A list of articles I read. 266
2023 1
Date Title Subtitle
Non-caffeine components of coffee and their effects on neurodegenerative diseases Coffee consumption is associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative processes, but the effect may be more than a matter of caffeine.
It's possible that non-caffeine components of coffee are beneficial, but the studies are not totally convincing yet. And decaffeinating coffee might also remove some of those beneficial components. So the moral of the story, for me, is: keep drinking regular coffee; not too much; if possible between 9 AM and noon.
2022 7
Date Title Subtitle
How Friendships Change in Adulthood "We need to catch up soon!"
"Perhaps friends are more willing to forgive long lapses in communication because they're feeling life's velocity acutely too. It's sad, sure, that we stop relying on our friends as much when we grow up, but it allows for a different kind of relationship, based on a mutual understanding of each other's human limitations. [...] Friendship is a relationship with no strings attached except the ones you choose to tie, one that's just about being there, as best as you can."
David Allen guides you through a Mind Sweep
"Another way to think about this is just – what do you have attention on? What has potential meaning for you? [...] You might want to think about what just happened yesterday or the last couple of days. [...] [I]f any of you have access to your calendars or diaries, it's not a bad idea to pull that out and glance. [...] Real good idea to do a site walk-around in your mind's eye. [...] You might do the same around your home/house. [...] Who are all the people in your life right now? [...] [U]sually there's an inverse relationship between these things being on your mind and them actually happening."
Keith Jarrett, les mains du miracle Le pianiste américain annonçait il y a quelques jours qu'il ne jouerait probablement plus de piano. Il sort un nouvel album live, enregistré en 2016 à Budapest. Prétexte offert à notre journaliste pour raconter sa visite chez lui, dans le New Jersey
I had completely missed that 2020 article from Arnaud Robert, who managed to get invited at Keith Jarrett's home (via Paolo Woods).
Everything you need to know about psychedelics and mental illness The science of psychedelics is everywhere – but we should treat it with serious scepticism
"[T]here are a lot of red flags in the psychedelic scientific literature, and [...] you should perhaps set your standards higher than usual when reading about this area." There are a lot of conflicts of interests. Blinding is hard. Safety is hard. Hacker News thread.
The Banality of Genius: Notes on Peter Jackson's Get Back
An in-depth article about a fantastic series. "None of them seem to know why they are there, what they are working on, or whether they have anything worth working on. As we watch them hack away at the same songs over and over again, we can start to feel a little dispirited too. And yet somewhere on this seemingly aimless journey, an alchemy takes place. [...] Watching extraordinary people do ordinary things is also just oddly gripping. [...] I think we learn something along the way, too: that the anomie and the ecstasy are inseparable. [...] One effect of Jackson's Get Back is to find, or restore, a purpose to this loose strand from The Beatles' recording career, by letting us in on a secret: they didn't know what they were doing."
How to Read Fewer Books
An argument for fewer, but better books. "We can also hazard an observation: this exhaustive approach to reading does not make us particularly happy. We are drowning in books, we have no time ever to re-read one and we appear fated to a permanent sense of being under-read when compared with our peers and what the media has declared respectable. [...] We might decide on a new mantra to guide our reading henceforth: we want to read in order to learn to be content. Nothing less – and nothing more. [...] The more we understand what reading is for us, the more we can enjoy intimate relationships with a few works only. Our libraries can be simple. Instead of always broaching new material, re-reading might become crucial, the reinforcement of what we already know but tend so often to forget. The truly well-read person isn't the one who has read a gargantuan number of books, it's someone who has let themselves be shaped – deeply shaped in their capacity to live and die well – by a very few well-chosen ones."
Is lab-grown meat the 'meat of the future'? Lab-grown meat faces scrutiny
It's not the first time I read that cultured meat will be much harder to achieve than many people think. I really hope that it will come eventually, though. This is really important, for ethical and ecological reasons.
2021 10
Date Title Subtitle
MDMA Reopens Child-like "Critical Periods" in the Brains of Mice to Promote Mental Healing
"Her presentation delved into research from her lab that shone a light on how the effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may be linked to the psychedelic's ability to reopen a "critical period" in the brain for social reward learning. [...] Critical periods are periods of time, usually during development, where the brain is extremely sensitive to the outside world and the ecologically relevant cues that it needs to learn from. [...] Once the critical period is closed, even if the disorder process that is responsible for the disease is reversed or ameliorated, because the brain is no longer able to reorganize itself and induce these synaptic and circuit modifications, that rebalancing is ineffective. [...] [S]ynaptic plasticity induced by the hormone oxytocin might be a candidate for this. [...] [T]he magnitude of oxytocin-induced synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens is developmentally downregulated. [...] [T]here was also anecdotal evidence and some circumstantial evidence that MDMA might be triggering oxytocin neurons to release oxytocin. [...] They found that the MDMA dose did indeed reopen the critical period for social reward learning in the adult mice, beginning around 6 to 48 hours after the dose. The reopening of the critical period lasted at least two weeks, up to around 4 weeks before returning to baseline. [...] You have to have used MDMA in a therapeutic setting."
What Becoming a Parent Really Does to Your Happiness Research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life—but the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.
Does having children make you happy? It depends on what you mean by "happy" (well-being vs life satisfaction), on where you live (i.e. does your country help you a lot with parenting or not?), on your role in the couple, on your age, on the age of your children, etc. Basically, it's difficult to tell. My hypothesis is that children usually make you slighly less happy in the "well-being" sense of the word, but might make you happier later in life (i.e. when they are not living with you anymore, when you have grand-children, etc.), but only if you maintain a good relationship with them. Also, if you decide not to have children, then you will probably wonder, consciously or not, whether it was a good choice or not, all your life. A the end of the day, we all tell ourselves stories (this is especially true for the "life satisfaction" part of the story) and we'll probably never really know, because we're all so bad at introspection and at determining our own happiness, in particular.
30 Years Since the Human Genome Project Began, What's Next? Eric Green, head of the nation's top genomics research institute, looks back on how far the field has come and shares his bold vision for the future.
"With Crispr, we can make edits to little pieces of DNA that never go into a person—they go into cell lines or bacteria, which then get tested to see if those edits have functional consequences. The combo of genome editing and genome synthesis methods getting better, coupled with better and better computational tools, is really going to change the pace of biological discovery. [...] Of the big challenges that lie ahead for us, at least half of them are computational. It's a good problem to have."
Final thoughts Do deathbed regrets give us a special insight into what really matters in life? There are good reasons to be sceptical
"According to her, the dying expressed five common regrets: 1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. 3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. 4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. [...] I'm not convinced that the reported regrets of the dying provide us with reasons to think them valuable. I'm sceptical, first, of the reports themselves. [...] Second and more importantly, I doubt that the perspective of the dying gives them a clearer view on what really matters. There are reasons to think that the view from the deathbed is worse, not better, than the view from the midst of life. Their lack of engagement in ongoing projects might leave them with an impoverished sense of their value. [...] Take the advice that people should prioritise fulfilment over money. That advice is easier to find compelling from the perspective of the financially comfortable present self than it is from the perspective of the worried past self, struggling to make ends meet. [...] My biased recollection could easily lead me to underestimate how much money really mattered to a decent life. Schwitzgebel's second reason for wariness about deathbed regrets arises from the fact that the dying escape the consequences of their advice. [...] The regrets of the dying are platitudes, taken-for-granted pieces of folk wisdom, and that very fact is grounds for wondering about their sincerity and about their representativeness. [...] Perhaps certain things struck her more forcefully than others, and she was more likely to remember them. [...] That friendship and family and feelings are valuable is surely part of the reason why we value them. But the everyday banality of the advice gives us reason for suspicion. [...] The dying person, no longer distracted by these minutiae, might be in a better position to hear that authentic voice. [...] I want to suggest that this thought might have it backwards. The view from the deathbed might be impoverished, not enriched, because it's outside of everyday concerns. [...] [I]t doesn't follow that the view from outside the everyday is more reliable. There are grounds for thinking it's less reliable. You're not going to start reading War and Peace if you know you have just 24 hours to live. [...] It is only from within our life projects that questions about justification can be answered at all because, in the absence of the commitments that give our struggles meaning, nothing is justified. The view from the deathbed might be the closest we can get to seeing life and its concerns from outside. From outside, we can't grasp the significance of those concerns, not because they're not real, but because they're graspable only from within. Most plans and projects have a significance only for the person who's confident she'll live for some time to come. [...] Setiya counsels us to ward off the midlife crisis by finding value in the atelic: in activities that don't have a goal beyond themselves (going for a walk for the sake of it, rather than to get somewhere, for example)."
Protecting against hearing loss Considerations to protect the ability to hear across a lifespan
I've probably been to too many loud concerts in my life. :(
MDMA for PTSD? MDMA-assisted therapy gets one step closer to its projected 2023 FDA approval
MDMA has the same problem as psilocybin/LSD: it's impossible to design a study with a good placebo. Nevertheless, it seems like it might get accepted as a treatment for PTSD by the FDA in 2023. That would be huge.
Psilocybin for depression? The psychedelic drug goes head-to-head with Lexapro in a recent trial
A good analysis of a recent trial, by Peter Attia. For me, the intriguing question is how we can do valid trials/studies with a substance such as psilocybin, for which it is impossible to find a real placebo (25 mg of psilocybin being roughly equivalent to 3 g of dried mushroom, which is a "full dose", i.e. it is impossible to not know that you've taken a - very - active substance...).
How ecstasy and psilocybin are shaking up psychiatry Regulators will soon grapple with how to safely administer powerful psychedelics for treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"One clinical trial involving MDMA has recently ended, with results expected to be published soon. Regulators will then be considering whether to make the treatment available with a prescription. [...] A treatment might show benefits in a trial because the experience is carefully coordinated, and everyone is well trained. Placebo controls pose another challenge because the drugs have such powerful effects. [...] In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists published more than 1,000 articles on using psychedelics as a psychiatric treatment; the drugs were tested on around 40,000 people in total. [...] They all act on receptors for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. [...] Clinical studies also suggest that the biological effects work best in concert with human guidance. [...] There is a growing evidence base to the principle that this is very much about a synergy between drug-induced hyper-plasticity and therapeutic support. [...] One concern revolves around controls. Most individuals given a placebo will know that they are not receiving a powerful hallucinogen."
Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure
This is impressive. This article was recommended to me after I asked someone whether they ever used a treadmill while working. "[Y]es, I record all my keystrokes. [...] [T]he crucial thing as far as I'm concerned is that at any given time the total number of folders into which I'm actively putting things is small enough that I can basically remember all of them. [...] From time to time, I'll see other people's computers, and their desktops will be full of files. My desktop is completely empty, and plain white (convenient for whole-screen screensharing and livestreaming). I'd be mortified if there were any files to be seen on my desktop. I'd consider it a sign of defeat in my effort to keep what I'm doing organized. The same can be said of generic folders like Documents and Downloads. Yes, in some situations applications etc. will put files there. But I consider these directories to be throwaways. Nothing in them do I intend to be part of my long-term organizational structure. [...] Type in something like "rhinoceros elephant" and I'll immediately find every email I've sent or received in the past 30 years in which that's appeared, as well as every file on my machine, and every paper document in my archives. [...] Recognizing handwriting purely from images (without the time series of strokes) is still beyond current technology, but I'm hoping that our neural-net-based machine learning systems will soon be able to tackle it. [...] The result was that 5100 books arrived, basically scrambled into random order. It took three days to sort them. And at this point, I decided just to keep things simpler, and alphabetize by author in each category. And this certainly works fine in finding books. [...] As I think about my day, I ask myself what aspects of it aren't well optimized. A lot of it actually comes down to things like email processing, and time spent for example actually responding to questions. [...] Perhaps all that data I've collected on myself will one day let one basically just built a "bot of me"." That "bot of me" movitation kind of resonates with me. Kind of. I've been accumulating personal files/data for 30 years now, but I'm far from being able to index/search them. Most of them are still in native formats or, worse, on native images from old floppy disks. But they're archived and I guess it's a start.
Covid-19 : la saga du vaccin à ARN messager désormais dans le sprint final
Ce qui est frappant, c'est le côté un peu fou/sinueux de la recherche scientifique et le fait que ce sont beaucoup d'individus talentueux et d'entités relativement petites (des start-ups, etc.) qui font avancer les choses. Et aussi que ces vaccins ne tombent de loin pas du ciel, avec un historique qui remonte facilement à plusieurs dizaines d'années. Et toute la science avant cela, évidemment !
2020 18
Date Title Subtitle
(Very) Basic Intro To Elliptic Curve Cryptography
"There are many types of public-key cryptography, and Elliptic Curve Cryptography is just one flavor. Other algorithms include RSA, Diffie-Helman, etc. [...] The trapdoor function is similar to a mathematical game of pool. First, we start with a certain point on the curve. Next, we use a function (called the dot function) to find a new point. Finally, we keep repeating the dot function to hop around the curve until we finally end up at our last point. [...] This is a great trapdoor function because if you know where the starting point (A) is and how many hops are required to get to the ending point (E), it is very easy to find the ending point. On the other hand, if all you know is where the starting point and ending point are, it is nearly impossible to find how many hops it took to get there."
Back pain is a massive problem which is badly treated Why are better approaches to helping sufferers so slow to spread?
"Back pain does not, in and of itself, kill people. But it makes a huge number of lives a misery. [...] [D]octors often fail to explain to them that abnormalities are, in fact, quite normal. [...] There are ways of dealing with back pain that waste much less money and leave patients less distressed and with a greater sense of their own agency. [...] [E]xercise daily; accept flare-ups as temporary setbacks; don't get fixated on the pain. [...] Surgeons generally consider an operation successful if the incision is small, things heal nicely and there are no complications. [...] Though research on surgical outcomes is becoming a lot more widespread, it is still hard to convince surgeons that what they have been doing for most of their careers is ineffective. [...] [T]he best thing they can do about back pain is exercise their body and their patience. [...] Once pain becomes chronic, persuading sufferers that the cause is not a fixable physical defect becomes much harder. [...] Mr Moore, for his part, has not taken pain medication since 1997. To keep his pain at a manageable level, he starts his day with stretching at home for half an hour, followed by an hour and a half at the gym. And he leads a full life."
We Had the Vaccine the Whole Time
"You may be surprised to learn that of the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna's mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public. [...] [F]or the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it. [...] Could things have moved faster from design to deployment? Given the grim prospects for winter, it is tempting to wonder. Perhaps, in the future, we will. But given existing vaccine infrastructure, probably not. [...] For measles, for scarlet fever, for tuberculosis, for typhoid, the miracle drugs didn't bring rampant disease to a sudden end — they shut the door for good on outbreaks that had largely died out already. This phenomenon is called the McKeown hypothesis — that medical interventions tend to play only a small role compared to public-health measures, socioeconomic advances, and the natural dynamics of the disease as it spreads through a population. [...] On March 28, on what would normally be considered very thin evidentiary ground, the FDA issued an emergency-use authorization for the drug hydroxychloroquine. On May 1, it issued an EUA for remdesevir. On August 23, it issued another for convalescent plasma. [...] All of these bets were lost. None of them, in the end, proved effective. [...] These days, one adverse impact in a million is the rule-of-thumb threshold of acceptability. [...] [Y]ou could do all of this at a cost of about $20 million to $30 million per vaccine and, ideally, would do so for between 50 and 100 different viruses — enough, he says, to functionally cover all the phylogenies that could give rise to pandemic strains in the future. [...] [I]t isn't just that Phase I clinical work and the larger, longer Phase II safety trials which could be done preemptively, entirely before the arrival of new pandemics. Some Phase III efficacy testing, he says, could be done then, as well — especially for existing rather than novel strains. [...] If we do all that, he says, the entire timeline could be compressed to as few as three months."
I Was Isolated for a Year in Antarctica—Here's What Surprised Me Most When I Came Back
"After being in isolation, the noise in the outside world seemed louder. Noise will be huge after lockdown. [...] [I]t took me about six months to get used to how noisy life is. [...] Just like everyone's life in lockdown is going at a slower pace, I had gotten used to moving at a slower speed. When I first got into my car and went for a ride, I felt like I was speeding, even though I wasn't. [...] Choices were overwhelming [...] Life was simple in isolation. [...] Viruses do not live in Antarctica. When I was in the harsh and bitter cold, I was perfectly healthy. When I returned back home, I picked up every virus in Australia. I was totally unprepared for the way my immune system reacted."
Can You Overdose on Happiness? The science and philosophy of deep brain stimulation.
"There were indications that a person should leave room for natural mood swings both ways. [...] It is like having one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake at the same time and, then, lifting your foot off the brake. Now, you can move. [...] I fundamentally believe that you go into people's brains in order to repair something that is broken, but there is something strangely naïve about wanting to stimulate the brain's reward system. Ask any expert on addiction. You will wind up with people who demand more and more current. [...] Today, he believes that anhedonia is the central symptom while everything else, including psychological pain, is something that comes in addition to that. It is only when their anhedonia abates that people suffering from depression feel better. "
I miss Facebook, and I'm not ashamed to admit it
"I miss peak Facebook; not just the tool, but the community it created." I can relate. Facebook used to be something else, probably more interesting. There are many places on the internet where you can have discussions: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, public or private forums (yes, they still exist), and many more; but they're all imperfect. I hope someone will someday create a better place/way to have civil, constructive, and, yes, fun discussions.
An Economist's Guide to Potty Training Incentives are as risky in parenting as they are in business.
"This, of course, makes one wonder what all the parental effort is for. Usually, the best that can be said is that it speeds things up a little. [...] But for the child, it is comfort that can continue forever. [...] Toilet training is an exercise in behavior modification: you try to convince an otherwise happy and contented child that they have to take responsibility for their own actions — namely toileting. It is a classic situation where the interests of one party (the parents) differ from those of the other (the child). If you want to align those interests, someone is going to have to pay up. The only question is, how much? What reward do you need to offer to get the behavior you want? [...] Our daughter realized that by holding back, she could convert one trip to the toilet into two or three, and thus triple her frog consumption. The economist Tim Harford likens this effect to the way pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka, who was paid a cash bonus each time he broke the world record, chose to do it a centimeter at a time. That's the risk you face when you set down clear, objective rules for rewards: you often get what you pay for. [...] When it comes down to it, giving children incentives is a bit like programming a computer. Unless you get the instructions just right, problems can ensue. [...] Day care is the perfect place for all this. First of all, the providers have as much, if not more, incentive as we do to get children trained. They change more diapers and also have to potentially deal with the children for years to come. They have no desire for a "slow to train" child. [...] [T]he children have peers at day care. [...] If all the other kids are successfully going to the toilet, there is intense pressure to join in, and to do so in a meaningful way. Your child wants to get the same cheers their friends are getting for demonstrating this activity. [...] So the moral of our story is simple. When you come across (virtually) one-time activities that you have no competence to manage, you should outsource them to those who deal with these things regularly and who also have plenty of experience. The end result is mostly the same as if you did it yourself, but with less stress and much cleaner carpets."
Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being: Clarifying the Role of Child Age and Parent-Child Relationship Quality
"Mothers are more likely than fathers to spend time with children, monitoring their children's lives, and orchestrating their children's academic and leisure activities. [...] These findings suggest that, as hypothesized, parents are more likely to perceive the relationships with their children as excellent before children enter school than when children are older. [...] These results indicate that having younger children was related to less depression than having school-age or adolescent children, because having younger children was related to higher levels of parents' satisfaction with the relationship with their children. [...] This means that the greater benefit of having young adult children who live independently for global happiness was "suppressed" by lower satisfaction with the relationships with the children. [...] Caution is needed when interpreting the findings of the present study. It does not mean that we can ignore the intense time constraints that very young children require for adults. Instead, the present analysis suggests that we should not overlook lower psychological well-being of parents when children become more independent. [...] I was unable to address the causal direction between parental satisfaction with relationships with children and psychological well-being. It could be that parents with higher depression and lower self-esteem might perceive the relationships with their children less satisfactory. [...] Contrary to the common image that parents are drained by the intense daily routines of caring for young children, this study shows that parents with preschool children are not worse off, or even better in some measures of psychological well-being, than parents with school-age or adolescent children, because of higher satisfaction they experience with the relationships with their little ones."
In Praise of Idleness
By Bertrand Russell (1932). "I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. [...] As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people's mouths in spending as he takes out of other people's mouths in earning. [...] [T]he man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. [...] The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. [...] There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example. [...] Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery. [...] Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. [...] When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. [...] If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment -- assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. [...] It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. [...] It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. [...] When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours' work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. [...] The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part. [...] Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism. [...] The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers. [...] Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion."
The Death of Hype: What's Next for Scala
"While amount of hype around the Scala language has definitely died down over the years, the usage seems to be growing at a steady clip, and the experience of using the language has been improving rapidly. This is exactly what you would expect as a language progresses through the hype cycle, and moves from a fad-driven community to a value-driven community. Scala developers are using the language, not as an end unto itself, but instead as a solid tool they can use to accomplish their non-Scala-related technical or business objectives."
Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours My life seemed to be getting busier, faster: I felt constantly short of time – so I stepped outside it for a day and a night and did nothing.
"I approached the start of the decade in which I would have no choice but to think of myself as middle-aged, this anxiety intensified. I was always in the middle of some calculation or quantification with respect to time, and such thoughts were always predicated on an understanding of it as a precious and limited resource. [...] At some point in my late 30s, I recognised the paradoxical source of this anxiety: that every single thing in life took much longer than I expected it to, except for life itself, which went much faster, and would be over before I knew where I was. [...] Having two young children had radically altered my relationship with the days and hours of my life. [...] This is a practice commonly referred to as a "wilderness solo". The basic principle is that you go out into nature, the wilder and more remote the better, and confine yourself to one very small area for a set period – a day, two days, three days, sometimes longer. During this period, you forego anything that might come between yourself and your own solitude. No phone. No books or other reading material. You don't build a fire. [...] Most participants choose not to bring food. [...] The experience of the solo is the experience of time itself, in its rawest and most unmediated form. [...] The mass adoption of this new conception of time, abstract and removed from the organic context of nature, was central to the rise of capitalism, and to the accelerating mechanisation of life. [...] Not having a human name to give the tree, a category in which to put it, made the tree more real and present to me than it otherwise would have. [...] I remembered what Andres Roberts had said about re-enchantment, about time in nature as a means of returning to a more childlike engagement with the world."
Boredom is but a window to a sunny day beyond the gloom
"What, exactly, is boredom? It is a deeply unpleasant state of unmet arousal: we are aroused rather than despondent, but, for one or more reasons, our arousal cannot be met or directed. [...] In both man and animal, boredom is induced or exacerbated by a lack of control or freedom. [...] [B]oredom is an inverse function of perceived need or necessity. [...] The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that, if life were intrinsically meaningful or fulfilling, there could be no such thing as boredom. Boredom, then, is evidence of the meaninglessness of life, opening the shutters on some very uncomfortable feelings that we normally block out with a flurry of activity or with the opposite feelings. [...] A study found that, when confronted with boredom in an experimental setting, many people chose to give themselves unpleasant electric shocks simply to distract from their own thoughts, or lack thereof. [...] We can minimise boredom by: avoiding situations over which we have little control; eliminating distractions; motivating ourselves; expecting less; putting things into their proper perspective (realising how lucky we really are); and so on. But rather than fighting a constant battle against boredom, it is easier and much more productive to actually embrace it. If boredom is a window on to the fundamental nature of reality and, by extension, on to the human condition, then fighting boredom amounts to pulling back the curtains. [...] Next time you find yourself in a boring situation, throw yourself fully into it."
Why Is Uranus The Only Planet Without Interesting Features On It?
"To the human eye, Uranus is the only planet without interesting features on it. [...] The reason for Uranus' uniform color during the solstice is because of its temperatures when it's in continuous day, which produces a haze of methane. [...] [T]he methane haze masks the clouds below it, which is what causes Uranus to have the featureless appearance we came to know ubiquitously after the Voyager 2 visit. [...] Contrary to our initial observations, Uranus is a feature-rich world, but only if you look at it in the right ways. [...] [T]he lack of an internal heat source and the fact that it rotates on a tipped-over axis also gives us a unique opportunity to learn how a gas giant planet behaves when its energy balance is driven by the Sun. [...] So long as there's an energy difference, either between the polar hemispheres or between the day-and-night sides, there will surely be interesting phenomena to investigate."
Dopamine and temporal difference learning: A fruitful relationship between neuroscience and AI
"Reinforcement learning is one of the oldest and most powerful ideas linking neuroscience and AI. [...] Because distributional TD is so powerful in artificial neural networks, a natural question arises: Is distributional TD used in the brain? This was the driving question behind our paper recently published in Nature. [...] In summary, we found that dopamine neurons in the brain were each tuned to different levels of pessimism or optimism. [...] [T]his discovery validates distributional reinforcement learning – it gives us increased confidence that AI research is on the right track, since this algorithm is already being used in the most intelligent entity we're aware of: the brain."
Dreaming about Better Sleep: Dreem, Oura and the Rest
The tl;dr is that Dreem 2 is the best sleep tracker available (thanks to EEG sensors). Oura is pretty bad at detecting sleep phases (or even whether you're sleeping or not), but it's a very nice piece of technology. Peter Attia is (was?) raving about it, so it's a bit disappointing.
Will Spotify Ruin Podcasting?
"It was very much like the open web of the mid-2000s. [...] Both Facebook and Google acquired power a series of anti-competitive mergers, like Google's purchase of YouTube and DoubleClick, Facebook's purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp. [...] The result of these public policy decisions was Google and Facebook, the death of the open web, and increasingly, independent publishing on the internet. [...] Spotify is directly mimicking Google and Facebook, and attempting to roll up power over digital audio markets the way Google and Facebook did over the internet. [...] Spotify is doing what Google and Facebook did. First, it is privatizing the distribution standard for podcasts by converting more people to streaming their podcasts through Spotify services instead of the open RSS standard. That means it is becoming a gatekeeper to consumers. Second, it is vertically integrating into advertising, and developing the technology to grab data that podcasts generate through their trusted relationship with listeners. It then uses that for targeting."
How to reduce 'attention residue' in your life Mundane chores take up our time and headspace. Bundling life admin into specific time slots - known as GYLIO - might be the ultimate act of self-care.
It looks like people trying to reinvent the wheel (i.e. Getting Things Done), but in a more simplistic way. It's a good idea to process your tasks in batches as much as possible, though.
"Hypnosis occurs under dramatically different social settings: the showroom, the clinic, and the police station. [...] The hypnosis showroom provides a social setting where behavior that would usually be considered inappropriate is allowed. If alcohol is involved, an additional excuse for inappropriate behavior is introduced. Looked at this way, showroom hypnosis is a kind of release, a socially acceptable way to let go. [...] The subjects of clinical hypnotists are usually people with problems who have heard that hypnotherapy works for relieving pain or overcoming an addiction or a fear. [...] The subject acts in accordance with the expectations of the hypnotic situation and behaves as she thinks she is supposed to behave in response to the suggestions of the hypnotist. [...] Deep down, however, hypnotism, mesmerism, hysteria, and demonic possession share the common ground of being social constructs engineered mainly by enthusiastic therapists, showmen, and priests on the one side, and suggestible, imaginative, willing, fantasy-prone players with deep emotional needs or abilities on the other. [...] In some cases, hypnosis has been used to encourage patients to believe events that probably never happened (false memories). [...] The repressed memory therapists have taught us not to underestimate the power of suggestion through word, gesture, tone of voice, omission, and a host of other things. [...] While it is true that some hypnotherapists can help some people lose weight, quit smoking, or overcome their fear of flying, it is also true that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can do the same without any mumbo-jumbo about trance states or brain waves. [...] Not surprisingly, all the anecdotes are positive! Nobody collects examples of failures or tells the world about their "incomplete successes." If one compares the characteristics of the placebo effect and those of hypnotherapy it is hard to distinguish the difference between these two ducks. [...] To those who say "what difference does it make why something works, as long as it works" I reply that it is likely that there is something that works even better and might even be cheaper or more effective. [...] In other words, placebo therapies can be an open door to quackery. [...] Scientific studies have found out a few things about hypnosis. [...] We know that those who think hypnosis is rubbish can't be hypnotized. [...] We know the greatest predictor of hypnotic responsiveness is what a person believes about hypnosis. [...] [T]he farther one gets from the science, the more powerful the effect of the therapy."
2019 29
Date Title Subtitle
The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet? The 'success' narrative is at the heart of our idea of wellbeing, but the evidence tells a different tale, argues behavioural scientist Paul Dolan in this extract from his new book
"To be happier we need to move from a culture of "more please" to one of "just enough". [...] Contrary to what most of us might predict, those earning over $100K are no happier than those with incomes of less than $25K. Those with the highest incomes report the least sense of purpose in their experiences. Perhaps "having it all" makes what we do feel less meaningful. Data suggest that being rich can lead to time and attention being directed towards activities that fuel the attainment of more wealth, such as longer working hours and longer commutes, and away from activities that generate more happiness, such as time outside and time with family and friends. [...] If you are not struggling to make ends meet, I propose that you rein in the social narrative that encourages you to endlessly pursue more money. Invest your time and effort into doing all you can to ensure that those who are struggling are provided with the living conditions, wages and financial support that will help them to cover the costs of their living expenses. [...] This story highlights the very common inner conflict between the social narrative of success, which values status and recognition in a job, and personal experiences of happiness in the job. My friend was experiencing pain and pointlessness at work, but the narrative she told about her job was totally unrelated. A job that makes us miserable is not a good job, but we can convince ourselves it is if it has high status. [...] The narrative surrounding status suggests that being a lawyer is a "better" job than being a florist. The latter is lacking in economic status and the former has plenty. [...] [F]lorists seem to have better jobs than lawyers, with 87% of florists agreeing that they are happy compared to 64% of lawyers. [...] It could well be that those who choose careers like floristry or fitness might be happier to begin with than those who choose to go into law. [...] [P]aying attention to time as money has been shown to diminish the pleasure experienced from leisure activities. [...] [H]appiness and sense of purpose are both at their highest among people working between 21 and 30 hours a week, and misery increases in tandem with the number of hours worked thereafter. [...] Many more people "choose" to work long hours because the social narrative of long work hours is so persuasive. [...] We should perhaps start using the word "congratulations" for divorce, as well as for marriage. [...] Schools could do more to provide teenagers with the basic facts on love: that you can expect the passion to diminish would be a good place to start. [...] Happiness is situated in what we do and who we spend time with. It does not reside in some story we tell ourselves about what we think should make us happy."
The People Who Eat the Same Meal Every Day "Variety doesn't really matter to me. I would be perfectly happy to eat the same Caesar salad or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich every day."
"[W]hen accounting for the totality of human experience, it is the variety-seekers—not the same-lunchers—who are the unusual ones. [...] The daily rituals of office life are characterized by their monotony and roteness, and bringing a different lunch each day is a sunny, inspired attempt to combat all the repetition. [...] Maybe [they did so] just out of good humor, or maybe guilt that they're not eating as healthy—that they're eating a greasy burger or something—or going out and spending $15 for a lunch when mine only cost 80 cents."
Some good advice. Nothing really new to me. "Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored. [...] The best ways for me to do this are reading books, hanging out with interesting people, and spending time in nature. [...] I try to prioritize in a way that generates momentum. The more I get done, the better I feel, and then the more I get done. I like to start and end each day with something I can really make progress on. [...] Many people spend too much time thinking about how to perfectly optimize their system, and not nearly enough asking if they're working on the right problems. [...] The right goal is to allocate your year optimally, not your day. [...] [P]roductivity in the wrong direction isn't worth anything at all."
Free Will's Absurdist Paradox How Camus' Absurdism unifies Compatibilism and Incompatibilism
"[T]he problem with Incompatibilism is not that it's wrong, but that it's incomplete. It insists on prioritizing the abstracted world of quarks, atoms, and molecules, instead of the human world we actually live in. [...] As it turns out though, this "reality" usually doesn't matter in a world where humans build houses and need trees to feed families. [...] Just as Camus talked about with the lack of intrinsic meaning in the universe, and how we must live on despite that lack of meaning, we must also accept that we are not ultimately in control of anything in our lives."
Aviation Is on a Low-Carbon Flight Path Buy offsets if you want, but for real hope, look to electric planes
"[T]he reality is that voluntary offsets will never come close to matching aviation emissions, which account for 2 percent of overall human-induced carbon emissions. [...] [C]ritics say offsets can be an excuse for inaction. [...] The improvements in batteries and motors needed to fully electrify the skies could take "the next few decades" [...] Meanwhile buying offsets is a substitute that both feels good and does good."
How to Feel Nothing Now, in Order to Feel More Later A day of dopamine fasting in San Francisco.
"The name — dopamine fasting — is a bit of a misnomer. It's more of a stimulation fast. [...] The ultimate dopamine fast is complete sensory deprivation, like maybe floating in a dark water tank or locking oneself in a closet. [...] Silicon Valley is not the first group to discover that moderating emotions or spending periods trying to feel less can lead to happiness. In their quest, they are moving toward two very old groups: those in silent meditation and the Amish. [...] After the fast, Mr. Sinka finds that everyday tasks are more exciting and fun. Work is pleasurable again. Food is more delicious."
The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change Two European entrepreneurs want to remove carbon from the air at prices cheap enough to matter.
"What Gebald and Wurzbacher really want to do is to pull vast amounts of CO₂ out of the atmosphere and bury it, forever, deep underground, and sell that service as an offset. [...] How do you sell something that never existed before, something that may never be cheap, into a market that is not yet real? [...] In short, the best way to start making progress toward a decarbonized world is not to rev up millions of air capture machines right now. It's to stop putting CO₂ in the atmosphere in the first place. [...] Through photosynthesis, our forests take extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and if we were to magnify efforts to reforest clear-cut areas — or plant new groves, a process known as afforestation — we could absorb billions more metric tons of carbon in future years. [...] It's like investing in early Apple. So it's a spectacular story of success. And direct air capture is precisely the same kind of problem, in which the only barrier is that it's too costly. [...] [W]hat all the founders have in common is a belief that the cost of capturing a ton of carbon will soon drop sharply. [...] M.I.T.'s Howard Herzog, for instance, an engineer who has spent years looking at the potential for these machines, told me that he thinks the costs will remain between $600 and $1,000 per metric ton. Some of Herzog's reasons for skepticism are highly technical and relate to the physics of separating gases. [...] Last year, when David Keith and his associates at Carbon Engineering published figures projecting that their carbon-capture technology could bring costs as low as $94 a metric ton, Herzog was not convinced. [...] "Down to $200 we know quite well what we're doing." And beyond $200, Wurzbacher suggested, things get murkier. [...] The Climeworks founders told me they don't believe their company will succeed on what they call "climate impact" scales unless the world puts significant prices on emissions, in the form of a carbon tax or carbon fee. [...] A company that sells a product or uses a process that creates high emissions — an airline, for instance, or a steel maker — could be required to pay carbon-removal companies $100 per metric ton or more to offset their CO₂ output. Or a government might use carbon-tax proceeds to directly pay businesses to collect and bury CO₂. [...] Companies already sequester about 34 million metric tons of CO₂ in the ground every year, at a number of sites around the world, usually to enhance the oil-drilling process. "The costs range from $2 to $15 per ton. So the bigger cost in all of this is the cost of carbon capture." [...] [W]e are always saying, we think that if this develops in a direction we think it does, we are not founding a company — we're really founding a new industry [...] In an expanding market, synthetic fuels could have curious effects. Since they're made from airborne CO₂ and hydrogen and could be manufactured just about anywhere, they could rearrange the geopolitical order — tempering the power of a handful of countries that now control natural-gas and oil markets. [...] The idea of bringing direct air capture up to 10 billion tons by the middle or later part of the century is such a herculean task it would require an industrial scale-up the likes of which the world has never seen. [...] Even if the figures were enormous, even if they appeared impossible, to see the future their way was to redefine the problem, to move away from the narrative of loss, to forget the multiplying stories of dying reefs and threatened coastlines — and to begin to imagine other possibilities."
A diet guru explains why you should eat dinner at 2pm
"Without any science to back it up, many nutritional authorities endorsed eating multiple times per day as a healthy practice. There were no studies that remotely suggested this was true. [...] Somewhat counterintuitively, restricting eating at 2pm produced more feelings of fullness in the evening. [...] [I]t's not hard to fast for 16 or 18 hours. But eating dinner at 2pm is tough. Given the modern schedule of working or school during the day, we tend to push our main meal into the evenings. [...] What effect does meal timing have on obesity and other metabolic parameters? Quite a lot, it turns out. Having a well defined fasting period is likely very important."
Do psychedelics trigger neurogenesis? Here's what we know.
"The vast, vast majority of neurogenesis happens before we are born: you come into this world with most of the neurons you'll ever have, and over the course of your life they slowly die off. [...] Even though adult neurogenesis is happening in the brain, it's not happening a whole lot, and only in some pretty particular areas. [...] As far as we know, if you have damage to part of your cerebral cortex, taking psychedelics is unlikely to regrow the affected areas. [...] Of the few locations for neurogenesis, what's happening in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is probably the most interesting. [...] Damage to the hippocampus can result in a variety of interesting and unpleasant effects, including permanent anterograde amnesia (the inability to form new memories), and it's one of the first places damage from Alzheimer's Disease manifests in the brain. [...] [E]xposure to psychedelics can, in fact, enhance neurogenesis in this region. [...] There have been studies that suggest that, for at least some kind of learning, neurogenesis in the hippocampus may be a key part of the acquisition of new behaviors and pattern recognition. In the interest of fairness, it is worth noting that not every study has validated this theory. [...] My (tentative) hypothesis is that psychedelic drugs can enhance learning and memory capabilities by, at least partially, increasing the amount of BDNF (and related growth-factors) in the brain through activation of the Serotonin 2A receptor. [...] Imagine you have PTSD with a specific trigger that sends you into panic attacks. A CBT approach to treatment might be exposure therapy: in a safe setting, guided by a therapist, you are gently exposed to your triggers, again and again. As time goes on and nothing terrible happens, your brain learns something new; the trigger isn't dangerous and slowly, your original response is made extinct. [...] [I]f psychedelic neurogenesis is real, there may be just as much therapeutic power in a series of repeated lower doses, in the right context. A medical microdose."
Time anxiety: is it too late?
"While death anxiety is the fear of running out of time, time anxiety is the fear of wasting your time. [...] [T]ime anxiety stems from some of the following questions: "Am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can? Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously?" [...] Beating time anxiety means shifting our focus from outcomes to output so we can spend our energy on things we can actually control. [...] While purpose in life is an important factor in the psychology of happiness, spending too much mental energy on finding it rather than doing things that make use happy can be anxiety-inducing. [...] Define what "time well spent" means to you [...] Create a short list of activities you really enjoy and that bring value to yourself or to the world. [...] Make space for these moments: this does not mean making time for them. Instead, think of where you will incorporate these moments into your life. [...] Cut out time-consuming distractions"
Thought Scripts On Psychedelic Insights. Are They False? It Doesn't Seem So.
"Many people follow this notion that psychedelics produce false insight. An idea that psychedelics chemically hijack the system responsible for giving the sensation of insight, making everything appear to be epiphanies even when they aren't. I do not exactly believe this to be the case. [...] Psychedelics serve to reduce the influence and value of priors but perhaps without diminishing access to explicit memory. [...] Psychedelics seem to facilitate novel thoughts by alleviating our clinginess towards priors, relieving our tendency towards constraint. [...] This elimination of priors is likely exactly why the world appears exceedingly novel while under the influence of psychedelics. [...] One way that psychedelics could enhance error is by causing one to mistakenly forget or bypass their normal level of critical thinking or conditioned thought processes that normally take place in the occurrence of a sudden insight. [...] It seems that this effect is more about elimination of pavlovian conditioning rather than a revoking of access to informational memory. [...] Rational and critical thought may not be blocked by psychedelics, but we may become curious and free to explore beyond these realms. [...] [P]sychedelics may help to update the erroneous worldview by re-awakening conscious thinking and enhancing the 'irrelevant' information access and in a sense uniting a person's entire mind. [...] We stop looking at the world after we think their is no reason to. When we have a problem to solve then we begin to observe the world again because we have a motivation to. [...] Neurogenesis induced by psychedelics may be due to stimulating a learning mode. [...] Most people live their lives trapped in secure exploitation of known paths in life. Addictions and traumas in various intensities are the primary way this manifests. [...] Psychedelics seem to make us explore these trivialities without dismissing their relevance or importance."
Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person
It's good to remind ourselves that getting old can be a positive experience. "[E]ach showed a matter-of-fact resilience that would shame most 25-year-olds."
What I Learned from Working 32 Hours a Week
I've been working 4 days a week for 18 months now, to have a full day with my (now 16-month year old) son. Finances aside, to me, it's obvious that a 4-day week is better than a 5-day week for work-life balance. A 3-day work week would probably be too short. At least for the kind of work I do (software development). "The four-day work week schedule reminded me of the importance of my personal time. [...] With a four-day work week schedule, I felt the need to develop a plan for each day that I was going to be in the office. My time at work had a new purpose that centered around improving the value I was delivering to my project and my team."
Why You Should Stop Trying to Be Happy at Work
"If you set happiness as your primary goal, you can end up feeling the opposite. This is because happiness (like all emotions) is a fleeting state, not a permanent one. An alternative solution is to make meaning your vocational goal. [...] In a recent study, Shawn Achor and his research team found that nine in 10 people would be willing to swap a percentage of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work. [...] [W]hile happiness relates directly to the here and now, meaning "seems to come from assembling past, present, and future into some kind of coherent story." [...] Connections to others is important for both happiness and meaning, but the character of those connections informs the type of fulfillment they give you. [...] [H]elping to other people leads to meaning, while having others help you leads to happiness. [...] Stress, strife, and struggles reduce happiness, "but they seem to be part and parcel of a highly meaningful life". [...] An important source of meaning is actions or activities that "express the self." But they are "mostly irrelevant" where happiness is concerned. [...] Here are four practical steps you can take to bring more meaning into your work. [...] Keep a journal of activities. [...] Align your values and actions when choosing what to prioritize. [...] Focus on relationships, not just deliverables. [...] Share "best-self" narratives with coworkers."
If You're Often Angry Or Irritable, You May Be Depressed
"[T]here appears to be a strong link between irritability and depression. [...] Irritability is not that much less frequent than sadness and anxiety in patients who are presenting for psychiatric treatment. [...] [H]e used to use caustic, sarcastic humor to put people down."
The Problem With Happiness
Let's just say, to stay polite, that I really disagree with the author. A really confused article. "Observing that wealth has not made people happier, some economists have proposed that Western nations should focus on happiness rather than growth. [...] Is it really true that everybody's goal in life is to be as happy as possible? To many that seems obvious: what else could we want? [...] Untroubled by the need for meaningfulness, some happiness theorists respond by simply including it among the criteria for personal happiness. [...] [W]ould he agree to become stupid if that would make him happy? He realizes he would not, but cannot say why. After all, if the goal of life is happiness, he should be willing to make the trade without a moment's hesitation. Could it be that other goods are not mere means to happiness, and that one might choose them over happiness? [...] [H]appiness lies not in happiness but only in the attempt to achieve it. [...] Effort can make a difference only if the desired outcome is possible but not guaranteed. We value something only if we choose it and work for it. [...] If we are to make our lives meaningful, we must live for values beyond happiness, values that may conflict with happiness."
What Swimming Taught Me About Happiness Lesson No. 1: It's not about how fast you can go.
"Everyone wants to be happy, yet the more directly we pursue happiness, the more elusive it becomes. [...] Research shows that thinking too much about how to be happy actually backfires and undermines well-being. This is in part because all that thinking consumes a fair amount of time, and is not itself enjoyable. [...] Trying too hard to be happy — downloading mindfulness apps, taking yoga classes, reading self-help books — mostly just stresses us out, she writes. So what should we do instead? Maybe simply hang out with some friends, doing something we like to do together: "Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life." [...] In the end, happiness is a side effect of living well — just like speed can be the result of excellent swimming technique."
The key to loving your job in the age of burnout
"The results pointed to an overwhelming similarity: The keepers gained a deep sense of meaning from their jobs. It didn't matter that caring for animals was extremely badly paid and offered little career advancement, or that many of the actual tasks involved could be classified as "dirty work"—cleaning up feces, chopping vegetables, scrubbing floors. The zookeepers, most of whom were highly educated, felt that they were fulfilling a calling, and in doing so were extremely dedicated, often volunteering for months before even beginning to be paid, and rarely quitting. [...] Meaning isn't something to be found, and it can't be uncovered by heartfelt commitment, long hours, and self-sacrifice. Meaning is something we make. [...] Your career is a treasure-hunt, except you are not the person seeking the ultimate prize. You are writing the map. [...] From ancient Greece to medieval Europe, toil was seen as a necessary evil, and mainly as a misfortune of the poor. Meaning was found outside of work, through family, religion, and—for the lucky elite—in leisure and learning. [...] [I]n modern times, our sense of self was primarily tied to two behemoths: The nation state, on the one hand, and the company, on the other. [...] [B]efore we had companies and careers, we had professions (for example, stone mason) and tasks (build a bridge.) [...] The freedom to choose our path is a privilege, but it doesn't necessarily make us happy. [...] It's our job to find meaning in what we do. [...] When it comes to work, we're usually not searching for a job that makes us wildly happy all day, every day; we know that's not realistic. What we're seeking is work that makes sense in the context of who we believe we are. And because we have to give things up in order to do it—leisure time, rest, seeing our families—the trade-off has to feel worth it. [...] Sacrifice makes us who we are. Suffering keeps us captive. [...] Studies point to the importance of relationships with colleagues, the negative effects of bad management, and our craving for feedback. [...] Negotiate remote working and spend time at a cabin in the woods with your laptop and morning runs around the lake. Show your colleagues that you are free. Show yourself."
Surprisingly Little Evidence for the Accepted Wisdom About Teeth
"To recap, there's good evidence that brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is a good idea, especially with a powered toothbrush. For children, there's good evidence that the use of fluoride varnish or sealants can be a powerful tool to prevent cavities. The rest? It's debatable. [...] I should note that the lack of evidence doesn't mean that many of these things don't work. It just means that we don't have good studies to back their use. [...] We should also recognize that there are a lot of things outside of our control. Some are genetic."
Why Calvin and Hobbes is Great Literature On the Ontology of a Stuffed Tiger and Finding the Whole World in a Comic
I've been reading Calvin and Hobbes for years. I agree that it's not "light entertainment". "Calvin and Hobbes feels so inventive because it is: the strips take us to new planets, to parodies of film noir, to the Cretaceous period, to encounters with aliens in American suburbs and bicycles coming to life and reality itself being revised into Cubist art. [...] Newspaper comics, at their best, are art and literature combined, but they, like cartoons in the Western world, still suffer the stigma of being "light" entertainment, with the one difference being that comics are "light" entertainment often aimed at adults as well as at kids. Of course, this view is wrong, both about cartoons and comics. [...] Sometimes, of course, loss and letting go, violation and volition, coexist; sometimes, we lose when we think we are letting go, or we lose more than we had imagined when we release our hold. Watterson, in his fight over space and licensing and integrity, let go without believing he had really lost, and his characters, like Ozeki's in A Tale for the Time Being, live on in the best and worst space of all: the nebulous space of memory, where borders constantly shift. Calvin and Hobbes endures as literature and art combined because it is both: it asks important questions without simplistically resolving them, revels in its own absurdities, and is filled with a deep understanding of people, of our swirling contradictions and complexities and conundrums."
Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain
"Mostly, I became aware of how profoundly uncomfortable I am with stillness. [...] But I cannot stress enough that under the right conditions, spending an entire weekend without a phone in your immediate vicinity is incredible. You have to try it. [...] It's as if scientists had invented a pill that gave us the ability to fly, only to find out that it also gave us dementia."
There Are No Dream Homes
A couple of interesting points, even though the article probably relies a bit too much on overgeneralization. "A house is an investment, except it's also a necessity, and it's also an expression of status, which together make the investment wildly expensive and illiquid. [...] People guess who they are and what their lives are about, and they guess wrong. [...] The years dwindle; the space stays cavernous. No one else wants to, or can, live your life for you. Eventually these houses will hold four families each, or they'll go back to woods and fields, slightly formaldehyde-tainted from the lumber. The dream was never a very good dream anyway."
My Life at 47 Is Back to What It Was Like at 27 Post-divorce, I've returned to my old ways
I can somehwat empathize with the author. "There's also no getting around the fact that the gears of the daily grind tend to run smoother when they're greased with the benefits of coupledom. [...] When you are, say, 25, the adult world is a simple binary construct divided between the young and the old. Young is anyone under 40. Old is anyone over 60. There is no in-between. [...] Given the correlation between aging and death, declaring that you can't stand today's music might actually mark the first stage of the dying process. [...] It's as far as we got. It's as far as we were ever supposed to get. I may not always live in this apartment or even in this city. I may not always live by myself. I may grow tired of the sushi. But on some cellular level, it will always be Friday evening, 8 p.m., alone at a messy desk. No matter what I do, my situational pendulum will swing back to this place."
There's a big problem with immortality: it goes on and on The fantasy of living forever is just a fig leaf for the fear of death – and comes at great personal cost
"[T]he English moral philosopher Bernard Williams suggested that living forever would be awful, akin to being trapped in a never-ending cocktail party. This was because after a certain amount of living, human life would become unspeakably boring. We need new experiences in order to have reasons to keep on going. But after enough time has passed, we will have experienced everything that we, as individuals, find stimulating. We would lack what Williams called 'categorical' desires: ie, desires that give us reasons to keep on living, and instead possess only 'contingent' desires: ie, things that we might as well want to do if we're alive, but aren't enough on their own to motivate us to stay alive. [...] Scheffler points out that human life is intimately structured by the fact that it has a fixed (even if usually unknown) time limit. [...] [I]f we were somehow to attain immortality, it wouldn't get us what we want from it: namely, for it to be some version of our human selves that lives forever. [...] [B]oth philosophers and popular culture keep trying to tell us the same thing: you might think that you want to live forever, but reflection should convince you otherwise. [...] [A] desire for immortality most obviously seems to be a response to the fear of death. Most of us are afraid to die. [...] [W]hat philosophers, poets and novelists remind us of is that there are fates worse than death. [...] [W]hat philosophers, poets and novelists remind us of is that there are fates worse than death. [...] [D]esiring immortality might not simply be about having a desire to live forever. It might instead be a desire to control when we ourselves will die, choosing to end it all only when – and not before – we ourselves are ready. [...] [T]he harsh reality is that most of us will find that death comes – in Williams's phrase – either 'too early or too late'. Too early, if we are not yet ready to go. Too late, if we've gotten to the point where life is already not worth living anymore"
How Dad's Stresses Get Passed Along to Offspring Mouse studies show tiny intercellular pods convey to sperm a legacy of a father's hard knocks in life
"Remarkably, the way a mouse physiologically responds to stress looks noticeably different if—months before conception—its father endured a period of stress. Somehow "their brain develops differently than if their dad hadn't experienced that stress." [...] Because DNA is packed so tightly in the nucleus of a sperm cell, "the thought that [the cell] would respond to anything in the environment really boggled people's minds." [...] Rather, there must be some other kind of cell whose DNA does react to environmental changes. [...] She focused on a population of cells that interact with developing sperm by releasing molecules that help sperm grow and mature. They also secrete extracellular vesicles—and Chan showed it is these vesicles whose contents fuse with sperm cells, instilling memories of dad's prior stress. [...] [T]he vesicles could become the basis for a pioneering type of stress test."
I Don't Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore
"Where once we'd had a rich ecosystem of extremely stupid and funny sites on which we might procrastinate, we now had only Twitter and Facebook. And then, one day, I think in 2013, Twitter and Facebook were not really very fun anymore. And worse, the fun things they had supplanted were never coming back. [...] In the decade since I took that computer class, the web browser has taken over the entire computing experience. There is nothing to "learn" about computers, really, except how to use a browser; everything you might want to do is done from that stupid empty address bar. [...] What happened is that the internet stopped being something you went to in order to separate from the real world — from your job and your work and your obligations and responsibilities. It's not the place you seek to waste time, but the place you go to so that you'll someday have time to waste. The internet is a utility world for me now. It is efficient and all-encompassing. It is not very much fun."
Most lives are lived by default
"Jamie isn't unhappy. He's bored, but doesn't quite realize it. As he gets older his boredom is turning to fear. He has no health problems but he thinks about them all the time. [...] [I]t's typical among human beings to feel like something huge is missing. [...] [T]hey tend to be one of the same few problems: lack of human connection, lack of personal freedom (due to money or family situations), lack of confidence or self-esteem, or lack of self-control. The day-to-day feel and quality of each of our lives sits on a few major structures: where we live, what we do for a living, what we do with ourselves when we're not at work, and which people we spend most of our time with. [...] [F]or most of us, those four major structures were not decided consciously. [...] Friends, location and career tend to define the other one: what you do with your time. [...] [T]hink about it: what are the odds that the defaults delivered to you by happenstance are anywhere close to what's really optimal for you? [...] [I]f you're a normal person you can expect that a lot of categories of your life are set up in highly inefficient ways, by default. [...] The bottom lines, if I haven't been clear: It is typical in human lives to feel like something huge is missing or unsettled. It is typical for the major aspects of a human life (career, friends, habits and home) to be decided by happenstance, and not consciously. The feeling of something huge being missing is probably often due to a serious mismatch between what you currently have in one of those aspects, and what is best for you in one of those aspects. Making conscious changes to the aspects of life you've accepted by default can result in dramatic and immediate changes to quality of life. Few people do this. [...] At any given time, the prospect of a major change will tend to seem out of the question. [...] But identity is fluid."
Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction
"Through the process of reading we slip out of our customary time orientation, marked by distractedness and surficiality, into the realm of duration. [...] More independent bookstores are opening than closing, and sales of print books are up—but authors' earnings are down. [...] The heightened state brought on by a book—in which one is "actively present at every moment, scripting and constructing"—is what readers seek. [...] Loneliness is what the internet and social media claim to alleviate, though they often have the opposite effect. Communion can be hard to find, not because we aren't occupying the same physical space but because we aren't occupying the same mental plane: we don't read the same news; we don't even revel in the same memes. [...] No, the power of art—and many books are, still, art, not entertainment—lies in the way it turns us inward and outward, all at once. The communion we seek, scanning titles or turning pages, is not with others—not even the others, living or long dead, who wrote the words we read—but with ourselves. [...] In some ways I am reading the novel as I walk, or nap, or drive to the store for milk. [...] Here, on the internet, is a nowhere space, a shallow time. It is a flat and impenetrable surface. But with a book, we dive in; we are sucked in; we are immersed, body and soul."
Can We Quantify Machine Consciousness? Artificial intelligence might endow some computers with self-awareness. Here's how we'd know
This is fascinating and very important. IIT predicts that we can build perfect simulations of human beings (from an external standpoint) that don't have any subjective experience (i.e. that are not conscious). This is something very intuitive to me. Another thing it predicts is that such simulations, if they run on current computer technology (i.e. silicon/transistor-based technology), will not be conscious. This is less intuitive. To be conscious, they will have to be run on other, more neuromorphic substrates/hardware. "These virtual assistants will continue to improve until they become hard to distinguish from real people, except that they'll be endowed with perfect recall, poise, and patience—unlike any living being. [...] Computationalism assumes that my painful experience of a toothache is but a state of my brain in which certain nerve cells are active in response to the infected tooth [...] If all of these states are simulated in software on a digital computer, the thinking goes, the system as a whole will not only behave exactly like me but also feel and think exactly like me. That is, consciousness is computable. [...] These experiments have identified regions in the neocortex, the outer surface of the brain just underneath the skull, that are critically involved in consciously seeing and hearing things. [...] [A]ny such discovery in neuroscience will be insufficient to establish whether or not machines can be conscious. [...] This theory, called integrated information theory, or IIT, has been developed over the past two decades. It attempts to define what consciousness is, what it takes for a physical system to have it, and how one can measure, at least in principle, both its quantity and its quality, starting from its physical substrate. [...] IIT then translates these properties into requirements that must be satisfied by any physical substrate for it to support consciousness. [...] IIT makes a number of counterintuitive predictions amenable to empirical tests.[...] That is, a computer may implement computations and functions judged to be intelligent from the perspective of a user looking at its output, but, given its wiring, its intrinsic causal powers as a whole are minute compared with those of any brain. [...] That intrinsic power, the physical power to make a difference to oneself, cannot be computed or simulated. It has to be built into the physics of the system. A perfectly executed, biophysically accurate computer simulation of the human brain, including every one of its 86 billion neurons and its matrix of trillions of synapses, wouldn't be conscious. [...] This consequence of IIT has sobering implications for those who hope that digital brain uploads may make people immortal. [...] Although your digital simulacrum might speak and act as you would, it would be a complete zombie, experiencing nothing. [...] Whether or not IIT is correct is not merely of academic interest. [...] Are these AIs conscious? Does it feel like anything to be them? Or are they immensely more accomplished versions of present-day garbage disposal units, washing machines, or cars—extraordinarily clever machines, yes, but without sentience or feelings? [...] Finding the correct answer, however, cannot be left to our intuition."
2018 59
Date Title Subtitle
Philosophy Has Made Plenty of Progress Philosopher Tim Maudlin sees advances in free will, morality and the meaning of quantum mechanics
"As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. What other discipline has a founding figure who literally preferred to die than to stop practicing his métier? [...] [I]f you love theory, philosophy is the top of the heap of all the disciplines. [...] Popper was kind of an egocentric jerk. [...] I disagree with Dave [Chalmers] here. [...] It is not that there isn't convergence [to the truth on the big questions of philosophy], it is that the outliers who do not converge get much more attention than the great mass of convergers, who don't particularly stand out. [...] As Bell said, study Bohm's pilot wave theory and you see that everything can be explained perfectly well, with no funny business at all logically or conceptually. [...] Since our brains are physical objects and physics is quantum mechanical, I suppose quantum theory must come into it. But that gives me no clue about how the thing is done. [...] Q: What's your take on multiverses and strings and the problem of testability? A: Some people have been mesmerized by fancy math. It is not interesting physics in my view, and has had a very, very bad effect on the seriousness of theoretical physics as practiced. [...] I think Locke and Hume nailed free will, and since then there has been no interesting debate about it. [...] All Gödel did was find a clever way to construct a provably unprovable mathematical fact, given any consistent and finite set of axioms to work with. The work is clever but in no way profound. It should have come as no surprise at all."
The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world We check our phones every 12 minutes, often just after waking up. Always-on behaviour is harmful to long-term mental health, and we need to learn to the hit the pause button
"We have known for a long time that repeated interruptions affect concentration. [...] [W]e're not actually multitasking; rather, we are switching rapidly between different activities. Adrenaline and cortisol are designed to support us through bursts of intense activity, but in the long term cortisol can knock out the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which help us feel calm and happy, affecting our sleep and heart rate and making us feel jittery. [...] Depression, along with anxiety, is a known factor in knocking out concentration. [...] Put simply, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. [...] Start by switching off smartphone alerts, or taking social media apps off your phone, then switching off the device for increasingly long periods. [...] This is a simple way of learning to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus. [...] Learning how to be more mindful, practising mindfulness or meditation, can all help facilitate greater concentration, not least because feeling calmer restores equilibrium and focus. [...] In all mindfulness or meditation practice, breathing is key. [...] Counting backwards in sevens from 1,000 might sound like an exercise in exasperation, but it does require you to concentrate very hard: try it. [...] [S]pelling words backwards is a good way to focus. [...] Another way to focus is to sit in a comfortable position and find a spot on the wall to stare at. [...] Read for long enough to engage your interest, at least 30 minutes: engagement in content takes time, but will help you read for longer."
Ten simple ways to act on climate change We know that climate change is happening – but there are plenty of things individuals can do to help mitigate it. Here's your handy guide to the most effective strategies.
"To mitigate climate change, the number one goal is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. [...] Of course, it's true that climate change won't be solved by your buying or driving habits alone – although many experts agree these are important, and can influence others to make changes too (more on that later). [...] The meat industry contributes to global warming in three major ways. Firstly, cows' burping from processing food releases lots of methane, a greenhouse gas. Secondly, we feed them with other potential sources of food, like maize and soy, which makes for a very inefficient process. And finally, they also require lots of water, fertilisers that can release greenhouse gases, and plenty of land – some of which come from cleared forests, another source of carbon emissions. [...] Although some early efforts to use solar panels to fly around the world have had success, we are still decades away from commercial flights running on solar energy. [...] Groceries shipped from Chile and Australia to Europe, or the other way around, have more 'food miles' and usually a higher footprint than local produce. But this is not always the case, as some countries grow out-of-season crops in energy-intensive greenhouses – so the best approach is to eat food that is both locally grown and seasonal. Even so, eating vegetarian still beats only purchasing local. [...] Nicholas's study concluded that having fewer children is the best way to reduce your contribution to climate change, with almost 60 tonnes of CO2 avoided per year. [...] Social scientists have found that when one person makes a sustainability-oriented decision, other people do too. [...] Social scientists believe this occurs because we constantly evaluate what our peers are doing and we adjust our beliefs and actions accordingly. When people see their neighbours taking environmental action, like conserving energy, they infer that people like them also value sustainability and feel more compelled to act."
Improving Ourselves to Death What the self-help gurus and their critics reveal about our times.
"What they're selling is metrics. It's no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts—then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat. [...] We are being sold on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we did not previously know needed upgrading. [...] There is a great deal of money to be made by those who diagnose and treat our fears of inadequacy. [...] Survival in the hypercompetitive, globalized economy, where workers have fewer protections and are more disposable than ever, requires that we try to become faster, smarter, and more creative. [...] Meanwhile, parents continue to feed their children the loving, well-intentioned lie that there are "no limits" and they can "be anything," which leaves the kids blaming themselves, rather than the market's brutality, when they inevitably come up short. [...] Once you realize that it's all just an act of coercion, that it's your culture trying to turn you into someone you can't really be, you can begin to free yourself from your demands. [...] "In our secular world, we no longer see eternal paradise as a carrot at the end of the stick of life, but try to cram as much as possible into our relatively short time on the planet instead," he writes. "If you stand still while everyone else is moving forwards, you fall behind. Doing so these days is tantamount to going backwards." [...] It's time to content ourselves with being average. [...] Go for a walk in the woods, he says, and think about the vastness of the cosmos. Go to a museum and look at art, secure in the knowledge that it will not improve you in any measurable way. Things don't need to be of concrete use in order to have value. Put away your self-help guides, and read a novel instead."
The backlash against overtourism More people are travelling, and many are visiting the same places
"It is not only Venetians who think there are too many tourists. In Amsterdam locals are fed up with stag parties, unused to mixing alcohol and cannabis, leaving a trail of litter and vomit. In July protesters attacked tourist buses in Valencia, Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona. [...] Whereas oil drilling and mining employ relatively few people, tourism employs legions. [...] [T]he number of international visitors making overnight stays grew to 1.3bn in 2017. That is twice the number in 2000, and more than four times the level in 1980. [...] The problem is that these extra tourists are converging on the same places. [...] Analysts [...] attribute it to the rise of "bucket lists". [...] The desire for the perfect Instagram snap has a similar result. [...] The rise of services like Airbnb, that allow locals to rent their homes to visitors, means that a place's capacity for overnight stays is no longer limited by the number of hotel rooms. [...] Many ports, including Venice, limit the number of cruise ships, and there are calls for cities to limit parking spaces for tourist coaches. [...] The maturing taste of Chinese tourists may reassure Venetian locals. A recent survey by McKinsey finds that they increasingly dislike coach tours, group visits and seeing the main landmarks."
Most Initial Conversations Go Better Than People Think We're largely overestimating how much our feelings are on display to others
"[W]e can miss those social cues when they do happen because we're so focused on planning for what comes next [...] [T]he data revealed that majority of the participants liked their conversation partners, but the majority also felt that their partners did not like them in return. [...] This supports the idea that we are generally focused on ourselves and can miss important behavioral cues. [...] They believed that their partners saw more of the uncertainty and awkwardness that they were feeling than was actually on display. [...] People who are less shy are less inclined to report a liking gap, whereas people who are shy—even moderately so—do tend to assess a liking gap. [...] [S]peakers can take steps to verbally reassure the other participant that they are present, paying attention, and interested. [...] [S]imply ending an initial conversation with "I really enjoyed speaking with you" can help take the ambiguity out of the exchange. [...] Online we have the benefit of typing a response, reading it, retyping it a few times and then sharing it. [...] As we build online and offline networks, we naturally want to populate them with like-minded people. It's helpful to know that our initial anxieties about these forays into relationships are relatively balanced."
What Comes After the Roomba?
I would be glad if we could have good autonomous robotic vacuum cleaners. My Neato Botvac is not bad (thanks to its lidar, I guess), but it could still be a lot better. "Many researchers have come to believe that the recent breakthroughs in machine learning will not be enough to build robots adept at moving and performing tasks in a home. That is likely to require several more technological breakthroughs. [...] In addition to Toyota, Alphabet's Google X research laboratory and Amazon have active robotics research efforts that are reportedly aimed at home applications."
Lavender's Soothing Scent Could Be More Than Just Folk Medicine In mice, researchers found that some components of lavender odor had effects on anxiety similar to taking Valium.
"Relief from anxiety could be triggered just by inhaling through a healthy nose. Their findings add to a growing body of research demonstrating anxiety-reducing qualities of lavender odors and suggest a new mechanism for how they work in the body. [...] This suggested that to work, linalool tickled odor-sensitive neurons in the nose that send signals to just the right spots in the brain — the same ones triggered by Valium. [...] Dr. Kashiwadani said that with continuous exposure, the olfactory system gets used to the odor and responds less."
'Microdosing' is touted by 'shroomers and Reddit users. Science is starting to test their claims — and finding some truth
"Microdosing involves taking roughly one-tenth the "trip" dose of a psychedelic drug, an amount too little to trigger hallucinations but enough, its proponents say, to sharpen the mind. [...] In the nearly 10 years since psychologist and psychedelics researcher James Fadiman introduced the notion of microdosing and devised a widely followed protocol for it, and three years after microdosing psychedelics became the latest Silicon Valley "productivity hack,"" all the evidence about its effects has been anecdotal. [...] Now, in the first study of its kind, scientists in the Netherlands found that psilocybin microdoses have no noticeable effect on the problem-solving, rational-thinking, and abstract-reasoning ability called fluid intelligence. But they do seem to improve two forms of thinking that underlie creativity. [...] Since a trip dose is about 3 grams of dried 'shrooms, a microdose is around 0.33 grams. Participants averaged 0.37 grams of the dried preparation, which can be taken with food or packed into gelcaps for easy swallowing. [...] The Dutch study, which was published on a preprint site and has not undergone peer review at a journal, has several caveats. [...] Maybe people who microdose believe in its benefits enough to make those expectations reality. [...] In particular, the rational, logical, well-behaved frontoparietal regions became "strongly destabilized," the scientists reported, melding with activity in emotional and other regions to produce "unconstrained consciousness," "mind wandering," and a sense that everything is connected to everything else. Seeing connections that elude other people is almost the definition of creativity. [...] "Right now, we're swimming in a world of anecdotes and almost no one has taken this seriously," he said. "We need scientific studies.""
Is Chronic Anxiety a Learning Disorder? Some psychiatrists think it might be, but the data are still too sparse to be sure
"That you can successfully treat anxiety with CBT indicates that CBT is helpful. But on a more fundamental level, it also indicates that patients can learn how to not be anxious. [...] How much prediction errors sculpt your belief is called the learning rate. [...] That seemed like a lot of computational heavy-lifting. But Behrens discovered—quite surprisingly—that people performed quite well, on par with the ideal learner. [...] [L]ooking at only three risk factors misrepresents the complexity of heart disease—but, studies have shown that it is a useful simplification. Clinicians seem comfortable reducing heart disease to three risk factors—we are, after all, only talking about a pump. But we tend to cringe when we consider our inner lives, our own emotions and mental states through the same reductionist lens. [...] The advent of the stethoscope and sphygmomanometer—both of which require the patient and clinician to be silent—nudged this relationship from dialogue towards data. Perhaps we lost something in that silence: that subtle and artful conversation that took place while the doctor was attaching leeches to your forearm. Cardiologists didn't become useful because they thought of cleverer questions to ask their patients, but because they developed tools to reduce complex diseases to things they could measure and study and treat. [...] Data made us comfortable with reductionism because data led us to solutions that matter. [...] [T]he more anxious a person was, the less they recognized and adapted their learning rate during the volatile game. [...] Like cholesterol or blood pressure, Browning reminded me that learning rate presents a potential therapeutic target. One could imagine a CBT intervention aimed at helping anxious people better understand volatility in a shifting environment. Or perhaps a medication could modify the brain's inherent learning rate, allowing someone to better separate "impossible choices" from simple errands. [...] Measurements of learning are still in the experimental stage, so it's best to maintain a healthy skepticism, to have a healthy learning rate."
Do we really need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night?
"There is some evidence to suggest that those who consistently restrict their sleep to less than six hours may have increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. [...] Sleep need varies depending on the individual and can be anywhere from 12 hours in long-sleeping children, to six hours in short-sleeping healthy older adults. [...] The sleep period is made up of 90-minute cycles. Waking up between these sleep cycles is a normal part of the sleep pattern and becomes more common as we get older. [...] The siesta sleep quota is made up of a one- to two-hour sleep in the early afternoon and a longer period of five to six hours late in the night. [...] Bi-phasic sleep. [...] This pattern consists of an initial sleep of about four and a half hours (three sleep cycles of 90 minutes each) followed by one to two hours of wake and then a second sleep period of another three hours (another two sleep cycles). [...] These days we expect to have close to 100% of our time in bed asleep, dozing off within minutes and not waking at all until the alarm sounds. Unfortunately this myth sets us up for worry if we find ourselves awake in the middle of the night. And this worry can lead gradually to the development of insomnia. [...] There's no doubt that the eight-hour solid sleep myth is a relatively recent cultural imposition."
How to Be Better at Parties
"Say no if you want to say no, and save yourself the agony of canceling. [...] Take a moment to identify, realistically, what your purpose is for going. [...] Debra Fine [...] likes to give herself a task at any party — for example, meeting three new people. [...] Party prep should involve what you wear. Pick a tried-and-true outfit. [...] [Y]ou don't always need to show up with something for your good friends. [...] Remember that conversation is part of what you bring to any social event. [...] [T]he very best time to get there is right when the party starts. [...] The person who walks in alone, that's the most approachable person. [...] Just look around and smile. [...] You'll know someone is looking to chat if "they're scanning the room". [...] Make the small talk. [...] The aim is to find the one or two people with whom you've found commonalities, and now you go deeper with more personal questions. [...] Put down your phone. [...] Use the information at hand. [...] Tier one is safe territory: sports, the weather, pop culture, local celebrities and any immediate shared experience. [...] Tier two is potentially controversial: religion, politics, dating and love lives. [...] Tier three includes the most intimate topics: family and finance, [...] health and work life. [...] If you just talk a lot you might get exhausted, but if you ask questions and listen and draw people out, they'll think you're a great conversationalist. [...] I should be more interested than I should be interesting. [...] Be attentive and give eye contact. Make active and engaged expressions. Repeat back what you've heard, and follow up with questions. If you notice something you want to say, don't say it. Challenge it and go back to listening. [...] One huge conversational mistake is not picking up clues about how other people are reacting to you. [...] [F]or most people, if it's not going well, our instinctive response is to do more of it. Don't. [...] Awkward silences happen. [...] Make eye contact. [...] Keep up your posture. [...] Open your body. [...] But really, you should smile."
'Frost Boy' in China Warms Up the Internet, and Stirs Poverty Debate
"The social fabric that once held together the Chinese countryside is falling apart as millions of workers move away to chase dreams of prosperity. Many left-behind children like Fuman live with their grandparents. They face a variety of obstacles, including malnutrition, dilapidated homes and poor access to transportation."
Meet the Man Who Has Lived Alone on This Island for 28 Years Mauro Morandi's failing catamaran was carried to Budelli Island nearly three decades ago by chance. He never left.
"He has lived alone on the island for the past 28 years. [...] The island rapidly went from hosting thousands of tourists per day to a single heartbeat. [...] Winters on Budelli are particularly beautiful. Morandi endures long stretches of time—upwards of 20 days—without any human contact. He finds solace in the quiet introspection it affords him, and often sits on the beach with nothing but the operatic sounds of the wind and waves to punctuate the silence. [...] Scientists have long posited that solitude generates creativity, as evidenced by scores of artists, poets, and philosophers throughout the ages who produced their greatest works in seclusion from society. [...] "Solitude can be stressful for members of technologically advanced societies who have been trained to believe that aloneness is to be avoided"."
People Who Never Apologize Probably Aren't Nice to Themselves, Either It's hard to forge a connection with someone who believes they're never wrong.
"[A] new study has found that people who are less willing to apologize also tend to be less self-compassionate. [...] Self-compassion involves three key components—the ability to extend kindness toward oneself in times of suffering, the understanding that all humans make mistakes, and the ability to notice when suffering arises and observe difficult thoughts and feelings without judgment. [...] A growing body of clinical research supports the use of practices like meditation and imagery as tools to foster higher levels of self-compassion. If self-compassion is, in fact, linked with greater willingness to apologize, these findings point to an opportunity to utilize such tools to improve conflict resolution and relationship satisfaction. [...] A quick, cold "sorry" is rarely as effective as an apology that includes validation of the other's feelings, an explanation of what went wrong, and a plan to do better in the future. [...] Taken too far, a less condemning attitude toward personal wrongdoings could potentially backfire, and decrease the likelihood of making amends."
The consolations of philosophy for the middle-aged Kieran Setiya's rumination on the wistfulness of midlife will make readers think, and smile
"At 41, the author is himself afflicted by "a disconcerting mixture of nostalgia, regret, claustrophobia, emptiness and fear", beneath which lie "questions of loss and regret, success and failure...mortality and finitude". [...] He considers Epicurus's consolation (it is irrational to worry about death while you are alive, and after you die, you won't be able to) and Lucretius's (death is no scarier than the time before your birth). He is unpersuaded."
Why is Protestantism flourishing in the developing world? As it sinks in the West, the faith is finding new followers elsewhere
It looks like Protestantism is a symptom of dysfunctioning/failing/poor states. I wouldn't say it's particularly flattering for religion in general. "Though the faith's impact is less profound economically in today's globalised world than in early modern Europe, Pentecostalism is bringing change to poor societies. Research has found that men who become Pentecostal Christians tend to give up alcohol and prostitutes, and that their families benefit. Women receive empowerment from the message that everyone has worth before God. The desire to read the Bible gives a boost to literacy programmes. In many parts of the developing world, the Pentecostal church is the only functioning organisation of civil society. [...] Protestants have grown from 15% of the population of Africa in 1970 (some 54m people) to 29% today (more than 340m). In Latin America, they have gone from 8% (23m) to 19% (121m) over the same period. Some countries, such as Guatemala and Honduras are now over 40% Protestant. More than 80m Chinese have become Protestants in the past 40 years."
Advertising banned, drinks taxed, vending machines removed: doctors' plan for war on sugar
""The industry has shown itself to be incapable of self-regulating," he said, arguing that businesses are exploiting loopholes to target children and protect sales. Dr Gannon said that, while sugar is not the same as tobacco because there is a safe dose, the industry had used similar "tactics of denial" in the face of research. [...] [T]he Turnbull government had made it clear it is opposed to a sugar tax but said the AMA would "continue to make the case that the economic benefits of a healthy population" are more important than the fears of damaging Australia's sugarcane industry."
Why do women still earn a lot less than men? When they do the same job, though, their salaries are practically the same
"[W]omen earn 98% of the wages of men who are in the same roles at the same employers. Women, however, outnumber men in lower-tier jobs, such as secretarial and administrative roles, whereas men predominate in senior positions. And women cluster in occupations and industries that pay lower salaries overall. [...] In America, the four jobs done by the biggest numbers of women—teacher, nurse, secretary and health aide—are all at least 80% female. [...] The main reason why women are less likely than men to reach higher-level positions is that they are their children's primary carers. [...] This pattern means that men get a better shot at a pay rise or a promotion than their female colleagues, and are less likely to be in jobs for which they are overqualified. [...] Parents, for their part, need to instil in their children the idea that they can be anything—and not only if they are girls. Gender equality will remain elusive until boys are as excited as girls about becoming teachers, nurses and full-time parents."
Was "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" really worth it? Terry Gilliam's passion project was nearly 30 years in the making. That turns out to be more interesting than the film itself
"It would be lovely to report that this seemingly cursed passion project ranked alongside "Brazil", Mr Gilliam's masterpiece, thus vindicating all those decades of blood, toil, tears and sweat. But the question the film leaves you with is: is that it? The disjointed, sporadically amusing farce onscreen feels so insignificant in comparison with the fabled behind-the-scenes saga that "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" should probably be included as a bonus feature of "Lost in La Mancha", rather than the other way round. [...] No one watches Mr Gilliam's films for their rigorous logic, of course. And "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" does have pleasing traces of his patented eccentricity and cheek, if nothing else. But it seems as if he and his co-writer, Tony Grisoni, laboured over the screenplay for too many years, fiddling with different drafts until they could no longer remember which story they wanted to tell or which points they hoped to make. [...] [W]hy spend almost 30 years on an adaptation of "Don Quixote" if you don't care about Don Quixote?"
Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy
"Parents tend to associate juice with healthfulness, are unaware of its relationship to weight gain and are reluctant to restrict it in their child's diet. [...] Despite all the marketing and government support, fruit juices contain limited nutrients and tons of sugar. [...] While eating certain fruits like apples and grapes is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, drinking fruit juice is associated with the opposite. [...] There is no evidence that juice improves health. It should be treated like other sugary beverages, which are fine to have periodically if you want them, but not because you need them. Parents should instead serve water and focus on trying to increase children's intake of whole fruit."
Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn't a Problem The conventional wisdom is that morning people are high achievers, go-getters, while late risers are lazy. But what if going to bed in the wee hours is actually an advantage?
""The most productive coders I know — and writers and probably a lot of other creatives,"" said Tim Ferriss, the life-hacking author and tech investor, "tend to do a lot of their best work when others are asleep, at times that coincide with the fewest inbound distractions." [...] The traditional 9-to-5 workplace is starting to fall out of favor, especially in Silicon Valley and creative sectors where the workday is no longer tied to daylight hours. And, with robots and artificial intelligence further eroding the old system by taking over the routine tasks, the new workplace culture is less about punctuality and more about creativity and breaking the rules. [...] Corporate America is already catching up. Some 80 percent of companies now offer some form of flexible work arrangements. [...] For many workers, this means "freedom from a crushing commute, from an interruption-filled office, from a 9-to-5 straitjacket". [...] For night owls, this is huge. No longer must armies of professionals arbitrarily be rousted at daybreak, like groggy recruits heeding a bugle blowing reveille."
The Tyranny of Convenience
"Convenience is boring. But boring is not the same thing as trivial. [...] Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. [...] Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. [...] Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows. [...] Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. [...] By saving time and eliminating drudgery, it would create the possibility of leisure. And with leisure would come the possibility of devoting time to learning, hobbies or whatever else might really matter to us. Convenience would make available to the general population the kind of freedom for self-cultivation once available only to the aristocracy. In this way convenience would also be the great leveler. [...] The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? [...] If the first convenience revolution promised to make life and work easier for you, the second promised to make it easier to be you. [...] The paradoxical truth I'm driving at is that today's technologies of individualization are technologies of mass individualization. Customization can be surprisingly homogenizing. [...] Facebook seems to make us all the same. [...] Today's cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. [...] Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are. [...] As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. [...] We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest."
What It's Like to Trip on the Most Potent Magic Mushroom "I felt as though I were communing directly with a plant for the first time."
"Both suggest that neurochemistry is the language in which nature communicates with us, and it's trying to tell us something important by way of psilocybin. But this strikes me as more of a poetic conceit than a scientific theory. [...] "My best guess," Beug says, "is that the mushrooms that produced the most psilocybin got selectively eaten and so their spores got more widely disseminated." [...] [M]any animals are known to eat psilocybin mushrooms, including horses, cattle, and dogs. Some, like cows, appear unaffected, but many animals appear to enjoy an occasional change in consciousness, too. [...] Presumably animals with a taste for altered states of consciousness have helped spread psilocybin far and wide. [...] She told me her mind and her body seemed to be drifting apart and then that her mind had flown out of her head and up into the trees, like a bird or insect. [...] But when I started to feel panic rise at the lack of control I had over my visual field, I discovered that all I needed to do to restore a sense of semi-normality was to open my eyes. [...] The battlements of ego had not fallen; this was not what the researchers would deem a "complete" mystical experience, because I retained the sense of an observing "I." But the doors and windows of perception had opened wide, and they were admitting more of the world and its myriad nonhuman personalities than ever before. [...] I was no longer the alienated human observer, gazing at the garden from a distance, whether literal or figural, but rather felt part and parcel of all that was transpiring here. [...] I myself am identical with nature."
Should We Loosen the Restrictions on Psychedelics? Probably, but we also need to take the risks very seriously
"The resumption of clinical research with psychedelics is producing preliminary evidence of benefit for a variety of conditions. These include depression, substance abuse and palliative care. [...] We are only now just beginning to understand how psychedelics work. Their extraordinarily potent effects on suggestibility is an area that most likely will help us understand their nearly panacea-like properties. A case in point is how Charles Manson used LSD to cement the pre-existing sociopathic beliefs and goals of his followers in much the same way that psilocybin enhances the meaning of a different set of likewise pre-existing beliefs and goals in those seeking more benign outcomes. [...] Most important, only those with specialized training would be allowed to administer psychedelics to humans. [...] This system would be similar to that currently existing for psychologists and psychiatrists becoming certified psychoanalysts, as well as for medical specialists in fields like orthopedics, anesthesiology, neurology or psychiatry."
How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)
A long article. "We just woke up out of nowhere and found ourselves on some path set for us by our parents, by society, and by circumstances. [...] The idea is that reasoning from first principles is reasoning like a scientist. You take core facts and observations and use them to puzzle together a conclusion, kind of like a chef playing around with raw ingredients to try to make them into something good. By doing this puzzling, a chef eventually writes a new recipe. The other kind of reasoning—reasoning by analogy—happens when you look at the way things are already done and you essentially copy it, with maybe a little personal tweak here and there—kind of like a cook following an already written recipe. [...] Human yearning is a game of choices and sacrifices and compromise. [...] You're not your 7-year-old self, just like you're not your parents or your friends or your generation or your society or your heroes or your past decisions or your recent circumstances. You're Current-Age You—the only person, and the only version of yourself, who is actually qualified to want and not want the things you want and don't want. [...] Do you treat the words of your external influences as information, held and considered by an authentic inner you, that you've carefully decided to embrace? Or are your influences themselves actually in your brain, masquerading as inner you? [...] Wisdom hurts at first, but it's the only place where actual growth happens. [...] This isn't about which yearnings or fears have the loudest voices or which fears are most palpable—if it were, you'd be letting your impulses take the wheel of your life. The person doing the ranking is you—the little center of consciousness reading this post who can observe your octopus and look at it objectively. [...] I have no idea, mostly. And I think most people have no idea. Things are just changing too quickly. [...] There are likely dozens of awesome career paths that beautifully match your natural strengths, and it's likely that most other people trying to succeed on those paths are playing with an outdated rulebook and strategy guide. [...] Qualities related to persistence, like resilience and determination and patience, should be thought of as promising strengths, while a social tentacle clamoring to appear successful as quickly as possible should be viewed as a bright red flag. [...] Careers used to be kind of like a 40-year tunnel. You picked your tunnel, and once you were in, that was that. [...] Today's careers—especially the less traditional ones—are really really not like tunnels. But crusty old conventional wisdom has a lot of us still viewing things that way, which makes the already hard job of making big career path choices much harder. [...] Pretending you can figure out what dot #2 or #4 or #8 should be now is laughable. Future dots are the worry of a future, wiser you living in a future world. So let's focus on dot #1. [...] A better goal is contentment: the satisfying feeling that you're currently taking the best crack you can at a good life path; that what you're working on might prove to be a piece of an eventual puzzle you can feel really proud of. Chasing happiness is an amateur move. Feeling contentment in those times when your choices and your circumstances have combined to pull it off, and knowing you have all that you could ever ask for, is for the wise. [...] [P]sychologists believe that people at the end of their lives are most likely to regret living by inertia: a commonly voiced regret is "I wish I had quit earlier," and the most common advice of the elderly is, "Don't stay in a job you dislike.""
The Psychology of Dread Tasks
"A dread task is an exceptionally bad case when the prediction is so painful, you can't even properly contemplate what you need to do. For example: "I need to do my taxes... [ugh, hurts to think about that] when do I need them done by? [still in mental anguish]... can we think about anything else please?" [...] Thankfully, these predictions are frequently wrong. All you need to do is reverse engineer your thought patterns." Strategies: 1) "Make it stupidly small." 2) "Re-label. [...] Don't "do your taxes". Just change the label to "gather finance documents"." 3) "Visualization." 4) "Talk to others." 5) "Find another way." Willpower-boosters: 1) "Music." 2) "Workout." 3) "Coffee."
A Lost Secret: How To Get Kids To Pay Attention
"[T]his lack of autonomy in school inhibits kids' ability to pay attention. [...] For starters, he says, ask your kid this question: 'What would you do if you didn't have to do anything else?'"
The tools humanity will need for living in the year 1 trillion
The heat death of the universe is one of the things I cannot help but find depressing. For some people, I guess it gives meaning to what they do, but, for me, it doesn't. At all. Anyway, I'm glad that some people are seriously thinking about what humanity can do to live a bit longer. "At this point, all stars and galaxies in the Universe will no longer be visible or accessible from any other. The question remains, what will intelligent civilizations (such as our own) do for resources and energy at this point? [...] After one of my papers was posted in 2011, Freeman Dyson wrote to me and suggested to a vast "cosmic engineering project" in which we will concentrate matter from a large-scale region around us to a small enough volume such that it will stay bound by its own gravity and not expand with the rest of the Universe. [...] While this may seem like a truly far-off concern, it does raise some interesting questions about the long-term evolution of the Universe and how intelligent civilizations may be forced to adapt. In the meantime, if it offers some additional possibilities for searching for extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs), then so much the better."
A Layman's Intro to Western Classical Music
A quick introduction for people like me (i.e. who know very little about classical music), with YouTube videos.
The Bullshit-Job Boom For more and more people, work appears to serve no purpose. Is there any good left in the grind?
"[I]f all lobbyists or corporate lawyers on the planet disappeared en masse, not even their clients would miss them. [...] This observation leads him to define bullshit work as "a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case." [...] Through the better part of human history, jobs from warrior to fisherperson to novelist had a cram-and-slack rhythm, in part because these jobs were shaped by actual productive needs, not arbitrary working clocks and managerial oversight. [...] We have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures. [...] Politicians are so fixated on job creation, he thinks, that no one wonders which jobs are created, and whether they are necessary. [...] Yet people do write music, poetry, and more at the bullshit desk. [...] None of us entirely avoids the bullshit. But a few people, in the end, make it work."
Why Children Aren't Behaving, And What You Can Do About It
"Three factors, she says, have contributed mightily to this crisis. First: Where, how and how much kids are allowed to play has changed. Second, their access to technology and social media has exploded. Finally, Lewis suggests, children today are too "unemployed." [...] We need to help kids to develop tolerance against anxiety, and the best way to do that, this research suggests, is to take small risks — to have falls and scrapes and tumbles and discover that they're capable and that they can survive being hurt. [...] We start off, when our kids are babies, being in charge of everything. And our goal by the time they're 18 is to be in charge of nothing — to work ourselves out of the job of being that controlling parent. So we have to constantly be widening the circle of things that they're in charge of, and shrinking our own responsibility. [...] The research on rewards is pretty powerful, and it suggests that the more we reward behavior, the less desirable that behavior becomes to children and adults alike. [...] Ultimately, we want to instill self-discipline in our children, which will never happen if we're always controlling them. [...] We can let them fail. In fact, that is the process of childhood when children misbehave. It's not a sign of our failure as parents. It's normal."
AI Winter Is Well On Its Way
Yes, deep learning is a fad and it's roughly based on old ideas. It's also useful, successful in many areas, and I think it's a bit unfair to expect progress to happen as quickly as the author thinks it should happen. Geoffrey Hinton's capsules are a new idea. Let's see if it leads anywhere. If not, somebody, somewhere, will find another idea. Because brains work. So there must be a way to do what they do in a computer.
Taking Children Seriously
"Life is all about learning. And children especially need to learn because they aren't born knowing anything. [...] When explaining, try not to repeat yourself. If your child isn't getting something, he needs some different information to understand. His learning process is stuck. Explain it in a different way or simplify. [...] It works better to try to understand what your kid is thinking. Ask questions. He might not even want what he asked for, or have no idea what it costs (in money or in time and effort). [...] Ask him about why he's interested in it, talk about what he's learning, and figure out how you can help. [...] Children are also born capable of thinking. They learn fast. They learn so much in their first few years! They're actually really good at learning. [...] Don't think of your child as stupid. A good explanation for a child would seem reasonable to your adult friend, not condescending or disrespectful. [...] Worried parents can accidentally teach their children to be scared of life. [Critical Rationalism] explains that problems are part of life. Problems aren't a bad thing to fear. They're natural and good. Remember to see problems as areas where improvement is possible. [...] Self-sacrifice is never the answer. [...] We know from [Critical Rationalism] that all problems can be solved. [...] In life, happiness is possible. It may be tough but it is possible for things to get better if you learn some new ideas. You can work on that one step at a time. [...] Children aren't too fragile to be told about mistakes. They aren't too stupid to receive help understanding what they got wrong. And obedience won't help them understand more. [...] Parenting is hard. Thinking about it carefully, using reason, helps a lot."
Can't sleep? Tell yourself it's not a big deal There's growing evidence that thinking of yourself as an insomniac is a major part of the problem
"[A]ny external crutch on which you lean – not just pills, but herbal remedies and elaborate bedtime rituals, too – risks further eroding your trust in your ability to fall asleep on your own, and it's that lack of self-trust that is insomnia's main cause. [...] Few things have helped me as much as following one of Stephens' many recommendations and training myself to remember, upon waking at 2am, that when I have a terrible night, the next day usually isn't so bad."
Style Is an Algorithm No one is original anymore, not even you.
I disagree about the friends vs algorithms part, but, other than that, an thought-provoking article. "Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. [...] [B]lue is in fashion this year because some people decided it was. You, the non-tastemaker, have no choice in the matter. [...] It's more likely that your friend understands what you want and need, and you're more likely to trust the recommendation, even if it seems challenging to you. [...] Style is a superficial aesthetic code that is relatively simple to replicate, whereas taste is a kind of wider aesthetic intelligence, able to connect and integrate disparate experiences. [...] Spotify's fake artists aren't fake, per se; they're a kind of muzak created by a Swedish production company that just so happens to have the same investors as Spotify. [...] In 1935, Walter Benjamin observed that the work of art in the 20th century was undergoing a change during the advent of photography and film. The newfound reproducibility of the individual work of art through these technologies meant that art was deprived of its "aura". [...] Every platform, canvassed by an algorithm that prioritizes some content over other content based on predicted engagement, develops a Generic Style that is optimized for the platform's specific structure. This Generic Style evolves over time based on updates in the platform and in the incentives of the algorithm for users. [...] Taste has always been and always will be derivative, hierarchical, and shallow, but also vital. [...] I might only read books I stumble across in used bookstores, only watch TV shows on local channels, only buy vinyl, only write letters, forsake social media for print newspapers, wear only found vintage. (Etsy is already algorithmic, with its own faux-folksy Generic Style.) I could abstain from algorithmic culture like the Luddites who resisted the automation of textile factories in the 19th century by destroying machines. It would be so organic. Cool! Obscure! Authentic! But as soon as something Cool, Obscure, and Authentic gets put back on the internet, it is factored into the equation. [...] It's just that I don't always like that I like them. [...] If our decisions about what we consume don't seem to communicate much about ourselves anymore, why not just choose to not make them?"
How to Survive Your 40s
This article resonates with me. Sometimes I wonder if I've become a cliché... "I'm not thrilled about looking older. But what unsettles me most about the 40s is the implication that I'm now a grown-up myself. I fear I've been promoted beyond my competence. What is a grown-up anyway? Do they really exist? If so, what exactly do they know? Will my mind ever catch up with my face?"
Prince Album of Previously Unreleased Material Coming in September
Good news. Another good news: "we haven't run across any real issues in terms of the condition of material". I'm glad that Prince's archive is apparently taken care of by competent people.
People Don't Actually Know Themselves Very Well Chances are, your coworkers are better at rating some parts of your personality than you are.
"Sixteen rigorous studies of thousands of people at work have shown that people's coworkers are better than they are at recognizing how their personality will affect their job performance. [...] Any time a trait is easy to observe or hard to admit, you need other people to hold up a mirror for you. [...] Don't talk about your intelligence. It's something you prove, not something you claim."
GTD in 15 minutes – A Pragmatic Guide to Getting Things Done
I've read Getting Things Done more than ten years ago and have been using GTD since then. I read this article to make sure that I'm still doing things more or less correctly.
Les vertus thérapeutiques des activités manuelles
"Dans un monde de vitesse qui nous échappe et de dématérialisation de tout pouvant entraîner une certaine anxiété, le retour à la matière est refondateur d'un rapport au réel." J'ai parfois de la peine à l'admettre : malgré la dématérialisation ambiante, notre cerveau a évolué durant des centaines de milliers d'années dans un monde physique, concret. Nous sommes donc faits pour le travail manuel. Je suis également persuadé que cela me ferait du bien, à titre personnel, mais je peine pour l'instant à trouver une activité manuelle qui me correspond vraiment.
The Case for the Self-Driven Child In a new book, an argument for giving children more of a sense of control over their lives
"We know that a low sense of control is highly associated with anxiety, depression, and virtually all mental health problems. [...] Research on motivation has suggested that a strong sense of autonomy is the key to developing the healthy self-motivation that allows children and teens to pursue their goals with passion and to enjoy their achievements. [...] [K]ids today sleep much less than they did even a few years ago. [...] More kids are reliant on social media, and there may be nothing more externalizing or control-lowering than posting a photo of yourself on the internet and waiting for people to judge you. [...] [S]tudies have found that at least 10% of boys have an addictive relationship to video games. [...] [H]umans have three basic needs: a sense of autonomy, a sense of competence, and a sense of relatedness. [...] That's why we tell parents that one of the most important things they can say to their kids is, "I love you too much to fight with you about your homework," and why we want them to move in the direction of being a non-anxious presence for their kids. [...] That's why we tell parents that one of the most important things they can say to their kids is, "I love you too much to fight with you about your homework," and why we want them to move in the direction of being a non-anxious presence for their kids. [...] Give your kid every opportunity to stretch himself through music, sports, coding, after school jobs, hiking, martial arts, whatever inspires his passion. [...] Above all, promote rest. [...] Lastly, make it your highest priority to simply enjoy your kids. As they are. Right now. Flaws and all."
The diabolical genius of the baby advice industry Every baffled new parent goes searching for answers in baby manuals. But what they really offer is the reassuring fantasy that life's most difficult questions have one right answer.
"I knew all these things – but what I didn't yet understand was the diabolical genius of the baby-advice industry, which targets people at their most sleep-deprived, at the beginning of what will surely be the weightiest responsibility of their lives, and suggests that maybe, just maybe, between the covers of this book, lies the morsel of information that will make the difference between their baby's flourishing or floundering. The brilliance of this system is that it works on the most sceptical readers, too [...] On one side were the gurus I came to think of as the Baby Trainers, who urged us to get our newborn on to a strict schedule as soon as possible [...] On the other side were the Natural Parents, for whom all schedules – and, often enough, the very notion of mothers having jobs to return to – were further proof that modernity had corrupted the purity of parenthood [...] Baby manuals seem to offer all the promise of self-help books, minus the challenges posed by the frustratingly intransigent obstacle of your existing self. The essential challenge confronting any would-be parenting guru is this: nobody really knows what a baby is. [...] [N]obody can remember what it was like to be a baby. [...] Of course all babies don't follow an extremely precise 10-stage schedule [...] Besides, they argued, if the baby did stop crying as a result of such sleep training, it would only be because hundreds of thousands of years of evolution had hardwired him to assume that if his parents weren't responding, they must have been eaten by wild animals, and remaining silent was his only hope of survival. [...] Eventually, around six months, after agonising over the question for several weeks, we decided to try sleep training. We re-read the relevant chapters, assembled the alcohol we planned to use to suppress our instinct to intervene during the inevitable hours of screaming that the books foretold – and steeled ourselves to feel like monstrous parents. But more strangeness was in store: the baby cried mildly for about four minutes, slept for 10 hours, and woke in a buoyant mood. I spent much of the night awake, convinced something must be terribly wrong. None of the books had suggested this turn of events; my son appeared to be following an entirely different manual of instructions. [...] Why assume that childcare practices that predate modernity are inherently superior? [...] Attachment parenting plays on a theme familiar in self-help: the idea that you should reject outside expertise in favour of your own instincts and inner resources – except in the case of the guru offering this advice, who demands your obedience to his or her expertise. [...] For much of history, and in many tribal societies today, he writes, young children have been viewed as "hardy plants that needed little close attention". [...] "It is very difficult to find any reliable, empirical relation between the small variations in what parents do – the variations that are the focus of parenting [advice] – and the resulting adult traits of their children" [...] [W]e ought to stop thinking of children as construction projects, and instead think of ourselves as gardeners, providing a secure and stable environment in which our children will prove remarkably capable of raising themselves. [...] [R]ules create expectations from which a baby will almost inevitably diverge, triggering stress. [...] Perhaps what you really learn from baby books is one important aspect of the predicament of parenthood: that while there might indeed be one right way to do things, you will never get to find out what it is."
Retweets Are Trash A modest proposal to improve Twitter—and perhaps the world
"[R]age spreads faster than joy, sadness, and disgust. [...] Tech companies have designed their interfaces to maximize the spread of information, to amplify faster, to increase the ß in the network. They could peel away those layers—increase the friction of posting, make it harder to amplify information with a single click, redesign user interfaces to encourage thoughtfulness."
Lisez ceci avant d'investir dans le bitcoin
Pas grand-chose d'intéressant, en particulier par rapport au dernier article que j'ai lu sur la question. Ça reste très général, très vulgarisé.
Faut-il investir dans le Bitcoin en 2018?
Oui, je suis en retard. Je suis pour l'instant resté bloqué dans le mode "Il s'agit d'une bulle." et "Le terme 'blockchain' est juste un buzzword, ça va passer." Mais je me tâte : et s'il y avait tout de même "de la substance", derrière le phénomène de mode et la peur de manquer quelque chose (FOMO) ? Résultat de ma réflexion : je ne sais toujours pas.
Why Your Brain Hates Other People And how to make it think differently
"Considerable evidence suggests that dividing the world into Us and Them is deeply hard-wired in our brains, with an ancient evolutionary legacy. [...] Briefly flash up the face of someone of a different race (compared with a same-race face) and, on average, there is preferential activation of the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. [...] [T]he strength of Us/Them-ing is shown by the: speed and minimal sensory stimuli required for the brain to process group differences; tendency to group according to arbitrary differences, and then imbue those differences with supposedly rational power; unconscious automaticity of such processes; and rudiments of it in other primates. [...] [W]hen fleetingly seeing the face of a Them, the amygdala activates. Critically, this comes long before (on the time scale of brain processing) more cognitive, cortical regions are processing the Them. The emotions come first. [...] Sitting near smelly garbage makes people more socially conservative about outgroup issues (e.g., attitudes toward gay marriage among heterosexuals). Christians express more negative attitudes toward non-Christians if they've just walked past a church. [...] [O]ur visceral, emotional views of Thems are shaped by subterranean forces we'd never suspect. And then our cognitions sprint to catch up with our affective selves, generating the minute factoid or plausible fabrication that explains why we hate Them. [...] Disgust serves as an ethnic or outgroup marker. [...] Then there are Thems who are ridiculous, i.e., subject to ridicule, humor as hostility. [...] [D]ifferent Thems come in different flavors with immutable, icky essences—threatening and angry, disgusting and repellent, ridiculous, primitive, and undifferentiated. [...] [Y]ou are thinking of her as an individual, the surest way to weaken automatic categorization of someone as a Them. [...] Distrust essentialism. Remember that supposed rationality is often just rationalization, playing catch-up with subterranean forces we never suspect."
Panicked about Kids' Addiction to Tech? Here are two things you could do
"I want to yell at all of the parents around me to chill out. [...] In the early years, children learn values and norms by watching their parents and other caregivers. [...] Verbalize what you're doing with your phone. [...] Create a household contract. This is a contract that sets the boundaries for everyone in the house — parents and kids. [...] Work through the process, but have your child lead it rather than you dictate it. [...] There are plenty of teens out there that know their psychological desire to talk non-stop with their friends for fear of missing out is putting them in a bad place. [...] I would strongly recommend that parents focus their energies on negotiating a path through that allows children to be bought-in and aware of why boundaries are being set. That requires communication and energy, not a new technology to police boundaries for you."
The Quorn revolution: the rise of ultra-processed fake meat
I'm not against "ultra-processed" food in principle, but I understand why some people would prefer more "simple" food. It's less scary. Personally, I tend to avoid Quorn products because most of them are vegetarian and not vegan. "The short explanation is that Quorn is a "mycoprotein" fermented in vats from a fungus found in soil. A fuller – but still heavily truncated – one is that it is made from a strain of the soil mould Fusarium venenatum by fermenting it, then adding glucose, fixed nitrogen, vitamins and minerals and heat-treating it to remove excess levels of ribonucleic acid. (In other words, it is a long way from what the phrase "plant food" may seem to denote.) [...] Quorn, in common with other fake meats, is incontestably ultra-processed. Evidently, this is not an issue for the animal welfare, vegetarian and vegan groups that hail such confections as a potential end to animal slaughter and the misery of factory farming."
My professional opinion as a blockchain researcher: I don't see the point (yet)
I don't completely understand blockchains. At this point, it sounds like an overhyped buzzword. The first person that talked to me about blockchains in very enthusiastic terms a few years ago happens to be quite religious and I don't think it's a coincidence... So, yes, I tend to be biased against blockchains, probably for the wrong reasons, but this article more or less confirms my biases. "Very few people outside so-called crypto-anarchist community are opposed to trusted intermediaries as a matter of principle. [...] For who among us can honestly say "yes, I am capable of reviewing the code behind blockchain applications I'm using and I have personally done so to make sure I'm not being scammed?" [...] I believe that in the long run, crypto-enabled distributed trust technologies could possibly have significant role in enabling micropayments and microinvestments. [...] Proof of Work, where we don't have to know or trust other users, is absolutely ridiculous waste of resources and will always have trouble scaling up. [...] Cryptography is not some magic free lunch that totally changes the rules in investing and finance. [...] Some interesting developments that may point a direction to the future include automating some aspects of insurance markets, such as automating claims processing in more straightforward cases (e.g. when a flight is cancelled and customers need to be refunded) or even selling of insurances automatically based on mutually shared financial data."
What If Parents Loved Strangers' Children As Much As Their Own?
"Would the world be improved if parents cared for other people just as much as they cared for their own children? [...] It's not unusual, when thinking about the future, to wonder which of our contemporary values will one day seem backward or naïve. And given the trend of expanding our circle of moral concern, it's fairly common to see predictions that we will eventually grant legal protections to animals and even artificial intelligences. [...] As a child, you want your parent to favor you and your siblings over other people; this is the emotional core of being a family. [...] "What did family mean if everyone was included?" [...] One of the notable features of life on the kibbutzim of the past was collective child-rearing, in which even young children spent relatively little time with their parents and mostly lived in communal buildings. [...] [A]s long as we are bound to our bodies, a history of physical closeness and contact will remain important to us. That means children will prefer their parents to strangers, and they deserve to have their parents reciprocate that feeling."
Lift Weights, Eat More Protein, Especially if You're Over 40
"People who would like to become physically stronger should start with weight training and add protein to their diets, according to a comprehensive scientific review of research. [...] Beef, chicken, yogurt and even protein from peas or quinoa could help us to build larger and stronger muscles. [...] They wound up with 49 high-quality past experiments that had studied a total of 1,863 people, including men and women, young and old, and experienced weight trainers as well as novices. [...] [T]hose who did ramp up their protein gained an extra 10 percent or so in strength and about 25 percent in muscle mass compared to the control groups. [...] The researchers also looked for the sweet spot for protein intake, which turned out to be about 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day."
'I regret having children' In pushing the boundaries of accepted maternal response, women are challenging an explosive taboo-and reframing motherhood in the process
"The premise that motherhood is not a one-size-fits-all role shouldn't come as a surprise in 2018, given the rise of the "childless by choice" movement or an international decline in birth rates. Still, it's received as an affront to the "sanctity" of motherhood and the entrenched belief that the maternal instinct is innate and unconditional—despite ample historical evidence to the contrary. [...] Anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar [...] even argues no one should have children on compassionate grounds given the painfulness of life. [...] A 2016 German study found eight per cent of 1,200 parents polled said they would choose not to have children again. [...] [A] 2010 American Sociological Association study found that parents were more likely to be depressed than their child-free counterparts, and that people without kids were happier than any other group. [...] [W]omen who feel guilt over regret are more conscientious parents. "The more I feel [regret], the more I give them." [...] [M]ost men who became fathers even though they didn't want to did so because their partner wanted to be a mother, and they didn't want to live without her. [...] Pro-natalism serves national interests. [...] The belief that women are uniquely equipped to parent also marginalizes fathers. [...] 'What if my child ever read this?' [...] Women who express regret, or any critique of motherhood, typically have done so through humour. [...] So many mothers are on anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants or have secret post-partum lasting for years. [...] [T]his is where the subject of regret introduces a radical new twist in the mother plot: It introduces the notion that mothers can exist autonomously from their children. [...] Recognizing regret as part of the maternal experience requires a sea change in thinking."
Is everything you think you know about depression wrong? In this extract from his new book, Johann Hari, who took antidepressants for 13 years, calls for a new approach
"These drugs are having a positive effect for some people – but they clearly can't be the main solution for the majority of us, because we're still depressed even when we take them. [...] It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we're good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn't meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people. [...] When you are controlled, you can't create meaning out of your work. [...] We need to move from "focusing on 'chemical imbalances'", they said, to focusing more on "power imbalances". [...] This pain you are feeling is not a pathology. [...] It is a signal that your natural psychological needs are not being met. It is a form of grief – for yourself, and for the culture you live in going so wrong."
Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment In Dedicated Listening

"Partly due to the ubiquity of music playlists and partly due to supply outweighing even my most insatiable of demands, all music was becoming Muzak. [...] As a person who still legitimately believes in music's potential to transcend life's banalities, disappointments, and even its suffering, this was cause for concern. [...] I calculated that if I lived another, say, 40 years, and spent every minute of those next 40 years — that's no sleeping, no eating — listening to my collection of music, I would be dead before I could make it all the way through. [...] For the entirety of 2017, I would listen to just one album a week. I decided to conduct this experiment because I romanticized the days of intimate close listening, of prolonged concentrated meditation with an art object, and I sought to reactivate the ritual function of such encounters. [...] A friend once floated a theory that I've grappled with ever since. She claimed that we only ever really love 10 albums, and we spend the rest of our listening lives seeking facsimiles of those 10, pursuing the initial rush, so to speak. [...] Modern life, with all of its informational density, has rendered filtering out the noise virtually impossible. [...] As long as we try to maintain the Sisyphean task of trying to experience everything, our brains, unable to adapt and forever lagging behind exponential technological progress, will continue to struggle. [...] The diluvial nature of modern media leaves us little time to pause. The challenge, then, is to cultivate the patience and the discipline necessary to engage more deeply than the modern world allows. Just because we are flooded doesn't mean we have to drown."

I really sympathize with the author and, at the same time, our situations are not exactly the same. I've stopped collecting physical recordings a long time ago and I try to buy/download only what I intend to listen to. Also, I sometimes "force myself" to listen to some albums/recordings (jazz classics, classical music, etc.), but I allow myself to listen to other music as well. I don't really understand why the author thought it would be a good idea to listen to only one album per week and nothing else. Listening to music is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, after all.

Longevity FAQ: A beginner's guide to longevity research
It's a technical overview, so it's not a simple "article". Basically, there are a lot of directions for further research. Nicotinamide riboside (NR) doesn't seem to be that promising (105% lifespan increase in mouses). "Lowering protein:carbohydrate ratio" seems to be way more interesting (128%). Another hint that we should all lower our sugar consumption. "Fasting mimicking diet" (112%) is another intriguing idea (it's not the same thing as intermittent fasting). Aspirin (108%) seems to be beneficial as well. And then there is CR (132%), which is well known, but not very practical. I don't know if the 90 other ways of extending mouse lifespans can lead to "quick hacks" or not.
Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History
This sounds like an article written by Steven Pinker, but it's not, although he is mentioned. In summary, the world gets better and better according to a lot of metrics: hunger, poverty, literacy, health, education, etc. It's important to also remember the following, though: "The world is registering important progress, but it also faces mortal threats." North Korea, if you insist, but, more importantly, climate change, artificial intelligence, etc.
The tricks to make yourself effortlessly charming From the first moment you walk into a room people are making judgements about how much they like you. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your chances
My feeling is that people like George Clooney have a huge natural advantage over most people. But, apparently, there are tricks you can use. Do they really work? No idea. Some of them include: smiling, doing an eyebrow flash (a quick up and down movement of the eyebrow) while smiling, not talking about yourself, maintaining eye contact, "indirect flattery", finding common ground, mirroring the body language of the other person, revealing details about yourself little by little (not all at once), etc.
Bookstore Chains, Long in Decline, Are Undergoing a Final Shakeout
"The internet is killing retail. Bookstores are just the first to go." The debate here is not about e-books. I love them. Most people don't (apparently). But this article is not about the merits of physical and electronic books. It's about the fact that it's almost impossible to compete against Amazon, which sells physical, as well as electronic books. "To go online is so easy, so convenient. [...] To draw people into a store now is a monumental challenge." It's easier to go online than to go to a physical store, yes, but online stores can also offer better information and recommendations than a random employee. The keyword here is "can". I'm not saying that current online recommendations are great. I'm saying they have the potential to be better or even way better than the recommendations made by a single humain being. "I think it's important for kids to read, and do it the old-fashioned way." I agree here. Physical books are great for children. But, again, it's not the debate, as you can order them online. One advantage of physical stores: you can have a look at those books, whereas previews are often not available online (at least for nonconventional books such as toys/books for babies, books with extra-thick pages, etc.).
2017 105
Date Title Subtitle
What Needs to Happen Before Electric Cars Take Over the World Electric vehicles have only a tiny market share, but the auto industry is betting billions that they will soon be as cheap as conventional cars.
What's needed: 1) cheaper powertrains (2-3 times cheaper) 2) "steady, affordable supply of the resources required to make batteries" (mainly cobalt, lithium, and graphite) 3) "more charging stations [...] and they'll need to charge faster" 4) a psychological shift (not really a problem, I would guess) 5) investments in new production lines and technologies (i.e. manufacturers will need to cut losses).
Epigenetics - It's not just genes that make us
As usual, it's more complicated than that. "To make a computer analogy, think of epigenetics as metadata, information describing and ordering the underlying data. [...] [T]he switch between queen and worker can be flipped by the abundance of methyl tags on the bee larvae's DNA. [...] [G]enes can be switched right off (this is called silencing), full on, or somewhere in between by DNA methyl tags and histone tail tags. [...] When cells divide, the entire DNA sequence from the original cell (3 billion base pairs contained in 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human cell) is duplicated so that both daughter cells receive an exact copy. What, you might ask, happens to all those epigenetic tags? We have known for some time that the DNA-methyl tags are copied too, so that both daughter cells have the same pattern of DNA methylation. We now know that the pattern of histone tags is also mostly duplicated as cells divide, although this is currently less well understood. [...] [G]enes received from Mum and those from Dad are labelled differently with epigenetic tags and so are not equivalent. [...] [C]ells randomly switch off either the paternal or maternal X chromosome, so that when a girl baby is born her body is a mixture or chimera of cells where either the maternal or paternal X-chromosome is switched off. [...] Although we can find cases where epigenetic effects apparently last from parents to offspring, this is not usually the case and almost all of the epigenetic switches or marks are reset in germ cells (eggs and sperm) and in the very earliest stages of development of an embryo."
Bad News for the Highly Intelligent Superior IQs associated with mental and physical disorders, research suggests
"People who do well on standardized tests of intelligence—IQ tests—tend to be more successful in the classroom and the workplace. Although the reasons are not fully understood, they also tend to live longer, healthier lives, and are less likely to experience negative life events such as bankruptcy. [...] The survey of Mensa's highly intelligent members found that they were more likely to suffer from a range of serious disorders. [...] To explain their findings, Karpinski and colleagues propose the hyper brain/hyper body theory. This theory holds that, for all of its advantages, being highly intelligent is associated with psychological and physiological "overexcitabilities", or OEs. [...] The results of this study must be interpreted cautiously because they are correlational. [...] It's also possible that people who join Mensa differ from other people in ways other than just IQ."
The Organ of the Universe: On Living with Tinnitus
"We listen intermittently, we tune in and out, but we're always hearing. [...] One study by the University of Illinois indicated that in the long term it triggers increased brain activity and fatigue. Another study found that sufferers also experience increased anxiety levels. [...] The most common treatment is counseling. We may not be able to stop it, but we can perhaps teach ourselves not to focus on it, to think about something else."
The Limits of 'Believe All Women'
"In a climate in which sexual mores are transforming so rapidly, many men are asking: If I were wrongly accused, who would believe me? [...] I believe that facts serve feminists far better than faith. [...] What we owe all people, including women, is to listen to them and to respect them and to take them seriously. But we don't owe anyone our unthinking belief."
Pretty Birds in Pretty Cages: Could the Nuclear Family Be the Reason We're All Miserable?
"[W]e've made the raising of our children incredibly isolating in the process. [...] [O]ur [species] has spent millennia raising our children and working together rather than isolated in singular pods. [...] The nuclear family has allowed the first world to grow our economies in many ways, and give more of our attention to fewer children. Yet it has also isolated us, creating situations where many adults are lonely."
I just don't want to be a software developer anymore I still love coding, but I hate this industry
"[T]he problem with that is that hobby coding isn't at all like coding for work. [...] I dream of a world where we all work less. In the meantime I'll still be here coding, maybe actually enjoying it again, and trying to find a life where I have true balance between my work and my other needs." I can relate to this. I've often wondered if a career change would be a solution. So far I've always concluded that being a software engineer is still one of the better options.
Understanding Hinton's Capsule Networks. Part II: How Capsules Work.
"We see that the design of the capsule builds up upon the design of artificial neuron, but expands it to the vector form to allow for more powerful representational capabilities. It also introduces matrix weights to encode important hierarchical relationships between features of different layers."
Struggle as the Center of Happiness
"All of this depends on people believing themselves to be in a struggle. It used to be a struggle to survive, then it was a struggle to do well in society, and soon it'll be to discover. But we cannot let ourselves be convinced that struggle is bad, or that the goal is to remove it completely." I agree that, as long as we don't change the way our psychology works, we'll have to respect some of the rules imposed by the way evolution shaped our psychology. And I agree that one of those rules could be that we need to somehow struggle to be happy. But if we start not only to understand our brains, but to artificially change/enhance them, I don't see why we still would have to respect those rules.
Understanding Hinton's Capsule Networks. Part I: Intuition.
"Internal data representation of a convolutional neural network does not take into account important spacial hierarchies between simple and complex objects. [...] [T]he key idea is that representation of objects in the brain does not depend on view angle. [...] Current implementations are much slower than other modern deep learning models. Time will show if capsule networks can be trained quickly and efficiently."
What Boredom Does to You The science of the wandering mind.
"[W]hen our minds wander, we activate a part of our brain called the "default mode network". [...] People who are bored think more creatively. [...] It feels like we are wasting time when we wait for the longest red light in the world to turn green, but the brain is putting ideas and events into perspective. [...] Is mind-wandering productive or self-defeating? Well, it seems that, like everything else in life, daydreaming is complicated. [...] The study also found that "by contrast, future- and self-related thoughts preceded improvements of mood, even when current thought content was negative." [...] Mind-wandering is not unlike our smartphones, where you can easily have too much of a good thing. [...] You could say that boredom is an incubator lab for brilliance. It's the messy, uncomfortable, confusing, frustrating place one has to occupy for a while before finally coming up with the winning equation or formula."
Software 2.0
I agree with a lot of things in this article. Neural networks / deep learning are a new and exciting way of solving problems. But, like quantum computing, you can't solve every problem using them. They're still impressive, though. In particular, the "one model to rule them all" approach is exciting. It looks like a possible way to artificial general intelligence (AGI).
Google's AI Wizard Unveils a New Twist on Neural Networks
I don't understand this "capsule" concept (yet), but the idea that, after all those years, Geoffrey Hinton can still come up with new ideas, that would potentially fix the "big data" problem (i.e. the fact that current approaches in machine learning need a lot of data to work well) is exciting.
Apple at its best
"What is fascinating to consider is just how far might Apple go if it decided to do nothing but hardware and its associated software: if Google Assistant could be the iPhone default, why would any iPhone user even give a second thought to Android?" I'm currently an iPhone user, using a lot of Google apps on iOS (Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Calendar, Drive, Docs, etc.), so this is an intriguing thought. Ten years ago, Apple was way ahead in the game (for smartphones), but it's not the case anymore, and it's also difficult to see how Apple can get as good as Google in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) field.
How Your Sedentary Lifestyle is Killing You Desk jobs got us tied to our chairs all day long. Sitting down too much and having very less activity is doing more harm to your body than you can possibly imagine.
So sitting at your desk: 1) "makes you fat" 2) "increases your chances of having a heart attack" 3) "reduces your brain's performance". The solution? Move/exercise as much as possible.
Cognitive Biases in Programming
Hyperbolic discounting: "Going for an immediate payoff instead of a delayed larger one". IKEA effect: "Overvaluing your own solutions to a problem, and thus in contrast undervalue other solutions". Premature optimization: "Optimizing before you know that you need to". Planning fallacy: "Optimistically underestimating the time required to complete a task". Recency bias: "Placing higher value on recent events than ones that occurred further in the past".
How social media endangers knowledge
"That trend toward rationality and enlightenment was endangered long before the advent of the Internet. As Neil Postman noted in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, the rise of television introduced not just a new medium but a new discourse: a gradual shift from a typographic culture to a photographic one, which in turn meant a shift from rationality to emotions, exposition to entertainment. [...] For more than a decade, the web created an alternative space that threatened television's grip on society. Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television's values."
Simple Ways to Be Better at Remembering
"Everything is available through a Google search almost instantaneously [...] this instant-fact setup clouds our judgment on what information to filter and store. [...] As simple as it sounds, the repetition of tasks — reading, or saying words over and over — continues to be the best method for transforming short-term memories into long-term ones. [...] Spaced repetition might be the best way. [...] Memory and focus go hand-in-hand. [...] Stop engaging in useless tasks like surfing the web and just tackle whatever it is you need to work on. Then watch your focus soar and your memory improve. [...] A simple way around that is to set reminders. [...] A lot of people are overconfident that they can handle distractions."
What you read matters more than you might think
Deep reading (books, etc.) is not the same as light reading (short blog posts, etc.). "Deep reading activates our brain's centers for speech, vision, and hearing, all of which work together to help us speak, read, and write. [...] When volunteers read their favorite poems, areas of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than "reading areas," indicating that reading poems you love is the kind of recollection that evokes strong emotions—and strong emotions are always good for creative writing. [...] [T]hese results showed that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances theory of mind, and, more broadly, that theory of mind may be influenced greater by engagement with true works of art. [...] Time spent watching television is almost always pointless."
Introduction to Effective Altruism
"While it's understandable that people want to make a difference where they can see the effects of their donations, the result is that money goes to people who are already well-off by global standards, rather than to those who need it the most. [...] Most people on reflection would agree that, if we want to improve people's lives, then it shouldn't matter what's causing their suffering — the important thing is that they're suffering." Effective altruism is one of the most exciting ideas I've encountered these last few years. It has changed the way I see things. I'm not done thinking about it, of course. It's an ongoing process.
The sugar conspiracy In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world's top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?
"Nutrition scientists are angry with the press for distorting their findings, politicians for failing to heed them, and the rest of us for overeating and under-exercising. In short, everyone – business, media, politicians, consumers – is to blame. Everyone, that is, except scientists. [...] These sharp fluctuations in Yudkin's stock have had little to do with the scientific method, and a lot to do with the unscientific way in which the field of nutrition has conducted itself over the years. [...] [S]ugar is processed in the liver, where it turns to fat, before entering the bloodstream. [...] [W]hile humans have always been carnivorous, carbohydrates only became a major component of their diet 10,000 years ago, with the advent of mass agriculture. Sugar – a pure carbohydrate, with all fibre and nutrition stripped out – has been part of western diets for just 300 years; in evolutionary terms, it is as if we have, just this second, taken our first dose of it. [...] This makes scientific inquiry prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting to error. [...] [I]t is a biological error to confuse what a person puts in their mouth with what it becomes after it is swallowed. [...] France, the country with the highest intake of saturated fat, has the lowest rate of heart disease. [...] The circular logic is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom. [...] By opening the gates of publishing to all, the internet has flattened hierarchies everywhere they exist. [...] The nutritional establishment has proved itself, over the years, skilled at ad hominem takedowns."
Europe to America: Your love of air-conditioning is stupid
I don't have much to add to the title of this article. I don't like heat, but extreme air-conditioning, as encountered in the US, is completely unreasonable.
The e-mail Larry Page should have written to James Damore Last week this newspaper said Alphabet's boss should write a "detailed, ringing rebuttal" of a viral anti-diversity memo sent at Google. Here is how we imagine it
"Software engineering requires a broad mix of skills involving both "people" and "things". Teamwork, in particular, is important—the stereotypical image of the geek working alone in his basement is far from reality. [...] Did you know that car seats and office desks are the wrong proportions for most women, or that many drugs in widespread use were only ever tested on men?" A complex and sensitive topic. I'm still not sure what to think about the "Google memo". I have not read it. This article sounds reasonable, so I'm ready to conclude that the memo had a lot of good and bad things in it. Should his author have been fired? I'm not so sure about it.
An MIT Scientist Claims That This Pill Is the Fountain of Youth Leonard Guarente is certain he's succeeded where doctors (and quacks) before him have failed. His pill will either extend lives or tarnish his career.
"Scientists have recognized since the 1930s that calorie-restricted diets extend life in mammals (we evolved, the thinking goes, to withstand periods of famine, downshifting our metabolism in order to defer reproduction until we were again in a time of plenty). [...] [T]he two active compounds in Basis, pterostilbene and NR, are natural (occurring in blueberries and milk, respectively) and have long been available separately as supplements. [...] Besides Basis, he takes a low-dose statin, aspirin, and vitamin D; weighs himself every day; eats a mostly Mediterranean diet (red wine included); and does a mix of cardio (on the elliptical machine, ever since his knees wore out and he had to stop running) and strength training three days a week. [...] [Eric Marcotulli] also practices intermittent fasting, which means he consumes no calories during the 18 hours between 6 p.m. and noon."
After exploring Saturn, Cassini faces a fiery end So long, and thanks for the postcards
"The suicide mission was chosen for two reasons. One was that it would provide a great deal of valuable science. The other was that it would remove the risk that the probe might, in the distant future, collide with one of Saturn's moons, potentially contaminating it with hardy microbes that might have survived the journey from Earth. [...] When the probe analysed the plumes in 2008 it found traces of relatively complicated organic molecules that might serve as precursors to life. More recently, in April, it discovered traces of hydrogen in Enceladus's plumes. [...] Besides Titan, only Mars and Earth have similar features. And while Mars's rivers and lakes have been dry for hundreds of millions of years, Titan's are still wet today."
The amazing fertility of the older mind It's never too late to learn – if you go about it in the right way.
So, yes, it's apparently never too late to learn new things, even if our abilities go down with age. "[T]he brain boost of taking up a new hobby may trump so-called "brain training" computer games and apps, with study after study finding that these programs fail to bring about meaningful benefits in real life."
The power of a 'not-to-do' list Rather than setting goals you can achieve, look for mistakes you'd like to avoid.
I already have a not-to-do list, but for tasks/projects I've decided not to do but that I wanted to do at some point. It's a kind of "trash log". The idea of a list of things I don't want to do in the future is intriguing. It might take the form of a checklist at the top of my to-do lists, i.e. a list of filters my tasks/projects have to pass before being added to my to-do lists.
Spend More Time Alone
"The right way to define "solitude" is as a subjective state in which you're isolated from input from other minds. [...] Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain."
Why you should stop using Git rebase
I'm a fan of git rebase and tend to avoid git merge, so this article gave me something to think about. I'm still not convinced. I guess it depends on the team/project and the processes.
Why Futurist Ray Kurzweil Isn't Worried About Technology Stealing Your Job Innovation will do more good than harm, he says.
I've read five of Ray Kurzweil's books so far, so I think I'm familiar with his point of view. He has always been very positive about technology, but I think his vision here is incomplete: "don't worry, for every job we eliminate, we're going to create more jobs at the top of the skill ladder". This sounds like the standard "there will always be jobs for humans" we hear a lot when talking about automation and artificial intelligence. The problem is that this idea is just wrong. At least if humans and machines don't merge together. And I guess for this idea to make sense coming from Kurzweil, this is probably what he has in mind: human-machine merging. So, yes, there will be jobs for humans in the future, if humans become more intelligent/skilled by merging with computers. Otherwise, we will be left in the dust.
7 Books That Will Change How You See The World
1) Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert 2) On The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche 3) Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb 4) The True Believer by Eric Hoffer 5) Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud 6) The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil 7) The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. I've read 1) and 6) so far. I agree that they're good books.
How to Pick Your Life Partner – Part 2
"This isn't to say people shouldn't work on self-improvement, but when it comes to a life partnership, the healthy attitude is, "Every person comes with a set of flaws, these are my partner's, and they're part of the package I knowingly chose to spend my life with." [...] Relationships are hard. Expecting a strong relationship without treating it like a rigorous part-time job is like expecting to have a great career without putting in any effort."
How to Pick Your Life Partner – Part 1
"When you choose a life partner, you're choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you'll hear about 18,000 times. [...] But if someone went to school to learn about how to pick a life partner and take part in a healthy relationship, if they charted out a detailed plan of action to find one, and if they kept their progress organized rigorously in a spreadsheet, society says they're A) an over-rational robot, B) way too concerned about this, and C) a huge weirdo. No, when it comes to dating, society frowns upon thinking too much about it, instead opting for things like relying on fate, going with your gut, and hoping for the best. [...] [S]ociety frowns much more upon a 37-year-old single person than it does an unhappily married 37-year-old with two children. It makes no sense."
How to Live More Wisely Around Our Phones
I realized only at the end of the "article" (which I added to Instapaper from Facebook) that it's part of The Book of Life, which is sponsored by The School of Life. So I guess the whole point of this article is to show the limits of our smartphones and to motivate us to be more mindful, more focused, more aware that our time is limited, more at ease with being alone, less afraid of being bored. We need to pay more attention. It's refreshing, because it doesn't demonize our phones. It just starts from what they are: "The dark truth is that it's become very hard to find anyone (and certainly anything) more interesting than one's smartphone." But current phones are largely imperfect: "We are still waiting for phones that will help us properly address the greatest struggles of our lives, the ones at the summit of Abraham Maslow's famous pyramid." An example of limitation mentioned in the article: "But while our phones can record the moment they can't - as yet - bring our submerged reactions to the surface. They can tell us what time the museum opens but not why we - uniquely, we - should go there."
Intelligence and the DNA Revolution Scientists identify 22 genes associated with intelligence
Just a short report on the recent discovery that "[of] the over 12 million SNPs analyzed, 336 correlated significantly with intelligence, implicating 22 different genes." And the result is quite strong: "As a check on the replicability of their results, the scientists then tested for correlations between the 336 SNPs and level of education—a variable known to be strongly correlated with intelligence—in an independent sample of nearly 200,000 people who had previously undergone DNA testing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the SNPs correlated in the same direction with education as they did with intelligence." The article includes the usual, tactful reminder: "Of course, intelligence is not solely the product of DNA—and no scientist studying intelligence thinks otherwise." We should get more results like this in the future, thanks to genome-wide association studies (GWAS).
How to Recognize Burnout Before You're Burned Out
I read this article because burnout seems to be a problem in the "software development / Hacker News" community. I don't know if I'm at risk, but, without knowing it, I'm apparently already doing some things to avoid burnout (breathing exercises / meditation, frequent breaks, exercising, humor, etc.).
Aging Parents With Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don't Want It
This is a topic of high interest to me, because I have accumulated a lot of stuff myself, including at my parents' house, that I am now slowly throwing away, selling, recycling, scanning, etc. My goal is to have as little physical possessions as possible. I guess my parents kind of know that I'm not interested in their stuff and that they should do something about it while they're still alive, but we haven't discussed this seriously yet.
Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity
To "increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity", we need to sleep well at night, take power naps (10 minutes is enough), take frequent small breaks at work, meditate regularly (10-20 minutes a day is enough), get out to nature from time to time, and take vacations. There are more and more studies proving that it's beneficial. Basically, we have to stop trying to be busy at all times (e.g. by using our smartphones, etc.).
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they're on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
First: Betteridge's law of headlines. "There is compelling evidence that the devices we've placed in young people's hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy. [...] 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. [...] Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. [...] Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation. [...] Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes. [...] In my conversations with teens, I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone." So, basically, we have to learn how to use smartphones with moderation and we have to find ways to teach our children how to use them that way. It's a difficult problem, but there is hope.
Why I'm not a big fan of Scrum
I'm not either. As a consultant, I had to work in a team who used Scrum (the whole process, with the daily meetings and all the other meetings). For a future job, a company/team using Scrum would definitely be a negative point for me. "Nowadays devs are communicating on all kinds of channels (email, Slack, Github/Gitlab, ticketing system) and tracking detailed progress on some of these. What's the point in having them stand around for another ten minutes to repeat a few standard sentences? [...] If neither the behavior nor performance change, why even bother with refactoring? [...] Claiming that Scrum is generic is admitting that it is not cut for the specific nature of software development. [...] To make it short, my dream workflow would combine offline working, continuous analysis of the sources of complexity and errors, and detailed, open-ended discussion on the path on which the team is approaching the goal (or not). The correct way of building software should align the understanding that devs have of the problem and the complexity involved with the aims of the other parts of the company."
A Guide To Intermittent Fasting This intermittent fasting guide shows you how to lose weight, improve your brain health and live a long and healthy life.
Fasting / intermittent fasting never passed my "BS filter", until I read this article. "It gives you more energy, reduces body fat, helps with brain function, fights off diseases and increases your chances of living a long and healthy life." This really sounds too good to be true. "Breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day." This is hard for me to accept, but I don't see why it wouldn't be true. The benefits exposed in the article: 1) "It supports with hormone regulation and lowers diabetes II risk" 2) "It helps with calorie restriction" 3) "It helps you lose weight and body fat" 4) "It reduces inflammation" 5) "It helps your cells clean and repair themselves" 6) "It helps the brain create new neurons and protects against brain damage" 7) "It regenerates the immune system". I will try the "17/18hr fast" used by the article's author the next few weeks (once a week).
Michael Bland shares his incredible stories of working with Prince, Soul Asylum, Westerberg and more
Michael Bland is one of my favorite Prince drummers. I was a bit disappointed that he was not part of the New Power Generation tour this year. He obviously has a lot of fun anecdotes to tell. "I remember one of the last conversations I had with Prince, he was talking about how he had dinner with Elton John and they were talking about how there's entirely too much music being made on this planet right now." Too much music is being made. I don't agree with Prince about many things, but this is probably something I could agree with.
NASA Destroyed Hundreds of Mystery Tapes Found in a Dead Man's Basement More than 300 data reels, some from Apollo-Era missions, were discovered in a deceased Pennsylvania man's basement, FOIA documents reveal.
"Salvaging their data would've been "very costly," according to one NASA archivist who examined the artifacts. [...] During the 1970s and 1980s, surplussed items were frequently auctioned off by NASA. Technology became obsolete, funding dried up, or there just wasn't enough space. Some items survive today in private collections; others were repurposed as scrap. Other times, employees and contractors took materials that could have otherwise been destroyed. [...] As one NASA archivist put it: "It really feels like archaeology to me."" Yes, archiving costs a lot of money and is a lot of work. This is a bit sad to think that a lot of data (including images and videos) have been lost by NASA.
Blockchain: the revolution we're not ready for
"Blockchain is going to upend entire societies. It's going to enable new kinds of governance systems that were before only the daydreams of utopians and philosophers." I don't understand a lot about blockchains, at the moment, but there sure are a lot of people very excited about the concept!
On Marrying the Wrong Person
"A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren't many of these on the planet), it's one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities." The reasons exposed in the article: 1) "We don't understand ourselves" 2) "We don't understand other people" 3) "We aren't used to being happy" 4) "Being single is so awful" 5) "Instinct has too much prestige" 6) "We don't go to Schools of Love" 7) "We want to freeze happiness" 8) "We believe we are special" 9) "We want to stop thinking about Love". So, yes, marriage is not something to take lightly. It's also a lot of work after the wedding.
How Aging Research Is Changing Our Lives An interview with Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
"First, if you hear the word immortality, just run. [...] One thing to realize about the inequality is that the strongest risk factor for short lifespan is your socioeconomic status. Poverty is the other big risk factor for short lifespan. [...] The thing that you and I can do today is nutrition and exercise. Exercise is an incredible anti-aging medicine. [...] [M]edicine will be more preventative than curative. People talk about healthcare, but in essence what we have right now is not healthcare. It's sick care. [...] I am an avid exerciser and I try to do episodic fasting. I don't know if it will make me live longer, but it certainly makes me feel better."
We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment
"When making plans, they reported higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress than at other times, presumably because planning turns a chaotic mass of concerns into an organized sequence. [...] While most people tend to be optimistic, those suffering from depression and anxiety have a bleak view of the future — and that in fact seems to be the chief cause of their problems, not their past traumas nor their view of the present. [...] The brain's long-term memory has often been compared to an archive, but that's not its primary purpose. Instead of faithfully recording the past, it keeps rewriting history. [...] Coaching of eyewitnesses can cause people to reconstruct their memory so that no trace of the original is left. [...] To exploit the past, we metabolize it by extracting and recombining relevant information to fit novel situations. [...] The main purpose of emotions is to guide future behavior and moral judgments, according to researchers in a new field called prospective psychology. Emotions enable you to empathize with others by predicting their reactions." So, to oversimplify: to be happy, be optimistic.
The Four Desires Driving All Human Behavior: Bertrand Russell's Magnificent Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
The four desires: 1) acquisitiveness ("the wish to possess as much as possible of goods, or the title to goods") 2) rivalry 3) vanity 4) love of power. But love of power can also be a positive force. Secondary desires: 1) love of excitement (to escape boredom) 2) the need for physical activity (which is difficult to satisfy given the "sedentary nature of modern life").
The more I think about it, the less I'm sure where I stand. A couple of years ago, I would have said I'm a hard determinist. Now, I'm not sure whether I'm an "illusionist" or a semicompatibilist. What I like about semicompatibilism is that it doesn't pretend free will and moral responsability are necessarily linked.
41 — Seek endarkenment Yearly review of my life
I also do a yearly review of my life. Buster Benson is a huge inspiration for some of the things I'm doing. An interesting, not-so-personal idea: "Instead of spending hours every day reading about the latest terrible thing Trump has done, let's instead start thinking about how we begin to include the people who have had the same salary for 20 years, even while everything has gotten more expensive and more inaccessible."
How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off
"You can't program a child to become creative. Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you'll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours." It doesn't sound too surprising.
Popular People Live Longer
As the titles says, popular people seem to live longer. There's an evolutionary explanation for that: "Millenniums ago, individuals who had no peers to protect them were vulnerable to injury or attack. Those whose bodies preemptively activated a "pro-inflammatory" response that prepared them to heal from any impending wounds were the most likely to survive." The moral of the story is that you should aim for likability, not status.
Atheism More Common Than Assumed, But It's Complicated Summary: New research suggests atheists may represent between 20-35 percent of the US popluation. Findings challenge prevailing theories that atheism is rare in the population.
This reminds me of studies in experimental philosophy trying to determine if people believe in free will or not. Most people have probably never really thought about the question, so the results should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the idea that there are more atheists than people willing to admit, even anonymously, that they do not believe in God seems reasonable.
For an Inclusive Culture, Try Working Less
Yet another article about working less. Am I biased? :) Anyway, this time, it's an article about how a clear limit between work and personal life can lead to a more diverse workplace. "When our office culture is focused on business rather than socializing, we reduce the number of ways in which we all have to be the same. When we do that, we allow diversity to flourish." An intriguing idea. This is the first time I read about it.
This Morning Routine will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week
I read a vaguely similar article two weeks ago: "The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed". I'm already convinced that mornings are important. That's when I exercise, meditate, and have a balanced breakfast. Now the idea in the article is that mornings are important because that's when you're supposed to be more productive, so I guess that means I shouldn't exercise before going to work. But that's when I'm most motivated to do it. One thing I could change is the order of my morning routine, which is currently: exercise, breakfast, and meditation. Apparently, you're not supposed to exercise on an empty stomach. So maybe I should eat a bit of my breakfast, meditate, exercise, and then eat the rest of my breakfast?
Let's Talk About Self-Driving Cars Overview of a presentation by Andreessen Horowitz on the future of autonomous vehicles
This article is based on the "16 Questions About Self-Driving Cars" video by Frank Chen, which I had already seen, so I didn't learn much. I can't wait for this particular change, which is very likely, I think: "This will cause the car industry to look more like an airline industry, where you don't necessarily pick which plane you would like to fly on but dedicate your money to a fleet provider — airline company." I'm not convinced by the fact that commutes will become more interesting, though. Even if I'm not driving, there aren't many things I can do in a car or bus. I can't really read or work on a laptop without getting sick. I can't really sleep (I'm a light sleeper, so I cannot even sleep on a plane, for example). So I would have to do what I'm already doing, i.e. listening to podcasts. Unless driverless cars can someday drive in such a way that I won't get sick (which could be possible, I guess).
The hard truths of navigating ageism in IT In an industry that favors youth over experience, the best defense against age discrimination may be avoiding becoming a victim in the first place
Nothing really new here. A couple of good advices. "Many employers believe that older workers are reluctant to try new technologies [...] Because age discrimination is difficult to prove in a lawsuit, the best defense might be to do everything you can to avoid becoming a victim, McCann says. That includes being a lifelong learner and staying on top of developments in your field at every stage of your career, and seeking out training at your workplace and on your own. [...] It's probably a good idea to also delete references to older technologies that are no longer in use. [...] Also be ready for questions such as whether you are overqualified for the position or if you have difficulty dealing with a younger or less experienced supervisor".
How to Sleep Should you drink more coffee? Should you take melatonin? Can you train yourself to need less sleep? A physician's guide to sleep in a stressful age.
"Try to keep a somewhat constant bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends. Keep caffeine use moderate, even if you don't feel like a nighttime coffee affects you. The same goes for nightcaps. (Not necessarily a joyless suggestion—maybe you can meet a friend for a beer at 4 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.) Use screens judiciously, too. Remember that even on night mode, a phone is shooting light into your brain. Have sex with someone instead. Or, sometimes preferable, read something on paper." So, in summary, there are no miracle solutions.
The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed To realize how outdated the five-day, 40-hour workweek is, you have to know where it came from.
"A lot of knowledge jobs basically never stop, and without structuring time to think and be curious you wind up less efficient during the hours that are devoted to sitting at your desk cranking out work." As a software engineer, I'm convinced that we work too much (me: about 40 hours per week, 8 hours per day). But I'm also lazy, so I don't know what the optimal number of hours per day or week is, from a creativity standpoint. To be perfectly honest, my ideal workweek would probably be close to 20-40% of what it is right now. I can't wait for the Singularity!
What Mirrors Tell Us About Animal Minds ... including our own.
"It's a bit about what animals see reflected in the mirror. But it's also about what we see of ourselves reflected in animals." The mirror test is an imperfect one, because we have to make at least some assumptions about what goes on in the animal's mind to know what to expect from the test.
Why Stoicism is one of the best mind-hacks ever devised Indifference is a power - As legions of warriors and prisoners can attest, Stoicism is not grim resolve but a way to wrest happiness from adversity
"Any misfortune 'that lies outside the sphere of choice' should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it. This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity." This sounds reasonable, but easier said than done. "By keeping the very worst that can happen in our heads constantly, the Stoics tell us, we immunise ourselves from the dangers of too much so-called 'positive thinking', a product of the mind that believes a realistic accounting of the world can lead only to despair." That's something I do a lot ("keeping the very worst that can happen in our heads"). I don't know it that works. "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy­" is a book I bought a couple of years ago. I haven't read it yet. I probably should.
Don't Let Facebook Make You Miserable
"It is now official. Scholars have analyzed the data and confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Social media is making us miserable." After a 2-year break, I started using Facebook again. It's still a mess. You can't really have lists like you can on Twitter. So I still can't use Facebook like I would like to use it. And it's frustrating. The result is that I sometimes don't check my Facebook feed for days. It's not a bad thing, of course. But I still miss the good content on Facebook (the statuses where people don't brag too much about how their life is fantastic, that is).
Reading Is Forgetting
This is something that happens not only for books, but also for articles, movies, podcasts, etc. I used to rationalize this by saying that, even if we forget most of what we read or hear, it still subconsciously changes us and how we think. But this is not enough. And I don't think the solution is to keep rereading the same 5-10 books (although it's still a good idea to reread books we loved). I'm convinced there are way too many good books for that idea to make sense. The solution is to change the way we read articles/books, listen to podcasts, etc. My current attempt at becoming better at this, in 2017, is to never read an article or a book, never listen to a podcast, etc. without having at least a few words or sentences to write about them. I already clearly see an effect on the way I listen to podcasts. I'm not sure about books yet.
Being A Developer After 40 This is the talk I have given at App Builders Switzerland on April 25th, 2016.
I'm almost 40, so this is a topic I'm highly interested in. A few pieces of advice that sound reasonable: forget the hype, keep on learning, send the elevator down / teach, fight complexity, etc. I don't know about the rest. "The most important thing to remember is that your age does not matter." It shouldn't matter (at least in a negative way), but, unfortunately, it still does. We have to "fight" (or, rather, educate our managers, our colleagues, etc.) until it doesn't.
Keith Jarrett: A Multitude of Angels
I envy some people's ability to talk about music. I'm passionate about music. I'm deeply moved by it. But I don't really know how to convey my excitement. Anyway, this is a good review. "A Multitude of Angels" is Keith Jarrett's latest album/release (as of today). This is his 80-something-th album and a 4-CD set, which, in itself, is already impressive. This is also an "archival" release of Keith Jarrett's last solo concerts structured around 35-80 uninterrupted sets, recorded in 1996. To be honest, I have only listened to this album a couple of times. I really need to listen to it again (and repeatedly). But you don't listen to this type of music like you listen to Britney Spears' "Toxic".
Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying
"Mr. Trump and his allies in the right media have already turned the term "fake news" against its critics, essentially draining it of any meaning." This is a bit like the word "racist": it has lost almost all meaning, because it's used in too many contexts (mainly to imply a discrimination against religions, cultures, nationalities, etc.). "The real danger is that, inundated with "alternative facts," many voters will simply shrug, asking, "What is truth?" — and not wait for an answer." This is worrying. All relativisms are. Sometimes this is done in the name of tolerance ("all opinions have some value"), but here this is way more pernicious.
The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews
It's somewhat reassuring to know that researchers are thinking about better ways to conduct job interviews and that solutions exist. Selfishly I guess I'm not that concerned anyway, since in my field (software engineering / computer science), we tend to use technical interviews as a way to predict the performance of a candidate, and they're probably less useless than unstructured interviews.
Pourquoi l'humanité est-elle carnivore? Les humains ne tuent pas pour manger de la viande mais mangent de la viande pour tuer: telle est la thèse renversante de la philosophe Florence Burgat
La question est clairement posée : "Les solutions alternatives à l'alimentation carnée sont en effet aujourd'hui nombreuses et connues; et si l'on considère en outre que la famine est largement entretenue par la mobilisation des terres et autres ressources nécessaires à l'élevage, la question n'en devient que plus aiguë: pourquoi diable l'humanité est-elle carnivore?" Une fois de plus, je suis d'accord avec la conclusion du livre dont il est question : "l'auteure montre comment l'humanité pourrait à la fois maintenir la place de la viande dans son imaginaire, et se passer des meurtres de masse en développant les simili-carnés végétaux (connus dès le Xe siècle en Chine), ou la viande in vitro produite en laboratoire."
Smartphones are the New Cigarettes
I'm constantly trying to be more focused, by meditating, having clear to-do lists, doing one thing at a time, not using my smartphone "too much" (whatever that means) when I'm with other people, etc. The problem is that even though we can try to make an effort for ourselves, this is not enough: "Their inability to focus interferes with our (already-fragile) ability to focus. The same way second-hand smoke harms the lungs of people around the smoker, smartphones harm the attention and focus of people around the smartphone user." Smartphones are a fantastic tool, but I tend to agree with the author: smartphones are also an annoying problem.
The arrival of artificial intelligence
Humanity has a long story of automating work (logic/mathematics, tools, technology, computers, artificial intelligence, machine learning). "To date automation has displaced blue collar workers; are we prepared for machine learning to displace huge numbers of white collar ones?" How many people will be able to live meaningful lives without work? I find this is a hard question. Again, like in the case of "immortality", I really don't know how we will be able to adapt to those changes.
How Paisley Park's Archives Director is Telling Prince's Story As we approach the one-year anniversary of Prince's death, we talk with Angela Marchese, Paisley Park's head curator, about Prince's vision for a museum, what she's finding, and more.
I'd like to read a similar article about the archiving/inventory work on the audiovisual material found at Paisley Park. I hope they're very serious about this, as I'm far more interested in the music/recordings Prince left behind than his clothes...
Silicon Valley's quest to live forever Can billions of dollars' worth of high-tech research succeed in making death optional?
Some excerpts: "The proposition that we can live forever is obvious. It doesn't violate the laws of physics, so we will achieve it." "It's hard to run a clinical trial on subjects who take eighty years to die." "It's based on the frustration of many successful rich people that life is too short: 'We have all this money, but we only get to live a normal life span.'" I've been interested in this topic for a long time now. People have probably been rationalizing death for millennia (death is unavoidable, death is what makes things important/beautiful, life would be boring without death, death is only the end of our physical life, etc.). The fact is that nobody really wants to die (except very depressed or very ill people). As said in one of the previous excerpts: preventing death doesn't violate the laws of physics, so science will manage to make death optional. One of the questions is when? In 2050? In 2500? With billions of dollars invested in the research, we might see results sooner than expected. Also, how will we manage a population with more and more very old people (200 or 1000 years old)? Will people accept the idea that we should stop making babies? I really don't see how our societies will be able to adapt to such radical changes.
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. A bit disappointing, to say the least. 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. The most intriguing part of the article was the part about the loss of identity that happens when you don't live with other people. This reminds me of the illusion of the self Sam Harris and others are talking about regularly (i.e. when meditating long enough, you're supposed to reach a point where it becomes "obvious" that the self is an illusion, that it doesn't really exist - I've never really experienced this, but I think I know what they mean).
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?