Monday, November 26, 2018

November 26th Links

  • There are about 12 million square miles (8 billion acres) of arable land in the world. That's just over one acre per person. The U.S. has about a million square miles, or 640 million acres, of arable land, which is just over two acres per person. [CBS]
  • Many Indo-European languages use euphemisms for "bear", sometime several layers of euphemism, because of a fear that speaking the bear's true name might summon it. The English word "bear" is a euphemism originally meaning "brown one". Inside the quest to reconstruct the bear's True Name. [SSC]
  • There are rich people, and then there are rich people. Leonardo Dicaprio is the former but not the latter. His net worth is $245 million according to some Googling, and yet even he is willing to hang out with some nerdy, awkward guy for money. This is something the book brings up a lot - even people accustomed to wealth, like Paris Hilton who was born an heiress, were simply astounded by Jho Low's spending habits. He would show up at a club and just spend more than everybody. He would bet hundreds of thousands of dollars on single hands of poker. He would hand out handbags worth tens of thousands of dollars to random girls at parties. He would send strangers private jets to give them lifts. There is a level of wealth that even the wealthy can't resist. [SSC]
  • Hanging in a corner of the living room are small works by Andy Warhol and Takashi Murakami, while the Alexander Calder sculpture is perched between vintage Hans Olsen chairs. Joining them are a Xandre Kriel cocktail table, a Jorge Zalszupin armchair from Espasso, and a side table by Christophe Côme; the rug is by Beauvais Carpets. [link]
  • Since media companies are capitalizing and profiting on a huge amount of attention that might otherwise be spent productively, however, taxing them for the share of the citizenry's time that they consume could be more sensible and more practical than taxing citizens themselves. One view of the status quo is that media companies are aggregating human attention and selling it at a discount–far below minimum wage–to advertisers in a massive arbitrage on human capital. So, the state could set the price of an hour of human attention at the minimum wage rate, and charge media companies 12% (the federal income tax rate on minimum wage) of that wage rate for each hour of human attention they consume. [Kortina]
  • A few years ago, in a drawing workshop (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain), I learned that we actually do a ton of abstraction during perception. In the beginning of this workshop, we tried drawing a self portrait, and all of us were guilty of the same mistake–instead of simply drawing the contours and shadows we perceived visually, we translated visual information into abstractions (like nose, eyes) and then drew a symbol for a nose somewhere near the center of our faces, rather than drawing what we perceived. The point of this workshop was to turn off the abstraction process in your brain and draw purely perceptual information. [Kortina]
  • The mis-match between perceptual complexity and cognitive simplicity is schematically illustrated for two musical pieces of similar length and original file size, Beethoven's 3rd Symphony and ElBeano's Ventilator trance techno. These two pieces compress to very different extents. My personal perception is that Beethoven's 3rd Symphony sounds more sophisticated (complex?) than ELBeano's Ventilator trance techno, and yet it actually compresses more strongly. It therefore must be the case that Beethoven's piece contains more information regularities, but the skill and subtlety with which they are woven into the composition makes them less readily apparent. The simplicity of their message - as reflected by compressed file size - only yields on repeated listenings. This learning curve - or compression progress - may explain the phenomenon of a piece of music "growing on us" over time. [link]
  • Let's first try a small dataset of English as a sanity check. My favorite fun dataset is the concatenation of Paul Graham's essays. The basic idea is that there's a lot of wisdom in these essays, but unfortunately Paul Graham is a relatively slow generator. Wouldn't it be great if we could sample startup wisdom on demand? That's where a Recurrent Neural Network comes in. Concatenating all pg essays over the last ~5 years we get approximately 1MB text file, or about 1 million characters (this is considered a very small dataset by the way). Technical: Lets train a 2- layer LSTM with 512 hidden nodes (approx. 3.5 million parameters), and with dropout of 0.5 after each layer. We'll train with batches of 100 examples and truncated backpropagation through time of length 100 characters. With these settings one batch on a TITAN Z GPU takes about 0.46 seconds (this can be cut in half with 50 character BPTT at negligible cost in performance). Without further ado, lets see a sample from the Recurrent Neural Network. [link]
  • I came across Carhart-Harris' research via Michael Pollan's new book on psychedelics, How to Change Your Mind. Much of Pollan's examines how overly strong predictive models can distort our perception of the world. As I noted in Consciousness as Computation, you can witness this phenomenon during exercises like "drawing with the right side of the brain," which reveal that much of what feels like raw processing of perceptual information actually involves the application of prior beliefs, abstractions, and inferences. Top down application of priors is both a matter of computational efficiency (reducing the cognitive bandwidth required to process the massive amounts of visual and other sense data we are constantly barraged with) and is also useful for error correction (enabling us to "read" signs that are far away or correct and interpret sentences like "The qiuck brown fox jumped."). [Kortina]
  • I think there's strong evidence of contraction in taste and accelerating cultural homogeneity. Philly feels a lot like Seattle... and Austin and San Francisco and Portland, etc. The millennial apartment in Venice Beach looks a lot like the one in Williamsburg... and in Shoreditch and Berlin. You can find a Starbucks pretty much anywhere in the world, and you can find the hipster, unbranded, barista cafe in pretty much any affluent neighborhood. Consumers, it turns out, do not value expression of their uniqueness as much as they value the ability to signal belonging to (and participation in) a social group. Belonging to a group whose values you understand, whose members have behavior you can predict, is a great way to reduce entropy. [Kortina]
  • Two land masses comprise most of the land portion of the county: Isle Royale and the northeastern half of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The county also includes the waters of Lake Superior between the two, extending to the state's water borders with Ontario and Minnesota. It is thus the largest county in Michigan by total area, at 5,966 square miles (15,450 km2), of which 540 square miles (1,400 km2) is land and 5,426 square miles (14,050 km2) (91%) is water. Of all counties (or equivalents) in the United States, Keweenaw County has the highest proportion of water area to total area. [Wiki]
  • More exciting for me though is the reverse chamois boot Steven has done with the folks from Alden. I've never seen reverse chamois before and the stuff is amazing. It's like the best worn in suede you can imagine but also nearly waterproof. These brogue boots with some grey flannels and a tweed coat is making me wish for wetter days. [link]
  • On one of their Zodiac trips down the St. Lawrence, a CIBC bank manager in a small Quebec town refused to let Mr. James withdraw $10,000 in cash as there was some uncertainty regarding his identity. Mr. James asked the manager if she had the CIBC annual report on hand. When she brought it to him, he pointed out that the two souls standing in front of her, in their orange survival suits, were in fact the same CIBC board members whose pictures were in the report. [Globe and Mail]
  • There is much more to cloth than the base material. There are cottons that wear warm and cashmeres that wear cool. It all has to do with the weave. You want to wear cloths like hopsack and oxford that will let air pass through the cloth and naturally cool your body. If you hold a piece of something like JJ Minnis' Fresco (a classic open weave wool cloth choice) up to the light you can see this really obviously. The stuff looks like gauze, allowing tons of light through. And that means air. [link]
  • If I had one trick that I used over and over again as the Frugal Traveler, it was picking the unusual or less-traveled destination. Not only can you save money with this strategy, you will almost always have a better experience. Steer left where others steer right, and head away from the places that draw the crowds. So: Antwerp instead of Amsterdam; Greenland over Iceland; and so forth. [NY Times]
  • Again, this is important and an area where a lot of patent owners have made what I consider to be a big mistake; it ends their ability to defend and assert their inventions actively. In the above example, if the "parent" application had issued or gone abandoned before a decision was made to file claims to the strawless lid, then game over. There would be no practical way to continue to pursue legal rights suitable for contingent fee patent licensing or enforcement. [JDBIP]
  • When did the phenomenon of people who were not farmers driving pickup trucks really get going? I feel it was after the astronaut era, at least in the NE. Maybe earlier in Texas, where everyone likes to pretend they are ranchers. When I was growing up, pickup trucks had only 1 seat and so were not practical family haulers and people who didn't want to make a statement drove ordinary American sedans. We had a pickup truck on the farm that we used to haul manure out of the coops but when we wanted to go into town we had an Oldsmobile sedan. [Sailer]
  • Indeed, ever since he emerged on the New York real estate scene in the 1970s, Trump's approach to deal-making has typified Thorstein Veblen's acid-tongued assessment that the "arts of business are the arts of bargaining, effrontery, salesmanship, make-believe, and are directed to the gain of the business man at the cost of the community, at large and in detail." [LARB]
  • In a politically difficult situation, deploying the military domestically wipes out the majority of the US's very robust anti-coup machinery. Normally, soldiers deployed in the USA are almost completely disarmed, unless they are actively running security, military police, etc. There is a separate base commander, distinct from and not reporting to the unit commander, who often has supervision of the storage of their armaments, fuel, transportation, equipment, etc. The major bases are far away from politically sensitive locations like DC and NYC. Discreetly equipping the 82nd Airborne and getting them from Fort Bragg to DC is effectively impossible. If you suddenly decide to deploy 10000 heavily armed troops to, eg, help pacify Real Virginia, suddenly there is an immense amount of possibility and temptation. [link]
  • But this idea of certainty is a sham, a distraction, something to turn your attention away from the only truly certain thing, which is that your time will run out. If you intend to have children, but you don't intend to have them just yet, you are not banking extra years as a person who is still too young to have children. You are subtracting years from the time you will share the world with your children. [Hmm]

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