A list of articles I read. 70
2017 33
Date Title Subtitle
Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years At the age of 20, Christopher Knight parked his car on a remote trail in Maine and walked away with only the most basic supplies. He had no plan. His chief motivation was to avoid contact with people. This is his story
I'm very intrigued by people leaving civilization behind. I loved movies such as Into the Wild (which I've seen twice so far) and Wild. I was naturally expecting something similar. A person living in the wood for 27 years? How did he manage to eat? Spoiler alert: he actually stole food from cabins in the area, before being caught by the police. I guess the conclusion (from the article, as well as from the movies I've seen) is that you cannot really live all alone by yourself.
Repeat After Me: Cold Does Not Increase Odds of Catching Cold
Actually, I've beeen repeating this for years, but without knowing if it was still true. Apparently, it is. Cold does not increase odds of catching cold.
London-Paris electric flight 'in decade'
We need electric planes, as jet fuel will become harder to get and more expensive, but one of the things that's also exciting to me is the following: "you can have an electric plane that's substantially less loud than a fuel plane". I hate noise. I want to live in a world with as little noise as possible.
Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.
There seems to be an evolutionary explanation for why we are much more sensitive to weaknesses in other people's arguments than in our own arguments. At first, it can seem counterintuitive, as we should be open to new information, at least when it comes to new threats. "[...] reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments." Another bias: we think we understand things way more than we actually understand them. It fostered progress ("When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering"), but it's a problem when it comes to politics or health. Another bias that can be physiologically measured: "people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs."
Did the Oscars Just Prove That We Are Living in a Computer Simulation?
Betteridge's law of headlines is respected, once again: the answer is no. This article is not serious (or, at least, I can't read it seriously). We might be living in a simulation (I'm open to that possibility, although I'm still not convinced it really makes sense). But I don't think that any of the examples in the article (the Oscars, Trump, etc.) is an indication that we do.
The Best Music for Productivity? Silence Studies show that for most types of cognitively demanding tasks, anything but quiet hurts performance.
This article kind of contradicts the previous one. The conclusion/takeaway is: "Take a break every few hours and listen to music for 15 minutes." It sounds reasonable. Or listen to music only when doing repetitive/mundane tasks. Or work on the problem itself (office noises), by asking people to be more disciplined (talking outside of the office, etc.).
The Science Backed Ways Music Affects Your Brain and Productivity Plus 11 artists to listen to while you work
"Music can help relieve negative emotions like stress, anxiety and depression." That's why we tend to think that music might be better than the sounds/noises of our offices (chatter, phones, etc.): because we like listening to music. "Listening to music with lyrics may actually help people working on repetitive or mundane tasks, perhaps because the distracting nature of lyrical music can provide a kind of relief from the monotony of boring work." My problem is that I rarely work on repetitive tasks (software engineering). Now, if I'm sick or tired, listening to music might be a way to do something instead of... not much.
The Future of Not Working As automation reduces the need for human labor, some Silicon Valley executives think a universal income will be the answer — and the beta test is happening in Kenya.
I'm very interested in basic income and effective altruism. I had already heard of GiveDirectly, probably via William MacAskill, who initially was not convinced by the effectiveness of that nonprofit organization (see his 2012 and 2014 comments), but later changed his mind. This article discusses how GiveDirectly works in the field (in rural Kenya). I must admit that I'm still not intuitively convinced that giving money directly to very poor people is a good idea (compared to financing education, health, etc.), but I'm happy that it actually is.
Why Nothing Works Anymore Technology has its own purposes.
This article sounds like somebody describing the empty half of a half-full, half-empty glass. Yes, search results on Google are not perfect, but is it easier to find information nowadays or before Google existed? Before the Internet existed? Yes, Amazon is also far from perfect, but is it easier to buy/order things nowadays or before Amazon existed? Before the Internet existed? And yes, automation is leading to serious problems (low-wage work, etc.). Yet, this article doesn't even mention the obvious solution everyone has been talking about for years (basic income). The concluding paragraph is talking about the AI control problem without even naming it. And, no, I haven't had any problem with automatic-flush toilets in recent years, so maybe this is a US thing?
Musical nostalgia: The psychology and neuroscience for song preference and the reminiscence bump Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?
This is clearly a bias and we have to be aware of it when we judge the music we listen to: do we like it because we discovered it when we were teenagers or do we like it because it is good (i.e. because it has objective merits)?
How to Be a Stoic Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons.
This is a short article about how Epictetus got many things right more than 2000 years ago. I'm quite interested in stoicism. The video "Stoicism 101" by Massimo Pigliucci, that I watched a few months ago, was quite good. I will probably also read "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" later this year.
The mythical 10x programmer
There are a lot of "10x programmer" articles. This one is not bad. I guess the conclusion is always the same: you can be a programmer without knowing too many things (the barrier to entry to become a programmer is really low), but you have to know a lot of things to be a good programmer. Also, some of the things you need to know are not technical per se (avoiding complex designs, avoiding "perfection", etc.).
The roots of technological singularity can be traced backed to the Stone Age The true obstacle for the human race has always been overcoming our own organic matter, not the threat posed by intelligent machines
"With clay tablets, humans overcame the limitations of their brains 5,000 years ago. The first singularity took place in the Stone Age." I don't agree with their use of the word "singularity", but the first writing is an important step towards the Singularity, as it allowed information to start circulating outside of our brains.
What makes the perfect office?
"What people love, instead, is the ability to control the space in which they work". I sure wouldn't want people to tell me how to organize my office. Personally, I enjoy a clear desk. And a coffee machine very close to my desk.
On Getting Old(er) in Tech
This is a topic I'm interested in, as I'm approaching my 40s and I'm a software engineer. tl;dr: you have to keep learning.
Is the Default Mode of the Brain to Suffer?
"When the brain is "at rest," it’s doing anything but resting." This is obvious to anybody who's ever tried to meditate. The good news seems to be that there's mounting evidence that becoming more aware of what's going on in our minds (e.g. by meditating) changes our default state (our "default mode network", or DMN) in a positive way.
The Teletext Salvagers: How VHS is bringing teletext back from the dead Teletext died on 23 October 2012. Now, digital archeologists are digging through VHS tapes to get it back
This is brilliant. My position is that we should archive everything, as much as possible. I was a fan of teletext in the 80s, so it's kind of sad to think that all those pages are now probably lost.
How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free
So I guess the question is how ideas can influence politics. Do you compromise or do you fight (using violence if needed)? Do you want absolute justice (according to your ideology) or do you want communication? You can't have both.
The secret to living a meaningful life Your ambitions to improve your life do not need to be confined by your personality.
The title is a clickbait, of course. Our core projects affect our happiness, so they should feel attainable and be aligned with our values. Nothing that Getting Things Done (GTD) hasn't said before, I guess.
The science of Westworld A summary of recent artificial intelligence research
"A summary of recent artificial intelligence research" using Westworld, one of my favorite shows, as an illustration. This works well and the article touches on some complex topics/issues (intermediate tests towards a more complete Turing test, memory and neural networks, AI control problem, etc.).
Facebook is terrifying
I'm not terrified. Is there anything wrong with me? More seriously, I do have things to hide (my passwords, for one thing), but I'm less concerned than most people about privacy issues.
Pourquoi des économistes votent non à la RIE III Oui, il nous faut une réforme, mais évidemment pas celle-ci. Car la RIE III est bourrée de défauts, incohérente, et potentiellement dangereuse pour l’emploi, estime François Grin, économiste
Un article clair, qui semble indiquer que la RIE III est une mauvaise solution. Une source précieuse quelques jours avant les votations fédérales du 12 février 2017.
The 15-Minute Habit Worth Making Time For
I've been writing a diary since 1993, but it's always refreshing to read about the reasons other people are also journaling. I would just object to calling everything a "journal" when a more precise terminology is available (Getting Things Done, free writing, brainstorming, etc.). Or maybe I'm doing it wrong...
Why paper is the real 'killer app' With apps taking over our lives, there’s a movement afoot as people yearn for simpler, technology-free times.
Paper might be a solution for brainstorming and note-taking, but I remain convinced that it's not a good way to organize tasks and projects. Simple online documents win, here.
Don’t set goals for yourself—instead, create systems that make it easy for you to succeed
This is Scott Adams' approach. And also the basis for Getting Things Done (GTD), I guess. The article itself was not particularly illuminating.
You (and Your Therapist) Can Change Your Personality
We can (somewhat) change our personality, with the help of therapists. I don't really know what to do with this information. I guess it's a source of hope if we don't like some facets of our personalities?
A Painless Q-Learning Tutorial
A very easy-to-understand introduction to Q-learning.
Deep Q-Learning (Space Invaders)
Again, we live exciting times: we can now reproduce state-of-the-art AI papers by just using (relatively) easy-to-use libraries (Theano, here, but many others are available).
Food packaging is not the enemy of the environment that it is assumed to be Vacuum packs mean meat can stay on shelves for between five and eight days
Packaging is apparently very useful for meat and dairy products in particular. Another reason to become vegetarian/vegan?
Scientists say your "mind" isn’t confined to your brain, or even your body
This reminds me of the concept of extended phenotype by Richard Dawkins, but I'm not convinced it is as useful here.
A "new" star should appear in 2022 A tale of scientific serendipity
We live exciting times. An astronomer has predicted a nova before it happened.
How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail Why worldview threats undermine evidence
Nothing new here: facts often don't convince people. Just like statistics don't convince people, but anecdotes sometimes do. We're all victims of cognitive biases.
Why 30 is the decade friends disappear — and what to do about it
People get busy with their work and their family. Nothing new, here. I'm not sure the "what to do about it" part of the title has really been addressed by the article. Is the solution really to be less demanding - or something like that?
2016 37
Date Title Subtitle
Why do we work so hard? Ryan Avent reckons that our jobs have become prisons from which we don’t want to escape
On Digital Minimalism
A History of Hard Drives
A possible answer to the hard problem of consciousness: subjective experience is communication
The mystery of why you can't remember being a baby Babies are sponges for new information – so why does it take so long for us to form your first memory? BBC Future investigates.
Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence? Alien life could be so advanced it becomes indistinguishable from physics.
Wherefore art thou Macintosh?
Why You Are Immortal (No Religion Involved)
Dalai Lama: Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded
Fighting Loneliness With Public Living Rooms Meet the group combating social isolation through cups of tea.
You Can Have Emotions You Don’t Feel
‘Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5’ Review Bootlegs reveal the inner workings of Miles Davis’s creative process.
Consciousness Isn’t a Mystery. It’s Matter.
Whose Responsibility is it to Provide Jobs to People?
Video Games Are Boring Maybe everything we know is wrong, says Brie Code
The Important Habit of Just Starting
Microsoft, I forgive you!
The comeback of cursive Once derided as a relic of the past, handwriting looks poised for a revival
The problems with philosophical zombies
Reflections of an "Old" Programmer
Am I Introverted, or Just Rude?
Lifelogging is dead (for now) A funny thing happened on the road to capturing everything: Hardware failed to keep up, and social media made it redundant.
Why can’t we see that we’re living in a golden age? If you look at all the data, it’s clear there’s never been a better time to be alive
What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the internet
The Unfortunate Physics of Male Urination
Adding ages The fight to cheat death is hotting up
‘HitnRUN Phase Two’: An Oral History Of Prince’s Last Studio Album
Would a Work-Free World Be So Bad? Fears of civilization-wide idleness are based too much on the downsides of being unemployed in a society premised on the concept of employment.
This Top-Secret Food Will Change the Way You Eat
How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars
A 'Brief' History of Neural Nets and Deep Learning, Part 1
The Mind–Body Problem, Scientific Regress and "Woo" The science of consciousness, far from converging on a sensible paradigm, is going backward
Plaidoyer pour une (bonne) communication sceptique Article invité de Xavier Ristat, auteur du blog Cygnification qui traite de la communication (et un peu du scepticisme)
The first self-driving car fatality proves nothing The death of a driver using the Tesla Autopilot function doesn’t show that the technology is unsafe
The challenges of copying a mind
What’s Next for Artificial Intelligence The best minds in the business—Yann LeCun of Facebook, Luke Nosek of the Founders Fund, Nick Bostrom of Oxford University and Andrew Ng of Baidu—on what life will look like in the age of the machines
Has Physics Gotten Something Really Important Really Wrong?