Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Reading Feed (November 2014)


Blog: Gates Notes | The Miracle of Vaccines

Blog: GiveWell | Our Updated Top Charities -- AMF returns! DtWI, SCI, and GD here to stay! Four new 'standout charities'!

NYT: Upshot Blog | Why More Solar Panels Should be Pointing West, Not South


NYT: Upshot Blog | For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t as Hard as It Seems

Satire: Literal Hell to be Offered This Spring Term -- "The class, 'Literal Hell', will examine perspectives of hell through immersion, aiming to providing students with a greater understanding of religious stories. Additionally, the course hopes to enable students to sympathize with characters such as Dante, Persephone, and others."


Quote: "Until you die, you aren't dead." -- Anonymous Quoran

Blog: Things of Interest | Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective -- Hilarious, apolitical, nerdy

Blog: EA Forum | You have a set amount of 'weirdness points'. Spend them wisely.

NYT: Upshot Blog | Under Pressure From Uber, Taxi Medallion Prices are Plummeting -- tl;dr, capitalism does, in fact, work as advertised, at least on occassion

NYT: Upshot Blog | A Facebook Change Makes It Harder for Political Campaigns to See Your Friends

NYT: Upshot Blog | When the Guy Making Your Sandwich Has a Noncompete Clause


Self: (Un)fairness -- "Why is this happening to me? It's unfair!"

Math: MathOverflow | Algebraic Geometry: Massive Cancellations -- Someone want to read this and explain it to me? I suspect that the second answer just scooped my 6.845 final project, but I actually don't understand how.

Blog: Slate Star Codex | Race and Justice: Much More than You Wanted to Know -- 4,500 words worth of statistics on race and the justice system in America; probably should be required reading


Self: The only thing I'm going to say about Ferguson

Quotes: Letter from a Birmingham Jail -- King, Jr.

Blog: Unequally Yoked | Safety is a Piss-Poor Pitch for Chastity -- Covers a lot more than the title lets on.


Crimson: A Statement from Eldo Kim

Photo: From LEGO, to parents -- An insert in certain LEGO sets circa 1973.


Quote: "Critiquing, when it means careful reasoning, deliberate inquiry, trying to improve an outcome, and questioning taken-for-granted assumptions, is one of the hallmarks of a good education. But unchecked, the habit of critiquing can narrow our vision so that we only see what is wrong in the world and blind ourselves to what is right." -- Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Harvard College, in an email to current students

Satire: Harvard Dean Confesses Median Grade in SAT/UNSAT classes is SAT, Most Common Grade Also SAT -- "We’ve become a school where people believe they can do well in a class, regardless of how well their peers do. Where everyone graduates with a degree, regardless of the competition. Our job is not to make students feel good about themselves, it is to teach. If we’re not failing at least half of our students, then someone isn’t doing their job right."

Crimson: Title IX Complaints in Higher Education -- "The Crimson's searchable database details the outcomes of more than 7,500 Title IX complaints received and closed by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights between Jan. 1, 2002 and Sept. 22, 2014."

Quora: What are the top 10 pieces of career advice Brian Bi would give to future software engineers?

Quora: As we start planning the next edition of Introduction to Algorithms (CLRS), what should we add and what should we remove? -- Open question, asked by Thomas Cormen himself; maybe a good opportunity for interested readers to provide feedback?


Satire: Temple University Receives Anonymous Donation To Build Center For Discrediting Rape Allegations


Self: With sincerest apologies to Mr. Whitman -- Thank you, Gus Mayopoulos, for a spectacular year of service as Undergraduate Council President.

Blog: Slate Star Codex | Prisons are Built with Bricks of Law and Brothels with Bricks of Religion (But That Doesn't Prove a Causal Relationship) -- Scott takes issue with commentators elsewhere on the internet taking stances critical of mental health institutions, opening with: "Research Suggests Psychiatric Interventions Like Admission To A Mental Hospital Could Increase Suicide Risk, says an Alternet article about a study that specifically mentions that it should not be used to conclude that psychiatric interventions like admission to a mental hospital could increase suicide risk." Long read, but good.

Blog: GiveWell | Deworm the World Initiative update -- GiveWell reviews its research into DtWI's effectiveness, concluding that the latter is doing good work, and is likely to remain on GW's list of most-effective charities.

News-ish: How Harvard Became the Harvard of Football -- Admittedly, it's sub-par in quality of links here; it's only here because tomorrow is The Game, and, surprising no one, I have lot of Harvard spirit. #beatyale


Blog: XKCD What If | Alternate Universe 'What If's -- "Dispatches from a horrifying alternate universe"

Quora: What general technique do the authors follow when writing technical books in LaTeX? -- Answer by Thomas Cormen, the C of CLRS.

Quora: Is it unethical that Steve Jobs was able to [pay more money to] get his liver transplant in Tennessee? -- "No. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Jobs' use of his wealth to be listed in multiple areas led to a fairer distribution of livers than would have occurred otherwise."

Quora: What is it like to have an autistic child? -- Answer by an autistic parent with an autistic son.


Self: Pronouns


Blog: Vi Hart | A Case Study in Musical Memory and Past Lives

Blog: JeffTK | Being a Real Man

Self: Philae and a faux pas [Index] -- I call for readers to submit guest posts in response to A Comet Landing, and a Misplaced Media Firestorm, and two do. This is the main index of the whole discussion-thread, including concluding thoughts.


Blog: Giving Gladly | Hosting an effective altruism discussion


Blog: Thing of Things | The Curb Cut Effect, or Why It Is Basically Impossible To Appropriate From Disabled People

Self: A Comet Landing, and a Misplaced Media Firestorm (Philae lands, and we're talking about the political correctness of some scientist's shirt? Really, news media?)

Self-BoL: 11/14 Links: Science, B****es! (Philae lands! A LEGO particle accelerator; $60M to Harvard CS; An Ebola story; Rick Perry heckled at Dartmouth; Fox fails cultural conservatives; An unwarranted firestorm about some scientist's shirt.)

News: Entire county board arrested following citizens arrest by 2 military veterans (Apparently, not allowing public comment at government meetings is a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act and a Class C misdemeanor. Who knew?)

Editorial: HPR | Let’s Talk: A Response to "Dear IOP" (Harvard-specific; a student member of the Institute of Politics with some real talk about how the organization is broken, why it's not worth giving up on, and what students can do to fix it. I'm not even IOP, and I found it fascinating.)


Obituary: Alexander Groethendieck, father of algebraic geometry, "Einstein of Mathematics".

Video: Harvard University Announces Expansion in Computer Science Faculty (Click for a wonderful speech by junior Ana-Maria Constantin; keep watching to hear Steve Ballmer say "future so bright; you gotta wear shades")

Data-Vis: 'Stop-and-Frisk' Is All but Gone From New York (Interactive visualizations by Mike Bostock! It's Christmas!)

Blog: M.blazoned | The Default Parent (Parenting roles, and the parent that the kids run to first; a rant by one such 'default parent'.)

Blog: Dear Parent: About THAT kid… ("I know. You're worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting shoving pinching scratching maybe even biting other children... You’re worried that THAT child is detracting from your child’s learning experience.")

News: FCC Asks AT&T for Details on Plans to Halt Fiber Expansion ("Oh, these plans to halt our fiber expansion? Uh...that's just a temporary measure until the FCC comes out and abolishes Net Neutrality. And that's gonna happen, right? Shame if all this fiber went to waste and didn't speed up anyone's internet...")


Blog: Thing of Things | Effective Altruist Holiday ("The problem with effective altruism is that it is impossible to signal...what we really need is a holiday." Leah Libresco joins the conversation from Unequally Yoked.)

News: Rise of the Robot Security Guards (Quote from the comments section: "If you put these in universities, people will make a hobby of sneaking up on them and throwing blankets on top of them.")

Blog: GiveWell | Quick update of Ebola (As in, the cost-effectiveness of immediate, targeted interventions.)

News: Amazon and Hachette Resolve Dispute (Crucially, Hachette wins the rights to set the prices on e-books published through Amazon's platform.)

News: Obama and Scalia, United on Broadband as a Utility (Article begins: "The number of issues on which President Obama agrees with Justice Antonin Scalia probably could be counted on one hand.")

News: Pope Francis to Install Showers for the Homeless at St. Peter's

Crimson-Ed: The Trouble with Triage (On this issue, I have...thoughts. I'll write them up soon.)


Crimson-Ed: Faust And The Furious (Subtitle: "A pattern of administrative contempt")

Crimson-Ed: Why the UC is Not a Joke

Crimson: Undergrad Ed Group Debates Accessibility of Q Difficulty Scores ("At their meeting Wednesday, a plurality of CUE members agreed that administrators should give students access to most, if not all, of the data that faculty members can see.")

Crimson: Stillman Infirmary Will Be Shuttered in Health Services Reshuffling

Video: CS50 Guest Lecture by Steve Ballmer (Titled: "CS50: Most of What I Needed to Know I Learned at Harvard")

Blog: Slate Star Codex | How to Use 23andMe Irresponsibly (Warning: Misinterpret your own genomic data at your own peril.)

Blog: REG | Big win for charity at WSOP Main Event 2014! (Raising for Effective Giving members take first and third at the largest poker event in the world, having pledged to donate more than a quarter-million dollars of such winnings to highly-effective charities.)

News: This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: One Star Reviews Flood 'Monument Valley' Following Paid Expansion Release (Monument Valley is a beautiful puzzle game I felt good about paying $4 for; they've released a $2 expansion that I plan to buy as soon as I get a free hour.)


Quora: How did Hans Zimmer get involved in Interstellar? (Zimmer wrote the movie's score, which has been widely praised; this is his answer to the question.)

Blog: Thing of Things | Armistice Day (A poem and image for the day.)


Crimson-Ed: Letting Down TFs (In other news, the Harvard Teaching Campaign is moving to verify signers of their petition to add a UC referendum on section sizes, so that's promising.)

Crimson: Sexual Climate Survey Used by Harvard May Become National Model ("We think that a survey is critical to making progress, but we don’t think that one designed by the federal government, specifically the Department of Education, is going to be helpful. In fact, it could be quite misleading and not make progress, the kind of progress we want to make on this issue.")

News: Obama asks FCC to Adopt Tough Net Neutrality Rules (The President! Can actually take positions on things! And anyone cares about Net Neutrality! What a time to be alive.)


Editorial: NYT | The Cult Deficit (Argument: It's a thing to be concerned about.)

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Sardinians who want to be a Swiss Charter-City Island (Who said secession had to be political? Who said imperialism had to be imposed on the colonized?)

Paper: Cell | Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors of Political Ideology

Paper: JEBO | Prisoners and Their Dilemma (Two economists run the Prisoners' Dilemma experiment on actual prisoners, and demonstrate higher rates of cooperation than among control population college students.)


Blog: Shtetl-Optimized | Research projects in quantum complexity theory (Published 2010, so perhaps slightly out-of-date, but still has some good ones.)


News: Princeton Found in Violation of Title IX (School will be required to fix things, but will likely not face penalties.)

Blog: Slate Star Codex | The Right to Waive Your Rights (Scott is pro-.)


Blog: Unequally Yoked | I've Written a Book! (Of interest to me, but perhaps not you: "If you're not Catholic or not practicing, I hope the analogies and connections that helped me might make Catholicism make a bit more aesthetic and logical sense. (Or at least, make it differently confusing).")

Crimson: Faculty Unanimously Passes Motion Asking Corp. To Reverse Health Benefits Changes; HMS Profs Defending Benefits Changes at Meeting Violated FAS Procedures

Blog: Bits and Pieces | The Discussions at the Harvard Faculty Meeting (The text of Mary Lewis's remarks on the above topic, on the initial proposal of the motion which would later be unanimously passed.); (Part 2) (Jerry Green, of Economics and HBS); (Part 3) ("the remarks that Professor Richard Thomas of the Classics Department, who seconded the motion, was prepared to deliver had he been recognized"); Vice-Provost Bol's remarks


Blog/News: Bits and Pieces | Harvard Still Doesn't Get Electronic Privacy (Harry Lewis asks pointed questions at FAS meeting about secret lecture-hall surveilance of students as part of a study on lecture attendance.)

Quora: Why isn't logic taught to children at an early age? (An on-point rant; not mine. Begins "In America at least, school curriculums are determined by an ugly stew of tradition, funding, and special-interest-groups lobbying for various subjects to be included or excluded.")

Quora: What is it like to win the Millennium Prize?

Blog: GatesNotes | We Can Eradicate Malaria—Within a Generation (Bill Gates, on his own blog, says exactly what's in the title. And he's become something of an area expert, so maybe he's right? I hope so.)

Crimson: Ed School To Launch Teacher Fellows Program for College Seniors (Kay Merseth launches program to do TFA the way TFA should be doing TFA.)

News: Unicode Technical Report #51 (The Unicode Consortium published a report edited by Mark Davis of Google and Peter Edberg of Apple on a proposed technical implementation of choose-your-emoji's-skin-tone.)

Blog: FiveThirtyEight | Americans Overestimate The Number of Muslims And Teen Moms, But Not By As Much As Reported (Title says it all. But first, test yourself: what percentage of people in the United States identify as Muslim? What's the unemployment rate?)

Self: Democracy! (Part 2: The Democratizing) (Vote, Landry-Harris petition passes, now sign the petition to put the Harvard Teaching Campaign's smaller-sections question on the ballot as a referendum item.)


Self: Democracy! (Vote, then sign the petition to put the Landry-Harris on the UC prez ballot.)

Blog: Mike Bostock | How to Scroll (For web developers.)


Blog: Thing of Things | Stop Saying "Women" When You Mean "Feminists"

Petition: Harvard Teaching Campaign | Add a referendum to the UC ballot: "Do you support or oppose a cap of 12 students on all mandatory and graded sections and lab groups?"

Petition: Michael Landry and Connor Harris for Harvard UC Presidency (petition for candidacy, no voting required)

Op-Ed: Rehearsing for death: A pre-K teacher on the trouble with lockdown drills

Quora: What are the odds that intelligent life occurred by accident, compared to the odds it was designed? (on-point explanation of the Anthropic Principle, ending in an absolute mic-drop)

Self: Democracy!


Quora: What areas of mathematics should I study before taking Harvard's Math 55? (Answer from Brian Wong, along with recommendations of three textbooks, at least one of which (Axler) I know to be fantastic. Math 55, if you didn't know, is famous enough to have its own nontrivial Wiki page.)

Quora: Is it possible that quantum mechanics is wrong? (Answer: Yes, but even if it is, classical mechanics is never coming back. Reminiscent of a quote from LessWrong: "The wheel of science turns, but it doesn't turn backward.)