June 2022 BenGoldhaber(.com) Newsletter
Ahoy-hoy. Here’s what’s been happening and what I’ve been reading/watching in June.
The BenGoldhaber(.com) media empire continues to grow at a relentless pace; I’ve released a new substack section called Tinkerings. I have a lot of half-baked ideas that I want to inflict on the world but which don’t always fit the format of this newsletter. And, in particular, I don’t want to spam anyone who opted in to hear from me once-a-month-and-god-no-more-than-that-please.
So I’ll be posting more idle musings in the Tinkerings section, and linking to them in a dedicated section of the newsletter. You can also change your account settings to get email notifications when a tinkering is posted.
User Controllable Audio Layers: A proposal for a feature or tool that lets users isolate audio layers and choose what they hear.
Last month I linked to several essays that detailed ‘common incompetence’, the ways in which we can do something over and over again and still not get gud at it. It turns out senpai Gwern has a whole section dedicated to this, with the deep links and citations that us mere mortals can only aspire.
…where absolute measures of performance, such as running speed, are available, a sample of ~1000 healthy normal people will span a range of only ~3×—so if you can do 1.5× more of something than the median person, then you may well be in the 99.9th percentile
Streaks: A habit tracking app for iPhone. Very simple with a nice design.
How bad is crime? Actually really bad! When you include secondary effects, a murder causes somewhere between $7m to $30m of damage, and when you take into account its effect on things like property valuation, it’s staggering (violent crime in particular seems to be heavily concentrated in specific locations).
So far I have just been talking about individual crimes. But let’s multiply this up for a whole country. One of the studies I tackle earlier has done this for the USA, adding up their estimated social cost for every crime, both recorded and reported. They use cost estimates that are about in the middle of the range for individual crimes. Their central estimate is that crime costs America $2.6 trillion annually, mostly coming from violent crime. This is about 12 percent of US GDP.
How many people are in the invisible graveyard? The FDA kills quietly, but continues to rack up impressive stats as the deadliest government agency.
The most likely point estimate of distribution start date with a human challenge trial is a 4 month acceleration, placing the first shots in arms sometime in August of 2020. This would have saved at least a hundred thousand lives, and perhaps as many as three hundred thousand. Placing a 2 month confidence interval around August expands our possible lives saved estimate from 63 to 500 thousand lives saved.
The realities of 21st century defense contracting: Good synopsis and articulation of why it’s challenging for startups to break into defense contracting. Acknowledges that government contracting is a terrible process, without reflexively siding with startups, which often don’t create products that are actually useful for the military.
It is hard to kill a human with a bit. And the military's business is killing. So it is no wonder that software-only startups struggle to fit in while companies that create physical, software-enhanced products rake in the contracts.
Why haven’t we celebrated any major achievements lately? Previous generations were more publicly excited about scientific and societal achievements, and there were massive public celebrations for breakthroughs and public works. The anecdotes and stories are quite touching!
Elementary schools sent giant posters—WE LOVE YOU DR. SALK—signed by the entire student body. Winnipeg, Canada, site of a major polio epidemic in 1953, sent a 208-foot telegram of congratulation adorned with each survivor’s name. A town in the Texas panhandle bought him two heartfelt, if comically inappropriate, gifts: a plow and a fully equipped Oldsmobile 98. (Salk gave the plow to an orphanage and had the car sold so the town could buy more polio vaccine.) … The banner headline in the Pittsburgh Press on April 12, 1955 had set the tone—POLIO IS CONQUERED. The stories that day spoke of mothers weeping, doctors cheering, politicians toasting God and Jonas Salk.
The author proposes a few different explanations, focusing on the culture around ‘progress’; my best guess is it’s some combination of a decline in societal trust, a general increase in decadence, and a breakdown in our narrative tools for making ‘heroes’.
Divia Eden shared a passage on dog training/human relationships that I like:
3D stylization with neural networks, when paired with transformer text generation, will create immersive worlds from your descriptions.
Ozark: Started watching and am hooked. It’s hard not to compare it to Breaking Bad, but the difference in the motivations and self-awareness of the anti-hero protagonists, and the overall pacing, makes it a very different show.
Everything Everywhere All at Once: One of my favorite recent films. Truly original and captures an important aspect of the current ‘vibe’.
Sunglasses at Night: It’s as much a banger now as it was in 1984. Fun fact from wikipedia on the deep meaning of the song:
Air from the vents blew directly into the faces of the control room personnel, so they often wore sunglasses to protect their eyes. Hart, working on a new song, began to improvise lyrics that included the line "I wear my sunglasses at night.""
I’ve had this and Running Up That Hill stuck in my head since watching the new season of Stranger Things.
Until next time,