Open Thread 137 (+ Meetup Corrections)

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. I’m traveling so I failed to get in all your meetup time/place change requests in time. Sorry Minneapolis, hope you were able to work something out despite my poor response time. Zurich is changing locations to The Sacred/Vegelateria at Müllerstrasse 64. Pittsburgh was a total coordination disaster, sorry, they are going to try again 6 PM 10/19 at 804 Anaheim St. Darmstadt is now scheduled for 2 PM 10/20 at Wilhelminenstraße 17. And Princeton is having a partly-SSC-affiliated effective altruist meetup 9/23 which a few prominent EAs from the Bay Area will be attending, see here for details. I will keep updating the city meetups list with the latest changes and information as I get it.

2. Of the two meetups I’ve announced on the blog so far, Boston had ~140 people and NYC had ~120. If you’re organizing one of these meetups (highlighted blue on the list), in a city about the same size as those, please be prepared for a similar-sized turnout. Also, if you have a local group with regular meetings, please bring a signup sheet so interested meetupgoers can get on your mailing list.

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747 Responses to Open Thread 137 (+ Meetup Corrections)

  1. joshuatfox says:

    Looking forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday Sep 24 at our SlateStarCodex meetup with the LessWrong group.

    If you haven’t seen it, yet some translations of SlateStarCodex posts to Hebrew are available here.

  2. RavenclawPrefect says:

    Minneapolis meetup went very well! We got everyone coordinated despite my late relocation due to weather, had around 9 people show up for some good conversation, and planned a second meetup on Oct 12: we’ll do some (very optional) lightning talks and play whichever games folks feel like bringing. As before, shoot an email to grahamsnumberisbig at gmail if you’ll be in the area and are interested in joining us! [Search terms for people using ctrl-F: St. Paul, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

  3. SearchingSun says:

    Hello, new member from India here, glad to be joining the SSC collective!

    I was thinking of a particular line of fallacious reasoning, and wondering if there’s a name for it. It relates to Chesterton’s Fence and some common complaints about evolution. Namely that people often look at a characteristic and assume that it’s longevity proves it’s usefulness. For example, Jordan Peterson frequently uses this reasoning to argue that we should not change social norms because the fact that they have survived this long indicates that they have survival value. I do buy this argument generally, but one major flaw I see is that genes and memes frequently survive for long periods of time in populations even when they have no survival value or are even slightly detrimental. Is there a name for this flaw?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      In rhetoric it would be the “Appeal to tradition”.

    • Hackworth says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s a general category of fallacious reasoning, or a bias. It’s a misunderstanding of evolution, if anything. Characteristics without positive value for the individual can absolutely propagate, as long as they do not negatively impact that individual’s ability to pass on its genes.

      • SearchingSun says:

        I agree that it’s a misunderstanding of evolution. I think what makes it a general category of fallacious reasoning is that it applies to memes as well. A lot of cultural behaviors have survived to the present despite being harmful only because they are good at surviving, and people seem to misunderstand this frequently enough.

        • Hackworth says:

          Sticking to tradition is the default procedure though. After all, if whatever traditions your ancestors followed didn’t hurt them hard enough to prevent your birth, it can’t be all bad. Consider it a local optimum, and those can be hard to get out of. Traditions go up and down in value according to the times, but humans can be slow to adapt. The faster times change, the greater the pressure to adapt, and the more likely people are to stamp down their foot and refuse to change out of principle.

    • Erusian says:

      Personally, I call it Chesterton’s (Berlin) Wall because it’s a misreading of the Fence. The idea of the Fence is that you must understand why something exists and what value it provides before you remove it. It’s not that you don’t ever get to remove the fence or that the answer couldn’t be, “Well, it was very useful a hundred years ago/it’s very useful to a narrow group of individuals at the expense of the rest of us.” In short, Chesterton wasn’t calling for all fences to be well-guarded walls that box in society perpetually. It’s not supposed to be something people are continually trying to escape over as guards try to punish them back in. Sometimes the fence should be removed but we should remove it with due care and weight.

      I don’t think Chesteron’s Fence is ever wrong: we should always be careful of unintended consequences and investigate major changes thoroughly. We should, in general, be biased towards believing there are reasons for things and it’s not just that we’re so much smarter/enlightened now. But I do think the fence sometimes needs to be removed. Chesterton himself said that once he believed the revolutionary understood why the Fence existed and made a cogent argument it was bad anyway, he might support them removing it.

      More generally it’s an Appeal to Authority, which is a logical fallacy but not necessarily an argumentative/reasoning one. It doesn’t work deductively but it is defeasible, falsifiable, etc.

      • SearchingSun says:

        Oh I really like that analogy, would be great if it caught on! And yeah, I absolutely agree with the general utility of Chesterton’s Fence, it’s just that I see people using the misreading that goes “Well, people have been doing this for X years, therefore it must be useful” often enough that I was looking for a term to describe it. Appeal to Authority seems to be the most succinct and general answer. The distinction between logical and argumentative fallacies is interesting, I’ll need to look up why Appeal to Authority isn’t a argumentative fallacy.

        • Erusian says:

          An argument can have multiple flaws. Appeal to authority doesn’t work deductively and therefore is a logical fallacy. However, it is falsifiable, defeasible, and several other things that are traits of other fallacies. For example, circular reasoning is not falsifiable or defeasible: the conclusion will not change (is not feasible) and cannot be proven wrong (falsifiable). But in appeal to authority, the conclusion can change and the conclusion could be proven wrong without conceding the authority/logic itself. Either the authority can change its pronouncement or the authority can be attacked or other authorities can be weighed against it, for example. None of that resolves the lack of deductive consistency but it does make it a potentially useful form of argumentation.

      • Ketil says:

        Another alternative to CF:

        There are two kinds of fool, one says this is old and therefore good, and another who says this is new and therefore better.

        • noyann says:

          > There are two kinds of fool, one says this is old and therefore good, and another who says this is new and therefore better.

          Together with the complements* we could call them all the age-basing fallacy. Or recency-basing fallacy. Or freshness-…?

          * this is old and therefore trash and this is new and can’t be good

    • Atlas says:

      I was thinking of a particular line of fallacious reasoning, and wondering if there’s a name for it. It relates to Chesterton’s Fence and some common complaints about evolution. Namely that people often look at a characteristic and assume that it’s longevity proves it’s usefulness. For example, Jordan Peterson frequently uses this reasoning to argue that we should not change social norms because the fact that they have survived this long indicates that they have survival value. I do buy this argument generally, but one major flaw I see is that genes and memes frequently survive for long periods of time in populations even when they have no survival value or are even slightly detrimental. Is there a name for this flaw?

      This is what Nassim Taleb favorably calls the Lindy effect. It’s not obvious to me how to neatly draw a completely satisfying a priori distinction for practical purposes between cases where it’s a valid line of argumentation and ones where it isn’t. (Something that I’ve come to believe from reading SSC is that this is often the case, and that you can only go so far on the basis of abstract reasoning untethered to empirically testable/skin-in-the-game filters.)

      I like to draw a distinction between the Lindy effect and the biological founder effect (where founders that go through a bottleneck can have a lot of future genetic influence even if the bottleneck is later removed) in terms of thinking about tradition that might be relevant to your query.

      Also, of more general interest here (though probably you and many other readers are already familiar with it) might be Professor Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, as sort of the “case against uncritical acceptance of tradition,” and the various philosophical sources that it cites.

      Hello, new member from India here, glad to be joining the SSC collective!

      Welcome!

    • Hyperfocus says:

      You could argue this is a type of Cargo Culting, if the argument is of the form “we don’t know why we need to do X, but successful societies have all done X, so we should continue to do X”.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I don’t see an error.
      Could you give an example?

      No method is perfect. If the method sometimes fails, it is not an error to use the method nor does it deserve a name. Perhaps you mean something more specific, like promoting a heuristic to a certainty? If people use this heuristic to conclude certainty or refuse any other source of information, those are errors and they deserve names, but they aren’t specific to this method and could appear as abuses of any other method.

      ———

      I think you’re probably just wrong about genes. You can quantify evolution and say how long a gene of a certain level of detriment can survive. Almost all of the time, the conclusion should be that you’ve missed a hidden benefit, not that it was random chance. But it’s hard to pin down such arguments for memes.

    • noyann says:

      > people often look at a characteristic and assume that it’s longevity proves it’s usefulness

      As a scientific tool it’s worthless [edit: that’s too harsh, it can at least spark new hypotheses], but in quick search for everyday purposes it may be the most efficient heuristic (possibly a local optimum only that may be abandoned once research looked at the problem).

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yeah that’s way too harsh.

        Finding that something is conserved doesn’t let you publish the next day, but it’s a good clue that that’s where you ought to focus your effort. It’s smoke that indicates that there may be fire there.

        • noyann says:

          Reconsidering, I think you are right.

          Even smoke alone makes you curious what and where exactly was burning, and why the fire is gone.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I do buy this argument generally, but one major flaw I see is that genes and memes frequently survive for long periods of time in populations even when they have no survival value or are even slightly detrimental.

      I can’t speak for memes except by analogy, but with genes this isn’t really true.

      Looking at how well conserved a sequence element is is one of the ways that biologists estimate how important it is. Conservation is not a perfect measure and you need to actually follow it up experimentally, but it’s a strong sign when a sequence shows little to no changes over evolutionary timescales. As one example, it’s one of the tricks we use to look for catalytic residues or sites of important post-translational modification in proteins: find the most highly conserved residues, make a few mutant proteins where those residues are mutated to analine (which has no functional group and thus no interesting biochemistry), then see which mutated residues affect function.

      Basically, it’s unlikely for something to remain essentially unchanged over time unless it’s under negative selection. Mutations accumulate at a more-or-less constant rate, so seeing fewer than you expect is a good sign that mutations there would reduce fitness and be selected against.

      • Enkidum says:

        Is there an analogy in genetics to something like the following? (I am very much not a geneticist.)

        I see a lot of evolutionary psychology arguments that run something like “X is reliably found in this population, therefore it is selected for, here is the story for why it must have been useful.” My favourite was a grad student explaining his project where they looked at women’s performance on a visual search task as a function of where they were in their menstrual cycle, and found a subtle effect, then… I don’t remember, some nonsense about how women were more likely to care about picking berries when they weren’t likely to be pregnant, or maybe when they were. Doesn’t matter, any finding, they could have found a post-hoc justification for it.

        Now, it seems clear to me that there are good evolutionary reasons for the kind of sexual differentiation we show, including the menstrual cycle. And the menstrual cycle involves changes in various hormones, etc, which are almost certainly going to affect performance on things like visual search task. So I’m fine with the actual data (I know nothing about the quality of the experiment, but let’s assume it was done properly). But the effect on visual search could just be a byproduct of a system which is highly selected for, and this effect need not itself be selected for at all, so long as it is not detrimental to fitness it can stick along for the ride.

        So I guess what the analogy would be is the existence of stable genetic sequences that are not themselves directly selected for, but exist because they are somehow “stuck” to other sequences that are selected for. Maybe that doesn’t make sense in DNA terms, but was just curious.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Well with the evolutionary psychologists you’re describing, that sounds like the classic problem of drawing a conclusion much stronger than what your data can support. That’s why you always read the figures and the methods first before looking at the discussion section: the conclusion the authors draw is not always the most reasonable conclusion given the data presented.

          As for your last question, it sounds like what you’re looking for is genetic drift maybe? A good example is what happens inside of a tumor: the cancer cells have all sorts of genetic instability, so you will have cells with radically different numbers of chromosomes or weird chromosomal translocations. If a cell has one really helpful mutation among all of that chaos, it can outcompete the other cancer cells in the tumor and the rest of its particular weird karyotype will basically be along for the ride. It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, since often times the copy number variants from duplications or deletions of chromosomal regions are actually good places to look for oncogenes, but somewhat close.

        • March says:

          That analogy exists in curly tails. Wolves don’t have curly tails, many dog breeds do. When people tried to breed for tame foxes, they started noticing a preponderance of curly tails in the tamer ones in only a few generations.

          Since there’s no direct reason why curly tails would cause agreeable dispositions (if anything, curly tails hinder communication), the assumption is that the gene for tail curl is somehow right next to one of the relevant genes for character.

          • Enkidum says:

            Good example, had forgotten that one.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I don’t know about the specific example of curly tails, but the side effects of breeding for tameness, such as floppy ears, are usually interpreted as pleiotropy, not linkage disequilibrium. Instead, it is because the easiest way to get tameness is via neoteny. Neoteny is a bundle of traits that young animals have, including lack of aggression and floppy ears.

            Of course, you could interpret that as an example of what Enkidum was asking for, evolution turning dials that have complicated developmental effects across the organism and thus lots of side effects.

            If puppies have curly tails (especially wolves or foxes), then it’s also a result of neoteny. If not, maybe it’s LD, but I would still lean towards neoteny, in some more complicated way, because everything else is.

            I have seen some sources claiming that curly tails are a neotenous trait, but I’m suspicious that they actually mean a side effect of domesticization and this is a circular claim.

          • bullseye says:

            I don’t know about their tails, but wolf cubs don’t have floppy ears. They also don’t have the big splotches of color you sometimes see on domesticated animals (e.g., collies and Holstein cows).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Well, OK, I guess I don’t know about any of this, but I’m pretty sure that if there’s a consensus, it’s pleiotropy, not linkage disequilibrium, but maybe there isn’t a consensus. I’m not sure what any of these terms like “curly tail,” “floppy ear,” and “piebald” mean. Sure, google image search for fox and wolf cubs doesn’t produce floppy ears, but neither does searching for domesticated foxes. I think that “floppy ear” means something subtle that distinguishes dogs from wolves and only some breeds have obviously floppy ears.

            Similarly, people write that piebald is a common feature of neoteny, but very few domesticated animals look like Holsteins. What do they mean? I think I see it. I think that domesticated foxes have the multi-coloration of wolf and fox cubs.

            Thanks for bringing up cows. That the pattern of neoteny is (supposedly) conserved between wolves and bison really sounds to me like pleiotropy, not LD.

        • quanta413 says:

          A set of unselected mutations increasing in frequency due to being physically linked to other mutations is sometimes called genetic draft. In the long run, recombination or further mutations tend to make the unselected stuff stop being linked to the selected stuff, but the long run can be really long.

      • SearchingSun says:

        This is definitely a compelling point, and I love the example. Are you involved in biotech a well? While I generally agree with the argument, I have two special cases I’d like to hear your thoughts on. First, would you agree that often the time scale required to weed out neutral or slightly bad genes is long enough that if we spot a relatively recent gene that is conserved, it’s possible that it’s on it’s way to being weeded out and it just hasn’t been long enough yet? Second, there is the possibility of local minima in the evolutionary landscape. For example (I’m not sure how plausible this is, but it’s the first thing that came to mind), there is a mutant gene that is harmful, but it’s part of an interaction where unless all the genes involved mutate at the same time (very unlikely) any individual mutation to a “better” version is disfavored. Hence you could observe a situation where a gene is conserved despite there being a better solution available.

        I might be trying too hard to play Devil’s Advocate here, since I do actually generally accept the utility of Chesterton’s Fence like arguments. What bugs me (and what I consider fallacious reasoning) is when people assume that longevity = usefulness in the absence of any other corroborating evidence. As you said, it only offers you a hypothesis and you have to back it up experimentally.

        Hehe, this is fun!

        • Gobbobobble says:

          What bugs me (and what I consider fallacious reasoning) is when people assume that longevity = usefulness in the absence of any other corroborating evidence

          I personally hold longevity=usefulness in the absence of any personal expertise. If I’m not qualified to explain why it was set up in the first place, objections I can come up with are likely to be sophomoric and already weighed into the original fence design by people who actually know what they’re doing.

          There are cases where truly unconsidered objections arise (or where the system was designed by a bureaucracy beholden to political special interests instead of competent professionals) but IMHO the first onus is to prove there is a problem: both when considered within the broader context and of sufficient magnitude to warrant change

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Not biotech, I’m still in academia, but I am in the biomedical sciences. I’m a PhD student who shitposts while my experiments are running.

          First, would you agree that often the time scale required to weed out neutral or slightly bad genes is long enough that if we spot a relatively recent gene that is conserved, it’s possible that it’s on it’s way to being weeded out and it just hasn’t been long enough yet?

          Saying that something is both conserved and recent is not entirely contradictory, but that’s not how the terminology is normally used in my experience. Generally speaking when we talk about conservation it’s usually between species with anywhere from tens to hundreds of millions of years of evolution from their common ancestor. Less often, it’s between different proteins within the same family in a single organism which still are generally from pretty ancient duplications.

          This review has some examples of how scientists look for genes which may be under positive selection. The McDonald-Kreitman test has a sort of similar reasoning to conservation scores and may be closer to what you’re thinking of.

          That said, I’m not a population geneticist so this is a little outside of my area of expertise. Depending on the day of the week I’m a molecular, cell, or developmental biologist.

          Second, there is the possibility of local minima in the evolutionary landscape. For example (I’m not sure how plausible this is, but it’s the first thing that came to mind), there is a mutant gene that is harmful, but it’s part of an interaction where unless all the genes involved mutate at the same time (very unlikely) any individual mutation to a “better” version is disfavored. Hence you could observe a situation where a gene is conserved despite there being a better solution available.

          I think that you’re not sufficiently differentiating between a trait which reduces fitness and a trait which doesn’t maximize fitness. If humans had lungs which did gas exchange like a bird’s lungs we might be more fit, but it doesn’t make sense to say that our less-efficient gas exchange harms us in an evolutionary sense.

  4. MP92 says:

    Is any of you knowledgeable about the possible psychoactive effect of poplar tree leaves? I sometimes chew poplar leaves and it gives me an agreeable feeling which might be not simply the taste of the leaf (for that matter, the leaves are bitter – especially the older ones – and not very astringent compared to other leaves). Googling gave nothing, so I’m trying my luck here.

    I also chew very limited quantities of another plant which, unlike poplar, is known to be toxic. I am not sure whether I can safely discuss this in more detail.

    • keaswaran says:

      Is there some reason that you started chewing poplar leaves? Did you know of some person or society that did this before you, or did you just decide to start chewing a leaf, and poplar happened to be convenient?

      • MP92 says:

        The latter. I know nobody else who does that – quite to my surprise honestly, considering how easy it is and how easy it is to think of it.
        I came to the habit in that order:
        1. I chewed coca leaves when travelling to the parts of South America when it is a custom.
        2. Later, I consumed tiny amounts of the other (toxic) plant for reasons which involved domesticating my suicidal thoughts.
        3. While at it, I tried other leaves and poplar was the one I liked the most. As I said, many other leaves tend to leave an astringent feeling in the mouth.

    • broblawsky says:

      Poplar is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, like willow bark, but AFAICT no other psychoactive effects. Can you elaborate on this “agreeable feeling”? Can you duplicate the same effect by taking OTC NSAIDs?

      • MP92 says:

        It is hard to describe a feeling, but it is certainly not strong – less than the effect of a coffe for example.
        I think you are on something with NSAIDs. The effect of a poplar leaf may be that of a paracetamol plus the act of chewing a leaf and the bitter/chlorophyllian taste, which I both like.
        Thanks a lot, you have answered my question!

    • indigo says:

      Poplar as in Populus (e.g. aspens) or as in Liriodendron (e.g. tulip tree, sometimes called tulip poplar)?

  5. robirahman says:

    If Boston and NY had 140/120 people, it’s possible DC will overflow our meetup venue, which has space for 80. In that case, we can move to the Navy Memorial Plaza across the street. If you’re taking public transit to our meetup, it’s impossible to miss – you’ll walk through it as you exit the National Archives metro station.

    US Navy Memorial Plaza
    701 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004
    https://maps.app.goo.gl/psCqEhgHRgRpM7dm7

  6. ECD says:

    Is there interest in an effort post on how to successfully (that is, with a higher probability of getting a useful response) file a federal Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request?

  7. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to form a human chain of people holding hands, from the coast of North America across the Atlantic to the coast of Ireland. The chain must be unbroken for at least a single five-second interval. How will you do this, and how much will it cost?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Well, the logical answer would be several really long chains of a real lot of boats from Labrador to Baffin Island, from Baffin Island to Greenland, from Greenland to Iceland, and from Iceland to Ireland (or Scotland, whichever’s closer. Have them deploy wooden rafts and a lot of other open boats; there’ll be enough ships nearby for rescue, and the rafts don’t need to remain seaworthy for more than a few minutes.

      Or, if Greenland counts as the coast of North America (hey, it’s a coast of North America, and you never said the mainland!), things get a lot shorter and hence cheaper.

      Or, can I have them hold hands across the Bering Strait and Siberia instead? Not sure how much it’d cost to get so many people to such a remote region, but it might be cheaper than the other plan.

      • Lambert says:

        Not wooden rafts. Concrete

      • bullseye says:

        The rafts would need to be seaworthy for more than a few minutes. I get on my raft on time, but then I have to stay there for a few hours because another part of the line ran into a problem and is late. Then picking people up with the ships turns out to be harder than expected so that’s another couple of hours.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yeah, coordinating a couple of million people who have to work in a demanding changeable environment is going to be tough. I figure the participants could easily be on the ships or barges or whatever for weeks.

      • rubberduck says:

        Why do they have to stay dry? Just provide everyone with life jackets and/or water wings for the duration of the exercise. And hope there’s no sharks.

        • johan_larson says:

          Hypothermia. The Atlantic is cold. Settings things up and coordinating things to make sure everyone is linked up could take weeks and the participants could easily be in the water for days. That’s too long for an unprotected swimmer in such waters. There are survival suits that will help, but I’d be wary of any plan that put the participants in the water for even 24 hours.

    • metacelsus says:

      It’s ~3230 km from Labrador to Ireland. Assuming the average armspan of your people is 1.8 meters, you’ll need at least 1.8 million. Let’s round up to 2 million.

      Now you just need to get a bunch of barges for them to stand on. 10,000 barges, each of length ~323 meters, should do the trick.

      As for cost, this would be somewhere in the billions. And bad weather could doom it.

      However, you never said the people had to be alive . . . tying a bunch of corpses together would be a lot easier (as long as the sharks stay away).

      • johan_larson says:

        These people are supposed to be “holding hands”. Can corpses hold hands? Touch hands, sure. But holding is different.

        We may need a ruling from the International Tribunal on Extreme Stunts. Or is one of the tribunes perhaps in the audience?

        • Lambert says:

          Sure they can if you can get the right muscles to contract.
          I bet you can get rigor mortis to do most of the work.

          • johan_larson says:

            Put some sort of bracelets on them that administer shocks to keep the hands contracted?

            So not just corpses. Cyborg corpses.

            Better and better. These plans are coming along great.

            Any ideas on what to do about the sharks and other predatory fish? The North Atlantic doesn’t have a lot of sharks, but there are some porbeagles and presumably even more obscure things.

          • noyann says:

            How do you get 1.8 … 2 mio to die in a suitable position in the small time window? Rigor mortis does not last long, and hooking up pre-deaded chain links from the fridge (what size? where? under what law?) would count even less as “holding hands” than rigor mortis.

            EDIT: An epidemic of some fantastic sci-fi virus that alters behaviour right before dying is not accepted* — we’re trying to be realistic here.

            * unless you have a Peter Watts style rationale that digs deep into existing neuro-psycho-parasitological research — that would make great reading..

          • Chalid says:

            Any ideas on what to do about the sharks and other predatory fish?

            How do you get 1.8 … 2 mio to die in a suitable position in the small time window?

            Both problems are solved by pickling the corpses in formaldehyde. You’ll have to do this anyway to keep them from decomposing while you get this all set up.

        • Ketil says:

          Maybe we could fit them inside a tube or pipeline? This would protect them from both bad weather (if sufficiently submerged) and predators. Does it have to be whole corpses? If you can cut off the bits you don’t need (i.e. head and torso below the chest), they will fit in a smaller space.

          Edit: ah, already discussed below I see.

      • Tenacious D says:

        10,000 barges

        You’ll need to find a dekaHelen to inspire their launch.

      • noyann says:

        Why a tunnel? A tube (plastic, extensible, for transportation reasons) that is submerged up to 50m (or whatever is needed to be out of danger from ship traffic, weather, or waves), between larger ships (that serve as access points, provide air pumps, and transport the chain people).

        The tube can be, if needed, fortified and horizontally held in place with steel/carbon/whatever cables, and vertically kept at nominal depth with auto-adjusting buoyancy bodies (build like mini u-boats).

        Make it a huuuuuge social event, have every top-tier cruise shipping company on board, as well as one or more national navies. Including preparation time, and barring jarring political developments, you could exploit the 75th birthday of NATO.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Why a tunnel?

          Reusability. If we’re going to sink resources into an event it should be somewhat more reusable than Olympic stadiums, not less reusable than them.

          Also, a lot of engineering thought has gone into the transatlantic tunnel. May as well use that knowledge.

          • noyann says:

            > Reusability.

            Good point.
            We could reuse the tubes for a permanent crossing of the Bering strait, though. Something China/US trade would set up as another silk road going the opposite direction (before events… stop. cw.). Most goods can be packaged to fit through, say, 2m diameter tubes with rails on the bottom.

    • James Miller says:

      Make a breed of eusocial humans who care nothing about their own lives in part because they, like worker ants, can’t reproduce. Then we form the chain across the ocean by having people walk from the coast of North America to Ireland, stepping on the drowned bodies of those who went before them. Although my approach isn’t practical today, it could make a good test case for what we could do with a more advanced version of CRISPR.

    • Evan Þ says:

      An easier and likely cheaper solution: Convince the United States or Canada to sell, and the Republic of Ireland to buy and annex, a small island just off the Atlantic seaboard. For example, annexing Penn Island off New Brunswick would mean the chain “from the coast of North America across the Atlantic to the coast of Ireland” need only stretch 250 feet.

      • Tenacious D says:

        Quibble: the body of water you’d be crossing there is not the Atlantic proper.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I view the Bay of Fundy and similar inlets as all part of the Atlantic. But if you don’t, then okay, we can go with somewhere slightly different. Would Green Ledge, Criehaven, Maine count? It’d be eighteen miles out (there’re a number of nearby closer islands, but I wanted to be sure to get far enough out to sea to satisfy you), but that’s still far closer than the current borders of the Republic of Ireland will get you.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Step one, build a lofstrom loop bridging the distance.
      Step two: So. Many. Space-suits.

    • Lambert says:

      I’m going to take an ‘everything looks like a nail’ approach to this OT and say geoengineering.
      Dump a load of SO2 in the stratosphere, causing a severe enough ice age that people can just stand around on solid ice from America to Ireland.

      At the same time, keep big tanks of perfluorocarbons on standby so that once I’m done with the hand-holding, I can greenhouse gas the Earth back to where it was before the positive cooling feedback caused by the big white ice sheets kills us all.

    • Brett says:

      You’d loop up towards the Arctic and Greenland first, before coming down the coast of North America.

      1. Ireland to Great Britain.
      2. Great Britain to the Faroe Islands
      3. Faroe Islands to Iceland
      4. Iceland to Greenland
      5. Greenland to Baffin Island
      6. Baffin Island to Labrador

      You’d build the across-water part in the form of a series of pontoon bridges tied to large ships. That would let you temporarily open up part of the connection when (say) an iceberg comes floating through where it is supposed to connect. Everybody gets to their stations, you turn on the cameras, and then you hold hands for five seconds.

      As for how much it would cost . . . hard to say. The land parts could probably be done with adequate heated tents and food/water supplies. The longest pontoon bridge in the world is the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge at 2.3 kilometers, and it cost $4.5 billion. But that was for a bridge in a populated area to carry cars, whereas this would just be small enough for people holding hands.

      • Florent says:

        Let’s push that idea to the limit. In winter you can walk from Quebec to Norway. Let’s wait until mid March so there is some sunlight in. Then you keep your human chain going across Europe, through the bridges and tunnels from Sweden to Denmark, and through the Channel tunnel.
        You’re left with a 20 km large strait between Scotland and Ireland.
        I’d ask the US army corp of engineers; it’s not completely unlikely that they have 20km worth of floating bridge ready to ship.

      • Lambert says:

        Good luck doing 1) before the backstop kicks in. 😉

        (this is a dumb joke. No CW intended)

    • rubberduck says:

      Are cybernetic limb enhancers allowed?

      Bribe someone to cut off one of their hands. You can find someone whose hand/arm will need to be amputated anyway, maybe they’d even do it for free. Attach said hand to a long cable/rope/whatever stretching across the ocean, with the other end attached to the stump. Get at least one person on each end to hold hands with your long-limbed friend. Mission technically accomplished.

    • bean says:

      If we try the straightforward approach to this (instead of building a tunnel or whatever) the thing that’s going to kill you is weather. The North Atlantic can be a nasty piece of water, and trying to keep a human chain intact across it is going to be basically impossible if it’s storming. I’m not familiar enough with the details of weather there to know how common it is for it to be calm across the whole distance you’d need.

  8. brad says:

    Impressions of San Francisco after a 10 year absence:

    First, the positive:
    – Unlike Palo Alto, SF feels like a real place where many different types of people are born, live, work, play, fall in and out of love, have children, grow old, and die. In a pinch, I could live here.
    – the cityscape looks great. The hills are a pain in the neck to walk but they are nice visually. I like the eclectic building styles. And the Bay is a great setting.
    – Fantastic weather for late September

    As for the negative:
    – even as compared to NYC it is very dirty, why are there no garbage cans?
    – there are a lot of street homeless, again even as compared to nyc. Also they seem to be more aggressive and, on average, in worse shape.
    – Like every other city in NA or Europe I’ve visited recently the blight of large chains (restaurants, retail, banks, pharmacies, etc.) is spreading.
    – Squeezed by sterile and scary—weird, sometimes off-putting but basically safe and harmless SF seems to have shrunk significantly.
    – scooters

    Random observations:
    – Specifically with respect to East Asians there seems to be a different ethnic mix then NYC. More SE Asians maybe?
    – There seems to be something off with the age structure? Can’t put my finger on what exactly.
    – The new cable cars seem completely pointless. In what way are they not strictly inferior to regular electric busses?

    (Please don’t take replies in a culture war direction.)

    • johan_larson says:

      – There seems to be something off with the age structure? Can’t put my finger on what exactly.

      Apparently moving out of SF to raise a family is a common pattern. That would account for a lack of children and their thirty-forty-something parents. But there are lots of twenty-somethings, and some really old people who never left. That might be what you are seeing.

    • “The new cable cars seem completely pointless. In what way are they not strictly inferior to regular electric busses?”

      Buses aren’t SWPL.

    • Plumber says:

      @brad >

      “…The new cable cars seem completely pointless. In what way are they not strictly inferior to regular electric busses?…”

      New cable cars?

      Do you mean trolleys?

      • brad says:

        Oops, trollies not cable cars, that’s something else entirely.

        Anyway, I mean the ones that look almost exactly like a tandem bus but has something sticking out the top to grab the wires.

        • Plumber says:

          Oh, those have been around at least since the 70’s, before electric busses with big batteries came out.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I was gonna say, I don’t know a lot of details about San Francisco, but those things could either be eminently reasonable (due to having been around at least since the 70’s, before electric busses with big batteries came out, as you say) or a silly hipster affectation, to cultivate an image of SF as the city where you eat Rice-A-Roni on a trolley ironically.

          • Plumber says:

            @Le Maistre Chat,
            The overhead wire powered electric busses which roll on tires like diesel busses aren’t the same as the trolleys which run on tracks, some of the streetcars/trolleys are a bit of tourist attraction like the cable cars, old ones originally from other cities are used in more touristy areas, which is why you’ll see old Boston, St. Louis, et cetera trolleys on The Embarcaderro.

            There’s five different types of public transport in SF, the 19th century cable cars, streetcars/trolleys from the early 20th century, busses, ’70’s electric busses, and the ’70’s subways (BART and MUNI), plus Amtrak/CalTrans to go down to San Jose.

        • eric23 says:

          Sounds like you mean “trolleybuses” – buses with an overhead electric wire.

          They basically function like a bus, but without the pollution and noise caused by burning diesel. They are also capable of climbing steeper hills (common in SF) due to the greater torque of an electric motor.

          The downside is that historically (before batteries became affordable), you had to put up overhead wires over the entire route. This isn’t particularly expensive, but it does make the routing very inflexible.

    • brad says:

      Oh one more random observation: why does no one cross against the light? What are we, Germans?

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I actually noticed this when I went and forgot to comment on it. It was really, really weird. There’s no cars coming, just freakin’ cross.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Jesus. When are there no cars coming? I’ve never been in SF without feeling like everyone is elbow to elbow and the cars are non-stop even when the light is against them.

          Maybe there are nicer neighborhoods.

      • ana53294 says:

        Usually, parents with kids do that, because they would rather their kid never cross a red light than trust their judgement to when it’s safe. But in a city with few kids, that’s definitely strange.

      • FLWAB says:

        I’m not from SF but I am from the west coast (though I doubt it matters) and I once walked halfway across a street, saw the the light changed from Walk to Don’t Walk, and then ran back to the side I came from.

    • nameless1 says:

      Something off with the age structure? It is just that people are old, because people back then didn’t have many kids. Same as Europe: for every 25 years old woman you see four 40+ ones. Which is tough if you happen to be into 25 years old women, not 40+ ones.

    • roystgnr says:

      Replace that positives section with something about metahumans and you’ve basically written the outline for a Shadowrun splatbook.

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s not a very original observation, but the modern Bay Area is a lot like Eighties cyberpunk — just with less neon, and all the cool bits cut for being too violent.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Bay Area is that Japanese?

        • Plumber says:

          @Nornagest,

          Even in the early ’90’s “Cyberpunk” seemed too close to reality, and mostly pointless as a genre to me (even back then I could just walk out my door for most of it), and barely Science-Fiction at all, just “Noir” done less well with a spot of chrome. 

          Other than “The Gernsback Continuum” I don’t remember the Mirrorshades anthology at all, and while When Gravity Fails was okay,  Neuromancer past it’s good first paragraph was extremely disappointing, it wasn’t a strictly bad book, but if it wasn’t for how overhyped it was I wouldn’t have read past the first two chapters, and after I did I felt cheated. 

          If I want good, gritty crime stories Dashiell Hammett’s works fit better, but the real “crime” was how joyless post ’70’s Science Fiction became, and J. G. Ballard, and Thomas Disch did “biting” better than that ’80’s and ’90’s crap I tried to read anyway.

          1940’s and ’50’s science fiction was good, 1960’s and ’70’s science fiction was interesting, but afterwards? 

          Just not memorable except in how disappointing. 

          I re-read Wells’ late 19th century novelette The Time Machine, and it still shines, but while ocasionally there was something post ’70’s by Brin, Chiang, Niven, or Wolfe that I liked, usually though I found when I subscribed to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Omni that alternate history, Fantasy, and old Science Fiction were more readable genres in the late 20th century and afterwards.

          An anthology of ’50’s science fiction is typically full of good stuff, but ’90’s?

          Not so much, and if post Continuum Gibson is supposed to be what’s good in modern SF I may see that I needn’t bother (I could forgive it otherwise but the hype makes Neuromancer hateful to me as it really marks the end.

          “Cyberpunk: A SF genre for those who don’t leave their house”, but the worst thing about Cyberpunk is how many decided to make our present comply with it’s conventions.

  9. Lambert says:

    Ol’ Musky can have his Mars. We didn’t want to go there anyway. Dumb dusty-ass red piece of crap….

    Your challenge is to terraform some other planet*. I want at least 1% of the surface to be such that I can stand around (or swim, I suppose) wearing nothing but a breathing mask and clothes†. You have reasonable near-future tech like fusion, asteroid mining and space elevators.

    *Any planet in the solar system other than Earth or Mars, or moon at least as large as Enceladus
    †They can be suited to the conditions, but no highly-specialised antarctic clothing or wetsuits or the like. Let’s say somewhere between what Omar Sharif is wearing in Lawrence of Arabia and what he wears in Dr. Zhivago.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Move enough earth (wait… is it still called earth if it’s on another planet?!) on Venus so that 1% is high enough to have earth-like pressure. The rest is left as an exercise to the reader.

      Europe would probably be a better bet for pressure/temperature, but … you’ll be underwater.

      I don’t think anywhere else is realistic… they’re either gas giants, or too small to retain an atmosphere.

      • Lambert says:

        Titan has a higher atmospheric pressure than the Earth, and it’s only the 2nd largest moon.
        Ganymede, Callisto and Io should all be able to support atmospheres.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          AFAIK Mars is on the edge and slowly losing atmosphere. Googling a bit… huh, the satellites are smaller, but not a lot so, easily the same order of magnitude. Jupiter is one big mf.

          Anyways, that’s a big caveat – do you want the conditions to be stable? Or is it ok if there’s something actively replenishing the atmosphere?

      • bullseye says:

        Do you mean Europa?

        • Nornagest says:

          Oh, that’s an interesting one. The words for Europa the moon and for Europe the continent are the same in a lot of languages — English is close to unique as far as I can tell in making them different.

    • Brett says:

      With Venus, I’ve got two options. I can put up a giant star shade and wait for the planet’s atmosphere to freeze out, and then build mega-structure level engineering projects to remove it from the planet. Or I can build a megastructure Orbital Ring set-up with giant solar-powered pumps running down the planet’s surface, and suck up its atmosphere to vent into space at enough velocity so that it will take a very long time for it to fall back to Venus. The nice thing about the latter is that Venus has tons of nitrogen in its atmosphere, so I could grab most of that instead of venting it into space and ship it off to habitats elsewhere.

      Either is going to take a while, and then I’m stuck with trying to deal with the planet’s solid crust (AKA possibly a giant, planet-resurfacing series of eruptions every few hundreds of millions of years) and extremely slow rotation. Alternatively, I could try and move it out closer to Earth’s orbit gradually (project of hundreds of thousands of years), or just accept that it’s never going to be a self-sustaining biosphere and fake day/night cycles with a series of star shades.

      Oh, and at some point, I’ll have to direct a big Kuiper Belt object or ten down into Venus orbit so I could exploit its water ice for Venusian seas.

      • spkaca says:

        “suck up its atmosphere to vent into space at enough velocity so that it will take a very long time for it to fall back to Venus”
        Better still, use solar power (abundant that close to the Sun) to power a railgun to shoot large blobs of frozen carbon dioxide at Mars, which needs a thicker atmosphere. Win-win, apart from the mad scientist possibilities of it all.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The asteroid Hygiea.

      I’ll move it, and ultimately land it gently in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, short side vertical. Part of it will be underwater and much of it will be above the atmosphere, but more than 1% should be habitable by your definition (though you may need to be a climber to get to much of it). The satellite people are going to hate me.

      • liate says:

        While this is an otherwise awesome idea, I don’t think it counts as a planet for the purposes of this challenge. Even ignoring that it’s not a moon, its mass is less than Enceladus’ (Enceladus masses ~1*10^20 kg, while Hygiea only masses ~9*10^19 kg, per Wikipedia) and its average diameter is less than Enceladus’ (Enceladus: 504 km, Hygiea: 407 km, per Wolfram|Alpha since the wikipeda articles aren’t consistent in radius vs diameter).

        Edit: exponent formatting

        • The Nybbler says:

          I suppose I could move Pallas instead, it’s bigger. Enceladus itself isn’t a good choice because the water would melt.

    • Randy M says:

      Seems to me it would be easier to get to another solar system than terraform a planet of the sort we find in our neighborhood. For a few of them, one can’t even calculate 1% of the surface without getting a divide by zero error.
      Unfortunately, I don’t honestly expect planets in other nearby solar systems to be particularly more hospitable. But at least we have enough ignorance to imagine.

    • JPNunez says:

      We can launch you in a breathing mask and some clothes into Jupiter like, right now.

      You wouldn’t survive, maybe you wouldn’t even survive the trip, but it is doable.

      If you are picky about living and stuff, I guess we could send you to Europa and let you swim under the ice. The monolith ain’t gonna like that, tho. It would probably take very little future tech, just some very efficient drilling tech, prolly some good heating clothes if you want to swim for more than a minute, it’s just really hard and expensive.

    • John Schilling says:

      Are we allowed to Stelliform Jupiter first? I know I’ve got a spare monolith around here somewhere…

      • Lambert says:

        Sure.
        Building some kind of flying fusion reactor with a giant laser on it pointed at the relevant moon might waste less energy, though.

  10. janrandom says:

    The Hamburg meetup went very well. Eight awesome people, great weather, discussion and a game that took much longer than anticipated. We also figured that
    comparing the amount of money in politics to the almond industry is misleading 😉

    There will be more meetups in Hamburg.

    • Michael Crone says:

      I’m curious. Why is comparing money in politics to money in almonds misleading?

      • Aapje says:

        Bribes to politicians are paid with almonds, obviously. It’s the only think that makes sense.

      • janrandom says:

        (sorry for the late replay, for some reason I don’t get notifications)

        The money in the almond industry is revenue while the money in politics discussed here is only the lobbying part, which is more comparable to, I don’t know, the marketing spending of the almond industry. Politics overall would include all the costs involved with politics, e.g. the salaries of the politicians (say 1000 top politicians times 175k salary = ~200 mio per year) add to that all the other costs of doing politics. So currently the comparison is a category error, like comparing revenue of one company with the profits of another.

  11. Athreeren says:

    I just realised that the strange categories in the Blogroll section are a reference to Borges’ essay “The Analytical Language Of John Wilkins” and the taxonomy of animals in the Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge. I should read more Borges.

  12. Machine Interface says:

    Some open threads ago, the question was raised of Christian heroes in Hollywood films, or rather the lack of thereof.

    So I just watched James Gray’s “Ad Astra” in theater, and this is a “near future” science fiction film where the majority of astronauts we meet, including the main character, seem to be explicitely Christian, making frequent references to God in their speech, spontaneously saying prayers and amens when someone dies. They are not depicted as fanatic and their religiosity is never commented on — everyone just seems to take it as a matter of fact and normal occurence

    The movie also get into moral thematics that I feel would appeal to Christians, though I can’t say too much without spoiler — but a strong background theme of the film seem to be that of individualism and self-reliance vs trust and mutual support.

    [also, as a warning, the movie is fairly dark, an aspect which the trailers do not really emphatise — but it’s closer in story and tone to Apocalypse Now than to 2001: A Space Odyssey]

    • viVI_IViv says:

      [also, as a warning, the movie is fairly dark, an aspect which the trailers do not really emphatise — but it’s closer in story and tone to Apocalypse Now than to 2001: A Space Odyssey]

      It’s also pretty bad IMHO. The plot makes no sense, the main force driving the plot vf gevgr qenzn nobhg n thl ybatvat sbe nccebiny sebz uvf byq zna, jub’f nccneragyl gelvat gb jva gur Traqb Vxnev “sngure bs gur lrne” cevmr, the visuals are good but most of the watching experience consists of looking at a pretty backgrounds while listening to MC’s rambling internal monologue.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Ah well, I liked a lot, it’s the movie I wanted Interstellar to be, through there’s a lot to unpack and it’s the kind of movie I feel I’ll only get a clear opinion of after a later rewatch. But James Gray tend to be a divisive director anyway.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Thanks for the update.

  13. Canyon Fern says:

    Presenting Slate Star Showdex, Episode 2. [Just tuning in? Episode 1.]
    -#-
    A black-haired woman steps out onto the back patio of the group home. Her lips are pressed tight and her brow is furrowed.

    The woman sees Scott “Slate” Alexander with his back turned toward her. The collar on his trench coat is turned up against the cold, and his left hand fidgets with the brim of the fedora jammed down on his head.

    No man with an intellect like Slate Alexander’s can go long without having a think.

    The woman walks up behind Scott. She puts a hand on his shoulder, and says, “I was told I’d find you out here, mulling things over.”

    Scott Alexander doesn’t speak, but his body goes stiff.

    Only now does the woman notice that, under the hat, Scott is wearing a pair of thick earmuffs.

    She manages half a smile at her mistake, then tugs down his left ‘muff. “Dr. Alexander, it’s good to meet you.”

    Scott Alexander, still stiff with surprise, shuffles a careful 180°. The two stand face-to-face.

    I’ve never been hand-shouldered by someone this attractive, Scott thinks.

    “Aaaaah,” Scott says.

    There is silence. Ten seconds trundle by.

    The silence is obliterated by Scott’s throat, which rasps a wordless plea. The fearless investigator realizes it’s been hours since he had a MealSquare. He fumbles for his pack — but the black-haired woman is already holding out hers.

    The matchless efficiency and unparalleled taste of a genuine MealSquare restores to Scott his vocabulary.

    “Unngh. Thank you,” he says. “Some days I think I ought to swear off these things all together.”

    As Scott steps back to get some personal space, he studies the woman closely. “You know who I am, but I don’t know you.”

    The lady brings her own MealSquare to her lips. “I am Sarah Yudkowsky,” she says.

    Scott involuntarily steps back again. “The Yudkowskys? I would have expected Eliezer, but not his–”

    “His sister,” says Miss Yudkowsky. “I’m here because Eliezer gone missing.”

    Scott steps back a third time, and falls off the porch.

    After Dr. Alexander recovers his dignity, he rejoins Miss Yudkowsky in the drawing room.

    “Eliezer disappeared a week ago. From Seattle to Shanghai, not one rationalist has seen him,” says Miss Yudkowsky. Her face is all distress and confusion.

    “Eliezer and I go way back, Miss Yudkowsky. I’ll do everything in my power to help him. But right now my power is limited: my patients, few as they are, need me, and apart from one client, the private-eye business has dried up.” Scott shudders, recalling the lizardman.

    “A Santa Clara psychiatrist, who I trust, owes me a large favor. I’ll arrange to have your patients transferred to his practice,” Miss Yudkowsky says. “If there are difficulties, my family will solve them. And, as for dried-up business…”

    She hands him a fat envelope. “This should moisten it.”

    Long after Sarah goes away, Slate Alexander opens the envelope. He counts the money, stashes it, and tosses the envelope into the embers. Only then does he lift the phone to dial his secretary’s home number.

    “I’m sorry to call so late, but mystery keeps its own schedule. Please arrange for me to visit the manor.”
    -#-

    This episode of Slate Star Showdex brought to you by:
    Beeminder.

    They call me Danny, and this is my wife, Bee. You got trouble with wise guys? Me and Bee will take care of ’em. All you got to do is pay what we ask, see?

    You shake hands with us, pay us 10¢ tonight and 10¢ each month, and we’ll make it known that you’re on our good side.

    If — if — a wise guy bugs you after that? Me and Bee make him buzz off, and you give us a consideration. 5¢ for the first one, then 12¢, 25¢, 50¢, a buck, buck fifty, yadda yadda. The count resets when we get your monthly dough, see?

    Not buyin’ it? Lemme sizzle ya: each time you pay to give one wise guy a bee-minder, any more wise guys in the next 2 days and we’ll take care of ’em onna house.

    How ’bout it, chief? Do we got a deal?

    • tayfie says:

      Bravo. I greatly enjoy creative writing using existing people in fictional circumstances.

      • Canyon Fern says:

        Thank you, @tayfie. If “existing people in fictional circumstances” is your genre, I am your friendly fern. Episode 3 is being edited. I think I’ll do 5 or 6 episodes total.

        @everyone: Feel free suggest people for story cameos, because I am not too familiar with the rationalist world outside SSC and Less Wrong. My only criteria are that the person be vaguely inside or around the rationalsphere, and that they have earned some small degree of recognition/reputation in the rationalsphere for their work.

        You may also give me tips on writing style. I would be happy if this silly project improved my writing ability even a little. 🙂

    • FLWAB says:

      Scott steps back a third time, and falls off the porch.

      That got me good. XD

      • Canyon Fern says:

        I’m glad you laughed, @FLWAB!

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Kept giggling at random intervals for at least 10 minutes after. Nice job!

          • Canyon Fern says:

            I spy, with my little eye, @Radu Floricica gone giggly! If I have produced laughter, then at least the most sacred of my duties has been fulfilled. Who knew a plant could make a human smile?

            Thanks for the “nice job.” Thank you for being a good commenter in general. My amanuensis, Ludovico, will ship to you one Elk of Gratitude.

    • Ttar says:

      This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

      • Canyon Fern says:

        Thank you for the high praise, @Ttar! Is there something in particular which made you think so?

        • Ttar says:

          Don’t know if you’ll get this necro post, but if I were going to call things out…
          1. Mealsquares as cigarettes, especially considering I personally get the shakes if I haven’t had two by mid afternoon
          2. This exchange: “There is silence. Ten seconds trundle by.

          The silence is obliterated by Scott’s throat, which rasps a wordless plea.”
          3. General rationalist/aspie queues, like earmuffs, clumsiness, social awkwardness
          4. Just a brilliant concept, with the appropriation of Scott being a doctor, “Slate,” etc. Fitting so we’ll into noire tropes. I just have a huge personal affinity for referential comedy and trope/meme deployment, especially noire. As an adolescent my favorite comedy film was the Naked Gun.

          • Canyon Fern says:

            @Ttar,

            Ludovico periodically checks the old episodes for new comments [for some reason, I find this easier than using the “email notification” option. -L] So, rest assured, I saw your necro-comment! Thanks for following up.

            [Neither of us do referential comedy in real life, preferring instead to run 100% on imagination. But we’re finding this foray into that genre, and into “noir-comedy”, quite enjoyable! -Ludovico]

    • dreeves says:

      Squeee! We’re famous!

      • Canyon Fern says:

        Aha! @dreeves, who is the Danny written about in this episode’s advertisement section! Thanks for taking a look at Slate Star Showdex.

    • Incurian says:

      Still great. I like that it’s an affectionate but humorous pastiche rather than a biting satire.

      • Canyon Fern says:

        Thank you, @Incurian. I prefer buffoonery over biting, jesting over jousting, humor over harrying, amusement over acidity, Wambas over warriors, silliness over savagery.

    • Enkidum says:

      Just wanted to add to the pile of praise – this is pretty great. The ad at the end is *chef’s kiss*.

  14. MissingNo says:

    If I said that Edward Snowden had been murdered and replaced with a deep-fake facade…. would you believe me?

    How would you put that in terms of Bayesian Probability?

    Ok, what if an official news source said it?

    It’s going to happen. Something of the sort probably already has happened.

    How do you adapt to the “new” reality? “Imagine one saying that in a deep rustic voice with a hint of whiskey and cigars”

    >Reality resembles an SCP CONTAINMENT LOG more than what it should have been

    • Plumber says:

      @MissingNo says: >

      “If I said that Edward Snowden had been murdered and replaced with a deep-fake facade…. would you believe me?..”

      Probably not as I can’t imagine a motive.

      “…How would you put that in terms of Bayesian Probability?…”

      I’ve no idea as the last time I looked up “Bayesian” I lost patience.

      “..OK, what if an official news source said it?..”

      Others would have to confirm it, and I’d have to have a reason to care. 

      From without looking it up I vaguely remember Snowden as revealing some kinds of foreign affairs stuff some years ago, so overseas and not stuff I care much about.

      “..It’s going to happen. Something of the sort probably already has happened…”

      An immigrant from Yugoslavia once told me that Tito had also been replaced, I didn’t have a reason to believe or to doubt him.

      “…How do you adapt to the “new” reality?…”

      What is there to adapt to?

      “…>Reality resembles an SCP CONTAINMENT LOG more than what it should have been”

      I don’t even know what you may mean.

      Please explain better much better. 

      Start with “Bayesian” (and if you link me to “Less Wrong”, “Wikipedia”, or any other damn link I’ll consider you to be ignoring my question) next, what the Hell is a “SCP CONTAINMENT LOG”?

      You already hit the “I have to Google three terms to follow” limit and really your whole post screams “inside joke” to me, so please get to the meat of your questions (if you have any).

      • liate says:

        First of all, Snowden leaked that the NSA, along some of the other “Five Eyes” intelligence agencies, had been spying on basically all internet traffic in the world. This is not just foreign affairs stuff, this included spying on US citizens.

        Bayesian probability is an idea of probability where you have priors (basically, how likely you think a thing is based on what you already know) that you update (change) based on new evidence. It’s a very useful tool for thinking about things that is known about because Yudkowsky talked a lot about it. Asking about something “in terms of Bayesian Probability” probably means to describe how likely you think things are, and how much you’d change your priors (adjust how likely you think something is to be true) based on the evidence provided (or assumed in the hypothetical, in this case).

        A SCP containment log is a type of article on http://www.scp-wiki.net/ . The SCP wiki is a…worldbuilding project(?) about the Foundation, a secret organization dedicated to protecting civilization and normalcy from anomalous items (eg, magical items, things with weird memetic effects, supernatural things, alien things, old things that are more technologically advanced than they should be, science-fiction-level technology, etc). A containment log is an article describing an anomalous item (referred to as SCP-) and how it is “contained”, or kept from interacting with the rest of the world. The antimemetics division hub page (things that keep you from thinking about or remembering them) is a good introduction; other people can probably give you some more good ones. Comparing reality to a SCP containment log is a somewhat niche way of saying that reality is getting really weird.

        • MissingNo says:

          Thank you so much!

          Society now has a wide variety of well respected intellectuals stating this is likely a simulation within another simulation.

          I believe it.

          If so, then an SCP story such as this is a real possibility.

          http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-3812

          But within that….how much of this is a show or a script and how much do events happen? Maybe it’s a True Man show,where only one entity has true freedom of will and range of behavior. Though free will is a semantic debate.

          Regardless of it being one or not…..video and audio evidence is not the solid proof as it way in the 70s when it was truly hard to fake (well, a TV script and paid actors could be convincing, but you’re not supposed to take things like that seriously in public, so I don’t)

          But someone like Snowden could have been murdered and replaced with a Fake. It’s already likely happened and within 7 years society will throw down it’s screens…. metaphorical.

          A video of a terrorist attack could just be an AI that got loose on the internet and is manipulating world events under an unknown optimization goal.

          These are all entirely rational worries for those who have paid a great deal of attention to Singularity news.

          I’m dramatic and have flair, forgive me.

          What do I do in daily life? I go about my day more or less like normal, but somehow less worried than I used to be.

          • Plumber says:

            @MissingNo,
            Now is weirder than the ’90’s, but the ’70’s seemed much weirder by many orders of magnitude to me, so I don’t think we’ll ever share much of a point of view, and with your throw away line about the “singularity” I’m even more convinced.

            I recommend walking outside more and staying away from psychedelic substances.

        • It’s a very useful tool for thinking about things that is known about because Yudkowsky talked a lot about it.

          !!!

          • liate says:

            …I guess I should have said “that is known about by the people on this blog especially because Yudkowsky talked about it a lot.

        • Plumber says:

          @liate,
          Thank you, from your kind description “Bayesian” just seems like how most reason things out already, I don’t get the novelty.

          As for the SCP thing, that seems like a niche sci-fi fantasy and now I’m even more irked that something like that was referenced as if it had anything to do with reality.

          I prefer many of the other jokes I’ve seen posted.

          • Evan Þ says:

            SCP references are pretty widely spread – unfortunately; I never got into it and don’t really like it.

          • Vitor says:

            The novelty is as follows:

            Lots of people do something that vaguely falls in the category of belief updating: if they see something, they then assume that this thing actually happens more often than they previously thought. This is essentially correct. The Bayesian thing just takes this idea further by providing the “optimal” way of changing your beliefs.

            It’s very easy to make mistakes and adjust your beliefs by too little, too much, or even in the wrong direction! Therefore, thinking in Bayesian terms can be very useful. Even if you don’t calculate it explicitly, just being aware that a precise method exists and trying to follow it in spirit can help you in avoiding lots of nasty biases.

        • Ketil says:

          Bayesian probability is an idea of probability where you have priors (basically, how likely you think a thing is based on what you already know) that you update (change) based on new evidence.

          I’ll add that the traditional scientific method, often referred to as ‘frequentist’, instead tends to posit a null hypothesis (e.g., a drug has no effect), perform an experiment, show that the observations are unlikely to occur if the null hypothesis is true (this probability is the p-value, often with a threshold of 0.05), and conclude that the drug must have an effect after all.

          To the Bayesian¹, this evidence should only increase faith in the efficacy of the drug by some limited amount, not be viewed as absolute truth. And then we (unless you are a journalist, in which case you just print it if it is outrageous enough) get entangled in long discussions about the quality of the experiment, possible confounders, and so on.

          ¹ And, I think, to most scientists as well.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I think the biggest difference comes from handling incomplete data. A proper Bayesian (which means basically a common sense human) will take into consideration not the null hypotheses but what’s expected, so a study showing aspirin doesn’t work gets weighted in a completely different way than one that shows a new drug doesn’t work. For aspirin we have … over a century? of history, for a brand new drug we have a handful of studies, so each of them is a lot more influential.

            Plus there are cases when an official study fails to find an effect, but you dig in the data and the method and still come to a conclusion. In fitness there’s a lot of studies like this – the domain is vast and new enough that there are few definite answers, but for almost every question there are a couple of studies that at least touch the subject. A scientist would make a fire with that data, a bayesian still updates on it because it’s better than nothing.

            Also regarding the question on research above: best way to read a study is to skim the abstract to decide if it’s interesting, then skip the introduction and go directly to the methods, then stop, close your eyes and decide what you think the results will be. Then read the results, and only at the end read the conclusion and introduction.

      • James Mcelia says:

        Not, to be clear, that I agree with OP, but lingo and references are useful ways of communicating with people who understand them. Why should OP limit themselves to only words that they know you and you specifically understand? Most people reading this blog know what Bayesian means at the very least, and I expect many understand the SCP foundation reference. If the general commenting policy was no lingo at all, we wouldn’t be able to discuss anything that couldn’t be completely explained in a single comment, and apparently not even a long one if one wanted to keep your attention.

        • Plumber says:

          @James Mcelia,
          Judging from @liate’s description of it “Bayesian” is just common sense and not a special way of thinking, as for the “usefulness” of lingo and jargon: Scott Alexander does a fine job of explaining his terms first before using them in an essay, Yudkowsky, the “True Calif” on the other hand doesn’t.

          I know our host was inspired by Less Wrong, but this blog is much more readable.

          Too much inside ball jargon and lingo obscures what doesn’t need to be obscure.

          • Adrian says:

            @Plumber

            Judging from @liate’s description of it “Bayesian” is just common sense and not a special way of thinking […]

            Rationalists (with a capital “R”) use the term “Bayesian reasoning” and similar terms to basically mean “start with your gut feeling, then maybe change your mind a little or a lot when encountering new information”. And although Bayesian inference is a concept grounded in mathematics, in an everyday context it is reduced to using common sense combined with an open mind.

          • Ketil says:

            Judging from @liate’s description of it “Bayesian” is just common sense and not a special way of thinking

            There’s a bit more to it than that, including Bayes’ theorem which lets you calculate the probability adjustment from the evidence.

            And as for common sense… I think most people don’t do this, they read something they agree with already (“Science shows that…”), and remain convinced. Or they read something they disagree with, and update their belief that science is all bunk, and that the journalist who wrote it is clearly in the pocket of Big Something.

          • Enkidum says:

            You can think of “Bayesian”, when correctly used (which is unlikely to be the case here), as something like “a mathematical formalization of the common-sense ideas that your prior beliefs should influence how much you trust incoming evidence for a claim, but you should also adjust those beliefs according to new evidence”. (That’s… a pretty ungainly way of putting it, and it’s missing some stuff, but it’s close enough for this conversation I think.)

            The point is precisely that because it’s math, you can then use the equations to actually model how beliefs should change, which is useful for all sorts of practical purposes in various fields (e.g. Bayesian maths have been used in neuroscience to describe how a population of neurons adjusts their activity in response to incoming inputs).

            Outside of formal discussions… it’s almost completely useless, because the basic ideas are super easy to articulate in an informal way. It’s almost always either a sign that (a) the speaker is someone who is super into Bayes, possibly as a result of working with the math, and just finds it difficult to avoid describing stuff without using the jargon (which is a perfectly normal problem that anyone who learns about some unusual topic often has), or (b) the speaker is trying to sound clever. I leave it to you to decide which applies here.

            EDIT: I’m being a little glib about how easy it is to articulate all the insights of Bayes – there are some aspects of it that are quite counterintuitive (and honestly I can’t remember the details well enough). But the points that are being raised by the references to Bayes in this discussion are, so far as I can tell, the ones I mentioned above.

          • Plumber says:

            @Enkidum,

            Thank you.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think Bayesian reasoning is better than what a lot of people do because it includes the idea of adjusting your beliefs proportionately according to the amount of evidence you’ve got while most people think in terms of being entirely right or entirely wrong.

            This being said, I have no idea what a Bayesian process of going from creationism to believing in evolution would look like.

          • Enkidum says:

            @Nancy – yes, that’s a good point as well – the fact that beliefs are formally assigned probabilities is an important step, and a difficult one for most people to do even informally.

            @Plumber – as a good example of what Nancy is talking about, think about Scott’s yearly predictions where he assigns a confidence to each one. This is a weird thing – if he gets 100% of the predictions that he assigns 60% confidence too, then he’s actually not doing a great job, because he should be getting 40% of them wrong! The math quickly gets a little hard to understand (for me at least) when you start having a bunch of different beliefs with different prior probabilities assigned to each one, but the general idea isn’t that hard.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            You are 100% correct in this instance at least; instead of saying “How would you put that in terms of Bayesian Probability?” the original comment should have read “what odds would you put on that being true?”. Here “Bayesian” adds nothing.

    • noyann says:

      > How do you adapt to the “new” reality?

      Just read this reference under a news report:
      “[reporter-bio: C.FLETCHER-REUT.III. Credibility ratings: CaAd-2, Viewer’s Union (2038). BaAb-1, World Watchers Ltd., (2038)]”
      ^^^One of the countless nuggets in Earth by David Brin, a book I cannot praise high enough. (ms finished in 1989!)

      Society will have to react with some way of institutionalized credibility assessment, a kind of publicly verifiable track record for journalists, politicians, media, press statements. (We already have paid consultancies that overlap the domain of the classical info-assessing secret services, but they are special interest only, prone to filter bubble pathologies (how many Bloombergs or rating agencies foresaw the 2008+ crisis?).)

      Statement truth record histories will have to be established (with free access) in any democracy that wants to thrive on a well informed body politic. To store such tracks/statement histories, a blockchain (with a multitude of server owners, if possible distributed world-wide!) would be the instrument of choice.

      This strategy does not preclude errors, nor the long-term building of credentials that are burned up in a big scam*, but for the basic functioning of a free society people will have to be provided with a measure for credibility, to make sense in a flood of info, and, in the end, to stabilize society.

      We need bayesian priors on everybody and everything in the realm of politics as free infrastructure service. Not on a Kardashian butt size.

      *Any economy sci-fi writers here? First we need a cabal that retrospectively and secretly sucks every archive and database for verifiable statements, and evaluates what was/could-have-been known at that time to that person. A rogue Google department/conspiracy maybe, fighting and later merging witha Baidu team, to fight former-USSR-competitors? The the turmoil once they go public worldwide. And the ensuing reshuffle of media, media people, politicians, and political institutions. And then, when the reader is well trained to think in, and trust the, terms of the new world — bam! Scam. Then a fine search-and-chase(-and-destroy?) for the bad guys. Scenes not necessarily in chronological order, multiple time levels, maybe?

    • Murphy says:

      >If I said that Edward Snowden had been murdered and replaced with a deep-fake facade…. would you believe me?

      no. Because while a good deepfake may be pretty good to the human eye those sorts of things rarely stand up to even cursory investigation by other means because they’re only designed to stand up to the human eye.

      I studied digital image forensics and there’s a whole host of tools that can be brought against potential fakes.

      Ok, what if an official news source said it?

      They have in the past with photo-shopped images.

      https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/reuters_fake_photo.jpg

      http://www.alteredimagesbdc.org/walski

      https://observers.france24.com/en/20120130-tunisian-newspaper-photoshopped-image-protests-le-maghreb-zied-krichen-digitally-altered-photoshop

      With one hand the computer science and stats giveth and with the other hand taketh away.

      • rahien.din says:

        The smoke in that Reuters picture is HILARIOUS.

        The Walski picture also just looks fake, and, he deserved to be fired for his clear violation of journalistic ethics. But, merely as an artistic depiction of that situation’s tenor, it is probably better than either of the original images.

        Pictures of crowds seem especially insidious.

      • MissingNo says:

        Put the deepfake image generator in a GAN where the adversary has a few statistical tests and there you go. Maybe not now, but in 4 years the techniques will be there and widespread.

        This is just a line someone gives to their security department for a job,huh? Hash some crap saying “of course we know how to detect it”. Sure, from total Photoshop amateurs.

        This is security from assuming the adversary is stupid. This is also the day and age of countering insanely intelligent AI.

        Anyways, if it’s only those with advanced statistical knowledge who *might* be able to tell if an image is real or not….what about everyone who isn’t a statistics professor with knowledge of 3d to 2d mathematics at top place?

        What if a professor is bought off? Will others in the field disagree with the person in public?.

        Reality is over, and chances are it’s been over for nobody knows how long

        • Enkidum says:

          Put the deepfake image generator in a GAN where the adversary has a few statistical tests and there you go.

          Where do you go? Be specific, please.

          Maybe not now, but in 4 years the techniques will be there and widespread.

          The techniques to do what? Generate undetectable fake videos of any desired event to order?

          You said 4 years here. Above you said 7. I think last week you had a different number. So… those are weirdly precise-sounding, as we usually use multiples of 5 or 10 to indicate vague estimates. You should acknowledge when you’re making stuff up, and not try to present things as precise when they clearly aren’t.

          This is security from assuming the adversary is stupid.

          So… I think you’re doing some fancy dancing with the “adversary” from GAN, and the standard meaning of the term. Please don’t do that.

          This is also the day and age of countering insanely intelligent AI.

          No it isn’t. There is not an AI in the world that could not be unmasked by tests designed by any intelligent person who understands a little bit about how AIs work

          Here is a question. Very few people in all of human history have ever been to Antarctica. How do you know it exists? Be specific.

        • Murphy says:

          > Maybe not now, but in 4 years the techniques will be there and widespread.

          Probably not.

          Most of the market for deepfakes is people who don’t care how hard it is to detect as long as it looks right to the human eye. The number of developers is relatively small and they’re mostly not interested in making it truly undetectable.

          They’re not trading for it looking worse in exchange for passing some arbitrary stats test for something non-visible.

          Plus the range of tests that can be done is extremely large, the maker of a video would have to defend against all possible tests, the tester can spend a little time making one and then throwing it at a folder full of suspect videos. The odds are very much weighted against the video makers.

          This isn’t hyper-advanced knowledge. Any reasonably capable CS grad with an interest can notice, put it on their blog along with methods to confirm for yourself and then it becomes yet another “news site publishes shopped material”

          • MissingNo says:

            https://www.businessinsider.com/perfectly-real-deepfake-videos-6-months-away-deepfake-pioneer-says-2019-9

            ” “perfectly real” manipulated videos are just six to 12 months away.”

            “Li created a deepfake of Russian president Vladimir Putin, which was showcased at an MIT tech conference this week. Li said that the video was intended to show the current state of deepfake technology, which is developing more rapidly than he expected. He told the MIT Technology Review at that time that “perfect and virtually undetectable” deepfakes were “a few years” away.”

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

            “Li was born in 1981 in Saarbrücken, Germany (then West Germany)…and his PhD in Computer Science at ETH Zurich in 2010. He was a visiting researcher at ENSIMAG in 2003, the National University of Singapore in 2006, Stanford University in 2008, and EPFL in 2010. He was also a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University and Princeton University between 2011 and 2012.”


            He is best known for his work on dynamic geometry processing and data-driven techniques for making 3D human digitization and facial animation accessible to the masses. During his PhD, Li co-created the first real-time and markerless system for performance-driven facial animation based on depth sensors which won the best paper award at the ACM SIGGRAPH / Eurographics Symposium on Computer Animation in 2009.[5] ”

            Why would I trust the people here more than this guy? Who knows the statistics and mathematics and hardware and generative-adversarail-neural network process more than just about anyone here and believes that within a year, at least to the human eye its going to be undetectable with just a few more test runs and data and even more importantly…

            2. Even with advanced statistical testing, within 3-4 years nothing will be able to tell the difference besides maybe something a triple statistics-cs-mathematics major can understand.

            Literally, only studious hermits will be able to possibly know enough mathematics to know if an image is produced naturally or not. Everybody else will just go “oh jeez I don’t think the powers that be would lie to me hyuck hyuck hyuck”

            And then three years after *that*, the incredibly far 6 years from now? You might as well throw crap at the image vs every statistical test known to humans. Equally effective.

            Now I just wonder something else. What is different in the psychologies of the people who believe this will happen vs those who don’t. Is this what people call motivated cognition? People don’t *want* to believe this is happening and so it isn’t true?

            That’s it! Motivated cognition!

          • Enkidum says:

            Dude, if you’re getting your information from business magazines and Wikipedia… you should really accept that a number of us know this stuff better than you. To respond in detail…

            I agree with Li that at some point in the relatively near future (I’d say within 10 years, though I could be off by a lot), it will be fairly easy to create completely fake videos that fool any naive viewer, and possibly even experts who are not able to examine the video in any detail.

            [Li] believes that within a year, at least to the human eye its going to be undetectable with just a few more test runs and data

            Why do you say “within a year”? The quotations you give above say that Li believes it is a few years away. Why do you have so much trouble being precise?

            2. Even with advanced statistical testing, within 3-4 years nothing will be able to tell the difference besides maybe something a triple statistics-cs-mathematics major can understand.

            How do you know your water is safe to drink? How do you know an airplane is safe to fly? How do you know your computer does basic math correctly? You don’t have the relevant expertise there either. We trust in the abilities of experts to test things for us all the time. What is different about this case? Be specific.

            Everything you say below that… please don’t do that. It’s a terrible way to reason.

          • Murphy says:

            and believes that within a year, at least to the human eye its going to be undetectable

            Again.

            That’s pretty much irrelevant.

            The human eye is not the issue.

            His target is the human eye.

            besides maybe something a triple statistics-cs-mathematics major can understand.

            And then one of those people makes it into a shellscript and then everyone can do it.

            Which is basically what happened with deepfakes. The popular tool just wrapped a whole lot of existing code up in a nice wrapper for laypeople to use.

            You might as well throw crap at the image vs every statistical test known to humans.

            And you’re basing this on…..?

            gut feeling?

            Photoshop and similar image manipulation tools are worth a lot of money and there are entire industries built around high quality image manipulation that can be visually hard to detect.

            And yet nobody bothers to make the jump to making those same images immune to basic image forensics because 1: it’s basically impossible. 2: that’s not the point and the people paying money for photoshop don’t care if people can tell they used photoshop.

            You want to know the simplest step for picking up a photoshop? searching for the string “adobe” in the metadata

            What is different in the psychologies of the people who believe this will happen vs those who don’t.

            Yes. There is a difference. the difference is having practical real world experience with the nuts and bolts of both image forensics and AI, having worked with neural networks right from coding my own to using existing models practically….. vs having read a few breathless news articles.

            If you talk to a structural engineer and breathlessly declare that since average bricks available on the market have gotten 2% lighter in the last year and 5% stronger… that within 50 years all houses will be weightless and indestructible they aren’t being boring sticks in the mud when they say that probably won’t be the case.

          • Enkidum says:

            Probably pointless, but I’d just like to reiterate that I (and many others here) AGREE that deep fakes are a technological advance that does have the potential to create real problems. We’d be happy to talk about that. And someone like @Murphy here would be a useful resource for that discussion, since s/he would be able to let us know when we’re over-interpreting things.

            This is a good resource and opportunity for you. I leave it at that.

          • Enkidum says:

            No one here disputes that Li is very clever and one of the preeminent experts on this matter. No one has tried to discredit him. No one even disputes that deep fakes are a problem we have to worry about.

            If you were making a rhetorical point beyond “hey, let’s talk about deep fakes because they’re interesting and potentially dangerous/worrying/unsettling” (which, again, everyone with the possible exception of @Murphy agrees with) then I have no idea what it is. Personally, I’d be much happier if you actually made those points directly, because then they would be easier to discuss.

            I apologize for making things personal. It was a mistake. Anyways, I’m bowing out of this one. I really do recommend coming at this with a different approach next time.

          • Plumber says:

            @MissingNo > “…Was I presenting the statement “Would you believe me if I said Edward Snowden was murdered?” literally? No. It was a rhetorical question that people make when showing a larger point. I also said the the “Bayesian Estimate” a bit facetiously…”

            Unlike other commenters I have very little computer “Tech” knowledge so I may have been persuadible, but that kind of post just now makes it very hard to take your words seriously.

            The links in your post above go to:
            1) An image of a dog at a keyboard. 
            2) A not relevant description of a science fiction movie. 
            3) Some junk about a “zombie apocalypse virus” (a “trope” that was already overused and wore out it’s welcome in the ’70’s).

            After those I won’t be investigating any further links from you.

            It’s difficult to believe you when you wrap your statements with those kind of frivolities. 

            I feel in necessary to state that I’m truly out of patience with what you have posted so far, maybe in a year I will forget your posts in this thread and you can post something on the line of “False images can no-longer be detected see: [whatever link that supports that argument]”, but the way you have presented your argument so far very much makes me disinclined to read any of your further arguments. 

            You really hit a raw nerve and I’m feeling insulted now.

    • Enkidum says:

      Because for some reason I find these posts annoying enough that they take up my brain space, I’m going to try a reply once again… this reply is perhaps not kind, but it’s definitely true, and I think necessary in the sense that I think it would be useful if we decreased the quantity of this kind of waffling bullshit.

      TLDR: it’s fine to be ignorant and ask questions, if you acknowledge your ignorance and are willing to learn. But that doesn’t seem to apply to you, at least not in these posts.

      If I said that Edward Snowden had been murdered and replaced with a deep-fake facade…. would you believe me?

      No.

      How would you put that in terms of Bayesian Probability?

      My prior is that it has a probability of approximately 0. After you telling me this, my posterior would be even less, if that were possible. Also, see what Scott said a while back about how the word “Bayesian” is generally useless outside a very specific set of contexts. What does your second question contribute that was not already contained in your first? Be specific when you answer.

      Ok, what if an official news source said it?

      Uh… I suppose I would look actually spend more than 2 seconds thinking about it in that case. But because I know something about how this stuff actually works, I would be deeply, deeply suspicious. And I would need to be presented with a LOT of evidence.

      It’s going to happen.

      What’s going to happen? Someone is going to murder Edward Snowden and replace him with a deep fake? No. That’s silly.

      Something of the sort probably already has happened.

      Depends what “this sort” means. Does Colin Powell’s presentation about WMDs count? Do the Burmese people who videotaped themselves burning down Rohingya villages while pretending to be Rohingya themselves count? Does Stalin’s editing disgraced people out of his pictures count? I’m going to assume no.

      Do you mean deep fakes have been used to manufacture news? No. That hasn’t happened, the technology isn’t there yet. If you actually knew something about this, I think you’d be able to construct a more plausible scenario. But you don’t.

      Anyways give it a few more years, and yes, absolutely deep fakes will be used to generate plausible videos that will be presented as news. This is a real issue we should think about, and the only interesting point you’ve made in this increasingly-irritating series of posts.

      How do you adapt to the “new” reality?

      By that do you mean how do you adapt to deep fakes being used to generate plausible news? I think there will have to be something resembling a blockchain for news, so we can trace stories, in particular videos, back to trusted sources. Sadly, the word “blockchain” used in discussions like this is a reasonably strong signal that the text around it is utter bullshit, so I’m not sure it will help improve the quality of these discussions.

      Whatever technologies/procedures we come up with, they will be imperfect, and some stuff will slip through. Guaranteed. You are correct about this.

      “Imagine one saying that in a deep rustic voice with a hint of whiskey and cigars”

      Why?

      I don’t think you mean to say “rustic”, because that’s barely even coherent with the whiskey and cigars.

      I don’t object to people trying to be evocative and artistic when making arguments, but you should be better at it if that’s what you’re going to do.

      […]

      Anyways, I could well be wrong about any of this, but right now the image I have of you (which I’m fairly sure is shared by a wide number of other people here) is a white male, aged 18-22, who smokes a fair bit of weed and dabbles in psychedelics, and is not nearly as well-read as he thinks he is. I hope you move out of this phase in your life, because what you’re posting is the tech-bro version of Deepak Chopra. (FWIW I’ve got nothing against any of the things I mentioned, because everything I said applies to me at that age.)

      The thing is, there’s a lot of people here who actually know stuff, at a very deep level, about the various issues you’re obsessed with (VR, deep fakes, singularity, simulation hypotheses, etc). Many of us would be happy to have a genuine discussion. (I include myself as someone who knows VR pretty well, and understands something about deep fakes, though there are people here who undoubtedly know more. As for AI and simulation, I am a reasonably well-read layperson.)

      But first you’d have to have the humility to admit to yourself that you actually don’t understand these issues very well, and then there might be a chance that you’d be able to move forward in your understanding. Right now that’s not at all what you’re trying to do, because your questions are not actually questions. They are poorly-thought-out and barely-coherent claims about reality masquerading as questions. The trouble is you don’t understand this stuff well enough to have a useful opinion. Acknowledging your ignorance about this is one of the most important steps you can take, because then you might be able to move towards knowledge.

      • EchoChaos says:

        … this reply is perhaps not kind, but it’s definitely true, and I think necessary in the sense that I think it would be useful if we decreased the quantity of this kind of waffling bullshit.

        I found it as kind as a response to this could be.

        +1

        • Enkidum says:

          Thanks. I have a tendency to occasionally dabble in trying to police comment sections like this, and I’m not sure it’s a good or useful habit (especially since I’m sometimes a problem myself). But it’s good to know that at least someone else agrees.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I mean, I’m on double-secret probation right now, so you might want to rely on others as well. 🙂

          • Incurian says:

            Anyways, I could well be wrong about any of this, but right now the image I have of you (which I’m fairly sure is shared by a wide number of other people here) is a white male, aged 18-22, who smokes a fair bit of weed and dabbles in psychedelics, and is not nearly as well-read as he thinks he is. I hope you move out of this phase in your life, because what you’re posting is the tech-bro version of Deepak Chopra. (FWIW I’ve got nothing against any of the things I mentioned, because everything I said applies to me at that age.)

            I’m in no position to criticize, but that bit probably wasn’t helpful, since you asked.

          • Enkidum says:

            that bit probably wasn’t helpful, since you asked.

            You’re right. Even if it’s true, I could have left that out and I think nothing of importance would have been lost, and the chances of the rest of it actually penetrating might have gone a very tiny bit up. As it is, I turned it into too much of a personal attack. Hindsight is 20/20.

            Anyways, I don’t expect this to have any impact in the short term, but maybe a few sentences will stick in his memory and in a few years he might suddenly look back and say “Oooooh….”.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Seconding EchoChaos.

        The capital-R Rationalist movement has a huge deficit of humility. It’s good to be curious about other fields and how they could develop, but I’ve had to remind myself of Gell-Mann amnesia whenever I hear about AlphaGo or DeepFakes leading to impending AI doom that a lot of the same people were making nonsense claims about what CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing could do when it was in the news cycle.

        Correcting those kinds of misconceptions is going to necessarily involve some amount of posturing by people with relevant expertise, and that ruffles feathers for obvious reasons. But if you can’t say “no, you’re wrong and you should research the topic more before making grand pronouncements” then it’s not really possible to have an intelligent discussion here.

        • John Schilling says:

          Thirded, unless it’s fourthed right now. I’ve watched professionals use professional tools to de-fakeify images that have been faked by national governments, and I’m not worried about DeepFakes leading to the Death of Truth or any other such nonsense. But a discussion that starts at this level, is probably not the place to seek or offer enlightenment, and so I’m going to stop trying to find a way to answer the OP’s question and wait for someone to answer a better question.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’ve had to remind myself of Gell-Mann amnesia whenever I hear about AlphaGo or DeepFakes leading to impending AI doom that a lot of the same people were making nonsense claims about what CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing could do when it was in the news cycle.

          Are there any experts in other subjects who have found the discussion of them here to be good? I have a similar experience whenever the topic turns to religion. Confident sweeping claims are made that get very basic things like “what the religion believes” wrong, in a way that makes it apparent the poster constructed the entire model in spherical-cow land without ever bothering to check it against the real world. I’m not even talking about controversial aspects, just basic questions that would be known through a simple reading of the Bible.

          It’s definitely shaken my faith in the value of this comments section on other topics where I’m less informed.

          So, to reiterate the question: what real-world topics do Rationalists usually get right?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I don’t want to come off as totally negative.

            People here are very intelligent and curious, and for the most part will react to hearing that they’re mistaken by actually checking whether that’s the case. That’s huge and makes it much easier to talk about specialized topics even if you disregard how many domain experts comment here.

            The issue is more that we’re also very young and a lot of the founding culture came from Less Wrong with its built-in crankery on AI, cryonics, nanotechnology, and quantum mechanics. Being young makes it easier to get swept up in enthusiasm or despair over the latest media freakout about CRISPR or DeepFakes or whatever. And having a hard core of cranks means that if a topic brushes on one of those topics the discussion gets trapped in a loop of “Read the Sequences!” “I did and they’re wrong on this topic” “If you think that then you didn’t read them right. Read the Sequences!!”

          • Enkidum says:

            Are there any experts in other subjects who have found the discussion of them here to be good?

            So, to reiterate the question: what real-world topics do Rationalists usually get right?

            I think these are two very different questions – I would never describe myself as a Rationalist, and I find the comment section on SSC quite different from other sites.

            There are at least quite a few people here who I trust to sincerely listen to opposing opinions and examine evidence. It’s not so much that they are right, as that they are willing to admit the possibility they might be wrong.

            There are always going to be people who are wrong and refuse to admit so, and all of us have our less-than-proud-warrior-for-truth moments. But there’s a significant fraction of discourse here that rises above that.

            FWIW in my areas of expertise (aspects of experimental psychology, neuroscience, to a lesser degree philosophy) I find the discussions here to be vastly less awful than most places.

          • Plumber says:

            @Jaskologist > “….what real-world topics do Rationalists usually get right?”

            The recipes and cooking advice seem very good to me.

          • Nick says:

            SSC open threads have gotten very into practical life advice like cooking, which is a hilarious contrast from the LessWrong of yore. Like, maybe we’re finally fulfilling Eliezer’s “rationality is about winning” dictum.

          • Randy M says:

            which is a hilarious contrast from the LessWrong of yore.

            I can fix that.
            “What is the optimal way of consuming protein?”
            “What is the most rational way to approach finding compatible mates, platonic or otherwise?”

      • Plumber says:

        @Enkidum says:

        “Because for some reason I find these posts annoying enough…”

        That was my reaction as well, and it was kind of you to let others know were not alone on this.

    • Enkidum says:

      After re-reading what I wrote, I don’t regret it, but I also don’t want to be a bully. So I would like to just add that the invitation to a sincere dialogue is a genuine one, and any irritation (on my part at least) would vanish if you toned down your schtick by about 60%, and increased the precision of your claims and questions by a similar amount. Just chill out a bit, and try to adapt your style to the arena you’re in.

      Some discussions that you might be interested in that I think could actually be fruitful. Feel free to follow up on any of them, or something else entirely (also, I apologize for sounding so damn formal in these posts, it’s not really my style but somehow it comes up when I get into socially awkward situations):

      – Who cares if we’re in a simulation? Why? (Personally, I lean towards the “we aren’t” and “if we were I wouldn’t care that much” side of things, but I’m out of my depth so others might have better answers.

      – Why is it that accurate simulations (of any kind, including boring modern VR) are so much harder when the person experiencing the simulation is able to act? Does this render simulation in the big sense impossible, as Dennett argues in Consciousness Explained?

      – Friston argues that psychedelics, in part, lower priors throughout cortex. What does this say about their potential negative effects, as well as their positive ones?

      – What are the traditional philosophical responses to Descartes’ demon, and other simulation-style thought experiments? Is there anything new in the modern versions, other than some lip service paid to technology?

      – Why are the sequels to the Matrix so disappointing?

      – Seriously, how do you know Antarctica exists?

      – Why do kids like Garfield so fucking much? (Protip, do not phrase that as “why do kids like fucking Garfield so much?” even if the “fucking” is meant as an adjective, because it won’t come across right at all.)

      – Why am I here instead writing the paper I’ve been working on for over a year?

      Peace.

      • noyann says:

        – Why are the sequels to the Matrix so disappointing?

        IMO, a part is due to the new director who came from action movies and, my guess, reduced the script to his understanding. Lots of visual and combative overload then buried the essence (whatever that is).

        – Why do kids like Garfield so fucking much?

        If it’s the comic cat, guessed again: His personality resembles very much a spoiled teenager. Great to identify with.

        • Enkidum says:

          His personality resembles very much a spoiled teenager. Great to identify with.

          Interestingly, it’s much younger kids that, in my experience, like Garfield. I guess the real answer is because the jokes are very easy to understand once you get the basic premises, and it helps them get a feel for what humour is and how it works.

          I had the weird experience some time ago of my kids finding the same Garfield collections at a garage sale that I read almost 40 years ago, and for a while they were their favourite books. I skimmed through them and could almost flash back to my babysitter’s house.

          • noyann says:

            The identification doesn’t require the same age. And it’s not the full “Now *I am* XXX” as in play-acting, more like feeling with the protagonist in a movie.

            Adults, too, love the idea of being sarcastic without repercussions like Garfield can be, feasting on lasagna, sleeping a lot at random times. The strong coffee and the Monday morning puns won’t be understood from experience by small kids at all, still they enjoy the kind of feeling* going with it.

            * gritty? what would be a good word?

            BTW, the TV series character ALF strikes a very similar note, but with more goodwill and innocence (cat-related thinks excepted).

            To keep you off your paper for good, here is a superb introduction to the techniques the comics strip authors use.

          • Enkidum says:

            Thanks for the link, I’ve owned that since it first came out! Good stuff!

          • noyann says:

            Then you will have to do that paper now. 🙂

      • baconbits9 says:

        – Why are the sequels to the Matrix so disappointing?

        They created a fairly narrow world, and then demonstrated that they world’s rules were pretty meaningless. Almost all the tension in the first one was Agents vs Humans, the climax of the first broke that tension which makes the sequels attempting to recreate it look silly.

        • Enkidum says:

          I think this is basically the right answer. Also Neo being the Messiah, essentially, seemed a mistake to me, but that was true of the first movie as well.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think the only way to make all three movies interesting and have Neo as the messiah with a similar first movie (so ignoring a 3 movie series where he is confirmed as the one at the end of #3 not #1) is to spend the entire 2nd movie setting up the idea of a messiah for the robots/computer programs, and then have the third movie contrasting what it would mean to be a messiah for humans vs for computers.

          • Aftagley says:

            Interesting. Is Neo the messiah for both humans and computers, or does Agent Smith fill that role?

          • baconbits9 says:

            I would make it agent Smith (or another agent/program), or maybe you have Cypher survive, and get put back in the matrix where he becomes the one for the machines.

          • Enkidum says:

            Any of the above sounds like a much more interesting film. Please make them, and replace the historical record with yours.

        • roystgnr says:

          That could have been so straightforward to fix, though. Super-Neo can fly rings around the Agents in the Matrix, and he uses that power to impress a crowd and start preaching to the masses. Then the Agents nuke the masses before word can spread more widely. We watch half the lights go out in one of those towers of pods in the real world, the Architect explains (but with some real pathos to it in this alternative) that “There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept”, the surviving Matrix humans go all out anti-terrorism panopticon, and the machine-vs-human conflict continues on a newly leveled playing field.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think this works without massive rewriting of the first one, the masses in the matrix are powerless and it was a long process to find, free and rehabilitate Neo. Even if they could release most of the population there wouldn’t be anywhere for them to go except starvation and death. They specifically don’t treat the populace as people in the first movie, and quickly moved past any moral qualms about killing individuals.

            Perhaps you could make the 2nd installment with Neo realizing he can beat the machines if he wipes out all the people in the matrix, depriving them of the power source. He jumps in an out, killing as many as he can, and the agents are now protecting the humans in the matrix for their own survival. This doesn’t really hold up as an idea though as we have seen that they can program any gun they want, nothing should stop them building more powerful weapons and wiping out huge chunks at a time.

      • Ketil says:

        – Why do kids like Garfield so fucking much? (Protip, do not phrase that as “why do kids like fucking Garfield so much?” even if the “fucking” is meant as an adjective, because it won’t come across right at all.)

        Alternative topic:

        – Why can’t English be less ambiguous when it comes to word classes? When I have trouble understanding a sentence, it is often because it is a long string of words that can be nouns, verbs, and adjectives… Can’t you at least capitalize the nouns and hyphenate the modifiers of nouns?

    • Lambert says:

      Whether or not you can make the image and voice look correct, who do you hire as the improv artist/writer needed for him to react in real time?

      He gives keynote speeches by teleconference. He has a wife. He gets asked whether he’s wearing any underwear.
      Coherently faking an entire preexisting person’s life is orders of magnitude harder than making Obama say one sentence or two about being born in Kenya,

      Also, Snowden has close allies holding all his unrevealed secrets as colateral against the US doing anything to him.

      • Enkidum says:

        who do you hire as the improv artist/writer needed for him to react in real time?

        This is a big part of Dennett’s argument against simulations – the issue isn’t that it’s necessarily hard to fake realistic sensory inputs (although it is REALLY hard to do that, and we’re nowhere near being able to do it ourselves). Rather, it’s that you have to be able to adjust said inputs on the fly to the actions of the person in the simulation. Which is a really, really hard problem.

        • Lambert says:

          You mean in the sense of the Simulation Hypothesis?

          Real-time inside the simulation doesn’t have to match real-time outside.
          It’s not a multiplayer game. God can hit the pause button when His dinner’s ready.

          • Enkidum says:

            Yes. That’s a fair response, and I’m not sure Dennett has a counter. But I also think he (like me) doesn’t really care that much.

          • Oscar Sebastian says:

            One will note that if we don’t assume real-time simulations, the likelihood of our being in a simulation drops noticeably.

            Universe A runs at a rate of 1 second per second on average. Universe B, the universe it simulates, runs at a rate of 1 second per minute. While certainly the inhabitants of B are capable of making a Universe C that runs at the same relative rate (and thus running 1 local second every A-hour), there are clear diminishing returns. D runs a second every 2.5 days. E runs a second every 150 days. F takes multiple A-decades to iterate a single second of time. Even assuming these simulations all rush to the part where a technological simulation can simulate in turn (not necessarily a guarantee), how long is A going to be running B? Almost certainly not long enough for G to do anything.

            Just by removing real-time, we’ve gone from potentially infinite chains of simulations (something I’ve seen seriously argued) to a point where it seems unlikely we’d need the full Latin alphabet to label every layer of simulation. I suspect further considerations of practicality would further hamstring simulators. Possibly even enough to make it more likely on average that we’re not simulated at all.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I assume that simulations have much simpler physics than the universes where they’re created. It’s certainly true of the simulations we make, and except for the total lack of evidence for universes with richer physics, I think it’s very reasonable theory.

          • Lambert says:

            real-time != 1s/s on average

            there’s nothing wrong with running a universe faster than real time, but pausing for a few hours to, e.g. fiddle with the admissions criteria at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna or whatever.

          • Oscar Sebastian says:

            Your rebuttal doesn’t have much to do with what’s already been said, though. If we assume that simulating sensory inputs is hard and needs to be slow, then being able to fast forward isn’t really relevant. Either they only fast forward when there’s no one around to make a simulation or they engage in deliberately lossy behaviors which would be most noticeable around stuff that needs the high resolution version of the simulation: recursive simulation layers. The fact that our solar system’s orbits aren’t stuttering around suggests that we are not being appreciably fast forwarded by anyone upstream who is skimping on these hard problems. Thus if we are a simulation it’s either one where resources don’t matter in ways we understand (at which point we might as well assume we’re being run by the vast tripartite computer YHVH for all the good it will do us), or one where resources do matter but are being delivered amply, which brings us back to questions of how far we can recurse.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Huh, it’s been a while since I happened to read any Dennett; I hadn’t realized he had weighted in on this. Do you have a pointer?

          • Enkidum says:

            I believe it’s the opening chapter of Consciousness Explained, but to be fair I also haven’t read him in a long time, and a lot of his stuff kind of merges together in my mind.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Thanks. I did read that, but it was a long time ago, before the Simulation Hypothesis really came into vogue, or at least into my awareness.

  15. BBA says:

    I’d rather be a good person than a great one.

    • Randy M says:

      Here you and I see eye to eye completely.

      And I would do so even if I had serious options either way. Probably.

    • Plumber says:

      Bless you for that @BBA

    • Lillian says:

      And I would rather be a great person than a good one, but unfortunately for me I don’t get to be either. Fortunately for everyone else, my general mediocrity and idiosyncratic sense of honour prevents my lack of goodness from doing any damage. Just don’t give me the controls to space lasers, else I’ll start Herostratusing the shit out of some major landmarks.

    • brad says:

      This is not at all an attack on you, but for me this would be a cheap sentiment because I won’t be great and I’ve made peace with that.

      • Randy M says:

        That is the exact opposite of an attack. The assumption that it is a genuine dilemma for the rest–that greatness is within one’s grasp and nobly set aside–is a generous one.
        A lot more people make the phone book than the history book.

        • Atlas says:

          Possibly splitting hairs here, but I don’t think that brad was necessarily assuming that it is such a genuine dilemma for everyone else (which I think would be overly generous), just that he didn’t want to offend OP by unintentionally implicitly suggesting that it couldn’t possibly be a dilemma for him, specifically.

      • BBA says:

        I had a chance or two at greatness. I don’t anymore, but in light of some other discussions I’ve had and read recently, here and elsewhere, that I don’t want to rehash right now, I think failing to be great may be the best thing that happened to me.

        Being good, I’m still working on.

    • Atlas says:

      I guess for me the choice would depend on what the category “not good” encompasses. If it means “actively evil”—Pol Pot/Reinhard Heydrich/[redacted due to non-CW thread reasons]—then, ok, I’ll choose being a good but not great person. If it means being morally neutral…I want to take being great, but that’s partly because I’m not sure that “morally neutral” isn’t actually “slightly morally positive.” Like, are great painters of indifferent personal morality net positives for humanity, and therefore not not “good” people, even if paintings aren’t as obviously morally praise-worthy as e.g. inventing a smallpox vaccine? Finally, if not being a good person just means being personally unlikable, e.g. Steve Jobs, then I’m 100% choosing being great instead of good if I can only pick one.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I not only missed any chance I had at greatness, I missed at least one chance at minor infamy. I certainly can’t say I’m a good person; I don’t know for sure what that is, and to use my own standards seems obviously self-serving.

      Oh well, at least the pressure’s off.

    • tayfie says:

      I disagree. This feels like one of those phrases that sounds deep because it falls in line with established wisdom. “Moral virtue is more important than worldly influence”. I think that’s nonsense. Total capacity to do good is the product of the two.

      Few people have the capacity to be truly influential, to impact the whole world with their actions, and fewer still ever get an opportunity. Many influential people were personally assholes, but I would rather have the benefits of their achievements than make them moral nobodies. The world always has a surplus of good people and a shortage of greats. Anyone who can should try to correct that shortage because they can be miles more effective in total good done.

      And on a selfish point, I choose greatness because it is more fun.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I’m with Tayfie. We need good people, but we really need great people to propel us towards big things. I suppose “great things” sometimes includes stuff that end up pretty bad in retrospect, but the world is getting better on net, so the Greats are still a net benefit.

        I’ll definitely say I’d rather be happy than be great. I get one life, I want it to be a pleasant one.

      • Randy M says:

        It’s like asking if you want your artillery powerful or accurate. Ideally both, or some balance between the two, but you really want to make sure they are at least pointed in the right direction before firing.

    • J says:

      I wonder if you would enjoy Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. It gets into this sort of thing, how much to expect of ourselves and the implications of comparing ourselves to the great ones. How to accept what we are.

      I think greatness is probably quite painful in most cases. An Adam Sandler movie of all things, Funny People, deals with a movie star who finds himself quite alone and vulnerable. And the 1996 movie Shine is about a concert pianist pressured to be great.

      The hpmor vignette about Harry’s Phoenix is a puzzle piece too, I think. And then again with Hermione in significant digits.

      At my University, the music teachers said anyone they could persuade not to major in music performance shouldn’t be in the major.

      But on the other hand, I think jbp is onto something when he says to pick up a rock and carry it as far as we can, because I do much much worse at even the basics of life if I don’t put myself in a place where I’m getting pushed.

      Maybe the question should be in what ways you think greatness would be in conflict with goodness?

      My intuition is that some types of greatness are a compulsion, core to their nature, like the guy who can draw Paris from memory or the kids who can do huge multiplication problems in their heads. Some types, maybe Steve Jobs, might have been much better people if they had chosen goodness more often. And some, maybe Mr. Rogers, maybe Gandhi, are great because they dedicate their lives willfully to their understanding of goodness.

      • AG says:

        At the same time, though, seems like the music major department is instituting an asshole filter. It seems like most of the great music artists of our time weren’t music majors, so their selection criteria isn’t geared towards people who will be great. Not unlike how the earliest tech founders were dropouts.
        (Counterpoint: the great music artists of our time are sharing the same pool of music producers who have formal training.)

        (This isn’t really a comment on the good vs. great discussion, but more that institutions that fancy themselves as kingmakers through training/education mostly aren’t.)

      • BBA says:

        About the pain that comes from greatness, the pressure to perform, yeah I know that feeling. It’s not fun being a type B personality in a type A world. Sometimes, even the lessened pressures from the job I have now are exhausting to me.

        I want to fail like common people. I want to watch my life slide out of view.

    • Ketil says:

      If ‘being good’ means a desire for a better world, and ‘being great’ means the ability to effect change, what good is good without great?

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Weak men can’t be virtuous.

      In this interview Jordan Peterson discusses the relation between strength, as defined as the capacity to change the world even by breaking rules if necessary, and goodness. The key point, shooting up to theodicy, is that the capacity of doing evil is necessary for goodness: if you are weak then you’re obedient, at best you are harmless, like a lapdog, at worst you will join the mob to perpetrate injustice if society tells you so.

      You need to be a great, strong person to stand up against injustice, even at great personal risk. This is the essence of the hero archetype.

      Another good point raised by the interviewer, is that weakness often creates resentment and resentment creates corruption. Many unsuccessful, resentful people with no capacity of achieving anything worth on their own merit try to stay afloat by dragging other people down.

      • noyann says:

        > if you are weak then [ … ] at best you are harmless, like a lapdog, at worst you will join the mob to perpetrate injustice if society tells you so

        Why can’t you, at best, when being told by society, join the mob to do great things together? This silly asymmetrical reasoning makes me suspicious of other motivated reasoning (that’s overlooked by fanboys/-girls).

        • viVI_IViv says:

          When has the mob ever done great things?

          • rahien.din says:

            (Psst. Probably when people have banded together to do great things, it hasn’t been described as “a mob.”)

          • Plumber says:

            @viVI_IViv >

            “When has the mob ever done great things?”

            What have the “great” done alone?

            Who built the seven gates of Thebes?

            The books are filled with names of kings.
            Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
            And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
            Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
            That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
            In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
            Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
            Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
            Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
            Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
            The night the seas rushed in,
            The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

            Young Alexander conquered India.
            He alone?
            Caesar beat the Gauls.
            Was there not even a cook in his army?
            Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
            was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
            Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
            Who triumphed with him?

            Each page a victory
            At whose expense the victory ball?
            Every ten years a great man,
            Who paid the piper?

            So many particulars.

            So many questions.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Plumber

            That’s a great one. Thanks.

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos,
            Your welcome!

            The first few examples of “the mob” doing great things that I could think of may have been “CW” so I went with the poem instead, but almost every town has monuments of those in that town who gave their lives in the deciding of history with the monuments built by anonymous hands, men died to build the bridge I’ll cross this morning, and most of the skyscrapers built before the 1960’s had one death per floor built. Thousands layed the tracks before the golden spike was placed connecting the nation. Eisenhower didn’t step onto the beaches at Normandy before thousands climed out of the water first, et cetera.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Didn’t they build Las Vegas in the 1930s?

          • noyann says:

            @Plumber
            +1

            Also: the other way round, the atrocities of the great ones.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            I would say that the asymmetry consists of the fact that acts of great innovation and reform that bring more good than bad require thinking outside the box, going against received wisdom and sometimes openly defying authority. Rank-and-file people may participate to them, but never initiate them.

            Acts of great injustice are instead often perpetrated by multitudes of normies, with either the explicit direction or tacit approval of the authority.

            Think for instance of pogroms against the local Jews or other hated minorities: they don’t require any top-down planning, just an implicit understanding that there will be no consequences for the perpetrators, who then act based on their uncritical prejudices, groupthink and holier-than-thou virtue signaling.

          • ECD says:

            I would say that the asymmetry consists of the fact that acts of great innovation and reform that bring more good than bad require thinking outside the box, going against received wisdom and sometimes openly defying authority.

            I think this may well be true. Of course, this is also true for acts of innovation and reform that bring more bad than good.

      • Ketil says:

        …or compare Stoicisim, where the virtues are temperance, wisdom/prudence, justice, and courage/fortitude. Without the courage to stand up and speak out, to take action and initiate change, the other virtues matter little.

        (I’m not as enthusiastic on JPs Jungian dichotomies of good vs evil, or whatever they are)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “Weak men can’t be virtuous.”

        This is an annoying failure to quantify.

        It takes at least some strength to be moderately virtuous– to treat the people around you decently, possibly against social pressure.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      I’d rather be a good person than a great one.

      It’s all the same. There exists one scale from worst to best. If you insist on placing yourself on that scale you are saying you are better than others. To be good others have to be bad. To be better others have to be worse. To be great others have to be ordinary. Objectively no one is good or bad. In our minds we are all better than everyone else.

      • Enkidum says:

        There was a moment when I suddenly realized that I cared about Rene Descartes, because he was saying some very important stuff (not God-related, FWIW). One of the reasons it took so long was because he has this infuriating habit of saying stuff like “As I have proved beyond all doubt, X” when what he actually meant was “I think that X is probably true”. Once I mentally did that translation for all similar phrases, I ended up with a much more reasonable-sounding philosopher, one who I could actually engage with meaningfully.

        Now, you are not Descartes. But you may have interesting things to say. It would just be better (from my perspective at least) if you occasionally threw in an “I think that…” or “it seems to me that…”. Not all the time, because that goes too far. But you seem very convinced of the absolute truth of what you are saying, which is not a good sign for someone who’s trying to learn.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          Enkidum

          It would just be better (from my perspective at least) if you occasionally threw in an “I think that…” or “it seems to me that…”.

          My willingness to use such terms says not a thing about my willingness to be open to change. Telling me how I would be better if I were more like you is just what it sounds like.

          But you seem very convinced of the absolute truth of what you are saying, which is not a good sign for someone who’s trying to learn.

          You don’t know nearly enough about me to form any opinion about how flexible I am other than an opinion formed from thin air and used for what opinions are used for. BTW there is no such thing as constructive criticism. There is just criticism. and your post is a paradigm example of such. Mind your own business.

    • hls2003 says:

      This seems heavily dependent on definitions. I can see a sense in which it is true, if greatness and goodness are defined primarily by distance to the object – “I love Mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!” On the other hand, I can see a sense in which it is false, if they are defined in terms of preferring sentiment over virtue, which sounds a bit like men without chests.

    • smocc says:

      Related: I’ve started to believe that much of the desire to “change the world” actually comes from a desire to be known or famous rather than out of a desire to do good. If I do good and I don’t become famous for it then I have still done good, and I can be happy with that. (Is what I’ve been trying to tell myself.)

  16. Jeremiah says:

    I normally don’t promote my own stuff very much, but I thought my latest post was pretty good or at least unique:
    The Solution to Conflict is More Conflict (tl;dr Long Peace is responsible for current high levels of internal civic discord.)

    Also, as usual, as part of the SSC Podcast project, every fortnight we take one of the posts from the archive and create an audio version.

    This time around we did Against Tulip Subsidies. (Original post)

    Which was requested on a previous open thread. See! Requests work!

    • Plumber says:

      @Jeremiah,
      Thanks for linking to your essay, and thanks very much for the interesting links in that essay!

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I think you are exactly right. Nothing else unites society as efectively as scary external enemy. Similar ideas were explored by Ian Morris, in War! What Is It Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots .

    • Alan Crowe says:

      I was brought up with the story that the ancient Greek city states would fight among themselves (Athens versus Sparta, etc). Then the Persians would try to invade. The Greeks would unite, defeat the invasion, and go back to fighting each other. That is very much in line with your essay, and an extra example.

      • Rob K says:

        For 1-2 cycles, you could make this case. But by the time the Macedonians (who most Greeks initially viewed as outside invaders) showed up, the city-states had exhausted themselves in internecine warfare. Sparta was essentially out of the picture, Athens was substantially diminished, and a lot of the second-tier powers had been ground down.

        This basically seems to reflect that the level of conflict escalated a ton after ~450. Prior to that time, and especially before 500, most of the conflicts could be classified as “intermittent border war between neighboring cities” – Sparta and Argos are the most obvious example. After 450 (and especially after 432), there was a regional war between large alliances going on more often than not. Very different in character and much more destructive of the cities’ manpower, especially Sparta’s given their small elite caste.

    • bullseye says:

      Me against my brothers; my brothers and me against my cousins; my cousins, my brothers, and me against strangers.

      I’ve always interpreted the proverb as a statement about a desirable ideal, rather than an observation about reality (cf. “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”).

      It’s supposed to be an Arab proverb describing their conflicts; small family groups fight each other, but they’re part of a larger family that unites against outsiders, but they’ll also unite with those outsiders against people from further outside, etc.

      • The Somali system formalizes this. You are in a small group, probably defined by agnatic kinship. That group is part of a larger group, defined by some mix of agnatic kinship and contract, which is in turn part of a still larger … .

        If a group at some level of the hierarchy gets involved in a conflict that it doesn’t have the manpower to handle, it temporarily fuses with the other groups that share the next level up.

        Formal contract can specify how subgroups share the money damages the group collects or the burden of paying money damages the group owes.

    • Vosmyorka says:

      I was the one who’d asked you to record Against Tulip Subsidies. Thank you very much — job well done!

  17. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Third Trimester pregnancy is definitely worse than Morning Sickness. Morning Sickness only made my wife sick: Third Trimester has a fully-kicked in nesting instinct, which involves yelling at ADBG for not completing a million projects. I dethatched the lawn and overseeded, cleared out a bunch of weeds, regrouted the shower…jeez, there’s only so much a man can do during Budget Season!

    On the plus side, we now have basically everything we need. We’re short a crib (because we bought one from Pottery Barn Kids, which is sort-of custom built furniture), but we have a bassinet which will work for the first few months anyways.

    • Randy M says:

      My wife’s best friend went over due because her husband was remodeling the bathroom and hadn’t installed the door. I’m not privy to how much yelling was involved, but once the door was installed, bam, contractions.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Okay, so those closet doors I keep getting nagged about are staying put for at least another 2 months.

    • Plumber says:

      @A Definite Beta Guy >

      “…Third Trimester has a fully-kicked in nesting instinct, which involves yelling at ADBG for not completing a million projects. I dethatched the lawn and overseeded, cleared out a bunch of weeds, regrouted the shower…jeez, there’s only so much a man can do during Budget Season!…”

      Well the good news is that, if she’s like me wife, after the birth she’ll be too tired to yell much at you and/or you’ll be too tired to remember she did!

      Unfortunately a few months to almost a year after that and she’ll start yelling ‘suggestions’ again which ends…

      …I’ll let you know if it ever does.

  18. Le Maistre Chat says:

    In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Second Chances”, it’s discovered that William Riker was once beamed through a field of interference that caused the mass-energy of the transporter beam to double, with one half bouncing back to the planet, creating a duplicate Riker.
    What’s the most powerful use you can come up with for this field? There’s got to be a lot more potential to setting up infrastructure at a place that violates Conservation of Energy like this than just making a Third Riker.

    • FLWAB says:

      When watching Deep Space 9 I kept thinking about how the Federation really wasn’t using it’s technology to best effect. For example in the episode “Field of Fire” they showed an abandoned experimental weapon design where a rifle firing a metal slug also automatically transported the bullet, with kinetic energy intact, wherever you wanted it to go. In other words it materialized your bullets out of the air inches in front of the target. And I thought, forget a gun, why don’t they hook a hundred or more barrels together with this device and create a weapon station that can fire thousands of rounds a second anywhere within transporter range, attacking as many targets as the scanners can identify. I can think of a few times that would have come in handy (*cough* Siege of AR-558 *cough*). I also wondered in the multiple episodes in which the station is taken over or invaded by a hostile force, why don’t they have better security measures. No turrets? No swarms of drones armed with phasers? Obviously the Federation lacks imagination when it comes to weaponizing their super tech.

      Anyway around the same time I remember an episode talking about how the Dominion could outfight the Federation because the Dominion grow new soldiers from scratch within days, while every day good Federation officers were getting gunned down. And I thought “Why don’t recreate that thing they with Riker and start multiplying their best soldiers and officers.” Imagine having a cunning, brave, loyal, and charismatic officer like Riker, and then making a whole platoon of them. You could pump out thousands of new soldiers a day.

      Sure the moral implications are sketchy, but you have to admit that “instant army, just add energy” is a pretty powerful exploit.

      • Evan Þ says:

        The moral implications are a whole lot less sketchy if Riker agrees and all the clones are given legal identities and huge pensions afterwards by a grateful Federation, as I’m sure would happen. What remaining issues are you still unsure about – is it @jaimeastorga2000’s points below about a slippery slope?

      • Nick says:

        Anyway around the same time I remember an episode talking about how the Dominion could outfight the Federation because the Dominion grow new soldiers from scratch within days, while every day good Federation officers were getting gunned down. And I thought “Why don’t recreate that thing they with Riker and start multiplying their best soldiers and officers.” Imagine having a cunning, brave, loyal, and charismatic officer like Riker, and then making a whole platoon of them. You could pump out thousands of new soldiers a day.

        The unfortunate thing isn’t only that no one running Starfleet ever thought of this, but that no one anywhere ever thought of it. Why didn’t some desperate colony about to be overrun with Jem’Hadar try this?

      • March says:

        Better off replicating a platoon that already works well together than to create 20 Rikers and hope they don’t disintegrate over status games over who is the best Riker. (I love me some Riker but dude is definitely a rooster.)

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Duplicate ubersmenchen, duh.

      Imagine a Starfleet where every diplomatic mission is headed by a copy of Picard, every science mission is carried out by a team of Datas, every member of a boarding squad is a copy of Worf, etc. Specially if you combine it with Scotty’s trick for storing transporter beams indefinitely from the episode “Relics”; you can scan someone once and have his pattern available for decades, maybe more if you can fix the pattern degradation problem. At that point, we have basically recreated Hanson’s em scenario in meatspace (minus the speedups in subjective time).

      • Jake says:

        Isn’t that basically just the Borg at that point, with every individual unit able to call on the combined resources of the best available in the collective for whatever mission they are on? I could definitely see a short story written about how the federation tried something like this, and were appalled at how similar it made them to their enemies, and then banned it forever. I tend to think that way of a lot of science fiction plots, that the only way their use of tech makes sense is if they are explicitly trying to retain some part of humanity that isn’t necessarily mentioned in the story.

      • John Schilling says:

        every member of a boarding squad is a copy of Worf, etc.

        Yeah, that’s a bit off. Worf is a warrior, and if your boarding party is not explicitly and wholly military in nature, you’re just going to want one or two Worfs as backups for the diplomats, scientists, policemen, whatever. And if your boarding party is explictly and wholly military in nature, at least one member is going to be a time-fuzed fifty-megaton antimatter bomb. Possibly the only member and with a very short fuse.

        As Nabil notes, Star Trek was never really interested in exploring the impact of their technologies on society beyond the most superficial level, and it really shows here. Transporters are magic, and so not subject to requirements for physical consistency; it’s trivial to show that the Federation would be an omnipotent post-scarcity immortal utopia if their transporters could consistently do everything they ever once did, and trivial omnipotence is boring.

        • Lillian says:

          Yeah ship boarding for the purposes of causing damage to a ship or its crew makes zero sense. If you can get boarders inside, you can get a warhead inside, and that will do far, far more damage than even the most elite and dangerous Marines you come up with. You only board a ship when you intend to capture it or something inside it, in which case you only bother to do it after it has been crippled.

          Though interestingly enough in Star Trek ships don’t seem to have much of a “crippled” stage, after shields fail the ship usually just explode. At least in the TV series, one of the things I really liked about Wrath of Khan is that it actually felt like starships could take a few hits on their hull and keep going. It made them feel more solid and real to me. However, given that they are throwing anti-matter weapons about, shield failure = ship explodes is arguably more realistic.

          If you can’t actually cripple a ship without destroying it, and there is something in it you want to capture rather than destroy, then it would make sense to send in boarders while the thing is still shooting at you. In those cases you would definitely benefit from your boarders being a bunch of badasses, and they would want to do things like manually take the gunnery rooms and the engineering spaces, so you can secure the ship and either take it as a prize or scour it for whatever it is you’re looking for.

          You know it occurs to me that in the original Star Trek, where starships were significantly rarer and you didn’t have fleets of them going about, trying to capture prizes might actually make strategic sense, as denying a ship to your enemy and gaining it for your side would be a significant change in the balance of power. The feel in Next Generation is similar early on, but you start seeing more squadron actions as it progresses, giving lower value per ship. By the time of DS9 there are entire fleets of warships going about which means the marginal value of any given ship is pretty small, so you’re better off just exploding the enemy’s as efficiently as possible.

        • John Schilling says:

          You only board a ship when you intend to capture it or something inside it, in which case you only bother to do it after it has been crippled.

          Even then, Niven & Pournelle got it right in the (belatedly and separately published) opening to A Mote in God’s Eye. Send over a prize crew to the defeated enemy ship, and “This is Ensign Redshirt, with a backpack nuke and a dead-man trigger in his hand. Just in case you all have any ideas about un-surrendering.”

          If […] there is something in it you want to capture rather than destroy, then it would make sense to send in boarders while the thing is still shooting at you. In those cases you would definitely benefit from your boarders being a bunch of badasses, and they would want to do things like manually take the gunnery rooms and the engineering spaces.

          You’d want to do those things, yes, but you oughtn’t be too confident of success. Yes, it was appropriate for Picard to send a boarding party to investigate that first Borg Cube when they had the chance. One member of which still should have been Mr. Fifty Megaton Bomb and another a Redshirt with a dead-man trigger. If all goes well, sure, maybe youcan tow a dormant Cube home as a prize. If things go less well, you beam home everybody including the Redshirt but not the bomb. These things should be standard procedure in a combat boarding.

      • JPNunez says:

        Considering the series follows the potentially more interesting Enterprise in each era, if you just fill every spaceship out there with Picards, Worfs, Rickers and Datas, I expect interest to be maximized across space. Which would mean the coolest wars, espionages, the raddest violations of the prime directive, the sickest borg infestations, etc.

        And that’s before you start taking into account different teams interacting with each other and taking different sides when small differences accumulate into potentially violent outcomes.

        Not sure if it would end well for the known universe, but it sure would be interesting to watch.

        • noyann says:

          It would probably unwatchable because all sides look, talk, and act (almost totally) alike. We would need some ridiculously obvious signal (change of hairdo, uniform, stylized talk, …) to tell whom we’re seeing right in any given scene. And then the obvious ruses of mutual infiltration. Naa. No joy.

      • Let’s be honest, 95% of the ship would be Data.

        • Randy M says:

          It seems like, between the replicator and the transporter and the holodeck, they really should be able to recreate Data without dismantling him like they wanted to do in Measure of a Man.

          This is a common problem in sci-fi, where one bit of tech would side-step the moral dilemma of another bit of tech, so it is conveniently forgotten. Now admittedly, MoaM came out before they knew about the duplicate Riker. But I don’t see why they didn’t realize that was a possibility before hand. They can do things like go back and study the patterns in the transporter logs. All transporters are are analyzers, disassemblers, transmitters, receivers, and reassemblers. There’s no reason they should need the same energy/matter to recreate the transportee. In fact, it’s inefficient to do so.
          Hmm, but then how are transporters supposed to reconfigure a person/object at a distance? Is there a non-technobabble explanation?

      • pontifex says:

        Plot twist: this was already implemented. What, you think the Enterprise you’re watching from episode to episode is *the same ship?*. Don’t be silly. No one ship could have that many adventures, or that little continuity.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      What’s the most powerful use you can come up with for this field? There’s got to be a lot more potential to setting up infrastructure at a place that violates Conservation of Energy like this than just making a Third Riker.

      Does it violate conservation of energy, though? Maybe the energy to make the extra Riker came from either the transporter or the negative space wedgie of the week.

      Anyway, it’s just a replicator on steroids, capable of replicating things that can’t be usually replicated. So any time they have to manufacture something that can’t be replicated, they could use this. More generally, Data, or his evil twin Lore, could use it to replicate themselves and create a civilization of Homo Syntheticus.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      A few times in the show they introduced materials or objects that couldn’t be replicated (because otherwise there would be no drama) but could be transported (again, because otherwise there would be no drama). Despite the replicator supposedly working on the same principles as the transporter, and the fact that they keep precise records of everything that they transport. But now with this field everything from replacement Klingon spines to gold-pressed latinum can now be perfectly duplicated.

      That said, none of this matters because as the above example shows Star Trek was never really interested in exploring the impact of their technologies on society beyond the most superficial level. A culture where people can manufacture nearly anything they want or go nearly anywhere they want instantly would be very different from our own, and have very different kinds of conflicts. That has the potential to be really interesting but it would be a completely different kind of show from Star Trek.

      • Lillian says:

        Inventing the replicator was i feel a mistake on the part of the the writers of the Next Generation. It’s not even slightly necessary for the show, as the original series did not at all have it, and i can’t think of any of the good episodes in any series being reliant on its existence. You could remove entirely from the universe and it would frankly be far better for it. Hell DS9 spent the majority of its run largely pretending they don’t exist.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Yeah, in terms of how it’s used in 90% of episodes it’s the same as those food slots in the mess hall of the original series. You yell for a type of food at the computer and a slot opens with oddly-colored cubes the meal you ordered. And they were basically just a voice-activated vending machine, as evidenced by the fact that tribbles can literally climb inside and eat the food before it gets to people.

          I guess that was too low-tech for the late eighties and early nineties but it would have been fine and made much more sense.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Transporters were a workaround for the limited budget for the first season of TOS, as the beaming effect and the transporter room set were cheaper than shuttlecraft props/models and associated effects shots would have been. Although they did make the shuttlecraft props later in the series anyway, of course.

        TOS did occasionally show wall compartments which our heroes opened to pick up their meals, but their mechanism was never explicitly explained. They superficially resembled replicators, but they could just as well be dumbwaiters or futuristic vending machines. And the one time I remember them being plot-relevant (because Kirk got a tray full of tribbles instead of his lunch), it was strongly implied they were mechanical delivery systems of some kind. I suspect the replicators were an attempt to update those to seem more futuristic, without consideration for the implications of creating arbitrary objects rather than just delivering them.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Forget Doublemint Gum, we’re going for sescenimint gum. And we’re going to have identical sescenilets to advertise it.

  19. arch1 says:

    Scott, have you ever done a post on how to effectively research topics using the internet, or if not would you consider it?

    It’s clear from the great yawning gulf between you and (say) me that you have a considerable talent for it, but I suspect you’ve also learned some things along the way that others can benefit from.

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

      Seconded. Occasionally I’ll try to use Google Scholar, but it feels like I’m asking Jeeves.

      • metacelsus says:

        For biomedical stuff Pubmed is the way to go.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          While Google Scholar had gotten worse over the last few years, I’ve generally had better luck with it than PubMed’s search feature.

          PubMed is still useful for other reasons, like having free text versions of papers, but I hate using it’s search feature.

    • Majuscule says:

      You might have a resource close by in your local librarian, although YMMV. Learning how to analyze a research question and evaluate how specific it is, what resources exist, how reliabe they are, and how to access them was foundational in my library science education. This is not to say that the person at your local branch library is necessarily awesome at this or has time to get deep into the weeds with you personally, but they can probably give you some ideas that might not have occurred to you. There are specific research librarians, who you’re more likely to find at academic libraries. Teaching you how to do research and helping you with that is their actual job, so they are much more likely to be awesome at it.

    • alwhite says:

      I think the answer you might be looking for is: time. It takes a ton of time to adequately research a topic to the level where you can come to a reasonable confidence in a conclusion. The key phrase that might help here is literature review. Each study that comes out should have a section that looks like a literature review. That section lists and reviews many studies in the topic to justify the existence of this particular study and it’s methods. To do a literature review well, you need to read all those studies that went into it and evaluate them. At a rough guess, you need to read 20 studies to have a clear idea of what a particular study is really talking about.

      1. Follow citations to their original sources (this is where google scholar and pubmed come in).
      2. Read as many cited studies as you can to make sure you understand everything going on.
      3. Do a search for opposing claims and follow their citations repeating steps 1 and 2 for the opposing side.

      The method is complex, but it’s a lot of work, a lot of time, and understanding all that content takes a lot of effort.

  20. Scarbrow says:

    Reporting about the SSC Meetup in Madrid, Spain.

    The Spanish rationalist movement is still in diapers, at least regarding coordination. Currently the Madrid branch of the Spanish Effective Altruism movement (Altruismo Eficaz Madrid) is more-or-less the Schelling point for us. Currentely it’s mostly comprised of bilingual young people, overwhelmingly male, very much geeky, very much technically skewed (maths and/or computer science) for obvious reasons.

    Well, we’ve successfully done our second SSC Meetup! And I’m proud to say, we’ve doubled our attendance from last year. Which means that 3 people on a cafe have turned into 6 people on a cafe. Baby steps.

    I’m trying to do two things with this post:
    1) Publicly appealing for more people who may be reading, to reach out to Altruismo Eficaz and meet us. We’d like to double our attendance again in 2020 – a full dozen people!
    2) Publicly committing to both read the open threads faster than I currently do (which is after all the activity has died) and post news about us, in the hope of multiplying our reach here in SSC. At least, improving the chances that somebody in Spain will read me, if by accident.

    If you read this while in Madrid (temporary or permanent resident), please come and join us.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      1) Publicly appealing for more people who may be reading, to reach out to Altruismo Eficaz and meet us. We’d like to double our attendance again in 2020 – a full dozen people!
      2) Publicly committing to both read the open threads faster than I currently do (which is after all the activity has died) and post news about us, in the hope of multiplying our reach here in SSC.

      Suggestion: it sounds like you have events once per year. Consider organizing activities more often, or if you have stuff going on, advertising them more?

  21. Well... says:

    For any given year X and given year Y where Y = X+10, what values can we find for X and Y where the typical way of life during those two years are the most different for the greatest number of people?

    • Lancelot says:

      1933 vs 1943?

      • EchoChaos says:

        That’s pretty solid and given population increase is right up there.

        But don’t discount 1980-1990 because of the MASSIVE growth of China during that time. Their modern population is higher than it was during WWII, so more people probably had their way of life change than ever before. Plus that’s right at the beginning of India’s growth as well, although not as major there.

        • Well... says:

          Dang, I should have worded my question differently then…I’m not so interested in “more people affected” due to there being more people to be affected, I’m more trying to get at the biggest differences in way of life caused by (e.g.) technological or political change. Population growth can cause changes, too, but I’d want to know why, say, China’s population exploding in the 1980s created more change than say, WWII happening.

          I threw the “for the greatest number of people” part into my original question so that we weren’t including really drastic changes that only affected a tiny number of people.

          • Enkidum says:

            Then I think Lancelot is correct. The proportion of people who were living a drastically-different life in 1943 was truly massive, possibly even an absolute majority.

          • EchoChaos says:

            For percentage of the population 1933-1943 is absolutely huge.

            But the surprise contender is probably 1628-1638.

            The Thirty Years’ War went from an early and localized affair to affecting almost everyone in Europe, the Ming Dynasty entered a significant period of decline, affecting almost everyone in China through a major depression and civil strife (the Qing would formally replace it in 1636) and the Ottomans entered the Ottoman-Safavid war which bloodied most of the Middle East.

    • Watchman says:

      2009-2019, although we probably don’t notice.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      1945 to 1955.

    • Paper Rat says:

      I would choose years before and after majority of population got access to internet (or to cell phones, if internet adoption grew too slowly to satisfy 10 year gap), so like 1995-2005 or 2000-2010?

    • Alan Crowe says:

      Electrification might be a big deal. American factories electrified, replacing belts and line-shafting with small electric motors in the 1920’s. The rest of the world tagged along behind. Then there is the domestic stuff, lighting first, then washing machines.

      I’m not too sure of the dates, and maybe if wasn’t sudden enough for the ten year time frame.

  22. Machine Interface says:

    As a French person who regularly watches cooking videos made by Americans, here are a number of differences I have noticed in the art of cookery across the Atlantic:

    —Vanilla extract is the default form in the US. In France it can be found but is uncommon. The default form is vanilla powder.

    —Standard cuts for beef are rather different (those of pork overlap a bit more).

    —Americans expect to be able to find many different and specific varieties of fresh chili peppers at the local market. In France the only thing you find fresh are bell peppers and generic sweet chili peppers (often from Spain). You do find a bit more stuff in dried, ground form.

    —Limes are apparently much more common in America than in France. French people tend to use lemon as their generic cooking citrus (to the consternation of several Americans I’ve told this to).

    —If you own a deep frier in France (and many people don’t), it’s pretty much exclusively to make french fries.

    —There’s apparently no such thing as “half-brown rice” in the US (rice with the bran removed but the germ left on, which cooks faster than brown rice, but slower than white rice).

    —Eggs coming in different sizes. There are different size of eggs avalaible in France, but it was never something I paid attention to or noticed before US recipes mentionned it. French recipes never bother and probably assume everyone is using medium eggs.

    —In France, a “barbecue” is 1) an outside grill on which you cook food and 2) the event at which you grill food outside. You can cook pretty much anything you want that fits on the grill this way and call it a barbecue, including vegetables, though the most common seems to be sausages (specifically chipolatas and merguez) and chiken legs. Often served without sauce and with limited seasoning (salt, pepper and provence herbs). Barbecue sauce exists but despite the name is not strongly associated with barbecue events.

    —I have never seen a smoker in my life — if you want smoked food in France, you buy it that way.

    —I have also never seen a slow cooker in my life.

    —Eggnog is an alien concept; why would you make only the least exciting half a floating island and throw away the whites? I also note that wikipedia calls the parboiled whipped egg whites of floating islands a meringue, which sounds weird to French people — a meringue is much, much sweeter and thicker than the egg whites in a floating island.

    —Speaking of whipped egg whites, in France an acceptable way to make chocolate mousse is to melt dark chocolate and incorporate whipped egg whites in it, with no other ingredient. All US recipes seem to call for whipped cream as well.

    —American-style bacon (thick rectangular strips) is not a thing I’ve seen in France. Our bacon comes in round, thin strips (and not many people spontaneously buy bacon anyway).

    —French cooking is a lot more welcoming of offals. It’s not unusual here to have smoked or marinated duck gizzards in a salad, or to eat liver paste (foie gras) around holidays.

    —In general, French people eat a lot of meat in paste form (“pâtés” or “terrines”), which seems uncommon in the US.

    —Forcefed ducks and geese are the source of a variety of dishes quite appreciated by French people: the aforementionned foie gras, duck confit, magret (fat duck breast fillet)… These do not seem to occure much in American cooking.

    —WHile the concept of gravy is not completely unknown in French cuisine (under the mouthfull “sauce au jus de viande”), it’s not particularly common. Meat is most often served either with just the juice unaltered, or with specially made sauces on the side (like béarnaise or bourguignone).

    —US recipes are much more likely to call for liquid sugar like palm or corn syrup. French recipes are generally perfectly content with white or brown caster sugar (or even whole cane sugar), and if some liquid sugar is needed, honey or cane syrup will be the most common choices.

  23. Machine Interface says:

    As a French person who regularly watches cooking videos made by Americans, here are a number of differences I have noticed in the art of cookery across the Atlantic:

    —Vanilla extract is the default form in the US. In France it can be found but is uncommon. The default form is vanilla powder.

    —Standard cuts for beef are rather different (those of pork overlap a bit more).

    —Americans expect to be able to find many different and specific varieties of fresh chili peppers at the local market. In France the only thing you find fresh are bell peppers and generic sweet chili peppers (often from Spain). You do find a bit more stuff in dried, ground form.

    —Limes are apparently much more common in America than in France. French people tend to use lemon as their generic cooking citrus (to the consternation of several Americans I’ve told this to).

    —If you own a deep frier in France (and many people don’t), it’s pretty much exclusively to make french fries.

    —There’s apparently no such thing as “half-brown rice” in the US (rice with the bran removed but the germ left on, which cooks faster than brown rice, but slower than white rice).

    —Eggs coming in different sizes. There are different size of eggs avalaible in France, but it was never something I paid attention to or noticed before US recipes mentionned it. French recipes never bother and probably assume everyone is using medium eggs.

    —In France, a “barbecue” is 1) an outside grill on which you cook food and 2) the event at which you grill food outside. You can cook pretty much anything you want that fits on the grill this way and call it a barbecue, including vegetables, though the most common seems to be sausages (specifically chipolatas and merguez) and chiken legs. Often served without sauce and with limited seasoning (salt, pepper and provence herbs). Barbecue sauce exists but despite the name is not strongly associated with barbecue events.

    —I have never seen a smoker in my life — if you want smoked food in France, you buy it that way.

    —I have also never seen a slow cooker in my life.

    —Eggnog is an alien concept; why would you make only the least exciting half a floating island and throw away the whites? I also note that wikipedia calls the parboiled whipped egg whites of floating islands a meringue, which sounds weird to French people — a meringue is much, much sweeter and thicker than the egg whites in a floating island.

    —Speaking of whipped egg whites, in France an acceptable way to make chocolate mousse is to melt dark chocolate and incorporate whipped egg whites in it, with no other ingredient. All US recipes seem to call for whipped cream as well.

    —American-style bacon (thick rectangular strips) is not a thing I’ve seen in France. Our bacon comes in round, thin strips (and not many people spontaneously buy bacon anyway).

    —French cooking is a lot more welcoming of offals. It’s not unusual here to have smoked or marinated duck gizzards in a salad, or to eat liver paste (foie gras) around holidays.

    —In general, French people eat a lot of meat in paste form (“pâtés” or “terrines”), which seems uncommon in the US.

    —Forcefed ducks and geese are the source of a variety of dishes quite appreciated by French people: the aforementionned foie gras, duck confit, magret… These do not seem to occure much in American cooking.

    —While the concept of gravy is not completely unknown in French cuisine (under the mouthfull “sauce au jus de viande”), it’s not particularly common. Meat is most often served either with just the juice unaltered, or with specially made sauces on the side (like béarnaise or bourguignonne).

    —US recipes are much more likely to call for liquid sugar like palm or corn syrup. French recipes are generally perfectly content with white or brown caster sugar (or even whole cane sugar), and if some liquid sugar is needed, honey or cane syrup will be the most common choices.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      I’m French-Canadian, and my dad worked for 3 years at the Canadian embassy in Paris, so I’m familiar with both French cooking and Canadian (pretty much American) cooking.

      -French food is superior. They care more about the food being done correctly than being cheap and plentiful. That said, some things, especially wine and cheese, are cheaper and more plentiful in France.

      -There are no big supermarkets in Paris. You can stop by a butcher, a bakery, a cheese shop, and a vegetable market on your way home from work. It’s a bit of a hassle, but the food you get is better.

      -I went to buy watercress at a vegetable market and when I asked for it the man told me (in a very upset tone) that it’s not the season. In Canada and presumably the US we import everything all the time from California or Mexico, which is suboptimal. Respecting the season for fruits and vegetables is the way to go.

      • Infrared Wayne says:

        Can you explain a bit what you mean by suboptimal? Where I’m from (Canadian prairies), “respecting the season” for fruits and vegetables means no fresh fruits or vegetables during most of the year. Also, a lot of things won’t grow here regardless of season and must be imported anyway, from somewhere. Why not California or Mexico?

        • jermo sapiens says:

          As a concrete examples, compare expensive california strawberries in january to cheap quebec strawberries in august.

          I understand that we’re not going to grow avocados and limes in Canada, and i have no issues with that, but for alot of things we end up getting expensive low quality produce because we insist on having everything available 365 days year. The point is not to criticize California or Mexico. The point is that some fruits and vegetables are better during certain seasons and unless you do some research, you wont know what that is because they’re always available at the store.

          • Enkidum says:

            And the sad corollary is that because of economies of scale, inertia, and I dunno what else, a lot of stores only pack the California strawberries, even in June. Such a shame, many people literally have no idea what ripe fruit tastes like, and this is fairly connected to income/postal code.

          • Infrared Wayne says:

            That all makes sense. Thank you for elaborating.

            My family and I do a bit of gardening, as well as a lot of our grocery shopping at farmers’ markets and produce stands during summer and fall. Growing up in what I guess you could call a farm-community bubble, I hadn’t fully considered the point you are making – nor Enkidum’s related one below.

            edit: Turns out I hit the reply button to Enkidum’s post, instead of jermo sapiens’s as intended.

    • MorningGaul says:

      —Vanilla extract is the default form in the US. In France it can be found but is uncommon. The default form is vanilla powder.

      I’m pretty sure i find both in most supermarket.

      —American-style bacon (thick rectangular strips) is not a thing I’ve seen in France. Our bacon comes in round, thin strips (and not many people spontaneously buy bacon anyway).

      Try “poitrine fumée/salée” (fumée being my favourite).

    • Enkidum says:

      In France, a “barbecue” is 1) an outside grill on which you cook food and 2) the event at which you grill food outside.

      This is true of much of North America (most of Canada, anyways). What the South calls “barbecue”, I call “pulled pork”.

      • FLWAB says:

        More specifically, in the American South barbecue refers to meat prepared in a very particular way. What way that is varies based on the state or region within the state, but it is usually pork slow cooked in a special barbecue pit or oven until it is tender and succulent, served with a sauce. What that sauce is changes from place to place: generic “barbecue” sauce is typically a version of Kansas City sauce. Other places use vinegar based sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, all kinds of sauces. And in Texas instead of pork barbecue is beef.

        Everywhere else in the United States barbecue either means that type of food, or what it means in France: food cooked outside on a grill. In the South cooking food outside on a grill is a “cookout” and you would never call it a “barbecue” unless someone was actually cooking barbecue, usually in a pit.

        This song is a fun way of learning more about varieties of barbecue.

    • Aftagley says:

      As a French person who regularly watches cooking videos made by Americans, here are a number of differences I have noticed in the art of cookery across the Atlantic:

      Reading through this, I noticed that most of your observations only really apply to traditional southern cooking. That demographic is really the only one that, for example, are likely to own smokers and deep fat friers, use liquid sugar in their recipes, make common use of gravy or care strongly about barbecue. Once you get outside that region, a bunch of these observations really fall away.

      I’m kind of interested now: is the international perception of American gastronomy that we all eat like we live in Georgia?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’m… not sure we have more than a couple regional cuisines. If I go up to SE Division or Hawthorne in Portland where the famous foodie places start, I can get food from foreign cultures, Southern food, or the kind of generic American food that has German names (like hamburgers). “Northwest food” isn’t a thing.
        Besides Southern, there’s Texmex. American Chinese food is very distinct from Chinese. What’s, like, New England cuisine?

        • EchoChaos says:

          I’m… not sure we have more than a couple regional cuisines.

          That seems low. We have California coastal, California inland, Pacific Northwest, Mountains, etc. all with their own cuisines and that’s before even getting to the Great Plains.

          Now, the nice thing is it’s relatively easy to sample Pacific Northwestern coffee and seafood because the best of each region gets spread via fast food.

          Besides Southern, there’s Texmex. American Chinese food is very distinct from Chinese.

          There are about four varieties of Mexican food in America, each dramatically different (New Mexico Mexican is the best).

          What’s, like, New England cuisine?

          Sadness and chowder.

          • Plumber says:

            Sadness and chowder

            And if that isn’t already the name of a rock band I’ll be shocked and disappointed!

        • Nick says:

          What’s, like, New England cuisine?

          I’m not qualified to answer this question, but FWIW when I went to Boston all I ate was seafood.

        • Aftagley says:

          I’m… not sure we have more than a couple regional cuisines.

          I think it depends on what you mean. I agree that we most US regional cuisines aren’t as “deep” as french cooking, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them. I’ll agree though, when it comes to cooking, no region has as developed a culinary tradition in America as Southern Cooking.

          But, that being said, I’m just surprised at the stereotype that Americans all own smokers and deep fat fryers and put gravy on everything. I always thought our international reputation was that we only ate burgers.

          • acymetric says:

            For smokers, my experience (in the south) is that there’s usually “that one guy” that smokes stuff and has a smoker, and everyone else just eats it. Smokers are certainly not ubiquitous (although they are becoming more common as smoking meat at home is becoming trendy).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            For smokers, my experience (in the south) is that there’s usually “that one guy” that smokes stuff

            Hee hee (I am twelve).

          • gbdub says:

            More people should own smokers. I have an electric outdoor cabinet model that uses wood chips. Purists would scoff, but the food tastes as good as “true” wood burning smokers. It was about $200 and has plenty of room to cook for a decent dinner party (I easily fed 30 people on pork butt and tri tip from one run).

            It is super simple and dirt cheap to operate. The best part is you can make really tasty food from cheap cuts of meat, and stuff like pulled pork and brisket reheat well. Smoke on Sunday and eat all week.

            Overeating smoked food probably increases your cancer risk somewhat though I guess. Otherwise a brilliant cooking style you Frenchies should try sometime.

        • Nornagest says:

          “Northwest food” isn’t a thing.

          There might not be a regional cuisine as such, but there’s definitely a regional food culture. The food truck scene basically doesn’t exist anywhere else (there are food trucks, but not like Portland does them); the brunch scene isn’t quite that unique but it’s still a Portland institution. Pub food’s also unusually well developed there, thanks to the law saying that bars need to serve food until closing. And some other bits and pieces: Aardvark sauce, for example, or hard cider.

          The more punchy (but somewhat less accurate) way of putting it is that Northwest food is a thing, and it looks like kimchi tacos.

          • FLWAB says:

            I think the difference between cuisine and food culture is the relevant one. Yes, there are a lot of regional food cultures in America. But from Anchorage to Miami you can find restaurants specifically serving “Southern” food. You don’t find anywhere outside the Pacific Northwest advertising themselves as a “Northwest” restaurant. That’s basically the bar to jump: could you start a restaurant serving food from another region of the country and successfully market yourself as being “that kind of restaurant.” I can find specifically Italian, “Chinese”, Japanese, Mexican, Southern, Korean, Vietnamese, French, and even Russian restaurants in my city (Russian is a bit out there for most places, but we have a significant Russian population so if you need some borscht or piroshki you can find it). The only American cuisine besides Southern that might qualify based on the restaurant metric is Tex-Mex, but I’m not at all sure about that.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Possibly too narrow to count but you do kinda get this with pizza places. New York-style pizza, California Pizza Kitchen, Chicago-style pizza… I’ve even seen the occasional St Louis- or Detroit-style pizza places

          • FLWAB says:

            @Gobbobobble

            True! A New York pizza place is very distinct and identifiable compared to your average pizza vender. The question is, can you call a single dish a cuisine?

          • Nornagest says:

            The only American cuisine besides Southern that might qualify based on the restaurant metric is Tex-Mex, but I’m not at all sure about that.

            California cuisine would certainly qualify by the restaurant metric. Louisiana too. (And Hawaii, but that’s arguably not American in the relevant sense.)

            It’d fail the restaurant metric, but I’d still argue that the Midwest has a distinctive vernacular cuisine: when I visited Illinois recently for a family thing, the food I ate there had almost no overlap with what I’d be eating on my native West Coast.

          • FLWAB says:

            @Nornagest

            I’d forgotten about Hawaiian! That is definitely a distinct cuisine and meets the restaurant criteria. As far as Californian cuisine, I’ll have to take your word on it. I don’t know of any restaurants in my city that bill themselves as selling “Californian food” but I’m not exactly hip to new food trends, and the city I live in is not exactly a cultural hub.

            What would you say are the hallmarks of Midwest food culture?

          • hls2003 says:

            New Mexican cuisine, especially northern New Mexican, I think qualifies for its own genre. I have seen restaurants advertising it specifically, a couple outside the area (and within the area, restaurants advertising it are pretty ubiquitous).

          • Nornagest says:

            What would you say are the hallmarks of Midwest food culture?

            Casseroles for days (though they’d be called hotdish in many states). Lots of cheese, butter, and cream, not a lot of spices. Thick stews. A staggering variety of baked desserts. More Scandinavian influence than in most of the US.

            Think Jello salad, fried cheese curds, tater tot hotdish.

          • acymetric says:

            Agreed on Louisiana, although that really breaks down to Cajun and Creole more than “Louisiana”.

            I’m not sure about California, other than that anything with avocado ends up getting called a “California [food item]”.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            I was about to say that the quintessential Midwestern food is biscuits and gravy, where the biscuits are the soft-dough baking powder article that I’m told is rarely found in Europe, and the gravy is an extremely rich and fatty cream-based sauce made with sausage. But I just checked Wikipedia and it says this dish is associated primarily with the South, so I guess that’s my Hoosier chauvinism coming out.

            Also, “St. Louis style” pizza is something to steer clear of.

          • acymetric says:

            The midwest has a lot in common with the south in terms of food/culinary habits, except sub out BBQ/smoking (the south) for brats and stews (as someone else mentioned, the midwest has a lot of stews going on).

          • gbdub says:

            I feel like American “comfort food” has distinct North/Midwest and Southern, although there is overlap. Makes sense with the climate – Midwest food is heavier on onions, potatoes, relatively limited seasonings. More beef and dairy. Southern food has veggies unheard of in the north (collards, okra) and more spices. Seemingly more sugar and sugar syrups (especially molasses). Lots of corn, chicken, pork in both.

            My family’s (Michigan) traditional Sunday dinner was either meatloaf or braised pork chops (with lots of onion), mashed potatoes, and a veggie (usually corn, carrots, or green beans. Sometimes green bean casserole). Seemed pretty typical for the area.

          • JonathanD says:

            Also, “St. Louis style” pizza is something to steer clear of.

            Only if you want to steer clear of deliciousness.

          • acymetric says:

            After a bit of quick Googling to see what St. Louis Style pizza is, I’m going to pass.

            I’m always down for a St. Louis Style bagel though.

          • Aftagley says:

            I don’t think I’ve ever had something explicitly described as St. Louis style pizza, but it looks in the same ballpark as a thin crust pizza you’d get at dominos or anywhere else. Is that the case?

            Because if so, I’ve finally found a regional pizza I can wholeheartedly support.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            @Aftagley

            St Louis pizza is most clearly defined as:

            Thin crust
            Including sugar in the crust
            No leavening (cracker-y)
            Topped with Provel, a cheese endemic to the region which is notorious for staying melted even once it has fully cooled and having the texture of softened butter

            Dominos uses leavened dough and to my knowledge does not tap into the dark arts of Provel and its kin. It’s really quite something, St Louis Pizza, but it is altogether different from what broadly-appealing franchises might sell.

          • acymetric says:

            I can’t give a first-hand account, but it sounds like it is crispier/crunchier than that (more like a cracker than a typical thin-crust pizza).

            Apparently the standard cheese is a blend of provolone, cheddar, and swiss instead of mozzerella also, YMMV on whether that is an improvement or not.

          • bean says:

            St. Louis style pizza is pretty bad, and I say that as someone who grew up there and had to eat a fair bit of it.

            St. Louis’s true gift to the world of cuisine is Ted Drewes.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve had thin crust pizza that looks just like it, though I can’t say off the top of my head whether it was leavened or not, or whether it uses this three-cheese “Provel” blend Wikipedia mentions. Looks really good, though.

          • acymetric says:

            I mean, it looks fine, I would eat it, and it would probably taste good assuming it was made well, but if I were ranking my preferences or pizza style it would probably be near the bottom.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            I’ve never heard anyone who didn’t spend their childhood in St. Louis express a liking for provel cheese. It’s a taste that has to be acquired early.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Oh, hey, I’m relevant to this conversation.

            I grew up in Kansas City (which has the only true barbecue, ignore the heretics extolling the false idols of Texas or Carolina barbecue), and moved to St. Louis for work. Lived in the city for five years.

            St. Louis pizza is thin crust smothered in provel cheese. Personally, I find provel (and St. Louis pizza) delicious. I love me some good Imo’s. This, despite my pro-KC and anti-St. Louis chauvinism.

            STL pizza is a love-it-or-hate-it thing. I’m in the love it camp. Just count me as a data point that you certainly don’t have to be a native to enjoy it.

            Ted Drewes is wonderful as well. Toasted ravioli is overrated.

    • The Nybbler says:

      A lot of people don’t own deep friers in the US either (or smokers). What you call “half-brown” rice is called “semi-polished” and is available but is not common.

      And yeah, US egg sizes are silly. Commonly available in my area are Medium, Large, Extra Large, and Jumbo.

      Barbecue is a regional thing. In the northeast, the thing you use for grilling is often called a “barbecue” (or “barbecue grill”) just like you describe, and an event with outdoor grilling might also be called a “barbecue”.

      • DarkTigger says:

        Egg sizes (mostly M and L but I think I have seen S and XL), are a thing in Germany just over the border from France. I would have guessed it’s a EU regulation thing.

      • gbdub says:

        In the US most recipes assume using large eggs. Other sizes are in the store but I don’t really know why. I assume most eggs that don’t fit the “grade A large” criteria get turned into various prepared food products made on large enough scales where you go by weight not egg count.

    • John Schilling says:

      —In France, a “barbecue” is 1) an outside grill on which you cook food and 2) the event at which you grill food outside. You can cook pretty much anything you want that fits on the grill this way and call it a barbecue, including vegetables, though the most common seems to be sausages (specifically chipolatas and merguez) and chiken legs.

      Yes, this is one of the more common heresies, and hardly unknown in the United States. But, interestingly, I recently learned that even Sweden is beginning to Get It, and the Danes are arranging weekly pilgrimages for True Barbecue. So there is hope for France, i think.

      Australia will probably require an actual Crusade.

      • Watchman says:

        The issue is the Aussies have cultural allies in South Africa, New Zealand and to a much less religious level of commitment (it rains you know old boy) the British Isles. And they have natural allies in South America (the land of grilling anything, anywhere).

        This one has WWIII potential…

        • gbdub says:

          What do the British Isles have to do with it? I don’t get the impression they have much true barbecue there either.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      —If you own a deep frier in France (and many people don’t), it’s pretty much exclusively to make french fries.

      Nominative determinism strikes again?

    • acymetric says:

      —If you own a deep frier in France (and many people don’t), it’s pretty much exclusively to make french fries.

      I don’t think very many Americans own a deep fryer. I’m 31 and can’t think of a single time I’ve seen one in a person’s home (maybe they have all been hiding them from me?). Are these videos home-cooking or is it restaurant oriented (or is it some kind of actual full blown cooking show, which is going to tend to resemble restaurant setup much more than it will a home setup)?

      —In France, a “barbecue” is 1) an outside grill on which you cook food and 2) the event at which you grill food outside.

      Other people have covered this, I’ll note @FLWAB as having probably the best explanation, and @John Schilling for the response that I relate to the most.

      —Eggnog is an alien concept; why would you make only the least exciting half a floating island and throw away the whites?

      I had never heard of a floating island before, but Eggnog is delicious. I don’t care for it much as an alcoholic drink (spiked with spiced rum), I just like it straight.

      —US recipes are much more likely to call for liquid sugar like palm or corn syrup. French recipes are generally perfectly content with white or brown caster sugar (or even whole cane sugar), and if some liquid sugar is needed, honey or cane syrup will be the most common choices.

      I haven’t ever noticed this. I can’t recall ever using (or hearing about) a home cooking recipe that called for palm or corn syrup. To the extent that, although I’m sure I’ve walked right by it a million times in stores and possibly in people’s homes, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a bottle of either. A lot of prepackaged foods, fast foods, and maybe sit-down restaurant foods (less sure here) use them, but I don’t think they’re a big part of home-cooking.

      • gbdub says:

        Plain sugar / corn syrup (as opposed to flavored syrups like maple, honey, molasses…) is pretty much only called for in dishes that require the end result to be, well, syrupy (or when a supersaturated dissolved sugar solution is really useful). Like Pecan Pie.

        Interestingly in the Midwest we use a lot of brown sugar for baking, but seemingly very little straight molasses.

        We had a countertop deep fryer but never used it. They are a pain in the ass, messy, kind of dangerous. Plus the health craze killed it. The only home deep frying anyone seems to do anymore is using big outdoor turkey fryers for parties. Fried chicken and various “chicken fried” dishes are more commonly made in deep cast iron pans, which are just as good for small batches of most fried things.

    • French people tend to use lemon as their generic cooking citrus (to the consternation of several Americans I’ve told this to).

      I would have said that lemon is the generic cooking citrus in the U.S as well, although lime isn’t uncommon.

      • acymetric says:

        I would say lime is most common for tex-mex/southwestern cuisine more than anything else. Certainly you see lemon with a lot of dishes.

    • Elementaldex says:

      I am sad for you that you have never seen a slow cooker. I hope someday you have the opportunity to bask in ones presence.

      • gbdub says:

        French cuisine has a lot of braises, right? That’s kind of the best of slow cooker cooking there anyway. The slow cooker just makes it a little more convenient.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      This is fascinating. I think someone else has already gotten to the heart of the puzzle – at least, if what you’re describing is Southern, that explains why it seems so odd – but speaking as an American from a very different culture (East Coast, North more than South, and currently living in California…)

      – We have vanilla powder in the cupboard, but I’ve never used it and don’t know how; I assumed it was a dodge to get around the alcohol content of normal vanilla (that is, extract) since every so often you run into someone with an allergy. Or else a cool thing to play with; we pick up a lot of those for cooking. So you’re basically spot-on there. I’ve never seen it in a grocery store.

      – Chilis are right on.

      – Lemon is the standard cooking citrus; the idea of anyone expressing consternation over that is bizarre. Limes are used in Mexican and Persian cooking, and occasionally when people want to be fancy, but I’ve never seen them as default, and never used them myself. Most people planting a citrus tree (in California) for cooking rather than direct eating plant lemon; you see lime, but it’s IME one of the rarest citrus.

      – I know one person with a deep fryer, and she grew up in a restaurant (and is chinese) and carefully got her personal kitchen as close to restaurant-quality as possible. She probably made french fries once upon a time, but I don’t remember; she’s currently very health-conscious, and I’ve never seen her use that part of her setup.

      – Most American recipes don’t bother about egg size, though you can buy them in different sizes. But if you look at, say, the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the package, I’m pretty sure it calls for two eggs. Technically egg sizes have been getting larger over time, and someone who cares a lot may know that and account for it, but it’s more likely to come in in the context of “why doesn’t this old recipe work right? It said three eggs and I used three eggs… oh, it’s that old!” than “use two large eggs…”

      – I agree with you about the definition of barbecue, except that veggies don’t count – you can technically grill vegetables, but I don’t think anyone would call it barbecue, or if they did there would be an ironic note to it. If someone is having a barbecue for Fourth of July, say, the expectation is that the barbecue part is meat, and people will bring veggie side dishes to go with. IME home backyard barbecue often involves marinades, or rubs, but not barbecue sauce. That’s a different kind of barbecue; known, but not what people mean when they say they’re holding one.

      – Smokers are fancy special-purpose gadgets; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. Slow-cookers are default and many people have one; we do, though it’s old and doesn’t get much use. They’re billed as low-effort home cooking for working people; whether they actually work for the aforesaid purpose is a subject of debate.

      – Organ meat used to be more common, but is now quite rare. You can get the cuts at the local Chinese supermarket, but probably not the American one; however, whole turkeys/chickens come with the various organs (and neck) in a little bag inside them, and Dad usually either roasts them or puts them in gravy. There are more old recipes for organ meat which are definitely American, but they seem to be falling out of favor.

      – People occasionally cook duck; you find it in Chinese/Thai/probably-something-I’m-forgetting cooking and in high-end restaurants. You can find it in grocery stores uncooked, but it’s a pain; you have to go round rather a lot of places, especially if you want roasting rather than stewing duck. It’s a pity, because it’s very good. The only people I can think of who cook geese are people who are trying to be European. (Also a pity; we seem to be focused on chicken, but other birds are often much nicer.) Out here at least you occasionally also get quail.

      – Gravy is what you do with the turkey drippings at Thanksgiving/Christmas; we don’t have it much the rest of the year, again a pity because Dad makes very good gravy. But it’s too rich. To clarify, what I mean by gravy starts by making a roux with fat and drippings, and then adding lots of flavorings/the roasted and cut up organs/etc. until it tastes right. We usually serve meat cooked in sauces, rather than with sauces on the side, but we wouldn’t call them gravy.

      – Nobody I know cooks with corn syrup, or would consider doing it, to my knowledge. I’m probably missing somebody, but checking my own instincts it’s not merely not done; it’s very nearly taboo. High-fructose corn syrup is “that stuff companies put in products because it’s cheap due to our regulatory scheme being messed up.” We use white sugar, brown sugar, and honey; brown sugar is viewed as healthier, as is honey to some extent, though sugar is sugar. I do think the generic syrup that some people put on pancakes might be corn syrup, or corn-syrup-based, but I don’t know; I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I don’t use it or pay much attention to it.

      • John Schilling says:

        Nobody I know cooks with corn syrup, or would consider doing it, to my knowledge. I’m probably missing somebody, but checking my own instincts it’s not merely not done; it’s very nearly taboo.

        Corn syrup is I believe pretty standard for Pecan Pie, which apparently every self-respecting Southern housewife is expected to prepare at the slightest excuse. Otherwise, yes, rare.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          I’ve heard that the reason for Pecan Pie’s proliferation beyond the Pecan growing regions of the South (and presumably molasses-y origins) was in large part due to a marketing campaign by Karo. This isn’t at all uncommon in the history of American desserts. I believe Key Lime Pie had a similar route to prominence on the back of cans of condensed milk. Despite being invented in New York City it was even adopted by its alleged home town for extra legitimacy.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I’ve seen corn syrup used as a specialized ingredient in recipes that need a thick liquid sweetener with a neutral flavor, such as pecan pie, homemade marshmallows, or some kinds of cookies (cookies made with syrups tend to have smoother and chewier textures than the more common recipes which use brown or white sugar).

        If you want a liquid sugar, most of your choices have strong inherent flavors: maple syrup, honey, molasses, etc. They’re often used in recipes where their flavors are intended as the star of the show (e.g. molasses cookies), or at least a major supporting player. If you just want the sweetness and the chemical effect of a liquid sugar, the main choices are corn syrup and simple syrup. Simple syrup, as the name implies, is easy to make (white sugar boiled into a roughly equal quantity of water), but not quite as easy as opening a bottle of corn syrup.

        Yes, pancake syrup is often corn syrup with artificial flavorings. Any pancake syrup sold in the US that isn’t labelled specifically as something else (usually maple, but I’ve also heard of molasses being used as pancake syrup) is probably corn syrup based.

        I’m pretty sure there’s also a regional component, as you alluded to in your preamble, with corn syrup being used more as a home ingredient in the South and Midwest, while being extremely rare in the Northeast and the West Coast.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          I’m from Chicago, so that’s a bit of Midwest. But yes, I’m quite sure there’s a regional component. I’ve never made marshmellows or pecan pie, so fair enough; I can imagine the friend who used to make marshmellows using it. Specialized ingredients for a very specialized corner of cooking. The closest to candy-making I’ve gotten is chocolate-covered strawberries or possibly candied orange peels, but that’s not very close.

          You’re right about molasses; I wasn’t thinking of it as a sugar (as opposed to a sweet flavoring liquid), though I suppose it is, but it shows up a lot in old recipes. Or reasonably good recipes aimed at being healthy; it goes well with whole grains.

          (Also, for the record, we do have a bottle of simple syrup on our shelves! Dad made it for use in medieval Islamic recipes. … But I’ve never seen non-SCA people use it that I can recall.)

          • Eric Rall says:

            I think simple syrup is also a specialized ingredient. I’ve seen it used in mixed drinks, and Nybbler described, since it dissolves much more readily in cold drinks than regular sugar. I’ve made batches for the purpose of sweetening iced tea, for the same reason. I’ve also seen sorbet recipes that call for simple syrup.

            It also shows up implicitly as part of other recipes, in a way that’s easy to miss unless you’re looking for it. For example, the standard recipe for fresh cranberry sauce has you make a batch of simple syrup, then boil the cranberries into it. Or caramelized-sugar candy recipes (fudge, nougat, taffy, hard candies, etc), which typically start out by having you make simple syrup and then continue to boil it until it caramelizes to the desired degree.

          • Lambert says:

            SImple syrup sounds like something that’s easier to mix up as and when needed.
            Though I’m aware it’s used in cocktail-making.

            I’m surprised to google that the Abbassids had sugar cane.

        • The Nybbler says:

          You can buy simple syrup pre-made, also. I do, mostly for mixed drinks. Also agave syrup for the trendy; I think the “light” version has had most of the agave flavor processed out of it.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        Vanilla powder is in my experience strictly inferior to extract. I suspect this is because of a lack of alcohol soluble flavors and a penchant for being adulterated with flavorless fiber. But high quality stuff is useful if you’re making a premade hot cocoa mix or perhaps your own pancake mix. Anything in which you want as many ingredients to remain dry and powdery and not require the final user to have vanilla extract on hand when it comes to mix. So for an American kitchen, probably never? Even non baking households manage to have that ancient bottle of synthetic vanilla in the pantry for the occasional toll house cookie.

        Corn syrup is fantastically useful in candy and ice cream making at home, so generally outside the purview of most home cooks in America. In the rest of the world however I think simple syrup, invert sugars, gomme syrup, and golden syrup are more common for candy making. High Fructose Corn Syrup is in everything but our mother’s milk and even that’s unclear, but home cooks aren’t working with that unless they’re quite modernist.

      • Nornagest says:

        I do think the generic syrup that some people put on pancakes might be corn syrup, or corn-syrup-based, but I don’t know

        If you don’t buy (much more expensive) maple syrup, storebought pancake syrup is usually based on corn syrup with caramel flavoring. It’s not unheard of for plain corn syrup to be used as a pancake and waffle topping (growing up, my dad and his relatives sometimes used “Karo” brand, usually found in the baking section), either, but it’s nowhere near universal, and some Americans (such as my mom’s side of the family) find it disgusting.

        Incidentally, you can make a perfectly acceptable pancake syrup in minutes at home, by heating equal volumes brown sugar, white sugar, and water in a saucepan until the mixture’s clear and flows easily.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          Incidentally, you can make a perfectly acceptable pancake syrup in minutes at home, by heating equal volumes brown sugar, white sugar, and water in a saucepan until the mixture’s clear and flows easily.

          Thank you for the tip! I don’t use the stuff myself (no sweet tooth; fresh fruit or plain), but that means knowing how to make it could be very useful if I ever host someone who does.

          We used maple syrup or nothing when I was a kid, but it was quite often nothing – often enough that the maple syrup had a tendency to turn into maple sugar in the bottle. Dad’s rule was that he’d cook fresh fruit into the pancakes and let us eat it with our fingers, but only if we didn’t use syrup – syrup was too messy. Maple syrup that gets used maybe once a year is surprisingly inexpensive…

          • Lambert says:

            If a sugar syrup like maple or honey crystallises in the bottle, either microwave for 10-20s or leave in very hot water for a few minutes.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’ve been told this trick, but I’m always afraid to do it because I always have honey in plastic bottles. Would that survive microwaving?

          • I don’t think plastic would be a problem.

            The problem I have encountered is when the honey bottle has a label with printing on it in something conductive, producing unfortunate results in the microwave.

          • Lambert says:

            Should be fine, so long as you don’t overdo it.
            Sugar syrups get very hot very quickly and unevenly.
            Maybe do multiple 5 second bursts with time to even out in between till it’s moderately hot.

          • acymetric says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Try microwaving a paper plate that (unbeknownst to us) had metal wire running through it to make it sturdier.

          • AG says:

            I’ve had honey bottles melt in the microwave. It depends on what plastic a manufacturer uses.

            So now if I need to re-melt honey crystals, I use as much of the non-crytal honey as much as possible, or pour it into another container. I then add a small amount of hot water to the honey bottle, and shake it so that the crystals aren’t in a solid mass at the bottom. I pour this solution into a glass container, and then microwave that to melt the crystals and boil the water back out.

    • beleester says:

      —I have also never seen a slow cooker in my life.

      This is the one that really shocked me. Like, deep fryers and smokers are specialty tools – they’re not particularly common even in America. But a slow cooker? It’s great for all sorts of things and it’s dead simple to use. You put food in it, turn it on for eight hours, and magic happens.

      • FLWAB says:

        I have to agree: everybody has a slow cooker! And if they don’t, their mom has one.

        • bullseye says:

          My mom calls hers a “crock pot”. I wasn’t sure a “slow cooker” was the same thing until I looked it up. I’m from Georgia and my mom is from North Carolina.

          • FLWAB says:

            Yeah we always called it a crock pot too. I’m from the west coast and my mom’s family is from the Dakotas. Slow cooker seems to be more universal though.

          • acymetric says:

            In both NC and OH I’ve always heard it called a crock pot. The only place I’ve seen it called a slow cooker was here, although I was able to pretty quickly identify what people were referring to from the context of what they were using it for.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            California, originally Chicago, spend a lot of time online, and I hear them as very nearly synonymous. I think I would say crock pot, and I would have assumed that was a specific tool and slow cooker was the generic term for that tool, but that may be overgeneralizing – I can’t actually think of an example of a non-crock-pot slow cooker.

          • Plumber says:

            @bullseye > “My mom calls hers a “crock pot”. I wasn’t sure a “slow cooker” was the same thing until I looked it up. I’m from Georgia and my mom is from North Carolina”

            I strongly suspect that this is about age not region, just like we all used to say “Xerox the page” instead of “photo copy”.

            “Crock pot” is a brand name and instead of “slow cooking” we just called it “crock pot it” in the ’70’s, other brands of electric “slow cookers” were unknown to us back then.

    • Clutzy says:

      I dont know if anyone has pointed this out but this statement is egregious:

      —Eggnog is an alien concept; why would you make only the least exciting half a floating island and throw away the whites? I also note that wikipedia calls the parboiled whipped egg whites of floating islands a meringue, which sounds weird to French people — a meringue is much, much sweeter and thicker than the egg whites in a floating island.

      The yolk is the best part of the egg by a significant margin. Particularly in the uncooked or undercooked form. That this was a concern of yours threw me off 100%. I do not trust your evaluation of anything. I’ve been to French places. They love yolks.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I assume the many varieties of fresh chili peppers thing is a matter of having a strong hispanic presence, and I bet it varies by region in the US.

      I’ve never heard of half brown rice, though I have heard of degrees of browness for rice in Asia. I’ve never seen anything but brown or white rice for sale in the US.

      Slow cookers (and especially the InstantPot) are practically their own cultures in the US. My impression is that French cooking includes slow cooking, but without a special device for it.

      Eggnog has nutmeg or cinnamon. Floating island doesn’t have spices?

      I think of American bacon as being in thin strips and British and Irish bacon being in thick slices (rashers). I have no idea whether they eat “Canadian bacon” in Canada. Discussion of various bacon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen round bacon for sale.

      Is duck confit necessarily from a force fed duck? I thought is was just a duck leg.

      From what I’ve seen, duck mostly shows up in the US as part of Chinese cooking.

      Gravy was a really common thing when I was a kid in the 60s, but it seems to have faded out quite a bit.

      In Philadelphia and a few other places, what is usually called spaghetti sauce is called gravy.

      • Aapje says:

        Instant Pot is a modern version of a pressure cooker, which is not at all the same as a slow cooker. Pretty much the opposite, actually.

        • Enkidum says:

          I was under the impression it did both pressure and slow cooking, with some handy-dandy timer stuff?

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            It’s a “multicooker” so yes, it’s a countertop slow cooker, pressure cooker, electric skillet, rice cooker, yogurt incubator, etc.

          • acymetric says:

            Instant Pot is probably pretty handy, but the wild, over the top obsession owners have with them makes me never want to have one.

          • achenx says:

            Instant Pot is probably pretty handy, but the wild, over the top obsession owners have with them makes me never want to have one.

            I felt similarly, though I gave in and got one when my old slow cooker died, and it does work very well. I looked at other brands too, mainly for the vain branding exercise of avoiding the thing that millennials who cook recipes they saw in Instagram videos use, but every review I saw said that Instant Pot really was the best brand, so.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Instant pots are legit handy. So are slow-cookers.
            Nothing beats an honest-to-God braise, though. Crock pot dishes are weak imitations of the real thing.

          • Aapje says:

            @acymetric

            Pressure cookers are pretty old technology with a big advantage in losing fewer nutrients, fast cooking, that boiling can be done with much less liquid and low energy use. They went out of fashion, but the Instant Pot is just a rediscovery of the same thing, but with modern tech advantages:
            – Even less liquid & energy loss (because it measures pressure and adjusts heating, rather than have a release valve to control pressure & because it is insulated)
            – Safer to be around (or have children around) due to insulation
            – A built-in stop timer means that you don’t have to turn off the heating manually & that results are more repeatable
            – A built-in start timer means that you can schedule it
            – Because it is electric, you don’t need to occupy a burner
            – Multifunctional, so you don’t need a counter full of shit.

            Just because there is a big contingent of food snobs who are quite irritating, doesn’t make it a bad product. If you want to feel better about it, just imagine that you are rediscovering what your grandma used.

          • noyann says:

            @Aapje
            > Pressure cookers are pretty old technology with a big advantage in …

            … that the higher temperatures inactivate a good number of food allergens [edit: you might want to test if you cook long enough, depending on allergen].

            [edit 2: link, link]

      • acymetric says:

        In Philadelphia and a few other places, what is usually called spaghetti sauce is called gravy.

        I normally find variations in language/word usage across the US interesting, but this has greatly annoyed me ever since I learned about it about a year ago. “Bubblers” is in a similar boat, but at least that word doesn’t actually mean something else and it sound silly enough to make me smile when I imagine people calling it that.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I have been told (by an Italian) that calling “spaghetti sauce” “gravy” is an Italian thing.

          • achenx says:

            I think specifically Italian-American, of the type surrounding NY/NJ/Philly.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I can confirm that for my experience. My father grew up in an Italian immigrant community in a New Jersey suburb of New York City, and he often says “gravy” or “tomato gravy” instead of “spaghetti sauce”.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Sauce vs. gravy— it’s complicated, and there’s no solid theory about why it’s gravy in some places.

          Also, I’ve been told that there is no word for what is usually called gravy in sauce=gravy regions because they don’t do the meat juice sort of gravy.

    • achenx says:

      You can smoke pork (etc) on many types of outdoor grill as well, you don’t necessarily need a specialized smoker.

      The Serious Eats website maintains that almost anything that can be done in a slow cooker can be done better in other ways (mainly dutch oven or pressure cooker). People may get more nervous about leaving their oven on all day at a low temperature, though if anything the countertop slow cooker is probably a slightly higher risk. Our slow cooker died last year and we replaced it with the Instant Pot pressure cooker. Instant Pot can theoretically do slow cooking as well, though it’s not a function we have found a lot of need for.

      To add an anecdote to the “barbecue” discussion: I lived in areas ranging from the midwest to New England growing up (i.e., what a southerner would call “the North”), and “barbecue” always connoted just “grilling”. Now I get picky about the definition; whether that’s due to wider cultural changes, myself becoming more aware of cooking knowledge, or living closer to “the South”, or all three, I can’t say.

      Re: corn syrup. I’ve never seen it used in “cooking”, as distinguished from “baking”. It’s still a relatively rare ingredient in baking in my experience, though my chocolate chip cookie recipe uses it. As far as baking goes, liquid sugar is pretty interchangeable, just with different flavors: corn syrup is used for a neutral flavor. Others brought up pecan pie as a common use; I use cane syrup for pecan pie but yes that’s one option. In general I more often use cane syrup now in any recipe, but I’ve found cane syrup to be rarer than corn syrup in the US, possibly for the same reason that HFCS is more common than cane sugar in processed food (i.e., corn subsidies).

    • Machine Interface says:

      So, it does seem the majority of the recipes I’ve seen are from southern cuisine. One of my favorite youtube channels for recipes is FoodWishes, which is run by a professional chef from his home (albeit quite well equiped) kitchen. He’s not a southerner himself and does recipes from all over the world, but it does seem his choice of american recipes gravitate strongly around southern dishes.

      On “floating islands”, I think the best way to convey this is the following analogy: imagine being served barbecue sauce, with no meat. You’re told the sauce is the dish. That’s how I feel about being served sauce-consistency custard without poached whipped egg whites (solid custards like flan are another story). Oh and @Nancy Lebovitz > vanilla is a spice, change my mind.

      • Nornagest says:

        If someone served me a mug of eggnog and called it a meal, I wouldn’t be happy, but it’s never billed that way. It’s a drink. Sometimes served as a dessert, but only in the way that hot chocolate or buttered rum would be.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        The South is America’s culinary heart and soul. Also during the Recession it came quite strongly into fashion in a new way so it doesn’t surprise me that it informs a lot of American cooking you’ve seen.

        I’m a devoted lover of all things foamy and meringues and floating islands are no exception. But eggnog at least has its origins as a beverage and not as a Creme Anglaise gone wrong. Compare Advocaat and historical possets.

        Vanilla is a spice. But in America it’s what people think cream tastes like because our milk has historically been flavorless and synthetic vanilla is the cosmic background radiation of dessert.

  24. bean says:

    Unfortunately, the OKC meetup was a bust. The only people who showed up were me and Lord Nelson. And while I greatly enjoy her company, I don’t have to go to a meetup for it.

    I have contact info for a couple of SSCers in the area, and may try to put together something people will actually go to later on.

    • Aftagley says:

      Unfortunately, the OKC meetup was a bust.

      I guess that’s why you don’t organize rationalist meetups on a dating website? (/s)

    • Ttar says:

      I’m in the OKC area but had a prior commitment during the meetup by the time it was announced here on SSC. I’d potentially be interested in meeting other SSC folks, though. Feel free to include me on communication re future OKC events — wernerbferrone at Gmail dot com.

  25. Watchman says:

    I’d like to revisit Turchin’s idea of elite overproduction. Something about this has been bothering me, and I think I’ve figured it out. Turchin sees elite overproduction as part of a cycle leading to periodic crises: a situation where there are more members of the elite than capacity for them leading to divisive internal competition. It might surprise those who read my somewhat intemperate analyses of the data Turchin used to find out that I don’t think this idea is flawed. I just think it is a rather unremarkable truism.

    The key to understanding how you arrive at the idea of elite overproduction seems to be Turchin’s unusually flexible definition of elites, which encompasses both aristocratic and political elites, so medieval European barons are not differentiated from nineteenth-century American office seekers; it’s a conception whereby someone seeking the right to fortify his holding in twelfth-century Normandy is directly comparable to someone who wants to be the postmaster for Logan County, Ohio*. This definition effectively means elite are those seeking to advance their position through participating in the political system of the day. The entry requirements might be land, or a position in the patronage network, or competitive exams. It might in some societies even be outright violence. In each case though the elite are those using established methods to attempt to gain some of the benefits of power. This actually is a good working definition for elite: those in a position to compete for a share of power, however that is constituted.

    So far, so good. Turchin has produced a flexible definition of elite that is a marked improvement on anything class-based or fixed to control of resources. It reflects the key fact in comparative history that the basis of power can vary tremendously: take ninth-century Iberia where power could variously be based on religious knowledge, popular acclaim, personal proximity to an imperial court or simply the ability to control territory across various polities. This diversity just becomes more extreme if you start expanding your study area over time and space.

    The problem is though that having more people competing for power than can wield it is a feature of every system. A communist state always has more bureaucrats than places to promote them; there were always more clergy in the church than high offices; land was more limited than the number of people holding it. An oversupply of elite is as far as I can tell universal (it might not happen in caste-based societies but I am not familiar enough with these to say). Indeed, it is probably a required part of a stable political system, since the system needs to cope with the potential loss of a chunk of the elite (war, disease, religious conversion, purge…) and since competition for places likely improves the standard of those wielding power. The only time there is unlikely to be overproduction of elite is when a new power structure has been imposed and the qualifications for participating in this remain unclear. This would be a short-term situation as even if the new power structure is ethnically-based, say Han domination of the surrounding barbarians or European colonisation, there will be a level whereby the best qualified (local strongman, talented administrators) can become an elite by tapping and modulating the ruling group’s power. Once established, whilst the composition of an elite might vary over time, the presence of an elite seems universal, and the elite will remain until the political system against which their elite status is defined itself changes or is replaced. This seems to be the corollary of defining elite as those in a position to compete for power from within a system; as long as the system exists an elite larger than the system’s requirements will also exist.

    Thus I contend that elite overproduction is in reality just a normal situation, whereby any system has more potential wielders of power than positions from which power can be wielded. All political systems are inherently unstable and subject to renegotiation (democracy’s great strength is its ability to do this within an existing framework), but having elite overproduction does not seem to be a driver for this. Where you have what we might call elite overproduction overproduction, whereby for whatever reason there is no cap on the size of the elite, so there is a growing number of elite excluded from power, then this could be a reason for systematic change. However, elite overproduction overproduction doesn’t seem to a universal: if the requirement to join the elite is in limited supply, such as land or education, then this won’t occur. So whilst I accept elite overproduction as a thing, I see it as a universal and not as an automatic threat to systems. Turchin has got a useful concept but characteristically tries to pattern match with it, and in so doing ignores the universality of elite overproduction.

    * This is somewhat rhetorical: I am not sure how postmasters were organised in western Ohio, but I guess they were at supra-county level.

    • pochti says:

      If elite overproduction is universal and elite overproduction overproduction is the real problem, are you sure you’re not just quibbling with Turchin’s choice of phrases? That is to say, if he had said “elite overproduction overproduction” instead of “elite overproduction,” would you still be bothered?

      • Watchman says:

        Turchin identifies elite overproduction as a defining factor in his cyclical theory of crises. I’m saying it exists but is normal and only the unchecked overproduction of elites is likely to cause crises, with in most cases elite overproduction being limited by the criteria for entry to the elite. So this is a real difference of opinion.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          You’re defining elite overproduction as “more candidate elites than there are places for them”. I think Turchin might be defining it as “more candidate elites than places, to the extent that it causes problems”. This sounds tautological, I’m not sure if that actually matters though.

          • Watchman says:

            That’s correct. I can’t see how Turchin gets to the problems bit being built in though, hence my limited acceptance of his definition.

    • teneditica says:

      Elite overproduction strikes me as something good and necessary, because it means that we are able to put the best into certain positions. What would it mean if there was just enough “elite” for every position we need someone “elite” in? Would that be desirable.

      • johan_larson says:

        Hmm, if dramatically more people make the effort to become qualified for elite position than are actually admitted to such positions, (and the training isn’t useful for other things), then a) resources are being wasted on the training, and b) there are a lot of (probably rather capable) people with a grudge against the system. That’s elite overproduction of a sort that could be troublesome.

        Imagine if, say, ten million people per year graduated from med school, but only one million were admitted to the medical profession. That would be an awful lot of disappointed people with hefty bills to pay and not much to show for it. (Though of course you can do other things with a med school degree than practice with it, which muddies the water a bit.)

        • Watchman says:

          I think part of the issue here is that innocent phrase “resources are being wasted on the training”. It’s true to an extent but let us take your analogy further and place it in a near-future USA where the doctors have won, seeing off the lawyers and venture capitalists, and now to exercise power you need to be a doctor. Whilst technically 90% failure to become a doctor after medical school is a waste of resources at the level of society, the expenditure of resources has not been at an individual level necessarily wasted as 10% are now doctors and the other 90% are the elite qualified to become doctors, so have status. Those in the elite may not think the resources required to get them there were wasted after all. Turchin is a socialist so presumably thinks at the social level, so would share the concerns you express here. But that’s a question of how we share resources which is probably a bad thing to discuss on a non-culture war thread. Suffice to say the very idea over over production of elites being bad due to resource issues is more loaded than it might appear.

          Mind you, I’d be pretty certain that only 10% of med school graduates actually becoming doctors able to wield power is quite likely to be elite overproduction overproduction, albeit with no definite way to be sure.

          • as 10% are now doctors and the other 90% are the elite qualified to become doctors, so have status.

            This reminds me of the Imperial Chinese examination system. Most of the people who made it through the first level didn’t make it through the second, which had a pass rate of one or two percent–although you could try multiple times. Making it through the first level didn’t get you a government job, but it did make you a licentiate (I think that was the term), which gave you status and some advantages.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Making it through the first level didn’t get you a government job, but it did make you a licentiate (I think that was the term), which gave you status and some advantages.

            So it was like getting a PhD?

          • Aftagley says:

            This reminds me of the Imperial Chinese examination system. Most of the people who made it through the first level didn’t make it through the second, which had a pass rate of one or two percent–although you could try multiple times.

            Apropos of nothing, let me walk you through the current process of becoming a Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department –

            Once a year you’re allowed to take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).
            If you pass, you then have an essay you wrote during the FSOT graded. This is subjective, and grading criteria are never released. In total, only 20% of people pass this stage.

            Next up, you are given 2 weeks to answer 11 detailed questions about yourself. The questions are complex, require sources and people who can verify your answers and you are given around 400 words per question. Stats aren’t released from this stage, but online commentary reveals that only 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 make it past this stage.

            If you succeed, you are invited to attend an in-person group interview stage. This procedure is hard to explain, but basically you are measured in a variety of situations against your fellow applicants. I’ve heard that just under a quarter of people make it through this stage.

            If you make it to this point, you are assigned a numerical score. The higher your score, the better you did. Various criteria like ability to speak languages or prior military service will increase your score. Starting at the top, the State Department hires applicants as the need arises. If they get to you, fantastic. If after a year they don’t select you, you are kicked off the list and have to start over. It goes without saying that most people on the list don’t make it off the list.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Elite overproduction strikes me as something good and necessary, because it means that we are able to put the best into certain positions.

        “Best” here is questionable, unless you define it tautologically as those who succeed at getting in high ranking positions, in which case a Mugabe-tier corrupt dictator would qualify as the best elite his country could produce.

        Competition can be positive-sum or negative-sum for the players involved, and can generate positive or negative externalities. As a general “social engineering” principle, we want to encourage positive-externalities (and possibly positive-sum) competition while discourage negative-externalities competition.

        In a competitive, but still fairly well regulated “free” market you can often have positive-externalities competition. E.g. competition between startups in the search engine business resulted in the creation of the freely accessible (in the sense of gratis) Google search engine, which so far looks like a positive externality.

        Without enough regulation you get race to the bottom competition with de facto scams and tragedies of the commons. However, with too much regulation, where the number and type of high ranking position is fixed and success is determined by your superiors or your peers rather than your users, you also get negative-externalities competition, whether by e.g. oppressing subjects with high taxes, starting wars, and so on.

    • Erusian says:

      Turchin seems to have a fundamental issue in his definition of elites. Are elites anyone seeking power (which is therefore basically everyone in society)? Are elites people who already have power (in which case they cannot be overproduced)?

      He brings up European aristocracy as his example. Does this mean the Lord Mayor of London, a commoner who only ruled over other commoners, wasn’t an elite? How about the Reeves, who ran estates day to day on behalf of lords but sometimes needed the consent of the peasants? How about when Reeves resisted either the lord or the peasantry? If every lord and every reeve and every mayor is an elite, then there are so many elites that every tiny postage stamp of a peasant village has multiple sets of ‘elites’ running around. Most of whom are poor and unimportant by the standards of the society. You also end up with absurd things like enserfed peasants who could be executed by their lord at will being ‘elites’.

      If they’re not, then he needs to bite the bullet and make a definition of elites that excludes people we widely regard as elites. If politics is the necessary ingredient, then most billionaires don’t qualify but the poor community organizer in Chicago does. And that creates paradoxical results.

      The argument relies on far too much generalization and sophistry about what exactly an elite is for my taste.

      • Watchman says:

        I’m probably happier with his definition if elites than with anything else I’ve seen Turchin produce to be fair. It is limited, as you handily identify, to a state wide level, which is a good criticism of a key definition in a cyclical view of history: history is not just kingdoms and states. That said, applied properly the Turchin elite would include both medieval English nobles and the powerful Londoners who might become lord mayor. Both groups were in the position to access power.

    • Wency says:

      Have you read “The Dictator’s Handbook”? Or about selectorate theory in general? If not, I found it to be a great, quick read, whether you fully agree with the analysis or not.

      The way you’re defining elites (and perhaps, tacitly or not, Turchin is as well) seems to overlap a lot with Mesquita’s concept of the selectorate. And importantly, Mesquita argues that the size of the selectorate is not always fixed, but cultivating a large “nominal selectorate” is better for an autocrat to maintain power. In other words, an autocrat wants as few key cronies/allies as possible (thus each is easier to bribe and has a lot to lose), but he wants as large a pool of elites as possible that he can select those cronies from, so that each crony is more replaceable if one displeases him.

      Of course, this theory is designed more to explain whether an autocrat holds power until he dies, not so useful in evaluating what happens when he does die (which is usually when the sort of chaos breaks out that Turchin describes). So if it’s possible to harmonize the theories (and your observations), it may be that elite overproduction helps promote stability in the short run, under a stable regime and clever ruler, but it threatens stability during transitions of power.

      One common complaint about both theories: it’s much tougher to define “elites” or “selectorate” in a modern democracy than in an autocracy or feudal monarchy. You could argue that this doesn’t mean the concept is broken though, just that in paying lip service to egalitarianism, elites don’t tout their eliteness quite so much.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Just poking at your point– if it isn’t elite overproduction that leads to conflict, then what does?

      To put it another way, what causes eras when elite people are sufficiently content with what they’ve got that they might be maneuvering against each other a little, but they aren’t at war?

      Is it worth distinguishing between ambition and self-protection?

      • Watchman says:

        As I don’t believe in overarching theories of history, my honest answer here is factors. These are specific factors to each situation.

        I’d accept progress, in that increased technology, skis and knowledge will always fundamentally challenge a social order that doesn’t incorporate them. I would not claim every crisis, revolution or internal conflict can be explained this way though.

    • Commenter561 says:

      “Some overproduction always occurs so this concept has no utility.”

      That assumes only two states, over and under production.

      There is a third: overproduction in sufficient quantity to produce a competing power structure.

      If you want to explore this concept for utility you ought to consider if that state exists.

      Restated: from the perspective of a healthy system, some overproduction is required for robustness, and from the broadest view (the one that assumes words are meant to be useful) isn’t overproduction at all. This is distinct from overproduction that may produce a competing system.

      • Watchman says:

        Thanks. I think you are correct: the utility here is therefore that required for Turchin’s overall thesis, where my contention that elite overproduction is almost totally universal would cause problems. I’m not sure when elite overproduction overproduction happens (indeed, it might not as I can’t think of a clear example) but regarding this as the third state that sets up alternative power structures seems eminently reasonable.

        • Commenter561 says:

          This essay touches on the psychology behind it. Ignore the comments on magic.

          https://www.ecosophia.net/the-kek-wars-part-two-in-the-shadow-of-the-cathedral/

          Consider that the French Revolution was lead by landless nobility , not commoners, against upper nobility. There are many examples.of this pattern. When the middle sides with the bottom, the top is finished.

          Consider that leadership is a skill, and that enlisted rely on leadership from an officer corps (or at least non-comms) to be effective.

          Consider that for an exploitative system to be stable, the masses, by definition, must be incapable of self-organizing.

          Imagine learning the ins and outs of our financial system, our media system, and the internet, and being unable to find a job maintaining those systems. Enough people like you, and you will collectively create your own, or find creative ways to subvert the existing order.

          Find enough examples of how this works and then you can map out the process.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I remember hearing a notion that having a surplus of lawyers (too many law degrees, not enough jobs) would be disruptive but so far as I know, there’s no sign of this happening.

  26. theodidactus says:

    IFCOMP 25 starts next week.
    https://ifcomp.org/

    This is the biggest interactive fiction competition in the world, it’s grown every year, and this is its 25th year.

    The games submitted tend to be pretty excellent: they’re free and often contain very few bugs, the diversity of stories and mechanics is astounding. Last year, there were more than 70 games submitted…my thinking is this year there will be a little less than 100

  27. ana53294 says:

    French court rules against Steam that even games downloaded online can be resold. This is in keeping with the UsedSoft decision seven years ago against Oracle.

    The fine Valve would have to pay, half a million euros is not that much anyway, and the case is on appeal. But will this decision possibly pave the way to the resale of other things bought on subscription – audiobooks, books, music, movies?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Counter-question: What are the mechanisms in place under EU law for expanding a ruling like that from one country’s courts to the entire EU? Because if it’s just France, I don’t see that being enough leverage to convince Valve (or the other companies operating digital storefronts) to change their policies.

      • ana53294 says:

        Once the court case is won in the highest French appeal court, and it’s appealed, it goes to the ECJ, and the ECJ cases are binding in the whole EU. A lot of Brexit debate was about escaping the ECJ, so it’s obviously not powerless.

        Edit: IANAL, but I think that if Valve does not appeal and just keeps paying the fine (it’s just 3000 euros per day, that’s just peanuts for them), it won’t go to the ECJ. Totally not sure about this. They seem keen on appealing this, though.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Didn’t they change their return policies globally after Australia smacked down the old system?

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      But will this decision possibly pave the way to the resale of other things bought on subscription – audiobooks, books, music, movies?

      Possibly?

      I would like to object to using the term “bought on subscription”, because I think it muddles the issue in people’s minds; especially in light of other uses of “subscription” in this space. I believe that “personal, exclusive licenses” is a better term (even if a bit of a mouthful) and the interesting question is whether such licenses ought to be transferable or not. It is also an open question and has been for a decade or so.

      Steam is actually one of those places where it might work: Steam’s DRM ensures that the actual transfer of “goods” upon sale may be enforced (to a degree); the sold item appears in the buyer’s Steam library and disappears from the seller’s library. We can already buy gifts on Steam and refund purchases, so all the technical elements seem to be in place. Incidentally, a very similar arrangement seems to have applied in UsedSoft (software downloaded directly from Oracle, based on license key).

      As for broader applicability, things become a lot more murky. The idea was tested wrt music files in ReDigi. Here, ReDigi lost both the original suit and the appeal, with the District court finding that it is impossible to effect the transfer of a music file between seller and buyer without infringing the reproduction right, which isn’t extinguished by the First Sale doctrine; in other words: the buyer obtains a new copy, not the original file.

      The very different rulings can at least partially be explained (differences of jurisdiction and legal systems notwithstanding) by the observation that the business models for selling software are rather different than for other media and it isn’t obvious that what works for software can easily be applied elsewhere.

      I can certainly imagine changes in how books, movies and music are sold that would make it more like the Steam model (and I believe it would be for the best). However, we are not there yet and the only way for this ruling to apply more broadly would be to throw out the reproduction right altogether.

      We can do this, of course, but not without upending all of the impacted industries with predictable outcomes on quality and quantity of goods produced.

    • Three Year Lurker says:

      This decision is unlikely to have the effects anyone intends or desires.

      Here’s one aspect it could impact:
      Person gets games through Humble Bundle, which often sells bundles of 5-10 games for 5-10% of the full price of the games. To a user, the Steam keys in these bundles are the same as keys bought on Steam, thus up for resale.
      If Valve is forced to provide a resale marketplace, people suddenly have an incentive to buy bundles purely for resale. Keys from bundles compete directly with the standalone keys, driving the price down.
      This seems likely to lead to bundle deals disappearing. Or resale price will be far below normal buy price, which buyers will fight over.

      Humble also offers a “subscription” where a monthly fee translates to several games per month. Effectively a bundle every month. $132 for a year ($99 when it was on sale).

      Steam itself also offers bundles. When one publisher has many games, it offers a 10-15% discount to buy all games from them at once. Same problem, easier to mitigate by making the resale price lower.

      Then there is the fraud aspect. Many keys are bought with stolen credit cards, then resold on shady sites (Factorio had a blog post about this a few months back). Imposing some fraud verification delay in resale might help, but again buyers will fight the delay.

      Valve has very good reasons to oppose resale because of the impact resale would have on existing business partners. Some partners like Humble would likely be entirely reshaped or go out of business.

      So I think the economic effect of this decision will eliminate publishers that depend on bundles, and drive down profits in selling games.

    • MorningGaul says:

      I have conflicted feelings about that one, but hope for a best-of-both-world situation where Steam cant ban people who sell/buy accounts (which is cumbersome enough to not make a dent on the market), while also not making it mandatory for Steam to provide a used-game marketplace (which would poison the industry, making developpers value their own games near-0 once a few weeks have gone by, giving them no incentives to make their game playable beyond the years of release).

      Also, it better apply to every marketplace, because if I don’t like Steam, I vehemently loath Ubisoft and Epic.

  28. Nick says:

    I’ve been rereading the Sequences lately. This morning I read this post, on evaluability and how to exploit it for cheap holiday shopping. Has anyone actually tried Eliezer’s advice? If so, did it work?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The obvious problem with his approach should be obvious. The entire premise rests on comparability, what information one has.

      You know what piece of information most people who receive a gift do NOT have? How much you spent on it.

    • Aqua says:

      Seems…. terrible.. ?

      If you buy a kid a switch, they will be super excited, if you buy them a $200 candle they will cry.

  29. NostalgiaForInfinity says:

    Question for the military-knowledgeable people (may be unoriginal and/or dumb):

    It’s common for news stories on modern military equipment to be about enormous cost overruns (I’m thinking of planes particularly here, but I’m from the UK and I’m fairly sure the Navy has had similar issues with submarines / aircraft carriers). For example, the F-35 unit cost is (according to Wikipedia) several times that of the F-16. Is it several times better? How would an Air Force of 600 F-16s fare in a combat situation compared to an Air Force of 150 F-35s?

    Or are they designed for different eras and assumed combat situations and therefore not really comparable?

    • Aftagley says:

      Not an expert, but most of the reports I’ve read state that in a close-range “Top Gun” style situation, the F-16 would likely win. In real life, however, the F-35 would have identified and destroyed the F-16 well before the F-16 had even noticed the other plane. I believe that the air force has run exercises where F-35s achieved something like 20:1 kill ratios vs. the F-16.

      • bean says:

        I’ve definitely heard that re the F-22, but it has a bunch of dogfighting features the F-35 doesn’t. Overall, though, I’d take the JSF unless I was going to have to duke it out with guns.

      • JPNunez says:

        How does the F16 even get that kill?

        Does it hide in a canyon and wait for the other plane to come close or something?

        • Aftagley says:

          Well, you know… “Welcome to Earf” and whatnot.

        • Aztonarra says:

          Source: I used to watch The Military Channel a lot.

          Most of modern air warfare is electromagnetic fencing between target tracking in missiles, sometimes aided by the source airplane or nearby signal towers, and jamming efforts by the target plane. Being outmatched means that your missiles miss and you never see theirs coming. It’s common to shoot missiles while the other plane is still over the horizon from you.

          • bean says:

            Very few missiles are going to be shot over the horizon. I can’t think of any AAMs that have the range for that. Beyond visual range? Absolutely, but not over the horizon.

      • John Schilling says:

        Not an expert, but most of the reports I’ve read state that in a close-range “Top Gun” style situation, the F-16 would likely win.

        Possibly, depending on exactly which block of F-35 you’re talking about. But this is roughly equivalent to saying that the M-14 is better than any rifle the United States has fielded since, on account of its superior reach with a bayonet and the fact that its classic walnut stock was better at whomping enemies upside the head. And the Argentine fleet literally outgunned the Royal Navy in the Falklands war, with ARA General Belgrano alone having a heavier weight of broadside than the entire British fleet, so how could they have lost?

        Dogfighting went out of style in 1940, though it took a few years for the Japanese to get the message and Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

        • Aftagley says:

          And the Argentine fleet literally outgunned the Royal Navy in the Falklands war, with ARA General Belgrano alone having a heavier weight of broadside than the entire British fleet, so how could they have lost?

          ‘dunno, I haven’t finished reading Bean’s series on it yet.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Dogfighting went out of style in 1940, though it took a few years for the Japanese to get the message and Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

          I’ve heard that in Vietnam not having guns on our planes was an actual issue and we added them back in intentionally. Is that silly Air Force lore or is there something I’ve missed?

          I know that the F-22 still has a cannon, for example.

          • bean says:

            It’s true, but with some big caveats usually ignored by advocates of the gun. The big problem in Vietnam was that the USAF and USN had built their systems for going toe-to-toe with the Russians. One of the big assumptions from this was that you weren’t going to have to deal with an air environment with lots of civilians and friendly forces you weren’t well-coordinated with. So the rule was “get visual confirmation of the identity of any target before shooting it down”. Several things helped with this. First, better techniques for keeping track of the airspace over North Vietnam. Now, the controller on the AWACS or cruiser offshore can say “shoot down that bandit” and you don’t have to get close to confirm it’s not actually an airliner. Second, better tactics and training for close-range fights. This was the origin of TOPGUN. (One word, all caps, don’t ask.) But the gun itself was distinctly secondary to that. Robin Olds, a great fighter pilot and a man who knew how to use a gun, didn’t let his wing use gun pods because he knew they couldn’t do so effectively. The USN never fitted internal guns to its Phantoms. I don’t know how much use they made of gun pods over Vietnam.

            Today, we don’t have nearly as much worry about long-range target identification. Targeting pods have basically taken care of it. And short-range AA missiles are a lot better than they used to be, so guns are of somewhat dubious utility. But the tale of Guns in Vietnam is so deeply embedded in the USAF that they keep buying the things.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, the first generation or two of missiles had some fairly serious operational limitations and reliability problems. “Launch from no more than thirty degrees off the target’s tail” or “fly straight and level for fifteen seconds for the gyros to spin up”, are not too big a problem if you imagine yourself intercepting Soviet heavy bombers over Alaska, but will have you reaching for a gun if you’re up against a MiG-17 that is trying to deny you a shot.

            And, yeah, we can’t know what it is we should have thought of for the next war but somehow missed, so a good dumb gun is still worth having. But it’s probably not going to be as essential as it was in Early Vietnam, because the stuff we missed there was really important.

          • cassander says:

            In addition to what John and Bean said, also didn’t help matters that the USAF and (to a lesser degree) the USN had basically stopped training fighter pilots to do air combat maneuvering with missiles or guns. Even if the missiles and radars had worked as advertised or the F-4 had a gun, there still would have been issues because of how pilots were (or more accurately weren’t) trained.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            the USAF and (to a lesser degree) the USN had basically stopped training fighter pilots to do air combat maneuvering with missiles or guns

            What the hell were they training them in? Or, if training in general went by the wayside, what were pilots expected to do just before Vietnam?

          • bean says:

            What the hell were they training them in? Or, if training in general went by the wayside, what were pilots expected to do just before Vietnam?

            They were training them to shoot down Soviet bombers and bomb ground targets. I suspect that part of the problem was that the era was probably the apogee of aircraft complexity from the user perspective. You had radars, missiles, and a bunch of other electronic gear, but had to operate a lot of it manually because the computer tech wasn’t there to automate it for you. If you’re still trying to get pilots trained according to the traditional schedule, something has to go from the training syllabus, and dogfighting is a pretty obvious candidate for elimination.

          • cassander says:

            @Gobbobobble

            what were pilots expected to do just before Vietnam?

            Golf mostly. Which is still the case, but now they’re expected to both golf and do well at red flag in their off hours.

            Seriously though, training was simply a lot less rigorous overall. Part of it, I think, was a holdover from the early air force that had a huge number of pilots who got their wings in ww2 and korea and so didn’t need as much training.

            A lot of it was focus on readiness over training, because the air force needed to be prepared for the big one at any moment. Readiness and training are, to a substantial degree, in direct competition with one another, because training requires flying your planes. This emphasis led to the the squadron commanders who skimped on training to keep up maintenance being rewarded over the ones that did the reverse. And woe betide any commander who lost a plane in training, that was career death.

            And part of it was that what training there was was focused on other things, namely intercepting bombers and nuclear delivery (note pretty much every USAF fighter designed in the late 50s and early 60s had at least a secondary nuclear delivery role). These were both tasks that had very different requirements from the war that was actually fought in vietnam. Which is not to say that they weren’t often demanding, they were, but they were very different.

            And Bean’s point about the interfaces is well made. the switches on the F-4 missile controls were famously terrible and hard to use, but they were really just an exemplary case of a general problem with figuring out how to interface with complicated electronics in a cockpit environment.

          • Ketil says:

            It was considered to not equip Eurofighter with its gun in 1999, but the decision was reversed later. Apparently, guns aren’t considered very crucial for modern combat aircraft.

            (Tried to post this earlier, but think my message got eaten by Moloch?)

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Be aware of how “unit” cost is defined with respect to systems like jets, tanks, helicopters, etc. Are we talking solely the marginal material+labor cost of one more vehicle, or are we talking about the marginal material+labor cost AND the amortized cost of the program (including R&D, testing, tooling and factory setup, etc)? A lot of the time with brand shiny new equipment the latter is what we’re talking about, which is why when there’s a small initial order the per-unit cost is reported as astronomically high. Paging Bean to verify, but I believe this is somewhat less true of Ship classes because they are so large and take so long to build that even within the same class each one is its own project.

      That said, I will bow out to others in respect to the F-16s vs. F-35s question, as I know more about ground systems than air ones.

      • bean says:

        Depends on the class. That’s true for the CVNs, but much less so for most other classes. The Virginia-class SSNs in particular have been really well-run and usually come in under budget, with the units almost coming off an assembly line.

    • bean says:

      First, as Trofim_Lysenko points out, military costing is really complicated. I’ve written a moderately in-depth look at this. It’s really easy to get the cost of programs confused, particularly if you’re looking at works by people who don’t really understand this. Using total vs marginal cost figures can easily double the price you’re reporting, and marginal costs vary widely depending on a bunch of factors, most prominently how fast the production line is running. On the F-16 vs F-35 in particular, note that the F-16 numbers are from 1998. Inflation alone raises those 50%, and 1998 was 20 years after F-16 production started, so the learning curve had had plenty of time to work. Morocco recently announced a buy of 25 F-16s at around $150 million each, almost twice the cost of an F-35. (I think. The package included a bunch of other stuff, and cassander is much better qualified to speak to this than I am.) Overall, I’d guess you’re generally looking at 2 F-16s vs 1 F-35. And the F-35 is definitely the winner there. It’s got an amazing combat system that lets it see the F-16 first and probably shoot it down without the older jet even realizing it’s there, and it can slip through air defenses the F-16 would have to kill to get to the target.

      • Eric Rall says:

        probably shoot it down without the older jet even realizing it’s there

        This bit surprised me, since one of the huge challenges with sensors is that any active scanning system (radar, sonar, searchlights, etc) inherently involves announcing your presence. Your radar is going to be much, much brighter to the target than the target’s return is going to be to you. There are EW tricks to limit the information your target can get about you from passively listening to your active sensors, but they’re darn sure going to know you’re there. I’ve heard it compared to a pair of black cats trying to find each other in the dark with flashlights.

        Since I trust that you know what you’re talking about, I looked up the F-35 sensor package to find out details. It looks like they deal with the problem by including some really sophisticated passive sensor systems (mostly infrared and radio) and a software model for combining multiple passive data streams (and real-time data feeds from other friendly units) to get more information out of them. The idea seems to be that you should only need to turn on your active sensors for fire control so you don’t waste your stealth.

    • cassander says:

      There is a great deal to unpack here.

      First, if you look at the prices getting paid today, the price of a new F-35 is not that much higher than a new F-16. As Bean mentioned, these costs are extremely difficult to unpack, but at the end of the day the F-35A is trending towards a flyaway cost of around 80 million in the next year or two. A new new F-16 will run you about 60-70 million, a rafale will cost 80-90, an F/A-18 costs around 75, the new F-15s are going to about 100, and the Eurofighter is at least as much as the Rafale. These figures are fly away costs, which means the price for one more aircraft on top of existing programs, and they must be taken with large grains of salt. But even with large error bars, you can see why the F-35 is winning every competition it’s in. It’s actually cheaper than the most of the competition, and comes with a lot of capabilities that you either can’t get on other fighters (e.g. stealth) or that you can get only with additional expense or external pods (the F-35 effectively has a built in sniper pod.)

      Now, why is the F-35 cheaper? Two reasons. First, the huge program to actually develop them is largely done, which means that cost is now sunk. However poorly managed program was managed (answer: very poorly) doesn’t really matter, if you’re trying to buy a plane today it’s 90 million and dropping. Second, they’re making 2000+ of them. If the US committed to buying 2000 of anything, its unit costs could come way down, but there’s only so cheap you can make an aircraft. Business jets the weight of fighters with long production runs still cost tens of millions, and they have much weaker engines, aren’t built for 9g maneuvering, and aren’t packed to the gills with expensive sensors.

      Some people have argued that we’d be better better off doing that anyway, but it’s definitely a minority opinion. What has been publicly released does seem to indicate that the 5th gen fighters are racking up kill ratios on the order of several to one against legacy aircraft. Now, it it must not be forgotten how well your plane fights other planes is about not the only, or even most important, metric on which it should be evaluated, but yes, I think it is safe to say that the 5th gen fighters are dramatically more capable than 4th gen, and they frankly don’t cost that much more. To slightly butcher something said by the belgian (IIRC) minister of defense, if you are considering a new fighter for your country, there only 3 aircraft that you really need to look at, the JSF, the Lightning II, and the F-35.

      Now, if you want to talk operational costs, that gets into an even more complicated set of costs that are even less transparent and consistent between countries. The F-35 is higher here, but again more like double lighter legacy fighters, not several times, and for a lot more capability most ways you measure.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        And what has been publicly released does seem to indicate that the 5th gen fighters are racking up kill ratios on the order of several to one against legacy aircraft.

        I’m quite willing to believe it’s better and especially your point about non-dogfight missions. What I wanna know is how much salt should I be taking with these reports of how much better it is? I would naively expect everyone with the resources and expertise to make an assessment to be part of an org invested in the project’s success

        • bean says:

          I would naively expect everyone with the resources and expertise to make an assessment to be part of an org invested in the project’s success

          Less so than you’d think. That’s what think tanks and various centers of expertise are for. The system is generally set up to insulate these people from the kind of pressure you’re talking about because the people who set it up aren’t idiots. The big problems are that most of the answers are classified and even the ones that aren’t usually mean less than the public thinks they do. (The RAND study on F-35 dogfighting a few years ago springs to mind.) And people who follow this for long enough can usually decipher what’s coming out of those kind of places, and tell the difference between them and outside lunatics.

        • cassander says:

          What I wanna know is how much salt should I be taking with these reports of how much better it is?

          How much better for what? At bomb trucking over afghanistan, it’s arguably no better, and worse once you adjust for costs. At penetrating a sophisticated integrated air defense network, it’s incalculably better. Other tasks fall somewhere in between, but as a general rule the harder the task the less we’re going to know about how well the F-35 (or any aircraft) does because that stuff is kept more secret, and because those are the sorts of answers that are most likely to only revealed in the acid test of combat.

          That said, I would not make any sort of leap from kill ratio is X to 1 so the F-35 is X times better. Anyone you read who does that sort of thing should be ignored, because that’s not how that math works.

          I would naively expect everyone with the resources and expertise to make an assessment to be part of an org invested in the project’s success

          There is definitely some truth to this. Bean is right about the insulation, but large organizations are always reluctant to admit failure. That said, that people being invested in the answer doesn’t change the fact that that low observability is a huge advantage, that modern AESA radars are better than mechanically scanned arrays, and so on.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          @both

          Thanks for the info! I’m not disputing that the plane is an advancement or anything. Mostly trying to get something of a sense of the degree. And I suppose more generally toss out my perceptions of military reporting and see how much pushback they get

          How much better for what?

          Whatever it is we are paying for it to do 🙂

          For one example in particular of how very much not an expert I am, my brain tends to just discard reporting on “kill” ratios. I get they have systems in place to test the capabilities as consistently as they can and that the people who need to know can contextualize the results – but something about calling it kill ratios trips my civvie brain into “this number is a fairy-tale” and provides me approximately 0 information into how well it will do in the real world.

          With this line of questions I’m mostly trying assess whether the development project was your standard miltech procurement boondoggle (so shrug it off as bureaus gonna bureau) or if it’s worth being pissed off about. Maybe the plane is even so good as that we could have paid even more for it and been worth it, so whatever they were doing mid-boondoggle was actually some sort of 4-dimensional judeau and I should update along those lines. That sort of thing.

          Like the J in JSF was a big deal, right? Was the project a success in that regard? Should we expect to see more projects take this approach? (and is that answer the one we want it to be?)

          • bean says:

            The answer to that is probably one we’ll never know. I believe that about half the JSF’s problems were due to doing things that nobody had ever done in an airplane before, half were due to poor management, and the other half were due to the barnacles that basically the largest military procurement program ever was going to pick up. (Yes, I know that’s three halves. It’s a really big program.)

            The J in joint is one thing I don’t expect to be repeated in the same manner. To a large extent, Joint was the big buzzword of the 90s. Not to say it wasn’t important before, or isn’t important today, but everything was Joint back then. A strong argument could be made that building three airframes and a common combat system would have been a better option. The downside there is that the combat system would have been very vulnerable to cuts, while the aircraft we got was “too big to fail/cut” and seems to be turning out pretty well. It’s going to be the job of historians to sort it all out, not journalists, most of whom are incredibly poorly informed about these things.

            (Joint today is headed towards a better selection of joint projects, usually with one service leading and another agreeing to use the result with modifications. But it’s also for weapons instead of airframes, which is an area with a lot more commonality.)

          • cassander says:

            With this line of questions I’m mostly trying assess whether the development project was your standard miltech procurement boondoggle (so shrug it off as bureaus gonna bureau) or if it’s worth being pissed off about.

            Both? the F-35 program is colossal even by pentagon standards, and so it wastes money on a scale that’s colossal even by pentagon standards. And the program certainly made some very questionable design decisions, like trying to make the same airframe and engine be both a (relatively) long range strike fighter AND a VTOL/STOVL fighter, but most of the problem is just business as usual, albeit at scale.

            Maybe the plane is even so good as that we could have paid even more for it and been worth it, so whatever they were doing mid-boondoggle was actually some sort of 4-dimensional judeau and I should update along those lines.

            Somewhere in the middle, unfortunately. If it cost 100 million per plane instead of 80, it would still probably be worth it. But if you’d made some better design choices early on, you certainly could have gotten out the door for less than we’re currently paying. To put things in context, the US Navy captain in charge of the Ford class carrier design effort will frankly and casually admit to making a mistake that cost a billion dollars. I’d certainly like to have that billion back, but I’d also rather have the Ford class than another Nimitz even with the extra billion gone.

            With the US military, the programs that actually go into full rate production are almost always decent systems. They also almost always cost a fortune. And those two facts are not unrelated, a big part of why they cost a fortune is all the effort that goes into making them decent systems.

            Like the J in JSF was a big deal, right? Was the project a success in that regard?

            opinions on that subject vary considerably. The marines love the F-35, which is not suprising considering they’re going from alate 3rd gen fighter into a 5th gen, and they’d never have gotten their own STOVL 5th gen fighter program. I also think that getting the air force and navy to use a substantially similar strike fighter is a win, though that position is more controversial. Neither service is inclined to repeat the experiment, for both legitimate and parochial reasons, and what happens with 6th gen is still up in the air. The Air Force Acquisition secretary is running around saying crazy things, but I suspect once he’s gone the air force will revert to form and repeat the F-22 effort with NGAD. God only knows what the navy will do, they can’t afford to build their own, can’t afford not to, and any plane built to air force requirements will have serious issues with operating from carriers. F/A-XX is probably not going to end well.

          • bean says:

            With the US military, the programs that actually go into full rate production are almost always decent systems. They also almost always cost a fortune. And those two facts are not unrelated, a big part of why they cost a fortune is all the effort that goes into making them decent systems.

            This. This, a thousand times. The amount of work (and thus money) that makes sure that anything which goes into the field is decent is huge. But it does make sure that we have decent gear.

            God only knows what the navy will do, they can’t afford to build their own, can’t afford not to, and any plane built to air force requirements will have serious issues with operating from carriers.

            The obvious solution is to let the Navy build the plane and then have the Air Force buy it. It worked pretty well the last time we tried it.

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            The obvious solution is to let the Navy build the plane and then have the Air Force buy it. It worked pretty well the last time we tried it.

            I actually think that this is the correct answer to a lot of procurement issues. Take the things that each service loves and cherishes the most, and give them to a different service to design. They’ll do a better job more often than not, and for a lot less money.

            Less tongue in cheek, you’re absolutely right about doing that for NGAD/FA-XX, but it won’t happen. The navy is already riding Air Force coattails on the project because they’re too behind on budget even to buy F-35s in the numbers they need.

          • bean says:

            I actually think that this is the correct answer to a lot of procurement issues. Take the things that each service loves and cherishes the most, and give them to a different service to design. They’ll do a better job, and for a lot less money.

            For airplanes, this is a great idea. For ships, not so much. Otherwise, we’ll end up with the first aircraft carrier with an 18-hole golf course.

            Less tongue in cheek, you’re absolutely right about doing that for NGAD/FA-XX, but it won’t happen. The navy is already riding Air Force coattails on the project because they’re too behind on budget even to buy F-35s in the numbers they need.

            That’s because naval air has to compete with naval ships, and we’re not in a great place with those, either.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Take the things that each service loves and cherishes the most, and give them to a different service to design. They’ll do a better job more often than not, and for a lot less money.

            As I understand it, the thing the Air Force loves and cherishes most is paperwork.

          • bean says:

            As I understand it, the thing the Air Force loves and cherishes most is paperwork.

            And golf. I suggest we give both to the Marines. They’ll turn the golf course into a fortified position, and be confused by the paperwork. It will probably end up being set on fire.

          • Eric Rall says:

            And golf. I suggest we give both to the Marines. They’ll turn the golf course into a fortified position, and be confused by the paperwork. It will probably end up being set on fire.

            While we’re at it, we can also put the Marines in charge of the Army’s logistics. They’ll likely handle it the same way they handle their own logistics: outsourcing most of it to the Navy.

            My guess is that the Marines would use the paperwork as a substitute for sandbags in building field fortifications. I think you’re right about the golf course.

    • John Schilling says:

      As others have noted, you need to be very careful about which price you are talking about. But for the primary customer, it’s probably the total life cycle cost that matters. The vendor can pretty easily shift the numbers to reduce the unit cost, if it matters, and make it up on the extended warranty or service plan. Or, particularly for high-end military hardware, the up-front R&D costs. Add all this together and don’t worry about how it is internally divided and, yes, costs are definitely increasing.

      A big part of this is the “one system per generation” effect. The F-35, for example, will probably be the only fighter(*) aircraft the United States builds for its own use in the 2020s. I don’t think there has been a decade between the 1930s and 1990s that we didn’t have at least four models with overlapping capabilities in production. If you only get one new fighter (or whatever) in a generation, that fighter has to do everything, or something simply won’t get done.

      Which leads to a vicious cycle, starting with the fact that a system that has to do lots of things is legitimately more expensive than a system that has to do only a few things – and you don’t get any of that back when you note that some of those things you will only actually do very rarely. It gets even more expensive if it has to do things you didn’t even think of until five years after you wrote the specifications and started designing and testing hardware – but one system per generation, so if you don’t squeeze it in now you’ll have to do without for another fifteen years. More expensive still when it is being done by a monopoly vendor, especially one that knows it is locked in as a monopoly. Add all these together (and they don’t add linearly), and you get a very capable but very expensive system. Expensive enough that it will blow your entire jet fighter budget (or whatever) for the next twenty years. And, knowing that, you go back and close the cycle by demanding that it do everything including the stuff you won’t think of until five years from now, and award the whole contract to one bidder with limited competition up front an none after the fact because you can’t afford two programs at the same time.

      And then we make it much more expensive by requiring the contract go to the lowest bidder.

      * Or “multi-role combat aircraft”, but that usually means “jet fighter plus whatever else doesn’t detract from its ability to be a first-rate jet fighter at need”.

    • Clutzy says:

      Most military cost overruns are as a result of a civilian/military divide. Its just like war. Politicians dictate that, we “win a war in Vietnam” while also “not murdering civilians”. These are contradictory. With the F35, the goal was to create a fighter that did a thousand things, and thus it was expensive, while doing nothing particularly well.

      • bean says:

        I’ve spent about half of my career on each side of the fence, and I have to disagree at least in part. Commercial aviation sees its fair share of stupid regulatory requirements and $1000 bolts. It may not match the rarefied heights of the F-35, but it’s closer to military aviation than to, say, Wal-Mart.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      @bean @cassander @John Schilling (and everyone else who contributed)

      Great, thanks for taking the time to respond. Much appreciated.

    • proyas says:

      F-35 vs F-16

      Things to consider:

      1) Close-in dogfights between fighter planes are today extremely rare. The notion that they’re common persists in the popular imagination because that’s how it is in Star Wars and fictional fighter plane movies like Top Gun and Independence Day. In reality, fighter combat usually involves long-range missiles only, often while the planes are so far apart that their pilots can’t see each other. Quite often, the losing pilot has no clue what hit him, meaning he didn’t even know an enemy was in the area and had fired a missile at him.

      This means that maneuverability is less important than most people think. The F-16’s large maneuverability advantage over the F-35 means little in combat between them.

      2) The F-16 is not stealth and can’t be upgraded into a stealth fighter without changing it so much that it would effectively be a new type of plane. The lack of stealth means that, in combat, and F-35 would be able to see it on radar and infrared while the F-16 would only see occasional, disconnected blips on his instrumentation (except at close distances). “The losing pilot never knew what hit him” thing would happen to the guy in the F-16.

      3) Keep in mind that the F-35 is not strictly an air-to-air fighter plane. It’s also designed for ground attack, and it’s meant to fight against America’s most advanced enemies, which are China and Russia. This means it must be able to penetrate their increasingly sophisticated air defense systems to bomb land targets. Stealth is vital for that role. Sending in F-16s for the same missions would be too risky.

  30. Aftagley says:

    Since the start of this year, I’ve been trying a new life habit of whenever I find myself thinking “I wish I could do X” I honestly give X a try, devoting at least 4 hours a week to it for a period of no less than a month. Some of these have stuck around since the beginning of the year (playing piano), some of them I happily abandoned after 4 weeks (good riddance, lock picking).

    After going down a youtube-hole old “who’s line is it anyway” clips, I decided I want to learn improv, so I signed up for a class – the first one met this weekend. If you know anything about improv, it was exactly what you’d expect, lot’s of visualizing emotions and vocal practices.

    That being said, some of the interactions I had with the teacher/signup system left me feeling kinda weird. The details are CW, but it was pretty far out there. My normal life doesn’t put me in much touch with performing arts people, however, and even as a bog-standard lefty, this crowd seemed pretty far out there to me. If my experience at this class is standard, I’m not sure that this hobby is for me.

    Does anyone know enough about improv to comment on whether or not the community as a whole trends towards this extreme, or was I just unlucky with how my class broke down?

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is the no-culture-war thread, and all of that is pretty deep in culture war.

    • Randy M says:

      I think there’s a lot of humor that doesn’t involve punching any which way. Nonetheless, I’d be quite worried about the class, because of the subjectivity of both humor and offense.
      Like, “Excuse me Randy, did you really mean to suggest your partner is wearing a kimono? Is there something inherently comical about non European cultures?”
      “No, I just thought it was funny in a scene on the moon”
      Especially since improv relies on quick thinking where you might not have your filter on at all times.

      Given the likely demographics, I’d wager they take it seriously. I don’t actually have recent experience with this, though. My last time in improv was Comedy Sportz in high school. My daughter did a kids group the other day that didn’t have any of that folderol, though. By the way, there’s a comedy sportz group in LA I’d recommend. Maybe if you find some in person performances it’d give you an idea of how the culture trends. But it’s a lot of fun, even for typically introverted types like me. So it might be worth trying for awhile. What’s the worst that can happen to you personally?

      edit to remove CW, I think. Can remove if you think necessary.

    • DarkTigger says:

      This has rightly been slashed for CW reasons, but allow me an short answer:
      In my expirence improv people are on average too cultural different for the usual SSC regular.

      If you have low tolerance for the kind of talk you described, I would recomment doing something else with your time.

    • j1000000 says:

      I know a few people who are into improv, and they’re certainly somewhat odd but I don’t know how to respond without details of what you’re talking about. May want to post those next CW friendly thread, unless the convo has run its course by then.

    • raj says:

      After the edit this post isn’t situated enough to answer well. And isn’t it kind of like the use-mention distinction? Like, not participating in the CW but mentioning it for context in an interpersonal question?

      I did a little improv, and did not notice any jarring political slant – YMMV of course. This is contrasted to other artistic circles I’ve encountered (theatre, glass-blowing), where that may have been the case. I guess I’m describing the difference between hobbyists and artists.

      But you shouldn’t let it dissuade you. Being able to read and integrate into a political micro-climate is a useful skill to have, think of it like meta-improv.

      • Randy M says:

        Please recount the story of the politically tinged glass blowing in the next thread.

        • Nick says:

          I wonder how into smashing the patriarchy they are. Or breaking the glass ceiling. Honestly, I’m not sure glassblowing and leftwing politics go together well at all….

    • ssccalgary says:

      I used to perform quite regularly. Generally, the custom that I’ve experienced is that both within classes and during performances, everyone has the common sense to stay away from sensitive topics. Political commentary, shock humor, or anything other low-hanging fruit is generally frowned upon, and most beginners are discouraged from venturing in that direction, even though it can get you a quick and cheap laugh from the audience.

      I do suspect that most of the people I performed with were quite left, but never in a way that was apparent in normal, everyday interactions, with the sole exception of consideration for gender pronouns. There may be instances where someone plays the racist redneck archetype, or the woke social justice archetype in a scene, but it never felt like they were doing so as any sort of commentary on culture or politics, but simply out of acknowledgement that these archetypes exist.

      For what it’s worth, I have found that beginners tend to be less wary of CW content or shock humor, and this can be compounded when you get several beginners in a room, all of whom may use these as a bit of a crutch when they’re trying to be entertaining.

    • jgr314 says:

      I have done a lot of improv and am really enthusiastic about helping other people get into it. It sounds like my path into it was somewhat similar to yours. I think it helps develop a number of mental skills that are very interesting to SSCers.

      Without knowing the details (I’ll look for your post in the next CW-tolerant OT), here are some thoughts:
      (1) schools and teachers recognize that improv is way out of the comfort zone for most people, so they go out of their way to try to make people comfortable. Obviously, that desire gets filtered based on what those people think will cause discomfort/facilitate comfort.
      (2) teacher quality can vary a lot. In general, the selection process is opaque and political (lower case p, relating to the dynamics of the theater in which the school operates), but the typical qualification is that they are a good improviser, not necessarily a good teacher.
      (3) (others already noted) the people taking beginner classes vary a huge amount, and that will change the focus/tone of the class. For example, the range is at least as wide as business folks who want to be better public speakers to aspiring professional performers. That interacts with the teacher/school’s beliefs about student preferences.
      (4) From what you already mentioned about the class “lot’s of visualizing emotions and vocal practices” it sounds very different from the beginning classes I’ve seen. That’s especially true if you are working on short form games (like who’s line).
      (5) In any case, the first class is very likely to have a disproportionate share of “how will we make everyone comfortable” cost. That might not come up again in the rest of the course.

      As I mentioned, I’m really enthusiastic about helping people get into improv. If you think it would help, I’m willing to discuss in private via email.

      • Aftagley says:

        From what you already mentioned about the class “lot’s of visualizing emotions and vocal practices” it sounds very different from the beginning classes I’ve seen. That’s especially true if you are working on short form games (like who’s line).

        I almost certainly don’t have the terminology correct (see again, this being the first time I’d done it). By visualizing emotions, I mean that people would be paired up – one person silently tries to portray an emotion, the other person tries to successfully read what that emotion is and name it. (I think the game was called “You are”)

        By vocal practices I mean that a non-insignificant portion of the class (maybe 4 out of 12) were literally afraid to speak to the rest of the group so the instructor designed various games to get them just talking.

        schools and teachers recognize that improv is way out of the comfort zone for most people, so they go out of their way to try to make people comfortable. Obviously, that desire gets filtered based on what those people think will cause discomfort/facilitate comfort.

        Right, and I guess that was what hapened here, it just didn’t land for me and the idea that what happened was supposed to make people feel more comfortable made me less comfortable, if that makes any sense. I’ll bring it up in the next OT.

        As I mentioned, I’m really enthusiastic about helping people get into improv. If you think it would help, I’m willing to discuss in private via email.

        Sounds good! Thanks for the offer, if I’m still on the fence after a few more classes I’ll hit you up.

        • Randy M says:

          In the spirit of a CW free open thread, did you end up getting to any fun games/structures, or was it mostly exercises like that?
          I think my favorite game was “New option”, where the players start a scene, then at arbitrary points during it, the ref/instructor will pause them and force them to repeat a line with some substitution. Helps get over the boring word that comes immediately to mind and into more absurd territory.
          “Waiter, I’m upset, my steak’s cold”
          “New option”
          “I’m upset, my … forks missing”
          “New option”
          “I’m upset that…. you left me for my sister”

          The game where you have to randomly insert lines prewritten by the audience is pretty neat too.

          • Aftagley says:

            We definitely didn’t do anything that fun.

            The most fun thing we did was “We Are” – one player declared that we are a certain emotion and the other would have to provide the reason we were that way, then the first person had to escalate the emotion.

            “We’re angry”
            “…Because the vending machine ate our money.”
            “…So we should go break the vending machine!”

            They instructor didn’t try and change the scene during it, however. I think they just wanted to get people used to the dynamic and didn’t want to make it too confusing too quickly.

          • Aqua says:

            I think just try a different improv class, sounds like you got a bad vibe and it’s worth checking out another one.

        • jgr314 says:

          one person silently tries to portray an emotion, the other person tries to successfully read what that emotion is and name it. (I think the game was called “You are”)

          Actually, that is the sort of thing I understood from how you phrased it. I wouldn’t be surprised to do it for a short while at some point in an intro class, but it wouldn’t figure prominently or be near the first couple of classes. If the class were targeted toward serious performers or people with some theater background, maybe, but…

          non-insignificant portion of the class […] were literally afraid to speak to the rest of the group

          Ugh, that stinks and is a problem for the class. FWIW, don’t be surprised if those folks don’t show up for the 2nd (or subsequent) classes.

    • Enkidum says:

      Since the start of this year, I’ve been trying a new life habit of whenever I find myself thinking “I wish I could do X” I honestly give X a try, devoting at least 4 hours a week to it for a period of no less than a month. Some of these have stuck around since the beginning of the year (playing piano), some of them I happily abandoned after 4 weeks (good riddance, lock picking).

      I don’t have any comments on improv in specific, but I’d just like to say that this is really cool and if you stick with it, I envy you.

  31. j1000000 says:

    Anyone go to the Boston or NYC meetup? Interested in reports on how these things are going. 130-ish people seems like a lot in a Boston or NYC-area apartment.

    • BBA says:

      I was at the NYC meetup, which fortunately was in an outdoor park. I doubt that many people could have fit into someone’s apartment and I don’t know how they managed in Boston.

      I think it went pretty well.

    • Dan L says:

      If anything, the ~140 number for Boston is a lower bound – that’s the estimated headcount when things relocated to a nearby park, because the group house was standing room only. I heard a later Fermi estimate of ~220, which seemed high but not ridiculously so.

  32. S_J says:

    A little while back, someone shared this article, which I found interesting. The article is from 2016, so it’s been out for some time.

    A journalist writes for the New York Times about a trip from Montreal to Minnesota, by water, on a freighter.

    The freighter in question is one of may that ply the waters of the Great Lakes.

    One thing that caught my eye: the size of the crew-complement on the the Algoma Equinox. Two decades ago, crew-compliments above 30 were common on ships that size. Now the crew complement is about 16, with only a handful active at any time. I’m curious at what technologies enabled that reduction in manpower.

    The trip from Montreal to Duluth, Minnesota took six days. It was slow and stately, and allowed the journalist to see many sights along the shoreline of the Lakes. It also showed him the views of the Lakes as immense inland seas, once the ship left sight of land. It offered scenic views that can’t be found in any other way: he saw several sunsets on the Lakes, and saw many shoreline (and island) locations from the perspective of the pilot-house of the freighter.

    One thing I found interesting is when the article mentioned (briefly) places that I was familiar with, or places where I had seen Lakes freighters pass (e.g.: the Detroit river, as well as Lake Saint Clair and the Saint Clair River). Usually when the freighters pass, they are pushing a bow-wave that is several feet high. And their gigantic engines have a deep rumble that seems to fill the entire area.

    Another interesting thing from the article: an occasiontl worry of the freighter-captains are when they share a narrow channel with small pleasure craft. There hasn’t be a collision between small pleasure craft and large freighters (that I’m aware of) in quite some time. But every once in a while, a close call will result in the regional Coast Guard investigating, and issuing warnings or fines.

    • Aftagley says:

      One thing that caught my eye: the size of the crew-complement on the the Algoma Equinox. Two decades ago, crew-compliments above 30 were common on ships that size. Now the crew complement is about 16, with only a handful active at any time. I’m curious at what technologies enabled that reduction in manpower.

      Sensors. It used to take way more people to be aware of what was going on in and around the ship than it does now.

      Let’s start with engineering:
      It used to be that you’d need a constant team of snipes going throughout the multiple engine rooms, generators, and auxiliary spaces on a ship taking oil samples, recording temperatures and making observations. Given the need for watertight integrity, and the structural benefits of not having single large rooms, these spaces can be scattered throughout the ship and doing a single round was a huge time investment. That’s why you used to have sizable contingents of wipers and oilers running around the engine rooms. Nowadays, all of those sensors are automated, so what took a team of snipes doing constant rounds is now done by one guy in engineering control.

      It’s the same up in the pilot house – it used to be that in addition to the mate or officer standing the navigational watch you’d have a full team of ordinary/able seamen manning the helm and standing lookout. Nowadays in addition to radar, which has gotten way better, you’ve got AIS and GPS-integrated charting.

      All of this results in just needing less people.

      Another interesting thing from the article: an occasiontl worry of the freighter-captains are when they share a narrow channel with small pleasure craft. There hasn’t be a collision between small pleasure craft and large freighters (that I’m aware of) in quite some time.

      Maybe not in the great lakes, but this is still a huge problem and collisions happen frequently throughout the world.

      • John Schilling says:

        Maybe not in the great lakes, but this is still a huge problem and collisions happen frequently throughout the world.

        Fortunately, the United States Navy has a very limited presence on the Great Lakes.

      • bean says:

        That’s a lot of it, but not all of it. Some of it is things like improved coatings which don’t need to be painted as often, or the moving of painting work ashore. More is that jobs beyond “looker at things” are now also automated. A modern marine diesel is incredibly reliable. It’s not just that we’ve replaced the guy who used to check the lube oil with some sensors. Checking it was only half of his job. The other half was fixing it when it broke, and improved sensors can’t do that.

        • What crew-reduction schemes were implemented on warships? I was startled to learn that the Albany-class cruisers had a complement of 1,222 compared to the 330 on a Ticonderoga.

          • bean says:

            The biggest change is going to be in engineering. Modern gas turbine plants take a lot less people than WWII-era steam ones. Beyond that, it’s a lot of little changes. PCs mean you don’t need as many clerks. Aegis needs fewer people than older combat systems because computers do more of the work. Talos needs a lot more hand-holding than does Standard. And then all of those people eliminated mean we need fewer cooks and barbers. Compare the cruise books for Chicago and Valley Forge.

          • Aftagley says:

            This brings up a conspiracy theory I heard frequently back when I was active duty, and I’d appreciate your take on it Bean:

            I sailed both on ships designed and built in the 1950s and ones built much more recently. On the older ships, even accounting for the greater personnel needs of older systems, it just seemed like there was an incredibly high density of people. Berthing areas would be crammed into every available nook and cranny and there were just people, everywhere. I’ve gotten the same sense from my tours of WWII to Vietnam era vessels.

            On modern ships, not the case. Berthing areas and staterooms weren’t spacious, but they at least made sense. Overall population density was way down.

            The reason everyone always gave for why this was so was that the crew complement for these ships set so high because they wanted to ensure the vessel could lose some percentage of the crew and still function – if you sail with exactly as many sailors as you need to make the ship function, you’re SOL if 20% of them die. If you sail with 125%, 20% can die and you’re still capable.

            Was this the case, or was it always optimally manned and those past vessels just needed WAY more people?

          • bean says:

            So far as I know, that’s completely false, and doesn’t even make sense. The need for sufficient people for DC is always part of a ship’s design process. It’s a combination of the older systems being a lot more manpower-intensive and rising expectations of living conditions among the sailors changing the design standards, particularly with the advent of the all-volunteer military and the need to stress retention. These days, the USN is a lot better than it was in WWII, but it’s definitely among the worst of the western navies in terms of both automation and living conditions.

            As for why it doesn’t make sense, think about it. If the ship really doesn’t need those extra people, there’s no reason the Coast Guard couldn’t just not assign them. It would cut running costs and free up more space for the rest of the crew.

          • Aftagley says:

            Right, I should specify, this is clearly no long the case. As the systems on the vessels were revamped and upgraded, people did end up rotating out.

            I was wondering if back during WWII or before, there was ever a consideration given to trying to put more people on a ship than was purely necessary so that it could function even after taking losses. It looks like from your answer, however, that wasn’t the case even back then.

            Now I’m curious how this rumor started; I can tell you that it was the kind of unquestioned common knowledge passed down via the chiefs… right up there with “never wear your socks to bed” and “never clean your coffee mug.”

          • bean says:

            There are two closely related ideas here, one of which is true and one of which is false. The true one is that naval compliments are set at least in part by the need to have people for damage control if the ship gets hit. Sometimes, this means that the ship doesn’t get automated to the extent that it could have been because you already have extra people onboard and don’t want them sitting idle.

            The false one is that they’re there explicitly to replace personnel casualties. I can’t think of any case that would see a significant fraction of the crew become casualties without corresponding damage to the ship. For “25% overmanning so we can fight on if 20% of you die” to make any sense, you’d need to expect to lose 20% of the crew without the ship being damaged. Not sure how that happens, and I’d generally expect that a ship which lost 20% of her crew is going to be either on the bottom or headed back for a very long stay in the yard.

            I’d guess the rumor started with someone who didn’t quite understand overmanning for DC. The other possible explanation is that the ship was overmanned to make sure that they could sustain a high ops tempo for a while, and that got corrupted into “replacements if you die”.

          • Eric Rall says:

            My understanding is that warship crew requirements at sea can vary wildly according to circumstances. There’s much much more to do in a pitched battle than a routine cruise in friendly waters during peacetime, and there’s a spectrum of intermediate states between those extremes.

            The standard way of dealing with this is to put enough men on the ship to handle pitched battle, with flexible duty assignments for lower readiness states. Depending on the readiness state, the crew might be divided into two or three (or four?) watches that rotate between on-duty and off-duty shifts. At the lowest readiness states, the on-duty watches will also spend more time doing housekeeping-type tasks (cleaning, etc), often to a degree that borders on make-work. And at the highest readiness state, anything not immediately vital to the combat readiness of the ship gets dropped and the responsible crewmembers get reassigned to combat duty (for example, cooks and barbers might be repurposed as aircraft spotters or damage control assistants).

            In war movies and military SF, you’ll often hear terms like “Condition I” or “General Quarters” or “Battle Stations” or “Red Alert” when something’s about to go down. These correspond to activating the highest readiness state, with a signal telling the crew to drop whatever they’re doing (waking them up if necessary) and go to their assigned combat posts.

            If the crew takes casualties, they can still fight the ship short-handed, but the combat effectiveness will degrade. Damage control or ammunition handling might be a bit slower with fewer hands, or they might make do with fewer spotters on watch. And when combat is over, they’ll still be able to operate the ship short-handed by having the surviving crew-members spend more time on-duty per day or by neglecting less-essential tasks until they get a chance to take on replacement crew members.

    • Robin says:

      Reminds me of Egon Erwin Kisch, the reporter who in 1920 accompanied a ship which was supposed to go from Prague to Bratislava, about 350 km away, within the freshly founded Czechoslovakian republic.
      https://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/der-rasende-reporter-10607/5

      But the journey had to go in a somewhat roundabout way: Down the Vltava, down the Elbe, up the Rhine, up the Main, down the Danube, with many adventures through recently war-torn Germany.
      No idea if the Google translation is in any way bearable, but the story is really great, with a hilarious punch line.

  33. arch1 says:

    A snippet from Johnson’s article/book review relating to linguistics, in this week’s Economist:

    “A dictum among linguists is that languages differ not in what they can express, but in what they must. … Tariana, from Brazil, has “evidentiality”: speakers choose one of five verb-endings to show how they know what they aver to be true.”

    Alas, per Ethnologue’s language cloud, Tariana is dying: “The only remaining active users of the language are members of the grandparent generation and older.” (There are about 100 of them).

    • Elementaldex says:

      Sounds like providing citations does not a healthy language make.

      • Enkidum says:

        The large majority of the worlds languages are dead or dying. I don’t think it’s evidence for much other than cultural dominance, honestly.

      • arch1 says:

        I don’t know, but there seems at least to be a surprising amount of data on this. From Aikhenvald, Evidentiality, OUP 2004:

        In about a quarter of the world’s languages, every statement must specify the type of source on which it is based — for example, whether the speaker saw it, or heard it, or inferred it from indirect evidence, or learnt it from someone else.

    • Enkidum says:

      A dictum among linguists is that languages differ not in what they can express, but in what they must.

      This is a really good way of putting an idea that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before.

      Consider the weirdness of English’s (and a lot of other Indo-European languages) insisting that speakers always specify whether the noun they are using is one that can be counted or not. Try to come up with a sentence that does not include the words “a”, “the”, or equivalents that is not easily interpretable from context. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’ve thought about it for a long time and never generated one. So this serves effectively no useful communicative function (most languages function just fine without it), yet not doing it instantly renders sentences into pidgin.

      No wonder speakers of high context languages like Chinese find it so difficult.

      • How much of a problem is this really though? If someone spoke English to me and they dropped “a” or “the”, it would sound weird, but I’m pretty sure I could easily understand them.

        • FLWAB says:

          There are a lot of words you could cut out and still be understood. But you sound like a caveman or a maniac.

        • Enkidum says:

          It’s not a problem at all – that’s what I was trying to get across. It doesn’t communicate anything useful, but not doing it just makes you sound like, well, not a native speaker. So it would seem that, as OP said, language differences primarily revolve around what you are required to specify in the language (in this case, countability).

          English and many other European languages are also obsessed with temporal relationships. Consider something like “the course that I had been taking” vs “the course that I took” vs “the course that I was taking”, vs “the course that I was about to take”. In many languages, those sentences would all be the same, and if the precise meaning was unclear from context, you’d just add an extra few words to make it clear. But we are super anal-retentive about this, for no useful purpose that I’m aware of.

          Similarly, Chinese and other Asian languages change the words you use for numbers depending on the shape and/or metaphysical status of the objects being counted. So long skinny things like pens are counted differently from round things like pebbles. Completely useless, serves no purpose of any sort whatsoever. But if you don’t do it, you sound like a fool (or at least a poor speaker of the language).

          • arch1 says:

            The Economist article also mentioned a Nevadan native tribe whose language has 4 past and 3 future tenses based on temporal distance from the present.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            Chinese and other Asian languages change the words you use for numbers depending on the shape and/or metaphysical status of the objects being counted

            As far as I understand (from my passing knowledge of Japanese), the reason for this is that their nouns are all uncountable. A “pen” is a metaphysical concept of a writing utensil, you need to substantiate it to count it for the same reason you need to say “three pieces of metal” instead of “three metals”, or “three sheets of paper” instead of “three papers”. (Obviously you can also speak about “three metals” in English, it will just signify something completely different.)

            So, is it a “must”, or a necessity caused by a lack of means to express something else?

            Also, I really need to point this out – the “a” and “the” particles do not specify whether the noun can be counted or not. They specify whether the noun is definite (refers to something that is unique, had previously been defined or is being defined) or not (refers to a generic example of something). This is a meaningful distinction, and apparently an important one, seeing that other languages recreate it by other means (e.g. topic particles in Japanese).

            (While “the” can also be used this way, it’s the lack of either of them that most poignantly signifies that the noun is treated as uncountable, unspecified, unsubstantiated concept. “Cat is a curious animal” – not a particular cat, a stereotype about a genus. “I went to prison” – not a particular prison, the point is that I was being jailed. “I can play guitar” – not a particular guitar, the skill applies to each and any of them. “I studied math” – not a particular math, duh.)

          • Enkidum says:

            Thanks for the countable/definite correction – I was just wrong about that, long day. The thing I was confusing is that both a/the are used for countable nouns, whereas other nouns don’t require an article.

            But I stand by the basic point, and in fact it applies to both countability (whether a noun needs an article) and definiteness (whether that article should be a or the). And for that matter to counting words in East Asian languages. Can you think of examples of actual normal sentences, embedded in actual normal contexts, where not making the distinction somehow makes some meaning difficult to convey?

            If I am looking at your cat, and say “cat is a curious animal”, you know I’m talking about your cat. In fact, deliberately leaving out articles this way is a central part of text-speak of the under-30 set. All the other examples you give would be immediately obvious using context as well.

            I never mastered counting words for anything other than very common situations, and I can confidently say that my inability to select between “ippon”, “iko” etc never once led to any actual confusion. I suppose that there might be a case in which you are discussing multiple different things that you might be counting, and using one of those words without the corresponding noun would allow you to unambiguously make a statement about numbers with one less word (so you could just say “one” instead of “one cat” or whatever). But this is an incredibly odd problem to solve (and it doesn’t help with the situation where both things are from the same metaphysical class).

            Consider the fact that in Japan, the counting word for “rabbit” is not that used for other small mammals, but instead the one used for “bird”. This is supposedly because it was illegal for peasants to hunt mammals, and so they would treat rabbits as birds after skinning them. I have no idea if this is true, but either way, it’s weird.

            I’m not saying there are no reasons why languages develop the unique features they do. But these reasons are largely historical accidents, with possibly a very small amount of pressure to communicate something useful riding on the side.

            The go-to book for this kind of thing used to be Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, but it’s probably very out of date now. His example of how to count different features of baseball games in Japanese is one of the things that converted me to this view.

            (I should probably mention that I’m not a linguist, and never took a linguistics course, though I’ve done a lot of linguistics-related stuff over the years. So I’m probably running roughshod over a bunch of important theoretical points.)

          • Hoopdawg says:

            If I am looking at your cat, and say “cat is a curious animal”, you know I’m talking about your cat.

            In this particular case? No, I’d be pretty sure you’re making a generalizing statement about felis catus. Admittedly, that’s because of what the sentence means, if you said “cat peed in the litterbox”, I’d certainly assume you are talking about one of my pets. But then again, neither of those examples actually require distinguishing between an identified and unidentified instance of a cat. But then again, your point is that examples that do are rare and it’s ultimately always possible to express the distinction in other ways. That’s most likely true.

            I nevertheless think you’re overreaching when you claim it means “this serves effectively no useful communicative function”. But I think the best arguments I could make for this example would ultimately just confirm the “what they must” adage. And because it’s this adage that I want to disagree with, allow me to change the subject.

            I can confidently say that my inability to select between “ippon”, “iko” etc never once led to any actual confusion

            It would occur to me that the lack of confusion caused by using generic instead of specific counters implies that using the latter is not a “must” for a language speaker. Correct me if I’m wrong, as I can’t claim any meaningful familiarity with vernacular Japanese (much less other Asian languages), but I’m under impression that this is indeed the case and one can always count any noun with general purpose [number]+(tsu/ko) forms. What one “must” do, by strict rules of language, is to express quantities with the help of counters. The choice of counters is fluff.

            Which does not mean that it’s not useful. That it evolved alone suggests that it is, or once was. Once you have the form in the language, you start utilizing it to full effect, whether out of necessity (say, you want to distinguish between sheets and reams of paper), clarity (no example necessary, everything is more specific than a generic “object”) or efficiency (why say “pieces of reams of paper” when “reams of paper” is grammatical and sufficient?). Of even aesthetics, because why should you not? It’s only natural to use the opportunity, after you and everyone else around you already spent the time and brain resources to learn it.

            Yes, sometimes particular choices and options become so entrenched in the language that omitting them makes one look unsophisticated, or even alien. What I’m trying to say is, this is different from inner workings of the language itself forcing you to use them (and, in effect, to say things you’d otherwise want to leave unstated). Culture is a powerful force and I’m not trying to diminish its significance, or claim it can be cleanly separated from language. And yes, that the language’s grammar developed as it developed is a historical accident. Still, the end goal of its development is always to give you the option to express thing you wouldn’t otherwise be able to express, and it does precisely that.

            I should probably mention that I’m not a linguist, and never took a linguistics course, though I’ve done a lot of linguistics-related stuff over the years. So I’m probably running roughshod over a bunch of important theoretical points.

            That’s roughly my background too, with the additional caveat that my sparse formal training in linguistics was in my native language, so I may be missing or misusing English-language linguistic concepts. Don’t let that stop us.

          • Enkidum says:

            Correct me if I’m wrong, as I can’t claim any meaningful familiarity with vernacular Japanese (much less other Asian languages), but I’m under impression that this is indeed the case and one can always count any noun with general purpose [number]+(tsu/ko) forms.

            I used to have somewhat decent (for a gaijin) spoken Japanese – e.g. I could hitchhike from hiking trails and hold conversations about actual things, but would never be mistaken for a native, or even a serious student of the language.

            I actually don’t know for certain the truth about how you’d be perceived if you used a generic counter. I think in most cases, it would be somewhere in between leaving out an article in English and using past tense instead of past perfect – technically wrong, almost certainly a marker of a non-native speaker, but not going to make you seem like an idiot or impede understanding. Certainly I’m pretty sure it would be extremely odd for a native speaker to count paradigmatic examples of the different classes (say, sheets of paper, pebble, paintbrushes, whales, fish, birds, etc) using the generic terms. Maybe it would sound kind of like a joke. But I don’t have a handy Japanese speaker to ask.

            Which does not mean that it’s not useful. That it evolved alone suggests that it is, or once was.

            I think this is what I disagree with – or at least to say it’s not great evidence for it. You’re making something like a Chesterton’s Fence argument for language, and I think it neglects a lot of how languages actually evolve. I really do recommend Lakoff’s work on this.

            Clearly some language forms evolved for utility. But others were simply adapted from pre-existing structures, because it’s easy to make a particular linguistic move when those particular structures exist, and in a different language you’d make a different move. And then those moves become part of the new structure, and ten years later someone does the same thing, and you do this for a few hundred years and then you end up with these insanely baroque architectures that are, to a very large extent, removed from practical considerations. I’d argue that this is a central feature of all non-pidgin languages.

            Still, the end goal of its development is always to give you the option to express thing you wouldn’t otherwise be able to express, and it does precisely that.

            I am very dubious of claims about teleology of evolutionary processes.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            You’re making something like a Chesterton’s Fence argument for language

            Chesterton’s Fence is an argument from ignorance. The claim I would make is much stronger – that all (perhaps but a negligible amount) of grammatical features of language have a necessary function and said function can in all cases be demonstrated and explained. That the latter part is true should be obvious – the very nature and purpose of language means we are understanding what each of its features means.

            There is no denying that many languages are “insanely baroque architectures”. But note the mechanics of how most of it comes about: You start with a simple, regular declension or conjugation, then a few pronunciation shifts later the once-regular inflection divides into multitude of distinct classes. Meanwhile, a few grammatical shifts change the rules for all but the few most common words. In the end, you basically need to learn every inflected form of every word separately. Inefficient, impractical? Yes. But the thing is, all this is done to preserve mutual understanding across lands and generations. We keep saying “do does did done” instead of “do dos doed doed” because the word is so important in our day-to-day communication that apparently any change to it would be too sudden.

            But what makes me especially confident in my claim is the observation how mercilessly unused features of languages are culled from them. Conceptually, it’s like the red-wearing prostitutes from “How The West Was Won” – it takes but a few cases of people misunderstanding you when you use some phrasing for you to give up on using it, even if it’s actually important.

            One example from my native Polish: We used to have a fourth tense, plusquamperfect. Some people still use it, and it might have gotten a boost in conceptual comprehension due to many people learning English and its complex tense-aspect-mood matrix, but it’s no longer an official part of the language. Now, its grammatical forms are still preserved in the language because some of our grammatical constructions refer to the present using past tense forms, and a distinct form was required to refer to the past. The thing is, due to people’s overall unfamiliarity with pluperfect forms, this distinction is in the process of disappearing. Not just in colloquial use – a while ago, there was even an infamous case of Poland’s then-biggest newspaper printing an WW2-related article with a headline to the effect of “The US should bomb Auschwitz” (what, right now?). Few people noticed and protested. I am one of the people who would have, and as much as processes like these irritate me, they also make me confident that what remains is always approaching a local minimum of complexity.

          • Enkidum says:

            I like this conversation, I think I’ll move it to the new OT though. Check there for my top-level response to you.

      • False says:

        English is a notoriously low context language, with sentences needing to be very precise. The “a”/”the” distinction of indefinite and definite articles is a matter of precision (not sure what you mean exactly by “no useful communicative function). There are plenty of situations where its useful to know if something is merely one of many options or the only option. What happens in other languages is that have to use other grammatical structures to convey that point when and if the speaker thinks it’s important, but that has its own set of problems.

        The best way I’ve come to think about the “high context”/”low context” difference is how much work the speaker is doing compared to the listener. In a high context language, the listener has to do more work interpreting and filling in the blanks of what the speaker is saying, where in a low context language, the speaker bears the burden of being as clear as possible, with the listener assumed to be relatively passive.

        • Enkidum says:

          Your username frightened me for a second!

          There are plenty of situations where its useful to know if something is merely one of many options or the only option.

          That may be the case. Can you think of normal situations where it is not immediately obvious which is the case, given a sentence and an environment? Are these common enough to warrant generating one of the primary features of the language, instead of having a simple one or two word phrase to indicate the difference in the rare cases where it is needed? If so, why doesn’t this distinction exist in most languages?

          (As I noted above, I’m not a linguist. So take what I say with a grain of salt – but I believe it is true.)

          • xenon says:

            “I saw a a man at work today” — okay, cool story

            “I saw the man at work today” — oh, that one you’ve mentioned previously that you think is following you? Should we do something about him?

            It’s not a crucial difference and it could easily be done by optional phrases as in other languages, but then most things in a language don’t need to be there all the time. Tariana doesn’t need to indicate where information was learned–English does it just as well with optional “I heard/I was told/etc” phrases, and how often is it important to distinguish that you know dinner is ready because you can smell it is ready?–but it does anyway.

            Also, definite/indefinite articles are fairly widespread linguistically. WALS info on indefinite articles (“a”) and definite articles, although unfortunately it doesn’t distinguish between whether the article is mandatory or optional, but given that definiteness is such a weird category linguistically I don’t know that I can find better.

          • Enkidum says:

            I guess I overstated my case in saying it is entirely useless. Just… mostly useless, most of the time, and certainly it seems weird to make any of these things central features of the language.

            Thanks for the extra info on definiteness.

  34. baconbits9 says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to fix Paul Simon’s ’50 ways to Leave Your Lover’. Solid lyrics for the verse sections nearly ruined by the lazy name rhyming chorus.

    • Matt says:

      Question about lazy rhymes:

      I swear I heard a pop song in the last 5 years with 2 rhyming lines of the following form:

      Something something something [hard to rhyme word]
      something something What rhymes with [hard to rhyme word]

      Can anyone tell me what song I’m remembering?

      • hls2003 says:

        Blurred Lines had:

        You wanna hug me
        Hey, hey, hey
        What rhymes with hug me?
        Hey, hey, hey

        But that’s a wink at an expletive more than a lazy rhyme.

      • Aftagley says:

        Lyrics in question:

        You wanna hug me
        Hey, hey, hey
        What rhymes with hug me?
        Hey, hey, hey

        From the cultural train wreck that was “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke

        Edit: Damn it. Beaten by hls2003.

      • AppetSci says:

        Humpty Hump in Doowutchyalike
        [H.H. and S.G.] What we’re saying is, it really doesn’t matter
        [H.H.] I need a word that sounds like “Ana”
        [H.H. and S.G.] Slipped on a peel of banana
        Doowutchyalike.

        or in Humpty Dance
        I shoot an arrow like Cupid,
        I use a word that don’t mean nothin’, like looptid

    • flye says:

      I submit the lyrics to Carol Brown by Flight Of The Conchords:

      Jen said she’d never ever see me again
      When I saw her again, she said it again
      Jan met another man
      Liza got amnesia, just forgot who I am

  35. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing Update:

    I’ve looked at the technologies used to pass fire-control data between various locations in the ship.

    Ever wondered where naval ranks and the rank structure itself come from? Naval Gazing is here to help, for both officers and enlisted.

    The series on riverine warfare continues with a look at South America.

    Fouling, marine growths on the hulls of ships, have been a problem for centuries, and a wide variety of countermeasures have been developed, some more successful than others.

    It’s been four years since I first visited Iowa, a milestone I chose to mark with a recounting of that fateful day.

    Lastly, our Rule the Waves 2 game has seen the outbreak of war with Italy. Again.

  36. ECD says:

    Filing a FOIA request which is more likely to be successful.

    This effort post has three parts:

    1) Identifying the parties and questions.
    2) Communicating with the agency
    3) Filing the request

    None of this is legal advice, and indeed, it focuses mostly on administrative processing. None of this is the official position of any agency I may, or may not work for. It is rather my own, personal opinion.

    (1) Identifying the parties and the questions

    FOIA lets you request documents, not get questions answered, but usually folks have a question they want answered. Figure out what that is.

    If you send a requests to the Corps of Engineers like ‘You built Levee X near my house and turned it over to the County to O&M, give me all the documents related to the X Levee by my house. Usually the response you will get is, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘related to,’ or ‘by’ (within 50 feet, 5 miles?) we have thousands of potentially responsive documents. Which ones do you want?”

    That request could be trying to answer a lot of questions:
    A) I’m writing a comprehensive history of the levee and really want everything: All right, then work with the agency on search terms and where to search and be prepared to pay or have a discussion about fee waivers.
    B) Is my flood insurance going to go up due to issues with the levee: You may be sending this request to the wrong agency, you probably want FEMA and the information may already be public (seriously, do a google search and check the agency’s ‘FOIA reading room’ where they post frequently requested documents to see if it’s publically available before beginning this process).
    C) Is my house safe from flooding: Note, this has two potentially sources of worry. Are you worried about the levee failing? You probably want the last levee inspection report. Are you worried about whether the levee was designed to protect where your house was placed, maybe you want design documents, or hydraulic models, or flood maps, it depends.
    D) Is the county living up to its responsibilities to O&M the levee: Again, maybe you’re worried they’re slacking off (in which case you want the inspection report) or maybe you’re worried about some other term of the agreement and want the agreement as amended to examine.
    E) I say people out walking on the levee, they claim they have the right to be there, but it’s my property! Do I have to let them: You want the real estate instruments underlying the levee.

    So, the first step is figure out what your question is and why you want to know (note, you don’t have to share why if you don’t want to, except maybe for fees, but it can help).

    Once you’ve got that, you need to figure out which agency has the document you want. This can be tricky. In this example, you already know the Corps built the levee and is inspecting it, but if you don’t know who might have the records, some basic research on who was involved in whatever it is can help. For real estate stuff, county records will usually give you an agency (and many county assessors have publicly available web info on land ownership). For construction, usually a search for the name will give you an agency bragging about building it. For a law, or regulatory enforcement, a google search will probably give you at least the agency, though which part can be opaque.

    There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with sending a request to the wrong agency, you’ll just get a no records response (and, if they’re feeling helpful, maybe some recommendation on where to try next), however, ‘no records’ responses can still charge fees and can waste time, so better to avoid it if possible.

    That leads us into our next step, (2) contacting the agency. Once you think you know which agency, you may need to figure out which sub-part. So, sticking with our example, the Corps of Engineers is divided into districts, with different regulatory and civil works boundaries. Levees are civil works, so you’d need to look at a map for civil works boundaries and the location of the levees (how would you know this? Maybe a search will tell you, maybe you need to talk to the Corps HQ FOIA liaison). Then you’d go to the Corps FOIA webpage (note, a lot of agencies take FOIA requests through FOIA.gov, but not all, I recommend checking the agency FOIA webpage). Once you had the relevant district, give them a call.

    If you get someone, or leave a message, the pattern is going to be basically the same. You’re planning to file a FOIA request and want to limit it to just the documents you need, so you don’t waste their time, or your money. What you want, though not all agencies may be willing to do this, is a conference call with you, the FOIA officer and the relevant record’s custodian or subject matter expert (SME). You also want to include, in the nicest way possible, something like, ‘to make sure I don’t forget, I want to file this request by the end of next week,’ so that they know that if they want to save themselves a potentially painful request, they need to get back to you in a reasonable time.

    The FOIA officer doesn’t, usually, search everything personally. Instead they rely on the people who have the records, those are also the folks who know which record will answer your question, which is why you want to talk to the SME.

    Many (can’t say most, haven’t checked) agencies have two processing queues, one for “simple” requests and one for “complicated” requests. Simple = Can process in the statutory 20 days. Complicated = can process in the statutory 30 days OR this is going to take forever. Obviously, you want to be in the simple pile, which means not being incredibly long, not being incredibly difficult to find and not requiring them to consult with other agencies, or outside parties (e.g. contracting documents, or other documents that might contain confidential commercial information). So, ‘give me this specific document that we just discussed,’ is about the simplest request possible.

    Hopefully the SME will be able to say, ‘ah, you want the levee inspection report,’ or ‘sorry, you need to talk to FEMA about flood insurance,’ but, if not, it will at least give you some idea of what sort of records they do have.

    Now, if they’re unwilling to arrange a conference call, they may be willing to pass on a question to the SME, to help narrow the request. So, be ready to give them (preferably in writing to avoid confusion) the question and the motivation. Again, you want to put a, nice, clock on it. Everyone is busy and FOIA requests which haven’t come in yet aren’t on anyone’s metrics.

    So, you know what you want and what to ask for. Now you just have to ask for it, which brings us to (3) filing the request. This isn’t hard. Most agencies have forms, or model letters. There are a few things that can get you tripped up and get things confused.

    A) As discussed, try to ask for a specific document, or set of documents (environmental compliance documents for the original construction of X levee is probably fine, ‘all documents related to the environmental effects of X levee’ is going to get expensive and complicated very fast).
    B) Fees. I haven’t discussed these much, but there’s a few categories, which determine which fees you need to pay. There’s a good description here (https://foia.wiki/wiki/Fees_and_Fee_Categories). The key thing is to say which fee category you think you fall in and why. Similarly, if you want to request a fee waiver, feel free, but make sure you explain why you meet the requirements (https://foia.wiki/wiki/Fee_Waivers) and, regardless, you want to agree to pay fees up to a certain amount, otherwise you can be held up on a technicality. Usually agreeing to pay up to $5.00 with a request that they come back to you if the costs are going to exceed that is sufficient to get you going, and the clock running (unless you’re a commercial operator, you’re going to get 2 hours of search for free and 100 pages of duplication for free, at least, so if they know what you want and know where it is, costs can be very low, I’ve processed hundreds of FOIA requests and charged fees less than five times).
    C) Duplication: Describe how you want to receive the files, and how much you care. Do you want hardcopy, even if it’s more expensive? Are you willing to pay to have documents scanned and reviewed, instead of merely photocopied?
    D) Expedited processing. You almost certainly don’t meet the requirements of expedited processing (https://foia.wiki/wiki/Expedited_Processing). If you do, sure, ask. If you just want things faster, asking won’t accomplish anything, except wasting their time as they write something up explaining why you aren’t getting it.
    E) Give enough information so they know how to get you the files.

    And, make it clear you’re happy to continue communicating. Let’s take the environmental compliance example. If you really care about the environmental effects and don’t give a shit about the two hundred page cultural resources study that was done, which I’m going to need to redact large parts of to prevent looting of cultural sites, then I can save time and you can save money, if I (1) know that; and/or (2) know that you’re willing to talk to me and we can discuss that. If we’re comfortable talking to each other, everything gets better, especially if you can just give me a call after the document is released and say ‘what does FOUO mean on page 73,’ instead of filing a second FOIA request.

    Some of this can even be done pre-emptively, if you know what you want. Lots of agencies have concern about release of names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. If you don’t care about that, you can say in the request, “I’ll accept a version of the files with all personally identifiable information redacted,” and save quite a bit of back and forth. Similarly for contract documents, ‘I’m not interested in unit pricing information, feel free to redact that,” may be enough to save you from a lengthy back and forth with the contractor.

    So, TLDR: Check to see if what you want is already in the public domain. Do initial research to figure out who to call. Talk to the agency before, during (and maybe even after) the FOIA request. Know what you’re trying to get answered and be willing to share that. Be precise in what document you’re requesting and be polite, but persistent.

    • cassander says:

      I do this a lot, I endorse these suggestions and add one. the SMEs are your best friends in the process, as they’re the ones most likely to know what you’re actually looking for and what you can and can’t get. Playing telephone through public affairs officers is intensely frustrating. Do whatever you can to get in touch with the actual experts and ask them for help shaping your request. It won’t always work, but it will work more often than the alternatives.

      • ECD says:

        See, that’s interesting, for my agency FOIA is run through the attorneys, not public affairs, I hope we’re more efficient than that.

  37. BBA says:

    Will this smartphone app replace the TI graphing calculator in high school math classes? Of course not. TI won’t give up their cash cow without fighting tooth and nail. But it is nice to see wider acknowledgment of the absurdity that an obsolete piece of ’90s technology still costs as much as it did in the ’90s.

    Aside from being a standardized device for use in standardized testing, is there any other use for a separate calculator in this day and age?

    • Randy M says:

      It’s easier to prevent cheating if allowing only a non-internet enabled device. [edit: but not much]
      And a one time fee for the calculator is cheaper than even an old smart phone + monthly payments.
      Can you use Aps on a smart phone without phone/data access?

      • Eric Rall says:

        Can you use Aps on a smart phone without phone/data access?

        Yes, you can. I don’t have a data plan for mine (just talk and text), and most apps work just fine with wifi at home/work and no data at all when I’m away. Talk/text plans are optional, too, unless you actually want to use your phone as a phone.

      • cassander says:

        Surely the college board could write an app that locks got out off everything but a calculator for 90 minutes.

        • BBA says:

          The question is not whether it’s technically possible, it’s whether an assistant football coach roped into test-proctoring duty can consistently enforce the technical limitations and not be fooled by a clever student.

        • Aapje says:

          @cassander

          Allowing apps to do so, means that apps can hijack your phone (‘ransomware mode’). So this is not going to be a feature that standard OS’s are going to offer. So it would have to involve writing a custom OS.

          With constantly changing hardware, it would require constant development (and tech support). Plus, it would still require a separate smartphone from the one where the kids have their apps.

          So it would probably be (way) more expensive than a TI calculator.

          Also, it would still be more easily compromised than a graphing calculator. General purpose computers are very good at being general purpose, but not so good at enforced single purposeness.

          • cassander says:

            It would definitely cost more than a TI, but 4 million students take the SAT or ACT every year, and presumably a lot of them buy a TI because of that.

            I was envisioning something like the airline apps. You come in, use it to register that you’re taking the test, the test administrators enter a code, and then you can’t do anything but use their calculator for 2 hours. But I admit that I didn’t think about the implications of making that functionality robust and you’re right that it’s potentially problematic.

          • Clutzy says:

            The bar exam has exactly that kind of software for the essay section.

          • Nornagest says:

            The airlines do their enforcement at the network level; the app is just a handy front-end. Which works fine if you can force everyone to use wifi that you control, such as when you’re in an aluminum tube thirty thousand feet up going six hundred miles an hour; it works less well if you have access to the cell network.

            You could get a similar effect by building a Faraday cage into your lecture hall, or siting it underground or in the middle of a heavy concrete structure. But none of these options are cheap.

          • Lambert says:

            You’ll never make it watertight.
            But you can catch the less smart cheaters by logging all wifi packets that go through whatever router is closest to the toilets by the examination hall.

      • Aftagley says:

        It’s easier to prevent cheating if allowing only a non-internet enabled device

        Man oh man is this not the case. taught myself to program by making TI-84 programs that rendered pretty much every math, physics and science test I took throughout highschool basically irrelevant.

        Those things are super easy to program, casual inspection can’t tell the difference between legitimate use and “i wrote something that takes this test for me” and, best of all, everyone has one so you don’t look out of place if you’re poking at one during the test.

        • Placid Platypus says:

          “Easier” doesn’t mean easy. Not to mention if you can write the program you’ve probably learned the material well enough to pass the test anyway.

          • silver_swift says:

            Not to mention if you can write the program you’ve probably learned the material well enough to pass the test anyway.

            Don’t know about Aftagley, but when I was in highschool, the thing to do was just to copy the relevant sections of your textbook into your calculator so you can use it as a cheat sheet during the test.

            That doesn’t take any understanding of the material and stills renders any tests that are based on pure memorization skills irrelevant.

          • Randy M says:

            That doesn’t take any understanding of the material and stills renders any tests that are based on pure memorization skills irrelevant.

            There’s an argument that they are anyways.

          • Aftagley says:

            @ Placid Platypus

            I mean, that was certainly my justification for it. I’m not quite sure if a plurality of my teachers would have agreed.

            @Silver_swift
            Yeah, I did a little bit of this as well. Fortunately, however, very few of the classes I took where having a calculator out wouldn’t look suspicious relied on that kind of rote memorization.

          • mitv150 says:

            After some point in HS (and throughout college), all of my math/physics/chemistry etc. tests were either open book or permitted you to bring in several sheets of notes. Using a calculator as a cheat sheet was not necessary, as all of the professors understood this capability and permitted actual cheat sheets.

        • Zeno of Citium says:

          You played yourself. Knowing the formulas well enough to program them means understanding them on a level far beyond the average math student. What felt like cheating was actually studying. Plus, as you said, you also learned to program.
          I actually had a teacher that explicitly told us that we could use a program for algebra formulas if we programmed it ourselves, for the same reason.

          • Aftagley says:

            Yep! I had a teacher like that as well. I’m just not sure if every teacher I had after him would feel bound by that promise.

            Fortunately, I just didn’t ask!

    • broblawsky says:

      Could you set up a Stingray or something to prevent someone from using significant data bandwidth or texting in class but still let people make phone calls?

    • CthulhuChild says:

      I keep my TI-83 on my office desk and often use it when doing simple figures. It’s faster to enter data, easier to correct errors, and displays the history of equations. I work in a secure area that won’t let me have my cell phone on me, so my alternative is very slow internet websites with calculator functionality, or the windows calculator.

      Even allowing that my case is special, longstanding use and proficiency has made me disinclined to research and practice using a new app, even if there is one that would probably work well. I will also say that the large size of the device makes it easier to use: big tactile buttons and a screen that shows a fair bit of data. Most cell phone calculator apps seem to have either tiny buttons and a decent display area, or big buttons and a tiny display window. Maybe a tablet app would solve this problem.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        For my brain, I enjoy using something that isn’t loaded with distractions.

        I can do physical labor for hours without boredom. When I sit down to do something on my computer, for which I get paid a lot, I want to check other things after working for just a little bit.

    • Beck says:

      Aside from being a standardized device for use in standardized testing, is there any other use for a separate calculator in this day and age?

      I use a Casio calculator daily at work (structural engineer), and everyone I work with does the same.
      I also keep a Construction Master laying around for working in feet and inches. It could be that it’s just what I’m used to, but I prefer a calculator to a phone.

      Construction workers, particularly carpenters, are another group that might stick with calculators for a while.

      • CatCube says:

        I use my TI-89, but similar. Trying to peck out calculations on a touchscreen soft keyboard is my private version of hell.

        ETA: Excel is also a pain for simple equations. I had my calculator batteries die on me when I was trying to design an emergency fix, and that was really frustrating to use a spreadsheet or computer calculator (of course, it was also at 14 hours into a 17 hour day, which increased the sense of frustration).

        Mathcad is nice for some things, but it’s really, really awkward to use if you’re doing something graphics-heavy, like a complex shear and moment diagram. There, it’s still faster to use pencil and paper with a calculator.

    • John Schilling says:

      Aside from being a standardized device for use in standardized testing, is there any other use for a separate calculator in this day and age?

      Vastly superior user interface, with a reasonably sized tactile-feedback keyboard and lots of dedicated function keys. I keep one handy anyplace i am likely to be called upon to do a bit of quick math.

      Also, calculators don’t come factory standard with Chinese military-grade spyware, and even if they did it wouldn’t be a big deal because they don’t have wifi capability. Lots of places I am called upon to do math, potentially very consequential math, absolutely do not allow smartphones.

    • Lambert says:

      Are there no cheap chinese knockoffs?
      30 years of technological advancement should make it easy for them to replicate that kind of thing for a fraction of the price.
      How do the brains of a TI compare to an ATMega (Arduino) microcontroller?

      • BBA says:

        A Casio calculator costs about $50 for similar functionality to a $120 TI. A no-name manufacturer could probably get the price even lower. But the buttons and the software won’t be precisely the same as the TI platform that everybody’s used to and all the textbooks are geared towards. Sure, computer whizzes like us can adapt rapidly but this isn’t about us, it’s about everyone else in the world.

        • Lambert says:

          What’s stopping someone in Shenzhen from making a perfect TI clone?
          I’m assuming that the TI’s behaviour is very well documented and that nobody cares about the exact floating-point error or whatever.

          • BBA says:

            Look-and-feel copyright and trade dress violations. These won’t stop anyone in Shenzhen, but it would get the calculators seized at customs when someone tries to import them into a country with functional IP laws.

    • ana53294 says:

      But it is nice to see wider acknowledgment of the absurdity that an obsolete piece of ’90s technology still costs as much as it did in the ’90s.

      The fact that it nominally costs the same means that effectively, it has gone down in price.

      EDIT: And, as others have said, it’s much more secure and harder to use to cheat. I’d say that anyone who bothers to program a TI 84 to be able to solve the basic algebra questions in high school math probably knows enough that it’s OK to let them pass. Smartphone apps would be much more difficult to monitor. And there would be some standard, government mandated, app that would block the phone’s wifi, that would be equallly expensive.

      I don’t see how an app that prevents cheating as well/badly as a graphing calculator would not cost more than 120 USD+30 USD for batteries (really generous estimate) for your whole life. Those things are really durable.

      • ana53294 says:

        In Spain, programmable calculators are banned in Selectividad, the exam it takes to go to university. Calculators that can solve matrices or can transfer data are also banned.

        Most people in Spain use Casio calculators.

        Teachers do have a preference for everybody to use the same calculator. This way, they show everybody how to go through the same steps, and problem solving is easier.

        Calculators also have the advantage using little battery (it basically lasts for years), and not needing internet.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      There are obvious advantages to a school for a non-internet connected device that everyone has [virtually] the same model of.
      But complaining about TI and proposing software to do it instead doesn’t really solve the issue that the software that gets employed will still likely end up being uniform between the schools [for the same reason they wanted uniform calculators] and therefore proprietary to a particular group of people. The only difference being that the would-be monopolist can charge subscription fees instead of the real world scenario where [hopefully] perfectly servicable used calculators can be gotten from students who don’t need them anymore.

      One way around this might be to have the various ed departments get together and settle on a series of design requirements for a calculator that has no patent associated with it. TI, Casio, and whoever can manufacture them without monopoly protections and as long as their respective models meet the design specs students can use them.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        Couldn’t schools just eat the cost of the calculators once and then loan them out to students like books for the rest of time? The whole joke is they haven’t really changed for decades. I ended up just leaving mine in a desk somewhere with a note wishing good luck to whoever found it and some descriptions of the little programs I’d tried to make.

        I was even told in school that buying a new TI calculator was a racket and I should just find someone who was going off to college and buy theirs for 20 bucks.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          Also an option, though i did mentioned that physical calculators can be resold, i didn’t mention them getting lent out.

          I tend to think something like that would result in a lot of calculators getting lost or stolen by students but i guess in theory you could require the student repay the school.

    • Aqua says:

      I don’t get it. I’ve never been in a class that required a graphing calculator, and my calculator in high school ~$20 and lasted almost all of high school. Some kids had graphing calculators, but it was not widespread..
      I’m surprised that TI calculator sells at all tbh

    • Most of the discussion so far of computer vs calculator has been in the high school context. Computers are now routinely used at the college and graduate school level for taking tests on.

      About thirty-five years ago, when I was at Tulane Business School, I designed some software for the purpose that never got written. Most of my effort went into making it easier to take exams and easier to grade them. Many years later, when actual test taking software appeared, most of the effort appeared to have gone into preventing students from cheating, locking them out of their normal files and the internet while the test was being taken.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      For simple equations, calculators are sometimes useful because I only have 2 computers screens at work. I probably need, like, 7. It means my scarce screen space is not a calculator.

      Also, calculators are much quicker than pulling the calculator app out on my phone. And minor delays lasting a few seconds is the difference between angry ADBG and pleasant ADBG sometimes.

  38. CthulhuChild says:

    Just reporting in on the Victoria, BC SSC Meetup. It was very small (3 people), but was quite pleasant. I got emails from a few people who missed it and want in next time. I’ll post here and meetups.com before doing the next one, along with an email to everyone who showed interest.

  39. According to Credit Suisse, the net worth of the median Ukrainian adult is $40.

    By this metric, Ukraine is the poorest country in the world (excluding North Korea, etc.). Thinking of Ukraine as utterly destitute goes strongly against my priors and I am highly suspicious of this conclusion. I can think of several explanations, but have no idea if any of them are correct:

    – Most Ukrainians live in government-owned housing and no one has any home equity.
    – There is an enormous black market that isn’t being counted in these statistics.
    – Credit Suisse is full of it.
    – I really do have three orders of magnitude more wealth than the average Ukrainian.

    Can someone who knows more about Ukraine than I do enlighten me?

    • cassander says:

      median net worth is a pretty meaningless figure, given how strongly age is associated with net worth.

      • Ukraine’s population pyramid is essentially identical to Russia’s, which has a median net worth of $2,739. Something is very different between these two countries, and it’s not Ukraine having an unusually young population.

        • cassander says:

          a society where everyone starts at 0 and ends up at 100 dollars can have a median net worth of 40, and so can a society where everyone starts at 0 and ends up at 10 million. The lack of housing equity explains a lot, but that demonstrates why median net worth isn’t a particularly useful statistic. If they have the same standard of living as an identical country where they do own their houses, but have the same standard of living, the Ukrainians are only poorer on paper, not reality.

        • Chalid says:

          Something is very different between these two countries

          No. You’re thinking “$2700 is much greater than $40” but that’s misleading. $40 is the median of assets minus debts, and both assets and debts are probably greater than $10k. It only takes a small shift in assets or debts to make a big fractional change to net worth.

    • John Schilling says:

      The most likely explanation is that the median Ukranian is carrying a lot of debt for mumble something reasons. Note that it is entirely possible for a person with a “net worth” of $40 to live in a mansion, have dozens of servants at their beck and call, eat at Michelin three-star restaurants every day (presuming there are such things in the Ukraine), and fly off to the French Riviera in their privately-owned Gulfstream V every other month. It is within the two-sigma realm of possibility that Donald Trump’s net worth has been less than $40 for the past five years and that this is why he doesn’t want people seeing his tax returns. I say this not because I mean to suggest that the median Ukranian is really an indebted oligarch, but to point out that “net worth” is not actually a very good measure of poverty or deprivation.

      Also, it is possible for a nation’s citizens to have a median net worth less than zero. The tabulated Credite Suisse “wealth” figures cover a broad and perhaps broadly plausible range, but the bit where they go down very close to but never below zero is suspicious and makes me suspect that what CS is tabulating is not “net worth” in the normal accounting sense. And the Wikipedia summary doesn’t use the phrase “net worth”. But it does indicate that they are counting debts and liabilities in some sense.

      So, bottom line, someone needs to dig into how Credit Suisse is defining “wealth” for this purpose. And I’m taking fifteen minutes out of studying cryptically vague spaceship operating manuals, so it’s not going to be me taking a deep dive into cryptically vague accounting standards today or tomorrow.

      • If you go to the source it was previously in the hundreds before falling to 40:

        https://www.credit-suisse.com/media/assets/corporate/docs/about-us/research/publications/global-wealth-databook-2018.pdf

        I say it’s an estimation error. If you’re Trump, you can easily get a loan, but can the average Ukrainian worker? Do they have an American style credit card system?

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, the average Ukrainian worker can easily get a loan. It is not necessary to have an “American-style credit card system” for ordinary people to take out loans. Ukraine has payday lenders, mortgages, car loans, and credit unions. They also have loan sharks. And they have American-style credit cards, but most people don’t use them.

          A quick google suggests that the interest rates for all of these things are presently quite high by American standards. But then, that would be consistent with Ukrainians being generally buried in debt.

    • brad says:

      I don’t think net worth is a good metric. I have negative net worth and easily top quintile consumption.

      • Obviously it’s possible to have both lots of assets and lots of liabilities. The question is why Ukraine’s median (assets – liabilities) is closer to that of Malawi than that of Belarus.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          War? Well, revolution then war.
          It can generate quite a lot of debt.

        • John Schilling says:

          The question is why Ukraine’s median (assets – liabilities) is closer to that of Malawi than that of Belarus.

          Again, we do not know that this is the case because we do not know that the figure being reported is “median (assets – liabilities)”. The first question is, what the heck is Credit Suisse actually reporting here? Then we can consider whether absolute distance from zero actually means anything.

        • SamChevre says:

          Note that one oddity of median net worth is that stable incomes and a functioning credit market result in LOWER median net worth in most cases. (If your income is unstable and you can’t borrow, holding consumption down and accumulating assets is a survival mechanism.)

    • Erusian says:

      You have orders of magnitude more wealth than the average Ukrainian in nominal terms. Ukrainian doctors earn a few thousand dollars a year on average. Software developers (which are more subject to international price pressure) max out at about 20k a year, which is all the more remarkable because Ukraine’s long been a center for computer science. The average household makes about 1.7k in nominal terms. However, things are cheap in turn: a one bedroom apartment in their equivalent of Manhatten is less than $2k a month and average rent is only a few hundred dollars a year. Decent apartments in safe but not trendy areas of Kiev can be purchased for $20-30k. This means in real terms a dollar goes about four times further in Ukraine than the US (PPP adjustment specifically).

      More generally, the Ukrainian economy was hit very hard in the 1990s and was carved up into Magnates Russia-style (and unlike in Russia, no one has come along to break up the Magnates). The economy recovered in the 2000s, but suffered extremely during the 2008 crisis. The economy shrunk by more than 5% in 2008 alone and the UN declared portions of the population were experiencing absolute poverty, as in they qualified for African-style humanitarian aid. The country recovered from 2010-2014 but then the Russians invaded. This hasn’t ended the economic recovery but it has introduced new costs and has done strange things with the GDP: the east, where the separatist regions are, were generally the wealthier parts of the country. Meanwhile, there’s various internal issues that continue to hold the country back economically.

      $40 is like those statistics about how most Americans can’t cover a $500 emergency, I think. There’s probably some play to exaggerate a point. But yes, you absolutely can move to Kiev with a hundred thousand dollars and have more than most Ukrainians will make over the course of their entire careers.

      • brad says:

        The average household makes about 1.7k in nominal terms. However, things are cheap in turn: a one bedroom apartment in their equivalent of Manhatten is less than $2k a month and average rent is only a few hundred dollars a year. Decent apartments in safe but not trendy areas of Kiev can be purchased for $20-30k. This means in real terms a dollar goes about four times further in Ukraine than the US (PPP adjustment specifically).

        The $2k/month seems way off from the other numbers. For comparison in NYC to buy an apartment in a safe but not trendy neighborhood not too far out of the way could easily go for $500k. But while that’s 20x, only 2x of the $2k rent gets a very nice one bedroom in Manhattan. At 20x you’d be talking about renting penthouses or townhouses.

        Is it a bifurcated market with some areas having “international” pricing?

        • Erusian says:

          There is some bifurcation but what I meant by “Manhattan” was “the expensive parts of Manhattan”. Like a good apartment or penthouse equivalent in Midtown or Tribeca. A nice, safe, non-trendy apartment is almost always going to be less than $1k a month. I was trying to communicate the top of the market, not the average.

          Even as a foreigner paying a premium for being a rich foreigner rent short term and not speaking Ukrainian you can still get a good one bedroom downtown for like $500 a month.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I for one find this figure plausible. Ukraine is unfortunately dirt poor, according to wikipedia tables on GDP per capita in PPP terms it is below e.g. Jamaica or Egypt, and also it has probably more developed credit markets than other countries at similar income levels, which means that people are taking on more debt and thus reducing their net wealth.

  40. N Zohar says:

    I keep getting excellent feedback on my fiction writing here and on the blog I set up for that purpose, which reinforces my habit of asking for it!

    My latest (very) short story is in the form of a prayer, set in a future where online dating site AIs have coalesced, AlphaGo’ed our 23andMe-type data, and engineered a new species out of us.

  41. CthulhuChild says:

    Just reporting in on the Victoria, BC SSC Meetup. It was very small (3 people), but was quite pleasant. I got emails from a few people who missed it and want in next time. I’ll post here and meetups.com before doing the next one, along with an email to everyone who showed interest.

    graeme dot andrew . hill at gee male dot com

  42. EchoChaos says:

    Very cool story posted on Twitter about a duel in the Russo-Japanese war:

    https://twitter.com/Chadliban/status/1176299611700498432

  43. Coldinia says:

    Ok so according to the UK Supreme Court, the proroguation was unlawful and it is as if it never happened.

    Unanimous decision by all 11 judges. I don’t recall seeing any predicitions anywhere near this outcome – it’s falbbergasting to me that a SC decision can be not just surprising but so one-sidedly so. Definitely watching Parliament resume (not reconvene!) tomorrow…!

    • EchoChaos says:

      Fantastically culture war, unfortunately. I am really curious about this and look forward to our discussion in the .25 thread coming tomorrow.

      • Watchman says:

        How is thus culture war? Despite the best efforts of the press the UK has avoided culture war in politics to any major degree, and instead has gone for fragmentation, random alliances and shooting oneself in the foot. Not all political debate is culture wars.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I feel like Brexit is fraught with the culture war because it represents nationalism versus globalism, but everyone’s view will differ.

          I personally am going to steer clear until .25

          • Watchman says:

            I’m offended ;-). Im pro-Brexit on globalism grounds and I’m not unusual. I can’t understand how any true supporter of globalism can see the protectionist EU as a good thing.

            There are some in media and politics, on every side, who are trying to make Brexit about nationalism versus internationalism, people versus politicians. It’s vastly more complex than that though, and by accepting a narrative of this as a manifestation of a culture war you’re rewarding those pushing a simplistic narrative against a fascinating if complex situation.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Watchman

            Fair. I am obviously not British in the slightest, and haven’t been since the 1600s, so the antics of the mother country are more entertainment than impact on my life.

          • Nick says:

            It’s not a matter of rewarding or not rewarding a narrative. If those “this is CW” folks come here and make it CW, it’s CW. All the others virtuously complexifying the issue can’t change what the CW folks will say.

            (In the spirit of quashing all simplistic narratives 🙂 , you haven’t presented a binary, since 1) I totally see it in a CW lens, but 2) I don’t really have a leg in the race myself and don’t know which is best for the UK or the world.)

        • Lambert says:

          Outside of Brexit, the UK has largely avoided culture war.
          Because the issue doesn’t line up well with existing party lines, you get a load of bonus fragmentation, random alliances and shooting oneself in the foot thrown in with the CW for your money.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      John Roberts has managed unanimous rulings for SCOTUS many times since he became Supreme Leader – err, Chief Justice. I forget the actual numbers. (To be fair, they tend not to be newsmaking rulings.)

      • Protagoras says:

        It’s not remarkable that it was unanimous, it’s remarkable that it was unanimous and unexpected. I’m sure you’ll find that in the SCOTUS rulings that were unanimous, the court-watchers all at least predicted which side would win, and probably most expected it to be unanimous. Like Coldinia, I don’t recall seeing anyone confidently predicting this outcome for the UK supreme court decision, though my news sources don’t pay nearly as much attention to the UK supreme court as to SCOTUS.