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OT127: Openinsula Thread

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855 Responses to OT127: Openinsula Thread

  1. Aur Saraf says:

    Last chance to participate in the GoT ending prediction competition our watching group is organizing (we will close the form a few hours before the next episode airs). There’s a 10 question version and a 60 question version.

    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1fbUCkzq9hHDcQSMuwukcylfGNo7DoR08etihqQxNQUo/edit

    (Please no GoT spoilers in this subthread)

  2. mouse of leaves says:

    I’ve just made a twitter account for thoughts, ideas and practical advice. Some topics I talk about include:

    Adventures with my friend GPT-2

    Novel immigration policies

    If you like SSC, I think it’ll be up your alley. (Long time reader by the way, just never commented)

  3. S_J says:

    With some of the discussion of modern architecture below, I think I should find an example of a piece of modern architecture that I think looks very good.

    When vacating in Sedona, Arizona, I took a chance to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The Chapel was designed by architect Marguerite Brunswig Staude; and was built in 1957.

    The design looks like it is an extension of the landscape. It also has little in the way of ornamentation. The chapel has an appearance that is simple-but-breathtaking in person.

    I think this is a good example of modern architecture done well.

    • Matt says:

      I’ll throw in my vote for Thorncrown Chapel

      • S_J says:

        From the pictures, it is indeed good architecture.

        My half-formed thought was that the Chapel of the Holy Cross is an example of modern, low-ornamentation architecture which is not bad architecture, per the article cited below.

        I think what sets it (and the Thorncrown Chapel) apart is the use of architecture to fit the structure into the surroundings.

    • Nick says:

      I’m generally not a fan of modern churches (okay, that is putting it extremely diplomatically), but there are a number of skyscrapers I like. I think the Burj Khalifa looks okay. I really like the Shanghai World Financial Center. I always thought the Bank of China Tower had a neat design. And of course, I like lots of older skyscrapers—think the Empire State Building, or Sullivan’s stuff, or the Flatiron building.

      Always a fan of charts like these, even when I think some of the buildings look dumb or ugly.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Found on the net: this table of draft statistics documenting the number of US men drafted by year from 1940 to 1973 (and 1917-18.)

    http://michiganintheworld.history.lsa.umich.edu/antivietnamwar/exhibits/show/exhibit/item/73

    The draft lasted a solid generation, from 1940 to 1973. There was one year, 1947, where no men were drafted at all.

  5. shakeddown says:

    We’re looking for a third roommate in a rational-ish house in Mountain View, near downtown. Starting date around June 1st, rent 1400$/month. Is nice house. reply/email me (rot13 of funxrq.xbcyrjvgm@tznvy.pbz )if interested. Hope this is allowed outside of classifieds posts.

  6. Yair says:

    I am sure this has been discussed many times before (and resolved against?), but I wish there was a way to ‘like’ (or something similar) comments. So many interesting comments in these threads it would be nice to be able to tell the person posting a comment that their post was enjoyable, and replying is not always the right option

    • LesHapablap says:

      I often feel the same way, but I also think that adding the ability to like or upvote would hurt the discussion. A lot of the functionality could be improved here but I think the lack of functionality is a big part of what keeps it the way it is.

      • James says:

        My ideal would be:

        – likes but no dislikes/downvotes
        – not used for sorting or visibility, just displayed

        Under those circumstances, I don’t think they’d disrupt the current discussion style.

        I, too, often feel like it would be nice to be able to show appreciation for a comment without polluting the place with ‘thanks’ and ‘good post’.

        • Acedia says:

          Publicly visible likes from lurkers (who always greatly outnumber posters on any site) would still end up looking like votes, which would likely change the way people post. Maybe if you could only see the likes on your own comments?

          Probably all moot anyway since I get the impression the WordPress code for this place is annoying to work with and it’d be a big hassle to add a major feature like that, even if Scott wanted it.

          • James says:

            Yeah, I guess it would mean creating a whole new database table, so it’s not like it could be implemented with just a skimpy layer of client-side javascript over the top, like most of our current mods.

            On the other hand, it seems like a common enough desire that probably there’s some wordpress module/library/whatever for it.

      • ManyCookies says:

        One thing I’ve wanted to test is hidden upvotes, where only the author can see their score. I wonder how much undesired behavior from upvote systems are from publicity, where people compare relative vote tallies and feel there’s consensus in some direction, and so want to maximize the upvote count on their own posts etc. etc.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          What about upvotes only the admin (Scott or whoever) can see, for picking out “comment of the week” highlights?

          I get that some comments are so nice, or so effort-driven, that I want to recognize that. But I don’t want the people here who take unpopular opinions (sometimes I am on their side, although more often not) to feel pushed against.

  7. Gossage Vardebedian says:

    Well, just got Ted Chiang’s new book. See y’all in a few days.

  8. NTD_SF says:

    Is there any way to find all the fiction on this site? I’m (slowly) trying to work through everything on here but Scott’s short fiction is so excellent I’d rather not just wait until I found it all.

  9. Deiseach says:

    Lads, result of second leg Liverpool vs Barcelona Champions League semi-final right this minute – AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Don’t ask me how we did it, I have no freakin’ idea, I love you Gini and Divock!!

    WE’RE GOING TO THE FINAL!!!!! YEAH SO CITY ARE GONNA WIN THE LEAGUE BUT WE’RE GOING TO THE FINAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Aevylmar says:

    So I’m looking for information about trains – preferably book recommendations – and was wondering if anyone here could help me out.

    Explanation: I’m writing an SF adventure novel. My protagonist needs to get about a thousand people and some heavy and illegal equipment halfway across a continent; air and sea don’t work for Plot Reasons, and it looks as though she needs to hijack a train, probably some kind of long-distance cargo train, to get where she wants to go. The relevant technology is near-future, and I’d like to know about the crewing and technology and organization of modern trains, along with useful things adjacent to that, so I can use it as a base to build my story on.

    Ordinarily I’d just search Amazon, but I have no idea what the relevant searches are for ‘how modern trains work’, so I thought that given the staggering amount of knowledge that SSC people seem to have, someone might be able to help me with this.

    Thanks in advance!

    • acymetric says:

      Not to poke holes, but will they be able to somehow avoid detection while doing this for plot reasons (or will fending off the “authorities” during transit be part of the story)?

      You will definitely find people here who can give you more than you ever wanted to know about trains though, that I can assure you.

      • Aevylmar says:

        The latter. The challenge of the episode is how they can evade the authorities, via some combination of cleverness, planning, and surprise.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          Trains go along straight lines with predictable routes. Are communications not a thing?

          • Aevylmar says:

            Indeed, communications are a thing, and these facts you mention are central to my protagonist’s scheme. 🙂 I just haven’t gone into detail on the scheme, since what I’m trying for is ‘what do I need to make it possible for me to do the research,’ rather than ‘help with my story’.

        • CatCube says:

          Long-distance movement of trains is typically handled by Centralized Traffic Control, where a dispatcher authorizes movement using wayside signals. It’s hard to see how they could avoid authorities without having a cornfield meet with another train.

          Plus, there really are only a couple of routes. IIRC, you’ve got the Southern Transcon and Northern Transcon, operated by BNSF, and the Overland Route (following the First Transcontinental Railroad) and the Sunset Route operated by Union Pacific. It’s going to be hard to move a train long distance without going over one of these, and I think all of them have several trains per hour. I *do* think they’re all double-tracked, but it’s not like a highway where you’re guaranteed that traffic in one direction always, say, keeps to the right; the dispatcher can authorize movement in any direction on any track using CTC.

          • Aevylmar is writing SF. It isn’t set on Earth, let alone in the U.S.

          • Aevylmar says:

            What David Friedman said. Also, do you have an example of the Centralized Traffic Control page that is written in ‘readable English’ instead of ‘wikipedia english’? Maybe a book?

            I’m mostly trying to do research, rather than solve my plot problems right now.

          • acymetric says:

            I certainly didn’t assume the story was set on Earth when I read the post, but being SF certainly doesn’t exclude being set on Earth and/or in the US…

          • CatCube says:

            As @acymetric pointed out, there is, in fact, SF set on Earth. I dunno, Dark Angel, for example. I grant the US assumption was totally unwarranted.

            Also, do you have an example of the Centralized Traffic Control page that is written in ‘readable English’ instead of ‘wikipedia english’?

            This sentence…doesn’t really mean anything to me, so you’re going to have to clarify further what you mean. It’s going to be harder to simplify further than that page if you want enough detail on how things are handled to use for similitude. As far as books, I’m not aware of anything beyond textbooks for designing signaling systems. Most people who do this as a hobby learn from a combination of sources and observation.

            As the author building your own world, you can certainly construct it to make whatever you want work, but it’s hard to see how it’s going to be much more plausible to subvert whatever security you’ve got in place to get people on a train vs. trucks, since trains are easier to keep track of.

            As an example, consider the railfan video here. I’ve linked to the point where the guy is discussing some odd types of cars that he hasn’t seen in a while and wouldn’t normally see travelling in this direction, and in the comments somebody else discussing pulling a report about where those cars ended up (here). Of course, you may not have concerns about slightly off-kilter people sitting by the tracks and watching trains in your world (e.g., the security forces shoot them), so this specific concern may not apply, but what I’m pointing at is that it’s very, very easy for people who’s job it is to track railcars that something has changed; people do it as a hobby.

            Similarly, there are wayside detectors that look for defects in trains. One of the pieces of information they give via computerized voice is the number of axles, whether or not there are defects. For example, one that I used to tune up because it was near my house said “Paducah and Lousiville Detector, milepost 141.2. No defects, repeat, no defects. Number of axles [xxx]. Detector out.”

            The reason for this is that if there are detectors near each other the train crew can be confident that the detector is talking about their train, because they just passed that milepost and the number of axles matches the number of axles on their train. If you change the number of axles, people are going to notice–I believe defect reports are also sent to the dispatcher electronically as part of their tracking the train. So slapping cars on the end is going to be a problem, in addition to the one @The Nybbler mentions below where you may no longer fit into sidings. There are also Automatic Equipment Identification detectors, which track individual railcars with RFID tags–actually one of the first uses for that technology, IIRC. This is how that commenter I discussed a few paragraphs ago was able to figure out where those railcars went. So even switching them out is going to be relatively easy to track.

            It’s hard to see how whatever you’re doing to subvert all this tracking necessary for safe and efficient operation won’t be easier to use with trucks that can move individually where they’re much less likely to be noticed among other truck traffic. As I said, though, it’s your world.

            Edit: I crossed up the history a bit; there was an older barcode system that was abandoned, with the modern RFID system dating from the ’80s, not old enough to be “near first use”.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @CatCube

            In light of all that, this seems like an opportunity to write the greatest heist of all time.

          • acymetric says:

            @Hooppyfreud

            I mean, it’d kind of be like the opposite of what they did for the Star Wars “Solo” movie, right?

          • Aevylmar says:

            “This sentence…doesn’t really mean anything to me, so you’re going to have to clarify further what you mean.”

            Ouch.

            “CTC consolidates train routing decisions that were previously carried out by local signal operators or the train crews themselves. The system consists of a centralized train dispatcher’s office that controls railroad interlockings and traffic flows in portions of the rail system designated as CTC territory. One hallmark of CTC is a control panel with a graphical depiction of the railroad.”

            None of this tells me what the routing decisions are, what a ‘railroad interlocking’ is, and the third statement is… really not useful. I think I have some vague idea of what they mean, but I don’t have an intuitive understanding of how it works and how all the various bits fit together.

            I mean, I appreciate your telling me that there isn’t an easy way to get the knowledge I need. That’s useful! Thank you! I just think I need to know more than I do.

            And… clarification, this was totally my bad communication: the protagonists don’t want to make the train go somewhere it isn’t going. They just want to hitch a ride. (With a thousand people.) They and their guys and their stuff are at one end of the continent; they want to be several thousand miles towards the *other* end of the continent with their guys and their stuff.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aevylmar:

            Ultimately your best resource is going to be to find someone experienced in the transportation industry (specifically rail) and pepper them with questions.

            You may need to do this in verbally in person though, as someone who works or worked in the industry may not be comfortable putting a “how to smuggle people and things illegally via rail” in writing.

            You might also want to be prepared for any such person to tell you “this is basically impossible,” which you’ll need to handle via some plot contrivance (which isn’t necessarily a problem, most plots have some kind of contrivance to help move them forward).

          • but it’s hard to see how it’s going to be much more plausible to subvert whatever security you’ve got in place to get people on a train vs. trucks, since trains are easier to keep track of.

            It sounds as though, at least in our world, the control of trains is more centralized than the control of trucks. That’s an advantage if you have a way of subverting the central control mechanism. It’s easier to hack into one computer and make it tell lies on your behalf than a thousand computers.

          • CatCube says:

            @Aevylmar

            I will note that I’ve never looked terribly hard for an overall book, because a lot of what I know comes from reading forums, Wikipedia pages, and putting it together with what you see actually watching trains. It’s possible that there’s some sort of lay text that I don’t know about, but mostly I think publications are going to either be for experts concerned with this as part of their job, or stuff for hobbyists who are interested in watching trains. Neither is all that amenable to a simple “ELI5” book that covers everything without having to dig into details from other things.

            As far as the page is concerned, a couple of the terms in question are blue hyperlinks to their own explanation, “routing decisions” is what it means in regular English–the decisions necessary to get from point A to point B, just like driving down the Interstate–and the “graphical depiction” appears in every photo on the page, as the linework showing cities and schematics of the track layout.

            I don’t even know of any webpages that would have everything you need to understand modern rail operations on a single page where you can start reading at the top and understand everything when you get to the bottom without clicking through to fill in details on things that are of interest.

            Given what you’ve posted elsewhere, though, even this isn’t pointing at what you need, unless you’re interested in learning for its own sake. Since you’re not contemplating a hijacking–just finding some way of using an existing train–it doesn’t seem like it’d much matter how the train gets routed, just that the protagonists know the destination of the train. Then it becomes a matter of getting their stuff on board it.

            As others have pointed out, you can’t add cars without the knowledge of the train crew. They’ll know from both wayside detectors that they’ve got more cars than they expect, they may not fit in sidings anymore, and 10-15 additional cars will probably change the handling characteristics of the train. That last one will be less important if you’re traveling over flat ground vs. in mountainous terrain, where the engineer will absolutely notice that something has changed.

            So now you’re talking about getting your cars added to the manifest so the railroad comes and picks them up. The typical procedure* for routing a car in the US is as follows: the customer orders a railcar, and the railroad spots it on the customer’s siding (or they have an empty from their last delivery). After it’s loaded, the railroad sends a train that picks up and drops off cars from their customers, called a local train. This will deliver the cars to a rail yard where they’ll be sorted into trains going to a particular destination yard. That train is then sent to the destination yard–or there might be intermediate destinations where the train is broken up again and resorted–where it is sorted into a local, then the local drops it at the destination.

            The train crew doesn’t, per se, need to know even what the cars on the train are (so long as they don’t change). They typically have a manifest so they know what they’re hauling–especially HAZMAT–but it’s not like they routinely check the interior of the cars themselves. They’re just picking up the train that’s been made up by the personnel in the yard and delivering it to it’s destination yard. Similarly, the yard personnel are just moving, say, Car #123456 into a track so it can be made up into a train going to the destination yard. They don’t actually usually open it barring extenuating circumstances like a damaged car (or noise inside calling the honesty of the manifest into question).

            So for your protagonists, it’s a matter of 1) getting a bunch of railcars ordered at a place under their control with a siding, 2) getting their stuff and pax on the railcars without being detected, 3) getting an order put in to move those cars to a destination under their control, and 4) getting off the cars without being detected. (And, of course, not getting detected along the way).

            Doable, but from a Doylist perspective it’s hard to see how it’s easier than getting trucks rented, which gives you more flexibility. It’s not going to be a huge plot hole to do it, though.

            * This is for a mixed freight, where the cars are all from and to different customers. A unit train is a train made up of cars carrying one type of freight from a single source to a single destination, for example, a coal train carries an entire trainload of cars from a mine in the Powder River Basin to a powerplant in Utah, then shuttles the empties back.

          • Austin says:

            @Catcube

            The unit train is probably the best concept as 1000 people plus their gear is going to weigh a lot less than a fully loaded train, but ideally not enough to noticeably affect the handling, as the train is spec’d for hauling unobtanium from the mines.

            Plus you get to deal with having to get on and off the train while it is moving because the security is too tight at the mine and the spaceport?

          • Aevylmar says:

            @Catcube: Nice. Thanks.

            I’m going to want to do a plot-summary post for my current sketch, but I think (?) that will be top-level (er, one-level from top – direct reply to my initial post) rather than in-response to this.

            But I wanted to say that your posts are definitely helpful.

    • Drew says:

      Standard ISO shipping containers are 8′ wide, 8.5′ high, and either 20 or 40′ long. Trains are built to accommodate cars with a double-stack of containers. Whatever you’re transporting will need to fit inside those dimensions. Go any higher, and you’ll smack into the top of a tunnel. Go any wider, and you’ll hit passing trains.

      And, once you’ve packed your stuff in a shipping container, why bother hijacking the train? People send shipping containers across the US all the time, and the train company won’t bother inspecting yours. You’d be looking at a cost of around $2k/container.

      But if you really wanted to take over a train, the actual hijacking would be the easy part. Trains run on tracks, and only go like 40MPH. So, pick a flat spot, drive a truck next to the train, and hop on. Since you’ve got unlimited people, it should be easy enough to overcome the couple crew-members on the locomotive.

      The problem is everything that happens next. So you’ve got control of a train. You don’t have control of the switching system. And, in all likelihood, your train is expected to make a bunch of stops as it travels across the country so that freight can be added or removed.

      There’s no reason to expect that the tracks in front of you are clear, or that you’ve got a bunch of extra fuel on-board, so you can’t really blow through these stops without hitting something immobile / running out of gas.

      So, if you’re doing trains, just stick stuff in shipping containers, and pay $$$. The real challenge is fending off the guys with McGuffin detectors, without alerting the rail yard that something weird is going on.

      • Aevylmar says:

        Thank you for what you’re saying! But, I’m sorry, but… most of this isn’t actually helpful. This is an SF story, not set on earth, with technology that is not identical to our trains but serves roughly the same function – some kind of fancy SF high-speed rail. It works roughly as a train in that it travels along a set track at a fast speed carrying lots of stuff, which is why I’m trying to study trains so I know what the constraints are.

        So… are there any books you could name for me? Webpages? What I really want to know is stuff like ‘how many people are on the train? What do they do? What will explode if nobody pokes it? How does it slow down? What’s controlled on the train versus off of it?’ All that sort of questions. Because I want to know the real-world answers to help me in designing my setting.

        • Aapje says:

          American freight trains typically have a conductor and engineer, where the latter drives the train and the former handles communication, planning, safety regulations and such. The conductor is formally in charge. There is debate whether a two-man crew should be mandatory. Note that the conductor is often in the back of the freight train.

          Your SF scenario could very easily accommodate a single crew member, if the tasks of the conductor are split between the rail traffic controller outside the train, and the engineer.

          Trains normally just drive themselves once you set it to a certain speed, so there is no gas pedal that needs constant pressure to keep going, like in a car. However, there is a dead man’s switch to prevent runaway trains. Old fashioned trains have a pedal that needs to be permanently pressed, but this is now consider too unsafe, as a disabled driver may press it down. Modern systems require a regular push of a pedal or button, where permanently pressing it doesn’t work. When a dead man’s switch is triggered, the train will do emergency braking. Depending on the system/setup, the rail traffic controller may or may not be notified.

          Railways have systems to prevent trains from plowing into stopped trains. Railways are separated into blocks, where a single train may occupy a block. The blocks in front and behind have to be empty too, as a buffer.

          In the most common way to detect whether a block is occupied, the rails of each block are isolated from the next block and a small current is placed on the rails. Then the train closes the circuit. The simplest systems then operate signals to notify drivers to stop as the track ahead is occupied. More advanced systems (also) automatically stop the train.

          You seem to want a hijacking scenario, but loading 1000 people and equipment on a train is going to take time. Unless the rail is very sparsely used, you will block trains that will notify the rail traffic controller. You might get away with faking a mechanical problem, but you will draw attention and you may get ordered off the rails. Furthermore, trains will still be going in the other direction and the engineer on those trains will notice you loading 1000 people and equipment on the train.

          As Nybbler argues below, you may be able to (at night) steal and switch out rail cars for a relatively quick switch, but it’s still sounds like one of these movie scenario’s where you have to get quite lucky a dozen times, which is very unlikely.

          • Aevylmar says:

            This is incredibly useful detail. Thank you. Are you willing to go into more detail, or can you recommend a book that includes this information?

          • Aapje says:

            I just picked up some knowledge along the way. If you want more detail, you might want to check out: Railway Operation and Control by Pachl. I haven’t read it, but it’s by a very knowledgeable German engineer and the table of contents & description look to be very suitable to your needs.

            It’s not just a description of one local system, but describes general principles and differences by country, which is good for you, so you can pick the features that work best for your scenario. It may be a challenging read.

            Another book that may be suitable is Principles of Railway Operation by Glover. It’s probably more accessible and easy to understand, but is so by eliminating detail. It also focuses on the British railways. It seems out of print, with only Waterstones still selling it.

            I would also suggest you look into getting into contact with a local organization of railroad enthusiasts or an organization like this. I’m sure that you’ll be able to find a railroad geek that is willing to tell you what you want to know…and much, much more.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Is there a reason they don’t use trucks? Standard ISO shipping containers are put on trucks all the time; they can go cross-country faster than trains since they go at Interstate speeds without stopping. This costs more, but I assume cost isn’t an issue with your protagonists.

      Or if cost is an issue and your protagonists can’t buy or hire trucks, they can at least hijack trucks instead of trains. Trains have all the infrastructure dependencies @Drew describes; trucks are at least physically able to blow past weigh stations well over the speed limit even if their license plates have been reported stolen.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        trucks are at least physically able to blow past weigh stations well over the speed limit even if their license plates have been reported stolen.

        Why don’t truck thieves take different license plates to swap on?

      • Aevylmar says:

        Yes, there is a reason! Due to details of the SF setting, cars, trucks, and planes are sharply regulated and observed by the (villainous) government, and not used for transport by non-government people. If a train goes its normal route at the normal times and happens to have a thousand people and some equipment get on near the start and off near the end, it may be possible to disguise this fact, with access to the resources my protagonists do. If they steal a fleet of trucks and take off with them, there is no way they can hide that from the authorities.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Freight trains generally have no more than two people on board. In a near-future setting, they might have none, but of course it’s your story. Slipping 1000 people and a bunch of equipment onto a train without the engineer and freight conductor noticing is not possible. If it were just the equipment, you’d have a spy story; fake bills of lading, suborned employees, etc.

          People, though… they’re going to have to build a whole infrastructure for supporting 1000 people on a cross-country journey (freight trains aren’t fast), and pack it in rail cars. And unlike trains, railyards and intermodal transportation facilities have a fair number of people in them; 1000 people are going to be noticed, you’re going to have to load up somewhere other than a railyard.

          So, problem 1: Steal a bunch of railcars and fit them with food, water, and sanitation for 1000 people on a cross-country journey.

          Problem 2: Get these railcars and the people to somewhere you can hook them up; a blind siding. Railcars are big and heavy; you’re going to need at least local trucks, unless you’ve managed to take over a whole railyard.

          Problem 3: Actually hook them up. You’ll need to suborn the train crew at a minimum, and an excuse for them to stop — one which won’t get anyone called out to investigate or repair.

          Problem 4: Do the reverse at the other end.

          If your characters can do that, a few extra railcars for the equipment should be no problem.

          Of course, adding extra railcars is going to be noticed (and may make the train too long), so you’ll need to have legitimate railcars on the train that you can remove when you add your own. A fake order for a few carloads of goods would be easiest, but make sure you choose goods that would be transported in the same type of car as you’ve refit.

          • acymetric says:

            I know the OP isn’t asking for this kind of detail, but this question was a bit of a nerd snipe so I’m going to dive in anyway.

            How many rail cars do we estimate would be needed for our 1,000 people? We should probably assume that they won’t be packed in like sardines, but they don’t necessarily need individual seats and such either. Probably something like 10 cars minimum to get some base level of comfort, right?

            Just to point out that we’re not talking about sneaking a couple cars onto a train, we’re probably looking at 15+ minimum with whatever heavy equipment factored in.

          • Aapje says:

            Rail cars don’t have standard lengths, so your question seems impossible to answer. It depends on what type of rail car you use and even then, it may vary.

            A common size of the cattle cars used in the past to transfer people against their will was 27 by 7 feet (8 by 2 meters). The official regulations were that 50 Jews could fit in that space, but actual occupancy seems to have gone up to 150.

            Assuming that one wants to be no less kind to the passengers than the Nazi regulations were to Jews, that means 50 people per car and thus 20 cars, without equipment.

            If you put the people in standard 40 foot containers (with air holes), for which plenty of rail cars are available, there will be a bit more length and width, so you may fit 66 to 70 people based on the same density. So that would be 14-15 cars.

          • acymetric says:

            I was basing my estimate off of using 40′ containers, because in this scenario it needs to be as non-obvious as possible that there are people inside and containers seems like the best or at least one of the best camouflage options there. So I was pretty close, especially since I was being intentionally being generous with how many people we could put in each to get the lower bound on number of cars.

          • Aevylmar says:

            “Freight trains generally have no more than two people on board. In a near-future setting, they might have none, but of course it’s your story.”

            Two is way fewer than I expected! I’m going to stick with two for my story, I think.

            “Slipping 1000 people and a bunch of equipment onto a train without the engineer and freight conductor noticing is not possible.”

            That’s what I assumed. 🙂 Thank you.

            In general, all your comments are interesting and useful, and I appreciate your listing of all the impossible problems my protagonists have. I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but is there any chance you can recommend a book or something? Even a really realistic thriller in which the protagonists have to do something like this would be useful.

            “Assuming that one wants to be no less kind to the passengers than the Nazi regulations were to Jews, that means 50 people per car and thus 20 cars, without equipment.”

            This is more useful detail. I don’t suppose you can just randomly give me more detail like this that I can use for my story? I know it’s not clear what is useful for my story, but any detail like this could *potentially* be really helpful.

          • Matt says:

            Is it possible to slip the people onto the cars before they’re added to the train? If you know (somehow) that empty (empty enough?) cars are waiting near your origin to be dropped off for filling at your destination, then you get your men and equipment on the cars before the train gets there, the train hooks up to your cars and hauls you away.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Freight trains generally have no more than two people on board. In a near-future setting, they might have none, but of course it’s your story. Slipping 1000 people and a bunch of equipment onto a train without the engineer and freight conductor noticing is not possible.

            On the other hand, it might be possible to suborn, kill, or otherwise disable them.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aevylmar

            A relatively common occurrence in drug smuggling to the port of Rotterdam is that they get help from people who work at the port, in one capacity or the other. This greatly increases the odds of getting the drugs where they want it, without being intercepted.

            This is probably required to make your scenario work in a plausible way, even just for knowing which trains go where. The most useful might be to have a railway traffic controller cooperate, since they can direct one train to leave empty railway cars on a siding where it is relatively easy to load a lot of people and equipment at night without being noticed and then later to direct another train to pick these up and deliver them to where you want them to go.

            Not much hijacking or other ‘heroics,’ but quite plausible.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aapje

            I used to ship a bunch of stuff through Rotterdam (no drugs, though, just big machines).

          • Aapje says:

            Then your stuff was probably handled by software that I’ve worked on (although most of the development I’ve done was for container handling, not breakbulk, which is presumably the category for your shipments).

        • Civilis says:

          It’s possible for most of the potential problems to be overcome with creative worldbuilding or storytelling. In some cases, this may suggest story events, while in others, you can bypass it entirely with a few sentences of worldbuilding. Putting my GM hat on, some things to consider:

          If the general public doesn’t have ready access to transportation, there’s going to be some incentive to improvise routes, especially by people on the marginal end of society (who are also the most likely to be rebels against the government). One of the classic ways to do this is to hop a train. How does the authoritarian government try to prevent this (because they will), and how well does it work? It could be that the train crew includes a member of your evil state security apparatus who periodically checks for stowaways. It could be that there are automated sensors (that need to be subverted) to detect hobo wannabes, either on the train or in the yards.

          What sort of traveling conditions do your thousand people require, and for how long? If your thousand passengers are desperate refugees, they might be more than willing to be crammed into box cars in standing room only for the trip with no food (google “Bangladesh overcrowded trains” for some images of how many people you can pack into a train if you throw safety out the window). On the other hand, if you’re transporting soldiers who need to be ready to fight at the other end, you want more space and for them to have enough food and water to keep in good condition.

          Another thing to consider is that railways are common sabotage targets, especially in war. If there’s an active rebellion / resistance, take any real-world security measures and ramp them up significantly. There will be security measures in place to defend the rail yards, easy to damage and difficult to repair track sections (like bridges), and any place there’s a significant amount of rolling stock.

          None of this should make your story impossible; in fact, it might make it easier. The train could be hijacked while stopped without being detected because someone else in the resistance attacked a bridge further up the line, and the trains are stopped while new routes are arranged. Rebel soldiers moving from train car to train car while the train is in motion could wear state security uniforms so observers think they are the train’s security detail checking for stowaways.

          • Aevylmar says:

            “If the general public doesn’t have ready access to transportation, there’s going to be some incentive to improvise routes, especially by people on the marginal end of society (who are also the most likely to be rebels against the government). One of the classic ways to do this is to hop a train.”

            Yes, and what my protagonists are trying to do is hop a train with a thousand people and some illegal equipment. 😀 Which I assume would mean taking it over, given the impossibility of getting all that on without the conductor and engineer noticing, but I take your point.

            “How does the authoritarian government try to prevent this (because they will), and how well does it work?”

            Interesting thing to think about! Thank you!

            “What sort of traveling conditions do your thousand people require, and for how long? If your thousand passengers are desperate refugees, they might be more than willing to be crammed into box cars in standing room only for the trip with no food (google “Bangladesh overcrowded trains” for some images of how many people you can pack into a train if you throw safety out the window). On the other hand, if you’re transporting soldiers who need to be ready to fight at the other end, you want more space and for them to have enough food and water to keep in good condition.”

            Interesting point. Hmm…

            … Basically everything you say is interesting and useful. Thank you! Can you say more things?

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      I would not do this as a high jack – a train is much too easy to stop in transit if you make that much noise at the outset, and trains practically require faster-than-trains communications to exist.

      So, do it as a plot. The trick is to make a train load of troops look like a train load of grain, coal, or something else, and to get that train load shipped to where it needs to go with the papers all in order.

    • armorsmith42 says:

      1918 is in the opposite direction technologically, but might provide useful inspiration for dialog/operations/things-that-can-go-wrong: Look up the history of the Czechoslovak Legion and how they commandeered a bunch of trains to cross the entirety of Russia as it was disintegrating.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Those last 4 words seem incredibly important.

      • John Schilling says:

        Be fair. They only crossed most of Russia. Sibera, and the bits of European Russia southeast of Moscow.

        Of course, they had to conquer most of Russia(*) to do it, that being the only way to make the trains run on time during the Russian Civil War. Then they were stuck holding it for a year or so because the western powers that were going to arrange ships from Vladivostok took another look and said “Wait, a bunch of people who aren’t Communists have conquered most of Russia? How long can we stall them and keep it so?”

        * By provincial area, not population, so not as impressive as it first sounds.

      • Aevylmar says:

        I can’t believe I didn’t think of this. Thank you!

    • Aevylmar says:

      So, thinking about what @Aapje, @Catcube, @Acymetric, @The Nybbler and probably loads of people I’m missing have said, let me try to sketch the new plan (as my phone downloads the recommended books):

      • Protagonist has about a thousand people, plus equipment. (“Stuff.”) Protagonist’s resources boil down to brains, money, computer skills, social skills, and anything these four can get her.

      Step One: Arrange for the purchase/construction of cars containing ISO standard shipping containers designed to carry people, supply these cars with food/water/sanitation, etc. (“Carriers”.)
      Step Two: Arrange for the Carrier to be taken from the manufacturer/refitter to the rail yard where you’re going to start the plan without anyone inspecting it, via some combination of bribes, computer skills, and social skills.
      Step Three: Physically move Stuff to rail yard without authorities noticing. (P1). This is in or on the outskirts of a major city (Q1).
      Step Four: Sneak Stuff from the place just outside the rail yard into the rail yard without anyone being suspicious, via a combination of bribes to look the other way, electronically messing with surveillance cameras, or possibly something audacious and clever, and load it into the Carriers. (P2).
      Step Five: Watch as the railway staff connects the Carriers to the locomotive or locomotive-equivalent without inspecting them and the train takes off.
      Step Six: Stuff gets transported several thousand miles without starving, running out of water, drowning in its own sewage, being noticed by anyone my Protagonist hasn’t bribed or suborned, or any other horrible problem I’m not thinking of. (Q2, P3).
      Step Seven: Somehow get off the train without anyone noticing. (P4.)

      Qs are things that I’m still trying to get more information about, Ps are Problems that my protagonist has to solve that will be difficult, where I may need to know relevant information that I don’t know. If anyone who knows anything about trains thinks there are more significant Ps, please let me know.

      Steps one and two can probably be taken care of offscreen.

      Problem P1 can probably be ignored/handwaved as long as I don’t put too much emphasis on it. P2 requires that I/my protagonist be Clever. This can probably be managed given that this is the fourth chapter of a serial and my beta readers think I’ve been Clever thus far. P3 depends on how long the journey is, how fast the train-that-isn’t-actually-a-train is going, how many cars my protagonist can add loaded purely with food/water, and and how fancy arrangements can be made for sanitation without anyone noticing, and whether my protagonist can just bribe/suborn the two (!) people on the train other than her private army.

      And P4 is, I think, just the inverse of P2, requiring roughly the same solution.

      What am I missing? What do I need to know about these problems? What problems are there that I’m missing? And where are rail yards usually physically located?

      (And, again, immense thanks to everyone who’s helped thus far.)

      • CatCube says:

        One thing that I’ll note is that it’s probably not necessary or advisable for your protagonists to buy or build their own railcars, if the rail system is reasonably close to what you see in the real world. Providing this kind of stuff is why railroads exist.

        Very large shippers will own their own cars, or people with very specialized equipment (say, a chemical that needs extremely specialized lining inside a tank) but the vast majority of customers just rent the cars as part of the shipping service. There are large pools of railcars jointly owned by major railroads to provide this. TTX and its subsidiary RBOX have some 200,000 cars for this. The railroad will spot the cars for their customers to load.

        Depending on what your protagonists do or what connections they have, they also don’t necessarily need to find a railyard. They just need to suborn a company with its own rail service. For example, I used to railfan in Lebanon Junction, KY. The CSX mainline from Lousiville to Nashville runs through there, with a spur (originally to Lebanon, KY) that now has just a few customers. I’d occasionally catch them tying down their train, pulling the locomotives off (usually with a few cars) and they’d go to the publishing plant here and drop of a few carloads of paper and pick up the cars that the plant had emptied since their last run. They’d sometimes do this on the weekend so the employees of the plant had new paper waiting for them when they got in on Monday.

        That plant’s spur is of course way too small for what you’re proposing, but a larger factory (like a car plant or mine) will have a huge number of tracks for loading their product for shipment. The problem here is that if the railroad spots a much larger number of cars than the plant would conceivably need to load, you might have the plant personnel asking questions–they get charged demurrage for holding cars for too long and don’t want to risk that, and the extra cars are taking up space on their property.

        If you’re loading intermodal containers, you can also have the railroad come pick them up, or have them delivered by a trucking company to an intermodal yard. If your protagonists can do that, though, that begs the question as to why they couldn’t have the trucks to do this just take them all the way. The additional handling (transshipment) is why railroads started getting their lunch eaten by trucks in the mid to late 20th century–once you’ve got your product on a truck, it often pencils out to just have it hauled all the way by truck once interstates were a thing. This isn’t always true, of course, but it still mostly is.

        There’s also a real time penalty for rail vs. truck, due to all the handling steps required; trains are only efficient if there are large numbers of cars going from one city to another, so the cars might sit in a yard a few days waiting for enough of them to make a train.

        For your questions:

        1) As noted above w/ Lebanon Junction, if your setting allows for plants in out-of-the-way towns, they can use those and not a major city. Of course, a town of that size is likely to notice an additional 1,000 people, especially if you’re there long enough to require purchasing supplies. You’re basically doubling the population of the town.

        2) The problem is that if you want to really be “realistic” with this, the plan as you’ve stated it will be either boring or tragic without excellent writing. I mean, you’re basically putting these people in a box and FedEx’ing them to the destination. Either your protagonists get on the train, be quiet for a few days to a week and a half, then they get delivered at the destination, all without being detected. Or, they *do* get noticed, the train gets stopped by the authorities, and all your people get led out to a drainage ditch near the tracks and shot (depending on how repressive your setting’s authorities are). It’s going to be hard to have a standard dramatic situation where it kind of fails and they do something to rescue it. Not impossible, but difficult.

        3) This is going to depend on what kind of things your protagonists are willing to tolerate. Bathing is going to be right out. They’ll have to have enough water, but that’s pretty simple. Chicago to Miami is about 5 days, 8 hours per CSX, here.

        I’ve got to run, but hopefully that at least gives you something.

      • Aapje says:

        The point of ISO containers is that they can be quickly moved onto and off ships, trains, trucks, etc. So you never commission the containers with the car itself. Empty containers are kept in container depots in many locations. If your scenario has capitalism and no government controls on containers, you can just call one of the companies that run a depot and buy some second-hand containers. Alternatively, you can steal them or bribe the person running the place.

        One of the places where depots are pretty much always located is a port. That is a good start point for your journey.

        A rail car suitable for containers would be a flat car or a well car. A flat car supports two 40 feet containers placed end-to-end, while a well car supports a stack of two 40 feet containers (and thus makes for a shorter train for the same cargo). However, the latter is too high for electrified track, so can only be used when the entire track is non-electrified.

        One type of flat car used for containers is the spine car. As you can see in the picture, not the entire container is fully supported. This allows you to make a hole in the bottom of the container that is then not blocked by the rail car, which is useful for:

        Drop chute toilets. Traditional sanitation for trains is simply a hole in the floor with a seat on top of it. Nicer variants have flushing, but still just eject onto or just next to the tracks. The most environmentally friendly version has a septic tank. The obvious solution for your situation would be the simplest variant. Note that properly designed drop chute toilets work like a chimney, so they don’t cause bad smells in the train.

        The easiest may be to bribe the people working at a container depot. Then you take a few blue collar guys to drill holes in the containers with a hole saw & you add some food and drink. If the containers will be stacked on a well car, you need two holes in the bottom container. After the containers are loaded on a train, the people inside can then put a pipe though both holes, for the human waste.

        All the people and equipment can be loaded into the containers at the depot, during the day or night. The depot will have a crane to put containers on and take them off a stack. If this crane is the right type, this should be usable to load the containers on a flat car and perhaps well car. However, this requires the rails (and rail cars) to be very close to the depot.

        The absolute easiest would be to bribe/extort all or some workers at a rail container terminal like this. You’d have the empty containers, a railway yard and a way to get the containers on a train; all in one place.

        If the terminal normally has some trains going to the right destination, with the right number of containers, you could simply load your containers on that train instead of the intended ones. Then near your destination, you’d have to find a way to intercept the containers, perhaps with the same scheme.

        PS. You’d probably want to have at least one truck to bring the people and equipment to the container depot. It’s going to be completely normal for trucks to go there, so it’s not going to be suspicious, as long as you unload the people and equipment (and load them into your containers) out of sight.

  11. FLWAB says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Albion’s Seed lately: particularly the Borderers, and especially on whether the social ills traditionally associated with Appalachia (alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, disregard for the law, etc) are primarily culturally transmitted or genetically transmitted. Take addiction in particular: in school I was taught that a history of alcoholism in your family means you are more likely to be an alcoholic, but how strong is that correlation exactly? Can alcoholism be bred out of a family line, and if so how easily? What about addiction in general? I have heard about “addictive personalities” and how they can run in families as well, but how solid is the evidence for that?

    I have been wondering this in particular because of my own family history. My mom’s side of the family is mostly Scandinavian with some Puritan English mixed in (my maternal grandfather is half Norwegian and half Swedish, while my maternal grandmother can trace her English lineage within striking distance of the Mayflower, but I don’t know how much other bloodlines have been intermixed over the years). My mom grew up in a stable and successful family, teetotalers who worked hard, went to church, sent their kids to college, and invested their money prudently. My grandpa was an aerospace engineer, his father was a farmer, and his grandfather came over to america and got some land in the homestead act. On that side of the family I know of no alcoholics, no drug addicts, and nobody has been arrested, much less gone to jail.

    On my dad’s side of the family I don’t have much idea of the history other than that I have a Scots-Irish surname and somebody in the family says we are descended from a Scottish farmer who came over a long time ago. My great grandparents were Oakies who became migrant workers in California during the dustbowl and never left. I don’t know for sure where they came from before Oklahoma, but Albion’s seed makes me think that Appalachia is likely. On that side of the family we have several alcoholics, at least one gambling addict, and a mixed bag when it comes to lawlessness (family lore also states that there is an old west highwayman in our line, but I don’t have names or dates so I take that with a grain of salt). My paternal grandfather was always traveling from place to place starting different businesses, and after losing most of his money in a risky investment he abandoned his family and disappeared: from what I’ve been told he spent a long time drinking and doing drugs. Because of this family history my father warned me that an “addictive personality” runs in the family, and that I should be very careful.

    So it seems like my family story fits Albion’s Seed exactly: addictive, shifty Borderer side of the family and a hardworking Scandinavian/Puritan side (Scandinavian ancestry in America is also strongly correlated with success if I remember right). But is that really the case, or am I just pattern matching my life to a book with a neat idea? And if it is true, which side of my family line wins out in a fight? I grew up in my mom’s culture: I hardly knew my relatives on my dads side, we only rarely visited while we lived very close to all of my mom’s relations. My dad was also teetotal, as he hated seeing what alcohol did to the people in his life growing up. So does nature or nurture win in this case?

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      You’re pattern matching your life to a book. Which is fine, and perhaps even informative, but not necessarily serious. If anything, to play your game, it sounds like your Puritan side is well buttressed against Borderer instincts since you’re going about remaking yourself in the image of a book. That seems very Puritan to me. (Why everyone here seems so pro Puritan is a mystery to me. Quakers any day)

      I suspect you’re well equipped to judge for yourself whether you have dark impulses and an addictive personality. The way to address these things is not to be found in Albion’s Seed, but the usual litany of resources for impulsive and addicts. You can mythicize it along a Lovecraftian sense of dread at your borderer blood quantum, or maybe go for a Jungian styling of shadow-anima-something-or-other. If you’re looking for a horoscope, you won’t find more than this-group-collectively-tends-towards-this-range on various unfeeling charts. And you could fall anywhere on it.

      You can always try and cultivate the broad, good natured qualities of the Borderers, if you must have Albion’s seed to work from. Talking about these broad sociological movements as an individual though sounds to me like “the blood of Númenor is spent” frankly.

      If you’re afraid for your children, remember that you’re only half of the mess you’ll make of them, genetically, and take some solace in that bad cycles have been broken in the past. Or, take solace in our old evolutionary friend random mutation. It could always make it better or worse! How much a mess you make of them after they’re born is of course at your discretion.

      Basically, the fact you care to worry about this puts you ahead of the game.

    • Walliserops says:

      I don’t have detailed information on the matter, but A molecular mechanism for choosing alcohol over an alternative reward (Augier et al., Science 2018) could be a good lead for digging into genetic alcoholism. Here’s a rough summary, but keep in mind that my experience in the field is limited:

      1. If trained to press a lever for 20% alcohol, and then given a choice between alcohol and another lever for saccharin solution, rats start switching to the latter, especially if you use a higher-strength saccharin solution. Rats don’t stop alcohol intake altogether, but decide on a roughly 75%/25% S/A split for 0.2% saccharin.

      2. Rats vary in individual preference. Most of the population prefers saccharin over alcohol (n = 465, SP rats), but one group has an even split (n = 60), and another prefers alcohol (n = 95, AP rats). The AP-to-SP ratio very roughly matches the prevalence of alcoholism in humans. There’s no change if you let the rats binge on saccharin before training (test for “sugary rewards early in life increases risk for alcoholism later” idea).

      3. AP rats are exceptionally determined to get their fix. If you set up a reward system where you must press a lever an increasing number of times to get each reward (so the first is one push, the second is two, third is four, eventually you have to become a tiny Star Platinum), AP rats try extra hard for alcohol (about as hard as both AP/SP rats try for saccharin). If you spike the alcohol with quinine, AP rats still drink while SP rats are deterred (especially by higher concentrations). If you give rats strong enough electric shocks while drinking alcohol, AP rats still drink while SP rats are deterred.

      4. The amygdala of AP rats shows the strongest changes in gene profiles compared to SP rats, with downregulations all across the board in a big GABA transmission pathway (not familiar with this but I’m seeing GABA transporters, receptor components, and associates of that complex). The idea is that GABA transport is impaired in the amygdala, resulting in excess GABA presence in the extracellular space (GABA transporters are responsible for clearing this up), with receptor downregulation representing a coping mechanism.

      5. Neurons in the central amygdala of AP rats give stronger responses to stimulation compared to SP rats (which is kind of strange, shouldn’t GABA-suffused neurons if anything be less responsive?) But if you take out the GABA receptors with a competitive antagonist, the AP neurons become even more responsive but SP neurons don’t, so the too-much-GABA-in-ECM idea is panning out. You can replicate AP-like responses if you knockout the GABA transporter GAT-3, so the too-much-GABA-in-ECM idea is panning out even more. Also, it turns out that GABA-mediated inhibition in the central amygdala was implicated in aversion/anxiety responses, and AP rats show reluctance to enter/lower tendency to hang out in open spaces.

      6. And for the here’s-why-this-is-in-Science-rather-than-Neuron kicker, they knocked out GAT-3 in SP rats and turned them AP, and found that human alcoholics have GAT-3 downregulated in the central amygdala but not other places.

      I might’ve missed things, but this seems like a solid case for at least some genetic component to alcohol dependence, provided that you’re regularly exposed to alcohol.

    • SamChevre says:

      Genes and culture interact, and the this makes culture, which is more malleable, critical.

      I had a somewhat unique front-row seat to this. I had a childhood friend whose ancestry was classic Borderer, but who was adopted by a Mennonite couple around the time my parents joined the same Mennonite church.

      Think of the Borderer genes as risk-seeking, and Borderer culture as optimized against a particular risk. Changing cultures won’t change the risk-seeking piece of your personality; what it can do is focus that risk-seeking on beneficial things, rather than mind-altering substances and violence.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m out of date but 40 years ago there was evidence that alcoholism in particular was somewhat heritable, and followed the blood line – adopted children resembled their birth parents. I know of no research available at that time that attempted to control for the fetal environment. Some other syndromes were also correlated with alcoholism; they were what I was actually interested in.

      “Somewhat heritable” does not mean “if your parents have it, so do you”. It means you may be more likely than average to try to solve your problems with a bottle. I don’t have numbers, but what I remember suggests they were fairly low.

      Anecdotally, I’ve seen cases where people raised by alcoholics grow up to be teetotallers – but some of the grandchildren become alcoholics. I.e. viewing the disadvantages of drinking at close hand possibly provides partial immunization. Given that your father was such a teetotaller, you should probably be a bit more careful than average.

      You ask things like

      And if it is true, which side of my family line wins out in a fight?

      The real answer is “that’s not how these things work”. Which do you want to win out in your case? I suggest acting that way, and making it a habit. Hang out with other people who act that way. It’s probably easier to stay with the way you were raised, than if you’d e.g. been raised by the neer-do-well paternal grandfather. But the part you can influence is what you do. And if you want to take after the neer-do-well paternal grandfather, you can probably manage that, perhaps more easily than average.

  12. danridge says:

    I was commenting below on music theory and it seems that there are a few people who are familiar with its principles. I thought I might pose a little theory riddle which I stumbled upon; it doesn’t have an extremely neat and satisfying solution, and it helps to be comfortable in the mathier side of music in order to ponder it, but I think it is easily enough explained and shocking enough initially to be worth considering.

    So, for a tiny bit of background, the two most commonly used scales in music are the heptatonic and pentatonic scales (figuring out the actual riddle might take you on a digression into WHY this is the case). Heptatonic scales have seven notes, and we are most familiar with them as the normal major and minor modes. The pentatonic scales also have major and minor modes which mirror the relation between major and minor heptatonic scales. They are simply constructed by removing two notes from the heptatonic scale. If this is news to you, here’s an example. C major/A minor has the notes C D E F G A B, then comes back to C; or use the same notes starting on A to play A minor. The pentatonic version removes the notes F and B, and this works for both C major and A minor modes.

    So, here’s the riddle. If you come to a piano you will clearly see that to play your C major scale you simply use all of the white keys, making it very easy. What if you were to use all of the black keys? Well, once you orient yourself in the less common and distant key, you might notice that these are the notes in the F# (or Gb) major pentatonic scale. What that means stated generally is that in our system of twelve notes, the complement of a major scale is the pentatonic major scale rooted a tritone away. So, with that observation, the only questions is: why on earth does such a strange relationship arise, and does it have a deeper significance to the construction of said scales?

    • acymetric says:

      Because tritones are the Devil’s plaything?

      Kidding. This might be over my head but I’m going to try to come up with a real answer later.

    • James says:

      I had known everything in your setup, including that the white notes were C major and the black ones are F# major pentatonic, without ever really noticing that the two scales were each other’s complement. Contemplating it, I think I can come up with a reason, but I have no idea whether it will be the one you have in mind.

      Is it to do with the fact that fpnyrf ner (be pna or) pbafgehpgrq ol fgrccvat nebhaq gur pvepyr bs svsguf? Gur znwbe fpnyr vf pbafgehpgrq ol gnxvat frira* fgrcf bs n svsgu sebz gur fpnyr’f sbhegu (S, va gur pnfr bs P). Gur cragngbavp znwbe vf, V frrz gb erpnyy, pbafgehpgrq ol fgrccvat svir* svsguf sebz gur fpnyr’f ebbg. Fb vs lbh fxrgpu obgu bs gubfr bhg ba n pvepyr bs svsguf, fgnegvat ng bccbfvgr raqf (n gevgbar ncneg) naq pbybhevat nf lbh tb, lbh jvyy svaq gung gurl svyy gur pvepyr jvgubhg bireynccvat. Nz V jnez?

      *Ironically in light of my screed below, I think ‘seven’ and ‘five’ in that answer are—dare I say it!—fencepost errors. But rather than correct them I’m leaving them in because it’s funnier that way.

      And since I don’t recognize your name, I’ll explain that, according to our custom, that passage has been encoded with rot13 and can be decoded the same way.

      • danridge says:

        Lrf, irel jnez! Nf V fnvq gurer vfa’g arprffnevyl n gvql ‘fbyhgvba’ gb guvf bar, ohg lbh zvtug nyfb guvax nobhg gur snpg gung gjb cragngbavp fpnyrf bs svir abgrf nqqf hc gb gra abgrf; jung’f tbvat ba jvgu gur bgure gjb bhg bs gjryir? Naq jung vf fcrpvny nobhg gur zbqhyngvba bs xrlf ol n gevgbar?

        I had imagined that thinking about this with a simple base-12 modular arithmetic approach would uncover the relevant relations faster, but I think that if you convert that back into the world where seven semitones is a perfect fifth and the pentatonic scale is a thing you use to play over some changes, it maybe has some implications for how you think of the pentatonic scale being pruned down from heptatonic, and how modulation works. In any case, thinking about this sent me down a rabbit hole of playing with alternate heptatonic scale sets to figure out what was special about the common one.

    • Sinclair says:

      Because 12 – 7 = 5? Why do you consider the black keys to be the most natural F# major pentatonic scale? Some cultures omit the third instead of the fourth.

      • danridge says:

        Because that’s not actually a different pentatonic scale. Take what is termed the major pentatonic in C, C D E G A. Now, just start it in a different place, on G: G A C D E. Exactly the same as if you had removed the seventh and the third from a G major scale, which if I understand correctly is the construction method you were suggesting. It’s just the same as the fact that this F#/Gb major pentatonic scale on the piano could also be a D#/Eb minor pentatonic. And the construction still works if you think of the mode of pentatonic you suggest as the mixolydian mode (based solely on how we name modes relative to major in the heptatonic scale, you shouldn’t make more significance of it being mixolydian than that); on the black keys it would be C# mixolydian pentatonic, a tritone away from the G mixolydian scale which is played on all white keys.

        Anwyay, obviously it’s not strange that the complement is ‘a pentatonic scale’, that’s just how the math works out. I think this observation is largely in the eye of the beholder, and should it not compel you, then it is not compelling.

        • danridge says:

          Just in case the modal equivalency in this case is new to you, one other interesting observation. You can take the modes of the normal heptatonic scale (major scale) and divide them into major and minor according to this rule: if it has a major third and a perfect fifth, it is major, if it has a minor third and a perfect fifth, it is minor. The locrian has a minor third, but a diminished fifth so we’ll simply put it aside. This divides the remaining six modes evenly between major and minor. If you then take a major mode and construct a major pentatonic scale on the root of this mode, it will be a subset of any of the three modes you could try this with. The same holds for the minor modes and minor pentatonic scales. In case you want to try this, an example: G mixolydian scale is GABCDEFG, G major pentatonic is GABDE. The major modes are ionian (major), lydian, mixolydian; minor are aolian (minor), dorian, phrygian.

    • Anatoly says:

      The twelve semitones in the octave are on the circle of fifths. Seven of them form a heptatonic scale. The other five will form a pentatonic scale if they’re contiguous on the circle of fiths, since that scale is formed by forming fifths. So if we choose the notes of our heptatonic scale in such a way that they can be reached from the root by going up or down fifths, without hitting notes outside the scale on the way – clearly a useful property – then both the 7 of our scale and the other 5 will be contiguous on the circle. The question then becomes, why is the pentatonic scale rooted a tritone away from the root of the pentatonic scale? Because as we search around for the notes to form our pentatonic scale, going fifths up and fifths down from the root of C, it’s clearly desirable to avoid adding a very dissonant interval – tritone – to our scale, so we stop just before F# on the circle, and F# then starts the contiguous part of the circle that forms a pentatonic scale and ends up as black keys on the keyboard.

      (well, we do have a tritone anyhow, between B and F, but both these notes are clearly useful, as a fourth from the root and a leading tone for the root, and at least the tritone doesn’t involve the root, so it’s an acceptable compromise)

      (this explanation is probably atrociously ahistorical)

  13. newsroot says:

    Another baffling example of a US and European regulators treating products differently – toothpaste. https://elemental.medium.com/why-is-the-internet-obsessed-with-this-cult-toothpaste-963dda060501

    • cassander says:

      why would you expect to separate, very complicated regulatory bodies to reach the same conclusion on a new and different product?

      • AG says:

        Because one has been burned more often than the other? It seems that the US body has strict regulations on marketing– the use of the word “repair,” probably stemming from some case where products that were falsely marketed as having repairing functionality and someone sued. If there hasn’t been a similar case in the EU, then presumably there maybe a different approach to lawsuits/the courts/consumer protection regulations there.

        • cassander says:

          I think you’re mistaking me. I expect that the two regulatory bodies to reach different conclusions, for the reasons you mention and others.

  14. DinoNerd says:

    Is there any way to fix this software so either
    1) it doesn’t randomly log me out(*)
    2) when I log back in, it takes me back to the same place, so I can finish the comment it rejected due to me being “not logged in” when I tried to post it.

    (*) probably not random – probably some expiry time that’s a lot shorter than the up time on my browser window 🙁

    • The Nybbler says:

      Article:

      A study in Israel looked at what happened when people start drinking one standard drink per day, over two years. They split people into three groups, gave one water, and the other two either red or white wine. At the end of the study, there weren’t any consistent health effects – positive or negative – from drinking wine.

      Study conclusion:

      This long-term RCT suggests that initiating moderate wine intake, especially red wine, among well-controlled diabetics as part of a healthy diet is apparently safe and modestly decreases cardiometabolic risk. The genetic interactions suggest that ethanol plays an important role in glucose metabolism, and red wine’s effects also involve nonalcoholic constituents.

      I was tempted to say “I’m done here”, but out of curiosity I checked another claim:

      Article:

      They added in a much more rigorous control for socio-economic status, which meant that they eliminated many of the issues that most of these studies face, and the beneficial effects of moderate drinking disappeared completely.

      Study conclusion:

      Furthermore, when SES was controlled for in our analyses, the salubrious effect of moderate alcohol consumption disappeared entirely for men and was substantially attenuated for women.

      The second study also left out “current nondrinkers” from the analysis, and “lifetime abstainers” was a fairly small percentage of the sample, especially for men, so when you slice and dice by SES there may not have been enough to find a real effect.

  15. EntropyMaximizer says:

    Not sure if that’s the correct place, But I’ll give it a try:
    1. I’m looking for a therapist for online therapy (Video chat) that is Rational-Adjacent, If anyone here is a therapist or knows someone good I would love to get a recommendation (I prefer male therapist).
    2. I’m also interested in finding a mentor to help me think about how should I develop my career. I’m generally reasonably successful – So I’m looking for someone who is at least 40, and have a strong understanding of the business world. I know it’s pretty challenging to find a mentor, Would anyone have good advice on how to approach this?

    Thanks!

  16. onyomi says:

    In “Skin in the Game” Nassim Taleb brings up the problem of industries judging themselves versus industries being judged by their customers. He suggests that there is variability (I forget now whether he suggests what causes variability) among industries and fields in terms of how inward-facing they can afford to be (though there are individual exceptions I think part of the premise is that industries will be as insular as they can afford to be, with participants preferring to seek the accolades of their peers, rather than “pandering” to customers or “going commercial”; this might also be framed as the extent to which e.g. the auto industry or the fashion industry or the restaurant industry can mold consumer preferences as compared to the extent to which they must conform to consumer preferences).

    I am wondering if this isn’t a partial answer to the “why can’t we build beautiful architecture anymore” problem that has long bugged me. That is, maybe architects are primarily designing to impress other architects rather than please the people who will actually use the building.

    Alternative/supplementary explanations include “people’s stated preferences aren’t their revealed preferences” (they’d rather drive to their spacious McMansion in the suburbs than live in a characterful but dense street corner apartment) and “architecture isn’t primarily about what you think it’s about” (we assume architecture is first-and-foremost about having a nice place to live but maybe it’s actually about having a roof over your head and then, beyond that, impressing your neighbors/being comfortable; I wonder if this isn’t also why people dress in what seems so sloppy a manner compared to 100 years ago).

    • Clutzy says:

      Architecture is one that clearly would not fit into the skin in the game model. A beautiful building is viewed from the outside, whereas the people that pay for it are on the inside, deprived of its beauty/lack thereof. I want to be adjacent to the best view, and want my view of that view to be very nice (big windows preferably). But my 100% window building is boring, it maximizes my utility inside, but the people on the street get no benefit.

      I think this also gets to your other examples. People leave “characterful” places because those characters aren’t all that nice. They build suburban McMansions because property per square foot is cheaper out there, so why not.

      • onyomi says:

        Well I agree with both clothing and architecture there’s a certain trade-off between comfortable/convenient for wearer/inhabitant and visually and otherwise pleasing for onlookers. Maybe due to society becoming more liberal and individualistic or simply due to innovations in making houses and clothing comfortable, we seem more willing now than before to e.g. live in an ugly but functional house or wear unattractive but comfortable clothing.

        However, I don’t think that’s the entirety of it as I don’t think there’s a pure trade-off relationship between beauty and comfort/utility in architecture or clothing. Making the outside of a house ugly doesn’t make the inside any more comfortable, for example. Of course, one could prioritize interior over exterior because you don’t care what the neighbors think, but I don’t think that’s what people are complaining about when they complain about “ugly modern architecture.” I think the “ugly modern architecture” is often not inherently cheaper or more functional than a similar, more traditional/aesthetically pleasing structure.

      • rubberduck says:

        Why you hate contemporary architecture

        Really interesting article on trends in postwar architecture and some possible explanations for why buildings got ugly.

        • onyomi says:

          Good article. Seems very much to support the theory of “an architect’s architect” etc. as being a big part of the problem (that is, success in the field of architecture being primarily a function of garnering the admiration of other architects).

          I wonder if it has something to do with the very big conceptual space possible within a category like “library” or “museum.” For example, if you are a university building a new library your priorities, in order, may be something like: 1. some sort of structure that holds books 2. built by a famous architect 3. a pleasant place to read, work, etc.

          The number of structures that can conceivably fulfill 1 is vast, so not very limiting. Barring extremes, 3 is hard to determine until after the thing is built and one doesn’t want to be the first person to tell famous architect the emperor has no clothes when it comes to building beautiful, comfortable libraries (plus, any rube can make something “beautiful”; we’re interested in challenging).

          So as to the question of why “famous architect” is a category determined by other architects more than clients, it may be because regular people are bad at judging 1 and 3 and so defer to “experts” on those questions with the result that the architects admired by other architects get the lucrative jobs and a self-perpetuating cycle results?

          I guess the question is why monumental architects can afford to scoff at the general public’s preference for beautiful structures while even top restauranteurs mostly can’t afford to scoff at customers’ demand that the food tastes good, though they may allow taste to take a backseat, to some degree, to experimentation with presentation and technique, etc.

          • Nick says:

            The odder thing is that there have been famous architects before the twentieth century. So what changed that they have so much freedom today? I was reading a few books on Gothic architecture a few weeks back, and more than one noted that it was the first period in which architects were known by name and sought by cities or monasteries on account of prior work. Some Gothic cathedrals still have a monument to, for instance, the bishop who commissioned it and the initial architect. (Can quote sources when I get home.) These architects were innovators, and stars of their time for it, but they seemed to have a lot more respect for the traditions they were working in than our contemporaries.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          Great article. Makes modern architects sound like Steinmann from Bioshock.

        • Icey says:

          I… can’t really agree with the other commenters on this article. The way it is written is basically a 2000 word opinion piece that says “only intricate ornamentation looks good, and if you disagree you’re wrong” over and over, with a handful of architects’ quotes added in (who, it turns out, can be pretentious pricks, too).

          I also found it interesting that the authors apparently didn’t actually talk to anyone in architecture, since my younger sibling recently graduated with an architectural degree, and several blanket assertions made are entirely false.

          The “why” of the entire article can just be boiled down to “because I (and many other people) like detailed ornamentation, which is out of style, at least partially due to cost.” And then 15 tons of judgmental garbage piled on top of that.

          • onyomi says:

            I won’t disagree with you that the article is quite polemical; which blanket assertions, based on your sibling’s experience, are entirely false?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The “why” of the entire article can just be boiled down to “because I (and many other people) like detailed ornamentation, which is out of style, at least partially due to cost.”

            I don’t think cost has much to do with it, given that modernist eyesores tend to be especially prevalent with lavishly-funded public architecture and the like. Residential housing, where cost is more of an issue, tends to be, if not beautiful, at least not actively ugly.

            And then 15 tons of judgmental garbage piled on top of that.

            Well, yeah, when you impose your eyesores on other people, you deserve to get judged good and hard.

          • vV_Vv says:

            The “why” of the entire article can just be boiled down to “because I (and many other people) like detailed ornamentation, which is out of style, at least partially due to cost.”

            Cost issues could perhaps explain the purely functional concrete boxes, but not things like this or this.

          • Icey says:

            I won’t disagree with you that the article is quite polemical; which blanket assertions, based on your sibling’s experience, are entirely false?

            This part, specifically, was what I was thinking of when making that comment:

            At the moment, the needs or wishes of the people who actually have to use buildings are rarely considered at all. Architecture schools do not actually teach students anything about craft or about emotion; most of the courses are highly mathematical, dedicated to engineering and theories of form rather than to understanding traditional modes of building or understanding what people want out of their buildings.

            The number of discussions that I’ve had with my brother about things that he’s been learning, around ideas such as evaluating what emotions design can evoke in people, how people interact with objects and structures, and the like, were wildly far-ranging and too numerous to count. I know there were also multiple courses that he took specifically devoted to studying building and architecture throughout history, and guarantee that it was not “a discussion of buildings since WW2”. I don’t know as much what was covered in those courses because I was less interested, but having heard him talk about the styles of a wide variety of buildings and structures, I know that it didn’t boil down to “Greco-roman and french styles are garbage and super-modern formless structures are the best things ever”.

            These are topics that are taught, discussed, and have entire classes on in architectural school. Whether or not the authors would agree with the students’ and teachers’ preferences and evaluations, it’s factually untrue to claim that they only teach raw engineering concepts and nothing to do with the practice as a form of art.

            Cost issues could perhaps explain the purely functional concrete boxes, but not things like this or this.

            I agree, and that’s where I took other issue with the authors’ assertions. It actually felt a bit motte and bailey-ish; they point to brutalist architecture and say “this is inhumane and emotionally numbing” and then point to what I now have learned is apparently called ‘blobitecture’, which explicitly is a style that draws inspiration from organic structures in an effort to enable structures to resonate with people on a more emotional level, and first claim that it’s the same, and if not, retreat back to “even if you feel emotions, it should only be anger because it’s ugly, and if you disagree you’re dumb and wrong”.

            Which, I guess, sure, is their opinion. But also doesn’t really contribute anything.

            (I’m unsure how much of my motivation to respond on this topic is because I strongly disagree with their aesthetic preferences, but you can safely assume it to definitely be a nonzero amount.)

      • Nick says:

        I think this also gets to your other examples. People leave “characterful” places because those characters aren’t all that nice. They build suburban McMansions because property per square foot is cheaper out there, so why not.

        Lest you think McMansions deserve a pass, though….

        That author emphasizes throughout the creeping wrongness of the McMansion. Most people don’t have the vocabulary to say why the houses are wrong, or the expertise to fix it, but they can feel it.

        • J Mann says:

          I suspect the McMansion hell blog is mostly documenting Sturgeon’s law.

          • Nick says:

            Given the sources the author works from, it doesn’t seem so. He (?) quotes from a compendium of American building styles’ description of the “Millennium Mansion”*:

            “-Complex high pitched roof with lower cross gables or hips
            – Tall (1.5-2 story) entry features, often arched
            – Haphazardly applied dormers
            – Multiple wall cladding materials applied to single surfaces
            – Windows of differing sizes and shapes, often arched
            – Structure is commonly asymmetrical with tall vertical appearance.”

            Haphazard dormers and inconsistent window shapes are not good things! The “Millennium Mansion” is a recognizable style with common features—features that are just bad.

            He has a theory about why the McMansion is so bad, too—they’re a product of living above one’s means by building the biggest damned thing in the middle of nowhere where no one can bother you, and making that (barely) affordable means skimping on a lot of things. Hence incompetent design, tons of construction mistakes, cheap material that needs replacing a few years down the line…. I’m sure these were problems in other places and at other times, but McMansions seem to be uniquely bad, on account of the conditions that gave rise to them.

            *Hey, at least it’s not millennial mansion, amirite?

          • acymetric says:

            @Nick

            Millennials can’t afford them 😉

          • Beck says:

            @Nick
            She’s a grad student studying (I think) acoustics. That site is a little hard to navigate, but the 50 States of McMansion Hell entries are a blast to read.

          • paulharvey165 says:

            @Nick

            The author of McMansion Hell is Kate Wagner. One of the things that she points out about McMansions is that they are not designed by architects but rather by builders/clients. The architects are left out of the equation and so you get things that are mostly functional but are odd looking and off putting.

            She has also posted a rebuttal to the article about how bad modern architecture is. I forget where I read it, it might have been twitter. I don’t mind most modern architecture and I thought that there were some genuinely beautiful buildings used as negative examples in the article.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            What are you defining as “modern” architecture? Most of it is extremely hit-or-miss, with a lot of stuff that looks absolutely ridiculous, and a lot of it is quite polarizing. Which is the point, architects like a lot of stupid stuff that other people don’t like.

            McMansion is not a well-defined term. However, people like modern homes that are “meh” on some quality standards and aesthetics because having 3000 square feet is really nice. Post-war ranches and split-levels and pre-war bungalows and four squares are quite frankly claustrophobic for modern families, who have a lot more stuff and live differently than families of past generations.
            Also, split-levels and ranches are hardly the picturesque communities we think of when we think high-density living, and high-density living is more likely to be slum or slum-adjacent than these picturesque Instagram towns.

          • McMansion is not a well-defined term. However, people like modern homes that are “meh” on some quality standards and aesthetics because having 3000 square feet is really nice.

            When people talk about McMansion, is 3000 square feet about what they are thinking of? I would consider that a comfortable size for a family house—ours is a little less, but not a lot—but not anything extraordinary.

          • acymetric says:

            I think 3,000 would be the absolute lowest that could be considered a McMansion, probably depending a bit on context (location, surroundings, etc). I’m fairly certain that the original usage was expanded downward to that number, I think it originally referred to larger houses.

            The image it conjures in my mind is probably more like 4,000-5,000 square feet. If you Google image search the word, the top results are all much more than 3,000 square feet.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Interestingly, in my country only a third of families with children have over 1600 square feet.

            Might your ‘comfortable’ not be more a case of peer pressure than of actually being uncomfortable with less space?

          • acymetric says:

            @Aapje

            I would say 2,500-3,000 square feet is a large family home, but not obscenely or inappropriately large (unless it is surrounded by blocks and blocks of 900-1,500 square foot homes in which case it is probably an eyesore that doesn’t match the surrounding aesthetics, which is why I suggested location is an important factor here).

            I can’t find any numbers on size of homes with children in the US (admittedly I didn’t try very hard) but single family home size in general (which may be occupied by an actual family, individual occupant, or other despite the name) grew from ~1,600 square feet in the 70s to ~2,300-2,600 square feet now depending on your source and whether you want mean or median (median is slightly lower, unsurprisingly).

            I know my mom grew up in a family of 8 kids in a house that I would estimate at no more than 1,200 square feet…maybe less.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “McMansion” isn’t a term with defined meaning. For instance, this house is listed as a “McMansion” on the Wiki:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMansion#/media/File:McMansion,_Munster,_Indiana.JPG
            You can find somewhat similar homes on Zillow, like this one:
            https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/10115-Somerset-Dr-Munster-IN-46321/73399594_zpid/

            These are relatively large homes, between 3k and 4k, and they are pretty “meh,” but it’s not like the split-levels and ranches they are in competition with are national gems. They have lots and lots of space. Also, contrary to their reputation of complete garbage builds, most of the ones I have been in have been perfectly acceptable homes, with no major problems beyond the usual problems with all homes.

            Wealth Envy at play.

          • acymetric says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            That is what I was trying to get at about the definition shifting over time. Originally I’m pretty sure it was used for very large houses with cheap and/or incredibly ugly design (I’m sure they were nice to live in). I don’t know that it was wrong to criticize this, because people complain about all types of eyesores and these certainly qualified as such.

            Now a lot of people do seem to use it basically as a pejorative for “any suburban house that isn’t a bungalow” which is stupid.

          • Nick says:

            “McMansion” isn’t a term with defined meaning.

            This would be more persuasive if you weren’t in a subthread where I quoted a definition by an architectural historian. And where I started by linking to a blog which explains and defends its definition at great length. That a words has been abused or overextended is not sufficient reason to abandon the word, much less the concept it points to; if it were, we could no longer talk about gaslighting.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            The big offense of the McMansion Definite Beta Guy cites is its big front garage. Both the wikipedia article and Kate Wagner seem to find big garages particularly problematic. I’ll freely admit that lots of the true mansions Wagner likes are very attractive and would be spoiled by a big garage. But I sort of feel like a lot of what’s going on is just a city-dweller’s contempt for suburbia.

          • Nick says:

            I sort of agree; I think one of the biggest issues with the McMansion is adding secondary masses that imbalance the house, and garages (especially 3, 4, 5, 6 (!!!) car) are probably the single worst offender there. There’s no reason they can’t be disconnected, though, and even put behind the house. A few of the proper mansions she’s shown do that. I did the same when I built a (not very good, but not Mc) mansion in The Sims.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I define McMansion broadly as “a > 3000 square foot tract house”. That is, if it’s a custom build, it’s not a McMansion no matter how ugly it is, and if someone makes a decent large tract house (there are a few around me; the builders seem to have patterned them after actual local mansions), it’s still a McMansion.

            IMO the major sin in most of those isn’t the garage but the rooflines. Second major sin is the mish-mash of styles, like a round Victorian turret on a house that’s otherwise neo-Colonial. And third is the haphazard cladding materials

            Construction varies a lot between builders. As for new building techniques, EIFS (fake stucco) is easy to do wrong and early versions were just no good. OSB already has some issues. On the other hand, engineered beams and trusses work really well.

            Putting garages behind the house doesn’t make practical sense when they’re your primary entryway, but the “N-car garages” that are done by taking a design for an “N-1 car garage” and glomming an extra bay on the side are just ridiculous.

          • Might your ‘comfortable’ not be more a case of peer pressure than of actually being uncomfortable with less space?

            I don’t think so.

            It’s desirable, although not essential, for each child to have its own bedroom. For parents with two children that requires three bedrooms. It’s convenient to have at least two bathrooms, and for a two story house where the bedrooms are on the upper story, it’s nice to have a third bathroom on the lower story. Add in kitchen, living room or equivalent, dining room, and perhaps an office, assume the average room is 14×14, and you are getting past 2000 square feet once you allow for hallways and such.

            More space is still useful. We have one room that doubles as a guest room when we have a visitor staying over, and a play room for kids of our guests–usually my granddaughter when that family comes over for dinner, as they do most weeks.

            We could certainly survive with a substantially smaller house, but the space in the existing one is all useful.

            Let me put the question back to you. An ordinary medieval villager had his whole family in one room. The same seems to have been true for residents of Moscow in the mid-20th century. Is your preference for more space than that due to peer pressure more than to being uncomfortable with less space than you are used to?

          • rlms says:

            I think the main cause of difference in house size between the US and Europe is room size rather than number. Bedrooms in the UK are more like 12 x 12. Number of bathrooms is probably the secondary factor (en suites are fairly rare in the UK at least).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I define McMansion broadly as “a > 3000 square foot tract house”. That is, if it’s a custom build, it’s not a McMansion no matter how ugly it is, and if someone makes a decent large tract house (there are a few around me; the builders seem to have patterned them after actual local mansions), it’s still a McMansion

            Right, that’s how most people think of most McMansions.
            1. It’s really big
            2. It’s tract housing
            3. It really doesn’t look like a nice mansion

            The one that I posted has an unbalanced visual mass because of the huge garage, but that’s quite frankly NOT a McMansion problem. That’s a huge problem in my parents split-level/ranch neighborhood constructed in the 1960s. Other than that, the one I posted is just a normal house, but it’s basically a McMansion build: it’s big, it’s vinyl siding, it’s tract housing.

            However, these houses have a LOT of room, and lots of room is very nice. You can host, you can have lots of kids, you can have spare rooms for offices or work rooms, you can have lots of storage space…extra room is very nice. I wouldn’t mind doubling the size of my house. I could have:
            1. Separate workout-room
            2. Separate craft-room
            3. Master Bath
            4. Full sized third bath
            5. Separate laundry room
            6. Big-ass kitchen
            7. Dining room big enough to have 30 people over
            8. Indoor garden
            9. Guest bedroom
            10. Full basement bar
            11. Separate area for teenagers to hang out

            Would be so, so nice. Right now, I have a combined laundry room/office, that sits next to the sub-basement, which is the main living area, that also includes all work-out equipment, that’s right next to the utility room, so you hear the sump-pump and the heater go off non-stop. Plus no easy way to install surround-sound.

            Also, there are a LOT of custom-build McMansions in my neighborhoods. They have their stupid McMansion nub and their non-matching windows, and a bunch of random features thrown in from various schools of architecture. We also have a random-ass Southern plantation house in my neighborhood. That’s because I live in a UMC-pretending-to-be-rich neighborhood, and that’s what those kinds of people do. Who the hell cares? It’s a really nice neighborhood. The lot sizes are generally small, the set-backs are small, and the streets are small, so it creates a rather intimate feel.

            I have a much bigger problem with the idiots who can’t take care of their lawn and let it get overrun with weeds. THOSE houses are disgusting. McMansions are not. However, I suspect most of the anti-McMansion people are also of the “lawns are evil, replace it all with weeds!” variety.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            More space is still useful.

            But also more effort to clean and maintain. Presumably, there is a preferred size for an optimal balance between upsides and downsides, where both larger and smaller houses are considered sub-optimal.

            Then people are driven to smaller housing by the cost of buying/building a larger house, but to bigger housing by peer pressure*.

            * Aside from some weirdo communities where smaller housing has higher status.

          • I wrote:

            More space is still useful.

            Aapje replied:

            But also more effort to clean and maintain.

            And more expensive to buy and heat.

            Obviously there will be some size that maximizes the net benefit for a particular family under particular circumstances.

            I thought your suggestion was not merely that more size may not be worth its cost, which is obviously true, but that it was worthless for practical purposes, hence done only in response to peer pressure. My point was that it was not, at least for sizes well above the average size you quoted, and probably for sizes as large as 3000 square feet for a family with children.

          • Aapje says:

            ‘Comfortable’ can be interpreted in both ways: either a holistic general comfort level that includes both costs and benefits; or more specifically whether one can make use of the space.

            I think that the former makes more sense for this discussion and most practical discussions, because without considering costs, extreme outcomes are typically logical, while they rarely are in practice.

            My claim is that people generally increase their housing demands in response to peer pressure, so their costs/benefit analysis without peer pressure effects is going to result in a smaller housing preference than one with peer pressure effects.

            Of course, it is plausible that the effect of high housing prices is so large that the peer pressure effects are relatively small in comparison, for most people.

          • My claim is that people generally increase their housing demands in response to peer pressure

            Does that apply to increasing housing demand to be more than one room per family?

            Perhaps I’m misreading you, but it sounds to me as though you have some idea of a size of house such that additional size is of very little value, hence is acquired only due to peer pressure—possibly the size you are used to living in.

            so their costs/benefit analysis without peer pressure effects is going to result in a smaller housing preference than one with peer pressure effects.

            You now seem to be only claiming that peer pressure has some effect, which is probably true. I thought your earlier suggestion was that it was the main reason for people preferring larger houses.

        • beleester says:

          A lot of the things in the first article on that page look like they might fit the pattern of “looks nice to live in, just doesn’t look good from the outside.” For instance, one house has a giant row of windows along the top that the author criticizes for being “too many voids.” But I bet there’s a pretty good view from inside the building.

          A lot of other issues in that page strike me as “Built something that was supposed to look nice, but didn’t consult an architect to tell them about things like “proportions” or “balance,”” which runs contrary to the thesis I’m hearing everywhere about how modern things look ugly because of architects run amuck. On the contrary, the problem is not enough architects!

          • Nornagest says:

            On the other hand, if you pay too much attention to architects, you get something that looks like this. There is clearly a middle ground here.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            It is an art gallery, though. They often want the building to be art too.

          • Nornagest says:

            I know, art museums are easy prey, but I just couldn’t pass up a building that looks like a liver fluke for Godzilla.

          • Nick says:

            The worst thing about that building is the wonderful looking neighborhood it’s ruining.

          • AG says:

            Liver fluke? Clearly in the end times Giant Link will pick it up to play the Song of Time.

    • nsojac says:

      Assuming you’re talking about residential architecture, I think your second explanation (architects are actually designing to revealed preferences among consumers) is more likely.

      First, I find it unlikely that an environment where architects are competing with other architects to impress a class of architects would converge on the standard suburban two-story cube with vinyl siding and tiny windows. Or even your upper-class McMansion for that matter.

      Second, I suspect that for most people the greatest factors for their home (that have anything to do with its architecture) are:
      -Cost
      -Cost per square foot
      -Low/easy maintenance
      -Convenience of use

      All of these things contribute to features of residential architecture: vinyl siding, standardized construction methods and materials, low cost materials, large interior spaces, attached garages and driveways (implying setback), etc.

      Brick is expensive for new construction. Alternative materials are likely to either be more expensive or more difficult to maintain (not least of which is because most contractors and fellow homeowners are familiar with the “standard” materials and techniques). Most homeowners probably also either have a family or aspire to have one, so having more large bedrooms, a lawn, and “protected” suburban neighborhoods are also desirable.

      Edit: In terms of commercial architecture I suspect that “cost is king” and this informs all architectural decisions. Brutalism is ugly but its also cheap.

      • onyomi says:

        I think with residential architecture a lot of it can’t be blamed on the architects but on the tendency, in places like the US with a lot of space and good highways for people to keep spreading out, taking away the human, pedestrian scale.

    • eric23 says:

      I think generic residential housing is a good example of industries judging themselves and consumers having to accept what’s on the market. But it’s not really so bad. Most people like their suburban houses.

      I think the bad modern architecture, which inspires the question “why can’t we build beautiful architecture anymore”, mostly appears in monumental and public architecture, which is built bespoke, and the clients have many opportunities to meddle (as anyone who builds websites for clients would be familiar with). So in fact, self-judging seems to be inversely related with bad architecture.

      I would rather answer “why can’t we build beautiful architecture anymore” by pointing to how we dress. In an age where people dressed formally, buildings were also dressed formally. Nowadays when people go out in T-shirts with obscenities printed on them, buildings are similarly designed to shock.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Errrrr, there’s no possibility that architects would converge on most of the stuff that we dislike in architecture. I mean, some things, yes: Brutalism is an abhorrent crime against humanity. But stuff like McMansions and suburban sprawl are anti-architecture. Those things are almost 100% driven by consumer preference, and it’s because consumers want lots and lots of floor-space, lots of breathing room, space to park their cars, and big arterial roads and expressways to get where they need to go.

      That’s not to say that no one likes the neighborhoods, because there is a lot of demand for those kinds of spaces (otherwise they wouldn’t be so expensive), but this isn’t where most people want to live. I follow createstreets and all that jazz on Twitter because they show pictures of nice, pretty neighborhoods, but none of the places they post are car-friendly. So….no, I wouldn’t ever live in one of those areas.
      And that’s even though I choose to vacation pretty much exclusively in those areas.

    • CatCube says:

      Architecture can certainly fail due to consumer preference, but it can fail in different ways, too. Here are some examples of what architects build for themselves (i.e., when they’re not trying to satisfy a client). Maybe not the same brand of ugly as, say, a McMansion, but definitely not either practical or beautiful designs, especially as houses–they look more like sculptures than something designed to be easy to live in.

      • Heterosteus says:

        I am aesthetically pleased by (and would happily live in) about half of these – which isn’t a bad rate for what is essentially liveable art.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think most of them are reasonably good-looking except for the pile of rocks, but what’s with the no-privacy glass wall in front?

      • Nornagest says:

        1 would only be livable for an exhibitionist. 3 is too experimental to be practical. 4 would give me too many university flashbacks. 5 looks like a police station in a cyberpunk thriller. 7 is just boring. 6 is boring too, and the lights would keep me up at night.

        I’d be okay with living in the second one, even if it looks like a museum gift shop. 8 and 9 are tolerable too, but probably cost four times what an equally attractive conventional house would.

        Mostly what I’m getting out of this is that architecture schools teach a fetish for cubes and bare concrete.

      • j1000000 says:

        I personally think most of these look cool. I’d qualify that by saying “I’m not an architect,” but I suppose this discussion started with an insistence that architects should be trying to impress the non-expert j1000000s of the world, not other architects.

    • j1000000 says:

      For reference, what do you mean by beautiful architecture? Are you talking about residential houses, or iconic skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building, or something more like Notre Dame?

    • rlms says:

      What counts as beautiful architecture? I suspect cost and requirements like “can fit a certain number of people in this small space of expensive CBD land” are relevant; Christopher Wren didn’t have the option of building St Paul’s with girders and concrete. Plus, two selection effects: you don’t remember non-ugly modern buildings, and presumably ugly old ones were more likely to be demolished.

    • One possible explanation is the rising marginal cost of originality.

      Suppose you are the first city planner in the history of the world and are very smart. You come up with a cartesian city, where it’s easy for people to find their way around.

      The second city planner can’t do a cartesian city because it has already been done. Perhaps he comes up with a functional polar design.

      Now you are the two hundred and seventieth city planner in the history of the world. All the good designs have been done, all the not so good designs have been done.

      You design Canberra.

      I expect that, to some degree, it applies to architecture too.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, I think the problem is that architects and city planners see themselves as “artists” and artists, like academics, are expected to be original, at least if they want to achieve high status within the profession (seems quite analogous, really: if you’re happy to teach high school you can just be someone who’s really good at teaching the standard interpretations; if you want a high-prestige tenured job at an Ivy League school you need to produce original research, which in a field like e.g. English literature is often quite hard just because so much has already been written about e.g. Shakespeare, thus incentivizing people to come up with some really weird ideas in the name of originality).

        But I think academic success, maybe especially academic humanities, also suffers from the problem (or enjoys the benefit, depending on one’s perspective) of depending primarily on the assessments of one’s peers, not the judgment of the general public. But this leaves the question of what makes some fields more like this than others? I think Taleb’s idea, as I recall it, is that one needs some outside, objective measures of success. For example, there may be such a thing as a “doctor’s doctor,” but no one is going to praise a surgeon’s innovative new technique if the survival rate for his patients is poor.

        • cassander says:

          fields where there’s no objective measure of success besides impressing your peers strikes me as likely candidates to be more like this.

    • I remember reading a book by an English author, possibly Norman Barry, in which he discussed post WWII architecture in England. By his account, the architects thought they knew what sort of lives people ought to live and tried to design buildings that would fit those lives, perhaps push people into them. Very much an architect based rather than customer based approach and, by his account, working very badly.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think half the problem is that architecture has the mindset of an art (and a modern art at that, where pieces are optimized for a compelling explanatory plaque) rather than a craft — industrial design post WWII is quite capable of achieving beauty (though it did have a bad decade in the Eighties), and so are things like furniture, but both are made to be looked at and used, rather than Appreciated.

      The other half is that materials science is advancing rapidly and aesthetics haven’t fully caught up. This is most significant at large scale — skyscrapers and airport terminals and such — but even things like engineered trusses for houses fit kind of awkwardly into vernacular architecture.

    • Etoile says:

      I think it definitely applies for publicly funded architecture in particular.
      But also, is it a thing that architects often don’t kow the principles of engineering, electricall wiring, plumbing, etc. And have to hire engineering consultants to work those into their “artistic vision”?

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, lack of engineering knowledge is not a thing in Spain, and they still build the same butt-ugly buildings the rest of the world does.

        Here is the syllabus of a Spanish architecture degree (in Spanish). It includes a lot of subjects like: Construction systems, materials, solids and structure mechanics, building physics, and many other engineering courses.

      • Beck says:

        Etoile,
        Architects generally need to have some understanding of those subjects, enough to talk intelligently, but aren’t expected to be experts. On anything other than a really simple structure, the design will be a group effort by a team of consultants with the architect usually taking the lead and coordinating everyone. (Personal experience; may vary by location)

    • Paper Rat says:

      Your problem “why can’t we build beautiful architecture anymore” reminds me a lot of a problem some people have, when they compare abstract or suprematist art to something more traditional (say renaissance painting or some mass produced nondescript landscape type of thing).

      It seems to me, that some people think there’s an obvious objective standard of beauty, and anything that doesn’t conform to it, must be produced with some different goal than that of making something beautiful (as an aside, the goal of artist getting money for their work was as relevant back in the day as it is today).

      Taking examples from the article (the one linked by rubberduck), I personally like those “bad” modern buildings way more than the old-timey stuff. As I see it, most of modern architecture presented have an interesting silhouette, beautiful clear lines, it dominates and bends the space around it, some of it conveys motion while being static, it plays with stark contrast and weird angles, it’s powerful stuff!

      On the other hand, most of the examples of “good” architecture look overly busy, smothered in unnecessary details, driven by boring repetition of the same element. Some things that come to mind when I look at them are “someone really spent a lot of time on these” and “they really did use all the colors available to them at the time”.

      What I’m trying to say is that there’s not necessarily some deep underlying reason for “people not building beautiful architecture anymore”, besides your personal tastes not aligning with those of the modern day architects, which is totally fine of course. It just irks me, when people criticise modern art (for a given value of “modern”, seeing as a lot of it is built (no pun intended) on a hundred years old ideas) for being “ugly” and assume some nefarious motive behind it’s creation.

      Also, I would assume, that a 100 years ago overwhelming majority of people were actually dressed much more sloppily than majority of people today. It’s just that, when you think of old times fashion, some random farmer or city urchin is not the first thing that comes into your mind.

      • ana53294 says:

        While there is modern art that does convey something, some modern art is lazy nothing that gets sold because of the name attached to it.

        I think Pollock is a CIA stooge with no aesthetic value whatsoever.

        Modern art can be beautiful, even when it’s just lines on a canvas.

        And yes, people like to look at stuff and say: “oh, I see a cat; or is that a fox” even when presented with a child’s drawing. Art that says nothing and communicates nothing without an explanation is not worth the same as art that doesn’t need an explanation.

        My going theory for modern art is, if you need to explain it to get something from it, then the theory/process should be the art, not the final result (like the deconstructed cow; I think the final result is fairly boring, while the stages make it interesting).

        And yes, I’m convinced that Miro could not paint a classic painting. Nothing in his art shows any awareness of technique (unlike Picasso, who made beautiful realistic sketches).

        • Paper Rat says:

          While there is modern art that does convey something, some modern art is lazy nothing that gets sold because of the name attached to it.

          Same can be said about lots of classical art, some throwaway sketch will be sold for unreasonable amounts of money, if it got a famous name attached to it. It’s a problem with the market, not with art itself as such.

          As for your examples of Pollock and Miro, I genuinely find a lot of their works aesthetically pleasing (neither is particularly modern as well, seeing as they died 30-ish years ago). What I mean by “pleasing” doesn’t include the way they were made or ideas they were supposed to convey, just the visuals, color combinations, composition etc., and not in a math-y way, but in general feel-y way.

          For me personally, meta stuff carries almost no weigh at all. If I like some piece of art, the name of the artist only becomes important, because there’s a good chance, that their other stuff will also be to my liking. Details of their personal life, their ideology, politics, feelings they wanted to convey and such are of pretty much no importance to me (though biographies can still be interesting to read, regardless of whether I like the art of the person in question).

          Also I don’t see what the ability to paint a classic painting has to do with worth of non-classical piece of art. It seems like you saying (sorry if I misinterpret), that since Picasso could paint a sick realistic painting, we can sorta forgive him his silly abstract stuff. Which sounds very wrong to me, cause a lot of people just like the abstract stuff by itself without all the bells and whistles and explanations of the process.

          I mean, naive art is a thing and some people really do like it. So you can either uncharitably assume that they all are pretentious pricks, who actually secretly in love with realistic art, and just force feed themselves things they know are garbage, or admit that there might be a difference in tastes to account for.

          Regarding child’s drawing: if you like the drawing, what difference does it make, that it was done by a child? Some of the children’s drawings, that I saw, are amazing and can absolutely stand on their own. I don’t like quotes in general, but I think Picasso has a fitting one: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” (gotta admit, sounds quite cheesy)

          Basically, evaluating art’s worth is super subjective, so be charitable to other people’s opinions. As I see it, those opinions carry more information about the observer, than about the piece of art in question, anyway.

        • BBA says:

          Part of the reason why art got abstract is that photography made realistic painting a waste of effort. I think it’s a mixed bag – some of it looks nice on the wall, some of it doesn’t, there’s usually no deeper meaning in it.

          But to ride on the distinction between modern and contemporary: abstraction is modern. A lot of contemporary art is about displaying your political radicalism in the most obnoxious way possible. (Also, ugly naked people.) And, look, I get that if you were gay during the AIDS crisis, you’d want to scream from the rooftops about how fucked up it all is… but the crisis is over, and there has to be more to life than being angry all the time.

          • Paper Rat says:

            I don’t get how abstraction is “modern”, it’s at least a hundred years old tradition at this point.

            Modern architecture is a thing, but it wasn’t among the examples of “bad contemporary architecture”, it also doesn’t specifically relate to abstract art any more than other types of architecture, I don’t think.

            What bugs me is that often when people use the words “modern art”, they actually mean “contemporary art”, while pointing a finger at something that’s been part of artistic tradition for a hundred years plus.

          • Another Throw says:

            You’re falling victim to the foundational blunder of modernism.

            “Modern” is a period, like “classical” or “baroque” or “medieval,” firmly rooted in the past, and pretty well on its way to being over at this point. Hell, postmodernism is (hopefully) damn well on its way towards being over now. Some moron a hundred years ago thought it would be a great joke to start using synonyms for “right now” to name things, because it would make things incredibly confusing for the people in the future.

            Which is where we are at right now. All the words meaning “right now,” or even “in the future” all refer to periods in the past. (And exactly which periods is wildly inconsistent between fields.)

            It wasn’t a very funny joke.

          • Paper Rat says:

            @Another Throw
            Oh, I definitely agree, naming conventions of art movements and periods are often a confusing mess.

            I thought “modernism” was a movement in architecture only, while “modern art” is just another name for “art nouveau”, neither has much to do with abstract art specifically. So to me calling abstract art “modern”, didn’t sound right. I might be mistaken though.

      • onyomi says:

        No, I’m pretty sure that, 100 years ago, even paper boys and street urchins too poor to afford shoes wore nicer clothes than most people today. (Note, I didn’t say they were cleaner, healthier, or happier, only that, if the clothes they were wearing were clean and they were otherwise happy and healthy looking (and if we put some shoes on them) we’d say they were remarkably well-dressed compared to most children today). I understand there is an extent to which “old-fashioned” codes as “formal,” codes as “nice clothing,” but I also think there’s an extent to which people objectively dressed nicer in public 100 years ago than today (and also nicer than they did in Ancient Greece, most likely).

        I also think that beauty is not entirely subjective. As with taste in food, music, etc. there’s a wide range of what people can find enjoyable, but it’s not limitless and is rooted, at least to some context, in neurobiology. Consider: in the polemical article linked above the quoted architects don’t claim to be exploring a different kind of beauty or to have different ideas about what is beautiful; rather, they are explicitly pushing back against the notion that architecture should be beautiful, comfortable, etc. This implies they actually know what is beautiful and comfortable but eschew it because it’s pedestrian and uncreative, not because there are no objective standards.

        • Paper Rat says:

          Hmm, I suppose, it varies from country to country (btw second link seems to be broken), also I was thinking more about rural population and specifically the word “sloppily”. Nicer is such a relative term, but I’ll agree with you, that early 20th century clothing are very visually appealing indeed.

          I won’t agree though, that beauty is not entirely subjective, I think, it’s one of the most subjective things in life. Something being rooted in neurobiology doesn’t make it non-subjective, it just means it’s governed by brain, like pretty much all other aspects of human behavior.

          I haven’t read the article yet (I will later, really got to go to sleep now), but I will say that the opinion of the architects doesn’t matter much to me, I find their creations beautiful regardless, also I seriously doubt they don’t find their creations beautiful to look at, see the list of architect homes (from CatCube) as well.

        • Aapje says:

          @onyomi

          Your second link is broken, it should be this.

          I disagree that those street urchins are wearing nice clothes.

          • Nick says:

            That link throws a 403 for me.

            ETA: Weirdly, though, onyomi’s link worked fine for me earlier. And it throws a 403 now too. Maybe it was taken down?

          • Aapje says:

            It showed a 403 when I clicked on it just now. Then I reloaded it and it worked.

            The server seems to be haunted. Apply garlic to your mouse before clicking on the link.

        • Paper Rat says:

          I’ve read the article, here’s some thoughts in no particular order:

          1. There are some interesting patterns and kinks in provided examples of “good/bad” architecture (I’ll drop the quotes over “good” and “bad” for the rest of the post for the sake of readability, as it stands: good = classical; bad = contemporary):

          – Overwhelming majority of good architecture examples are places of worship, even more curious than that – most examples are interiors. On the other hand bad architecture is mostly represented by places of work and is mostly shown from the outside. Part of the reason for such a peculiar choice is probably due to cathedrals often looking grim as all hell from the outside, and contemporary architecture looking nice and livable on the inside.

          – Almost all not-churches in the good pile are small scale projects, which lend itself naturally to more warm, cute, classical style. Pretty much all bad apples are large scale projects, that IMO favor more monumental, abstract shapes kind of approach.

          – Example of Moscow subway is in the wrong group time-wise and ideology-wise, the subway was opened in 1935 and vast majority of stations were completed after the WWII, almost all of them under rigid totalitarian regime (though there’s been semi regular openings of new stations recently, some quite well designed, I think). As an example of soviet subway architecture I recommend googling for images of Novoslobodskaya station (opened 1952). In general it’s well worth checking out Moscow subway pictures, if you have even a passing interest in architecture.

          – Quality and resolution of some contemporary architecture pictures leave a lot to be desired, to the point where it’s hard to make out details. I don’t want to assume bad faith on the authors’ part, but it rubs me the wrong way. Also most bad examples were filmed during overcast skies, while steel, glass and concrete actually look quite great and uplifting in the sun, in the sort of futuristic “triumph of humanity over nature” kinda way.

          2. The article cherry picks it’s architects a lot to suit the agenda. Especially focusing on one eccentric provocateur type person (Eisenman), seems like choosing too easy a target (I still think a lot of his works are beautiful).

          The quote of Frank Ghery at the end of the article, that’s presented as mad ramblings, actually looked fairly straightforward to me. He describes his mental process when coming up with a particular shape. Like quite a few mental processes this one worked by the way of association and comparison, in this particular case – comparison with a fish anatomy. Lots of stuff in art is based on similarities of one thing to another, or using certain specific characteristics of a thing in unlikely or unfamiliar context.

          3. There was a notable lack of your everyday apartment buildings in both good and bad categories. Probably because contemporary apartments don’t look sufficiently odious on average, while old-time apartments on average are demolished, cause they were a hellish poorly optimized places to live in. Which rather undermines the whole “old vs. new” point of the article.

          My guess, is that for an average citizen contemporary architecture, as place to live in, wins hands down, over what was available for said average citizen in the past.

          In the article there’s even a quote about how nice it would be if no building was allowed to be taller than four floors, completely disregarding how such arrangement would impact commuting, price of construction and destruction of wild nature due to massively increased city area. Maybe it’s a US thing (personal house cult or something), that I don’t get, but large apartment complexes are not actually the devil, when it comes to providing massive amounts of people with a place to live.

          Similar thing about article’s point, that lots of people like to visit historic cities, with all the old-time charm preserved etc. This point seem to miss completely that this situation makes a lot of those places quite a bit worse places to actually live in, higher costs of everything, poor infrastructure due to obsolete planning, crowds, deficit of living space.

          4. Finally, the one point in the article, that resonated with me, was, that architecture as an art (or trade, or what have you) is in a unique place, where the simple fact of it’s existence will impact people lives in no subtle way, with not much choice in the matter on their part. So if the polling data in question is solid, then I completely agree, that it’s a problem, but considering that tastes of majority are unlikely to align in any meaningful way with tastes of artists/architects, I don’t quite see an elegant solution.

          Not that the authors of the article propose anything much, besides poorly defined “make a better thing please”, and some incredibly inefficient sounding strategies, like total gardens (would be quite nice actually, except for people with pollen allergies), mass of artisan stonework/woodwork (done by artisans, same cost as reinforced concrete somehow), or four floor limit mentioned above, this last one frankly sounds as insane as anything Eisenman has said.

          The solution, in which tastes of majority dictate the visual appearance of cities (if even possible to implement), seems nightmarish to me, but then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I.

          • Nick says:

            – Overwhelming majority of good architecture examples are places of worship, even more curious than that – most examples are interiors.

            This is false. I went through the article and counted 7 examples of religious architecture and 12 non-religious that were being touted as good architecture. (13 if you count Alexander’s garden thing, which got a middling reception.) 9 are exterior shots, while 10 are interiors; it’s a tie if you count Alexander’s garden.

            On the other hand bad architecture is mostly represented by places of work and is mostly shown from the outside. Part of the reason for such a peculiar choice is probably due to cathedrals often looking grim as all hell from the outside, and contemporary architecture looking nice and livable on the inside.

            This is also false. I counted again, and 5 are commercial buildings, while 7 are not. Some of them, indeed, are specifically residential buildings. One was formerly a factory and is now a community center, but I counted it as commercial anyway.

            I’d also dispute whether cathedrals look “grim as all hell” on the outside—there’s nothing hellish about a cathedral except the gargoyles, and those are damned delightful—but I think you should reevaluate your argument in light of the math first.

          • Paper Rat says:

            Yeah, 12 (didn’t get 13, sorry, probably my bad), including a drawing, three non-descript street views, a part of a barely legible garden shot and a Moscow subway shot that doesn’t suit the point being made. Admittedly I’ve mistaken three of the shots for religious buildings, which they might not be (in my defense those examples aren’t subtitled for some weird reason). So I still think that good examples are dominated by religious architecture.

            “Exterior shots” was a bad wording on my part, should’ve wrote something like – “only shows part of the building”, in contrast all “bad” examples show full building where possible. (I don’t actually rate random street views at all, as they are not a concrete piece of architecture, but rather a mood setter thingy for article more or less).

            With regards to “places of work” point, I specifically didn’t call them “commercial” for obvious reason, that some of them weren’t. That was intended as a contrast to “places of worship”. Museums, hospitals and subway are still places where people work. I feel that, english not being my first language, I failed to communicate my thoughts clearly enough in this instance.

            To me a lot of cathedrals look grim, I also feel part of it is by design – to accentuate insignificance/subservience of individual before god. I think, that it’s a significant part of traditional catholic church philosophy. Other than that, I don’t know what disputing my personal opinion on the matter does, you have different taste, I’m fine with that. It’s still a thing, that there’s not a single full exterior shot of a religious building in the article, that extensively talks about mosques, churches and cathedrals, which was my point (not sure about the japanese-looking thing, might be a shrine, again lack of subtitles).

          • Jaskologist says:

            There’s a NY Times article about the restoration of Chartres Cathedral, which wiped away a thousand year of grime to reveal bright white underneath (before and after pics at the link).

            Cathedrals may look grim to us simply because they are old and very very dirty, but they weren’t built that way.

          • Cathedrals may look grim to us simply because they are old and very very dirty, but they weren’t built that way.

            Not just dirty–the paint has worn off.

            My favorite medieval church is probably Sainte Chapelle in Paris. They have maintained/restored the interior painting and it’s gorgeous.

          • Paper Rat says:

            I wonder why the “grim look of cathedrals” is something that seems to rub people the wrong way, probably a cultural thing, that I’m not really getting.

            They look grim to me mostly because of seemingly large amount of very sharp angles, lots of crisscrossing elements, the overall vibe of the castle of some sort of ice sorceress. Grim isn’t even the negative term here, I like grim, it centers me well. Visually I like orthodox churches way less, for example.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            With regards to “places of work” point, I specifically didn’t call them “commercial” for obvious reason, that some of them weren’t. That was intended as a contrast to “places of worship”. Museums, hospitals and subway are still places where people work. I feel that, english not being my first language, I failed to communicate my thoughts clearly enough in this instance.

            But I don’t see what that has to do with anything? People used to make nice-looking museums (2, 3), hospitals, and even office buildings, so there’s no reason why their modern equivalents have to look ugly.

          • Nornagest says:

            WRT offices, it used to be that a business office was where a few dozen clerks and managers hung out while all the actual work was done in mines, factories, etc. (which were not always very attractive). They were a relatively small and high-profile part of the business, so the company could afford to lavish craft on them. But modern businesses have far more office workers than pre-WWII ones did, which means more floor space, which costs more money.

          • Nick says:

            I think rounding off hospitals, community centers, museums, and so on to “places of work” is a little ridiculous. Sure, people work at these, but people also work at home, to say nothing of maids, apartment building foremen, etc. I don’t see any reason why a residential skyscraper should be ugly because it has a janitor or porter. And I think it’s fair to say that, just as we recognize a difference between a home and an office, we recognize a difference between a public place and an office. Given that—given buildings that don’t just exist for office workers to sit in—how tolerant should we be of horrendously ugly public buildings?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            WRT offices, it used to be that a business office was where a few dozen clerks and managers hung out while all the actual work was done in mines, factories, etc. (which were not always very attractive). They were a relatively small and high-profile part of the business, so the company could afford to lavish craft on them. But modern businesses have far more office workers than pre-WWII ones did, which means more floor space, which costs more money.

            Even big offices can be done well, though.

          • onyomi says:

            @Jaskologist and David Friedman

            Japan has a similar thing (analogous, I believe to ancient Greek statues and temples as well, I believe) where really old structures have had the color gradually washed away with the result that they have a very austere look which later structures sometimes imitate. Yet structures from the same time and place that have been restored to something more how they looked at the time are generally brightly colored.

          • Paper Rat says:

            @The original Mr. X
            It has to do with the way the authors of the article present their arguments. If you would compare things, ideally you would compare like with like (they did in one case, comparing hospitals, with badly chosen shots though).

            When it comes to comparing shots of architecture, they should preferably be in similar scale, light conditions and made from similar angle, if you are serious about presenting your argument fairly.

            In the article visuals boil down to “parts of church ornamentation are not like office blocks at all, what a shame”. Well, you don’t say.

            You can call contemporary variants “ugly” all you want, it’s still a matter of opinion and aesthetic preferences. I happen to like ’em.

    • BBA says:

      I certainly think there’s beautiful modern architecture and ugly traditional architecture. I think a big reason modern architecture gets so much hate is survival bias: most of the ugly (or just blah) traditional buildings got torn down, so we only see the really nice ones standing today and think everything must have looked like that back then. Meanwhile the ugly modern buildings haven’t been around long enough to tear down, with some exceptions.

      (Side note: “Modern” doesn’t mean “contemporary.” The Seagram Building is modern, but it’s not contemporary, it’s 60 years old. I’ll defer to the crowd and lump in all the styles that arose after WW1 as “modern”, but often it’s only used to mean simplified designs like the Seagram, as opposed to whatever the hell Frank Gehry does.)

      I’d also like to say that the Centre Pompidou is ugly to look at, but it’s totally awesome and futuristic to actually ride the escalators and walk down the hallways in those tubes, if my memory of visiting Paris at age 10 is at all accurate.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I think a big reason modern architecture gets so much hate is survival bias: most of the ugly (or just blah) traditional buildings got torn down, so we only see the really nice ones standing today and think everything must have looked like that back then.

        I don’t think so: lots of cities have old quarters where nothing’s really changed in centuries, and we have plenty of depictions of old cities, and none of them have monstrosities like this or this.

        • BBA says:

          Places where nothing has changed in centuries are called “ruins.”

          In particular, last year I visited Munich, a city full of charming old buildings that were nearly destroyed during World War II. Most of what I saw was deliberately reconstructed to look the way it did before the war. That which wasn’t worth rebuilding, wasn’t rebuilt. It’s the same in many other cities ravaged by wars or natural disasters or plain old neglect.

          • Aapje says:

            Letting things fall to ruin is change. I don’t think that maintenance is ‘change.’

    • nameless1 says:

      Eisenman said it clearly: because the world is so tormented, he wants to express torment. In other words, he is thinking like a sculptor, not an architect, he is not designing for people to live in and around, but simply a work of art to express a view of the world, like a sculpture or a painting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream

      I perfectly understand why modern art isn’t so happy-go-lucky, why artists want to express Guernica type sentiments.

      The mistake and it is really grievous and unexplainable is thinking architecture is like sculpture or painting, an art, instead of making things to live in and around. Someone convinced architects they are artists. No. They are not. They are designers. Artisans. Not artists. Put the expression of the tormentedness of the world into the form of a sculpture, not a building. And put the sculpture into an art gallery, not on a public square, so we can go and feel that despair if we want to, but are not forced to do so every day. Clearly if every tenth house had a huge Guernica mural painted on it that would not help our mental health either.

      It’s exactly like the crazy clothes at fashion shows no one would want to wear in real life. It’s an art. But that is not causing much damage because the shops are still carrying clothes people actually want to wear. But why do fashion designers think they are artists?

    • onyomi says:

      Slightly tangential but, I think, related to the question of clothing and architecture, as well as the survivorship bias some have mentioned (homes and neighborhoods of the rich and powerful are more likely to survive into posterity) is the large number of options between “do it yourself” and “hand-crafted in a labor-intensive process” mass production makes possible.

      For example, it frustrates me that, today, we are theoretically much richer than peoples of times past (and with much better technology for e.g. building things cheaply), yet I always find myself so much more charmed by “authentic medieval city center” than I am by a city center of more recent construction (when the builders presumably had access to more resources than the medieval craftsmen).

      So, nowadays everyone knows that hand-made, bespoke clothing is nice but expensive, hand-made furniture is nice but expensive, etc. Now if we imagine a world in which those are the only options and they are still just as expensive in relative terms, then that is, in a way, equivalent to everyone just being poorer (because money doesn’t go as far), though the items one can afford, if one can afford them may often be more “characterful” because people like handmade and personalized touches.

      • Matt says:

        I always find myself so much more charmed by “authentic medieval city center”

        Despite the smell of feces and the public executions?

        And public floggings, I suppose.

      • Heterosteus says:

        I always find myself so much more charmed by “authentic medieval city center” than I am by a city center of more recent construction

        I think authentic medieval city centres are often nicer to visit/look at than to live in.

        Cologne is pretty ugly these days but virtually every apartment I’ve been into in the city has been impressively nice. Barcelona old town is charming as heck but when I stayed in an Airbnb there rather than a hotel I was…not impressed.

        ETA: While there are some obvious counterexamples, I think more modern buildings are often more comfortable to live in, even if they’re not necessarily better to look at. But I value power outlets, easiness-to-clean and double glazing more than very high ceilings, characterful-but-awful-to-clean plank floors, or little plaster embellishments on the ceiling.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        So, nowadays everyone knows that hand-made, bespoke clothing is nice but expensive, hand-made furniture is nice but expensive, etc. Now if we imagine a world in which those are the only options and they are still just as expensive in relative terms, then that is, in a way, equivalent to everyone just being poorer (because money doesn’t go as far), though the items one can afford, if one can afford them may often be more “characterful” because people like handmade and personalized touches.

        I don’t think that’s the reason — yes, people like personalised touches, but you can buy mass-produced home ornaments etc. which are nice to look at, so there’s no inherent reason why mass-produced things have to look soulless and ugly. Clothing was one of the first items to be mass-produced, and people still continued to dress nicely until well into the twentieth century; moreover, whilst people will usually look better in bespoke clothes, it’s possible to dress perfectly well in things you buy off the shelf. As for architecture, buildings like the Graz Art Museum have plenty of character, and are still extremely ugly.

        Also, I suspect that the reason bespoke clothing, handmade furniture, etc., are so expensive is because making such things by hand is no longer profitable due to mass production. If we had a world where mass production was no longer possible for some reason, I expect you’d end up with a range of qualities and prices, from high-class stuff for the rich to relatively cheap stuff for those lower down on the social pyramid.

        • onyomi says:

          I think there may be two separate, albeit potentially related, questions: one being why famous architects commissioned to build monumental works like that museum now often produce works most people find ugly (may be because they’re designing to impress other architects) and the second being why many more “pedestrian” structures like footbridges, subway platforms, and regular city sidewalks and streets are now seemingly much uglier and blander than before or than is necessary.

          I was thinking about the second question while walking through a very bland train station in my (currently Asian) city. It doesn’t look like it was designed by a brutalist architect aiming to “challenge” his audience’s bourgeois attachment to comfort and beauty, it just looks very boring and bland, like it was the minimum structure that could meet the requirements when the city contracted out the building of a train station and no more. While ornament, I guess, may not be inherently expensive (since at least some kinds may also be mass produced), it is, by definition, superfluous.

          I wonder if part of it doesn’t come from e.g. rules governing government subcontracting? For example, when you build something new, including a new public work, in an “designated historical district” or some such, one is often required to give some consideration to aesthetics and therefore, presumably, also allowed to include some aesthetics in the budget. But most public works aren’t built in such areas, so maybe even if a contractor might like to build a characterful train station they will lose out to the contractors willing to do the bare minimum?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            That would make sense, if actual stations (as opposed to stops) weren’t small cathedrals.

  17. Atlas says:

    In light of the upcoming release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, what are the best—or actually just some good—movies about Hollywood? I’ll kick things off with an obvious pick: Mulholland Drive.

    • sfoil says:

      Sunset Boulevard holds up pretty well.

      I saw Hail, Caesar pretty recently; I remember it getting panned by critics but I don’t know why — it wasn’t perfect, but it was very good.

      • AG says:

        Would that it were so simple

      • hls2003 says:

        Logged in just to say that Hail, Caesar! was one of the favorite movies my wife and I watched in the last couple years. Thought it was well done.

      • BBA says:

        I think the critics were rating Hail, Caesar! on something it wasn’t trying to do. They were expecting another Coen comedy-thriller, and instead they got a pastiche of old Hollywood with a thin plot to tie it together.

        At least, I was. Halfway through something clicked for me and I started liking it a whole lot more.

        • AG says:

          The plot is subservient to the film as a theme piece, which was that old time Hollywood was cogs in a machine all the way down (with the Marxists merely having found a new machine to slot into, rather than having found a non-cog existence), with the question of if the product (people’s dreams through stories) was worth it.

          The marketing was also unfortunate, because it make the film seem like some kind of Ocean’s or Avengers team-up film, instead of the “here’s how this life is, there will be no change to the status quo” exploration piece the film actually is.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Escape From LA /s

      Ed Wood, for a serious answer.

      • Atlas says:

        According to Wiki:

        The film [Ed Wood] was conceived by writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski when they were students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

        What’s the nominative determinism angle on this, I wonder?

    • rcousine says:

      Movies about movies is a serious, not to say overdone, genre. I have a weakness for these things: I sort of think that a movie about the movie business is generally a bit of an incestuous affair, but the good ones are very good.

      Here’s a by no means complete start on some of the great Movies About Movies:

      8-1/2 (not Hollywood, but)
      The Player (maybe not the greatest of all industry movies, but very good)
      Get Shorty (very funny, pretty dark)
      Sunset Boulevard (already mentioned)
      Bowfinger (almost defies description)
      Singing In the Rain (all about the transition to talkies, and interesting for it)
      Hail, Caesar! (already mentioned)
      Hollywood Confidential (really a police procedural, but definitely interacts with the film biz)
      Wizard of Speed and Time (I nerd-flex by citing Mike Jittlov’s obscure film about the special effects business, which is more or less a factionalized memoir of his experiences, including bringing the titular short animated film to the screen).
      The Pickle (can’t remember much about this one, it was about making a sci-fi movie)
      The Shadow of the Vampire (again, not Hollywood, this is an English-language film about the European film biz, but with a great horror twist).

      And many more. I think two of the “A Star is Born” films were about the movies, not music.

      Of these, “Get Shorty” is approachable, fun, and very rewatchable. “The Player” is maybe the king of the movies-about-Hollywood genre, and if you watch only one, it might be the right choice. The rest are all to your tastes, but I would recommend any of them.

    • johan_larson says:

      The Player, by Robert Altman.

      • J Mann says:

        Seconding The Player

        Not IMHO as good, but still good, and leaving out some of the ones already suggested.

        Barton Fink

        Get Shorty

        Hollywood Shuffle

        Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

        The Muppet Movie

        Who Framed Roger Rabbit

    • dodrian says:

      The Three Amigos

    • acymetric says:

      LA Confidential?

    • AG says:

      Singin’ in the Rain

      (even if they take a big detour to valorize Broadway, hah)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Nickelodeon (1976) is great. Bogdanovich wanted to film in black and white, but his studio wanted color, so he sabotaged the film by lighting for black and white. So the released film looks awful and destroyed his career. Make sure you watch the black and white “director’s cut,” although it ruins some of the jokes (like the colorful suit).

      I liked In a World… (2013).

      S.O.B. (1981) is probably not the best Blake Edwards / Julie Andrews sex comedy, but I love it just for the self-referential synopsis: Edwards directs his wife Andrews playing an actress with a squeaky clean reputation convinced by her director (producer?) husband to add nudes scenes to their movie.

      Wikipedia claims that The Long Goodbye (1973) is set in Hollywood, but that’s probably not what you meant. The Aviator (2004). Adaptation. (2002); but the more famous Jonze/Kaufman film, the one with an actor in the title, is set in New York.

      I have often complained that entertainers write too much about their business. Writers about writers, musicians about the stage, filmmakers about Hollywood. But looking through my list of movies I find a lot more about the New York stage than about Hollywood (eg, All About Eve (1950)).

      • Nornagest says:

        You don’t get a lot of movies about the film industry, but you do get a lot of films with struggling writers as protagonists. Which were, of course, written by struggling writers.

        There’s also a fair amount of film-industry subtext floating around Hollywood. Take for example Avatar (2009), which stars a person who projects himself into an idealized body and has crazy sci-fi adventures in a colorful alien world: now, am I describing the protagonist, or his actor?

      • AG says:

        Yeah, all of my first instinct suggestions were theater based classic films (The Stage Door, The Great Ziegfeld, your Gold Diggers of 19XX and Broadway Melody of 19XX, your Mickey and Judy Put On a Shows), which makes sense, given that early productions would involve a lot of people who came up from theater writing about their business. Stars who originated in theater were still starring in films as late as the 60s. But that might also be an artifact of the studio system, wherein the studios continued to peddle theater-based nostalgia as the safe bet. Once they were broken up, you had an influx of new filmmakers treating cinema as more than a means of adaptation, as well as filming technology advancing to make less stagey photography more viable.

      • acymetric says:

        I have often complained that entertainers write too much about their business. Writers about writers, musicians about the stage, filmmakers about Hollywood. But looking through my list of movies I find a lot more about the New York stage than about Hollywood (eg, All About Eve (1950)).

        Isn’t this kind of like comedians starting to make airplane jokes?

    • Uribe says:

      Sullivan’s Travels (1941) is good if you like old comedies.

    • gdanning says:

      The Big Picture

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Tropic Thunder. I’m surprised no one mentioned it yet.

      Also, The Truman Show.

  18. Brett says:

    You know how in depictions of Mars and Moon colonies, they always have glass domes? Apparently that’s not too likely – I found out the other day that domes are actually really bad in terms of keeping pressure in, and a dome on an area on Mars would leak like crazy and have a gigantic force along the rim trying to rip the dome off the ground (such that you would need to bury the anchors for the rim under tens of meters of rock and soil).

    • ManyCookies says:

      So what would be the proper colony structure? Squares, everything underground?

      • bullseye says:

        I think underground is the standard answer. Surely a square would be weaker than a circle.

      • Brett says:

        Pressure vessel shapes. Spheres, cylinders, ovoid shapes, and so forth.

        Everything underground would help as well, since that would add compression to help reinforce the pressure vessel habitats, reduce exposure to radiation, and also greatly reduce the effects of the day-night temperature swings on Mars.

    • Dack says:

      What would rip it up? Wind? That doesn’t really make sense. Even if were all glass and there were no anchors for some reason, glass is heavy.

      Anyway, you need to be underground to protect from radiation anyway. At least until we invent some kind of magnetic field generator.

      • Protagoras says:

        Radiation shielding glass is a thing that exists. It tends to be most effective when thick and heavy (as with radiation shielding in general), but thick and heavy would also be what you’d want to be able to stand up to small meteor impacts and similar dangers. At that point, as you say, thick and sturdy enough to stand up to radiation and meteor impacts is probably thick and sturdy enough to stand up to the internal air pressure; indeed, a habitation sphere seems likely to be heavy enough that supporting its own weight would be much more of a structural concern than dealing with air pressure (and of course a dome is an excellent shape for supporting a lot of ceiling weight).

        • Randy M says:

          When you get that think, is it still transparent?
          Might still let enough light in to save energy, though.

        • John Schilling says:

          indeed, a habitation sphere seems likely to be heavy enough that supporting its own weight would be much more of a structural concern than dealing with air pressure

          For a Martian habitation dome or sphere made of mild steel, “supporting its own weight” only becomes the dominant structural concern when the diameter of the sphere reaches 15-20 kilometers. On the Moon, that’s closer to 40 kilometers.

          To a first approximation, gravity is somewhat useful for holding your space habitat and its contents in place but the only structural load that matters is air pressure. Which is at least an order of magnitude larger than any load terrestrial architects have to deal with save under extremely unusual circumstances (“OK, the nuclear reactor goes in that corner…”), so pretty much throw your intuition out the window.

        • nameless1 says:

          All true but I don’t understand why it is not obvious that underground is the best way, why are people considering all kinds of overground installations. The constant -21C temperature underground at the Moon worths it alone, as you have a simple heating job instead of a complicated heating and cooling one, and can even leave large swaths of it unheated and yet walk around and work in it in the same kinds of clothes Russians wear for the winter, nothing too extreme for Earthlings of the colder climates. Oh and not having to ship building materials other than isolation but simply excavating living space is another huge bonus.

          Perhaps the problem is that in reality excavating rock may be harder than in the sci fi novels where you just evaporate it easily with a laser drill. I would use autonomous, spider-shaped, dog-sized digging robots that periodically go up and connect their chargers to solar charging stations on the surface. We already have lamps that look like natural sunlight, it was discussed here years ago. That should help with claustrophobia. That, and video screen “windows” with fake vistas.

          • acymetric says:

            I would think the challenge of massive extra-terrestrial excavation, plus the destruction of things we might want to study would be the main issues with doing everything underground.

            Also, what are we doing with all the excavated material?

      • Brett says:

        It’s the difference in air pressure between the inside of the dome and the much thinner Martian atmosphere (or lack of atmosphere altogether on the Moon). If you have a dome anchored to the surface, that creates tremendous pressure on the edge of the dome trying to rip it away from the surface.

        • AG says:

          Seems like the solution is that rather than having a dome that truncates at the ground, to dig into the ground until you complete the sphere. It’s not like current building don’t already set the foundation into the ground and anchor the struts to it with overlapping pieces like rebar.

          Even if they don’t go the “full sphere” route, it seems that they just need to ensure that the primary seam doesn’t occur at the ground. (That is, that the foundation becomes the first segment of wall in one unbroken piece.

          • acymetric says:

            Building a sphere underground seems like relatively more of an engineering challenge than laying a foundation and anchoring to it. Probably to an extent that this challenge exceeds the challenge of handling air pressure forces in restricting your potential dome size.

            Also, my intuition tells me that having everything including the ground encased in the sphere could be some kind of problematic but maybe not.

          • John Schilling says:

            1. Dig a big hemispherical hole. Making holes is easy, particularly if we don’t mind being a bit messy. But you can do it with old-fashion bulldozers and excavators if you like.

            2. Build a big steel spherical pressure vessel.

            3. If you’re so unimaginative that you can’t think of anything better to do with the bottom half of a big spherical pressure vessel on Mars than to fill it with dirt, OK, fill the bottom half with dirt.

            4. Are you sure you couldn’t figure out anything better to do with the bottom half of that pressure vessel than fill it with dirt?

          • acymetric says:

            Re: 3 and 4

            That part came from what may have been a misreading on my part. I wasn’t suggesting to build a sphere and fill the bottom half of the sphere with dirt, that is the suggestion I [thought I] was responding to.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Even the first Case For Mars from 1996 addressed a bunch of issues with domes and other ways to build them.

            https://i.imgur.com/fbxIEnL.jpg

            (I quickly checked the updated version and it doesn’t look much different.)

    • John Schilling says:

      Not sure what “domes are actually really bad in terms of keeping pressure in”; they show up in pressure vessels designed to do nothing but keep pressure in all the time. Spheres are the most efficient shape for keeping pressure in; cylinders come in second but are easier to build and work with, most of the other good shapes are variations on the sphere or cylinder (e.g. ellipsoids and truncated cones), and I believe the most common pressure vessel geometry bar none is a cylinder with flattened-hemisphere domes at each end.

      Possibly your source means that compression domes, the most common sort in terrestrial architecture, made from solid chunks of masonry and held up by those chunks not being crushed to dust under their own weight, are bad at keeping in pressure. That’s true, but that’s rarely the sort of dome you see in science fiction. Tension domes, made of sheets or membranes of some strong and somewhat flexible material like e.g. steel, are the kind that keep in pressure.

      You only need to bury the anchors tens of meters deep if you insist on building just half of the sphere/cylinder/ellipsoid/whatever, otherwise the skin of the structure carries the pressure load as well as anything can. If you’re looking at the illustration on the cover of an SF novel, there’s no way to know whether the imaginary structure is a hemispherical dome anchored to keep it from blowing off the foundation, or a sphere half-buried to keep it from rolling away. And if you’re an engineer trying to build something that works, it’s not clear which is better – there’s no magic formula that stops you from having to do something to deal with about ten tons per square meter of pressure force.

      What sucks for keeping in pressure, unfortunately, is glass. Or any other transparent construction material we know of. Either too weak or too brittle, or both, and critically vulnerable to crack propagation especially if there is any sort of pressure cycling (which there will be). So the ethereal transparent dome that holds in the air over some more conventional bit of architecture (or park or farmland) is not going to be the preferred solution.

      Instead, you’ll get domes and cylinders and the like made of steel (if manufactured on-site) or titanium or Kevlar (if shipped from Earth), with a minimum of windows and tightly filled with useful space and stuff. And mostly buried for radiation protection. But even buried, it will be the metal shell that holds the pressure; you can’t really trust caves or tunnels for that.

      Greenhouses will probably use mirrors to concentrate sunlight on relatively small windows, to be diffused on the inside, because windows in pressure vessels are expensive. And there will probably be observation domes for psychological reasons, but having one around e.g. your living quarters is going to count as a fairly extravagant luxury good.

      • LesHapablap says:

        What would be the optimal pressure in a pressure dome? I know spacecraft and space stations use one atmosphere for logistical reasons, but couldn’t a moon or mars base save quite a bit on structure by using a lower pressure, or are those logistical reasons still more important?

        • John Schilling says:

          Humans can survive down to ~4 psia in an oxygen-enriched environment for short periods with no ill effect, and that’s a good pressure to use for spacesuits. Maybe short-duration spacecraft as well, but for anything more than a few days you start to get problems with e.g. lung irritation due to dehydration. This hasn’t been extensively explored, but it is unlikely you are going to get huge gains over just using standard air at 14.7 psia. That’s what ISS uses, and maybe we’ll wind up standardizing on something like 10 psia at 30% oxygen or the like, saving a little bit on structure.

          There are also fire-safety concerns with low-pressure oxygen-enriched atmospheres, which again drive standard 14.7 psia air in the near term because it is so well understood, I haven’t seen the fire hazards of alternate atmospheres properly quantified and that may be an overrated concerns

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Would there be a gain from somewhat lower air pressure, even though you’re not going for the lowest survivable air pressure?

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Denver apparently has 12 psia, presumably without oxygen enrichment, and people seem to do okay there, so it feels like we could make modest gains by lowering air pressure without enhancing fire hazard.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There are a lot of design constraints. Another one is that it’s advantageous to have all your structures at the same pressure, including your suits and your vehicles, because you don’t need any acclimation when switching environments. That makes your suits and vehicles lighter and easier.

          • There are also fire-safety concerns with low-pressure oxygen-enriched atmospheres,

            Wouldn’t the fire problem depend on the partial pressure of oxygen rather than its percentage in the atmosphere?

          • Another Throw says:

            People traveling to Denver, Boulder, etc, frequently experience mild or sometimes acute altitude sickness at an altitude of around 5000 feet.

            Aircraft are generally limited to a cabin altitude of around 8000 feet, when acute altitude sickness starts to become a problem, although they generally operate with a margin below this limit. My understanding is that the majority of discomfort attributed to jet lag is the result of the cabin pressure experienced during the flight rather than the circadian disregulation from being in a different time zone. This is why aircraft manufacturers are making a big deal about bringing the cabin altitude down in their aircraft (to closer to 5000 feet, or even less) in order to improve passenger comfort.

            For reference, 5000 feet is a little over 12 PSI, and 8000 is a little under 11.

            So unless you want your crew to experience acute flu like symptoms for the first several days (probably not a good idea), this is probably when you need to start thinking about oxygen enrichment. And, honestly, saving 2.5 PSI doesn’t seem like a big enough deal to worry about. And aircraft manufactures investing in the extra weight to support higher cabin pressures instead of taking the opportunity to drive down the cost per passenger mile in the insanely cut throat airline industry hellbent on turning air travel into unrelenting torture is… telling.

          • acymetric says:

            @Another Throw:

            Have them spend however many days is appropriate to acclimate before getting on the transport from Earth to Mars. Keep the transport at the same reduced pressure. They should be perfectly adjusted by the time they get to the colony/outpost on Mars.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wouldn’t the fire problem depend on the partial pressure of oxygen rather than its percentage in the atmosphere?

            The inert gasses still serve to both absorb heat and transfer it away from the combustion zone, reducing peak temperature and reaction rate. So 3 psia of pure oxygen is worse than 15 psia of 20% oxygen / 80% nitrogen. Quantifying that beyond “worse” is a tricky problem because we don’t have established metrics for that.

          • Another Throw says:

            So as a fun exercise I found a random pressure vessel calculator online. The difference in thickness for a pressure vessel with an operating temperature of 100F and a 10 foot diameter for 14.7 PSI and 12.2 PSI (5000 feet) is… nothing.

            Now, admittedly I don’t know anything about the underlying code their referencing (or have any idea whatsoever what material “CS SA-285 GR.C” is), and we are ignoring the fact that you’re going to design in considerable safety margins, but it kind of illustrates the point that saving 2.5 PSI probably isn’t worth the hassle.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            There’s a lot of square inches in your average spacecraft or habitat to have 2.5 pounds on.

            And while acclimating to Denver may give some people problems, it seems broadly clear that, acclimation done, people can live there long term without problems.

            This seems pretty different from a few-hours-aircraft ride from people who prioritize short-term comfort.

          • Another Throw says:

            I get that.

            But:

            A. As I said, a quick check with a random calculator (and some default values that weren’t particularly aligned with conditions on a space station but I was pressed for time) didn’t actually show a difference in wall thickness for those 2.5 psi.

            B. As I alluded to, working pressure and design pressure are two different things. Reducing your working pressure by a few psi doesn’t automatically mean that you can reduce your design pressure. The kinds of pressure/temperature excursions you would like to not blow up during are not, necessarily, a function of working pressure. And unintuitive results are… likely. For example, as you reduce your working pressure, you reduce the effectiveness of your best heat transport method. This would make any temperature excursions more localized and hotter. And since basically anything you are going to build out of does not like being heated you do not get to automatically assume you can reduce your scantlings without doing a lot of research.

            C. I thought it was self evident that spending a couple weeks in a hypobaric chamber before visiting the grandkids at Muskapolis Prime on the moon for Christmas (or being sick the whole time) is not a compelling multimillion dollar vacation pitch. But maybe you’re thinking about different use cases.

            D. It is suggestive that nobody has actually found it worthwhile to study (B) enough to try doing it. And airplane manufacturers making a big deal about increasing their working pressure is also suggestive.

            E. The last time someone tried building a spacecraft with an oxygen enriched atmosphere (admittedly at above atmospheric pressure during the fateful test), it did not go well and I get the impression that basically nobody is keen on the words “oxygen enriched” anymore. Like, at all. You are going to need a really good sales pitch to overcome the PR nightmare of being branded the Apollo 1.2 or the Space Hindenburg. And no, “it means you don’t have to spend a week or two in a hypobaric chamber!” is not compelling.

          • bean says:

            @Another Throw

            I think the concerns about pressure are overblown. Personally, when I flew a 787, I didn’t see a difference, although I might be a bit on the insensitive end when it comes to altitude. (I’ve driven from a couple hundred to ~6,000 ft overnight, then had to walk a lot the next day, and not felt sick. Just out of breath.) As for why it was feasible to go to a lower altitude, there are a lot of different drivers of aircraft wall thickness, and if it turns out that something else is your driver, then it’s essentially free from a structural perspective to raise the pressure. I suspect that the relative fatigue strength of composites and aluminum played a major part in this.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @Another Throw

            I think that saying, “Oh, the calculator I found for pressure chambers says that 2.5 PSI is no big deal” is another way of saying, “Oh, it turns out that atmosphere won’t leak at all,” and we know that that’s not true. Given the existence of leaks — but not actual blowout — a lower air pressure will reduce leaks.

            I think you’re also drastically overestimating the need for pressure acclimation to Denver-like altitudes. It’s not like Denver is Everest. People visit it all the time, sans hyperbaric chambers. When I got skiing at much higher altitudes than Denver has, I don’t get altitude sick, and neither do most people. Yes, a few do. That doesn’t sound like an insurmountable challenge.

            If we do build a long-term habitation on the Moon, Mars, or in space, it will be a serious undertaking, not a “hey, let’s have Club Med on the Moon,” and no, I’m not super concerned about principally serving grandparents on vacation.

            Nobody is suggesting oxygen enrichment.

        • Brett says:

          The problem with a lower pressure is you then need to have a higher percentage of it be oxygen, and flammability is much more about the percentage of oxygen in air rather than the pressure (IE it doesn’t drop much with a major reduction in air pressure, unless you have really low pressure).

          That can work, but it imposes some big design constraints – you can’t risk having anything that might catch a spark indoors. For a long term mission, that strikes me as a big inconvenience compared to bringing nitrogen (or in the case of Mars, siphoning some of it off when you’re sucking in air for producing methane fuel – Mars’ atmosphere is 1.9% nitrogen).

          • and flammability is much more about the percentage of oxygen in air rather than the pressure

            I asked about that earlier and don’t think I got a response. I would have expected flammability to depend on the partial pressure of oxygen, not the percentage.

            What am I missing?

          • John Schilling says:

            I asked about that earlier and don’t think I got a response.

            Answered here, but it got buried in a string of responses to a different question I think.

          • Dan L says:

            To elaborate a bit, even with the simplest of hydrocarbons in an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere you’re going to see a whole mess of interconnected reactions whose rates (and therefore products) vary extremely nonlinearly with temperature. We’re pretty good at controlling the variables enough to avoid the most unpleasant outcomes under an expected range of conditions, but tweaking ambient O2 changes a lot of inputs to exponential processes.

      • Brett says:

        You could certainly bury part of a spherical habitat in the ground, but I was thinking more of the stereotypical dome-tent or glass-shell on the Martian surface, like the tent-cities of Kim Stanley Robinson’ Red Mars.

        Greenhouses will probably use mirrors to concentrate sunlight on relatively small windows, to be diffused on the inside, because windows in pressure vessels are expensive.

        You’d probably just use artificial lighting for it.

        • John Schilling says:

          You’d probably just use artificial lighting for it.

          You can collect sunlight with polished metal and run it through window glass, using ~80% of it in the end, or you can collect sunlight with carefully doped refined silicon and send it to other carefully doped refined silicon and use ~20% of it in the end. Why is Plan B the winner here?

          • acymetric says:

            Well, you’re going to need to have Plan B in place anyway to power other things, so one reason might be consolidation of infrastructure (your options here are solar panels and mirrors or just solar panels, there is no “just mirrors” option.

            A cursory search (I’m sure this will be enthusiastically refuted by someone shortly) indicates that Mars gets 50% or so less sunlight than Earth. This means you will need a lot of mirrors reflecting to a semi-focused area to get adequate light for most greenhouses. The placement and orientation of those mirrors is further constrained by the placement, orientation, and size of the windows. Your greenhouses won’t be very big, unless your windows are very big, but it has been suggested elsewhere that the windows need to be as small as possible. These arrays will also need to adjust to track with the sun or you will only be getting a handful of hours of daylight.

            By contrast, you can arrange your solar panels in whatever optimal orientation for collecting sunlight and put them anywhere without concern for directing light through specific windows. You will need more of them than you would mirrors, but you would be less constrained in where you could put them. This also allows you to control the lighting, rather than being forced to use actual daylight hours.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Solar panels” has about 50% more syllables than either “windows” or “mirrors”, but about 500% more cost. And you’d need an order of magnitude more of them to provide illumination for agricultural greenhouses than you would for everything else on a Mars habitat combined. So “just use solar panels for everything” is easier to describe, but much more expensive to actually do.

          • acymetric says:

            I’m not saying “mirrors are at terrible idea, it should definitely be all solar panels”. Just pointing out that the mirror solution isn’t actually as simple as “point some mirrors through some windows” and does come with some trade-offs/constraints. I certainly didn’t suggest that solar panels would be cheaper (of course they wouldn’t). A car isn’t cheaper than a bike, but…

          • LesHapablap says:

            Is solar the best power option on Mars?

          • John Schilling says:

            If the people colonizing Mars have a domestic economy that includes lots of small, cheap commodity nuclear power plants that just need to be modified for Martian conditions, nuclear power would probably be the way to go. Otherwise it’s almost certainly solar.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            If the people colonizing Mars have a domestic economy that includes lots of small, cheap commodity nuclear power plants that just need to be modified for Martian conditions, nuclear power would probably be the way to go. Otherwise it’s almost certainly solar.

            I don’t follow this. It seems to read “If nuclear is best they should use nuclear”. I’m sure you mean more than that.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Nuclear is best” and “your economy actually has a robust nuclear power industry” are two entirely different things. Also, “nuclear is best” can have different answers for Mars and for wherever it is Mars’s hypothetical settlers are coming from.

            Boutique artisanal nuclear reactors are impractically expensive for most purposes. If the place we are imagining Mars’s settlers will come from does not have a robust nuclear power industry, for whatever reason, then they should stick with mass-produced solar cells for power on Mars.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Boutique artisanal anything is impractically expensive.

            So… nuclear is best if you start with economies of scale but before then you should stick to solar and not build up scale for nuclear?

            I swear I’m not trying to be difficult, but I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this.

          • John Schilling says:

            So… nuclear is best if you start with economies of scale but before then you should stick to solar and not build up scale for nuclear?

            That’s about right. When Mars is a big enough economy that you can mass-produce nuclear reactors for sale only to Martians, and assuming nobody will throw you in jail for doing that, then you start building nuclear reactors for Martians.

            Or if something changes so that Earthlings start mass-producing nuclear reactors for use on Earth and you just need to buy a few of the smaller models and tweak the design, but that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Oooh, I get it now. I thought you meant economies of scale for nuclear reactors, not just in general.

          • Nick says:

            Postscript: dammit, now I want boutique artisanal nuclear reactors in my luxury gay space communism.

          • acymetric says:

            @Nick

            …Do I have to be gay to join?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Boutique artisanal reactors are all fun and games unless you’re the one who has to empty all those little bottles of heavy artichoke water into the coolant loop.

    • Carl Milsted says:

      For downward pressure, one could make the top of the dome heavy enough to offset the pressure underneath. Of course, you then run into a problem getting the dome up before you pressurize it.

      A more interesting challenge is the lateral forces. The bigger the circle the flatter the curve. The tensile strength needs to go up linearly with the radius. This is why balloons catastrophically pop. Notice the thickness of the aluminum walls in a commercial jet. About a quarter inch as I recall. I’m not sure how much of this thickness is needed for holding the air in vs. how much for keeping the plane rigid. Assuming the former, multiply this thickness by the same factor that your dome diameter is vs the diameter of the plane fuselage. Yikes!

      After running this exercise in my head, I have become very skeptical of large ring or cylinder space stations. And a Ringworld is definitely out.

      I suggest diverting enough comets to give Mars a proper atmosphere and oceans before trying to colonize.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        From the start, they knew that Ringworld required some kind of magical substance with a tensile strength on the order of like the nuclear strong force.

      • John Schilling says:

        For downward pressure, one could make the top of the dome heavy enough to offset the pressure underneath.

        For a dome holding a standard atmosphere on Mars, that means making the dome out of steel roughly three and a half meters thick, or volcanic rock roughly nine meters thick. Atmospheric pressure is vastly stronger than you imagine, and gravity is the puniest force in the universe.

        You’re probably better off using the strength of steel, rather than the weight of steel or stone, to hold in your air.

      • ryan8518 says:

        Note the basic stress in the dome (assuming a perfect hemisphere, something flatter and the stress gets worse) is going to be sized by the P*r/t (that is to say Pressure * Radius of the dome / thickness of the dome) (Also, this assumes 10*t<r, also known as the thin wall assumption). For a 737 (~12" diameter pressure cylinder, assuming your 1/4" wall number is right, an Aluminum 2024 T0 condition e.g. welded, and a 10 psig design condition), your looking at about 1/4 of the tube tensile capability being used up for the design pressure. That's not accounting for a factor of safety (probably in the 1.5-2 range), material thickness tolerances (probably +/- 10% on thickness), damage tolerance (probably -10% on thickness), assembly tolerance (probably ~1% out of roundness on the cylinder), local stress concentrates, or critically for an aircraft fatigue life concerns. As a result, you're probably actually using closer to 90-95% of the design capability of the aircraft for pressure. Meanwhile your vehicle bending stresses are carried through the skin orthogonal to the primary (hoop) pressure stresses, and you're basically getting that capability for free.

        Note, using aluminum for design of a cyclically loaded pressure vessel that isn't weight critical is generally a bad idea, mostly because of fatigue concerns. From a practical engineering standpoint, if you can keep the stress in a steel part below a certain limit, then it's fatigue life is considered infinite. This is not the case with aluminums, which is one of the reasons why aircraft have to be inspected very regularly (the other being that we don't have the luxury of keeping stresses that low in aircraft anyways).

        In this case, not being concerned for the weight of our pressure vessel allows us to use steel, which is great for a lot of reasons (depending on the grade, can be up to 3x stronger, particularly for welded assemblies which will be critical for this large scale construction)

        The comment about radial forces being the killer is spot on, though a bit of misnomer for a dome. The loads discussed above carried through the skin of the pressure vessel, and rely on the fact that the pressure vessel skin is expanding and growing under the load. However, when you then tie this thing into the ground, which is effectively rigid you end up with nasty kink in your wall, which puts a very large bending stress into things. This is always a problem in designing pressure vessels (and one of the good guidelines to follow is always made your cylinder wall thickness match your cylinder head thickness) and has some solutions for optimizing thickness, but it effectively means that your walls at ground level are going to be very thick (probably at least twice that of main pressure dome).

        This fact also drives us to the use of free standing dome, because any internal stiffening of the pressure vessel (in this case think a roof truss) tends to create more stress concentration problems than it will relieve by providing alternative load paths.

        As for the feasibility of large spherical space stations, assume a 60 ksi strength steel, a 15 psig pressure, and 2x factor of safety, which says that you wall thickness needs to be about 0.05% of your radius (with a station mass of ~0.0018*r^3 lbs, assuming r is in inches), and will be about the same for cylinder (though the cylinder will be heavier for a given enclosed volume)

        • ChrisA says:

          Maybe I am missing something, but the dome design appears to me to be fairly trivial. All you need is a hoop at the bottom of the half dome that is pretty strong. This hoop will be in tension, but pretensioned reinforced concrete steel is pretty good at handling tension, we can add some cable to it if we want. The hoop can be made by digging a deep circular trench using normal construction techniques like bucket evacuators. If you are really concerned about the hoop lifting because it is not heavy enough, then install piling into the bottom of the trench for the hoop to be anchored to. Pile driving is pretty simple tech to get right and well proven. If we can hold up a 1km skyscraper against cyclones loading on earth with piles, we can surely hold a dome down. The material of the dome would be some kind of clear fabric if it were my decision, held perhaps in tension with cabling. Glass is heavy and not ideal for this service as it tends to creep. Small punctures would not be too much of a problem, plenty of time to patch them.

          The depth of the hoop will depend on how you finish the floor of the inside of the dome. Dirt is not particularly good at holding pressure so a deeper trench will provide you with more pressure sealing. If you did a concrete floor over some kind of sealing geotextile probably the hoop could be pretty shallow.

          Personally I think the need though for domes like this on Mars will be limited. It would be a pretty boring view in my opinion after just a short while. Probably only the tourists would bother. As others have said, going underground would be the way to go for living. I can imagine a giant cavern, with the ceiling lit by LEDs to simulate blue sky and earthlike sunshine as being the most tolerable environment. If the cavern dome is about the size of a normal sport stadium on earth this will appear pretty realistic. Having worked in a lot of remote places with very harsh environments (desert, tundra) I believe people underestimate how pleasant a nice natural looking day in the warm sunshine can be.

          Being underground has all sorts of natural advantages on Mars, the ground temperature is warmer, protection from radiation, air leaks not an issue and so on.

          The majority of the caverns could be simple tunnels drilled using TBMs shipped in from earth, then sprayed concrete on the walls for stability. A 7 diameter tunnel (same as channel tunnel) is very stable at earth gravities in good rock and would give ample sense of headroom without feeling too cramped. With a few hundred miles of tunnels snaking back and forth should be plenty of living space for a very large population. Probably you could drill tunnels in parallel, then connect up with side tunnels. These tunnels would be used for growing stuff, as well as living space. For growing you would need to string up a bunch of full spectrum lights along the length of the tunnel – probably you could simulate day and night by lighting different parts of the tunnel at different times. Heating is going to be needed, you would need to be at least 10Km below ground to get normal earth temperatures (at a 6k/Km) temperature gradient as surface temps of Mars are so low (-55DegC), which may be too deep at least initially (current record deepest mine on earth is 4 km). But with the lighter Mars gravity maybe this would work.

          Energy will come from a nuclear reactor – not solar. These can be shipped in from earth quite profitably as the lifetime energy density of reactors is huge. Solar panels wouldn’t have enough lifetime energy density to be worth shipping, especially in the weak sunshine of Mars. The mars colony would have to get really big before it would make sense to start making either reactors or panels on Mars, probably millions of people if not hundreds of millions. The initial Mars economy I think would mostly be agricultural and services. Maybe this would finally be the killer app for 3D printing for any manufacturing since order runs would be too low for any kind of regular manufacturing at scale.

          • albatross11 says:

            The tunnels have to be really deep if you want the weight of the dirt on top to balance the air pressure. Zubrin proposed underground brick vaults covered with dirt in _The Case for Mars_, but I think they’d have to be quite deep–John said 10m above, and that fits with my back-of-the-envelope calculations[1]. (You should listen to John, though, because I’m a not-very-informed amateur here.) And I’d expect to lose a lot of air over time, given the pressure and materials involved. But in principle, I think you could make a Mars colony mostly out of brick vaults built at the bottom of deep holes and then covered over with something like 10-15m of packed-down Martian dirt. That’s a deep hole to dig for a habitat, and it sure seems intuitively like it would be easier to make some kind of containment vessel out of iron or steel or re-enforced concrete or something, and then bury it as deep as needed for radiation shielding and insulation.

            [1] Mars has about 1/3 Earth gravity, and the pressure we need is about the same as the weight of 10m of water on Earth, so you’d need 30m of water on Mars to hold down your atmosphere. Since rock/dirt is more dense than water, you can probably cut that back to something more like 15m.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I checked the second edition of The Case For Mars,[2] and Zubrin’s math is that if we have 5 psi (3.5 psi oxygen, 1.5 psi nitrogen)[1], the upward pressure is 3.5 tonnes per square meter. Assuming the soil is 4x dense as water, we then need 2.5 meters of soil to countermand that.

            I think, after living in tin cans on the surface, digging underground will be the next step because it’s simpler to understand and implement and bootstrap.

            [1] Zubrin says this was good enough for Skylab. But see the other conversations about “oxygen” on this page about why we might want much more psi.

            [2] I’m pretty sure this wasn’t changed at all from the first edition.

          • John Schilling says:

            Assuming the soil is 4x dense as water, we then need 2.5 meters of soil to countermand that.

            Martian soil isn’t 4x as dense as water, but 1-1.5x. Also, you don’t want to trust a cut-and-cover trench in the local landscape (or a cave for that matter), because pressure loads are absolutely isotropic, bedrock and loose soil aren’t necessarily so, and that mismatch could result in many, many tons of unbalanced force blowing out one of the sidewalls.

            Digging out a substantial excess volume and using concrete to fully encase your pressurized tunnel, gives you more control and alleviates much of that risk. Martian concrete would have a density of ~2 g/cc, so we’re back to 5-10 meters of overburden depending on your taste in atmospheres. Probably at least that thickness on the sides as well.

            Reinforced concrete would be better, and of course we’ve already discussed metal-walled pressure vessels. So this comes to the relative cost of steel vs. concrete on Mars, which is not something I am confident I could forecast at this point.

          • ChrisA says:

            Yes I would not expect an unlined tunnel to be able to hold pressure, there could be cracks or similar which could leak pressure at too fast a rate – maybe if you were just using it for growing food you could manage to have a low air pressure farming perhaps with high CO2 partial pressures. But then you would need space suits to access the area. If the rock was stable enough you could get the pressure seal just by spraying on concrete to an inch or so thick – that is going to enough to fix any cracks in the rock and keep any leaks low. Mars air is primarily CO2 so you can just keep a compressor sucking in air to keep the pressure up in your growing tunnels – the plants should be making oxygen of course to replace the oxygen lost in the leaks.

            In terms of cut and cover vs TBM tunnels – I would tend to go for the latter just because it makes the problem a lot more automated. I suspect this is part of Musk’s reasons for creating the Boring Company. If the rock is fairly heterogeneous then your process can be fairly automated with TBMs (or even fully autonomous) in a way that surface digging and brick building just could not be. I don’t know how deep you would want to go – it would depend on the rock mechanics to some extent. Most earth mining is constrained by temperatures, on Mars it is an actual benefit for any conceivable depth. Hauling the spoil out of the hole could be an issue, but with fairly cheap energy and low gravity I don’t think it would be too much trouble, perhaps it could be blasted out using compressed Mars air. One benefit of Mars, at least initially, is there is no pesky environmental rules to be followed so if you created a local dust cloud no-one would care. I am of course thinking about the time when millions of people are living there – not the first thousand or so. Probably in the early days it is also about quickest way to get large amounts of cheap shelter – so cut and cover may well be that.

            Like John I am not sure of the relative benefits of concrete vs steel as a lining technology. But limestone and gypsum appears to be fairly common on Mars and making cement is just a matter of heating the two compounds together in a fairly simple retort that would work fine in low pressure environment. Iron of course is also extensive on Mars but the process for refining ore and creating a good quality steel requires quite a bit of carbon which may not be as available. Plus the process is more complicated than the cement one.

  19. Scott Alexander says:

    Has anyone ever used Stitch Fix or anything else that helps clueless people get clothes?

    I’ve pretty much given up on having this go well if I do it myself. I saw the Stitch Fix ads plastered along the BART station and thought it looked promising. Now I’m realizing that you send them your measurements and they send you clothes, without any offline interaction. Sounds good if it works, but I’m skeptical. When I look to see if there’s anything more formal where you go in and they help you, it all seems to be really high-end stuff for society belles, as opposed to the “programmer who wants to look 20% less slovenly” demographic.

    Any responses along the lines of “fashion is actually really easy, all you have to do is X” will be deleted banned missing the point.

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Do you wear traditional work shirts? Are they ironed? Are your pants the right size?

      There’s a lot of basic stuff at play if you want to look less slovenly. These boxed outfit things seem to be directed at fashionable people.

      • N Zohar says:

        One workaround if you can’t iron or don’t want to iron is to just wear a t-shirt and then wear a slightly thicker flannel plaid shirt over that. These can be buttoned or partially buttoned, tucked or untucked, and still create a presentable “business casual” appearance. Plus they can be taken off once you get to your car or if you go outside for lunch or whatever.

        I have been getting away with khaki cargo pants (way more comfortable — and practical! — than slacks) for the past 2 years but I realize that probably won’t cut it in all workplaces.

        • sfoil says:

          Eddie Bauer makes khaki “cargo pants” that will pass as slacks if you get one of the varieties that doesn’t actually have cargo pockets on them. They fit the same way, though.

        • nameless1 says:

          I don’t understand. I wear everything from super dressy button downs to smart casual polo shirts and never even considered ironing them. Maybe because machine driers are not common here and can’t fit in our bathroom anyway so we air dry, and air drying naturally helps with wrinkles? They still have some wrinkles but I find the body heat eases them up to the level they become not too ugly. A friend of us does have a drying machine and boy the clothes look like eaten by the dog.

          So my point: wear anything, air dry, don’t iron.

          • I practically never iron clothing, and we use a machine drier.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I practically never iron clothing, and we use a machine drier.

            Do you just look frumpy and roll with it, or are the clothes not wrinkled?

            If the latter, what is your sorcery? (If the answer is, “My wife irons”, that’s cheating and Not OK)

          • @greenwoodjw:

            My wife practically never irons my clothes–pretty much the only thing that ever gets ironed is SCA garb, and that not often.

            Once in a while my wife takes something to be dry cleaned, and I think they do ironing or the equivalent (pressing?). My ordinary clothing tends to be permanent press, or soft things that don’t need ironing.

            As to how I look, I’m a poor source for that information. You could ask one of the people who come to my meetups. Or you could look at one of the online videos of me giving a talk.

            Or, if you are in the SF Bay area, you could come to the meetup this Saturday.

          • nameless1 says:

            @DavidFriedman looking at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcxGXcmr4ig that’s quite wrinkled IMHO and I am pretty sure air drying would help with e.g. all the wrinkles under your left pocket just don’t happen with my air dried shirts.

          • @nameless1:

            Could be. But I had been wearing that shirt for a good deal of a day by the time I gave the talk and it has spent several earlier in my suitcase.

            Probably less wrinkled when it came out of the drier.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            1) I am nowhere near SF but if you’re ever in the Baltimore area I’d love to say hello.

            2) The posted video is 100% a machine-dried shirt that was not ironed, not something that got wrinkled during the day. (The front panel is a dead giveaway.)

    • Peffern says:

      A close relative of mine has been using Stitch Fix to some success. Caveats: this person already had a sizeable and varied wardrobe before starting, and has good fashion sense.

      It seems to be better at augmenting an existing style with some novelty, rather than building a whole closet from the ground up.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I’ve been trying out MTailor. They’re… interesting, and pretty good? The deal is, you take a video of yourself (in very specific ways — the app walks you through it), and they use that to make clothes that custom-fit you.

      My wife tells me that the shirts I’ve gotten from them look good on me, better than most shirts I buy off the rack. They’ve got a bit of customization you can do, but they don’t really “help you make good choices” about your clothes. The less-slovenly aspect of them would be that they fit better.

      I tried them for jeans and didn’t like the results. I think that really the take-a-video-of-yourself thing only gets you about 80% of the way there, and then you really have to go a couple of rounds of, “Could you adjust the sleeves a little” or whatever, but they redo the clothes until you’re satisfied, for free. They do a pretty wide variety of men’s clothing.

      I’m charmed by the idea of them, so I’d kind of like them to get big enough to do a v2 that might push a little further in the direction of really getting people clothes that were great looking, so this is a little forward looking. I have no financial interest in them.

    • Nornagest says:

      Suit Supply might be a good option. I’ve only used them for actual suits, but they have a bunch of bizcas offerings too; it’ll probably end up being slightly more expensive than the range of online MtM-in-Indonesia services out there (my own go-to for stuff that doesn’t fit me off the rack, but I’m picky and too tall for most off-the-rack stuff), but still easily attainable for anyone making a Bay Area doctor or programmer’s salary. Go in to a physical location, tell them you’re looking for an office wardrobe but aren’t very fashion-conscious, and they can probably take it from there. There’s a branch in SF, or was a few years ago.

      Alternately, I’m told that high-end department stores (Nordstrom, etc.) sometimes offer services like this. Never used one in that way, though.

    • johan_larson says:

      It seems like this is one of those services that really needs to be delivered in person. Fitting clothes can be tricky, and even someone who says, “I really don’t know how to dress well. I’ll do whatever you say,” is likely to have some tastes and preferences. And what is straightforward and ordinary in one setting may be too formal or informal for another.

      • acymetric says:

        Well, this is why they send multiple options and you send back the ones you don’t want.

        As far as fitting, it depends on how far you’re taking that. If you shop by actual fit dimensions, you’re probably not the kind of person that is going to Stitch Fix anyway…the fit you get there probably won’t be any worse than standard Small/Medium/Large/XL sizing with Loose/Relaxed/Slim fit options or whatever.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Fashion might be easier to outsource to a girlfriend.

      Yes, I’m aware of how not-easy that is.

      • Well... says:

        How common is this? Are there lots of guys basically letting their S/Os dress them?

        If I let my wife dress me — we’ve discussed this — I’d basically walk around looking like a dandy all the time, and I’d be very itchy and uncomfortable. Eventually (like within a few minutes) I’d grow resentful, and worse would follow. I’m curious: what’s up with guys who wouldn’t have this problem?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          My girl has better taste in clothes and roughly the same taste in comfort; following her advice means making marginal trades. I don’t do it all the time, but I could without much issue.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          Yeah, whenever I have a girlfriend, she gets to dress me.

          I have little to no clue what looks good on me, and she does, so it’s an obvious division-of-labor win.

        • zzzzort says:

          I think it works out fairly well. It’s not even an alignment of style or comfort preferences, but my partner is capable of predicting things that I would would enjoy and look good in, often better at predicting than I am. This has the biggest impact at the margins, in articles of clothing that I would not choose for myself.

        • My wife has this odd idea that some colors go with other colors and some don’t, and I generally yield to her advice.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Men who don’t have this problem have the trait (IME unusual among straight men) of being willing to occasionally make personal sacrifices– such as wearing clothing that is somewhat uncomfortable or that doesn’t necessarily accord with their self-image– in order to be physically attractive.

          No shame in that, of course. I myself chose the strategy of dating someone who thinks I look hot in sweatpants. But it is a trait which people vary on.

        • aristides says:

          Every piece of clothing I own was either picked by my wife or myself, with the other confirming it looks good, with my wife doing most of the picking. Personally, I don’t care about how I look as long as my wife likes it, and my work wardrobe is professional. Almost all my vetoes are on comfort, but gradually I have gotten used to tighter pants, since my wife’s happiness compliments are worth the discomfort trade off. I also find that two people’s opinion on fashion is better than one’s.

        • rlms says:

          I think the idea is more that the SO generates suggestions (the part a lot of people find hard) and you select a subset.

        • JonathanD says:

          How often do you look in a mirror? How often does your wife look at you? I defer to my wife for both clothes and hair because it impacts her life more than mine.

        • j1000000 says:

          As rlms says, we go to stores, she picks some stuff out, and I try it on and have veto power. She will often say “this would look good on you but you’d hate it” about, like, green shoes or something, and she’s right.

        • deciusbrutus says:

          Find a girlfriend with fashion sense that works for you.

        • nameless1 says:

          If my wife was dressing me it would be jeans and tees from Esprit, because that is literally what she is wearing all the time, claiming Esprit is the only designer brand who don’t sacrifice comfort for looks.

      • Atlas says:

        Additionally, you can ask a female relative, or (at least relatively) stylish male relative/friend, for help.

    • SamChevre says:

      In my observation, Stitch Fix is great for people who want to be more fashionable and have a more varied wardrobe. (I haven’t used it, but colleagues have.) It’s not ideal if what you want is a basic wardrobe of professional clothes; for that, either a department store, or a made-to-measure traveling salesman, is a much better option.

      My approach: get someone at a store that sells Land End or the like to help you figure out your size. Order from that maker, in that size, whatever patterns/styles you want. Get someone you trust to look at you and say, NO that looks terrible on you, to about 25% of it; give that away to a place that helps people get professional clothes when trying to enter the job market. And pay to get shirts laundered and ironed.

    • Narcindin says:

      (don’t waste his time but don’t be rude)

      I encourage you to spend a bit of time online and to experiment with your wardrobe. Clothing is a major part of making a good impression. It’s important.

      Whatever you get, getting a good fit is the most important thing. I am skeptical of an online store to provide high quality basics as you are buying without trying it on. Good fitting jeans, button ups and a jacket shoudl go far here.

      A mindset that may help you is to consider clothing like you would any other tool. Getting the right tool, and knowing how to wield it, is enjoyable.

      • ChrisA says:

        Clothing is important – but it could actually send the wrong signal if you are too well dressed in my opinion. A slickly dressed guy trying to sell you something raises suspicions along the lines of “and where are the customers yachts?”. In addition, in law firms it my experience that the more junior the associate the better dressed they are. So you quickly realise there is a negative correlation between smartness and competency.

        If you are trying to look smart but not too slick – a good plain jacket can add formality to just about any shirt/pants combo. Even jeans.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      I use StitchFix. I have had friends compliment me on how well I dress and ask me to take them clothes shopping, at which point I’ve had to shamefully tell them that in fact it’s just StitchFix and I have no idea what clothes look good on anyone. My husband liked the clothes well enough that he also became a regular StitchFix customer.

      They work well with vague instructions; I asked them to get me clothes that would signal that I’m gay and wound up with buttondowns with pink roses all over it which, naturally, I am delighted by.

      My one caveat is that they’re pretty expensive.

    • Zephalinda says:

      “20% less slovenly” suggests you don’t want spicy clothing that expresses your unique creative self, just clothing that signals your ability to track the fashion conventions current among the hipper half of your demographic.

      Although it sounds gross and consumerist to say it, brands are great for looking put-together-but-conformist, particularly “mall brands” like Gap/ Banana Republic/ J. Crew. If you walked into any of those retailers on a quiet weekday afternoon and told a sales associate you needed help finding a flattering ensemble or two, I bet they’d be happy to help you out. (I wouldn’t recommend Lands’ End: they’re great if you know what to look for, but also skew pretty dowdy in their look, and they’ve had wildly uneven quality lately.)

      Nordstrom also apparently has a highly-regarded personal-shopper service where an associate will help you wander the store and pick out outfits.

    • JonathanD says:

      My wife used them for a while. She would typically keep a couple of pieces per month. After a while, she’d gotten enough new stuff and put the subscription on hold. She enjoyed the service, but already had a good sense of style. For her the value was in getting someone else to do the shopping part of getting clothes while we had two young kids and she lacked the time. I’d go ahead and try it. Returns are easy, so if you don’t like it you can just stop.

    • j1000000 says:

      I have used Trunk Club which I think is similar. It’s good but the stuff was kinda expensive and sometimes almost a bit too fashionable, but I think you can talk to someone to calibrate your tastes. I only did it once or twice, though.

      When I decided five years ago that I wanted to stop being a schlub, I went to my local library, read a lot of recent issues of magazines like GQ/Esquire/Men’s Health until I felt kinda fluent in them, bought clothes that looked like what they wore and weren’t baggy (lotta gingham back then), and then I started tucking in my shirt (now I think the “french tuck” is very popular, according to Queer Eye). Worked pretty well, although the girlfriend I soon met told me that my clothes were STILL not tight enough.

    • Matt says:

      Define ‘clueless’, because the problem basically ranges all over the place.

      I work with a guy who has n identical matching gray t-shirts that he rotates through daily and wears literally nothing else to work.

      I work with another guy who always has stylish/fashionable shoes, but never makes any effort to have his clothes match each other. I thought he was gay and just a little flamboyant, but he’s married to a woman, so I guess not.

      Another guy wears worn-out cloths (holes in sweaters, pants frayed at the end of the legs). We all make enough money here that this should not be an issue. His wife apparently doesn’t mind.

      I myself used to not know that I was supposed to match my belt to my shoes.

      My wife tells me that gray and khaki clash and can’t be warn together – to her it is obvious that they look bad together but I can’t see it at all. Also she’s always trying to get me to wear certain types of shoes without socks, despite that my coworkers (whose fashion sense I do not trust, generally) have commented negatively on them. I regularly wear thin fleece vests in the office because they keep it freezing in here, and she objects that I do that anytime after Easter. I just tell her it’s not summer in the office, and move my vests there until fall returns.

      Before I was married I actually attempted to hire one of my dance instructors as a personal shopper, but it didn’t work out.

      If I had my 20s to do over again, I would query my female friends more often about my dress and appearance, which would probably have gotten me 90% of the way to ‘nicely dressed’ in a year or so, and would definitely have removed ‘slovenliness’. I strongly suspect you have friends or coworkers who would help you for free.

      • Jon S says:

        My wife tells me that gray and khaki clash and can’t be warn together – to her it is obvious that they look bad together but I can’t see it at all.

        I know next to nothing about fashion, but my impression is that these sorts of rules change [slowly?] over time, they’re not always intrinsic to our perception of the colors. I think brown and black used to be considered clashing that way but are okay now?

        • Protagoras says:

          So someday orange and green may not be seen as clashing, and there will be permanent peace and harmony in Ireland (since the color clash is obviously the reason the conflict has been so intractable)?

    • hoof_in_mouth says:

      For a basic upgrade, wool trousers instead of cotton khakis. Have your shirts laundered/pressed/starched. The pants are dry-clean only so this works together. Just having everything crisp and sharp all the time makes a big difference even with off-the-rack stuff.

    • broblawsky says:

      I’m a man in roughly the same age range and economic situation as Scott; I use Stitch Fix and I’m very happy with it. I’ve received multiple compliments about the stuff I’ve gotten from them, including from female friends of mine. If you have some extra cash to spend on clothes, I’d recommend it.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      My wife has been using it for a few months now. The first couple iterations went poorly; they didn’t really listen to what she told them she liked and was looking for, but after a couple go-rounds and disappointed/angry emails, they started to do much better. She mainly was looking for clothes she could wear on stage (she’s a consultant/speaker), and she was tired of, and frustrated by, trying to find things by herself. Normally she keeps about half of what they send her, which she’s happy with. They have sent her a few things she never would have thought of or found, but which she likes, which is a big win.

    • paulharvey165 says:

      Male fashion can be easy to overthink especially because what looks good on models/mannequins rarely looks good on real bodies that can vary dramatically. I have not used stitch fix but I know people who have, and it does what they want it to; specifically it communicates positive things to other people in ways that they could not before. I do think that if you’re willing to do the work yourself you can do it cheaper.

      If money is not a concern, then I have found that finding a smaller brand that works for you and staying within that brand can often make you look far more put together. For example. if money was not an issue for me I would wear entirely Best Made clothes . That fits my aesthetic. Things like color palettes and the like are easy to figure out based on what is at hand.

    • RobJ says:

      I’ve used StichFix for a couple years and have been happy with it. They’ve done a pretty good job of knowing what styles I like and giving me things that fit well. There’s almost always at least a couple things per box that I like. There have been 1 or 2 occasions where I’ve bought something I ended up not liking much, but that happens with traditional shopping, too. Also, it’s more expensive than I’m used to paying for clothes, but not unreasonable (and much less expensive than the other one I tried.. Trunk Club, maybe?).

      In general, I think StitchFix will work well if you (or a friend/partner) can tell reasonably well if something looks good on you and fits right. If that doesn’t describe your situation, you probably need something with 1-on-1 advice. The main advantage for me is having some confidence that I’m not way out of style and not having to shop.

    • Drew says:

      You probably want Indochino or a tailor. There, the process is that you go in and let them take your measurements. Once your measurements are on file, they can make casual button-down shirts, for your exact measurements, for about $70/shirt.

      At that point, you have a “uniform” of correctly-fitting pants, and a correctly-fitting button-down shirt. Those can be mixed, basically at random, to produce acceptable outfits.

      This won’t create any kind of stand-out style. But it will mean that you never have to try on clothes again. When the current shirts wear out, you can just order another pack.

    • MasterofPuppets says:

      Many major department stores (Macy’s, Nordstroms, etc.) have a free personal shopper service at the larger flagship locations. They will recommend clothing that they sell but a department store should have a variety of styles at many different price points that should suit most professional budgets.

      If you just need a few suits and some dressier business casual options Mens Wearhouse will get you out the door with minimal effort and at a moderate price point. Just call up to book an appointment instead of dropping in. That way they will have a stylist ready to spend the necessary time with you. This option isn’t going to style you with the trendiest clothes, but will get you by for most office or semi-formal social situations.

      If you need trendier options check out periodicals such as GQ and Enquirer. I used to think GQ was more classically styled up until a few years ago, but it along with other similar publications, will give you good direction if you already have some style sense.

      If you are short on time, have the cash, and live in a metropolitan area then you might just want to spring for a personal style assistant. Most charge a day rate that is somewhat reasonable.

      I would recommend you stay away from allowing the woman in your life to dictate your clothing style. Women tend to dress men as they would like them to appear and not necessarily how you might like to appear. Develop your own independent sense of fashion and style.

      Finally, don’t overlook the importance of a good hair cut. I’ve seen a lot of guys invest heavily in a wardrobe but still get the same cheap haircut from a barber down the street that looks hideous. You can be dressed to the nines in expensive clothing but it won’t matter if your hair looks horrible.

  20. tayfie says:

    I want to advertise this again since the last time brought in some more people.

    To anyone who was interested in a regular Dallas meetup, we are working to put another one together in mid-May. Meeting time will be decided and posted on lesswrong this Wednesday. Please email tayfie@pm.me and I will send the link to a poll to figure out what times work for the most people.

    We have a Discord now for more casual chats: https://discord.gg/SSH5PU

  21. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Does anyone know of any books about bounty-hunting? I mean bounty hunting of animals.

    It can have large ecological effects and probably economic effects as well, but a little poking around hasn’t turned up any overviews on the subject.

  22. Andrew Hunter says:

    Can anyone recommend a very good book on the history of siege warfare? Ideally I’d like something that covers at least a time range of Rome to Petersburg, and goes into great detail on both tactics and technology. I expect it to cover actual battles out of necessity, but care less about reading about any particular siege than how each era built, defended, and collapsed or assaulted fortifications.

    Very long books are fine.

    • Matt says:

      Engineering in the Ancient World has a section on siege engines, as I recall. Not a one-stop-shop for what you’re looking for, but you would probably find it useful.

    • SamChevre says:

      Not a book recommendation: the 1929 Encyclopedia Britannica (we had it in the house when I was a child) had an long, memorable article on this topic. It tended to have articles written by subject-matter experts; I would look and see if you can find who the author of that Encyclopedia article was.

    • DeWitt says:

      It’s not a book about the entire history of siege warfare, but the Mozi is by far the best contemporary account of siege defence in ancient China, and it is practical enough that reading it gives a very good insight on how people went about the matter back then.

  23. stubydoo says:

    I’ve been kind of thinking that the next stage for the Slatestarcodex media empire should be some kind of book that will end up on the airport bookstore shelves. For my money it could be either fiction or non-fiction, but I figure Scott would likely prefer the fiction option – i.e. something like Unsong.

    • drunkfish says:

      I suggest Unsong (which satisfies ‘something like unsong’), but I may be biased by having a similar comment below in this thread… (though, to be clear, I really hope Scott doesn’t stop with Unsong and publishes loads more long-form fiction)

  24. FrankistGeorgist says:

    I’ve recently been introduced to the wide world of Home Insurance. It seems sufficiently legalistic that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out my plan doesn’t cover anything that I’d actually want it to cover. I’m generally pessimistic about such things. Knowing my own ignorance I had a variety of 3rd parties help compare plans and then just took their word by fiat. It was considerably less expensive than I expected, which is maybe concerning. But that’s been true of everything I’ve encountered in the home buying process, probably from being primed for unexpected expense for so long.

    Obviously insurance is a betting game, but for whenever I plan to reassess my insurance situation does anyone have any resources to understand just what I’m getting into?

    What I didn’t know about until very recently was water main insurance, which seems like a no-brainer to me. People have been making ominous noises about the wickedness of water mains since I started talking about buying a house. Water main insurance seems pleasingly cheap, straightforward, and unlegalistic and I would be surprised if it didn’t cover what it said.

    Basically are there any other easy wins for insuring things? Specifically outside the standard home/health/auto/life.

    Flood insurance seems to be the other one people make ominous noises about. The house is not in a flood zone according to FEMA. But it is between two rivers and the East Coast occasionally gets hit by hurricanes which is wild to me but I figure might as well throw a shekel that way? Also it has a basement which seems eminently floodable which is new for me.

    • metacelsus says:

      The house is not in a flood zone according to FEMA.

      FEMA has sometimes been wrong about this (the latest incident I remember was with Hurricane Harvey) so it might be a good idea to do some research for yourself.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Gratuitous anecdote: a high school classmate of mine lives in Houston in a house that was considered pre-Harvey not to be in a flood zone. She got the super cheap flood insurance anyway. It saved their bacon when the house got six inches of water in it (which apparently does MUCH more damage than you would think for that low a water level).

        They recently renewed their flood insurance and did not have to pay a higher premium because FEMA still does not consider them to be in a flood zone. Somebody else can probably come up with a snarky quip about this but I, as the kids say, can’t even.

        • acymetric says:

          I mean…this makes sense to me on some levels. You don’t have to be in a flood zone to get some flooding in extreme conditions (Harvey qualifies there).

        • CatCube says:

          The FEMA maps are based on a 1% chance of exceedance*. That is, there is a 1/100 chance in any year that you will see a flood above that contour.

          While having a flood occur is certainly evidence that the 1% exceedance interval on the maps is wrong–it’s back-calculated from historical data where possible, and maybe you’re coming out of a dry recording interval. It’s also possible that God was throwing a 100-sided die and your house had a critical failure. You’d need to look over the historical hydrological and projected climate data to know for sure.

          * This is also referred to as the “100-year event” but that terminology is disfavored because people think that this means that it should only occur once every 100 years, whereas two 100-yr events in back to back years is unlikely, but not impossible, just like, say, throwing boxcars twice in succession at the craps table. Or, similarly, that if you haven’t had a 100-year storm in a long time, you’re “due” for a flood.

          • mobile says:

            And since there are thousands of separate drainage basins in the country, it is quite likely that somewhere will experience 100-year events in back to back years.

      • sorrento says:

        The “flood zone” thing isn’t for your benefit. It’s a scarlet letter that gets put on your property that makes it very expensive for you to get certain types of insurance.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You seem a bit in a spending mood. Just take it as an outside data point. Also remember that by definition you’re losing every time you pay for insurance, at least in average. Think more about which kinds of expenses would bankrupt you, not those that would just be a pain in the ass to pay.

      • aashiq says:

        This is how I like to think of it as well. The water main insurance is particularly silly in my mind because you should be able to absorb that kind of financial hit. This approach also favors choosing very high deductibles. I have met people with car insurance deductibles so low that they won’t even take the trouble to file a claim.

        One other reason to buy insurance is if you have reason to believe your expected claims are much higher than average, for a reason that is not reflected in your insurance premiums. Some of these reasons may be fraud or fraud-adjacent, but ie buying AppleCare because you know you’re 4 sigma clumsier than average is not.

        • acymetric says:

          This approach also favors choosing very high deductibles. I have met people with car insurance deductibles so low that they won’t even take the trouble to file a claim.

          I’m confused. If you don’t file a claim the deductible doesn’t matter. Is it that, say, their deductible is $300 but when they have a $500 cost that would have been covered they don’t bother to file and just pay the $500? That does seem silly.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’ll bet aashiq meant to say, “people with car insurance deductibles so high”.

          • Jon S says:

            I took it to mean like your example, but probably even smaller numbers. Say, a $100 deductible, and for $200 of damage they don’t go through the hassle of filing a claim (perhaps correctly – filing the $200 claim might raise their expected premiums by more than $100).

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      So, for insurance:

      Home/Renters/Auto – the non-obvious thing about this is that this covers a bunch of legal liability that can arise from using these assets, and not just damage or loss to them. It’s a good idea to look up what coverage you need in order to qualify for umbrella insurance, and then get that level.

      Umbrella insurance – no, it’s not insuring your umbrellas, it’s something that covers miscellaneous other things that might cause you large amounts of legal liability. It’s generally pretty cheap and can really save your behind.

      Life insurance – get term life insurance only, not whole life. Sales will try to talk you into whole life because it extracts more money out of you and earns the insurance company a tidy profit while being too complicated for people to understand how they’re getting fleeced. Stick to term life.

      Disability insurance – for gainfully employed professionals early in their career, losing your ability to work is the number 1 risk factor that people don’t mitigate. If you’re a programmer who just started their first six-figure job out of college, and some judgement-proof asshole with a laser accidentally blinds you, you’re suddenly going from a comfortable financial position to relying on whatever your disability contingency plan is. If you have a good own-occupation disability plan, this means roughly “I get 60% of my prior income until age 65, but don’t have to pay taxes on it and don’t have to live near where programming jobs are, so I’m fine”. If you don’t, it means you have to figure out how things will work with whatever social security gives you. Spoilers – it ain’t much, and it doesn’t work great.

      Health insurance – the system is completely fucked in a ton of ways in the US. If you don’t need to access health care, it’s going to be pretty expensive anyways and you’ll need to have a bunch of cash on hand to cover your large deductible. If you do need access to health care, you’re going to need to fight insurance companies and health care providers both to get access to care (and in a timely manner), and to avoid getting stuck with bankruptcy-inducing medical bills. IMHO you probably want to think about what happens to your assets in bankruptcy as part of healthcare planning, since it is often highly relevant in the actual processes involved.

      • raj says:

        If you are a regular middle income person, what about trying to carry as much of your assets in vehicles that are safe in bankruptcy (retirement plans, house) and just being willing to accept that as an outcome?

        • gdanning says:

          Homes arent that safe in a bankruptcy. Eg the Calif homestead exemption is only about 100k, last i checked

          • acymetric says:

            It is all based on equity though, not total value (so under this strategy I guess you would not want to be paying your mortgage off early). It also depends on whether you are filing chapter 7 (in which case if your equity is more than the exemption they will sell your house and give you the exemption amount in cash) or chapter 13 (in which case you get to keep the house but might have to make larger payments if your equity exceeds the exemption).

            Of course IANAL and have not gone through bankruptcy (yet!) but this is my lay understanding.

    • proyas says:

      Don’t let them sell you on things you don’t need. If you’re not in a flood zone, don’t waste money on flood insurance.

      • Murphy says:

        This seems like a poor approach.

        Insurance works best for unlikely events with high cost when they do happen.

        Just deciding that you don’t need flood insurance because it’s less than a 1% chance of happening in any given year (flood zone) is gambling to an extent that many can’t afford to lose the bet.

        https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C6kYoOPWsAAgW37.jpg

        If you live in a zone where it floods badly every 5 years…. better to build a house that can withstand a flood without too much damage. If the insurance (likely a little more than the cost of fixing flood damage every 5 years) is too expensive then you can’t afford to live there.

        When I bought mine I learned that chancel insurance is a thing.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chancel_repair_liability

        But so cheap that 20 quid covers you for about 50 years: a case almost perfect for insurance.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          When I bought mine I learned that chancel insurance is a thing.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chancel_repair_liability

          But so cheap that 20 quid covers you for about 50 years: a case almost perfect for insurance.

          Plus the weird fact that it’s an insurance policy that technically can be voided if you let anyone know it exists!

          I think this is because lay rectors are jointly and severally liable for chancel repair, so the church might be more likely to go after somebody with an insurance policy (as they have deeper pockets).

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Thanks all for the input and anecdotes! Onward and upward in the great grift of homeownership.

    • hls2003 says:

      As a general rule (but of course it’s all in the policy language), most water damage will be covered by home insurance as long as it is not flood damage. Which sounds confusing, and is in fact very contentious in certain disaster circumstances. Rule of thumb is that if the water rises up into your home, that is a “flood” that will not be covered; if the water falls down into your home, that is water damage that will be covered. You can see where this can get complicated in a Hurricane Harvey type situation. The storm broke my windows, damaged my roof, and swelled rivers and caused a storm surge. Was it the rain coming down that caused the water damage, or the river and storm surge? Litigation is still ongoing, I have no doubt.

      In everyday life, outside of major disasters, most water damage is actually covered, because most water damage involves pipes breaking and/or roof damage (or house fires, which usually result in major water damage when they are extinguished). You will also get some small level of coverage for sump pump failure in most policies, but usually not more than $5-10,000. That won’t cover a major basement flood cleanup.

  25. drunkfish says:

    Scott, are there any updates on a printed version of Unsong? I really want a printed copy, and I’m seriously considering just printing one myself (and probably matching what I spend on the book in a donation to you), but if an official version is coming I figure I can handle waiting a bit.

    Edit for fun, to say thank you for writing Unsong. It’s easily one of my favorite books ever, it’s an absolute masterpiece. The main reason I want to get it printed is that I think that’ll make it easier to get more friends to read it. It’s incredibly rare for me to find I *miss* a book, and that’s definitely the feeling I get when I think about Unsong. So thank you.

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Feldenkrais Method is interesting because it’s the only system I know of for getting improved movement indirectly– instead of setting a goal and trying to make it happen (for example, choosing to relax), you set up conditions which cause relaxation to happen.

    These videos promise to be a good sampler.

    https://futurelifenow-online.com/feldenkrais-summit-2019/

    This is one of those summits where you get free access to the videos for 48 hours after they’re posted, or can pay for indefinite access.

    I found out about it a little late, but I’ve just listened to two of them from day 3, and they were excellent.

    The first was about Ruthy Alon’s Movement Intelligence programs– she’s started with Feldenkrais and developed methods for improving walking, working with strength, and getting in touch with satiety by using gentle indirect methods. (1 hour)

    http://www.movementintelligence.com

    The second was 15 minutes of eye relaxation, and my vision is definitely better.

    I don’t know whether you’ll be able to get free access to those while they’re still available for free, but I trust that he other material will also be of high quality.

    • Teeki says:

      It looks like the Day 3 videos are gone. Do you have the title for the eye relaxation video? I have been straining my eye too much and am definitely in the market for some working exercises.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The video is called Insight and it’s by Dorothy Henning.

        If you’re interested in what else there is from the event (there’s a reasonable chance there will be more about vision), I recommend signing up sooner rather than later. It took a day for my registration to go through.

        Here‘s a good little essay by Henning about why deliberately correcting one’s posture is a bad idea.

        • Teeki says:

          Thanks!

          On posture, I remembered a few years ago I tried to correct my sitting posture. All I got was a lot of back pain and thought that my posture/spine was already beyond repair. Definitely should have done more research before I set myself up for that.

          • LesHapablap says:

            You should go to a physio. I had the same problem with standing posture until I finally went to a physio for an unrelated shoulder problem when I was around ~30. It was life changing!

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          As a general thing, try out the awareness through movement videos– they’re about 15 minutes long and give directions on how to improve ease of movement.

          Also, the Larry Wells video (possibly not available for free any more) includes a powerful self-soothing technique for helping sleep.

          Fold your hands together so that you can squeeze one hand’s thumb, and that hand can squeeze the other hand’s forefinger. This may take some fiddling around to figure it out.

          Do this while sitting with your hands resting on your abdomen, though I find that other positions also work.

          Now observe your breathing without changing it, or at least change it as little as possible.

          Gently squeeze the thumb on the inhale and the forefinger on the exhale. After you’ve done this for a few minutes, try gently squeezing your thumb on the exhale and forefinger on the inhale. You may find you prefer one pattern over the other.

          I find this powerfully soothing, and it helped me get to sleep last night. It’s almost embarrassingly soothing, it’s like a dignified version of thumb-sucking.

  27. kaakitwitaasota says:

    I have what I am pretty sure is a million-dollar-plus startup idea/business model. The trouble is that–although a close family member works adjacent to startup world–I don’t have any real experience with startup land (humanities major at a large state school).

    I am currently learning to program in Python and enjoying it, but that is a far cry from being able to program a whole startup’s software. I am applying to Lambda School as a backup in case I don’t get into grad school for whatever reason, and we’ll see whether that pans out.

    How do I figure out whether I have an idea worth anything? Who do I talk to? Am I completely delusional? (I’m kind of reluctant to post the business model on an open comments section…)

    Edit: So as to be a little less obscurantist, the idea is to “disrupt” (god, I hate that word, but that’s what people do) the language-learning market by creating an alternative to Duolingo that uses mechanisms that reward learning rather than merely use of the course, relies at least as much on language acquisition specialists as on marketers and metrics, and has a clearer cash-flow source that obviates the “courses made and maintained by volunteers” problem.

    If anybody would like to PM me, my throwaway email address is eateriesofub@gmail.com.

    • Argos says:

      Lambda School’s curriculum will probably not be enough to program a whole startup’s software, but I imagine it might be enough for an interesting proof of concept / mvp.

      To find people to talk to, I hear good things about the 80000 hours people, they also offer career mentoring and recommend entrepreneurship as a career path.

      A landing page with an email sign up for notifications about your upcoming product is usually a good idea to gauge interest in your idea, depending on the business model you have in mind.

      Common wisdom in the startup world is that one should not be too cautious about sharing one’s idea, as success is supposedly about execution, not the idea itself. I disagree with that, as probably the Winkelvoss twins do.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        Yes, what I am told by a guy who works at a startup in Switzerland is that the way to get seed money is to create a working proof-of-concept and then pitch it to people. I’m getting in touch with a friend who can code and another who speaks Bengali to see if they’re interested…

        • johan_larson says:

          It would also be helpful to have an actual user base, even if it’s small, even if it isn’t paying you anything.

          This is useful because one of the main failure modes of startups is they building something that seems cool but that no one actually wants to use.

          • Aapje says:

            A tip I’ve heard is to coddle the shit out of your initial users. Most startups fail in getting from no users to a small user base.

            A common mistake seems to be to think too far ahead, making the business processes scalable for a large user base too soon; as well as ignoring the demands of the actual people who are attracted to your pitch, rather than the theoretical people who should like your product.

            Instead, do the opposite at first: optimize the user experience, even if it is very costly & be very responsive to the feedback of early users (and solicit that feedback).

    • Incurian says:

      I think your idea is interesting. The current lineup of language learning software is pretty terrible imho.
      Think about organizations as customers (e.g. businesses or the military) if you haven’t already.

    • Erusian says:

      I’ve worked in startups and on the VC side. My initial thoughts:
      1.) Being overly protective of an idea in a consumer market is a sign of amateurism. Your idea will become obvious to everyone the moment you launch. If a team can outproduce you and gain a dominant position just by knowing your idea then your market is indefensible.
      2.) While it’s good you’re learning to code, you will need a head programmer/CTO type. You’re just not going to get good enough fast enough. It also sounds like you’d need someone more experienced in business.
      3.) There’s a distinct lack of business concern in this post. This is another sign of amateurism: presuming the quality of the product is the only or main thing that leads to success.
      4.) While I don’t care that you’re a humanities major, you don’t seem to have strong technical or business skills which means I can’t trust you to run a technology business.
      5.) You don’t know how to validate your idea, which means you lack the ability to get a very basic part of the startup business done.
      6.) You also don’t seem to have good connections to people who could nurture/mentor you.
      7.) If you’re a language major, that’s actually good for a language based startup.
      8.) Language learning is a highly fractured, parochial market with everyone from the government to multi-billion dollar corporations to Chinese neighbors down the street participating. Any idea is unlikely to dominate the market. That means not many VCs will be interested since it probably can’t give good enough returns.
      9.) You also haven’t done any market research.
      10.) You list goals without saying how you’ll get there. Even presuming you can design a system that rewards learning rather than use, I have serious doubts you would know how to achieve a cheaper marketing strategy or cashflow.
      11.) Your disdain for marketers and metrics is a massive, massive red flag. So is your need to signal that you don’t like startup culture.
      12.) You have several things that would seem to increase costs without explaining why people would bear those increased costs beyond a vague idea of quality.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        Thank you.

        (I do mean that sincerely–I knew I had blind spots, but not exactly where they were. Thanks for taking the time to flesh this out.)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          You should be trying as hard as possible to tear down your own idea.

          I had a start-up idea about a year ago, pursued lawyers and banks about it, and gave up when a) I decided I wasn’t good enough to do it, and b) there were other people in the space sucking up the oxygen. (A third party showed up and implemented it about as well as I could, and had I known that upfront I would have even more reason not to do it.) That should be the modal reaction.

      • AKL says:

        I would spend some time understanding / addressing Erusian’s feedback, then seek out local opportunities for coaching / mentorship / guidance.

        This is easier than you think. There are organizations like Venture Cafe that will introduce you to experienced entrepreneurs who can help you develop your idea (and eventually, maybe, your company). Your university probably has similar resources, or google “entrepreneur meetup [yourcity].”

        My sense is that you don’t have the experience yet to know whether you would even like building a company. But you’re interested, and the only way to find out is to try! Figure out what you would need in order to be successful (i.e. make money), then start doing those things. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you’ll hate it, maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, but no matter what you’ll learn a ton, and if you don’t actually take concrete steps you’ll never know.

      • Aqua says:

        Thanks Erusian for a very thorough reply, I have less experience with startups but many of the same concerns when reading the post

        kaakitwitaasota try lurking around fb groups, reddit, startup forums and your local university to start absorbing more of this intuition. Most large metro areas should have some sort of physical institutions that help to encourage business and startup culture, and you should be able to find a good amount of free resources

        • Erusian says:

          I’d recommend physical spaces. I’ve found (ironically) there’s a real dearth of good startup material online. What does exist is buried under a lot of bad advice. But there’s less of it in general than I’d expect for such a techy sector.

      • maintain says:

        I wish I had people to give me feedback like this on my life.

        It seems like every time I ask for feedback I get people patting me on the back and telling me I’m doing great. I want to vomit on their faces.

        • Erusian says:

          Yes. I think it’s useless and a little cowardly to respond to requests for feedback with something like, “Oh, you’re doing great, you’ll be successful soon! Just keep doing the same thing?” Really? You can’t think of one thing I could be doing better or to give me advice on?

          Anyway, since I’m in advice mode anyway, go ahead and ask. I promise I won’t give you backpats unless I really have nothing to say.

          • Aapje says:

            @Erusian

            Many if not most people who actually mean to ask for feedback are already convinced that they are doing quite well and that the advice they solicit is going to be mostly positive, with at most small criticisms. They usually don’t respond well to serious criticism that implies that they’ve been wasting their time and/or made huge mistakes.

            Furthermore, quite a few requests for feedback actually have a different purpose than getting feedback. Take the girlfriend who is beaming with joy after buying an expensive dress and asks: “what do you think?” She may want you to appreciate her looks when she makes an effort, the effort she went to to look pretty, wants to feel good about you approving of her taste, etc. Giving negative feedback if her actual reason for asking the question is the above, is not going to be appreciated.

            A further complication is that affirmation is only emotionally valuable if it feels meaningful. In other words, there has to be a belief that harsh feedback is possible, for the positive feedback to be affirming. So people often falsely signal that they want honest feedback.

            So this in turn means that it is extremely hard to signal that you really do want honest and potentially very negative feedback.

            People who get such a request and who do have serious criticism have to choose between actually giving feedback, which very often sours or even destroys friendships; or just giving some vague positive feedback, which takes less effort anyway.

            Most people like having friends/partners/etc and don’t feel like making an effort that is not going to be appreciated, so vague supporting feedback seems like a pretty rational strategy.

            It’s not really cowardly to not make an effort at your own expense that won’t actually help another person, as they will usually toss the fruits of your effort into the gutter.

          • Erusian says:

            Discretion is the better part of valor sometimes, yes. This doesn’t make it a brave action. I fully understand that many people aren’t asking for honest feedback and sometimes I give them a pat on the back. But I don’t consider myself to have given feedback, just performed a social nicety.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Honest feedback is one of the most valuable things there is: both for the recipient, and in terms of cost to the reviewer.

          I read an essay by a semi-famous author titled something like “why I won’t read your sample essay.” It was basically about how he had done it a several times for friends in the past, and been burned every time by people that could not handle criticism of their work. A few lost friendships later he made a rule never to critique amateur writing.

    • Bugmaster says:

      In addition to what others have said, here’s some advice:

      If you’re based in the US, and especially if your startup is going to have more than one founder, be prepared for a truly overwhelming amount of taxes. Computing your taxes will take a significant amount of time and/or money; and the amount you’ll have to pay will be significantly more than you thought. On the plus side, if you’re clever, you can somewhat mitigate this financial drain by writing off some expenses as business expenses; for example, if you are literally based out of your garage, then you can write off part of your mortgage as a home office expense.

      I highly recommend you hire a competent CPA, but, of course, this depends on how much funding you get. If you get millions of dollars, then you can obviously afford any CPA that you want. If you get thousands of dollars from friends and family, then I still recommend hiring a cheap CPA part-time, but be prepared to shoulder a lot of responsibility yourself.

      • Erusian says:

        Taxes are rarely an issue for early-stage startups. They are almost always operating at a loss and so have no tax burden. Since the IRS penalty is a percentage of what is owed, there are often few to no penalties so long as the taxes are prepared with even the most basic level of competence.

        It’s much more of an issue for growing/late early to early mid-stage startups. That’s where it gets complicated and you need to start paying regularly.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If you have employees, also hire someone (on a contract basis, a few hours a month) to review your books and make sure you are paying your taxes.

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      >How do I figure out whether I have an idea worth anything?

      The received wisdom in startup-land is that startup ideas are worth essentially zero. It’s pretty much 100% in how well you can execute on your ideas and whether you can bring a team and process together for working on things.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Check out Chatterbug as a competitor: https://chatterbug.com/en/

      A friend of a friend who is apparently a billionaire from founding a previous start up co-founded this one.

  28. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links roundup:

    April marked the 50th anniversary of the Royal Navy’s continuous ballistic missile submarine patrols, and I took the opportunity to celebrate the men and machines which have done so much to ensure world peace since the 60s.

    So You Want to Build a Battleship continues with a look at the fitting-out process that happened once the ship had been launched, when everything from electrical wiring to turrets was installed.

    I’ve been discussing the heavy shells of battleship guns recently, looking at the various interwar innovations in shell design, as well as the saga of the 16″ shells ultimately carried by Iowa.

    Lastly, two new museum reviews. First, Megasilverfist contributed a review of Polly Woodside, a sailing barque in Melbourne. Second, I recently visited Fort Sill, near Lawton, Oklahoma. While it may be near the middle of nowhere, there’s a truly fantastic artillery museum.

    And as always, I’m hosting a Naval Gazing open thread.

  29. HowardHolmes says:

    Three questions:

    If you could have a life that would make you the world’s richest person, or, on the other hand, you could live life believing both intellectually and emotionally (viscerally) that money will not affect your well being, which person would you choose to be and why?

    If you found the bottle with the genie and he gave you two options, one being that you can keep the bottle for life and he will grant unlimited wishes or you can toss the bottle and he will adjust your beliefs so that you have no desires or wants, which would you choose and why?

    If you, in one life, could have a first rate reputation like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln or in another life live with no care or concern about what others thought of you, which would you choose and why?

    • rubberduck says:

      1. World’s richest person for sure. If I chose the second option, I would find something else to blame for my problems and be equally miserable as if I were blaming it on lack of money. Also, a selfless person could use their riches to help others more effectively than a poor person with a sense that money does not affect their well-being.

      2. Unlimited wishes for sure. Both options could make me personally happy, but having no desires or wants would presumably also remove the drive to help others. Assuming the genie is omnipotent and you intentionally omitted a “wishes can only be used for yourself” clause, you could use your unlimited wishes to cure cancer and end poverty and so on. I cannot see why anyone would choose the second option.

      3. Second option, because there are very few people whose opinions of me I care about at present and I don’t have any idea what it would be like to have a stellar reputation. Also, didn’t both Gandhi and Lincoln get assassinated?

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @rubberduck

        a selfless person could use their riches to help others more effectively than a poor person with a sense that money does not affect their well-being.

        You are assuming here that money improves lives which is not true in the second option. If you did not believe that money makes you happier you would not believe that is true of poorer people and therefore would have no need of the money.

        having no desires or wants would presumably also remove the drive to help others.

        If you did not (incorrectly) believe that having more stuff makes us better off there would be no need to help the poor. The poor need no help because they are just as well off as the non-poor

        you could use your unlimited wishes to cure cancer

        We’re all going to die. One thing is as good as another.

        • Kestrellius says:

          Uh, you just gave me unlimited wishes. We are not all going to die. Not anymore. No one is ever going to die, ever again. Death and suffering (and the destruction of information, for which both of those things seem to be proxies) are going to be permanently eliminated from the fabric of reality. They will not be possible. They will not even be conceivable. They will exist only as remembered nightmares in the minds of the awoken.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          You are assuming here that money improves lives which is not true in the second option. If you did not believe that money makes you happier you would not believe that is true of poorer people and therefore would have no need of the money.

          Things you can do with money:
          Buy food
          Buy a home
          Buy a car
          Go to college
          Go skiing
          Buy tools and materials for woodworking
          Etc etc etc. But if you don’t think that being comfortable and able to fulfill your desires and self actualize and do anything more interesting than sitting on a couch is worthwhile, none of that will convince you.

          The poor need no help because they are just as well off as the non-poor

          Try telling that to a poor person. See how well it goes.

          you could use your unlimited wishes to cure cancer

          We’re all going to die. One thing is as good as another.

          After you cure cancer, you can cure all other diseases, stop aging, provide unlimited food and shelter, and reverse entropy. “We’re all going to die” does not necessarily hold in a world with an unlimited wish-granting entity. (Though see the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky for why it very well might)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            But if you don’t think that being comfortable and able to fulfill your desires and self actualize and do anything more interesting than sitting on a couch is worthwhile, none of that will convince you.

            Possibly one unanswered question is “what is the effect of having desire?” Buddha says it is the source of all suffering. You seem to think that having desire is a good thing. Why is having a desire for a new car preferable to not having that desire? The whole reason you would get the car would be so that you would not have the desire which seems circular. Yet still you argue that we should have desire?

            Try telling that to a poor person. See how well it goes.

            Poor people just like rich people think that having more leads to a better life. You think Bezos is satisfied? He is no more satisfied than a poor person.

            After you cure cancer, you can cure all other diseases, stop aging, provide unlimited food and shelter, and reverse entropy.

            What a nightmare. You think global warming is a problem now, just wait until no one dies. I do not get why people think that a longer life means a better life. Life is only now. Longer is an illusion. I might die tonight or 30 years from now. Whichever has zero effect on my life, so why the big deal?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            You think Bezos is satisfied? He is no more satisfied than a poor person.

            Anyone who believes money doesn’t buy (at least some) happiness, let alone satisfaction, has always had enough money.

          • liate says:

            @HowardHolmes

            What a nightmare. You think global warming is a problem now, just wait until no one dies.

            …I don’t think you get the full implications of unlimited wishes; with unlimited wishes, global warming is only a problem if the wisher wants it to be a problem

            I do not get why people think that a longer life means a better life.

            Well, the general idea is that, if life in general is preferable to not living, a longer life is better because you get more of the things which make life preferable to not living than if you live for less time.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @liate

            Well, the general idea is that, if life in general is preferable to not living, a longer life is better because you get more of the things which make life preferable to not living than if you live for less time.

            Oh, I guess it is why life is worth living that I don’t get. Why does it need to be worth living? From where does it obtain this value?

          • Murphy says:

            You think Bezos is satisfied? He is no more satisfied than a poor person.

            You seem to be dodging/ignoring most of the hard questions in this thread but let me ask you.

            Do you believe Bezos is happier or more satisfied than the parents of this child:

            http://dujye7n3e5wjl.cloudfront.net/photographs/1080-tall/time-100-influential-photos-kevin-carter-starving-child-vulture-87.jpg

            What a nightmare. You think global warming is a problem now, just wait until no one dies. I do not get why people think that a longer life means a better life. Life is only now. Longer is an illusion. I might die tonight or 30 years from now. Whichever has zero effect on my life, so why the big deal?

            Unlimited wishes remember. he also fixed global warming.

            Why do you bother even eating vs just picking up a really really big dose of heroin? After all, it’s all the same at the heat death of the universe after all.

            Buddha simply doesn’t seem to be a great source of life advice if his teachings lead you to ignore the suffering of others and/or leads you to die cold and alone in a gutter somewhere.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Murphy says

            Do you believe Bezos is happier or more satisfied than the parents of this child:

            Satisfaction is having nothing you want. This can only come by choosing to have no wants (choosing to be satisfied). One cannot have wants and then become satisfied by fulfilling them. Since Bezos has not quit his day job he appears to be unsatisfied. As for the parents, I know nothing about them. If they choose to have no desires, they will be satisfied.

          • Jiro says:

            Since Bezos has not quit his day job he appears to be unsatisfied.

            Have you quit your day job? Are you unsatisfied?

          • Aapje says:

            @HowardHolmes

            Bezos may consider his job and/or the status & perks that come with it very satisfying. He may not be doing it for the ability to buy more stuff. Note that a high income has status benefits, so one may still want a high income, even if one doesn’t really need more money.

        • rubberduck says:

          If you did not believe that money makes you happier you would not believe that is true of poorer people

          I can believe it as much as I want, but I assume your original set of choices only applies to me and does not affect the poor around me. So from their point of view, I have to choose between a) becoming rich enough to effortlessly pay their rent/student loans/medical bills/gambling debts/etc. or b) insist money isn’t important, all while having turned down option a). Unless option b) can be somehow extended to apply to literally everyone on the planet, option a) is better.

          If you did not (incorrectly) believe that having more stuff makes us better off there would be no need to help the poor.

          I interpreted “no desires or wants” to be not just material stuff but more abstract things too: reputation, peace, life, salvation (for the religious), friendship, saving the metaphorical drowning toddler. There are plenty of things one can desire even while shunning materialism, plenty of it meaningful. I sincerely would not want a life with my desire for living taken away from me.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @rubberduck

            Unless option b) can be somehow extended to apply to literally everyone on the planet, option a) is better.

            I see your point. It finally got through to me. You are assuming, unlike me, that having more of what one wants leads to a better life. I am coming from the belief that one cannot satisfy wants with getting regardless of whether one believes he can. Let’s say you identify poor person Sam. Sam thinks he wants more of something because he is typical of all humans who think they want more and that more is better. So you give Sam more of X. Will he me MORE satisfied than before? No Will he stop wanting more? No In what way have you changed his life? In no positive way that I can see.

            There are plenty of things one can desire even while shunning materialism, plenty of it meaningful.

            And how does one go about making it meaningful? I say that is through conscious choice. We decide to make things important. We decide that it is important that our team wins or that we have steak on the table occasionally or that we have a bigger house or that we have friends or that we are alive. We can also choose to make these things not important. Which are they in nature? I say they are not important at all in nature and objectively. Choosing to see them as important is merely choosing to see them the way they are.

            I sincerely would not want a life with my desire for taken away from me.

            Without meaning to be presumptious I suspect you have never lived a life without desire so you are speaking with little experience. At least, I have lived both. Buddha said that desire is the source of all suffering. He also lived both lives.

          • Deiseach says:

            So from their point of view, I have to choose between a) becoming rich enough to effortlessly pay their rent/student loans/medical bills/gambling debts/etc. or b) insist money isn’t important, all while having turned down option a).

            But choosing option (a) does not necessarily mean you’re going to pay the bills of random poor people; Jeff Bezos is channelling his excess worth into his own private space programme, not going down to the local soup kitchen and picking out ten people whose bills he pays off completely.

            Option (b) affects your own life; if you think money won’t affect your standard of living, then you’ll be temperate in demeanour even if you become poor. Becoming unimaginably rich doesn’t mean anything more than having lots of money to do with as you please – someone might please to pay off the bills of poor people, another person might please to fill a swimming pool with dollar bills and dive in.

          • Cliff says:

            I am coming from the belief that one cannot satisfy wants with getting regardless of whether one believes he can.

            It seems pretty arrogant to assume that everyone else would be happier without desire just because you are. From whence comes this incredible ability to see inside the hearts and minds of others? Religious fervor?

            For me, getting what I want does make me happier. In periods of my life when I am getting more of what I want, I am happier, and in periods where I am getting less, I am less happy. I never stop wanting things, but wanting things is a part of being human. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about it.

            I don’t see why you think that Bezos is not happier than you. He very well might be?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Cliff says

            It seems pretty arrogant to assume that everyone else would be happier without desire just because you are. From whence comes this incredible ability to see inside the hearts and minds of others? Religious fervor?

            It seems arrogant of you to assume I think what I never claimed. I never claimed others would be happier without desire nor do I think they would be. In fact, being happy comes from desire.

            For me, getting what I want does make me happier.

            I agree, and not getting what you want makes you less happy. Just as desire is the cause of all human suffering, it is also the cause of all human happiness.

            I never stop wanting things, but wanting things is a part of being human. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about it.

            This addresses my very point. It is not the wanting that you want (wanting causes suffering, not happiness) but rather you seek the object of your desire assuming that will bring happiness. Bottom line is that you seek to “NOT want”. My point is that one can achieve a state of not wanting (which is what you seek) by making a conscious decision to not want. My point is that wanting can never be satisfied because one always wants more unless one decides not to want. My point about Bezos was to assume he still wants which you yourself said is part of being human. I agree it is part of being human but not an inevitable part.

          • Murphy says:

            Let’s say you identify poor person Sam. Sam thinks he wants more of something because he is typical of all humans who think they want more and that more is better. So you give Sam more of X. Will he me MORE satisfied than before? No Will he stop wanting more? No In what way have you changed his life? In no positive way that I can see.

            Lets say you identify a lonely child.

            James thinks he wants hugs and affection and parents who love him and a warm place to sleep and for the cold empty feeling in his stomach to stop.

            He is typical of (almost) all humans.

            So James is adopted, his new parents give James love, affection, a warm safe bed to sleep in and good food to eat.

            Will he me MORE satisfied than before?

            Of course. And if your ideology is somehow telling you that he won’t then something is utterly broken with your ideology and you might want to take a careful look at it.

            Will he stop wanting more?

            Eventually. Absolutely. Kids get hugs and affection and eventually they’ve had enough and they squirm away to go sing a song or watch a story or play a game.

            And after meals he’ll stop being hungry, won’t desire more food and will go do something else.

            After a good sleep in a warm bed he’s not suddenly going to want infinite sleep and infinite warmth. Once he’s had a good sleep in a warm bed he’ll typically want to get up and do something like play with friends.

            In what way have you changed his life? In no positive way that I can see.

            If you can’t see the difference between the 2 versions of James life and how one is better than the other then you’ve drunk a really toxic glass of coolaid.

            My point is that wanting can never be satisfied because one always wants more unless one decides not to want.

            This seems simply untrue. Lots of wants can be satisfied.

            The friendless can be happy and content when they gain friends.

            The lonely can be happy and content when they feel loved.

            The hungry stop being hungry when they’re full.

            A parent with a lost child, desperately searching for them doesn’t keep searching for more children after they’ve found theirs.

            When you’re cold you don’t want infinite warmth. When you’re too hot you don’t want infinite cold.

            You fulfill desires and they get fulfilled.

            “deciding not to want” is about as helpful as telling a mother searching for her lost child that she should just give up because ultimately her child doesn’t matter.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @HowardHolmes

            Just as desire is the cause of all human suffering, it is also the cause of all human happiness.

            I think here’s where we come closest to agreement. I concur that if you somehow truly eliminated your desires, you would neither suffer nor be happy (and probably just be a vegetable, but that’s beside the point).

            But I like happiness! I want to be happy! Even if it’s at the cost of occasional suffering. There are things in life that bring me joy, and I want to experience them, and I want to continue wanting to experience them. Even if I could eliminate all my desires by hitting a button, I would never choose to, and I would never want to become the kind of person who would choose to.

            If you’ve decided to make the opposite trade-off, it’s no skin off my back. Though I’ve critiqued and poked fun at your mindset elsewhere, if this philosophy of removing desire works for you, then you do you. Except to the extent that it leads you to claim that poor people should just stop wanting to not be poor. (But hey, we all have our rationalizations for why we don’t sell everything we own and give it to the poor, you’re not alone in that.)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Murphy

            This seems simply untrue. Lots of wants can be satisfied.

            Individual wants can be satisfied. You want a car. Getting a car satisfies that want, but then you will want something else for the same reason you wanted the car. You will still have wants. The only way to have no wants is to stop having wants.

            “deciding not to want” is about as helpful as telling a mother searching for her lost child that she should just give up because ultimately her child doesn’t matter.

            The suggestion accomplishes nothing if it is not taken.

        • Murphy says:

          You are assuming here that money improves lives which is not true in the second option. If you did not believe that money makes you happier you would not believe that is true of poorer people and therefore would have no need of the money.

          The second option only seems to edit my beliefs.

          Editing my beliefs doesn’t change reality. You could sink wires into my brain and use them to convince me that spiders taste like chocolate, that the world is flat and that a sheep is the most sexually attractive thing in the world… but that doesn’t change the shape of the earth.

          Money buys antibiotics to keep people’s kids alive, it buys bed nets to keep your kids from getting malaria. Money buys food so you don’t go to bed hungry and resources to keep people safe.

          I’m not terribly interested in getting my brain edited to believe untrue things.

          I might as well just go with wireheadding if I did that. Or just take a lot of drugs until I can ignore the world around me.

          The poor need no help because they are just as well off as the non-poor

          I get the feeling you’re trying to play games swapping between “more stuff”or “it’s just stuff” and wealth/money in general.

          An extra prada bag for someone who’d already tapdancing on the top of maslow’s hierarchy of needs may have very limited utility… but a few bucks worth of plumpynut for a mother who’s child is starving to death can be the most important thing in either of their lives.

          Nominally both are “just stuff” but that kinda shows the gaping holes in the anti-“stuff” ideology.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          @Murphy

          Money buys antibiotics to keep people’s kids alive, it buys bed nets to keep your kids from getting malaria. Money buys food so you don’t go to bed hungry and resources to keep people safe.

          Money can do those things but money does not make those things important. People make them important, and they do so for their own reasons. In and of themselves they are not important. You can protest in whatever bold typeface you wish to use, but you are still providing me with no reason why these things are important other than your own wishes.

          The poor need no help because they are just as well off as the non-poor

          I get the feeling you’re trying to play games swapping between “more stuff”or “it’s just stuff” and wealth/money in general.

          An extra prada bag for someone who’d already tapdancing on the top of maslow’s hierarchy of needs may have very limited utility… but a few bucks worth of plumpynut for a mother who’s child is starving to death can be the most important thing in either of their lives.

          Nominally both are “just stuff” but that kinda shows the gaping holes in the anti-“stuff” ideology.

          If you choose to value a life over a Prada bag this is simply your choice. Nature does not make that choice. Reality does not make that choice. You make it for your own reasons. The person choosing the Prada bag seems clearly to be doing so out of a desire to be important. That is also an arguably possible motive of someone buying mosquito nets.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Provide an example of something that is important.

            If you cannot, you are playing games with the word “important”.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @greenwoodjw

            Provide an example of something that is important.

            If you cannot, you are playing games with the word “important”.

            There is nothing that is important. However, I not the one’s playing the games. The games are by the bulk of humans who think they themselves are important and make themselves seem important by making other things important. I am not the one who made up the word and am pretending that it attaches to something real. It is pure illusion.

    • gbdub says:

      All of the second options sound like obvious traps.

      “Money can’t affect your well being” – unless the whole society is being uplifted into some sort of Culture utopia, you’re affected by money unless you’re a hermit, a prisoner, or your life is so miserable that no amount of money can help (terminal disease maybe).

      “No wants” – genie kills you or makes you a vegetable.

      “No concern about what others think” – you’re a hermit or a sociopath (or both).

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @gbdub

        you’re affected by money unless you’re a hermit….

        We are affected by money but whether it makes life better is a matter of opinion. Bill Gates might think his big house makes him better off than me, but I do not. Given the choice I would take my one-bedroomer if for no other reason it is easier to vacuum. Its already more than enough room since I have a bedroom which is not used by day and a living room not used by night. They could, but for building codes, been one room.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Would you rather have your current arrangement or a cardboard box?

          If you say the former, does that not make it “better” than the box in at least a limited sense restricted to your personal preferences?

          If you say you are truly indifferent, why aren’t you living in a cardboard box right now?

          If you say the latter, well, have I got the new “house” to sell you!

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            Would you rather have your current arrangement or a cardboard box?

            If you say the former, does that not make it “better” than the box in at least a limited sense restricted to your personal preferences?

            Living things have to make choices. I have to make a choice between my house and a cardboard box simply because both are options. The question then is “Does the fact that I am forced to choose prevent me from being indifferent?”

            I make a lot of choices and I also attempt to live with indifference. I think one can succeed at this, and I could give you many examples I have actually faced (never thought seriously about the box). Last year in March I was diagnosed (much to my surprise as I live an very healthy life) with chronic congestive heart failure. While doing the echocardiagram, the lady poked around and found what was described in the doctor’s analysis as a “large mass” on my liver. I went from thinking I had a long time to live to thinking that I might have only a couple of months. I claim to be indifferent as to whether or not I live. This experience confirmed my belief about myself. The diagnosis bothered me none at all. I really do not care whether I live or die. I slept that night just like always and no one but my wife ever knew about it (she was there when I found out).

            Now to your point. I have to choose to live or die. You could ask why I don’t die or don’t I think living is better. All I can say is that I know I don’t think living is better and do not care if I die. On the other hand, I am living currently and have to make a choice. Why not? I could flip a coin. I will not, so that means I choose to live. But I still know that I do not consider living better. When I actually think about it, I just think I will let nature take its course.

            If circumstances put me in a cardboard box, I would not be distressed. I would probably think, “now I get to learn what Diogenes knew.”

          • Cliff says:

            I think you’re kidding yourself. You can’t go through life without preferences.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Cliff

            I think you’re kidding yourself. You can’t go through life without preferences.

            Whose judging whose private thoughts?

          • Nick says:

            Now to your point. I have to choose to live or die. You could ask why I don’t die or don’t I think living is better. All I can say is that I know I don’t think living is better and do not care if I die. On the other hand, I am living currently and have to make a choice. Why not? I could flip a coin. I will not, so that means I choose to live. But I still know that I do not consider living better. When I actually think about it, I just think I will let nature take its course.

            You say you are indifferent, yet you choose the one option over the other, unfailingly. If you’re unwilling to flip the coin—and you admit you won’t even do that—how do you get to say you’re indifferent? You keep claiming you have introspective evidence, but last thread you admitted believing in massive continuous self-deception. I do not trust your introspection, and neither should you.

          • Basscet says:

            I think it’s worth pointing out that not preferring either of two options over the other doesn’t require randomly picking either one when the choice arises.

            If you allow a friend to always choose for you, and they choose the same option always, it doesn’t show that you were never indifferent in the first place. Even if you randomly choose, we can imagine the coin always landing on heads by pure chance.

            A person for which all actions are equal could theoretically act in any arbitrary manner.

            Of course in the real world we are still inclined to strongly doubt any person who claims they have no preferences, as I do for HowardHolmes.

          • Nick says:

            @Basscet: There’s either a reason he always chooses one option or there’s not. If there’s not, it’s sheer coincidence, like your example of the coin always landing on heads. But this is definitely not what’s going on. Now if there is a reason, it can be found within Howard or without. But Howard isn’t being forced to do anything, and he’d maintain as he did last thread that the choice always lies with himself. So the reason he always chooses one option, one that remember he maintains he enjoys, must be within. This all men call a preference.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          @Nick

          You say you are indifferent, yet you choose the one option over the other, unfailingly. If you’re unwilling to flip the coin—and you admit you won’t even do that—how do you get to say you’re indifferent?

          Well phrased question. Let’s start with something you might be indifferent about. Let’s say you are fond of strawberry ice cream so you consistently order it. No coin flipping for you. Suppose one day they are out of it. You eat butter pecan instead. IMO whether you desire strawberry depends on how you handle this emotionally. If you find yourself not the least bit bothered by having to eat butter pecan then I would not label this as desire. In my case of choosing life I find myself not the least bit bothered if this choice were not available. If someone told me that I would die in my sleep tonight, I would go to bed at 8 as usual and sleep like a baby. I do not care whether I live or die. I did not choose life; it chose me so here I am living. I’ll go with the flow but am indifferent as to whether I live or die. Sure this is totally introspective, but it is the best I can do. I have experienced caring. I know what it is like to want to live and I have experienced indifference. It looks a good deal different from the inside. That I do not care now seems pretty obvious.

          You keep claiming you have introspective evidence, but last thread you admitted believing in massive continuous self-deception.

          This is a product of being human. My self deception was no greater than yours is. What I am now is not normal, but also it is clear now as to the self deception and its causes.

    • Protagoras says:

      To not want anything is to be dead. At this point, I do not prefer death to life, so I take the bottle. The other two questions ask about a subset of wants rather than wants as a whole, and indeed there could be an argument that getting rid of some wants would enable one to focus more on other wants, but among the things I want is variety, so making my wants less diverse is also not appealing to me. So, first choice down the line.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        You seem to claim that having wants is preferable to not having wants. This seems contradictory since the purpose of a want is to not have it. Bob wants a new car and Jane does not. With respect to a new car Bob has a want and Jane does not (Jane is dead?). Does Bob want the want or the new car? It appears Bob is seeking to rid himself of the want by getting a car. He, ironically, is trying to put himself into the same position as Jane is already who he claims is dead. So neither Bob nor Jane want to want a new car. Jane is in the condition she desires to be in(she has no want), but Bob is not. Please justify how you see Bob as better off.

        • March says:

          There’s this famous case in neuroscience about a guy with brain damage in his ‘want center’, for lack of a better word. He didn’t want anything. That included going to the bathroom or putting a spoon in his mouth, even if his previously favorite food was sitting right there.

          I’m pretty sure that Bob wasn’t that well off; he’d have starved to death if not for permantent attendance.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @March

            He didn’t want anything. That included going to the bathroom or putting a spoon in his mouth, even if his previously favorite food was sitting right there.

            We need to restrict the use of the term want. Want implies lack. The man did not lack the meal and was not in want of a meal. The man had the meal. Why he did not eat it goes far beyond wants.

          • Kestrellius says:

            @HowardHolmes

            No, he didn’t have the meal. Not quite, not in the sense that’s relevant here. He had what appeared to be ability to obtain the meal, and that ability would be so great and so unrestricted that under ordinary circumstances we’d ignore the difference and just say he had it. But he hadn’t used it yet — and use is the purpose of ownership. And, in fact, he couldn’t use it: its use was prevented by his own apathy.

            I suppose this boils down to the fact that ownership is a rather hazily-defined concept. But regardless of how exactly we want to define it, possession is a proxy for use — if you measure how able a person is to use something (under a bunch of parameters that I won’t go into), and that ability-to-use is above a certain threshold, you say the person owns (or “has”) the thing.

            But the man in question, in fact, could not use the meal, because his brain was not able to process information in a way that would cause him to do so. So it’s not reasonable to say that he had it.

        • Jiro says:

          You seem to claim that having wants is preferable to not having wants. This seems contradictory since the purpose of a want is to not have it.

          Loosely, the purpose of a want is to satisfy the want. Satisfying a want only covers a subset of “not having it”. Not having it because of mind alteration isn’t part of that subset.

        • Protagoras says:

          I am familiar with the Buddhist view of desire. I do not find it plausible, in part because it does seem to have this consequence that it is better to be dead.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Protagoras

            I am familiar with the Buddhist view of desire. I do not find it plausible, in part because it does seem to have this consequence that it is better to be dead.

            Just repeating the claim that it is like being dead gives me nothing more to go on. I claim to have no desire and want for nothing. I do not feel dead. What am I missing?

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @HowardHolmes

            As much as I loathe the concept of “revealed preferences”….
            You certainly seem to have something motivating you to post in this thread in an attempt to convince us that desires are unnecessary. Would you call that a “preference”? A “motivation”? I’m sure you won’t want to call it a “desire”–but ah, you don’t “want” anything, do you?

          • Protagoras says:

            Well, you are mistaken (or lying, but I’ll be charitable). I don’t know you well enough to diagnose your errors in detail. But someone who has no desire does not post comments on blogs.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            You certainly seem to have something motivating you to post in this thread in an attempt to convince us that desires are unnecessary. Would you call that a “preference”? A “motivation”? I’m sure you won’t want to call it a “desire”

            Here is the way I analyse it. I study spanish a little most every evening. I also play a little sudoku. Why? I have to do something. What’s the difference between these activities and sitting in a chair or picking my nose? Nothing. I found that I enjoy these activities. If I found that pottery was more enjoyable than spanish lessons, I would probably do that. Are these things important? Not in the least. Is one thing better than the other, no. Do I desire to do them? No, in the sense that if I were prohibited from doing one, it would cause no concern. I would just find something else to do.

            More to your point I consider myself a poor communicator and poor writer. I find it appealing to learn to be better at it. So far I have not had much success at that, but to me I enjoy the effort as much as doing sudoku and hopefully a little more than picking my nose. The real crux is that we must choose. Just because he must choose we are not forced to desire or want. I choose among available alternatives. I don’t always know the reason why and maybe never do.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Protagoras

            Well, you are mistaken (or lying, but I’ll be charitable). I don’t know you well enough to diagnose your errors in detail. But someone who has no desire does not post comments on blogs.

            What does one who has no desires do? Shoot myself? Before you answer realize that I am forced to choose to do something.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            What does one who has no desires do? Shoot myself? Before you answer realize that I am forced to choose to do something.

            Troll nerd-snipable boards with a bit of the old ultranihilism?

            (Obligatory “say what you will about the tenets of national socialism”)

          • Protagoras says:

            In what sense are you forced to choose to do something? I mean, sure, in the Sartrean sense, doing nothing is something you are still responsible for, and in that sense could be regarded as just a different kind of choosing to do something. But that only matters if you care what you end up being responsible for. I do not see how that point still applies in the absence of desires.

          • Cliff says:

            I can only imagine the conversations you have. “I enjoy sudoku. I am going to do some sudoku.” “Oh… do you WANT to do some sudoku, Bob?” “NO!! NOOO!!! I just have to do something so I choose sudoku which I enjoy. I do not WANT to do sudoku, I just am doing it because I enjoy it. I have to choose something!!!!”

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Protagoras says:

            In what sense are you forced to choose to do something?

            In the sense that if one is alive one cannot avoid doing something. If I am sitting in the chair I have to decide whether to continue sitting. If I am alive I have to decide whether to continue living or to die. There is no state of not doing. It is always me the agent that is doing this doing

    • Jiro says:

      I don’t want to falsely believe something, even if I’m happier that way, and the fact that utilitarianism considers such things good is a problem with utilitarianism modelling actual human preferences. So I would choose to be rich, unless being rich has other negative consequences (having to work a lot, for instance) that outweigh both the usefulness of money and the badness of believing false things.

      Similar answer for the other questions. I’d add that they are similar to asking “would you prefer to be wireheaded?”

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @Jiro

        So I would choose to be rich,

        How would having more benefit you? Are you dissatisfied in some way with your current life that more money would change?

    • Deiseach says:

      (a) World’s Richest Person. It’s all very well being emotionally and intellectually convinced that lack of money will not have any effect on one’s life, but that doesn’t last beyond the first time you can’t pay a necessary bill or are held up on something because you don’t have the money for it (that could be as trivial as “can’t go on school tour with the rest of the class because family can’t afford the bus ticket” or as serious as “can’t afford that life-saving operation”). If in the teeth of all evidence you continue to be convinced, intellectually, that “not having the rent money for six months straight will not affect my well-being”, then that leads you into trouble. Mr Pickwick may be the fictional example but there are plenty of real life examples of people who run themselves into trouble over ignoring consequences about being gamblers, alcoholics, junkies or otherwise and using all their money for their desires and not their needs. If you’ve got a billion dollar fortune you can waste a lot of money on trivial nonsense, but if you’re poor you’re going to be even poorer and even worse off if you splurge instead of being practical, and splurging happens when “I don’t feel worried or concerned about the effect of my finances on my well-being, something will turn up”.

      As the saying goes, money may not buy you happiness but you can afford a better grade of misery.

      (b) Toss the bottle. Not having desires and wants would make things a lot easier. There’s unhappiness produced by the tension between “I wish I could have/do/be” and the realisation that this is not going to happen because you don’t have the capacity for it and never can change your circumstances. Getting rid of “I wish…” would help even a little with “well my life is shit, better accept that and get on with it”.

      (c) Live with no care for what others think. Very few people out of the billions on this planet will achieve a global level of recognition like those names. If you’re already not ambitious, then this makes little difference to you, so it’s no lack to lose any desire for fame. People get devoured by a desire for fame, including putting themselves out there on reality TV shows (a formula which seems to be finally, thankfully, running out of steam) and trading humiliation for the very faint prospect of fleeting fame (can anyone name the past winner from five years ago of any TV talent show?) If you can be content that you are doing as well as you are able, then the fame or lack of it has no bearing on your conduct.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @Deiseach

        you …don’t have the money for…“can’t afford that life-saving operation”

        So we cannot have the life saving operation? We cannot have everything. You could just as well fantasized about having a terminal disease for which no operation was available. To live without wanting more means we are willing to live without wanting more. You are claiming that having money will keep you from wanting the operation and that getting what you want makes life better. How can this be if it is true than we can choose to live without wants. If I give away millions of dollars and don’t keep enough for the operation and choose instead to not want, how is my life worse off. You want the money to eliminate wants…which can be eliminated simply by choice.

        As the saying goes, money may not buy you happiness but you can afford a better grade of misery.

        The saying is not true. Money cannot buy happiness. The only route to satisfaction is deciding to be satisfied. Wanting more and satisfaction are mutually exclusive.

        If you can be content that you are doing as well as you are able, then the fame or lack of it has no bearing on your conduct.

        Well said.

        • Matt says:

          don’t keep enough for the operation and choose instead to not want, how is my life worse off. You want the money to eliminate wants…which can be eliminated simply by choice.

          My daughter needs knee surgery so that she can continue to run and jump and play. Luckily, I have the money for that.

          Optionally, she could use a crutch (although I suppose even crutches cost money – perhaps I could carve her a stick) for the rest of her life. I wouldn’t even make an attempt to prefer that outcome, and I would reject any attempt to turn me into the kind of person who would.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Matt

            My daughter needs knee surgery so that she can continue to run and jump and play. Luckily, I have the money for that.

            Some people in the world do not have the money for that What I am saying is that they are no worse off than you. Their daughter is no worse off than yours. Having a leg or not having a leg is not important. I would choose the leg given the choice, but it is still not important. If I lost my leg, it would cause no distress. This is because I do not choose to make a leg more important than it is. It’s a leg! It’s a life! It’s no big deal!

          • Kindly says:

            It seems like in order to make such a decision based on indifference, you also have to be incredibly certain that you are right.

            Even a tiny chance that you are wrong means that you should let the daughter’s extreme preference for having a working knee overrule your complete indifference about the matter.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Kindly

            It seems like in order to make such a decision based on indifference, you also have to be incredibly certain that you are right.

            Even a tiny chance that you are wrong means that you should let the daughter’s extreme preference for having a working knee overrule your complete indifference about the matter.

            I would fix the knee if possible. Never said I would not. Indifference gives no basis for making decisions, but decisions have to be made. Decisions do not require desire. Animals make decisions, but they do not desire.

          • Cliff says:

            What is your basis for saying that animals do not desire? That seems plainly false to me.

            To me, it just sounds like you have suppressed most of your emotional responses. Frankly, that sounds terrible. If you have more negative than positive emotions in your life than maybe it would be an improvement, but it doesn’t seem human.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Cliff

            What is your basis for saying that animals do not desire? That seems plainly false to me.

            Desire is not choosing to eat a worm in front of me or choosing not to. Desire is wanting that which is not available to me currently. Animals do not know they even exist, much less than that they want something

            To me, it just sounds like you have suppressed most of your emotional responses. Frankly, that sounds terrible.

            I find your willingness to judge my life as terrible is ironic given your previous criticisms of me

            If you have more negative than positive emotions in your life than maybe it would be an improvement, but it doesn’t seem human.

            You are correct. It is not human. Human is to think they are better than others and to always want more. Human is to constantly seek to be distinquished.

        • Deiseach says:

          You are claiming that having money will keep you from wanting the operation and that getting what you want makes life better.

          No, I’m saying “imagine you are very sick, that the medical treatment that can cure you is very expensive, but you don’t have the money to afford that treatment”. Money or the lack of it in that case has a very immediate affect on your life.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Deiseach

            No, I’m saying “imagine you are very sick, that the medical treatment that can cure you is very expensive, but you don’t have the money to afford that treatment”. Money or the lack of it in that case has a very immediate affect on your life

            I agree that it has an immediate effect on your life. I am saying, however, that your life is unimportant and the effect is unimportant. We humans make our lives important. We are unique, and we do it for a reason: so that we will be important, so we will be different. We are not different. We are all the same.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            HowardHolmes, you argue forcefully for your point of view, but if nothing matters, then why argue?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            you argue forcefully for your point of view, but if nothing matters, then why argue?

            You seem to ignore that I have to do something. I could say, “I pick my nose, but if nothing matters, why pick my nose?” Today I took a walk, ate, played some sudoku, worked in the yard, checked my email, argued” There might have been other things. One means no more than the other. If tomorrow I can do none of them, I will do nine other things. Just because nothing matters does not mean we die. I could die, but you would ask “if nothing matters, why die?”

          • Cliff says:

            He doesn’t WANT to argue Nancy. He just does it because he has to pick something and he likes it, and also he likes convincing people. But he does not WANT to convince them. He just enjoys it. Also he enjoys trolling and annoying people. He does not DESIRE to annoy them but he does like it. And after all, he has to do something, and your life doesn’t matter so what difference does it make? Also, later he may go torture a bunch of people. He doesn’t WANT to torture people, but he does ENJOY it. And after all…

    • phi-of-two says:

      1. Richest person, obviously. I could save/improve so many peoples’ lives with that kind of money! Also, the second option seems like a really creepy and distasteful kind of mind editing – it might keep me from believing true things!

      2. Wishes, obviously. For much the same reasons: I could help so many people, and fix so many world problems; and also the alternative is creepy mind editing.

      3. This one’s a little less obvious, because I already don’t particularly care what strangers think of me, so the second option involves less creepy mind-editing than the other questions’ second options. I also think being famous would be pretty stressful, and of course at that level of fame I’d be at non-negligible risk of assassination, so the first option here has some real downsides. But I could probably still improve a lot of peoples’ lives by using my reputation to influence countries’ policies? Not that I have any talent for politics, so I’m not entirely sure I could actually do that. But I think the utilitarian calculus still works out to make the first option the best one, even if it’s less certain than with the other questions.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @phi-of-two

        Richest person, obviously. I could save/improve so many peoples’ lives with that kind of money! Also, the second option seems like a really creepy and distasteful kind of mind editing – it might keep me from believing true things!

        What will prevent you from believing true things is the belief that you already know the truth. You seem to believe that having more makes one better off. In what way?

        • Cliff says:

          In being happier and more satisfied with life, and experiencing more positive emotions, as research shows is the case for most people.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This needed said.

            But now that you’ve said it, you don’t need to say it any more.

    • AG says:

      Very interesting to see everyone’s answers to #1 here, because to me, the specific wording of “have a life that would make you the world’s richest person” means that you aren’t getting bags of string-free money dropped on you, you are going to have to do the things that make the most money, i.e. do what Jeff Bezos has done, and be beholden to any of the people Jeff Bezos is beholden to (board members, shareholders, competitors, regulators, customers, etc.).

      And I could not be paid enough to deal with the stresses of such responsibility.

    • raj says:

      1. Well since the belief is false, I don’t want to believe it. Based on the way you phrased the question I would be unhappy AND wrong.

      2. The genie. “I have no desires or wants” seems equivalent to death, literally.

      3. I’m a little more on the fence about this one. I do care about my reputation to some degree but something about having it guaranteed by a genie seems wrong.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @

        I’m a little more on the fence about this one. I do care about my reputation

        Why?

        • Cliff says:

          He enjoys having a good reputation. He doesn’t WANT or DESIRE a good reputation and is totally indifferent to it, BUT he enjoys a good reputation quite a bit, and after all you have to choose whether to maintain a good reputation or not. He could flip a coin, but he chooses not to.

        • raj says:

          Axiomatically. It is one of my terminal values.

          As for why I have that value, probably because I’m a primate and/or I was raised in a society.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Being famous and having a reputation that I didn’t earn sounds like a nightmare. It would make me a complete fraud and I would constantly feel that way.

    • Nornagest says:

      The last time someone answered a question like this, it started the Trojan War. So I’m going to stay silent.

      • AG says:

        Whereas most of the SSCommentariat agreed that Paris was thinking with the wrong head and should have gone with Athena.

        Good thing we have a genie who can grant us wisdom, eh?

    • rahien.din says:

      Questions 1 and 2 : we are responsible for one another.

      Question 3 : this is a trick question.

    • liate says:

      First, actual answers to your questions: I think I would choose to have get a life that would make me the world’s richest person (any idea of wellbeing that doesn’t include getting enough food or otherwise having more of my preferences met is alien enough that the other option is too large a change), I would certainly take the bottle, and I would probably take the lack of concern for what others think of me, assuming that leaves me the ability to instrumentally care about others’ opinions of me (stressing about things connected to what others think of me is a large negative part of my life, but I wouldn’t want lose the ability to, say, realize that injuring people who are annoying will lead to being arrested)

      Second, I’d like to pose some questions to you:
      If given the choice between a guarantee that you will never feel pain or at all be physically injured for the rest of your life, and completely believing that pain or physical injuries do not effect your well-being, which would you choose? How much would either have to change before your answer would change?

      • HowardHolmes says:

        @liate

        If given the choice between a guarantee that you will never feel pain or at all be physically injured for the rest of your life, and completely believing that pain or physical injuries do not effect your well-being, which would you choose? How much would either have to change before your answer would change?

        I would choose the former. I already have the latter. I choose now to avoid pain when possible. Now if you ask would I give up my belief, for instance, than nothing matters in order to get a pain free promise, no I would not. I will choose to keep my current beliefs that there is no good or bad, that nothing matters, nothing is important, I am not important, that now is as good as it gets, that there is no meaning. I have lived both lives and know the effects of these beliefs.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      A question in return:

      If you could choose whether to be capable of sincerely feeling the love which you now believe you only imagined you felt, or to relive your life from the beginning with your current attitude of indifference, which would you choose and why?

      • HowardHolmes says:

        On the first trip through I sincerely felt what I thought I was feeling. I have chosen my current life now so one would assume, given the option, I would choose it throughout. The life is weirder than you think. My wife and I live in silence and have no friends and typically leave the property once a week for groceries. My life would not appeal to anyone else unless they lived it. It cannot be described favorably.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Then a followup:

          Would you, if you could, choose to feel love again (as you once did) before you die?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            No. There are a lot of things you could ask about in a similar way. Would I choose to feel happiness. No. All of those highs come with lows. I have no happiness or excitement in my life but also have no sadness or suffering. When someone wishes me a good day, I think about the bad days that are necessary to make good days possible. I would just as soon have none of it. There is no such thing as good without bad, but there is such a thing as neither. I am not claiming by life is better in any way. My guess is that it all averages out. I am 71 years old and have always liked my life and only had my current life for less than 10 years. But still, having experienced it all, I would choose this life.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Why does the balance make it not worth it?

            I’m much younger than you; maybe that’s obvious. But I enjoy change. I like to experience the bad times as well as the good. The joy may average out, but I feel richer for the variety.

            Do you experience beauty?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            But I enjoy change. I like to experience the bad times as well as the good. The joy may average out, but I feel richer for the variety.

            There is a vast difference between a life of meaning and one without. Everything you do is about meaning. Synonym for meaning is important. Everything is about being important.

            Take my breakfast. 7 days a week, 365 days a years it is unseasoned and unadorned oatmeal. I know about variety and I know many different breakfasts. I know what you would mean if you told me you like variety. But that is all about meaning. What does it mean to eat a “special” breakfast of eggs benedict or belgian waffles? It is all about ideas and meaning. I look forward to my breakfast and enjoy eating every bite. There is nothing more than that in realty. The rest is just the meaning your give it. And meaning, after you scratch off the bullshit is about what makes me important.

            Do you experience beauty?

            As much as I ever did, but if I see a beautiful sight, I do not point it out to my wife or take a picture or judge it in anyway. I enjoy it like I do a bowl of oatmeal and go on without any drama. That’s the word. You are in it for the drama, and there is drama to be had, but it is all in your head and IMHO an illusion.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I look forward to my breakfast and enjoy eating every bite. There is nothing more than that in realty. The rest is just the meaning your give it. And meaning, after you scratch off the bullshit is about what makes me important.

            That doesn’t satisfy me. In the long run, we’re all dead and very, very unimportant. You’re not lying to yourself any less than I am. The difference is that you don’t (or pretend not to) understand my lies.

            Anyway, drama is beautiful too, and no more of an illusion than oatmeal. Not too much, and not all kinds. But some of it is, and I do my best to instigate that sort of it. Same as I do with pancakes. But it sounds like you decided not to lie to yourself about the pancakes, and I don’t understand why.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            But it sounds like you decided not to lie to yourself about the pancakes, and I don’t understand why.

            I don’t know why either.

          • LesHapablap says:

            HowardHolmes,

            What do you and your wife do all day?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @LesHapablap ,

            What do you and your wife do all day?

            5-6 Walk three miles silently
            6-7 Two cups of decaf tea in dark silently
            7-8:30 Dicking around on computer, breakfast, chores, getting ready
            8:30-11 Work outside silently (5 acres)
            11-12 Lunch
            12-2:30 Work outside
            2:20-3 I shower and do computer things; wife keeps working (she works thru lunch as well)
            3-8 chores, dinner, computer
            8 go to bed

            This is our 365 day schedule except we go to grocery store on Thursdays

          • LesHapablap says:

            When you say computer does that mean reading things on the internet, or work? Do you read books?

            What kind of work do you do on the land? Do you grow crops?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @leshapablap

            When you say computer does that mean reading things on the internet, or work? Do you read books?

            What kind of work do you do on the land? Do you grow crops?

            check the news, read this blog, play sudoku, study spanish. Doń’t read books. In yard I clear thickets and vines out of trees Wife has a garden.

          • LesHapablap says:

            HowardHolmes,

            What did you do before you retired if you don’t mind my asking?

            I find your lifestyle fascinating, particularly the living in silence with the wife. I have parts of my life in which I have small ascetic routines so I wonder what it would be like if I made my whole day like that.

            Was it a struggle to adjust to this lifestyle at first?
            Did you and your wife talk about it beforehand and make a conscious decision for it, or did it just develop naturally?

    • Bugmaster says:

      Money vs. Belief: I’d go for the cash, obviously. It doesn’t matter whether I believe, intellectually and emotionally, that money doesn’t affect my life, because it demonstrably does. People with mental disorders often believe, intellectually and emotionally, that gravity doesn’t affect their lives; but it demonstrably still does, even if they do jump off of buildings with full sincerity.

      Genie vs. Belief: Same thing, except that now it sounds like unlimited cosmic power (itty bitty living space) vs. instant death, so it’s admittedly a less attractive situation.

      Reputation vs. Concern: same ting. Once again, feels < reals.

    • Rana Dexsin says:

      Richest versus belief: this depends on whether the belief would be justified. Most of my goals involve external resources. If the belief came with some kind of magic where I could stay broke and somehow the other resources I needed would materialize anyway, then that’d be better because I’d have less ways of squandering my riches away. I’m guessing not, so, riches.

      Unlimited wishes versus lack of desire: I have sufficient hardcoded desires that lack of desire would destroy my identity, unless I could somehow encode my trajectory beforehand so that my current desires will be granted through some other means as a side effect of the version of me lacking desires coming into existence. I’m assuming the genie isn’t evil; if the genie is evil then no option is safe. So probably unlimited wishes, especially since this subsumes the potential to wish for “lack of desire except for a transient desire to throw away the genie” later if it looks clear that it’s become the good option.

      First-rate reputation versus no concern: once again, most of my goals involve external resources. It depends on whether the first-rate reputation sticks around; if it’s something that’s easy to lose, I might be tempted to go for the no concern, partly because people who are too concerned about their reputation tend to show it at one point or another and wind up thought of as fakers, so it might be a better option even for my object-level reputation. Assuming the first-rate reputation is guaranteed to stick around and gives me immunity from being outcast and denied resources due to blunders on my part, I would cautiously choose that, since the risk of misusing it and becoming a danger to the world seems manageable versus my desire to achieve my external goals, but they both seem dangerous without more qualifications.

    • rtypeinhell says:

      As I’m already fairly free of want for money or material objects in and of themselves, I would choose options A, A, and B.

      Life is made of time and living things capable of choices, so why not take the money and wishes? That way I will have more choices available to me in the future. I think I could live in a cardboard box tomorrow, or continue living in my fairly frugal apartment, and remain around the same happiness set point, but I’m not going to move into the cardboard box and take the chance that I’m completely wrong.

      Likewise, I think I don’t care whether my dreams and wishes come true, but why not see what it’s like if they did? If it leads to more dreams and wishes, that’s no harm done. I’d be suspect of the person who is so confident in their own belief system that they’d let such potential influence go to waste.

      As for the reputational concern of question 3, I don’t see what benefit I or anyone else would gain from being famously dead. If anything it would set up expectations I’d be likely to disappoint. So I’d take not caring, although I’d rather have neither.

      I’d describe the philosophy you seem to be advocating as inertial nihilism. You’re at peace with what you’ve got and can’t really imagine having more or less. The reason to doubt this philosophy is that you probably came to it after the inertia had already been acquired. It’s probably a good safety position; since it doesn’t recommend choices, it allows for the selection of additional moral philosophies on top.

    • aristides says:

      I choose the first option for all three. Current me believes it is morally right to help others, and the first option gives me the best chance to help others. Yes, if I chose the second options my beliefs would change, but since I believe objective morality, that would just mean I became wrong and sinful. I also personally enjoy struggling to have my wants met, and never felt that suffering was this horrible thing that should always be avoided. Perhaps I would be happier choosing the second options, but that would be selfish, and adjusting my values to be someone completely different.

    • Rowan says:

      Riches, obviously; having money effects my wellbeing for the better, because of all the nice things you can buy. I can eat my favourite foods for every meal, drive nice cars I could never afford, get laid constantly, and buy all the DLC for every videogame I play. The slight dissatisfaction I feel from noticing when I can’t afford something I want to get does not compare to the satisfaction from getting many things that I don’t even consider buying.

      Wishes, obviously; “I wish I had no desires or wants” remains a possible wish, so it’s strictly superior. You can indulge in all wants and desires for a thousand millenia, and if you finally give up and decide elimination of wants is the better choice, that can just be the one-billionth wish you make.

      If I didn’t care what people thought of me, I’d be much less moral because I’d feel no shame about anything I did no matter how shameful it actually was, so the reputation is better, although it’s less clear-cut than the first two examples.

    • DinoNerd says:

      This has spawned quite a thread, but I haven’t noticed a single mention of Buddhism, and this looks a lot like Buddhism 101 – the root of suffering is desire …

    • Immortal Lurker says:

      It is likely far too late to get a reply, and it is possible that what I’m about to say has already been said. I’ll post it anyway.

      Wealth.

      Infinite power.

      Not caring. This is conditional on what my reputation is not affecting what I do. If I could pull off something on the order of outlawing slavery in the US or getting the British Empire to leave India, I will put aside my preference for anonymity.

      I feel like this whole thing is confusing wants and likes. Desire actually is pretty annoying. But I think I will keep mine, because i’m pretty sure that it makes me happier on net.

      The simplest example is Dungeons and Dragons. I want to play dungeons and dragons. I get disappointed if I don’t have a game this week. I call people to schedule it, which I hate. I ask around. I expend mental energy thinking about when I will get to play next. I might mope if a session got cancelled. All of this wanting seems bad.

      However, by a happy coincidence, I also like playing dungeons and dragons! I get to see all my friends and hang out for a few hours. I get to experience the thrill of a whole session hanging on a single die roll. The satisfaction of coming up with a plan that is sure to go off without a hitch. The panic as that plan blows up in my face, and everyone has to scramble to fix it. And of course, endless jokes. My friends are all hilarious.

      It seems to me that the liking lead to the wanting. And that the wanting leads to more of the thing that I like, because wanting something usually means that you take actions to get it.

      Two things:

      1. It isn’t at all necessary that you like the things you want, or want the things you like. I like cooking. Its fun to deal with all the ingredients, and watch them become a meal. I have so little want to do it that if I don’t schedule it publicly with my roommate, I will never do it.

      On the flip side, I really, really want to browse on the internet all day. Just all day. Nothing else, don’t leave my chair, don’t talk to people. I get annoyed when I have to leave. I find myself longing for it while at work. I browse my phone at the first sign of a gap. I don’t like spending more than an hour or two online at all. I would pay someone a significant amount of money for a switch that would turn all desire to be on the internet off and on.

      2. If I could remove desire while keeping the thing that I like constant, I would probably do it. I don’t think that is possible. If I didn’t want to play D&D, would I schedule sessions? Would I call people back after long days at work to give my availability? I don’t think so.

  30. johan_larson says:

    A quiz for the MtG fans. Which of these are actual Magic cards?

    1. Blood of the Innocent
    2. Expunge
    3. Drake Familiar
    4. Stomp
    5. Knight of Autumn
    6. Blind Rage
    7. Glyph of Warding
    8. Necrotic Servant
    9. Angelic Page
    10. Writ of Dismissal
    11. Solar Heresy
    12. Coronation
    13. Vagabond
    14. Mammoth Spider
    15. Goblin King
    16. Runesword
    17. Giant Octopus
    18. Twilight Mire
    19. Insolence
    20. Shadow Door

    The fake ones, rot-13ed: snxrjbeq, oybbqbsgurvaabprag, fgbzc, oyvaqentr, tylcubsjneqvat, arpebgvpfreinag, jevgbsqvfzvffny, fbyneurerfl, pbebangvba, intnobaq, funqbjqbbe, vtaberguvf

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Managed to be correct on 17/20, and marked two of my three failures as questionable, which I feel like I should get some points for. I only erred on the side of thinking cards existed when they didn’t, I never failed to recognize an actual card.

      All of my failures were mentally something along the line of “yeah it’s probably some stupid useless card from Portal or one of those weird story cards from Tempest Block”

      • johan_larson says:

        I’d like to hear more about these questionable card names, and why you think they are problematic. Use rot13 if you want to avoid giving out spoilers.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          I was not critiquing your choices. I was saying as I wrote my answer down for 2 of the 3 I got wrong, I wrote “yes, but I’m really iffy on it”, which I’m mentally awarding myself points for: I was wrong, but I at least wasn’t confidently wrong. I don’t think I marked that for any that I was correct on.

          I thought the choices were perfect. Znal bs gur snxr barf unir fvzvyne anzrf gb npghny pneqf: sbe rknzcyr, Oybbq bs gur Vaabprag irefhf Vaabprag Oybbq, Fgbzc irefhf Fgbzc naq Ubjy

    • Walter says:

      I haven’t played in a long time (ice age was my last set), but I’m pretty confident Goblin King and Expunge are real.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Expunge is a Black kill-card with classic cycling. It costs (1) more than Terror but does the same thing.

        Goblin King grants +1/+1 and Mountainwalk to all Goblins.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          Goblin King grants +1/+1 and Mountainwalk to all Goblins

          All other Goblins: early printings of the card didn’t give it the Goblin creature type so it wouldn’t affect itself anyway (barring Unnatural Selection or other trickery), but later printings made it a Goblin and adjusted the wording so it wouldn’t affect itself.

          I wish I had thought to see how many of these I could get the exact wording for before checking my work.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I did pretty well (16/20), and I managed to catch that number 1 is kind of a cheat.

    • Randy M says:

      I only know two of them for sure are: Knight of Autumn and Mammoth Spider. (c’mon, if you were going to guess for yourself you should have done it before reading replies).
      But while I recognize others as similar or incomplete names (there’s a savage stomp, not sure about the regular kind; there’s an Angelic Purge, not sure about Page) I wouldn’t rule any of them out and there’s too many sets for me to say for sure.

    • Dack says:

      17/20

      Would have been 18/20 if I hadn’t counted the number of rot13 words and revised answers.

    • Tarpitz says:

      16. Missed a few older real cards with no competitive applications (I only started playing with Theros, and am essentially a competitive Spike), so all I could say about cards like Giant Octopus and Insolence was “sounds plausible, but I’ve definitely never heard of it, and in those two cases I guessed wrong. Runesword my reasoning was “that would be an equipment, but it’s also the kind of name they stopped using before equipment became a thing”, forgetting that of course there were a few clunky treatments like that. The one I was wrong hardest about was Glyph of Warding: I really thought that was a card, for some reason. Shadow Door and Necrotic Servant were the most tempting of the other made up cards, but I resisted.

      • Dack says:

        Glyph of Warding sounds like a card because it is a D&D spell.

        • Randy M says:

          And also because it sounds really similar to cards like “circle of protection”. But there’s only one cycle of actual glyphs. Runes aren’t much more common, either.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Yeah, I guessed yes for that one because I remembered the Legends Glyph cycle and figured it was part of that.

            Glyph of Delusion, Glyph of Destruction, Glyph of Doom, Glyph of Life, and Glyph of Reincarnation are all cards, I think I mentally assumed Glyph of Warding was the white one.

          • Randy M says:

            Strangely the glyphs had to wait over twenty years for their Keeper. That sphinx has an old school collection.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Trick question, these are all clearly metal band names.

      • johan_larson says:

        I don’t think Angelic Page will be playing in any of the cool metal festivals, and Drake Familiar and Writ of Dismissal may be hard to find too.

        But yes, a lot of MtG cards would make fine metal band names.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s Christian metal, “Drake Familiar” sounds like a power metal band name kinda-sorta, and in a pinch just make the name illegible. Throw “Writ of Dismissal” in extreme-metal font and there you go. Nobody can read it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “Writ of Dismissal” is a garage band comprised of lawyers.

    • johan_larson says:

      And in other news, I share my name with a creature on a Magic card:
      https://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=2872

  31. N Zohar says:

    I’m going to be in Palo Alto for 5 days near the end of May/beginning June and I need a place to sleep at least some of those evenings. AirBnB prices are out of my range, although I’m expecting to pay something, and/or barter for services within reason.

    Any SSCers living in the area (ideally, close to Stanford) have a spare room/bed for a friendly visitor who’s clean and quiet? If so, let’s discuss details via email: nadavzohar [at] hotmail dot com.

    Obviously this would double as a chance to do a very scaled-down meetup if you’re interested. No offense taken if you’re not.

  32. Michael Cohen says:

    Fun pop-quiz for yourself if you like geography:

    Does the drainage basin for the Caribbean Sea touch the drainage basin for the arctic or does the drainage basin for the Pacific touch the drainage basin for the North Atlantic? (Added: a drainage basin is the region of land where water flows into that body of water).

    Added: For the rest of these questions, colonies/non-mainland territories don’t count.

    From what country can water flow into the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean? (You get 3 guesses for this one).

    From what country can water flow into the Pacific, Caribbean, and South Atlantic?

    Added: What is the largest country where all the water flows into the same ocean?

    Name a country from which water does not make it to the ocean.

    Answers here.

    • fion says:

      Ooh, that’s a really pretty map!

      Unfortunately I didn’t know what drainage basins were before clicking the link, so the first question made almost no sense to me, and for the second and third questions I was trying to think of countries that had overseas territories in the right places, which isn’t really the point.

      I got the last question right, though. 🙂

      Thank you for educating me about drainage basins.

    • bullseye says:

      I don’t see any country on that map that flows into the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Indian.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      1. Ab; lrf. (Gur Thys bs Zrkvpb vf abg cneg bs gur Pnevoorna, ohg obgu ner cneg bs gur Abegu Ngynagvp.)

    • Telemythides says:

      Does the Gulf of Mexico count as part of the Caribbean?

      1. a) Ab, ohg lrf vs gur Thys bs Zrkvpb pbhagf. Va Abegu Qnxbgn naq/be Fnfxngpurjna.
      1. b) Lrf, va Fbhgurea Nyoregn nffhzvat Uhqfba’f Onl pbhagf nf gur Abegu Ngynagvp (bgurejvfr ab).
      2. Ehffvn, Xnmnxufgna, Hmorxvfgna.
      3. Pbybzovn
      4. Vaqvn
      5. Nmreonvwna

    • stubydoo says:

      It’s interesting to note the smallness of the Pacific’s drainage basin for such a large ocean – much smaller than the Atlantic’s and almost the same size as the Indian’s. The two countries that do contribute significant area to it (looks like somewhere around 1 million square miles each) are the two great geopolitical rivals of the 21st century – USA and China.

    • bullseye says:

      Something I just noticed looking at the map again: there’s more than one “Mediterranean Sea”. I’ve never heard of that before.

      • liate says:

        From a quick search, it looks like it’s more that there’s the Mediterranean Sea, which is the sea enclosed by Europe’s southern coast, Africa’s northern coast, and a little bit of western Asia, and there’s the oceanography term of art “mediterranean sea”, which refers to…an area of ocean with a distinctly different salinity, where most of the water flow between it and surrounding areas is because of the salinity differences instead of normal currents, I think? Its certainly an interesting naming choice.

  33. James says:

    Programmer-musicians and maybe mathematician-musicians: is it just me, or is it insane that interval sizes aren’t zero-indexed? Seems like whoever decided on that one committed a gigantic fencepost error, no?

    That is, the gap between C and E in C major, for instance, two steps diatonically, is called a major third. Ugh. So we have the appalling situation that two thirds sum to a fifth, a fifth and a fourth sum to an octave, etc. 3 + 3 = 5? 5 + 4 = 8? What planet were these guys on? If they were named for the size of the gap they actually represent then we’d have 2 + 2 = 4 and 4 + 3 = 7 and all would be well. As a bonus, the octave could be called the heptave and we could stop being confused about why there are only 7 notes in it.

    Have I missed something?

    What other nasty bits of illogic are there in music theory? (I used to feel this way about naming the twelve notes with seven letters plus sharps and flats, rather than just using twelve letters, but I’m kinda over that one now.)

    • Michael Cohen says:

      2^(7/12) = 3/2. But there’s nothing to be done about that one.

      • James says:

        Ah, good one.

        But there’s nothing to be done about that one.

        Well, not nothing—there’s always just intonation. But that screws up other things, and yes, we seem to have settled on equal temperament.

    • fion says:

      Ugh, this has bothered me since I was learning music theory as a twelve year-old. Of course I couldn’t express my frustration back then as clearly as you have.

      It also annoys me a little bit the way compound time signatures work. Like, admittedly 6/8 time does literally have six quavers in a bar, but it’s not “six quaver beats in a bar” it’s “two dotted crotchet beats in a bar”. It should be 2/something. I care less about the bottom half making the time signature make sense as a fraction than about having the whole thing indicate something useful about the music.

      • James says:

        Yes, when I was reading about time signatures recently I started to get a hunch that something was up with the numbers expressing them. But I don’t know them well enough to actually work it through, so I (uncharacteristically) decided to suppress my natural hubris and lend the system the benefit of the doubt.

      • acymetric says:

        The overly simple explanation is that you can’t treat time signatures like fractions, because they aren’t fractions. Like if I say “Bob is short/fat” the “short/fat” part (sorry Bob) is not a fraction, it is two distinct pieces of information joined together. Same with time signatures.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        What would you propose, 2/(3/8) ? I guess that…kind of makes sense, except for the fact that it’s a “dotted quarter”, not a “three-eighths note”. It’d be more of a pain to type though…

        Oh, I’ve got it! (2 * 3) / 8! Expresses the fundamental interplay between 2 beats to a measure and 3 subbeats to a beat, while still clearly showing the fundamental note-unit and not being too difficult to typeset.

        Something tells me you’re not a fan of “common time” and “cut time” symbols.

        • fion says:

          Yeah, the second one works. Or just 2/[symbol].

          Haha, let’s just say that I used to have more of a problem with common time and cut time than I do now.

      • AG says:

        The longer you actually play more complex music, the more you realize that time signatures do not, can not, and should not run on logic. They’re basically just there as a guideline for conducting motions (in one, in two, in three, etc.), and even then, music will often complicate things. In the case of 6/8, you may be flipping back and forth between the 2-beat and the 3-beat or a 1-beat groove, or even a 4-beat polyrhythm across 2 measures, and different instruments will be running different grooves on top of each other simultaneously. Or consider a section that keeps flipping between 2+3 and 3+2 rhythms. It’s silly to keep changing the time signature every measure to reflect this, so you just use 5/8.

        You might think that a waltz should stick with 3/4…but on a broader level, they might be stable in a “4 measure” phrase, so you might use 12/8 instead, so that you don’t have to keep including triplet markings over the groups, as well as making it easier to count rests.

        • acymetric says:

          Tangentially, 7/8 is probably my favorite “normal” time signature.

          Generally, very much this. “The time signature is X, but I’m going to conduct it in Y” or some such is pretty common. Especially at lower levels where changing the way a piece is conducted can help younger/less experienced players deal with more complicated rhythms.

        • fion says:

          Of course, but some music is not complex. Time signatures are always going to struggle to tell you anything useful about complex music, but they could at least be as clear as possible for simple music.

          • AG says:

            @fion

            The absolute simplest marking of time would be to a run a metronome at the lowest beat division for the entire piece. There are easy reasons not to do this.

            Any sort of measure/phrase grouping (and therefore the time signature you choose) is a means to achieve a certain interpretation, and different conductors may transition through various interpretations as an ensemble learns a piece, or the broader case of everyone taking a slightly different approach to a piece. There is no real “clarity,” because there are always different choices of notation you could use to demonstrate different things about the piece.

            Tell me, should the Star Spangled Banner be in 3/4 or 12/8? Why is 4/4 the norm instead of 1/1, 8/8, or 16/16? Why write a particular piece in X/4 instead of X/8?

          • fion says:

            @AG

            I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but the vast majority of conductors in the vast majority of circumstances will conduct 6/8 in two, not six or three.

            Tell me, should the Star Spangled Banner be in 3/4 or 12/8?

            I don’t know what the Star Spangled Banner sounds like, but I accept that there’s no unique “best” choice of time signature for every piece. There are certainly bad choices, though. I could in theory write the Star Spangled Banner in any time signature, but most would be thoroughly uninformative. I’m guessing that 3/4 and 12/8 are both acceptably informative, so I’m guessing that I wouldn’t have strong opinions about which was better.

          • rlms says:

            The Star Spangled Banner is obviously in 3/4.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Before I start, let me clarify that I’m about to talk about real arrangements of the Star Spangled Banner that actually have a military-sounding rhythm (like this one) as opposed to the soup of excessively high notes and convoluted ornamentations that singers will show off with before football games. (though I’ll give the “Singing Sergeants” a pass)

            I don’t know how you could listen to the star-spangled banner and hear the primary beat as anything but the quarter note.

            Dun-da DUN DUN DUN DAAAAaaaa…. *crash!*

            In the first phrase, the melody and everything accompanying it hammer out that solid quarter note line. Any subdivisions below that aren’t even consistent, you’ve got the dotted eight / sixteenth “swing” on some pickups, and straight eighths through others.

            Equally obvious is that the beats are in groups of three. “Oh, say can you see… / by the dawn’s ear -ly light?… Strong beats on every third note, and when the melody’s not so strong on the downbeat, the bass drum clears things up for us.

            Now, the only time signature I could make a case for other than 3/4 is 6/4, since the melody comes in neat two (3/4) bar phrases throughout, one for each line of the song. Notating it in 6/4 would be less traditional, but wouldn’t seem too awkward, and would just amount to deleting every other barline in any case.

            No clue where you’re getting 12/8 from.

          • AG says:

            @fion
            A lot of music from the 1900s on start playing with that assumption of 6/8 in two. As I said above, there are often cases where they’ll have one instrument play a 3-beat pattern while another plays a 2-beat pattern, or flip back and forth between the two. The conductor will go with whichever pattern they want to emphasize to the audience, or whichever instrument they think needs the help more.

            And conducting in 6 is a matter of tempo. Something really slow, or something that involves an acceleration/deceleration will often lead to the conductor switching to one. Sometimes they might even do a mid-measure change, like the first 3 eights in one grouping, but the last three beats individually. You also get stuff like going from 5/8 to 6/4 with “eighth not equals quarter note”, which really highlights how arbitrary it all is.

            Could composers stand to standardize things a little bit more? Maybe. You’d have to ask them why they choose to notate things how they choose to.

    • MawBTS says:

      Other than stuff like G# and Ab being different notes, what always struck me is that much of musical theory is definitionless.

      Nobody has a bulletproof definition of what “consonance” and “dissonance” mean, for example.

      • rlms says:

        Different notes as in having different names but being the same, or different notes as in different frequencies in different intonations?

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Depends on whether you’re playing a piano or a violin. For a piano, G# and Ab are the same key, but named differently depending on the harmonic context. On a violin, since you have freedom of intonation, you can actually finely tune the pitches of G# and Ab slightly differently to fit better with the key you’re playing in.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        I thought consonance/dissonance was about what fraction of the two notes’ harmonic series overlap.

      • acymetric says:

        G# and Ab are different notes in the same way that “through” and “threw” are different words. Sure they sound the same, but they mean different things.

        As far as consonance/dissonance, why do you feel it isn’t clearly defined? I don’t think there is any gray area there, can you point me to what you consider ambiguous?

        • AG says:

          I have one reaction to the @#$%ing composers that put me in a flat-based key signature and then put sharps in the measures, or vice versa: ಠ_ಠ

          • acymetric says:

            This is perfectly normal! If I want a sharp sixth i’m not just going to write it as a flat seventh just because it is a key with flats!*

            *Not a composer

            Side note: Musicals are the worst because apparently vocalists are only capable of singing in brutal, terrible keys (at least for non-C instruments) and like to frequently switch between different terrible keys seemingly at random.

          • liate says:

            …you have something against g and d minor? You also need sharps in flat-based key signatures with some secondary dominant chords, and there’s almost certainly some other circumstances where it would be wrong to convert sharps to flats…

            Edit:
            Also, yes, musicals are the worst. It doesn’t help that musical sheet music is, in my experience, much more likely to be copied handwritten music rather than anything nicely typeset and readable.

          • acymetric says:

            I should add that when I first started learning music I was confused by the idea of things like “C flat” (it is just a B!) until I started to learn some of the theory behind it.

          • rubberduck says:

            And then there’s doublesharps and doubleflats! (Because naturals aren’t cool enough!) They literally exist for purely theory reasons, as far as I can tell. God forbid the d sharp harmonic minor scale have both D sharp AND NORMAL D.

          • liate says:

            @rubberduck
            Well, it’s certainly much better for reading music than having lots of accidentals…

          • AG says:

            You can just write what note it is in the original key for reading purposes! Why torture the players with unnecessary extra mental conversion steps!
            I don’t have much experience reading chord sheets, so maybe sharps in flat key (or vice versa) makes more sense there, but I don’t see how.

            I do a lot of gigs where I’m sight-reading, and when these cases happen I almost always just write what the note is in the original key on the paper so I don’t have to think about the extra step in the wonky conversion.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @rubberduck

            God forbid the d sharp harmonic minor scale have both D sharp AND NORMAL D.

            I know you’re being sarcastic, but I wholeheartedly agree! You get the seventh note in the D# harmonic minor scale by raising the C#, not by lowering the the D#. So, it’s a C double-sharp, not a D-natural.

            I’ll admit that double sharps and flats are the bane of sight-readers everywhere, myself included, but I’m willing to sacrifice easy reading or the sake of the music making sense. This is why we even have key signatures in the first place, as opposed to explicitly writing in every accidental.

            Plus, not every instrument is an equal-tempered piano. On the viola, where I have fine control of intonation, a C-double-sharp and a D-natural are going to sound slightly different, and also depend on what key I’m in. (Or so my my teacher tells me. Please don’t ask me which one’s actually slightly higher.)

            Which isn’t to say I don’t have the same knee-jerk reaction of “OH DEAR LORD WHY” when I see a double-sharp in a new piece.

          • AG says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            I kind of wonder if the assumption of a difference is placebo, though, or an artifact of the instrument build (that is, how the finger press can be applied in different ways). To my perception, it would be nonsensical to claim that there’s a difference between the two for just about any other kind of instrument, or if a difference could be programmed into synth waveforms that aren’t emulating a string family instrument.

          • acymetric says:

            @AG

            It isn’t an assumption. Just Intonation is a real thing. I think typically to reach just intonation you go something like 10-20 cents sharp/flat for certain notes in a given key. This isn’t just possible on fretless string instruments, although it is certainly easier there. Wind instruments can bend their pitch slightly to reach just intonation (some even have built in mechanisms for managing this, like the finger slides on a trumpet). The trombone also obviously has no trouble achieving this. It probably tends to happen naturally for vocalists without any real effort assuming they have a good ear.

            The problem is that not all instruments can control pitch like that (pianos, various tuned percussion, etc). For instruments where each note is a fixed pitch, like a piano, equal temperment is used. You can tune fixed-pitch instruments to use Just Intonation, but then you are pretty much stuck playing in one key, because they other keys won’t sound right.

          • acymetric says:

            Alternatively, try this video and maybe you can hear the difference.

            Also, something something overtones mumble mumble.

            Edit: I should note that the person who made the video seems very anti equal temperment.

          • AG says:

            @acymetric

            I watched the video, and it isn’t making the argument we’re discussing here. That isn’t an issue of pitch, but timbre, that the tempered has more noise. The waveform envelope is different, but that’s not the same thing as claiming that they’re different notes entirely.

            But are you really going to tell me that for a pure sine wave synth, C double-sharp, D-flat sharp, D, D-sharp flat, and E double flat have a quantitative difference in frequency?

            And are there any pieces of music where the difference of intonation makes such an audible difference that you definitely want to use one of the above accidental abuse instead of just writing “D” in the sheet music or MIDI software? Show me a video where a violinist plays the same melody notated with different accidentals and the change matters.

            (As for musicians instinctively going for the correct intonation, I can tell you that an orchestra will get more and more sharp over the course of a long piece.)

          • AG says:

            (Whoops, my browser setup doesn’t preserve the edit envelope if I close out of the tab.)

            In addition, modern composers are often explicitly assuming that these notes are equivalent, in transitioning between chords and keys. What is a double sharp in one key is a natural in the next, so they use this particular note and chord in the transition between the two, deliberate ambiguity that can only occur by treating the two as the same note.

          • rlms says:

            But are you really going to tell me that for a pure sine wave synth, C double-sharp, D-flat sharp, D, D-sharp flat, and E double flat have a quantitative difference in frequency?

            That’s not a well-defined question. To understand why, you have too look at where the frequencies for notes come from. Given some reference frequency for a note (e.g. A = 432 Hz) it turns out that frequencies that are simple integer ratios of that frequency will have nice harmonic relationships with it (for instance 3/2 * reference frequency gives a note a perfect fifth up, i.e. E, and 4/3 gives a perfect fourth). Using this, for example by multiplying a 3:2 ratio 12 times (i.e. following the cycle of fifths) you can get a set of 12 notes that correspond to the 12 pitch classes that e.g. a piano can produce.

            But although the 12 notes produced this way *correspond* to notes of a piano, they aren’t actually the same! This is because for a piano to sound the same regardless of which key you’re playing in, the frequency ratio for an interval must be the same regardless of the start and end notes. This can only be achieved by dividing the octave (a 2:1 ratio) into 12 equal parts, so an n semitone interval has a ratio or (2^(1/12))^n:1. But obviously 2^(1/12) isn’t a nice small integer, so these frequencies can’t exactly correspond to the ones we originally derived! A perfect fifth on a piano is actually 1.498307:1 rather than 1.5:1.

            This way of tuning a piano is called equal temperament. It’s very convenient, but it’s not the only possibility. Indeed, if you are playing an instrument like a violin where you can continuously vary the frequencies, then there’s no reason you would end up using it rather than the simple ratio based system (just intonation)*.

            So the answer to your question is that if you’re in equal temperament, those notes are the same (except for flat sharps and sharp flats not being a thing). But if you’re using a different intonation they’re not (and exactly which frequencies they are depend on which note you are using for reference).

            *or at least something approximating that

          • acymetric says:

            @rlms

            Thank you, I was struggling to form a response and you worded it much better/clearer than I probably would have.

          • AG says:

            @rlms

            Thanks for that explanation, it was very educational.

            But then, that still implies that our synth-based digital music making ecosystem would still be equal temperament based, despite having the quantitative capacity to produce perfect frequency ratios, because you would have still have to designate some reference point to which melodies that jump keys have to match.
            Shouldn’t MIDI+synth programs force digital music programmers to notate using a double sharp/flat, since it makes a difference, or are they readjusting frequencies on the fly for every note played based on the previous note played/the current simulaneous notes being played? Instead, they nearly universally just offer a keyboard layout for their grids.

          • acymetric says:

            @rlms

            But then, that still implies that our synth-based digital music making ecosystem would still be equal temperament based

            It is, who is suggesting it isn’t? Synths are (with probably some extremely rare exceptions) set in equal temperment just like pianos, so they don’t generate perfect ratios.

          • rlms says:

            @AG
            You’re welcome! I’m not sure I understand your question. As acymetric says, basically all synths use equal temperament. Most of the time the difference between just intonation for the key of a piece and equal temperament is basically imperceptible unless you’re particularly sensitive to intonation. The main situation in which temperament is relevant is for pieces composed for keyboard instruments before the invention of equal temperament.

          • acymetric says:

            @rlms

            It also comes into play in smaller ensembles…I am most familiar with it from the time I spent in a brass quintet.

            I would say that imperceptible is probably a bit strong. Hearing a chord in equal temperment and then the same chord on the same instruments with just intonation I think most non-music inclined people would say the second chord sounded “better” they just wouldn’t be able to quantify what was better about it other than that it sounded “nicer”.

            There is also “well tempered”, which is sort of a compromise between equal temperament and just intonation. I believe several famous composers wrote pieces with well tempered keyboards in mind…Bach for example maybe?

          • AG says:

            This entire thread began because I was indignant about composers sticking sharp-flats and/or double sharps/flats on sheet music. The response was that they are actually different notes, and for theory purposes it’s better to notate the intended interval. The linked video makes a point about how synths make just temperament possible to a new degree, such that Bach pieces can be played with their proper harmonies.

            But then if our digital music making just defaults back to equal temperament, what’s the point of differentiating these notes again? What advantage is there to put the intended interval on the sheet music instead of the “equivalent” in-key note? It seems that musicians are instinctively finding the correct intonation anyways.

          • acymetric says:

            For what it’s worth, I just linked the video so that you could hear the difference between a chord in equal temperament and just intonation (i.e. that there is a difference). I didn’t really notice (or care) about whatever the narrator said about synths. It was the first video I found that demonstrated that difference. Maybe that was the source of some of the confusion here.

            As far as why we would still use double-sharps etc. in equal temperament where a C double sharp is the same as a D? Because that’s how the theory works. It isn’t necessarily important to the individual player in that context (although it could be if they have the sufficient knowledge of theory, as it tells them how their part fits in to the overall sound of the piece which is a useful thing to know), but it would be quite important for anyone doing an arrangement and a bunch of other things related to interpreting/analyzing the piece. Back to my through/threw example from elsewhere, they sound the same but mean different things and that is going to be important for some people.

            What advantage is there to spelling “pace” with a ‘c’ instead of an ‘s’? It isn’t about advantage, it is about rules of the language.

          • rlms says:

            You’re right that intonation isn’t really relevant to why double sharps exist. The rationale behind those is to make notation express the role of notes. Say you have a piece in G harmonic minor. You’re going to write the seventh as F# not Gb because in any key with tonic G the seventh will be some kind of F (either natural or sharp depending on the quality of the key). Then, for some reason, you decide to transpose the piece to G# minor. The same thing applies; the tonic is some kind of G so the seventh must be some kind of F, and in this case it must be F double sharp. Or put another way, it’s nice to notate music such that whenever you transpose it so the tonic changes note name, all the other notes do too (and correspondingly if the tonic doesn’t then neither do the others).

    • Björn says:

      This is because the names of the intervalls are older than the concept of zero (at least in Europe at the time). And it shows why the concept of zero is so natural when you are counting steps, like when you have arrays and are counting the steps from the first entry.