📚 Humanities, Aerodynamics & Nobel Endeavours
26 June 2022
Welcome back to the Week That Was series highlighting things from the interwebs which are interesting, noteworthy and/or probably worth your time.
Articles📝, Tweet(s)📱, Videos🎥, Charts 📈 all fair game with or without attendant commentary.
We’re back, after a quick father’s day hiatus
🎨 I Lied
This image was generated by DALL·E 2, the AI system creates realistic images and art from natural language which I initially got a little obsessed with and decided I’d stop posting about.
The reason I decided to post more of it’s outputs again is because I got access to the model myself - having signed up when it was originally announced.
On initial account creation and login you’re met with this simple search engine-y interface and prompted to input detailed inputs.
As you can imagine it’s been a fascinating and extremely fun exploration of the limitations and capability of the system as well as opportunity to generate a whole bunch of imagery that’s right up my alley. I thought I’d share a few examples. Feel free to ping me with any input suggestions you might have (I’m limited to 50 prompts a day… which is plenty. The more descriptive the better)
rocket launching from cape town
afrofuturism style image of an eye embedded in the open palm of an african
portal to another dimension within an eye embedded in the palm of an african, digital art
monkeys in various films - try to guess which ones
Lastly here are some more outputs I got with various inputs that I found interesting (among many dozens of others).
Anyway hope you enjoyed the little DALL E update, I’ve definitely loved the access and my fascination with ML continues to be stoked. Incidentally I’ve also started trialling the new 🖥️🤖GitHub Copilot plugin - Copilot uses the OpenAI Codex to suggest code and entire functions in real-time, right from your editor when programming. I can say without reservation… it’s amazing. Recommended.
Patrick Collison is an Irish billionaire entrepreneur; the co-founder and CEO of Stripe, which he started with his younger brother, John, in 2010 and winner of the 41st Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in 2005 at the age of sixteen.
Any deepdive on the last 2 decades of his life is extraordinary and awe-inspiring. He’s also tremendously thoughtful and erudite - which comes across in many of his interviews. Here’s an example, being a discussion between him, Zuck and Tyler Cowen on “Progress”.
That said here’s a 📝list of advice he maintains on his blog - which he tends to in relation to the previous decade of his own life experience. So this is ideally aimed at the ages of 10-20 year olds - which you could pass onto your own kids, nephews & nieces, youngsters you mentor/teach in your own community etc. E.g.:
- Aim to read a lot.
- Make friends over the internet with people who are great at things you’re interested in. The internet is one of the biggest advantages you have over prior generations. Leverage it.
- Go deep on things. Become an expert.
- Make things. Operating in a space with a lot of uncertainty is a very different experience to learning something.
- Find vivid examples of success in the domains you care about. If you want to become a great scientist, try to find ways to spend time with good (or, ideally, great) scientists in person. Watch YouTube videos of interviews. Follow some on Twitter.
For slightly more age-appropriate advice to my own readership age-brackets (though it could still apply to the previous set), 📝Alexey Guzey’s collected and curated some great resources that are worth perusing at your leisure. He’s organised it into 7 areas - all with links out to some phenomenal sites and individuals:
- What to work on?
- How to actually work on the problem you like?
- Cold emails and twitter
- Where to find funding to work on any of these problems?
- General Advice
- Even more general advice
- More projects to work on
📝What Should You Do with Your Life? Directions and Advice
Lastly I’ve been enjoying Dwarkesh Patel’s musing as well as excellent - albeit highly geeky - podcast interviews. Riffing off NN Taleb who in his Antifragile volume of the Incerto Series advocates for a barbell investment strategy that tries to strike a balance between reward and risk by investing in the two extremes of high-risk and no-risk assets while avoiding middle-of-the-road choices – gives some ideas on how to implement some barbell strategies in everyday life e.g.:
- Instead of reading mid-wit pop-sci books which just offer vague metaphors or irrelevant anecdotes, read books that are either pure fun (fantasy, sci-fi, manga, etc), or actual hardcore science (textbooks and review papers).
- Instead of meditating twenty minutes every day and getting marginally better over time, spend 10 days every year at a meditation retreat making giant leaps towards enlightenment, and just live your life for the other 355.
- Similarly, instead of reading a chapter a day, where you can’t consolidate the points made in the book due to the distractions of everyday life and the drawn out period of absorption, spend two weeks every few months on a reading retreat. You’ll go through a book a day, and you’ll spend your free time thinking about what you read, allowing you connect all the ideas in the books you’re reading
📝🏋🏽♂️Examples of barbell strategies
u/alexmijowastaken initially pointed out these three concentric circles containing 25%, 50% and 75% of the whole world’s population
He subsequently followed it up by indicating the world’s GDP using a similar construct - at least as of 2015.
EEAGLI put together this visual time series representation of how the world population in the largest countries has evolved over the last 3 centuries.
You’re hearing alot about inflation. It’s no doubt having pretty deleterious effects on your current economic situation in any of a number of ways already - and it’s unlikely to improve in the short term.
Johnny Harris tries to do a 6 minute speedrun explanation of exactly what “inflation” is. How do you think he did?
Many take issue with official inflation (or specifically Consumer Price Index) numbers because the real effect they see at the store tends to outstrip what they see reported by central banking agencies.
EEAGLI and Interactive Investor’s Inflation time series visualisation.
After a month-long hiatus,kets, macro, inflation, Russia & Ukraine and much else. Very interesting pod entry.
The good stuff starts from 07:00 ,after all their “why we didn’t release a pod for a month” drama.
🗺️ More Projections
In keeping with a recent theme we’ve had on Map Projections, here’s another go at it with 🗺️Jason Davies’ Map Projection Transitions project - which collates a pretty comprehensive list of current map projections we’ve got and both animates as well as transitions smoothly between them.
📚🎙️ Learning to Love the Humanities
From Tyler Cowen’s show notes on his interview with PMarca:
Like the frontier characters from Deadwood, his favorite TV show, Marc Andreessen has discovered that the real challenge to building in new territory is not in the practicalities of learning a trade, but in developing a savviness for what makes people tick. Without understanding the deep patterns of human behavior, how can you know what to build, or who should build it, or how? For Marc, that means reading deeply in the humanities: “I spent the first 25 years of my life trying to understand how machines work,” Marc says. “Then I spent the second 25 years, so far, trying to figure out how people work. It turns out people are a lot more complicated.” Marc joined Tyler to discuss his ever-growing appreciation for the humanities and more, including why he didn’t go to a better school, his contrarian take on Robert Heinlein, how Tom Wolfe helped Marc understand his own archetype, who he’d choose to be in Renaissance Florence, which books he’s reread the most, Twitter as an X-ray machine on public figures, where in the past he’d most like to time-travel, his favorite tech product that no longer exists, whether Web will improve podcasting, the civilization-level changes made possible by remote work, Peter Thiel’s secret to attracting talent, which data he thinks would be most helpful for finding good founders, how he’d organize his own bookstore, the kinds of people he admires most, and why Deadwood is equal to Shakespeare.
Full transcript here: 📝Marc Andreessen on Learning to Love the Humanities
Video here: 📹Tyler & Marc
Aaron Levie highlighted some startup advice from Marc a decade and a half ago.
Per Ryan Burge - Gen Z Religiosity in the US.
- R: 67% -> 66%
- D: 48% -> 30%
- R: 60% -> 59%
- D: 45% -> 34%
- R: 55% -> 46%
- D: 37% -> 29%
- R: 54% -> 48%
- D: 27% -> 23%
- R: 46% in 2021
- D: 18% in 2021
🎲🎱 Likelihood of Likelihood
If probability as such is hard enough to understand, degrees of it are impossible to communicate in ordinary speech. If you say “more often than not”, most of your listeners will take you to mean “about 60% of the time”. But if you call something a “serious possibility”, this may be understood as anything from a 20% to an 80% likelihood. As for a “slam dunk”, this may not be understood at all
📝If You Say Something Is “Likely,” How Likely Do People Think It Is?
📝🖥️ On Computers
Wendell Berry first challenged the idea that our advanced technological age is a good thing when he penned “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” in the late 1980s. Here is the PDF of that essay.
📝Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer
Car manufacturer Tatra explaining aerodynamics (1934) in a simple way for anyone to understand.
₿🚦 Crypto Traffic Jams
The crypto crash rivals both the internet bubble burst and the Great Financial Crisis according to Bank of America.
Over and above the correlation with the general risk off liquidity dry-up event currently repricing markets across the board - we’re definitely seeing bubbles bursting, unsustainable projects failing and the far end of the risk curve collapsing; flushing out numerous bad actors and the extremes of gambling that had characterised the tailend of the bull-market. This probably isn’t a terrible thing and per the last crypto-winter, presumably more experimentation and another step-change in maturity will follow the historic rout.
Per Azeem Azhar:
Of course, once the froth in a market clears, we can see where the real value might lie. The Bank of International Settlements annual report contains a great chapter on the Future of the Monetary system describing a “burst of creative innovation is underway in money and payments.” It’s a good read. One of my favourite charts is below. It shows a great analysis of network congestion on Ethereum and how gas fees asymptote under load. And to the right, the growing fragmentation of Layer 1 blockchains. (Spot the disappearance of Terra).
The key takeaways (somewhat predictable in terms of the CBDC angle of course):
- A burst of creative innovation is under way in money and payments, opening up vistas of a future digital monetary system that adapts continuously to serve the public interest.
- Structural flaws make the crypto universe unsuitable as the basis for a monetary system: it lacks a stable nominal anchor, while limits to its scalability result in fragmentation. Contrary to the decentralisation narrative, crypto often relies on unregulated intermediaries that pose financial risks.
- A system grounded in central bank money offers a sounder basis for innovation, ensuring that services are stable and interoperable, domestically and across borders. Such a system can sustain a virtuous circle of trust and adaptability through network effects.
- New capabilities such as programmability, composability and tokenisation are not the preserve of crypto, but can instead be built on top of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), fast payment systems and associated data architectures.
The BIS paper: 📚The future monetary system
🥇💬 Nobel Endeavours
Per 📝The Fence:
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman once said ‘If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.’ As people who’ve never professed to understand quantum mechanics, The Fence find this statement quite presumptuous, but decided we’d ask some of the world’s biggest boffins how much they do or don’t know about their jobs, life and everything else besides.
A couple of examples:
Prof. David Card (economics, 2021)
Many things in the labour market are very hard to understand. For example, I find it very hard to understand whether people stay on their current job because they are uninformed (or misinformed) about other jobs, or because their current job is the best of all possible jobs, or because they are just too tired (or scared) to look for something else.
Prof. Angus Deaton (economics, 2015)
For me, macroeconomics is like quantum mechanics. Though it is not just me. It changes shape all of the time, and I have done economics long enough to see what is true – and what is not true – change places over and over again. Slightly differently, there is an idea in statistics, used also in economics, called ‘regression to the mean’. Ask any economist or statistician if they understand it, and they will all say yes, of course. But the great statistician David Freedman used to say of testifying in court that whoever has to explain ‘regression to the mean’ to the judge has thereby lost the case. As an example, suppose poorer countries always grow faster than richer countries. So their income must get closer together over time? No, not necessarily. That is an example of ‘regression to the mean’ sowing confusion.
Prof. Anthony Leggett (physics, 2003)
Well, I missed out on standard high-school physics, so have always been a bit confused about simple things like why the noise from a kettle stops as the water nears boiling.
Prof. David Macmillan (chemistry, 2021)
Honestly, I couldn’t understand theoretical chemistry if my life depended on it.
Prof. Frances Arnold (chemistry, 2018)
I’ve never fully grasped how enzymes do what they do. If you understand it, please explain it to me.
Prof. Barry Barish (physics, 2017)
Black holes. They existed as a mathematical concept for 100 years, and have now been observed and even imaged. But, why do they exist? Is it just because they can exist?
🖥️⚛️ The Map of Quantum Computing
Dominic Walliman’s Map of Quantum Computing - an overview of the entire field of quantum computing: how they work, why they are exciting, the applications of them and the different models and approaches to building them.
He also has a video walking through the elements of the map as an explainer.
The End Of Innocence (侘寂), Lazaro, Digital, 2022
💬 Deep Cuts
“Gods, whether of Progress or the Old Testament, ghosts of saintly, or revolutionary, ancestors, abstracted moral imperatives, ideals cut wholly off from mere earth and mankind, utopias beckoning from the marshes of their never-never-land—these, and not the facts of social life together with probable generalizations based on those facts, exercise the final controls over arguments and conclusions. Political analysis becomes, like other dreams, the expression of human wish or the admission of practical failure.” ― James Burnham, The Machiavellians
…just finished reading this. Pretty epic political sciense treatise
🖥️✨ One More Thing
I want a full textbook of computer concepts analogized to magic like this pic.twitter.com/7Zk7vy8EQn— Kelly Shortridge (@swagitda_) May 27, 2022
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a1f18fb @ 2022-06-27