            I don’t disagree that relaxing standards devalues degrees as indicators of knowledge/skill/proficiency, but I don’t see how it’s any worse than currency.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Well, the main difference is that currency is only backed by belief which cannot be proven. On the other hand, let’s say someone has a degree in mathematics and you don’t believe it is worth anything; you can challenge them to do some math and, assuming they really learned the material, they will succeed. Ditto with other majors, just vary the field and the test. I guess you can argue that belief in the usefulness of mathematics is in some sense socially constructed, but that seems a bit nitpicky.

          • Brad says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal
            I agree that there’s a collective action problem here. What I’m saying is that the solution to such a problem is generally not for one actor in the system (i.e. CUNY) unilaterally dropping out. Not only is the slack created just going to be picked up by someone else, but that someone else is going to be a scummier organization.

            The existence of (lots!) of jobs that require a bachelors degree, any bachelors degree, is a puzzle. It isn’t exactly a secret that there are colleges out there issuing degrees without a lot of rigor. Jokes about underwater basket weaving date back to the 1950s.

          • onyomi says:

            There’s no mandate that every applicant must be accepted, nor that every student once accepted must be graduated.

            What I find odd is that nowadays, college degrees have already lost so much signalling value that it would seem like one of the best things a university could do would be to develop a reputation for being tough to graduate from.

            Not even Harvard has a reputation for being hard to finish anymore. Rather, it has a justified reputation for being hard to get into. A lot of the value of a Harvard degree is the proof that you were the sort of person, at age 18, who could get into Harvard. Actually going to Harvard is mostly networking/finding yourself (I’m exaggerating, but not completely). Though maybe that’s the point? We still decide your life path at 18, only now we’ve tacked on a mandatory, government-subsidized 4-year tour of duty in academia/young adult networking camp?

            Of course, so long as “generic 4-year diploma from somewhere” is worth something significant to prospective employers, the incentive will be reversed: find the easiest place to give you that seal of approval.

            But since we’ve kind of reached the point where I don’t think “generic 4-year diploma from low-tier school” is worth very much (or maybe it is, but not for the sort of jobs the white collar people I tend to know apply for?), you’d think there’d be more market for a “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” university (yes, nerdy video game reference I’m not going to explain).

          • Spookykou says:

            A degree is only valuable to the extent that it can serve as proof that have certain knowledge and skills.

            This does not seem to be the case in the situation I now find myself in, and I imagine many other similar situations where a degree functions as a largely superficial credential. I want to teach English in a foreign country, the schools that would hire me only care that I am a native speaker. On top of being a native speaker, I have 2 years of experience volunteering with ESL students, and a TESOL certification, which should put me at least slightly above any given BA in anthropology as for relevant skills needed to do the job. Still, it is impossible for me to do this work because I do not have a four year degree, because I can’t get a work Visa without one, while it is trivially easy for someone who does.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @onyomi: You do see lots of schools advertise themselves as places that are hard to get good grades. Hard to get A’s, easy to graduate is probably the sweet spot, since employers that just want you to check the ‘college’ box won’t look at your grades, but you can still distinguish yourself for competitive gigs.

          • Deiseach says:

            Do you really need good knowledge of maths to do an English degree? That aside, if you want a decent job, you need a degree. I’ve just seen a job advert for a Red Bull Musketeer (I think it’s something to do with promotions/sales) that wants:

            Your experience includes:
            (proven performance in)

            University – Bachelor’s degree preferred (business, marketing or similar).

            Preferred: 2+ years experience in a sales position with a strong track record of success.

            Outstanding local market knowledge, contacts and experience in “the scene”.

            Good communication skills, ability to manage and cultivate good relationships.

            Negotiation and Objection Handling skills. Has a basic understanding of commercial maths

            Business and scene savvy, committed, passionate and able to live late night lifestyle.

            Must be proficient in EDV (Word, Excel, Power Point, etc.).

            Basic knowledge in written and spoken English.

            Solution oriented and “Do-it-now” attitude.

            Strong Personality, Presence, Strong Work Ethic, Style, Persistent, Reliable, Self Aware, Sociable, Flexible Availability, Self-motivated, ambitious.

            Able to manage time and workload to optimise effectiveness and efficiency.

            So even to get your application accepted, you need to stick down that you’ve got the degree. A good salesperson who started out without a degree and worked their way up might get a chance, but if you’re a 20-something that’s going to be out in pubs and clubs hustling Red Bull, you need the degree.

            So if you don’t want one of those “not a minimum wage job only because this state hasn’t set a minimum wage” jobs, you need college.

      • Corey says:

        Makes sense if you view degrees as a hoop employers make you jump through, with no intrinsic meaning of their own. That’s indeed how they’re treated by most people (including employers) in most situations AFAIK.

        ETA: Not that that’s not cargo-culty, of course

        • albatross11 says:

          Perhaps we should simply pass a law that every resident of the state shall, upon turning 21, receive a college degree from the state university system. (We can call it the “Universal Basic Degree.”) That way, we won’t have to worry about kids who struggled with high-school work trying to get through a serious college degree program. I mean, since a college degree is the passport to a middle-class lifestyle, and since it would be socially damaging and unfair if it weren’t available to everyone regardless of race, sex, religion, or ability, this seems like a no-brainer.

          What possible downside could there be with this plan?

          • SamChevre says:

            It would be a short-cut towards my (semi-seriously proposed) end state, where we treat college like church. You can use what you learn there at work (how to run an effective meeting, for example), but employers can’t ask or use in decisions whether you go, where you go, or how involved you are.

        • orangecat says:

          Makes sense if you view degrees as a hoop employers make you jump through, with no intrinsic meaning of their own.

          A degree is a certification that the sum of your IQ and conscientiousness reaches a reasonable level. It’s a reasonable filter for employers to use.

          • Charles F says:

            I won’t deny a degree functions as a filter on those things, but considering how much time, effort, and money it takes, and how often the process of getting one doesn’t actually increase the value of a person as an employee much [citation needed], it seems like if a company could come up with any sort of decent alternative, they could pick up some of the best talents 4-8 years before anybody else would have found them, and maybe at much lower prices, since they’d be offering to let people out of the expense of college.

            I guess in practice it might be hard to convince the high (IQ+conscientiousness) people that you weren’t up to something, or it might be really hard to test conscientiousness, or people just out of high school might be uniformly pretty terrible employees and college is more useful for grinding them down into functioning worker bees than anything else, or any other number of possible problems I didn’t think of, but [college as a filter for IQ+conscientiousness] doesn’t look particularly reasonable to me.

          • Aapje says:

            Adolescents are often a pain to deal with and college may function as a holding facility & filter to figure which people are mature enough to follow the rules for 4+ years.

            Modern business also seems generally unwilling to educate & groom people beyond on-the-job training, so college may still be required to teach basic skills.

            AFAIK, only in IT during the boom did business try to hire people who didn’t yet have their degree. For most jobs, the demand may simply not be there for raw diamonds.

          • Jiro says:

            it seems like if a company could come up with any sort of decent alternative

            Which would be illegal since it would have disparate impact and be presumed discriminatory.

          • albatross11 says:


            I suspect a bigger problem than discrimination law is the rational astrology problem. When everyone else is doing some “best practice,” you are taking a risk in doing anything else.

            You hire someone using the standard credentials everyone else uses, and she’s a disaster–hey, you did everything you could, some employees are just duds, whatcha gonna do?

            You hire someone using your weird nonstandard credentials nobody else uses, and she’s a disaster–clearly, your irresponsible decision not to require a college degree caused this problem.

            This is made worse because potential employees respond to the incentives here. A guy with a 120 IQ and a minimally good work ethic and set of study skills can get through a college degree without all that much difficulty, at which point he knows that many employers’ doors will be opened to him. (He will get social support from everyone–parents, part-time employers, guidance counselors, relatives, the government.) Or, he can do some faster, cheaper credential and get a few doors opened to him, while many more remain closed.

            Some people take the second path and have it work out for them, but most people find it (rationally, I think) smarter to take the first path, even if they know the college degree serves no purpose but signaling to employers.

          • Brad says:


            Which would be illegal since it would have disparate impact and be presumed discriminatory.

            The second part of the sentence is true but doesn’t justify the first. A job requirement with a disparate income gives rise to a rebuttable presumption of illegal discrimination.

          • John Schilling says:

            They could pick up some of the best talents 4-8 years before anybody else would have found them, and maybe at much lower prices, since they’d be offering to let people out of the expense of college.

            If they are truly “the best talents”, they will be smart enough to understand that you are “offering” to relieve them of the opportunity of ever working for anyone else, because everyone else still requires a college degree of some sort no matter how much experience you have and because you also propose to pull them away from the great 4-8 year personal network formation experience from which job offers tend to come. Thus you will be in a position to screw them over on salary and working conditions for the rest of their career. The best talents aren’t going to limit themselves like that.

            Also, as Aapje notes, you probably don’t want to deal with adolescents.

            Also also, the bit where college is 100% signalling and nobody ever learns anything useful there, is the lowest form of contrarianism.

            Really, you don’t want most of the people who would take that offer, and the few that you would want, don’t want anyone who would make that offer.

      • J Mann says:

        I think you’re begging the question a little.

        Freddie posits that there are valuable things that the algebra-disabled can learn in college, but he concedes the possibility that matriculating algebra-incompetent graduates may have costs that render it unsuitable.

        Basically, I think there’s a grid of related possibilities:

        1) College teaches valuable skills, like dedication, problem solving, group leadership, etc.

        1(a) College could be a valuable experience for the group of students who can’t pass Algebra I, and they’re not developing their potential if they’re frozen out. They could successfully learn the skills and make the connections needed to be managers, copy editors, pharm reps, or whatever else people with undergraduate degrees but limited math do.

        1(b) Algebra is essential to the college enhancement effect, either because modern knowledge workers can’t survive without it, or because people who can’t learn algebra generally can’t learn the other stuff that’s valuable in college.

        2. College is just a meat grader – it separates the smart and diligent in some measure from those who aren’t, and the combination of grades, class selection, and extracurricular activities essentially is a big test to display students’ innate qualities.

        2(a) College could measure and grade some valuable non-math qualities for the algebra excluded, if they weren’t, well, excluded. Employers and grad schools can tell whether you have taken or mastered algebra if that’s important to them, but if you keep these kids out of getting a college degree altogether, the algebra-challenged can’t get graded and certified on their other qualities.

        2(b) All of the other valuable qualities correlate so closely with algebra that there would be no point in grading the algebra-challenged.

        If you’re in either (a) box, Freddie’s proposal might make some sense.

        Looking at those possibilities, 2(b) looks implausible. I could see 1(a), (b), and 2(a).

        • Randy M says:

          1) College teaches valuable skills, like dedication, problem solving, group leadership, etc.

          Is there reason to assume people who didn’t pick these up in High School will pick them up in College (and not entry level jobs)? If so, could HS be structured in a way to impart these sooner than college?

          • John Schilling says:

            Colleges still have some ability to point to the people who aren’t going to learn these things even in college and say “go away, we’re not wasting our time and resources on you”, to point to the people who are going to disrupt everyone else’s effort to learn valuable skills and say “you lot especially go away”. High schools have to teach pretty much everybody, so they are wasting effort on students who won’t learn, slowing the process to the pace of the slowest students who possibly could learn, and doing it in the presence of students who are trying to disrupt.

            You could structure high schools to do this task for a subset of students if you were allowed to reject the rest, e.g. charter schools, magnet schools, private schools (US definition), or basically all high schools prior to ~50 years ago.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @John: In big-enough districts you can just do a lot of tracking to solve some of these problems. My public, non-magnetized high school was like this (on the other hand we were big enough to have a planetarium, which is not exactly normal).

            @Randy: This is going to be ultra-vague and completely anecdotal, I apologize in advance. My high school experience and college experience were different in a way that seems baked into those two life-stages. Namely, high school threatened to turn us into ultra-competitive high-functioning narcissists, while college was us-against-the-world instead of us-against-each-other. I think transitioning from one to the other is very important, even just from the standpoint of efficiently acquiring book-learning but especially for learning intellectual integrity, leadership etc. I also think it is only likely to happen when you really are starting to take on the world.

          • J Mann says:

            @Randy M – I think that’s a related (and even more interesting) question.

            1) Freddie’s proposal is to create a space in college for the algebra challenged, which requires the Chesteron’s fence question of “What is college’s function?” so you can see whether it can fulfill a valuable portion of that function for the algebra challenged if it creates a path for them. (And I guess you would also have to ask, is something if a non-algebra path is opened for the algebra capable students).

            2) I understand your question to be “If we think we understand college’s function, is there a better way to do it?” That’s probably worth its own thread on the next OT, and I’d be interested to read what people think.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think that is intrinsic or exclusive to academia.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think employers are using a college degree as a way to make sure their employees are at least minimally bright and literate–maybe they’d be more efficient requiring an IQ of 100 or something[1], but this is what they use. For that, I suspect that getting rid of the algebra requirement is itself a pretty small step, but also that there’s it’s one step in a long-term progression toward making it possible for less and less intelligent/diligent people to get college degrees. The consequence of that is likely more credential inflation–the jobs that formerly used the college degree requirement now end up requiring a masters, and so on. This happened in my wife’s old job–when she was hired, a bachelors in engineering or science was enough qualifiication to get hired; a decade later when she left, they weren’t even interviewing anyone without a masters.

          [1] There may be discrimination-law reasons why they can’t use IQ tests–I’m not quite clear on how far that court ruling goes.

          • andrewflicker says:

            The court ruling goes less far than people think- there’s an exception if you can legitimately claim that the test measures skills necessary for the job- but most employers are so terrified of lawsuits that they play it safe and avoid them anyway.

            That being said, there’s a growing industry in employers circumventing this with “personality” questionnaires or thinly-disguised “interview problems” that aim for the same goal. (My own company has dev candidates do sample programming on their own time over a few days before an in-person interview but after the phone interview, for instance, that largely functions in this way)

    • Skivverus says:

      Why stop at college?
      Short (possibly inaccurate, definitely imprecise) version: author believes math as presently taught before college is sufficiently dull, linear, and inflexible to result in net harm to numeracy and critical thinking. Suggests math be treated more like humanities electives.

      • Corey says:

        Interesting. In my experience as a parent of grade-schoolers, about 140% of all other parents’ complaints about Common Core boil down to “I can’t follow what they’re trying to get the kids to do with this math homework; why don’t they stick with the regular way?” [e.g. for addition, right-to-left iterated single-digit addition with carries]
        This, of course, illustrates the need to teach the same concept with different methods – because of this experience, I’m now convinced that a scary number of adults know how to “turn the crank” but don’t really understand what’s going on with something as simple as multi-digit addition.

        • Skivverus says:

          I’m inclined to say that teaching the same concept with different methods is okay, but that testing kids to make sure they understand every method so taught is a matter of sharply diminishing returns.
          This is a somewhat different concern to the article’s, which is I think at least as much on the rigidity of the curriculum as the paucity of approaches: every kid is initiated on addition, then subtraction, then multiplication, and so on, but one could in principle start with geometry instead, or inequalities, or probability.
          Magic: The Gathering probably contributed as much to my mathematical background in elementary school as my homework.

        • Spookykou says:

          This made me think of a personal anecdote. I took a entry level physics class at a community college once, the professor would let us bring a formula sheet and tell us which 8 or so formulas might show up on the test, they could all easily fit on the formula sheet. He would then also provide the answers to the questions on the test itself. All you had to do was correctly parse the word problem, plug in the variables and solve, while showing your work.

          The class average was somewhere between a 60 and a 70.

          His only ‘trick’ is that he would write his own homework handouts, and each problem for any given formula would have the same missing variable to solve for, on the test you would have to solve for a different missing variable.

          • Loquat says:

            On switching which variable you solve for – I have a related anecdote from trying to tutor some students in a business math class. They’d been given various basic formulas to memorize, and were working on word problems similar to what you describe, and the whole concept of solving for a different variable was foreign to them. Like, if they had one formula that went “foo / bar = foobar ratio” and another that went “a + b = foo”, and the word problem gave a value for “bar” and “foobar ratio” and asked them to solve for “foo”, they’d seize upon the latter formula because that’s the one with “foo” on the right hand side.

            I don’t remember whether I successfully taught them enough algebra to cope, but it was a real eye-opener for me to see how some people can just totally not get math.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think “correctly parse the word problem” is the missing link here — when I was in school, I was completely mystified by how hard my classmates found word problems to be. A lot of people seem to be capable of memorizing formulas and identities and working out the steps mechanically, but really struggle with mapping real-world scenarios to the underlying math.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            The first time I had to use critical thinking in school was in high school math class when they started testing for this kind of dynamic problem-solving. It was the first time I enjoyed doing math.

        • Shion Arita says:

          I’m now convinced that a scary number of adults know how to “turn the crank” but don’t really understand what’s going on with something as simple as multi-digit addition.

          That’s true. A scary number of people are completely innumerate.

          • albatross11 says:

            FWIW, my parents both ended up with masters’ degrees and had long and successful professional careers, but *hated* their required math classes in college. (My mom had a finance-type class in grad school, and I ended up tutoring her in it, despite being (if I recall correctly) an 18 year old who hadn’t started college yet myself.) I know neither one could explain any algebra to me when I was ready to learn it, and when I was a kid, I don’t think either one could have solved an algebra problem if offered a crisp new hundred dollar bill for doing so. I gather both of them got through algebra in college on a memorize, plug, and crank approach, and promptly forgot it as soon as they were done with the final.

            So that’s one datapoint for people who never really got algebra (though they did pass) being capable of benefitting from college and having successful professional jobs.

    • rahien.din says:

      Some force of anecdote : I ask all my patients to tell me the coolest thing they are learning, or, their favorite subject. In elementary school and into middle school, their favorite subject is invariably math. In high school, it is rarely so, and more often science or history.

      I only skimmed the article (too tired and hypocaffeinated to give it justice). But Deboer’s really going after algebra! I wonder if stats is conceptually closer to arithmetic than is algebra, in that statistics asks you to follow a certain procedure to its basic arithmetic and/or tabular end, but algebra asks you to disentangle something conceptually.

      (Personally, I find algebra to be immensely useful. I can’t imagine living in a pre-algebraic state.)

      • onyomi says:

        The math you learn in grade school has application to almost everyone’s real life. Basic algebra is really useful for figuring out very basic problems of the kind one is likely to encounter in real life. Anything above basic algebra and geometry starts moving into the realm of “only people in certain professions are going to need to know this,” though they are careful in high school never to tell you this, presumably on the theory that too many people will think “I’m not going to be an engineer, so I don’t need calculus.”

        Personally, if they’re going to make everyone learn trig and calculus, I do wish they’d do a better job at explaining what the hell such things are used for. Because in my high school, at least, it was just like “here are these concepts for solving these arbitrary problems you will be tested on” with little explanation as to why solving such problems might be useful in real life.

        • Randy M says:

          That’s true to an extent, although I recall in calculus there were a number of rate problems that clearly had real world applications, even if in the most common cases our real world solution would have been “Wait and see how long it takes to fill up the irregularly shaped swimming pool.”
          Another thing that helped was taking physics at the same time as calculus, especially as our physics teacher liked to rib the math teacher by saying calculus was just invented to do physics problems (as though having a use should diminish it’s worth?).

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Calculus is nearly self-justifying. “What does it mean to drive at 10 miles per hour? Certainly not that you’ll have gone 10 miles after an hour has passed; what if you are flooring the accelerator right now?”

          • onyomi says:

            This kind of question is only inherently interesting to a small percentage of the population, as minutiae of historical linguistics are inherently interesting to me, but not most people.

            I think a problem is that calculus teachers (and maybe linguistics teachers, too) tend to be the sort of person who takes it for granted that calculus is inherently interesting–an intuition only one or two of his best students typically share.

    • Statistics is definitely more valuable to the average person. Or at least it is extremely valuable for understanding public policy, and the lack of such knowledge is part of the reason we get really dumb articles and dumb policy. Few journalists or politicians understand statistics. So I would definitely be in favor of statistics replacing algebra as the favored higher math expected of high school students.

      On the other hand de Boer implies (but doesn’t quite say) that replacing algebra with statistics would allow a higher proportion of students of students to get through college without failing math. Statistics is not easier than algebra — I think it is harder. And this is especially so for really understanding statistics. Elsewhere in this thread folks talk about many students who pass algebra (and even earlier math like addition and multiplication) by memorizing formulas and techniques. I think this is even more common in statistics. Unfortunately the most important benefits of policy making from understanding statistics is at the deeper level, so even if high school students all took stats, it probably wouldn’t help a lot.

  8. ManyCookies says:

    From experience and from Scott’s depression FAQ, psychiatrists will frequently swap between different types of SSRIs if one type is looking ineffective. To that end, have psychiatric researchers done “SSRI regiment vs Placebo” trials where they can switch the SSRI (or placebo) in response to patient feedback?

  9. Well... says:

    What does it really mean for something to be “outdated”?

    Although I personally have trouble pinning down its meaning I think this term could be useful, but it seems like it’s totally useless in most of the contexts in which it is applied.

    • Mary says:

      It can mean one of two — no, three — things:

      1. A technique or tool has been superseded by something that does the same job, better. (Then we get into interesting discussions about better in all situations according to all criteria.)
      2. The speaker is a chronological snob who thinks that being older is a valid argument against something. (There were, for instance, a lot of people in the 1930s who said the United States would be trampled by History if it stuck to its outdated Constitution and Declaration of Independence instead of jumping on the future as shown by the great Leninist-Fascist experiment in Europe.)
      3. The speaker just uses as an insult. It’s not quite to the point of “lousy” — when was the last time that term made you think the lousy thing was actually lice-ridden? — but it’s heading that way.

      • Spookykou says:

        I never connected lousy to louse because I pronounce louse with an S sound and lousy with a Z sound, and I am now worried that I have been saying one of these wrong my whole life.

        • Loquat says:

          Nah, I’m pretty sure most people nowadays do that.

        • No, that’s how everybody pronounces them. See also “house” (with S) and “houses”, “housing” (with Z). And the word “mouser”, meaning something that catches mice, is traditionally pronounced with a Z although the S pronunciation is also used.

          • Creutzer says:

            I would have thought that “houses” (as third person singular) and “housing” have z because they’re derived from the verb “to house”, and verbalisation historically led to voicing of consonants (cf. breath – breathe). Why anyone would pronounce “houses” (as plural of “house”) with z is beyond me – if indeed anyone does.

            Not sure about the “mouser” case – could be some analogy based on the idea of a non-existent verb “to mouse (a place)” (make it free of mice) as an intermediate, I guess?

            “lousy” is a completely different thing because as far as I know there has never been a regular process where adjective formation triggered voicing. I strongly suspect that the present-day pronunciation with z is a spelling pronunciation that was enabled when the transparent connection with “louse” was lost.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            My pronunciation:

            louSe (lice)
            mouSer (and never heard mouZer, except for Mauser)
            EDIT (thanks, Charles):
            plural of dwarf: dwarVes
            singular verb of dwarf: dwarFs
            plural of wharf: wharVes

            and, in what’s apparently a Delaware Valley-ism:

          • Charles F says:

            Is that dwarfs the verb or dwarfs the plural noun?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Why anyone would pronounce “houses” (as plural of “house”) with z is beyond me – if indeed anyone does.

            Gah! You’ve just prompted me to try to work out which of those pronunciations I use normally, and I am appalled to find that I don’t know. Saying both versions right now, neither one sounds wrong in my mouth. I think I usually use the ‘z’ pronunciation, but am highly uncertain.

            And while I’m on it, I’m also not sure if I normally say ‘eether’ or ‘eye-ther’. When I need to actually use the word in context, I am not paying any attention to the way I say it.

          • Well... says:

            I say houses like “HOW-siz”.

          • CatCube says:

            Why anyone would pronounce “houses” (as plural of “house”) with z is beyond me – if indeed anyone does.

            If I’ve ever heard it pronounced without the “z”, I don’t remember it.

          • Mary says:

            “plural of dwarf: dwarVes”

            That’s Tolkien’s.

            Prior to his day, it was “dwarfs” as in Snow White and the Seven. However, Tolkien disapproved on the philological grounds it should have been dwarves, and introduced the spelling.

          • Jaskologist says:

            There are inconsistent reports on why Tolkien went with “dwarves,” but the one I first heard was that he simply made a mistake. I tracked down the the source, a letter he wrote not long after the publication of The Hobbit:

            No reviewer (that I have seen), although all have carefully used the correct dwarfs themselves, has commented on the fact (which I only became conscious of through reviews) that I use throughout the `incorrect’ plural dwarves. I am afraid it is just a piece of private bad grammar, rather shocking in a philologist; but I shall have to go with it.

            Like any good author, he later ret-conned his mistake:

            It may be observed that in this book as in The Hobbit the form dwarves is used, although the dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. It should be dwarrows (or dwerrows), if singular and plural had each gone its own way down the years, as have man and men, or goose and geese. But we no longer speak of a dwarf as often as we do of a man, or even of a goose, and memories have not been fresh enough among Men to keep hold of a special plural for a race now abandoned to folk-tales, where at least a shadow of truth is preserved, or at last to nonsense-stories in which they have become mere figures of fun. But in the Third Age something of their old character and power is still glimpsed, if already a little dimmed: these are the descendants of the Naugrim of the Elder Days, in whose hearts still burns the ancient fire of Aule the Smith, and the embers smoulder of their long grudge against the Elves; in in whose hands still lives the skill in works of stone that none have surpassed.

            It is to mark this that I have ventured to use the form dwarves, and so remove them a little, perhaps, from the sillier tales of these latter days. Dwarrows would have been better; but I have used that form only in the name Dwarrowdelf, to represent the name of Moria in the Common Speech: Phurunargian. For that meant ‘Dwarf-delving’, and yet was already a word of antique form. But Moria is an Elvish name, and given without love…

      • Well... says:

        1. Indeed, we do get into discussions about better. So it seems this hardly resolves the definition.

        2. Since outdated things can exist contemporaneously with, or even after, up-to-date things, can outdatedness be defined without referring to time or chronology?

        3. That’s one of the things I was referring to when I said it was used in a meaningless way 99% of the time.

    • albatross11 says:

      A technical book or article is outdated when its technical content is no longer up to date with the latest knowledge. That might mean its technical content has been shown to be false, or just that it’s now incomplete.

      • Well... says:

        But now you are using the word (or, a variation of it: “up to date”) in its own definition.

        I see things get called outdated even when they have not been shown to be false or incomplete–or when the non-outdated thing is also false or incomplete.

        So this leaves me back where I started: what does it mean to be outdated??

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      It might be better if we had some examples of things that are outdated.

      1) Spherical trigonometry. Almost totally replaced with linear algebra and the study of the groups O(n). Spherical trigonometry is absolutely still useful in many applications, but it’s no longer the first tool you reach for.

      2) Shame-based moralities. Almost totally replaced with sin-based moralities. Shame-based morality is still absolutely useful for positive (rather than normative) description of how people act, but it is not the first framework you reach for.

      3) Dixyland. Almost totally replaced with other forms of jazz. Dixyland is still played, and hasn’t gotten any less beautiful over the course of the last 100 years. But now when you listen to Dixyland players one feels that they are deliberately keeping one hand tied behind their backs, and they will go into the occasional bebop line if they are not paying attention.

      • Well... says:

        1 would be better as an example if it was less obscure. I have no way to evaluate it.

        2 I am just plain skeptical of. It’s hard for me to fathom how an entire morality can get called outdated, unless you just mean out of fashion. See 3.

        3 threw me off at first because you spelled it weird–it’s Dixieland, not Dixyland. Anyway, I don’t think of Dixieland as outdated, it’s just out of fashion. Your impression of modern players having a hand tied behind their backs is subjective.

        If I was going to define the term “outdated”, it would require that the domain of the thing I’m describing be such that later versions contain obvious, absolute improvements on earlier ones, in which no sensible argument aside from sentimentality can be made for the earlier one.

        So, materials technology might be one such domain. (E.g. I will grant that a wooden toothbrush with beaver hair bristles is “obsolete”.)

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Yeah example 1 was cryptic, particularly since it’s math so everything can be rephrased in terms of everything else. A better way to say this would be “back in the day people thought a lot about angles in 3D, and triangles inscribed on spheres, and lengths of great circles on spheres, particularly when doing a problem with some spherical symmetry. And there are tons of great theorems about this stuff. But nowadays if you’re an undergrad they just explain to you what a rotation matrix is and count on you to turn whatever you are doing into a vector calculus problem. And this is pretty wise most of the time, so you should try to solve your problems that way before you dip into a spherical trig book.”

          Anyway I don’t think I use “outdated” as a synonym for “obsolete”, I put it here on the spectrum: Classic –> Traditional –> Quaint –> Outdated –> Obsolete.

        • Machina ex Deus says:

          3 threw me off at first because you spelled it weird–it’s Dixieland, not Dixyland.

          He’s just using the outdated spelling.

  10. Well... says:

    They say it’s impossible to predict changes in fashion, but has anyone really tried it in a serious way, perhaps applying scientific methods? It seems like one should at least be able to somewhat improve one’s fashion-predicting skills.

    (Or maybe not. I know nothing about how fashion works.)

    BTW I’m talking about fashions in general, not just clothing.

    The reason I ask is because I was thinking about how sci-fi written in the past but set today so consistently gets stuff wrong about the way we talk, dress, what we like eating, what our buildings look like, what our cars look like, etc. If I was going to write something set, say 50 years in the future, what could I do to improve my chances of getting that stuff right?

    • Spookykou says:

      I heard once that large textile companies collude on what the ‘colors of the season’ are going to be, in advance. I imagine that process would lend itself more easily to serious prediction. Also, having that knowledge might serve to help make serious predictions about the fashion that will ultimately be derived from those materials.

      • Well... says:

        That is interesting. But it only would tell you what will be in fashion a season or two in the future, right? It doesn’t tell you what will be in fashion in several years, much less several decades.

        • Spookykou says:

          Well, High Fashion, is similar to concept cars, it is not stuff for people to wear, it is designers playing with shapes and colors. This nominally serves as inspiration for the actual ‘designer lines’ which are significantly watered down, or only vaguely reference the High Fashion designs. The designer lines then trickle down to the common folk through designer resellers and the large cheap knock off manufactures, like H&M. Of course at this point you are still looking at the very gradual shift, similar again to automobile manufacturing.

          What you really want to get to are the paradigm shifts, like the smart car, or more relevant, the JNCO jean phenomenon. I think there are a few indicators that could have been used to predict the popularity of ‘street culture’ in the 90’s, the rise of Rap and Skateboarding for example. However that doesn’t get you to why the trend setters in those areas wanted enormous pants, skateboarders being particularly confusing because I imagine the pants would be just about the worst possible pants to wear while skateboarding.

          • Montfort says:

            My half-serious immediate thought is that it’s a fitness display, like peacocks – “I still have all my teeth and functioning elbows and knees despite skateboarding in this.”

            However, a preliminary web search turns up self-reported reasons such as: protects shoes from damage (mechanism unclear); can fit kneepads under pants; arguably less restrictive than skinny jeans.
            I don’t know if we can trust the LA Times on the matter, but they also asked the same question in ’93.

    • Aapje says:


      Fashion serves various goals, which often conflict, like:
      1. Looking nice
      2. Being hip
      3. Signalling traits/desired modes of interaction
      4. Having pleasant clothing (to deal with the climate, etc)
      5. Cultural values/norms

      1 is why men wear suits and women wear high heels. These (are considered to) make the male and female body look nice. There is very little variation in these things long term. 100 years ago people wore suits and high heels and 100 years from now the same will probably still be true.

      2 is why you have rather arbitrary changes like different colors, patterns, wide/skinny leg pants, etc. This is really just a status game where people signal higher status to others. As such, this varies quite a bit, but there is only so much arbitrariness you can engage in, so you often see trends come back (when enough people have cleaned out their wardrobe, so new clothes have to be bought).

      3 is partially tribal signalling to what group you belong (goths, bikers, hipsters). The fashion is then usually based on what binds the group. Other types of signalling are people who wear sexy clothes to signal sexual/romantic availability, those who wear ‘professional’ clothing to signal that they know what they are doing and are socially well adjusted, etc.

      4 results in people in warm climates wearing clothes that work well in that climate, hard laborers to wear protective clothing/gear, etc.

      5 results in conservative Muslim women covering their hair, people covering up to a certain extent based on how much skin the culture allows people to show, etc.

      The relative importance of these things has changed over time. For example, 1 has lost ground to 4, leading to fewer men wearing suits and more wearing T-shirts. 5 was at a low in the 70’s and has gone up again.

      If I was going to write something set, say 50 years in the future, what could I do to improve my chances of getting that stuff right?

      I would try to make it logically consistent with the rest of your world building. If you assume a hotter climate due to global climate change to keep going, then make people wear clothes that are more cooling. If you introduce a new group of like-minded people, have them wear clothes that reflect their values and group membership. If you assume more sex negativity or positivity in the future, have the clothes reflect that. If you assume that everyone is going to be working from home in the future, have the clothes be more practical and signalling professionalism less.

      If you are consistent then at least you have a chance to be right. If your writing is illogical, then it cannot come true.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        1 is why men wear suits and women wear high heels. These (are considered to) make the male and female body look nice. There is very little variation in these things long term. 100 years ago people wore suits and high heels and 100 years from now the same will probably still be true.

        Eh, I’m not buying the idea that the our modern suit makes male body look nice in some objective manner than other clothes don’t: the good-looking clothes for men used to be nothing like the modern suits for much longer than we have had suits. In the West, breeches + long socks / stockings have probably still more centuries of popularity behind them, even if not currently fashionable. A couple of examples from Wikipedia 16th century, 18th century. Notice the similarities.

        Suit is popular for men because it’s the modern male professional uniform in our current civilization. By “modern”, I mean the vast cultural-technological corpus of ideas and traditions whose birth coincided in time and place with the introduction of railways.

        There’s probably some kind of connection to why “black tie” and “white tie” have become stuck on the previous turn of century to the extent that the events where such dress is required resemble a period-piece LARP. I’m not sure about the particular details, but the fancy dress for important event did not use to be that stable; before they got stuck in their current form, they used to vary quite much lot and change according the latest fashion.

        You will notice that the Western civilization of 20th century has been replaced by something else when high-profile men stop wearing suits or derivatives on formal occasions. Similarly you probably could have noticed that the old Rome had irrecoverably changed to something else when the Roman politicians stopped bothering with the toga.

        Also, I really can’t say if the high heels are genuinely improvement on female body, but during the various points of time also the fashionable males have worn high heeled boots. Something to do with then-contemporary traveling and warfare technology; it involved horses.

        If we are really looking for a constant in the European / the West tradition that will quite likely remain so, my guess is that people will wear recognizable skirts or dresses when they want to especially draw attention to the feminine aspect of their persona. (And I believe that in even quite far into future, most people in that category will be persons who we would recognize as females.)

        For example, 1 has lost ground to 4, leading to fewer men wearing suits and more wearing T-shirts

        I’m quite certain that this is because of advent of central heating and other similar modern niceties, suits are not anymore as comfortable and practical choice of clothing they used to be in the late 19th / early 20th century. It’s probably a major contributor why waistcoat is not a standard part of the suit today. Partly also because of Western civilization spreading to areas with hotter climates, and people finally adjusting to those areas. And oh, another possible connection: the areas with the climates where the suit made sense used to in much prominent role in the process of modernization, and then have slowly losing ground.

        Okay, so how this reflects on writing science fiction? Most changes are connected to the technological and economical worldbuilding. When colors were scarce and expensive, you could spot the most important person in the room easily: they had the most opulent clothes. Today the important people still wear expensive clothes, but instead of being flashy, the expense is spent in the high-quality fabrics and tailoring, because not many people have personally tailored suits in the industrial era but dyes in every imaginable color are relatively cheap.

        Sources: I think I’ve read most of this from reddit AskHistorians, like this thread. More here (but it’s been long time I read those threads).

    • Björn says:

      For every art form, one can do the art history of that. This does not help you with forecasting how this art form will be in 10 years, but it can help you describe what is happening at the moment and maybe extrapolate what will happen in the immediate future. I think one can compare this to weather forecasts, you can look at the weather situation of the last seven days and make a prediction of tomorrow, but already it becomes much harder to forecast the weather on the day after tomorrow.

      For example, let’s look at current clothing fashion. At the moment, you see quite many blouses or tops that do things with lace or ruffles. This is not the first time there is a trend like that, the 80s had ruffles and lace well. The 80s had many other quite “weird” things in fashion like fantasy uniforms, extreme shoulder pads etc. Now current “hipster” fashion has many “weird” elements as well, like fancy mustaches, big glasses, patterns that would have been “kitschy” 10 years ago, …

      And indeed, we can integrate both those phenomenons in one art historical theory. Both 80s fashion and today’s fashion take design elements from other times and places, and they also tend to have rather many “ornaments” (things that are decorative and serve no function, this word comes from architecture, but I think it can also be applied to fashion). Those two features belong to (art-historical) postmodernism.

      So I would predict that in the next years, designer will come up with new ornaments to use on clothes. But the problem is, we can’t tell which ornaments those will be, it could be more ruffles, it could be bows, it could be bulgaric cloth-patterns. And there will be a time, where people will be fed up with all those ornaments, and clothes will become more reduced again, which is what happened in the 90s.

      One very annoying thing by the way is that it is not that easy to find good literature about current fashion design. The typical fashion magazines are way too superficial and give you only a giant amount of stuff that is not explained, while scientific publications are more about the practical and economical aspects, not speaking about the silly cultural papers… I am really surprised every time that there seems to be no one who does just bread and butter art history about current fashion.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        One very annoying thing by the way is that it is not that easy to find good literature about current fashion design.

        Art deprived of mystery often seems banal. Hence, fashionistas may prefer to cultivate an aura of mystique by eschewing facts and logic when speaking of their craft.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      The reason I ask is because I was thinking about how sci-fi written in the past but set today so consistently gets stuff wrong about the way we talk, dress, what we like eating, what our buildings look like, what our cars look like, etc. If I was going to write something set, say 50 years in the future, what could I do to improve my chances of getting that stuff right?

      Isn’t that charm one major reason why there are people who keep reading the old science fiction, though? Most of the fiction that’s written about the future is really about today, and consequently, the old science fiction provides a curious viewpoint to sensibilities of the bygone past. (A case in a point: Jules Verne’s Paris in the 20th Century.)

      I wrote another reply on the clothing in another subthread.

  11. Shion Arita says:

    The discussions about college and math education made me realize something interesting:

    I think that a lot of what we call ‘intelligence’ is really people’s varying degree of ability to make their brains do arbitrary and specific manipulations.

    For example, the complexity of the action of driving a car is much higher than long division, but most people can learn the former and a significant number of people can’t learn the latter. I think the difference is that driving relies on certain ‘hardware’ that is evolutionary hardwired, but long division requires arbitrary abstractions.

    I am acutely aware of differences in ability between people for mental visualization. When teaching students about the concept of chirality, there are always a lot of questions. When at office hours or something, answering student questions, I often have to tell them to picture a tetrahedron in their head and rotate it 180 degrees. Some of them can do it (maybe ~10%), but the vast majority look at me with blank faces. They don’t understand the question (I wish I had a better way to try to teach it, but I’m not sure I can teach concepts about structure to people who can’t form mental visualizations)

    There was a post on here a while ago about studies that found that there is wide variation in people’s ability to form mental visualizations. I posit that it runs deeper than that, and that there is very large variation in people’s ability to generate any kind of mental constructs, and that this variation accounts for much of what we call ‘intelligence’.

    As an example let me ask the question about audio: in how much detail can you play back pieces of music in your head? Can you hear all the instruments’ parts? Just the vocals? Does it get harder when there are more intstruments? How clear and disctinct are the pitches and timbres? I suspect the answers vary widely between individuals, and are very strongly correlated with whatever we would call general intelligence.

    But then again I’m not so sure: you hear about people who can do that kind of thing with only music but not visual images or stories or math or whatever. Or at the extreme end idiot savants who can perform extremely well at certian specific tasks, but can’t do other things that are very similar on the abstract level. But there are some individuals who are very good at everything and whose abilities do seem to come from a generalizable ‘core’.

    • Aapje says:

      Animals are generally quite adept at direct manipulation of objects. IMHO it is the level of abstraction that humans are capable of that sets up apart.

      I think that a major/the main part of the skill of abstraction is the ability to make the abstract ‘real.’ For example, by mentally visualizing an object, you can pretend that you have the physical object right there and use a direct action-see the result model. The trick here is that you are the one who produces the result yourself, rather than depend on nature to show what would happen.

      Interestingly, different people seem to build different kinds of abstractions, some visual, some auditory, etc. This produces challenges for educators, as a teaching method that works great for some, works badly for others.

      PS. Why don’t you keep a tetrahedron at hand if you often have to explain something using that mental visualization?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This is a generalization from my own experience, but I think abstract manipulations require a very different kind of thinking than dealing with concrete problems.

      I never had any problems doing calculus in my physics or in physical chemistry courses. There was an intuitive logic to it and you could easily sanity-check results (e.g. unless you’re building a warp drive nothing should have negative mass). Give me those same problems with the scientific context removed and I struggle to complete them.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Bear in mind that people can not only develop a mental toolkit, but their brains can literally adapt to the kind of mental work they’re doing. (known as neuroplasticity I think)

    • Garrett says:

      This doesn’t begin to explain higher-level thinking, though. Doing 4 or 5-dimensional math involves greater abstractions, but I don’t think is any easier to accept. In some ways, being able to work without a visualization makes things easier because you aren’t limited to what you have experience with.

      I know the first time I really crashed into “math is hard” was when I was trying to handle LaPlace transforms in college as a part of an engineering degree. I (barely) passed because I could memorize the rote steps. But I have very little intuitive understanding of what’s going on.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Just as a minor point to your analogy about music- I have a *very* hard time mentally playing back music, humming a tune without accompaniment, etc.- but I’m about to graduate with a math degree and have always had very strong mental visualization abilities. I can easily rotate 3D shapes in my head, and occasionally solve problems by mentally “conjuring” a blackboard upon which I can do pen-and-paper math- something that still seems unlikely to many fellow students I’ve described that technique to.

      I think there’s more variation in mental abstraction than a purely general -/+ model.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I can easily rotate 3D shapes in my head, and occasionally solve problems by mentally “conjuring” a blackboard upon which I can do pen-and-paper math- something that still seems unlikely to many fellow students I’ve described that technique to.

        I’m a bit jealous, I can manage to “hold” only maybe one line of math on my “mental blackboard”.

        But I agree about music (I’m even worse at that). I suspect there’s a significant amount of skills at play that you do learn. It seems likely that it’s easier to recognize the various string instruments in an orchestra if you are a trained violinist who has spent a decade practicing in such groups.

        • Shion Arita says:

          That’s interesting. 3D mental rotations are very easy to me, but remembering a lot of data in terms of equations and numbers all at once would be much harder. For whatever reason, I have a very hard time remembering information that doesn’t have strucutre (the equations do in a sense, but it’s hard to make that structure relevant to me for some reason.)

          As for music, I can very easily recall musical pieces with full instrumentation, sounding pretty much as real to me as the real thing. There’s pretty much always some piece of music playing in my head, from songs from anime to classical pieces, to shitty rap songs that kids in my high school listened to.

          That said, I’ve played instruments for years and was very serious about it in high school, so I don’t know how much of that is due to training and how much is innate. I’m not sure how much training matters at that kind of thing. Has there been any research on the effects of practice on 3d mental visualizations?

          The kind of music I like the most is that which starts to strain my ability to keep everything in my head at once. For example,this piece is a great example of something really complex with a lot going on at once, and it’s a contender for my favorite musical composition.

      • Cadie says:

        Same thing with me. I can do visualizations easily and can’t remember auditory details. I have to concentrate to remember what my sisters’ voices sound like even though I talk to them about once a week. Even then it’s not very clear but I can distinguish one from the other. I can sort-of remember parts of the basic melody of a few songs. I can’t recall anything more distant or more complicated. Tetrahedron rotation is a piece of cake, though. In fact I can mentally picture, manipulate, and alter a cut multi-layer cake with no difficulty.

        There may well be a correlation with general intelligence, but these tasks have to be at least partly independent of each other. Or I’m an outlier. I wouldn’t be surprised if my visual processing and recall were in the top 10% and my auditory processing and recall were in the bottom 10%.

        Also have done something like a mental blackboard, but more for remembering things like passwords and phone numbers. I won’t remember more than 2 digits if I only hear them, but if I discreetly move my fingers like I’m tapping the numbers out on a 10-key pad, or write them in my head as someone speaks them slowly and mentally read it, I have a good shot at memorizing the whole phone number.

      • Likewise I can play back music in my head with high fidelity, but I can’t rotate a tetrahedron in my head. (Or even visualise a tetrahedron in my head, though I can do simpler shapes.) And I also have a mathematics degree.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Shion, perhaps I’m missing some context here, but I have to admit that just saying ‘picture a tetrahedron and rotate it 180 degrees’ to me really wouldn’t help to explain chirality if I didn’t already know what it meant. I suspect a lot of your students, like me, will take the instruction to ‘picture a tetrahedron’ literally and picture your classic rectangular tetrahedron…which isn’t chiral. To put it in Chemistry terms (which is where I learned about chirality), students are going to picture something methane unless you specify a formula, because we are lazy and automatically simplify our mental models.

      I’ve always thought that the easiest starting point for explaining chirality is literal mirror images and comparing things like a pair of gloves, at least for the totally at-sea student.

      • Shion Arita says:

        In this post I was simplifying what I actually tell the students for the sake of brevity. When I teach it I usually draw the tetrahedral form with different substituents, then ask them to rotate it, and if they can’t I draw the image after rotation. If they can’t rotate it mentally, it tell them to make a tetrahedron with the thumb and forefinger of both hands, remember which finger is what, and rotate their hands.

  12. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been looking through the websites of high schools in Toronto (where I live) and Kitchener-Waterloo (where I grew up) and I’ve been surprised to find that Asian languages are very rarely taught. Plenty of French, which makes sense in Canada given our large francophone population, and then Spanish, which also makes sense in a North American context. But after that everything gets thin and scattered: German, Italian, Latin, and some very occasional Mandarin. Given all the noise in the press about Chinese expansion and the Asian Tigers, you’d think the school system would have pushed hard to offer Asian languages. And to be fair, there are some out there. But the offerings are much thinner than I would have expected.

    • Aapje says:

      It seems very hard to teach Asian languages at a decent level of proficiency, so that may play a large role.

      • onyomi says:

        This is part of the problem; for native English speakers, Asian languages are just inherently harder to learn than French, Spanish, or German. Students in the US (and I guess, Canada too) usually take a foreign language class to fulfill a requirement, not because they really care about attaining proficiency in a particular language. Spanish is generally a much easier way to fulfill that requirement than e.g. Mandarin.

    • DeWitt says:

      There’s not nearly enough people around who could teach such languages at a high school level, so it’s not often on offer.

      • johan_larson says:

        There aren’t enough people who could do the work, or there aren’t enough people who have the required credentials? There is really no shortage of Asians in Toronto.

        • DeWitt says:

          My guess is both. Knowing a skill and being a good teacher are two very different things. Credentialism is absolutely an issue, but even so, being a teacher isn’t easily done.

          • albatross11 says:

            The default classroom way of teaching languages also kinda sucks, at least as it’s done commonly in the US. I’ve watched my kids go through many years of Spanish instruction without learning how to have more than a really minimal conversation. I suspect I do more for their command of Spanish by occasionally taking them to Spanish mass than their classes have done.

          • Garrett says:

            I spent 12 years in French Immersion in Ontario from elementary through secondary school. I learned to loathe the language (at least, as taught), and probably could only speak at the equivalent level of a 5-y/o at my best.

          • onyomi says:

            The default classroom way of teaching languages also kinda sucks, at least as it’s done commonly in the US.

            It really, really does.

            Effective language learning doesn’t require a ton of dedicated effort, but it does require willingness to spend a lot of time passively taking it in (like at Spanish-language mass or listening to audio recordings while you drive) and a little time attempting to express yourself.

            Most language classes are not enough time to give you the quantity of passive listening necessary and most language students aren’t motivated enough to spend a lot of time outside class doing this for themselves.

    • Corey says:

      Probably overcorrection to everyone thinking Japan would take over the world in the 1980s.

  13. johan_larson says:

    More complaints on Foxtrot Alpha about carrier aviation: air wings are smaller than they used to and have shorter range.

    • beleester says:

      This article seems mostly okay (@bean probably would have more to say), but their numbers on the Super Hornet don’t seem to add up.

      They give the Hornet’s original range as 370 nm. The Super Hornet with drop tanks can go 500 nm (they say the drop tanks add 100 nm, so presumably the other 30 comes from larger internal tanks). The addition of conformal fuel tanks will add another 120 nm. Which adds up to 620 nm, not the 750 claimed. Are they mixing up range and combat radius? Is the 120 nm figure for a single tank and it carries two? It doesn’t add up but I don’t know where the mistake is.

      Also, unless I’m misinterpreting the article, they’re comparing the Super Hornet with external tanks, to the F-35 without them. That’s an apples to oranges comparison – obviously you can get more range if you’re allowed to hang stuff off the wings and spoil your stealth.

    • bean says:

      Oh, dear. They found that ‘report’.
      There are two prongs here, capacity and range.
      On capacity, it’s a matter of needing fewer airplanes to do a given job than we did in the 80s. Improved weapons mean we now think in terms of targets per airplane instead of airplanes per target like we used to. So we just don’t need as many planes for a given level of firepower. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look at putting more planes on the carriers, but it’s a lot less dire than simple numbers make it out to be. I think the big problem is that the new airplanes look like the old ones, so there’s not been obvious progress.
      (The MQ-25 is going to fill the biggest hole we have, as it’s basically an S-3 replacement. Fixed-wing ASW is nowhere near as important today as it was during the Cold War. That said, I’ve heard they’ve had serious trouble with drones on carriers, due to deck ops problems.)
      As for range, when the report they cite first came out, I took a close look at the numbers he gave for what they used to have:

      I think the man is on drugs of some sort. He appears to have arrived at his numbers by taking the maximum range figures he could find (in any fuel state) and the maximum weapons load, and listed them together. I also discovered that the 1956 wing was Forrestal’s, a carrier capable of operating everything we fly today (at least within reason). Here’s some claims:
      Him: “The AD-1 was both famous and infamous for the power of its radial piston engines. Capable of carrying 8,000 pounds of ordnance over 1,000 nm to a target,”
      I couldn’t find the AD-1 in the SAC archive, so I used the AD-4. There are two standard loadouts listed, one with a 2000 lb bomb and no external fuel (radius 240 nm) and another with 3680 lb of ordnance and 300 gal external fuel (radius 520 nm).
      Hmm. Off by over a factor of 2 in both the payload and range columns. We’re not off to a good start here.

      Him: The Banshee’s sturdy design and large fuel load gave it the ability to carry 3,000 pounds of ordnance to targets nearly 1,500 nm away.
      The F2H-3 SAC listed one ground-attack config, with 1,580 lb of ordnance and 340 gal external. Combat radius? 330 nm.
      Well, he maintains his accuracy on payload, but has now fallen to a factor of 5 on range.

      There’s not a good quote here, but he cites an unrefueled range of 650 nm, and a payload of 3000 lb, although not explicitly linking them. Again, not quite. The longest unrefueled radius I can find (400 gal external, no ordnance) is 560 nm. There is a ground-attack configuration, 1150 lb of ordnance and a radius of 245 nm with 400 gal external. (Note that the range is listed at just over 1000 nm, as I think this is a ground-support config.)
      He gets away on this one because he’s so vague.

      Him: “It was capable of carrying 12,800 pounds of ordnance, nuclear or conventional, 1,826 nm.”
      He doesn’t specify variant, but because it’s 1956, I’ll use the A3D-1. The longest-range config has 4050 lb of ordnance and a radius of 1180 nm. Even in ferry setup, the range is only 2608 nm, so a radius of 1826 nm is flatly impossible.
      Factor of 3 on the bombs, factor of 1.5 on the range.

      Him: “combat range was 550 nm unrefueled (it did not have external fuel tanks) while carrying up to 9,000 pounds of ordnance of all types”
      First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an A-4 without drop tanks.
      I’m using the A4D-1 because it’s 1956. The heaviest payload is 3500 lb of ordnance and 300 gal external. Radius of 385 nm. I’ve finally managed to find a case where the SAC radius matches his. It’s for a payload of 1050 lb with 300 gal external, radius of 575 nm. But, because I’m getting annoyed and he insists the external tanks don’t exist, I’ll use the one tankless config, 2025 lb of ordnance, and radius of 175 nm.
      Bombs: 4.5. Radius: 3. He’s doing worse as we go along.

      The last plane he cites is the A-5 Vigilante, which didn’t fly until 1958. But we’ll do that, too.
      Him: “Vigilante could fly nearly 1,300 nm unrefueled, delivering a 1,700-pound nuclear weapon while traveling twice the speed of sound.”
      I’m using the A-5A. The nuclear attack payload is listed as 1885 lb, with a radius of 685 nm sans external (945 with 800 gal external).
      Better. He’s spot-on on the bombs, and off by a factor of 2 for the radius, to the point I could almost believe he simply confused range and radius. But he also can’t tell 1956 and 1961 apart, so no points here.
      I don’t think more needs to be said.

      (It was later pointed out that the A-5 never was able to actually drop bombs, due to some interesting aerodynamic problems, so he’s off by infinity on bombs for it.)
      He was apparently a naval flight officer, but I can only assume his actual job was as a hypoxia demonstrator. The report is rubbish, and CNAS should be ashamed of publishing it. Foxtrot Alpha bears less blame. CNAS is theoretically reputable, although I’m wary of most of their stuff.

      (I’ve also seen a better comparison between the Super Hornet and A-6, which puts them a lot closer than the common accounts would lead you to believe.)

      • bean says:

        I think I just figured out what’s going on here in general. I started looking for a better comparison of data between the Super Hornet and Intruder, and started getting different answers from sources that should be telling me approximately the same thing. So then, I went in and pulled the SAC for the A-6E. And on page 5, everything became clear. The radius is affected much more than I realized by the mission profile. Going from Hi-Hi-Hi (altitude) to Hi-Lo-Lo-Hi generally cuts range by approximately half. I strongly suspect, given the performance data I’ve seen on both airplanes (I don’t have a Super Hornet SAC, but have gotten details from elsewhere), that most of the data we’ve seen on the Super Hornet is flying Hi-Lo-Lo-Hi, while the common numbers for the Intruder are Hi-Hi-Hi. This aligns pretty well with the ferry ranges for both airplanes. The A-6E’s is a bit longer, but only about 15%. Once that’s taken into account, it looks like a wash.
        (On a broader point, these kind of numbers games are common in military circles. For instance, the top speeds of warships vary enormously depending on your definitions. A ship designed for 30 kts ‘deep and dirty’ in a rough tropical sea is going to be much more expensive than one designed for 30 kts on still water light and fresh out of dock. This is often not apparent to those writing the checks, and can produce confusion.)

  14. carvenvisage says:

    I think HPMOR’s chapter titles are atrocious. If you’re weaving a complex narrative to illustrate a principle in a subtle/natural manner, then it makes a mockery of the whole thing to announce up front in giant bold leters at the top of the page. Why can’t the idea be at the bottom under ‘further reading’?

    Plus they look like working titles. The start has some cool ones like 1. “a day of very low probability”, which manages to reference something illustrated as well as being a top tier chapter name. Though of course having a quarter decent (not actively detracting) chapter name would be more important than having follow up reading positioned obtrusively in advance of the indirect introduction (of sorts) to the concept.

  15. Autistic Cat says:

    It seems that we may be able to discard the International Prototype Kilogram next year.

    • Charles F says:

      Want to provide some more details on this? Have Watt Balances gotten good enough that we can start defining the kilogram in terms of the Planck constant? Is there something in particular about this that interests you?

      • random832 says:

        According to news coverage I was able to find, the NIST recently (June 30) announced the result of a measurement of the Planck constant as 6.626069934(89) x 10−34 kg∙m2/s, which at 13 PPB, meets the requirement that had been set of three independent measurements each with an uncertainty of below 50 PPB with one below 20 PPB. In fact all three are below 20 PPB – the other two were a Canadian team also using a Kibble balance*, and the silicon sphere people.

        *A watt balance – they’ve been officially renamed following the death of the inventor.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yup, Watt balances are apparently that good now!

        It’s actually part of a more extensive redoing of SI base units. Meter and second are of course staying the same. Kilogram is getting redefined via Planck’s constant since Watt balances are that good now. Ampere is getting redefined by defining the Coulomb in terms of the charge of the electron. Kelvin is getting redefined in terms of the Boltzmann constant.

        So basically everything is now going to be defined in terms of big-name constants, except of course for the second, which everything else depends on.

        Edit: Although I just realized, this means that μ_0 (along with ε_0 and Coulomb’s constant) is going back from being an exact-defined-value constant to an experimentally measured one!

        (This leaves out of course the candela and the mole. The candela is being left alone (except insofar as it’s affected by the redefined kg); it shouldn’t really be a base unit at all I don’t think but it seems they’re not willing to remove it, so unsurprisingly nobody wants to touch it. The mole it seems to me is dumb because it’s attempting to put units on something that’s properly dimensionless, and the redefinition is kind of enshrining that by just directly defining Avogadro’s number to be a particular number and saying a mole is that many molecules or what have you.)

        The whole bundle is expected to be adopted in November 2018.

        Since I don’t have a good article to link on hand, I’ll just link Wikipedia:

  16. I believe that government stimulus of the economy is almost always a bad thing, even in a recession. I explain my reasoning here.

    Here is my first paragraph:

    Keynesian fiscal stimulus is often advocated as a way to pump up aggregate demand (Keynesian Stimulus, Tejvan Pettinger, I will be arguing here that fiscal stimulus or any other type of government stimulus is very rarely a good idea. In recessions, the economy needs to adjust to account for the economic changes that caused the recession. By artificially juicing the economy, it doesn’t have a chance to fix what is wrong. This will result in a weaker recovery and makes the economy more vulnerable to the next recession.

    • BBA says:

      In other words:

      Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.

      Mellon may have been right, but he’d have been run out on a rail before his ideas reached fruition.

      • cassander says:

        Harding wasn’t run out on a rail in 1920.

        • BBA says:

          Because he didn’t take office until March 1921. The recession was a year old by then, and the guy who’s elected to fix the recession (or, say, return to normalcy) is given a bit more slack.

      • @ BBA. I don’t understand what this response has to do with my post. Did you mean to put it in this thread?

    • Mark says:

      In a recession, would you recommend that tax cuts be accompanied by corresponding cuts in government spending?

      I kind of agree with you in theory, but my practical experience of living under a government that tried to raise taxes and cut spending during a period of slow economic growth was that it seemed to make things worse in many ways.
      They raised taxes, and now we’re paying for things that used to be done by the government out of pocket anyway.

      I think I preferred the fantasy.

      • In a recession, would you recommend that tax cuts be accompanied by corresponding cuts in government spending?

        Yes, I don’t think it is a good idea for governments to borrow money simply to stimulate the economy. I realize there has been a lot of discussion that European countries haven’t recovered from the Great Recession because they embraced austerity, which presumably means not stimulating their economies. But I’ve also heard discussions that many of these countries haven’t been embracing austerity after all, so there is definitely some difference of opinion even on what the facts are. I surfed the Internet for a while looking for the various sides, but I think it would take more time than I have right now to tease out the complications. Although here is one article that denies that austerity has actually been tried.

        My main concern is the tendency of politicians to run scared of recessions on their watch, and force the economy to show statistical growth as soon as possible, regardless of long term consequences. I think recessions are sometimes needed for the economies to catch their breath, and the all out efforts to abolish them is not a good idea.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          As I understand it, the problem is that austerity isn’t tax cuts plus benefit cuts, just benefit cuts. In part, this may be because benefits grew way beyond the ability of taxes to pay for them, but if you’re already thinking of borrowing to sustain the government, I’d rather you borrow a bit more and cut taxes.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Anyone can write a just-so story giving a nice, clean narrative on how the economy works. Where’s your evidence?

      • @Wrong. I don’t think macroeconomics has developed enough to provide evidence for any long-term effects of government action. It may be impossible to ever provide such evidence. At best, I’ve seen studies that discuss the effects of a certain policy effect up to six months into the future, and even those effects are usually greatly contested. It is simply impossible to break out confounding effects to determine what change in the economy was caused by what government policy.

        At least that is true when trying to see the effects of specific government policy. It does seem that history in the last century has shown that a high level of government control leads to poor economic results over the long term. For example, none of the communist countries advocating full government control have had good economies. Whereas, the countries that had relatively low government control, such as Hong Kong and Switzerland, have done very well. Certainly when government is missing altogether, I think economies also don’t do well, because economies need the government functions of security and impartial justice. And for sure counter-examples also exist. But for most countries, the less government, the better economy.

        Thus I am very suspicious that economic “experts” would be successful at improving the economy over how it would work without their fine tuning. This is especially so since most such fine tuning is done for political reasons anyway, so even these “experts” are rarely in charge. My narrative is to show how it is logical to be opposed to government stimulus. I think conventional economic thinking is that of course we must stimulate the economy in a recession; it is only logical. My point is to say that isn’t necessarily so.

        • skef says:

          I don’t think macroeconomics has developed enough to provide evidence for any long-term effects of government action. It may be impossible to ever provide such evidence.

          Then why does it matter much if there is stimulus or not?

          • Are you implying that what can’t be measured isn’t important? That certainly isn’t true. Maybe you could say that if you can’t measure the result, then how can you have an opinion as to whether it is good or bad?

            But if that is what you mean, I answer that in the second paragraph. I think we can see that government action in general has been shown to be bad for economies, more often than not. So the burden of proof should be on those advocating for government action. Also, to the extent that empirical evidence cannot be produced, then the best one can do is to indicate what is the most likely result by analyzing the process. That is what I am attempting to do.

          • skef says:

            Also, to the extent that empirical evidence cannot be produced, then the best one can do is to indicate what is the most likely result by analyzing the process. That is what I am attempting to do.

            So you understand that you’re also doing macroeconomics, just within a margin that doesn’t appear to allow for falsifiability?

        • neciampater says:

          I think Keynes and other central planners love macro, but I think macro economics is way too complicated to predict or plan for.

          I relish the day when interest rates reflect the actual supply/demand of cash/reserves. Maybe then macroeconomics might be interesting.

          • I relish the day when interest rates reflect the actual supply/demand of cash/reserves.

            The supply of cash should be reflected in the price level, since the price of goods in money is the inverse of the price of money in goods. The interest rate isn’t the price of money, it’s the rent of money measured in money, so a pure number–the price of money cancels out.

          • I think Keynes and other central planners love macro


            Is it clear that Keynes was a central planner? The idea he is famous for is about how government can adjust what it is doing anyway–taxing, spending, and borrowing–to patch what he saw as a flaw in a laissez-faire economy. That doesn’t require any central planning of who produces what how.

            At least one edition of The Road to Serfdom quotes on the back a glowing endorsement by Keynes.

            but I think macro economics is way too complicated to predict or plan for.

            Price theory, usually mislabeled microeconomics, is complicated too. The important difference is that we have a fairly clear theoretical structure to make sense of it. So far as I can tell we don’t have the equivalent for macro, which I prefer to think of as disequilibrium theory.

            I like to describe a course in macro as a tour of either a cemetery or a construction site.

  17. Mark says:

    How to solve the culture conflict:

    I think we should view our opponents as utter aliens with corresponding consideration for their weird customs.

    “In my culture, we abhor rapists and believe they should be killed. Sorry, that is just our custom.”

    No more discussions, just an assertion of your cultural practices. Don’t discuss culture, explain it and then attempt to reach a compromise.

    • Well... says:

      Works so long as the aliens are permanently regarded as Other.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      “attempt to reach a compromise” Isn’t that the problem to begin with?

      • Mark says:

        I think the major problem is that we don’t accept that others should be left alone with their weird ideas.
        For example, Scientology. If you don’t really think about them and leave them alone, with a few red lines to make sure they don’t get up to too much mischief, you’ll get along with them fine.
        Try and tell them how stupid they are, be offended by that stupidity – consider them as one of yours gone wrong, and you’ll have all kinds of difficulty.

  18. Deiseach says:

    Weird religion news! (Or should I say, news about weird religion?)

    Harry Potter as a sacred text. I honestly don’t know what to say about this one, apart from why do (some) Americans seem to feel the need to turn anything and everything into a quasi-religion? I know Ronald Knox kicked off Sherlock Holmes studies by applying the Higher Criticism to the text in the manner of Biblical criticism and calling it the “canon”, but that at least was done tongue-in-cheek (complete with citations of scholars such as “Monsieur Piff-Pouff”). This seems to be serious (unless the Harvard professors are secretly running some kind of sociological experiment). Now, if this is tongue-in-cheek mutual agreement of the Knoxian kind where everyone is in on the joke and the fun is in treating the whole thing with that kind of scholarly critical apparatus, then that’s great; if people are finding inspiration and meaning in the books, that’s great – but I don’t see the need to turn it into the next successor to Scientology. It may simply be, of course, that these people are feeling a great lack of community and belonging, and something like this group provides it to them – but then why can’t they do it online like the rest of us nerds?

    This story, on the other hand, is just strange and sad. I have no idea if the “reptilian cult” thing is just an excuse used by the alleged assailant to cover up an ordinary domestic killing, or if it’s really serious.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      I don’t know about the assailant in particular but Shriner’s cult is quite real and out there. So out there its ironic that they fear aliens.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        Sherry Shriner? Yeah I remember her. I used to be a fundamentalist and read her websites. One of it is called “Just Give Me The Truth”.

  19. Machina ex Deus says:

    I am so gigantically, teriffically pissed-off right now that I can barely string words together.

    There’s a girl I know at work who’s a native Spanish speaker. She’s working on her English, and chats with me most days for five minutes or so. She’s actually gotten better over the past year, but is still at tourist level rather than reading-office-memo level—recently I translated a note for her where she got the jist of it, but didn’t understand specifically what it was telling her to do.

    I figured she’s been here a few years, probably had no formal instruction (she hasn’t mentioned taking any English classes), and is making good progress.

    Yesterday I found out she came to the U.S. when she was 3, and attended public schools at least through freshman year (I didn’t have the heart to ask if she got her high-school diploma). Ten fucking years in Virginia public schools and they didn’t manage to teach her a useful level of English. Limited English means she’s unable to do office work, just cleaning and maintenance and probably child care (unless there’s a written test for that now).

    She is at least average in her ability to understand explanations and solve problems, so no learning disability. And given how nice she is, I’d be shocked if she were some kind of discipline problem five or ten years ago. What the hell is wrong with the public schools?

    • johan_larson says:

      You do occasionally hear of people born in the US who don’t manage to pick up English. They typically grew up very poor in ethnic enclaves where nearly everything was done in some other language, often Spanish. That’s probably what happened to this girl.

      The question of why the public schools weren’t able to help her is harder. Is it possible she went to Spanish-language public schools? That would explain a lot. Or maybe she spent year after year in ineffective ESL classes. Sad but possible.

    • Well... says:

      That got you gigantically, terrifically pissed off?

      Flummoxed, irritated, reminded of the brokenness of aspects of our system, sure, but…

      Anyway, I think this is a two-parter:

      Part 1: We should make English our official language. It’s dumb that we don’t do this. I haven’t heard an argument to the contrary that I found convincing enough to change my mind, and I definitely started out agnostic on this point.

      Part 2: Immigrants will enclave. I am not willing to say for certain that the native communities have not contributed to this by devising strategies to keep newcomers out (though it seems an unlikely explanation to me anyway), but I am willing to say for certain that we have not gardened a culture in which assimilation is something newcomers aspire toward.

      • I can see why Machina is pissed off. I agree with him that it appears to be a massive fail on the part of the school system, and this girl is paying for this failure. Usually you hear that kids that come to this country and learn English pretty fluently in a year or two, and often translate for their elders in official situations. It’s kind of the promise of America and the melting pot that at least the kids that come here easily become full Americans. Is it because of the rise of multi-culturism that this girl was maybe in Spanish language classes the whole time she was in school? This is kind of culture war material, so we aren’t supposed to discuss this. But I can see why Machina is mad on behalf of this girl.

        • Well... says:

          You’re right, this is treading on or at least very near culture war material. I’ll just say that I think what I wrote is not at odds with what you wrote, and that I can understand being mad too, but not being “gigantically, terrifically pissed off.”

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Out of curiosity, how old is she?

      EDIT: Snipped possible reasons to keep this as CW-free as possible.

      A quick search for recent stats returned the result that as of the last census, 19% of the population (a bit over 60 Million) didn’t speak english at home. Of those, a total of just over 22% spoke english “not well” or “not at all” (9.3 million “Not well”, 4.2 million “not at all”).

      Does anyone have better data than the last couple censuses? Looking at 2000, it looks like the number of “not speaking english at home” speakers is trending upward pretty steadily, but the percentage of those with poor to nonexistent english skills is holding pretty steady at 4-ish percent of the total US population.

  20. KG says:

    I’m thinking about asking about how I would go about attempting to change someone’s mind regarding what I see as a mistaken belief in a variety of ideas–such as personal destiny/importance in the universe, ancient aliens, alien abductions, aspects of Happy Science, etc.
    Is that considered culture-war-esque? Also, do people here disagree, either with my intentions or lack of belief?

    • Well... says:

      Doesn’t seem culture war-esque to me, since the culture war’s lines aren’t really based on belief in what I would summarize as New Agey mysteries.

      As for your second question, I’d say it depends on your relationship to the person.

      • Well... says:

        Thinking more about it, I’d say argue away so long as you have a novel argument. I figure anyone who believes in ancient aliens has probably already heard all the standard counterarguments to that theory. If your relationship is jeopardized by arguing, it might be because your friend thinks you sound just like everybody else, not because the two of you disagree.

    • I don’t think this is culture war. But it’s probably a very bad idea for you to do this.

      Are you friends with this person? If so, it seems likely that such a project will lose you a friend. It will likely appear very condescending to that person that you don’t believe any of his/her beliefs are valid. If somebody decided I was wrong on many issues and needed to be converted, I would stay away from such a person as not worth talking to.

      • Well... says:

        it seems likely that such a project will lose you a friend.

        It’s possible, but I don’t see enough evidence so far to say it’s likely. I have loads of friends with whom I disagree on many important things–even more important than whether aliens built the pyramids or whatever–and we have had a good time arguing about those things. In fact, in one case the friendship did not survive because I found there was little else left over once we stopped arguing!

    • eyeballfrog says:


      “personal destiny/importance in the universe”

      does not seem to belong to the same category as these

      “ancient aliens, alien abductions, aspects of Happy Science, etc.”

      The latter are statements of fact, which can be argued against with evidence. But, honestly, arguing against someone’s beliefs isn’t the best idea. It tends to create hostility. If you really must, you should probably try for convincing this person that a mundane explanation works, without insisting that it is the correct one.

      However, the former is a value judgment which probably can’t be argued against. Who or what decides what’s important in the universe?

      • Mark says:

        You can argue against value judgements by “hitting them in the feels”.

        Social proof and authority. Tell a nice story to quiet down the gibbering speech-monkey-brain.

        “Only we, the super-brains, dare stand at the edge and look into the void. Join us.”

    • onyomi says:

      General comments on changing minds; no opinion on the wisdom of attempting to change this particular friend’s mind on these particular topics:

      It’s hard for me to know how often/if ever I’ve changed anyone else’s mind, but based on my own experience of changing my own mind, as well as the occasional realization that I probably influenced someone else’s thinking in some way, I’d say that the most significant insight I have about changing minds is that it generally happens in private.

      Which is to say, almost no one both thinks fast enough (working out all the implications of an argument someone else offered, say) and is intellectually honest/humble enough to change their mind on anything very significant on the spot, that is, while you’re talking with them (though they might possibly do so over the course of say, a long e-mail exchange).

      Of course, most intellectually honest people can update pretty fast on simple matters of fact. If I thought gun violence was up between 1980-5 and you point me to a bunch of official looking stats telling me it was down, I can pretty easily say “huh, guess I was wrong.”

      But no one says “huh, I’ve been a socialist the past 20 years, but faced with this really good argument for libertarianism, I must admit I was totally wrong.” If they are ever going to change it’s going to be a gradual process of thinking things through themselves. The best one can generally do is get them to question some assumption and then either continue to offer arguments in a non-combative way over a long period of time, or better, if they’re willing to read, point them in the direction of accessible reading material.

      If they are going to ever change their mind it will most likely be when they are reading or thinking by themself one day and finally say “hmm… maybe I really was wrong about this after all? What are the implications of this?” People (myself included) feel very embarrassed when they are wrong, especially about anything important; people (myself included) also hate to feel they’ve “lost” an argument; people (myself included) are loathe to rethink fundamental assumptions which have become part of their identity and self-respect. All these changes are much more likely to happen gradually and privately in a way which doesn’t feel too threatening to the person’s self-respect, etc.

      Larken Rose had an idea to create a kind of “choose-your-own-adventure” computer program designed to teach the user libertarianism on the (I think, correct) theory that it would feel less threatening for someone to work through something like that on their own, in their own time, and without feeling like they are “losing” an argument to a real person. Not sure if he has finished it yet.

      • I’d say that the most significant insight I have about changing minds is that it generally happens in private.

        One of my father’s lines was that you don’t change someone’s mind with an argument. You give him the ideas with which he may later change his own mind.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Also, I think I’m more likely to change my mind if I see information pointing in the same direction from independent sources. No one of the sources gets full credit.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Larken Rose had an idea to create a kind of “choose-your-own-adventure” computer program designed to teach the user libertarianism on the (I think, correct) theory that it would feel less threatening for someone to work through something like that on their own, in their own time, and without feeling like they are “losing” an argument to a real person. Not sure if he has finished it yet.

        People (myself included) feel very embarrassed when they are wrong, especially about anything important; people (myself included) also hate to feel they’ve “lost” an argument; people (myself included) are loathe to rethink fundamental assumptions which have become part of their identity and self-respect.

        As a person who is fairly convinced that libertarianism is off the mark on crucially many issues, I think these lines are curious.

        And anyway, I think the notion that the end-state of such learning process should be any kind of “ism” is suspect. Even more so if the end-state “ism” is so well thought out that it gets into very detailed ideas about complex issues. It sounds much too like “brainwash-and-indoctrination-at-home” game than anything; that genre has existed in the realm of fiction for a long time, and the worst examples are not pretty. I’ve read a couple of pieces of fiction that attempt that (there’s a libertarian scifi webcomic, a name of which I can’t know remember, and the Space Merchants series of books by Pohl et al are a bit similar on the left side of political spectrum; everyone knows those wacky educational pamphlets with the message “this is how DnD and Harry Potter will lead you to witchcraft and satanism”). Such things usually feel intellectually insulting when you spot what is going on. (A better way to produce fiction that stands the test of the time is to present the relevant ideological positions and then explore and develop them all with honesty and doing your best to maintain their internal logic.)

        It appears that it’s possible for a clever and charismatic person to convince a reasonably intelligent person to converting into about any ideology. (This also includes persons who are charismatic in writing, not just in person.) It especially applies to people who have ability to present some obvious truths about the reality, and draw various implications from those truths with perfect clarity. How obviously silly these outgroup-ish people are for their failures at thinking; they are so sad that they are almost evil! And how absolutely clear it is that a particular action is ethically just and sound, moral necessity even, if we assume these obvious assumptions and a perfectly logical theory that follows from them!

        I’ve come to realize that I’m not very good at arguments [at least around these parts], so I have no good idea how it’s actually done (thank any small gods that are conveniently nearby), but you can look up examples of bright people being able to do amazing mental hoops to believe in things that were amazingly silly in retrospect. There’s probably a number of commentators here who have their favorite examples of silly communists being silly in the West; atheists have plenty of case studies of silly theologists; and everyone loves to bring up the L. Ron Hubbard’s little hobby project. There’s also the popular legend that religious fundamentalists tend to be overrepresented in engineering schools and terrorists have surprisingly often STEM degrees (I can’t find a good reference for that so maybe it’s just a purported claim; but it might be relevant here).

        On meta-level, however, this has a couple of implications. Firstly, I believe it makes any attempts to write a manuals consisting of the mental hoops that will produce a reader who no longer is mistaken but (after reading the manual) has “true and just view about the ethics, politics and the general state of affairs (with some helpful instructions to new believers)” … morally slightly suspect; you should re-assess your own beliefs if you find yourself cheering on such schemes.
        Stay away from grand, unified, all-encompassing theories of everything. Well, maybe they are fine in the real of natural physics, but on societal level such schemes have been a bit too scary a bit too many times.

        Secondly, it’s probably more safe to mentally invest in and commit to general principles like the spirit of learning and education, the spirit of versatile ideas and freedom of speech and opinion, honesty in arguments, intellectual rigor, intellectual humility (“I might be wrong”), general politeness (if you grant the the participants are intellectually honest, saying loudly how your particular political policy point as the obvious truth is not a great way to start a discussion), “community norms” and other similar notions, and not get too tied up in particular policy-level beliefs and such. Very clever people (probably more clever than me) have been very often wrong about the end results, but usually applying the general results seems to learn to outcomes that are today accepted as beneficial. After all, these general methods should lead the student to the correct path, or at least to a path that will produce fruitful participation in the Great Conversation, the Civil Society and the Institution of Democracy. (This is also relevant to the first point: why you do want to create a game that teaches “-ism” instead of general methods?)

        The flip side of the coin is that you have to commit into something, otherwise you end up with only ideas that are too vague to be of any use. I don’t have a good idea how to reconcile this with the position outlined above in a principled manner, but sticking to a collection of simple heuristics, like “an ethical and political position that is ideological enough to get a name of its own is not probably the obvious truth it claims to be” sounds reasonable.

    • Jugemu says:

      What do you and/or them have to gain if they do change their minds? Are these beliefs leading them to make bad decisions?

    • johan_larson says:

      You’d think there would be all sorts of academic research on what arguments are actually persuasive, somewhere at the intersection of English (rhetoric), Philosophy, Psychology, and Business.

  21. Autistic Cat says:

    If all humans were High-Functioning Autists, would the world be better than this one?

    I think so.

    Neurotypicals spend too much efforts on connecting with other neurotypicals but not enough efforts on understanding the natural world in general. As a result an autistic world is likely to colonize space earlier than a neurotypicals world. It won’t have that many irrational people such as fundamentalists impeding research either.

    • AeXeaz says:

      Why is a world where we colonize space better than one where we don’t?

      • Autistic Cat says:

        Because human civilizations will be larger? We might have more chance against alien attacks as well if we are stronger.

    • Well... says:

      Do all high-functioning autists get along? Do they at least get along better, on average, than neurotypicals who have the same relationships to each other?

      If the answer to either question is No, then you might want to rethink your theory.

      Also, either y’all will make the world a better place than neurotypicals would, or you’ll colonize space earlier than neurotypicals would. It might be one but it certainly won’t be both. 🙂

      • bean says:

        Do all high-functioning autists get along? Do they at least get along better, on average, than neurotypicals who have the same relationships to each other?

        I’m not sure that this question can be properly answered using data from today. High-functioning autists might get along well now, when they’re relatively rare, than they would in a world where they are ubiquitous. This is true of almost any rare trait. When I was in regular elementary school, I always got along really well with the second smartest person in the class, because they were more like me than anyone else, usually by a large margin. When I went to the full-time gifted program, we started to see the same disputes you get in any 4th-grade classroom, because we no longer had to get along with the each other due to scarcity.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I think HFAs generally get along right now. In general we care about social statuses much less than neurotypicals so there will be fewer senseless power struggles.

        We autists aren’t very into group activities for the sake of it. However if there is a purpose in getting together (i.e. defeat aliens, work, discuss philosophy, etc) we can make it.

        • Well... says:

          When neurotypicals don’t get along, there is a huge range of possible reasons, many of which have nothing to do with social status.

          HFAs might not care about social status, but they are not without egos and other kinds of self-interest. I’ve personally seen HFAs get into screaming matches with each other over what looked like games of dice and playing cards.

    • onyomi says:

      If all humans were High-Functioning Autists, would the world be better than this one?

      I’m guessing there is some (evolutionary? societal? artistic? scientific?) advantage to having more than one neurotype in the world (though maybe not? we are biased today toward assuming diversity is good for diversity’s sake…).

      I would wager the world would be better off (due to more focus on logical consistency and figuring out how things work and less focus on social signalling) with a higher proportion (or higher total number) of high-functioning autists than we have now; a lot less certain we’d be better off with all high-functioning autists.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I’m personally unaware of benefits of neurotypicality other than the fact that neurotypicals are the majority of humans and hence being neurotypical helps one predict behaviors of most people.

        Not all autists have trouble with sensory integration and other real issues associated with autism. By real issues, I’m talking about the issues that will continue to exist in a majority HFA world.

        An HFA world is likely to have a much higher percentage of asexuals. We may use transhumanism to completely do away with sexuality, sexual reproduction and gender. Then we can use transhumanism to replenish our ranks if necessary.

        • onyomi says:

          I’m not arguing that neurotypicality has any particular advantages over HFA (besides getting along with other neurotypicals), though I’d be a little surprised if there weren’t any. Rather, I’m hypothesizing that having a diversity of neurotypes in the world (including atypical neurotypes other than autism) may be better than having just one.

          There are probably advantages and disadvantages to both diversity and uniformity of neurotype: imagining a world with greater neurotype homogeneity than we have today, I envision a world of fewer conflicts but maybe less political, scientific, and artistic dynamism–maybe very stagnant. Imagining a world with greater diversity of neurotypes than exist now, my best guess is it might be more conflict-prone, but it might also be more dynamic and varied technologically and culturally. Or maybe all the conflict would hold them back?

          Of course, it does also depend on the distribution of the neurotypes. A world of all autists will almost certainly look different from a world of all psychopaths, all borderline personalities, or all “neurotypicals” as currently defined.

          But overall, I guess that neither extreme homogeneity of neurotype nor extreme diversity of neurotype is ideal. Whether the world today could do with more homogeneity or more diversity, I’m less certain, though I do agree, as I said, we’d probably be better off with more HFA than we have now.

          Also, I like sexuality.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I agree. The world does not have to be exclusively autistic. However it indeed needs to be a lot more autistic, like having an HFA majority.

            The key issue I have with sexuality as an HFA is that it serves no purpose from a pure individualist point of view. To me sexual desire is just something genes cause which is good for the genes but can be harmful for organisms. Sexual desire tricks an organism into sexual activity which is likely to result in offsprings. There is no purpose in having children at all, let alone giving children one’s own resources within pure atomic individualism.

            The form of individualism many autists prefer isn’t compatible with the existence of any collectivist entity without a purpose, especially families and family-based tribes. Autists can understand why militaries exist and why militaries need hierarchy. However families are another story. They are forced on individuals without their consent, have no purpose at all and not everyone can just declare that you are perpetually free from them forever.

          • onyomi says:

            How are you defining “purpose”? What is your standard of value?

            To me, the intended purpose of all actions I consciously choose is to bring me closer to the goal of me and those I care about being happy (though, being a moral realist and not a total consequentialist, I would not claim that any action is permissible so long as it results in more happiness for me, or even, necessarily, for the greatest number).

            Happiness is the goal I pursue within the constraints of my intuitions about ethical action because it’s the only thing I don’t desire as a means to some other end.

            Sex and family make me happy. What is the purpose of a well-organized army if it doesn’t result in more justice and/or happiness in the world?

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I’m generally an absolute consequentialist. To me the only thing that matters in judging whether an action is ethical is its consequences. I’m really against considering virtues as a separate entity from the general wellbeing of everyone that need to be pursued. Otherwise we will make the same mistake fundamentalists made. Virtues that do not help anyone are probably not actually moral anyway. To me what matters is whether we can make unethical actions unprofitable and then with sufficient pressure they will largely disappear regardless of what the motives of most humans are.

            It is really odd that you find the existence of families pleasant. To achieve absolute individualism we have to abolish them.

          • onyomi says:

            It is really odd that you find the existence of families pleasant. To achieve absolute individualism we have to abolish them.

            So you are a pure consequentialist and, I take it, define “good” consequences in terms of that which produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

            But most people do enjoy family and don’t desire absolute individualism, so it seems unlikely that pursuing those goals will result in maximum happiness for the greatest number.

            Of course, if the world had more autists, maybe more people would share your preference for individualism, but I don’t believe that autists enjoy individualism more than others enjoy family, so increasing the proportion of autists doesn’t seem likely to increase utility in that way. If anything, since autists in general apparently suffer a high level of anxiety, and I find anxiety very utility lowering, having more autists might, in a vacuum, lower utility.

            My reason for saying we’d be better off with more HFA is because I’d rather have more people around who are relatively devoted to principle and less motivated by tribalism. This might be beneficial enough politically, technologically, socially, and/or materially to make up for the increase in anxiety (in part because the same person will experience less anxiety in a more peaceful, advanced world).

            Of course, being an INTJ myself, everyone should also be suspicious of my contention that having more INTJish personalities would make the world a better place.

          • DeWitt says:

            It is really odd that you find the existence of families pleasant.

            Well, see, this is where us autists need to step back and note that we’re definitely, absolutely, entirely the weird ones. Families being a thing seems to be held as so universally important that we can’t really note them to be odd; they seem ingrained into the human condition.


            I’m generally an absolute consequentialist.

            Part of doing consequentialism right is in realising that most people absolutely aren’t consequentialists.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @DeWitt Yeah. At the very minimum everybody should be allowed to opt out of families for they are imposed on individuals without their consent. I don’t like families precisely because I want to be left alone. However in many cultures it is still not possible.

            Evolutionary success..who cares? Does that make you happier, healthier or richer? No?

          • DeWitt says:

            I dunno. If you live in any Western nation, you’re allowed to opt out of a family just fine, once you hit majority. You could argue that people younger than that aren’t given that right, but I don’t think autists are going to give people below such an age the right to opt out of whatever would replace families, either.

          • CatCube says:

            Evolutionary success..who cares? Does that make you happier, healthier or richer?

            This is a weird enough statement that I’m starting to suspect that Deiseach may have had the right of it…but taking you at your word that you’re serious about all of this, most people are made very happy by their children and grandchildren. There’s a reason that parents bugging their children for grandkids is a cliché.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @CatCube Don’t worry. You will believe my credentials when I’m here for long enough. I’m just a really extreme (read, really autistic) high functioning autist with really low libido.

            I stand by the statement above. There is nothing good about having kids in my mind. I do sincerely believe in this statement. Your genes do try to trick you into getting a heterosexual partner so that you can have children and the genes will be copied. They also try to trick you into loving children and feeling good about it so that the kids are more likely to survive and reproduce which is good for the genes as well.

            Genes aren’t conscious. However genes that are good at tricking organisms into breeding are more evolutionarily successful than other genes which is why genes tend to trick organisms into breeding.

            I reject sexuality, romantic love, reproduction and anything else that does me no good as an individual. To me sexual urges are unwanted, sexuality is useless other than as a means to get rid of unwanted sexual urges that interfere with rational thoughts and reproduction is merely burdensome sacrifice that serves no purpose.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            “It is really odd that you find the existence of families pleasant. To achieve absolute individualism we have to abolish them.”

            Setting aside the strangeness of you not liking families, I’m not sure why achieving absolute individualism requires abolishing them. You state that they have no purpose, but it seems the purpose is obvious: raising children. After all, someone has to do it. Who would you propose do it other than the child’s family?

            Actually, are you sure your worldview is a result of autism and not personal idiosyncracies? It seems atypical even for HFA.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @eyeballfrog AI or the state should do it.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            Why is the state raising children superior to families doing it? (I’m not going to address AI. Way too much god of the gaps in discussions of that.)

          • Loquat says:

            @ Autistic Cat

            [Your genes] try to trick you into loving children and feeling good about it so that the kids are more likely to survive and reproduce which is good for the genes as well.

            Yeah, this whole “deriving happiness and meaning from one’s children and grandchildren” thing is total hogwash! Just like getting pleasure from tasty food, or enjoying positive social interactions with other humans! It’s just our selfish genes, tricking us into serving their own selfish ends when we could be spending our time and effort making ourselves happy with… uh… hang on, I’m sure I can think of something our genes didn’t make us do for their own purposes, it’ll come to me…

            Seriously, it’s true that I as a neurotypical enjoy my kid because my genes tell me to, but that’s also true of everything else I like. Why do I prefer a tasty steak dinner over the same caloric amount of lukewarm soylent? Because my genes tell me to like delicious food and dislike bland glop. My genes tell me I’ll be happier if I socialize with humans instead of working all the time, my genes tell me to go outdoors and enjoy nature instead of being constantly indoors, etc. How can you justify picking out our liking of reproduction as “trickery” on the part of our genes when our genes define everything else about us just as much?

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @eyeballfrog Ideally we shouldn’t even have children at all. When transhumanism becomes reality we can make all humans adults. Children can’t work and aren’t independent. No in an ideal world according to my utility function only genderless adults will exist.

            In this imperfect world I still believe it is better to let any impersonal entity bring up children as opposed to parents, foster parents or other emotional beings. We can let the state, a rationalist community or a school bring up children.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Loquat Because reproduction isn’t inherently beneficial?

            I don’t drink soylent because I believe it is not perfect yet and may not contain all the nutrients I need. I enjoy being outdoors because I like plants, cats, rabbits and birds. Furthermore it is good for my health as well. I talk to people when I need to. Otherwise I can simply meet all my social needs in the rationalist community. I don’t have a lot of social needs but they still exist so when I feel lonely I come here.

          • Charles F says:

            Children can’t work and aren’t independent. No in an ideal world according to my utility function only genderless adults will exist.

            Aaaand… that’s weird enough that you sound like an alien to me too. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of interacting with children myself, and I could be on board with the idea of some entity besides the family raising them in order to let them be less reliant on specific people while they grow up, but I definitely feel like having spent time as a child does contribute to me being happier, healthier, and richer than I would be otherwise, and eliminating childhood sounds like a huge loss of utility to me.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Charles F This can be replaced by leisure time. In a transhumanist world we may still have some leisure time.

            I think having leisure time is good at least for biological humans.

            The worst things about children is that they aren’t independent and don’t work. Hence universal suffrage can not really work when children exist. Since children are vulnerable there are issues such as how adults should protect children, etc. Real equality can not happen if children exist.

          • Charles F says:

            This can be replaced by leisure time

            It doesn’t seem to me like leisure time as experienced by adults is a substitute for being a child. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems obviously very different to me.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Charles F Then maybe extended vacation will work in the transhumanist world. Everyone will be born an adult with all knowledge of mankind installed. They can take a year-long vacation every five years.

            I just want to get rid of vulnerability, dependence, ignorance and lack of ability to work, not happiness associated with children. The good things about childhood should remain even after childhood is removed.

          • Charles F says:

            It’s not the duration, it’s the quality of being a child interacting with the world. It might work and be productive, and they might even figure out how to keep the adults mentally healthy (relevant), but it seems like a larger loss of happiness than either the productivity gains or the more elegant legal system it might allow, would warrant.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Charles F What does that mean? I mean in a transhumanist world we can offer to let people not work for the first 10-20 years anyway.

          • Charles F says:

            I assume you’re asking about what the experience of being a child means, and I’m nowhere close to the sort of writer (qualia interpreter? human? experiential burrito chef?) who can actually effectively talk about that sort of thing, but imagine you’re learning Go, or Chess, or you’ve just downloaded Simon Tatham’s Puzzle Collection. Everything is new and interesting and you’re making new connections and seeing patterns left and right, and the initial rush eventually fades as you reach some level of competence, but it’s already instilled a love of the game in you so the slower pace of learning isn’t a problem. Getting rid of that initial period of learning a game, or getting rid of childhood, seems like a horrible horrible mistake to me.

          • Loquat says:

            @ Autistic Cat

            So, if I understand you correctly, you believe:

            a) Interacting with my adorable cat IS inherently beneficial to me.
            b) Interacting with my adorable baby IS NOT inherently beneficial to me.

            …buddy, you’ve got one hell of an idiosyncratic definition of “inherent” going on there.

            I also notice you sidestepped the question about soylent – making a perfect version of soylent is much much easier than making insta-adult humans, and just giving everyone flavorless beige nutrition goo is much more efficient than raising lots of different plants and animals and then preparing parts of them in creative ways. In your idealized HFAistan, would the genderless insta-adults still enjoy eating recognizable food? Ditto for nature, enjoying the sight of trees and rabbits is much easier to edit out of humans than the desire to reproduce, and it’s more efficient if we don’t have to maintain nature access for everyone.

            I just want to get rid of vulnerability, dependence, ignorance and lack of ability to work…

            So in addition to getting rid of childhood, HFAistan will also make sure nobody is born stupid or disabled, and nobody ever suffers a permanently disabling injury? Dude, why are you even bothering reprogramming humanity? Just make robots, you know you want to.

          • Montfort says:

            HFAistan will also make sure nobody is born stupid or disabled, and nobody ever suffers a permanently disabling injury?

            Wouldn’t non-autistic society do the same if it could? The exceptions that come to mind are autism and deafness (both of which are ongoing controversies, based in part, I think, on how “disabling” the conditions are perceived to be by each side). But HFAs, at least, and deaf people are not anywhere close to as dependent or vulnerable as a child.

          • onyomi says:

            Because reproduction isn’t inherently beneficial? … I enjoy being outdoors because I like plants, cats, rabbits and birds. Furthermore it is good for my health as well. I talk to people when I need to. Otherwise I can simply meet all my social needs in the rationalist community. I don’t have a lot of social needs but they still exist so when I feel lonely I come here.

            What makes something “inherently beneficial”? It has to make the individual “happier, healthier or richer”?

            Walking outdoors and spending time with animals makes you happier and healthier. Sexuality makes many other individuals happier and healthier. Socializing with people online makes you happier and healthier. Having children and socializing with family makes many other individuals happier and healthier.

          • Charles F says:

            a) Interacting with my adorable cat IS inherently beneficial to me.
            b) Interacting with my adorable baby IS NOT inherently beneficial to me

            Nitpicky, but I think it was actually “reproduction” @AutisticCat said wasn’t inherently beneficial, and if the good end result is interactions with an adorable baby, reproduction is just instrumentally useful. And a bioengineered supercat which is more adorable than a baby without requiring independence might be an acceptable replacement/improvement.

          • onyomi says:

            if the good end result is interactions with an adorable baby, reproduction is just instrumentally useful.

            There is a strong correlation between a baby being one’s own and one finding said baby adorable.

          • Aapje says:

            A major benefit of the child phase is also that children are given permission to fail in ways that adults are not. Breeding adults and tossing them into the world seems quite sadistic.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I can’t understand how it would work to create new adults who were never children. Copying existing adults who grew up in the usual way is a clear idea, the only difficulty is details of implementation.

            How would those who start as adults learn what they need to know? How can you avoid them having a period of helplessness and incompetence?

          • Aapje says:


            Assemble them from grown tissue? Put them in a vat and grow them at an accelerated pace?

            Nothing currently plausible, but it might be doable in the future (we already manage to create bits of human tissue & to have animals that we keep for meat that grow way, way faster than their wild ancestors).

          • I reject sexuality, romantic love, reproduction and anything else that does me no good as an individual.

            What does “do me good” mean? One obvious reading is “help me achieve my objectives.” If one of your objectives is having grandchildren, then that does you good

            Another reading is “make me happy.” Having grandchildren makes me happy. How does the fact that the reason it makes me happy is explained by Darwinian evolution change that?

            You seem to be assuming an objective meaning of “do me good,” a set of objectives you ought to have. Where do they come from other than features of you that are the result of the mechanism that produced you, namely evolution?

          • Hence universal suffrage can not really work when children exist.

            That objection strikes me as bizarre–what’s important about universal suffrage? Is there some reason why 51% of everyone have a right to impose their will on 49% of everyone, but 51% of adults don’t?

            I would have said that the problem is that universal freedom doesn’t work with children and that freedom, unlike suffrage, is actually something of moral worth.

            Is your ideal a world run by majority vote, rather than as the outcome of individual decisions by lots of people interacting with each other?

        • Mark says:

          I think that high-func society is going to tend towards a state of atomized individualism.

          That’s fine if the highly-developed social machinery continues to function, but it’s fragile, and possibly dangerous, in that it makes us entirely dependent upon technological solutions to social coordination.

          I don’t think autists will be more susceptible to control by KOMPLEX than anyone else, but given their inability to function at a lower level of technological development, they might tend to accelerate us towards it?

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I doubt HFAs are unlikely to function without modern technology. We aren’t very likely to love each other. However when we need to get something done and we have to do it with others we will do it. We are just not going to hang out with others for the sake of it. For example the reason why I’m here is that I enjoy intellectual discussions with other rationalists in the ocean of human unreason.

            As for whether HFAs are likely to push for AI rule over humans I would say it is likely or at least much more likely than our present world. For example to me a superintelligent computer and unambiguous machine-readable laws are much better than having human judges, human jury and ambiguous laws. This is not a rare sentiment in the HFA community. We tend to let unambiguous written rules settle everything and tend to not trust emotional and forgetful humans who frequently make mistakes. There are few things that make less sense to us than a usually irrational neurotypical who is prone to anger and other negative emotions.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I doubt that fully unambiguous law is possible, though it’s probably possible to do better than we do now.

            The world is more complex than any description of it, which means that there will be situations not covered by the law which is supposed to cover them.

            Also, law and the legal system have to cover situations which don’t have clear boundaries. How bad does negligence have to be before it’s actionable?

          • DeWitt says:

            I doubt that fully unambiguous law is possible, though it’s probably possible to do better than we do now.

            I feel like this is one thing autists would absolutely be better at than neurotypicals are, though. Not entirely, mind, but definitely an edge.

          • Aapje says:


            Might they not go overly cautious?

            For example: there is no completely safe and unambiguously consensual way to have sex -> ban it entirely.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, I’ll give you this, Autistic Cat – you are providing me with free amusement. The Autistic Master Race will have no children, will consist of atomized individuals (presumably we will all live in our own separate pods to avoid having to share living/working/interacting space with others), and will be dependent on transhumanism to replenish its ranks meaning (if ever such a thing does occur) artificial intelligences will replace humans.

          Hey, didn’t E.M. Forster get here first with The Machine Stops?

          But she thought of Kuno as a baby, his birth, his removal to the public nurseries, her own visit to him there, his visits to her — visits which stopped when the Machine had assigned him a room on the other side of the earth. “Parents, duties of,” said the book of the Machine, ”cease at the moment of birth. P.422327483.”

          I’m finding it very hard to believe you are genuine and not either a troll or a certain banned commentator (no, not Sidles) sneaking back in under a new persona but please, feel free to continue your “beep boop I am a robot” impersonation.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I’m genuine. I have an account on LessWrong and another on Center for Inquiry as well. Do you want to know my CFI account?

            I just enjoy testing how far we can go on the path of pure technocratic meritocracy which is something I support. Do away with all the fuzzy human stuff and see whether it works.

            Neurotypicality may be a feature that will save the human species at the expense of arrested scientific and technological development. On the other hand, pure autism may save and develop human civilizations while discarding Homo sapiens by letting AI control the world voluntarily or involuntarily.

            I personally see no purpose in human reproduction at all. I would rather have science, technology, mathematics and philosophy preserved by AI even if humans are phased out through lack of reproduction.

          • DeWitt says:

            Did you have anything to say beyond ‘ha ha you’re a robot and probably a troll’, Deiseach?

          • Deiseach says:

            Why, hello there DeWitt! How nice of you to engage in positive human interaction with me, another human person!

            As to your question, no not really – I’m waiting for the new open thread to ask something which I intend as a serious query and hope to get some in-depth answers to it.

            Please feel free to contribute, as I am sure you will have many valuable insights and an intriguing point of view to share!

            Good vibrations and cosmic positive energy flowing your way!

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve seen this flavor of supremacism before, from people I know aren’t trolls. It’s pretty annoying, but at least “my Aspergers makes me smarter and more rational than — wait, where is everyone going?” is kind of a self-limiting topic.

    • DeWitt says:

      Possibly so, I don’t find it unlikely. Then again, would society be better off if neurotypicals were alone? That is, don’t just do away with the autists, but with various forms of psychopaths and other dangerous mental states of being, too. It’s not clear to me that either sort of society would be better or worse than one another.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I imagine a world where neurotypicals are a small minority. They have conventions where everyone wears similar clothing. The hotel staff is weirded out.

      On the serious side, I think it would be very difficult, maybe impossible, for a society of autists to organize itself for war. It might happen if there was a serious resource shortage or an external threat, but not war against other autists for status and/or territory.

      Are sensory integration problems good for anything? They seem like a variation which simply causes misery.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I doubt it will be very hard for a society of autists to organize for any defensive war. I don’t think it will be done for any irrational reason such as obtaining status. However dealing with an external threat is completely legitimate.

        It is easy for a rational autist to see why a military is necessary. It does not exist so that we can destroy others. However it is necessary to deal with state actors with bad faith. If some group wants to destroy or enslave us we have to fight back or we are all destroyed or enslaved. Obedience in the military is also easy to understand. It is a necessary evil because an army making one suboptimal decision together is still much better than all soldiers trying to optimize but don’t coordinate. We can show new recruits data and we will reach consensus.

        Sensory integration problems are bad. However not all autists have it. For example I think my sensory integration is fine.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          There are also people who have sensory integration problems who aren’t autistic. They get misdiagnosed a lot– not just as autistic, but as depressed or oversensitive or whatever.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Autistics as the New Master Race” may be a comforting thought when you’re smarting from the latest brush with neurotypical society where you came off the worst, but like all such (“SF fans are slans”) it is an unction to a bruise, not anything that would fly in the real world.

      A population of autistics would be no more likely to build spaceships and colonise extra- (or even intra-solar) planets than anyone else, because for every austistic person who agreed this would be a good idea, another would not be at all interested, and everyone would spend most of their time arguing over whether or not to do it.

      And then we’d all retire to our rooms to fume in private about the unreasonableness of others, pretty much as we already do now 🙂

      • Autistic Cat says:

        This is actually a serious concern. Just like autistic fundamentalists can not actually cause serious trouble because they are too busy defining their own one-individual-fundamentalist-sect and attacking other fundamentalists they consider pseudo-fundamentalist due to some technicalities in a scripture autistic space colonization supporters may also disagree too much to get anything that requires more than one human done.

        One solution is to deal with this problem in a way similar to how corporations and militaries work. At some point some autists can propose that a decision needs to be made and then everyone in an organization has to follow it because doing something suboptimal is still better than not doing anything at all. I think this will work. People will voluntarily obey because this is what they have agreed with when one voluntarily join the organization. Autists obey rules, not emotional humans. As a result we can just show people the written rules and everyone should be working on the project soon.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          This strongly reminds me of the position Scott argues against in this article. “We’ll just come up with a coordination mechanism and everyone will just go along with it because something something self-interest something something rationality.” Human interaction is complicated and chaotic, and you can’t just hand wave it away by saying “HFA won’t do this” by fiat.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            Agreed. However the question is not whether HFA interactions have issues but whether there are more issues in an HFA world compared to this allistic world.

            Is there a way to test whether the answer to this question is likely to be true?

    • James Miller says:

      Can autists be effective managers of other autists?

      • SamChevre says:

        Yes, absolutely. My best manager in my 20 years of work was at least as high on the autism scale as I am (which is not high, but definitely noticeable.)

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I think so. I have no trouble understanding other autists.

        • James Miller says:

          Can you also motivate them to do things that they don’t emotionally want to do?

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I assume that this can be done. It should not be harder than a non-autist motivating another non-autist to do things he/she does not want to do.

            Autists are more likely to be fixated on stuff. However we are also more open to reason on average.

        • Machina ex Deus says:

          I seem to get along well with HFAs. In high school I was a bit puzzled why some of my friends didn’t like a couple of my other friends. Later in life I learned about Asperger’s (or HFA), retroactively diagnosed the second set of friends (and one college professor I liked but other students didn’t, and a genius I worked with), and feel like I have an explanation.

          I try to be rational and logical, to be fair and to follow explicit rules, and tried even harder to in high school. Does that make a difference? Is that why HFAs accept me? Or is it more that I don’t seem to notice or care about things about them that NTs consider weird?

          On another note: I would really like to see an all-HFA community. If I ever write science fiction, I will include one (once I figure out what it will be like). I lived for a while in a close NT student community, and it sucked.

          Also, we should call the hypothetical world with no NTs “HFAistan”.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      How likely are HFAs to do things like jump on a grenade, or risk their life to defend their village?

      It seems like civilization arose through a lot of irrational tradition that hid bad personal outcomes behind social pressure and mythology, and if you start with a population of mostly HFAs that don’t buy into that, it seems like you might not get as far as we did now.

      Might work fine if you have a starting point now (where personal risk is pretty rare) and you have a good argument why there won’t be wars over resources, but you still have a lot of sword-and-spear-on-the-front-lines history to get through. I don’t think you can argue that HFAs get to skip enough of that through better technological approaches.

      • John Schilling says:

        How many HFAs are even willing to spend their lives working in the bauxite mines so that other HFAs will have the aluminum from which to build the shiny robots and Mars-colonizing spaceships of their utopian visions?

        Start asking questions like these, and I’m guessing the HFA utopia doesn’t remain so politely conflict-free and rational.

  22. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    A description of how design choices have made the web less readable– in particular, the choice to go from black text to various shades of gray.

    I don’t have a problem reading ssc, but one of my friends does because the text is medium gray.

    Are there apps to increase contrast?

    • beleester says:

      There are extensions for Chrome and Mozilla to let you set custom stylesheets for a page (so you can override the page’s font color), but I haven’t used any so I can’t recommend one.

      EDIT: SSC’s content has a contrast ratio of 12.6 and its comments have a ratio of 12.3, which comfortably meets accessibility standards. However, the other elements in the page, like the blogroll or the navigation links, might be hard for some people to read.

      • Brad says:

        I used stylish and it was very straightforward.

        If anyone reading this needs help constructing the override CSS, post in any open thread and I, and I’m sure others, would be glad to help.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Yeah I use Stylish too (Firefox). If anyone wants to crib (or suggest improvements for) my half-assed white-on-grey SSC:

          @namespace url(;
          @-moz-document domain("") {
          #comments {
          color: aliceblue;
          background-color: #666;
          .commentholder {
          background-color: darkgray;

    • CatCube says:

      Some of the next/previous post links, tags, etc. have gray text, but the main OP text and the comments here are straight black to me. Is it the buttons and controls that you’re referring to?

      As far as accessibility on the web goes, it’s surprising that it’s drifting away from it. Everything else seems to be going in the other direction–“you’ll make everything compliant with the Access Board standards, and we don’t give a fuck how much it costs.” The argument on the Links thread between me and The Nybbler about the costs of building stairs on a park path probably had its root in having to make them compliant with accessibility standards. The Toronto government had an estimate of $65,000 for a flight of stairs up a path on a steep 6′ slope of around 50%; a local guy just put up a (bad) set of steps for $550. I agree that 65 large is ridiculous if it’s just the steps–which is all the article posted said it was–but if you have to make that accessible with a 1:12 ramp and potentially upgrade the rest of the path, $65,000 starts becoming a lot more “reasonable”. ADA compliance is shockingly expensive in buildings, and I’m surprised that major web companies aren’t being held to it, considering all they have to do is twiddle a few bits.

      • beleester says:

        The main text is #333 (very dark grey), not #000 (black). They’re visually close, but it makes a difference when you need contrast.

        • CatCube says:

          Huh. TIL. If you had put a gun to my head and asked me what color the text on this website was, I’d have said “black.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            What color is the text, Winston?

            Once the subject came up, the text here starting looking as though it wasn’t quite black. Suggestibility, or more accurate perception when prompted?

            What sites actually use black text?

            Second thought: The commenter names are black, and a lot darker than that comment text. It’s not a completely fair comparison because the names are larger, though not a lot larger.

            Let’s try bold.

    • Charles F says:

      Are there apps to increase contrast?

      You can turn on high-contrast mode in windows by pressing alt+shift+print_screen. Not sure if it makes a difference on SSC/websites more generally, but it helps with a lot of things.

      There’s a chrome high-contrast extension that I’ve never used, but I expect it would be useful for web-browsing. [Not sure exactly what it’s called, but when I open chrome in windows high-contrast mode, a pop-up advertising it appears]

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I use qutebrowser, which lets you easily change the stylesheet but isn’t very stable.

      I spent a lot of time looking for a color combination that is easy to read but isn’t ugly as sin, and eventually settled on off-white text, blue background, yellow links. Just thought I’d mention it since it isn’t a particularly obvious choice but works very well for me.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      A bit more detail from my friend– he finds ssc easy to read on his mobile and hard to read on his computer.

  23. liquidpotato says:

    I’m wondering if it’s alright to ask this on this open thread.

    I was approached recently by someone representing Plan International, asking me to sponsor a girl from a developing country (This is apparently their main charitable activity), to help alleviate child marriage (Because I am a Girl program).

    I tried looking them up on, but apparently Plan International didn’t even register on their radar.

    I would like to ask the people on SSC into altruism and all that what they feel about Plan International?

    I’m not an effective altruist. Maximized utility of my dollar for charity is not really my priority. I mostly get turned off by things like the Joseph Kony 2012 thing a few years back where a whole bunch of people with zero knowledge rush in and mess things up, or help fund another person’s vanity like Mother Theresa, or just outright crooks like some of those voluntourism outfits.

    I would appreciate any input. Thanks everyone.

    • schazjmd says:

      I looked Plan International up on I noticed that the US branch has $64million in gross receipts and $35million in assets; the international org has $594million/$236million. To me, they have plenty of funds for their programs, and so I would rather contribute to local charitable efforts that are more in need of my money. (For example, local Meals on Wheels, shelters, etc.)