Squirrels are naturally gifted engineers but are unfortunately also wildly vengeful critters.
Squirrels are naturally gifted engineers but are unfortunately also wildly vengeful critters.
I'm pretty sure this says "This is not a friendship" in French, which is hilarious.
clearly this is true.
There are human-to-tree and human-to-cow ratios that you have to cross over to know where you live. The specifications don't matter for much if anything at all, but it's at least fun to say "rubrurbal".
STW SHIRTS ON SALE: All STW shirts right now on sale for 15% off with the coupon code "WITHLOVE", or shipped for free with the coupon code "SHIPLOVE"!
STW CALENDAR EVENT IN BOSTON: December 3rd, Northeastern University, 7 PM in 168 Snell EC. Comedy, Q+A, signings, and raptors. Come join us!
Why hasn't a lego movie been made before?
I really hope this will be good.
I kind of like how all these new RSS Readers have come to fill the new gap, but... Google Reader was a good friend for such a long time.
It’s the only qualification necessary to be the ambassador to Siberia. Yes. Just Siberia.
if you ever think mythology is boring or serious business or whatever shit
just remember that cerberus, the hell-hound and guard dog of the underworld, comes from the root indo-european word ḱerberos, which evolved into the greek word kerberos, which got changed to cerberus when it went from greek to latin
ḱerberos means “spotted”
hades, lord of the dead, literally fucking named his pet dog spot
so sad but so true
OMG I can prove anything with circular reasoning!
this one almost sounds fake, but I know some people are stupid
When Ben found this block of code, he had some questions: who wrote it, and what was it supposed to do?
if (showOptionsButton == true) showOptionsButton = false; if (showOptionsButton == false) showOptionsButton = true;
The genius responsible was Jim, one of the senior developers. On paper, Jim was Ben’s mentor. What was the code supposed to do?
“Well,” said Jim, “I want to toggle the state of
showOptionsButton. If it’s true, it should be false, if it’s false, it should be true.”
“Except,” Ben said, “this will just always set the value to true.”
“No it won’t.”
“Yes, it will,” Ben said.
“No it won’t.”
They executed that loop a few times before Ben attempted to break
out. “It will. You need an
“If I use an else, it’ll run both clauses. I only want it to run one.”
Ben gave up on trying to correct Jim’s logic. "You could just do,
showOptionsButton = !showOptionsButton.
“I’m trying to change the value,” Jim said, “not compare them. I’d love to explain the basics to you, but I really need to get this feature finished.”
Ben let his mentor get back to work.
Remy will be wandering the halls as an attendee at Tech Ed, 6/3-6/6. He'll have a stack of stickers and buttons, if you can find him. Think of it as a scavenger hunt.
Is this the most expensive music video ever?
—Various Youtube commenters
For starters, a big welcome home to Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth last night after a memorable stint as commander of the International Space Station.
Commander Hadfield’s video performance of Space Oddity was an instant hit, and prompted many commenters to ask whether it should count as the most expensive music video ever made.
At a total lifetime cost in the neighborhood of \$150 billion , the International Space Station is one of the world’s most expensive megaprojects. (The exact cost is hard to pin down, since the countries contributing don’t all handle their finances the same way.)
By comparison, the most expensive music videos have production budgets in the range of a few million dollars. If Commander Hadfield’s video gets the ISS’s entire \$150 billion price tag, then it must be tens of thousands of times more expensive than the runner-up, right?
Not so fast.
The ISS is expensive, but there have been music videos set against an even more expensive backdrop.
At a cost of roughly \$400 billion, the US Eisenhower Interstate Highway System is probably the most expensive peacetime public works project in the history of mankind. If we’re including the entire ISS in the cost of Commander Hadfield’s video, any video shot on the American highway system should get the cost of the highway system added to its total.
By that measure, the commander’s video would lose to U2’s Last Night on Earth, which was filmed on a section of I-670 in Missouri, and therefore cost more than the ISS and the Moon landing program combined.
In both cases, the comparison doesn’t really make sense; both the ISS and the US highway system are used for things other than making music videos. Instead, let’s look at some other ways we could calculate the cost of Hadfield’s video.
If you spread out the ISS’s price tag across all the astronaut-hours spent on board, you come up with about \$7.5 million per person per day, or roughly \$90 per second. That sounds like a lot, but at that rate, the five-and-a-half-minute video only runs about \$30,000. Given that the video has probably done more for space industry than millions in public outreach, that’s a good deal.
Hadfield’s son confirmed that Hadfield shot the video himself with no help from other astronauts, so even if we assume he spent several hours setting it up and recording it, we don’t come close to the \$7 million cost of the video Michael and Janet Jackson made for Scream.
And the truth is, this isn’t a very good way to calculate costs either. Presumably, Commander Hadfield isn’t busy commanding things 24/7. He has some free time, and it’s no skin off anyone’s back how he spends it (assuming his hobby isn’t drilling holes in walls). It’s hard to argue that shooting the video cost anyone \$90/second when he was going to be up there floating around anyway.
Alternately, we could look at how much Commander Hadfield was paid to make the video. As a Canadian astronaut, his salary is somewhere between \$145,200 and \$171,000 CAD. Astronaut work hours are a little atypical, but if we assume that in the long run he’s on the job 40 hours a week, that works out to \$85/hour. By that measure, the cost of the video was \$7.84. Not 7.84 million; 7 dollars and 84 cents (\$7.76 US).
And then there’s the guitar.
While it’s hard to argue that the entire cost of the ISS counts toward the video, we could at least include the cost to launch the guitar. The Larrivée Parlor acoustic guitar in the video went up years ago on the Space Shuttle, and astronauts have been playing it ever since. Given that launch costs at the time were between \$20,000 and \$30,000 per pound, the cost to send up the guitar was probably in the neighborhood of \$75,000.
While that’s far from the most anyone’s paid for a guitar, it’s certainly a lot of money. And if playing music helps the astronauts relax and keep from going crazy while they’re crammed together in a tin can for months at a time, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.
Of course, this plan could backfire.
I think they should use potential energy instead of kinetic, so much easier to get.
News FAIL of the Day: Two CNN Anchors Talk via Satellite in the Same Parking Lot
Do you see what’s going on in this GIF? Yesterday morning, CNN Newsroom anchor Ashleigh Banfield and CNN Headline News anchor Nancy Grace were discussing the Cleveland kidnapping case “via satellite,” which is a great way to communicate for those who aren’t standing in the same parking lot, and of course, they were. The setup was discovered after a viewer noticed same exact cars passing through both sides of the split-screen in the background and The Atlantic Wire also followed up with a shot-by-shot breakdown of the scene.
OMG that graphic (It's comcastic!)
President Barack Obama today announced his choice to run the Federal Communications Commission. As reported yesterday, the nominee is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist who was formerly a lobbyist at the top of the cable and wireless industries, leading the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).
The nomination continues the parade of lobbyists becoming government officials and vice versa, a trend that has favored moneyed interests over the average American citizen and consumer time and again. One can take solace in the fact that Wheeler will be tasked with implementing the communications policies of President Obama, who says he is eager to fight on behalf of consumers and to maintain thriving and open Internet and wireless marketplaces.
But the same President who said "I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over" when he was running for office has given the FCC's top job to a former lobbyist. Wheeler donated $38,500 to Obama's election efforts and helped raise additional money for Obama by becoming a "bundler," arranging for large contributions from other donors after hitting legal limits on personal contributions.
TIL There are more ships in ocean than fish by mass.
How much would the sea level fall if every ship were removed all at once from the Earth's waters?
About six microns—slightly more than the diameter of a strand of spider silk.
Archimedes’ principle tells us that the water displaced by a ship weighs as much as the ship itself. If we can figure out the total weight of all the world’s ships, we can figure out how much water they’re displacing, then divide that volume by the surface area of the ocean to figure out how much the water level would drop.
Weighing ships is confusing. There are a bunch of different measurements of the size of a ship, and many of them, like gross tonnage, are actually measures of the volume of the ship’s rooms and other internal spaces, not its weight.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development publishes estimates of the size of the world shipping fleet.
What the UNCTD publishes is “deadweight tonnage”, which is the maximum weight of the ship’s fuel, cargo, and crew. What we want is “displacement”. Unfortunately, comprehensive numbers for displacement are harder to find.
Fortunately, we can estimate it. Brian Barrass’s book Ship Design and Performance for Masters and Mates gives a table of ratios of deadweight tonnage to displacement for different types of ships.
Extrapolating from the last few years of UNCTD data, and using the coefficients from the book, suggests that the world fleet weighs about 2.15 billion tons when fully loaded. The main component of the fleet by weight is oil tankers and bulk ore-carrying ships, which make up over two-thirds of the total. (The UNCTD data doesn’t include small recreational boats or naval fleets. However, based on some numbers for naval fleets and recreational boats, neither one contributes much to the total.)
A ton of water is about a cubic meter. 2.15 billion cubic meters divided by the surface area of the oceans equals about 6 microns (0.006 mm).
But you don’t have to worry about that six-micron sea level drop. The oceans are currently rising at about 3.3 millimeters per year due to global warming (through both glacial melting and thermal expansion of seawater).
At that rate (normalized for seasonal variation and short-term fluctations), if you removed every ship from the ocean, the water would be back up to its original average level in 16 hours.
Sea levels will likely rise a few feet by the year 2100. Current fish wet biomass is about 2 billion tons, so removing them won’t make a dent either. (Marine fish biomass dropped by 80% over the last century, which—taking into consideration the growth rate of the world’s shipping fleet—leads to an odd conclusion: Sometime in the last few years, we reached a point where there are, by weight, more ships in the ocean than fish.)
And what about the old joke about how much deeper the ocean would be without sponges? While estimates of sponge biomass are hard to come by, the answer is probably that if you removed all the sponges, sea level would drop by no more than a few microns ... and much less if you squeezed them out first.
This is why I like to read ESR, he's smart, even if I don't agree with him all the time. (or even most of the time)
One of my commenters recently speculated in an accusing tone that I might be a natural-rights libertarian. He was wrong, but explaining why is a good excuse for writing an essay I’ve been tooling up to do for a long time. For those of you who aren’t libertarians, this is not a parochial internal dispute – in fact, it cuts straight to the heart of some long-standing controversies about consequentialism versus deontic ethics. And if you don’t know what those terms mean, you’ll have a pretty good idea by the time you’re done reading.
There are two philosophical camps in modern libertarianism. What distinguishes them is how they ground the central axiom of libertarianism, the so-called “Non-Aggression Principle” or NAP. One of several equivalent formulations of NAP is: “Initiation of force is always wrong.” I’m not going to attempt to explain that axiom here or discuss various disputes over the NAP’s application; for this discussion it’s enough to note that libertarians take the NAP as a given unanimously enough to make it definitional. What separates the two camps I’m going to talk about is how they justify the NAP.
“Natural Rights” libertarians ground the NAP in some a priori belief about religion or natural law from which they believe they can derive it. Often they consider the “inalienable rights” language in the U.S.’s Declaration of Independence, abstractly connected to the clockmaker-God of the Deists, a model for their thinking.
“Utilitarians” justify the NAP by its consequences, usually the prevention of avoidable harm and pain and (at the extreme) megadeaths. Their starting position is at bottom the same as Sam Harris’s in The Moral Landscape; ethics exists to guide us to places in the moral landscape where total suffering is minimized, and ethical principles are justified post facto by their success at doing so. Their claim is that NAP is the greatest minimizer.
The philosophically literate will recognize this as a modern and specialized version of the dispute between deontic ethics and consequentialism. If you know the history of that one, you’ll be expecting all the accusations that fly back and forth. The utilitarians slap at the natural-rights people for handwaving and making circular arguments that ultimately reduce to “I believe it because $AUTHORITY told me so” or “I believe it because ya gotta believe in something“. The natural-rights people slap back by acidulously pointing out that their opponents are easy prey for utility monsters, or should (according to their own principles) be willing to sacrifice a single innocent child to bring about their perfected world.
My position is that both sides of this debate are badly screwed up, in different ways. Basically, all the accusations they’re flinging at each other are correct and (within the terms of their traditional debates and assumptions) unanswerable. We can get somewhere better, though, by using their objections to repair each other. Here’s what I think each side has to give up…
The natural-rightsers have to give up their hunger for a-priori moral certainty. There’s just no bottom to to that; it’s contingency all the way down. The utilitarians are right that every act is an ethical experiment – you don’t know “right” or “wrong” until the results come in, and sometimes the experiment takes a very long time to run. The parallel with epistemology, in which all non-consequentialist theories of truth collapse into vacuity or circularity, is exact.
The utilitarians, on the other hand, have to give up on their situationalism and their rejection of immutable rules as voodoo or hokum. What they’re missing is how the effects of payoff asymmetry, forecasting uncertainty, and decision costs change the logic of utility calculations. When the bad outcomes of an ethical decision can be on the scale of genocide, or even the torturing to death of a single innocent child, it is proper and necessary to have absolute rules to prevent these consequences – rules that that we treat as if they were natural laws or immutable axioms or even (bletch!) God-given commandments.
Let’s take as an example the No Torturing Innocent Children To Death rule. (I choose this, of course in reference to a famous critique of Benthamite utilitarianism.) Suppose someone were to say to me “Let A be the event of torturing an innocent child to death today. Let B be the condition that the world will be a paradise of bliss tomorrow. I propose to violate the NTICTD rule by performing A in order to bring about B”.
My response would be “You cannot possibly have enough knowledge about the conditional probability P(B|A) to justify this choice.” In the presence of epistemic uncertainty, absolute rules to bound losses are rational strategy. A different way to express this is within a Kripke-style possible-futures model: the rationally-expected consequences of allowing violations of the NTICTD rule are so bad over so many possible worlds that the probability of landing in a possible future where the violation led to an actual gain in utility is negligible.
My position is that the NAP is a necessary loss-bounding rule, like the NTICTD rule. Perhaps this will become clearer if we perform a Kantian on it into “You shall not construct a society in which the initiation of force is normal.” I hold that, after the Holocaust and the Gulag, you cannot possibly have enough certainty about good results from violating this rule to justify any policy other than treating the NAP as absolute. The experiment has been run already, it is all of human history, and the bodies burned at Belsen-Bergen and buried in the Katyn Wood are our answer.
So I don’t fit neatly in either camp, nor want to. On a purely ontological level I’m a utilitarian, because being anything else is incoherent and doomed. But I respect and use natural-rights language, because when that camp objects that the goals of ethics are best met with absolute rules against certain kinds of harmful behavior they’re right. There are too many monsters in the world, of utility and every other kind, for it to be otherwise.