Below are some interesting links I posted to Facebook this year. I’m putting them all here so they won’t vanish into the Facebook black hole. Facebook is also super inconsistent about what gets visibility, so many of these might not have been seen before. Links are roughly in chronological order.
There are many, many problems with the “EmDrive” reactionless propulsion idea. Despite media hype, the overwhelming majority of physicists don’t consider it credible.
The average age of scientists at Los Alamos was 29. In modern times, a grad student once told me that his advisor, one of the most-cited chemists ever, felt disrespected because he was “too young” at age 50. Source: Alex Wellerstein’s fantastic blog, Nuclear Secrecy.
There are separate Wikipedias for hundreds of languages, including Scottish. It’s close enough to English to be readable, but almost every word is spelled differently. Some exceptions are long, formal words, like “coterminous”, “metropolis”, “measurement”, and “international”.
Why zombies would have no chance against any modern military. The Mk-19, the automatic-fire grenade launcher shown here, isn’t even really a heavy weapon. It’s man-portable, so it can be carried into battle and used by a single infantry squad.
“The Inner Ring“, a great essay on how social groups work, by CS Lewis.
That time the Catholic Church smuggled 300,000 copies of an anti-fascist essay into Nazi Germany, so they could all be read simultaneously at church on Palm Sunday, before the Gestapo knew what was going on.
The US military has officially confirmed that “Roswell UFO” stories came from the coverup of a secret high-altitude balloon program, codenamed “Project Mogul“. The aim of Project Mogul balloons was to carry microphones into an atmospheric layer with long-distance sound propagation, to detect of Soviet nuclear tests. When one balloon crashed, the government falsely claimed it was a weather balloon to ward off suspicion.
The idea that medieval people only drank wine or beer, not water, is a myth. They were more likely to talk about drinking alcohol (as people are today), but there is no reason to think they drank less water than modern people.
The biggest landlord in Berkeley exploited his wealth and influence to run a child sex slave ring. After getting out of prison, he simply resumed being a landlord. Don’t rent from “Everest Properties” or “Raj Properties”.
“Litigation Abuse Under CEQA“, or the California Environmental Quality Act, by law firm Holland & Knight. Choice quote: “Anti-abortion protesters used a CEQA lawsuit in an attempt to block a Planned Parenthood clinic proposed to be located in an existing building in a neighborhood that already offered abortion services, asserting that the city violated CEQA by failing to appropriately consider the noise nuisance that the protesters would themselves create in the neighborhood if the clinic was allowed to open.”
By far the most successful pop-music songwriter is a middle-aged Swedish guy named Martin Karl Sandberg, stage name “Max Martin”.
9% of all trolling and personal abuse on Wikipedia comes from 34 “highly toxic” editors.
Thomas Jefferson on how “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper“, 1807.
Anyone can file a restraining order against companies sending junk mail. If they violate the order, it’s a federal criminal offense. This started when a law passed letting people block “lewd and obscene” mail, with the recipient having “sole discretion” to determine what was offensive. Some clever people decided that, since they could be offended by whatever they wanted, they’d use it to opt out of catalog mailings. This went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Rowan v. USPS that this loophole abuse is 100% legit.
Drone company Lily Robotics was raided, is under criminal investigation after failing to deliver its promised product.
In California, Daylight Savings Time still legally starts in April. The government can’t change it without a state-wide referendum.
That time the United States invaded Russia. American troops parading in Vladivostok, 1918.
In 1975, the San Francisco Police Department went on strike. Courts ruled against the strikers, but the police ignored all court orders while terrorizing the city. Mayor Alioto conceded to police demands, overriding the Board of Supervisors, after a bomb was detonated at his house.
Zvi Mowshowitz’s comprehensive guide to pizza.
Lightsail Energy’s wind power storage project in Liverpool, Canada has been delayed. Founder Danielle Fong says the company is pivoting towards producing high-pressure gas storage tanks.
Distill is a new journal dedicated to clear explanations of machine learning.
American trust in the mass media is on a steady long-term decline, from 55% in 1999 to 32% in 2016. “What cannot continue forever must stop.”
Arbital, a web knowledge project by Eliezer Yudkowsky and Alexei Andreev, is going into maintenance mode.
RIP Harry Huskey, a computer pioneer who helped build ENIAC back in 1945. He was one of the last living people to have worked on computers with Alan Turing. He might have been the first person to have a commercially-built computer in his house (the Bendix G-15, in 1956).
San Francisco will soon finish the Transbay Terminal, one of the most expensive train stations in the world. It will cost $2.6 billion, and use five blocks’ worth of downtown land. However, there will be no trains for at least ten years, and almost certainly longer. The station was built despite not having any money to put tracks into it, and nobody knows where funding for tracks would come from. After four months’ delay, San Francisco allocated $5 million for a “tunneling options study”. In the meantime, the station will be used as a bus stop.
There are many engineering obstacles to molecular assemblers, as envisioned by Eric Drexler. However, this frequently gets confused with weak criticisms from people with no technical background, like “physics proves any atomic assembler is impossible” (even though that would disprove biology), or “macro scale principles don’t work at the nano scale” (Drexler spends a whole chapter on scaling laws, so it’s not like he didn’t know that). This blog post lays out some of the real, technical challenges Drexlerian manufacturing would face, from someone who has read the relevant papers and is familiar with the field. It’s somewhat out of date (2005), but is vastly better than most easily-Googleable, easily-readable material on this subject.
Why Germany Lost, an informative and entertaining talk by Prof. Jonathan House. Busts some common myths, like “Hitler could have won if he listened to his generals”, or “the Soviets out-numbered the Germans five to one”.
“United We Blame“. Everyone to blame for airline problems, courtesy Zvi Mowshowitz.
A startup is now offering unlimited private jet rides for $11,000 a year, plus $4,000 sign-up fee. Catch: the scheduling is a lot more limited than with commercial flights, so there might not be a flight on any particular day, or even one at all. (Except for chartering a plane, but that’s not included in the price and is super costly).
Security deposits are heavily regulated under California law. Know your rights as a renter.
Real train robberies have returned to the Old West. Next, we’ll have gun duels at high noon, and pirates prowling the waters of San Francisco Bay. That would at least be cool.
May 1st, International Victims of Communism Day.
Patrick McKenzie on doing business in Japan, which at times sounds like a caricature of the 50s. “It is socially mandatory that your boss, in fulfillment of his duties to you, sees that you are set up with a young lady appropriate to your station. He is likely to attempt to do this first by matching you with a young lady in your office. There are, at all times, a number of unattached young ladies in your office. Most of them choose to quit right about when they get married or have children.”
Jamaica: Come for the beaches, stay for the teen kidnapping.
Problems with the famous “fire in a crowded theater” quote thrown around in free speech discussions.
Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, is under siege by the Syrian Democratic Forces, with US support. Over half of the city has been captured to date.
“No Scrum“, a music video by Jess Sorrell at UCSD. Also, an accurate and hilarious video guide to Scrum. “If, for example, your product serves a large number of customers at once, it’s recommended that you fuse them together under spectacular heat to form one giant supercustomer.”
Trump’s political strategist, Roger Stone, was the youngest person involved in Watergate. He has Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, and has the world’s largest private connection of Nixon memorabilia. Get Me Roger Stone, a recent Netflix documentary, shows just how much Stone self-identifies as a villain.
International Energy Agency projections keep underestimating solar power. Every year since 2002, they’ve undershot solar growth, adjusted upwards, and then undershot again.
The “hungry judge” effect in parole hearings was almost certainly overestimated.
Apprente, my new AI startup. Still in stealth mode.
Yet another Bitcoin indictment. The operator of BTC-e, Alexander Vinnik, was a Russian national arrested in Greece on money laundering and other charges.
AltspaceVR, a social VR startup co-founded by Gavan Wilhite, is closing down.
My attempt to take a train from the 2017 eclipse back to Berkeley, as recorded by the great Alon Levy.
A weather guide for all solar eclipses until 2024. Don’t get clouded out! The next “easy” total eclipse is April 2023 in Exmouth, Australia, which has lots of good hotels and a commercial airport.
Laura Deming’s Longevity Fund has raised another $22 million for anti-aging R&D. To quote Jon Snow, “We’re all on the same side. We’re all breathing.”
There’s an extremely strong correlation between the rate of housing construction in a city, and how expensive housing is there. This is true both across all US cities, and for tech hubs specifically.
Deir ez-Zor, the biggest city in eastern Syria, has been under siege by ISIS for over three years now. ISIS has attacked dozens of times, and they’ve split the city into two pockets, but the defenders continue resisting. The 2017 Syrian offensive against ISIS has been very successful, so hopefully the city will be relieved in the next few months.
“Inside Robert Mueller’s Army” describes the elite team of lawyers investigating Trump, his family, his campaign staff, his business partners, and his administration. This investigation is now huge. It covers dozens of topics, and has as many federal prosecutors as might normally be assigned to whole states. Wikipedia has more details.
Winlink is a free email provider that sends and receives messages over long-distance radio. With some equipment, it can be accessed from anywhere in the world.