I plan to write a links-with-commentary blog post every Saturday in 2018. Today being the first one. I’ll keep these newsletter style casual, with minimal edits. Hopefully that will increase the chance I’ll post every Saturday this year. Mostly I’ll pull from what I’ve recently shared on twitter.
I’m not sure how many regular blog posts I’ll write in 2018. But more than 2017, which had….zero. My regular posts tend towards longform arguments on the future of tech and society. These take a while since I often do multiple rewrites before getting somewhere. I’m a bit slow. But writing remains the best (only?) way I know to take half formed thoughts and force them to clarity. And it’s a pleasure to share the result with anyone who has similar interests. So dear reader – enjoy! And thank you for your time.
1. Meltdown and Spectre exploits. Newly discovered security flaws impacting most microprocessors. A big deal. New York Times story. One thing that surprised me was how clear and well written the Meltdown paper itself is. And since when did exploits get their own domain? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Anyway. If you know the basic terminology of computer architecture (CPU, registers, cache, interrupts, etc), I’d recommend skimming the meltdown paper, especially the toy example part. It’s clearer than any of the news stories I’ve read.
2. Facebook deleting accounts the Israeli and US governments directs it to. Story. Brought to mind this recent post by Arnold Kling “My prediction is that a main theme of 2018 will be resistance. Not the Trump resistance, but resistance against technology that is increasingly perceived as adversarial.”
3. Dimming of Tabby’s Star. Tabby’s star is the one discovered in 2016 (paper), which had erratically timed dimming. So not from a planet crossing in front of the star, or any other kind of object(s) in a stable and repeating orbit. This made it fun to talk about aliens with very big megastructures. Turns out it’s dust (new paper): “Therefore, our data are inconsistent with dip models that invoke optically thick material, but rather they are in-line with predictions for an occulter consisting primarily of ordinary dust, where much of the material must be optically thin with a size scale <<1um, and may also be consistent with models invoking variations intrinsic to the stellar photosphere.” I think this is still an interesting and cool result, even if expected. The trick is dust blocks blue light more than red. While a solid object blocks them equally. So it’s dust. Phil Plait has a good explainer.
4. President Trump often live tweets Fox. Matthew Gertz spent three months comparing Donald Trump’s tweets with Fox shows, and found the sometimes disjoint nature of his morning tweets are often because “The president is just live-tweeting Fox, particularly the network’s Trump-loving morning show, Fox & Friends.” I’m not sure why I found this surprising, but there you go. Worth reading some of the examples from the article. Related, by Kevin Drum, “I’m Just a Big Ol’ Optimist About the Future of America Under Donald Trump“. Drum is a progressive who writes for Mother Jones. So very anti-Trump. His argument: “Trump is still plenty dangerous. But I don’t really see any kind of fundamental change in the country.” I was surprised Drum didn’t mention what I think is the most persuasive argument for not much happening. Allpresidents create an ever growing backlash. Their approval ratings all drop over time. They lose their ability to get major things done after only a year or two in office. Reagan’s biggest legislative accomplishment was the flattening of the tax system in his first year. Obama passed the ACA/Obamacare early in his second year. I see no reason why this pattern won’t hold for the current president.
5. 11,500 year old DNA from Alaska. Nature paper confirms long standing belief Native Americans walked to America across the land bridge (Beringia) between Asia and Alaska. And spent time during the “Beringian standstill”, roughly 8k years, isolated before splitting into northern/southern branches and peopling the Americas ~15k years ago. Good write up by Ed Yong, also by Jennfier Raff. Most interesting aspect? As Razib Khan pointed out on twitter, no sign of the Australo-Melanesian/Andamanese component we see in native Amazonian Indians today. Hmmm…. Greg Cochran says “Therefore the Southern branch (some of them) very likely picked it up after they left Beringia, also after they split with the northern branch. Which means it was already there before the Amerindians came down from Beringia. Probably in Brazil.” Nice diagram from Ben Potter, one of the co-authors of the paper
6. The Elephant in the Brain. New book by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson on hidden motives in everyday life. My two reactions are: 1) it’s excellent!, and 2) needs waaaay more Boyd & Richerson! I’m almost done with the book, so hope to find time to write a post later in January.