Saturday, July 9th, 2022

« Previous Day Next Day »

In Praise of Pointless Goals

What Larios achieved is what I call a Big Pointless Goal: an aspiration that lacks grand purpose, yet requires substantial effort to attain. (An editor of mine also calls these “stupid quests.”) Many other examples are less extreme. The journalist Kim Cross once attempted 100 wheelies a day for 30 days on her bike. The professional runner Rickey Gates traveled every street in San Francisco. A friend of mine is making a five-foot-long rocking triceratops—think a prehistoric-themed rocking horse—in order to fulfill her childhood dream of riding a dinosaur.


But best of all, chasing a pointless goal sends you on a journey, and people rally around journeys; a hero on a stupid quest is a magnet for helpers and co-conspirators. Cross, the journalist, never did nail the wheelie, but she won another prize instead—time with her 12-year-old son, who started learning the trick alongside her.

7/9/2022 8:08 am | | Tags: philosophy, goals, motivation

Jorge Stolfi: ‘Technologically, bitcoin and blockchain technology is garbage’

A tweet by the Brazilian computer science professor inspired 1,500 experts to write a letter to US Congress warning about the risks of blindly trusting cryptocurrencies

P. Is it possible that as a society we invest millions in something we don't understand?

A. This is exactly what is happening in the crypto industry. Very few people seem to know that there is money coming in from investors and money going out to the creators of various schemes and miners. These pyramid schemes collapse when there are no more fools to fool.

7/9/2022 8:14 am | | Tags: bitcoin, technology, cryptocurrency

New dementia prevention method may be behavioral, not prescribed

The influential Lancet Commission began leading the modifiable-risk-factor movement in 2017. A panel of doctors, epidemiologists and public health experts reviewed and analyzed hundreds of high-quality studies to identify nine risk factors accounting for much of the world’s dementia: high blood pressure, lower education levels, impaired hearing, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes and low levels of social contact.

In 2020, the commission added three: excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injuries and air pollution. The commission calculated that 40% of dementia cases worldwide could theoretically be prevented or delayed if those factors were eliminated.

Regarding the 'alcohol consumption' bit, my cursory research suggest this is "excessive alcohol consumption" such that it causes brain damage. As we can see by those who partake in a Mediterranean diet with its red wine, overall they seem to fair well in this arena.

The article also mentions that vision loss might be added in the future. Sensory loss makes sense, your brain has less inputs to keep it active.

7/9/2022 8:23 am | | Tags: neurology, dementia, science, medicine

Interactive Encryption and Decryption using RSA

As a kid, I was obsessed with cryptography and codes. I loved the idea of encoding things such that only I and my friends could read them. For whatever reason, this was primarily centered around physical analog cryptography and I lost interest for computerized digital cryptography.

I have understood how it works, but this calculator that walks through how exactly it works (assuming you understand the math) is well done and fun to play with.

7/9/2022 8:27 am | | Tags: cryptography

Six new micro frogs found in Mexico

When fully grown the smallest is smaller than a human fingernail.

7/9/2022 8:28 am | | Tags: animals, frog

Great to see Fetterman up and out. Here's hoping for his success

7/9/2022 8:33 am | | Tags: us politics, pennsylvania


Titled 'Lifestyles,' it talks about the mentality with which some people approach their lifestyle, through the lens of a race to sail solo around the world.

Fifty-four years ago this month, in a push for publicity, The Sunday Times offered £5,000 to whoever could sail solo nonstop around the world the fastest. It was technically a race, but that was an afterthought, as no one had ever completed the feat.

There were no qualification requirements and few rules. Nine men joined the race, one of whom had never sailed. Just one man finished, 312 days and 27,000 miles later.

But it was two participants who never completed the race that generated the most news. One ended up dead, the other found himself happier than ever. Both outcomes came from decisions made at sea, but neither had anything to do with sailing.

The two men, Donald Crowhurst and Bernard Moitessier, are astounding examples of how the quality of your life is shaped by whom you want to impress. Their stories are extreme, but what they dealt with was just a magnified version of what ordinary people face all the time, and likely something you’re facing right now.

7/9/2022 11:30 am | | Tags: philosophy

Once in a Lifetime

Evelyn Marie Adams won $3.9 million in the New Jersey lottery in 1986. Four months later she won again, collecting another $1.4 million.


Three years later two mathematicians, Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller, threw cold water on the excitement.

If one person plays the lottery, the odds of picking the winning numbers twice are indeed 1 in 17 trillion.

But if one hundred million people play the lottery week after week – which is the case in America – the odds that someone will win twice are actually quite good. Diaconis and Mosteller figured it was 1 in 30.

7/9/2022 11:34 am | | Tags: mathematics, life

Mathematical calculations show that quantum communication across interstellar space should be possible

The reddit thread for this article notes that this is not breaking the speed of light for communications, instead it is about the distance that could be communicated. Rather than the weakening radio signals, etc.

7/9/2022 11:43 am | | Tags: space, technology, communication

Dissolving the Fermi Paradox (2018)

Due to the discussion I dove into around the quantum communication, I was pointed to this 2018 mathametics paper which seeks to disprove the Fermi paradox. Here's their first paragraph of the introduction:

While working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1950, Enrico Fermi famously asked his colleagues: ”Where are they?” He was pointing to a discrepancy that he found puzzling: Given that there are so many stars in our galaxy, even a modest probability of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) arising around any given star would imply the emergence of many such civilizations within our galaxy. Further, given modest assumptions about their ability to travel, to modify their environs, or to communicate, we should see evidence of their existence, and yet we do not. This discrepancy has become known as the Fermi paradox, and we shall call the apparent lifelessness of the universe the Fermi observation.

And then from the paper's conclusion, the bracketed segment is my filling in context:

When we update [the Drake equation's point estimates with probability distributions] in light of the Fermi observation, we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe (53%–99.6% and 39%–85% respectively). ’Where are they?’ — probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.

7/9/2022 11:50 am | | Tags: space, extraterrestrial intelligence, mathematics

The World Games 2022 going on now in Birmingham AL

I learned tonight that the World Games A) exist and B) are going on now in Birmingham. They're like the white-label version of the Olympics, they cover a lot of sports which both are and aren't part of the Olympics. For example it has both baseball and softball, aikido and other martial arts, bodybuilding, lacrosse, rugby, as well as a bunch of unique stuff: life saving, orienteering, korfball, and others.

As of this posting, Colombia is leading the medal count with 6 golds and 13 total. USA, thus far, has only one gold (as well as three bronzes) - the gold medal is Travis Mills for Parachuting, "Canopy Piloting Mixed." Go USA!

7/9/2022 10:48 pm | | Tags: sports

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country

An interview with Barbara F. Walter. She is a political science professor at the University of California and wrote How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them. She discusses that studies have shown two variables to be recurring as signs of a coming civil war:

  1. Anocracy - Basically, a measure of the government of a country on a scale from authoritarian to democracy. Countries firmly at an end of this spectrum rarely have civil wars. Countries in the middle do.

  2. "And then the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity"

That is... unsettling. The USA is currently still heavily on the democratic side of the scale, but I think we can all see how much the second point is a thing here in the country.

She goes on to recall conversations with her father, who is German and who saw the rise of Nazis in his home country. Her father saw the rise of Trump and was fearful the US was recreating the world of WWII Germany. And it was from these conversations which urged her to dig deeper in civil war research and its relevance to the US:

That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.

She also dives in, noting that a US civil war won't look like the first "Civil War."

I didn’t do a great job framing it initially, that when people think about civil war, they think about the first civil war. And in their mind, that’s what a second one would look like. And, of course, that’s not the case at all. So part of it was just helping people conceptualize what a 21st-century civil war against a really powerful government might look like.

I'm definitely adding her book to my reading list.

7/9/2022 11:05 pm | | Tags: us politics
« Previous Day Next Day »