Saturday Links 21-Apr-2018 iPhone X survey, humans at sea, Huang’s law, housing, humans versus megafauna

Here’s my favorite reads from this week, with comments.

1. Apple Customers love iPhone X, except for Siri. Ben Bajarin at Creative Strategies published an ungated version of their iPhone survey, and no surprise people love the new interface. That is, the replacement of the home button with a swipe based interface, and unlock using Face ID. I agree. I also agree Siri remains the weakest aspect of the iPhone. No surprise there either. Has a nice chart summarizing the survey results. link

2. Exponential performance improvements in tech behind machine learning expected for another decade. Termed Huang’s Law (not sure that name will stick), after Moore’s Law, much of machine learning runs on the GPU stack. Exponential performance improvements in that stack should continue for another decade, faster than Moore’s Law. This is an important trend. link

3. Physiological and Genetic Adaptations to Diving in Sea Nomads. Carl Zimmer writes up the new paper in Cell, on the genetic adaptations of the Bajau people. Quote:

As scientists peer deeper into our genes, they are discovering instances of human evolution in just the past few thousand years.

People in Tibet and Ethiopian highlands have adapted to living at high altitudes, for example. Cattle-herding people in East Africa and northern Europe have gained a mutation that helps them digest milk as adults.

On Thursday in the journal Cell, a team of researchers reported a new kind of adaptation — not to air or to food, but to the ocean. A group of sea-dwelling people in Southeast Asia have evolved into better divers.

It turns out the Bajau have large spleens, which helps them dive for longer periods of time. Possibly due to introgression from Denisovans(!). The idea that human evolution can occur on the thousand year time scale is accepted now more than before, due to breakthroughs in genomics and sampling ancient DNA. Greg Cochran puts it this way: “You should expect significant local adaptation in any population that is effectively endogamous and has fallen into a distinct niche for a reasonably long time, say a thousand years or more.” link

4. Land reform bill SB-827 in California dies in committee. This bill failing is bad (in my view), but the fact it even made it to committee is a kind of progress. To that question, Kevin Drum asks why progressives should force cities to get bigger. Matthew Yglesias responds, explaining why. It helps poor people move to rich cities, so they can earn more money. I agree. If you want a visual on how restrictive zoning is impacting cities, this post has some nice maps. In particular this one:

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image source

5. Hominins killed off large mammals. Starting with Homo erectus 1.8M years ago and continuing with modern humans, we’ve been driving the largest mammals to extinction. Paper. From Ed Yong’s writeup:

When hominins like Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans spread through Europe and Asia, the average mass of mammals there halved. When Homo sapiens later entered Australia, the mammals there became 10 times smaller on average. And when they finally entered the Americas, with effective long-range weapons in hand, they downsized the mammals there to an even steeper degree. By around 15,000 years ago, the average mass of North America’s mammals had fallen from 216 pounds to just 17.

This isn’t a new idea, but it’s certainly becoming better argued and documented. Along those lines, also see my post arguing for the super-early Anthronpocene.

6. Kindle should have physical buttons. Craig Mod argues the Kindle device should have physical buttons, taking advantage of it’s dedicated use for reading. If you’re into hardware or software usability, definitely worth a read. link

And that’s all for this week! Thanks for stopping by.

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