Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sunday Night Links

  • Because Mr. Laccinole's twenty-two successive Complaints violate the claim-splitting doctrine, the Court will exercise its broad discretion and dismiss all of his Complaints except the first Complaint and allow Mr. Laccinole thirty (30) days from the date of this Order to amend the first Complaint to encompass his entire claim, should he so choose. [Laccinole v. Diversified Consultants, Inc.]
  • From a design perspective, they got so many things right. The lip is thick. The mug is heavy. The handle is wide enough so your fingers aren't mushed and accidentally burn against the cup when drinking. Even the surface has a distinct matte look—like something ancient and serene. I'm mesmerized by the beauty of it all. But it is not symmetrical. Perfect symmetry is for fools who haven't peered below the surface. Symmetry is for fools trying to imitate God. The true aesthetic isn't afraid to bend. The handle of the Teavana mug is slightly curved, because the mug is slightly curved. It's shaped to fit a human hand well. Compare to Ember mugs which were designed by robots for robots. [link]
  • With the development of the internet it becomes possible for arbitrarily large groups of people who are geographically distributed to spontaneously form hive-minds and to communicate with one another at speeds and latencies approaching those which previously only had been possible in direct teamwork. The internet largely solves the scaling problem involved in direct teamwork, and totally eliminates the effects of geographic distribution of participants. In the "global village" of the internet, everything is right next door. Some degree of hierarchization is still usually required, to solve the scaling problem of N^2 growth of interpersonal links as a group increases in size. If that's not done, then as the total number of members increases, each individual members has more fellow members to talk to and spends more time doing so, and thus the time available to do anything else decreases. At a certain point, the organization grinds to a halt because everyone spends all their time talking to one another, and they still can't transmit all the information they need to, let alone find any time to actually engage in useful work. But hierarchization can be used in internet-based hive minds just as it is in existing organizations, and most members of such hive-minds won't need to communicate directly with one another. We know this can happen, because it's already happening. "Open Source Software" is one example and result of formation of that kind of hive-mind. Political blogging is another. When it comes to blogs, power-law distribution tends to spontaneously induce creation of hierarchical organization, with contributors to high-traffic sites becoming de-facto leaders. At any given instant, there will be a myriad of such hive-minds exhibiting a broad range of behaviors and capabilities. New ones would form all the time and old ones would falter and die. Some will only "think" in very restricted realms, while others may range broadly. In terms of observable intelligence level they would fall on a continuum. Some might be "geniuses", some "morons", some might operate at the level of animals or even plants. There will be the equivalent of diseases (i.e. chain letters). There will be the equivalent of parasites (file sharing networks pirating music and movies). Some will be valuable and constructive, some will be trivial and useless, and some will be insane. Some of those will be dangerously insane. Sometimes hive-minds will form in response to others in order to oppose them. Hive-minds will compete and contend. Some will cooperate, forming coalitions. Sometimes that will cause them to merge. Some hive-minds will break into pieces, yielding children whose contributing members sort themselves based on their disagreements. And generally they'll be self-organizing, and many will be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Memes are the thoughts of hive minds. [Steven Den Beste]
  • For the first time in history, it actually required less work to produce and distribute a copy of something than to find and destroy it. Movable type printing made widespread dissent practical. On a technological level, it gave the edge to spreaders of information over those who tried to censor it. The process of spread of "dangerous" information was slow and inefficient when that was either done orally or via hand-produced written copies, and the process of suppression could largely keep up. But when a small shop with a handful of employees could produce hundreds of copies of something in a week, and any printer elsewhere who got one copy of that could produce further hundreds of copies, then it became impossible to prevent the broad spread of political and religious dissent. Luther was a child of the printing press; he would be no more than a footnote in history were it not for the fact that his ideas spread through Europe like wildfire, in the form of thousands of copies produced by printers everywhere. The great intellectual revolution in Europe of the 15th-17th century was solidly built on top of millions of books and pamphlets. And ever since, "dangerous" knowledge has been increasingly difficult to totally suppress by those most threatened by it even when they were in power. And we're at the beginning of the fourth explosion which computers and networks will bring about. When knowledge could only spread by speech, it might take a thousand years for a good idea to cross the planet and begin to make a difference. With writing it could take a couple of centuries. With printing it could happen in fifty years. With computer networks, it can happen in a week if not less. After I've posted this article to a server in San Diego, it will be read by someone on the far side of a major ocean within minutes. That's a radical change in capability; a sufficient difference in degree to represent a difference in kind. It means that people all over the world can participate in debate about critical subjects with each other in real time. With speech, the collaborative process of creation of knowledge expanded from the person to the tribe. With writing, it spread to the level of citystates. With printing it encompassed nations and even continents. With computer networking, everyone in the world is involved whether they like it or not. There's nowhere left to hide. We're already seeing some of the political, technological and cultural effects of the Internet, and this is just a start. What this means is that drastic cultural shakeout cannot be avoided. The next fifty years are going to be a very interesting time as the Internet truly creates the Global Village. [Steven Den Beste]
  • In order for "alternate energy" to become feasible, it has to satisfy all of the following criteria: 1. It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power) 2. It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable) 3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse) 4. It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently 5. The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per terajoule). If it fails to satisfy any of those, then it can't scale enough to make any difference. Solar power fails #3, and currently it also fails #5. (It also partially fails #2, but there are ways to work around that.) The only sources of energy available to us now that satisfy all five are petroleum, coal, hydro, and nuclear. [Steven Den Beste]
  • Power-law distributions are, as we have seen, impressively ubiquitous, but they are not the only form of broad distribution. Lest I give the impression that everything interesting follows a power law, let me emphasize that there are quite a number of quantities with highly right-skewed distributions that nonetheless do not obey power laws. A few of them, shown in Fig. 5, are the following: *The abundance of North American bird species, which spans over five orders of magnitude but is probably distributed according to a log-normal. A log-normally distributed quantity is one whose logarithm is normally distributed; see Section IV.7 and Ref. [32] for further discussions. *The number of entries in people’s email address books, which spans about three orders of magnitude but seems to follow a stretched exponential. A stretched exponential is curve of the form e−axb for some constants a,b. *The distribution of the sizes of forest fires, which spans six orders of magnitude and could follow a power law but with an exponential cutoff. This being an article about power laws, I will not discuss further the possible explanations for these distributions, but the scientist confronted with a new set of data having a broad dynamic range and a highly skewed distribution should certainly bear in mind that a power-law model is only one of several possibilities for fitting it. [Power laws, Pareto distributions and Zipf’s law]
  • In the midst of his Italian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte stole a painting from a monastery in Venice. Cynthia Saltzman has turned this forgotten episode into a highly original work of history. “Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast” interweaves several overlapping themes, delving into military and political history as well as the evolving function of public art displays in Europe. She guides us through the fading gem that was Venice in the mid-16th century, when “The Wedding Feast at Cana” was painted. She introduces us to the artist, Paolo Veronese, a stonecutter’s son and a highly regarded colorist, and to the ambitious abbot who chose the painter’s subject—the feast at which Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine. [Roger Lowenstein]
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was a depressed logging and mining town of about 25,000 when Duane Hagadone opened an 18-story lakeside resort there in 1986. The resort features turrets, steeply sloped copper roofs and a suite whose glass ceiling provides an underwater view of a rooftop swimming pool. Forbes magazine called it a “study in excess” erected in “the middle of nowhere” and warned it might become a white elephant. [WSJ]

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