Reading Feed (February 2018)
A collection of things that I was happy I read. Views expressed by linked authors are chosen because I think they're interesting, not because I think they're correct, unless indicated otherwise.
Blog: Jeffrey.Zeldman | We need design that is faster and design that is slower. — "Our whole industry, as I’ve just defined it, needs design that is faster for people who are trying to get things done, for they are our customers and should not be burdened by our institutional surrenders. We need design that is slower for people who are trying to comprehend, for they are our only chance of saving the world."
Blog: MIT Admissions | Policies, Principles, and Protests — "[S]ome students who have been admitted to MIT’s Class of 2022 have asked us if their acceptance will be rescinded if they are disciplined for joining the protests, while other applicants still under consideration are wondering if they have to choose between speaking out and getting in. We have already informed those who asked that, in this case, a disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact their admissions decision, because we would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity on its face. The purpose of this blog post is to communicate that fact more broadly and explain our reasoning as to why..." cf. a list of >100 schools with similar statements.
Blog: The Unit of Caring | Ideal labor laws — "My job is a great place to work, not because of regulations but because my company wants employees to stay and knows we’ll leave if we’re not kept happy. This is an immense form of privilege, obviously. I want to do everything I can to create conditions where every company knows their employees will leave if overworked, will leave if mistreated, will leave if not provided a fulfilling environment, will leave if the free breakfast and lunch doesn’t have good vegetarian options, will leave if they’re not offered flexible hours, will leave if they’re not given autonomy and meaningful work… jobs don’t have to suck, and I want to create the conditions under which employers have to create jobs that don’t suck, because employees have the bargaining power and they won’t be able to find anyone to work for them if they aren’t offering awesome working conditions."
Blog: Schneier on Security | Facebook Will Verify the Physical Location of Ad Buyers with Paper Postcards — "It's not a great solution, but it's something..."
Blog: Money Stuff | Trading Is a Good Way to Set a Price — "But cryptocurrencies, in Elliott's telling, are not just a scam, or a good scam. They are "one of the most brilliant scams in history." ... What else is on that list? I like Yuval Noah Harari's argument, in "Sapiens," that Homo sapiens's major advantage as a species is our ability to generate collective fictions... Harari argues that fiction "has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively," and thus given us "the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers." Harari's list of powerful fictions includes religion, nation-states, human rights, money and the limited liability corporation. Laugh as you will, but the limited liability corporation is not a stone, or a healthy pig. It is just an example of the ability of humans to generate abstract concepts and use them to coordinate action, "to seize upon ether and hope to ride it to the stars." Viewed in a certain light the corporation, or money, or nation-states, or religion, are some "of the most brilliant scams in history." Being on that list augurs well for a scam's longevity, and for its real value. If Bitcoin lasts for 10,000 years and facilitates a freer and more productive economy, then it really will be one of the most brilliant scams in history. And you'll be glad you bought Bitcoins.
Blog: Popehat | Lawsplainer: The NLRB Damore Memo — "Here's what [the NLRB's Advice Memo is] not: a court ruling that Damore's memo was discrimination or harassment, authority for the proposition that his memo would support a sexual harassment claim (among other things, actionable sexual harassment has to be severe or pervasive), a ruling that governs Damore's civil case or any other claim based on other laws, or precedent that binds anyone other than NLRB staff. It is merely an internal administrative rejection of Damore's assertion that Google violated the Act through his firing."
Blog: Fake Charity Nerd Girl | I really like the word “speciesism.” — "[M]ainly, because it only means one thing. No one will call you a speciesist for thinking that chickens aren’t as smart as humans, or for not wanting to date a mosquito, or for privately thinking that cats are kind of creepy. Beliefs about empirical facts are never called out as speciesist. No one says that of course we’re all speciesist, because we all have implicit bias, and all benefit from human privilege or something, and then the next day calls someone evil for saying something speciesist..."
Comic: xkcd | Self-Driving Issues
Blog: MIT Faculty Newsletter | #MeToo at MIT: Harassment and Systemic Gender Subordination — "The #MeToo movement has so far focused on some of the worst forms of sexual predation, which certainly deserve attention and justice. However, to understand women’s persistent inequality – not only harassment per se, it is time to address the many men who have not harassed women but have also not acknowledged their contributions, not mentored them, not promoted them, all the while grooming one man after another to take his rightful place for succession and success in the workforce."
Blog: Marginal Revolution | Direct Instruction: A Half Century of Research Shows Superior Results — "Many teachers don’t like DI when first exposed to it because it requires teacher training and discipline. Teachers are not free to make up their own lesson plans. But why should they be? Lesson plans should be developed by teams of cognitive psychologists, educational researchers and other experts who test them using randomized controlled trials; not made up by amateurs who are subject to small-sample and confirmation bias. Contrary to the critics, however, DI does leave room for teachers to be creative. Actors also follow a script but some are much better than others. Instructors who use DI enjoy being effective."
Blog: Marginal Revolution | The distribution of cities, then and now — "Overall, I view this regularity as a negative for the prospects for liberalism and democracy in emerging economies, as urban concentration can encourage too much rent-seeking and kleptocracy. It also reflects the truly amazing wisdom of (some of) our Founding Fathers, who saw a connection between liberty and decentralized agrarianism. It suggests a certain degree of pessimism about China’s One Belt, One Road initiative."
Blog: Virginia Postrel @ Bloomberg View | Lessons From a Slow-Motion Robot Takeover — "Although mechanized cotton harvesters were available in the 1920s, they didn’t catch on until after World War II. As long as farms needed workers to hoe weeds and thin cotton plants, replacing them at harvest time made little economic sense. Chemicals, not machines, solved that part of the problem; the ground between rows in Terry’s field is perfectly bare." h/t Tyler Cowen.
Blog: Overcoming Bias | The Ems of Altered Carbon — "I see no minor modification to make this into a realistic future scenario. It is made to be a morality play, to help you feel righteous indignation at those damn rich folks who think they can just live forever by working hard and saving their money over centuries. If there are ever poor humans who can’t afford to live forever in very human-like bodies, even if they could easily afford android or virtual immortality, well then both the rich and the long-lived should all burn! So you can feel morally virtuous watching hour after hour of graphic sex and violence toward that end."
Blog: Shtetl-Optimized | Interpretive cards (MWI, Bohm, Copenhagen: collect ’em all) — "[W]hen (at the TAs’ insistence) we put an optional ungraded question on the final exam that asked students their favorite interpretation of QM, we found that there was no correlation whatsoever between interpretation and final exam score—except that students who said they didn’t believe any interpretation at all, or that the question was meaningless or didn’t matter, scored noticeably higher than everyone else."
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