Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Reading Feed (October 2014)


Self-BoL: "Links, Explosions, and People Talking" Edition (other people's linkwraps, SpaceShipTwo explodes, Berkeley students protest Bill Maher, Daniel Radcliffe on being a sex symbol, Halloween costumes, Harvard College Honor Council, Facebook's Data@Scale conference in Boston, Vi Hart on dealing with comment-thread trolls.)

Quora: Robert Frost | Space is Hard (on

Reddit: "Lawyer code for..." ("In criminal matters, when an attorney indicates, 'My client (defendant) would like to say a few things to the court.' and is not being given the traditional question and answer style of direct [examination], it is often a big wink to everyone 'in the know' that the client is about to perjure himself.")

Quora: I recently became a father. What are some great ideas for things to save or things to make that my child could enjoy much later in life, possibly as a birthday gift or a wedding present (e.g. a newspaper from the day of birth)? (one great suggestion)


(Not) News: Tim Cook, Apple CEO: "I'm Proud to be Gay" ("If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy.")

FB: "The most common date-rape drug is still alcohol. All the [drug-detecting] nail polish does is detect the minority of cases that are 'legitimate date-rape' and deflect from the majority." ~ C.G.

Blog: Catholic and Enjoying It | "God is not a divine being" (explanatory response to numerous "wait, what?"s about remarks by Pope Francis which have been--perhaps questionably--translated as "God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life")

Quora: If the Earth was proven to be 10,000 years old, would that disprove Darwinism? (spoiler: yes, and also nuclear physics, geology, astronomy, optics, genomics, chemistry, and our ability to count to 12,000)

Self: Questions of Sex: Statistics and Student Opinions (discussing new survey results made published by MIT)


Self: Salk! (It's Jonas Salk's 100th birthday...have you gotten your flu shot yet?)

Crimson-Ed: School, Interrupted ("Leaving campus does not mean abandoning Harvard. To be sure, school is perhaps the most defining aspect of our lives as students. Harvard will always be there in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean it has to stop you from hopping on a bike or a train and taking it until you hit a coffee shop you never knew existed.")

Blog: GiveWell | Guest Post from Tom Rutledge: I was a Jerk for GiveWell (Tom hits on a big reason why I feel uncomfortable being more of a proponent of Effective Altruism than I am -- basically, it's far too easy to veer off into the territory of Moralizing Jerk. For good example of how to be an aspiring-to-be-effective altruist without being a moralizing jerk, see Will MacAskill.)


Blog: My Biased Coin | Welcome, Attorneys! (Michael Mitzenmacher, testifying as an expert witness did not, in fact, contradict on the stand something he wrote years ago in his blog. He supposes that this was fortunate for his client.)

IRL: A generous upper bound on "the number of computations that could have happened in the universe (thus far)" is 10^117 (~80!). This under the assumptions that each of the 10^80 fundamental particles now in the universe were capable of performing one computation in the amount of time it takes light to cross the diameter of a hydrogen atom, and had been doing so since the Big Bang. This from a talk by Prof. David Szeszler, of the Aquincum Institute of Technology, today.

Blog: JeffTK | Paying Cash on T Buses (Jeff's claim: "The MBTA should add a $0.50 surcharge for loading your CharlieCard on a bus.")

Paper: Heer, Bostock, Ogievetsky | A Tour through the Visualization Zoo ("This article provides a brief tour through the 'visualization zoo,' showcasing techniques for visualizing and interacting with diverse data sets. In many situations, simple data graphics will not only suffice, they may also be preferable. Here we focus on a few of the more sophisticated and unusual techniques that deal with complex data sets. After all, you don't go to the zoo to see chihuahuas and raccoons; you go to admire the majestic polar bear, the graceful zebra, and the terrifying Sumatran tiger.")

News: Nigeria declared "Ebola-free" (subtitle: "There Haven’t Been Any New Cases in the Country in 42 Days". That's...more Ebola-free than the US.)

Blog: GiveWell | Update on [Schistosomiasis Control Initiative]'s evidence of impact (a fine example of how to react to nonpositive news regarding a thing you previously strongly believed to be positive)

Quotes: Zen Pencils | Remember, it costs nothing to encourage an artist...


Blog: Bits and Pieces | The Title IX Mess (Harry Lewis on Harvard's new Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy; possible that I'll write up thoughts on this later, so feel free to chat me up if you would like to swap opinions before I do)

Quora: Is it tacky to spell out your plans explicitly in proofs? (my answer, in which I claim that making boring proofs more exciting by inserting an element of suspense is...probably not the most considerate thing you could be doing to your reader)

Quora: What preparation can I do over the winter to make sure I do well in Intro Quantum Mechanics next semester? (some good reading recommendations, including OCW material)

Quora: How do I write the first email to a professor that may accept me as his graduate student? (spoiler: do at least 30 minutes of work to figure out what they actually do, and then don't send them a form letter)

Blog: JeffTK | Two kinds of "Vegan" (why "cheaper, more environmentally sustainable, and delicious!" often aren't all simultaneously achievable)

Blog: Slate Star Codex | All in All, Another Brick in the Motte (explication of a bad-argumentation strategy I expect I'll end up referencing down the road.)


Self-BoL: "Really Awesome Things" Edition (the only thing I have to say about GamerGate, the SSB announcer sings the Pokemon Theme, Christopher Nolan orders a scientifically-accurate black hole for Interstellar, the awesome thing I'm going to in December that you should come to too, Will MacAskill, 80,000 Hours, and Cornell's new public-service requirement for undergrads)


Crimson-Ed: A Bit Like Grieving (a personal memoir of losing skills--specifically, dance--which resonated with me for some reason)

Blog: Unequally Yoked | Avoiding Rape-Adjacent Sex (how we all can help reduce college-campus sexual assault by insisting on un-greying grey areas)

Quora: What's the largest number that can be counted to in the universe? (spoiler: it's <10^10^37.)

Quora: Which field has more scope: programming, hacking, or data science? (my answer, in which I try to explain that these three aren't just different fields; they're different things)


Crimson: Analysis: Kim Secured 'Extraordinary' Bargain, Experts Say (Eldo Kim will serve 750 hours of community service and pay restitution, but will not face jail time for campus bomb threat)

This is where the reading feeds started: October 22, 2014. They don't go back any farther! (I've placed BoL Oct 17 below, for consistency, but that's it!)


Self-BoL: "Back on the Wagon" Edition
(rising enrollments in engineering at Harvard, advances in diabetes research, insufficient funding for NIH, an op-ed by my high school calculus teacher, Anita Sarkeesian, Sir Ian McKellen, and the play I'm TDing)