OT130: Open Thresh

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

1. The European Summer Program in Rationality is looking for young people ages 16 – 19 interested in a summer camp on applied rationality. I know some of the organizers and can vouch for them as good people. Free tuition, room, and board in whatever European city they end up holding it in; travel scholarships may be available if needed. Apply at the website.

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545 Responses to OT130: Open Thresh

  1. Peffern says:

    The Alloy of Law contains my favorite scene in any fantasy story, which consists of a magical shootout on a train. A story which features such simply cannot be bad.

  2. johan_larson says:

    It’s time for another Magic quiz. Which of these are real cards?

    1. war chant
    2. fanatical devotion
    3. tempered steel
    4. knight of dusk
    5. stand firm
    6. great white shark
    7. quash
    8. the last trumpet
    9. sword of omens
    10. zombie musher
    11. song of serenity
    12. so say we all
    13. all is lost
    14. trumpet blast
    15. elephant graveyard
    16. regress
    17. this too shall pass
    18. genocide
    19. flame javelin
    20. might of oaks

    The real ones (plus 13): 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33

  3. DinoNerd says:

    Is there any way to fix this site so that either it doesn’t randomly log me out, leaving me with an attempt to comment refused because I’m “not logged in” – even though the screen where I tried to comment showed me logged in, and had been refreshed within the past hour or two.

    Or failing that, how about having logging back in take me to where I was when it decided I’d been logged out. Currently, I have to do all of the following
    – select SSC from the side bar (I’m logged in to a screen for editting my profile)
    – select the post I was responding to
    – search for the comment I was resonding to
    – retype (or re-paste) the comment i was making.

    • Nick says:

      It’s been doing that to me a lot lately. I thought maybe it was because I was logged in simultaneously to too many devices (PC at work + PC at home + phone + ??? might be too many for WordPress), but it’s too irregular for that. But it hasn’t been acting up the last week or so, so I dunno.

      Also—for this reason and others, if you’re not already, I strongly suggest getting in the habit of copying your comment before you post it.

      • Well... says:

        Isn’t this a WordPress site? Is WordPress one of those sites running an algorithm that looks for users committing Wrongthink and then deploys a script that logs them out frequently?

        (Just because you’re paranoid…)

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          ….is that an actual thing that some sites do?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I doubt it.
            My past experience with WordPress logging me out is that it has something to do with my logging in from different IP addresses. The same thing might be happening to Nick. He thinks not, but there might merely be a feature of the algorithm that only kicks in when one additional condition is met.
            For example, I’m posting this from one IP, and I know I posted to OP 130.25 from another IP this morning, and I haven’t been kicked out. So it might be a combination of different IP plus a timeout on each session cookie. Or, the server might be storing up to two IPs per user, and a third device is connecting without Nick or I realizing it, so the database overwrites one of those IPs and that device gets kicked off.

  4. Matt M says:

    Maybe it would be funny to see politicians trying their best not to be divisive while still slinging mud at each other and people would lose trust in them unless they were genuine

    Doesn’t this already happen?

    I feel like every Presidential candidate within my lifetime (possibly including Trump, but I could go either way on that one) has ran on a platform of “The two parties are too divisive and uncompromising, but I can unite Americans by appealing to common ground and compromise and I will be a genuine representative of everyone!”

    And then during the commercial break, you see a campaign ad for “My opponent is a stupid filthy traitor who will destroy everything you know and love, I’m X and I approve this message.”

    And nobody really bats an eye at this. It’s just sort of how the system works…

    • jg29a says:

      When I think of myself as a cynic, what I usually mean is something like:

      “Things often get better *on net*, via a messy process of trial and error, compromise and tough tradeoffs. They’re not gonna get better via more repetitions of that inspirational sentence you’re about to paste into a meme.”

      Except for going vegan. That one’s so shockingly one-sided that it makes me doubt my cynical sanity. :-/

  5. Closed Limelike Curves says:

    A comment I’m trying to make keeps disappearing when I try to post it here. My guess is the spam filter’s taking it because it includes a link; is there a way to fix this?

  6. Well... says:

    There does seem to be more of an interest in “craft” coffee (and beer, and…) these days.

  7. Paul Brinkley says:

    There’s a fable I’m trying to locate for years. I think I read it in a magazine. I think it was Chinese. I’ve searched online, and all the keywords I think would work, don’t.

    It tells a story of Reason and Feeling (I might have the names wrong) trying to cross a swift river from opposite sides. They meet in the middle of the sole log crossing, too narrow to permit them to pass. Neither will back down, so they end up sparring for the right to cross. As they struggle, Reason slips on a small piece of logic and falls into the river. Seeing the way is now clear, Feeling… turns around and goes back the way he came.

    Has anyone else ever seen this fable? Or something similar?

    • lecw says:

      I am fond of this kind of research, I tried looking it up, but couldn’t. The “two monks cross a river” fable sort of overwhelms the search space (+ I only have what you gave us, I didn’t read it in the first place ^^)

      It would be helpful if you could explain what the stated purpose of the fable was. Why would Feeling do that, and what does it represent ? (in your opinion, or in the original editor’s opinion)

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I’m not 100% sure what its purpose was, but I can say that the part that startled me the most was when Feeling won, but did not cross the river as originally intended. I got the impression that Feeling was just that – capricious.

  8. Etoile says:

    I agree. But as a counterpoint I will also say, organic is messy. at Starbucks the service is likely to be on the ball, the product is predictable, there will be wifi and a bathroom, they are probably clean, and it will be open late and on Sundays. A small cafe might not be any of those things; and for every awesome one there are several which don’t really meet the need of the moment.

    That said, I will generally favor something local and genuine to big/corporate if the difference in expense is something I can afford, or if I’m in an adventurous mood and have no info on the quality of either (in a first world context….I might prefer something corporate in an area where I have no local knowledge and would really need it to not get food-poisoned or taken advantage of).

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Ironically, Starbucks is also selling Elua-values. Organic, fair trade coffee, personal touch, good customer interaction etc. It’s just doing it in a very scalable way. Is it Moloch or Elua?

      • Radu Floricica says:

        So not great, but good enough. I like it better than Simple Rick. Hope it’s not bias.

      • POGtastic says:

        Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if “It’s like Starbucks, but optimized for the local area” is an easier hurdle to surpass than “Wait, a place that sells coffee and isn’t a gas station?? Whaaat??”

        I lived in Yuma, AZ for several years, which definitely would not have been welcoming to a local coffeeshop twenty years ago. Today, there are multiple coffee shops, and I attribute it entirely to Starbucks showing up first and getting people used to the idea.

  9. Hoopyfreud says:

    Zelazny’s Amber series – at least the first one.

    Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle – it won a Locus award for “Best Fantasy Novel” and is therefore fantasy.

  10. Matt M says:

    The SSC commentariat seems to generally be fond of reading novels. It occurs to me that with the exception of notable “classical literature”, I probably haven’t read a work of “popular fiction” in over five years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I read non-fiction frequently. And it’s not that I consider the general category of “popular fiction” to be a frivolous waste of time – I consume a ton of popular fiction in the forms of movies, TV, and video games.

    After thinking on this a bit, I think my brain is working through the following process:

    1. Any sufficiently good/compelling story originally conceived as a novel eventually gets adapted into a movie/TV. Therefore, any existing novel that hasn’t been adapted into a movie/TV must not be that compelling of a story in the first place.

    2. Despite the fact that I’ll readily acknowledge that novels are nearly more detailed and nuanced than their on-screen adaptations, the time value of watching versus reading is so compelling in efficiency terms, I’ll nearly always figure that I can “save myself several dozens of hours” by simply watching the movie/TV, so I never end up reading the book at all.

    Would anyone like to present a compelling case as to why I’m wrong on either of those two points? What am I missing out on by not reading novels?

    • #1 has a few problems off the top of my head:

      Not every narrative can be easily adapted to the screen. A work of literature with a lot of character introspection can be amazing to read, but one would struggle to put it into a movie. (It usually can be done, but the effort tends to be greater than movie-makers want to go through.)

      The other is a bit dependent on your definition of ‘popular fiction’. Is Greg Egan popular fiction? Probably not, I imagine hard sci-fi is really niche, but since it’s what I like reading, it comes to mind. I’d love to see his novel Schild’s Ladder made into a movie (it has some extremely cinematic moments), but it probably won’t. Even subtracting the problems of niche, literature and movies just have other audiences – to oversimplify a bit: A movie is something that sells a lot if it’s good to view while you’re munching on popcorn and want to relax. A book is something that sells a lot if people find the story compelling enough to tell their friends about it. There’s a lot of overlap, but anything vaguely intellectually challenging is not nearly as likely to make it into a movie as it is to make it into a book. It absolutely does happen, but the probabilities are still skewed.

      Does that help at all?

      • Matt M says:

        Sort of. Clearly some works of written fiction are more easily adaptable than others. But to be clear, my #1 doesn’t require that the adaptation be particularly good, successful, critically acclaimed, close to source material, etc. Only that an attempt was made.

        Like, for context, I’m one of those libertarians who considers Atlas Shrugged to be a monumentally great work. Clearly not very well suited for an on-screen adaptation. And unsurprising that any such attempts to do so have failed spectacularly. But there have been attempts….

        • Only that an attempt was made.

          Hmm. Do you have to have heard of the attempt? What counts as an attempt? Does it have to finish being made?

          (On a tangent, I am actually one of those weirdos who seriously like the writing style of Atlas Shrugged… but I wouldn’t want to watch a movie about it.)

          • Matt M says:

            “I have to have heard of it” is pretty much the only criteria here. Given that I don’t read Hollywood gossip magazines or anything, it’s pretty unlikely that I would ever hear of any movies/TV that aren’t finished in the first place.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It took over 50 years for LOTR to be developed into a good movie.

      I’m still waiting for Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

      • Matt M says:

        Well, you got me on that one.

        I read Foundation back in middle school, where the existence of libraries meant that written works were trivially easy to obtain for free, while movies/TV were more expensive to acquire.

        Who would have thought that 20 years later, nearly the opposite would be true!

        • metacelsus says:

          written works were trivially easy to obtain for free

          They still are, on Libgen. (And many public libraries also have stuff available on their websites, if you want to obtain ebooks legitimately.)

    • Elephant says:

      I think both of your points are severely wrong, or at least so far from my own experience that I wonder what books and movies you’re reading and watching!

      1. There are so many more books than movies / tv shows that there are billions of excellent books that are not adapted to movies/tv shows (ok, not literally). You write that you read non-fiction, but one could make exactly the same (wrong) argument here: any non-fiction book that’s any good would have already been adapted into a documentary. Would you agree with that?
      Plus, there are lots of books that would really suffer if one attempted to make a movie of them, or at least would be very different works. I read, for example, Lincoln in the Bardo a few months ago, almost more of a poem than a novel, and I shudder to think what a movie producer would do with this. How would you make a Murakami adaptation that really captures the feel of reading his books? Even for pulpy or kids books, my own kids would be the first to point out that, for example, the Percy Jackson movies have nowhere near the depth of the books, and the books aren’t deep.

      2. I really don’t understand this one, since I feel the exact opposite. A two hour movie can do a superficial job of summarizing a few-hundred page novel, and a good job of mirroring a 30 page short story, so the latter is a better comparison. (Most of the really good movie adaptations are, I’d argue, of short stories.) It doesn’t take 2 hours to read 30 pages.
      Also, similarly, your argument would hold for non-fiction as well.

      • Matt M says:

        There are so many more books than movies / tv shows that there are billions of excellent books that are not adapted to movies/tv shows (ok, not literally).

        I do accept this as a valid argument. However, I would think that the better the story, the more likely a movie adaptation is. In other words, I have outsourced the job of “figure out which of these billions of stories are the ones most worth my time” to Hollywood. And generally speaking, they seem to be doing a decent job of it, in the sense that I’m not aware of any novels written in the last 20 years or so that are generally acknowledged to be great, but that have received not even an attempt at an on-screen adaptation.

        any non-fiction book that’s any good would have already been adapted into a documentary. Would you agree with that?

        No, I would not agree. I don’t get the impression that written works of non-fiction serve as a primary feeder material for documentary films (although I may be wrong as I don’t watch many documentary films). If anything, we’ve started noticing a trend of some of the top/most trendy ostensibly non-fiction works being adapted as popular films (with embellished details of course). Things like Moneyball, Seabiscuit, Bringing Down The House, etc.

        • physticuffs says:

          I have outsourced the job of “figure out which of these billions of stories are the ones most worth my time” to Hollywood.

          This decision criteria is baffling! I think this is a terrible way of outsourcing that, unless you would only like the kinds of stories that make good screen adaptation. A lot of the time, Hollywood wants to make things that will appeal to the widest possible audience, and will cost less to produce than audiences will pay to see–books generally all cost about the same to print, but not all movies cost the same to make. This means that books can be significantly more targeted. It is not worth Hollywood’s time to adapt an excellent novel that is beautifully written, when it could adapt a novel whose action sequences will translate better to the screen. If you don’t care about characters’ internal processes, or beautiful wordcraft, that’s fine! Maybe you really do just want to read screen-translatable works. But I can think of so many stories I adore where it simply wouldn’t be a profitable film because it would be too expensive with other films–a studio exec would realize this, even if they thought it was a fantastic book.

          Also, as other people have said, Hollywood just can’t make movies as fast as books can be printed. Movie/TV production is much more concentrated/limited than book production (again, because of the production expense).

          • Matt M says:

            Also, as other people have said, Hollywood just can’t make movies as fast as books can be printed. Movie/TV production is much more concentrated/limited than book production (again, because of the production expense).

            Well, I can’t consume media as fast as Hollywood makes anything. I’m years behind in movies/TV, let alone books. All new media creation could be permanently ended today and I still think that the current amount that exists would easily tide me over for the rest of my life.

            I have to prioritize somehow!

          • Nick says:

            Reductio of your position: per Gwern, maybe you shouldn’t be watching what Hollywood is currently making anyway. Watch the classics or the IMDb top 50; seeing the latest Transformers is inefficient!

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t normally enjoy Gwern, but I did read that and found it somewhat compelling. I agree with him insofar as to say “The amount of available fiction is staggeringly overwhelming and stopping it wouldn’t necessarily harm us much.”

            I feel like I put a much higher weighting on prioritizing older works that have “stood the test of time” than most people do. And going in line with his logic, I generally do avoid consuming works that are “brand” new. I consume almost nothing within a year of its release. I have pretty hard rules about not investing in television series that have not already ended, so as to avoid disappointments relating to abrupt cancellations or sudden drop-offs in quality. I don’t get excited about some movie scoring 100% on RT in its release week. I’ll wait a few years and see if people are still talking about it. I just watched Breaking Bad last year. Just started Game of Thrones recently. I started playing the Assassins Creed series only a couple years ago. Just watched the Harry Potter films last year. Etc.

            That said, the question of when to stop it still seems relevant to me. By his own estimations, the amount of available films was already staggering as early as the 1930s. Should we have stopped film production back then? Surely there were plenty of good films already? What of value would we have lost? Only Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Gone With The Wind, Saving Private Ryan, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, and The Unforgiven. Modernist popular rubbish that panders to the lowest common denominator, all of it, to be sure, right? A small price to pay to deprive society of all of those works in order to achieve the goal of preventing them from watching High School Musical 2 and Fast and Furious 8, right?

            Further, the premise that society would gain in efficiency if we banned new fiction implies that all of the fiction creators could be more productive doing other things. But… other things like what? Would we be noticeably better off if, instead of becoming a pop music superstar, Taylor Swift was working in a nail salon? I mean, maybe, in the sense that doing someone’s nails is net positive economic activity. But also of a laughably small amount. If just one person feels like Taylor Swift produces the best music they’ve ever heard, is not the gain greater from her music than from her manicures?

          • Nick says:

            I should probably just let him speak for himself, but with the lampshade hung, here goes: gwern’s position isn’t that we should have banned new content in the 1930s, though he flirts with it when he says we already lose 95% of movies. He admits that with television in particular we may not have reached peak sophistication—gwern clearly believes quality exists—and I expect he would have said the same with movies back then. But he is arguing that we should stop subsidizing right now, and that a ban on new books (and movies?) today would probably be just fine.

            If just one person feels like Taylor Swift produces the best music they’ve ever heard, is not the gain greater from her music than from her manicures?

            Gwern gives evidence that a lot of critical taste appears to be about things like popularity. Yes, good songs rise from the bottom, while bad songs sink even if they’ve been popular, but we’re just not that discriminating. So the teenage girl who thinks Taylor Swift has produced the greatest music ever would, in the world without her, be just as happy with Justin Bieber instead.

          • ana53294 says:

            Avoiding all new content would drive many people off.

            Old books frequently have problematic views on things like marital rape and racism.

            I like to read romance books, and I think that modern romance is so much better than older books (with the exception of classics like Austen). The difference in treatment of sex and consent between a romance book written 40 years ago and now is huge.

            Romance is a genre where this is especially obvious, but there are plenty of other issues that readers may find off-putting.

            As problematic as many of them are, modern romance books are much better in showing consensual, respectful relationships between equals for those who seek that kind of book.

          • Matt M says:

            gwern’s position isn’t that we should have banned new content in the 1930s, though he flirts with it when he says we already lose 95% of movies. He admits that with television in particular we may not have reached peak sophistication

            His position seems to be that at some point we should ban new content. He doesn’t provide a date, possibly because doing so would be difficult because it would indicate how arbitrary the notion is. When should the production have films been banned? How about music? How will we know when television has “reached peak sophistication” and can be banned? And is it reasonable to assume that television could evolve at all, or evolve to appropriate levels of sophistication, in a world where new film production was banned somewhere between 1-7 decades ago? Are these not complementary mediums? Is music not complementary to both?

            But he is arguing that we should stop subsidizing right now

            It’s still unclear precisely which “subsidies” he opposes. I’m aware of the existence of stuff like, say, the National Endowment for the Arts. Although it seems to me the type of things they fund aren’t really overlapping much with the type of art he opposes. Was NEA funding given to GRRM to write A Song of Ice and Fire? Was it given to HBO to adapt that into a TV series? Was it given to some random cooking blogger to write “Grill of Thrones: Your guide to re-creating the smoked meats of Westeros”?

            At another level, I’m aware that some states grant fairly favorable tax rates to the production of films. Although this doesn’t strictly qualify as a “subsidy” so I’m not sure it should count. I highly doubt that Elvis Presley decided to become a singer after a careful examination of the tax code led him to believe that it would be marginally more profitable than working on oil rigs. As far as I know, these sorts of things tend to influence where movies are filmed, but not necessarily “whether they are filmed at all.” Further, the notion that the arts are subsidized to any extent more than any other random industry probably needs to be proven rather than just assumed. Let’s say Elvis does quit the entertainment business to go work for an oil company instead. Well hey, everyone keeps loudly insisting to me that oil companies are also collecting massive subsidies, so the net societal gain here is zero. (For the record, I am an anarcho-capitalist and support ending any and all subsidies that exist).

            So the teenage girl who thinks Taylor Swift has produced the greatest music ever would, in the world without her, be just as happy with Justin Bieber instead.

            Once again, this is only half of the equation. Yes, it’s possible that a world where Taylor Swift becomes a manicurist isn’t much worse than the world we live in today, because there are other pop stars who are almost as good. But that doesn’t imply that such a world is any better than the world we live in today. Because guess what, the person in the alternate universe having their nails done by Taylor Swift would also, in a world without her, be just as happy with the next best manicurist as well.

            The relevant comparison, then, is the loss in utility one experiences from going from Swift to Bieber in our world, to the loss of utility one would experience from going from Swift to marginal manicurist in the alternate world. And while this is all just speculation to be sure, I have to imagine the loss in our world is greater. If you think the market is even a little bit efficient, it seems obvious that people in general are more capable of distinguishing between the elite and the “very good” pop stars than they are between the elite and the “very good” manicurists. To use an even bigger example, JK Rowling was famously unemployed and collecting government assistance while writing Harry Potter. Even if I stipulate that everyone who loves and obsesses over Harry Potter would love and obsess just as much over the marginal next-best story of teenage wizards, are we really better off living in a world where JK Rowling, realizing the folly of attempting to create new fiction… stays at home and continues collecting her welfare check from the state? Really?

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            gwern’s argument seems obviously stupid to me. There is no single “quality” attribute you can sort media by; people value it on different axes. And one of those axes is “relevant to the present day world”.

          • Nick says:

            His position seems to be that at some point we should ban new content. He doesn’t provide a date, possibly because doing so would be difficult because it would indicate how arbitrary the notion is. When should the production have films been banned?

            This is total Fallacy of the Grey thinking; what’s so wrong with picking an arbitrary date? Are you pretty sure that the field is technically developed and has had the time to attract geniuses who produced great works of art? Yes? Then sooner is better, as far as the economic waste.

            And is it reasonable to assume that television could evolve at all, or evolve to appropriate levels of sophistication, in a world where new film production was banned somewhere between 1-7 decades ago? Are these not complementary mediums? Is music not complementary to both?

            Now this is a good objection; the first one yet that gwern hadn’t already addressed. The example of film and music especially, since film scores are pretty neat. And I don’t know how to answer it.

            It’s still unclear precisely which “subsidies” he opposes.

            Come on, man, this is literally the first paragraphs of the essay. Gwern clarifies that by subsidies, he means, among other things, intellectual property laws, English and creative writing programs at schools, and tax breaks.

            He also has a whole appendix, explicitly linked in the main essay’s section on subsidies, which goes into this in detail. He lists first the Federal Writers’ Project, which, in inflation adjusted dollars, got us about 1000 books and pamphlets at a cost of only 330 million dollars! And this money was to writers you have in fact heard of. Arts programs get only 6% from direct government support on paper, but in reality, thanks to tax breaks, we’re donating about 30 billion dollars a year to the arts. Taxes like the estate tax also boost donations by private individuals, which are a significant portion of many of their budgets.

            The US also has an extensive public library system, which subsidizes books by buying the things. That’s another 8 billion a year. The US Postal Service offer subsidized rates to newspapers and other print mailings. Universities, meanwhile, subsidize writing not just by hiring professors, but also with classes on contemporary writing. They often subsidize literary magazines or host museums, some of which prefer to give space to local artists.

            Direct subsidies for things like museums and art galleries, meanwhile, can be as high as half the budget. Local spending in total can utterly dwarf things like the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs spent over $118,000,000 in 2004 alone; the NEA that year was $120,000,000.

            If you think the market is even a little bit efficient, it seems obvious that people in general are more capable of distinguishing between the elite and the “very good” pop stars than they are between the elite and the “very good” manicurists.

            I don’t see how this follows. Again, gwern presented evidence—evidence which you are welcome to dispute, but you seem to be just sidestepping—that folks can’t reliably distinguish good from popular, and can scarcely distinguish good from bad. Folks certainly distinguish what they like and don’t like and everyone has opinions about music; maybe they just don’t have opinions on manicures at all, but that can be arranged. I don’t see how this has anything to do with market efficiency, if factors like popularity unconsciously affect our appraisals.

          • Matt M says:


            Thanks for the back and forth. I am appreciating this conversation quite a bit (mainly because I actually am sympathetic with what I consider to be the larger point – that there’s just too much art out there and that most new art is therefore wasteful).

            what’s so wrong with picking an arbitrary date?

            The problem with picking an arbitrary date is that if I back-test this logic, and pick any arbitrary date from the past, I can come up with a list of universally agreed to be great movies that never get made. And these movies aren’t “just like the movies in 1912 only slightly better such that nobody would notice the difference really.” Technical advances continue to be made. Cultural changes result in new subgenres being created, etc.

            Come on, man, this is literally the first paragraphs of the essay. Gwern clarifies that by subsidies, he means, among other things, intellectual property laws, English and creative writing programs at schools, and tax breaks.

            I’ll admit that when I first responded, I hadn’t yet read the footnotes/appendix. So fine. I’ll stipulate that we do spend a significant amount of money on “subsidies” for the arts, and that a non-trivial portion of this finds its way to “pop art” of the sort that regular people consume and have heard of. My response is – so what?

            Yes, all of that money is wasted. All of the efforts of the marginal current artists are waste. So what? My biggest objection relates to the Taylor Swift as a manicurist scenario I propose, and I feel like you’ve ignored that completely.

            This whole line of thought actually reminds me of Bernie Sanders’ lament about there being “too many” varieties of deodorant, while people in the world continue to starve. In a certain sense he’s right. The world doesn’t “need” 100 varieties of deodorant. No one would really be noticeably worse off if we went from 100 deodorants to 10. But that absolutely does not imply that, were we to pass a law saying “no new deodorants,” that all the economic resources currently spent in new deodorant production would be redirected towards growing and distributing basic commodity foodstuffs to the world’s most impoverished.

            And the same is true for art. Fine, let’s say we stop Taylor Swift and Elvis Presley and JK Rowling from producing wasteful new art. What will they produce instead? Why would anyone assume that the answer will be “something more needful and obviously beneficial to humanity?” Do we really need one more manicurist? One more mechanic? One more welfare recipient?

            At least Bernie has the decency to imply what the mechanism would be for going from producing “excessive” luxuries for the wealthy to producing “necessary” food for the poor: State-enforced economic central planning. Of course, that typically results in mass starvation rather than actually improving the lives of the poor. You give up the deodorant, and you get even less grain than you had previously. But at least it’s a theory. What does gwern even have? What is his proposed mechanism that takes us from “Taylor Swift isn’t allowed to sing” to “And we’re all noticeably better off?”

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @Matt M
            Another way society funnels money to the entertainment industry is through favorable copyright and litigation laws. For instance, in Canada, it was decided to allow copyright owners to send threats to people they thought were pirating their materials and to include in those threats demands for out-of-court settlements. So a copyright owner could send someone a demand for fifty dollars in order not be sued. This both discouraged piracy and generated a non-trivial source of funds for copyright owners.

            Furthermore, it was decided to allow copyright owners to prosecute multiple infringers at once with the same court case, even thousands at a time. This made it even more profitable for them to generate money through litigation and increases the odds that they will pursue such means.

            These policies funnel money into the pockets of rights holders, which are mostly American corporations. This comes at a cost to people who would have otherwise pirated copyrighted materials for free, but comes with the benefit of directing a greater share of society’s resources to the production of additional copyrighted materials. If it is deemed to be superfluous to produce so much of those materials, as Gwern argues, then rather than attempting to ban the creation of them, one could simply create a less accommodating legal environment for them to extract money from and deter infringers with.

        • POGtastic says:

          Does the development hell of A Confederacy of Dunces count as an attempt?

          • Plumber says:

            Because a young women I kissed when I was a young man recommended it, I read A Confederacy of Dunces decades ago but, sadly, the charm others found in it were lost on me.

          • Nick says:

            A Confederacy of Dunces is a work of comic genius! And my prized source of Ignatian spirituality.

    • John Schilling says:

      Any sufficiently good/compelling story originally conceived as a novel eventually gets adapted into a movie/TV. Therefore, any existing novel that hasn’t been adapted into a movie/TV must not be that compelling of a story in the first place.

      If you are claiming that the Miles Vorkosigan saga is “not that compelling” because nobody has made it into a movie yet, then I laugh at your literary tastes and I’m not sure why I would want to argue you out of them.

      I also haven’t seen anything by Neal Stephenson turned into a move or TV series yet, or Robert Heinlein’s better works. I’m told that we’re getting a “Ringworld” TV series Real Soon Now, but other than that Niven is a bust and Niven/Pournelle is right out, and really written SF as a genre has a very strong track record of being ignored by the TV and movie people.

      A single episode of an anthology TV series like “Black Mirror”, costs one to two orders of magnitude more to produce than does a novel. Movies or TV miniseries knock that up another order of magnitude. Which means you need a much bigger audience to justify it, and the work has to be targeted towards the lowest common denominator of the target demographic. That rules out an awful lot of literature that I would expect to be of interest to the sort of person who reads SSC, and the few bits of good stuff that do get adapted tend to be dumbed down in the process. But if you’re satisfied with what you are getting from Hollywood, then I’m not going to try and talk you out of it.

      • Matt M says:

        I also haven’t seen anything by Neal Stephenson turned into a move or TV series yet, or Robert Heinlein’s better works. I’m told that we’re getting a “Ringworld” TV series Real Soon Now, but other than that Niven is a bust and Niven/Pournelle is right out, and really written SF as a genre has a very strong track record of being ignored by the TV and movie people.

        Part of the motivation for making this topic is that I’ve been considering relaxing my “no novels” rule to include some of the “commonly cited by SSC” works. Because I generally trust that you people know what’s up.

    • episcience says:

      I read a lot of novels, both genre fiction and literary fiction. I also enjoy films. The first point is that a TV or film adaption is often not faithful, or is more sensationalised/”Hollywoodised” than the original book. Movies and television shows must raise significantly more amounts of money to be produced, and that money often influences the final result. You are not getting the same experience when you watch Dune (1984), or Dune (2020), compared to reading the original novel. You may get something sympathetic to the original plot and characterisation, or you may not. They are different media with different constraints and different incentives.

      The other point is that many excellent books are never made into film or TV. My favourite books I’ve read in the past few years includes “The Song of Achilles” by Madeleine Miller, “The Last Samurai” by Helen DeWitt (no relation to the Tom Cruise film), and “The Instructions” by Adam Levin. They are all very very good and I doubt any of them will be adapted. They are still worth reading, and I’m very glad I did read them.

    • Nick says:

      1 is probably false. From what I’ve been told, there’s so much uncertainty over which script will get picked up when and whether a project will really go through that “gets successfully adapted” doesn’t actually tell us much; production hell is a known phenomenon. If your work has been optioned, that’s one thing, but everything popular has been optioned anyway, including the crap.

    • Two McMillion says:

      With regard to your first point, something like 99% of books for which rights are purchased by Hollywood are not made into movies. This implies the existence of a large number of novels which were judged good enough to warrant a movie where the movie is simply not made for one reason or another.

    • Incurian says:

      I enjoy eating chocolate, so I only buy fun sized bars. That way I can get the experience over with as quickly as possible.

      • Matt M says:

        Heh, fair enough. Reading does often feel like a chore to me, so perhaps I don’t really enjoy the act of doing it so much as I desire to possess the knowledge it grants.

      • Matt M says:

        Thinking about this more, I don’t think it’s quite right. The need to save time comes from less “I don’t enjoy reading and want to get it over with as soon as possible” and more “the number of things I want to consume is nearly infinite, and every minute I spend on one thing is one less minute I can spend on another.”

        The fact that I choose to say, watch the Harry Potter movies rather than reading the books doesn’t actually reduce the net total amount of time I will spend reading. The gained time spent more efficiently consuming Harry Potter will then be re-allocated to consuming other creative or educational works.

        • Plumber says:

          @Matt M,
          My reading time has been”re-allocated” as well, since I discovered SSC my book reading has gone very far down.

    • Etoile says:

      For me, reading is an immersive experience, and so the time isn’t “work”. If the book isn’t immersive, I am at risk of leaving it – e g. If it’s interesting but dry history. By contrast, a show is rarely immersive, and my eyes get tired and attention invariably wanes after aboit 90 mins.

      I think the “I could get the same story in less time” is deeply flawed: you can also read recaps of episodes and Wikipedia summaries of movies, but you miss all the non-story aspects. And I’ve done this, written off a work, accidentally watched it later, and understood that no summary really does it justice. It’s like, reading about cake, or smelling it, is not the same as eating it.

      Also, in practice adaptations generally DO sacrifice more than a trivial amount of nuance. Usually they preserve plot (or cut it down) but sacrifice characters. Harry Potter is a great example: you can critique Rowling’s plotting and world-building, but the characters keep you coming back. But the movies had to cut back on a lot of the character interplay (e.g. Fred and George); even the later books sacrificed some character nuance.to move the plot along – to the series’ detriment.

      Further, books, especially older ones, don’t fit the standard Hollywood narrative framework, or the Creative Writing Class framework. This makes them flawed but original; modern film smoothes the out to fit tropes of the day: a love interest, action, conflict where it doesn’t necessarily exist in the book, appropriate minority representation, comic relief. Even the best adaptations do this – e.g. LotR of making Gimli ridiculous, Arwen more prominent, ecaggerating the Sam-Gollum-Frodo conflict, and making Faramir more tempted. And it works for THAT movie…. But it’s not the same as the book anymore.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        And making Aragorn angsty in a way he wasn’t in the books.

      • SamChevre says:

        And de-problematizing the Sauron-Saruman relationship. I never watched the movies after the first because it spoiled what to me was one of the most critical points–the bad guys aren’t a uniform substance.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      “Let me count the ways”, to quote Shakespeare. I think it’s interesting that the first “light fiction definitely worth reading” that I thought about (Dresden Files) has never been successfully translated into film. There’s a funny story of how people tried (and failed), but fail they did.

      I think instead of counting the ways I’d better count the book – the ones you’re kinda not complete without reading. John mentioned Vorkosigan Saga – that’s… like… wow. Can’t imagine not having read it. You mentioned you liked Atlas Shrugged – how about the fantasy version, with wizards, BDSM and really really hot and (literally) untouchable women? It also happens to be very good, at least until the communism arc which is brilliant, and maybe a couple of novels after. It’s called Sword of Truth.

      I know of it because I made a point of reading every book I could identify being referenced by HPMOR. I’m going it’s not really needed to say why HPMOR is on the “must read” read list.

      This kind of examples I think efficiently demolish at least the universality of your arguments. Having found exceptions, you can start reading them – and see if once having really enjoyed some of them, you can find some others just as good. I’m not going to say that it’s going to turn you into an avid reader – it probably won’t. But it will set you into a new equilibrium, that’s objectively better – I doubt you’ll end up so enamored by pulp literature that you’ll end up spending an inordinate amount on it (as I am likely to do, if I’m not careful).

      I do suggest a personal rule I’ve found helpful: don’t hesitate to drop a book you don’t like. Even at the first page, if you really hate it. Speaking of, Dresden Files has by far the best first line in any novel I’ve read: “The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault”. No, thinking of it it’s actually second best – Blue Moon starts with: “Prince Rupert rode his unicorn into Tanglewood”. I had to stop to laugh for about 5 minutes after that.

      • souleater says:

        I would second the recommendation for Dresden Files. I really appreciate the humor.

    • albatross11 says:

      I suspect I read too much online crap and not enough books. Some of this is SSC, some is Twitter, some is Facebook, but probably this is one of those things like keeping a box of fresh donuts on my desk all the time–I’d be better off depriving myself of the empty calories and reading a good book/eating a real meal instead.

    • AG says:

      Every storytelling medium has its own different optimizations. What makes for the best video games makes movie adaptations of those same games very difficult to do well. What makes for the best movies doesn’t translate well into longform television. What makes for a great television series cannot be captured in a song. What makes for a great comic book takes extensive retooling to be great animation. Text-based storytelling carries its own set of unique optimizations.

      And each of those optimizations means that certain stories are better suited for one or another medium.

      To dismiss any one medium is to dismiss the stories best told in that medium.

      (As for efficiency, I just leave novels for the times when access to TV/movies isn’t feasible, such as during lunch break, or during commute. Though I’m guessing you tend towards nonfiction for the same situations.)

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t really dispute any of that at all. I have no doubt that, in an absolute sense, reading the Harry Potter novels is strictly a better way to “experience the story of Harry Potter” than watching the movies. But, if I estimate that it will consume 10x as much of my leisure time (a resource that is highly valuable, finite, and whose total quantity is unknown) to read the books than to watch the movies – the relevant question becomes: Is reading the books 10x of a better experience than watching the movies? To which my guess is “Probably not.”

        In terms of total efficiency, TV and movies also have an advantage in that, when home, I almost always watch something while eating. It’s difficult to eat dinner while simultaneously reading a book, but easy to combine it with viewing something.

        • Elephant says:

          I know Etoile already said this very well, but I’m still perplexed by this idea of “efficiency.” You could read the Wikipedia summary of a movie in about 1% of the time it takes to watch the movie, and this will convey the story, which you seem to believe is the important thing. Therefore, is watching the movie really 100x better than reading the Wikipedia page? I will guess that you will say “no,” and I’m curious what your justification for the “no” will be.

          • Nick says:

            I agree, but as a counterpoint, filler exists. I once looked at the complete Les Misérables, which is available on Gutenberg—the edition I have is a slight revision and abridgment. The stuff cut is, like, stories about the kindly bishop. Look, Bienvenu is very kind. I got that after the first five stories. I’m not sure the next five added much. Sometimes writers have to meet page counts. Or simply don’t have time to cut 10%. This a serious problem with anime produced weekly with the manga—if there was no issue this week, fans get filler instead. Naruto is 43% filler.

          • Matt M says:

            For the record, I *did* read the complete Les Mis and did not really mind the sections that most people consider to be “filler.”

          • AG says:

            Like Elephant, I am perplexed by this idea of efficiency.

            Why watch any TV series at all, since they’re hours longer than films? Why ever watch movies, when you can finish comic books faster?

            Are you seriously telling me that some nonfiction text isn’t a faster read than an equivalent documentary? We’ve had thread after thread here in SSC about how people refuse to watch hour long Youtube videos discussing various ideologies precisely because they’re so much less efficient. Are you telling me that it would take you over 6 hours to read Good Omens (288 pages)?

            In addition, this doesn’t engage with my argument at all. The best stories in any medium can’t really be compared to other medium in terms of time/quality ratio, because the best stories in any medium by definition won’t have an equivalent adaptation in other mediums (as the story can’t be told in the same way).
            The fictional text that might change your life is out there, and why deny yourself its pleasures?

          • Matt M says:

            In addition, this doesn’t engage with my argument at all. The best stories in any medium can’t really be compared to other medium in terms of time/quality ratio, because the best stories in any medium by definition won’t have an equivalent adaptation in other mediums (as the story can’t be told in the same way).

            But compared they must be, because they compete for the same limiting resource… my time/attention.

            Ultimately speaking, I am forced to guess at an approximate answer to the following question: “How many utils/hour will I receive for watching Harry Potter?” as well as “How many utils/hour will I receive for reading Harry Potter?”

            Your other points are well made. I will attempt to address them, in a limited fashion, in a new post in the next OT.

        • SamChevre says:

          I think this highlights the variability of reading speeds. I think I could read a Harry Potter book in about the same time it would take to watch the movie.

          For me, I get more of the information I want, faster, reading than watching.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      Light Novels typically get a partial adaptation which exists to advertise the LNs themselves; the only complete adaptation I can think of off the top of my head is Monogatari. If you really liked the anime, but the anime adapted one or two books and there are a bunch more, there’s no other way to finish the story.

      Also, TV/Movie adaptations can be really hit or miss, some of my favorite English-language books (Animorphs, Hitchhiker’s Guide although I know some people have way higher opinions of the BBC version than I do) are simply way better than anything else they’ve been turned into. And insofar as TV/movies are faster to finish it’s usually because they cut content, some of which is interesting content. (though I’m a fast reader, so ymmv on that point)

    • Urstoff says:

      Shouldn’t you have to present evidence for your claims first? Otherwise you’re just the “Change My Mind” meme guy.

  11. SamChevre says:

    Seconding the recommendation above of “more Bujold”; I prefer the Sharing Knife Series to Vorkorsigan if you have to pick.

    Tad Williams’ “Otherland” series is still memorable a couple decades after I first read it (although the ending feels a bit unconnected tot he main story.) It’s the best picture I’ve seen of a world with real virtual reality.

    Children’s fantasy, but excellent and I still greatly enjoy them: Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain”–very influenced by Welsh myth.

    • I think Bujold’s fantasy is good, especially _The Curse of Chalion_. And I like the series of stories, set in the same world but a different time and place, centered on Penric.

    • The Nybbler says:

      That’s true of all insurance company’s lists IME. You do better by searching for doctors in your area and asking if they take your insurance than using the insurance company lists.

  12. AlphaGamma says:

    Short and beautiful: The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison. Best described as “somebody smoked a lot of opium then wrote a novel about the fantasy world he had doodled in the margins of his school books as a ten-year-old”.

    Three Hearts and Three Lions and The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, and the Lankhmar stories by Fritz Leiber- Foundational works of the modern fantasy genre.

    Long, not epic, very well written: The Gentleman Bastards sequence by Scott Lynch. The Lies of Locke Lamora works well enough as a standalone.

    • Nornagest says:

      The Worm Ouroboros may be beautiful, but it ain’t short, except by the standards of doorstopper fantasy (which it predates by seventy years or so).

      Three Hearts and Three Lions is, though, and so are most of the Lankhmar stories. I haven’t read The Broken Sword.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I agree that The Worm Ouroboros is excellent but not short. The prose is complex enough that it’s longer than it looks.

        I reread it fairly recently, and the internal politics of Witchland are fun as well as the rich descriptions and the adventures.

      • Plumber says:

        I haven’t read The Worm Ouroboros, but I have read Anderson’s The Broken Sword, and his Three Hearts and Three Lions, as well as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser Lankhmar/Nehwon tales (which are AWESOME!!!).

        I also recommend Anderson’s The High Crusade, and Leiber’s The Big Time.

  13. Placid Platypus says:

    If you’re willing to define “fantasy” a little broadly and open to non-physical books, I strongly recommend Worm. It’s quite long but extremely good, and while it gets very dark at times the ending is satisfying.

  14. One way of predicting the future is by asking what people could be doing now, but aren’t, out of status quo bias. Take prediction markets for example. They required no great technological advance, one could easily imagine if there were, in 1938, a market where one could trade on the possibility of war breaking out in two or three years. History might have gone much differently. Of course I’m sure all the “moral” objections would have been heard then as we hear them now.

    Here’s something we might be under-using: diet pills. A 2017 report that examined the medical records of 2.2 million patients found that fewer than one in 50 patients who were eligible for a diet pill prescription received one. I had always assumed they were snake oil, given that they are often advertised next to literal snake oil. But then I tried Ritalin, which proved very effective in suppressing my appetite. If I wanted to lose weight, which I didn’t, it would have been a godsend. Undoubtedly it doesn’t effect everyone equally, but, I wondered, why aren’t the ~50% of Americans who want to lose weight trying to get their hands on it, just to see if it works on them? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news story about someone trying to illicitly get their hands on diet pills nor about someone trying to get their hands on amphetamines for the main purpose of trying to lose weight. You hear much more about students or programmers illicitly using amphetamines.

    What do you guys think of diet pills? Do they work? I’d naively assume if Ritalin works so well to trigger a “side effect,” the specialized diet pills would work even better. I read that they cause a bunch of dangerous side effects, but I read the same thing about Ritalin/Adderal; when I looked there wasn’t much of substance behind it. The FDA has approved some, which means they can’t be that bad, right? If they work well but Western culture continues resisting them, they might become common in certain foreign cultures as the obesity problem spreads.

    • The Nybbler says:

      People do illicitly use stimulants to lose weight. (Random study link). As far as I know, stimulants are actually some of the most effective drugs for doing so; your link talks about “consistent and sustained loss of more than 5 percent of weight”,which is really not very much at all. I believe amphetamines are MUCH more effective than that.

      Lots of people want to lose weight (or less charitably say they do), but they don’t want to take serious stimulants to do so. When the US had a more weight-conscious culture, and amphetamines less of a fearsome reputation, they were more commonly used for weight loss.

      • Matt M says:

        My impression is that the US in particular has an obsession with the notion that there is a “proper” way to do things, and that doing things improperly is worse than not doing them at all.

        In this case, the proper way to lose weight is through diet and exercise. Anything that is discovered that might help someone lose weight without diet and exercise is immediately scorned and considered suspicious and assumed to be a dangerous fraud.

        Whether this is due to genuine concern of dangerous/unknown side effects, due to a desire to force people to capture the other tangential benefits of diet and exercise, or due to some sort of weird puritanical notion that desireable ends require someone to engage in some sort of miserable sacrifice is not entirely clear…

        • Two McMillion says:

          due to some sort of weird puritanical notion that desireable ends require someone to engage in some sort of miserable sacrifice

          Almost everything I’ve gotten in life that has been worth having in the long term has required some degree of work and effort. I therefore have a strong prior against claims that I can get massive benefits with little or no effort.

          • Matt M says:

            Did you ever get, say, a measles vaccine, as a child?

            What particular work and effort did you put into “not getting measles”?

          • John Schilling says:

            Almost everything I’ve gotten in life that has been worth having in the long term has required some degree of work and effort

            Does oxygen fall into the “not worth having” or the “requires great effort” category for you? How about fresh, clean water?

            There is a third category, of stuff that is worth having and which almost everyone does have because it doesn’t require great effort. We tend not to think about this category, for obvious reasons, but its borders can change (see fresh, clean water) and if someone proposes turning an “only with great effort” thing into an “everybody can have it without effort” thing, we should maybe think about whether that is really possible rather than dismiss it as obviously impossible on account of All Good Things Require Sacrifice and Moral Fiber Always.

            Or one of us can come over and tear up all your plumbing so that you’ll have to sacrifice for clean, fresh water.

          • mendax says:

            Or one of us can come over and tear up all your plumbing so that you’ll have to sacrifice for clean, fresh water.

            We could send a utility monster to do it.

        • POGtastic says:

          Now I’m intrigued. Say that Ritalin is very effective at suppressing appetite and leads to effective weight loss.

          It’s a cheap medication – about $0.30 per dose. While it has side effects and can result in dependence, the effects of obesity are far worse.

          If Ritalin were effective, why wouldn’t we prescribe it to the millions of overweight Americans? I mean, it’s not ideal, but neither is 60% of the population being overweight.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            One reason to hold off on Ritalin is that we also want to hold off on the zero-sum everyone-on-brain-stimulants-all-the-time rat race.

            One more thing: lots of people like eating. They can view suppressing their appetite to stop them from losing weight is like suppressing their sex drive to stop STDs.

        • j1000000 says:

          “My impression is that the US in particular has an obsession with the notion that there is a “proper” way to do things, and that doing things improperly is worse than not doing them at all.”

          That is not how I think of the United States, land of gastric bypass, plastic surgery, concrete butt implants, and Big Pharma. (But hey, as an American I lead an exceedingly provincial life, so maybe other countries love those things even more than us and I’m just unaware of it.)

          • Matt M says:

            Hmmmmmm. My impression is that those things are popular at the individual level, but not thought of in particularly high terms at the general cultural level. Perhaps I live in a bubble on this, but I think most people consider gastric bypass “cheating” and “only acceptable if you’ve already done the diet/exercise thing and it hasn’t worked.”

          • Urstoff says:

            I would guess that gastric bypass is considered perfectly acceptable, even preferred for people that have life-threatening levels of obesity. I don’t think it’s generally an option for people that are only 50 lbs overweight.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Matt M

            if you’ve already done the diet/exercise thing and it hasn’t worked.”

            The diet and exercise thing will never work if it is “done.” It will always work if it is “doing” continuously for the rest of one’s life.

    • Theodoric says:

      I did briefly take phentermine, back when it online pharmacies were more prolific. At first, it was great-I just flat out had no desire to eat, and was taking much smaller portions. But at some point the effects became less pronounced-I guess I developed a tolerance to it. If there were an easy way to get back that “no desire to eat” feeling, I would take it.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I asked a similar question two years ago. Dexatrim should be even more accepted now, because it’s similar to the well-known process that the Atkins Diet uses, yet people aren’t using it.

      There’s a lot of cultural resistance to diet pills as shams or as unsafe.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why not diet pills? Becauses, broadly:

      (a) diet pills generally aren’t “this will suppress your appetite” but more “this will ramp up your metabolism to burn off the fat quick so you see results, except it also will probably make your heart explode and you die”. See amphetamines in the 60s and 70s, phen-fen in the 90s, and a few years back some fat-burning ‘miracle’ drug, DNP, which cooked people alive.

      (b) but why not exploit the appetite suppressant effects of psychiatric medication? Because, and here is where we go very much into the Boggy Morass of Personal Opinion Tinged With Grudge, if you did that, then you as the medical profession would be treating obesity like it’s some kind of medical problem that is a real illness or disease and which needs medication as part of a support strategy. Ha, ha, ha! We all know that obesity is because fat people are fat because they are lazy and greedy, which is SLOTH and GLUTTONY which are SINS VICES. Obesity is caused by LACK OF MORAL FIBRE because the lazy tubs of lard can’t carry out the simple message of “Stop eating, start moving”. It is all down to WILLPOWER and NO PAIN, NO GAIN, not some easy no-suffering “this will stop you feeling hungry all the time, so you don’t eat as much, so you don’t put on weight” solution in a pill.

      Prescribing weight loss medication would simply be letting these ignorant, stupid slobs off the hook for their own faults and giving them an excuse to shed responsibility for their disgusting state*. No, the proper medical tools to use as a weight-loss strategy are SHAME, DERISION and MOCKERY, and if the fat lump still won’t respond, then add in ANGER and CONTEMPT to the mix. (Lady doctors may try HEART-BROKEN DISAPPOINTMENT and GUILT FOR LETTING THEM PERSONALLY DOWN).

      (I’ve had these tools of persuasion applied to motivate me by various members of the medical profession, yet still I remain obese. You see the malignant virulence of my unregenerate depravity?)

      *Something like bariatric surgery is different, because surgery is expensive, painful and dangerous. That fulfils the NO PAIN, NO GAIN, SUFFERING WILL LEAD YOU TO SALVATION criteria, thus it is acceptable.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Amphetamines both increase your metabolism AND reduce your appetite.

        And it’s kinda strange seeing you complain about emphasis on sin 🙂

      • Gobbobobble says:

        if you did that, then you as the medical profession would be treating obesity like it’s some kind of medical problem that is a real illness or disease and which needs medication as part of a support strategy. Ha, ha, ha! We all know that obesity is

        I honestly thought this was leading toward “an equally valid way of life and how dare you pathologize their biology YOU BIGOT” (with the same level of sarcasm as the original)

    • S_J says:

      There is another substance which has an effect of appetite suppression, and was regularly used as a mood-altering substance.


      I doubt that it was used deliberately as a weight-loss tool, but it apparently had that effect. The return of appetite while trying to stop using nicotine is said to be very common, to the point that weight gain is a predictable side-effect of stopping smoking of nicotine.

      I doubt that people in the future will take up smoking as a weight-loss tool. But some might try to get access to those quit-smoking-patches, and maybe use them as a stimulant and a weight-loss tool

      • The Nybbler says:

        I doubt that it was used deliberately as a weight-loss tool, but it apparently had that effect.

        I’m fairly sure taking up smoking to control weight indeed was a thing (I’ll spare the random link this time).

      • Matt M says:

        What about vaping as a weight-loss tool?

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Models smoking to achieve/sustain low weight was/is a well-known phenomenon.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Green tea extract is the diet pill prototype. It works, in that it will by itself help you burn some weight but, like the others, the amount of weight lost is rather small. Personally I’ve bought it, tested it, and decided my genetically slow caffeine metabolism doesn’t really need the extra boost. But while it’s not a no-brainer (because you generally don’t want to go over 100mg caffeine per day), it is a decent option.

      So to answer questions specifically, the downsides would be: limited success (a few kg at most) and light side effects (caffeine, leaky butt etc). May or may not be worth it, from case to case.

    • Majuscule says:

      I think the answer here is “we tried this already”. My family was fat even back when there was only one fat kid per class, so they had a lot of conversations with doctors about losing weight. In the 1950s-1970s, those conversations typically ended with a prescription for diet pills. Especially if you were a woman; in the Age of Yoga Pants, it’s hard to imagine how hard women were discouraged from exercise just a few decades ago. Even in the 90s, my mom expressed fears that working out would make me look muscular and masculine.

      But mom didn’t take diet pills anymore, either, and neither did the rest of the family. Not because the hadn’t worked or there was some kind of moral virtue in avoiding them, but because their digestive and endocrine systems had been trashed by doing it and they could no longer handle them.

      There was also the Phen-Phen scandal- have you read any of the stories associated with that? Honestly, seeing some of those people on the news made me prefer to be an unhappy fat teenager than risk taking similar drugs. So by the 90s, I bet doctors were way more comfortable prescribing “treadmill” than anything else.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I think there’s a lost distinction between the appetite-suppressant pills and the “let’s stim-pack your metabolism” pills.

  15. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    Improving elevators for lifting bulk materials by rotating the sleeve around the screw instead of rotating the screw. The result is more durable, and doesn’t dump potentially combustible dust into the air.

    This is interesting in itself, but also interesting because it shows how difficult it can be to see possible improvements. We’re talking about a simple machine which has been around for over a century.

    • albatross11 says:

      In fact, I think this basic mechanism dates back to classical times at least–this is basically the Screw of Archimedes, right?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Coincidentally, I just happened to watch a YouTube video showing someone drilling a hole in the end of a round bar using a lathe and a twist bit. It’s the exact same principle: the bar spins, the twist bit is held steady, yet the shavings are still thrown out the hole as if you used a drill with a spinning bit. I assume every machinist must know this, yet none applied it to the grain elevator until recently… amazing.

    • Dack says:

      It seems like the problem with that design is that it wouldn’t empty out, at least not in the right direction.

      Since the material gets pushed up the screw by the material behind it, once you are out of material to feed it or turn it off, whatever is still in the auger is going to either stay there or backslide out (depending on angle of repose of the material.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Dack, that’s an interesting point. The Olds elevators are being sold, so there much be some reason why that isn’t a serious problem. Maybe the leftover material is saved until more of the same needs to be lifted. Or it might even be worth throwing some material out sooner than have the occasional explosion. Or you could have a dual system where the screw turns to lift the last little bit.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Ordinary grain elevators have the same problem. It doesn’t matter whether the screw or the housing rotates, either way you can’t empty the bin completely.

          • Dack says:

            You can’t empty the bin completely (without feeding it by hand). But a turning screw will empty itself out at least. This isn’t going to be a problem if you are going to use it every day, but a grain auger might sit idle for 9 months out of the year.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you look at the demo in the video (with the small hand-cranked one), the elevator empties itself into the bin when run backwards. I believe this is no different than an ordinary rotating-screw elevator. If the screw has grain on it but the bin is (nearly) empty, the screw cannot empty itself upwards, regardless of which part is spinning.

          • Dack says:

            Hmm. Maybe that is the case with vertical screws or particular materials. When I operated grain augers, I was warned to be careful to empty them out before turning them off. Because the material would stay in the (non-vertical) auger and the increased startup torque from it being there would risk breaking the screw.

  16. Doctor Mist says:

    A comment in the 129.75 open thread mentioned to the wrinkling of the human brain as evolution’s way of giving it more surface area without making the skull too large for childbirth.

    I’ve read this before, of course, but I’ve never run across an explanation of why surface area is such a crucial metric. Anybody know?

    • episcience says:

      I think it is to maximise the proportion of the brain that is cortex. The cortex is thin and lies on top of the rest of the brain, so increasing the brain volume without wrinkling the surface will decrease the proportion of cortical neurons to overall neurons. The bigger the surface area, the more cortical neurons you can fit in the same volume.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        But why does the cortex have to lie on the top of the rest of the brain? Why isn’t the brain simply all cortex?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I think this is the question I was really trying to ask. Is the cortex a convoluted surface because that’s just the accidental way it got started, or is there something about an essentially two-dimensional cortex that is a critical part of the design?

          Googling (instead of just asking you folks) gives me this, which seems to say that the cortex evolved in mammals as a thinnish outer layer, and in the dumber mammals like mice it’s still just the outer layer, but as we look at smarter and smarter mammals, we see the convoluted folding. (Or maybe it’s just larger and larger mammals, like it’s a way to get around the fact that surface-to-volume ratio goes down as volume goes up.) But it doesn’t suggest that anybody knows (or has wondered?) why the cortex is restricted to be a surface.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I wonder if it might be because the cortical neurons use significantly more energy and thus more blood than the rest, and it’s easier to supply blood to the outer surface than it is to supply the interior. C.F. the “blood-brain barrier”, which I presume lets nutrients diffuse from the blood into the outer surface of the brain.

            I should look that up when I have time.

        • Garrett says:

          Part of it is that the rest of the brain is the interconnections between parts of the cortex. You aren’t merely optimizing for the amount of cortex, you want to minimize for the amount of interconnection length as well in order to maximize speed and minimize energy use.

        • Urstoff says:

          Is this the “why isn’t the whole plane made out of the black box” of neuroscience?

  17. oriscratch says:

    Scott’s post on The Secret of Our Success suggested (I think) that human superiority over other animals lies in an increased ability to culturally develop as a whole rather than individual intelligence. A lot of arguments for the threat posed by AI claim that human intelligence made us superior to other animals, and thus a more intelligent AI would make it superior to us. But if individual intelligence isn’t what makes us superior, then the AI argument seems flawed.
    I’m not saying that a more intelligent AI wouldn’t be dangerous – we have no experience with vastly more intelligent beings, so we can never be sure – but this I think does poke a hole in the “humans are to chimps as AI will be to humans” line I’ve seen being thrown around. If there’s just one AI and it can’t harness the contributions of an entire culture to its advantage, even something much smarter than an individual human may not be all that impressive. Thoughts?

    • Auric Ulvin says:

      The real question is in the ‘much’ smarter. How large is much?

      Maybe this model applies to 200 IQ AIs who think in human timescales. But does it apply to the AI running 10-100x faster, using the next generation of software? Does it apply to the AI armed with GPT-20, equipped with the ability to trawl the whole internet for useful information, exploiting all of humanity’s intellectual output?

      There are other issues too, powerful AIs like that can reproduce rapidly, assuming they have access to enough processing power and bandwidth. We might be facing an infestation in a few hours, a perfectly united civilization in a day.

      • AG says:

        Feels like an AI running 100x is also far more susceptible to 100x value drift rate and impatience. Wild fluctuations in whether or not its current plan requires doing things to humans we don’t want. Maybe it’ll flash-crash the stock market, but decide in the next moment that a good economy is more beneficial after all.

        All we have to do is wait for them to get bored with us.

        (I mean, it only took the Christian God a few thousand years to be done with direct intervention and shove all responsibility off onto us to govern ourselves, and even for a deity self-described as jealous, never wiped out humanity. For an AI moving so much faster than that, how long will they move on to other concerns?)

    • There’s not going to be just one AI. There’s going to be many. You don’t need a lone, rogue AI in order for them to be a threat.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I get the impression that “cultural intelligence” has a vastly expanded memory and lifespan compared to a single brain. However, those particular limitations can be circumvented much more simply in an AI: “attach more RAM” and “don’t turn it off.” Besides, the culture is made up of individual intelligences; the intelligence of the culture is therefore limited by the intelligence of the individual. Ant colonies are capable of coordinating behavior far more complex than a single ant could accomplish (IANA entomologist), but there’s a reason you don’t see them building supercomputers (and that you don’t see chimps building supercomputers, for an example closer to home).

  18. Theodoric says:

    If anyone’s following the Prenda Law saga, Paul Hansmeier got 14 years in prison.

  19. benjdenny says:

    There’s no reason not to read the Sharing Knife series, Spirit Ring, and the Vorkosigan Saga starting with The Warrior’s Apprentice(SciFi, but still) if you already like Bujold. I honestly believe her to be our greatest living writer in terms of “genuine enjoyment sans elitist need to have read important books” standards.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      the Vorkosigan Saga starting with The Warrior’s Apprentice

      Meaning here “read The Warrior’s Apprentice first” not “don’t read the books before it”. Shards of Honor and Barrayar are both excellent- both precede it in internal chronology, were written first, and Shards of Honor was published before it.

      I don’t know when is the best point to go back and read them- I think I did after The Vor Game, which is the point in the sequence when Barrayar was published.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Thirded – Bujold is very consistently good, even her weakest works are still very entertaining.

      Ann Leckie deserves all the accolades she has been getting. Also very consistently good. I have run across people who found the gender-blind protag annoying but I just found it a fun and reasonable enough conceit.

      Stross: Not as consistently excellent as the previous two, but quite varied in what genres he tackles, and his stronger works are very good, and even the weaker ones are still entertaining.

      Terry Pratchett: Do you like humor with your fantasy? Well, you can likely find an entire shelf or two of good fantasy humor at your local library by this author. If you have not already devourered his ouvre, it is an unequivocal rec.

      Egan, Greg: Science Fiction with more math in it than you will encounter outside a text-book. Either you will love him, or you will bounce off. Pick one up from the library for a test run.

      Vernor Vinge. Well, I presume you have heard of him?

      Naomi Novik: The books that are NOT a part of her napoleonic wars with dragons series are solid recs. The “Napoleonic Wars with Dragons” series is.. popcorn.

      Marie Brennan: Natural history, with Dragons. And actually as fun as that sounds.

      • albatross11 says:

        I particularly recommend _A Fire Upon the Deep_ and _A Deepness in the Sky_. I’d say those are among the best SF novels ever written.

        _Deepness_ in particular is hard SF, with a strong assumption that the reader is familiar with hard SF/science, so it uses a bunch of ideas without explaining them–ramscoop drives, relativistic time dilation, coldsleep, metric time (a ksec is about 15 minutes), steganography (aka “black crypto”), etc. So it might not be an easy read for someone not familiar with hard SF, space opera, and related tropes. But it’s amazingly good.

      • Re Novik, Spinning Silver was what persuaded me that I ought to go back to reading more fiction.

        I’m also fond of Cherryh.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I didn’t like the Sharing Knife books enough to finish the first one, but I’ve enjoyed most of the Bujold I’ve read tremendously.

  20. mendax says:

    Several of my favorite boardgames involve trains. I am indifferent to trains, I could take or leave them.
    But my friends will say, “Gee, Mendax, you sure like games about trains.”

    The game Northern Pacific has caught my eye (and not for its trains) but it’s rather pricey for its components, so I’m contemplating crafting my own copy.

    This is an opportunity to change the theme to something more interesting. That is, not trains.

    So, SSC commentariat, can you imagine a situation where:

    -People might speculate on the course of future development, or direct that development.
    -Development starts in one area and advances toward another.
    -It might move laterally, but will never loop back.
    -It might branch, but all branches converge at the last stage.
    -The number of branches doesn’t vary too greatly at each stage.

    • mendax says:

      My ideas so far:
      -Stock market/start up speculation. Technically not trains, but not much more interesting.
      -Inventors of early flying machines
      -Social/political cliques. Probably better as a fantastic setting, or if historical, not recent.
      –Zany conspiracy theory groups. Steal from Steve Jackson’s Illuminati
      -Guerrilla fighters harassing an invader. Choose to prepare ambushes, or lure the invader to a particular path. Successful ambushes bring prestige. (This is probably my favorite so far. Could do Romans/Gauls)

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Mines! Though I guess minecarts are basically trains.

      • mendax says:

        I thought of mines, but while people can choose where to dig, they can’t really choose where the minerals are.

        Hmm, Dwarves digging out tunnels to connect settlements could work.

    • Lignisse says:

      I love this game.

      Rival time travellers fighting over alternate histories? They can invest in and thereby exploit their knowledge of major historical events, or intervene to cause/prevent them. Of course, they have to make it converge on their own reality, since the one thing they can agree on is that they’d like to exist.

      • mendax says:

        I love this game.

        Northern Pacific? Or re-skinning games/situations?

        Time travel is a good one. But I fear the butterfly effect might lead to too many branches.
        In the original game the train can generally only have come from 2-4 locations and can only continue to 2-4 different locations. But I can imagine time travel working that way in some fiction, so it’s a plausible option. Having to get back to their own reality is a good idea.

        Reminds me of Time Agent, the game about sending operatives back in time to prevent technologies that would benefit other civilzations from being invented.

        One faction (ascetics who live inside black holes) wants to prevent their own philosophy from being invented, so that they go on a conquering spree, then re-invent their philosophy so all the conquered lands convert to black-hole asceticism.

        The game ends, of course, when history is changed enough to prevent time travel from having been invented. At which point the player who had always been the winner wins.

        • Lignisse says:

          I meant Northern Pacific (Winsome Games output more generally). And yes, it’s kind of an overdone theme (Temporum, Chrononauts, …) but still it fits okay, if you mumble some things about the technical restrictions due to the energy/non-paradox requirements.

          • mendax says:

            I don’t think time travel is an over-done theme, especially not when compared to trains!

            Winsome Games do seem pretty great. I’ve also got Chicago Express, which replaced American Rails for me.

    • jgr314 says:

      Is your third restriction (never loop back) a defining feature of Northern Pacific? For example, isn’t there a loop between Butte and Great Falls?

      Another idea is a sort of 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon thing: you are movie producers/agents filling out a network graph of who has worked with whom. In order to justify which connections are allowed, it could be people who were not active performers all at the same time, so only certain pairs are possible.

      You could drop the theme entirely and play it as an abstract strategy game. If you follow that idea, maybe you allow the network to be generated randomly at the start of each game so that part of the strategy involves understanding the characteristics of the particular graph you are playing on.

      • mendax says:

        You’re right. I guess I should have said: you may return to the same node, but will not traverse the same edge twice? Would that be accurate?

      • Lignisse says:

        There’s a two-way connection between Butte and Great Falls, so the path might go either direction, but it is additionally a rule of Northern Pacific that a city can only be visited once, so the path will be used at most once.

      • Lignisse says:

        Actually, I suppose there’s an ambiguity between “can only visit a city once” and “can’t reuse a path”. On the actual board, these are extensionally equivalent, so a generalization to random directed graphs might adopt either rule, since they would be inequivalent in the case that the graph contains cycles of degree larger than two. I would recommend the first, though.

    • helloo says:

      Settlement/Expansion of colonies and population/Conquest
      Anything involving networking (from one centralized source to another) – from telephones to internet to irrigation to yes trains
      Race with many paths and non-obvious shortest paths (maybe something like 80 days around the world?)
      Civilization (3-5?) style tech trees
      Dissembling then resembling a complex object (ie. break down a car to its components, track where each component was made, and then assembled together) (a puzzle box/room that opens up with multiple puzzles and in kind each of which can lead to either more puzzles or serve as the solution for others, but all of which will eventually lead to the end solution)
      A flow chart that only has one end (and no backtracks?)
      Some kind of possibility mapping but with set start and end (ie. life and death, unsorted then sorted)

      • mendax says:

        I like your last suggestion best! Players could represent angels or devils hoping the individual might take or directing them to one path or another.

    • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

      Developing software using Git 😉

    • AG says:

      Sounds like a classic medieval fantasy plot, a la The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

  21. compeltechnic says:

    What is the most morally significant single action you have taken during your life?

    • Plumber says:

      Being a father.

    • benjdenny says:

      Has to be an active action? I feel like there’s a lot of “did not ram my car into the asshole driver’s car” and “did not commit sexual assault” type inactions that outweigh most of my actual activities, despite being common to most people

    • Two McMillion says:

      I talked a person who was contemplating suicide out of it.

    • Closed Limelike Curves says:

      Signing the Giving What We Can pledge, I’d say

    • smocc says:

      What counts as a single action. I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years and did a lot of stuff that feels morally significant. Probably the most obvious one was helping a particular poor Indian family join the church, which led to the father stopping drinking and chewing betel and getting a new job, and which will gigantic impact on the future educational and economic attainment of the children.

      Besides that, fatherhood, and supporting my wife through a bout of depression.

    • SamChevre says:

      Joining, and then leaving, the Amish-Mennonite church I grew up in.

    • Reasoner says:

      Donating money to the Future of Humanity Institute before the publication of Superintelligence.

  22. a reader says:

    Not sure if anybody else is interested in these things, but somebody mentioning in a former open thread the ancient Roman name of Koln/Cologne, Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, made me remember something: the city was named so because it was the birthplace of empress Agrippina, wife (and alleged killer) of Claudius and mother (and victim) of Nero. She was the daughter of prince and glorious general Germanicus – seemingly the best character in the Julio-Claudian dynasty – then engaged in a campaign against the Germans.

    In 14 CE, when Augustus died, the legions from Germany wanted to proclaim Germanicus emperor, but he refused, suppressed the rebellion and made the legions accept the official emperor Tiberius. Fast forward a few years, Tiberius removes him from the command of German legions, ending his successful campaign, sends him to Orient were he dies in unclear circumstances. Fast forward some more years, Tiberius executes Germanicus’s two oldest sons – the second one, Drusus, by locking him in a cell with no food (before dying, the youth allegedly tried to eat straws). But one of Germanicus’s sons survived and succeeded Tiberius: the youngest one, Caligula.

    If there are other people here interested in the history of Roman Empire, maybe try to answer 2 questions:

    1. How different would have history been if Germanicus survived and became emperor? Let’s say he accepted his legions’ proposal, or he managed to not die in Orient, or maybe Augustus adopted him as heir, instead of adopting Tiberius and making Tiberius adopt Germanicus? Would the Roman Empire be healthier and last longer without lez majesty accusations eliminating the more proeminent senators? Would have been long term consequences nowadays, like a Romanized, now Romance-speaking Germany (or a bigger France) or Christianity evolving differently because there was no persecution, because Nero didn’t become emperor, maybe he didn’t exist, Germanicus choosing a different husband for his daughter? Or would history have roughly the same course?

    2. If all personality traits are substantially heritable, how comes the best Julio-Claudian had 3 of the worst among his direct descendants: son Caligula, daughter Agrippina, grandson Nero ?

    • Question 1 is directly related to question 2. It doesn’t matter great of an emperor you are, one of your descendants is going to be a terrible person so every government has to work around that. If Germanicus lived, he would have had a descendant who was a spoiled, selfish, idiotic jerk who ends up being killed by either the senate or the legions, and then you get an Year of Four Emperors situation. It probably would have played out differently but I can’t imagine it makes too much of a difference in the long run.

      The Roman Emperors didn’t really make much of a difference in the spread of Christiantiy until Constantine. Any suppression was too sporadic to really stamp it out. Maybe if an emperor or line of emperors sustained a decades long suppression, it could have worked.

      The one major difference I could see is if Germanicus becomes emperor and decides to actually incorporate Germany in to the empire and it sticks. That would surely have a lasting impact.

    • Protagoras says:

      1) Depending on the exact sequence, the empire might have ended early. Tiberius was an effective general and administrator with little charm or political skill. I think he had the effect of decisively shifting public perception in the direction of monarchy is just the way things are now, rather than the previous we’re following Augustus because we all love him. Another much loved emperor might have prevented the entrenchment of monarchy, possibly leading to more new civil wars sooner.

      2) It is compatible with what is known of the career of Augustus that he could have been the kind of sociopath Shakespeare describes him as being (indeed, aspects of his career make more sense on that interpretation). So I don’t know about crediting him with the best personality. Assume instead that he was just an outlier in intelligence, and his descendents displayed the usual regression to the mean and so were sociopaths who weren’t quite smart enough to mostly hide it, and everything fits.

      • I don’t see any reason to believe that Augustus was any more “sociopathic” than any other autocrat throughout history. If he only cared about his own power, then why was he so concerned with his succession before he died?

        • Protagoras says:

          High standard, there. And vanity, perhaps? Or maybe thoughts about the afterlife (he is supposed to have been superstitious)? I admit his life is really not sufficiently well documented for anybody to be sure about his motives (as with most ancients the sources are sketchy on many points, and there’s plenty of reason to suspect bias in most of the reports we do have), but you’re not making a very strong case for ruling out sociopath as one of the possibilities.

          • When you say a historical figure is a “sociopath”, what exactly do you mean? Augustus did a lot of things to benefit the wider empire, which I guess is consistent with being a high functioning sociopath who only cared about maintaining legitimacy but is also consistent with just wanting to leave Rome better off(and these things of course are not necessarily in opposition to each other). I can’t “rule out” sociopathy but I also can’t rule out anyone being a sociopath.

          • a reader says:

            By “the best Julio-Claudian” I was meaning Germanicus, not Augustus. Germanicus was described quite idealistically both by Tacirus and Suetonius.

            It is the general opinion that Germanicus possessed all the highest qualities of body and mind, to a degree never equalled by anyone; a handsome person,a unequalled valour, surpassing ability in the oratory and learning of Greece and Rome, unexampled kindliness, and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men’s regard and inspiring their affection. (Suetonius, Life of Caligula)

            Augustus had blood on his hands during the civil war – especially the lists of proscriptions.

            Still, it’s hard to believe that a sociopath could act with his moderation after gaining absolute power. Usually evil rulers wear a mask before obtaining the power and show their true faces after.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Lez majesty? Like Rhaena Targaryen?

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Despite their wacky brains, octopodes seem to respond to the drug Ecstasy in a very similar way to humans.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      “Very similar way”, when more than half of all nonfatal responses would be ‘more sociable’.

      There might be an effect present, but that article summarized mostly anthropic bias over a difference that has many different explanations.

  24. johan_larson says:

    William Langwiesche has a new article in The Atlantic about the disappearance of MH 370. His theory is that the senior pilot is responsible for the disappearance and the Malaysian authorities are either covering something up or obstructing investigations for fear of finding something embarrassing.


    The important answers probably don’t lie in the ocean but on land, in Malaysia. That should be the focus moving forward. Unless they are as incompetent as the air force and air traffic control, the Malaysian police know more than they have dared to say. The riddle may not be deep. That is the frustration here. The answers may well lie close at hand, but they are more difficult to retrieve than any black box. If Blaine Gibson wants a real adventure, he might spend a year poking around Kuala Lumpur.

    • JPNunez says:

      What are the chances the simulator data is coincidence?

      Dunno what the priors on pilots actively playing Microsoft Flight Simulator -not merely having played in their youth-, particularly Malaysian pilots. But as that number goes lower, the chances that Zaharie did rises along.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      That was a really good article.

  25. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I have to recommend the literal epics. Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato has only one verse translation (Google ‘orlando innamorato charles ross’), while Ariosto’s superior sequel (how often do you hear that phrase? 🙂 ) has several, going back to Shakespeare’s time. I recommend the two-volume Penguin Classics paperbacks by Barbara Reynolds.
    These are the first epics that read like fantasy in the modern sense, starring Paladins/cavaliers rather than Homeric heroes. There’s a Fantasy Kitchen Sink element to them that prefigures Dungeons & Dragons, as the rotating cast of protagonists encounter not just their equals on the paynim (Muslim… sort of) side of a war, but Morgan le Fay and her half-sisters, monsters from Greek mythology, an orc/ogre, etc.
    Not only are they fun to read, but they’re a respected part of the Western canon, at least in their native Italy. C.S. Lewis complained that the Anglophone oblivion of this genre “deprives us of entire species of pleasure.”

    • Lillian says:

      One of my favourite things about that series is when a lady-knight goes on a quest to rescue a charming prince from an evil wizard. It sounds like the kind of obvious genre subversion/inversion that was popular during the Grrrl Power times of the 90s, and yet it was written like five hundred years ago.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Absolutely. The gender stuff was so ahead of its time that a reader encountering the Paladin epics for the first time between 1990-2019 might just think “Oh, this again.”
        That it’s combined with a traditionalist’s reverence for Classics (the superstrong lady Marfisa’s origin story is “suckled by lioness after a shipwreck”, and “[big cat] gave thee suck” is a Virgil reference) is super nifty.

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    There are a lot of books about start ups.

    Is there anything about companies which are puttering along adequately (cash cows) and which don’t have immense resources becoming significantly more capable and profitable?

    • Matt M says:

      “Good to Great” is one of the most well known and often cited business books out there, and seems to describe this sort of situation adequately enough.

    • Reasoner says:

      I’ve heard The Personal MBA recommended.

  27. Nick says:

    The only Sanderson I’ve read are his standalones Elantris and Warbreaker. They were pretty good for the reasons you say—wooh worldbuilding and plot, meh characters—and I look forward to any sequels. I’m going to read Mistborn eventually, which I hear is better anyway, I just don’t want to dive into a trilogy anytime soon.

  28. Lignisse says:

    I can’t imagine liking the first Mistborn series and not the second, because it’s good and bad in roughly the same ways, so I’ll recommend that. Note that it’s not a trilogy – it was originally planned to be, but now it’s going to be a quadrilogy. The third book in the series, The Bands of Mourning ends on a couple of cliffhangers, just the way a penultimate book ought to.

  29. Pratfins says:

    The description of the summer program states:

    “The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, from game theory, cryptography, and mathematical logic, to AI safety, styles of communication, and cognitive science.”

    Are these materials/lesson plans available anywhere online? I’m very interested in any introductory curriculum for concepts in rationality, as current introductory materials like the sequences are lacking in educational technologies and design. A big stumbling block to the goal of raising the sanity waterline is the lack of an easily digestible, compact, and practical introduction to the foundational concepts.

  30. Viliam says:

    Somewhat related, I once thought about a list of books I would send back in time to my 20-years old me.

    The list of books is not the same as the list of most important knowledge, because there are extra constraints, like:
    * I must know a book on the topic (which leaves out a lot of important “tacit knowledge”);
    * the book should be accessible to the beginner, so that my younger self can read it without further ado, and yet it should provide an important knowledge (which leaves out knowledge compiled from many sources);
    * the book should contain good ideas without simultaneously containing harmful ideas, because I am sending the book without a commentary (which leaves out many great books with extremely low epistemic standards, that contain pieces of important information anyway).

    Here is the list, which I believe would be an extremely helpful reading for students during summer holidays:

    * How Not to Die – how to eat
    * Convict Conditioning – (only the first book) how to exercise
    * Don’t Shoot the Dog – how (human) mind works
    * Nonviolent Communication – how to talk to people
    * Rationality from AI to Zombies – how to think clearly
    * Early Retirement Extreme – how to save your money

  31. Nick says:

    Far from the best example, but I wish I’d started using Uber earlier. It would have made a couple of day trips with friends in college much easier, for one.

  32. SaiNushi says:

    Late teens: stood up to my parents about which college to go to.

    Early 20’s: pursued the interest in programming that germinated from the single college course that was part of my math degree.

  33. Etoile says:

    Where would one donate good but old math textbooks for elementary through high school? What about if a chunk are in a different language? And if these are 1-2 copies, not class sets?

    I know someone who has such a library, but was looking at it sadly the other day saying, “nobody will ever need those, they just take up room”. While their own grandchildren can learn from the foreign language ones, it is true that they are unlikely to be much used. And even the good old trusty English ones won’t be as the math curriculum deteriorates in the area where they teach that venerable subject to ungrateful teenagers.

    So, what to do with it? Seems like such a shame for such a library to go to waste….

    • johan_larson says:

      The library of a school of education, maybe?

    • jgr314 says:

      Where is the collection and what are the languages of the books? It is low probability, but I might have some suggestions.

      • Etoile says:

        English (American) and Russian. Russian for earlier grades and high school more in English. They really are nice. Also they’re compact (true of American textbooks from 1950 or so as well) – why the heck are modern ones so big and heavy, weight inversely proportional to actual content and quality? (But that’s off topic.)

        Collection is near New York City.

        • johan_larson says:

          why the heck are modern ones so big and heavy, weight inversely proportional to actual content and quality?

          US text books tend to be big because there are many state-level authorities setting rules for curricula, and the text book publishers try to meet the requirements for all of them that have real clout. This produces big fluffy unfocused books. Countries with single national-level authorities setting the rules tend to have much slimmer textbooks.

          • Etoile says:

            You’re probably right. I read “The Language Police” by Diane Ravitch once upon a time, and what she described in terms of textbook publishers’ self-censorship (this doesn’t apply to math as much) is crazy. And mind you, she was using info from 1980-90s and the book came out in 2003. I can only imagine what is going on these days.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          why the heck are modern ones so big and heavy, weight inversely proportional to actual content and quality

          According to my high school chemistry teacher, it’s because authors think lots of colour is essential for a modern audience (and publishers think they can charge more for it), and colour printing requires paper with lots of sizing which is heavier.

          When I get home, if I remember I’ll put some of my university-level chemistry textbooks (some in colour, some not) on the kitchen scale and let you know the results.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Forgot to weigh my textbooks last night, but from Amazon:

            Organic textbook (Clayden, Greaves, Warren and Wothers)- 1538 pages, paperback, 8.9 x 10.9 inches, full colour, shipping weight 6.3 lb

            Inorganic textbook (Greenwood and Earnshaw)- 1600 pages, paperback, 7.8 x 10 inches, black and white, shipping weight 4.2 lb.

        • jgr314 says:

          The local RSM locations might be interested. If I were closer, I’d be interested to see if there were any good problems or alternative models that have been forgotten/didn’t come over to the US.

          • Etoile says:

            Thanks! That might be a good idea!

            In terms of methods…. I mean, one of the key methods for learning, long abandoned it seems, is doing 300 progressively harder examples of the same thing until you can do it with your eyes closed. One complaint from the library owner about modern textbooks is, they don’t really come with enough exercises to truly get the skills down and make a reasonable homework assignment.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve seen a recommendation to get math books from different decades. There are fashions in explanations, so you improve the odds that you’ll hit one that’s easier for you.

  34. Bobobob says:

    Apropos of nothing, but my favorite non-apology apology ever.

    MUCH to the author’s surprise, and (if he may say so without additional offence) considerably to his amusement, he finds that his sketch of official life, introductory to The Scarlet Letter, has created an unprecedented excitement in the respectable community immediately around him. It could hardly have been more violent, indeed, had he burned down the Custom-House, and quenched its last smoking ember in the blood of a certain venerable personage, against whom he is supposed to cherish a peculiar malevolence. As the public disapprobation would weigh very heavily on him, were he conscious of deserving it, the author begs leave to say, that he has carefully read over the introductory pages, with a purpose to alter or expunge whatever might be found amiss, and to make the best reparation in his power for the atrocities of which he has been adjudged guilty. But it appears to him, that the only remarkable features of the sketch are its frank and genuine good-humor, and the general accuracy with which he has conveyed his sincere impressions of the characters therein described. As to enmity, or ill-feeling of any kind, personal or political, he utterly disclaims such motives. The sketch might, perhaps, have been wholly omitted, without loss to the public, or detriment to the book; but, having undertaken to write it, he conceives that it could not have been done in a better or a kindlier spirit, nor, so far as his abilities availed, with a livelier effect of truth.

    The author is constrained, therefore, to republish his introductory sketch without the change of a word.

    SALEM, March 30, 1850.

    • dick says:

      “Verily, I hath been besieged by the townspeople,” Hester wrote in undated, withered letters.

  35. DragonMilk says:

    This may sound like an oxymoron, but who can recommend a website selling the cheapest platinum wedding bands?

    Alternatively, would the diamond district also have cheap bands (no gems, just metal)?

    • Lambert says:

      You might as well look around any diamond districts for plain Pt rings.
      The local jewellers supply shop where I am has them from £120 or so and upwards.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Holy shit platinum has declined in price since I was shopping for my wedding ring.

        • Lambert says:

          It’s an important catalyst, so demand fluctuates a lot with the economy.
          I’m seeing £25.67/g right now for casting grain. (not that I have the money or heat sources to deal with Pt)

        • DragonMilk says:

          I took that approach with the engagement ring when it came to diamond so hopefully I’m right in the long term (didn’t get a diamond ring)

    • Well... says:

      Congrats on your upcoming wedding.

    • jgr314 says:

      This isn’t what you asked, but I would recommend getting your wedding date inscribed inside your wedding bands.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      FWIW I remain quite pleased with my titanium band, ordered from Utah via ebay for not very much. It looks distinguished enough and is obviously quite hard-wearing.

      • Majuscule says:

        We have Damascus steel bands, I think also from Utah? They’re beautiful and we love them, but a friend who works in emergency medicine was telling my husband horror stories about hard metal rings and now we’re planning to get gold bands for an upcoming anniversary.

        • johan_larson says:

          Could you elaborate? Gold used for jewelry contains plenty of alloy metal, and is quite hard. Why would a steel ring be more dangerous than a 10 karat gold ring?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            It is not really, those are also contra-indicated for people who work with their hands. Standard solution: Keep it on a (Thin!) chain around your neck.
            Non-standard solution: Just tattoo a band on your finger.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen- I think there’s a difference between “will injure you in unpleasant ways if caught in machinery” and “emergency services will be unable to cut it off if you break your finger”.

            The stories I’ve heard are specifically of rings made of things like titanium which are too hard for the normal ring cutting equipment to cut through, although there are some which claim to be able to get through titanium (slowly).

          • DragonMilk says:

            I’ve heard that if you have something that causes your finger to swell, ER will try to remove your ring via cutting it off so your finger doesn’t die. If you have something like a tungsten ring, hospitals won’t have the equipment to cut it off, so you’ll soon have a necrotic ring finger.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Gold and platinum jewelry can be cut with a manual ring cutter. Titanium or steel rings are harder but can still be cut with an electric ring cutter. It’s tungsten carbide that’s a more serious problem; they have to be cracked by compressing them.

        • Garrett says:

          There are two issues involved: does the ring increase the risk of immediate danger? And who has the tools to remove a ring if needed?

          Wearing a ring while working with power tools, dunking in basketball, whatever, is going to raise the risk of injury unless you are wearing a silicone band or something. Take it off when doing that kind of thing.

          If an injury to your finger occurs, the next question is ‘who can handle it’. On the ambulance, we carry the small manual ring cutters which generally work for the softer metals like gold and silver. No idea about titanium or steel. Tungsten is a problem. The oxygen mask/dental floss removal can work sometimes. But ERs have access to plenty more tools and materials than we have. Consider things like a dentist drill or angle grinder if critical. In these cases what will matter more is how quickly you are able to recognize a critical injury and how quickly you can get to the ER.

  36. TheContinentalOp says:

    Fans of the Trolley Problem might enjoy my Flash Story Thought Experiment that was published last week.


    • Florent says:

      That was nice. The plot was going along fine, but when you brought up the 3rd meme, that really cracked me up.

  37. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    -Understood how to navigate social situations better.
    -Cook. I love good food. I spent a lot of time eating Meh Food.
    -Getting an internship and understanding how to navigate the job search and performance management process. I’d be a lot further along than I am now.
    -Infertility assistance earlier (though that’s a “We” decision and not a “Me” decision)
    -Your friend has a brain tumor. Get him help before it becomes terminal.
    -More late teens, but I wish I had enlisted. I wanted to, but my parents were against it and I was rather unconfident. By the time I graduated college and couldn’t find a job, I was going to enlist, but I lost half my hearing a few days after I started seriously doing research.

    I don’t think there’s all that much I could have done to make my early 20s more enjoyable. I was depressed more or less constantly between 14 and 22. It just was not a social scene that made me happy. I don’t think there’s much that I could have done to make me happier.

    • albatross11 says:

      Actually, one thing I’d advise my younger self to do is to learn to cook. Specifically, buy a relatively easy cookbook (I like the Betty Crocker one), and start trying out recipes in there, following the directions, until you’ve got at least five meals that you like, and that you can reliably make for yourself and friends. This will save you thousands of dollars and lots of unpleasant meals eating crappy fast food/processed food because you don’t want another box of mac and cheese.

      Even just picking up oven roasting vegetables, oven fried chicken/pork, and a couple simple baked chicken/pork recipes, plus a couple easy cassaroles, would be a huge win. Take a class if this is more appealing to you–it’s one of the most valuable skills you can have if you’re going to live in a house/apartment with a kitchen and refrigerator!

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yeah, cooking is definitely a skill you can start picking up while young, and it pays major dividends for decades. It’s something I never spent much time thinking about it until I lived fully on my own (since I lived with my parents through university).

        However, many of my friends put next to no effort at all in their cooking, which I think is a damn shame. But, maybe they have different preferences. I really like Good Eats.

  38. bean says:

    Naval Gazing has had a busy two weeks. The big news is that we started our community game of Rule the Waves 2, with the report on the first year of play going up last night. Chime in if you’re interested.

    The submarine is the newest of the major warship types, but it’s still managed to amass a long and interesting history, from the Revolutionary War to the present.

    Our long-running series on the Falklands continues with a look at the continuing Argentinian air attack on the Amphibious Force on May 22nd and 23rd.

    The even longer-running (if very irregular) series on Russian battleships is back, this time with a look at some of the plans Stalin made to build a world-class fleet.

    And battleship aviation concludes with a look at the postwar developments of helicopters and drones.

    Readers Inky and Alexander have kindly contributed guest reviews of the Haifa Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum and the Newark Air Museum respectively. Both look very interesting.

    And as always, there’s the Naval Gazing Open Thread.

    • Kuiperdolin says:

      You don’t consider aircraft carrier a major warship type?

    • C_B says:

      One of the themes I’m noticing in the Falklands series is that the tech on both sides seems to kind of…suck.

      – More than half of the Argentine bombs are failing to detonate.
      – The Argentine sub could only fire one torpedo due to a “computer problem,” and the one torpedo it did fire had technical difficulties.
      – British ships keep being unable to use their weapons due to technical difficulties that they don’t notice until there are already airplanes trying to blow them up.
      – British warships are wired in such a way that they can lose multiple systems to a single, non-explosive round hitting some cables.

      Is this typical wartime SNAFU, and I just overestimate how good and reliable military tech is? Or is this worse than normal, and if so, why? Is it because neither side had been in an actual armed conflict for a while, so they’re using untested tech?

      • bean says:

        It’s a mix of all of the above. It was the first time Britain went to war with modern weapons, which meant a lot of bugs had to be worked out. A lot of lessons of WWII in terms of damage control and such had been lost, and were re-learned. We may have forgotten them again today, if the LCS and Zumwalt are anything to go by. And both sides were fighting outside of their prewar plans, which meant a lot of gear was being used in ways that it wasn’t supposed to be.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          It was the first time Britain went to war with modern weapons, which meant a lot of bugs had to be worked out.

          See the decision to (successfully) fire WW2-vintage unguided Mk VIII torpedoes at the Belgrano, rather than the more modern but unreliable homing Tigerfish which Conqueror also carried.

      • Lillian says:

        It’s pretty normal for equipment to have all kinds of failures and mishaps at the start of a shooting war. Here’s a funny video discussing the various difficulties the British Army experiencing in the run-up to invading Iraq. In the case of the Argentinian bombs, it’s my understanding that it was a simple oversight. The bombs were fused for low altitude bombing conducted by men who wanted some distance between themselves and the flight floor, whereas the Argentinian fighter-bomber jocks preferred to conduct no altitude bombings barely clearing the tops of the waves.

        • bean says:

          First, that video is from a comedy show, and the man being interviewed is actor John Bird, not a British planner. Yes, there’s a bit of truth in that military planning is hard, but militaries are really good at learning from the last war. They find problems where the last war didn’t go, and that was definitely not into the desert.

          Second, one of my commenters (who used to load bombs for the USAF, so he probably knows what he’s talking about) suggested that the story on the Argentine fuzes is more complicated. They knew they were having problems, but they only had older fuzes that couldn’t be set to go off at their attack altitudes. It’s the sort of thing which can be fixed, but somewhere like Argentina usually doesn’t have the capability to do so in the few weeks that hostilities lasted.

          • Lillian says:

            Yes the first bit is a comedy show. I thought it’d be funnier if people realized that when they started watching that instead of my warning them up front. The problems they discuss are partly real and partly made up, and in all cases grossly exaggerated for the sake of humour. I trust the audience here doesn’t need to be told this, though perhaps i should have allowed that not everyone is familiar with British comedy.

            Nonetheless, the humour rests on the fact that the British Army did encounter some difficulties in the run-up to the Iraq War, which it really shouldn’t have since they’d gotten to play in the sandbox during the Gulf War just over a decade earlier. Or at least that’s what the British media was reporting at the time, and has more recently reiterated in the aftermath of the Chilcot report being released. It’s possible the media were making much ado about nothing, they tend to do that, but i have not encountered any contradictory evidence.

            Not surprised the Argentine fuzes thing being more complicated, things usually are. Thank you for the additional info. It does make sense the Argentinians realized the problem but didn’t have the ability to fix it in time.

          • bean says:

            You’re mixing issues, though. The article you link is 90%+ post “mission accomplished”. It’s kind of a shame that what happened after, and the almost-criminal lack of planning for the postwar situation, have eclipsed what a brilliant campaign the initial invasion was. And yes, the equipment worked pretty well during it, too.

    • Dack says:

      Would you ever do a piece on blockades?

      • bean says:

        That’s not a bad idea, actually. There was a lot of interesting stuff with the concept of a blockade going on in the late 19th and early 20th century. I’ve put it on my list.

  39. Matt M says:

    In the category of “unintended consequences”, I believe Scott may have given Vraylar more free (and more effective) advertising than all of their posters up all over the conference.

    Because I watch a lot of TV, and I see a lot of ads for the latest Pharma Wonderdrug, and I pretty much never pay attention or retain any information about them whatsoever. But last night, I saw an ad for Vraylar and I was like “HOLY CRAP ITS VRAYLAR! I KNOW THAT!”

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, name-brand recognition certainly worked there! 😀

      • Matt M says:

        I mean, you have to imagine that if you went to them before the conference and told them “If you paste these ads everywhere, a famous psychiatrist blogger with a huge following will mention Vraylar 50 times in an upcoming post,” they’d have been pretty happy with that result!

      • @Matt M
        A lot of firms seem to HATE free advertising, because they don’t have control over the character of the advertisement.

  40. stoodfarback says:

    Has anybody here looked into the removal of wisdom teeth as a preventative measure? Ie, nothing’s wrong with ’em, but removing just-in-case.
    Dental offices (and oral surgeons specifically) have a conflict-of-interest to recommend the procedure.
    There appear to be ~no studies for it? https://www.cochrane.org/CD003879/ORAL_surgical-removal-versus-retention-management-asymptomatic-disease-free-impacted-wisdom-teeth

    • Matt M says:

      I basically had that done for my upper wisdom teeth. I have bad oral hygiene habits in general and kept getting cavities in them, so they said “you might as well just get these taken out”

      For the record, I got this recommendation on its most strongest terms when I was in the military, which doesn’t necessarily have the same sort of conflict-of-interest…

    • Simulated Knave says:

      My dad’s a dentist. It happens a lot. Your jaw really doesn’t have space for wisdom teeth (look at some x-rays). And a LOT of people”s have complications (mine were impacted and infected while still deep in my jaw).

      The conflict of interest regarding it is no greater than the conflict of interest regarding most other dental procedures, imo. Whether a cavity needs filling can be rather subjective, too.

      • stoodfarback says:

        I actually do think it makes sense when I try to reason it out… bacteria, hard-to-clean, possibility of subtle but deleterious effects, etc.
        But it also “makes sense” to get strict bed rest after a heart attack, so…

        (is it “traditional”/cultural-evolution to get wisdom teeth removed, or is it too new?)

    • Dack says:

      If you have room for them (every jaw is different) and if you take care of them…they are fine. I kept mine.

  41. johan_larson says:

    The US military is getting serious about reducing collateral damage. The new R9X variant of the Hellfire missile doesn’t use an explosive warhead. Instead it pops out six cutting blades just before impact. The target is cut to pieces rather than being blown to bits.

    More here: https://techcrunch.com/2019/05/13/pentagon-missile-r9x-knives/

    • Garrett says:

      Doesn’t that leave the downside of an otherwise intact missile which can be sold to our enemies for reverse-engineering purposes?

      • broblawsky says:

        It’s a piece of titanium full of rocket fuel traveling faster than the speed of sound. It’s still going to kind of explode, with or without a conventional warhead.

      • bean says:

        The missile is going to hit pretty hard, so there’s not likely to be all that much left. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a dispersal charge that also shreds the guidance system.

        The bit about “six knives” confuses me, though. That seems like too small a number to guarantee, that, say, everyone in the car ends up dead. But I’m sure they’ve put in a lot of work on flight patterns, so maybe it’s OK. Or maybe these are bigger than I’m thinking about.

        • Aapje says:

          This article has pictures of the effects of such a strike on a car.

          The blades may just be there to increase the chance of a kill, with bare kinetic mass of the warhead being the primary means.

          That seems like too small a number to guarantee, that, say, everyone in the car ends up dead.

          The goal seems to be to specifically kill one person, with very good intelligence/surveillance, so they known exactly where the person is (better turn off your mobile phone, Mr Terrorist).

          • bean says:

            That’s a pretty impressive amount of damage.

            The goal seems to be to specifically kill one person, with very good intelligence/surveillance, so they known exactly where the person is (better turn off your mobile phone, Mr Terrorist).

            I chose the car example very deliberately, and it looks like I was right. For something like this to work, you need to have a very precise idea of where the target is going to be. A traditional drone strike basically works if you know the target is in a given building or the like, but this is useless unless you can nail down the room. I’d strongly suspect that the use case is killing cars in urban areas.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, I think so too. Perhaps also for very specific cases where they know that the person likes to sit in a lazy chair, whose place in the home they know, to watch a specific show at a specific time.

            But the main purpose is probably to hit cars that drive around in urban areas, in places where many kids roam the streets.

            I bet that the Israelis are very interested.

    • JPNunez says:

      Surviving terrorist: Haha! Free knives! Suckers.

      • Lambert says:

        Given all the fuel tank canoes in Vietnam, I’d not be surprised if the locals tried to salvage what they could.

    • Clutzy says:

      Reducing collateral damage is just shorthand for reducing effectiveness.


      This is why people snark at Tom Nichols and other “experts” guys, they learn nothing in 60 years.

      • albatross11 says:


        So why have anything but Tsar Bomba instances in your arsenal? Surely anything else is less effective.

        • Clutzy says:

          It is, but sometimes you prefer to be a less effective persuader so as to be something more than “king/queen of the ashes”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Seems like the same statement applies to a bomb designed to limit collateral damage. Sometimes, you want to turn the whole terrorist training camp into a steaming radioactive crater, but other times, you’d like to kill the bad guys in the front room of the house while leaving the hostages in the back room, the children playing in the yard, and the uninvolved neighbors intact.

          • Clutzy says:

            Unless its on domestic soil, not hitting the “uninvolved neighbors” means you might as well have not carried out the bombing at all. You’ve just convinced the populace that, yes, the terrorists are much scarier than you.

          • bean says:

            Unless its on domestic soil, not hitting the “uninvolved neighbors” means you might as well have not carried out the bombing at all.

            This assumes that there is nobody sufficiently smart/charismatic/connected that the bad guys won’t be significantly worse off without them. And that people will read “lack of sending a B-52 squadron to bomb the town flat” as “lack of guts” instead of “basic concern for human life”. Both of which are fairly obviously false when stated that way.

          • albatross11 says:

            Again, if maximizing collateral damage is the best way to win the war, why do we need anything less than the biggest bomb in our arsenal at all? One suspected terrorist in the middle of town = one Tsar Bomba airburst over the target. Anything else will make us look weak to the locals[1], right?

            [1] The properly-impressed locals will, unfortunately. mostly be blasted into their constituent molecules and scattered into the upper atmosphere. Still, for that tiny fraction of a second before they’re vaporized, they’ll definitely be impressed by how metal we are.

          • Clutzy says:

            Again, if maximizing collateral damage is the best way to win the war

            It is the best way of winning the war.

            It may not provide you the greatest economic value if your goal is to use the population of that area in any way in the future (the goal of every war I can recall including all the “for freedom” wars of the last 25 years.

          • johan_larson says:

            It is the best way of winning the war.

            In a counterinsurgency situation, you a fighting a small group embedded within a much larger population that has a mix of sentiments, but mostly isn’t willing to take up arms against you. Indiscriminate violence is a good way to shift the views of that population in the direction of hostility to you, particularly if the brothers/uncles/friends of those you killed join the fight. If it gets bad enough, you’ll be creating more insurgents than you kill. That’s why controlled use of force is important. By all means, kill the bad terrorists. But be sure you don’t kill (too many) neutrals while you’re at it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What if killing the actual terrorists _also_ creates more insurgents than you kill?

          • John Schilling says:

            It is the best way of winning the war.

            Which wars are you imagining were won by maximizing collateral damage?

            Seriously, you’re way off base here, and we’ve got the military history to back that up. Trying to minimize collateral damage can lose you a war, but only insofar as it interferes with your engaging legitimate military targets. Once you’re at the point of destroying even most of the legitimate targets that you can find and reach, adding moar firepowerz specifically for the extra collateral damage is counterproductive.

            What you are missing, I think, is that civilians can’t surrender. Civilians(*) can’t end the war, and it doesn’t matter if they all give up or run away or whatever. The big decision for a civilian is, remain a civilian or sign up and join the war effort. The big decision for a soldier is, continue to be a soldier or run away and maybe desert and go home. So the more dangerous you make it to be a civilian, the more it becomes the right move for everyone on the other side to be a soldier instead.

            That one is particularly important in counterinsurgency warfare, where the enemy is mostly part-time combatants who can just sort of drift away from the fighting and revert to being civilians without anyone noticing. When you start gratuitously killing civilians, you do the enemy’s work for them by both giving them another reason to fight and taking away their main alternative to fighting.

            * There are edge cases like workers in munitions factories, owners of insurgent safehouses, and legislators in the enemy’s civilian government, but while it may be reasonable to consider these people the legal and moral equivalent of enemy combatants, it has rarely been fruitful to deliberately try and kill them as opposed to e.g. disrupting their operations by blowing up the munitions factory.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Which wars are you imagining were won by maximizing collateral damage?

            World War 2?

            Dam bombings, fire bombings and nuclear bombings killed millions civilians and displaced many more. The general strategy used by both sides was to depopulate the enemy until they were no longer able to fight.

          • johan_larson says:

            The general strategy used by both sides was to depopulate the enemy until they were no longer able to fight.

            That doesn’t sound accurate. Japan at the time of surrender had plenty of people. What they didn’t have was the heavy machinery to wage modern war (tanks, planes, ships), the factories to build more such machines, and the raw materials used to build and run them.

          • johan_larson says:

            What if killing the actual terrorists _also_ creates more insurgents than you kill?

            Then the portion of the population that is willing to fight you is going to spiral upwards, unless something acts to halt the phenomenon. Once a large enough portion is willing to fight, you are no longer in a counterinsurgency struggle, but rather in a conventional war (if the population can effectively organize against you) or full-blown military occupation (of they cannot.) Or maybe you call it quits before that happens and go home.

          • John Schilling says:

            Dam bombings

            Were conducted for the purpose of disrupting electric power to munitions factories, which they did effectively. They were not intended to kill people, were not targeted at non-hydroelectric dams that would have caused mass casualty flooding incidents, and killed relatively few people by the standards of RAF bombing campaigns.

            fire bombings

            Mostly didn’t work. We know this. During the war, the RAF had a theory that if they burned down the houses of the people who worked in German munitions factories in the middle of the night (and incidentally all their neighbors), they would be so demoralized that they would stop going to work in German munitions factories and so German soldiers would not be adequately supplied with munitions. After the war, we got the German production records, and it turns out that burning down the houses of factory workers and their neighbors did not significantly reduce their willingness or ability to work in factories that built munitions for use against the people who burned down their houses.

            Which the British might have known if they’d paid attention to how British munitions-factory workers responded to enemy bombers blowing up their homes and families.

            johan larson is right. World War II was not won by the physical depopulation of the enemy, nor by attacks on the morale of the civilian population. Nobody shied away from collateral damage when that was a necessary consequence of attacking legitimate military targets, like munitions factories, but nobody profited from “if we can kill enough civilians we’ll win” either.

          • bean says:

            The general strategy used by both sides was to depopulate the enemy until they were no longer able to fight.

            This is not true. The only people who attempted this strategy were the British, and it didn’t work. The dams, firebombings of Japan, and the A-bombs were all on specific targets. Yes, they killed a lot of other people too, but that was, well, collateral. Give the planners the ability to eliminate their targets without all of that damage, and they’d gladly take it.

            And to add to what John said, the firebombings of Japan were intended to take out factories, which were small and dispersed. They were mixed with high-altitude precision attacks on targets which could be located. Offer Curtis LeMay the ability to find and blow up those factories at a lower cost, and he’d have taken it. Only Arthur Harris viewed burning down cities as an end in itself.

          • Clutzy says:

            What you are missing, I think, is that civilians can’t surrender. Civilians(*) can’t end the war, and it doesn’t matter if they all give up or run away or whatever.

            I find this to be a falsehood, and most regimes, dictator or democracy, have large civilian support. Any successful insurgency has greater than 40% support in the local populace.

            Denying this basic fact is why people get this wrong so much. Did firebombing Tokyo help win the war? Slightly. Did it change the tenor of the US occupation to make it more successful? MASSIVELY.

            Its like people decided to forget thousands of years of war. For millennia there was a norm in war that was rarely violated: You can surrender a city peacefully before the walls are breached. However, once your walls are breached, all the men will be killed/enslaved, all the property will be looted, and all the women are fair game. Its called a sacking. And the sacking/surrender dichotomy is a good one, it allows civilians to sell out bad rulers, it encourages surrender and in the end saves lives on both sides.

            Apparently this obvious solution does not apply to modern warefare because???

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Its like people decided to forget thousands of years of war. For millennia there was a norm in war that was rarely violated: You can surrender a city peacefully before the walls are breached. However, once your walls are breached, all the men will be killed/enslaved, all the property will be looted, and all the women are fair game. Its called a sacking. And the sacking/surrender dichotomy is a good one, it allows civilians to sell out bad rulers, it encourages surrender and in the end saves lives on both sides.

            Apparently this obvious solution does not apply to modern warefare because???

            Let’s get this straight, because I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. The obvious reading has to just be an uncharitable strawman, right? Or are you actually advocating for slavery, genocide, and mass rape?

          • John Schilling says:

            And the sacking/surrender dichotomy is a good one, it allows civilians to sell out bad rulers,

            Can you give us some examples of this?

            Military governments, and nominally civilian governments in time of total war against a foreign invader, yield or fall when the military turns against them. The cruiser Aurora firing the first shot of the October revolution; the mutiny of the German navy at Kiel in 1918, the Italian general staff ousting Mussolini in 1943. I cannot offhand think of any case in which an uprising by the civilian population lead to the collapse of a government which was facing a foreign attack or invasion and still retained the support of the army.

            Presumably there are exceptions to this pattern, but I believe them to be rare. Wars are won by destroying the morale of the enemy’s army. Gratuitously killing enemy civilians is at best an indirect and inefficient means of accomplishing this, and is more often actively counterproductive to this.

          • bean says:

            Denying this basic fact is why people get this wrong so much. Did firebombing Tokyo help win the war? Slightly. Did it change the tenor of the US occupation to make it more successful? MASSIVELY.

            Because shutting down Japanese radar production has only a slight military effect, so they obviously did it just to be terrifying. Seriously, cite your sources. And the strategic bombing surveys have enough stuff online that if you’re right, that shouldn’t be hard.

            Its like people decided to forget thousands of years of war. For millennia there was a norm in war that was rarely violated:

            I’d like cites for “millennia” and “rarely violated”. I know it happened, but I doubt it was as universal as you’re claiming. Also, there were sound practical reasons for it. The attacker wanted the city intact. A fight for it would damage the city, so avoiding that was good. Also, the troops essentially couldn’t be controlled after they got loose, so the sack was going to happen anyway.

            Apparently this obvious solution does not apply to modern warefare because???

            Guns spring to mind. Even assuming the opinion of the populace mattered a couple hundred years ago because it was feasible to string up the opposing general using pitchforks and the like, that’s a lot less practical today if his guards have guns and yours don’t. Another thing that springs to mind is morality. There are many things which were accepted for thousands of years that we no longer do.

      • bean says:

        You’re going to trot this out again?

        While I agree that excessive concern with avoiding collateral damage can be harmful (see Vietnam, air war over) you’re advocating for explicit terror bombing which Does. Not. Work. It’s been tried a lot of times. The British were the most tenacious with it, and it failed them comprehensively. Air power works by destroying targets. Modern weapons let us do that without extracting an excessive toll from the surrounding populace, which is simply better.

        • Clutzy says:

          Evidenced by the successful occupations and reforms of?

          I think, ideally you can get to the place you want, in a world where you have near-perfect intelligence and swarms of assassination-bots that blow up targets in a semi-totalitarian sense. But what is the difference between Japan and Vietnam? Vietnam was weaker by a significant factor, even including outside support.

          Obviously we don’t want to miss important targets, that is worse than hitting them. Hitting important targets while also telling civilians you consider them part of the army if they are in a reasonable blast radius is also an important signal. The international community’s failure to recognize this is why the PLO puts rockets on top of hospitals.

          • bean says:

            Evidenced by the successful occupations and reforms of?

            Iraq. And I know you’ll trot out mid-2003 to ~2009 in counter, but that had a lot more to do with the fact that nobody at the Pentagon had any plans for postwar than with the limitations of the air campaign. Our occupation of Japan and Germany would have had problems if we hadn’t thought about what to do there, either.

            And I’ve repeatedly brought up the counterexample, where every single study of the dehousing campaign made postwar has shown it to be pointless and ineffective. The British adopted the explicit policy of “we can’t hit targets, but we can do collateral damage, so let’s just focus on that” and it didn’t work.

            But what is the difference between Japan and Vietnam? Vietnam was weaker by a significant factor, even including outside support.

            The Pacific War was run by people trying to win. The Vietnam War was run by people who were trying to send signals to Moscow. Collateral damage was definitely a concern, but it wasn’t the big one in why that war was run so horribly. When Nixon finally did what LeMay had advised 10 years previously, North Vietnam got serious about peace very quickly. But it was because they were going after targets that mattered, and actually hitting them. The mine campaign wasn’t particularly terrifying to the populace. I don’t think Vietnam was importing all that much food, and a magnetic mine doesn’t care about a sampan. But it worked because it cut the government’s sources of supply.

            Obviously we don’t want to miss important targets, that is worse than hitting them. Hitting important targets while also telling civilians you consider them part of the army if they are in a reasonable blast radius is also an important signal. The international community’s failure to recognize this is why the PLO puts rockets on top of hospitals.

            Look. I agree that we’re probably too concerned with collateral damage these days. If I was in charge, I’d make my explicit policy that we will destroy rockets regardless of where they are, but that we’d use the minimum possible force that meets our needs to do so. A rocket on top of a hospital gets a DIME SDB or maybe one of these fancy knife Hellfires. I might even prioritize rockets in such areas to make a point. But I’m not going to use a 2000 lb JDAM on the hospital just to cause pointless collateral damage, either.

          • Clutzy says:

            Look. I agree that we’re probably too concerned with collateral damage these days. If I was in charge, I’d make my explicit policy that we will destroy rockets regardless of where they are, but that we’d use the minimum possible force that meets our needs to do so. A rocket on top of a hospital gets a DIME SDB or maybe one of these fancy knife Hellfires. I might even prioritize rockets in such areas to make a point. But I’m not going to use a 2000 lb JDAM on the hospital just to cause pointless collateral damage, either.

            I think the difference between us is I think the majority in that hospital supports the rocket there, and you do not. And I don’t think there are many regimes where this is not the case.

          • Lillian says:

            What you don’t seem to get is that what they support is irrelevant, what matters is what they will actually fight for. If you kill the ones who fight, but spare the ones who don’t, you are incentive not fighting. The message you are sending is that they should lay down their arms, run away, blend back into the civilian population, and they will get to live. If you kill indiscriminately, there is no incentive not fight, because staying out of the fighting affords no safety and no security.

            Of course if you refuse to kill the guys who are fighting simply because there are civilians standing nearby, then sure you are incentivizing using civilians as shields. But the solution to that is to kill the fighters anyway with as much finesse as you can manage, not to immediately resort to indiscriminate wholesale slaughter. Finessing it preserves the incentive structure, it tells the fighters that civilians are not a shield, it tells civilians not to stand near fighters, and crucially it maintains the safety and security of those who are uninvolved.

          • bean says:

            I think the difference between us is I think the majority in that hospital supports the rocket there, and you do not. And I don’t think there are many regimes where this is not the case.

            Let’s try a hypothetical. You’re a doctor in a hospital in Iraq 15 years ago. You’re going about your business when a delivery truck pulls up. Instead of food or medicine, it’s filled with a rocket launcher team. You probably don’t really want them there. You’re a doctor and want to do your job and then go home safely. But what can you do to stop them putting the rocket launcher on the roof? They have guns and you don’t. Sure, you could try to coordinate the staff and swarm them under, but a lot of people are going to die if you do that. By yourself, all you can do is get shot. So do you support the rocket launcher on the roof?

            The rule of thumb in insurgencies is that 10% support the insurgents, 10% support the government, and 80% want to go about their lives, and will support whoever most convincingly promises that. The insurgents often gain support by threatening people who oppose them, and the government generally has to protect them. If you can gain the support of the populace, then the rocket launcher never gets to the roof of the hospital. It gets picked up by an infantry platoon when someone tips you off a week earlier. If you insist on using as much force as you can, then the populace rapidly ends up in same situation that sparked the Dazexiang uprising.

    • albatross11 says:

      So basically, this is a knife missile?

    • Nornagest says:

      You’re going to say something like that and there’s not even a still image of the thing? And here I was hoping for a video. Shots of the test targets. Something.


  42. ana53294 says:

    US legal dramas are very popular, and are very watched even abroad. It has been commented on SSC (I don’t know how to search the threads, so I can’t find it) that people abroad get the wrong idea about things like the right to stay silent, or even the right to a lawyer. Or even spousal visits, or right to practice your religion freely.

    I was shocked when Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan, they held him for days without allowing his lawyer to be at the interrogation, and then they released him on bail, but don’t allow him to see his wife. I thought this couldn’t happen, but obviously it does, and it’s perfectly legal.

    So, what are some fun non-US legal dramas that give you an idea of how the law works in different countries? Available with English subtitles, preferably.

    I must admit I don’t know any recent Spanish one, but “Turno de oficio” is quite good, although very old.

    And the televised court proceedings about the Catalan independence case are quite entertaining, and informative. No English subtitles, and it’s just the court procedures; but I find it quite interesting.

    • pozorvlak says:

      It has been commented on SSC (I don’t know how to search the threads, so I can’t find it) that people abroad get the wrong idea about things like the right to stay silent, or even the right to a lawyer.

      I haven’t seen this claim on SSC, but Neal Stephenson makes it in his essay In the Beginning was the Command Line (probably-illegal online copy at http://cristal.inria.fr/~weis/info/commandline.html):

      We seem much more comfortable with propagating those values to future generations nonverbally, through a process of being steeped in media. Apparently this actually works to some degree, for police in many lands are now complaining that local arrestees are insisting on having their Miranda rights read to them, just like perps in American TV cop shows. When it’s explained to them that they are in a different country, where those rights do not exist, they become outraged. Starsky and Hutch reruns, dubbed into diverse languages, may turn out, in the long run, to be a greater force for human rights than the Declaration of Independence.

      IANAL, but the biggest misconception spread by legal dramas is probably the idea that only guilty people lawyer up. If you’re arrested in the US, the magic words are apparently “I’m not answering any questions, and I want a lawyer”: http://lawcomic.net/guide/?p=2897

      • Matt says:

        I have an issue with the comic. At this point:

        Could your answer or silence be used to make it look like you committed a crime?


        There is no risk of self-incrimination, so there is no fifth amendment protection


        The government can require you to answer and even punish you if you refuse

        It’s not possible to know whether your answer might incriminate you so how do you reasonably get past this step?

        • pozorvlak says:

          Like I said, I’m not a lawyer, but that comic is a summary of an extensive series that goes into much more detail about the law of self-incrimination. It looks like the relevant bit starts here, and the answer to “what could be incriminating?” is very broad:

          The law doesn’t mess around here. Any answer that could be used to help prove an element of a crime – whether she did it or not – counts as incriminating.

          I imagine there’s a large body of case law that defines the exact borders, though.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          It’s how a third-party looks at it.

          If you are asked a question for which there is no way the answer could self-incriminate (“no risk”), you must answer.

          So, if you already have immunity, or have already served your prison sentence for a crime (e.g. Manning), or there is some other condition which means it’s impossible for any answer you give to harm your legal rights, you must answer.

          It’s really a rather small set of circumstances along that branch, but it does exist.

          • Matt says:

            I would trust blanket immunity, but nothing else. And not even that without it going through a lawyer.

            Having already served a prison sentence for a crime doesn’t mean you’re not a target for investigation of a new crime.

        • CatCube says:

          One thing about the comic is that it is describing the law as it is, not as the author would like it to be, so strictly your problem isn’t with the comic.

          But the answer to that limb is to have a lawyer. The lawyer can both evaluate what you’ll answer and raise the appropriate objections, or tell you that you have to answer it (and make sure that you’re covered to the maximum extent possible).

          The mind-bending complexity of this flowchart is why the standard advice from all internet posts by lawyers about any question from the cops is “Shut up and get a lawyer.” Because you may either accidentally waive your rights in a way that they could have prevented if you hadn’t talked to the cops before lawyering up, or you might inadvertently give up something incriminating (And if the cops have decided you’re their guy and are now gathering evidence to prosecute you, there could be an awful lot of stuff that’s incriminating that you wouldn’t think would be incriminating, and shutting up is to your advantage. Confirmation bias means the cops and prosecutors will not put the best spin on anything you say.)

          • ana53294 says:

            How does getting a lawyer work?

            For people who don’t have the means for it, they get a public defender.

            But let’s say I earn just above whatever income that is the threshold, and I get arrested for some reason (so rich enough to not get a public defender, but not rich enough to hire just any lawyer). Now, being a law-abiding citizen that doesn’t work in any risky profession (lawyers, accountants, stock brokers), I don’t have a lawyer on retainer, and I don’t know any lawyer.

            So how do I go around hiring a lawyer? Does the police allow me to use my phone to call different law firms, ask them about their rates, and find a suitable one? Do I have to hire the first lawyer I find? Can’t I ask around for rates to different lawyers until I find a suitable one (while being arrested)?

            Do Americans tend to have a lawyer on retainer, even if they don’t expect to be in any trouble?

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you get arrested and don’t have a lawyer already or anyone on the outside to get you one, you’re pretty much screwed. The time I was in jail, I was only allowed to call collect, and only numbers I knew (no access to a phone directory). I didn’t know the numbers of anyone local (I was visiting some people but hadn’t memorized their number). And I didn’t have out-of-town friends who would travel long distances to bail me out, and I’d rather have died of old age in jail than call family. So I sat in jail until someone figured out I was missing and tracked me down.

          • ana53294 says:

            @The Nybbler

            That must have been very scary and uncomfortable. How long did you have to wait?

            Do you have a lawyer on retainer?

            Let’s say you are a foreigner, staying legally, and your family is abroad*. Are you allowed international calls?

            Who knows phone numbers anymore? Is it OK to have it written down?

            *I guess you still have more protection, because you can call the consulate, and the consulate spams everybody who brings their phone number abroad with info about their contacts. I usually get 2-3 such messages. But it would still suck not to have your family’s help.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think it was about 24 hours; fortunately it didn’t happen on the last day I was supposed to be in town or I would have likely sat there for a few days before seeing a judge for a bail hearing. I don’t know what would would have happened there, as without any access to money (they took credit cards, but only as a cash advance, a feature my cards did not have) and without significant ties to the community, I likely would have been held for a few months for trial and lost my job (for abandonment) and my apartment (for nonpayment of rent).

            Basically there’s not much you can do from the inside; you need someone on the outside. If you’re the type of person for whom telling people you know you’re in jail means they disassociate from you rather than help, you’re in trouble.

            No, I don’t have a lawyer on retainer now. I wouldn’t know how to do such a thing.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            How did they know that you were in jail?

          • The Nybbler says:

            How did they know that you were in jail?

            When I didn’t show up to an event, they eventually called around to hospitals; when I wasn’t there, they tried the jail. Or possibly the hospital where I was treated for pepper spray to the eyes told them I was in jail; it’s been 25 years and obviously I only got that part second-hand anyway.

          • Garrett says:

            > Do Americans tend to have a lawyer on retainer, even if they don’t expect to be in any trouble?

            (I’m a little out of my depth here – seek additional info)

            A retainer is one type of relationship with an attorney. There are others. Retainers are for when you expect to be needing the services of a lawyer in the near future in an indefinite amount. Think of a bar tab with pre-payment. Most people won’t need such an arrangement with an attorney unless/until they are facing arrest/litigation.

            There are other types of relationships. For example, I’ve paid a local attorney for professional advice about an issue with personal implications. I told them what I was looking to do, what my concerns were and then I was given a time/cost estimate for the research, given the report and was billed. No retainer was involved.

            Much like people refer to a physician as “my doctor” without having an ownership stake, you have have “my lawyer” without a retainer. Usually you just need to find someone you like in advance and carry around their business card.

    • Aapje says:

      Accused is a movie about a Dutch nurse who got convicted for 7 murders and later completely exonerated after intervention by the Supreme Court. The case has some peculiar aspects, including the courts taking one supposedly proven murder as evidence that other deaths were murder and that the suspect was guilty. The movie was the Dutch foreign film nomination and made the shortlist. Here is a Spanish review.

      A Cry in the Dark is an Australian movie with Meryl Streep about parents suspected murdering their baby, while they claim a dingo attack.

      There is this Russian remake of 12 angry men. Not necessarily very enlightening, since jury trials are very rare in Russia.

    • Deiseach says:

      British TV loves making legal dramas, so you have everything from Rumpole of the Bailey up to Silk, which ran 2011-2014.

      For the cops’n’robbers side, the long-running (27 years) series The Bill set in the fictional London police station of Sun Hill, which finally hung up its truncheon in 2010.

    • Reasoner says:

      It has been commented on SSC (I don’t know how to search the threads, so I can’t find it)

      Maybe try site:slatestarcodex.com on Google. Possibly adding in the keywords “open thread” or the names of users you remember participating.

  43. Tarpitz says:

    Drunk less.

    Sought out experienced people to learn about my profession/industry from more.

    Been more honest with women I liked and women who liked me.

    Taken my college up on their offer to skip my year abroad.

    Gone out the Merton Street exit not the High Street one after my last prelim.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Gone out the Merton Street exit not the High Street one after my last prelim

      That sounds like there’s a story behind it…

  44. BlindKungFuMaster says:

    There is a lot of stuff I realized over my twenties that would have been really useful to know earlier. I often felt the lack of a mentor.

    When I was 18 I thought that I would probably enjoy coding. But it was kind of tricky to set up on a mac (I wanted to learn C) so I never got started. My mentor would have pointed me to a python tutorial and gotten me a ten year head start.

    I always thought that you had to be the best, while simultaneously being too lazy to go for it. Now I understand that just doing a little bit every day will get you to a point where you can contribute worthwhile stuff due to the comparative advantage. (I.e. you don’t compete with the geniuses because they have high opportunity cost.)

    If somebody had pointed out to me that you can actually find out what’s going on via math and data, I would probably have become a statistician. Instead a did my math studies thinking applied maths is for guys who can’t cut it and wasted years on the purest maths.

    Generally I needed to get over myself. Hey, maths students! Try to ask a question every tutoring session even if that makes you sound like the guy who doesn’t get it. I am less confident that the process of getting over myself is as compressible as learning stats or python earlier.

  45. b_jonas says:

    Move out from my parents a few years earlier.

  46. Reasoner says:

    I wish I had discovered painscience.com and yourbrainonporn.com earlier.

  47. BBA says:

    while(1) { puts(“Don’t go to law school.”); }

  48. rubberduck says:

    Anyone have any advice (anecdotal or otherwise) for dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder: Summer Edition? I’m at a lattitude where days are over an hour longer than I’m used to. I can’t sleep, I feel anxious all the time and there’s just too much daylight. 99% of the advice I’ve encountered on SAD is for winter depression and unfortunately blackout curtains are not an option. Anyone have any tips?

    • Lillian says:

      The sleep issues seem like the best problem to solve, since lack of sleep can aggravate anxiety and everything else. The primary thing you want to do is limit the amount of sunlight hitting your eyes, and secondarily the amount of sunlight hitting your body. If blackout curtains are not an option then get a sleep mask, it’s not as good as making the room itself dark, but it can help a lot. Thick blankets keep light from your body, but are of course uncomfortable in the warmth of summer, so if you have an air conditioner i suggest get it cold enough that you’re comfortable being covered up. Between the two, it should improve your sleep quality. If you’re indoors a lot, keeping your blinds or curtains drawn might also be helpful for decreasing how much light you’re getting through the day.

    • metacelsus says:

      You could try wearing dark sunglasses, although I’m not sure how effective that would be.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Melatonin should fix 90% of the problem – did you try it? Remember there are two ways of using it: small dosage (0.3 mg) taken 3-5 hours before sleep time will reset the circadian clock, and 1-5 mg dosage taken 15 minutes before sleep time will act as a sleeping pill. First way is best way.

      Sunglasses are a second option. If you already wear glasses, you could do what I did to trigger worst SAD in my life (much worse then moderate depression): get photochromic lenses. Or clip-ons. Both will probably set you back a couple hundred, but are well worth it.

      • imoimo says:

        Wait what? I use melatonin at 0.3 mg 15 min before bed. What’s your source that it should be higher when used that way?

        • DarkTigger says:

          Google “Melatonin, much more than you want to know”. 😉

          • imoimo says:

            I’ve read that, it’s where I learned about melatonin. I just searched that post for ‘mg’ and found all his recommendations either say ‘take 0.3 mg’ or ‘up to 1 mg is arguably acceptable’. I found no indication that the dose should be higher when taking it right before bed.

          • DarkTigger says:

            Wierd, I was shure that was in there.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Mea culpa. Looks like I misremembered.

          In my defense, I actually considered the fact that a higher dose may have the side-effect of staying int the system longer than necessary, and guessed that in OP’s case it might be a good thing. Now I’d recommend 1mg at bedtime, though. (can’t edit the post…)

    • a real dog says:

      Exercise and a sleep mask.

      During a summer bike trip in Iceland we faced the same problem, and between covering our eyes while we slept (with the sleeping bag) and constant physical exertion, we slept like babies, up to 10h daily, despite night not really being a thing. It would have been really annoying without a way to cover our eyes, though.

    • jolhoeft says:

      I’ll second the sleep mask suggestion, and add that you can get domed sleep masks that don’t rest on your eyes and rub against your eyelashes.

    • ana53294 says:

      Depending on how much time you spend in your bedroom, you can also stick thick pieces of cardboard to your window with tape. Or you can stick one of those car shades.

      If you have one of those studios where the bedroom is also your living room, that would mean taking the tape off every day.

      I know it’s ugly, but if the reason curtains are not an option is because the window is on the ceiling, or because your landlord does not allow modifications, it’s a working patch.

      I have tried sleep masks, but they somehow get off, and when I get lots of sunlight after waking up at 3am, I cannot get back to sleep.

      Melatonin does help.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Why can’t you do blackout curtains? Could you do UV foil?
      Or just do a hacky version of it and just do a sheet of aluminium in front of your windows.

      • rubberduck says:

        I live in old, run-down student housing. My windows have cheap blinds attached directly to the window, there is no curtain rod and I’m (probably) not allowed to install anything. So I have nothing I can attach blackout curtains to. I guess I could tape cardboard or sth over the windows but it’s really hot right now and I don’t want any more insulation in my room (there’s no AC).

        • silver_swift says:

          I’m (probably) not allowed to install anything.

          I recommend checking this to make sure. I’ve known a bunch of people that made this exact assumption about their crappy student apartment only for the landlord to go “Yeah, sure whatever” when directly asked (even in cases where the rent contract explicitly forbade making changes to the rooms). If you aren’t planning on doing anything that is likely to outright destroy the place people tend to not care.

        • DarkTigger says:

          I own double layer pleated roller-blinds*, that can be put into the window in an non permanent way.
          I can attest that they make the room completely dark, and offer quite a bit of heat insulation.

          * example. (Sorry I only have a German link)

        • James Miller says:

          Putting “window film” on your window could both darken and cool your room. It’s also easy to remove.

    • pozorvlak says:

      I’ll n+1 the suggestions of domed sleep masks (I use one of these: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/PaiTree-Contoured-Comfortable-Blindfold-Adjustable/dp/B07DW2NYBL). You can also get travel blackout curtains (such as https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Company-Anywhere-Portable-Blackout-Suction/dp/B00BKZLWBU) which attach to the window using suction cups. A weighted blanket helps me a lot – it gives the same feeling of pressure as a heavy duvet, but is much less hot.

    • OriginalSeeing says:

      You mentioned that you can’t use blackoutcurtains because of attaching them to the wall. Instead, turn your bed into a bed fort or tent. You can use string and things like sturdy lamps duct taped to the corners of your bed to hold up the sheets.

      This improved my sleep dramatically when I used to do it.

    • meh says:

      Wear red or amber tinted glasses (not just dark sunglasses) 2 hours before you want to sleep.


    • Before I set up my bedroom to be properly shielded from the sunlight by design, I used a fully opaque black tarp that I pinned into place with the window itself. Just something like this: https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00BYTE32W/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

      That, and black cardboard taped to the window, both helped a lot (in fact it was darker than my current setup, but my current setup is OK).

      (My summer SAD was aggravated by my vitamin B12 deficiency, though – it made me way more light sensitive than I am now. It made fixes like this more important than they would otherwise have been. That said, I would not trade my dark bedroom for a light one in a million years.)

    • A1987dM says:

      There’s a huge difference between a cheap and a good sleep mask. I bought a Hommimi 3D sleep mask and while it is several times more expensive than most other ones I don’t regret a cent of it. It reliably stays on all night, doesn’t put any pressure on my eyes, and blocks all of the light i.e. I can’t even tell whether my eyes are open or closed from what I see. I normally have a hard time sleeping unless in complete darkness, but with these I have no trouble staying asleep several hours past sunrise even with my window fully open. (They felt a bit uncomfortable the first couple nights I wore them especially when lying on my side or my belly, though — but then I got used to it.)

      A bit of melatonin half an hour or so before going to bed and/or orange goggles a couple hours earlier might also help.

  49. Why is it when reading an e-book, every time I click on a link to a reference, it links to the notes that say the author and year and then I have to go through the bibliography to find out what the book is? Why not just tell me what the book is? I know that’s the standard academic practice but you would think someone had figured out in the internet age that we can make it simpler.

  50. sclmlw says:

    I’m back from ASCO with some updates on the state of of cancer research. TL;DR – next gen sequencing is poised to change current and future treatment.

    With such a large field to cover I mostly focused on things I found most important. If there’s interest, I can do a post on CAR-T and cancer vaccines, or whatever. Just let me know.

    • zeleza says:

      Yeah – I’d be keen to hear about what the progress is like on using CAR-T methods on solid tumors – are there any big barriers, or is it just a lot of little things (immunosuppression, perfusion problems, etc.)?

      • sclmlw says:

        Most of what I saw with CAR-T was for leukemia. I saw some really interesting response rates (I didn’t write them down, but many had multiple complete responses and large reduction partial responses; don’t remember duration of response). All were in very small patient populations. One of the biggest limiting factors with CAR-T remains the high amount of cost and specialization required to pull it off. Although isolation of peripheral leukocytes isn’t what I’d call a difficult technique, it’s still very much limited to academic institutions.

        Another major limitation of CAR-T is actually patient survival. Many patients require ‘bridging’ therapies to keep them alive long enough to grow out the 10 billion T-cells required for the transfusions. Remember that mammalian cells tend to divide about every 8 hours or so; they take longer and even at exponential growth can’t divide in the 20 min. or so of bacterial cultures. The whole process takes weeks, during which patients often die waiting for therapy.

        One thing we saw were researchers doing whole exome sequencing at the same time they started the CAR-T process to direct them to the correct CAR to transfect into the T-cells. That was very effective, although of course there’s concern that the tumor is heterogeneous, and some cells may have a different mutation profile. So the solution (eventually) looks like it’ll be to do multiple CARs in the same patient.

        Meanwhile, one researcher showed she was successfully doing CAR for NK cells, which was frankly surprising. I’d heard people were doing CARs for other cell types besides T-cells, but hadn’t seen it happen yet. The NK cell therapy was pretty effective, with a few complete responses in the small population of patients she did it on. Definitely something to keep following.

        Again, all this was in different types of leukemias. The problem with CAR-T/CAR-NK in solid tumors is getting the T-cells into the tumor itself. There are lots of chemokines/cytokines tumors can use to redirect immune surveillance cells away from the site of the tumor. I remember years ago seeing someone present some 2-photon microscopy of T-cells going around a tumor, not going into the necrotic core at all. There’s a lot of work going on to help penetrate tumors and rebuild the vasculature to allow other drugs access to tumors (I think I discussed it in my post, so I won’t rehash it here), so I suspect we won’t see a lot of movement in solid tumors for CARs until we make more progress against the tumor microenvironment. But CAR-T isn’t really my field.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      next gen sequencing is poised to change current and future treatment

      “Poised” like a panther in ambush or “poised” like a globe on a statue of Atlas?

      • sclmlw says:


        Lots of research institutions are shifting toward testing all their patients after their first treatment failure. MSK in NYC were the first to test every patient who walks in the door. I’m pretty sure they’re still in the lead for testing, but lots of academic institutions are catching up.

        Most non-academic oncology centers are still doing little to no testing due to a number of factors. Biggest issues are: 1.) cost, 2.) insurance usually doesn’t pay for it (yet – should change soon for both US and single-payer systems as it becomes a net cost-saver) and 3.) community oncologists don’t know what to do with the results.

        All three factors are shifting or being dealt with in new ways (like community boards of molecular oncologists).

        • albatross11 says:

          Thanks for the writeups you linked to, BTW–those were really interesting!

        • Majuscule says:

          My husband builds oncology support software, and at least one of his colleagues also reads SSC. The comment that got me was “community oncologists don’t know what to do with results.” I’m going to ask over breakfast how much outreach his company does, or if that all falls to the big pharmaceutical company that provides most of their funding.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’d be interested to hear your highlights from the conference.

      One nitpick is that NGS isn’t “poised” to change oncology, it’s been in use for years now.

      • sclmlw says:

        Yes it has, but it hasn’t really changed much for all the hype. Five years ago, most oncologists I knew either didn’t order the tests, or they didn’t know what to do with them once they ordered them (even though companies like Foundation Medicine listed the available treatments/open clinical trials for each mutation right on the report). Today, I see a lot more uptake at larger academic institutions, but still almost no testing at smaller non-research centers. Of course, there are lots of testing companies out there, but for the most part it hasn’t changed regular oncology practice that much. Most people are looking for something to guide third-line or later treatment; something to find options after traditional therapies fail, especially when you know the patient is likely to progress soon.

        During the conference there was a lot of talk about biomarkers and how all that is changing. Basically, we’re close to the point where NGS is justified once first-line treatments have failed, and for many patients with advanced disease it’s probably justified to send off for NGS at the same time the initial biopsy is sent to the pathologist. The question isn’t whether NGS can be done, or whether a select few physicians have used it, but whether it’s going to change how treatment is done day-to-day. And for that I think we’re going to see big changes as this technology works its way into general practice over the next several years. Not all at once, but gradually over time.

    • albatross11 says:

      The excellent Immune podcast has anepisode discussing CAR-T therapies. I remember they’ve also talked about checkpoint inhibitors, but I don’t remember which episode, and I’ve fallen behind the podcast lately….

    • proyas says:

      How is progress coming with nanoparticles as cancer treatments?

  51. jhertzlinger says:

    Is MeWe (https://mewe.com/ ) the answer to the problem discussed in https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/01/neutral-vs-conservative-the-eternal-struggle/ ?

    It’s a forum that’s promising free speech in which the initial seed isn’t “seven zillion witches” but instead Google+ refugees.

    I just heard about it. I haven’t tried joining it yet.

    • Statismagician says:

      Did anyone actually, you know, use Google Plus?

      • Evan Þ says:

        I signed up out of curiosity and posted a couple times. One or two of my friends did too.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Several RPG communities, actually.

        Rope in the Tumblrs that haven’t gone to Twitter and maybe you have a seed of something.

      • Nick says:

        I used it and got some of my friends to use it too. We abandoned it a few years ago, though.

    • Well... says:

      Why is the answer to “social media sucks” “try this new social media” rather than “try something other than social media”?

      • Matt M says:

        Because most of us are fairly confident that a non-sucky social media can exist. Mainly because quite a few of us believe current social media platforms used to actually be non-sucky, and that the solution is as simple as “stop doing all the sucky things you started doing a few years back…”

        Just my own opinion here, but Facebook and Twitter would both be vastly improved simply by reverting to their 2010 state. Basically everything they’ve added or changed since then has only served to make a once good product worse.

        • albatross11 says:

          I suspect a lot of what’s worse is not the product, but rather the social dynamics and business models that have grown up around the product. The internet in 1990 and the internet in 2018 were quite different places, often changes were for the worse, but I don’t think that’s because the technology got worse.

          • Matt M says:

            The “technology” has gotten worse to support the business model.

            It’s not true that social media can’t avoid sucking. I’ve seen it not suck. It may be true that non-sucky social media is not economically viable, and that Facebook pulled a version of what we’re constantly warned about in terms of monopolies.

            The textbook fear of monopoly is that one company will absorb all competition, become dominant, and then raise prices and restrict output.

            Facebook didn’t do that exactly, but they did absorb competition, become dominant, and then make their product significantly worse so that they could profit on it.

        • Well... says:

          Facebook and Twitter would both be vastly improved simply by reverting to their 2010 state.

          Interesting idea. Improve technology by reverting it to a more primitive state. But then, why 2010? Why not 2005? 2000? 1995? On what basis exactly are you drawing the line at 2010?

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t really know. I’m just trying to roughly recall a time when content wasn’t militantly policed, when you were allowed to tell it “just show me everything in chronological order” and it actually would, and when the ads weren’t as prevalent/intrusive.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            when content wasn’t militantly policed, when you were allowed to tell it “just show me everything in chronological order” and it actually would, and when the ads weren’t as prevalent/intrusive.

            Allow me to recommend Feedly, or any one of their many competitors.

            I use Feedly, not “social media”, to follow writers, creators, journalists, webcomics, artists, and news sources. Why? Because: every post, every time, in order, on every device. No “sort by cause sticky”, no “engagement” control, no pay-for-eyeballs, no inserted ads, no adtech, no censorship, no witchhunting, no deplatforming, no spyware, no “growth hacking”. And if Feedly screws up or shuts down, I can take my OPML file and pour it into one of many other SaaS or open source feedreaders, and continue right where I left off.

          • JPNunez says:

            I use feedly too but gotta recognize I’ve mostly moved to twitter for updates; I mostly go to feedly to catch on webcomics and that’s it. My other sections accumulate grossly high numbers of unread posts.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I think a big part of my use of Feedly is that I am able to read absurdly fast, and it has absurdly fast “advance to next” and “go back to previous”.

            Each morning I start it up, and then just tap “j j j j j [what did that say?] k [read more slowly] j j j j” until I reach the end.

            Really long form pieces that I want to read very slowly, I have single keystoke “share to Buffer” and “share to Pocket”, and then I will read my Buffer and my Pocket on my tablet on my bus commute home.

            Feedly is part of my morning routine, between reading the “prompt critical” email inbox, and reading the “regular priority email inbox.

            They have enough critical mass that almost all the articles I read have already been pre-cached and pushed out to their CDNs. So each “read next” flashes the article into the reading pane in less than an eyeblink, and almost always faster than the actual original would have loaded for reading.

          • LHN says:

            While I use an RSS reader as I can, I’m finding more creators and sites either don’t have an RSS feed at all, or it’s broken (in some way that’s presumably not worth the trouble to figure out how to fix given low usage).

          • Mark Atwood says:

            If they don’t have an RSS or an Atom feed, they are not worth the level of attention that the very low bar of having working RSS suggests.

          • DinoNerd says:

            I hadn’t heard of feedly before, and it’s kind of modern – when you go to the site, it offers to let you get started for free etc., but doesn’t clearly tell you what it is/does. 🙁

            I can mostly figure it out from the stuff on their welcome page – it’s an aggregator for various kinds of things, that probably won’t be everything I read, and will certainly include types of things I don’t read. It probably doesn’t let you comment on whatever you are reading, making it useless to me for some types of content. And a wild guess suggests that there are things they don’t handle – and also don’t mention. (e.g. FaceBook is conspicuously absent.)

            Personally, I aggregate RSS feeds via dreamwidth (livejournal fork), and don’t bother with most of the other information sources feedly seems to feature.

            And blogs that don’t support RSS – well, the author pretty much needs to be a close personal friend for me to bother with them at all.

          • JPNunez says:

            Ah yes, wife does the j j j thing.

            Not for me.

    • Mandatory shout-out to schlaugh. I’m happy with that one. That said, it’s still essentially what I’d call pre-alpha and likely to be that way for a while. (I’m trying to help out, but I’m doing it at a glacial pace.)

  52. Jeremiah says:

    As part of the ongoing biweekly project to release a classic posts in audio format, this time around we did Nobody Is Perfect, Everything is Commensurable (original here).

    Also if anyone fell behind on the recent cultural evolution series those are all available on the podcast feed as well.

  53. Clutzy says:

    So I was going to ask about turbulence around black holes. But I guess its already been shown to be very likely.

    So if you also want to know about turbulence near black holes.


  54. Shion Arita says:

    I recently read a piece about income inequality, which cointained this gif. It was trying to illustrate how the problem has gotten much worse over time and all. But doesn’t it kind of indicate the opposite? The proportion of people with 100k has increased. Additionally, the distribution is a lot more ‘flat’ all around, with the exception of the huge growing spike of >200k, which really just indicates that the graph is cut off at the wrong place (i suspect it just continues as a slowly declining tail much like it looks in 150k-200k). To be honest what it seems to be saying is that fewer people are poor and more people are rich. If this is indicative of what is going on, it doesn’t look too bad to me. What do you all think?

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Yeah, I would be strongly inclined to interpret that gif as a demonstration of the fact that the entire income distribution has moved to the right, and most people are richer. The tall bar at “200k +” indicates a poor choice of cutoff, in my opinion; making that much money, even adjusting for inflation, means something very different from what it did 50 years ago.

    • quanta413 says:

      Looking just at the gif, it is both true that almost all of the distribution is better off (in 2014 dollars) and that income inequality has increased. I say almost all because it looks like the amount of the distribution in $0-5000 has increased some although every other low income looks to hold a smaller fraction of the population than 1971.

      So from the graph, I’d say that in an absolute sense wealth income appears to have increased, but so has inequality. People rank themselves partially by comparison to others so arguably that could make some people less happy than before. Although I doubt measuring the income distribution is actually a good way of measuring this; people’s perception of inequality strains income through a lot of filters.

      EDIT: fixed carelessness. Wealth not same as income.

      • Shion Arita says:

        Yeah it does raise the question of what exactly do people mean by inequality. A flatter distribution would have a higher variance, and thus could be argued to have more ‘inequality’, but I don’t get the impression that that’s what most people mean by the statement. Since many focus so much on the ‘top 1%’ etc, it seems like they may mean the degree of polymodality.

        The point is, it does seem that most people are better off in terms of income (not sure how that goes to wealth; i’ve looked a little for a similar graph and failed to find– mostly just found info on how the top x%’s wealth has changed, rather than everyone’s).

        To me at least a flat distribution looks much more ideal than one where everyone is bunched up at the bottom.

        • Tenacious D says:

          I think our intuitions around equality are primed for normal distributions, which fit most individual characteristics like height and IQ. However, characteristics that depend on societal interactions (like wealth, but also fame, number of sexual partners, views of videos on YouTube, etc.) are more likely to fit a power law distribution (due to preferential attachment or some other mechanism). This makes our intuitions break down. Two power law distributions with the same shape but different overall magnitude will feel different.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It demonstrates one of the problems with “inequality”, namely that it’s hard to define. They are taking inequality to be inversely related to the size of the middle class, which they define as households with income between two-thirds and twice the median income. Making the graph flatter tends to give you more inequality. By any measure, maximum equality is a single bar (everyone makes the same).

      Certainly the idea that the graph shows something bad seems unfounded. The only bad thing is the increase of the lowest bar. The UK graph is even more extreme — inequality has increased, but the median income in 2015 would have been somewhere around the 90th percentile in 1971 (eyeballing it).

    • Shion Arita says:

      One correction/addendum that I have tried to edit in but have been unable to: the main thing is that the proprotion of people with 100k has increased.

      • Shion Arita says:

        WTF is going on here? it seems like certain phrases I can’t say.

        Oh. damn it I figured it out. apparently this text thing gets rid of everything within angle brackets, which i inadvertently created.

        “the proportion of people with [less than]50k has decreased and the proportion of people with [greater than]100k has increased.” is what I have kept trying to say, but I have been unable to until I figured out what was happening.

        • cold_potato says:

          The comment system implements a subset of HTML, which uses angled brackets to mark control codes (which aren’t meant to be displayed in the text). To display actual angled brackets – like this <> – you need to write the character codes &lt; or &gt; (for “less than” and “greater than”). If you want to write these character codes without them being turned into < or > (as I’m doing now), you need to write the & as &amp;. To display this last code, I had to write &amp;amp;, and to display that I had to … well, you get the idea.

    • Plumber says:

      @Shion Arita,
      I think that the increased number of fabulously rich people is a major driver of the increased costs of housing and university education, making those goods increasingly out of reach for those who’s incomes are closer to the median.

      The good news is that it’s much easier to spy Maserati’s and Ferrari’s driven on the street now than it was until relatively recently.

      • Statismagician says:

        My impression is that it’s high-income-everybody for specifically Bay Area and other tech/finance hub housing, high-income-foreigners and government loans for university, and pretty much just inflation for housing elsewhere.

      • 10240 says:

        Fabulously rich people own big homes, but I’d guess generally not proportionately bigger to their income or wealth: after some point, more floor area ceases to have much use. Fabulously rich people’s children take up one spot at a university just like anyone else; they might bid up the few spots at the most prestigious universities, but not the places at universities most people have a chance to get into anyway. So I don’t think it’s likely that the very small number of very rich people have a major effect on the prices of these goods; it’s more plausible that the more numerous upper-middle class has a significant effect.

    • ana53294 says:

      It seems like the bar at 0-5k does not decrease.

      I doubt that working illegal immigrants earn that little. At least in Spain, from what I can observe, immigrants may be paid less per hour, but they tend to just work a lot of hours. Also, a lot of illegal immigrants earn more than minimal wage per working hour. House workers in my area, as well as carers, tend to earn 15 euros/hour or more, and the minimum in Spain is similar to the US federal minimum. The only issue is they need to move between houses, and that reduces the number of hours that they work.

      The illegal workers actually frequently get more into their pockets, even if total compensation is less.

      So all those people at bellow 5k are probably unable to work due to issues with addiction or disabilities. Only 14 hours of work per week at the federal minimum wage are necessary to get above 5k.

      • Aapje says:


        So all those people at bellow 5k are probably unable to work due to issues with addiction or disabilities.

        This is also where you find failing entrepreneurs (or pre-success if we are being optimistic).

        • ana53294 says:

          Well, since the graph is about income, not wealth, enterpreneurs who still have no positive cash flow would also be in that category, yes.

          However, I doubt that the slight increase of the 0-5k population is due in any significant extent to enterpreneurs.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        There is a lot of turnover in the top- and bottom-most areas of any distribution chart like this. People with unusually good or unusually bad years.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I just finished reading Douglas McWilliams’s “The Inequality Paradox” and I have a review [1], and he calls this the elephant graph. I think in non-UK English places it’s called “the elephant chart” and you can find lots of discussion if you search for that.

      [1] I am saving it for the CW-allowed thread. Not that I think my review is particularly CW, but I think income equality is CW-adjacent.

  55. Anon. says:

    Not lifting when I was younger is my biggest regret. Also I should probably have read more books.

  56. AlexOfUrals says:

    Question mostly to the people native to the American culture. What’s the point of going to crowded restaurants where you have to wait in line to get in? Even if the food is somewhat better there than in a less popular venue down the road, for me it cannot possibly worth the 30-60 min wait, the noise, and rush. Do you think people do it purely for social signaling, or is there some inherent pleasure I am missing? Or is it just that most people are that much more picky with their food choices than I am?

    • Etoile says:

      Sometimes it’s that good; a lot of times, people make reservations too. I know a place in my city that is so good and popular on Saturday night you won’t get a reservation until after 8 foe sure, and they don’t even have a website or advertise, theyre just known and in a visible location – but again, also actually very good.

      And while the heuristic of “empty restaurant = bad” is far from perfect, I’ve definitely seen it confirmed before.

    • sixo says:

      They basically just ARE that good. I live in in NYC and have had a handful of meals at these kinds of places, which I can still remember, despite forgetting dozens of other restaurant meals.
      It’s not about eating dinner, it’s an event.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        I see. That wasn’t my experience, but then again I’m a radical omnivore, so it’s probably a typical mind fallacy.

        Though if I did care that much about food, I’d still probably went to very good restaurants in off-peak hours for the sake of tasting their food, and went to something less good but still acceptable on weekends.

    • RDNinja says:

      A lot of times, if you’re with a decent-sized group and discover the restaurant is crowded, by the time you decide on an alternative restaurant that everyone agrees on, and factoring in travel time, you haven’t saved any time by switching. Especially if people are picky.

      • CatCube says:

        I think this is the biggest piece. I’ve waited in line for chain restaurants, where nobody is raving about the food. Often, there isn’t another restaurant close by, so you can’t just conveniently decide on the fly to change restaurants if your first choice has a wait.

        I’ve been with groups (or by myself) where if it’s full and there’s a good second choice close by, you’ll check out the other place. But often that isn’t really an option, except for “I guess we’re not going out to eat then.”

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Sometimes the restaurant will give you a device which will light up and buzz when your table is available, so that at least you don’t have to stand in the crowd and the noise.

    • Clutzy says:

      Also, sometimes all the places are that crowded.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      There’s a host of certain pleasures, depending on your tastes.

      – It really is that good. The wait is justified suffering.
      – Expectation is an enticement. You perhaps enjoy seeing people in the restaurant as a prefiguring or suggestion of pleasures to come.
      – The scene. Perhaps you want to be seen, or enjoy the people watching.
      – This might be peculiar to America, home of the loud, but I find a certain pleasure being in a raucous, buzzing restaurant. Big parties being more intimate than small parties sort of thing. Obviously there are limits, but I’ve had meals at Austere Temple of Food restaurants that I thought would be greatly improved by a dull roar and the sound of clinking glasses around the room. Sometimes you want to pretend you’re in a guinguette or like, a party in the Shire or something. Fun can indeed be infectious for those if us who take ourselves lightly.
      – Social cache. Damn the wait, *I* ate at pLenty when they still had the black garlic beetroot on the menu and it was worth going. Now it’s just passé.
      – You like the chef/restauranteur and want to complete a streak or collection of their work. I’ve definitely done this.
      – It’s the only good X in town. A corollary of the first, but I know I’ve put myself through some rough waits because good food or x variety in Idaho was a limited resource.
      – Making a night of it. Perhaps the food won’t be worth it or you have no experience with it, but it takes on the air of a pilgrimage when you join in with a crowd for something restricted.

      Also it’s pretty rare I encounter a proper wait-in-line scenario. Usually there’s a bar with people watching or you give them a number and go have some snacks or drinks elsewhere and rush back when the call you.

      I imagine the food-as-fuel people will be horrified by all of this. As will anyone who wants monastic silence for contemplation of the FoodArt. Or Europeans with their alien ability to modulate their volume down when in crowds as opposed to quite sensibly talking louder and louder.

    • Nicholas says:

      Search costs are real and there is no guarantee that the restaurant down the street is actually less crowded: if you had the idea to go there, probably lots of other overflow from the ‘good’ restaurant had the same idea. Also, many places with consistently long wait times have bars where you can get a drink and hors d’oeuvres while waiting for your table, so it’s not actually lost time.

    • Ouroborobot says:

      Other people have given good, valid answers (search costs, really is that good, etc.) but personally I can’t stand to wait around. My first choice is to make a res if at all possible, but sometimes the wife and I want to hit a place that doesn’t take them. In that case I like to have a backup plan for a place in the vicinity that I know to be good and usually has no wait. If choice A tells me it’s gonna be more than 15 or 20, it’s on to the backup. I’m an impatient guy, probably irrationally so, and I’m also pretty socially inept so I don’t get much mileage out of the “hang around and chat for an hour” ritual that a lot of people seem ok with. I’m fortunate enough that my wife is of a similar mind. We occasionally just have to suck it up and deal if out with a bigger group and destination is fixed.

    • Plumber says:

      I think the assumption is simply “If it’s crowded it must be popular, of it’s popular it must be good”.

    • broblawsky says:

      Often you wait around and have a few drinks while you wait for your table, getting pleasantly drunk with your friends in the process.

    • roystgnr says:

      I have young kids now and generally avoid such crowded restaurants (or rather go to them at well off-peak hours), but back when I frequented one such restaurant when it typically had a 45 minute wait, the answer was:

      1) The food really was that good
      2) Everybody I was with liked the food just as much, whereas depending on the group there could be a little or a lot of disagreement about what restaurant to go to instead, and suggesting “never go to the crowded place at all” would have been anathema
      3) Everybody I was with liked *each other* just as much, so waiting 45 minutes just meant hanging out and chatting and laughing for more time and that was great too.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Picky with food choices, particularly with large groups of people. If you are waiting 30+ minutes, it means you are going to a popular restaurant at peak time with a large group of people, and this is the only agreed-upon choice.

      The two cases I’ve seen this happen a lot:
      -Yuppies eating at a trendy restaurant at peak hour
      -Families eating a chain restaurant at peak hour (especially on vacation)

    • Urstoff says:

      Often if there’s that long of a wait, it’s a time of the week (e.g., Friday night) where every restaurant is going to have a long wait.

  57. Viliam says:

    What do you wish you’d know about/done differently in your 20s?

    I wish I knew how to invest my money (in passively managed index funds, duh). There were moments, before I had a family, when I made much more money than I spent. It mostly either got eaten by inflation, or by bad investments I made trying to prevent getting it eaten by inflation.

    In a parallel universe where someone explained to me the concept (it probably wouldn’t take much time) and helped me set up the whole system, so the only thing needed to do was to keep sending money to a specific place… I am probably early retired by now. Which means having extra 8 hours a day for things I really care about. It’s like getting an extra life. Good for you, the parallel-universe me!

  58. I’m inclined to push it a little farther back. I was 16 when I entered college. I wish I had had then a clearer understanding of social interactions in general and romantic interactions in particular.

  59. babarganesh says:

    after i aced a phone interview, microsoft wanted me to come in for a job interview in 1987. i told them i was busy.

  60. albatross11 says:

    I wish I’d saved a lot more money back when I was in my 20s, before we had kids. Once we had kids, all that extra money that previously just seemed to fall from the sky into our hands became a *lot* harder to come by!

    Also, there are a lot of kinds of accumulated damage/badness that pile up over time–debt, weight, enemies, physical injuries, fat in your arteries, etc. Realizing that and trying to slow down the accumulation of badness a couple decades before they pile up into a significant problem is a *big* win.

  61. babarganesh says:

    i have a father’s day question. i’m a father of an 11 year old with asperger’s. generally things are going ok, and i don’t really want to get into the whole of how things are. specifically though, he’s like many people with aspergers, and has a strong interest in something. he’s interested in computers, and, very specifically in linux distributions. now it turns out that i know quite a bit about computers, being a programmer of many years, which is nice because i don’t mind talking to him about this (though it gets a bit much) and i can feel good doing my fatherly duty in teaching him about something. but i’m confused at times about what the best way to teach him things. he tends to see things from the outside in whereas i see them more from the inside out, if that makes any sense. that doesn’t mean his understanding is less deep than mine, but i notice the difference a lot when i try to get to what i think of as the point of something is. he might even get the point, but it’s like a mental non-event for him – the joy is in examples and details. anyway, do i need advice here? basically, how do i go about feeding and guiding and deepening his understanding of his interests, which i imagine will be quite strong. i would understand how to do that if he wasn’t autistic.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      From the sound of it, he may really enjoy learning low-level stuff, like microcontrollers and digital logic. If you think the difference in computation time between a NAND and an OR would be more interesting to him than learning how to tell if an algorithm is O(n log(n)), I’d look at pointing him in that direction.


      This is the book I learned from, but I’m not sure it’d be appropriate for him. I’m only a dabbler, but other people may be able to give you better advice.

      • babarganesh says:

        I’ll look at that book. I learned that stuff from Adam Osborn’s books a long time ago. I bought copies of them on ebay a year ago and reread some but a lot of it is dated. (There is a big section on bit slice CPUs for example.) He wasn’t ready for it then, but maybe now.

      • roystgnr says:

        If he likes the connections between low and high level stuff, too, I thought this was really fun:


        It feels like any other puzzle game, but in this case the puzzles start with “build an inverter from a NAND gate” and end with “build a CPU from the many other components you’ve gradually built from other components which you built from NAND gates.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        If you think the difference in computation time between a NAND and an OR would be more interesting to him

        This is more interesting than it sounds. When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, my (much) older brother gave me a book on assembly language programming for the 6502 processor (Apple IIe, original NES, etc) I think mostly as a joke (I didn’t understand what assembly was and didn’t have an assembler program, etc). I kept it on my shelf for 15+ years because I loved my brother. Then, in college as an electrical engineering student, for my senior design project I designed a 6502 in VHDL and implemented it in some CPLDs.

        It was so fascinating to me that, when I was done, and I was documenting how many cycles each instruction took to complete, for each instruction my design took the same number of clock cycles as the reference manual from the 80s my brother gave me. Like I want to say it was 8 cycles for the multiplication instruction, and 11 cycles for the division instruction and that sort of thing. Obviously, presented with the same sort of design challenges and limitations as the original designers, I made the same or very similar choices in hardware implementation, and it was very obvious why each instruction took the number of cycles that it did.

        babarganesh’s son might have fun learning how to use microcontrollers to, say, control a mobile robot. That said, I have no idea what microcontrollers people use these days. Back when I was in college we did our little project like this with Motorola HC11 chips but I don’t know if those are still common or what the Kids These Days are using.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Like I want to say it was 8 cycles for the multiplication instruction, and 11 cycles for the division instruction and that sort of thing.

          Except the 6502 (and 65C02) didn’t have either 🙂

          As the Grumpy Old Man might say, “In my day, we didn’t HAVE a multiply instruction. If you wanted to multiply you added and shifted. Why, you counted yourself lucky if you had a barrel shifter, and didn’t have to move the bits one at a time!”

          (and indeed the 6502 and 65C02 did not have a barrel shifter either)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Well, this was 20 years ago now and I haven’t looked at that stuff since so my memory is faulty. But there was something complicated that took 8 cycles and something complicated that took 11. Looking at the ISA now I don’t see anything that matches. Maybe I’m just a confused old man. But the point stands!

            ETA: Yeah I have no idea where those numbers came from. I think I was just remembering that once you understand the hardware resources available the cycle counts for each instruction and address mode fall out naturally and that was a really cool “aha!” insight moment.

        • Lambert says:

          For μCs, the kids these days are using Arduino, or its clones (it’s open hardware).
          It’s a board with an ATMega and some peripheral gubbins, like inline pins, Vin regulator, USB port.

          And there’s a big software ecosystem to program it. There’s an Arduino variant of C++ that’s normally used, but I’ve heard about Python and even Lisp being put on them.

          Electrical components are nice and cheap on Amazon nowadays. 9g microservos are always fun.

    • sami says:

      No advice, but how old was your son when you started to suspect he might have Asperger’s or be on the spectrum? My almost-3-year old was diagnosed with “atypical autism” at around 20 months old (because Asperger’s is not a diagnostic category anymore, at least not at the university autism institute that diagnosed him) and I’m really questioning the diagnosis. My gut says that they are wrong, or else stretching the definition of autism to the point of uselessness, but I am also aware that it can be hard to tell at a young age, particularly with Asperger’s or whatever you want to call the less severe versions of autism. I have a hard time discussing this with other parents of autistic kids because it’s become so political, and any expression of doubt at the diagnosis is taken as denial and an attempt to suppress your child’s true nature out of neurotypical prejudice. Do you remember if your son had any traits as a toddler that you now in retrospect connect with him being on the spectrum?

      • babarganesh says:

        Yes – he’s exactly the same as he was when he was a year or so old, personality-wise. His disposition is similar, but he is quite a bit more self-regulated, which you’d expect with age but which doesn’t happen always with autism.

        We didn’t get a formal diagnosis until about a year ago although we suspected it since 3 or 4 or 5. I sort of put it out of my head and focused on the symptoms like anxiety etc.

        I don’t know where you live but I don’t think you’d see that kind of heavy political judgement in NYC. I think New Yorkers fundamentally believe that people are made, not born, and Californians believe people are born, not made. Or something like that. In any case, you could try for another assessment at some point.

        Also, autism is a label and a crude one at that. One’s true nature is quite orthogonal to labeling in general. Labels can be helpful in getting support, understanding onesself or others, etc. You know your child much deeper than any label.

        ETA: the ‘your child’s true nature’ thing could be just a young kid thing – parents tend to lose that kind of idealism as their kids get older and become people with real positive and negative characteristics.

        • sami says:

          I have no inclination to try for another assessment, because we’re part of a long term study on the effectiveness of intensive early intervention, so the university sends a therapist to our home every afternoon for 2.5 hours, which is very nice for me! From my perspective it’s free childcare, and my son likes the sessions a lot. I should probably just stop worrying about whether he’s “really” autistic and what that means for the future, but it’s hard.

          • SaiNushi says:

            If he’s only mildly autistic, then such programs stand a better chance of helping him cope than someone with more severe symptoms.

            The traits I’ve heard of for under 5 is mostly the focus thing- there will be one or two subject matters that he really focuses in on to the exclusion of almost everything else. For example, my friend’s son likes cars and balls. He’s 18 months old. If he’s throwing a fit, giving him a car or a ball will stop the fit, even when nothing else will. If he sees a ball or toy car, and he’s not allowed to play with it (if it belongs to another child, for example), he will throw a huge fit. Presenting him with his own ball or car will usually fix this, though not always.

          • babarganesh says:

            you said it yourself – you should find a way to stop worrying about the long term when doing the work of parenting, because you need to be present. your job as a parent at this age is to get to know your kid as a person, labels be damned. and while you’re at it, throw away the map that shows you where a person should be at what age and so on, because it’s not going to be of much use if your kid is autistic.

    • monistowl says:

      Get him TAOCP — Knuth does that outside-in approach really well

  62. johan_larson says:

    I wish I had
    – spent less time in university
    – cultivated a network of contacts
    – continued my martial arts training
    – found myself a girlfriend

  63. DinoNerd says:

    Anyone have a good source for finding things one might want to buy?

    E.g. I’m currently looking for a wristwatch which will (gasp) show me the time. It can be an activity tracker – or not. It can be a smart watch – or a mechanical single function watch that needs to be wound daily, for all I care.

    It simply needs to have its screen turned on whenever I look at it. (That rules out most smart watches and activity trackers, as it happens.) And it needs to stay on my wrist, which rules out most of Fitbits products.

    And it needs to show me the time by default – ideally also week day and month/day. Not some fancy maze of visual menus.

    Searching with Google provides me what I already know – (1) Apple Watch won’t keep its screen turned on – apparantly Google sees I’m using Safari, and thinks all I care about is Apple (2) there are a lot of you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-price ‘luxury’ models out there which might be mechanical and so not have this issue, but cost more than my car and (3) nothing is KISS easy to use, and reviews don’t care if you need a three week training course to reliably learn what time it is.

    [Edit – it also needs to fit my wrist. Doh.]

    • johan_larson says:

      Have you tried Amazon?

    • albatross11 says:

      I’d go to Wal Mart/Target/etc and look for cheap quartz wristwatches with LCD screens. These cost almost nothing and keep time to within a few seconds a month.

    • littskad says:

      Simple Watches on Amazon might be what you want.

    • babarganesh says:

      i usually go to wirecutter for things like this.

      but generally, i can’t find things i want to buy.

    • Plumber says:

      I’ve got two Seiko 7S26C “self-winding” watches, one with a metal band that I wear at work, and one with a leather band that I wear on the weekend (because of how dirty my work is).

      Both have lasted longer than most of my watches (there was a time that I breaking one a month), and I’ve had them for a few years now, though I did get the glass of one replaced after the first couple of years.  

      They’re the mechanical type that you wind by moving your arm/shaking them, and my work one will typically keep running into Sunday after I take it off Friday evening, but my weekend one often doesn’t stay wound through the night ’cause I move so little (or don’t wear it as much) when I’m not at work, though if I wear it while doing yard work on the weekend it will keep ticking til Tuesday or Wednesday.

      I bought them both at Time Masters on Solano Avenue, in Albany, California.

      • Tenacious D says:

        I have a Seiko 7S26B. I like the way it looks and works but I find it heavy. Other watches I’ve had are light enough you can almost forget you’re wearing them, but with the Seiko you feel it there all day.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Have you considered the venerable Casio F91W?

      Or if Casio is a bit plebian, Rolex has a number of models fitting the bill, if your car is expensive enough.

      Somewhere in-between there’s Timex, Citizen, Fossil, Swatch, Seiko, Victorinox, Movado, Tag Heuer, etc.

      I know it’s sort of a meme that finding a watch that just tells the time is difficult, but putting “watches” into Bing gets me a reasonable selection.

    • dodrian says:

      I miss Pebble – they made great smartwatches with always on e-ink screens that would last a week between charges, and you could choose from tons of watchfaces to display what you wanted, or even create your own.

      • LHN says:

        The other killer app for Pebble was buttons. When driving, I could pause and restart a podcast or music without taking my eyes off the road.

        My Apple Watch technically has a button along with the “digital crown”. But basically all useful controls are relegated to the touchscreen, which is more or less useless if I want to do something without my eyes.

        I really wish that Pebble had survived and carved out a viable market segment for that type of watch. But as with phones, the trend seems to be steadily away from buttons and ports in favor of sealed boxes operated by touch and voice.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      When I needed an incredibly basic watch last year, I was easily able to find one at a department store in the local mall. Now I love online shopping as much as the next guy, but when it comes to something you’ll be wearing on your wrist, seeing it in real life gives you a much better feel for the size and readability. Most department stores have a wide selection of analog and digital quartz watches for <$50. The functionality generally ranges from “show the current time” to “time, date, alarm, stopwatch, timer, backlit, and water-resistant to X0 feet”.

    • CatCube says:

      As said above, go to a local department store (Wal-Mart or your local equivalent) and ask where the watches are.

      I like the Timex 555 with the Twistoflex band so much that when my last three have worn out, I’ve bought the same model to replace it. For that, you’ll either have to have the place you bought it from size the band, or you can do it yourself (it’s not hard, but if you’ve not done it before it’s not obvious).

    • Theodoric says:

      I would second the advice to just to to Walmart or Target and looking at watches. I got my current watch (Timex Expedition) at Target. It is an analog watch that just tells time, which sounds like what you want.

    • fraza077 says:

      I have an Amazfit Pace. It has a transreflective display, which is always on. The battery lasts about 6 days. It has a less power-hungry cousin, the Amazfit Bip. Both watches are pretty cheap for smartwatches.

      The Amazfit Pace has GPS, step counter, pulse tracking, bluetooth, wifi, pretty much does most things.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think my watch meets these criteria. It’s a Timex, from Target-I think this one. You can get a day/date version, too–mine is Day only.

    • bean says:

      My method for buying watches is very simple: go to Walmart and buy something in the $10-15 range that I like the look of. They tell time pretty well, and as a bonus, I can wear it into the classified lab. (This is probably not an issue for you, but smartwatches are banned from such spaces because of the risk of malware.)

    • Another Throw says:

      It simply needs to have its screen turned on whenever I look at it. (That rules out most smart watches and activity trackers, as it happens.)

      Really? That seems like really bad design. Admittedly the only smart watches I have experience with are:

      A. The Motorola MotoActv, which had an always on screen way back in 2011. Because the screen wasn’t easily readable in all lighting conditions (it was 2011, chill out), it also had a backlight that you could have turned on automatically when you looked at it. (It also had on-board music storage which has also just recently becoming a thing. What’s the point of your stupid fitness watch if I need to take my phone with me when I work out?)

      B. And the Garmin Forerunner watches, which also have always on screens. Since the screens are also readable in anything that could be called a “lighting condition” I have never bothered to look into whether the backlight is automatable.

      Okay, I guess Fitbit hit it big and a lot of other manufactures have tried copying that success by copying their stupid design decisions, like having to actively turn on the screen which ISTR was a *ahem* feature that goes back to their early devices that were basically just a pedometer where it sort of made sense. I would have expected, maybe, Apple or Samsung or Amazon to have enough gravity of their own to avoid such obvious mis-features, but maybe not?

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        An Apple Watch has the screen off most of the time, but it automatically turns on when you turn your wrist to look at it. There’s probably about a half-second delay. I can imagine how that could be annoying to some people forever, but I quickly acclimated to it. It’s perceivable but not frustrating, IMO.

        As for why they made this design decision, it’s perfectly clear to me: Battery life. Screens take a good deal of power, and I’m guessing the battery life would go from “needs charging once every two days” to “dies before I get home” if the screen were always on (source: wild estimation).

        In any case though, it definitely doesn’t sound like DinoNerd’s looking for a smartwatch.

        • DinoNerd says:

          It would be interesting to find out whether Apple watches are any better than the Garmin I had at actually and reliably turning the screen on when the wearer’s wrist is raised to a normal I-want-to-look-at-this level. (Not e.g. waved over the wearer’s head.)

          FWIW from personal observation Apple’s iPhone XR does not reliably turn its screen on when raised. It gets it right perhaps 9 times in 10 – the rest of the time I need to use the soft power switch. (It both turns the screen back on when I’m putting it in my pocket and fails to turn the screen on when taking it out of my pocket, but only sometimes – often enough to be annoying to me, however.)

    • Incurian says:

      Amazon is a good place to buy things.

      If you don’t need a lot of advanced features in your watch, but you want it to do the basics exceptionally well, I would recommend something like this Casio G-Shock https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094BKAWO/ . It has little solar panels so the battery doesn’t run out, it syncs with the atomic clock so the time is always correct, and it’s both shock and water resistant.

      • Lambert says:

        Seconding this.
        The one I have isn’t technically a G-shock, but it’s a similar Casio.
        Had it for several years, and never needed to replace the battery.
        And opening it up to replace the battery is what kills the waterproofing.

        I only remove it for food hygiene, my wrist feeling sweaty, and contact sports.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This isn’t going to be very helpful, since you already ruled out Fitbits, but my Charge 2 does everything on your list.

      It displays the time, currently in digital but I could set it to analog, and the screen automatically turns on whenever I turn my wrist towards me to look at it. Even with the default band it stayed on my wrist perfectly well, and with a replacement metal band it actually looks like a real watch that an adult might wear (leather also fit well and looked nice but the band fell apart too quickly). Plus I can screen texts and calls without taking my gloves off which is very helpful when I’m doing RNA work.

      I can’t speak to other activity trackers or smartwatches but I’m happy with mine.

      • DinoNerd says:

        My issue with fitbit was the plastic-plugs-into-plastic fastener of some fitbits.New ones with this fastener are hard to get closed, but as the watch strap ages, they start becoming ultra-easy to unlatch, and eventually fall off one time too many. (And this watch strap isn’t removeable/replaceable.)

        Also, I’ve got too many devices that “automatically turn on when …” and I’ve yet to find one that does it reliably. (Except come to think of it, my Gemini from Planet Computers, which reliably turns on every time I open it; that’s obviously easier to implement than “when you raise your wrist”.)

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Are you talking about the connection attaching the watch to the band, or about how the band clasps?

          If you mean the former, mine hasn’t given me any trouble but my girlfriend had an issue with her bands pulling off of the watch after a year or so of wear-and-tear. The problem with the connection was on the band side though so just replacing the band fixed the problem.

          If you mean the latter, it doesn’t apply to the Charge 2. The default band has an ordinary buckle and the metal one I have now has the normal clasp-thingy that metal watch bands typically have. Maybe older or newer models have this issue, I wouldn’t know.

          Also, I’ve got too many devices that “automatically turn on when …” and I’ve yet to find one that does it reliably.

          Yeah, I know what you mean.

          Mine is a little too sensitive sometimes, I need to cover it when I’m in the theater or else it will randomly start glowing. But that’s a minor inconvenience for me.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Yes, I meant the clasp, and what I was trying to say above – fairly ineptly, as I see on rereading – was that it sounds like the Charge 2 doesn’t have that particular problem.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Many thanks to everyone who responded. I guess I’ve been living in an idea bubble of sorts, where I didn’t realize that the watch counter at low end department stores was still a thing ;-( Forty years ago I’d have picked a random department store in my then local downtown – they were all conveniently lined up on the same street. But none of those store names even survive, except maybe in Canada, and it didn’t occur to me to generalize. (I also trusted Google too much – it seems I can’t get it to offer me links to ordinary, low end anything unless I overspecify significantly, e.g. by including a store name. Whereas my sister reports that Walmart was the second or third choice when she did a generic search – perhaps because she lives in a working class area of a relatively impoversihed city, and I live in Silly Valley, with an ISP that’s probably unusually popular with techies.)

  64. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to write a short piece of advocacy. Your target audience is someone who legitimately needs a college degree, but the degree could be in any major. Your goal is to persuade your audience to study the particular subject of your choice.

    Alternately, you may write a short piece advocating that your audience enter a particular profession that does not require college training, assuming they aren’t quite sure what to do with their lives right now.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson says

      “… you may write a short piece advocating that your audience enter a particular profession that does not require college training, assuming they aren’t quite sure what to do with their lives right now”

      About every other year my building is sent an “intern” from a local high school (unfortunately safety rules prohibit them actually learn much beyond what are faces look like at lunchtime and shuffling some paper, I know I got in trouble for demonstrating how to solder to an intern), often I’ve given one or two books: 
      How to Tell When You’re Tired: A Brief Examination of Work by Reg Theriault (which gives a good indication of the dangers, and toil, but also dignity of blue collar work), and
      Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford (which gives good reasons for the physical dangers of blue collar work being preferable to the dangers to the psyche and soul of white-collar work).

      If the do want to learn a trade I tell them to look at the http://calapprenticeship.org/faqs.php website. 

      From my perspective the advantage to perusing an apprenticeship (like I did) is you’re paid to learn, and you gain a useful skill, the disadvantages are that the work is dirty and dangerous and you age faster doing it.

      To me the advantage of a college education is that you get to spend time in classrooms and libraries, if you complete the courses and graduate they send you an alumni magazine that’s a good read (my wife sometimes gets one), with a diploma you may easily get a job as a teacher which is a gig that seldom requires heavy lifting, plus a bunch of other jobs, the disadvantages are that you’re not getting paid while you’re in those classrooms and libraries (in fact you have to pay), and it’s a lot of time not earning, and if you don’t graduate and get a diploma it looks bad.

      • CatCube says:

        I know I got in trouble for demonstrating how to solder to an intern

        That’s one of the saddest things I’ve read all week. I think I was 12 or 13 when my dad showed me how to sweat copper pipe, and had me do a joint myself. (Granted, I haven’t done enough with it to be all that confident in my joints not leaking, but I can at least solder up a copper pipe antenna.)

  65. deluks917 says:

    Are the extremely high software developer salaries in the Bay, and to a lesser degree other US tech hubs, a bubble? Salaries in the USA are very high in general and much higher in the Bay. Will salaries normalize in the near future?

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m going to guess things stay as they are until VR advances to the point that physical proximity doesn’t matter at all. Industries tend to centralize, and the pull toward the center, particularly for ambitious people, is very strong. If you want to work on the hottest projects and want the top execs to know you personally and therefore viscerally trust you, you need to be at HQ, and HQ is probably going to be in a center of the industry.

    • Plumber says:

      Oh Lord I hope so!

      The “boom” horribly correlates strongly with evictions and increased visible homelessness.

      My hope is that punishing taxes are imposed and “Silicon Valley” moves inland and away from here!

      • The “boom” horribly correlates strongly with evictions and increased visible homelessness.

        Your implicit model seems to be one in which people are immobile–there are a certain number of people in the Bay Area, so when one more comes in one of those currently here becomes homeless.

        Do you think that’s plausible? I would have guessed that even poor people are pretty mobile in our society, so that if the Bay Area was a less attractive place for the homeless than somewhere else, many of them would leave. It makes sense that more high income people coming in pushes up rents, given pretty severe restrictions on building more housing, but I’m not sure it makes sense that it increases homelessness.

        • Plumber says:



          Almost exactly that.

          According to the city’s 2015 homeless count, 71 percent of the people on the streets were living in San Francisco when they lost their housing.”

          In 2012, researchers found that a $100 increase in monthly rent in big cities was associated with a 15 percent rise in homelessness. The effect was even stronger in smaller cities.”

          Some (like my brother, his wife, the majority of my peers who I grew up with), do indeed move to other places and find housing, and some of the homeless are indeed from elsewhere. 

          But too many aren’t. 

          With more foresight many may have spared themselves, but far too many don’t have enough savings, mental preparation, or social capital to avoid the street.

          However “plausible” my model very much is that the “boom” leads to rent increases, and rent increases lead to eviction, eviction leads to tents, as too many already here just aren’t candidates to be “New Silicon Man”, and are “on the wrong side of history”, and must “make way for progress!”, and since many of the “Older homeless expected to die off soon“, before reaching the magic age of 65 when what I call ‘tontine socialism’ kicks in, “way” shall indeed be made.

        • SaiNushi says:

          From personal experience, a two-person low-income house needs $3000 to move from one relatively cheap area to another relatively cheap area in a different state.
          -apartment deposit + first month’s rent
          -time off for the move itself
          -the truck and gas
          -utilities deposit
          -($100 in this case) new plates and driver’s licenses
          This doesn’t include the three hotel stays researching apartments in the area, the three rental cars to get to the research without killing our own car, and the storage unit so that all our stuff would fit in one truck.

          It took us 3 years to save up that much.

        • zzzzort says:

          Just to add on, lower income people are often more dependent on social networks. So someone just getting by in oakland when their mom could look after their kids AND they could borrow their brother-in-laws car when theirs broke down AND they’re already successfully enrolled in MediCal AND … would have a hard time surviving in a different city even with significantly lower rents.

    • Bluesilverwave says:

      My contention would be that the extremely high software developer salaries in the Bay are the confluence of two things:
      1. a particular geographic area successfully managing to establish a great enough concentration of top talent that companies go there to get top talent (and people go there to signal they’re top talent by association)
      2. the local real estate prices have ensured that living in the Bay area requires a substantial baseline salary to live anywhere nearby

      I see #1 as very sticky. Example: if you’re looking for expertise in automotive engineering, you’re going to Michigan. If you’re looking for expertise in finance, you’re going to Chicago or New York.

      I see #2 as tremendously MORE sticky, for all the reasons related to real estate prices in the Bay area.

      I don’t see #2 changing, and I don’t see #1 changing until the costs of #2 get so high that companies are actively driven away from the Bay area. Since tech makes more money than anything else right now, I don’t see #2 being a problem until there’s a legit tech bust.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      My prediction is yes, as venture capital dries up. But how long that will take is anyone’s guess.

      Best prediction I can make: software developer salaries will recover much more slowly from the next recession than almost any other job, in nominal terms relative to their current levels.

      • Aapje says:

        Best prediction I can make: software developer salaries will recover much more slowly from the next recession than almost any other job, in nominal terms relative to their current levels.

        My prediction is the opposite of this.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Anecdotally, Silicon Valley software engineer salaries were barely touched at all by the 2008 crash; it was just a bit harder to get a new job for a while. But my sister, living in a small city in Canada, observed much larger effects, and I think her income never recovered. (She took what she could get after being laid off, and it wasn’t as good as it had been.)

          • SamChevre says:

            Same thing happened with IT salaries generally in the 2001 crash; Silicon Valley recovered, but DBAs and SysAdmins and Help Desk techs in random towns never really got back on their feet.

            I think this is one of the dynamics that drives Silicon Valley–it’s hard to get people outside Silicon Valley to commit to getting good at tech because they’ve seen the rug get pulled out from under the tech specialists for the past 20 years.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            The question, then, is whether Silicon Valley is a lich. In despair, I can only suppose that the answer is “yes.”

    • Nicholas says:

      Distributed workplaces are becoming increasingly common in tech. To some degree, as long as VCs are clustered, startups will probably continue to cluster with them, but if firms can’t figure out how to manage remotely they’ll have their lunches eaten by lean firms who aren’t paying gobs of cash in rent.

    • Garrett says:

      The Bay area: possibly.
      The rest of the US: not likely.

      Programmers in the US are already competing with programmers world-wide. There’s no significant physical limitation which stops companies from hiring programmers in the rest of the world where salaries are significantly less. When I last checked the numbers about 5 years ago, programmers in India were making about 1/3 the salary of their US equivalent. This means that there is some benefit to hiring workers in the US, whether it’s locality, cultural, or time zones. Also, my experience is that in the US the biggest item resulting in high salaries is that there seem to be few people who are both able and interested in this kind of work. You don’t understand how terrible some developers can be until you get involved in the interviewing process.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Tech companies generally want their developers _right there_. I don’t know why that is. They’ll spend enormous amounts on big city rents and pack people in tight rather than allow general working from home or even open satellite offices for developers in less expensive areas. It annoys me because it subjects me to the vagaries of the NYC-area transportation systems (Our Motto: At least You’re Not On The 101), but on the other hand it means I don’t have to really compete with Bangalore.

      • a real dog says:

        The main limitation is that you really don’t want to open an office in a faraway country, as it is an enormous cost that is only justified by economies of scale – having 1000 people in Romania or India is a very good idea, having 10 people is not worth it. If you’re doing specialized stuff, the talent pool in a single location is often not deep enough. To avoid opening an office you want to go through some kind of outsourcing / body leasing arrangement, introducing an intermediate layer that wants to take all your money and pay the talent peanuts. There is no knowledge transfer between your current hires and the offshore guys, other than occasional emails/IMs and them trying to figure out the documentation (which is always lacking and out of date, for obvious reasons).

        I’m currently sitting on the other side, being employed by said malicious intermediate layer, and the difficulties are very much real, to both sides of the contract.

  66. SteveReilly says:

    For me it would be getting on the right career path. I wasted too much time not sure what I wanted to do. But aside from going back in time and doing my twenties over with the extra few decades of knowledge I accumulated, I don’t think there was much chance of me doing things right the first time around. Some screw-ups just have to be experienced. (Not that I’m complaining too much. I’m doing fine, just that I could doing even better if I hadn’t wasted time in my twenties.)

  67. Le Maistre Chat says:

    … it’s Father’s Day and your pun wasn’t Opapa Thread?
    Huge snub to fathers there!

  68. I’ve been trying to puzzle out the question of why writing (academic or otherwise) is so hard for some people. I propose the metaphor of writing as translation of what is in our head into the structure of the written language. Many bilingual people struggle to translate well between their two languages because you not only have to know the languages well, you also need to know the many different ways in which they match up or don’t. Translating from one language to another, you often have to fill in bits that were left implicit in the other language. I propose that many people find this process disconcerting because what they write does not seem to be a good reflection of what the thoughts felt like in their mind – it’s kind of like people not liking the sound of their own voice when they see it recorded.

    More (much more) detail in this post on Metaphorhacker.net.

    Any suggestions / comments / shared experiences would be most welcome.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I’ve been taught that, when you learn to read and write for the first time, it rewires parts of your brain dramatically and permanently, as you get to acquire specific linguistic structures that are rare or non-existant in spontaneous spoken speech among non-literate people and civilizations, notably the use of metaphors and of complex relative clauses.

      Maybe some people miss that train and never acquire these specifically writing-borne linguistic skills, and so their writing is just them aping their speech patterns, instead of being a consistent and distinct system on its own.

      Going farther, written and spoken speech being different languages is more explicit in some cultures than in others. Linguists talk about “diglossia” to describe a society where there exist two (or more) distinct languages with a different repartion in different social stratas, as in a “high” language that is used for prestigious purposes (literature, government affairs, media, official speech, religion), and a “low” language that is used for more mundane communication.

      Sometimes the two varieties are closely related (like the Katharevoussa and Demotiki varieties of Greek which coexisted in Greece from 1796 to 1972), but they can also be completely different languages (like how in Bohemia and Moravia under the Habsburgs, all official affairs were conducted in German, but the majority of the population spoke various Czech dialects at home).

      Ancient Egyptian was an extreme example: in some periods, we find up to four distinct varieties being used concurently in different kinds of texts according to their level of prestige — and that’s just in writing, we don’t even know how the ordinary people of Egypt spoke. Oh and the writing system itself was diglossic: there existed a form of cursive Egyptian distinct from hieroglyphs which was not a 1:1 transcription of the latter. It was a closely related but distinct system with its own intricacies and spelling rules.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I’ve talked about this at greater length in a previous OT, but the kind of writing I struggle with the most is the general category of “mandatory, open-ended assignment for school.” In short, I feel like I don’t particularly have anything to add regarding, e.g. “Analyze a major theme of To Kill a Mockingbird.” I think the book stands perfectly well on its own without my sophomoric commentary, and I don’t really have anything specific I want to say about it. But I still need to put a few hundred words on paper or my grade’ll suffer.

      ETA: So to put it in your terms, it’s difficult to translate thoughts into writing when there aren’t any particular thoughts to translate in the first place.

      • albatross11 says:

        Those are also not at all like much writing you need to do in the working world or daily life, AFAICT.

    • Going in the other direction, there seem to be a lot of people who learn from spoken information more easily than from written information–one possible explanation of why the mass lecture format survived the invention of the printing press.

      • albatross11 says:

        There are subjects where I find this is true for me. Especially when someone is explaining an algorithm or how to solve some problem, and I can watch them work it in real time.

      • nkurz says:

        What makes you believe this? For which subjects do you personally find this to be true? I often find demonstrations involving physical props to be useful, but would almost always prefer a printed work to a live lecturer behind a podium. My guess would be that the persistence of the lecture format has more to do with people’s social preferences than the effectiveness of the approach.

        • CatCube says:

          I learn much, much faster given a live lecture than a book to read. For whatever reason, most things stick better when watching somebody work through it, and it works even better if I can interact, that is, a live lecturer I can ask for clarification is much better than a recording.

          • I specified “mass lecture” because I was thinking of the sort of context where you can’t interact–there are two hundred of you listening and one of him speaking.

          • CatCube says:

            You can totally raise your hand and ask questions in a mass lecture. Obviously not nearly as much as in a smaller format, but there’s usually space here and there during segues, as well as catching the professor at the end, if you need clarification on something you didn’t understand.

        • I’m generally not a fan of lectures. However, they do have one advantage. Reading a book is an inherently asocial activity, meaning that you have to do it on your own initiative. Lectures give you a specific time that you show up at, listen and then go about your life until the next one. For whatever reason, it’s often easier to just get up and attend a lecture than take a block of time out of your day, get rid of the distractions, and dedicate it solely to reading.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not saying you’re wrong, and I’m not saying this isn’t an important factor worthy of consideration…

            But isn’t this less of a “how people learn” issue and more of a “how motivated are people?” issue?

          • albatross11 says:

            Keeping the students engaged/motivated is a major part of helping them learn. And that’s just as true when the student is you!

        • zzzzort says:

          I would guess it’s largely more effective in some instances because of social forces. People are better at paying attention to people than to pieces of paper. Knowledge transfer is always socially mediated to some extent, so optimizing the social context should be an important part of getting learning right.

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman >

        ‘…there seem to be a lot of people who learn from spoken information more easily than from written information…”

        There really does, I’d say most people.
        I feel like I’m the opposite and am a better reader than I am a listener, but I really think most people listen better than they read.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      What is the probability that any given person whose writing you find troublesome is one for whom English is not their first language?

      And can you break this down by language? Specifically, East Asian, Arabic, Hebrew, Romance, Germanic?

      • Machine Interface says:

        Anecdata: I once met online a person of Quebec origin, who was pretty much bilingual in Frencha end English, except their writing was just about equally awkward and cumbersome in both languages.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      IME, Most people cannot write because they cannot:
      1. Determine what is important.
      2. Cut out extraneous crap.
      3. Logically flow an argument.

      Fail any of these, and your writing will be abysmal.

      Then long-form has a whole bunch of other stuff to add, that I can’t describe, because I can’t do it. But Scott can. I think he has a post on it somewhere.

  69. Plumber says:

    Won the lottery big, own a house, be a parent, unionize Wal-Mart, walk on Mars, get a good education, write a good book, be elected to Congress.

    More plausibly: Serve in the Coast Guard, learned to weld, learned to repair air conditioning.

    • J says:

      I really enjoy tig welding. Did you ever learn?

      • Plumber says:

        I learned (and still do) gas welding and brazing a few times a year, and I spent a fair amount of time trying to get good enough at electric arc “stick” welding to get refinery work (my attempts were cut short by my getting a full-time repair plumbing job, as well as being a husband and father), and I only tried TIG (and MIG) a couple of times.

        They didn’t seem any harder than gas and stick welding, but I aimed to master what I thought was more marketable first.

        • J says:

          I found stick by far the most difficult (and the dirtiest).

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          +1 to J on stick welding. My welds were never anything like clean, but I was especially bad at stick. And the shocks were very unpleasant.

        • J says:

          How did you manage to get shocked? Was this an old tombstone welder or something?

  70. Plumber says:

    For father’s day I’ve had the privilege of sitting and reading a book, this time Michael Moorcock’s Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy, which is a collection of book reviews ranging from the 16th centuryAmadis of Gaul to the 21st century Veniss Underground, but it was a line in a review from a 20th century work that I want to share:

    “…so aggressively sterile, so hypocritical and ambiguous in its moral and social values, that one can only mourn for the tree which was cut down to make the paper on which it was printed…”

    but how did he really feel about it?

    • Mary says:

      What I remember most about that book was Moorcock’s tendency to use “adoloscent” as a pejorative and “adult” as a compliment — generally without any substantial reason — that reminded me of the observation that an obsession with being grown-up is childish, not adult.

      • The Nybbler says:

        When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

        — C.S. Lewis


        It’s amazing how much ‘mature wisdom’ resembles being too tired.

        — Robert Heinlein

      • Plumber says:

        The reviewer was Michael Moorcock (the book is mostly him reviewing fantasy fiction novels and short stories, most of the ones he raved about I either also liked, or just didn’t finish, and what he didn’t like, I liked or never read), and the specific novel work he so bitingly (and hilariously!) chastised was Marauders of Gor.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          … why would he bother bashing a random Gor novel from deep into the series? That’s some low-hanging man-fruit. Bash it from the beginning or go home.

          Fun fact: the first two Gor novels (Tarnsman and Outlaw) had unfaithful film adaptations. The second became a pretty good Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in the mid-1990s.

          • Deiseach says:

            The first couple of Gor novels weren’t that bad and with a bit of work could have been the basis for an Edgar Rice Burroughs type planetary romance series.

            But he decided to go the way of writing his BDSM kink fic instead of developing characters like Nar the intelligent giant spider, so people who wanted science fantasy and not soft porn gave up on it, and those who wanted porn with an SF tinge liked it. The pompousness with which he talked about it being a philosophy (man dominant! woman submissive! this natural order of things! modern Western society where women equal is decadent and squishy!) rather than “this is the kind of thing that helps me get my rocks off” didn’t help, though I suppose it did provide a thin veil of plausible denial for those who were reading it for the porn.

          • John Schilling says:

            Shall we mention the time I was invited to spend a week in a Texas county jail many years ago, and about the least boringly unpleasant reading material I could find in their limited “library” consisted of two late-period Gor novels and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. My first experience with either, having been warned to quit Gor at #6 and not having gotten around to Machiavelli by that point.

            Jokes about cruel and unusual punishment aside, I have to wonder whether a reading list for mostly random assorted criminals might have been better curated.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            The first couple of Gor novels weren’t that bad and with a bit of work could have been the basis for an Edgar Rice Burroughs type planetary romance series.

            Yeah! Everyone in my IRL circle who’s encountered the books* have the consensus that #3 is the tipping point. There’s a big Sword & Planet reveal that the Priest-Kings aren’t Sumerian-flavored dudes but mantis people. They have chaste human slaves and are oblivious to the rampaging sexism in their human zoo, which would be a cute touch, but then the narrator starts defending it as the natural order for the first(?) time, and that’ll make you throw a Gor book against the wall even if you’re otherwise ready to accept the un-PC femsub theme. Very confused, yet so popular that it ate the series after #3.

            instead of developing characters like Nar the intelligent giant spider, so people who wanted science fantasy and not soft porn gave up on it

            Or just soft porn that doesn’t lecture them.
            Poor Nar, you will be missed. 🙁

            *Well, I have a guy friend whose roommate’s SF&F bookshelves include a bunch of Gor novels. I haven’t dared solicit his opinion.

            @John Schilling:

            Jokes about cruel and unusual punishment aside, I have to wonder whether a reading list for mostly random assorted criminals might have been better curated.

            Oh… I empathize with you! Does seem like prison library reform could be a big net win in utilitarian terms.

          • Plumber says:

            In the jail that most of my Service Orders are for the books seem to be mostly library and school discards, but what caught my attention early on in the movies and television they have playing for the inmates: “Chunky” slasher films, Son’s of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Goodfellas, Superman Returns, and Twilight are among those that I’ve noticed.

            I’m pretty sure that rehabilitation isn’t the goal.

            FWLIW, the inmates seem to fight the least when major sporting events are being broadcast, and the most a few hours afterwards.

          • I thought Norman was a talented story teller who got into doing way too much preaching. That would have damaged the stories even if what he was preaching wasn’t about as heretical as one could imagine.

            The first couple of books, as I remember from reading them long ago, had a real tension between the views of the society and those of the protagonist. Then the protagonist converted and the tension disappeared.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve only read the first one. I wouldn’t read it again, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve read either, or even the worst thing I’ve read in its subgenre*; the harshest thing I can say about it is that it’s an obvious Princess of Mars ripoff even by sword-and-planet standards. Clunky prose but fair worldbuilding; Norman’s academic background comes through.

            (*) Though portal fantasy’s the latest cash cow in the manga-for-perverts world, so that’s not saying much.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I still have a fondness for the idea of riding on giant falcons, and I wish a better writer would pick it up.

            Sensible People of Gor for the win!

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            … As ridiculously specific as that request is, I do, in fact, have a Rec!


            first seven chapters, free.

  71. DragonMilk says:

    Married folk, what are some things you forgot or almost forgot in your last week or even day before your wedding?
    We don’t have a wedding planner, and I am doing all the planning, which I *think* is done. But I feel like this is not something I should screw up.

    • SteveReilly says:

      Congratulations! I’ve been married twice and can’t think of much. If it’s your responsibility, make sure you have the rings, or that your spouse does. There’s the legal paperwork to remember. Otherwise I can’t think of anything.

    • johan_larson says:

      You either made or accepted a proposal of marriage?

    • It was on the day of my wedding, shortly after the ceremony. Someone referred to Diana (my first wife, who I had just married) as my wife, and I started to say “she’s not my wife, she’s … .”

      And then realized that she was.

    • dodrian says:

      In the week before the wedding I realized that:
      A) There was no plan to get the cake from the bakery to the venue, and
      B) I hadn’t booked a hotel room for that night (the week after was taken care of)
      C) I hadn’t bought gifts for my groomsmen

      I had the wedding all planned well, but was missing some of the tangential details. So make sure you know how everything is getting to the venue, how clean up and getting everything out of the venue (including you!) will work, and that you have appropriate thank yous (gifts, cards, speeches) prepared for all those who are helping.

      More generally my advice would be to make sure you know what the most important things are for you and your wife (which may be the same, or may be different) and make sure those are in order, but don’t stress about the rest. For my wife and I we knew we absolutely wanted to get married in the church where we met, and by the minister who knew us at that time. There was a particular location we wanted photos to be taken, and made sure to plan in the time for that. The other things that we thought would be nice to have were then easy to be flexible on. For example: we thought it would be good to have a DJ, but when things weren’t working out the week before the wedding it was easy to say “forget it”, and just ask my brother to burn some CDs to play instead.

      Good luck!

    • Etoile says:

      Have a rough schedule and a person who can steward that schedule along, and be the go-to for any issues, who isn’t one of you. Might be a maid of honor. (In my case it was my mom and bridesmaids evenly.)

      A minor thing: if doing the music non-professionally, shorten your special songs so they don’t go on forever. 5 mins is a very long time, trust me.

      (Edited: extra word removed)

      • quanta413 says:

        A minor thing: if doing the music non-professionally, shorten your special songs so they don’t go on forever. 5 mins is a very long time, trust me.

        That’s good advice! I’m getting married soon too, but unlike DragonMilk I only am responsible for music and groomsmen.

        I would not have thought about that and would have botched my only job. So thank you.

      • Blueberry pie says:

        Have a rough schedule and a person who can steward that schedule along, and be the go-to for any issues, who isn’t one of you.

        This one is totally worth it – having someone to coordinate stuff, tell people where to go etc. which isn’t the bride/groom is a strong predictor of both the couple enjoying the wedding themselves and the wedding going well overall (N ~= 10 weddings I attended in recent years, including my own).

        In a similar vein, it is super important that the couple are not the only ones to “know stuff” (like parking instructions, arrangements made for kids or whatever you have).

    • beleester says:

      By the last week, the only thing that should be left is actually getting everything in the same room and set up. When is everything getting delivered to the venue? Does someone need to show up early with a key to let the vendors in? Do you need to stage stuff in advance – decorations, place cards, small tables, etc. – so that you can set them up quickly on the big day?

      As @Etoile stated, most of this can be handled by your day-of person (you do have a day-of person, right? If not, get one!) You just need to write down everything they need to know.

    • Nicholas says:

      I didn’t have a cheque book with me. I expected the caterer to invoice me the balance owed (we paid half as a deposit) but they wanted the balance before they left that day…. It was a little awkward.

      Also, I didn’t expect the photo shoot to take soooo long, everyone was done eating by the time we got to our own reception, I wish we had planned an activity for the guests besides eating until we got there.

      Edit: oh yeah, and we bought champagne based roughly on 1 bottle per guest (it was a brunch service, so we didn’t serve any other booze, but had a kickin’ mimosa bar) but forgot that about a 3rd of our guest list was kids… We had cases of extra champagne in our garage for 6 months, brunch every weekend, and taking bottles to every social event, we finally worked through them by new years.

      • Blueberry pie says:

        I didn’t expect the photo shoot to take soooo long, everyone was done eating by the time we got to our own reception

        Yeah, that AFAIK happens a lot. My own wedding plus some of those I attended had photoshoots on a different day. IMHO great as what I wanted to do on my wedding day was to spend time with all the people who came, not with the photographer.

        Also having the photoshoot quite a bit of time after wedding meant the bride got to put on the fancy dress some more and we both had a good time remembering the good time at the wedding :-)Would recommend.

      • AppetSci says:

        And for the photo shoot, make a quick plan of which photos you want. aunt’s and uncles, university friends, school friends, both sets of parents – parents and siblings, wider family, work colleagues, stag nighters, hen nighters etc. etc. We forgot and it was a nightmare thinking who you need, when etc. Then again, we’ve never looked at our wedding photos, so no biggie.

        Make a wedding book that people can sign and write a comment when they leave the party. I got one but forgot to tell people to use it.

        Ask people to send their own photos to your email (repeat it in the present thanks you notes.

    • Plumber says:

      I got officially married at the County Clerks office in Oakland (near the main Library branch) and really the only thing that I had to remember (that I can remember!) was to bring enough change to pay the parking meter.

      We were “common law” for over a decade and never had a ceremony beyond telling a county worker “yes”.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Why people go for these massive events I have no idea. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

        When I got married I put on my best shirt and my best pullover. Later I realized they didn’t go together at all.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yes, it all seems more complicated than it needs to be.

          On the clothing front, I’d like to see the Sunday Best outfit revived: a single set of clothing that’s appropriate for any formal occasion.

        • bean says:

          Why people go for these massive events I have no idea. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

          Speaking from recent experience, it’s because they don’t realize what they’re getting into. Just elope, kids. It’s not worth it.

          More seriously, I think a lot of people, particularly women, have long dreamed of a big wedding, and so are willing to put in the work. And the result seems like it will be fun.

          (Context: I have less than 2 months to go till mine.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            More seriously, I think a lot of people, particularly women, have long dreamed of a big wedding, and so are willing to put in the work. And the result seems like it will be fun.

            Don’t forget Father and Mother of the Bride!
            If you’re doing a big wedding, I think a wedding planner might be worth it, if just to deal with Mother of the Bride.

          • bean says:

            My future in-laws have been excellent to deal with, to the point that I forgot that could play a part.

            If you’re doing a big wedding, I think a wedding planner might be worth it, if just to deal with Mother of the Bride.

            We aren’t. The only thing that has absorbed a lot of time and effort is the cake, which at least has meant I’ve gotten to eat a lot of very good cake.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Speaking from recent experience, it’s because they don’t realize what they’re getting into. Just elope, kids. It’s not worth it.

            Ehh I dunno. It’s a few months of hell but when the alternative is getting skinned alive by decades of grumbling from the rest of the family then let’s just do the damn party. I agree with you as far as massive shindigs, but I’d vote for at least having a small thing in the folks’ backyard as opposed to eloping. (If they want a massive shindig then they can damn well pay for it – and the planner!)

            Plus, toughing out a few months of hell together is a arguably a decent prep/test for children…

          • JustToSay says:

            @ Bean. Congrats! And enjoy that cake now, as well as any tastings you go to (if you have caterers). Our food was really good, but I found it hard to eat or enjoy it on our wedding day. We should have asked to have some leftovers boxed up to eat later that night when we realized we were hungry.

        • John Schilling says:

          If you’re not going to have a big party, why bother getting married at all? Just move in together, if you haven’t already done that, and since you probably already did that a long time ago, just agree that you’re not going to move out any time soon.

          When marriage was an institution of great legal significance, there was good reason for people who didn’t want / couldn’t afford a big party to nonetheless go down to a courthouse and sign the paperwork. Now that the paperwork is basically only good for hospital visitation rights, and no-fault divorce is both legally and socially acceptable, the party is what’s left. The party signals commitment in a way that is expensive up front, and increases the reputational penalty if you decide to dump what’s-her-name six months down the road. And it ties up a big package of strong happy memories with your relationship.

          Plus, it’s probably going to be a big fun party where you don’t have to worry about whether you know anyone or whether you really belong there and you are almost guaranteed to be the center of attention in a good way. How many of those do you get?

          • ana53294 says:

            Now that the paperwork is basically only good for hospital visitation rights, and no-fault divorce is both legally and socially acceptable, the party is what’s left.

            I don’t know about the US, but in Spain there are significant advantages to being married when one spouse dies.

            In Spain, due to complicated reasons, wills basically don’t work as you’d expect, and direct heirs (kids) have priority over others. So especially in cases of a second marriage, it is a way to ensure your spouse doesn’t end on the streets. And avoid inheritance tax.

            Even divorced, people have the right to a widow(er)’s pension if they’ve been married for enough years (not sure, but something like >20 years). Life insurance is not practical for the elderly.

            So marriage is a way to financially protect the weaker spouse.

            Also, there are visas. Two of my friends already got married to simplify visa procedures (they were going to do it, eventually, anyway, they just did it faster than planned).

            So, if one spouse plans to be a SAHP (or cut hours, or take years off until the kid goes to kindergarden), or one is a foreigner, there are still advantages.

          • Another Throw says:

            John is exaggerating.

            There is a lot more to it than hospital visitation, although primarily in the taxes and estate planning department, and in the children department.

            In the US, you can give unlimited amounts of money to a spouse, but giving anything to any other person requires filing paperwork above a certain limit (~$15k) and paying any taxes that gift incurred. While the level when that the tax kick in is currently at or near historic highs due to R’s recently controlling all of congress and the presidency, there is a very good chance that the first thing that will happen the next time D’s take all of congress and the presidency is to cut it by a lot. They really seem to like it being an order of magnitude lower. This puts it in the range where a not-married professional couple could get burned by it over the course of a lifetime.

            All of your tax-advantaged accounts generally allow a surviving spouse to retain the tax advantages for the rest of their lives, whereas any other beneficiary is obliged to take a lump sum immediately and start paying taxes.

            If you’re silly enough to biff it intestate, the state is going to look for someone to give your estate to among your spouse, children, parents, siblings, maybe a vague list of other relatives, or keeping it for itself. You’re going to have a hard time finding “that person the deceased was shacked up with” in the list.

            But of more immediate and practical concern is children. The majority of kidnappings are from the non-custodial parents (almost exclusively the father) picking their kids up from school/daycare/church/etc. Consequently, if you’re a father and not married to you children’s mother, and you try interacting with your kids in any way in front of anyone you’re tempting them to, out of an abundance of caution because think of the children, call the police on you for kidnapping. And good luck proving to them to their satisfaction that you’re not a kidnapper before you get arraigned. And once you are every law enforcement officer or middling bureaucrat is going to presume that you’re a wife beating, murdering, kidnapping, pedophile rapist and that they better to their God damned best to get you safely locked up for something, anything, before you kidnap your children and make some kind of pedo-snuff film. Because as far as everyone is concerned, men that get along with their children’s mother without marrying them aren’t just unicorns, they’re a unicorn’s love child with bigfoot——entirely hypothetical.

          • John Schilling says:

            But of more immediate and practical concern is children. The majority of kidnappings are from the non-custodial parents (almost exclusively the father) picking their kids up from school/daycare/church/etc. Consequently, if you’re a father and not married to you children’s mother, and you try interacting with your kids in any way in front of anyone you’re tempting them to, out of an abundance of caution because think of the children, call the police on you for kidnapping.

            How do these concerned citizens know whether a father is married to the child’s mother or not? My brother is a stay-at-home father, frequently seen interacting with his young children in public and with no mother in sight, and the number of times he has had to talk himself out of a kidnapping arrest is I believe zero. Note that he does not carry around a copy of his marriage certificate to e.g. preemptively display to everyone at the park/gym/whatever every time he picks up the children.

            So if you think there’s exaggeration going on here, a fair bit of it is on your side.

          • Jaskologist says:

            In my experience, daycares deal with that up-front, by having you list everyone authorized to pick up your kid as part of the sign-up process. The formality of checking your identity is pretty quickly dispensed with once you’ve picked up your kids enough times for the workers to recognize you.

            Marriage certificates were not involved, and it is entirely possible to add a grandparent or family friend as a backup, generally with the added precaution of calling in ahead of time to let them know that Grandma is going to be picking up little Johnny today.

          • Deiseach says:

            The majority of kidnappings are from the non-custodial parents (almost exclusively the father) picking their kids up from school/daycare/church/etc. Consequently, if you’re a father and not married to you children’s mother, and you try interacting with your kids in any way in front of anyone you’re tempting them to, out of an abundance of caution because think of the children, call the police on you for kidnapping.

            From the other side of the fence in the school/daycare environment, even when it’s not “oh boy, is this a potential kidnapping?” you have to be extremely careful about who gets to pick up kids – we’ve had grandparents arriving to pick up little Johnny and had to ring Mom or Dad to make sure that yes, this is granny and grandpa and yes, they’re allowed collect little Johnny because they’re not on the list of Approved Persons*. Because if we just go “Oh hey, Johnny, granny and grandpa are here to collect you!” and just sign the kid out when granny and grandpa are not on the Approved List, we will be eaten alive by the inspectors who do unannounced drop-in inspections and go through the paperwork with a fine tooth comb. Possibly even funding pulled and/or closed down. It’s Serious Business.

            It gets even more delicate when there are married now separated parents, or never married in the first place parents, where there may or may not be some kind of legal agreement about access, and where Parent A may object very damn strongly to Parent B arriving to pick up the kid, while Parent B equally strongly insists that they have legal right of access. It’s no fun to be in the middle of that kind of spat, with both sides yelling at you about their rights over their kid and how dare you permit/refuse them to collect their own child? (This applies equally to mothers and fathers, sometimes Parent A is the dad who does not want mom picking up the kid because – well, you know, ongoing rows between the two parties).

            Or Parent A has access/custody but pulls the kid out of school/pre-school unexpectedly and then Parent B arrives to pick up the kid and is all “Where’s my kid?” Trying to sort that one out isn’t fun, either, because whatever you do, you run the risk of a disgruntled party running to social services to complain about your centre just handed over the kid to the other party.

            *Yes, we have a list; we’re obliged to have a Collection Policy by law:

            Record of pre-school child
            A registered provider of a pre-school service other than a pre-school service in a drop-in centre or a temporary pre-school service shall ensure that a record in writing is kept in respect of each pre-school child attending the service containing the following particulars:
            (d) the name and address of a parent or guardian of the child and a telephone number where that parent or guardian or a relative or friend of the child can be contacted during the hours of operation of the service;
            (e) authorisation for the collection of the child;

            SCHEDULE 5
            Policies, procedures and statements
            (k) policy on authorisation to collect children

            “policy on authorisation to collect children”, in relation to a pre-school service, means a policy specifying the protocols of the service in relation to the collection from the service of pre-school children attending the service

          • Plumber says:

            Your tales of divorced/seperated/sparring parents brings many words to mind, which I’ll refrain from posting for now ’cause potentially “hot button”, but my gears are grinding!

          • Deiseach says:

            Plumber, I started off in education-related (student grants/early school leavers/disadvantaged area school) and thought that made me cynical about human nature, then I went into social housing and realised I wasn’t half cynical enough 🙂

            I’m back in sorta-education-related now, and things are somewhat better, but the worst is when parents split up and use the kids as combination weapons, soldiers and ammo in their private little war between the adults. I don’t care if you both hate each others’ guts, you’ve got kids who are dependent on you, sort it out!

            Most people are reasonable and trying to do their best, I have to say. You’ll always get That One Person, though: either irresponsible, undependable and flaky even if not bad-natured, or bad-natured and demanding and looking for an excuse to take offense.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Forgot….uhhh…nothing was really dropped, from what I can remember. Things that came to mind:

      1. One of my groomsmen had a problem remembering times. He missed the rehearsal. So he got messages from 3 people and a house call reminding him that we were having a wedding that day.
      2. I got a haircut. I wanted to say “3 on the sides, scissors on top.” Instead it was “3.” So I had a buzzcut for my wedding. I was really tired.
      3. My wife picked the hotel to stay in the night of the Wedding. She picked the hotel in the parking lot of where I worked. So I could literally look out the door and see my workplace. Big deal? No. But, depressing.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      A copy of the marriage license. I remember looking for it frantically, and that it was found someplace obvious. Give it to the best man or something now.

    • zoozoc says:

      If you have a meal at your wedding, have someone grab a large plate of food to save to take with you two when you leave. My wife and I on our wedding night did manage to eat, but even still we were hungry on our wedding night and didn’t exactly want to go out to get some food, so we were grateful to have some leftover food to eat.

    • Majuscule says:

      I was in my wedding dress, about to go down the aisle, when I asked if the organist was there yet. The priest asked “You didn’t call him?” I had thought he was a package deal with the church and priest, but nope! Luckily we had a talented friend who we pulled out of the pew to play “Here Comes the Bride” on zero notice.

      My husband had also driven himself to the event that morning in his parents’ car. But at the end of the night, we realized there was no one sober left except him to drive it back. So the groom had to do it and we left our own wedding reception separately!

      Also don’t leave your leftover cake in that car for a full day. The car smelled delicious, though.

  72. metacelsus says:

    Happy Father’s Day, SSC! I hope all the dads out there have an excellent day.

    • Plumber says:

      Thank you!

      Took the wife, three year old son, and 14 year old son to a public swimming pool in a nearby city yesterday, and today (which is rather chilly for June) I cooked beef stew, and have been reading a collection of book reviews.