Thursday, December 8, 2022

Thursday Night Links

  • In a way, marriage is a legal recognition of a biological fact: once two people have three or more kids, their largest genetic investment is in the kids they share, not in themselves. Long-term reproductive pair bonds whose offspring follow the same path creates a sort of rolling decrease in time preference. Not only would you expect people with kids to think one generation further ahead on average, _but_ within large groups that behave that way, there’s positive selection pressure on thinking even further ahead. One generation of kids should shift the locus of your net present value calculation forward by about a generation, but kids followed by the expectation of grandkids and great-grandkids should keep dragging it further forward. And suddenly a bunch of weird traditionalist virtues become more salient. [...] So, once you have two people who share the same utility function, what does that get you that you couldn’t get from some other arrangement? It gets you a freakish two-headed, eight-limbed beast with 224 waking hours per week to accomplish its goals. When I go into job interviews, I honestly feel bad for people who don’t have the competitive advantage of a stable partner who wants them to be the primary earner. Specialization is great, but specialization in one part of life means deficiency somewhere else, no matter how much coffee you can handle. But if you have two people pulling in exactly the same direction, who trust each other fully, you _can_ both specialize. You can specialize despite knowing that individually, you get different payoffs and different times. But collectively, you come out ahead. [Byrne Hobart]
  • “I have a dead man’s switch that needs to get pushed every so often, or Starlink satellites take out every US satellite in NEO. That is Near Earth Orbit for the diversity hires in the room. You lose all of your spy satellites, communications, everything. How long does DC last when I have blinded it to any inbound nukes and everyone in the world knows?” [Jim Blog]
  • A few days ago, Chairman Powell essentially admitted that the Fed will no longer be pursuing an aggressive tightening policy. Since then, key interest rates have registered some significant declines, and that is good news for the housing market, the economy in general, and the stock market. We have probably seen the end of the shortest and most dramatic round of Fed tightening in history. The Fed was late to see the inflation problem, which is very unfortunate, but they have not hesitated to act forcefully, and it seems to have worked. As almost always happens in the end stages of a Fed tightening, real yields have soared (up almost 400 bps in less than one year), the yield curve has inverted, the dollar has surged, commodity prices have dropped, the housing market has run into a brick wall, the stock market has sunk, and the economy appears set to enter a recession. All, of course, classic signs of very tight monetary conditions—tight enough to bring inflation down, and that is indeed what's happening. [Scott Grannis]
  • Pathological hoarding is surprisingly common, affecting between 2 and 6 per cent of people (with equal numbers of women and men), and surprisingly difficult to define. Since diagnosis is based on visual assessment, it can always be contested, which means that hoarding – as Falkoff points out in her fascinating book – is always in part ‘an aesthetic problem’. One solution is the Clutter Image Rating (2008), a diagnostic tool designed by Frost and Steketee to replace vague self-definitions of hoarding with a more objective measure. The CIR consists of images of different interiors – kitchen, bedroom, living room – which are progressively filled with objects. In the first picture of the living room the space is more or less empty. You can make out the floor, the surface of a coffee table under a neat pile of newspapers and the cushions on the sofa. By the fourth image, piles of clothes and electrical items cover most of the floor and all the available seating. By the ninth, the room is barely visible beneath a teetering mountain of objects. [London Review of Books]
  • The egg industry uses the yolk color fan to zero in on and maintain the yolk color it desires for its eggs. Xanthophyll extracts like lutein, β-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin and canthaxanthin, derived from natural sources, are routinely used to micromanage yolk color. Such sources include marigold leaves, yellow maize, green feed like alfalfa, orange peels, algae, carrots, and annatto seeds. Synthetic pigments can be more powerful than naturally derived pigments, but consumer preferences for natural ingredients in feeds have kept the industry focused on natural sources, or liquid extracts thereof. [Modern Farmer]
  • A monument to Queen Elizabeth II. We want the British public in 100 years to fully grasp the historical weight of this monarch of the 20th century. The budget in today’s money should match Victoria’s. Assuming costs increase quadratically, that’s enough for a statue twice the height of Wallinger’s White Horse. And I would suggest the same approach: a photorealistic fibreglass three dimensional colossus of the Queen, standing 100 metres toes to crown. Not on a road but with similar visibility as that historical comparison, so let’s put it on the Heathrow flight path. Handily Windsor Castle lies to the west and can often be seen from planes taking off or landing. The statue would be double the height of the castle so it would stand out. I don’t believe we should be settling for anything less in the 2020s. I’m entirely sure that this will not be the proposal of any future statue committee – but we should ask why not. Because if there isn’t popular ambition for the state to memorialise Queen Elizabeth II in a grand and modern fashion, if not this precisely then similar, then it’s hard to see how there could be ambition for anything. [Matt Webb]
  • The retina is the only tissue in the body where neural and vascular tissue can be visualized simultaneously in a non-invasive manner. Ophthalmologists have been doing so since the ophthalmoscope was introduced into clinical practice in the mid 1800s. It has also been increasingly recognized that retinal biomarkers may map effectively to systemic indices of healthy ageing and disease. Examples of these oculomics-based findings include vascular tortuosity and arteriolar narrowing for cardiovascular disease, and retinal cell layer changes for neurological disorders. Relationships between retinal morphology and systemic health have traditionally been evaluated using statistical modelling, such as multivariable regression. However, such techniques may have limited incremental value when leveraged on very large datasets and for complex data. As data availability has increased, and mathematical models have improved, the success of deep learning in ophthalmic disease classification in the research setting has been striking. Deep neural networks, which process input images by applying mathematical operations to connected nonlinear units in multiple layers, largely avoid manual feature engineering, and are able to derive previously hidden patterns in large volumes of data. The discovery of quantitative relationships between retinal appearance and systemic pathophysiology readily aligns with pre-established conceptions of microvascular and degenerative tissue-level insults. However, deep learning has shown that these algorithms demonstrate capability in tasks which were not previously thought possible. Harnessing this power, new insights into relationships between retinal structure and systemic pathophysiology could expand existing knowledge of disease mechanisms. A study by Poplin et al. demonstrated a deep-learning learning algorithm which could accurately predict cardiovascular risk factors from fundus photos; More surprising to ophthalmologists was the successful prediction of demographic information such as age and gender, the latter with an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.97. Here, the physiologic cause and effect relationships are not readily apparent to domain experts. Predicting gender from fundus photos, previously inconceivable to those who spent their careers looking at retinas, also withstood external validation on an independent dataset of patients with different baseline demographics. [Nature]
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a rare hyperinflammatory disease occurring several weeks after SARS-CoV-2 infection. The clinical similarities between MIS-C and the toxic shock syndrome, together with the preferential expansion of T cells with a T-cell receptor variable β chain (TCRVβ) skewing, suggested a superantigen theory of MIS-C. For instance, recent in silico modelling evidenced the presence of a highly conserved motif within SARS-CoV-2 spike protein similar in structure to the superantigenic fragment of staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB). However, experimental data on the superantigenic activity of the SARS-CoV-2 spike have not yet been provided. Here, we assessed the superantigenic activity of the SARS-CoV-2 spike by analysing inflammatory cytokine production in both Jurkat cells and the peripheral blood CD4+ T cells stimulated with the SARS-CoV-2 spike or SEB as a control. We found that, unlike SEB, the SARS-CoV-2 spike does not exhibit an intrinsic superantigen-like activity. [NLM]
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a febrile pediatric inflammatory disease that may develop weeks after initial SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure. MIS-C involves systemic hyperinflammation and multiorgan involvement, including severe cardiovascular, gastrointestinal (GI) and neurological symptoms. Some clinical attributes of MIS-C-such as persistent fever, rashes, conjunctivitis and oral mucosa changes (red fissured lips and strawberry tongue)-overlap with features of Kawasaki disease (KD). In addition, MIS-C shares striking clinical similarities with toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is triggered by bacterial superantigens (SAgs). The remarkable similarities between MIS-C and TSS prompted a search for SAg-like structures in the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the discovery of a unique SAg-like motif highly similar to a Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) fragment in the SARS-CoV-2 spike 1 (S1) glycoprotein. Computational studies suggest that the SAg-like motif has a high affinity for binding T-cell receptors (TCRs) and MHC Class II proteins. Immunosequencing of peripheral blood samples from MIS-C patients revealed a profound expansion of TCR β variable gene 11-2 (TRBV11-2), which correlates with MIS-C severity and serum cytokine levels, consistent with a SAg-triggered immune response. Computational sequence analysis of SARS-CoV-2 spike further identified conserved neurotoxin-like motifs which may alter neuronal cell function and contribute to neurological symptoms in COVID-19 and MIS-C patients. [NLM]
  • We recently discovered a superantigen-like motif sequentially and structurally similar to a staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) segment, near the S1/S2 cleavage site of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which might explain the multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) observed in children and the cytokine storm in severe COVID-19 patients. We show here that an anti-SEB monoclonal antibody (mAb), 6D3, can bind this viral motif at its polybasic (PRRA) insert to inhibit infection in live virus assays. The overlap between the superantigenic site of the spike and its proteolytic cleavage site suggests that the mAb prevents viral entry by interfering with the proteolytic activity of cell proteases (furin and TMPRSS2). The high affinity of 6D3 for this site originates from a polyacidic segment at its heavy chain CDR2. The study points to the potential utility of 6D3 for possibly treating COVID-19, MIS-C, or common colds caused by human coronaviruses that also possess a furin-like cleavage site. [NLM]
  • In summary, there are now at least four filters through which content must pass before it can be distributed via the only practical modern means of reaching a substantial number of people. Folks in China might have more practical freedom of speech because there are only two filters: the operator of a service and the government. This is an interesting illustration of how the early Internet nerds’ predictions turned out to be 100 percent wrong. None of them would have imagined a world in which there was no practical way to sell a book if a single bookstore (Amazon) didn’t like it and in which multiple bureaucracies exercised veto power over the online existence of any individual user and his or her (there was just two gender IDs back then) speech. [Phil G]
  • Holding the 500C, I could hardly believe that I had spent so much money on a box. That’s all a camera is, really: a box with a hole. Film rests at the back of the box and the lens is at the front. The shutter sits between them, and by opening for longer or shorter durations it exposes the film to certain amounts of light. Most cameras have some kind of automation, elevating them beyond a dumb box. The Hasselblad doesn’t: it has no electric parts, no automatic focus, no light meter; it doesn’t even have an automatic film-winding mechanism. It holds only twelve photos per (expensive) roll of film. But it is beautifully machined, with solid, precisely interlocking pieces. [Craig Mod]
  • Cenovus has appointed Melanie A. Little to its Board of Directors, effective January 1, 2023. Ms. Little is Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P. She is also a Director of the International Liquid Terminals Association and The Discovery Lab. “Ms. Little has a breadth of experience in, and knowledge of, the midstream business, particularly in the United States,” said Keith A. MacPhail, Chair of Cenovus’s Board of Directors. “Her more than 20 years of experience in the industry, along with her operations and regulatory expertise, will be a substantial benefit to the company.” [Cenovus]
  • The village of Bryn Athyn is particularly intriguing. It is the Vatican of the Swedenborgians, followers of the Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg, whose gravesite I happened upon when visiting Stockholm’s Old Town in 2002. The denomination is officially the General Church of the New Jerusalem. As a child, I was fascinated to see the Gothic tower in the distance, looming above the woods. The cathedral was built in the English Gothic style in the early 20th century, with Norman and Romanesque accents. Glencairn, the original Pitcairn mansion next door, is now the church’s Glencairn Museum. The village also is the site of a college and private day school associated with the church. The Asplundhs are a well-known Swedenborgian family. They own a national landscaping and tree maintenance company. One of my high school classmates married into the family. The exquisite residential neighborhoods of the village feature trophy assets. My sister stated that it’s difficult to buy a house in Bryn Athyn since many of the sales are private “pocket” listings. [Curated Carlos]
  • Bankman-Fried and other exchanges offer a devil’s bargain: Users get convenience, but they give up all the features of cryptocurrency that made it revolutionary in the first place. And these are not the only false friends. Metamask, the most popular hot wallet for Ethereum transactions, will soon begin collecting the IP addresses of all its users. And even less shady exchanges such as Coinbase still require their customers to submit deep “Know Your Customer” information, and reserve the right to freeze the funds of anyone who violates their terms of service. Strangely, since most people in the developed world own at least one computer, the main bottleneck for cryptocurrency is the centralized structure of computer services. Whereas at the beginning of the internet age, computer users operated in a peer-to-peer way (e.g., someone on one computer would send a message or share a file directly with someone on another computer), today almost all sharing is fake. You don’t actually share a picture when you go to Instagram, you merely add a picture to a huge database on Instagram’s servers, and then your friends log in to that huge database to view those pictures. Same thing when you send an email on Gmail, or write a DM on Twitter. In each of these cases, you’re merely renting a share on someone else’s system. To use cryptocurrencies how they were meant to be used, we’re going to have to go back to using computers that we own, instead of logging into big centralized data servers owned by massive corporations. The main project working on in a holistic way at the moment, is a new operating system and network called Urbit. The alternative is more Sam Bankman-Frieds. [Noah Kumin]
  • For the record, Elon Musk didn't restore my old account. But even if he had done, I couldn't access it anyway. I registered it with a burner email account that no longer exist, and the phone number of a random Chinese stripper who would be rather awkward to contact after all these years. So yeah, it's done. I used to delete all my posts regularly so no much content left there anyway. Elon is being quite based of late but I'm not quite confident of remaining on Twatter very long. As usual, I can be found here or on Urbit, which has now its own microblog platform where I post the spicier stuff now and then. Don't DM me on Twatter, that's just dumb. Own your comms, people. I've been busy so this blog will remain quiet for the foreseeable future. But the FTX saga did inspire me a bit to write a long form post. I'll get around to it sometime this month. It's not about that disgusting fat soyjak of SBF or the hilariously blatant money laundering op that he was part of. It's about the rather interesting Caroline Ellison and her old Tumblr blog. Lots of good stuff there. [Spandrell]

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