On ‘Raising My Child in a Doomed World’

Roy Scranton excerpted this piece from his new book.

I am a left-leaning academic, concerned about climate change, and I just had my own baby daughter three months ago — so you would think this piece would resonate with me.

But it doesn’t.

Instead, I’m annoyed to read yet another confused op-ed claiming “individual choices aren’t enough” and the solution is simply to “be kind to one another and fight for the future”.

One the one hand, the author writes:

“The main problem […] isn’t with the ideas of teaching thrift, flying less or going vegetarian, […] but rather with the […] idea that we can save the world through individual consumer choices. We cannot.”

But, on the other hand:

“All I can do is teach her […] how to be kind and how to live within the limits of nature’s grace. […] But I also need to teach her to fight for what’s right, because none of us is in this alone.”

Roy, your daughter (and my daughter!) will need to be revolutionaries, not kind, ascetic liberals who love nature and hike on weekends and “fight” by donating to the Sierra Club.

They will need to vote, to be scientists, entrepreneurs, and politicians, to conspire and write and shape the public discourse, to impel others to action, and to cross cultural divides. They will need to set policy and use the power of government — the major mechanism we have for compelling society-wide behavior change. They will need to invent new ways to make and distribute energy. They will need to create new economic tools to fund and incentivize large-scale climate change mitigation projects.

They will need to do all these things if there is any hope of reversing what will surely be decades more climate change by the time they are adults.

Roy, you must do much more than just “teach her how to care.” I really hope your book has more to say about how you plan to teach your daughter to “fight for what’s right.”

‘The Partial Control Fallacy’

Josh Koppel, on his blog Path-Sensitive:

This, I dub the Partial Control Fallacy. It’s where, if there’s some outcome you want, and you only control a couple factors that affect that outcome, you decide how much to try to improve those factors as if you were actually improving the entire outcome. It’s closely connected to the 80/20 principle: it’s when you only have control over that last 20%, but you pretend it’s the whole thing and work on it accordingly. It’s when the 80/20 principle would suggest doing nothing at all.

It’s very tempting to do “whatever you can” to control the outcome of some process where you have very little control. I’ve certainly been guilty of this!

Losing this mindset has been huge for my personal happiness and professional success.

‘How a Kalman filter works, in pictures’

Tim Babb:

You can use a Kalman filter in any place where you have uncertain information about some dynamic system, and you can make an educated guess about what the system is going to do next. Even if messy reality comes along and interferes with the clean motion you guessed about, the Kalman filter will often do a very good job of figuring out what actually happened. And it can take advantage of correlations between crazy phenomena that you maybe wouldn’t have thought to exploit!

Kalman filters are ideal for systems which are continuously changing. They have the advantage that they are light on memory (they don’t need to keep any history other than the previous state), and they are very fast, making them well suited for real time problems and embedded systems.

Perhaps useful for robots?

(via news.yc)

‘We Made a Tool So You Can Hear Both Yanny and Laurel’

Holy cow! This blew my mind.

When I first played the sound, in the “middle” position, it sounded so much like “Yanny” that I could not imagine anyone possibly thinking it was “Laurel”. Even as I slid towards Laurel, it still sounded like Yanny, until I finally hit Laurel, almost at the end of the slider.

But then I could slide it almost all the way back to Yanny and still hear Laurel. The same sound sounded different to my brain depending on what I most recently heard. This is clearly a dynamic system.

It’s also clear that the Yanny and Laurel sounds are different frequencies.

I suspect this is a similar phenomenon to the “hello?” phone answer — it exists to prime your brain to understand the voice on the other end of the line. Hearing a particular voice primes you to pick out that voice from the noise. So once I started hearing Laurel, I was primed to hear the Laurel-speaking “voice” in the original sound.

Reminds me also of the McGurk effect.

‘These drones can plant 100,000 trees a day’

Charlotte Edmond, writing for the World Economic Forum:

First a drone scans the topography to create a 3D map. Then the most efficient planting pattern for that area is calculated using algorithms.

Wait, how exactly are they finding the most efficient planting pattern?

Oh, right, with algorithms. Obviously.

Snark aside, though, this is a cool project!

‘Mistakes in Time’

Aaron Harris, writing on Y Combinator’s Blog:

This lesson is something I should have been able to absorb much more easily. I had 4 different jobs, and 4 different career paths, in the 10 years after college. I was an investment banker, an analyst at a hedge fund, a founder, and then a partner at YC. Each time I started something new, I expected myself to be immediately great, and was hugely disappointed when it became clear that I was nothing of the sort. Each time I switched jobs and discovered this, I also realized that I’d gotten older, and started to fear that I did not have the time to get great. Maybe I did not even have the time to get good.


‘The Untreatable: The Spanish Flu’

In New York City the public health commissioner, Royal S. Copeland, eliminated rush hour by staggering shop, school and factory opening times. He was under pressure to close schools, but after infancy children were relatively unaffected by the virus, and Copeland argued that schools could help disseminate health advice to their communities. He opened 150 health centres to deal with the sick, and insisted that all flu patients who lived in shared accommodation be hospitalised. Public health information was distributed by an obliging press: the Italian-language Progresso Italo-Americano sold close to a hundred thousand copies a day in New York alone, and raised funds for an Italian hospital in Brooklyn. Copeland allowed children to go to school, but he banned them from theatres. When Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms came to New York in October, Harold Edel, the manager of the Strand Theatre, wrote: ‘We think it a most wonderful appreciation of Shoulder Arms that people should veritably take their lives in their hands to see it.’ Edel was dead within a week, of flu.


(via news.yc)

‘Bottle Jumping’

Sometimes you just need a little perspective.

(via reddit)

Daniel Jackson (MIT) gives a UMass Amherst CICS Distinguished Lecture

Every software engineer should listen to this talk — it contains many brilliant insights into how to structure and create sane interfaces.

Easily one of the most enlightening talks I’ve ever watched.

(via news.yc)

‘Co-Parenting With Alexa’

Rachel Botsman, writing for the New York Times:

It’s these kinds of intersections – like this small collision between robot “helpfulness” and a latent commercial agenda — that can make parents like me start to wonder about the ethical niceties of this brave new bot world. Alexa, after all, is not “Alexa.” She’s a corporate algorithm in a black box.

Grace doesn’t like it when I tell her what to wear. How would she feel about Alexa judging her? Would she see it as helpful or crushing? This could well be one of our parenting tasks in the near future — preparing our children for the psychological repercussions of such personal interactions with computer “people.”


‘Things More Heavily Regulated Than Buying a Gun in the United States’

Sarah Hutto, writing for McSweeney’s:

Having a fucking bake sale

Building a fucking shed in your own backyard

Pumping fucking gas