Shared posts

11 Apr 00:22

10 Things We Learned From 'Earthquake Lady' Lucy Jones' Reddit AMA

by Emma G. Gallegos
10 Things We Learned From 'Earthquake Lady' Lucy Jones' Reddit AMA "Earthquake lady" Lucy Jones went on Reddit to debunk some of the useless myths that surround the still-mysterious phenomenon of earthquakes. But she also shared some facts about building codes in Southern California that left us feeling a bit...shaken. [ more › ]

29 Mar 07:03

From the comments, Charles Mann on Chinese coal

by Tyler Cowen

we are all going to die

In any case, according to most analysts — see, e.g., Bloomberg, “The Future of China’s Power Sector”, Aug. 2013 — China won’t stop putting in coal plants. Indeed. Bloomberg projects that 343-450 gigawatts of new coal generation will be built in China over the next fifteen years, more than the total capacity of the entire US coal base (300 gigawatts). China’s power needs are so big that even if it installs solar and wind facilities faster than any other nation has ever emplaced them, the nation will still bring online 1 large 500 MW coal plant *per week* from now until 2030.

Even if somehow China *could* build enough solar and wind plants in time, it still would be building coal plants, too. The basic reason is that solar panels in China typically produce <20% of their annual peak capacity (China has few sunny regions) and wind 80% of peak capacity and do it all the time, so to get reliable power you have to build vastly more peak capacity from renewables than coal, and China can’t afford that.

There is more, including more from Mann, here.

18 Mar 13:00

Socializers Clump

by Robin Hanson

classic hanson, man

Imagine that this weekend you and others will volunteer time to help tend the grounds at some large site – you’ll trim bushes, pull weeds, plant bulbs, etc. You might have two reasons for doing this. First, you might care about the cause of the site. The site might hold an orphanage, or a historical building. Second, you might want to socialize with others going to the same event, to reinforce old connections and to make new ones.

Imagine that instead of being assigned to work in particular areas, each person was free to choose where on the site to work. These different motives for being there are likely to reveal themselves in where people spend their time grounds-tending. The more that someone wants to socialize, the more they will work near where others are working, so that they can chat while they work, and while taking breaks from work. Socializing workers will tend to clump together.

On the other hand, the more someone cares about the cause itself, the more they will look for places that others have neglected, so that their efforts can create maximal value. These will tend to be places places away from where socially-motivated workers are clumped. Volunteers who want more to socialize will tend more to clump, while volunteers who want more to help will tend more to spread out.

This same pattern should also apply to conversation topics. If your main reason for talking is to socialize, you’ll want to talk about whatever everyone else is talking about. Like say the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. But if instead your purpose is to gain and spread useful insight, so that we can all understand more about things that matter, you’ll want to look for relatively neglected topics. You’ll seek topics that are important and yet little discussed, where more discussion seems likely to result in progress, and where you and your fellow discussants have a comparative advantage of expertise.

You can use this clue to help infer the conversation motives of the people you talk with, and of yourself. I expect you’ll find that almost everyone mainly cares more about talking to socialize, relative to gaining insight.

09 Mar 18:19

Submitted MODOK: Marc Lapierre

by (March MODOK Madness)

first real knockout of March MODOK Madness 2014

Hot on the heels of last years submission entitled "MODOKKEN".  Marc returns to submit something a little different, in the form of this delightful Kirby-Watterson mash up. 
Really digging the idea of including Arnim Zola in on the fun.

For more work from Marc scope out HERE! or TUMBLR!

20 Feb 14:45

My Little Finger

by Robin Hanson

Robin Hanson's farther died and even in this he is so very Robin Hanson

Adam Smith:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Last night my father died. And I am sad. This wasn’t a big deal in the scheme of things. But, you see, this was MY little finger. And more.

15 Feb 01:44

Photos: Never-Before-Seen Snapshots Of Prince At The Tender Age Of 17

by Jean Trinh

nice sash, prince

Mr. Musichead Gallery in Hollywood is presenting a free art exhibit that captures the moment in time when Prince was a budding musician at 17. [ more › ]

07 Feb 14:24

Advance and Retreat

by Greg Ross

infographics in the 19th century

This chart, devised in 1869 by French civil engineer Charles Minard, illustrates the disastrous toll suffered by Napoleon’s army on its foray into Russia in 1812. 615,000 men marched east, and 10,000 emerged five months later.

In a single image the map shows the path of the army, its geographical coordinates, its dwindling size, and the weather conditions (the graph at the bottom shows the plunging temperature during the retreat from Moscow, when “Generals January and February” killed thousands of starving soldiers). Yale political scientist Edward Tufte said Minard’s illustration “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”

30 Jan 07:37

How much does social mobility ever change?

by Tyler Cowen

social mobility in america is mostly a myth but maybe it's mostly a myth everywhere, all of the time

Here is Dylan Matthews interviewing Gregory Clark about his new book The Son also Rises:

Another remarkable feature of the surname data is how seemingly impervious social mobility rates are to government interventions. In all societies, what seems to matter is just who your parents are. At the extreme, we see in modern Sweden an extensive system of public education and social support. Yet underlying mobility rates are no higher in modern Sweden than in pre-industrial Sweden or medieval England.

There was one case where government interventions did seem to promote mobility, which was in Bengal, in India. There the strict quota system in educational institutions had benefited significantly people with surnames associated with the Scheduled Castes.

But the bizarre element here is that these quotas did not help those truly at the bottom of the social ladder. Instead, the benefits went to families of average social status whom the British had mistakenly classified as Scheduled Caste. These families have now become a new elite. The truly disadvantaged, such as the large Muslim community, have been correspondingly further burdened by being excluded from these quotas.

Interestingly, in China, the extreme social intervention represented by the Communist Revolution of 1949, which included executing large numbers of members of the old upper class, has not resulted in much of an increase in social mobility. Surnames of high status in the Imperial and Republican era continue to be overrepresented among modern elites, including Communist Party officials.

The families that have high social competence, whatever the social system is, typically find their way to the top of the social ladder.

The interview is interesting throughout. And you will of course note the new Chetty results — created with entirely different methods and data — showing economic mobility has not much changed in the United States for decades.

For the initial pointer I thank Samir Varma.

24 Jan 05:35

Hugo Lindgren asked me to explain to him why I think Los Angeles is the best city in the world

by Tyler Cowen

tyler cowen thinks los angeles is the best city in the world, apparently?

I wrote this email, which in the interests of varying the “voice” on this blog I have not in the meantime edited:

Best food in the US, no real comparison especially adjusting for price.

Best driving for classic routes and views and also availability of parking along the way (NYC is awful for the latter).

Best walking city in the US (really), and year round.

The city has its own excellent musical soundtrack, Beach Boys, Byrds, Nilsson, etc., has aged better than the SF groups I think.

Incredible architecture and neighborhoods, almost everywhere.

Everyone goes to the movies.

First-rate concert life, including classical and contemporary classical.

Very interesting art galleries.

Few book stores (though disappearing everywhere, these days) and the people have no real sense of humor, but nowhere is perfect!

16 Jul 15:01

Advertising: Decades After a Memorable Campaign, Keep America Beautiful Returns


really awesome longform on the ad council, keep america beautiful, and public service ads as efforts to ward off public regulation:

Keep America Beautiful and the Advertising Council are following up their 1970s-era “crying Indian” campaign with one focusing on recycling.
02 Jul 14:45


by Greg Ross

To amuse themselves in 1907, librarians Edmund Lester Pearson and John Cotton Dana published The Old Librarian’s Almanack, a pamphlet they alleged to have been written originally in 1773 by Jared Bean, “curator or librarian of the Connecticut Society of Antiquarians,” and evidently a man of strong opinions:

So far as your Authority will permit of it, exercise great Discrimination as to which Persons shall be admitted to the use of the Library. For the Treasure House of Literature is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the unreasoning Mob, than is a fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts.

Question each Applicant closely. See that he be a Person of good Reputation, scholarly habits, sober and courteous Demeanour. Any mere Trifler, a Person that would Dally with Books, or seek in them shallow Amusement, may be Dismiss’d without delay.

The book was reviewed seriously in the New York Sun, the New York Times, the Hartford Courant, Publisher’s Weekly, the Newburyport Daily News, the Providence Sunday Journal, and even the Library Association Record, which asked “what librarian would not at times in his secret soul sympathize” with Bean’s irritation with patrons who disturbed his reading time.

Finally Helen E. Haines of the Library Journal discerned the hoax, and the library community realized it had been had. Public Libraries wrote, “We congratulate the author of the book on being so clever to project himself into the past, as to deceive even the very elect. The book is well worth owning and reading. Let us be thankful that one with humor, imagination and sympathy has created for us dear old Jared with his gentle comradeship and his ardent love of books.”

29 Jun 05:48


by (Merlesworld)

01 Jul 14:02

American Health Care—the Prices Are Too Damn High

by Matthew Yglesias

Here's a great example from Elisabeth Rosenthal of the kind of scary price problems in American health care. It costs more to have a conventional delivery in the United States than it costs to have a cesarean in France or Switzerland or the Netherlands.

And note that this graphic is very careful to look at the actual all-in final amount of money paid. This is not a question of how the cost is allocated between the patient, the insurance company, the government, and the patient's employer. It's a question of how much money gets handed over from the people who pay for health care (patients, insurance companies, employers, governments) to the people who perform health care services. And Americans hand over a lot.

Perhaps someone will make the argument that America is gaining some important quality advantage over Swiss and Dutch childbirths in exchange for our money. But if you accept that we aren't, note that there isn't anything mysterious about the reason prices are so much higher in the United States than elsewhere. What other countries do is they write laws capping the price of health care services. The economic justification is that in all countries the purchase of health care services is heavily subsidized (because one of the best things a society can do with its material prosperity is ensure that sick people get better) so you need to use regulation to ensure that the incidence of the subsidy falls mostly on patients rather than on health care providers. In America, health care prices are largely uncapped so they get very high.

06 Jun 19:54

Gallup's 2012 Presidential Election Polling Did Exactly What It Was Supposed To Do

by Matthew Yglesias

yglesias throwing shade at robin hanson at the end there

Josh Green had a fascinating story the other day about the difference between the Obama campaign's (accurate) internal polling data and Gallup's wildly off-base data. He delves into exactly how Gallup thinks they got it wrong, but looking at the chart I'm struck by how good Gallup's polling was at doing what Gallup's polls are supposed to do—drive media interest in Gallup polls.

You see two big things from the Obama campaign data. One is that on a day-to-day basis nothing matters and nothing changes. The people who follow campaign events are mostly strong partisans whose minds don't change, the swing voters whose minds might change aren't interested in politics so they don't know these things are happening. Even worse, the Obama data shows that even the things that do matter don't actually matter. The "bumps" Obama got from the Democratic Convention and the 47 percent tape were almost precisely offset by Obama's terrible performance in the first debate. This is a picture of how US presidential campaigns play out that's validated by scholarship on the history of elections, so it should give us some confidence that the Obama team knows what they're doing.

But what they're doing isn't what Gallup is doing which—again—is trying to drum up media interest in Gallup polls. And compared to the Obama numbers, the Gallup numbers are really interesting. You could write lots of articles about those numbers, while the Obama numbers tend to suggest that you shouldn't bother.

I'm not a huge fan of the "we should be gambling all the time about everything" school of thought, but it would be useful in this realm. If public polls were released by people who were placing large financial bets on the outcome of the campaign, then pollsters would work to purge their models of excessive volatility. But in the world that exists, the incentives are all wrong. "Incumbent President presiding over economic growth and falling unemployment will probably win and nobody's paying attention to the campaign" is a terrible news story. It just happens to be true.