Links Retrospective, March – April 2020

Links Retrospective is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month time-frame. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism.
The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Of ~200 articles that I liked enough to bookmark during this period, I shortlisted 15, and now here are my top 5 picks for March and April, 2020 in no particular order:
Hyperobjects and the End of Common Sense – Timothy Morton, 2010
We have created things that we can hardly understand, let alone control, let alone make sensible political decisions about. Sometimes it’s good to have new words for these things, to remind you of how mind-blowing they are. So I’m going to introduce a new term: hyperobjects. Hyperobjects are phenomena such as radioactive materials and global warming. Hyperobjects stretch our ideas of time and space, since they far outlast most human time scales, or they’re massively distributed in terrestrial space and so are unavailable to immediate experience.
I think that this could be a really useful term. Go take a look at the plutonium, really look. Because I felt a new emotion when I did.
Reiki Can’t Possibly Work. So Why does it? – Jordan Kisner, 2020
To note that touch-based healing therapies, including Reiki, simulate the most archetypal care gestures is hardly a revelation. Several scientists I interviewed about their work on Reiki mentioned the way their mother would lay a hand on their head when they had a fever or kiss a scraped knee and make the pain go away. It is not hard to imagine that a hospital patient awaiting surgery or chemotherapy might feel relieved, in that hectic and stressful setting, to have someone place a hand gently and unhurriedly where the hurt or fear is with the intention of alleviating any suffering.
I’m generally very, very anti-woo. But honestly, this doesn’t even feel like woo. This just seems like a pretty reasonable thing for humans to respond to.
Zeroth Person Writing – Tumblr thread, 2020
Anyways, what I’m trying to talk about here is: there’s this thing that… I guess philosophers talk about sometimes which is, how certain kinds of information can’t really be transmitted via just, text, in the generalized sense (like, not necessarily writing, also images, sound, etc) and the point is usually that like, those are the things that you Just Have To Go Through. And math has a specific construct which, in effect, lives kind of in the middle of that gap.
No solutions are ever given, though; the strictures of the genre are strong enough that when you find a solution, you’ll know it, and the author can just give you the challenge and expect you not to fuck it up.
A delightful but rambly discussion thread that goes in many directions.
I Don’t Know What These Food Videos Are, But I Can’t Stop Watching Them – Scaachi Koul, 2020

Chefclub recipes are pure id — an expression of the most primal desires of someone who enjoys food, taken to an extreme no one asked for. Bread good, cheese good, meat good. Me like big food tower. Me like when cheese go in bread hole. If you were to claim that none of Chefclub’s videos are enticing to you, you would absolutely be lying. Imagine you went to a party — do you remember what it’s like to be at a party? — and saw the host made finger sandwiches in the shape of flip-flops. You’re telling me you’re not going to eat one? You’re telling me you’re not going to eat eight?? And that for the rest of your life, you wouldn’t tell everyone you know about the insane foot-themed party where you ate shoe sandwiches??? Come on, bro, grow up.

Can’t wait until quar is lifted and I can host a garden party and serve finger sandwiches in the shape of flip flops B’)

The Asshole Filter – Siderea, 2015

When you set up a situation in which other people’s choices are between, on the one hand, respecting your espoused wishes and being significantly disadvantaged, and, on the other hand, transgressing against your wishes to be effective, you have essentially posed a test that discriminates against those who are less willing to transgress against your espoused wishes: an asshole filter.

If you tell people “the only way to contact me is to break a rule” you will only be contacted by rule-breakers.

Another very useful concept.

Articles of Interest, December 2018-January 2019

Articles of Interest is a bimonthly post on things that I found on the internet that are interesting. The intent is for there to be 2-3 weeks of “lag” time between when I read the articles and when I review them, for hype to die down on any given hot topic. This is why this post is being published near the end of February. Featured articles aren’t necessarily published in the titular two-month period; that’s just when I read the pieces for the first time.

I’m going to do something slightly different for this edition. Instead of looking at the articles that are the most “interesting” per se, I’m going to use them mostly as a proxy to talk about what’s going on in my personal life. Cool? Cool.

Gwern on nicotine

When someone or something says that “nicotine” is harmful and you drill down to the original references for their claims, the references often turn out to actually be talking about tobacco rather than nicotine gums or patches…  Technically, nicotine is not significantly addictive, as nicotine administered alone does not produce significant reinforcing properties.

This is actually a piece that I first read in November, but to be fair I’ve reread it half a dozen times between December and January. For a while now, I’ve been idly thinking about experimenting with nicotine for a) being a more alert and competent student in 8:30 classes and b) positive habit formation, and this is the post that made me start to do more research on it in earnest. I won’t bother summarizing all the interesting things about nicotine here because it’s not worth the effort when Gwern’s writeup is so stellar. But here are some more personal insights:

Even though now that I’ve done enough research to be entirely convinced that nicotine lozenges are incredibly safe, and resolved to take them in an incredibly responsible and safe manner to reduce the already minuscule chance of addiction (never two days in a row, maximum 3 times a week), I still haven’t worked up the courage to buy them on Amazon. This is weird, because I didn’t have nearly the same amount of reservations when it came to starting caffeine, alcohol, and more exotic substances. I think that this is the case because of two main reasons.

One, the anti-tobacco lobby did a pretty good job. What can I say, the experience of having to design a poorly researched anti-smoking poster in fourth grade must have really stuck with me. The second thing is that tobacco is low-status to someone in my social class, moreso than coffee, alcohol, and weed. I remember getting super defensive about trying it out when I first broached the subject with my friend group. I literally think that some of them would have reacted more positively if I told them that I was contemplating starting up a coke habit. And, well, status and class is a very powerful reinforcer of norms, who would have thought.

How To Build a Lumenator (And some other articles on winter illumination)

Once upon a time, a friend was sad. Specifically, they had seasonal affective disorder. They tried to fix it by adding lights to their room during the winter.It didn’t work.They tried adding a LOT of light.It worked.They called the giant bundle of lights they assembled a Luminator. Other people wondered how they, too, might summon a sun into their living room. The task was not exactly complicated or hard, but it was a little confusing and inconvenient. Instructions were passed around by word of mouth, and individuals cobbled together luminators in their own homes. Some of them has seasonal affective disorder, and some just liked their rooms to feel line sunshine all the time.Bit by bit, people’s lives grew brighter.

Aaaaaand, now I have a lumenator!


It pumps out around 10,000 lumens, and it’s bright enough that when you turn it on in the middle of the day with the windows open, it still manages to make the room significantly brighter. I’ve had it for a month now and while I can’t say for sure whether or not it’s made my SAD go away, it does make me ridiculously happy and I will enthusiastically LUMENATE the rest of my house bit by bit.

I first came across this concept in Eliezer Yudowsky’s book Inadequate Inequilibra, which I highly recommend.

[NSFW – cw for female breasts] Posts wrongly purged by Tumblr’s NSFW ban, like this one

Another one:


I’ve been collecting these posts as they come up with the intent of writing a post-mortem after the dust settles, and I’m up to 30ish. I’m very glad that I did, because there were some important pieces and criticisms that are now gone.

There were shitposts, and people talking about their mixed feelings for this platform that they grew up and into themselves on, and informative pieces on the broader implications and why tumblr did this in the first place.

I’ll start on that soon, it’s been a while since I did any sort of interesting longform.

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor, Jess Zimmerman

We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as “an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character.”…Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work. Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts.

Since I’ve moved back to Waterloo for my school term, I’ve started hosting some bi-weekly salons to try to mitigate the damage academia is doing to my sense of intellectual curiosity. We started experimenting with doing readings before the meetups and this is the one that I picked to go along with our topic, emotional labour. In a more ideal universe I would have assigned the metafilter thread instead, but we’re all tired students and no one really has the time for 50 additional pages of readings.

I was thinking that everyone would agree with Zimmerman at the beginning of the session and I could then lead people to a more nuanced “actually maybe what Zimmerman is promoting also isn’t that great” state, but what ended up happening was that people were dunking on the article right away. At first I felt a bit put out by this because oh no I couldn’t flaunt my intellectual superiority, but honestly being surrounded by really smart and critical people is cool af, so I got over it pretty fast and now I basically don’t come to salon with any sort of agenda in mind and I just bask in everyone’s conversation. It’s probably an even better thing for my mental health than the lumenators are. If any of my salon members are reading this, sorry for thinking that you were dumber than you actually were 🙁

[NSFW – cw for blood, and graphic bodily harm] Welcome to Hell World

In January of 2005 in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, Samar, five years old at the time, was riding in the back seat of her parents’ car as they returned from bringing her young brother to the hospital. It was getting dark, and nearing curfew, and her father, likely aware of this, was driving faster than normal. Fearing that the driver was a suicide bomber, an army patrol in the area that evening were given permission to open fire and so they did because that is what army patrols do.

I understand if based on the excerpt you already feel tired and don’t want to click through; if I didn’t know the author I would feel the same way. Luke O’Neil’s newsletter is always gut-wrenching and never fails to ruin my day, but I never fail to click on it the instant in appears in my mailbox. He’s got a writing style that hooks me in the belly and he’s good at humanizing the people who aren’t being humanized enough, cutting through the bullshittier parts of the culture war woven by those in privileged coastal enclaves to tell you about the blood and the sweat and the suffering of those actally being crushed by what’s happening in the world today.

If I had to choose only one newsletter to subscribe to, hell world would be it, and I’m so happy that I’ve found it even though it only ever makes me sad.

Thus concludes this ed of articles of interest, hopefully I’ll have a “real” blog post up before the next one hits!

Articles of Interest, September 2018

I think something that’s unexpectedly nice about having such a delay between when I save articles and when I post them here is that I get to reread the pieces again, the good pieces that are divorced from the culture war and the whole outrage news cycle thing.

Good posts of September:

This great piece on labour day + this great takedown of it (scroll down past the blurb)

And that was a theme that cropped up again in Professor Blumin’s class, that there were two great working class traditions that echoed through the ages, and they were:
1) avoiding work, and
2) drinking

Labour history is so interesting, because it’s political enough that you’re always doing history and historiography at the same time. More than many other fields in history, facts are obscured, twisted, and blown out of proportion for contemporary power struggles, and you always need to think about when the pieces were written and how the world thought then.

Rivethead is going on my to-read list. Should I also start doing a monthly book review post?

Dorms for Grownups: A Solution for Lonely Millennials?

“It’s the best of both worlds,” she told me. “You have roommates, but they’re not roommates.”

One of over a dozen pieces I read over a few days when discussing the possibility of co-housing with friends after graduation. That description of millennials is uh, like, me irl. Co-housing as a concept is something that really appeals to me, and a very ideal thing would be for me to do an internship at an architectural or development firm that does things around this.

Sioux City: Straightening Buses and Getting Route-Length Right

A train that comes every half hour had better have a roundtrip length that’s just less than an integer or half-integer number of hours, counting turnaround times, to minimize the time the train sits at the terminal rather than driving in revenue service. The same is true of buses, except that scheduling is less precise.

A fascinating, practical (but not technical or jargony) guide to how to make good bus routes. Not comprehensive, of course, but I like short interesting tidbits better anyways.

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong

Since 1959, research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and that two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible. As early as 1969, research showed that losing just 3 percent of your body weight resulted in a 17 percent slowdown in your metabolism—a body-wide starvation response that blasts you with hunger hormones and drops your internal temperature until you rise back to your highest weight. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.

A very long piece but very worth the read. I’ve been saying a lot of the stuff in here for a while – it seems absolutely wild that the recommendations given to fat people are so ideologically driven with absolutely no care given to the effectiveness of the advice. Did you know that we can’t even test the hypothesis that fat people who have lost weight are healthier than fat people that haven’t? Because there is no method available to produce the result that would have to be produced—significant long-term weight loss, in statistically significant cohorts—in order to test the claim? Society highkey needs to get a grip and stop blaming individuals for becoming fat ugh.

One thing though, is that I think it’s very important to cite lots of sources when writing about such a contentious topic, to kind of pre-emptively shut up the nay-sayers? I’ve yet to see a good takedown of Big Fat Lies, which has 27 pages of bibliography to its 197 pages of content. But I know that news sites don’t like to do that, usually citing fake reasons like “it makes the page look cluttered” and having actual reasons like “we don’t want to give more traffic to our competitors”. But that’s a rant for another day.

Getting To A Fifty/Fifty Split of Parenting Duties

The only way to get the child to be parented 100% of the time the way you want to parent him is by doing 100% of the parenting yourself. If you don’t want to do that, you have to accept that sometimes your coparent will do things differently than you will.

#goals, and lots of practical advice on how to get there. Pretty much all the advice also works for housework in general, which is probably more useful for me as someone who is Definitely Attracted To The DINK (D+INK? Four-or-more-I’m-not-picky-INK?) Lifestyle.

Articles of Interest, August 2018

5 or 6 of the most interesting things I’ve read in August. Doesn’t necessarily mean that these things were published in August, that’s just when I happened to read them for the first time.

The Missing Middle of Biking

There are short-term bike share and full bike ownership options, but nothing in between to bridge the gap between price accessibility and overall usefulness, especially in smaller places where bike share is harder to come by. Today, I’ll introduce a system of bike rental that could solve this problem.

I’m glad that there are people thinking about this. I’m from a comfortably middle class family, but if I didn’t already have a bike, I would definitely struggle to justify buying one with all my student debt and expenses. I can’t imagine how much worse it could be for those who are actually struggling.

This is going to be a really dorky post, but I’d like talk about why the far right has been able to use memes so effectively while the left has not.

There is a large demographic with a repressed hatred for Muslims, but there is no demographic with a repressed love for Stalin or “socialist states.”

I absolutely love anything that talks about how memes shape political discourse and I feel like there definitely could be more of it, my collection is growing way too slowly. If you see any in the wild please forward it to me thanks!!!!


What is the right dose of melatonin?

0.3 mg.

“But my local drugstore sells 10 mg pills! When I asked if they had anything lower, they looked through their stockroom and were eventually able to find 3 mg pills! And you’re saying the correct dose is a third of a milligram?!”

Yes. Most existing melatonin tablets are around ten to thirty times the correct dose.

I’ve been using melatonin wrong my entire life. Scott digs through journals and explains the inner workings of the pharmaceutical industry to tell me why. The writer of this blog is not a sleep specialist, but he did go to medical school and is a practising psychiatrist. I would trust his opinion more than I would the average internet blogger when it comes to medical stuff.

If you want to save the world, veganism isn’t the answer

So there’s a huge responsibility here: unless you’re sourcing your vegan products specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems, you are actively participating in the destruction of soil biota, promoting a system that deprives other species, including small mammals, birds and reptiles, of the conditions for life, and significantly contributing to climate change.

Our ecology evolved with large herbivores – with free-roaming herds of aurochs (the ancestral cow), tarpan (the original horse), elk, bear, bison, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and millions of beavers. They are species whose interactions with the environment sustain and promote life. Using herbivores as part of the farming cycle can go a long way towards making agriculture sustainable.

I like this article and I think it says a lot of interesting and true things about how byzantine eating green could be. I’m not sure there’s anything actionable on my end because I don’t live near the farm of the author of this piece. I’m worried that I might like this piece as much as I do because it gives me an excuse to not stop eating meat.

Do Men Enter Bathtubs on Hands and Knees So Their Balls Hit the Water Last?

“I just feel like the balls are basically in the middle of the X, Y, and Z axes of the body and there’s no way to make them go anywhere last. Head, torso, balls, legs. No matter how you dunk a body in water the balls can’t be the last in.”

I don’t remember the last time a piece had me laughing for so long that I almost died of asphyxiation. As soon as you think you familiarised yourself with the style and can handle the rest of the article, the article throws something new at you. Sometimes, that something new is bright green and very dangly. Please read this piece.