1 min read22nd Apr 202173 comments
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"It seems a lot of our pills cause vomiting as a side-effect?"

"Yeah, the company knows about it but it's tricky to fix."

"How so? Our competitors don't have this problem, and we make basically the same products, right?"

"Right, no, it's a corporate structure issue."


"If a pill does too much or too little of something, we have a group of clever people whose job it is to care about that and to reformulate it slightly to improve it. If it doesn't kill enough pain, the analgesic division will step in. If it causes clotting, the anticoagulant folks have a look. If it makes your bones brittle, it'll be the antiosteoporosises. You see? But if it causes vomiting-"

"Right, yeah. There's no one to take ownership of the problem, because-"

"There is no antiemetics division."

4Yoav Ravid15d
For those who, like me, didn't know the reference
Also now running as an in-progress youtube short series. (I haven't read the original.)
Fine. You win. Take your upvote.
(I confess I have no idea how to interpret the agree-votes on this.)
(my react is me rolling my eyes)

So my phone keyboard has two red heart emojis, one flat () and one shaded () (though idk how those will render here, the editor seems to be treating them as images?), and I wanted to know what the difference was between them. So I opened gmail and copied both of them into a draft which I then opened on my laptop.

Highlighted to copy. xsel gave me hard-to-read garbage which was kind of unsurprising. xsel | hexdump -C should give the UTF-8 encoding -

- but the result was ef bf bc ef bf bc, i.e. the same character twice. Turns out that's object replacement char... (read more)

Oh, huh. Searle's original Chinese room paper (first eight pages) doesn't say machines can't think.

"OK, but could a digital computer think?"

If by "digital computer" we mean anything at all that has a level of description where it can correctly be described as the instantiation of a computer program, then again the answer is, of course, yes, since we are the instantiations of any number of computer programs, and we can think.

"But could something think, understand, and so on solely in virtue of being a computer with the right sort of program? Could instantia

... (read more)
2Zac Hatfield-Dodds1mo
I think he's actually quite confused here - I imagine saying (the Turing test suggests 'indistinguishable in input/output behaviour', which I think is much too weak)
1Mateusz Bagiński1mo
IMO he's trying to say that if you observe a machine from the outside (ie only what (sequences of) inputs lead to what (sequences of) outputs), then the mere observation that it behaves as if it understands the problem is not sufficient to conclude that it understands the problem. This is because understanding is some property of the internals. The presence of understanding is not deducible from the outside, even given infinitely many maximally diverse observations.
Only if you can't examine all of the inputs. The no free lunch theorems basically say that if you are unlucky enough with your prior, and the problem to be solved is maximally general, then you can't improve on your efficiency beyond random sampling/brute force search, which requires you to examine every input, and thus you can't get away with algorithms that don't require you to examine all inputs like in brute-force search. It's closer to a maximal inefficiency for intelligence/inapproximability result for intelligence than an impossibility result, which is still very important.
1Mateusz Bagiński1mo
I think Searle would disagree. But I also think this entire thought experiment is dumb.

When you buy an electric blanket, you want it to be cheap to run (i.e. cheap electricity) but also you want to get the one that's most expensive to run (i.e. highest wattage, since they're 100% efficient at converting electricity into heat).

(Not entirely true because some of them might generate heat in suboptimal places, and there's a limit to how much heat you're interested in them generating, but close enough.)

When you choose a password hash function, you want one that's slow to run for security, but then you want to choose an implementation of it that r... (read more)

Sounds like an analogue to the observation that optimal decisions are often on a boundary and maximizing something. Extremism in the pursuit of optimality is no vice! For example, bang-bang control: the optimal strategy is to either go all out or do nothing at all. If you are going to make your password hard to guess at all, you want to make it so hard that an adversary can't guess it; if you want to turn on your blanket at all, then like a thermostat, you want it turned on to heat up as fast as possible and get back to the preferred temperature. I don't know if the blog post or program one would be an example of that... Some people argue that the middle has been hollowed out, and you should be aiming for eg. either the 10s Tiktok video or the 5 hour podcast, and nothing in between. I don't think that's really true - at least, I see plenty of medium-sized works still doing well in the attention market. And when it comes to programs, there are tons of programs which are well-used which are not either ultra-minimalist or the last word in kitchen-sink plumbing gadgetry, usually a whole Pareto frontier of them.
Hm, doesn't feel like the same thing to me; I predict that most other examples of that observation would not have the property that I'm pointing at with the blanket and the password hashing.

A Google search landed me on api dot em tee arr dot pub (not linking to avoid improving rankings), which seems to be a github phising site. And I fell for it and logged in :(

Luckily I have 2fa enabled and don’t reuse that password. And they didn’t present me with a 2fa box (I guess they could have done if they’d passed my password on pretending to be me?), they just said there was an API error or something. So probably not a problem?

I’ve changed password. I wonder if it’s possible to see whether anyone tries to log in. And I wonder if there’s anything usef... (read more)

An interesting thing here is, I often don't have my browser remember passwords. On my work laptop that's company policy (but we use lastpass), on my personal laptop it's a possibly-overly-paranoid (and inconsistently applied) defense against someone with access to my laptop (or e.g. to a backup of my files). So I wasn't surprised when the github login form didn't autofill my password. (Even though I think github actually is saved.) If I had been surprised, I wonder if I'd have noticed. This might be an example of "things which are in theory more secure might be less secure in practice".
For logins such as Github, the trick is to have a password that's complex enough that it's only in the password manager and not in your brain, so you can't be tricked into just typing it out.  Then, if the password doesn't get filled, it's about starting the password manager and letting the password manager fill it in. 
I take it you mean "if the password manager doesn't fill it in, that's a sign you're on the wrong site"? The password manager I use on my personal laptop isn't integrated with my browser, so that wouldn't have helped in my case, but yeah. (I don't use an integrated one partly because I've never properly looked into browser extensions. I don't know what's available and I haven't thought about the tradeoffs.)
I do see integrating the password manager is important. Especially with a service like PayPal where it often happens that the side where you are shopping is opening a new window for PayPal it's quite easy for it to give you a fake window.
For those who don't want to look (in a sandbox VM or at least private browser), it visually appears identical to https://github.com/, but with a letsencrypt certificate (not visibly different unless you look).  It presumably exists to get people to type in their github credentials, to be used later for nefarious purposes. It's a good reminder of just how good phishing sites have gotten.  

Planet Money (Rerun 21 Apr 2021): The Writer's Revolt

Rerun of a 2019 episode.

In theory, if you're a screenwriter for Hollywood, you have an agent who gets you the best deals because that's how they get money. But there's a practice called "bundling", where the agency puts together a collection of a writer, director, showrunner, and sells them to the studio as a package deal. (Agencies represent everyone. Not just Hollywood, e.g. pop stars, and one of them bought Miss America from Trump in 2016 or so.) Then the agency has less incentive to get the best dea... (read more)

I listen to podcasts while doing chores, and often feel like I'm learning something but end up unable to remember anything. So, experiment: I'm going to try writing brief summaries after the fact. I'm going to skip anything where that doesn't feel appropriate, e.g. fiction. By default, nothing here is fact checked, either against reality or against the episode itself.

Planet Money #796 (23 Sep 2017): The Basic Income Experiment

This is a 99% Invisible episode on UBI.

UBI is an idea supported by some on both left and right. Finland is currently trying an exp... (read more)

Planet Money (14 May 2021): Blood Money America lets you sell blood plasma for money. The centers will call it a donation, but you get money for it, so. You can come in a couple of times a week and especially for low income people it can be a significant addition to their income. There are referral bonuses, and you get paid more if you come in more often. (Seems weird?) These centers are mostly located in low-income areas. There's a history here involving Nicaragua. Under a dictator there was a center doing this, and a journalist was writing about concerns, and eventually the dictator had the journalist killed. Riots in the aftermath left the center burned down and eventually the dictator got deposed. At some point the WHO wrote up an agreement or something not to allow blood plasma to be sold. Almost everyone's signed, but not the USA. Now almost everyone gets their blood plasma from the USA. Four exceptions, who allow it to be sold and are self-sufficient: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary. (Farmer's Dilemma!) We speak to a Canadian healthcare person about why Canada doesn't allow it. Three concerns. He's not too worried about incentives for people to sell bad blood, apparently we can sanitize it, even of HIV. He's also not too worried about health impacts on sellers; they get a checkup every four months to make sure they're still good, and there's some anecdotal evidence that maybe it should be more frequent but basically it seems fine. He seemed more concerned about "if people can sell plasma, will they do other things like regular blood donation for free?" I don't remember the commentary on that. I think he said that if the USA didn't allow selling they'd probably have to in Canada, but as long as they do it's unlikely to change. We also speak to a Brazilian doctor saying that plasma and the things it's used for are essential, there are people who will die without it, get over yourselves. Concerns that if either demand raises (finding new uses: th
Planet Money: Bagging the Birkin An Hermes Birkin bag costs $10k minimum, average $60k. They're super high status. Guest wanted one from soon after she moved to NYC's upper east side, was walking towards another woman on the sidewalk, and the other woman instead of getting out of the way oriented to sort of direct her to walk into a garbage can. Then brushed her with her bag on the way past, which she thinks was a Birkin. She thinks it was the bag that gave her this power. But the weird thing is, even if you have the money for a bag it's really hard to get one. There's a waiting list for the waiting list. Hermes says this is because the bags are so hard to make. They're made from unusual leathers like crocodile and ostrich, they're hand stitched, and you have to train for years to make them. Lolno, if they wanted to make more they've had 30 years to build up a supply chain. Actually they just want them to be scarce because it makes them higher value. Guest had a friend give her advice, apparently if her husband went into a store saying he wanted to buy it as a gift that might help. But no luck. Eventually he found one in Japan: they said they didn't have any, he said he needed it, repeat a few times (which is super rude of him for Japan), and eventually they sold one to him. Another person found that the trick was if you're already spending thousands of dollars in an Hermes store, and pretend it's an afterthought when you say "oh do you have any Birkin bags?" they'll sell you one. The other weird thing is that the bags are actually kind of underwhelming. They don't look that great. But host still finds herself impressed, feeling like because other people love them maybe it's something wrong with her that she doesn't see it. Uses words like sacred and religious to describe the experience of actually holding (maybe just seeing?) one. Everyone in this episode is aware of how ridiculous they sound.
If you google "most valuable thing in the world," it shows you a bunch of lists of fancy items covered with rare gems. I think civil engineering and infrastructural projects are much more valuable than these things when we talk about utility and how much value people can get out of them. It's also useless if their utilitarian values aren't being put to use. Efficiency and practicality also plays a huge part. A lot of those Middle East oil countries built a lot of skyscrapers in the middle of nowhere. They probably would've stretched their money a bit if they didn't just copy existing civil engineering designs and came up with something that makes more sense given their own local ecosystem.
Planet Money: The capitalists of North Korea Jessie grew up in North Korea. One day when she was like eight her family needed matches, so she picked a bunch of wild raspberries and sold them at market for the rough equivalent of a nickle. People didn't buy them so much because they were good raspberries for the price but because she was eight. (I guess similar to lemonade stands.) With the leftover money she got a peach for her mum. Seeing her mum's happiness at the peach she decided to make a lot of money to keep making her mum happy. So she kept that kind of thing up. One time she walked six hours each way to buy purer alcohol than people in her village were drinking, then sold it on. She was still small at the time so she could only carry 5kg of it. Also started smuggling between NK and China, I suspect that came a bit later. NK has a weapons program, which raises the question where did that money come from? It used to be in an economic race with SK, but now SK's economy is like 50x higher. NK is the only country to have had a peacetime famine in an urban, literate population. When Kim Jong Un came into power, he said he was going to improve the economy and build weapons. For the economy he started turning a blind eye to capitalists ("dongju"?) like Jessie, who had always been operating illegally. He allowed people in to give business lessons. They weren't allowed to discuss certain things, but if you talk about trading between a fictional "big island" and "small island", everyone knows you mean China and NK. Some people were even allowed out of the country to learn business. One person was excited to see an ATM. But then the profits from this sort of thing went into the weapons program, which is awkward. And because the capitalists were still in a legal grey area, they could have their stuff seized. Jessie's uncle reported her. She lost everything and was lucky not to go to prison. So she smuggled herself out using her connections from smuggling goods. Now s
Planet Money: the Benefits of Bankruptcy Rerun of a 2015 episode. Queen City Appliances was founded ~1950, at some point the founder's son Ronny took over as CEO. It was doing well, and borrowing money to make money. Then 2008 happened, and in 2009 the business was doing badly, no one buying new refrigerators. So Ronny filed for bankruptcy. He had to sign the papers along with his 80something-year-old mother, who had helped to build the business from the ground up and still did accounts four days a week. It was one of the worst days of his life. These papers are public, telling the court and the world everyone you owe money to. Within minutes a local paper had a story about it on its website, and his son texted to ask if he was okay. But bankruptcy is kind of weird in the US, because you don't necessarily have to stop operating, you can file for "chapter 11". This goes back to railroads, which would run out of money at the slightest economic crisis but everyone still wanted them to run. So some means was developed for that to happen. QCA went for it. Ronnie had to convince a judge and his creditors (via vote) that he had a way forward. After that, he had to ask permission for everything, including "paying his electricity bill" and "filling his trucks up with gas". And he had to submit weekly progress reports. He went from 17 stores to 4. His creditors wouldn't get everything back, some low on the pecking order only got 10%, but better than nothing. And after 1 1/2 years, he got a super short legal document saying his company was no longer bankrupt. Everyone else thought the US was crazy when they first implemented this, but some economists think it's part of why they did better during the recession than most, and some other countries are looking to emulate it now. Ronnie's mum also likes bankruptcy more than she used to, having previously thought it was a "morally upright people do not do this" sort of thing. No one at church judged her for it either. In a pre
Planet Money (6 May 2023): How to fight a squatting goat Burt inherits some land in Delaware from his parents, many years later tries to sell some of it. Finds a potential buyer but a surveyor says there's an encroachment, his neighbor has a fence and goats running through his property. His brother asks her to move it (Burt himself is in Atlanta), she doesn't. He sends her a certified letter asking her to move it, she doesn't. His lawyer offers her $1500 to move it, no response. The deal falls through. (It was... I have both $400k and $50k in my head?) He decides to sue her. Melissa, the neighbor, tells it a bit differently. She grew up there, and through her whole childhood she thought this land belonged to her family. When the brother asks her to move the fence, she thinks it's only gonna be a few feet, but waits for the surveyor's letter to know how much. She doesn't get that letter, contacts a surveyor of her own who can't get there until December, and forgets about it. Doesn't get the certified letter, doesn't get the offer of $1500. Next thing she knows she's being sued. She decides to fight back. Studies a bunch of law and represents herself in court. The relevant principle is adverse possession, where the government can say "okay yes this person technically owns this land, but now we're taking it away from them and giving it to this other person". Two reasons to do this with land and not other stuff: one, it's finite; two, there's no central land registry, just individual documents recording land transfers, and sometimes those documents disagree and courts have to figure out what to do then. The first time they see each other is in court. Melissa needs to show five things to win, failing to meet any of them means she loses. Roughly: that her family enjoyed exclusive use of the property in question for 20 years, and the actual owner never gave them permission. She shows a bunch of photographs showing her family using the property. Burt's defense is that h
Planet Money: The Free Food Market Originally ran in 2015, reran some other time. Feeding America accepts food donations and distributes them to food banks. They had what economists call the "local knowledge problem", that central office doesn't know what the local banks need. What they have too much of, what they want more. A bank in Alaska wasn't getting fresh produce because the distributor didn't think their distribution network would get it there in good state, unaware that the bank had set up their own distribution logistics for that purpose. At some point a new CEO of Feeding America comes in and is like "wtf guys, this sucks". Gets a bunch of economists and food bank people together to hash out a solution. What they come up with is a market using fake money. They give a certain amount daily to each bank, more to the ones they decide are needier. Then banks get to bid on the food they want. They can use their whole allowance every day, or save up to bid high amounts on popular items. They can also bid negative amounts on things that no one really wants, to make up for the hassle of logistics. One bank person was like "nuts to this, I'm a socialist and I don't want anything to do with markets". He ended up liking it a lot, and him liking it helped convince others. They also have a way for food banks to sell to each other. But that's not used very much. The bank people talk among each other a lot, they're friends, they share tips about dealing with food bank problems, they'd rather earn social points by giving food away than fake money by selling it to each other. I'm pretty sure I intended to reference this last bit in my review of Order Without Law (relevant because the bank people seem like a close-knit group) but forgot.
Planet Money: Flood Money Bill's house has flooded three times since he's lived there, and by now he's getting used to it. Why not move? Insurance! You can't really get private insurance for floods, because it's too correlated. When the company has to pay out for one person, it has to pay out for everyone, and it goes bankrupt. So this insurance is backed by the government. He pays something like $4k/year for a house that cost him under $500k, and its paid out over $800k so far. That's not counting the most recent flood, after which it'll be over $1m. (I don't remember if this counts the twice it flooded before Bill bought the house.) The government body in charge of things like this nominally tries to take in more in premiums than it pays out, for a while it even succeeded, but it basically doesn't work. Part of this is because America is generally down on mandated insurance, and only a relative handful of people have this insurance. Bill is a gun-owning, libertarian-leaning Texan, but he still thinks people should be required to buy flood insurance. The body in question has borrowed more and more money from some other government body to make up for the shortfall. Ostensibly it'll pay it back but it's just going to fall to taxpayers eventually. (One of these bodies is FEMA, I forget which.) It's not allowed to refuse to insure someone, and while it has some control over how much it charges, congress also has a lot of control. The body also tries to encourage things like "building your house more resilient to floods, like on stilts" and "moving away from flood prone areas", but the cheap insurance kind of doesn't help on that front. Bill actually wants to put his house on stilts, but hasn't been able to get a grant for doing that yet.
Planet Money #902 (28 Mar 2019): The Phoebus Cartel Listened to this one a few weeks ago and don't remember most of it. But half the episode was about the phoebus cartel, a case of planned obsolesence when lightbulb manufacturers decided that no light bulb should be allowed to last more than 1000 hours. Writing this for Gell-Mann amnesia reasons: in the episode someone says there was no benefit to consumers from this, but I'd recently seen a technology connections episode on the subject saying that longer lasting incandescent light bulbs are less energy efficient (i.e. more heat less light) for physics reasons, to the extent that they could easily be more expensive over their lifetime. Seems like an important caveat that PM missed! The other half was about psychological obsolesence, where manufacturers make long-lasting goods like cars cosmetically different to convince you you need a new one.
Planet Money #1568 (26 Aug 2022): Wake up and smell the fraud Nina gets a coffee machine that takes coffee pods, and then orders some Nespresso pods from ebay at like half the price they should be. She wonders why they're so cheap, but there's explanations other than them being stolen (like someone having a bunch close to expiry, or getting them free as a loyalty perk or something) so she figures it's probably fine. But then they show up delivered direct from Nespresso, and a $200 coffee machine shows up along with them. Rather than being like "yay free stuff" she's like "wtf" and tries to investigate. It's difficult to get Nespresso customer service to understand the problem but there's a name on the receipt that isn't hers. She thinks there's probably some kind of scam going on but isn't sure whether that name belongs to the scammer or the victim. She buys a few more suspiciously-cheap boxes of pods from ebay. One comes with a milk frother, another with twice as many pods as it should. The names on the receipts are different, so she thinks these are probably victims. After a while one says they can't deliver the thing with the sort of bad-grammar-and-sob-story-about-my-mother that screams "internet scam". Patrick McKenzie comes on to help explain. Credit card fraud is an industry with forums and ratings and conferences and division of labor - "carders" steal credit card numbers and "cashers" turn credit card numbers into money. An easy thing to do is buy stuff and then sell it at a flea market. But then it shows up at your door which is kinda sus. Or you can set up a fake business and use the credit card numbers at it, but usage patterns there will be pretty sus too. (Plus chargebacks, but those aren't mentioned at this point for some reason?) So what's going on here is called triangulation fraud. The scammer gets Nina's real money, then uses the victim's card to buy an actual product and send it to her. Nina is (expected to be) happy, the scammer is happy.
History of English #40 (21 Mar 2014): Learning Latin and Latin Learning Previously the Roman Catholic traditions officially won over Irish Celtic, but Irish Celtic stayed alive, especially in Northumbria. And a king shortly after some of the previous kings built a particularly important monastary in that tradition. It had a lot of books, that was a thing for important monastaries. A child (~4yrs) named Beade went to stay there, no one knows why: "orphan" and "noble child" are possibilities, with some evidence for the latter being that the name meant "prayer" in Old English so it might have been intended from birth. A few years later a plague hit, and only Beade (now 12) and the abbot survived. They kept doing services, but it meant Beade mostly grew up with a lot of books, and became an accomplished scholar. He wrote a bunch of books of his own, most of them are lost to us now but we know about the others through a list in one of the surviving ones. At least one of them was a history, and Beade was pretty groundbreaking in trying to be accurate. He also included dates, and he was the first to start numbering from Jesus, instead of the previous thing of dating by Roman emperors. He wrote in Latin (so we have AD instead of something more Saxon - I guess BC came later?) but was a proud Anglo Saxon, and a few centuries later someone translated his works into Old English. Some etymology: "cross" comes from the torture and torture device, and gives us several obvious things like "crossroads" and some less obvious things like "cruise" (that one from another branch of IE). "Crisscross" is super old but its meaning has changed, originally it was a line of letters on a page referencing Christ, then came to mean the alphabet and then other things. "Mass" (as in Church), "mission" (as in Church) and "mess" (as in mess hall) all come from the dismissal at the end of a service, and "mess" (as in messy) comes from mess-as-in-hall. "Noon" is cognate with "nine". Early sundials
Planet Money (28 Apr 2021): The $100 Million Deli There's a deli that's publicly traded and has a market cap of just over $100 million. This is crazy. Such a thing would normally be worth more like $100 thousand. It came to public attention when someone mentioned it in a speech or something as an example of how there seems to be no prosecution of fraud, or something. Someone from CNBC looked into the filings, the CEO is the local high school team's wrestling coach, and another important figure is a Chinese businessman with ties to Macau. Other large shareholders include companies based in Macau, too. And there are a few individuals involved who have been banned by the SEC from trading, or something. One of those individuals used to be coached by the wrestling coach I think. Also, the deli is hiring one of those companies as a consultant, for $25k a month, on sales of idk what but pretty sure less than that. What's probably going on is the company is being used as a foothold into the American stock market. Someone doesn't want to do an IPO so instead they merge with an existing public company. Kind of like a SPAC, but different in a way I didn't quite catch. (Matt Levine's explained it as well, but I forget that too.) Call it a SNAC, Special No-purpose Acquisition Company. The deli didn't allow recording inside, and they didn't want to talk about what was going on, but they made a good sandwich.
Planet Money (13 May 2021): Hot Cheetos Attention conservation notice: the LA Times says this story is untrue. (I've only skimmed that article but it has some more details and corrections, both wrt reality and wrt what PM reported. For example, his name was Richard, not Robert. h/t Money Stuff, when I listened to the episode I remembered seeing it link to this.) Robert? grew up in a family of farm workers. He was bussed into a previously all white school, sat with the other Latin Americans, and all the white kids were like wtf at his lunch burrito. He asked his mum to make him a sandwich next time. She made him two burritos, one to share, and soon he was selling burritos at school. He joined a gang for a bit but sucked at it, kept getting arrested. When he turned 18 his girlfriend said it was time to get a real job. She wrote him a fabricated resume and he got work as a janitor in a chip factory. This was the early 80s? He thought he was doing great, then someone called him in and said they'd have to let him go, he had no initiative. He blustered his way through, got them to give him another chance. Went home, then went to the library with his girlfriend and they looked up the word in a dictionary. Oh, that thing? I can do that. So he started learning to do like everything. He'd sit in on sales meetings, and take over for people on the factory floor when they went on breaks, and was still being a janitor. At some point the company instituted a "give us an idea, we'll give you a dollar" policy, a dollar was decent compared to his wage, so he submitted loads. (Not clear if the idea had to be adopted?) At some point he and his girlfriend decided to make hot chips. Decided for whatever reason that cheetos would be the kind of chip. He took a bunch home with him one day and they experimented, eventually getting something good, sharing it with friends. He went back to work, looked through the company directory and called the CEO. Got past the secretary, who was a bi
Planet Money #1717 (9 Feb 2024): A Lawsuit for your broken heart Keith met woman, fell in love, got married, had kids. She helped with his BMX company and she'd post sickeningly cute things on facebook about how she had the best family. Then Keith saw some very messages she was exchanging with some other guy (from him: «do you like how tall I am», «show me a bikini pic», that kind of thing). He got mad, called him, said «never fucking talk to my wife again» and thought that would be the end of it. It was not the end of it. She had affair, they got divorced. A bit later he was catching up with an old school friend who'd been in a similar situation, and she told him she was suing the woman her husband had cheated with. You can do that? These are heartbalm laws and they're kind of archaic. In the past if a woman got engaged and the man broke things off, she could be ruined, so she got to sue him for breach of promise. There's also seduction, where she could sue someone for lying her into bed. And criminal conversation, which is adultery. And the one relevant to the show, alienation of affections, where you can sue someone for damaging your marriage. Most states have abolished these, partly because public perception moved towards women using these in ways that were unpopular, this is where the term "gold digger" took off. There were also a bunch of famous people who got sued. But a few states still have alienation of affections, including North Carolina, which is where most of the suits are. Possibly because that's where most of the legal experts in them are. Keith presents evidence that his marriage would otherwise have been happy: the sickeningly cute facebook posts, messages between him and his ex, messages from her to her girlfriends saying the marriage would have been fine if not for this other guy. (She subsequently married him.) And because marriage is in part an economic arrangement, his lawyer also talks about the work that the ex had been doing for the
Planet Money: The Maine Potato War The standard potato today is the russet, mostly associated with Idaho and Washington, but in the... 70s? 80s?... it was some other kind from Maine. These potatos were sold on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and in particular you could buy and sell futures there. Futures are good for hedging, farmers could lock in the price early to avoid risk of a crash, and buyers could lock it in early to avoid risk of a rise. You could also just speculate, with no intention of ever seeing a potato. Speculators are generally good for markets because they put a bunch of money in there which helps them flow better. The big Western potato farmers didn't like that Maine potatos were on the exchange, because it gave them an advantage. So one year they entered the market with like a million dollars worth of contracts. (I vaguely recall that these were buy contracts, but I think it fits better with the rest of the story if they were sell.) Trading is weird for the year, and when things finally play out after close date, the Western farmers collectively owe the market millions of pounds of Maine potatoes, possibly more than existed in the entire state of Maine. They try to get around it by offering russet potatoes instead, but buyers say no dice. So in the end they just default. They have to pay back the buyers plus pay heavy fines. I think banned from the exchange for a bit? Short term expensive for them. But long term very good for them! Markets don't like defaults, so the Maine potatoes are removed from the exchange a bit later.
Planet money #904 (6 Apr 2019): Joke Theft Meg is an Internet comedian. After a picture of Kanye kissing Kim at some ceremony, she photoshopped it to be a pic of Kanye kissing Kanye. It went viral. But her own tweet only got a couple hundred likes. Most of the viral came from an Instagram account called Fuck Jerry which has 14 million followers and reposted it without credit. And Fuck Jerry does that a lot, and gets a lot of ad money, including from Comedy Central who should know better than to support someone who keeps stealing from comedians. So that made Meg kinda mad. Stand up comedy started after the death of vaudeville. At first it was just throwing out one-liner after one-liner, the jokes didn't have much effort put into them so no one really cared if you stole them. Later the acts and the jokes got more sophisticated and comedians did care. You can copyright a joke, but it costs $35 to register, it can't be too short, and just changing the wording gets around it. This is partly to stop stuff like "don't you hate it when..." from being taken out of the commons. A comedy lawyer couldn't find any case of one stand up comedian suing another for joke theft. What do they do instead? A comedian gives three strategies. * Violence: every time you steal one of my jokes, I'll damage your car. * Warnings: if you as a friend of the comic see a known joke thief in the audience, write a message on a napkin and have the waitress deliver it to the comic who can then finish early or avoid using their more precious material. (Robin Williams was a known joke thief. He said he just absorbed stuff and couldn't remember where it was from. Comedian says Robin once stole one from him, but at least when he called him out he cut him a cheque. It said "sorry for the inconvenience", not "sorry for stealing". But it was $200 which was a lot of money in the mid 80s.) * Organizing: get venues to blacklist them. Meg makes a campaign "fuck Fuck Jerry" trying to get people to unfoll
99% Invisible #110 (rerun 14 Oct 2015): Structural Integrity Citigroup Center (formerly Citicorp Center, AKA 601 Lexington, wikipedia page but I'm not consulting it for this) is a NY skyscraper that seems like it's floating above you. It's supported on stilts, and the stilts are in the middles of the sides, not the corners like you'd normally expect. The reason for this is that when the developers bought the land, they did so on condition that they'd rebuild a church where it already was, which was a corner. The structural engineer did some neat trick with chevron-shaped supports to make this work, and then the architect didn't want to see them and covered them up. The supports turned out to also be pretty light, so they added a mass dampener to the top of the building to reduce wind sway. It was neat. Then one day the engineer got a call from some (arcitecture?) student, he doesn't know who or what school they're from, asking how he'd dealt with cornering winds, i.e. winds blowing on to the corner of the building rather than the side. He thought for a bit and was like, oh dear. He hadn't done the calculations for those because normally the corners are the strongest, but with the stilts at the side that's no longer the case. Looking at historical winds, he figured a storm that would knock the building down came along every 55 years. Except, the mass dampener needed power, and storms sometimes take out power, and without power a storm that would knock the building down came along every 16 years. And if the building (900ish feet tall?) went down it would topple and take over a lot of other stuff. It would have been fine, but during construction some welds were swapped out for bolts. Sounds like that was done without consulting him? It would normally be fine but this is an unusual building. Anyway, he contacted the relevant people and everyone teamed up to get it fixed, by replacing those bolts with welds. It didn't cost much compared to the building itself. Teams
99% Invisible: McMansion Hell Guest writes the blog McMansion Hell. It sounds like there are several things she dislikes about McMansions: * Sometimes the owners want weird things on the inside, like a cathedral ceiling. Making that stuff work makes the outside look ugly. * People are too far on the "investment" side of "do you build a house as an investment or a place to live in". * They look too similar to each other, you can tell where you are in the US from the normal houses but not from the McMansions. * Each one is self-inconsistent, it has different styles of windows and different pitches of roof and stuff. (I feel like there's some tension in these, like the person putting in a cathedral ceiling is probably doing it because they personally really want a cathedral ceiling and not because they think it improves the investment value. Also I can't imagine that being so supposedly ugly improves the investment value. Also I feel like if I was building my own house I'd want to optimize for how it looks on the inside, and if guest wants to judge my taste in interiors she can go fuck herself.) Guest says that whenever someone writes her saying "I didn't used to care about McMansions but now every time I see one I hate it" she's happy, because now one more person feels what she feels. (Reiterate that I didn't double check, and I listened to this episode a few days ago now. Higher than usual chance I'm misremembering something, which I mention explicitly because this summary is super negative.)
Fall of Civilizations #13: The Assyrians - Empire of Iron (Okay look this is a three hour episode, approximately none of the names are in my orthography which means I have trouble telling people apart, and the dates don't mean much to me either. I'd be amazed if I don't misremember anything here.) During some Persian civil war, one of the combatants hired a bunch of Greek mercenaries. They won one particular battle, but the Persian dude got killed so there wasn't much left for the greeks and they started running away towards the Black Sea. On the way they found two large abandoned cities that they had no idea what was going on. This was before the Parthenon or the Colusseum. Now we know the names of the cities (one was Nineveh, I forget the other) and that they were part of the Assyrian empire. The empire started with a city named Assur, somehow related to the previous Sumerian empire. It became pretty good at fighting. The god of the city (also called Assur, it was normal for a city to have a god back then) came to take over the place of the king of the gods. Then came the bronze age collapse and it survived better than most. They started conquering places around them. For a while Babylon kept them in check, but then didn't, and they conquered Babylon. Their kings got pretty brutal. They could field large armies, over 100k when the world population was only like 50m. The armies did have to go home for harvest though, so there were only a few months of the year where they could campaign. Their subjects could time insurrections carefully to avoid getting spanked. Except then they didn't need that, either, and laid siege to a city for three years. They also had army engineers making siege engines and digging roads through mountains and stuff. A lot of their subjects didn't much like them, but they didn't much like each other either, so they didn't team up and Assyria was able to suppress them one at a time even if they rebelled simultaneously. They also have a lo
Planet Money: The Day India's Cash Disappeared 2019 rerun of a 2017 episode. Recently the Prime Minister of India, a guy named Modi, announced that all the 500 and 1000 rupee Indian banknotes would become worthless. That's 85% of India's cash, and most people don't have credit cards. People had just 30 days to trade their cash in, and only a certain amount a day - a high amount by most Indians' standards, but not for the wealthy. And the lines to do so were long. This sucked hard for a lot of people. A man found 3000 Rupees in his dead wife's Sari, weeks or months of farm work for him, and couldn't trade it in because the deadline had passed. The bank was allowed to make exceptions but didn't. A baby died because its parents didn't have cash for a taxi. The point was to get black money used by the mafia out of the economy. An engineer named Anil came up with it, along with his engineer buddies. They did run it by some economists too, who broadly thought it was a good idea. Then Anil quit his job and formed a sort of collective devoted to promoting this idea. He gave a talk on it thousands of times, to politicians, professors, businessmen, whoever would listen. Eventually he gave it to Modi, before Modi became Prime Minister but when Modi already had a reputation for being able to get shit done. It was supposed to be a nine minute meeting, it turned into ninety, and Modi said he'd make it happen if he became PM. Economist criticizes: yes it's a good plan but it's an engineer's plan, you need more data. Anil responds: this is why nothing gets better, you keep asking for more data when you need to do things. This will hurt at first but improve things in the long run. 2019 update: demonetization slowed India's economic growth by 2 percentage points in the early months, which was almost all of its growth. You could see the effects from space as fewer lights were turned on. Since then growth has recovered. (This is not a very detailed update, annoyingly.)
99% Invisible: Matters of Time A few short stories on the subject of time. Standardized time across a whole country came into existence with train networks. It was important for these because people needed to know when the train would be there to catch it, and also being a few minutes off could cause crashes. They'd get someone with a good watch to sync it up in London, then travel around the network and have station operators sync their clocks from the watch. A clock on the side of the Bristol Corn Exchange still has both London and Bristol time, 12 minutes apart. When industrialization started to become a thing, people would have to get up early before dawn to go to their shift, but didn't have alarm clocks yet. (Got the vague impression this was related to standardized time, and I could see that being related, but it also seems unnecessary.) So there'd be knockers-up, who went around waking people. No good to knock on the door, that could wake neighbors too (either annoying them or giving them a service for free). A long cane could rap directly on their bedroom window, or at least one person used a pea-shooter. Not a great wage, a lot of them were older women who couldn't do much physical labor any more. Also constables with the night shift would often moonlight as knockers-up, and the constable first told about the first Jack the Ripper victim was too busy doing that to come look at the body at first. The last one retired only in the early 70s. Vaguely related, there was at least one report in the ripper case saying things like "at 6:19... six minutes later" which is just way more precise than people would have been able to measure at the time. China doesn't have time zones, the whole country is on Beijing time. For a while it was divided up, but when the PRC became a thing in the 50s it decided to promote unity by having one time zone. Beijing is in the east. Xinjiang, to the west, should really be about two hours behind according to the sun, and most peopl
Planet Money: Bad Credit Bureau Credit ratings agencies started in the late 19th century in Brooklyn. For a while if you wanted to buy from a shop on credit, that was fine, the shopowner knew you. Then more people started moving in, and owners wouldn't know who to trust. The Sells brothers went around to all the shops, asked to look at their books, and compiled a list of people with simple categorizations: do they pay on time, do they pay cash, is there something you should talk to us about first? Then owners could have a copy of the book and look up an unknown person in that. This sort of thing was also useful for e.g. banks and insurance companies, and there was competitive pressure to start including more and more detail. Ratings agencies were basically flying under the radar with this sort of thing. Then in the 60s Congress was discussing something else, "it would be bad if this led to..." and someone was like "you know the CRAs do that already right?" Congress apparently did not know this and started looking at the CRAs. One woman had been denied a job for being rated as, like, disagreeable and "neurotic or psychotic"; there was no citation for this, it's not like it was a doctor's diagnosis, just a thing that had been written down for some unclear reason. Congress doesn't like this sort of thing and starts to impose rules on them. The modern connection is to the Equifax hack.
Planet Money (Rerun 21 May 2021): Big Government Cheese In the 70s, Carter wanted to increase the retail price of milk by 6¢/gal, a decent amount. The point being that if the USA isn't self-sufficient for food that's a national security thing, so it's worth overpaying to keep your farmers local. Then congress outdid him and wanted the price to raise every six months? But you can't just say "the price will be this now", you have to do something concrete which will have that effect, either lower supply or raise demand. Lowering supply means telling people not to make milk, not the kind of thing one does in America. (Plus seems like it would defeat the national security thing?) Raising demand means the government buying milk. That's what it does with wheat and corn, and dumps them in silos. But those keep well, milk doesn't. So instead it decides to buy milk products that do keep well: cheddar cheese, butter, and "nonfat dry milk"? We only follow the cheese story. Since the government is buying as much as you can produce, obviously farmers are going to want to sell their shittiest cheese. So they hire cheese graders to take core samples, taste them, and check they're good quality. Cheese hack: it's stored in barrels, so you can put good cheese on top and crap cheese on bottom, the grader mentioned that as a thing people did but didn't say how he'd find out or whatever. And having bought the cheese, it basically just dumps it all in a set of caves in Kansas City. (Private caves that they're renting.) But the stockpile keeps growing and eventually growing mold. And it's hard to get rid of. They can't really sell it, that would compete with the farmers, not at all what they want. Normally they'd give it in foreign aid, but cheese doesn't travel well. The military takes some but not enough. They settle on food banks, the idea being that food bank recipients aren't buying cheese anyway. It's awkward because it comes in way bigger barrels than the food banks want, but
Planet Money (20 May 2021): Get The Vaccine, Lose The Skinny Jeans Two thematically related stories. Once the Covid vaccine is available, there's a question of "how do we convince people to get it?" We speak to someone in this area. Her group tried a bunch of things. * A joke, "did you hear the one about the flu? Don't spread it!": not effective. * "Wealthy educated people are getting the vaccine!": not effective. * "Lots of people are getting the vaccine!": effective. * Ohio's million dollar lottery: effective. In other news: Skinny jeans became popular in the early 2000s. Two relevant things are the Strokes wearing them on the cover of an album (their debut?) and stretch denim making them more comfortable and easier to put on/take off. For a long time they just completely dominate the jeans industry, which is awkward for designers because how do you sell someone a new pair when they already have like five? Then a fashion student? on Tiktok starts giving wardrobe advice during the pandemic. At some point she realizes she has a pair of skinny jeans she hasn't worn in ages, they're (apparently despite stretch fabric?) kind of uncomfortable and a pain to put on and take off and why would she bother in a pandemic. She makes a video like, "three uses for your skinny jeans: trash them, cut them up, burn them". This apparently sparks/unexpectedly finds itself part of a broader anti-skinny-jeans Whole Thing, which is also part of the millenial/gen Z Whole Thing? Anyway by now skinny jeans are down to like, only 30% of all jeans sales.
99% Invisible #442 (11 May 2021): Tanz Tanz Revolution Berlin is known for its club scene, and this comes from the Berlin wall. No one really wanted to live in West Berlin, it was cut off from the rest of West Germany, so the government offered incentives: subsidized rent and food, exemption from mandatory military service. (I'm surprised post-war Germany was allowed to have mandatory military service.) This leads I guess to a bunch of musicians coming in, and they start defining a music scene. There's I think mutual influence between them and Detroit? They broadcast on the radio, and they say where they're DJing tonight, "come to the UFO club to hear this live" kind of thing. Meanwhile in East Berlin, only state-sanctioned music is allowed, certainly nothing countercultural. If you want to hold a dance party, you need months worth of permits and bullshitting about how this will make the participants better soviet citizens through the ecstacy of dance. But the radio broadcasts from West Berlin are still there, so the East Berliners know what they're missing out on. Eventually the wall comes down, they're allowed to mix freely, and East Berliners go to West Berlin clubs. Anyone who was there will tell you that the reunification of Germany happened on the dance floor. West Berlin didn't have that much space, but East Berlin did. And for a lot of it, the ownership was unclear - the nazis had expropriated it from a Jewish owner, then the soviets from the nazis, and now in theory it was supposed to go back to its original owner but that could take a while (if they were even still alive I guess). In the meantime you could kind of just rock up to an abandoned warehouse and hold a rave? You'd be there for a couple of nights and then move on. At some point one started staying in a dedicated location, somewhere that had held a bunch of records? I kind of zoned out and missed a lot of this. Discussion of the link between Berlin and Detroit, but I missed a lot of that t
Planet Money (7 May 2021): Emission Impossible Microsoft's CEO has announced that the company will be carbon negative by (2030 or 2050 or something). What does this mean? (Explanation of carbon offsetting.) One person selling carbon offsets is an Indonesian guy. He and a buddy bought up a load of Indonesian forest and now they charge money not to cut it down. (Would cutting it down be a problem? Seems to me as long as you replant, and use the timber for construction, or store it, or otherwise make sure the carbon doesn't get released back in the atmosphere - it would be fine? But then I guess probably an old tree captures more carbon year-on-year than a young one. And also I guess the forest ecosystem is healthier with old trees, and constant replanting would eventually fail?) Then there's a middleman. He knows how to make his way in Silicon Valley, he describes himself as offering the Airbnb of carbon offsets. The offset seller lists on the brokerage platform, and companies who want to buy offsets find them there. There are a few potential problems with this. One is "regulation" but I don't remember what that means precisely. Another is, how do we know what it's worth to not cut down a forest? We have to compare to a hypothetical where no one bought the offsets, how much would have been cut down then? We can't know, but seller provides a number anyway. Comparing to similar forests, a study says that number is noticeably too high. There are ratings available, and this particular project gets either 0/5 or 1/5 stars. (I don't remember if this is brought up in the episode, but I guess also: the person selling the offsets has incentive to encourage more logging in other forests.) PM interviews someone, I think the broker, about these problems. He seems confident everything is fine. PM is unconvinced. Microsoft does not buy these particular offsets.
99% Invisible #441 (5 May 2021): Abandoned Ships There are a handful of cargo ships - officially 50, likely more - waiting around in or near a port but not allowed to dock, and the crew isn't allowed to leave. We hear mostly from Mehmed (?). He was third in command on his ship, which arrived in Egypt with a lot of cement or maybe it was concrete. By the time they arrived, their salaries hadn't been paid in months, and the owner said it would be even longer until they did get paid. They refused to unload until they saw the money. The owner resisted and threatened for a bit, and then just went silent. Egypt didn't want them leaving the ship fully abandoned, it would be a hazard. Ships need constant maintenance. So it said they weren't allowed, and they'd be imprisoned if they did. This went on for months, and they started to ration because they were running out of food. They also started fighting amongst themselves. Mehmed wanted to leave, but not alone, and no one else did. He thought of things like swimming three miles to a beach, or somehow jumping ship to one under a Turkish flag (his home country) and stowing away, but his family talked him out of it. Two organizations help out in cases like this. Mission for Seafarers (a tiny organization, like two men and a motorboat) gets food and sim cards and so on to them. And some TLA tries to help with legal stuff, contacting owners, putting pressure on home countries, that sort of thing. ("Home countries" are the countries the ships are registered under, usually a flag of convenience.) Eventually (it was over a year at this point, possibly long over) this second organization managed to help in Mehmed's case, they got stuff settled in the Egyptian courts that everyone except the captain was allowed to leave and go home. And the captain got to stay in a hotel near port until the ship was auctioned, which could be months more. We're not told who if anyone is maintaining the ship or what happened to "unmanned ships are a
99% Invisible #308 (Rerun 28 Apr 2021): Curb Cuts Rerun of a 2018 episode. Dan Roberts (?) got polio as an adolescent. It left him mostly paralyzed, needing an iron lung to breathe. Though he did learn to "frog breathe" so he could escape his wheelchair for a bit at a time. (Maybe he wasn't as paralyzed as I remember them saying?) When he wanted to go to UC Berkeley, at first they said no, he was too disabled, his wheelchair wouldn't even fit through a dorm room door. Then someone suggested he live in what used to be a hospital wing, and the college agreed. They hired an attendant to wheel him to and from classes and he'd give carbon paper to a classmate to get a copy of her notes. Over time more disabled students came and they formed a group, possibly called the Quad Wheelers? And at some point someone invented the power wheelchair, originally for the benefit of disabled veterans but other wheelchair riders started to get them too. It gave them a lot more freedom. Dan got one and learned to use it partly because he was dating someone and it sucked to have his attendant accompany them. (The show has a narrative around "things designed for one group of people turned out to help others", but I'm not convinced the power wheelchair was specifically designed for vets and it just so happened that others could use it. I would guess it was more like, there were enough disabled vets, or they were prominent and sympathetic enough, to attract attention?) But with or without a power wheelchair, curbs are impassable. So, curb cuts. There were stories of the Quad Wheelers going out at night with sledgehammers and making their own cuts, but someone says that only happened a few times. What they did do was attend a city council meeting, there was a motion to make a bunch of curb cuts, it passed unanimously. Then later there was the ADA. Wheelchair riders couldn't get up the steps of the capitol, so several of them got out and crawled, when they wanted to be there en masse. A
Planet Money (1 May 2021): A Superhero Goes to Hollywood More superhero licensing, this time adaptations. The holy grail they want is a movie. Turns out NPR already has a deal with a studio, the same one producing the Hamilton movie. They paid (censored) to get right of first refusal on anything NPR produces for (censored) number of days, so PM can't shop around for that. But they can go after other adaptations, and sign three deals. One is with a radio play group (I guess non-profit). Another is a choral music person, this one is more complicated because it's not non-profit, I think they decided on the guy writes the sheet music and then pays them like 15% of the profits of selling it. (We hear a clip but I was on 2.1x speed so it sounded off. Choral music isn't my thing anyway.) And finally there's a broadway musical, even more complicated, they license Micro-Face to the producers and then plan to license the show itself back to produce for PM. (We also hear a clip of the "I am" song from this.) Then after the ROFR on the movie has expired, someone else gets in touch wanting to do that. He's done a bunch of small, well-reviewed movies, the name I remember is Slaxx which is about a pair of jeans. Looking at the credits for that they were probably talking to Shaked Berenson, I also recognize the name Turbo Kid now. He has a bunch of Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh trophies strategically visible behind him on the zoom call. PM crew love his style, agree on something like: he pays $1500 for the option rights for 18 months. Tries to get together a cast and crew. If he successfully produces a movie, NPR gets 2.5% of the revenue up to $1mm, and then 5% of the profits if it makes a profit.
Planet Money (23 Apr 2021): A Superhero Sells Out Previously Planet Money found and resurrected the superhero Micro-Face, who had been created long ago and lapsed into public domain. Now they're trying to make money from him, through licensing. They put out a call for people who wanted to do a licensing deal, and then spent a day talking to them in turn, Dragon's Den style, either accept or reject. Speaking to an expert on licensing (she previously worked on Sesame Street and Beavis and Butthead) they decided to follow what they called the Elmo rule: don't license something out of character. They reject almost every application. Temporary tattoos because although Micro-Face is a hip guy in NYC, he definitely has tattoos, he wouldn't have temporary tattoos. A recycling company endorsement because he's a journalist, he wouldn't endorse a company. Eventually someone comes along offering Gouda, and they go for it. Then finally a husband-wife team, The Bitter Housewife, offers an ultimatum on some kind of soda, either work with them or no one. They've already registered the trademark on Micro-Face sodas. Can they do that? Yes, says the lawyer they consult, a trademark doesn't give you exclusive use of the word in every market. Dove cosmetics and Dove chocolate are unrelated, and there's nothing stopping the PM hosts talking about the Greek goddess Nike, or even selling a T-shirt with her picture, as long as they don't use her name on the T-shirt. But there's also nothing stopping them putting the image of Micro-Face on a soda. (The Bitter Housewife can't do that, but I guess they can use the original Micro-Face?). So out of spite they reach out to a soda manufacturer and do just that, calling it Planet Money Official Superhero Soda ("sour, but never bitter").
99% Invisible #440 (20 Apr 2021): La Brega in Levittown La Brega is another podcast, focused on Puerto Rico. It's produced with both Spanish and English versions. The name is an expression meaning something like "shit sucks but whatever". Roman interviews the author then runs episode 2. Levittowns were deliberately built to be places where I think returning veterans from WWII could buy a place and become homeowners. In the American version of the concept they'd only sell to white people. For a while America was happy to let PR be poor, but then there was the cold war and Cuba became communist, and America wanted to hold up PR as an example of the success of capitalism, so they decided to raise a middle class there. Part of this was building a Levittown. But also there were too many people. Host mentions forced sterilization and birth control experiments, but the approach taken here seems to be... encouraging PRans to move to the mainland states where there were more opportunities for them? Host seems to think this is obviously bad. Anyway, that worked for a bit and then PRans migrated back to PR. We follow a family, possibly Host's family? I think the story was they moved to America, back to PR, then almost had to move to America again after the dad finished building houses in Levittown because he couldn't afford them, but then he won the lottery. At first Levittown seems to have been a success, there were a few different models of house there, they were cement so people could paint them, and people would also extend them according to personal taste. Later, and especially in the wake of the hurricane, it seems not so much?
99% Invisible #439 (14 Apr 2021): Welcome to Jurassic Art Redux Rerun of a show from 2018. In the present-day into, Roman and someone talk about how even though we can recite that 90% of an iceberg is underwater, we tend to picture that stuff being mostly below the stuff above it, like an ice cream cone, when actually it's a lot more spread out. Drawings can make this sort of thing much more intuitive. They mention a website where you can draw a 2d iceberg shape, and it'll show you how it would orient itself. For a long time people thought dinosaurs were slow and cold-blooded. They'd picture brontosaurus and diplodocus standing in swamps to help support their body mass. Evidence comes along suggesting they were warm-blooded and at least some of them were fast. Bob (Barker?) writes an article defending this, and draws a picture of a dinosaur running, and this sets off a wave of other people drawing dinosaurs doing stuff and thinking of dinosaurs as fast and exciting things. Jurassic Park (the movie, book isn't mentioned) is part of this. But most depictions still assume dinosaurs are basically just what we can derive from the skeletons. You can't figure out the shape of a whale or a camel or an elephant from its skeleton, so you probably can't do it with a dinosaur either. Three things happen in I don't remember what order: * We find a dinosaur with some of its softer tissues preserved, and it had quills, maybe feathers? * A book comes out, All Yesterdays, with pictures of "we can't rule out that this is what this dinosaur looked like". * That kind of thing becomes more accepted, as long as you make it clear that it's "we can't rule this out" not "this is what we know". E.g. you might draw a triceratops with a nose balloon because that's what the big nostrils might be good for. Also, after All Yesterdays comes All Todays, where people take skeletons (sometimes partial skeletons) of modern day animals and do the All Yesterdays thing to them.
Corecursive (2 May 2021): Etherium Rescue "Daryl" was an ETH user who fat-fingered a transaction. Went online for help, guest said sorry, nothing anyone can do. Then later guest went o shit maybe there is. Daryl was playing with uniswap, a smart contract letting people provide liquidity for exchanging crypto, e.g. ETH for USDC. Normally when providing liquidity you'd do two things in one transaction, with something like a try/catch letting you do them atomically. I guess Daryl had only done one of them? Anyway, his money was just sitting there, and as soon as anyone tried to take their liquidity from uniswap they'd get Daryl's money as well. Guest realized this and went to check, and the money was still there. But! He also remembered stories of generalized ETH frontrunners. These will examine the pending transactions, see if there's something in there they can use to make money, and if so, submit their own transaction with a higher fee so it gets executed first. Guest worried that one of these would show up if he tried to recover the money. He asked on a group chat if others would also be worried, some of them were, and they got together to try to figure something out. Ultimately they'd need to do some kind of obfuscation so that a bot wouldn't try the thing they were doing. They settled on two separate transactions in one block, where the second one wouldn't do anything unless the first had already happened, hoping bots would only try them separately. But there's stuff set up to protect you from making transactions that don't do anything, and it was stopping them from making the second. Guest was tired and stressed and the money might disappear at any minute, so eventually Guest said YOLO we'll do them in two different blocks and hope. The second transaction got front-ran and they lost the money. On the plus side his worries were vindicated. Guest and Adam (host) discuss Meditations on Moloch. The thing they take away from it is that you need regulation/Levia
History of English #39 (5 Mar 2014): Not Lost in Translation Now that people are writing Christian poetry in (old) English, they need to come up with English words for Christian concepts. One thing was that they had a stock phrase "blank-guardian", and Cadmin's poetry called god "mankind-guardian". (Cadmin was the cowherd from last episode.) The only history I remember from this episode was a cross called the Roothschild cross or something, which had a poem written on it that was also found in the Italy book from last episode. In the 17th Century the cross was broken up (either because it was Catholic and Protestants were doing that sort of thing at the time, or vice versa) and scattered across church grounds, but eventually it was mostly reconstructed. The poem was written from the perspective of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, and the way it talks about blood has similarities with Beowulf. Some people think it was written by Cadmin but we can't know. Some etymology: "good" and "god" are unrelated, but they sometimes get mixed up. "Goodbye" comes from "god be with you" and "gospel" comes originally from something meaning "good news" that at some point becomes "godspel". "Drip" comes from blood dripping, and cognate with dreary. "Lord" comes from loaf-guardian ("breadwinner" is more modern but similar) and "Lady" comes from "loaf-maid". That's kind of redundant because "maid" itself comes from "dough-maker", so we have loaf-guardian and loaf-maker.
Rationally Speaking #223 (16 Dec 2018): Chris Fraser on "The Mohists, ancient China's philosopher warriors" The Mohists were a group from early China, either the Qin dynasty or whoever preceded the Qin dynasty. Then in the following dynasty, they were mostly forgotten. They were consequentialists, and the consequences they considered good were something like, material wealth, something I forget, and people acting in their assigned roles. (Fathers acting as fathers, administrators acting as administrators, that sort of thing.) They were also anti-war, and their philosophy encouraged them to actually go out into the world and try to make it better. If there was a war, they'd offer their services to the defender, making it more costly to the attacker. They were kind of well-known for that. One story tells their founder walking ten days to talk to an aggressor and try to convince them to call off the attack. Aggressor is like "well but I'm all prepared now, it would be awkward to cancel. Plus I've got these neat siege engines". Mohist demonstrates how he'd defeat the siege engines, and says he's placed thousands of followers on the walls of the defender, which in this case is a flat lie but it works. Aggressor sighs and calls off the attack. They were very religious, and their philosophy followed from their religion, but I didn't really follow how. Also, they weren't into equality. They thought society should be stratified, and the people above should be rewarded, but also they should use their rewards to help the poor. A few factors in their decline. One was that their rank-and-file got super into giving stuff away for status, like you couldn't live comfortably and be a proper Mohist, which the central Mohists didn't agree with at all. Parallels to EA there. (Though the central Mohists did think you shouldn't have, like, decorated clothing or weapons, because they function just as well as clothing or weapons without the decoration.) Another was that Chinese unifica
Planet Money #946 (23 Oct 2019): Fries of the Future America doesn't eat a lot of potatoes in general, but it does eat a lot of French fries. Unfortunately, French fries only take a few minutes to go from crispy and great to soggy and shit. This is a problem for fast food. The industry partially solved the problem once, when drive-through became a thing. Previously it was "drive-in", you'd stay there in your car and a waitress on roller-skates would take your order and deliver it with plates and cutlery. But then people would drive off with their plates and cutlery, which was expensive. Enter the wrapper. Now you'd just get your food and drive home with it. In like the 70s or 80s? this became more common than a sit-down fast food meal. (It also gave us cup holders in cars.) But now your fries would mostly be sitting until you got home, by which time they'd be shit. So they invented "stealth fries", which were french fries coated in something you couldn't see, which kept them crispy for longer. But delivery makes that harder again. Someone with a fairly high position in the relevant industry happened to go to Shangai? one time, noticed a crazy amount of delivery drivers, followed them around a bit and saw they were delivering a lot of fries. Thought, huh, if this happens in America people won't want fries any more because the fries they get will be shit. So she went back home and tried to convince her bosses to work on making fries keep longer. They didn't think it would be a problem, who wants to wait 30+ minutes for delivery? But she had enough power to work on it anyway, and eventually they managed to solve it. PM reporter sampled them and approved. These new fries aren't available yet though. PM reporter dips her fries in milkshake. Twelve-year-old me is vindicated.
Planet Money #945 (19 Oct 2019): The Liberty City Von Army (???, edit: it's Von Ormy) is a city in Texas. It used to be unincorporated, then some firefighters were grousing about how San Antonio was going to annex them and they'd get higher taxes but no representation. One of them was like "we should make our own city", the chief was all "go on then", and they did. That first one became mayor. Wanted to be as cheap as possible. Initially had property taxes to get them going, but started reducing them every year. One thing they did: buy a squad car from a nearby city that was replacing theirs. It lasted like a year but no regrets. Another thing they did: some recent college grad from some city-development-related major wanted to do an internship and didn't really like the obvious options. Heard about Von Army, called them up and was like hey do you want an intern? They said sure, and got their intern to write their legal code by looking at codes from nearby cities and copying the good bits. Health and safety, stuff like a fire code, sure. Indoor smoking prohibitions, not so much. Intern later became City Administrator. Mayor wanted him to do a bunch of stuff but didn't want him raising taxes. Mayor's plan was to attract big businesses (Walmart, Target) with something or other, and collect sales taxes. Administrator tried to work with them, but the lack of sewage was a dealbreaker (residents just had to empty their septic tanks). So Administrator tried to work with San Antonio for sewage, got what he thought was a pretty big deal, but Mayor rejected it. Administrator resigned. Today he thinks Von Army is not working out very well, and PM reporters spoke to people who also didn't think that. Former Mayor thinks it's fine, people just don't understand that this is the price of low taxes. Von Army still has low taxes, but gets lots of money from speeding tickets for people passing through. $60k this year, expecting $250k next year, reporter is a bit incredulous at t
99% Invisible #438 (7 Apr 2021): The Real Book In the early days of jazz, musicians would be playing in a club and receive requests, Broadway hits were popular, and have to search through their mountain of sheet music for the song, which they'd then improvise on top of. Some people started making stripped-down versions of the sheet music, not enough to reproduce the original but enough to riff off. Those might have been legal in their original incarnation? And then people started collecting those in "fake books", which were much more convenient to carry around than a mountain of sheet music. Those definitely weren't legal. They also kind of sucked, they were often wrong and they were outdated, both in terms of what songs they included and in terms of how they were played. Jazz had evolved, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and the fake books hadn't. (I don't think the show ever said why not, or treated that as an interesting question?) (I think it was here we heard two versions of a song from Snow White. I couldn't have told you that the jazz version was the same song. Though, listening on 2x probably didn't help.) Some students at Berkeley Music College in Boston approached their teacher with an idea to create a new fake book, updated for the 1970s. He hesitated because illegal and because people getting money for their work is good, but decided it would be worth it. They called it The Real Book, printed out a few hundred copies themselves, then those started getting copied all over the world. The teacher in question said the music quality when he'd walk down the hall improved, people were now playing the right things. No one could compete legally with The Real Book because they couldn't get the rights to all those songs. But then someone did get the rights to almost all those songs, and printed a legal version. They kept basically the same design and made a digital font of the original handwriting. Today The Real Book is basically essential for jazz musicians.
Planet Money #753 (Rerun 16 Oct 2019): Blockchain Gang Rerun of a show from 2017. Charlie Shrem found bitcoin early, got into it like other kids would get into Ayn Rand. Founded BitInstant, which helped people something something with bitcoin. Other people who liked bitcoin at the time were criminals, some of them used BitInstant, Charlie knew this. He got arrested, convicted of aiding and abetting something or other, and two years in prison. Prisoners aren't allowed cash so they used tins of mackeral from commissary, which is not a great currency. You could only buy 14 tins at a time, plus one time the guards redistributed all of one inmate's mackeral, left it lying around for others to pick up, inflation. He started thinking about how to "digitize" it. You'd have prisoners writing down transactions in physical notebooks, and to solve the problem of trust you'd have several write down each one, and then at the end of the day everyone would compare and sum up. Sounds like this never got implemented though? When he got out he discovered that bitcoin is now mainstreamish, the existing institutions have adopted it rather than being replaced like he wanted. He starts a new crypto-related venture, which as of 2019 is no longer a going concern but now he has a podcast.
History of English #37 (21 Jan 2014): Seafarers, Poets and Traveling Minstrels The inhabitants of England at the time (6th century ish?) had been seafarers and there's a lot in English that comes from this. The word way (cognates include weigh) which was originally more like weg; and the word from Latin that gave us port which is also cognate to ford; and voyage might be cognate to those too, through French, or that might have been a similar-but-unrelated thing. There was a bit with like four kings, Ethelbert in the south and Ethel??? in the North and someone else in East Anglia and Edwin. Edwin ran away from Ethel??? to the East Anglia dude, Ethel??? tried to bribe East Anglia to give Edwin up, but East Anglia supported Edwin, overthrew Ethel???, became a power, then later Edwin became a power too. At some point we discovered the ship-grave of East Anglia, no body remains but it did have his lyre. Lyre cognate to lyric, and the instrument may predate Indo-European in Greece, one was found in a particular region of it. Because these guys weren't writing, minstrels just had to remember their poems. Poetry itself is a way to help with this, it's easier to memorize poetry than prose. Modern English poetry is all about rhyming, but Old English poetry was more about alliteration: word endings were more constrained. The standard form was a line would have two halves, the first stressed sound of the second half had to be found in the first half. A modern English example would be: Jack and Jill / jogged up the hill Pleasantly pursuing / a pail of water Jack did drop / damaging his crown Jill tripped too / tumbling after Old English also had a lot fewer words than modern English, so poets would invent compounds. Beowulf describes something going over the sea as going "by whale-road", "by sail-road", "by swan-road", changing the middle word according to alliterative need. There's a possibly-even-older poem from around then too, describing a minstrel meeting all sorts of
Planet Money #524 (Rerun 27 Sep 2017): Mr Jones' Act Following the Puerto Rico disaster, people are wanting to suspend the Jones act to get more aid to PR. That happened for Texas and (Florida?), but hasn't happened for PR yet. Because it's relevant, rerun of a 2014 episode. Jones act says that if you're ferrying something between two ports in America, it needs to be done on an American-owned, American-made, American-crewed ship. There aren't that many of those, so it's expensive. Some workarounds people use: ferrying things from port to a bigger ship using a tiny Jones-acceptable barge that has to make several trips (is the bigger ship in international waters or something, or is port-to-ship just acceptable?); shipping cattle from Hawaii to Canada and driving them down to the states; flying younger cattle from Hawaii to the states. There was a family who ran up against it for their holiday, they missed the boat in not-America but had the chance to fly to Florida and board their cruise ship there, but then they'd have to pay like $300, I didn't catch exactly why. Economists are not fans. The (Council of Economic Advisors?) to Clinton recommended scrapping it. The person PM spoke to called it "stupid". As a jobs program, it costs $250k/job which is a lot. Military says they need to encourage American shipmaking and skill-building, but council is unconvinced. But diffuse costs, concentrated benefits.
And one I previously wrote. 99% Invisible #434 (9 Mar 2021): Artistic License This is the most American story. After states start requiring license plates, Idaho realizes they can be used for advertising, and start boasting about Idaho potatoes on their plates. North Idahoans grumble because that’s more of a Southeast Idaho thing. Tourists start stealing plates as souvenirs, causing people to be very confused when they’re pulled over because who checks whether they still have a license plate. Anyway, New Hampshire’s state motto is Live Free or Die, I don’t know if that’s just a generic America thing or a specifically fuck-communists America thing. But a super fuck-communists guy gets them to put the motto on the license plate, presumably for fuck-communists reasons but I dunno if that was explicit or just subtext. And then a Jehova’s Witness is like, no, I don’t want to, God gave me life and I’m not gonna give that up for freedom. So he starts covering up that bit with tape. And he gets arrested and the fuck-communists guy is now governor and not inclined to give an inch, so it goes to the Supreme Court who split 6-3 but the pro-freedom side wins, the government is not allowed to compel you to express your love of freedom. (Later: Texas allows specialty plates, some group designs a plate to support a cause and then you pay a little extra for it, some going to the group and some to the state. Most of these designs are just rubber stamped. But this is Texas, so the Sons of Confederate Veterans want a license plate supporting their cause, and they want the Confederate flag on it. The state says no, they sue the state, and the Supreme Court sides with the state 5-4.)
1Steven C.3y
I recall that there was a similar experiment conducted during the 1970's in the Interlake region of Manitoba, Canada.  The one obvious negative effect of this was a significant drop in labour participation rates among three groups; youths, women with children, and near-seniors. The experiment wasn't even set up in such as a way as to expose the worst outcomes.  Such a test would have to restrict the taxes needed to pay for the Guaranteed Basic Income to the same geographic area as the available benefits; allow benefits to those moving to that area; and run for two or three generations.


By 2028, will I think MIRI has been net-good for the world?

Resolves according to my subjective judgement, but I'll take opinions of those I respect at the time into account. As of market creation, people whose opinions I value highly include Eliezer Yudkowsky and Scott Alexander.

As of market creation, I consider that AI safety is important; making progress on it is good and making progress on AI capabilities is bad. If I change my mind by 2028, I'll resolve according to my beliefs at

... (read more)
Oh, I guess I can embed the market even. Let's try it: <iframe src="https://manifold.markets/embed/PhilipHazelden/by-2028-will-i-think-miri-has-been" title="By 2028, will I think MIRI has been net-good for the world?" frameborder="0"></iframe> According to this it should have just worked when I included the link? idk
It wasn't working for mee too, it worked switching from "Markdown" to "Lesswrong docs"

A question I have about the FTX thing: people keep saying that the LUNA crash was part of the thing that sparked it. Is this the same Luna that was a blockchain-related dating service that Scott reviewed the whitepaper of?

No, it's the blockchain Terra (with Luna being its main token).   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_(blockchain)

History of English #38 (17 Feb 2014): Nobles, Nuptials and a Cowherd Poet

After Edwin became king in Northumbria, he didn't want Ethelbert's son down in Kent to do aggro at him, so he married Ethelbert's daughter. She agreed on condition she could stay Christian and bring a priest, which is similar to how her grandmother had eventually converted Ethelbert's father when she married him. (Or how her mother had converted Ethelbert?) The priest tried to convert Edwin. One day one of his enemies sent an assassin, but someone jumped in front of the blade, and al... (read more)