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:
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.
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.
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.Exercises.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.
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’)
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.
Articles of Interest is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. 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. Here are my picks for April and May:
Computron feels no emotion towards the animated television show titled Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード). After all, Computron does not have any emotion circuits installed, and is thus constitutionally incapable of experiencing “excitement,” “hatred,” or “frustration.” It is completely impossible for Computron to experience emotions such as “excitement about the seventh episode of HyperWarp,” “hatred of the anime’s short episode length” or “frustration that Friday is so far away.”
I’ve been in fandom for half my life, and it’s a delight to see it so lovingly represented – not just the love of a piece of media, but the familiar intercommunity dynamics that spring up around the love. The friendships that emerge, the petty squabbles between fan factions. The way your burning desire to get a smidge of extra insight into this universe you love will force you down multiple rabbit-holes of topics relevant to the fandom in question, until, say, your historical cdrama discord server also becomes your de-facto place to ask about the interplay between Taoist and Confucian philosophies in the Southern and Northern Dynasties and yell about traditional silkworm cultivation. A short and beautiful piece of fiction.
“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”
“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”
I asked how the hurricanes were.
He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.
I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.”
4000 words of pure “thanks, I hate it” energy, if you’re into that sort of thing. Also in general Popula’s a cool website which is Doing Things On The Blockchain if you’re into things like that and you should go check it out!
You won’t find Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Hume or György Lukács nonchalantly dotting the page in criticism today; it is supposed that readers aren’t up for it. But Sontag charges in and dares to distinguish between their good and mediocre work. She isn’t afraid of Jean-Paul Sartre. Writing on his book on Jean Genet, she notes: ‘In Genet, Sartre has found his ideal subject. To be sure, he has drowned in him.’ She stood up to men held up as moral giants. Albert Camus, George Orwell, James Baldwin? Excellent essayists, but overrated as novelists.
Until this article mentioned it, I kinda… never really thought about how you can dunk on well respected thinkers of previous generations? I mean, an in-group kind of dunking, a skewering of their work by people who also exist in the same space. Like, I don’t care about any critique that stemlords care to launch because they’re very, very bad at engaging in good faith with philosophers. But I didn’t realize until Elkin pointed it out, that I want to read more about the thoughts that other women/PoC/queer folk/disabled people/members of the subaltern in general had, doing close readings Locke and Rousseau and Marx. So, for now, I’ve picked up a copy of On Photography, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
I once attributed the death of Vine to executives shrugging at the popularity of Black youth comedy, foolishly saying, “we can’t monetize this!”
Nope. They just refused to share.
A very welcome reminder as we all watch YouTube and Twitter fail time and time again at kicking Nazis off their platform, and an interesting look into what labour activism can look like in digital spaces.
When you think about interacting with people, how much effort do you put into being understood? Are you compensating, without realizing it, for the fact that nobody understands you unless you reframe it in terms you’ve slowly learned they grok?
When you see a complex system, does your brain get excited? Do you just automatically find that your awareness can easily flow through the system, consider its many parts in relation to each other and the whole, etc? Do you understand more than you can say in this context?
When you first entered ‘society’ (for me it was kindergarten) did you have a sense that everyone else must have somehow already known each other? That they all somehow knew the rules and you didn’t, or something? Did you spend 5, 10, 15 years playing catch-up?
Look: a lot of people can say yes to a lot of these questions and not be at all disabled, right? And because Autism is often spoken of as a disability in and of itself, anyone who has a ton of autistic traits but is doing fine in life doesn’t get diagnosed.
There’s a common refrain on parts of tumblr that I’ve taken to heart, about how people should use assistive devices more. Even if they don’t “need” it, even if they “aren’t disabled”. I’ve been mentally referring to this as “the shower chair creed”, after this thread(perma). So I decided that since I recognized enough of myself in this thread, as well as this other very pointed tumblr post(perma), I should go ahead and pick up some books on autism, social skills, and coping mechanisms for living in neurotypical society. It’s been an ongoing thing, interesting and scary in turns. But all in all, it’s been pretty rewarding to explore myself in this new light, and I think if you recognize yourself in the thread you should do it too.
Articles of Interest is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. 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. Here are my picks for February and March:
I discovered Stuart McMillen during this interval of time, and summarily binged through his modest and very high quality archive of comics. I don’t endorse all opinions that McMillen espouses in his comics, but I do think that they’re all good and thoughtful reads. Two of them were in fact readings for the salon sessions I hosted last term: Supernormal Stimuli and Deviance in the Dark.
But I’m choosing to feature Chilling Domes, because while I enjoy culture war hot takes, they’re a pretty common sight in my corner of the internet. Conversely, it’s an incredibly rare delight when my interests in radical planning initiatives and quirky mid-century polymaths get indulged, at the same time. And an even rarer delight when that happens without the polymath getting real authoritarian or racist.
Check out the notes too for more on the physics and some plausible sounding explanations for why this phenomenon hasn’t been further explored in the almost-century since.
Chen isn’t worried she might not like her face after 10 years. “I can do more surgeries to change it again,” she says. “Any woman who can make the cruel decision to be pretty is brave. They will have better chances to make money and they will have a stronger desire to make money. They will be more hardworking than anyone else — because that’s the only way to cover the cost of further plastic surgeries.”
If you only had time to read one piece out of the five, make it this one. It’s such an interesting, meaty piece. And it’s talking about a social phenomenon that I guarantee you will make its way across the pond in the coming decades. It touches on so many interesting things! The role of social media in making being pretty more important than ever! The changing perception of what plastic surgery is (empowering, practical, incremental, something you can take out a loan for because banks recognize it as a good investment to boost your earning power)!! The very existence of FACE TRENDS!!! Can you imagine having to get a new face every five years to be considered stylish??? Holy CRAP.
I will say that this piece made me realize that maybe I’m not as transhumanist as I thought I was. I felt vaguely unsettled by the way that the interviewees spoke negatively about their original features. I thought the “before” picture of Chen Siqi was quite cute and I felt sad that she didn’t, or that her culture didn’t, and that in either case she felt better after having it changed. But since I feel comfortable with my own features, I’m definitely not in a position to judge, either.
And there’s some really interesting sociological aspects to transhumanism to think about here. If people want to augment their bodies with improvements that aren’t actually improvements but just because of societal norms or trends, would allowing that be a net positive for society? What are the circumstances under which it wouldn’t be? The closest frame of reference that I have is the Discourse surrounding facial feminization surgery for trans people, where body dysmorphia is seen as a reasonable justification for surgery. It looks like in plastic surgery circles though, dysmorphia in general is a big no-no. From this piece:
A small percentage of patients have body dysmorphic disorder and will never be satisfied with their appearance… it is essential for hospitals to hire psychological counselors to evaluate the patients.
There’s also this recent piece on incels getting plastic surgery (which JSYK I’m breaking my no-hype policy to post; this week it’s been linked everywhere and I’m extra grumpy about it because to add insult to injury it’s kind of bad and irresponsible as a piece of journalism), which had something similar to say:
Some surgeons will not operate on patients they believe may have body dysmorphia. “To me, that’s a red flag when someone has 200 pictures of themselves on their phone,” says Joe Niamtu, a cosmetic surgeon in Virginia, who declines to operate on many young male patients seeking sculpted faces. “The risk is they’ll never be happy.”
That’s going to be an interesting tension to observe.
And lastly, here is a hot take: when our generation reaches boomer-age, one thing our grandkids will post in the 2070 equivalent of r/forwardsfromgrandma would be memes about how much we suck because of our regressive af views on cosmetic surgery. We’ll be writing very embarrassing opinion pieces about how our kids are super selfish for choosing to not look like us at all, and it’ll get as soundly mocked as this piece is now. And they would be entirely correct for mocking us.
A TL;DR: In the mid-90s someone discovered that building codes classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible, and because “stick construction” brings down the development cost of housing by 30% it’s quietly overtaken the States and Canada as well as a handful of other wealthy nations since then. It would depend on developers working against their own economic interests to close this loophole, and in the meantime there’s been quite a few sketchy fires and close calls. Some municipalities and industry professionals are starting to raise alarm bells about this issue.
Glenn Corbett, a former firefighter who teaches fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, took me on a tour of some of New Jersey’s “toothpick towers,” as he calls them, pointing out places that fire engines can’t reach and things that could go wrong as the buildings age. “You’re reintroducing these conflagration hazards to urban environments,” he says. “We’re intentionally putting problems in every community in the country, problems that generations of firefighters that haven’t even been born yet are going to have to deal with.”
So that’s interesting and terrifying. But not really interesting and terrifying enough to be top 5 out of the hundred or so things I’ve read in this 2 month period by itself. It’s here because it made me reflect upon the planning education that I’ve gotten in the last four years, in a university that’s known to be the most STEM-oriented in the country. A planning education where I’ve taken seven or eight social justice-oriented courses, three being mandatory. A planning education where I’ve heard the term “stick construction” exactly once.
SlateStarCodex published a photo essay on the 2019 APA Annual Meeting, and his third thing is a similar observation about the psychology field. Like psychology, planning is a field where you do need a considerable amount of Wokeness to do your job properly. But should I have been learning more about building codes?
My leg involuntarily twitches with vibration—was it my phone, or just a phantom feeling?—and a quick inspection reveals a blinking blue notification. “I love you”, my wife texted me. I walk downstairs to wish her goodnight, because I know the difference between the message and the message, you know?
It’s a bit like encryption, or maybe steganography: anyone can see the text, but only I can decode the hidden data.
My translation, if we’re being honest, is just one extra link in a remarkably long chain of data events, all to send a message (“come downstairs and say goodnight”) in under five seconds across about 40 feet.
This is just such a neat piece of longform writing. I don’t know what else I can really say about it, I just really enjoy pieces that is a person enthusiastically infodumping about a thing that I know just enough about so that it barely doesn’t goes over my head. So that it barely punches me in the face, I guess? What makes this piece particularly appealing is the romanticization of tech that is a constant thread throughout. Not in the “it’s going to save us all” type of way which is boring and dangerous, but in the “look at this thing that we built, that generations of humans had a hand in shaping, that now exists in the world and against all odds works for us despite how much of it is cruft and duct tape” type way, which is MY JAM.
“Fantasy birding is basically the offspring of three unrelated obsessions of mine,” says Matt Smith, fantasy birding’s creator. “One is obviously birding, which I fell into pretty hard as a kid in Mississippi. The second is sports, baseball in particular, which always turned me on because of all the numbers. And the third is making things for the web.”
I just. Really love weird internet communities. They’re like online equivalents of stores that sell just one thing, which is another thing that I love.
And if you’re not familiar with 21st century birding, you might be surprised by the pretty impressive amount of online infrastructure and citizen-science-stry that happens when it comes to birds, which makes fantasy birding possible. I remember learning about the Cornell Lab and eBird in my second year field ecology course, and being blown away. I kind of thought that birding was a thing that retirees did with guidebooks from the seventies and a trusty set of binoculars? But reality in this case was so much cooler. And sometimes, you just need a reminder that reality is pretty cool, you know?
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.
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.
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
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.
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 🙁
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!