OT117: Ho Ho Hopen Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Although I’m very happy with the quality of discussion here most of the time, I was disappointed with some comments on the Trump post. Part of this was my fault for going for a few jokes that made it more inflammatory than it had to be – but enough of it was your faults that I banned six people and probably should have banned more. Remember, if you see an immoderate comment that needs moderating, please report it using the report button in the corner.

2. Related: I am going to be stricter on the “necessary” prong of the comment policy. If it’s a thread about the poll numbers for some right-wing policies going down, and you post “The reason Trump won was because everyone knows all liberals are…”, you are probably getting banned. I’ve been reluctant to do this before because it’s the sort of thing that could be true and I don’t want to make it impossible to say certain true things. But now I’m thinking it’s so irrelevant to the topic that it will have to fit both the “true” and “kind” prongs to stay up without getting you banned. If you really can’t figure out whether something you want to post is like this, imagine someone on the opposite side said it about you, and see whether it feels more like a reasonable critique or like they’re trying to start a fight. I like the way Vorkon talks about this here.

3. In early October, I asked people to pick up anxiety sampler kits, try to use them at least twice a week, and send me the results. I gave out thirty kits and so far I have gotten valid results back from two of them (though it hasn’t quite been 10.5 weeks, so don’t worry, you’re not late). If you have a kit, please don’t forget to try it; if you’ve tried it, please don’t forget to send me your numbers.

4. Comments of the week are this discussion of “rods from God” as a nuke alternative; see especially Bean and John Schilling’s responses. Aside from everyone’s erudition, I also appreciate their ability to turn some good phrases – “like playing hide-and-seek while the seeker’s head is wrapped in a burning towel” is going to stick with me for a while.

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809 Responses to OT117: Ho Ho Hopen Thread

  1. kaneliomena says:

    (At least one species of) jumping spider produces milk to feed its young

    Zhanqi Chen, a postdoc at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Center for Integrative Conservation, and his colleagues began to investigate parental behavior in T. magnus after noticing that the spiders’ breeding nests consisted of either several adults or a single adult female and her young—an observation that suggested that the mothers engaged in long-term care. Upon further investigation, the researchers made a puzzling finding: Baby spiders steadily grew bigger despite never leaving their nests, and their mothers did not appear to be bringing them any food.

    There were several potential explanations for where the offsprings’ nutrition came from, Chen says, such as trophic eggs (unfertilized eggs stockpiled for food) or regurgitation (when a parent vomits up food they ate to feed its young). But the team’s observations led them to another, unexpected possibility. While recording data on the growing spiders’ body sizes one evening, Chen spotted some spiderlings attached to their mother’s body—it looked to him just like a mammal latching on to its mother’s breast. “I had many hypotheses, but this one was not included,” Chen tells The Scientist. “At that point, I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep.”

    • Well... says:

      I can’t tell from that excerpt; is it concluded that the mother spider actually produces “milk” (and if so, what sort of milk is it?), or is it only hypothesized that the baby spiders derive nutrition from their mother’s body in some unknown way?

      • kaneliomena says:

        The former (or at least a ‘milk-like substance’): they also studied the composition of the ‘milk’ and whether it was necessary for offspring survival.

        When the researchers peered at the critters under a microscope, they discovered that mothers excreted a milk-like substance from their epigastric furrows, an abdominal opening from which they lay eggs. These secretions “really looked like the milk of mammals,” says study coauthor and Chen’s lab leader Rui-Chang Quan.

        The team then analyzed the milk’s contents and found it was composed of sugar, fat, and four times more protein than cow milk. They also demonstrated that the milk was crucial for offspring survival: When the researchers blocked the mothers’ epigastric furrows, spiderlings died within 10 days of hatching.

        • acymetric says:

          That seems unsurprising…did they replace the milk with some other food source? Otherwise it seems like they answered the question of “do spiders need to eat” which wasn’t really a question.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Presumably, the spiderlings could have eaten whatever they were feeding the mature spider.

            Haven’t read the paper yet but that was how I interpreted it.

  2. BBA says:

    Some questions for those familiar with the FDA process.

    I’m taking a trip to Brazil next month, and due to a recent outbreak the CDC recommends that visitors get vaccinated for yellow fever. Unfortunately, since there have been several outbreaks of yellow fever in the past few years, supplies of the only FDA-approved vaccine, YF-Vax, have been completely used up and new supplies won’t become available for a few years. Instead, another vaccine, Stamaril, is being imported from Europe, but legally it’s categorized as an “investigational new drug” and can only be obtained at a few specified clinics. So instead of my usual doctor’s office I have to go to a “travel medicine” specialist who’s been given the rare authority to administer this non-FDA-approved vaccine.

    YF-Vax is a subcutaneous injection of the 17D-204 substrain of the yellow fever virus, produced by Sanofi Pasteur, while Stamaril is a subcutaneous injection of the 17D-204 substrain of the yellow fever virus, produced by Sanofi Pasteur.

    What I want to know is, aren’t they completely identical? If so, why are they treated differently from a legal perspective when the only difference is the brand name printed on the vial? It’s the same company so it can’t be a patent or other IP rights issue… is it just that YF-Vax is made in America while Stamaril is made in France? Why does that matter? Is it some weirdness around biologic products or are chemically produced drugs like this too?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      “Small molecule” chemicals have straight-forward FDA rules. To get a generic license, you give it to people, make sure that they don’t have immediate reactions, and measure the level of the target chemical in their blood.

      Biologics are hard. You can’t directly test that the products are identical. If someone says that they’re making an insulin variant, it’s easy to see that it’s insulin, but hard to see which variant it is. Similarly, with the protein shell of a virus. (Although RNA sequencing should be convincing.) You have to worry that the virus will evolve to adapt to the chicken embryos. And chickens are not the same in France and America.

      Traditionally, generic licensing of vaccines didn’t exist. Generic licensing of biologics has been defined recently, but I don’t think anyone has gotten such a license. I doubt the new rules even cover vaccines. But this story suggests that the original license doesn’t even cover a second factory run by the same company, which surprises me.

      • BBA says:

        And chickens are not the same in France and America.

        I hadn’t thought of that.

        But this story suggests that the original license doesn’t even cover a second factory run by the same company, which surprises me.

        I think it could be that the license was granted to the American facility before whatever merger put it under the same corporate umbrella as the French facility, and neither Sanofi nor any of its (many, many) predecessors bothered to unify licensing for the two. And to some extent, they may still be distinct companies making distinct products that just happen to share a name and an owner.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I believe that the two facilities came into the same hands in 1989, when the French Mérieux bought the North American Connaught. Did the two vaccines already exist then? I would date them to a little later. But maybe they separately evolved from earlier YF vaccines?

  3. antirobust says:

    I don’t want to bias others’ results, so I probably shouldn’t post this, but

    I completed the anxiety kit thing and I don’t know if my results were one of the two “valid” ones at the time this was posted, but I will say I think the experiment made me realize that I have a serious anxiety problem and secondarily don’t really understand what anxiety is, conceptually.

    What if being anxious all the time simply reflects a correct assessment of the situation, in the world? If I’m behind on all my projects at work (I am) and I’m not doing what I need to do to catch up (I’m not), isn’t anxiety the appropriate response? If a deadline gets cancelled that I was anxious about, this affects my anxiety at many orders of magnitude greater than any nutritional supplement could possibly achieve.

    Anxiety is something that lives in the mind, but what is its relationship to the outside world (genuinely asking)? Does having an ‘anxiety problem’ imply something about the absolute ‘amount’ of anxiety, or is it a relative thing, where your conversion of world-states into mental-states gets screwed-up? If it’s absolute, it seems like actual states in the world will always massively outweigh any minor tweaks to your input-output anxiety ‘function’. But if ‘too much anxiety’ is really a claim about the function itself, then it seems weird to say “I’m barely keeping my job and I’m anxious almost all the time, but I don’t have an anxiety problem because my anxiety is just based on my performance in the actual real world”.

    If we’re going with the second definition, does ‘not having an anxiety problem’ just mean that ‘whatever happens in the world, whatever your performance relative to your commitments and goals, you’ll never be anxious’? That sounds like being drugged or half-asleep. I don’t have any firsthand experience with psychoactive drugs, so forgive me if I’m being naive, but is that what we’re going for (genuinely curious)?

    • famous oprah quotes says:

      A conceptualization I like is that normal anxiety has a function (in a biologist’s sense, not in a input-output sense), and what it means to have “anxiety problem” the anxiety is not performing its function. Indeed it is a quite widespread notion of pathology that it has to do with something not preforming its (evolutionary) function.

      You seem to think the function of anxiety is to let you know that the associated state of the wold is bad (by making you feel bad). But I think that is pretty useless unless it actually props you to change that state of the world (usually we think of “function”, especially if it is “evolutionary function”, as something that has a positive impact in your survival). If your anxiety is mostly making you feel awful and helping very little, if not being counterproductive, to you fixing the state of the world, then I would say anxiety is not performing its function.

      In this conceptualization of anxiety there are a few different ways in which someone’s anxiety may not be performing its function – maybe they feel anxiety at the “right times”, but it is so intense that it is debilitating and don’t motivate them to fix their problems. Maybe they feel the anxiety at random times, when there is nothing actually much wrong with the state of the world. And maybe they do feel it at the right times and it does help them be more productive but it is so intense that its presence is overall bad because it makes them suffer greatly, or because it is slowly driving them into a mental breakdown. I guess ideally we would want to fix the functioning of one’s anxiety in the complex ways it is broken, but that is hard, so taking a drug that makes the experience of anxiety less intense helps with most of these.

      I also don’t feel much aversion to the idea of not feeling very anxious whatever the state of the world is, since there are still plenty of positive and negative things to feel when you are not anxious (in fact I think a greater variety than one would feel if one were bogged down in anxiety).

  4. Aqua says:

    I enjoyed this video about learning to draw as an adult, especially point 1 “children suck at everything”:

    I’ve had the theory that adults are generally better learners than children, its just adult life makes it really annoying to find the time. People can learn piano as adults. There are retirees that learn to make apps/games. I think most people are just kind of lazy/set in their habits, rather than incapable skill wise

  5. zrkrlc says:

    Got mentioned on Marginal Revolution and on e27 in the same month wooo 😅

    PS Does anyone know where I can stay for a week on Feb/March in Silicon Valley? Would want to meet fellow rationalists.

  6. Nicholas Weininger says:

    So in “SF regulators do unusual and noteworthy things” news… (trying for a non-CW phrasing since I want to find out empirical things from this comment, not debate the underlying political issue)


    Planning Commission orders owner to rebuild a “historic” house “exactly” as it was after determining that he illegally demolished it.

    Questions I’m interested in:

    1. How can they even enforce this? If the owner decided to just say screw it and walk away from the property, what would they do?

    2. How likely is this to stand up in court? Are there relevant legal precedents that say they can enforce an order like this? If it were appealed all the way up, would the conservative S.Ct. justices be likely (again, not asking if they would be justified, just if they would be likely) to strike this down as an unconstitutional taking?

    3. How much of a chilling effect should this rationally have on other homeowners who want to remodel their houses? If I’m an ordinary SF homeowner who might want to remodel my house at some point in the future, how much should I worry that planners might bring down a similar hammer if I forget to dot some i’s and cross some t’s? Again, replies based on evidence and experience and not political priors desired here.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I just read this as well, and am curious what would happen if he built something that either 1) Looked superficially like the old house, but was more how he wanted it to be, or 2) Didn’t look anything like the old house.

      Since his plan was to rebuild in the first place, building something on that lot seems likely. Option 1 seems like it would be hard to criticize, and harder to prove was wrong. Especially in light of the fact that the house had major renovations and changes over the years, so that the “historic” portions were often not original anyway.

    • Back when I was at U of C law school, one April first the student paper had a story reporting that the heirs of the architect who designed the law school building prior to its extensive remodeling had gotten a ruling requiring that the building be restored to its original condition.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Something very similar happened in London recently, although that was a pub not a house. It is apparently being rebuilt- while it’s not finished yet, the owners have put it on the market for sale after it is completed.

      • Plumber says:


        “Something very similar happened in London recently, although that was a pub not a house. It is apparently being rebuilt- while it’s not finished yet, the owners have put it on the market for sale after it is completed”

        A safe beginning but a happy ending.


  7. Garrett says:

    @CatCube & others:
    Would you be able to point me at the backing data/formulae for the header data in the 2018 IRC table R602.7(2)? I’m trying to plug in values into this beam calculator and specifying the code-approved header sizes doesn’t pass. The only thing I can think of is that the default down-force of 1k/ft is too high. Which might be true, but I’m uncertain how to calculate what the correct value would be and couldn’t find the appropriate values in the IBC.

    Background: I’m doing some renovation work on a 100 y/o house and have come across an entryway/doorway in a load-bearing wall which doesn’t meet much of any current code standards. I’d like to toss around some numbers to see what might be reasonably possible before I draw up plans and apply for a permit.

    • CatCube says:

      I haven’t done wood framing in a long time, so I’m not too familiar with the IRC and can’t speak in specifics. In general, however, the code governing the design of wood will be the National Design Specification from the American Wood Council.

      I suspect something isn’t right in the beam calculator tool you’re using. I quickly did a 2×10 Douglas Fir-Larch beam 6′-1″ long, supporting a halved floor load of 50 psf over a 28′ tributary area (assume 14′ ea. side) and assumed a halved dead load of 25 psf (I halved these because the table you were asking about has 2-2×10’s on a 6′-1″ span, but that tool can’t do a doubled section, apparently, so each individual 2×10 will carry half that load). That would come out to a uniform load of 0.525 kip/ft service, or 0.776 kip/ft factored.

      Using the LRFD method, I get the expected moment demand of 3.58 kip-ft (42.96 kip-in). The factored capacity according to that online tool is “0.16 kip-ft” which is about 1.92 kip-in. That seems really low, considering that an old design table we have kicking around our office files has a factored capacity of 35.5 kip-in.

      Wood requires a bunch of added empirical factors to be scabbed on to control for things like temperature and moisture, but the interior of a building as used in that table shouldn’t push any of those factors all that far off of 1.0. @Beck might be able to answer better, if he sees something I missed. However, I think that webpage might be mistakenly assuming an unbraced compression flange or something.

      Edit: Yeah, I get a capacity of 3.05 kip-ft, using Douglas Fir-Larch with a reference Fb=0.9 ksi (Table 4A), CM=1.0, Ct=1.0, CL=1.0, CF=1.1, Cfu=1.0, Ci=1.0, Cr=1.0, KF=2.54, λ=0.8, ɸ=0.85. That comes out to F’b=1.71 ksi, and a 2×10 has S=21.39 in³ (Table 1B), so λɸM’=3.05 kip-ft

      Looking at R301.5, the design live load is 40 psf, not the 50 I assumed, and the 25 psf for dead load is probably in the ballpark, so I get about what that table you’re asking about does.

      I might have missed something, but probably not a factor of 33.

      • Garrett says:

        Is there an email address I can use to reach out to you? I have some photos-of-horror you might be entertained by.

        • CatCube says:

          Hmmm. The problem is both my work and personal e-mail addresses are simply my name. Not that I’m worried about sending it to you (it’d be easy to dox me, and I keep that in mind when posting), but I’m not sure how to do that without doxing myself.

  8. AG says:

    Speedrun Minesweeper expert.

  9. vV_Vv says:

    As far as I know, professional classical and jazz musicians always start practicing during early childhood, and everybody recognizes that there is a great difference of innate talent (genes and non-controllable environmental factors). I’d expect that you’ll need a similar combination of talent and early practice to become a professional painter, sculptor, athletic shooter, video game player, etc.

    Outside these competitive careers, however, you can probably gain quite a lot just with a few hours per week of practice (at leas this is my own experience with video games).

    • Aqua says:

      I don’t think this is true, I think you could go pro, it’s just you have a job already if you start at 30. It might be common that people start early, but i think it just correlates with interest. It would be quite unlikely to find a professional musician who didn’t start early. But this is easily explained by the fact that if you learn to play sax at 30, you already have a job, you are not going to dump that and be a pro jazz musician.

      There seem to be plenty of examples of people learning to paint/draw/play piano as adults.

  10. proyas says:

    Are the Manchus still an identifiable ethnic group in China, or have they been fully assimilated?

    Are there Manchu population concentrations anywhere? If so, where?

    Do the Han blame the Manchus to some extent for China’s “century of humiliation”? After all, wasn’t Manchu mismanagement of the Chinese Empire a big reason why it was so ill-prepared to repel the European colonialists?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I can only answer your third paragraph: yes, that sentiment exists (not sure it’s more than a handful of conspiracy theorists, but it’s there)

    • Erusian says:

      Are the Manchus still an identifiable ethnic group in China, or have they been fully assimilated?

      Yes. They’re an officially recognized minority group by the People’s Republic of China and one of the few the PRC considers basically fully politically safe. They have some ethnic townships but no special zones and tend to face less discrimination in joining the party, bureaucracy, etc.

      The current group’s ethnogenesis is an interesting story. During the Qing Dynasty, people who joined certain social structures like the banners became Manchu (which was a legally privileged status) even if they were genetically Chinese. This led to a good degree of mixing. When the revolution overthrew the Qing, they persecuted the former Manchus (except a few walords in the north). Many of them hid their ethnic identity.

      Later, the Japanese defined everyone in Manchuko or certain warlord territories as Manchurian because this gave them a claim to invade those territories via their puppet state. This led to some sympathizers (or people who wanted Japanese bribes) to take on the identity and some nationalists to renounce the identity, at least officially. It appears they understood this as a political rather than ethnic act. This is, theoretically, the high water mark for the number of Manchurians. Of course, there were many Han Chinese, Koreans, etc who were counted as ‘Manchurian’.

      As the Civil War raged, the Communists generally tried to appeal to minorities and succeeded with the Manchu. Mao Zedong specifically made several comments about how the Manchu should not be discriminated against. It appears that the population of Manchus roughly doubled after the PRC won the war, people coming out of hiding and the like. However, this still looks to be much smaller than if they hadn’t gone through a period of persecution earlier.

      Are there Manchu population concentrations anywhere? If so, where?

      about 80% of their population is in Beijing or the surrounding provinces (more the surrounding provinces).

      Do the Han blame the Manchus to some extent for China’s “century of humiliation”? After all, wasn’t Manchu mismanagement of the Chinese Empire a big reason why it was so ill-prepared to repel the European colonialists?

      Somewhat. Some Han nationalists see them as foreign invaders and oppressors. But these are extremists that the government isn’t very fond of. Their rhetoric is less ‘these people weakened the state’ and more… well, what we’d call racism. That they are dirty, smelly, ignorant barbarians. They often attribute bad things in Chinese society (like, say, corruption) to Manchu influence.

      • The thing about China is that while there are a lot of minority groups, there isn’t any one group that has more than one percent of the population. With some groups, they are widespread throughout a region like how Uyghurs make up 50% of the Xinjiang population and Tibetans make up 90% of Tibet. Manchus aren’t even a large percent of Manchuria.

  11. h_helios says:

    Someone else mentioned surgery residents, which is what I came to talk about. Neurosurgeon here. One of the biggest key elements in the “junior years” as a surgery resident is learning how to hold the instruments, how to actually manipulate them in space in order to hold tissues, cut tissues, tie strings in tiny little knots, etc… The goal as their instructors is to get them into the operating room to practice these skills in “less-essential” parts of an operation — typically the opening and closing of the incision. Closing an incision gives a junior resident plenty of hands-on time with pickups/forceps, needle-drivers, and suture all for (you guessed it) picking up tissue, manipulating tissue, and tying little knots. And it’s the perfect environment because if their suturing sucks, the instructor can just cut it out and have them re-do it, or cut it out and the instructor can close the incision.

    Now there’s a bit of a bias built into the equation, because these people self-select into surgical specialties. Typically during medical school anatomy lab, they found that they gravitated towards the top in terms of “facile with dissection skills” and there is likely some “did the best in anatomy because they had the best dissections, probably because their fine motor skills are near the top of the chart” effect in play. So that would indicate to me that there is some “bubbling-up” of people who already have a high “intelligence” for fine motor skills, or even a pre-existing aptitude for these movements. As for myself: one of my childhood hobbies was electronics — soldering and circuit-board work are basically the same type of movement patterns, so picking up a Bovie electrocautery for the first time felt pretty natural.

    Anyways, that was a long way to say that yes, I do believe that people can *drastically* improve their fine motor skills as an adult, and that we see it happen all the time. Now that being said, these people are getting 5-8 hours of “reps” in almost every day. If you google “surgical suturing setup/kit/trainer” you can probably make your own using a needle/thread and a bit of rubber tubing that you cut, or even a banana skin as is popular. Additionally, you could repair your own clothing (these skills transfer, I often recommend juniors practice at home by repairing holes in their socks and pillowcases), and don’t necessarily need anything fancy. Practice tying different knots with your shoelaces or a length of rope, learning to eventually tie them all one-handed or two. Buy a cheap mechanical watch and try to take it apart and then put it back together in working order. Good luck! Let us know how your experiment goes.

  12. Deiseach says:

    Okay, I have to laugh about this.

    Yesterday was the Great Day of Purity and Oliver Cromwell Redivivus, otherwise known as “Tumblr purging all the naughty nudie blogs but leaving the sweet innocent wholesome ones. Or artistic nudity is okay, it’s not like we’re letting half-assed machine learning programme do it undiscriminating”.

    And it appears that the example post the staff made about “this is the okay kind of nudity” got flagged itself as NSFW undesirable naughty bad post 🙂 EDIT: Or rather, if you tried uploading some of the “this is permitted nudity” photos yourself, your blog would get flagged.

    Even better, all the real porn blogs are still merrily flashing their naughty nude bits with no disturbance, because the operators figured out how to game the algorithm and make their porn bots look okay. EDIT EDIT: Just had to block five pornbots who followed me, they’ve pretty clearly worked out that not showing “female presenting nipples” lets them get away with boobs’n’butt, and in the text they can write anything they like about “[redacted] want you to [redact] them hard!!!!” and still not be blocked or filtered.

    Great way to run a social website, Yahoo Oath Verizon whoever bought it in the last ten minutes and is trying to monetise it!

    It does look like they’re trying to drive off anything that can be perceived as “adult content” in order to concentrate on capturing and retaining a teen/young adult audience for fashion, makeup, pop stars and such fluffy content, that will be family-friendly for advertisers, and they hope to leverage that into ad revenue.

    I think it’s more like they’ll drive off a large percentage of current users, the site will wither on the vine, and the youngsters with disposable income will go somewhere new and hip and current favourite thing instead of ever trying Tumblr.

    • Erusian says:

      The logic, afaik, is that most advertisers won’t go on a platform full of pornography with non-pornographic products. Seriously, buying ads on porn networks is dirt cheap. It’s literally about a tenth of doing it on non-pornographic sites. This leads to all sorts of incentives not to please that crowd. Seriously, if PornHub became KittenHub and posted a bunch of videos of attractive women playing with kittens (fully clothed) and lost 80% of its user base… it’d probably about double its revenue.

      I suspect Tumblr is banking that it’ll gain more in the value of its ad network than it’ll lose in membership. I don’t know if that’ll be true over the long run (people tend to follow porn) but in the short run the math almost certainly works out.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Is there a reason for this aversion by advertisers? I could believe that advertisers don’t want their content shown near pornographic material directly for some reason or another (maybe it creates the wrong associations in the viewer?), but why they would be concerned about merely locating it on the same platform seems rather bizarre to me. What’s the risk, from their point of view?

        • acymetric says:

          The uncharitable sounding but honest answer is that (knowing some people that work in advertising/marketing and specifically in online marketing) is that they don’t really know quite what they’re doing and large chunks of the industry are based on bad heuristics. My personal belief is that advertising the way it is approached now (especially web or app based ads) is a bubble and that the money is going to go away eventually (the ads won’t, but a lot of people are making gobs of money on really ineffective advertising the way it is done now).

          More charitably (and also partly true), brands are afraid of being boycotted by various groups after a screenshot of their ad on the same page as goes viral. And that content doesn’t even necessarily have to be porn.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            More charitably (and also partly true), brands are afraid of being boycotted by various groups after a screenshot of their ad on the same page as goes viral.

            This also seems kind of bizarre to me. I’d be willing to believe that people are stupid enough to think that a company manually approves each post its ads accompany, or is otherwise responsible for said content, but if so, presumably the same people are not diligent enough to check that any such viral screenshots are legit – does anything stop a marketing director of Company X anonymously sharing a screenshot of their competitor Company Y’s ad next to some kind of maximally offensive content?

            (Or, marginally less dishonestly, post the maximally offensive content yourself on a SFW site and wait for Y’s ad to show up before it gets taken down.)

        • Erusian says:

          Not a fully rational one. It’s dirt cheap and pretty effective for B2C stuff. (It’s actually somewhat less effective than standard advertising but it’s so much cheaper that you get more return on investment.) It’s less effective for B2B stuff. (Anecdotally, I could see a lot of people watching porn and decided to order pizza. Less people watching porn and deciding to sign up for a consulting service.)

          The real reason, imo, is reputational costs. Somewhat for companies but more so for individuals. I’ve seen people reject advertising on Tumblr due to its porn content. And imagine being the guy at your office who proposed advertising on porn sites. Even if the project worked, you’d never live it down. Plus you need to design to a porn site’s aesthetics. One case study I saw for a Spanish delivery service made a sex pun that roughly translates to, “Hungry for cock/chicken? Eat some real cock/chicken!”. Again, think of the office politics around designing that!

          There is also the fact that something like a third of Americans are anti-pornography and that rises as high as two thirds among older (perhaps senior management holding) folks. But companies are otherwise more willing to court controversy and alienate especially the (relatively poor) religious set.

          In general, disreputable sectors tend to be less competitive. The same for lower class businesses. Even if there’s not a real barrier there, the respectability gap acts as a barrier.

    • Lambert says:

      As I believe was discussed in an earlier thread (though it may have been somewhere else), it’s a matter of Apple threatening to pull tumblr from the app store. (reason №27493 why you should actually make a decent mobile interface, instead of pushing apps to the exclusion of everything else)

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, but the trouble seems to be that they’re punishing ordinary users while the porn blogs and porn bots are still flourishing – like I said, logging on today I had to block five blogs that followed me all with the theme of “horny women are begging you to fuck them hard and dirty” in the text, while the photos were just on the side of the line Tumblr drew (no female-presenting nipples but lots of tight clothing, bikinis, and Sir Mix-a-Lot approved bottoms on display).

        So if they want to get rid of the bad content, they’re certainly not going the right way about it. Even if they do block all the “you drew fan art of a sexy character” blogs, the advertisers can still see the “click on me for hot filthy fun” bots are there and that’s not going to attract them.

        I honestly don’t know what exactly Tumblr is doing, because it’s certainly not blocking the porny content it’s claiming to be blocking.

        • Nornagest says:

          I honestly don’t know what exactly Tumblr is doing, because it’s certainly not blocking the porny content it’s claiming to be blocking.

          Don’t worry, it doesn’t know what it’s doing either.

  13. johan_larson says:

    So, what careers are on the Dragon Mother Approved list as of 2018? My impression is that doctor and lawyer are perennials, and sometimes engineer and accountant are included. But I have to wonder whether lawyer is still on the list, given all the trouble current law students have finding work. And some professions that might be there, like business manager, actuary, and scientist, aren’t usually listed. So, where do things stand right now?

    (Obviously, a question like this is a bit fanciful. There is no official Dragon Mother Approved list. But it seems to me there is enough agreement among ambitious Asian immigrants that such a list is a workable approximation. There is no official list of top colleges either, but if you asked upper middle class parents to list some, some names would appear again and again. But, if you don’t think this is a workable approximation, by all means speak up.)

    • jgr314 says:

      Dragon mother or tiger mother? Quick check of urban dictionary suggests the former is a fiercely protective mother (elsewhere called a “mama bear?”)

      If you’ll accept anecdotal evidence (N=1), anything requiring an advanced degree would probably be acceptable (this particular tiger mom has a PhD).

    • Well... says:

      I’m not a dragon mother or a tiger mother, nor do I have any special insight into what people fitting those descriptions tend to agree upon, but if either of my kids seemed dead set on a career in law, I’d try to steer them toward engineering instead. If they were dead set on a career in medicine, I’d try to get them to specialize as radiologists or something like that. Maybe not with tiger-mom intensity, but hopefully with enough vehemence and persistence they’d take my advice to heart.

      On the other hand I don’t really give a crap about “top colleges”. As long as it’s a legit, accredited school, seems to be fine. The degree is just to get you in the door; what you really learn is on the job. That’s true for just about any field so far as I can tell.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The Tiger Mother book ends with the daughter admitted to Harvard. When she graduated, she joined the marines.

      • albatross11 says:

        I guess she figured that Marine drill sergeants would be more reasonable in their demands than what she’d grown up with….

      • jgr314 says:

        Correction: the linked article indicates that one of the daughters went to Yale Law School with the intention of joining the army JAG, not the marines.

    • johan_larson says:

      According to this blog, the top two professions are still doctor and lawyer. After that come a bunch of reasonably respected academically intensive professions.

      The first class consists of doctors and lawyers. These are the two jobs that are highly appreciated due to the distinction results necessary to pursue them. Doctors and Lawyers are regarded as the top professions of a society because they are the ‘smartest’. Oh, and not to mention they pay well.

      The second class – not as good as the first class but still acceptable to certain levels – consists of science-based jobs such as engineers, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, psychologists, and architects. These jobs require slightly lower academic results compared to the first class but they are still competitive. The second class also includes commercial jobs in the fields of finance, accounting and economics due to their good pays.

      If I had kids, I don’t think I would encourage them to pursue careers in medicine or law, unless they were clearly interested in the fields. Both have really brutal apprenticeship periods after school, truly grossly exploitive hazing rituals. I wouldn’t push that on anyone unless they clearly wanted it badly.

  14. tomchivers says:

    I took up painting little Warhammer miniatures about 18 months ago and I have become loads better at it. I’m 38 and I’ve never done much arty stuff (I used to collect them as a kid, but I hated, and was shit at, the painting). I don’t know if this is exactly what you mean, but it involves incredibly fine motor skills, and they’ve definitely improved.

    I doubt it improves fine motor control more generally, though. It’s specific to the thing you’re practising.

    • Quixote says:

      This was my experience as well. I went from terrible to decent, but never got to great. But terrible to decent is a huge improvement.

      • tomchivers says:

        yup exactly. I’ll never win the Golden Daemon award but I would be able to impress my friends, if I could admit to them that I painted little spacemen for fun. One day I might even enter some in a local store comp or something

  15. nameless1 says:

    Why would an introvert want to have high status or be successful in that sense? I don’t have any desires like that. I highly dislike most people hence not care if they think I am cool or not. My work is appreciated, I married an introvert woman, we take turns in looking after our kid vs. staring at our separate screens, it works. For extroverts, status is everything because people are everything. But for introverts, people are mostly noise and annoyance. Why care about status? I imagine being General George Patton is highly stressful. If the obscure painter had a patron paying him a living wage and a wife and kids, that sounds like a preferable calm life.

    What, exactly is business world in your view? As someone actually working in it (in Europe), some experience. People who got a business school actually a business administration school, BBA, MBA. Business administration is basically accounting, in the broad sense, everything from invoicing to balanced scorecard reports. Does that sound that extroverted to you? And they are about half of the people in business. The other half is the salesmen. That is 100% pure CHA. Of course only for extroverts.

    The salesmen – I rarely see women in this in Europe – earn more than the bean counters. But they also need to spend more, because my 12 years old car would not be acceptable for them for represenation reasons.

    So it evens out. They have higher status but higher status anxiety as well.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In the absence of overt violence, status is what allows other people to impose their will on you. Without status, you must yield to everyone else, and no one need yield to you. (If you violate this, it will be enforced, with overt violence if necessary) You have responsibility to others, but those who you must depend on to achieve those things have no responsibility to you. To not have status is to be the buffer, the scapegoat, the fall guy.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        In the absence of overt violence, status is what allows other people to impose their will on you.

        It’s possible to construct a life where status has relatively little effect on your day to day well-being. Not no effect, but little effect. For instance, having a profession where the quality of your work matters more than whether people like you on a personal level, or where you just don’t have to interact with people much at all. Or avoiding communities where status is a big deal, and instead focusing on cultivating a few strong bonds with select individuals.

        • LesHapablap says:

          That’s not really removing status games, it is just moving to ones that suit you better, and it is something I wish I’d learned to do when I was younger. Status is like food (or sex): it’s no big deal until you don’t have any.

        • The Nybbler says:

          For instance, having a profession where the quality of your work matters more than whether people like you on a personal level

          You’ll run into that situation where getting your work done depends on other people. You can’t hold them responsible because you need status for that, and you can’t disclaim responsibility for your own failure because you need status for that. You either have to figure out a way to get things done anyway, or take the hit.

        • Aapje says:

          That requires status with your superior, which depending your ability to get him to respect you for the quality of your work (which depends on him as well) can not require to much personal liking.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          For instance, having a profession where the quality of your work matters more than whether people like you on a personal level, or where you just don’t have to interact with people much at all. Or avoiding communities where status is a big deal, and instead focusing on cultivating a few strong bonds with select individuals.

          You may not be interested in status games but status games are interested in you; the socially powerful will notice your community or profession, if it has anything of value, and seek to take it over.

          (At which point you should leave and find a new community that hasn’t been taken over, but one wonders how long that can last. But so far I’m very happy I did.)

        • Aapje says:

          That seems to primarily be motivated by a lack of empathy though, where people see introverted behavior and/or introverted cultures as hostile and intended to harm them, rather than just another preference and/or people having a right to their culture.

          It used to be that no matter which niche Jews fled into, they would be prosecuted in most cultures, as their behavior/culture would be interpreted as hostile and intended to harm gentiles. Yet now in the US and Europe, Jews don’t really have to fear anymore from the mainstream culture.

          So perhaps with some more empathy for introverts and especially for the kind of people whose introverted behavior is way more often interpreted negatively, it will be easier to uphold the culture in the face of criticism.

          Note that while extroverts tend to have higher status on average:
          – it is not a binary, but a spectrum
          – it is far from a perfect correlation, especially since introverts do prosper in some niches
          – the median person is not maximally extroverted, so most people benefit from push back against the most extroverted people

      • nameless1 says:

        Neat theory, but not my experience. I don’t really see any will-imposement, yielding, responsibility-enforcing or scapegoating. Maybe because Europeans are less competitive oriented than Americans? I see any introvert being the “castellan” of something he only knows at the average company here, size of 50-100, gets moderate respect for it, and that is it mostly. While in my office job there are no regulatory protections from firing people (no union), it happens extremely rarely – “once you are in the family, you are in” as my boss likes to say.

        I don’t need to claim other people I am depending on to be responsible, they are mostly nice and help anyway. I don’t really have a boss nor a job description, I mostly spend my days helping other coworkers. There is a value put on teamwork and cooperation and anyone refusing to help others would be quickly seen as the mean one, the bad team player, which is one thing management would not tolerate.

        I remember one guy, who was trying to play mean, emphasizing responsibility, making claims on others, blaming them, generally disturbing the harmony. People complained to the management he is being an asshole, the last drop was a small vendor whom we have very good relationship complaining he was yelling at them. Fired for being an asshole, despite being technically good at his job – even too good, we did not need that he was trying to do bleeding-edge stuff as it tended to result in too high budget requests.

        In my tepid, lukewarm, boring small pond this does not happen.

        What will happen is China outcompeting the whole Europe and we go down in flames. Because they are mean, very mean, in an efficient and getting things done way.

        • What will happen is China outcompeting the whole Europe and we go down in flames. Because they are mean, very mean, in an efficient and getting things done way.

          Why does that result in your going down in flames, rather than in your getting richer more slowly than they do?

        • hilitai says:

          Neat theory, but not my experience.

          I’m an American, and I would tend to agree. The world Nybbler describes seems angst-ridden and dog-eat-dog in a way that I do not recognize. (I work as technical talent in a fairly large software concern.)

          I’ve recently been working with a distributed team; we are all in different geographical locations. I find that the flow of necessary information across the group is difficult, and I think has hurt the quality of our work; I strongly suspect the introverted nature of the members, myself included, has been a major contributor.

  16. shakeddown says:

    A while back Nate Silver proposed the idea of a starting political moneyball party, recruiting candidates like Jason Kander and Beto O’Rourke who outperformed their expected baseline but still lost. What are some other good candidates for this party? (In particular, I’d like to have some republicans but can’t think of any).

    • Deiseach says:

      candidates like Jason Kander and Beto O’Rourke who outperformed their expected baseline but still lost

      I don’t get the O’Rourke mania. “He nearly beat Ted Cruz!” seems to be the most impressive thing he’s done. A party of “not quite popular enough with their own guys” might get off the ground, but you’d be fighting against “Ugh, not that guy” in a lot of cases, because you’re trying to appeal to “not 100% yellow dog or die Democrat/Republican” as your potential voters and you need to overcome both indifference to those of their usual party and dislike of those from the rival party.

      It’s a tricky problem, you do need Recognisable Names because a party of “Who?” may not have the baggage attached to “former Republican/Democrat who jumped ship because they weren’t good enough to win there”, but it also means ‘nobody cares who you are’. But Recognisable Names does mean the risk of having the public think “they only joined this new party because they couldn’t break through in their own, and they’re putting personal advantage over principle”.

      That is where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being clever, member of the Democratic Socialists but affiliated with the Democrats and making the most of that in order to do her ladder-climbing.

      • dodrian says:

        O’Rourke was US Representative for Texas’ 16th congressional district (technically still is, until January). I think his appeal came from running a very slick campaign – he came across as genuine, caring, and personable. He visited every district in Texas, and held many events in small towns that would usually get passed over. He made a lot of the promises that make politicians popular – not running attack ads and promising to serve his constituents rather than seeking personal political gains (this was admittedly a thinly-veiled attack against at Senator Cruz).

        His “nearly beating Ted Cruz” is credited with helping a lot of Democrats down ballot, especially in cities, it appears as if he drove poor-urban voter turnout and swung a lot of district. For a state that is normally heavily Republican, coming close does signify something.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think his appeal came from running a very slick campaign – he came across as genuine, caring, and personable.

          I don’t know, he seems a bit plastic to me. Then again, my exposure to his campaign was largely via the appeals to “vote for Beto so we can get rid of the Zodiac Killer!” type posts, which didn’t really go into why you should vote for him or what he’d do, other than “He’s not Ted!”

          If I’d seen anything talking about “he’s been a representative for sixteen years, he did this and that, his policies are such and so” I probably would have a much different opinion of him.

    • Erusian says:

      Don’t most Republicans outperform their expected baseline because of a Shy Tory effect?

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      On the Rep side, arguably John James outperformed in the Michigan Senate race against Debbie Stabenow.

      On the Dem side, J.D. Scholten.

      • shakeddown says:

        Thanks for the John James example. Not sure about scholten though, since he seems to have mostly benefitted from running against a bad opponent. (Reminds me to add Ojeda though).

  17. Le Maistre Chat says:

    This is admittedly off-topic to a rationalist blog since it’s staggeringly irrational, but… has anyone heard Pitbull’s theme song for the film Aquaman?
    The chorus is a cover of “Africa” by Toto by a guest star (A phenomenon in contemporary pop songs that never ceases to baffle me) who can’t sing, while the rest is Pitbull rapping, possibly in-character as Aquaman, lines like “I’m the living Great Gatsby.”

  18. Pingback: Rational Feed – deluks917

  19. yodelyak says:

    O but it breaks my heart, that we are talking about Quiet and this is all we have to say!

    I loved the book–but not for the introversion/extroversion thing, so much as all the fun asides and the capable writing. I at one point wrote a teaser blog post about it, intending to write more later, although I never did. (The blog has lapsed badly I’m afraid, although I did get close to 20 posts up.)

    On my book blog, (which I never promoted) I got nothing but crickets, but maybe if I point at my favorite aside, I can start a discussion here…

    My favorite takeaway from Cain’s random asides unrelated to the introversion/extroversion that ostensibly is the focus of Quiet was this:
    Prior to around 1920, when the “culture of personality” (vs character as the key to success) took off, the primary interests of psychologists and other would-be wise ones was to deal with male delinquency and pre-adulthood female sexual promiscuity.
    What a strange fact to learn, if it is indeed true? How did Cain source that fact, and her confidence in it?

  20. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Hmm, I see that Scott still quickly deleted the “blank ATM card” spam despite the Report button still accusing me of Cheating, huh?

    • dick says:

      I reported it successfully. I think the report button works on some of my computers and not on others, now that I think of it. I should try to figure out what the difference is…

      • dick says:

        I’m 90% sure it’s an http/https issue. The url that reports get sent to (https://slatestarcodex.com/wp-admin/admin-ajax.php) is hard-coded to be https, so requests to it from non-https fail for some reason (maybe a CORS violation? I can’t see it because it’s server-side).

        @Scott Alexander – The workaround is for the user to change the url to be https:// manually. The fix is for Scott to just configure the site to always use https. How exactly you do that depends on how you manage your domain, but it should be pretty easy. For example, if your host uses cPanel (i.e. if you see “cPanel” in the upper left when you log in to the administration interface), then searching on “redirect http to https cpanel” would show you the explicit steps. The only downside to doing this is that the site would be inaccessible if you managed to fuck up your SSL cert somehow, in which case you’d have to go back in to the interface and remove the http-to-https redirect (or just fix your SSL cert).

        Hope this helps. Sorry about all the false reports.

    • 10240 says:

      Others have suggested using HTTPS and/or logging out and in to make it work. I’ve reported a comment recently, and one of these (I think HTTPS) worked.
      Edit: I reported this comment as a test, and it worked if I used HTTPS.

  21. Hey all, I run a podcast on tech; society; science; culture with a soft focus on transhumanism.
    I hope that it might come across as a blend of Tim Ferriss, Sam Harris and Rogan.
    Chats are generally longform (2-3 hours)

    Some guests that may interest this community include Robin Hanson, Andres Gomez Emilsson (of Qualia Computing), Sara Gael from MAPS, Daniel M Ingram (Author of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha – a book reviewed by Scott) and Aella Girl.

    Episodes are available on all platforms under Cosmic Tortoise, and at cosmictortoise.net
    Feedback is very welcome.


  22. albatross11 says:

    I’ve been reading the excellent book _The Secret of Our Success_, talking about the overlap between cultural and biological evolution. He spends a lot of time talking about the importance of social learning, and how humans are much better social learners than other species. And there’s obviously a kind of tension there–social learning (copying what the successful/high status people around you are doing) gives you access to accumulated wisdom. But thinking and experimenting and working things out for yourself has the chance of giving you new knowledge, which may be passed on to your descendants. Social learning tends to rely partly on finding people interesting, and figuring out what they’re trying to do, and also on working out who’s high-status and so should be copied.

    So, this led me to wonder about the autism spectrum–specifically the high-functioning part that basically looks like a people on the left end of some kind of bell curve w.r.t. social skills. Being bad at social stuff but good at systematizing/figuring stuff out on your own seems like an odd package (why not just be good at both?). But here’s this weird thought I had: What if this represents a tradeoff between the social learning strategy and the figure it out on your own strategy? There’s clearly a benefit to having both, and that could easily fall out of developmental noise, plus environmental/social cues, plus some genetic predisposition.

    As our society changes more and more rapidly, and our tools for figuring stuff out get better, it kind-of makes sense that we should see more and more people shifting their strategy away from social learning and toward figuring it out.

    • Shion Arita says:

      To me it’s pretty clear that there is somewhat of a tradeoff. If you’re copying what other people do, you’re not thinking for yourself, and vice versa.

      I’m not sure how much autism specifically has to do with it because for better or worse I’m extremely far on the ‘thinking for yourself’ end, and I’m not particularly low on social awareness.

      I get the impression that humanity got by with about the minimum required number of innovators in the ancestral environment; the skill of mimicking others was valuable enough to be dominant, but some people who went against the grain and did things their own way had to slip through.

      In modern society, I think a lot of the ‘stagnation’ we’re seeing in science or what have you is born of that innovator/non-innovator ratio. It’s been somewhat helped by mass communicaiton in recent times, but I think that’s running to its limit. I find a lot of the problem is that when something is new, it is worked on by people who are more innovative, and this changes over time to people who are less innovative.

  23. posobin says:

    TLDR: How do I meet interesting people in SF if I don’t know anyone there?

    I am going to SF for 3 weeks with the goal of meeting as many interesting people as possible. I do not know anyone there, and have very little experience with purposefully meeting new people.

    What advice can you give me on how to find people to meet? If I find them, how do I invite them to a meeting? How to structure our meeting: what questions make most sense to ask; what should I not do, e.g. which questions are always a waste of time? Any advice on how to overcome my default mode of choosing to stay home and not to invite anyone anywhere?
    Answers to any questions that seem relevant to you but are not above are also welcome.

    I am a first-year theoretical CS PhD student at Columbia, interested in startups, graphic design, machine learning, rationality.

    • dick says:

      How about tech company meetups? It’s very common for software companies to host events, usually around 6pm and with pizza provided, any and every night of the week. Usually there’ll be a presentation from someone, some general mingling before and after, and someone will chat you up about applying for a job there (that’s why they’re providing their space and paying for pizza, in hopes of recruiting applicants).

      I’m not from SF so I don’t know which of the 80 million results for “tech meetup sf” you should look at, but I’m sure there are events scheduled for virtually every day you’re there. Find one that looks interesting, it’s low key and no one will think it’s weird that you don’t know anyone. If you get stuck for conversation, ask people about what they’re working on, what new technologies have they been exposed to recently, why they’re so enthused about F# all of a sudden, stuff like that.

    • AG says:

      Well, there’s the regular SSC/LW meetups, to start with.

      Most of my advice is for people who are moving to the area, rather than just visiting, though, and revolve around participating in walking/hiking group outings. There are plenty of meetup/events calendar sites online to facilitate that.

      And then it’s my default meetup style: drift around the various conversations and drop in on the ones that sound interesting.

  24. CatCube says:

    I have something of a silly question that I can’t quite figure out the Google incantation to find out: how easy is it to change the base in which a computer displays numerical output? I mean on a routine basis; I know that when writing an individual program you could do this.

    For example, when you have:

    int = 23

    I know the computer will convert the base-10 string “23” into the bit pattern 10111 to store in memory, and when executing the print statement will convert it back to the base-10 string of “23” for output to the screen. What I realized I don’t know is where this conversion happens. Is it part of the definition of the variable definition and the “print” statement in the language you’re using, or is it buried in the firmware?

    The question originally came from considering if we made contact with aliens, how we would use computers for things like printing documents and other routine bureaucratic communication. This lead to thinking about how we would localize computers for their use–translating text for the OS is a complex, but ultimately well-understood process that most major firms in this area do routinely. Once we got Unicode points for their alphabet it is a straightforward matter of translating the various dialog elements in, e.g., Windows into their language and building strings in UTF-16 using the appropriate points and dropping them into the existing localization framework. However, what if they used base 12? In my example above, we’d want them to be able to input “23” as “1E” (or their numeral system, really), and when output was printed, it would generally be output as “1E”.

    I poked around in the language options for Windows and there are ways to change the output numerals, but all of them appear to be base 10. Would this be a relatively straightforward thing to add to computers, would it require a major rework of operating systems, or would it even require firmware or hardware changes?

    • ing says:

      The task of printing out a number in a given radix could be a fairly easy interview question, in that most engineers should be able to write code for it in fifteen minutes or less.

      Also, most languages have library functions to do it, such as this function for Java: https://docs.oracle.com/javase/7/docs/api/java/lang/Integer.html#toString(int,%20int)

      If aliens travel to our solar system, of course we should expect them to have their own computers which will be far superior to our own. But if we do encounter an alien species that needs our computers, we’ll be ready.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Basically nearly all software is going to use one of several library routines provided by their compiler or operating system to do string to numeric or numeric to string conversion in the default base. Making those various routines configurable at an OS level would be a lot of work but relatively straightforward. However, there will be a myriad of complications. Examples include programs that validate the number is all-digits before passing it on to the library routines, programs that allow a fixed number of digits (so changing the base changes the range), programs that for some reason explicitly request base 10, programs that don’t use those library routines, etc.

    • albatross11 says:

      There are internal formats (I don’t know if they’re still used) for representing base ten numbers internally in computers. (Google for “binary coded decimal”.) But the normal format is binary, and the print() command is doing a computation to convert that binary integer to decimal. (Or hex or sometimes octal, depending.)

    • Mitch Lindgren says:

      Converting between numerical bases in software is trivial. As you observed, it happens every time a computer displays a number, because under the hood everything is stored as binary (base 2). In fact, this is true not only for numbers but also for other characters, including alphabetic characters and symbols. Everything is just a number which is mapped somewhat arbitrarily to some symbol. If you use a debugger to inspect the memory of a running program, it’s all just a series of bytes. What those bytes mean depends on how they’re interpreted.

      As for your example, where the conversion happens depends on what programming language you’re using. If you’re using a strongly-typed language like C or C++, you can’t pass a numeric value to a function that takes a string argument, so there’s no generic “print” function*. Instead, you’d use a function like printf which takes a format string which describes how the argument should be interpreted, e.g. printf("%i", myValue);. Now, when your code is compiled, the compiler will parse your declaration of the variable (i.e. the string “int myVal = 23;” in the source code) and in the output machine code (i.e. the executable file), it will allocate space for that variable and initialize it to the value 23 (the binary value 00010111, rather than the textual representation which would be 00110010 00110011 assuming you’re using ASCII on a big-Endian system).

      Then, when the program actually executes, the code in printf will use the format string to determine how the value should be output and perform the appropriate conversion. For instance, you could use “%x” instead of “%i” to print the value as hexadecimal (base 16). Note that this assumes the compiler doesn’t do something clever to optimize this conversion out; otherwise it could just actually store the number as a textual string if it knows the value won’t be manipulated before being printed. I don’t think any compilers actually do this but the kind of optimizations in modern compilers get pretty crazy sometimes.

      If you’re using a weakly-typed language, then you could just call print(myValue) and the print function would figure out what conversion needs to take place somehow. The details of that would depend on the language in question.

      If you’re interested in how the conversion from integer to string (in an arbitrary base) actually works, you can see an example implementation here. It might be a bit hard to follow if you’re not a software developer or aren’t familiar with C, but with the right experience it’s pretty trivial.

      Now, could you change this at the operating system level so all numbers on a system were printed in a different base by default? It would be very difficult. As my example illustrates, the way a numeric value gets interpreted or converted to text is up to the program in question, not the operating system. The operating system developer could make all in-box OS components display numbers in a different (or configurable) base, but it would involve going through and changing every instance where a number is printed, which would be extremely time consuming and error-prone. Any third-party software running on the system would not be effected, unless you did something crazy like changing the the way standard library APIs (such as printf) work, which would be guaranteed to break things. And even that wouldn’t be guaranteed to change the behavior of all programs since anything distributed as an executable rather than source code (the standard on platforms other than Linux) could have its conversion function statically linked into the executable itself, in which case changing the standard library implementation included in the OS wouldn’t do anything to that program.

      * I’m ignoring things like overloading in C++ (including iostream operators) because I think the example of printf helps make the underlying mechanics more explicit. Plus, iostream… yuck.

      • arlie says:

        If this ever becomes important, the standard library routines will be given a way to print a number (convert a number to a string) in the current default base, as well as the existing mechanisms for printing/converting in base 10, base 8, and base 16. If I were doing this in C, I’d invent a new % format for the printf format string.

        There would be a transition period, with older software using older methods, and tools to sanity check your source code to make sure it’s doing the new right thing.

        In a few languages, it would be possible to pretty much force this change on everyone/everything, by redefining some fundamental construct or interface that everyone uses. That would create different issues, as some programs that really wanted to explicitly print in decimal (such as a calculator offering e.g. hex to decimal conversion) would develop bizarre bugs.

        But overall, this wouldn’t be difficult at all. Y2K mitigation was notably harder.

        • Mitch Lindgren says:

          Difficult might not be the right term, but at the very least it would be extremely time consuming to go through and update all the old software to use the new format string or the new API or whatever you invented. Any attempt to force the change by redefining existing behavior would be bound to break things.

      • Don P. says:

        And, if you could change the base of all output numbers, your system would fail catastrophically the first time a program on the system tries to read the numeric text output of any program at all, which happens all the time, especially on Linux. You can’t just say “change the input bases too”, because then you can’t read numeric text from any source except your own system.

    • pjs says:

      The answer to your question is: in most languages, this is trivial (though probably no-one has bothered to implement) since it happens as far “outside” as possible. “23” being decimal is almost never even associated with the variable definition; the compiler itself will interpret it before storing. (Or if read from other input, is parsed in the ‘read’ function). (Indeed, in C-like languages you could say “0x23″ and have it interpreted – on initial parsing – as hexadecimal.) There’s no notion of a decimal or hexadecimal variable per se. Likewise, printing happens in the print function and nowhere deeper, so you’d only need to expand the options for any thing that displays a number. The print function might default to decimal, but as with hex output in C, you could trivially have an option to say ‘display the contents of this variable in base X” or even a program wide choice to select some other default base.

      There have been languages that store things as decimal, which isn’t entirely silly since you can keep the input precision perfectly (e.g. 0.1 in decimal has no exact binary representation) but they are uncommon today. The precision thing is the main reason one might bother keeping a native base any deeper in the system than within the input/output functions.

      An analogy is dates/times, where software is less uniformly perfect. It’s (99% of the time) stupid to keep a variable that containing “MMDDYYYY:HHMMSS eastern standard time”; time zone conversions and other formatting conversions should be chosen (or defaulted to) on input and output only. This doesn’t always happen, but most of the time (yes, exceptions exist) that’s through ignorance (and usually leads to really crappy code).

      It gets tricky beyond this though. An amount of money in the US needs to be stored as “X USD” (assuming it is indeed USD) – i.e. with the currency explicitly or implicitly associated with the variable throughout its life – there would be vary few cases where it makes sense to convert this _on input_ into some other denomination and store it so.

  25. BBA says:

    Today in mundane things that no longer exist:

    When LaGuardia Airport opened in 1939, its main terminal was miles away, in midtown Manhattan. This gorgeous Art Deco building across from Grand Central housed airline ticketing and check-in counters, as well as ramps for limos and buses to take passengers to and from the airplanes themselves.

    The air industry rapidly outgrew this building and two larger and less ornate terminals replaced it. Then full-fledged terminals at airports opened and the city terminals became redundant. (Also, traffic, security checkpoints, more people coming from the suburbs, Manhattan becoming a very unpleasant place to go in the late 20th century, etc.) They all closed by the mid-’80s, although many airlines continued to have ticket offices in Midtown (and other city centers) until the paper ticket era ended circa 2000.

    Oh, paper airline tickets. Another mundane thing that no longer exists, but one I actually remember. They were covered in strange abbreviations and when you checked in they would tear off the stub and staple the rest of it to your boarding pass.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      I think the paper tickets stick around in some smaller airlines? I’m about 18 hours away from picking up a ticket that looks just like the one you linked for a 30 minute flight in a Dash 8. But this could be more localized than I imagine; Alaska (where I’ll be flying) often finds itself clinging to weird cultural relics decades after they’ve moved on, like the Blockbusters that are still in business there.

      • Nornagest says:

        I last encountered paper tickets in 2012 or so, for an international flight.

      • RDNinja says:

        I haven’t flown in 2-3 years, but I always got paper tickets like that. I usually flew out of smallish airports like Eugene, OR; Branson; or Asheville, but that even included places like Mobile, AL and St. Louis.

      • BBA says:

        IATA abolished paper tickets in 2008 although they say tickets were 80% paper as late as 2004. I think airlines in the US went to E-ticketing pretty quickly but the rest of the world needed the push… also, not every airline is in IATA and I can easily see small planes in Alaska being behind the times.

        To be clear, I’m talking about the documents you get from the airline or travel agent when you make a reservation, not to be confused with paper boarding passes which you get at the airport when you check in (like the second image on the page I linked). Those are alive and well and won’t be going away until smartphone ownership becomes mandatory.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I can’t be the only person who hates smartphone – based ticketing, can I? Phones run out of battery, rotate their screens, are expensive, and sometimes are hard for optical readers to scan. E-ink could solve these problems, but E-ink passes are not a supported paradigm, and they’re still expensive. The most important characteristics for a ticket for me are reliability and ease of use. Anything that makes them less likely to work is a no-go. So I sign in online and then print my boarding pass, and I swear I see the TSA and gate agents breathe a tiny sigh of relief when they see the paper.

          • CatCube says:

            I absolutely refuse to use smartphone-based ticketing, for either flights or my morning commute on the train. I get paper boarding passes for flights, and use the smart card system for the train.

            I like having a physical piece of paper or a token I can produce without worrying about whether my phone battery will run out at an inopportune time. Plus, I despise the push to requiring a fucking smartphone app for everything and giving Apple or Google a piece of every transaction. I can’t control what other people do, but I’ll keep with it until they force me to stop.

        • RavenclawPrefect says:

          Ah, never mind then; the things I was referring to were in fact boarding passes, they’re just printed on exactly the same cardstock as what you linked to (down to the text saying “Passenger ticket” on the top left) so I replied too hastily.

    • AG says:

      Rather than scanning in, the train from NYC to EWR still has someone walking through the cars to punch holes in the tickets, so fairly primitive forms of paper tickets are still around.

      • The Nybbler says:

        All New Jersey Transit works (when it works at all) that way. There are electronic tickets, but IMO they’re strictly inferior to the paper ones. Much of the NJ Transit system (including track level at Penn Station) has very poor cell reception, which means you might find it hard to activate the ticket before the conductor comes around, which results in a grumpy conductor. (And possibly an arrest for theft of service. Though I haven’t seen that happen, if it were to happen, I’m the kind of person it would happen to)

      • BBA says:

        Unless I’m very mistaken, NJ Transit is not an airline. And if I am mistaken about that then I think I’ll be moving very far away from New Jersey.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I wouldn’t worry about it; if NJ Transit were an airline, none of their planes would ever get off the ground, so all you’d have to worry about is (admittedly frequent) electrical fires on the tarmac.

  26. AISec says:

    I haven’t read the book, but the premise you describe, together with my own experience, makes me wonder whether the usual intro/extro axis correlates strongly with the fast-life-strategy/slow-life-strategy dichotomy that Scott recently wrote about. That article spoke strongly to me. I grew up introverted and bullied, but part of my parents’ slow nurturing strategy forced me to do some public speaking. I geeked out hard on a bunch of highly technical subjects for many years (like AI and Security, and many other topics) to the point where, as I slowly matured through adulthood and middle age, I come across as very extroverted and often have to check myself and make space in conversations with others – especially younger people.

    Now I actually enjoy giving public and extemporaneous talks on areas of technology on and around my interests. The retroactively-recognizable-as-ADHD nervous tics and hesitations that caused me so much trouble as a kid and are still usually present just disappear when I get going on an interesting subject. This would have been unimaginable and terrifying to my introverted younger self.

    I’ll never be an alpha-male he-man military leader type, but I observe that some of those people (like “Mad Dog Mattis”, the “warrior monk” who may be the most thoughtful person in the Trump administration) seem to keep some of their early introverted slow-life-strategy tendencies and apply them in what becomes a leadership tactic later in life. Certainly there’s evidence to suggest that a lot of prominent CEO types are basically introverts.

    Maybe there’s an evolutionary element to this, where slow-life-strategy introversion in youth makes more successful leaders if and when their intensely-studied interests become useful to the survival of the group, leading to something that looks like extroversion when they find that their expertise is of interest to the community in their mature years. Scott might be an interesting example of this phenomenon himself.

    • CatCube says:

      The retroactively-recognizable-as-ADHD nervous tics and hesitations that caused me so much trouble as a kid and are still usually present just disappear when I get going on an interesting subject.

      Both the wider work culture around you and your own comfort with the material can change how introverted or extroverted your interactions are.

      I was a military officer who transferred over to working as a civil service engineer. I was something of a shrinking violet in large-group interactions as an officer, but as a civilian I have a tendency to dominate meetings if I’m not careful.

      Part of this is that I learned a relatively aggressive interaction style during my 11 years in the Army though never developed it beyond the median for that environment, while in the civilian world that puts me in a high percentile in steamrolling people. However, the other part is that I’m also a lot more confident in what I’m saying as an engineer, so I’m more likely to not back off.

      And of course, there’s another confounder here that applies to both of us: we’ve gotten older. Social skills like talking to other people or talking others into your way of doing things are skills, and like any other skill can be improved with practice. We’ve had a lot more practice since we were teenagers.

  27. Enkidum says:

    I’ve never heard of something as wide-ranging as “fine motor skills” being reliably improvable. Learning tends to be highly context- and task-dependent, so you could learn a fine motor skill (people have given several examples already) and greatly improve your “basic” performance at it. An adult learning to play a musical instrument will probably never be as good as someone who learned it from childhood. But if you actually equated the time spent practicing, you might be surprised at how close you get. 10,000 hours and all that.

    This is probably going further than you want, but I don’t think there really is such a thing as “fine motor skills” per se. Instead, there are a large number of tasks which involve overlapping sets of motor commands concerning precise finger movements. That doesn’t mean that if you learn one, you’d be good at another (I doubt that piano players have any advantage at learning to sew, or painting minatures.) Young kids don’t know any of these tasks, because kids are shit at pretty much everything, so there’s a lot of effort put into learning them. But you can learn ’em too.

  28. Well... says:

    If we could create for ourselves new physical bodies ideally suited to life in the weightless environment of a spaceship, what would our bodies be like?

    I’m talking about pure physical advantage in zero-G, in the sense of: injury avoidance, not having to worry about the currently-known negative effects of zero-G on the body, ease of using the bathroom and staying clean, maneuvering around a spaceship that is mostly corridors and small rooms but might have one or two wide open spaces not to mention the occasional EVA, etc.

    Assume the aesthetics of our form don’t hinder our reproduction. Assume also that our spaceship adequately shields us from cosmic radiation to bring that risk down to regular Earth-levels. Also also assume that we basically remain mammals. (Or is that not ideal?)

    Some food for thought:

    – Is it better to dispense with bones (except for maybe a skull and jaws) and move more like octopuses?
    – Should our hearts, stomachs, and other internal organs operate differently?
    – Should females have some kind of extra protection around their wombs when they get pregnant to guard against collisions they’ll have while floating around?
    – Is there anything we can do about all the stray hair, skin cells, sweat, tears, etc.?

    • onyomi says:

      Having little expertise in physics or biology my first guess would be that a zero-g adapted body would be much more… spherical? As in, our bodies are currently very much adapted to dealing with a pulling force usually aimed towards the bottoms of our feet. Take that away and it seems like maneuverability and awareness in a spherical field radiating out from our center might become more important, such that e.g. our brain might be located in the center of our body, along with the other vital organs, while it might be worth it to e.g. have eight limbs and eyes or something…

      Being more spherical might mean more difficulty in maneuvering through the sorts of doors and corridors we design for ourselves now, but we could also design such things differently without necessarily needing more space.

      • Well... says:

        Being spherical (like a pufferfish?) seems like it would entail difficulty maneuvering in just about any environment. It’s pretty great to be able to twist and get our limbs around corners — even more so, I imagine, in zero-G.

        And unless you had a pair of eyes spaced regularly about your spherical body, it would be really hard to see anything. Those eyes would be constantly getting jabbed or smushed unless they were each situated at the base of strong limbs that could resist and protect from collisions. So, maybe kind of a sea-urchin-like form? But each “pin” would need to be flexible and terminate in a strong appendage of some sort that could grab things, twist the rest of the body around, etc. Either like a hand with a strong wrist, or a tentacle. A hand with a strong wrist would be good because you could use a keyboard, but that’s a lot of fingers that could get broken.

        • albatross11 says:

          Bujold has quaddies–basically humans with arms where their legs should be. This works well in zero G (along with adaptations so they don’t lose too much bone mass/muscle or otherwise get messed up by zero G).

          It seems like you could look at what happens to humans after a long time in zero G, and then try to prevent those bad things happening via some kind of genetic modification.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Hot take: given that we evolved from single-celled organisms adapted to Earth gravity, there’s probably no near-term way to genetically engineer our cells into something that don’t sicken in microgravity. There’s going to be a distinct lack of organisms to cut-and-paste DNA from, so you’re looking at the much harder job of creating life from scratch.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, so let’s say we could do that and then transfer our minds into them — and, importantly I suppose, we were resolved to transfer our minds into them. What should our new from-scratch bodies be like?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I suppose the cephalopod bauplan but with a nice hard skull around the brain and each tentacle branching into three “fingers” (and then maybe branching some more, ala Hans Moravec’s “bush robot”). You mentioned hard protection for the female womb, which is also a good idea.

      • Nornagest says:

        Microgravity is basically equivalent in physical terms to floating in water the same density as your body, though, and that’s what those single-celled organisms were doing. We don’t handle microgravity well long-term, but that’s because we’re land mammals. Aquatic mammals have evolved a bunch of times, so it can’t be that hard to make the changes.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Microgravity is basically equivalent in physical terms to floating in water the same density as your body, though, and that’s what those single-celled organisms were doing.

          Oh, OK. I didn’t realize that, and that makes the genetic engineering much easier.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Yes, it makes it “much easier”, in the same way that interstellar travel is made “much easier” when you discover that you only have to travel as far as Alpha Centauri, not Sirius.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Bugmaster: I’m not disagreeing.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Since a water environment seems like a good place to look for inspiration, I propose the addition of fins. Our current locomotion system is based off having ground to push against. There’s no reason to limit ourselves like that, and you don’t want to awkwardly flail about in freespace. We should be able to swim through the air.

          We’d still want hands, of course. So basically, we should be space mermaids.

          • acymetric says:

            Seems like that is optimized for wide open spaces (the ocean). I’m not sure it would be well adapted for small enclosed spaces like a spaceship/space station.

          • onyomi says:

            But I assume we’ll have artificial air in our spaceships, not water (I mean I guess we could also stipulate we’re aquatic, which might actually be a gentler environment to move about in; come to think of it, I’m surprised I can’t recall, off the top of my head, a single Star Trek or similar scifi episode in which we meet a species that fills their spaceships with water?) and air behaves very differently from water, hence the design differences between birds and fish.

            Yet one also assumes spaceships probably aren’t spacious enough to fly about in, so I’m guessing one will have to rely mostly on pushing off and/or crawling along solid surfaces, like some kind of dog-octopus.

            Yet the more I think about it, so long as we are proposing radical changes to our biology to make us better-suited to a zero-gravity environment, swapping lungs for gills seems a relatively high-potential-payoff-to-complexity move. Water seems easier to safely, carefully propel oneself about in than zero-gravity air, and we already have examples of mammals becoming water-adapted naturally (albeit not actually to developing gills).

          • acymetric says:


            I like the out of the box thinking, but now we’re going to have to have a separate thread on the costs of getting a spaceship worth of water into space.

            I also wonder if filling the spaceship with water would make sealing the ship/preventing leaks easier or harder. Would aquatic life support systems be easier or harder than our current air-based ones?

          • dragnubbit says:


            You might enjoy David Brin’s Startide Rising if you want a sci-fi exploration of aquatic spaceships. They have intelligent dolphin astronauts and Brin has some discussion of the space/water duality.

          • Well... says:

            This is intriguing.

            Filling a spaceship with water derived from lighter gases might be possible, right? (Isn’t water a byproduct of combustion?) But also, why water and not some other liquid or fluid?

            Then again if the idea is to create friction that slows us down and reduces the chance of injury from collision, I’m not sure if this works. If we have to move through water then we’ll have to be stronger and more massive to make that movement easier, but then collisions are that much worse. So it seems like we’d be back where we started.

            Also, it’s hard to type and grip handles and tools with fins.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it is hard to get enough oxygen dissolved in water to support human life with gills that would fit in our bodies.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If we’re at the point where we’re rewriting the human genome for space, we’ve got space habitats, not just little ships. Pushing off stuff just isn’t the best way to get around. Even inside a ship, assume your classic spinning tube. We can probably improve our usage of space by filling the walls with workstations, and using the empty space in the center to actually get around instead of having to add walkways.

            I think water would be a vary bad idea. That doesn’t play well with electronics, or combustion, or any advanced technology. We’d always have to be working around it to do our actual ship maintenance.

            (I’m super-glad to see us bringing back dog-octopus.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Filling a spaceship with water or any similar liquid, will make it roughly an order of magnitude more massive than a comparable spaceship filled with air. That’s going to be a huge disadvantage if you want it to go anywhere, or are planning to build it anywhere that doesn’t already have lots of readily accessible water.

          • Protagoras says:

            An order of magnitude? I guess it depends on how sturdily built the ship is, but I’d expect it to be closer to just doubling the weight. Considerably less if, as seems likely, only limited parts of the ship are filled with water. Sure, water is a lot heavier than air, but metal is a lot heavier than water, so the structural components and ship’s systems still seem likely to be the biggest weight factors.

          • helloo says:

            ISS weighs ~420000 kg with ~930m^3 internal space.

            Filling it with water will a little over triple its weight.
            However, that is the ENTIRE weight.

            For many of its modules, 10x the weight is a reasonable estimate.
            IE. Density module (pun intended) has a mass to volume of ~137kg/m^3

            Air is also a lot easier to compress. Though I guess I can see some dual function – fuel + water creation, it’s not going to be the typical rocket fuel – that mass has to be pushed out as exhaust for the rocket to work.

          • John Schilling says:

            For historic spacecraft, if you just fill the pressurized with water, the mass increase ranges from 2.0x (Shuttle) to 5.6x (Skylab). But anything pressurized will leak, and now your makeup fluid is a thousand times heavier. Your life support system will need beefier pumps to move all that massive fluid through the refreshers before it ceases to support life. You’ll probably need to reinforce parts of the structure to handle the increased mass, and if you’re planning to actually go anyplace, you’ll need more powerful engines and more propellant for them.

            So, round up to roughly an order of magnitude.

        • bean says:

          I’m not sure that’s right. First, the analogy isn’t perfect. A whale, for instance, still needs to pump blood against gravity. And pushing against water is a lot harder than pushing against air, so I’d guess that for amphibious mammals, atrophy isn’t a big deal. (Also, they seem to use the same muscles on land as in the water, even if that makes them rather poor on land.) Second, the big problem with health in microgravity isn’t so much microgravity itself as going back to normal gravity. Again, something that isn’t a big driver in marine mammals.

    • bullseye says:

      I’d think wings and no legs. Maybe wings on the upper body and arms on the lower body, or maybe four arms and wings in the middle. Astronauts can get around by pushing off of stuff, but I feel like that’s not ideal. Maybe also more flexibility so you can look behind you and reach behind you more easily.

      The only health issue I’m aware of is bone loss, and it seems like that would be an easier fix than adding wings.

      • Jaskologist says:

        How much do the principles of winged flight rely on gravity?

        • fion says:

          I wondered about this as well. Certainly the shape and motion of the space wings would be very different to birds’ wings, but I don’t see any reason why winged flight in a space ship wouldn’t work.

          Birds spend most of their energy pushing down on the air, with a relatively small force pushing them forwards. Our space wings wouldn’t need to do that. Changing direction and slowing down sounds like a nightmare, though. I’d take my octopus arms grabbing handles any day.

    • ing says:

      — I mean, the obvious answer is we should all be digitized and uploaded, Eclipse Phase style.

      If that’s not an option, the first round of modifications should be to turn off all our bone loss and muscle atrophy problems. None of this “oh, you stopped using that muscle so I took it away to save nutrients” nonsense; the body should take whatever nutrients it gets and convert them all into muscle.

      (You might imagine there could be specific supplements we could take to signal to our bodies “low nutrient environment” or “anticipated low nutrient environment coming, store food as fat” or “high nutrient environment, convert food to muscle”.)

      After that point, we start to care more about our specific role in space. Are we solitary or nearly-solitary, spending most of our time in hibernation? Do we live in big space habitats, so we need to really like other people?

      There are a bunch of obvious general improvements, like longevity and resistance to disease, which I assume our gravity-bound counterparts have already gotten themselves. One other general improvement we should really be thinking about: everyone should get both pairs of sex organs, because it will save on cultural friction and simplify dating.

      (Er, after it becomes fully adopted it will save a ton of cultural friction. Before then, maybe not. Maybe the gravity-bound peoples mostly stick with sexual dimorphism, and the spacefarers figure they’re all super gene-modded anyway so let’s get all the frills, and it turns into the one thing that’s really different between earthlings and spacers?)

    • Brett says:

      Definitely octopus-like. Having limbs that can be stretched out to grab on to stuff (always vital in micro-gravity) and more efficiently radiate body heat would be very valuable, and so would having our heads be more at the center of our bodies rather than at one end of an elongated humanoid form (where blood can pool, as it does with astronauts in real life).

      It might be good to have part of our body be toughened as well, so that if there’s emergency decompression we could wrap ourselves around something secure and curl up into a tightly rolled ball resistant to decompression until rescue arrives.

      • AG says:

        Plus, a bladder for moving around, much more effective than fins/a tail!
        Just have to engineer the air stream to be sufficient to achieve certain speeds.

      • helloo says:

        Why all the focus on octopuses and such?

        Are we going to expect to squeeze though things?

        Do you really need to multitask on 8 things at once?

        Have you checked the acceleration thresholds of humans versus soft bodied animals like octopuses?

        Why in the world is more efficiently radiating body heat be valuable?

        • AG says:

          Because moving in zero-G is not unlike moving in water, and so of the bodies already proven to be effective at water movement, which body would also be effective at accomplishing scientific research in space?

          Also, you don’t need bones in space.

          Adding appendages is a transhumanist plus in general.

    • fion says:

      I’m gonna third “octopus-like”.

      Starting from something aquatic seems like a good start, since underwater dynamics are similar to microgravity dynamics. Fins and wings don’t seem worthwhile to me. Just design the space ships so you’re never further than an arm’s length from a wall. Pushing off surfaces and grabbing handles is much better than trying to generate propulsion from the air. (If we need wide-open spaces for some reason (parties? debates?) then they should have ropes passing through them at regular intervals for us to grab.

      The main thing I’m dithering over is hands. I feel as though bony hands are better than tentacly hands for operating equipment, tools, computers etc., but how do you combine that with a mostly-boneless octopus body?

      Also, how big should we be? I’m tempted to leave our heads the size they are and have arms ranging from 30cm to 2m, but I may be anchoring to our current size…

      • AG says:

        I think interfaces for a tentacle body would drastically change. Twitching a rod vs. keyboard of buttons, for example.

        • acymetric says:

          Seems likely to be less practical. Whatever we do, I think at least some of our appendages need to have fingers.

          • Well... says:

            Plus, fingers (especially with nails on the end) are useful even without thinking about interacting with computer interfaces. Scratching itches, firmly gripping round objects, pressing and clamping, making signals, playing musical instruments, picking your nose, cupping together to form a bowl, etc…

          • AG says:

            I dunno, all of the things Well… listed seem to be doable even better with a tentacle setup.
            Part of it is that you have additional appendages. Also, people do plenty with tweezers or chopsticks, while other tools were invented to take account of the hand-finger configuration’s weaknesses (like opening jars/bottles/cans, climbing surfaces, reaching for things in a nonlinear pathway). Interfaces and tools would evolve in drastically different ways. Twitch-based keyboards do already exist, a tentacle setup could work a switchboard more effectively, and the solution to “not enough fingers” is “add more tentacles.”

          • Well... says:

            It’s definitely easier to grip a ball with fingers than with a tentacle. You try slapping a tentacle around it, and that ball is going to bounce away from you at first touch, and you’ve only got the remaining tip of your tentacle to try and stop it from getting away. With fingers you can sort of make your hand into a basket — that ball ain’t going nowhere. How many tentacles would you need to do the equivalent? It’s impractical. The same principle applies to clamping things together.

            Also, I think of tentacles as terminating in a point, which is less useful than the relatively blunt ends of fingers. And don’t forget about fingernails!

            I’ll grant a tentacle might be better for opening jars, but not so much better it makes a huge difference, at least not within the range of forces with which most jars are closed.

          • Nornagest says:

            That sort of thing’s probably why a lot of tentacles have suckers.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t know much about the suckers on tentacles. Do they work with actual suction by creating negative pressure? Or do they work by producing a kind of circular friction with tiny teeth or something like that? It seems like the tiny teeth would work better in air and for gripping objects with a wide variety of surface textures, but then in a spaceship you’d be dealing with those minuscule teeth being constantly shed or ripped off and floating around.

          • acymetric says:


            I would think those teeth are also going to cause (mostly aesthetic) damage to most things you interact with.

            I can imagine a case for replacing feet with hands, and maybe having more appendages. But I stand by a need for fingers.

          • AG says:

            How many tentacles would you need to do the equivalent?

            Only 2. I think we may be thinking of different things when we imagine tentacles. I’m imagining a very flexible setup, a boneless appendage which you can therefore flatten out to increase catching area, and as Nornagest says, have gripping accessories like suckers or velcro-like hooks/hairs as spiders and geckos do.

            But, as always, there’s the porque no los dos option. The manga/anime Assassination Classroom features a protagonist with fingered tentacles. I maintain that this is basically like having sub-tentacles.

          • Nornagest says:

            Do they work with actual suction by creating negative pressure? Or do they work by producing a kind of circular friction with tiny teeth or something like that?

            Both. They create actual suction, and they often also have three-dimensional structure to create mechanical friction. Some species, particularly of squid and cuttlefish, have suckers lined with macroscopic barbs or teeth — giant squid are known for it. Nautiluses have tentacles with no suckers, but many more of them.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Regardless of the particulars, this vessel really needs to be christened the UES John Carpenter.

    • johan_larson says:

      If you are going to claim to be well adapted to a weightless but not airless environment, I think you need to be able to deal with the situation of finding yourself stationary in a space where none of the walls are in reach. That’s not going to happen often, but you’re pretty screwed if it does. And whatever solution you have (fins? an air pump of some sort?) is going to make you much more maneuverable in ordinary situations too.

      • Well... says:

        How do astronauts deal with that currently? I know the inside of the ISS isn’t exactly roomy, but I believe it’s roomy enough to where a shorter astronaut could easily stretch out across the width of one of the chambers and not touch anything. Maybe it’s just not an issue? Maybe just flailing around a bit is enough to propel you in a given direction?

        • AG says:

          There should be a requirement that all astronauts have a spare balloon in their pockets, then.

        • bullseye says:

          I think it’s small enough that an astronaut would have a hard time getting stuck in the middle of the room. They’re going to have enough momentum to drift into a wall in short order.

        • dodrian says:

          I’m sure I’ve seen a video of astronauts practicing recoveries – I couldn’t find that exactly, but there’s this one.

          So it is possible to maneuver yourself a few feet in zero-g without expending too much effort.

          • bullseye says:

            The video shows it’s possible, but that’s a lot more time and effort to move a few feet than I’d want. I would certainly want wings in that situation.

      • Skivverus says:

        I’d expect this to happen very infrequently: inside a space station, you’re necessarily enclosed (or else airless), and if you part ways with a stationary wall you almost by definition have at least a little relative velocity, which will eventually take you to the opposite wall via Newton’s First Law.
        So, failure mode here would be “nonstationary walls”, which can be handled via handholds, or worst case removing an article of clothing and throwing it opposite where you want to land.
        (Okay, worst worst case you wouldn’t have any clothing to throw, but I submit that you have bigger problems in that situation)

      • albatross11 says:

        Couldn’t you just blow hard to give yourself a bit of thrust?

    • helloo says:

      I think a better question would be

      A) What would space born/evolved humans look like

      B) What shape should we construct general function robots in space as

      C) In terms of biology – what things are constrained by gravity (and have available alternatives not constrained by gravity) and what things inhibit life in space.
      So some issues astronauts face –
      Needing ventilation/constant air flow (so you don’t choke from your our exhale)
      Bone density loss (not sure if it’s even harmful/adaptive)
      Various issues with current organs (from eyes to digestive to bladders, etc.)
      !!FIRE!! (not great with gravity but much worse without)
      Needing a space suit to spacewalk

      Eating/using things that produce crumbs/flack off (assuming we still use electronics that can be affected by them)
      Being “stuck” in the middle (you can “swim” out of it, though not particularly fast)
      Being particularly nimble in zero gravity (I mean, humans aren’t so even with gravity)

      • acymetric says:

        Shouldn’t fire be in the non-biological category?

        • helloo says:

          I meant it in a “Issues – Biological”
          And fire is one where I feel the main solutions would need to require changing the “base” environment to a low-oxygen one.
          Simply making everything out of fireproof materials probably won’t be enough.

          Another issue I just remembered is dust. Not the crumb stuff, but the really abrasive stuff like moon dust. Though that might have a technological solution for.

          • Nornagest says:

            Moon dust is nasty and abrasive because the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere. Anywhere that does, is going to have less abrasive, more Earth-like dust.

            (Though that sometimes poses other problems. Mars dust is incredibly fine, because it’s been worn down over millions of years in the Martian atmosphere without enough moisture to clump it up. If we colonized Mars it would get into everything, and it’s reactive enough that that would screw up a lot of stuff.)

  29. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Dungeons & Dragons discourse:

    In my best friend’s Mythic Greece campaign, she’s learned to take the kid gloves off. I’m playing a Barbarian-dipped Moon Druid. Her husband is playing a Barbarian-dipped Moon Druid. We’re rounded out by an unoptimized 9th level Wizard providing damage and high flexibility and a Rogue (DPS that never needs a rest). So last session, the deity who hates us (Eris) set us up to fight a Chaos demon: in this case a Goristro, Challenge Rating 17. When it got a face full of tanks, it just ate the opportunity attack caused by running away from the tanks to charge the Wizard for 14d10+7 damage.
    Now, the way damage works in 5E is that, unlike AD&D and 3.Pathfinder, negative numbers don’t exist. You are dying at 0 HP, but you get three death saves and spending an attack on an unconscious or dying enemy doesn’t auto-kill them: it merely subtracts two of those death saves. So the DM played hardball for the first time and had it use two out of three attacks to on its next turn to kill the Wizard, then backfist me with its remaining fist attack. However, having to spend attacks like that meant it soon went down, never managing to drop a Druid’s human body to 0 HP.
    It was a dramatic, exciting fight that taught us a valuable lesson: just because 5E PCs have death saves rather than dying at -10 HP doesn’t mean we’re immortal. Only raging Moon Druids are, and we need to play smarter if we care (Bears) about keeping friends alive against encounters the rules call “deadly.”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Yeah, while I can understand why a lot of people were skeptical about the increased survivability for 5e PCs I have to say that IME it works just fine if you play the monsters intelligently and leave the dice as they fall. My girlfriend lost her first character recently and the party has been in serious danger of a wipe twice in “Deadly” encounters, and I’ve been running CR by the book rather than trying to deliberately increase the difficulty.

      That said, I’m personally not thrilled with how your DM ran that fight.

      Nothing is really out of character for a demon and Goristos in particular are living battering rams not known for their deep tactical thinking. That said, a coup de grace is a huge waste during a fight to the point that I wouldn’t even have a mindless construct or undead do one. This Goristo was getting whaled on for 6-12 seconds by a bunch of guys who could each individually wipe out its weight in lesser demons… for what?

      Maybe if it had a grudge against that specific PC, fine, make sure the Wizard is dead and take the long way back to the Abyss. But otherwise it seems like a bad move even for a demon.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        She did have a story reason for it, which grew organically out of our characters’s behavior rather than being a railroad story element. We’d been spamming summon spells, so this was us getting to see what it feels like from the other side. We were summoned by a magic item Heracles popped on his quest to rescue Alcestis from the Underworld, and the being that he reacted to by summoning 4 CR 9 heroes counter-summoned something from the Courts of Chaos, which Eris arranged to be a goristo that had a personal grudge against our Wizard.
        (Eris herself has a grudge against Atalanta and PCs who are her friends, because A. threw a monkey wrench into her Golden Apple dickery at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, where we met in Session 1.)

        In general, I too disagree with monsters engaging in the behavior of spending two attacks on killing PCs with 0 HP, as it puts them at a fatal disadvantage in the action economy when other enemies are still swinging. This is kind of a 5E Catch-22, since it’s not that hard for another PC to pop a dying one back into combat. It gets rather more like a Final Fantasy game than anything literary. =/

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Alright, well that sounds better than I had expected. Not to malign your friend, it just sounded off.

          This is kind of a 5E Catch-22, since it’s not that hard for another PC to pop a dying one back into combat. It gets rather more like a Final Fantasy game than anything literary. =/

          On the one hand, it’s absolutely gamey and honestly hard to justify from a verisimilitude or narrative standpoint. Dying people can hang on for quite a while before they eventually die, and in fiction the important ones usually last at least long enough for a dying speech.

          On the other hand, the same logic which makes coup de grace a waste also applies to healing a downed ally. Gaining that extra set of actions helps, but if he goes back down in the next round you’ve now spent an action to get zero-to-one more actions depending on initiative. It’s a dick move to let your comrades bleed out but ending the current threat ASAP is usually worth rolling a death save or two.

      • Nornagest says:

        I have very little experience with 5E, but just from an armchair POV I think I’d be pretty happy with the “three death saves” approach. The biggest problem with 3.x’s death mechanics is how poorly they scale into higher levels; at low levels you’ll actually get some tense scenes where you try to stabilize a fallen party member, but past 7th or so you’re fighting stuff so powerful that the first hit that takes you into negatives will probably turn you into chunky salsa. That’s also about when raise dead starts being obtainable, so it’s not a game-breaker, but it does add some definite mechanical strain, especially if you’re minded to run a low-magic campaign.

        You’d probably want to make raise dead and friends rarer with the three-death-saves approach, for the same reasons, but that’s IME a good idea for versimilitude reasons anyway.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The biggest problem with 3.x’s death mechanics is how poorly they scale into higher levels; at low levels you’ll actually get some tense scenes where you try to stabilize a fallen party member, but past 7th or so you’re fighting stuff so powerful that the first hit that takes you into negatives will probably turn you into chunky salsa.

          3.0 mindlessly carried over AD&D’s death mechanic, making no changes to account for the Feat system (Power Attack being the main culprit for how different Damage-Per-Round was) and monsters now being built the same as PCs (in AD&D, humanoid monsters were locked into one attack per turn with flat damage while 2E Warrior-types got Dual Wielding, extra attacks at Levels 7/13/etc. & Weapon Specialization). “Dead at -10 HP” was the result of thousands of hours of play-testing by Gary Gygax and the second generation of Dungeon Masters, so it presumably never became “irrelevant, you’re chunky salsa” unless fighting one of the many bestial enemies with 3+ attacks or getting swatted at low HP by a type of Giant who did 3d6 or higher with his only attack.

          • Nornagest says:

            Even in AD&D there was plenty of stuff that could put out 20+ damage in an attack. Dragon breath especially, but also golems, remorhaz, sword spiders, the bigger giants, traps, falling, high-level spells.

            But yes, it was a lot more of a problem in 3.x.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Duh, right, dragon breath. That was bonkers in 1E & the Basic line: a flat 80 damage (save for half) from the average Ancient Red Dragon.

          • arbitraryvalue says:

            But arguably the literary inspirations for D&D are settings where the fire of an ancient dragon would kill even a legendary hero. IMO “the ancient red dragon breathes fire on you” should essentially be a “you die” unless you have some custom plot-related item to protect you.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @arbitraryvalue: Yeah.
            That also gets into the question of what a saving throw represents in the narrative or simulation. Is it like a serial protagonist’s save against what looks like certain death, or…?
            I have much experience with players just saying “I save” and shrugging off the fact that I have no idea what that means in the world, so as not to bring play to a screeching halt. =/

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Some “saves” make sense. A Reflex save is another word for dodging (usually), a Willpower save is overcoming something mentally attacking. Reflex save for half means you can jump to the edge of the breath or behind a barrier and only get partially hit (on games with figures and a grid, why you don’t have to move is…a good question). Save vs. Wand or Death never made any sense to me though. It’s clearly NOT the inherent possibility of the attack missing or failing, since it’s specifically something the player is doing to affect the attack.

          • John Schilling says:

            Reflex save: You kind of mostlly dodged the Red Dragon’s breath, and so are only a little bit on fire on account of your great DEX.

            Fortitude save: The poison that would have killed an ordinary man, merely weakened you on account of your high CON.

            Will Save: The vampire tried to dominate you with his gaze, but you said “No” and made it stick thanks to all that WIS

            Modify according to circumstance. And a recommended house rule: Shields apply their normal AC bonus to most reflex saves (and against most touch attacks), but if this makes a difference they suffer whatever it is they protected the character from.

      • Wander says:

        On the topic of playing monsters intelligently: The Monsters Know What They’re Doing.

    • ing says:

      I ran a campaign like that one time. One player was a wizard specialized in damage. Several combats went the same way: he would throw a giant area-effect damage attack, hitting all the monsters at once. Then they’d all come running at him and kill him, because he didn’t have any defense spells. Then his allies would mop them up, and they’d raise him from the dead.

      I don’t think he enjoyed that campaign very much. After it ended, he never wanted to play a game with me again. :-/ I’ve sort of taken it as a life lesson: people don’t like it when you kill their characters.

      What I’m saying is, either I hope your wizard player had fun, or else I hope that doesn’t happen to him frequently. : )

    • Nornagest says:

      Let’s talk death. Specifically, ways of bringing characters back from it.

      Raise dead is a 5th-level cleric spell in most versions of D&D, meaning that you can cast it at 9th level, halfway into your average character’s career and around the same time the party wizard learns how to teleport, paralyze monsters, and move objects with his brain. 9th-level characters are unusual but not truly exceptional by D&D standards — a few are expected to be in any large city, and by old-school rules it’s when you’d start to settle down, attract followers, and get involved in politics. So, rules as written, the equivalent of a Catholic bishop is expected to be able to do the Lazarus thing at least once a day, as long as the deceased has been dead for no more than a week or two, they didn’t die of old age or death magic, and the corpse is reasonably intact. This poses certain problems. There’s enough limits that it can’t truly transform society, but it’s enough to thoroughly break a lot of common storylines. City watches could keep a cleric on retainer to raise murder victims (there are plenty of gods of justice). Assassination plots would be a lot harder to pull off. Your destined love dramatically killed herself following a series of tragic misunderstandings? Pay off Friar Lawrence and he can make it all go away.

      But wait, it gets better! You’re probably expecting me to talk about resurrection now, but no, that’s not much more broken. Reincarnate, however, is a fourth-level druid spell, meaning that you can cast it at character level 7, about the time your fighter buddy is learning to swing his sword twice in six seconds. (If you’d rather something less snarky, ACKS ballparks 7th level as “best in a county”.) It places the deceased’s mind in a newly created young adult humanoid body, with the same abilities (but the new body’s racial adjustments to them), and does not require the remains to be intact. It doesn’t bring back people who’ve died of old age, but there’s nothing stopping you from stabbing Grandpa on his deathbed and making a generous donation to the Sierra Club so that they’ll reincarnate him as a healthy 20-year-old bugbear. (Possibly a female one. Sex is unspecified by the spell description.)

      The upshot is that there’s no reason for anyone who can afford 1000 GP in materials and a 7th-level druid’s services to ever die of anything besides death magic, level-draining undead attack, or freakish accident. Now we’re transforming society.

      What can we do about this?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yeah, Reincarnate bugs me because it breaks Earth-based fantasy and why is earlier than the Cleric’s equivalent? Grrr.
        It would be less broken if instead of a young adult female bugbear growing out of the dirt with a departed loved one’s personality, all it did was let you find the reincarnation of dead character X and give them all the memories of their previous incarnation. That’s close to how a Dalai Lama is identified, and the biggest problem would be the player’s annoyance at the attribute mods for now being a newborn human. Better hope you roll “baby dragon” or at least “dryad” on the table.

      • Civilis says:

        I think the limits on Raise Dead and similar spells are supposed to be the cost of the materials used. The diamond required for the 5E Raise Dead spell costs about the yearly expenses of a merchant, skilled tradesman, or military officer. The city watch doesn’t Raise Dead murder victims because it would take a sizable chunk of their budget to do so (and they have Speak with Dead to find out whodunnit anyways).

        It’s also interesting that the costs of materials for these spells is expressed in a fixed GP value. You can justify it in-universe by invoking it as a sacrifice to the gods and having the gods in a place where diamonds are plentiful require a much bigger diamond to be impressed enough to Raise your companion. On the other hand, this suggests that for a truly broken campaign, you can play games with the economy. I can see a Chaotic Stupid Good cleric launching a crusade to devalue the gold piece to make the costs of the diamond for a Raise Dead spell affordable to everyone.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think the limits on Raise Dead and similar spells are supposed to be the cost of the materials used. The diamond required for the 5E Raise Dead spell costs about the yearly expenses of a merchant, skilled tradesman, or military officer.

          Yeah, if you’re taking what passes for D&D economics seriously it’s probably not too broken for anyone short of merchant princes and high nobles. But most campaigns start playing fast and loose with those economics sooner or later, because player characters get rich fast and story incentives need to keep up. Any reward big enough to get the attention of even fairly low-level PCs is also big enough to pay a cleric or druid. So why didn’t the quest-giver just do that?

          • johan_larson says:

            I prefer to keep magic, and particularly high-level magic, a bit restricted and mysterious, and part of doing so is making it something that cannot typically be bought with money. If you can’t cast Raise Dead yourself, don’t expect to go to a temple and just pay the high priest. Expect serious questions about why this person is worthy of resurrection, and you might have to do or owe the sect some great favor for what you are asking.

            I’m aware this is very much a choice. Some people just go by the rates in the books, making resurrection a merely expensive mundane service.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            If you can’t cast Raise Dead yourself, don’t expect to go to a temple and just pay the high priest.

            I like this idea from a lore perspective, but that seriously limits the ability of a party to do difficult missions if they do not themselves have a priest class. Then you get into the problem of whether you can have difficult battles that might end in deaths or if the PCs chicken out and run away all the time.

            It’s far more realistic, but it’s also taking away a lot of the features that make it a game.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I am totally fine with small adventuring parties that have a high impact on the setting needing a miracle-working holy (wo)man as a force multiplier.
            Don’t feel like bringing your own thaumaturge? Bring lots of extra Fighters, like a realistic war band. The Cleric is a force multiplier, period. This works both on a game level and on the level of rational military strategy (“simulationism”).

          • johan_larson says:

            I think you need to decide as a DM how close you want death to be, based on the mood of the campaign, and select appropriate house rules accordingly. My thinking is that death should be a big deal, but not completely absent. Having death at -HP, a healer as an inevitable feature of every serious party, and the DM pulling the occasional punch when the dice indicate an inopportune death, seems to work for creating a mood of simmering tension.

        • bullseye says:

          I think what it’s supposed to mean is that you need a diamond of a particular size and quality. But rather than actually tell the player the exact size and quality necessary, it cuts to the bottom line and says how much that diamond will cost. So if you pay a non-standard price for the same diamond it’s still the same diamond and will work just as well.

          Logically the price of everything should change from one location to the next, but that’s a level of detail they don’t go into.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Because I set a long-running 3.5 campaign (level 1-22) in the Bronze Age, when diamonds were unknown, the PCs had to find a diamond mine and then set the value of a fairly small diamond at 5,000 GP (3.5 talents/208 pounds of silver) by persuading a king to pay that for it.
            I’m annoyed with 3.x and its magic item economy for making that the only time players ever did anything economically interesting. I wish they’d let me run ACKS instead.

          • bullseye says:

            If they sold it to the king, how did they then use it for the spell?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @bullseye: They acquired a bunch of diamonds at that site. They then had to sell one for 5,000 GP to create the market for diamonds before the spell would work. Rules As Written, if a diamond has no market value in gold, the spell won’t work!

      • James C says:

        Set up a plot line where it turns out that the adventures were hired to kill a rampaging beast by an insurance company trying to cover up the fact they cheeped out and cast reincarnate instead of resurrection and the newly minted [level appropriate monster] is trying to get their money back.

      • honoredb says:

        Does 5E have a stance on what percentage of people go to the [Insert Alignment Here] Good Place when they die? The assumption could be that your afterlife is preferable to your life, and if you died while doing anything other than Going On An Epic Quest it’s not worth making the sacrifice. Sure your loved ones will miss you, but they know for verifiable fact that they’ll see you again one day.

        Of course, over time this means that people who don’t share this value (and especially people who also don’t mind switching species every so often) are heavily selected for, so it’s not a stable solution to the worldbuilding problem. And a world where death is rarely seen as a tragedy still breaks a lot of stories.

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t know enough about 5E to answer that question as stated. Assumption in previous editions seemed to be that most people were some species of neutral, and the neutral afterlives are generally pretty boring. (The good afterlives are good on average, and the evil afterlives are bad on average, as you might expect.)

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          5E stepped away from answering those sorts of world-building questions for the most part. Partly that’s because 4E had built-in setting assumptions and 5E is a reaction to the backlash against 4E. Partly it’s because the system is supposed to be a return to pre-3E “Ask Your DM” philosophy instead of post-3E “Rules As Written.” And partly just because it’s easier for them not to have to think about it.

          The closest to an official answer would probably come from the >300 Forgotten Realms novels, setting books and adventures, video games, etc. FR is for all intents and purposes the “official” setting of 5E, with most of the default options (minus Dragonborn) being designed to fit into the realms lore.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I find Forgotten Realms hard to make sense of. Are edition changes part of the setting’s history/metaphysics, like DC Comics destructions and creations of the multiverse? If I’m playing the 5E Storm King’ s Thunder module, how many years after the 2E Baldur’s Gate video games am I? Is that even a coherent question?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Yes, edition changes are actual in-universe events. The laws of magic explicitly changed at least three or four times and each of those have specific dates attached.

            You can find dates for when the events in novels, video games, and organized play are supposed to have taken place, but that’s harder for published adventures because they don’t want to lock you into one time period. That said, Storm King’s Thunder was originally part of the Adventurers’ League, 5E’s organized play, so I think that if you dig into the AL materials for it they’ll probably have a year.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          And a world where death is rarely seen as a tragedy still breaks a lot of stories.

          Death gets to be two tragedies! One is the normal tragedy that comes from pain and loss to a loved one. Death still hurts, and sometimes it’s permanent no matter what you do. The other tragedy is that Raise Dead (or equivalent) is expensive, so you’ve got some really really bad class warfare fodder in knowing that someone could be brought back, but will not due to economic concerns. Imagine being the high level good priest talking to a grieving person, and saying – “Sorry, you can’t afford the spell, so I’m not going to bring back your loved one.” They can’t even save up for the spell, because it’s a limited offer, contingent on the corpse being whole enough.

          Of course, over time this means that people who don’t share this value (and especially people who also don’t mind switching species every so often) are heavily selected for, so it’s not a stable solution to the worldbuilding problem.

          Maybe it actually is a solution. It would help explain why your party can find a constant stream of bad guys at the appropriate level as you grow, when there really shouldn’t be that many 10+ level people anywhere. It’s the self-selected group that’s willing to sacrifice for extended life and has no hope of a good afterlife.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Ref, the most recent OOTS, where a main character was resurrected, the cleric who raised him promptly killed him again with a flame strike, and then told everyone else in the party to chill out, because they have another diamond, and will just raise him again.

        • bullseye says:

          That struck me as terribly wasteful, even for a wealthy person. She could have spent that diamond to resurrect someone else.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I have to wonder if you’ve ever been hurt like she was. To me, her reaction was understated, on the level of slapping him.

          • Protagoras says:

            Also, she’s a cleric of Loki. Wastefully flamestriking people is a holy duty for her.

          • bullseye says:

            I’m not saying it didn’t make sense for the character. People are wasteful sometimes, and she was clearly acting on impulse rather than thinking it through.

            That “slap” means that somebody else who could have been brought back won’t be.

        • Plumber says:

          @Mark Atwood

          “….the most recent OOTS…:

          You read The Order of the Stick as well?

          I’m a fan and I also read it’s Forum. 

          From that Forum I found a post on D&D Alignment, a history very impressive (a definite “effort post”!).

          From the same person a later post shows what seems to me to be very good taste.

          Clearly someone who is very correct, good looking and has STUNNING HUMILITY!!!

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Ohh, I have a campaign setting for you:

        Raise dead (Evil Exclusive Or Justice) : At the cost of the life and soul of a sapient being, one person may be brought back from the dead. This is an Evil spell, unless used to bring back a murder victim using the duly convicted murderer.

        Reincarnate: (Nature) At the cost of the life and soul of a rabbit, one person or animal may be reincarnated in an appropriate form, which grows in a very large ceramic jug filled with a special stew over the course of two weeks (this stew is not super
        expensive. But it is 200 liters of stew, so.. not free, either). Warning: The vast majority of people find this extremely disconcerting, and will usually suicide from extreme bodily dysmorphia, so this mostly is used in place of speak-with-dead to let people put their affairs in order.
        And to find new Adventurers.

        Adventurer: Adjective: A person with an extremely fluid soul. A small minority are born with souls that are highly malleable. Despite much effort, no reliable method is known to identify an adventurer prior to First Death. The hall-mark of adventurers are their extreme tolerance to the process of Reincarnation – during times of extreme conflict, or even in cases like to Orc Trials (A particularly hard-line training regimen), Adventurers have been known to go through over a dozen bodies in a year with no sign of soul-sickness. Adventurers are much sought after for all kinds of extremely hazardous work for this reason. In particular, all known civilized nations employ them to hunt down Ressurectionist Cults.

        Ressurectionist Cult: What it says on the tin. Basically an evil insurance company that will murder some random citizen to bring you back to life if you die. Banned by all non-evil societies, the actual government of Evil ones.

      • Jiro says:

        Raise Dead has a 500 gp material component. If you use it on every dead peasant your village will go bankrupt.

        It also can’t restore missing body parts, and can’t bring back someone who died of old age, and I’d expect the latter to be a much more common cause of death in a peasant village than among adventurers.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I’m getting a little peeved at my D&D group, though trying to control my reaction. We have (now) 4 players, and 3 of us (including me) are in our first campaign. However, 2 of our members seem to forget how to attack on every single round, constantly forgetting to add in their proficiency and dexterity bonuses (both play rogues). I didn’t mind so much at first, but it’s now our 6th session, and we obviously have a combat encounter or more in every single session.

      They also make no effort to role-play and are constantly worried about traps. Hold on, the one character wanted to “role-play” which became a 1.5 hour information dump between her and the DM, and that’s the extent of the role playing. Now as for the traps, this typically involves performing different perception and investigation and whatever checks for basically every square foot of the room and then having a 3-5 minute conversation about each check.

      To the DM’s credit, he is pushing us along a bit, since he’s not running I Wanna Be The Guy: D&D Version, and he has also stopped going along with the 1.5 hour info dumps, but damn is this frustrating.

      On the plus side, we lost our most frustrating player, a player who has played the same silly Bard in every one-shot since she’s started, who still hasn’t learned that she has Bardic Inspiration to hand out, and who wants her D&D to primarly be about having hijinks like dance-offs, stealing from the party, stripping and robbing random townsfolk, and trying to use charima on party members to have them do stuff they don’t want to do.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        stealing from the party […] and trying to use charima on party members to have them do stuff they don’t want to do.

        See, this is where the DM needs to come down hard and fast. Preferably during character creation. You either have a hard ban on intra-party conflict, including robbery, or make it very double extra super explicit to everyone that stabbing your buddy is on the table this campaign. With all the maluses that brings. The “search for traps every 5ft” effect but with checking your pockets every 30 seconds and everyone laboriously reviewing their equipment every morning. Such fun!!

        IMO players should never never never be bound by “save or mind-control” CHAnanigans. That’s just dickery. But if everyone signs on for the Rumble At The Hickery Dickery Docks module, more power to yas. You’re playing Paranoia with the wrong ruleset but whatever.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah, I have the feeling that she left in part because the DM was not giving her a lot of opportunity to do this kind of thing. The most outrageous thing she managed to pull off was stealing some sort of extremely rare holy book, finding it was written in a language she couldn’t speak, and then asking the person she stole it from to read it for her.

          My immediate suggestion was that this was ridiculous but the DM actually played it easy: the person she stole the book from was so absent-minded that the victim didn’t even realize the book was gone.

          She made several complaints about not being able to do the stuff she wanted, would cancel at the last minute, and missed multiple sessions. Notttttt sad she’s gone.

      • Nick says:

        On the plus side, we lost our most frustrating player, a player who has played the same silly Bard in every one-shot since she’s started, who still hasn’t learned that she has Bardic Inspiration to hand out, and who wants her D&D to primarly be about having hijinks like dance-offs, stealing from the party, stripping and robbing random townsfolk, and trying to use charima on party members to have them do stuff they don’t want to do.

        Hahaha. We have a problem player too in our Western campaign, someone whom I may have complained about here before. He also plays a silly character in everything, no matter how serious the tone, and causing random mayhem for townfolk and party alike, but man it’s so much more than that. He’s such a confused person—I don’t know how else to put it—he latches onto weird ideas from the ether and then confabulates these backward rationalizations for them. For example, last session he somehow arrived at the idea that, since we found some nice weapons in an abandoned dwarven city a few months back, he must have been chosen by the dwarven gods to receive this weapon, and is thus on a holy mission from them, and is thus justified in condescending to and mistreating any dwarves he meets along the way. On our way to meet the dwarven mafia, for a simple exchange of information. This promptly threw our negotiations entirely off the rails, and now the don wants these weapons and their location, when we desperately need them to fight a coming alien invasion. This is what every session with him is like.

    • dndnrsn says:

      5th seems to have made it quite hard to just straight up die from going to 0 HP, and I understand that 4th ed made it hard to die. Some games let you spend some resource in order to have your character not die – the blow just knocked him out, she lives by some fluke, etc. Personally, I think that in games where it’s a problem if PCs die a lot, it’s good to have a rules system that makes it hard to die. If “PC dies” is less common with the dice kept as rolled, then fudging to keep PCs alive is less likely to be required. A lower level of overall fudging is generally desirable. “PCs dying can mess the game up” is probably more common than not, and it could be that it is always the case except where the game is designed to have lots of potential PC death, so in general the proliferation of these mechanics is good.

    • Protagoras says:

      One thing I remember from Greek mythology is that Eris is epically good at her job. The PCs should have known better than to make an enemy of her.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        One of the player’s was playing Atalanta, who apparently didn’t know better than to make an enemy of her. The other PCs are just being punished for being her friends.
        Did I mention that Atalanta’s player left,the campaign in a huff? *eyeroll*

  30. Aftagley says:

    Without just getting into political invectives, can anyone in/familiar with british politics explain something that’s been confusing me for a while – basically, why does it seem like Corbyn in particular and labor in general (and I suppose the lib dems) have just been a total non-issue in all the recent debates? Is this just a factor of me being an ignorant American, or has the minority party really been as feckless as it seems? Approximately 90% of what media I’ve at least consumed has acted as if the Tories are the only game in town, and the rest is vague on what, if anything, the left is trying to do.

    I think this can be done in a culture war free way but I might be toeing the line. Let me know if so, and I’ll abandon this until the next fully open thread.

    • Erusian says:

      My impression, admittedly limited, is that Labour largely backed Remain. However, they (like the Tories) committed to going with the referendum results. Leave won the referendum. So Labour officially wants to Leave when most of its membership and politicians really want to Remain (or at least backed Remain previously). However, simply turning into Remainers would mean ignoring a democratic referendum, which would lead to them getting absolutely hammered. Meanwhile, they officially oppose the current Brexit deal but there’s not a lot of coherent reasoning behind why. Their main priority appears to be getting an election called and hoping they can win more seats again, maybe even a majority. But the Tories won’t give that to them because the last snap election went badly for the Tories.

      Labour’s big effect on current politics is that they’re really the only party that can hammer the Tories. For example, they dealt a huge blow to the Tories by gaining seats in the previous snap elections. But they’re not anywhere near strong enough to actually form a new government. And while the Tories are in a coalition, it’s a coalition with a far right party. They are, if anything, more pro-Brexit than the Tories. So the only way Labour could get a majority is by uniting every other party against the Tories, including the parties to the right of the Tories. That is, needless to say, probably impossible. That’s why they’re so focused on getting elections.

      If you’re referring to the recent vote of no confidence, Labour wasn’t involved because a vote of no confidence only includes the party members.

      TL;DR: Labour is in the minority and Tories plus an ever farther right party have the majority. Meanwhile, Labour is twisting itself into knots over its promise to respect a referendum with an outcome they dislike.

      • Lillian says:

        Being pro-Europe but stuck having publicly committed to abiding the result of the referendum that went the wrong way is basically the state of the entire British political establishment.

        The Tories themselves backed Remain. While there is a wing of the party that is anti-Europe, that is not the wing of the party was in charge leading up to the referendum. Hell they’re not even in charge now. As far as i can tell, Theresa May is Prime Minister not because she leads the pro-Brexit Tories, but because she is very good at internal party politics and keeps her backstabbing knives real sharp. Personally she is probably a Remainer. Thus the British government right now is a farce of pro-Europe politicians trying to implement an anti-Europe plan they don’t believe in because they like being in power more than they dislike Britain leaving the European Union.

        And this is why smart politicians don’t hold referendums about anything.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          At the very least, require the referendum to pass by supermajority. Then you can be sure you have a mandate.

        • dragnubbit says:

          This is basically it. Labour is complicated further in that Corbyn would be in favor of hard Brexit unlike most of his party so he is content to let the Tories stumble towards it.

          • fion says:

            Corbyn would be in favor of hard Brexit

            Strong disagree on this. I think that’s mostly a lie told by people who dislike Corbyn for other reasons and want to slander him.

          • Bamboozle says:

            @fion all he is has to do is come out and say otherwise but he won’t for fear or actually having a stated position

    • dodrian says:

      This would be a more interesting question to pose in a hidden open thread, but a little bit of context to Corbyn’s leadership might help.

      Labour party rules require a potential leader to be nominated by a certain percentage of MPs. Three centrist (“new Labour”) MPs were nominated, and Corbyn was floated as a more traditional candidate. As I remember it, it was a “it’s his turn to be the traditional candidate” sort of thing, and also a number of MPs were convinced to sign his nominating papers just for the sake of injecting a bit of variety into the leadership contest (though I may be misremembering, or have read that from a biased source).

      After the candidates are nominated, it’s put to a vote by all members of the party. It just so happens that the previous leadership made it much easier (mainly cheaper, I think) for new members to join. Corbyn caught a wave of popular support from Labour’s traditional base. He ended up leader, despite probably never seriously expecting to win when he was nominated.

      Corbyn has attempted to steer Labour more towards its roots, which has limited the number of MPs whose support he can rely on, as the more centrist MPs are not entirely happy with this direction. Corbyn actually lost a leadership challenge of the kind that May recently faced, however Labour rules didn’t require him to step down as the Conservative party would have required of May. Add this to the leave/remain divide and you end up with a very fractured party that has struggled to oppose the Conservative party effectively.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        Not 100% accurate. Corbyn *won* the leadership election with the membership, he lost the vote of no confidence by MPs which triggered it. Labour requires only a few MPs to secure a slot in the election which then goes to the membership. Tories have jungle primary among MPs followed by a top two membership vote. Also in Labour the leader can stand automatically while in the Tories they are disqualified automatically.

        • fion says:

          Yeah, the key thing is that after Corbyn lost the PLP confidence vote he was automatically on the ensuing ballot that was sent to the party membership. Despite losing the confidence of the PLP he remained very popular with the membership so he won this second leadership election with flying colours.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      What would you expect Corbyn to do? If you don’t have a majority in most democracies you are powerless. SNP and Lib Dems are even less relevant. Its all a question of whether the Tories will keep supporting May or not.

    • fion says:

      I don’t want to violate the CW-free rule, but I think there is an argument to be made that the vast majority of people who work in the media dislike what Corbyn stands for and try to portray him in a poor light. I’d be happy to elaborate if this was discussed in a hidden thread in the near future.

      But the point somebody else made about how the opposition is always pretty irrelevant in UK politics is also valid.

      • fion says:

        Hmm… There are like four things in there that I disagree with, but I think I’ll sit here and simmer and wait for the hidden threads to tell you how Wrong And Therefore Evil you are. 😛

  31. Paul Brinkley says:

    Pursuant to the post above about history and its value:

    What would be the SSC version of, let’s say, primary / elementary school history? Or everything a kid ought to know about history before puberty. Requirements:

    – basic sketch of the sweep of conventional history (ca. 4000 BC to present)
    – touches on all of the major events, countries, and people they’ll probably need to be aware of for cultural reasons (WWII, the Ancient Roman Empire, Herodotus, Africa, etc. – given that we live all over the world, we can expect to hit a lot of nifty stuff, including things I wouldn’t know unless I take history somewhere outside the US)
    – categorizes periods and events in a way that minimizes confusion (e.g. state vs. nation vs. government; village vs. town vs. city; battle vs. war vs. cold war vs. long term economic conflict)
    – preps them for more refinement on the events they learn
    – preps them for the problem of resolving conflicting historical accounts
    – any requirements you think vital that I missed above


    • cassander says:

      You could probably do a lot worse than the cartoon history of the universe. Tack on a few great books for extra credit.

    • bullseye says:

      A lot of this should vary by culture; the Roman Empire, for example, is a lot more relevant for Westerners than other cultures. Also kids should learn their national history.

      I’d start with human origins and the stone age.

      Then, for Western or Middle Eastern students, I’d continue with the origins of agriculture, kingship, etc. in the Middle East.

      Then, for Western students, Greece, with an emphasis on democracy. Then Rome; the transition from Republic to Empire, Jesus and Christianity, and the fall of the western Roman Empire.

      Then the Middle Ages, with an emphasis on the students’ country if they’re in Europe, otherwise the country that matches their language. Then the Renaissance and the age of exploration.

      Then the colonial era, with an emphasis on the students’ country if they had or were a colony. Also the origins of British democracy if that’s relevant to the students’ national history.

      Then further national history, and further world history with an emphasis on things that were important to the students’ country.

      I think “long term economic conflict” might be a bit abstract for children before puberty.

      • Instead of trying to cover everything superficially, which is what covering everything implies, might it be better to spend a lot of time on one or two or three historical societies? The students won’t end up with a grand pattern of history but I’m not sure we have one to give them. They might end up understanding that other societies were different and some of the ways in which they were.

        • carvenvisage says:

          The students won’t end up with a grand pattern of history but I’m not sure we have one to give them.

          The disorder of history itself seems only fair to inform the younglings of. Wouldn’t be it be terrible if you thought it was all David eddings until belatedly disabused? better to be warned early and later pleasantly surprised if you ask me.

          They might end up understanding that other societies were different and some of the ways in which they were.

          One or two might suffice for that, and if the goal is to show possibilities of different worlds and lives, a survey of the welders inst the nursery schools might produce a more vivid sense of how different things can be than something so forgotten and far away. -modern economic subcultures might be less different, but they are far more accessible than the ancient past. But if the idea is to produce a sweeping overview of history, then I think a sweeping overview, however shallow, has no substitute.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Part of my concern is making sure whatever we teach is something the kids will remember for years, or at least will make future history lessons that much easier even if they forget the detail.

          Everyone seems to learn well from stories, so that’s the obvious starting point. The next point seems to be stories about something they could tie into history they learn later. So several stories about one society makes sense. One trap I want to avoid is kids insisting that the first version they hear is the only correct one. Another trap is kids thinking none of the stories are true if they conflict, or that they can pick which one they want to be true. I want them to get used to the idea that there are tall tales, slight embellishments, factual accounts, and ways to tell between them, and cases where it’s hard to tell.

    • Brett says:

      For American kids, I think it would be better to focus more narrowly on American history, with some Canadian and Mexican history maybe mixed in as well. You can get more thorough with it, at least to the extent that that’s possible with elementary students. Once they get into secondary school, they can then do more specialized history classes that they find interesting.

    • jgr314 says:

      I am a big fan of the John Green series: crash course world history. The perspective I like is not fact memorization or historical “truth,” but the presentation of different methods for historical analysis/competing theories of history with vivid illustration to make them clear.

      Disclaimer: I’m not a historian and have no expertise to judge the claims made in the videos, but they seem plausible to me and accord with my own general knowledge.

    • aristides says:

      Personally, I plan on first showing age appropriate movies, tv shows, video games to my kids and being available to answer any of their questions. After awhile I plan on having them pick a certain location in time period and going in depth with it, as David Friedman suggested. I find the most useful thing about history is understanding humans in a large scale, so going in depth one subject they are already interested would be most effective.

      However, I don’t expect this unschooling adjacent program would generalize well to students that do not have a stay at home parent with comprehensive knowledge up through high school. If I’m affecting education policy widely, I would recommend stressing the great men view of history. I personally think that it is not the most accurate way to understand history most of the time, but it is a very engaging way of learning history. Inspire kids wtih stories that make them imagine themselves in those situations, and they might remember them better. Honestly I think that’s close to what elementary schools do already, but maybe that’s for the best.

    • Plumber says:

      I would have a “Great Men of History” course of lessons starting with Scott Joplin, and continuing all the way to Charles Berry, with strong emphasis on Robert Johnson; W. C. Hardy, John Lee Hooker, and Elias Otha Bates/Elias McDaniel/Bo Diddley.

      For extra credit only incude the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club.

  32. Hyzenthlay says:

    Basically, it seems to me that the core point of her book is that, if there was a Khmer Rouge-style revolution that completely destroyed all pre-existing institutions and values in modern America and rebuilt them to be more accommodating to introverts, society would be better.

    It would be better for introverts, sure, but better for everyone? I doubt it. Society is designed more around the needs of extroverts because there are more of them. (Though also, I guess, because they’re louder and better at making their needs known.)

    Even as an extreme introvert who’s always felt out of step with society, I find myself instinctively annoyed with the wave of books and articles which try to paint introverts as some kind of persecuted minority and call for a restructuring of society to accommodate them. But then, I tend to be cynical toward those kinds of calls-to-action in general.

    • Aapje says:

      Society is designed more around the needs of extroverts because there are more of them.

      Are there or do people present as more extroverted because society rewards it?

      Humans are pretty good at adapting to demand.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        I’m sure there are introverts who learn to pass as extroverts when necessary. Personality tests do tend to show extroverts being a majority though. How reliable personality tests are is a different question, I guess.

        • Aapje says:

          I am a bit skeptical of such tests because they often ask people to self-report their behavior, which is notorious for people giving socially desirable answers that don’t match their actual behavior.

  33. toothconspiracy says:

    I’ve been digging around recently on the topic of caries vaccines. As best I can tell, there is 1 primary cause of dental cavities: lactic acid produced by S. mutans. Vaccinating against S. mutans seems like a plausible route to dramatically decrease or even eliminate the incidence of cavities. It seems like various lines of research have been pursued, but perhaps the most exciting is replacement therapy by strains of S. mutans that can’t produce lactic acid but outcompete the native strains. It seems that precisely this organism was created by Jeffrey Hillman at the University of Florida around the year 2000, who successfully conferred lifetime immunity to rats via one topical application of a genetically engineered S. mutans strain, BCS3-L1. This leads me to wonder: why do I and everyone I know still get cavities?

    It seems that Jeffrey Hillman cofounded a company, Oragenics, to attempt to productize his discovery, and make a pretty penny in the process. Phase 1 and phase 2 trials were underway by the early 2010s, but in 2014 the phase 2 trials were shelved with vague justification about patent issues and regulatory difficulty in conducting trials. In 2016, however, Oragenics finally received a 17 year patent on their replacement technology, branded SMaRT (S. Mutans Replacement Therapy).

    So it seems like for the past two years everything has been in place: a company exists and has a beautiful 17-year patent on a medical treatment that could revolutionize an entire field and save the medical system billions of dollars a year. Why haven’t they restarted trials?

    That’s my question to you all. I am not a businessman, a lawyer, or a biologist. Perhaps somehow there is a perverse incentive structure for Oragenics. Perhaps Colgate or the Society of Self-Interested Dentists are paying them off not to do trials. Perhaps a patent isn’t enough to be confident in their IP position. Perhaps the Phase II trials showed no evidence of effectiveness, and Oragenics has just been covering it up. Perhaps Oragenics is just truly incompetent at fundraising, and has the opportunity of a lifetime but no investors to take them up on it. I’d be curious to know what you all think, and also if you know about any ways for me to get my hands on a purported caries vaccine. I do hate going to the dentist.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      I haven’t had dental caries in 20 years. But I do have to keep going to the dentist.

      As you get older, it’s not caries that gets you, its periodontitis. And the longer you let it go, the worse it will be to get it cleaned out, and the more painful it will become. Everyone gets it. Everyone. And even the strictest brush and floss regimen will not save you, you can’t get far enough under your gums with those tools, especially if you have developed any deeper pockets.

      And even if you bought the right tools, you cannot use them on yourself, and you really don’t want someone who’s not trained, practiced, and certified to use them on you. I’m talking, of course, about the dental hygienists.

      The actual dentist is there mostly because his guild demands it.

      Go to the dental hygienist. And floss. Hard.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yeah, very much all of this. Eventually you will get this if you stop going to the dentist, and it’s a pain in the butt to fix. I got this and it took something like 4 treatments to fix. It also wasn’t exactly a fake thing, I went to two different dentists that identified all the same trouble spots at basically the exact same intensity.

        Now, I haven’t gone to a dentist in a year, but that’s because I’m a bum. I do brush twice a day, and floss 4-5 times a week (because I am honestly too lazy to get to the full 7).

        If you get deep enough pockets, they will not fully heal, and you will need to come in more often than that “every 6 months” canard.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The only treatment I know for periodontitis is gum grafts. I’ve had some, and should get some more. Is that what you were talking about?

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s scaling and planing — that is, removing the plaque beneath the gumline and smoothing the tooth to discourage further buildup. I’ve had that for the lesser gum disease (gingivitis). Then there’s antibiotics, there’s a laser treatment which destroys the infected tissue, there’s a surgical treatment without grafts. Probably others.

            The four treatments were probably scaling and planing; it’s common to do four sessions doing one quadrant at a time, though when I had mine done my dentist did two sessions (upper and lower).

            Then I got a cavity a few years later. Not a cavity in my life (except in an unerupted wisdom tooth, which IMO doesn’t count), including for 20 years not seeing a dentist… I start seeing a dentist again and I get a cavity. Harumph.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Not sure how you’d make money off it. Stealing the treatment through saliva transfer is kinda gross but I can see parents doing it between their own kids at least, and I bet a lot of them would do it with other people’s kids.

      • Aapje says:

        We could try to hit two birds with one stone: saliva transplant dating.

        You french kiss on the first date to transfer saliva and perhaps something more…

    • gbdub says:

      Is it weird that, before this thread, I had literally never heard cavities / tooth decay referred to as “caries”? It sounds like a typo / fake.

      • acymetric says:

        I still hadn’t heard of them referred to as “caries” after reading this thread. I had to go back to see where it showed up. Apparently my brain just translated it to “cavities” for me while I was reading the first time.

        Agreed that it sounds weird.

      • Aapje says:

        Dentists in my country commonly use the word.

      • CatCube says:

        I had never heard it outside of a dentist’s office, but I knew it was the technical term.

  34. dick says:

    Does anyone know of any good research around (or persuasive arguments for/against) companies that stop tracking sick time? I’m not talking about the “policy some employers have of not tracking any kind of time outside the office (which there were a bunch of articles about the pros and cons of a few years ago). I’m talking about a more limited policy, where people still get 2-4 weeks per year of vacation, but staying home sick doesn’t affect that time.

    I imagine it would come down to the upside of “people don’t come to work sick and get everyone else sick” vs the downside of “people might abuse it and stay home a lot more.” I think/hope it will be a good thing on net, at least in a professional setting where people have careers and not just jobs, and I’m considering trying to get it enacted at my company. But I also don’t know much about it.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I don’t know about research, but I do know that many tech employers (especially in the Bay Area) have stopped tracking time off, altogether.

      They don’t specifically say the reasons AFAIK, but I think I know the answer(s). Attracting talent is job one for the companies. Time is actually not fungible with money. Asking someone to go from 4 weeks of vacation to two weeks (the normal “starting” vacation amount) is a hard ask. This makes it hard to attract people to switch to your company.

      So why don’t they just give all employees 4, 5, even 6 weeks? Because all the unused vacation is accrued as a liability on the company’s balance sheet, which they do not like at all. This is why most companies have caps on the amount you can carry, even though anyone losing vacation at the end of year is usually very angry about it.

      • dick says:

        Yeah, a lot of people seem to think the “don’t track time off at all” model perversely disincentivizes people from taking vacations due to the fear of being seen to be among the most frequent time-off takers. And it would be off the table for us anyway. So I’m restricting myself to just sick time, and leaving vacation alone, as a half measure that would do some good and be more likely to get implemented.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I assure you that the major reason for “unlimited PTO” is not attracting talent, but rather not having an accrued vacation liability on the balance sheet.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          That doesn’t jibe with the fact that it’s primarily tech firms that are driving this. Their are other jobs with time pressures that end up with people having large PTO balances (medicine, for instance) and they aren’t at the fore front of this.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            It allows them to tailor the amount of time off each employee gets without creating the liability on their books. If they gave everyone two weeks, those who want more would look elsewhere. If they gave them all 4+ weeks, they take on a huge liability. Letting them take the time they want then does become a selling point, at least for those who don’t want a low limit.

          • johan_larson says:

            “Unlimited time off” also sounds really generous, without costing much if nearly everyone takes a really conventional amount of time off.

            My impression is that most people aren’t all that keen on extra vacation. I can only remember one person bitching about having less than they wanted, and that was in the context of slightly different policies across countries. The Canadian subsidiary gave three weeks paid vacation while the Americans got four. Our manager said he simply was not allowed to give anyone a fourth week, as a matter of high-level policy, but he could offer an extra week of unpaid leave.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            My impression is that most people aren’t all that keen on extra vacation.

            Well, duh, not openly. This is America, you can’t say things like that and expect to be successful. Gotta be a team player and a go-getter. Spout off about wanting more time away from the loving embrace of the company and management will give you a parental disappointed look that blocks advancement or gets you sacked.

            This ethos feeds into itself and combines with the stratified economic conditions. The people who desperately need a break can’t afford it. The middle class have to keep up appearances – and a bunch honestly believe the rhetoric that vacation is for unambitious sissies. And the elite put in the work to stay in business but can go on golf trips or whatever whenever they like.

            Something something “nation of temporarily embarrassed millionaires”

    • pansnarrans says:

      I’m talking about a more limited policy, where people still get 2-4 weeks per year of vacation, but staying home sick doesn’t affect that time.

      Non-American here. Could I confirm that this means that US companies normally take sick days out of your vacation allowance?

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Depends on the system. Some companies use dedicated vacation and sick days, and might possibly tack on other days as well. I believe it’s up to state law and company policy to validate if you are truly sick.

        Some companies used a combined “PTO” system, where you can use your personal bucket of days for whatever reason you like (sick or vacation).

        • pansnarrans says:

          Thank you. I have Opinions about this but I suspect that’s straying into territory that’s against the house rules of these threads. I was completely unaware of that fact until now.

          • gbdub says:

            Honestly I kind of like the PTO system and don’t get the gripes about it… from what I’ve heard most places that do “sick days” either get wildly abused (because the sick days are use-or-lose) or require annoying hoops to jump through (I feel like crap, I don’t want to have to go to the doctor for a note just to say I have a cold and shouldn’t be at work).

            Add up however many sick days you were going to give me and add them to my PTO, and I’m happy.

            Then again this is a “high trust” workplace where the company is pretty cool about you working whenever as long as you bill enough hours and are there most of the time in core business hours.

            “Sick Days” might make more sense in low trust or more rigidly scheduled jobs (where “sick days” are the only allowed days off without substantial advanced notice). But sick days are disruptive, even if they are fake, and “use-or-lose” sick leave in a separate bucket from regular PTO practically guarantees a lot of fake sick days in the 4th quarter.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Add up however many sick days you were going to give me and add them to my PTO, and I’m happy.

            This is generally the rub. A generous company will make the PTO bucket larger than the previous vacation bucket. The version that draws howls is when they just relabel vacation as PTO and you have to draw your sick days out of it.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I’ve gone through a change from Vacation/Sick to combined PTO and heard anecdotes from others as well. Typically the combined PTO has 1-2 days less per year than the separate vacation/sick, and the transition is used a period to reduce the cap as well.

          • bean says:

            My company just announced a transition from separate sick/vacation to a PTO pool. They seem to have handled it pretty well. Everyone has the same number of days they did before (except 1st year employees, who got 2 more days, but that’s a rounding error). What they did is cap accrual at 1.5 years, where it was previously 2 years of vacation (comes out about the same in most cases) and something weird with sick leave that let people pile up a lot of days. (I think we got to keep half of any we had left over from the 10 we got each year, but don’t quote me on that.) That’s no longer possible. This annoyed people who were getting close to retirement and looking forward to a big payout from that (they do get what they already have, but nothing new), but I’m so far away, I don’t care. And we have more flexibility now, which I’m OK with.

          • AG says:

            My company has been good about allowing Sick days to include preventative medical appointments, or family medical appointments, or just “I feel like crap” days.

      • bullseye says:

        I work for the U.S. federal government, and they track vacation days and sick days as separate things. I’ve worked for private companies that do the same, and I’ve worked for private companies that count vacation and sick days as the same thing.

        No one has ever asked me for proof that I actually had a medical reason to take a sick day, though I’ve had to sign things saying so.

        • albatross11 says:

          It has been decades since anyone asked me for documentation proving I was sick. That even applied to a major surgery I had awhile back. I told my boss when it was scheduled, she said “I hope everything goes well, see you in four weeks,” and nobody ever asked for any kind of documentation or anything.

          ETA: Paid sick leave which I’d accumulated over many years.

      • Dack says:

        Non-American here. Could I confirm that this means that US companies normally take sick days out of your vacation allowance?

        The quick and dirty answer is: Every company does it differently. Nothing is guaranteed.

      • John Schilling says:

        One more data point: Aerospace Corporation places no cap on the number of (paid) sick days, but anything more than five consecutive business days sick turns into “short-term disability” with doctors and bureaucrats talking to each other about how this is going to be handled. I assume HR would have some trick up their sleeve to deal with someone who consistently gets a four-day cold every week, but that’s not really a thing that comes up here (or I expect in most other high-trust white-collar jobs).

        We’re also pretty flexible about allowing people to work from home on days when they are suffering something contagious but not debilitating, and/or watching over sick family members.

        • dick says:

          Do you also have unlimited/untracked vacation time? Or do you have a set amount of vacation (4 weeks or whatever) paired with unlimited/untracked sick days, with strings attached for lengthy or numerous absences?

          If the latter, that is exactly what I’m hoping to propose, and I would appreciate any source you can find or hear about that talks about the pros/cons of it, or any study about it, or even just your impression of whether it’s generally considered to be an unalloyed boon.

          (I should add that this is also a white-collar high-trust kind of place, and the point of doing this is that we are way more worried about an employee leaving because our benefits aren’t good enough than about an employee abusing the system to get extra pto)

        • John Schilling says:

          Three weeks vacation for new hires, four weeks after ten years, plus the usual Federal holidays. Unlimited vacation is still a fairly rare thing

          • johan_larson says:

            The company I works for has unlimited vacation. Everyone takes very conventional amounts of time off, typically three weeks or so. I suspect if I asked around I could find someone who takes four.

            Habits and ideas about what is normal change slowly.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Heh, in -theory- we have it, but it was delivered to salaried team members with the unofficial message “And if you take more than conventional amounts of time off There Will Be Questions Asked, Buddy”.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        A few more data points (one person, multiple jobs):

        -big box retail store, entry level, circa 2010-2011: one week of PTO a year but only after the first full year of employment. Can use PTO time to get paid for calling in sick but it will still be tracked for discipline per the attendance policy unless you have a doctor’s note.

        -Casino, wage (hourly pay, overtime and labor laws apply): 10 days of PTO the first year, 15 days years 2-5, 20 days years 5-10, 30 days for employees with over ten years of employment. Up to 40 hours of PTO can be banked and carried over to the next calendar year, and once you have 40 hours banked you can trade up to another 40 hours on top of that for a one time cash payment once per year. The rest is use or lose. You can use PTO time to get paid for calling in sick, but it will still be tracked for discipline per the attendance policy. 2-5 day absences with a doctor’s note will be treated like a single day. Anything over five days requires medical leave of absence paperwork to be completed with Human Resources and doctor’s notes. Due to American privacy laws, HR bans supervisors from asking any questions about an employee’s health and discourages them from allowing employees to tell them anything.

        -Casino, Salary, “Back Of House” (meaning most duties are in an office rather than on the floor with customers. fixed monthly pay, most OT/labor laws do not apply): “Flex Time Off”. No minimum or maximum amount of time off set. Instead, expectation is that it will not be abused and that all tasks will be completed in a correct and timely manner, and that senior personnel will track usage and discipline any team members abusing it or failing to manage their work load. This has translated into a rough guideline of “If you use more FTO time than an hourly employee with the same number of years of employment, you better have a good personal reason like family death, serious illness, etc.”. There is no attendance policy as such, but in most departments it is expected that unless you use FTO to cover a sick day that you will work the extra hours to make it up in that same two week pay period. It is also expected that 45-50 hours a week is the minimum salaried team members should work, and questions will be asked if you aren’t working that, even if you are getting all your work done. Same with schedule flexibility: In theory and on paper as long as you get your 45-50 hours in a week, handle all your duties, and are available whenever you’re needed for meetings/questions you can work whatever hours you like, but in practice it will be held against you if you are not in the office no later than 8-9AM.

    • ana53294 says:

      Are sick days paid?

      In Spain, the first three days of sick leave are not paid (so they discount that time from salary). After that, you get 60% (company pays for a couple of weeks, after that Social Security steps in).

      Vacation time on the other hand is paid fully. Why would they be tallied together? How does it work?

      • baconbits9 says:

        That seems backwards.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Unpaid up front discourages frequent use and fraud, while having it kick in for longer periods helps employees who have legitimate needs. Most people only want to call off for one day at a time, so making it unpaid helps reduce unnecessary times that happens.

          Short Term Disability plans typically do something similar, with a period (often 1 week) of unpaid time off before benefits start.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The sounds like the opposite of how people work to me. A short period of unpaid leave means people who abuse the system (ie claim lots of days) get far more out of it than people who only use the system when needed (ie a couple of days a year). It also pushes people to come in while sick, especially late in the year if they haven’t used any to date.

          • acymetric says:


            I think you might be slightly misunderstanding. Under this system, if I call out sick for 2 consecutive days 10 times in the year (20 days), they would all be unpaid. This is the type of behavior I assume you mean by abuse.

            If I call out for 4 consecutive days twice (8 days) I would have 6 unpaid days and 2 paid days (one day per 4 day absence).

            It does push people to come in during brief illnesses because otherwise they won’t get paid, but it does not encourage abusing the system by calling out sick all the time because the 3 unpaid days is per absence, not cumulative for the entire year.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            The sounds like the opposite of how people work to me. A short period of unpaid leave means people who abuse the system (ie claim lots of days) get far more out of it than people who only use the system when needed (ie a couple of days a year). It also pushes people to come in while sick, especially late in the year if they haven’t used any to date.

            I’m not saying that it’s a good system, as it had it’s pros and cons. It does push people to come in while sick, but for any system intended to reduce abuse, that’s going to be a fundamental feature. Deciding which policy to use will depend on company culture and such. Acymetric is also correct that the system appears to reset after every consecutive set of absences, such that there is no incentive to take off multiple additional times. That feature actually should significantly reduce the number of days that an abuser might take, since it will be weighted towards unpaid days. Someone abusing a longer leave in order to get more days paid will only be getting 60% of the wage, plus they need to deal with whatever attendance policy exists. Most companies are going to want to know why you are out and when to expect you back if you are taking more than three days in a row.

          • ana53294 says:

            Usually, the unpaid days are for cases of the flu and such, when people frequently don’t even bother to go to the doctor. The worst part of the flu usually doesn’t las more than a couple of days for a reasonably healthy person.

            For a longer stay at home, it is quite reasonable for the employer to expect that if a disease is lasting more than three days, you will go to the doctor, and while they check what is wrong with you, they also give you a slip confirming that you were indeed sick.

            For long term sick leave you need to go through a medical tribunal.

            Yes, this system does encourage people who have the flu to go to work. It is not perfect, but I am not sure what would be the better way.

          • gbdub says:

            That seems strictly worse than the “Sick leave comes out of PTO” policy, because you get “punished” (with lost pay) for getting a cold.

            With a PTO policy, you really can’t abuse it (except insofar as your spur-of-the-moment leave disrupts the office). You don’t lose money if you get short-term sick. Most people end up banking some PTO every year anyway (or spending it frivolously because they are at the cap). And, at least at our place, you’re welcome to take unpaid leave voluntarily if that’s your thing.

            If I were under the “first 3 days are unpaid” policy, and had paid vacation available, I’d be pissed I couldn’t use my vacation days to get paid for my sick day.

          • ana53294 says:

            I don’t think you can have a policy where sick days are discounted from PTO days for all jobs.

            School teachers have pre-defined days when they have to take vacations – whether they want to or not. So if they take days off, this disrupts the workflow in the school (in Spain, there is a policy of not calling substitute teachers until there has been an absence of three days).

            Shift workers in factories have very pre-defined shifts. You can’t just take a vacation without informing them in advance, because this is very disruptive. My dad was a shift worker, and he frequently just changed shifts with other workers to avoid disrupting work flow.

            People accumulating vacation days is not something that happens in those jobs. They have vacation days that are scheduled and set.

            This system benefits those who get a serious, long disease that lasts weeks. Yes, people who get the flu may loose a couple of days of income per year. But that probably isn’t that much.

          • acymetric says:


            That is definitely not true in the US. In fact, I would guess that accumulation of untaken time is more likely among shift workers in factories because they are more likely to have their vacation requests denied (thus forcing them to accumulate, essentially). This matches both my intuition and my personal experience doing shift work in a factory (which probably influences my intuition). Shift workers still get vacation time and get to choose when they take it (or not take it), their vacation days are not pre-set by the company. Your point works much better for teachers, which are definitely an unusual case with regards to time off in a lot of ways.

            Now, the “first couple sick days are unpaid” would definitely be a good incentive for shift workers not to call out if that is the policy, but you are more likely to find companies that have “sick time” and “vacation time” or a general “PTO pool” than to find the unpaid time off implementation in the states.

            That said, there are all kinds of policies you can put in place to avoid people who abuse the pooled PTO. Just because sick time and vacation time are lumped together doesn’t mean it becomes acceptable to call out once a week. Same goes even for if you have a separate “sick time” pool.

          • ana53294 says:

            I can only talk about how it works in one company (Firestone), because a lot of these things depend on collective agreements.

            Shift workers ask in advance, and they are generally given vacations in the summer, although not necessarily when they prefer (the different workers take turns to get summer vacations between July and September). The company sometimes denies your vacation during the year if there are too many workers who are on vacation and they need you.

            But vacation time cannot be accumulated, and it has to be taken. So, if you still have 4 weeks of vacation left by the end of the year, they don’t deny vacation days in December. For this reason, December is a slow time in the factory (and they close completely on Christmas and New Year’s).

            Very rarely are there vacation days not taken; in that case, payment is arranged, or days are passed to the next year (the latest you can take them is January of the next year, anyway). In any case, this is avoided as much as possible.

            So basically, if they haven’t given you the days during this year, they have to give you the extra money this year, and they can’t delay the payment indefinitely. So this extra money would compensate any unpaid sick days anyway.

            I do know office workers who accumulate vacation days from year to year and don’t get the money or the days (until they get fired, when they take all the vacation days). So yes, this system may not be the best for office workers.

            I am not saying this system is perfect; but it is not that bad.

      • Eric Rall says:

        In general, sick leave is paid for salaried employees, and it may or may not be paid for hourly employees depending on the employer’s policies. Policies vary quite a bit, since in most US jurisdictions, sick leave is only lightly regulated.

        There are three brackets of what might be considered “sick leave”. What most Americans consider sick leave is just for brief absences (something like 3-10 days per year total, with more than a couple days in a row often requiring documentation). For longer absences, there’s short-term disability/FMLA leave (a few weeks to a few months), and then there’s long-term disability (semi-permanent).

        For illnesses (either the employee’s or an immediate family member who requires the employee’s assistance) lasting longer than standard sick leave, there’s a federal law (the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA) requiring most employers to offer at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified employees (i.e. you don’t get paid but you have a job to come back to at the end). Some states also have a short-term disability program which provides some money if you’re on FMLA leave or if you’re unemployed due to illness, and some employers offer private short-term disability insurance as a fringe benefit.

        There’s a federal program from long-term disability for those who can’t work due to illness for over six months, as part of the Social Security system. And as with short-term disability, there are also private long-term disability insurance that some employers offer as a fringe benefit.

    • dragnubbit says:

      My company gives everyone the same amount of PTO, and they make it relatively huge (8 weeks). This works really well as it turns out in our industry/ecosystem. You are required to cash out all unused vacation every year.

      I know lots of companies do PTO, but mine is one of the few I know about that will give a junior person with no experience 8 weeks of ‘vacation’ and do the same for the President. And this applies to exempt and non-exempt staff – you could be an engineer or work the loading dock.

      It works fantastically, especially because any stress related to time off is always vectored into discussions of the actual problem – getting the work done on a particular project.

      The only downside is that our salaries during offer negotiations can look non-competitive if the candidate does not take into account that they will be cashing out 4-6 weeks of vacation during normal years.

      • cassander says:

        I can’t imagine what I’d do with 8 weeks off. I have trouble spending the 4 I get now, no idea what I’m going to do with the extra one I get this year.

        • ana53294 says:

          Do you like your job that much?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I can’t speak for Cassander, but I don’t think I could trust being away for 8 weeks. I took Friday off and showed up 2 hours late on Monday and the sky was practically falling.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I have the same situation as Beta. US employers typically staff tightly, meaning that there are few to no backups for individuals in unique or limited positions. Baseline production types (assembly workers, CSRs at a call center, etc.) are fairly interchangeable, so covering vacations is just a matter of spreading out their use and having enough extra people to handle it.

            Covering for technical positions, management, specialized positions and such often means doing your work ahead of time, catching up when you return, and being available for e-mail and calls while off.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Employers do seem to staff lightly, and there’s the Iron Law that the workload tends to fill the time allowed (with pressure to always exceed the typical workweek).

            For me, I just don’t trust my coworkers. For example, HBC above notes that PTO is liability. For about a solid year, our factory had it recorded as an asset. This was a colossal, multi-million dollar fuckup, and I figured it was 50-50 that our Controller would be fired over it (she was not). Also relevant to the “are you surrounded by idiots” question above.

        • dragnubbit says:

          Relatively few people use all 8 weeks. That is sort of the point and why it works so well. Since you are forced to cash it out at the end of every year, you are paying yourself whenever you take a day off, not using up some artificial pool of days.

          Those 8 weeks are it for PTO, though. Even on federal holidays you are using it up if you don’t come in, so I guess it is more like 6 weeks.

      • arlie says:

        Are they hiring? 😉

  35. dodrian says:

    Christmas is nearly upon us – what are you planning for your big holiday meal? Any traditions that you’d like to share?

    My wife and I (+baby) will likely have a Christmas lunch of prime rib. I’m still debating what sides to cook along with it, though I’m having another go today at roast potatoes to see if I can make some worthy of Christmas dinner. My dad always made excellent roast potatoes. We might invite some friends to lunch as well, as they just had twins and probably won’t want to travel or cook for themselves.

    My wife is from south Texas, so we’ll be getting in tamales for Christmas eve, as was tradition in her family.

    • Statismagician says:

      On potatoes – my girlfriend’s family dices them up and roasts them after mixing with olive oil and, of all things, pre-packaged dried onion soup mix; they’re absolutely delicious and almost literally couldn’t be simpler. I just add some fresh rosemary about halfway through the roasting process (~400F for ~45min).

      • dodrian says:

        I gave Kenji’s recipe a try, and was pleased with the results for a first time go. They were a bit dry, but I think that was my fault for not being ready with the rest of dinner when I needed to remove them from the oven. They weren’t as good as my dad’s, but I’m pretty sure his secret is goose fat, which I don’t have access to.

        I might try your suggestion when I don’t want to go through the effort of parboiling them though.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Raclette is very popular during the holiday season here in France (the modernised version that used a special tabletop electric grill). Other common holiday foods include smoked raw salmon, raw oysters, fois gras (liver paste made from a force-fed duck or goose; highly unethical, expensive, unhealthy, sounds disgusting, and is delicious), some manner of roasted poultry (depending on the number of guests: chicken, capon, or guineafowl — a whole turkey is much rarer) with various casseroles of mashed vegetables (potatoes, carrots and celery are common), and yule log (either the cake version as described in the link, or an “iced” version mostly made of ice cream).

    • If you are going to have a rib roast, you should have yorkshire pudding with it.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Ahhhh, Christmas dinner. Depends on where we go.
      Our Friends Christmas typically has lasagna, prime rib, mashed potatoes, and a veggie of some sort. This year my wife made spinach lasagna rolls, and we had no vegetarians or anyone keeping kosher, so I made a mashed potato casserole with breadcrumbs and bacon on top. Veggie was braised cabbage, which is stupid easy, and everyone loved it.
      We also have appetizers and desserts from friends, whatever they want to bring.

      My Mom makes molasses cookies and beef bourguignon. It is delicious, but we don’t always go there. If we go to my sister’s, we typically get a roast of some sort, some lemon mint red potatoes, and Caesar/Greek salad.

      My In-laws go out to Olive Garden. I am fine with this, as at Thanksgiving:
      -I am pretty sure the stuffing was undercooked, since they did not use a thermometer
      -They did not serve dark meat
      -The store-bought gravy was not fully mixed
      -The turkey was shoe leather tough
      -Every vegetable was undercooked
      -Sweet potatoes had no brown sugar
      -“I spent 12 hours on this 7 layer salad!” No, you made jello. Jello is gross. Just because you made jello 7 times does not mean you cooked. It means you made 7 poor life decisions.

      I might get pulled into cooking for their extended family Christmas, but I really need more details. If I do, I might make vegetarian lasagna and a massive, massive amount of stew (though they will likely hate my stew, which will include both thick cut bacon and enough red wine to slosh the entire house).

    • Brett says:

      Seconded on the prime rib, paired with some excellent mac-and-cheese and crescent rolls (plus various vegetable dishes, of course).

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Christmas Eve we do a feast of the seven fishes, and then Christmas Day is standing rib roast.

      Two years ago we cooked a goose. I always wanted to do the “Christmas goose” thing. It was really good. Kind of like duck. But it’s a pain in the ass to get a goose and expensive. Was nice to do once though just so I can say I’ve done it.

    • AG says:

      The tradition is to make dumplings/potstickers/gyoza/mandu, but that’s on the cards for every holiday. You can never have enough dumplings!

  36. proyas says:

    I argue that revolvers are obsolete. Who will challenge me?

    First and very importantly, let me define “obsolete” as meaning ‘No longer appropriate for the purpose it was obtained due either to the availability of better alternatives or change in user requirements.’
    (Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/obsolete.html)

    Somewhat surprisingly, there is a small yet highly vocal faction of gun owners who vehemently argue that revolvers are not obsolete weapons, and that they have important advantages over semi-auto pistols, as well as niche applications that can’t be filled as well by anything else.

    Arguments against revolver obsolescence usually hinge on a strict definition of “obsolete” that says a piece of technology only becomes obsolete if there’s an alternative technology that does EVERYTHING better or at least as well, followed up with the observation that revolvers have inherent reliability advantages over semi-auto pistols. I argue that the reliability argument has no real relevance since generic semi-auto pistols like Glocks routinely go thousands of rounds between malfunctions so long as they get regular, basic maintenance.

    The only situation where a revolver’s inherent reliability advantage would come to bear might be in a post-apocalyptic world where people went indefinitely without access to the simplest gun cleaning supplies and had to use very old/poor quality bullets. But we are not living in that world.

    A problematic for the “reliability” argument is that, using the same reasoning, Derringers are also not obsolete since they are even simpler and more reliable than revolvers, and there are imaginable situations where a revolver would malfunction thanks to the cylinder misaligning with the barrel, but where a Derringer would still fire. Also, in a post apocalyptic scenario where you had to use randomly found ammunition of unknown quality and gunpowder loadings scattered across the landscape, a revolver would be better than a semi-auto, but in that same situation, the Derringer might be better than the revolver since it would be more robust and easier to fix. If the revolver advocate is unwilling to defend the non-obsolescence of Derringers in light of facts like this, then it undermines his own argument, which I point out again hinges on a very liberal definition of “obsolete.”

    Moreover, while there are narrow circumstances under which a revolver would be better than a semi-auto pistol (can fire multiple shots from inside a pocketbook; if an opponent presses his hand against the barrel of your gun, it would unlock the slide of a semi-auto gun but not affect a revolver), it’s impossible to predict when those circumstances will manifest themselves, they are surely very rare, and it’s much more likely that the combat situation will yield favor to whoever has more firepower (biggest magazine + fastest reload), which is the biggest inherent advantage of the semi-auto pistol.

    A niche application of revolvers that proponents put forth as proof the weapon is still relevant is as a lightweight defensive tool against bears and other big game. I believe that these large revolvers, firing .41 Magnum bullets or larger, have been made obsolete by bear spray. Though bullets of these sizes can kill bears with the right shot placement, in real-world bear encounters, a person’s fear combined with the heavy recoil of a magnum revolver severely hurts accuracy and the speed of follow-up shots. Being able to spray out a continuous stream of noxious gas and create a cloud of it is better, and a can of bear spray is cheaper and weighs less than a big revolver (there have been many documented cases where people used bear spray successfully). If you want to REPEL a bear and are agnostic about killing it, bear spray is the better choice.

    And aside from indulging one’s machismo by taking unnecessary risks, there’s no sense in picking a large revolver instead of a long gun to go into the woods and hunt down bears (or any other large animal) for sport. While some people do successfully hunt bears with revolvers, they are vastly outnumbered by peers who use long guns. There are some people who like hunting bears with handguns, and there are also people who like climbing vertical cliffs without any safety ropes.

    While it’s true that revolvers have aesthetic and historical merits, and there’s nothing wrong with shooters owning them for personal pleasure or collector’s appeal, the same things are true of muskets, and thus it doesn’t change the fact that revolvers are obsolete.

    • cassander says:

      Are we counting revolver cannons? They still have a few niche uses, since they’re generally going to be lighter weight than gatling guns, and don’t need as much time to spin up.

      • proyas says:

        I didn’t even know those existed.

        No, they’re not the type of “revolvers” I was referring to.

    • psmith says:

      States with mag limits.

      • Brett says:

        I was thinking the same thing. You can impose limits on magazine sizes for semi-automatic pistols, but it’s possible to create larger clip sizes secretly. It’s a lot harder to do that with a four- or six-chamber revolver.

    • Walter says:

      Sure, I’ll take you up on this.

      I own a revolver. Here are the requirements that it must satisfy.
      -I pull a trigger, bullet comes out
      -I already own it

      Let’s examine:
      ‘No longer appropriate for the purpose it was obtained due either to the availability of better alternatives or change in user requirements.’

      I haven’t changed my requirements, and no better alternative exists, so it is not obsolete.

      Edit to make clear that I am challenging Proyas, and not his Aspect Emperor.

    • Statismagician says:

      I argue that the main points of owning a handgun (for most people) are a) recreational shooting, and b) deterrence in a personal defense situation; a revolver fulfills either perfectly well.

      • woah77 says:

        I’d like to add that no semi-automatic handgun can load .410 shotgun shells next to .45 LC, which is a point in a revolver’s favor. Sure, you don’t need it for bear, but home invaders can wear body armor too.

    • Nornagest says:

      Revolvers aren’t much more reliable than semi-autos anymore, not with known-good ammo. They’re much less picky about loadings, though, which mostly doesn’t matter but does let you do some neat stuff like firing .38 Special and .357 Magnum out of the same gun. They’re inherently more single-shot accurate than short recoil pistols, thanks to the fixed barrel; not necessarily more than blowback, but then you’re limited to fairly low-energy rounds. On the other side of the spectrum, you can build a revolver much lighter than a semi-automatic if you want to be able to fire magnum loads. And having a grip that the magazine doesn’t go through can be useful for shooters with small hands.

      On the other hand, they’re less concealable than semi-autos of comparable power, they have stiff recoil, high bore axis, and heavy trigger pulls that make them less user-friendly and worse at placing follow-up shots, they usually have lower capacity, and they’re a lot slower to reload unless you have speedloaders or moon clips and extensive training. These limitations mean that on practical grounds, I’d only seriously consider buying one new for handgun hunting or predator defense (yes, bear spray’s a better first option, but I’d like to have a backup). But some people are into the cowboy gun thing for aesthetic reasons, and that’s fine too.

      • Aapje says:

        Semi-auto pistols with fixed barrels are available.

        • Nornagest says:

          Yeah, but they generally use blowback actions, which are limited to low energies and light bullets. .380 ACP or 9×18 Makarov is about as far as you can push it in a pistol form factor, unless you’re willing to compromise with a hilariously heavy bolt (which, to be fair, Hi-Point does, but you don’t want a Hi-Point).

          Usually full-power pistols use short recoil actions, which implies a moving barrel mechanically separated from both the slide and the frame and therefore from the sighting system. There’s a few oddball exceptions like the Mauser C96 (which also uses short recoil action, but lacks a slide and so has its sights mounted directly to the barrel), but they’re rare and usually come with compromises elsewhere.

      • proyas says:

        They’re inherently more single-shot accurate than short recoil pistols, thanks to the fixed barrel;
        But how big is the accuracy difference, and is it big enough to make any practical difference? Again, it’s possible to conjure exotic scenarios, but they won’t be encountered in real life so what does it matter?

        They’re much less picky about loadings, though, which mostly doesn’t matter but does let you do some neat stuff like firing .38 Special and .357 Magnum out of the same gun.
        What is the practical benefit of this versatility?

        .38 Special +P is identical to 9mm, and 9mm is considered the optimal pistol round for defense against humans. That being the case, why would you need to also shoot .357 Magnum bullets? .357 is overpowered for humans. It might be suited for hunting some types of animals under certain conditions, but that just brings us back to a point I made in my OP: handguns are inherently poor weapons for hunting because they aren’t accurate enough.

        So yes, the same revolver can shoot .38 and .357, but so what? How does that give you any advantage over a revolver that can only fire .38?

        On the other side of the spectrum, you can build a revolver much lighter than a semi-automatic if you want to be able to fire magnum loads.
        Fair enough. I didn’t think of that.

        And having a grip that the magazine doesn’t go through can be useful for shooters with small hands.
        With VERY small hands.

        • Nornagest says:

          What is the practical benefit of this versatility?

          It means you can buy a single revolver and load it with .38 Special (which is cheap and not as hard on the wrists) for practice or ordinary home defense, then load it with .357 Magnum if you expect a possible need to defend yourself against predators or humans in light body armor, or, for example, humanely kill large animals. If you bought two guns (say, a Glock and a shotgun) you could cover both of these niches better, but if you’re only going to buy one gun it’s a reasonable choice.

          As to handgun hunting, I agree that in most circumstances a rifle or a shotgun is a better choice, but people do it, and I’m not going to tell them they can’t just because it offends your sense of aesthetics. With the right ammo and enough practice, apparently, you can make shots out to a couple hundred yards with a scoped revolver, which is about where round-nose bullets out of a .30-30 lever action (probably the most common American deer rifle) start getting inaccurate too. And for some types of hunting, like in dense brush, you just don’t need that much range in the first place.

          • proyas says:

            It means you can buy a single revolver and load it with .38 Special (which is cheap and not as hard on the wrists) for practice or ordinary home defense, then load it with .357 Magnum if you expect a possible need to defend yourself against predators or humans in light body armor,
            Why would you need to shoot someone who was wearing body armor? If such a person were assaulting you, the odds are 99% they will be a police officer, in which case you shouldn’t be shooting a gun at them.

            or, for example, humanely kill large animals.
            That requires some caveating. The .357 is barely powerful to kill a deer, meaning your shot placement must be excellent to compensate. That means your revolver will need a long barrel and ideally a sight of some sort. Those requirements in turn diminish the revolver as a home defense weapon since it’s longer and clumsier than it needs to be for shooting a human trying to break down your door. The added bulk also makes it unsuitable for concealment.

            If you bought two guns (say, a Glock and a shotgun) you could cover both of these niches better, but if you’re only going to buy one gun it’s a reasonable choice.

            I think a better choice would actually be to just buy a pump-action shotgun. It’s great for home defense against humans, can penetrate body armor better, and is a better hunting weapon. Depending on which type of ammo you use, you can hunt flocks of birds or deer. Such a shotgun wouldn’t be any more expensive or lower in magazine capacity than a .357 revolver.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Why would you need to shoot someone who was wearing body armor? If such a person were assaulting you, the odds are 99% they will be a police officer, in which case you shouldn’t be shooting a gun at them.

            If the choice is to live another day (probably literally) as an outlaw or be killed by the police right then and there, I’d choose living. Standing there and being killed because it’s the cops doing is required by law, but not by morality, IMO.

            And it turns out ordinary criminals sometimes wear body armor too.

          • Nornagest says:

            Why would you need to shoot someone who was wearing body armor? If such a person were assaulting you, the odds are 99% they will be a police officer…

            You know you can just buy body armor, right? I don’t really expect many criminals to, but I don’t really expect many criminals to be interested in a gunfight, either.

            That requires some caveating. The .357 is barely powerful to kill a deer…

            When I said “humanely kill large animals”, I was thinking less “deer at 50 yards” and more “hog at 3 feet, which you are going to cook for Christmas dinner”. A friend of mine has a funny story about a large hog and an underpowered gun.

          • Aapje says:

            There have been home invasions in my country with the criminals disguising themselves as the police, where they also wore bullet proof vests.

            However, I would advise against shooting at people who look like cops.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d go with obsolescent, but the combination of niche advantages plus a broad range of applications where their disadvantages are minor will keep them in the running for some time to come. Others have done a fair job of addressing some of the niches, but I will add one that I haven’t seen but does still matter: Revolvers are easier for the mechanically disinclined to develop justifiable confidence in. For example, people really still do the thing where they accidentally shoot someone with a semiautomatic pistol because they removed the magazine and could not understand that the weapon might still be loaded. These people are not irredeemable idiots who are never to be trusted with the means to defend themselves; they can do just fine with a revolver whose mechanics are obvious and visible.

      They also aren’t in the bubble of most people who post to SSC, but they do exist.

      • proyas says:

        I’m skeptical of your claim that people with that poor knowledge of guns should own them. It seems like you’ve raised a self-negating point, if it could be called that.

        • John Schilling says:

          I did not say that people with a poor knowledge of guns should own revolvers. I said that people with poor mechanical aptitude might benefit from doing so. These are two different things, and knowledge is not the right tool for this job.

          Also, what alternative do you propose? If the answer is that nobody should be allowed to have a gun unless they can master the semiautomatic pistol, I see that as the same sort of elitist snobbery that would say nobody should be allowed to drive a car unless they can use a manual transmission, and just no.

    • sfoil says:

      If “obsolete” means “there’s no reason you should ever buy a revolver instead of a semiautomatic pistol” then I disagree. Revolvers have several advantages.

      The first and probably least important is that they can fire more powerful rounds. While it’s possible to build an autoloading pistol that will fire “magnum” rounds, or even a “pistol” that that fires rifle rounds, these involve considerable tradeoffs in size and reliability. Also, I simply disagree that bear spray is always better than a firearm, mostly because a fistful of pistol rounds will repel more wildlife than a can of bear spray. And a large revolver is still lighter and smaller than a small rifle.

      Revolvers also tolerate much more variance in ammunition than semiautomatic pistols. This usually isn’t that important, but does mean that you can use one firearm for several different purposes more easily.

      The most important factor I think is that revolvers require less knowledge to operate. If a semiautomatic handgun malfunctions, fixing this requires both hands and quite frequently at least a bit of informed reasoning about the workings of the weapon. If you pull the trigger on a revolver and it doesn’t go off, then you pull the trigger again. If it still doesn’t go off, reload. That’s it. The manual of arms for semiauto pistols is not brain surgery but for an owner who can’t or won’t get intimately familiar with his weapon a revolver is by far the superior choice.

      Hammerless revolvers are also in my opinion a better choice for extremely confined spaces where the slide on a semiautomatic pistol might not have room to operate (such as, you might need to fire from your coat pocket).

      These are admittedly niche applications, aside from their use by people with minimum knowledge of firearms, which I think is fairly important. However, they’re enough to justify the continued existence of revolvers outside of a purely recreational context. If .45-70 has survived this long on the basis of reloadability (and cowboy fans) then they’re not going anywhere.

      • Nornagest says:

        If a semiautomatic handgun malfunctions, fixing this requires both hands and quite frequently at least a bit of informed reasoning about the workings of the weapon.

        “Tap, rack, bang” isn’t complicated and doesn’t take much knowledge of the weapon. Does take two hands, though.

        You can’t fix a double feed that way, but I’ve never actually seen one in the wild. Squib loads might be a bigger caveat, but again they’re not something that occasional shooters are likely to run into, and frequent shooters should be trained in what to do with “BANG BANG pew” (which is, immediately remove the magazine, field-strip the weapon and take it to a gunsmith).

        • sfoil says:

          It’s still harder than “just pull the trigger again”. Not just physically harder, but easier to screw up by e.g. not pulling the slide back all the way or riding it forward. It requires more drilling, with ammo or snap caps, to get correct.

          If someone decides they need a gun but can’t or won’t do more than “here’s how it works and a box of ammo, maybe fire ten rounds at a target” then a revolver is the way to go. I don’t endorse this attitude at all, but I’ve certainly encountered it and if that’s how it is then revolver > semiauto.

        • John Schilling says:

          “Tap, rack, bang” isn’t complicated and doesn’t take much knowledge of the weapon.

          Tap-rack-bang fixes a smaller fraction of semiautomatic pistol failures than does a second trigger pull on a double-action revolver. And it requires a mental gearshift under extreme stress, which if you haven’t specifically trained for it is another distinct failure mode. Pulling the trigger again, is what you were planning to do anyway if the first shot didn’t work.

    • Thegnskald says:

      What’s the word for a more complicated thing that is harder to use and achieves the same results?

      Because my single-word response is: Clips.

      I despise loading clips.

      More, in response to the notion that more firepower is better – if I -need- more than six bullets, my failure began long before I reached the point where I ran out of bullets. The pain-in-the-ass factor that clips are to me far exceeds the potential value of being able to shoot four extra rounds. I’m not a mall ninja, if I’m shaking too bad to hit the first three targets in the first six shots, odds are I’m not going to be able to get the clip in without dropping it anyways.

      • Conrad Honcho says:


      • gbdub says:

        The upside of mags is that all that tedious loading happens before you need the bullets rather than in the middle of a firefight.

        For range days, I usually just load 10 rounds into 15 round mags. It’s just those last two or three that are always a pain if your mag has tight springs. They do make loading aids that can help but it’s mostly a rhythm / familiarity thing to get efficient at it.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I don’t need more than six bullets. And if I do, I really want a quieter weapon, or a much, much louder one. Reloading is something people do in movies. If I would need to reload, I’d rather be using that time getting closer and biting someone’s face. (Would you keep fighting somebody biting faces? I think not.)

          • Randy M says:

            Would you keep fighting somebody biting faces?

            Well I certainly wouldn’t just stand there and let you.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I argue that the reliability argument has no real relevance since generic semi-auto pistols like Glocks routinely go thousands of rounds between malfunctions so long as they get regular, basic maintenance.

      The only situation where a revolver’s inherent reliability advantage would come to bear might be in a post-apocalyptic world where people went indefinitely without access to the simplest gun cleaning supplies and had to use very old/poor quality bullets. But we are not living in that world.

      You are assuming an infinite, or at least adequate, amount of spoons/executive function/mental energy here. As someone who struggles with the basic maintenance necessary for daily life, I have often thought that if I ever get around to buying a gun I will end up getting a revolver for concealed carry and a revolver shotgun for a long gun, precisely because the last thing I want is another fucking chore in my life.

      • gbdub says:

        Honestly the amount of time/effort/manual dexterity to give a Glock or other modern polymer framed semi-auto a perfectly adequate cleaning / lubrication is basically the same as required for a revolver or pump gun (actually the pump gun is probably harder). My Springfield XD takes all of 5 minutes to clean after a range session. Plus gun solvent has an alluring aroma.

        • John Schilling says:

          With modern firearms firing modern ammunition, you don’t need to clean and lubricate after every range session and it isn’t actually recommended to do so except insofar as “every range session” is a useful schelling point for people who aren’t going to keep a log or whatnot. For a Glock with the use model,”500 rounds in the first month learning to shoot, then it stays in a locked drawer except for 50 rounds of target practice one per year”, it isn’t terribly unreasonable to have the cleaning schedule of a: once after that initial learning period and b: once when your grandson inherits it.

          If you’ re going to carry regularly, you do have to consider the carry environment as much as you do the shooting schedule.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Or, if you have a revolver, your cleaning schedule is “Hey, the cases are sticking and are hard to get out after firing and hot, it is time to clean.”

            Which is to say, your gun tells you. And annoys you until you do it.

          • gbdub says:

            @John – sure, my intent was just to show that even the most rigorous maintenance schedule a gun owner who likes their guns put away clean would follow is hardly a burden at all.

            @Thengnskald – sure, but a Glock can do basically the same. You could put at least thousands of rounds through it before any chance of failure due to lack of cleaning.

      • proyas says:

        You are assuming an infinite, or at least adequate, amount of spoons/executive function/mental energy here.
        There are hundreds of thousands of not-terribly-bright people in modern armies who learn how to use semi-auto handguns and carry them around safely for years. I’m sorry to say this, but if you can’t grasp the mechanics of how such a weapon works (I’m not talking about the fine motions inside, like springs (de)compressing and sears engaging), then you probably shouldn’t own any guns at all.

        a revolver shotgun
        I’ve never heard of such a weapon. Wouldn’t a double-barrel or single-barrel shotgun be even simpler and cheaper?

        • John Schilling says:

          Ah, so it is elitist snobbery. Again, no. Also, go talk to some combat veterans about their experiences with semiautomatic pistols. Armies achieve reasonable handgun safety records in peacetime through the precaution of basically never allowing anyone to chamber a live round except on a target range under expert supervision. Sometimes with an exception for MPs and the like, but there aren’t hundreds of thousands of those. In wartime, ADs are disturbingly common and pistols are one of the biggest culprits in spite of their limited role in military operations.

    • fion says:

      They’re better for playing Russian Roulette with.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Playing devil’s advocate, I’ve heard people reference statistics where a small % of soldiers make the majority of kills in combat, and this would imply that mindset is the most important thing, which in turn might imply that mere coolness (insofar as it might shore up a person’s mindset) could be more important in some cases than technical efficiency.

      • bean says:

        In terms of ground combat, the majority of kills are made by artillery, and I don’t know how you’d measure which infantryman is responsible for who in a meaningful way. You might be thinking of SLA Marshall’s studies, most famously Men Against Fire. The main debate about his work these days is how much is semi-honest mistakes and how much is outright academic fraud.

        That said, it’s definitely true for fighter pilots (or was during WWI/II), and I’d be kind of surprised if it wasn’t at least somewhat true for ground combat, too.

    • Plumber says:

      I took my wife to the shooting range to try out and practice pistols.

      She finds her 38 revolver easier.

      Too long experience with plumbing fixtures and heating systems has taught me to trust proven over new (and as we used to tell each other at the motorcycle shop “Never buy the first model year, especially Kawasaki’s”).

      Plus dirty conditions away from cleaning supplies is much of the world, not “rare”.

      We’re keeping the revolver.

    • proyas says:

      Sorry guys, but after reading all the responses (thanks), I’m still convinced revolvers are obsolete. The only niche where they might be the optimal weapon is for someone with very small hands who wants a concealed carry gun that they plan on firing from inside a purse or large coat pocket, and who maybe also needs a very simple weapon because they’re intimidated by the “complicated” mechanics of a semi-auto. Overwhelmingly, I think the people in this niche would be females worried about their personal safety. No need for magnum bullets, either.

  37. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Have not read, but there is a trade-off between extroversion and introversion, because the set of tasks people perform require both at some time. I spend a lot of time staring at spreadsheets, which would drive most people up a wall, but definitely anyone who is extroverted. Ditto tasks like balancing your checkbook or anything else that’s solitary (like any daily chore).

    Also, don’t confuse “everyone’s work is of equal value” with “everyone is OF value.” Just because you don’t get to be Patton doesn’t mean your life is a waste. Introverts can succeed, which is demonstrated by, if nothing else, the fact that we don’t have 100 million poor homeless people, which seems to be the bare minimum of Americans who are introverted.

    • Aapje says:

      Also, don’t confuse “everyone’s work is of equal value” with “everyone is OF value.”

      Indeed and I think we lost sight of that today. Rather ironically, the disqualifying factors to be considered a huge success decreased, but we then increased the standards.

      Perhaps we traded many local competitions for one big one, where nowadays it is easier to be a huge success, but also far easier to end up feeling completely downtrodden. In the past, a black man might not have a chance at president or CEO, but he knew it wasn’t personal, so if he took good care of his family, he achieved a local maximum.

      Nowadays, he can theoretically become president, but the downside of this greater opportunity is that the achievement of being a good provider now gets way less respect, so he is only better off if he is above average. If he is an average guy, he lost status.

  38. L. says:

    Maybe this isn’t the proper place to ask, but does know anyone how does income compare to pair bonding in terms of long term welfare?
    That is, how much income would one have to lose due to pair bonding before the pair bond would no longer be of benefit to long term welfare?

    • Randy M says:

      What metric are you using to measure welfare? Life expectancy? Reported happiness?

      • L. says:

        Reported happiness.

        • Dack says:

          Happiness doesn’t really scale with income. It’s more like a threshold. If you are penniless, you are pretty much guaranteed to be extremely unhappy. Anything above subsistence level is going to be a mixed bag.

          • Plumber says:


            “Happiness doesn’t really scale with income. It’s more like a threshold. If you are penniless, you are pretty much guaranteed to be extremely unhappy. Anything above subsistence level is going to be a mixed bag”

            In the U.S.A. the income satiation point for happiness is higher than subsistence and well above median personal income.

          • L. says:

            As far as I know, income is strongly connected to happiness, especially within countries, it’s just that there is an upper limit.

          • Dack says:

            @ Plumber

            Three points:

            L. didn’t ask specifically about the US.

            The research very much does not agree with itself.

            We’re not even looking for a satiation point. We’re looking for a break-even point between income and pair bonding and pair bonding has a much bigger effect on happiness.

  39. Aron Wall says:

    Is there an analgoue of the Kohlberg stages of moral development, but for the scientific method? (Epistemology is analogous to ethics in that they are both normative, i.e. they have “shoulds” and “should nots”.)

    Stage 1 (relational): “The world is round because my teacher said so”
    Stage 2 (objective): “I can feel myself that mixing hot and cold water makes lukewarm water”

    Stage 3 (relational): “These scientists who write books about evolution and quantum mechanics seem a lot more sensible then those other guys who believe in homeopathy or astrology, so I should trust what they say” [NB: The reverse judgement that the astrologers are more trustworthy would still be Stage 3, just done badly]
    Stage 4 (objective): “I can find out what’s true by following these rules of the `scientific method’ that I’ve been taught. Let’s see, I need to start by coming up with a hypothesis…”

    Stage 5 (relational): “There are actually lots of different potentially valid ways to do science, but some of them work better than others. We need to figure out how to structure our procedures so as to optimize results.”
    Stage 6 (objective): Identification of universal principles of epistemology, e.g. Bayesianism. [But, “Go Team Bayes, they’re the smartest!” is still Stage 3]

    Note that because these stages are acquired sequentially, anybody at a later stage should still have the ability to operate at earlier stages as appropriate. (If the theory is correct then it should not be possible to “skip” to a higher stage without first acquiring at least proficiency at each lower stage.)

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Identification of universal principles of epistemology

      This is probably not what you meant; stage 6 would really involve the development of synthesis tools, not epistemic tools; the scientific method largely limits itself to making synthetic a posteriori inductive claims, which a whole lot of epistemic reasoning goes into justifying in the first place.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Can you unpack your critique a bit more? I agree that the “scientific method” is a narrower topic than epistemology in general, e.g. there are other technical methodologies for discovering truths e.g. the historical method, the philosophical method etc, which are not best characterized as parts of the “scientific method”.

        On the other hand I would expect stage 5 and 6 thinkers to be aware of the fact that science has fuzzy boundaries and cannot be completely decoupled from the question of what makes for good reasoning in general. Would you be happier if I had written “more universal principles”? To me, even the attempt to try to find more general unifying principles puts you at Stage 6, and if your proposed unifying principles are kind of bogus (e.g. Popper’s falsificationism) that just makes you a worse Stage 6 thinker.

        BTW in my own high energy theory work, most of what I do is technically a priori, i.e. here are theorems (not necessarily rigorously proven) about implications of QFT and GR. These theorems would be valid in a mathematical sense even if QFT and GR didn’t describe Nature, but of course they are more interesting given that they do…

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I would say that you should have an intermediate stage. I think 5 should be,

          “I should learn which techniques are most robust for analysis and produce the fewest erroneous conclusions”

          Followed by a 6 which is,

          “I should think critically about the predictive power and fundamental truth value of my findings”

          This leads to 7,

          “People who reason in certain ways and have certain attitudes towards fundamental truth believe more things that are empirically borne out, so those attitudes are fundamentally correct, and a proposition can only be fundamentally true insofar as it can be reasoned about in this way.”

          And 8,

          “There are qualitative differences between propositions; different propositions require different methods of reasoning about in other to determine their relationship to fundamental truth, and these methods are implied within each proposition.”

          • Aron Wall says:

            As a starting point I was assuming I was trying to match Kohlberg’s 6 stages as closely as possible.

            Your proposed set of stages are interesting, but it is a further question whether people actually take this path to getting to your #8.

            Also, not being a positivist, I don’t think I agree with your last clause in #7. At least some facts are “fundamentally true” without regard to our own feelings or reasoning in the matter. Arguably, that’s what “fundamentally true” means, at least about non-culturally constructed aspects of reality. In other words, you seem to be sliding between an epistemological claim (people who reason in certain ways get good results) and a metaphysical claim (that’s all we mean by truth). I don’t think the latter follows from the former.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I bet you would enjoy reading https://meaningness.com/ if you haven’t already (and if you can figure out how to navigate it).

      • Aron Wall says:

        Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve previously enjoyed reading some of Chapman’s other pages on Vividness, but I never went through it systematically.

        Looking through his Meaningness philosophy, it looks like he would have me pegged pretty much automatically as an “eternalist” given that I’m a Christian. (Not surprisingly, therefore, his list of supposed flaws with eternalism comes across as a little strawmanny to me; as if all the theists he knows are incapable of incorporating acceptance of nuances and ambiguities into their worldview. The sort of Christian who hasn’t read Job or Ecclesiastes…)

        So there’s probably a limit to how much I can let this particular “cruel angel’s thesis” into my soul, but there may still be some interesting insights here to explore.

    • bullseye says:

      Should the first two stages be switched? Children observe the world around them before they understand what they’re told.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Well, this is the way that seems to match Kohlberg’s stages better. That doesn’t necessarily mean we learn scientific reasoning steps in the same order that we learn morality, but it’s at least a starting point for the analogy.

        But to be clear, I was thinking that Stage 2 is something considerably more sophisticated than just raw observation. It takes cultural transmission from adults to be able to look at something that just happened, and express using language a general proposition about how the world works.

        Do you think that for morality, Kohlberg got his first two stages in the right order?

    • Jaskologist says:

      I feel like this belongs in Expanding Brain format, with the last stage being “It is neither possible nor desirable for every man to re-derive all of human knowledge. We see further by standing upon the shoulders of giants. I believe what my teacher taught me.”

      • Aron Wall says:

        Ha ha! (or on this thread, Ho ho!)

        As I said, the higher stages include the ability to use the earlier stages, including Stage 1, as appropriate. On the other hand, if your elementary teacher told you something that contradicts the scientific consensus, one hopes you’d be able to notice that fact…

        More generally, once you have access to a library or the internet, you get to pick your teacher, and you need at least Stage 3 thinking to be able to pick the right one.

  40. funfetti says:

    Is there anything stopping one from making a podcast of supreme court oral arguments in their entirety?


    the files are easy to upload. there would being little to no commentary, just select arguments to feed curiosity of the court.

    I haven’t been able to find anything saying I couldn’t do this. Does anyone know of any reason I couldn’t?

  41. Aron Wall says:

    Regarding the stricter “necessary” prong: I recently read Peter Elbow’s essay “The Believing Game or Methodological Believing” (pdf freely downloadable), and it made me wonder if all the the angsting about political balance on SSC is really just symptomatic of a different issue.

    I think a lot of people come here, not so much for “balance” but to deliberately expose themselves to smart people with very different political viewpoints, to see what these points of view look like from the inside. After all, there are many people out there with Scott’s extremely high critical reasoning skills, but few who are also remarkable for their ability to charitably describe interesting weird ideas he doesn’t share. I wonder if what some people are missing from the older days is not actually “balance”, but rather more “agreement game” techniques, where people try to probe other people’s viewpoints in a more cooperative way. Not saying this should replace arguing and poking holes entirely, just that it should be a greater portion of the kind of conversations people have here.

    Deliberately posting this on the CW free thread so that it will remain at the meta-level and not degenerate into yet another rehash of which political side is nicer at the object level.

  42. mdv1959 says:

    Is there a way to contribute monthly support to SSC aside from Patreon? I’m happy to support your work but will no longer do it through Patreon. I suspect I’m not the only one who will feel that way.

    FWIW… Sam Harris sent this out today.

    Closing My Patreon Account

    Dear Patreon Supporters—

    As many of you know, the crowdfunding site Patreon has banned several prominent content creators from its platform. While the company insists that each was in violation of its terms of service, these recent expulsions seem more readily explained by political bias. Although I don’t share the politics of the banned members, I consider it no longer tenable to expose any part of my podcast funding to the whims of Patreon’s “Trust and Safety” committee.

    I will be deleting my Patreon account tomorrow. If you want to continue sponsoring my work, I encourage you to open a subscription at samharris.org/subscribe.

    As always, I remain deeply grateful for your support.

    Wishing you all a very happy New Year….


    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I encourage this, but the payment processors are also chokepoints. If I built freespeechtreon, how long would it take for Visa and Mastercard to decide I am a witch?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        This is the culture war free open thread so I don’t want to get into it right now but something similar already happened with Hatreon.

      • johan_larson says:

        Now I’m wondering whether there’s money to be made setting up a little empire of internet services catering specifically to groups unpopular enough that they get tossed out of regular forums. Make yourself unshutdownable by owning a lot of the infrastructure outright and where that’s impossible, deal with large organizations that everyone hates anyway, like Comcast. And charge your customers hefty rates for all of it, of course.

      • 10240 says:

        What’s the current state of using cryptocurrencies for this sort of thing? Is it possible to make it not much more complicated or costly than the usual methods of taking payments?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          You are not going to get 1000 people to give you $5 a month with crypto currencies. You are not even going to get 500 people.

          Also, if you set up a separate payment system, you will attract a lot of real witches, mostly scammers. Scammers will flood the system.

          Separately, if you want to get someone with a sketchy reputation kicked off a credit card processor, you can buy a bunch of stolen credit cards[1] and use them to donate to that person.

          [1] It doesn’t matter very much if the cards are known bad, so it is not too expensive.

          • johan_larson says:

            Yes, you might have to handle payments by direct bank transfers, or maybe handle them through retail outlets, the way gift cards are done now.

          • 10240 says:

            What sort of scams do you think of?

          • dick says:

            Anyone that is getting money fraudulently is always looking for a way to transfer it that looks as legit as possible. The fact that “Uh hi, this is your boss, I’m at a client site and I really need you to go buy some Itunes gift cards and read me the numbers on the back” is something that scammers actually do is a testament to how hard it is for them to fool Visa/Western Union/Etc in to working with them.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I sympathize with you. I considered deleting my Patreon account and am held back mostly by raw greed – I get about $2000 a month from it, I donate a lot of that forward, and there’s no other tool that would work nearly as well.

      (I also suspect that these companies’ hands are tied; ie if they didn’t delete these people, they would risk some kind of lawsuit or loss of relationship with credit cards or strong reputational damage. I have to be a lot more censorious on this blog than I would like and I don’t face anywhere near the institutional level of pressure they do.)

      I don’t know of any other good way to support me monthly, but I encourage anyone who wants to leave Patreon to do so.

      • Mitch Lindgren says:

        I think you’re correct that Patreon’s hands are tied when it comes to policing this sort of content. Its short-lived competitor “Hatreon” was founded as a direct response to Patreon’s moderation, and it died before ever taking off because Visa refused to do business with the site after it was enthusiastically adopted by white supremacists. Even if you believe that people have the right to monetize that sort of content, boycotting Patreon is just shooting the messenger.

        • 10240 says:

          That they suspended payment processing for a specifically witch-oriented site doesn’t imply they would’ve suspended a general-purpose site with a few witches on it. Not suspending the former is much harder to defend.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Sam Harris sells subscriptions through paypal. Maybe you should set that up without withdrawing from patreon. But I don’t know how hard it is to do. There are lots of downsides, such as higher transaction costs and lack of social proof.

      • mdv1959 says:

        Please consider the PayPal route until something better materializes.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Counterpoint: I object more strenuously to PayPal than to Patreon, on the grounds that PayPal is bad at being a payment processor. Not that my opinion should matter, since I don’t donate – but PayPal being the only means of donation is a disqualifying reason for me to not donate to people and organizations. It’s also why I refuse to use Venmo.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Paypal kicks people off, too. One might think that Paypal’s decisions are better than Patreon’s, but going into the specifics seems very CW.

      • dragnubbit says:

        Would you apply the same standards to all the other vendors and services you use in your daily life? If the restaurant you like to eat at refused to cater an event for an organization because of a conflict in their values, would you stop eating there?

        I feel like the real concern is not towards Patreon’s standards, but the standards being imposed on Patreon by their providers. You may be holding Patreon to an unreasonable standard. I assume you still use Visa or Mastercard?

        • Orpheus says:

          If the restaurant you like to eat at refused to cater an event for an organization because of a conflict in their value

          Like, say, a same sex wedding? We all know how this turns out.

          Honestly, I don’t understand why the banks themselves don’t provide patreon-like services. Why are we allowing Visa and Mastercard to be the arbiters of who deserves to get money and who doesn’t?

          • 10240 says:

            Banks do offer arbitrary wire transfers. The better question is why they give market to oligopolistic third-party providers (mastercard, visa) by not making wire transfers faster and cheaper. (Perhaps because wire transfers are still necessary for some purposes, and they can make more money on them if they don’t make them as cheap as a credit card payment. That still doesn’t explain why they can’t make them as fast.)

          • johan_larson says:

            I suspect direct transfers are a complicated problem when there are a lot of banks, as there are in the US. In Canada, it’s fairly easy to transfer money between accounts because there are only a few major banks and all of them are on a system called Interac. A while back they introduced something called Interac e-Transfer that works over email.

        • albatross11 says:

          I don’t know enough about Patreon’s process or this latest high-profile deletion to have much of an opinion of the rightness or wrongness of their decision. But I’m very sure that I don’t want to put Patreon (or Visa or Paypal or anyone else) in the position of deciding what writers/thinkers are allowed to receive support from donors, and which ones are not. It is way, way too easy for this to become a way to silence people whose views offend some powerful people.

        • carvenvisage says:

          Isn’t the whole point of going to a restaurant for the warm and fuzzy atmosphere? If it was something else maybe I’d think twice, but I certainly wouldn’t eat at a restaurant I felt bad about supporting.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          One difference is that there are a lot of restaurants, and very few payment processors. This is an easy way to create a censorship machine where someone (including the government) can just lean on a few people to cut you off, instead of trying to lean on thousands of vendors.

          • dragnubbit says:

            Good point. But I do think Patreon is more like the restaurant than being in a privileged and entrenched position like the payment processors it uses.

      • AnonYemous2 says:

        (I also suspect that these companies’ hands are tied; ie if they didn’t delete these people, they would risk some kind of lawsuit or loss of relationship with credit cards or strong reputational damage. I have to be a lot more censorious on this blog than I would like and I don’t face anywhere near the institutional level of pressure they do.)

        I suspect that, at least in part, it’s to do with them wanting cool points from lefties as well. The thing that touched off this latest campaign may have been a result of potential reputational loss, but…well, I can’t know for sure, but I don’t think it was the only thing going on there.

      • Dack says:

        I don’t know of any other good way to support me monthly

        There’s always mail. You’d need to rent a PO box to conceal your address. The USPS doesn’t do witch hunts or censorship though, so that’s a plus.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Yet. The USPS doesn’t do witch hunts or censorship yet. If people start routinely using USPS for cash microtransactions, they are going to notice.

        • johan_larson says:

          Just how risky is it to send cash through the mail? I don’t remember hearing much about people stealing mail.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The post office doesn’t care much if you are sending $20 a month to someone.

            The problem is that postal workers, if they know what is going on, will steal the money, and it’s hard to catch postal workers who steal mail. The #1 prevention is the fact that nearly all mail is worthless to someone besides the recipient.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          Patreon is a lot more convenient. I suspect the number of people who would actually bother to send cash through the mail is vanishingly small.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, the thing a Paypal or Patreon competitor has to offer is an auto-pay/recurring billing function where the customer pledges x dollars per month and x dollars deducts automatically. This saves the patron the trouble of remembering to do it, gives the content creator some idea how much money to expect next month, and also incentivizes the content creator to keep creating.

            Despite all the volatility and initial barrier to entry, I’m surprised more people don’t use cryptocurrency for these purposes (apparently some, like Dave Rubin, are intending to do so), as it’s super easy to get e.g. a bitcoin address and post it on your site. Only thing is I don’t yet know of an app or currency that enables auto-pay functions like this, though in principle it should definitely be possible.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Transaction costs for Bitcoin are currently $140. Even if you are smart and roll transactions together, that is still going to swamp the actual donation amounts.

          • Nornagest says:

            Transaction costs for Bitcoin are currently $140.

            That doesn’t sound right. I’ve been out of the Bitcoin game for a while, but I remember them being ~20 bucks near the peak of the market last year and I’m sure volumes have gone down since then (though hashrate has too). This claims they’re currently 19 cents.

          • cassander says:


            . This claims they’re currently 19 cents.

            Does that include the cost of the audit when you cash them out?

          • Nornagest says:

            No audits on mine, although the capital gains tax was painful.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I googled something to get my original number, and I can’t re-google it now, so consider my number trash.

      • benquo says:

        If you donate a lot of that forward to entities you’re willing to name, you could cut out the middleman and name orgs you’re willing to accept additional donations to in your honor in lieu of Patreon support.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Maybe he should name specific charities, but his patreon does ask people to give to charity instead.

          Maybe asking people to give in his name would provide some of the collective action social proof of the patreon, but probably only in a coherent community that was already paying attention to a small set of charities.

        • acymetric says:

          For some reason I suspect this would decrease the amount of money coming in.

  43. It sounds as though the most useful information for you would be what activities extroversion isn’t an advantage, or at least isn’t a large advantage, in.

    • arlie says:

      Well, listening to extroverts whine, that would be anything that doesn’t involve spending most of your time interacting with other people.

      It doesn’t matter whether or not extroverts can do solo activities effectively, if their morale plummets and they start looking for excuses to blow off those tasks. And if it’s true that only human interaction energizes them, it sounds like a long day of bookkeeping wouuld leave the classic extrovert totally wiped out 🙁

      • nameless1 says:

        An introverted but ADHD person would also not enjoy bookkeeping. But write software to automate bookkeeping far more.

      • arlie says:


        The software engineer thing gets complicated. On the one hand, while an introvert can write code happily and well, advancing in the field requires a lot of dealing with people. On the other hand, it’s currently fashionable in Silicon Valley to cram software engineers into open offices with no visual or auditory privacy, where they are constantly “on stage” to promote something that executives and facilities people are pleased to call “collaboration”. Net result – my job is exhausting, and I’m fairly close to the introvert/extrovert border. (I identify as an introvert, but what I really am is an Aspie – no talent for interaction with normies, and enough bad history to dislike it intensely.)

  44. Mitch Lindgren says:

    I thought the report button was still broken. Has it been fixed?

  45. frankschmitt says:

    I’m trying to spread the word here without sounding too much like I bought stock in a light therapy company (I didn’t). I was peripherally aware of seasonal affective disorder but never considered that it could apply to me because I didn’t feel sad in the winter (I mean, how its sufferers are reported to feel is right there in the acronym!).

    While I’ve never had anything exactly like the proverbial “winter blues”, I have had a problem—going back at least a couple of decades, i.e. my entire working life—with randomly waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep for a period of maybe one to three hours. This sometimes would happen several nights a week. And I definitely had symptoms of not feeling fully awake pretty consistently.

    Last fall after a particularly bad spell I saw a sleep specialist. We ruled out any glaring apnea issues and I got a prescription for Ambien to use occasionally as needed. Then my sleep problems more or less spontaneously improved (not 100% but definite improvement) in the late spring/summer, and when they asked if I was still having issues I gave them an all clear. But come fall, and I’m starting to wake up in the middle of the night for no particular reason again, probably every other night on average.

    This year I finally put two and two together that maybe this was a seasonal thing. I also realized that “feeling super drowsy all the time” is not normal, and is one way that depression can present itself. And having read some of the sleep-related articles on here things finally clicked that maybe I was suffering from SAD.

    Anyway, I’ve bought one of those lamps (that one recommended on the Wirecutter) and have been using it pretty consistently for the last couple of weeks, and the improvement is basically 100%, both in terms of daytime drowsiness and in terms of being able to sleep through the night. I can’t say for sure if it will keep working, and I also can’t say for sure if spending $120 on some kind of placebo would have helped as well, but it sure seems to be doing the trick.

    It’s worth noting that I in the Pacific Northwest (~49°N and lots of clouds in the winter), and was working in a dimly lit home office with some, but not a lot, of natural light. So YMMV.

    TL;DR Had sleep problems, started using a SAD lamp, now I don’t have sleep problems.

    • DragonMilk says:

      My fiancee bought one of those – do you not find it….way too bright?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Now that you have a system, you should probably stick with it, but if you want to try an experiment, try melatonin to regulate your sleep schedule. 0.3mg ~6 hours before bed. That posts mentions a theory that SAD is caused by an unmoored circadian rhythm.
      Certainly, if you’re ever tempted to use ambien again, try melatonin first.

      I’ve heard that vitamin D tests are routine in PNW. Is that true? Have you had one?

      • Randy M says:

        My wife and daughter sometimes have trouble getting to sleep lately. I ought to review that Melatonin info.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I raised a follow-on discussion to the melatonin topic asking people’s progress on using it like actually proven instead of at bedtime. I forget where it is but most of the comments were “yeah I need to start doing that.”

          I have re-resolved to try using it the proper way.

    • Mitch Lindgren says:

      I also live in the Pacific Northwest and have chronic issues with daytime sleepiness. I’ve been using a SAD lamp for probably at least a year now. I think it has caused a slight improvement in my energy levels, but nothing nearly as dramatic as you describe. For me, it could just be the placebo effect.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I will second the value of light therapy in the winter. I have this model which is nice because it clips to the brim of a hat and you can wear it as you do your morning routine.

      Also, of note, the right time to start is roughly in September, not the start of winter.

    • knownastron says:

      When do you (anyone, not just OP) use your lamp to get desired effects?

      • HeelBearCub says:


        I wear (see link above) mine in the morning for ~20 or 30minutes (it is on a self timer with two different brightness settings). I just go about my normal routine with the light on. I do this from September till sometime in March

  46. Murphy says:

    It might depend on what exactly you’re talking about.

    Something like 30% of the population have slight hand tremors, naturally.

    If you want to start a profession carving grains of rice freehand and you’re part of the unlucky third… you’re probably not going to have much luck.

    But if you just want to, say, learn to paint or something I see no reason why you couldn’t learn.

    • jasmith79 says:

      Indeed. I have hand tremors (diagnosed in my mid teens) but play keyboard in a band, teach fencing, touch type in qwerty and colemak keyboard layouts (learned the later in my mid-30s). As long as I don’t try to do all that after chugging red bull on an empty stomach after not sleeping in days I’m usually ok.

  47. Randy M says:

    I see extroversion as one of those traits for men like height and IQ (or physical attractiveness for women) that is useful in an almost monotonically increasing way.

    As a tall introvert–won’t comment on the IQ part–I can say I’d probably like to be an inch or two shorter and a good bit more extroverted.

    I’m not sure there isn’t an extrovert cut-off point, though. Part of being an extrovert is usually being less comfortable being alone, and a lot of life requires some solitary time. But you definitely have an advantage if you enjoy networking, are eager to discuss your results with other stakeholders, are adept at persuasion, and so on, probably moreso than excelling at introspection and being a master at settling down with a good book in a quiet, empty room.

    As for height, in the outdoors, taller is probably better on net (caloric expenditure aside) but indoors, once you can reach the top cupboards that’s enough; much more than that and you need to beware doorways, are cramped in vehicles, can’t recline on a couch, and so on. True that most women like you to be taller than them, but 6′ is probably as good as 7′ for that, and five and half might even be enough.

    • Statismagician says:

      Of note – increased baseline caloric expenditure is a good thing if you’ve got a First World living standard; cardiovascular disease is a way more serious risk than starvation.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Oh, I’ll totally take being 7 feet tall. At that point your childhood dreams of playing professional basketball are vastly more realistic, even if you end up playing in the D-League or overseas. Also, given how shitty the Bulls are right now, maybe they will be happy to have 12th man 7 foot ADBG.

    • Randy M says:

      Maybe you have a point regarding height. I shall update in favor of my privilege being greater than I thought.

  48. arlie says:

    I read this book long enough ago that I don’t remember details, and apparantly I liked it. But I’m somewhat of an aggro-introvert – or more correctly, an aggro-Aspie. I.e. I’d apprciate impractical polemic in favour of my kind of people, or new arguments in that line, or simply the fact that some best seller could be cited as supporting my self-serving opinions. So me rating it 4.5/5 could well be consistent with it being completely useless in terms of practical advice.

    I think there is a place for books that basically tell people – “you are well within the range of normality, and not pathological at all, whatever other people may say.” They only help in practical ways to the extent that depression and self hatred is part of an individual’s problem, on top of whatever devalued minority status may be their issue. But a lot of people grow up thinking of themselves as defective, and/or putting a lot of emotional effort into defending their conscious mind from this belief.

    There’s also certainly a place for “how to succeed in spite of …” books. But I suspect they are much harder to write – much more common is “how to cope with …”. Note the subtle difference. IMO, step 1 is learning to cope, and step 2 is finding something that matters, which you can do better than your competitors. And if there were a book handing people #2 on a silver platter, they’d all try it, and the niche would simply become over populated. Unless of course it’s something like “being tall”, which they can’t easily influence.

  49. DragonMilk says:

    Slow cooker pre-treatment:

    I have noticed that I probably should have seared beef cubes, tomatoes leave just their skin, and carrots shrink like a frightened turtle.

    What are some things you do with ingredients before throwing them into the slow cooker and mixing for overnight heating?

    • Statismagician says:

      Generally, I sear meat and caramelize onions/garlic as the major things. Tomatoes turn into liquid; I generally just get a can of crushed ones since it’ll happen anyway. I’ve got nothing for carrots; I kind of like the shrunken ones from a flavor/unit area perspective but I’d like to know if anybody else has a scheme to manipulate that.If you’re working with beans, drain, rinse, and pat dry (counter-intuitive, but controlling liquid levels is important). Dried herbs go in at the start, fresh herbs go on top at the end.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Carrots might shrink, but you probably still want the flavor of at least sweating the vegetables a bit before dropping them in the crockpot.
      The easiest option, and the only really “required” one IMO, is to sear the meat before it dropping it in. Luckily the instanpot has a sear function, so it’s still one-pot. I sear the whole thing in steak form, cut up, and then drop it in the crock pot.
      If you are making something like stock (either chicken or beef), I’d definitely recommend roasting your carrots/celery/onion along with the bones/meat for an hour or so at 400, and THEN throwing it into the slow cooker.

    • AG says:

      It seems that some of these steps can be bypassed by using a pressure cooker instead. (I do not own a pressure cooker, cannot confirm.)

      • dodrian says:

        You still want to sear any red meat and caramalize onions, and tomatoes will still liquidize in a pressure cooker. Electric pressure cookers will allow you to do the searing in the same pot, but it’s stil an extra cooking step (and personally I find it easier to do on the stove).

        • AG says:

          Thanks for the info! Is the searing just to keep meat cubes intact, as opposed to going for falling-apart pot roasts?

          (Tomatoes liquidizing is a plus, for me.)

          • dodrian says:

            There are a number of different reactions going on with cooking. Firstly you are breaking down the collagen to make tough cuts tender, this happens around 160F, which a slow cooker can do. A pressure cooker will do it faster by using pressure to take the dish above boiling temperature. This is about texture.

            The other big thing going on is the Mailard reaction, this happens above 280F, which is higher than a pressure cooker can reach (~240F). This adds depth the the flavors, which is why a slow cooked dish will taste better if you sear the meat and caramelize the aromatics first.

  50. baconbits9 says:

    This piece linked by Marginal Revolution is a good example of what we don’t know when it comes to macro economics, but not in the way presented by the author. I am leaning heavily toward the belief that we don’t even know what we don’t know in macro. Some examples

    Nashville started with advantages. But local leaders also made some smart decisions like merging the city and county government in the 1960s, allowing Nashville and its suburbs to work together rather than at cross-purposes. And in the 1990s, when many downtowns across the county were struggling, the city built a convention center, a hockey arena and a new home for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    We basically have it presented as “obviously major investments in a struggling downtown will lead to revitalization” but Nashville wasn’t the only city to try this in the 90s, and funnily enough it wasn’t even the only city to build a music hall of fame and sports arena in such an attempt. In 1994 Cleveland opened a new baseball stadium (then jacobs field, now progressive fied), a new basketball stadium (then Gund Arena, now Quicken loans arena), and the Rock n Roll hall of fame opened in 1995. These were pretty successful operations, Jacobs field set the MLB record for most consecutive sell outs at 455 between 1995 and 2001, and the Indians went to the playoffs 6 times in 7 years with 2 WS appearances. The R&R HOF drew 1.5 million visitors over its first two years and still averages around half a million a year 20+ years later.

    These were also not the only tools that the Cleveland area had to work with. There exists a quality higher education clump in the Cleveland Institutes of Art and Music and Case Western (CIA and CIM are typically ranked top 20 in the country and occasionally top 10 for art and music, and Case is typically top 40), as well as a world class hospital system in the Cleveland Clinic. There were some other notable developments (Keytower’s completion in 1991, the rise of progressive insurance as a major employer in the suburbs, an expansion of the public rail service in the 90s), so suffice to say that it was not simply a one shot deal at trying to rebuild Cleveland.

    Cleveland did not experience nearly the revitalization that Nashville had, since 1990 the population of Cleveland has dropped by 25% with a quarter of that decline coming during the 90s.

    You can tell either story here, that the proposed investments that cities often make won’t lead to revitalization or that the spending that Cleveland engaged in prevented it from becoming as bad as Detroit. I’m not trying to argue one viewpoint or the other here, but to highlight how difficult it is to approach the question of what cities should do to revitalize (and that is already assuming that is a good proposition on its own).

    • actualitems says:

      I always wonder if we are in a long-run post air-conditioning sorting(*).

      I grew up in Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Cleveland and have plenty of family and friends still there. They are perfectly fine places to live short of the weather. (Well, Pittsburgh is better than Cleveland, and Cleveland is better than Youngstown, and ok maybe Youngstown is less than fine but whatever.)

      But I live in Florida now. I would consider moving to Nashville for the right opportunity. I will never move back to Western PA/Northeast OH on account of the weather.

      (*) For mid-sized cities, that is. NYC and Chicago and the like seem to be doing just fine.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I guess a bit, but there are some mid-size cities that are still growing despite not great climates.
        Grand Rapids

        Hell even Des Moines picked up a lot in the last decade.

        • actualitems says:

          I think Columbus is picking up what’s leaving NE Ohio. Grand Rapids might be doing the same with Detroit.

          Denver might be a fair counterpoint to my hypothesis, but it might be just an exception. Cold weather, sure, but fun blue sky outdoor activity type of cold weather…as opposed to grey and dreary rust belt cold weather.

          I don’t know enough about IN or IA.

        • acymetric says:

          You kind of have to look at these on a case by case basis to see what is going on, but here are some random first impressions. Cold weather is not necessarily a detriment to cities with other attractions, but when choosing between average cities without any real appeal the weather is going to play a bigger factor.

          Cleveland is hurt by cold weather, lots of snow (lake effect), and sort of being in the middle of nowhere. Columbus and Indy are certainly cold, but still have noticeably better weather than Cleveland. I don’t know what Grand Rapids whether is like, but based on geography I imagine it is similar to Cleveland. Although it is growing fast, it is still the smallest city on that list by a fair margin, so kind of need to see how far that growth goes before it gets lumped into this group. Grand Rapids also benefits from being close to Chicago.

          Cleveland is basically on a geographic island. Short trips would take you to places like Pittsburgh, Detroit, or Columbus (all meh). On the other hand, in Columbus you swap Detroit for Indianapolis (a big win), add Cincinnati, and also get a huge state school that is massively popular in the state.

          Denver, as actualitems mentions, is certainly cold and snowy, but has much more natural appeal than any of the other cities for both locals and tourists.

          • Jake says:

            Grand Rapids has done a really good job of making it’s downtown areas more attractive and walkable. It also has attracted several big medical research type facilities which bring in more professionals. I’ve lived there on and off for 20 years now, and they are definitely doing a lot of the ‘right things’ for city growth. It helps that it is still surrounded by a lot of land where new developments can be put, that are still within a 40-minute commute of just about anywhere.

      • Dack says:

        Minneapolis and Saint Paul have significantly worse winters than any city listed above, and are both growing very well.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I was thinking of raising this one as well, but I figured people might dispute it because it is a large metro area. The Twin Cities have 3.6 million people in the MSA, Cleveland has 2 million.

          Boston is growing, and has 4.8 million people, which is a lot, but substantially less than the major metros. You also can’t just say “oh, big city,” because Chicago really isn’t growing all that much in terms of population.

          But these are all just arbitrary distinctions created to fit data, which I think is part of the problem Bacon is pointing out, and these explanations really can’t fit the broad pattern of data we see.

  51. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    A Brief History of the Aircraft Carrier: A look at the evolution of the aircraft carrier from the first days of flying off ships through WWI and WWII to the present day, when they dominate the seas.

    The Falklands War, Part 9: A look at the Exocet attack on HMS Sheffield. What was going on during the attack and why Sheffield’s crew failed to take action.

    The First South Dakota class: The last of the classic American dreadnoughts, cancelled under the Washington Treaty.

    Commercial Aviation, Part 3: A look at the various business models airlines use to move people about.

    Electronic Warfare Part 1 – ESM: Electronic Support Measures is the term for passive reception of an enemy’s electromagnetic emissions. It’s a vital component of modern warfare, covering everything from gathering data on a new enemy radar to figuring out where someone who unwisely used a radio is.

    • Statismagician says:

      Do you happen to know why it’s so odd for a carrier to have a port-side island?

      • bean says:

        I believe it had to do with the rotary engines used on WWI-era aircraft. Turning right pushed the nose down, while a left turn raised it. So the island went on the starboard side, where it wouldn’t be in the way if you had to go around. The Japanese built a couple of ships with islands on the port side, under the idea of operating them with right-hand patterns next to ships with left-hand patterns. It didn’t seem to be successful.

        • Statismagician says:

          Ah, that makes sense. The mirrored carriers thing sounds nifty in theory but I’m not surprised it didn’t pan out in practice.

      • cassander says:

        In addition to what bean says, I also read somewhere that aircraft had a tendency to pull left on landing (likely as a result of engine torque + landing maneuvers), and so port side carriers had higher accident rates, but I don’t remember the source.

        • bean says:

          It’s quite possible that I’m misremembering something. The comment above was put together based on a quick glance at how the precession worked and where the islands were placed. I can look in more detail when I get home.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Anyone else feel like you’re surrounded by idiots?

    Not just average/subaverage normies. Those at least have an excuse for their lack of competence. But I’ve recently been rudely shocked by the ignorance exhibited by lawyers, accountants and physicians. Those people are supposed to be smart and knowledgeable! Meanwhile, it seems that any intern with access to google could do their job equally well, if not better.

    It’s like in the joke where two just-graduated students are talking. “You know, Frank, when I consider what kind of engineers we are, I’m afraid to go to the doctor.”

    • Walter says:

      I think this feeling is far stronger nowadays, and I blame wikipedia. Everyone looks dumb next to websites designed to make us feel smart.

    • Statismagician says:

      Have you ever heard the joke about where the idiot in the room is if you can’t immediately spot him?

      There are errors and then there are errors. The ability to Google something after it’s become painfully clear what the correct thing to Google is does not correlate meaningfully with the ability to predict what that thing will be from symptoms, or to argue that it’s some entirely different thing per USC Section 198.4.6 (which hasn’t been otherwise referenced since 1928), or to set up a new and exciting tax-avoidance scheme which remains within the bounds of things the IRS probably doesn’t care about (or, more charitably, to notice that the CFO is embezzling before it shows up in the papers). These latter are the kinds of things we need experts for. It should not be expected or assumed that people with lots of knowledge in one technical domain have a lot of knowledge in others, and I suspect people doing precisely this is the cause of your confusion.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think this is it. I got referred to supposed experts by their colleagues in the trade. What I found was basically people making shit up and not being current.

        Generalized example:
        I want to do X. I read relevant legislation. It allows X. But I’m just some guy with a computer. I want to talk to someone actually educated on this topic because I moght have missed something.
        I go to person A, an expert. They say X is not allowed.
        I go person B, another expert. They say X is not allowed.
        I go to the government agency that actually administers X. They say there’s no injunction against X, so it’s allowed.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      They are overworked and have bad boesses.

    • meh says:

      Not sure how old you are Anonymous, but one thing you learn as get older is how terrible most people are at their jobs.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I learned this. The next thing I learned was how miraculously well the world managed in spite of all this apparent incompetency.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          What can mere mortals do when Moloch is on your side?

        • meh says:

          The world has learned how to manage this. Jury duty in a large city showed me how designing to the least competent of us can make things overall efficient, yet infuriating.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Sometimes, mostly when it comes to experimental design and statistics.

      One of my early shocks in graduate school was when one of the higher-ups in my department quizzed me on how many biological replicates I would need for an experiment. I started laying out how I would go about doing a sample size calculation to make sure that the experiment had sufficient power without being too expensive, but he cut me off. The correct answer he was looking for was “three.” The convention is for three biological replicates and therefore that’s the appropriate number for any experiment.

      That said, I think that most of the time people can do a good enough job despite a poor grasp of the principles behind what they’re doing.

    • arlie says:

      As well as what others have said, and depending on specifics, I’d also look for both “perverse incentives” and “optimizing for speed”. I see (and commit) errors of both kinds in my field of software engineering.

      On the one hand, I always have more potential work than I could possibly complete before the next release. So I’ll take a fast guess at whether a given problem is really urgent/important, and what the root cause is likely to be. Sometimes I’m wrong.

      On the other hand, I’m rewarded more – or punished more – for certain successes/failures than for others. And the people making the rules/providing the rewards never have enough time to understand my work in detail. I get to choose between doing what I expect to be best for me, and what I expect to be best for the company/client. I can also be wrong about both of these – not because I’m an idiot, but because I have limited time and limited information. So you get CYA behaviour and coverups. You get people doing what they are told, even though they fear it’s a bad idea – because they might be wrong, and they will get in trouble for making waves. At best, my incentives don’t align very well with other people’s needs. and after too long in the job, I probably forget there’s any goal beyond promotion/raises/better asssignments etc.

      At any rate, I think a lot of “stupid” is accounted for by this pair of problems. Also, that it’s, unfortunately, a lot worse for physicians in particular, than for software engineers – insurance simply won’t pay them to spend long enough per patient to get beyond “most likely” all, or even most of the time. And they’re probably working long enough days that they have no time left for curiousity and learning, beyond mandatory license-maintenance classes.

      Also, somewhat scarily, it’s probably cost effective to get the wrong answer 10% of the time, catch 90% of those when they make a new appointment, and fail to adequately treat the remaining 1% – rather than e.g. spending twice as much time per patient, on average. That would be cost effective for the insurers 🙁 The patients who fall through the cracks won’t tend to agree.

    • Viliam says:

      When I was a child, I used to believe there were grown ups out there. Now I see there are just other kids in aging bodies, pretending to be competent. Some of them still believe that others are not faking it; I don’t.

      But also what @idontknow131647093 said. If someone is not overworked at the moment, most likely their manager is already dreaming about increasing productivity by assigning 10% of team members to a different project (or firing them).

      • cassander says:

        I like to phrase it “In your twenties, you think that there are adults somewhere running things. Then you get to your thirties and realize, nope, it’s just highschool all the way up.”

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          As someone in my twenties, I find this comment very disheartening.

          • cassander says:

            Maybe I should phrase it “As a teenager you think you know everything. then you get to your twenties and realize you don’t, but assume that there are adults somewhere running things that know what they’re doing. Then you get to your thirties, meet those adults, and realize they don’t, it’s just highschool all the way up.”

          • Jaskologist says:

            No! It’s good news! There’s no secret knowledge possessed by the guys running things, they’re all just faking it. I can do that.

        • baconbits9 says:

          It is like high school all the way up, but not in that way. You get old enough and you find that every company is like 5% hyper competent people holding it up. Ask someone how many great teachers they had in school and it comes down to like 3 names over 12 years and probably 30 teachers.

          • cassander says:

            As I’ve moved up the ladder, I’ve started to doubt that there is such a thing as hypercompetence. there are things that people can be very good at, sales, technical domains, fundraising, etc. But no one is good at all of them, and the people deciding the future of institutions are almost always either throwing darts at a board or trying to replicate past success. And that’s enough to muddle through pretty well, most of the time, but it’s a far cry from wise men sagely guiding anything.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            cass, that is what hypercompetence is: knowing what you are good at and sticking to it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is definitely not top down, its distributed. Some middle manager is holding a department together, someone is mediating between employees who don’t like each other without having to get HR involved etc.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Man, I wish I could have ever felt like there were competent adults ahead.

          I mean, TBH, shouldn’t public school disavow everyone of that notion?

    • sty_silver says:

      I do. The way I’d put it is that there are competent and incompetent people in every profession, and while some professions have different distributions than others, it’s very rare to reach even a 50/50 split.

      The only reliable indicator is knowing the person. Even just talking to someone for a few minutes is a fairly reliable data point, usually more reliable than their reputation. Of course, sometimes we can’t choose whom we interact with.

    • cassander says:

      I run a team of people with graduate degrees. I struggle mightily to get them to understand anything more complicated than extremely basic excel usage. I can teach them particular tricks, but I cannot get them to re-combine or expand on them to to apply them to novel circumstances without explicit hand holding. Getting them to google solutions to problems that I haven’t taught them to solve isn’t even a dream anymore.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I have an example I was surprised by:

      I took an instructional techniques course for pilots several years ago. Everyone else in the class was age 20-25 and had a fresh commercial license and was working on an instructor rating. They were very familiar with how to teach aerodynamics and lift. They all knew the lift equation by heart, had memorized lessons for teaching lift and aerodynamics and all the other things to the new students that they would be teaching once they had passed their flight test.

      So the course instructor goes up to the front of the class with a hair dryer and a ping pong ball, and balances the ball on the upward stream of air, then slowly turns the hair dryer so it is at 45 degrees from vertical, and magically the ball is still stuck in the middle of the stream of air a couple feet from the hair dryer. Like This. e instructor asks everyone to get up and explain why the ping pong ball didn’t fall out of the side of the airstream, one-by-one.

      The first five students each try and explain and have no idea why it happens. Then I get up and explain (not very well) correctly why the ping pong ball stays there. I expected everyone who went after me to understand it at least and explain it better, but only one person out of the following seven understood the concept. She explained it much better than me, but even the students that followed her still didn’t understand!

      The students had all had it drilled into them, bernoulli’s principle that gas at higher velocity has lower pressure, and the top of the wing had higher velocity/lower pressure than the bottom, and that’s why there was lift imparted on the wing. They could all explain this with total confidence and no hesitation: they had already learned how to teach it specifically. But they could not for the life of them apply that knowledge to something that wasn’t a wing but a ping pong ball. Not only that, at least half couldn’t understand it after having it explained!

      That one experience made me quite a bit darker on the capacity of humans for knowledge creation. The height of our civilization and technology is an absolutely miraculous achievement given how difficult it is for people to actually understand even the basic things they ‘know.’

      • Bugmaster says:

        Ok, so now I’m curious, how would you explain this without using the pre-cached concept of Bernoulli’s Principle, and without writing out the actual equations ? I’m tempted to say something like, “the air inside the airstream from the hair dryer is moving, which means that there’s less air inside the stream on average, and so the ball is sucked into the stream”. However, I’m pretty sure that’s wrong on multiple levels…

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s not Bernoulli, it’s Coanda — airflow deflected to follow a smooth surface. I believe Bernoulli does apply to the version with the funnel, however.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        This is somewhat sadistic because it’s not Bernouli – that equation’s validity is limited to streamlines, and the static pressure from the hairdryer is atmospheric anyway. Shame on your teacher.

        I was drawing a shitty mspaint diagram, but there’s actually a Wiki page.


        • Bugmaster says:

          Wait a minute, but isn’t slide #1 (demonstrating molecule entrapment) on that wiki page literally the Bernoulli effect ? The subsequent steps build on it, admittedly, but still…

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Short story: viscous entrainment is weird, and a free jet into a similar medium is an awful headache.

            Long story: at hair dryer speeds, air exiting the fan remains at ambient static pressure; PV=NRT (or really, for a control volume, PV’=N’RT) for the blower tells you this, as you’re not blowing hard enough to see compression effects, so the air acts relatively incompressible. This is not the case for all jets, particularly when nozzles are involved, and those CAN create a low pressure system by forcing a change in V’ at supersonic speeds. But in our case, there’s no nozzle, just a fan. However, air is not bullet-like; when you blow air into a reservoir, viscous effects cause the flow to spread and agglomerate more air in a process called entrainment. This is fairly well-modeled for laminar flows, but not so much for turbulent flows. Regardless, you should recognize that jet carries much more air by mass with it than it exits the blower with. This is NOT a Bernoulli effect; Bernoulli calculations assume zero viscosity and thus zero momentum transfer, and are not suitable for analyzing free jets where the fluids are similar.

            Now, you may, protest that Bernoulli shows that I’m wrong, and the fact that you can draw a streamline from stagnant air in the reservoir (room) to the air that’s entrained in the jet shows that the pressure must drop. This is wrong. The jet does work on the air to accelerate it viscously, violating Bernoulli assumptions.

            This all requires a bit of fluids thinking; usually people think of pressure as an exerted force such that pressure differences drove flow. It’s easy to think that a fluid outflow creates a “low pressure,” dragging more fluid behind it, and that the absolute pressure of the fluid is therefore low. This is completely false. Pressure is only necessary to overcome losses in the system; conservation of momentum is the thing that drives fluids, and in real life the pressure along a streamline equalizes instantaneously, such that (in the high school version of Bernoulli) if v and h are constant, P will NEVER change.

            In real life, of course, this is complicated by the fact that air is compressible. However, if you like you can do the floating ball experiment with a water jet, in which case entrainment is minimized (at laminar speeds, relative to the jet’s momentum), but adhesion still happens, and you observe the same behavior.

          • Bugmaster says:


            Bernoulli calculations assume zero viscosity and thus zero momentum transfer

            Thanks, that does make sense. I must confess, I’m a fluid dynamics dummy 🙁 That said, I still don’t understand this part:

            Pressure is only necessary to overcome losses in the system

            Are you talking about the initial pressure that injects energy into the system (i.e., the fan), or something else ?

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            I mean that if the fan (or leaf blower) were pumping air into a pipe or tube, that air would have to be pressurized at the pump, just enough to offset the pressure it would lose in the pipe. A flow in a straight frictionless pipe could flow for miles with no pressure behind it. So while the air “at the fan” (intake or outlet) may see some local pressure change, this is (mostly) simply what’s needed to overcome internal loses (you can retain a slightly-higher-than-atmospheric pressure in the free jet for a tiny bit due to [fluid dynamics I don’t understand]); the rest of the work done by the motor increases fluid velocity. When your turbines are big enough or you’re creating supersonic flows, this can change… but that sort of behavior is beyond the bounds of my knowledge. I only dealt with systems that manipulate pressure, velocity, and temperature simultaneously very abstractly in thermo, and I’m running on incompressible fluid dynamics knowledge in this conversation. Basically, my knowledge of fluids is just enough to make fun of the boundary layer approximation and run crying to a real fluid dynamicist if I have an non-trivial problem to solve.

            But hey, it’s all cool; literally nobody knows how fluids work.

        • LesHapablap says:

          From reading the wiki on Coanda it looks like it incorporates Bernoulli (low pressure along the surface exposed to the jet).

          The way lift is generated from a wing is really a rabbit hole. Bernoulli ties it all in a nice neat bow even though it isn’t technically correct, and that is the way it is taught to pilots. The way it is explained with wings should be easy to apply to the ping pong ball which is where this classroom of students fell over.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Bernoulli ties it all in a nice neat bow even though it isn’t technically correct, and that is the way it is taught to pilots. The way it is explained with wings should be easy to apply to the ping pong ball which is where this classroom of students fell over.

            The canonical examples of Bernoulli’s Principle involve closed control volumes with no pumps or compressors. It is absolutely unreasonable to disparage people for not extending such reasoning to free jets from a fan when anyone who regularly breathes could tell you that Bernoulli assumptions are violated in the process. That’s why the idea that speed trades off with pressure is so difficult to begin with, and why the conditions under which that tradeoff is made are (or should be) made clear when it’s taught.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I’ll take your word for it because you’re clearly more knowledgeable about this than me. If you had been around when I was doing my basic gas turbine exam it would likely have saved me some time.

            When you say ‘closed control volume’ are you referring to things like:
            -A venturi tube used to create suction for vacuum instruments (venturi
            -on a turbine engine, after the compressor section, the diffuser (just prior to the combustion section diffuser

            Or are those not really Bernoulli either?

            I still contend though that if you’re taught over and over again that wings generate lift by Bernoulli because of different air velocities over the top and bottom, that it makes perfect sense to apply that to a ping pong ball with differing air velocities.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Venturi tubes are good; so are pipes. Diffusers seem hard – I have no real idea how mass flows work in one, but I suspect it will work. I’m just not brave enough to do the thermo + fluids math that’s required, since I’m pretty sure incompressible assumptions don’t hold and some heat goes into evaporating the fuel, and the ratios of everything are dependent on temperature differentials and ambient pressure and god knows what else. Makes me feel ill just thinking about it. But yes, it probably counts, though you probably can’t use Bernoulli for other reasons…

            For a control volume, you just need to be able to draw a box around your system such that the input and output mass flows are known. For a Venturi tube, for example, there are two outlets and everything else is a wall. For Bernoulli assumptions to hold, frictional energy loss within the volume must be negligible and no work can be done on fluid within the volume (or, if you allow work, you have to modify the equation). The reason why the levitating ball example doesn’t work is that you’re shooting a jet into a reservoir – a body of fluid that’s so large that you can’t draw a useful control volume that contains it. Frictional effects determine basically all of the jet’s behavior in this region, so they’re very no good.

            As for your last point – when I said “anyone who breathes regularly” I meant that literally. You breathe out by creating positive pressure in your lungs and breathe in by creating low pressure. So when you’re told that a free jet of air – something very much like an exhalation – has a pressure lower than ambient, it makes sense to be very, very confused. All the tactile sensations we experience while breathing out say, “positive pressure.” Your throat expands naturally, you feel drag forces pushing your jaw apart and your mouth skin is dragged slightly towards the front of your mouth. None of that makes sense if the jet pressure is low, and many of the objections to the Bernoulli principle when it’s taught arise from things like this. People mostly have zero intuition for change in flow (aside from the classic hand-in-window analogy) and are naturally inclined to think about generating flows in processes like breathing, where Bernoulli doesn’t hold (pop quiz: why does Bernoulli not hold for an exhalation?). So when you teach it, you teach them to look at a changing flow – the air is already moving around the plane and it’s just being deflected. You stick to hand in window and water through a pipe as much as possible. But then you throw an exhalation at them, with no prior treatment of the subject and after telling them not to worry about such things because that’s not the kind of flow you’re talking about. Is it any wonder they don’t link it back to Bernoulli? I don’t think it is.

          • LesHapablap says:

            While I have you here maybe you can answer another question for me about gas temperature:

            If you stick a thermometer in a vessel with a gas in it, then expand the vessel so that the gas is less dense / less pressure, the temperature measured on the thermometer drops, correct? Is this because the molecules are actually less excited, or just because there are less molecules around to impart heat on the thermometer?

            I ask this in relation to the temperature dropping as you gain altitude.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you stick a thermometer in a vessel with a gas in it, then expand the vessel so that the gas is less dense / less pressure, the temperature measured on the thermometer drops, correct?

            For temperature to drop, the average kinetic energy of the molecules must drop; the number of molecules doesn’t enter into it. It’s not necessarily the case that expanding a vessel results in a temperature drop, however; free expansion of an ideal gas results in no temperature change. So it depends how the gas expands.

          • LesHapablap says:

            So, in the context of a rising parcel of air (like a thermal), how fast and high the parcel rises depends on the ‘environmental lapse rate’ or the change in temperature as you move up in altitude. If the ELR is quite fast (increasing 1000ft altitude lowers temperature by 3 degrees C) then the rising parcel of air, which drops temperature naturally as it rises, will always be warmer than the surrounding air, and therefore less dense, and therefore it just keeps rising. That’s how you get towering cumulus clouds.

            So my question is really: why does the rising parcel of air naturally lose temperature as it rises?

      • orin says:

        To be fair, Bernoulli’s Principle is not magic; more fundamental and incisive is that lift is generated by the deflection of air downwards, by Newton’s 3rd law[1]. How/why that air is deflected downwards is obvious in the case of a wing with a chordline/angle-of-attack, but is not obvious in the case of a ping pong ball, and I honestly don’t think that even correctly applying Bernoulli’s Principle to “explain” why the ball stays in the air employs useful insight about what is actually going on, and in fact I think it leads to more confusion than anything. Fluid dynamics is complicated; there is no tricking Newton’s 3rd law.

        [1] This is a pet peeve of mine as a physicist, but even more because the incomparable “Stick and Rudder” emphasizes this point very clearly, so it’s depressing to me how much work Bernoulli’s Principle does in the pilot’s curriculum.

    • dorrk says:

      Take it as a compliment. The smarter/better you become in the specific areas that interest you, the dumber everyone around you will appear in those same areas, as you become more able to discern depth of knowledge from casual knowledge.

      Most people never get beyond — and aren’t interested in — casual knowledge on any given subject. Once you get beyond that threshold, they can appear stupid, whereas they are really just unconcerned. Keep in mind that you also appear idiotic to those who are past that threshold in areas for which you only possess/pursue casual knowledge. Most “stupid” people are really smart/experts at something, it just might be something that you don’t value.

    • albatross11 says:

      Every now and then, there’s some report of a survey in which high school teachers are given very basic questions to answer, and fail a surprising fraction of the time. My guess is that this is the same everywhere–high school teachers are just like everyone else in that they often skated on cramming/copying a friend’s homework/doing just enough for an acceptable grade in school, they’ve often forgotten a lot of what they learned, etc.

      I’m well-established in my field, and know many other well-established people. It’s routine for all of us to have areas of our field we don’t really understand all that well. I’ve explained what I thought of as very basic ideas from my part of the world to people who didn’t know them, but were super smart people who really deeply understood some other part of our field, and they’ve done the same for me.

      One of the more interesting ways this became visible to me is listening to TWIV and TWIM–excellent microbiology podcasts by genuine experts. Every now and then, they will drift over into some other area of science I know better than they do, and then they often walk right off a cliff. These are guys with PhDs and professorships in a hard science and lifetimes in the scientific world, who are also science-geeky enough to want to do a podcast about their area of expertise. They must be in the top 1/10000 of Americans in terms of science knowledge. And yet, get a little outside your expertise, and it’s easy to just misunderstand or misremember something.

    • psmith says:

      a) You know what they say about running into assholes all day every day, well, ….

      b) w/r/t doctors in particular, your knee or whatever will always be more important to you than it is to them, unless you’re doing the whole concierge medicine thing. incentives matter.

      • Anonymous says:

        a) Not applicable here.

        b) I still would expect them to be useful for something other than signing off sick leave notes.

        Me: I have a genetest that says I have A and this bloodwork shows that I do appear to have A.
        Doc: The tests are worthless. You should exercise an hour a day and you’ll be fine.

        I later do more extensive testing, and it turns out I have A. For which exercise is zero help.

    • proyas says:

      I’ve felt surrounded by idiots at times in the past, but no longer. After getting to know my colleagues more since getting my job three years ago, I’ve come to be very impressed with how educated and smart (two different things there) they are.

      However, my window on the broader world–which is mostly defined by what I see on social media and in the news media–is much bleaker. The people immediately around me are not idiots, but a sea of them is lurking out there, a little farther away.

      • James C says:

        Doesn’t that imply you just need to get to know everyone else better to see that they’re actually regular people, like with your co-workers?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Welp, this morning 3 co-workers were arguing about which kind of fire should not have water put on it: paper, or grease.

      To some extent a lot of knowledge is just specialized, and sometimes people just forget crap. On the other hand, a lot of people are just incredibly lazy, incredibly stupid, or incredibly non-resourceful. These kinds of people (the majority) only work well in organizations with lots of bureaucracy and pre-established routines to ensure all critical work gest done timely. I’d say about 1/3 to 1/2 of people I’ve ever worked with are in this “unable to function outside of command environment” tier.

    • onyomi says:

      Been reading Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game recently, and it has given me food for thought about a number of issues; somewhat related to this one in particular and hopefully not too Culture War-y is a heuristic he points out using an example of restaurants, where supposedly restaurants that win awards decided by other restaraunteurs/industry professionals go out of business much sooner than you’d expect.

      His explanation is that professionals in most industries are usually judged by some combination of peers and “exposure to the real world,” e.g. customers. However, this proportion varies widely by industry and maybe also by subdiscipline and even individual (some people are probably just motivated more by industry accolades and others by customer satisfaction). Unsurprisingly if you know Taleb/have been reading the book, he puts a lot more stock by the evaluation of customers as compared to the evaluation of peers. He points out that industries heavily reliant on peer…review tend to accumulate a lot of BS, because they become self-referential status games whereas industries with a lot of exposure to “reality” cannot afford to do so.

      An interesting example of a field with a pretty high exposure to “reality” is medicine (especially patient-focused as opposed to research), because you have to deal with cold, hard facts like patient survival rates, whereas more academic fields are free to explore decades’-long cul-de-sacs of knowledge, weaving elaborate theories designed to impress one’s peers rather than more closely, usefully map the real world. Claiming, for example, that macroeconomics is a more BS-heavy field than micro, he states “It’s much easier to bullshit at the macro-level than it is to bullshit at the micro-level.” And, in fact, my impression is that macro is more prone to domination by fashion and charismatic personalities like Keynes. Taleb is a big fan of Hayek.

      Anyway, more to your point, this made me realize something positive about doctors: I had long been annoyed by what seemed to me the “unscientific” approach of many doctors. Doctors on TV do a bunch of tests, figure out you’ve got complicated-sounding-syndrome x and then administer the perfect therapy to zap x. Real doctors check google and say things like “have you tried just not moving your arm in that direction?” “Sorry that last psychiatric medication made you unable to sleep for 3 days. Maybe just try this other one? Some people seem to do pretty well on it.”

      This relates to Taleb’s idea (paraphrasing) that “scientism looks more like science than science.” In other words, you might be more reassured about the state of the field of medicine if doctors acted more like TV doctors, but if they did, it would actually probably be a sign that they are BSing you, because the reality-facing doctor has learned that, when dealing with something as complicated as the human body, a bunch of experience-based heuristics are often much superior to complicated theorizing. That is, I may sometimes be disappointed with what seems like the “un-scientific” approach doctors take, yet I should be much more frightened if doctors talked, and judged each other, as do professors of literature.

      Taleb mocks this comic because while the audience for The New Yorker prides itself on respect for the opinions of “experts,” Taleb’s point is that plane-flying is not comparable to the political and scientific fields the comic implicitly compares it to because politicians and many scientists, economists, et al. are much more insulated from bad consequences if their theories turn out to be BS than is an airplane pilot.

      See also: “Would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than the 2000 members of the Harvard faculty” and the problem of even well-intentioned industry experts working closely with even well-intentioned regulators.

      So, yes, everyone’s winging it and it is possible you are surrounded by idiots (or that you are unusually competent), but I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that sometimes the people who seem to be flying by the seat of their pants are actually much more trustworthy.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Those idiots are probably as smart as you; they’re just solving a different problem. Your self-imposed task is to e.g. do as good of a job as possible: acquit your client, lower your client’s taxes as far as possible, heal your patient as efficiently as possible, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the problem your peers are solving is different; they just want to make as much money as possible without sacrificing their entire life to this task. They look at you, with your student loans and your after-hours work, and they think, “what an idiot !”

      • Anonymous says:

        I am bemoaning the incompetent of supposed experts in their alleged core skill. When a rank amateur with internet access can outperform them, this is bad. Really bad. This is not on the level of memorizing the entire damn legal code, this is getting the facts wrong about one of the core documents of the current law, this is apparently not reading anything about medicine published since the 1970s, etc. Really basic things. From highly respected, well-credentialed people.

        • Bugmaster says:

          When a rank amateur with internet access can outperform them, this is bad. Really bad.

          What do you mean by “bad” ? Clearly, these people are still able to function as lawyers/doctors/whatever; if all their clients went to jail and/or died, they would be fired. Also, I bet that these people make more money than you or I.

          So, from their personal perspective, they are doing the right thing: making the most money with the least effort. But one could argue that they are doing the right thing from the social perspective, as well. A full-course fine dining French cuisine meal is much tastier and healthier than McDonalds or a homemade sandwich; but if food was only available in fine dining establishments, people would starve. Your plumber doesn’t have a fluid dynamics Ph.D., but if we required plumbers to have Ph.D.s, we’d all drown in leaky faucet water. And no, you don’t need Dr. House to diagnose each case of common cold. It’d be a waste of resources.

    • Baeraad says:

      No, I have the opposite problem. I instinctively assume that other people know what they’re doing.

      Which can’t be true, because just for starters, people invariably disagree strongly on what the best thing to do is, and they can’t all be right. And for that matter, I’ve seen first-hand how the most cock-sure people can be completely and hideously mistaken. But I still have to struggle to remind myself of it.

      I do, on the other hand, frequently feel surrounded by lunatics. Very smart and competent lunatics, though, which just makes it worse.

  53. Elementaldex says:

    I have made a reasonable effort at teaching fencing to ~1,000 adults (ranging from 18-75 years old with most of them being closer to 18 than 75) There seem to be three groups of people as far as blade work/fine tip control go. Some people will never be good and it is obvious within a month, even if they train for years that part of their fencing will always be crippled. Some people are good from the beginning and within a month you can tell that if they stick with it they will be making beautiful pinky or toe shots within the year. Some people are not in either category and seem to get better in direct proportion to how hard they work on it. I would say incidence is roughly 30/20/50. And this does not seem to correlate well with what other fine motor skills they may have. I.e. I teach a woman who is a professional pianist and she is solidly in the first group, but on the other hand she picked up the piano skills as a child so maybe ability to acquire fine motor skills and an adult is not well correlated with being able to do it as a child?

    • Walter says:

      My favorite part about teaching fencing is how petrified about half of people start out at poking people with foils. My old teacher used to have a ‘first lesson’ that included people having to hit him as he employed the awesome defensive technique of ‘just standing there’ and about half of the group would fail.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Yep, overcoming people’s instinct to not do things that look like they would hurt one another is one of the basic hurdles. I generally call a more advanced fencer over and whale on them in a spectacular looking way to demonstrate that the gear actually works and no one is going to get (seriously) hurt.

        Epee in my case, are you still active?

        • Walter says:

          No, I am old and spectacularly obese. But I used to be alright at foil and saber. I never did epee, but it looked like a lot of fun!

      • silver_swift says:

        My old teacher used to have a ‘first lesson’ that included people having to hit him as he employed the awesome defensive technique of ‘just standing there’ and about half of the group would fail.

        Yup, that never stops being funny.

        On the other hand, teaching people to get over this is much easier than teaching the people that start out think they’re jedi’s to parry an attack without decapitating the referee.

      • Statismagician says:

        Heh. I started with saber at age 6, and so never really had an issue with this – when I took over my college club I had a devil of a time figuring out what these peoples’ problem was.

      • Bamboozle says:

        You should see what people are like with HEMA. Yes this spear isn’t going to hurt that bad i promise!

  54. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So I haven’t read this book, and based on the description I don’t really care to, but it sounds like the author fell into a common utopian trap:

    If your ideal society requires 100% buy-in in order to work, it won’t ever work. Likewise, if your ideal society can’t be built towards one piece at a time but has to be imposed on the entire world all at once, you’re going to be very disappointed with the results if it is imposed somewhere.

    Does she have any suggestions for how society could reform in ways that would make life easier for introverts or does she think nothing short of a total reorganization of society would work? Because if it’s the former there’s actually something to talk about, but if it’s the latter she needs to get comfortable having her ideas treated with the seriousness afforded perpetual motion machine cranks and sovereign citizens.

  55. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    This is a bit of a festive corporate ethics question that’s been bugging me since I recently listened to A Christmas Carol again yesterday:

    Today is December 27th, somewhere in 19th century London. Your name is Ebenezer Scrooge and you are the last survivng partner in a counting-house, Scrooge & Marley. Just two nights ago, you were haunted by three (four, really) ghosts who taught you the true meaning of Christmas. Yesterday, you took the first steps in repenting for your sins by, among other things, not punishing your clerk for coming in to work at a normal hour and by giving him a raise.

    So, now what? How do you run a successful 19th century book-keeping / accountancy firm in keeping with the spirit of Christmas?

    • Aapje says:

      You don’t. The missing part of the story is that Scrooge ends up going bankrupt and in debtor’s prison. Since he is estranged from his family, no one is willing to pay for him, so he lives there for the rest of his life, until the rats finally kill him.

      The End.


      • Bugmaster says:

        Wait, why wouldn’t the modern corporate tactics work in the 19th Century ? That is, you work your employees like slaves 364 days/year; but once a year, you throw a lavish Christmas party, and invite all the little people as well as their families. The net cost will be a negligible fraction of your profits, and the morale boost will last the whole year.

        • Aapje says:

          While that may be in the spirit of Christmas as commonly celebrated, it seems to not be in the spirit of A Christmas Carol.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I dunno, it seems to pretty aptly describe Mr. Fezziwig and he’s held up as a role model for Scrooge.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m not sure they work all that well in the 21st century. Lavish they might (sometimes) be, but I’ve never been to a company Christmas party that didn’t bore me to tears.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m just a bit nicer to Cratchit and call it a day. Scrooge & Marley seemed to be have pretty decent profits (and Scrooge himself was such a miser that he wasn’t enjoying them anyway), so it probably wasn’t such an efficient market that any increase in costs would sink the firm.

      Biggest problem is going to be finding a new partner who will both be competent and buy into this plan.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’d argue that priority 1 should be keeping people out of debtor’s prison. Priority 2 is probably giving people money for things like Tiny Tim’s operation. I think you may be able to get here by using some sort of credit score/acceptable risk of default system to ensure that you can keep the lights on. So, step 1, don’t loan to people who are kicking the can down the road by going further into debt, and don’t enter into any loans you expect to size collateral on. It may be wise to offer financial hardship deferment through some sort of formal process as well.

      Step 2 – Scrooge seems to be in a position where he could (which is not to say that he’s morally obligated, just that he wouldn’t be threatened by it) stand a few more defaults. So let’s say that Scrooge designates a portion of his business for uncollateralized, low-interest loans with a relatively high default rate, possibly with something like an income-based repayment plan. He should NOT advertise this, and should make secrecy a condition of this sort of loan, to be penalized by an interest rate hike up to normal levels. Alternatively, give a fixed number of referrals per client, or make people somehow culpable for their referrals. This ensures that it’s mostly the truly desperate who will hear of this system.

    • Walter says:

      You are aware of the afterlife, more so than any man who has ever lived. Your economic solvency pales in comparison to the possibility of propogating what amount to Good Place point totals for various actions. Your comfort pales in comparison to the fact that damnation awaits the unwary.

      You need to keep Christmas, as the spirits command, but beyond it is morally obligate upon you to get others to keep Christmas. One is tempted to say you should finance missionaries and the like, but how would you know that the spirits would agree with their messages?

      No, the most important thing to do, the only one you can be sure will work, is to publish your own story. Let everyone else hear the words of the spirits, and decide how to behave. Ideally it should be written in such a way as to pass into popular culture without debate or fuss.

      Get a writer friend to do a novelization of the happenings, pass the words of the spirits on to the future swaddled in a delightful cloak of fiction.

    • Deiseach says:

      How do you run a successful 19th century book-keeping / accountancy firm in keeping with the spirit of Christmas?

      Are they an accountancy firm, though? I must re-read to find out, but I get the strong whiff of ‘engaging in money-lending’ as well as whatever legitimate business they engage in, and that a lot of the legitimate business was built around foreclosing and squeezing every drop of advantage and profit that they could out of their clients:

      My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house—mark me!—in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!

      He sat down to the dinner that had been hoarding for him by the fire; and when she asked him faintly what news (which was not until after a long silence), he appeared embarrassed how to answer.

      “Is it good?” she said, “or bad?”— to help him.

      “Bad,” he answered.

      “We are quite ruined?”

      “No. There is hope yet, Caroline.”

      “If he relents,” she said, amazed, “there is! Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has happened.”

      “He is past relenting,” said her husband. “He is dead.”

      She was a mild and patient creature if her face spoke truth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but the first was the emotion of her heart.

      “What the half-drunken woman whom I told you of last night, said to me, when I tried to see him and obtain a week’s delay; and what I thought was a mere excuse to avoid me; turns out to have been quite true. He was not only very ill, but dying, then.”

      “To whom will our debt be transferred?”

      “I don’t know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money; and even though we were not, it would be a bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline!”

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yeah I tried to figure out exactly what kind of firm he was running but it was very unclear. As you point out he apparently had debtors and changed money, and I think at more than one point Dickens refers to his building and his former master’s as warehouses (warehouses of what?). I settled on accounting because Scrooge & Marley is most consistently described as a counting-house.

        So I guess stepping back from whatever usury he was involved in? Presumably he should continue lending to needy people, but without charging interest it’s unclear how that’s sustainable. I suppose if he’s old enough and has deep enough pockets it doesn’t have to be sustainable, he can afford to lose money until he dies. Then again, at that point he might as well close the doors and give everything to charity.

      • Erusian says:

        Scrooge runs a network of warehouses. Traders and the like who need space pay him to store, load, pack, etc their stuff in his warehouses. It’s a business model that’s still around today. He also owns property that he rents out and loans out money and he owns some stocks. But that’s not Scrooge & Marley, those are just ways for him to grow his money. (What? You didn’t think he was going to spend it on luxuries did you?) He has a counting house to do the accounting for his businesses.

        While Scrooge is miserly, he’s explicitly not cheating anybody. Jorkin is the one who stole from the till, from clients, cut costs in dangerous ways. Scrooge booted him out of the company for such behavior. This is important to Dicken’s narrative. Scrooge is supposed to be something like his idea of the libertarian ideal: scrupulously honest and only engaging in voluntary transactions. He’s right to demand people who are past due on their payments pay up, for example. But for Dickens, this lacks Christian charity, so Scrooge is going to hell.

        Anyway, the real answer to this is ‘be as much like Mr. Fezziwig as possible’. At least within Dicken’s novel.

        • albatross11 says:

          …and then Scrooge realized what a bad person he was and stopped running his businesses as profit-making enterprises. A few years later, the last of his businesses went bankrupt, and Scrooge retired on his savings, with a warm glow of goodness accompanying him. All his employees had to go find other jobs; his warehouses fell into disrepair and became hideouts for local criminals; all his former customers had to raise prices or let employees go to handle the now higher cost of finding properly-run warehouses. God bless us, every one.

          • Erusian says:

            I do have to admit, I think Dickens is particularly ruled by his childhood traumas. One of them was when his father ran up debt and was arrested for it. The school-aged Dickens worked pasting stickers on shoe polish to make ends meet. He was very clear he considered this to be degrading and humiliating. When his mother forced him to continue working he developed a strong hatred for her.

            Dickens always struck me as someone who cares deeply for people like himself. His sexism, anti-semitism, etc are all failures of him to imagine others complexly. This includes people who run factories like the one he worked in. You can often trace his sympathy or antipathy for entire classes of people to specific incidents in his life where a specific person treated him well or poorly.

            I have no doubt young Dicken’s life would have been better if a paternal wealthy man had spent his fortune supporting the young lad. But a large part of A Christmas Carol is a morality tale about how anyone who doesn’t help out young boys like him is going to hell. Meanwhile, the impoverished Jew who resorts to crime because of discrimination is evil and deserves no sympathy. And that rankles.

          • One of Trollope’s novels has a character who I think is patterned on Dickens. Not an attractive character.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      As far as I can tell the spirit of Christmas involves making your employees come in at 6 in the morning the day after Thanksgiving. So Scrooge probably doesn’t need to change much.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Engage in marginal charity. Hire more employees, invest in a comfortable workspace, take on more customers, and charge them less–doing all of these things more than the profit-maximizing amount, but close enough to it that most of the marginal costs are still offset by marginal revenue.

    • Lambert says:

      There’s no lack of wealthy Victorian philanthropists out there.
      See George Peabody, who funded education in the US and affordable housing in the UK.

  56. UserNumber9 says:

    IIRC, a surgeon in the US won’t enter residency (i.e. start learning surgery) until they are 27-28 years old. (High school to 18, undergrad to 22, medical school to 26, *then* residency.)

    If you want to tour the world playing the violin as a soloist you’re probably out of luck. Anything else you might reasonable want to do, go for it.

  57. Walter says:

    I haven’t read the books, but the thesis you are proposing (folks should be nicer to introverts) strikes me as true, for values of ‘should’ that are mostly ‘I desperately wish they’d’.

    I definitely agree that confidence/assertiveness/extroversion is likely to increase someone’s likelihood of succeeding. I don’t have anything beyond my own experience to base this off, but I figured I’d add my drop to that bucket.

  58. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    The report button is still broken, at least for me, so it’s going to be difficult to report anything.

    As a Biomedical Scientist™, I have to say that gwern is talking out of his ass about codon re-mapping giving “near-perfect immunity” to bacterial infections. Viral infections, sure, but bacteria don’t care about your codons because they have their own tRNA. The reason why bacteria can infect your body is that your body is (by design) a very hospitable and nutrient-rich environment, and changing your codon mapping is only going to change that if it kills you.

    • metacelsus says:

      Yes, in the previous thread I posted a response to Gwern’s original comment saying the same thing. It’s also been noted above in this thread.

      On the other hand, immunity to viruses would be pretty nice anyway.

  59. Plumber says:

    Many threads ago someone asked me to report on a book on Medieval guilds I was reading, a few thread a ago someone (I think it was @Nick) asked about my take on labor and trade unions, but in the responses to that decided “I guess it’s just me interested” (or something close to that), but more recently @cassander wrote something that sparked my writing out my take on that subject which will touch a bit on some old history and American leftist political parties:

    While often a slavery based economy the Roman Republic and Empire had some wage paid labor, and in time occupation based social clubs called by many words such as collegium(college) and corporatio (corporatation), it’s a bit murky but apparently the Roman state granted a few privileges (such as not being regarded as a criminal conspiracy) and imposed some responsibilities such as making the carpenters college have fire-fighting duties (on the theory that they understood buildings). Bits and pieces on the collegiums got into Roman documents including some laws.

    Despite some claims by masons most historians don’t think that any colleges/corporations survived the fall of the western Roman empire though they did linger in Byzantium, but as urban civilization and a money economy re-developed in western Europe and expanded to northern Europe new artisan and merchant trade associations developed called by various names including companies, corporatations, gilds, and guilds (scholars guilds came to be called colleges after the Roman social clubs).

    A shopkeeper would employ an apprentice learning a trade who would often be a relative and if not have a status somewhere between a foster child and a servant. On the theory that teenagers will listen to authorities who aren’t their parents better than their own parents the “masters” would effectively swap children, and in time parents would pay to have their children apprenticed to others and town governments would pay to have orphans apprenticed (sometimes “orphans” meant destitute parents not unlike our modern foster care system), the orphans usually starting younger than the non-orphans but both ending their apprenticeships around their early 20’s. 

    Just as they did their own children masters could and did beat their apprentices, but there were limits, in one incident an apprentice who had been severely beaten in the 16th century and ran away in the City of Exeter, the beating was judge so severe that the master was put in stocks with the apprentice near, shirtless to show the scars of what the master had done.Elaborate rules were created, including how apprentices were to be treated by the masters wife, and in time women also became apprentices, usually of seperate trades such as sewing, but widows and daughters would sometimes join the same trades as men depending on the trade and location, they’re records of daughters becoming smiths, but not masons (sort of like rural workers, women mostly didn’t plough and men mostly didn’t milk cows but at harvest time every hand was needed to cut wheat).

    In time the guilds became the city government in many late medieval towns with Mayors being selected by “the free men of the city” (guild masters).

    In England it become custom for the nobility as well as artisans and merchants, sometimes even rural folks to “go into service” when young in other people’s households, so just as a smith or fletcher in training would be apprenticed to another family so would the nobility be “pages”, “lady’s in waiting”, and “squires” (there accounts of Italians finding the practice strange).

    Elaborate rules were also created to protect the reputations of the guild, quality control rules and rules about how to qualify as a master allowed to set up shop, a “masterpiece” demonstrating one’s work often being required (to complete my union plumbing apprenticeship I had to build a “rough-in” of a bathroom to “turn out” after 9,000 hours of work and five years of night classes).

    In time a new status developed besides apprentice and master, the journeymen who didn’t employ apprentices themselves and didn’t stay with one master: 

    ‘…The weavers’ guild is the first to include a number of “valets” or “journeymen.” By 1250 the towns of Flanders have many of these. Finished with their apprenticeship, the journeymen are not yet permitted to become masters. Even in good times they are subject to the caprices of the market and their employers. Every Monday morning they gather in the squares and before the churches, where the masters hire labor for the week. On Saturday night, after a week’s dawn-to-dusk work, the journeymen is oaid off and must again look for work on Monday morning. 

    Five years ago [1245] something incredible happened in Dousing, one of the richest Flemish cloth towns. The weavers got together and refused to work. The outraged cloth merchants crushed this insurrectionary movement, and every brighter trusts that workingmen will never do anything of the kind again….’

    In Britain in the 16th century land enclosures became more common, where what had once been common land increasingly became private property and rural serfs were forced off land their families had worked and lived in for generations, this process continued up till the 19th century with more and more land enclosures, the 18th century Scottish “Highland clearances” were said to be particularly brutal, often fields became pastures for sheep as wool was more profitable, I’ve read this described as “The original sin of capitalism”.

    • Plumber says:

      Wages were relatively high in late Tudor England but in the 16th century opportunities to achieve “master” status were diminished and they’re letters and screeds from that time bemoaning the “scandal” of apprentices and journeymen acting married instead of waiting to become master first which used to happen in their late 20’s or 30’s.

      Wages dropped from Elizabethan highs in the early 18th century restoration era and increasingly the guild system broke down and by the 19th century being “in service” wasn’t a matter of what age you were but of what class you were.

      The cities became more crowded, with the infamous “slums”.

      Meanwhile in the British North American colonies of the 17th century the younger sons of the nobility in the “Tidewater” region tried to make themselves feudal lords, so they needed labor and the demand for “indentured servants” (I had to sign an agreement to be an “indentured apprentice” for a few years in order to be trained as a plumber in the late 20th and early 21st century) to be indentured is a contract pledging to labor for someone, to learn a trade or for ships passage, or as an alternative to being hanged for committing a crime, soon demand for labor outstripped supply, as word got back to Britain about the conditions in the “new world” and being what became called “shanghaid” when used to crew ships became more common because they’re was something in the tidewater region.


      Escaping to inland and starting homesteads became more common among the indentured, and the “planters” found a new source of labor….

      ….which is a whole other tale.

      Further north away from the planters homesteads and then cities developed and then…AW just read Albion’s Seed already. 

      Suffice it to say cities developed, Benjamin Franklin was famously a printers apprentice and there was enough of a residual of the guild system that an application to start a couch company in the city of Boston in the early 19th century was rejected because other coach company owners objected that the applicants had never been teamsters themselves so not “in the craft”, but that wasn’t to last and as the last vestiges of the guild system dissolved (with a few remnants such as the City of London “livery companies” which are charity organisations and social clubs that sometimes sponsor trade schools in deference to their orgins) and laws rewritten a new type of organization, the “trade union” appears (really, Parliament abolished guilds and within a decade trade unions appear, I have a 19th century book right now from inter-library loan that explicitly states that the end of the guilds created the necessity of trade unions, On The History And Development of Gilds And The Origin of Trade-Unions by Lujo Brentano of Ashaffenburg, Bavaria MDCCCLXX (1870) which I’ll quote from:

      “…Trade-Unions are the successors of the old Gilds. With this assertion I concluded the foregoing part of this Essay. It is far from being a new statement. On the contrary, friends and enemies of these associations have repeatedly, in words and print, pointed at their connection with the old Gilds, the former to justify, by this pedigree, their existence, the latter to condemn them at once by describing them as continuations of institutions considered for long, and generally, at best as antiquated. Their enemies, by the dodge of applying to them the epithet of “long-condemned associations for the restriction of trade,” generally dispensed with all further inquiries into the real results of their working.

      Indeed, every reader of the foregoing pages who has ever made himself familiar with the rules of a Trade-Society, or with one of the numerous blue-books inquiring into the organization of Trade-Societies, must grant at once their similarity to the Craft-Gilds. But notwithstanding this striking likeness, and the numberless writings on the subject of Trade-Unions, nobody has yet inquired historically how these Unions originated,*. [Mr. Thornton’s chapter On the Origin of Trades’ Unions (in The Fortnightly Review, New Series, vol. ii. p. 688, and in his work On Labour and its Claims) bears the same relation to the real origin of Trade-Unions, as Rousseau’s Contrat Social to the historical origin of States.] and how far they may really be considered as the descendants of the old Gilds. All opinions on this point which I have yet met with are vague, and, as I am obliged to say, far from corresponding with the reality. The most plausible theory is expounded by Mr. Ludlow in one of the best papers ever written on Trade-Unions.*. [Trade-Societies and the Social Science Association, in Macmillan’s Magazine, February and March, 1861.] According to his idea, the first Trade-Unions originated in the capitalist-masters withdrawing from the Craft-Gild, so as “to confine it to the operative class, so that the Gild would necessarily merge in the Trade-Society.” He accordingly says, “The Trade-Society of our days is but the lopsided representative of the old Gild, its dwarfed but lawful heir.” For the historical proof of the identity between the two, he refers to Mr. Hill’s Account of Trade-Combinations at Sheffield.*. [Trades’ Societies and Strikes. Report of the Committee on Trades’ Societies appointed by the Social Science Association, London, 1860, p. 521.]

      Considering only the rules and restrictions prevailing in the old Craft-Gilds, and comparing them with the regulations which our modern Trade-Associations, existing only among workmen, try to enforce, one might feel inclined to accept this opinion at once. But the fact is, that in no one single instance did such a withdrawing of the masters from the Craft-Gild, leaving it to the workmen alone, ever take place. On the contrary, I think it more probable that the masters generally remained in the corporation, to prevent its bye-laws being enforced against them, and to annihilate its influence. Such, at least, was the case at Sheffield—as I will show further on—or the audience of Mr. Roebuck’s declamations against the United States, the still existing Cutler’s Company in Hallamshire, would have consisted of the same persons as returned Mr Mundella for Sheffield! Trade-Unions are no lopsided representatives of the old Gilds; they are complete Gilds themselves, as well as the Town-Gilds and Craft-Gilds. And when calling them the successors of the old Gilds, I did not mean to designate them as continuations of the Craft-Gilds, nor do I think that their descent from these now certainly antiquated societies could justify their existence. But if I succeed in proving that wherever we find in a trade the first formation of such unions among the workmen, and if, wherever more detailed records of their origin are extant, we see them arising under the same circumstances and for the same objects as the Frith-Gilds and Craft-Gilds previously arose, that is, under the breaking-up of an old system, and among the men suffering from this disorganization, in order that they may maintain independence and order, I think that this, together with the identity of their organization with that of the Gilds, will not only justify me in calling the Trade-Unions the successors of the latter, but will justify as well the existence of the Unions, as I shall then have proved that certain circumstances of disorganization, if unchecked by stronger restrictions,*. [The want of a similar growth of Trade-Societies on the Continent must be accounted for by the military sway prevailing there at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, which suppressed all kinds of meetings and unions, and by the absence of a similar disorganization of trade to that which prevailed at that time in England.] call forth necessarily in all times the same organizations into Gilds. Indeed, in our time of physical and economical law-making, one might call this a historical law….”


    • Plumber says:

      The first trade union in the United States is supposed to be a group of shoemakers in Boston, and after the Civil War with increased industrialization as employees go on strike and the movement spreads despite brutal reprisals, the 1870’s and the 1910’s are particularly bloody but labor violence continues at least into thr 1970’s in “coal country”.

      The first plumbers union forms in New York City under the Knights of Labor umbrella and the “International Association” of Plumbers (’cause Canada) is formed with a number of co-op shops (especially in Chicago) is formed, Steam Fitters and Gas Fitters are brought into the fold and…

      ….in the “Panics” (as economic recessions were then called) of the 1880’s they go under.

      Dropping the co-op shops the remaining viable union locals form a new “international” (cause Canada) Plumbers union – The United Association (which I’m a member of) as part of the new American Federation of Labor led by Samuel Gompers in the early 1890’s. 

      Gompers advocates “plain and simple unionism” which is free of entanglements with socialist, syndicalists, and anarchists and just concentrates on wages and working conditions for it’s limited members who are skilled workers in a concept called “craft unionism” (Gompers skilled trade was making cigars).

      “Unskilled” labor isn’t invited (it didn’t work out quite like that, but that was the idea).

      In my union it’s clear that the idea is to almost be like the old guilds, they’re indentured apprentices and journeyworkers, you have to demonstrate a certain amount of skill to become a journeyman, and a certain quality of work is expected.

      In contrast there’s “industrial unionism” in which all employees of an industry are to be organized and included.

      A new umbrella union was created in the early 20th century: “The Industrial Workers of the World” and they try “organize the unorganizable”, itinerant loggers and field hands, immigrants, everybody, and their explicit end game isn’t better wages it’s a great “general strike” leading to a syndicalists society. 

      They are jailed, killed, and exiled, and are chiefly remembered for their militancy and “the little red songbook” of “union hymns”.

      After a peak during the First World War, and a 1919 strike wave union density plummeted in the 1920’s, and then came the Great Depression. 

      The “Panics” of the 19th century and the recession of 1921 offer some preview, but this economic turn down is deep especially compared to the prosperity of the ’20’s and radical movements rise.

      After three years of Depression a campground of desperste thousands in Washington D.C. form a “Bonus Army” around a nucleus of First World War veterans and their families asking for a promised pension to be paid early, and they are dispersed by the U.S. Army (including future WW2 generals Eisenhower and MacArthur) in what is described as “Today’s soldiers fighting yesterday’s”. 

      Soon a new President is elected who signs “The National Recovery Act” which aims to create a sort of government/business price fixing “corporatist” scheme, which causes a lot of Blue Eagle signs to go up with “We Do Are Part” written on them, which is soon overruled by the courts but has a lingering effect: There’s a line in the act that seems to allow easier union organizing, a breaking point has been reached and in 1934 three cities are in “general strikes” involving street violence: Minneapolis, San Francisco and Toledo.

      The Minneapolis “Teamster Rebellion” is helped organized by Farrell Dobbs, a “Communist League” member which is a leftist group headed by James Cannon that is loyal to an exiled Leon Trotsky who has not yet met an icepick, the San Francisco “Big Strike” is led by an Australian born former sailor longshoreman Harry Bridges who was long suspected (but never proven in multiple deportation attempts) to be a CPUSA member, whether he was or not the Stalinists later publish a book celebrating the strike.

      In Toledo, Ohio A.J. Muste and his “American Workers Party” help organize a particular brutal strike.

      All three strike stop almost all work for a few days in each city, and the San Francisco strike closes almost all U.S. ports on the west coast. 

      In 1935 the Wagner Act passes which makes organizing unions a legal right, soon sit down strikes close down auto-plants and the United Auto Workers are organized under the auspices of the “committee of industrial organization” a faction within the A.F. of L. that beginning is usually marked by when John Lewis the head of the United Mine Workers punched the president of the Carpenters Union (a proponent of craft unionism) at the 1935 A.F. of L. convention.

      Local governments as well as employers resist the organization drive but President Roosevelt proves relatively friendly, as does Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins who as a young lady saw employees at Triangle Shortlist dive out of windows to their deaths because they were locked in during a fire.

      Perkins is celebrated for among other things coming to a town where local law enforcement tried to break up a union meeting because it was against a local law a Perkins is supposed to have seen an American flag flying over a post office and said “Meet there”.

      By 1938 the C.I.O. is expelled from the A.F.L., renames itself “The Congress of Industrial Organizations” and the two labor federations are rivals, the west coast longshoreman break from the I.L.A. and become the “International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union”, the very communist led U.E. (United Electrical Workers) are created as rivals to the AFL International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, etc cetera. 

      By 1941 even the Ford Motor Company, which had stockpiled more munitions than the U.S. Army had at the time in case of strikes is unionized. 

      Then comes the war.

      In the interest of “labor peace” the federal government encourages unionization of the munitions plants and merchant ships and except for a few like John L Lewis’ ever fighting mine workers a “no strike” pledge is honored and as a 90 something old Trotskyist told me over a decade ago “Come the war the Stalinists suddenly became super patriots”, as former rebels suddenly urge more production now that the U.S.A. is on the Soviets side, causing a bit of bad blood with some of their fellow workers.

      In 1946 after the wars end the greatest wave of strikes the U.S.A.’s ever had occurs, among which is the Oakland General Strike which starts when a street car driver stops the trolley when he sees women picketing a department store for better wages, traffic is snarled and soon all trades are off work in support of the department store clerks, but this strike doesn’t have the character of the bloody ’34 (or ’19) strikes, instead a holiday atmosphere pervades, the strike committee says “no hard liquor” so instead beer is passed around and the whole thing becomes almost a party, when you look at photos of earlier strikes you see fights, but in looking at photos of the ’46 general strike (the last all city general strike in the U.S.A.) you see smiling faces.

      After over a decade out of power the Republicans control congress and in 1947 pass the Taft-Hartley Act which makes secondary boycotts (like those that occurred in the ’46 strike) illegal, which is made clear in the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific/Moore Dry Dock decision of 1950, and the DeBartelo decision of 1983.

      Not known at the time, but Taft-Hartley takes the wind out of the sails of the U.S. Labor movement. 

      On momentum, and an expanding post war economy, union density grows until 1954, President of the A.F.L., plumber George Meaney has the dimished C.I.O. merge again with the A.F.L (you can tell the real old-timers because the always say A.F. of L, instead of AFL-CIO). Previously after Taft-Hartley new requirements the C.I.O. had purged itself of ten “communist” unions, in the 21st century only the I.L.W.U. which rejoins the federation decades later, and the still independent U.E. survive.

      Also in the late ’40’s “Operation Dixie” an effort to expand the successful organization campaigns of the industrial north into the areas that had been the confederacy is an abysmal failure. 

      Decades after the purge Father Charles Rice, a leader of The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (who in the 1930’s was a labor organizer who turned anti-communist activists in the ’40’s upon learning of what the Soviets were doing in their newly occupied areas) apologized to the leaders of the U.E. for being opposed to their union, and they apologized to him for not realizing before 1956 when the tanks rolled into Hungry what the Soviets really represented.

      Come the 1960’s and a campaign with a poster of an elderly woman in poverty asking “How’s your old teacher?” is successful and teachers have unions, in time public employees become the largest number of union members as the number in the private sector dwindle back down to the levels of the 1920’s. 

      The last big organizing drive (if you don’t include the smaller “Justice for Janitors” campaign of the 1990’s) is the ’60’s and ’70’s farm workers organizing campaign which is effective because it convinces enough of the public to boycott grapes, the success is short lived, while largely Spanish speaking and of Mexican descent themselves, the farmworkers of the U.F.W. in the 1970’s are often citizens, soon they are swamped by further immigration.

      The 1981 air traffic controllers strike marks a watershed moment, many pointing to the mass firing of the air traffic controllers without pushback from the rest of the unions as the last chance for labor unions to stop their decline which goes from slow and steady to a very fast decline. 

      Factories close, move to Dixie and overseas.  

      Jobs are automated.

      After the 1982 recession it’s clear that men will take lower wages than their fathers, and other than the lingering traditional coal county “Harlan County war” little fight is left

      Then mines close. 

      I.L.W.U. stevedore jobs still have relatively high wages but despite much more cargo coming from across the Pacific with containerization and automation far fewer men are needed to unload the ships.

      The old building trades craft unions still exist in much the same form as they were in the 1920’s or even the 1890’s, diminished from their 1950’s peak but still holding on.

      While not exactly new, a “craft” union emerges in the California Nurses Association (later National Nurses United), a bright spot for U.S.A. Labor unions in the 1990’s and 21st century. 

      Those RN’s are tough!

      In writing this tonight (and now this morning!) I’ve consulted two pages from two different books, and three Wikipedia pages (to get some years right, which were 1934, 1950, and 1983, and one first name right, which was Charles), the rest of the info is largely stream of consciousness and from memory and apologies for my mistakes, oversimplifications, et cetera, I’m a plumber not an academic! (Hopefully @DavidFriedman who is an erudite professor will chime in with some correct facts or at least his take).

      Wow, this took me far longer to write than I thought it would!

      Thanks for reading this far, please give your take.

      • albatross11 says:


        Thanks for the effort-post! I didn’t know most of that history, and found it interesting.

        • bean says:

          Seconded. It’s always cool to see something like this.

        • Plumber says:

          @albatross11 and @bean,
          Thanks guys that means a lot to me, I was afraid that the reaction would be either silence or my being slammed for being too anti-Marxist or not Marxist enough!

      • Deiseach says:

        Nice précis of the trade union movement and its origins, thanks Plumber!

        After the 1982 recession it’s clear that men will take lower wages than their fathers, and other than the lingering traditional coal county “Harlan County war” little fight is left

        Then mines close.

        Yeah, that was the real war in 80s Britain when Thatcher took on the miner’s unions and won. There’s to-ing and fro-ing over did the mines need to be closed, but the coal industry as it was did need overhauling. Thatcher took this as the chance to break union power as a whole, and the bitter aftermath was devastation in the North of England where towns were dependent on the mines as the main/sole employers and the feeling that there was the deliberate creation of a two-tier society where the south of England and especially London was seen as important while the rest of the country could go hang. Still a lot of resentment lingering even today. There’s probably no easy way to restructure an entire industry in that manner, but putting all your eggs into the stock market and financial sector basket and encouraging the public to get rich by investing, while there were no alternatives for the closed mines, did seem to be very pointed in serving one section of the people out of everyone else.

        • Plumber says:

          Thanks @Deiseach, very interested in what was going on the other side of the Atlantic.

          Obvious differences but also obvious parallels between Reagan/USA and Thatcher/UK at the time.

          I remember reading some old book by Bertrand Russell in which he contrasted how much more violent U.S. labor struggles were than Britain’s (of course he was only including the island not the Empire) but from television in the 1980’s it seemed worse in the U.K. at the time, though in same sense the cocaine market share “turf” battles of the ’80’s could almost be considered a “labor struggle”.

          Also you taught me a new word!

          • Deiseach says:

            from television in the 1980’s it seemed worse in the U.K. at the time

            Prior to Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives forming a government, there had been the Labour government of James Callaghan which, at its end, was hit by a series of public strikes – the famous Winter of Discontent. The British economy was weak, the Labour government broke agreements on pay rises in order to try and keep the public finances under control, but some private unions were able to negotiate separately and got higher rises, so the public unions pretty much all came out.

            Public discontent with the state of affairs resulted in the Conservative election victory, and as Prime Minister Thatcher had two things going on: one, she was being advised that the coal industry was more or less dead on its feet and had to be rationalised, which would mean shutting down a lot of the pits, importing cheaper coal from abroad (yeah, it was apparently cheaper to buy it in than mine it at home, I have no idea why) and try to diversify into other sources for providing power like oil, natural gas, and nuclear (because a miners’ strike earlier in the 70s had hit energy generation hard due to the reliance on coal which had a bad effect on industry) and two, she wanted to break the power of the unions so that something like the Winter of Discontent couldn’t happen again.

            By taking on the miners’ union, which was the strongest and most militant and the leadership, she would kill two birds with one stone. And going into the second period of government after winning a second election, when the economy was beginning to improve and there was the start of a boom, she had the impetus to do that. Things did get bad, what you saw on the television was real about clashes with police, but she won and the power of the unions was much decreased.

            That the northern industrial towns and cities which had been the powerhouses of the Industrial Revolution lost out when the Stocks and Investments Revolution took off down south was a by-effect, and it echoed or foreshadowed the same decline in the American Rust Belt states – good blue-collar manual labour jobs gone never to come back, nothing coming in to replace them, and the economy centring on new skills and locations.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Nothing like Blair Mountain, with thousands of armed men on both sides exchanging fire and tens to hundreds killed, ever happened in Britain (and this is not because of gun control, which didn’t exist in any form in the UK until 1920).

            At the time Russell was probably writing, the most infamous case of labour-related violence in recent British history was the 1910 Tonypandy Riots in which troops were deployed on the orders of then-Home Secretary Winston Churchill, but never fired a shot. Exactly one striking miner died, of head injuries from a police truncheon. These events have been mythologised to the extent that many people now believe that the troops fired into crowds and large numbers of miners were shot.

            More people died in the 1911 Llanelli riots, but these are talked about less for various reasons. The 1919 ”Battle of George Square” in Glasgow was again a riot in which nobody died, and the army was sent in to restore order. A lot of myth has grown up around this as well, including that tanks were used (they were sent to the city but never left the railway station) and that all the troops deployed were English out of fear that Scots would support the rioters, while the troops based in Glasgow were confined to their barracks (simply untrue).

            The 1926 General Strike AFAIK involved little or no violence, though the military was deployed- including two battleships sent to Liverpool to deliver food supplies.

          • bean says:

            The 1926 General Strike AFAIK involved little or no violence, though the military was deployed- including two battleships sent to Liverpool to deliver food supplies.

            Do you happen to know which battleships? Google doesn’t turn up anything, and I don’t have the right books to hand.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @bean I thought you might ask. Barham and Ramillies.

          • bean says:

            Thanks. I’ll have to see if I can find more details when I get home.

          • Lambert says:

            >yeah, it was apparently cheaper to buy it in than mine it at home, I have no idea why

            Maybe they’d already mined all the easy-to-reach stuff in the UK way back in William Blake’s day.

            Pwl Mawr, for example, has old gallery mines (i.e. dug horizontally into the hillside) superseded by proper underground gubbins.

          • CatCube says:

            Mines will always eventually hit an uneconomic point and close. Remember, at the end of the day the mine is a big machine for lifting the resource from great depths; eventually the costs of doing this will outweigh the value of the minerals. (ETA: The cost of removing water increases with depth as well–Homestake Mine was being looked at for a deep laboratory, and it was costing almost $250,000 per month to dewater) Most mines don’t “play out” because they run out of ore.

            I grew up and went to college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which at one point was producing nearly 25% of all copper in the world. Now that area doesn’t even have an Interstate, and since 1980 has been in an economic decline similar to what the rest of the country experienced in 2008. The last mines were almost 9000′ deep. Imagine the cost of hauling thousands of tons, only 2% or so copper, almost two miles up before you can even consider extracting it from the waste rock.

            (To keep at least somewhat to the thread OP, this area was the location of the Italian Hall disaster, where somebody shouted fire in a crowded room)

            It’s also interesting to note that apparently these mines were not profitable while they were attempting to mine the large nuggets of native (pure) copper found underground. They couldn’t effectively break the pure metal up with explosives, so had to laboriously hand-excavate the 100% copper. When they found veins that were only a couple of percent copper, it was easy to break this up with explosives and skip it to the surface for further processing, and this made the enterprises profitable.

          • cassander says:

            @CatCube & Deiseach

            In addition to what catcube says, I can’t imagine that the mines operated by the heart of the labor movement in a country that was still officially dedicated to full employment over economic growth were the most efficient operations in the world. After all, these were the same people and policies that brought us British Leyland.

          • bullseye says:

            If foreign coal was cheaper than domestic, why didn’t the domestic mines shut down on their own? Was the government propping them up before Thatcher?

          • bean says:


            Are you sure about Barham? R. A. Burt indicates that she was in the Med at the time. Ramilles was in the Atlantic Fleet in 1926, but he also doesn’t mention anything about it in her entry, which is at least a little bit weird. There’s the claim in Ramilles’s wiki article, and in a few places on the internet, but none of them seem to go back to anything I’d be willing to trust against Burt. (Which is a fairly high bar for me, to be sure.)

          • Eric Rall says:

            If foreign coal was cheaper than domestic, why didn’t the domestic mines shut down on their own? Was the government propping them up before Thatcher?

            More than propping them up: the mines were owned and operated by the government. The Atlee Government nationalized the British coal industry in 1946, and it wasn’t privatized again until 1994.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @bean: I can’t find anything particularly reliable, certainly about Barham. There are photos of Ramillies in Liverpool at about the right time, which claim to be from during the strike (in various histories of the ship). Some have captions stating that Barham was also there.

            I also can’t find the original source of this piece of information, so perhaps one battleship turned into two!

      • John Schilling says:

        Wow, this took me far longer to write than I thought it would!

        Effortposts always do; hence the name. But they are worth it, and I am still digesting this one.

        One thought: If entities like your Plumber’s Union are either deliberately or coincidentally trying to duplicate the old Guild system without being directly derived from it – and if the Guild system itself traces back to the Roman Empire and survived a Dark Age, that suggests an enduring need that will be met even after the present institutions fail. So I wonder what the next incarnation will look like?

      • bean says:

        Thinking this over more, I see a distinction in unions between those that actually function like the old guilds (specifically in the matter of training and credentialing) and those that don’t. And while I’m generally anti-Union, I think the former makes a lot more sense as an institution. Based on what you’ve said, the union provided most of your training and was the organization that verified you had the skills to be a master plumber. That makes a lot of sense, even if it’s a very different model from the one we usually use today.

        But it’s one that fits best with a certain model of work that’s pretty rare today. If I need a plumber once in a while, makes sense to hire union for quality if I don’t feel competent to judge an individual plumber. If I’m a building contractor who has steady work for a crew (or any other institution that has steady work for a plumber) I can train my own plumbers or do my own quality screening.

        And it makes even less sense when extended into other industries. Take a teacher’s union. They don’t provide training. That’s paid for out of the prospective teacher’s pocket. They don’t evaluate prospective teachers, or provide any sort of quality guarantee. If anything, they probably reduce the average quality of teachers by preventing the bad ones from being replaced. And that ignores the obvious conflict of interest of a large lobbying group for public employees when it’s all being paid for out of someone else’s pocket.

        This is somewhat informed by my brief experience as a union member. I was in the IAM for 2 months during a summer job in college. The only thing they did for me besides taking a cut of my paycheck was the time the shop steward threw a fit that kept me sitting around for an hour. It was a composites factory, and I usually did a lot of the grunt work of moving things about and other mostly-unskilled labor. But that day, we’d run out of things for me to do, and the cell lead wanted me to do some layup work (actually building the parts). The shop steward insisted that I wasn’t allowed to, and so I sat around while he argued with management. He seemed to think they were bringing us in to take their jobs. Never mind that the factory was moving to Mexico because it cost too much, or that I had a year to go until I had an aerospace engineering degree, which meant that staying around at $11/hr didn’t hold much appeal. When the word finally came down that I was a full IAM member, and that he couldn’t stop me from doing layup work, I managed to not be smug about it, but the whole thing left me rather cynical about unions as a whole.

        • ana53294 says:

          If I’m a building contractor who has steady work for a crew

          Are there that many big enough building companies that provide steady jobs and could afford training?

          My understanding of building is that most companies hire on a per-project basis instead of a permanent basis. Building is one of those industry with a lot of itinerant workers and temporary jobs. A lot of workers also work as one-man shops (plumbers, electricians, roofers), so a quality check is probably a good idea.

          • bean says:

            Are there that many big enough building companies that provide steady jobs and could afford training?

            No clue, although I cut the parenthetical admitting that I don’t know such things. A better example might be someone who needs to employ a full-time plumber to fix their existing buildings. (Which is what Plumber actually does.) In any case, I absolutely grant that the building trade is a case where unions make much more sense than, say, education.

          • albatross11 says:

            The craft union model seems like it’s an alternative to the credentialing function of universities. Though at the high end, you seem to get back to a kind of apprentice/journeyman/master model. Think of doctors going through residency, sometimes a fellowship, and then finally being allowed to practice medicine. Or researchers doing a PhD and maybe a postdoc.

          • Plumber says:


            “…A better example might be someone who needs to employ a full-time plumber to fix their existing buildings. (Which is what Plumber actually does.) In any case, I absolutely grant that the building trade is a case where unions make much more sense than, say, education….”

            Very apt, after ten years of working construction (which is what 9/10th of the classes were directed towards and 99/100th of the apprentice work) 7/10th of what I’ve done these last seven years had to be learned new, and since much of it is jail and autopsy room specific, doing the job is the way to learn most of the job.

            As it is the city requires eight years of experience to apply, ideal would be someone with both large scale construction experience and household repair experience, which is a rare combination (since unless they learned at a different counties jail no one will know that already!)

            Typically the only guys who get into the city are union construction and self-employed repair guys as non-union employers won’t give the references (I assume as I’ve never seen them).

            The only plumbing apprentices the city employs and trains itself are “utility plumbers” which is for large water mains in the street. 

            As far as the quality of guys, I’ve never worked with non-union trained guys in a non-union setting, but I have worked with them when they got union jobs, and compared to those of us who went through the union apprenticeship I’d say the guys who learned the trade non-union are more extreme in their skills than us, a little over half are worse at first, with about half of them typically not kept, about a quarter are about on par with a bit different strengths and weaknesses than a typical union trained guy and the rest are better than all but a few guys who’ve only worked union.

            Typically the best of the guys who learned the trade non-union have owned their own company and got tired of the paperwork or need health insurance, often they’re made foreman. 

            The very best plumbers I’ve encountered have been union trained but a higher percentage of the non-union trained guys have gotten close to that level. 

            Where the union apprenticeship seems to do better than the non-union (unless a lot of those guys were just lying about their experience) is getting guys up to s minimum skill level, but fewer are exceptional good.

            From my perspective the odds are better of getting a good plumber if you hire union, and the odds are better of getting a really bad or really good plumber if you hire non-union (actually ex-non’union), with the caveat that the best I’ve seen have been union-trained but I’ve simply worked along side more union trained plumbers so probability. 

            Truthfully though, for most household jobs you just want someone who won’t make things worse.

          • Chalid says:

            What distinguishes the very best plumbers from merely good ones?

          • Plumber says:


            “What distinguishes the very best plumbers from merely good ones?”

            Most plumbers judge each other on speed (which is typically all an absentee owner cares about), but also aesthetics (is it plumb level and true?), especially of how things look behind a wall where the customer can’t see, and if the piping will hold more pressure than the code requires, though I have heard foreman yell “If you don’t have any leaks that means you’re working too slow!”, but for the most part, as long as a minimum speed is met, quality of workmanship is esteemed more, much of which is judged by the adage “If it looks right, it is right”.

            Breadth of knowledge is valued, as is a sort of practiced imagination “If we put a tee and union here we can still be within code and bleed off the water getting passed the shutoff valve and solder the line”. 

            Old skills tend to be admired more, knowing how to set a lead and oakum joint is usually more impressive than knowing the new crimp techniques, except when speed of production is critical (you only have so much time before the tenants wake up and start using the drains).

        • SamChevre says:

          I am not certain that doing your own training and quality screening is a good fit for skilled long-term employees. The guild/union system is a pretty common model for professionals. For example, I’m an actuary. The Society of Actuaries sets the syllabus, administers the exams, and issues the credentials. The substitute doesn’t seem to be credentialing by employers, but credentialing by educational institutions.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            The substitute doesn’t seem to be credentialing by employers, but credentialing by educational institutions.

            On the flip side, our machinists learn almost entirely on the job, and I don’t believe there’s a better way to train them…

          • bean says:

            That’s a decent point, although the obvious difference between an industry association and a guild/union is that the later attempts to be a negotiating body with employers in a way that most professional groups don’t. When I was talking about training and screening, I was thinking of things like assembly line work, where there’s a lot less skill.

          • johan_larson says:

            Does the government require that some things be done by credentialed actuaries?

          • SamChevre says:

            There are a few roles that are legally required to be filled by an actuary, but those are a very small portion of what actuaries do. For example, my employer has 3 people who fill roles that are required to be an actuary (Appointed Actuary, 2 Illustration Actuaries) but employs about 100 actuaries.

        • Dack says:

          If I’m a building contractor who has steady work for a crew (or any other institution that has steady work for a plumber) I can train my own plumbers or do my own quality screening.

          If you don’t mind a giant inflatable rat in front of your project.

      • A couple of points.

        My uncle Aaron, later a U of C professor and one of the founders of economic analysis of law, told me he was at one point a member of the IWW. He explained that he joined for the fringe benefits.

        My understanding of the eventual situation in the coal industry was that the union and companies cooperated in cartelizing the industry. If a mine produced too much the union would shut it down, and the mine workers and mine owners shared the profits from the higher price.

    • Rusty says:

      On the subject of the Scottish Clearances there is a recent book by TM Devine (I have not read it) that has been highly praised. Here is a summary:

      TM Devine says in his conclusion how writers, from Alexander Mackenzie in his 1886 “History of the Highland Clearances” to John Prebble in “The Highland Clearances” have “opted for the single explanation of human wickedness” – a famed warrior race betrayed by its leaders whose greed and lust for riches led to empty glens populated by sheep. The truth, as explained in this outstanding book, is infinitely more complicated. Surprising facts: Highland populations continued to rise during the age of the Clearances, landlords strenuously opposed emigration in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, and from the end of the Seven Years War onwards emigration for many was a positive choice. This book is a powerful social and agrarian history of Scotland from the seventeenth century, and as the title suggests is not limited to the Highlands. Indeed, the central third of the book gives a detailed account of the clearances in the Lowlands and Borders which have been little examined by historians.

      The first section deals with the “Long death of clanship” from James VI/I onwards. The odds were stacked against the Highlands agriculturally – with only 9% in cultivation and good only for raising black cattle too valuable for the people to eat, the poverty of the region was one reason it took the Scottish state so long to gain control over it – it wasn’t worth it. Clan-based society was undermined by acquisition, crown charters and intermarriage, while more and more clan gentry pursued expensive lifestyles in the capital which the incomes from their poverty-stricken estates couldn’t support. The Napoleonic Wars provided some relief with the demands they created for beef, men and kelp (for chemicals). By the mid-19th century two thirds of Highland estates had changed hands following the bankruptcies of their traditional owners. Edinburgh lawyers acting for the new owners were unsympathetic to the plight of their tenants.

      Two generations before the Highland Clearances, the Lowlands underwent a clearance which resulted in the disappearance within a few decades of an entire social class, the cottars. But this went with a rapid expansion of towns and villages, and new economic activities which meant leaving the land was a positive choice. Between the 1871 and 1911 censuses the trickle leaving the Lowlands countryside became a flood, “caused not by destitution but by the lure of opportunity”. Protest against enclosures took place in Galloway, but most protest was around religious, not agricultural, matters.

      The background to the clearances in the Highlands was a rapid and sustained population increase, a fact ignored by Prebble and his ilk. And, unlike in the Lowlands, the population stayed put – they moved to overcrowded, tiny holdings and to the coast, where they were expected to take up fishing, kelp gathering and whisky distilling. The potato came to the rescue until the potato famine of the 1840s added a new level of misery. Crofting was a new system. The recruitment of Highland regiments (with recruitment bonuses for landlords) provided some relief in the late 18th century, but this reached its limits.

      Villains – the Countess of Sutherland, of course, and her agent Patrick Sellar, “whose name lived on in infamy”. Devine explores the racial overtones of the Clearances – the view of the Gael as an inferior race, and the role of CM Trevelyan who saw mass, forced emigration, to rid the Highlands of Gaels, as the only answer. For a while the Scottish press supported the landlords, but in the final chapters he explores how the tide turned in the 1880s with the Highland Land Law Reform Association, the Napier Commission, the 1886 Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act, and the vilification of the landlords in the press – and in Alexander Mackenzie’s book.

      • Plumber says:

        Thanks @Rusty!

        I know of the clearances chiefly because of my extremely anti-English, despite [because?] my mom having an English maiden name, congenital rebel father’s rants, and beyond “Okay he didn’t completely make it up” I haven’t researched it much.

      • Bamboozle says:

        This was really interesting thanks!

    • S_J says:

      That’s a fascinating history. I was unaware that the words collegium and corporation had ties to old Roman history!

      I can confirm, at least, that Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples makes some reference to the economic and social troubles you refer to with land enclosures, and that it occurred during the time of the rise of sheep-farming and wool-production in England. I can’t figure out how it related to the change of status from serf to tenant-farmer, nor the full scope of those legal and cultural changes.

      Two comments about indentured servitude in the history of the United States:

      1. I’ve seen one reference, online, to the history of slavery in the United States. Apparently, black-skinned Africans were bought at slave markets, but were called “indentured servants”. Most such indentured servants did not have any knowledge of the law and customs of the English speaking world, and were forced to make a mark on a piece of paper to sign up for a new period of indenture every so often. Somewhere in the first 20-30 years of this practice, local judges argued that African-descended people could not be freed from indenture the way that English-descended people could…thus, putting race-based slavery into practice in the English-speaking world.

      This history ought to be better known, in my opinion. The legal framework of indentured servitude, in the English speaking world, had existed for centuries at this point. Slavery (for people not convicted of crimes) had been almost entirely non-existent for as long, or longer.

      If anyone ought to considered the Primary Villains in developing the practice of slavery in the United States, the judges who made rulings that African-derived people could not be released from indenture ought to be very high on that list. Separately, the legislators who wrote laws that the condition of slavery was inherited from the mother ought to also be very high on that list.

      2. Distantly related to the above point: one of my ancestors came to the American Colonies as an indentured servant. He was English-speaking, white, and carried an Anglo-derived surname. He arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1630. (Which places him among the second wave of settlers to arrive in the colony, if I remember rightly.)
      He finished his term of indenture, and was listed as a freeman in local records after a certain number of years. Shortly afterwards, he relocated to a new settlement near the Connecticut river. His date of marriage is also about that time. Within two decades, he passed away, and left an estate that was recorded in probate records. (At this point, I give my personal thanks to my uncle, the family historian, who has pieced together an extensive genealogy covering the family history inside the United States…)

      This is an indenture that doesn’t look related to a skilled trade, as the man in question was apparently a farmer for most of his life, after finishing his term of indenture.

      This reminds me that indenture was very useful for guilds and skilled trades, but it was also used in many places where there was simply a need for labor. And that indenture, though possibly under harsh conditions, was a good thing for those who finished the term of indenture, and became freemen in the Colony.

      • Plumber says:

        That’s very interesting!

        I’d read that the Africans brought over were originally thought to have the status of “indentured servants” as well, but I never learned the legal changes that created chattel slavery.

        Of some interest to me is in the Appalachian mountains (as attested to in Album’s Seed) they were supposed to be “Greek”, “Phoenician”, or “Portugese” communities that were a mystery how they got there, well after that books publication, mystery solved.

      • gdanning says:

        The case seems to be that of John Casor. Interestingly enough (ok, very interesting enough), the plaintiff in the case (i.e., the person who was ruled to be John Casor’s owner) was a free black who himself had previously been an indentured servant. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/horrible-fate-john-casor-180962352/

      • AlphaGamma says:

        On indentures, the 1777 Constitution of the Republic of Vermont bans both slavery and indentured servitude, although with exceptions to allow apprenticeships. The text has largely survived into the present-day State Constitution, saying that nobody should:

        be holden by law, to serve any person as a servant, slave or apprentice, after arriving to the age of twenty-one years, unless bound by the person’s own consent, after arriving to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like

        (In the original Constitution the relevant age was 21 for men and 18 for women- I don’t know whether this changed in 1994 when the Constitution was revised to be written in gender-neutral language, or before).

      • Plumber says:

        Fascinating stuff, thanks you @gdanning and @AlphaGamma!

  60. johan_larson says:

    Some people on the very libertarian side of the immigration argument believe there should be no immigration restrictions at all. Anyone who wants to move in, and doesn’t cause trouble, should be allowed to do so.

    Does any modern nation run things this way?

    • eigenmoon says:

      The closest seems to be Georgia.

      It doesn’t allow just anyone but if you’re allowed, there’s no 90 days restriction. You’d need to make a visa run every year but that’s it. The incomers have no claim on social and medical insurance.

    • toastengineer says:

      I mean, the U.S. states do with regard to each-other, though you can argue they only get away with that because of the U.S’s external borders.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This sounds culture-warry.

      • Statismagician says:

        Disagree; ‘does anybody actually do this?’ is a different sort of question than ‘is this the right thing to do?’.

        EDIT: But yes, anybody answering the second rather than the first would in fact be waging the Culture War.

        • Lillian says:

          One of the most useful features of culture-war free threads is precisely that you can discuss culture war adjacent topics without having them descend into the actual culture war territory.

    • herbert herberson says:

      It was certainly common historically.

    • cassander says:

      I lived in mexico for a year and a half. the immigration process required that I buy a work visa that cost ~20 dollars. If you didn’t have it when you left the country after a sufficiently long stay, you had to pay a fine of ~40 dollars. No one else ever asked for it. There is a longer term visa you’re supposed to buy if you stay longer, it costs ~150 bucks. Mexico also has some strong restrictions on non-citizens buying property. Now, I was working for businesses that paid me in cash, I didn’t have a bank account and I didn’t pay taxes, but I knew and worked with people who more formal arrangements. None of them had any serious complaints about the process beyond the general level of lethargy and ineptitude expected in Mexican government and the whole thing was very straightforward.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        The work permit does come with some other restrictions. Certain kinds of work are not eligible for work permits. They typically don’t like manual laborers and non-management employees, and can have issues with technical roles that could be filled by a Mexican employee. Also, the government can choose to deny permits on a pretty arbitrary basis (they don’t very often, but corrupt countries can make that a pain).

        At base, it’s pretty easy and (for an American) cheap to get. YMMV depending on circumstances.

    • nameless1 says:

      Of course the same libertarians don’t support welfare, lacking which would cut down 95% of immigration anyway. (Number pulled right out of my ass. I just think today in most developed nations you can get a near minimum wage level welfare by playing the system, so why flip burgers?)

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t think illegal immigrants can get much in the way of welfare anywhere, and my impression is that most illegal immigrants in the US are economic migrants–they’re here because the economy in El Salvador sucked and they want work. So I don’t think open borders + no welfare causes a decrease in immigration.

  61. johan_larson says:

    “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”

    These words are attributed to Genghis Khan. Your client firmly believes they describe the best possible life for a man. He has retained you to advise him on how to live up to this ideal.

    This may be difficult, because he is in most respects quite an ordinary man. He is 35 and physically unremarkable. He used to work construction, but now works as a bookkeeper for a construction firm. He is married with a wife and three young children.

    What advice do you have for your client?

    • Anonymous says:

      What advice do you have for your client?

      “Lower your expectations.”

      More seriously, I’d suggest cashing in his wealth, retaining a bunch of mercenaries, and moving to South Sudan or the Congo, where he would seek to become a warlord. The result would likely be his death, but for every Genghis Khan there are thousands of Genghis Khan’ts.

      • RDNinja says:

        Those places probably have too many competent soldiers. Better to look for remote primitive tribes, where basic proficiency with an assault rifle goes a lot farther.

        • Anonymous says: