ChristianKl's Shortform

by ChristianKl18th Aug 201960 comments
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Elon Musks Starship might bring us a new x-risk.

Dropping a tungsten rod that weights around 12,000 kg from orbit has a similar destruction potential as nuclear weapons.

At present lunch prices bringing a tungsten rod that's weighted 12,000 kg to orbit has a extreme cost for the defense industry that was labeled to be around $230 million a rod.

On the other hand, Starship is designed to be able to carry 100 tons with equals 8 rots to space in a single flight and given that Elon talked about being able to launch starship 3 times per day with a cost that would allow transporting humans from one place of the earth to another the launch cost might be less then a million.

I found tungsten prices to be around 25$/kilo for simple products, which suggest a million dollar might be a valid price for one of the rods.

When the rods are dropped they hit within 15 minutes which means that an attacked country has to react faster then towards nuclear weapons.

Having the weapons installed in a satellite creates the additional problem that there's no human in the loop who makes the decision to launch. Any person who succeeds in hacking a satellite with tungsten rods can deploy them.


Interesting short thread on this here.

Elon Musk seems to have a plan to deploy destructive capabilities to orbit within the next two years that are comparable to the nuclear arsenal of the late forties of the last century.

Little Boy that destroyed Hiroshima had a destructive power of 15 kilotons of TNT equivalents. A napkin calculation on Reddit put BFR to 16.22 kilotons of TNT equivalents.

Refueling in orbit means deploying that much explosive power to rockets in orbit.

There's almost no talk about about the cybersecurity of what he wants to build and it seems doubtful that the process he's currently using takes care of producing structure that keep out determined cyber attackers.

Getting to Mars is nice but it feels like the fact that we haven't had the ethical discussion about proliferation when it comes to Musk is a potential catastrophic error.

explosive capacity isn't needed when you have rods from god.

None of those spacecraft will ever reach the bottom of the atmosphere with appreciable orbital velocity remaining, or hit the ground with large amounts of fuel except near to the launch sites.

Why do you believe that's the case? Why can't a Starship that's full with fuel because it fulled up in space (the infrastructure is necessary for traveling to Mars/Moon) touch earth with a large amount of fuel inside?

If a starship full of fuel is in orbit, and gets nudged downward, hitting the earths atmosphere, it gets very hot. If it doesn't have a giant heatshield, it will vaporize the fuel, leading to an explosion in the upper atmosphere. If you used the fuel to slow down, you could reach earth with mostly empty tanks, but still cause some damage if you hit a city.

It seems to me like fuel wise, a starship has enough full to start from earth, go to orbit and then come down with one tank. Most of the fuel is expended on launch. While you will need to expend some fuel to slow down, I don't see why the starship shouldn't be able to touch earth with a lot of fuel inside.

It's amazing how mismanged Evernote is. 

Their attempt to strategically pivot away from being about remembering information is deeply flawed.

They update their app to a new design and for 3 months the app just crashed when I start it on my phone (I have a Google Pixel 3A which isn't that non-standard).

This Sunday, the app didn't save two notes I made, and now notes can't be saved.

Sounds horrible - I'm happy that I mostly use textfiles, and sync them using whatever mechanism works best (currently, Git + iCloud, but that's changed 6-8 times over the last few decades).  

I find it interesting that you picked "mismanaged" as your root cause, as opposed to "incompetent" or just "failing".

Releasing a new version when it's very buggy looks to me like a management problem. 

I don't disagree, but "management problem" is an undifferentiated cause.  You can say that everything that seems like a mistake from outside is a management problem.  Calling it a QA problem would be more specific (though no more helpful in terms of actions that a bystander can take).

I've had to leave Evernote over the new app, and am so sad about it.

Running simulations of driving situations is a key feature of how machine learning models for driverless cars get trained.

Maybe a key reasons for why humans dream is to allow us to simulate situations and learn to act in them?

I messed up one of my knees by not leaving my flat for 3 weeks followed by a long walk with some inclination.

If COVID motivates you like me to spend much time inside don't overexert yourself by putting your body under much stress at once.

One of the major problem with getting marketing emails is that we lack good feedback mechanisms to incentivize companies whom we do give our emails because we do want to get some information not to spam us with other information that we don't want to receive.
At the moment we have two options to punish companies who abuse the relationship. We can click on “mark as spam" or we can unsubscribe. 
The first version is a punishment as it means that more emails of the company end up in spam folders. Unfortunately, the company usually doesn't know the specific email for which it is punished and thus can't effectively improve their behavior.
Unsubscription does work as a specific punishment but we can only use it we we want to stop getting all emails from the company.


We could have a better system:

  • A plugin that let's us rate the emails we are getting on a 5 point scale.
  • Once we rate a few emails we can have a machine learning algorithm that predicts our rating and allows us to filter out emails with predicted scores that are under a specified threshold
  • The company that provides the plugin for free can sell access to the scoring data to email marketers who care about whether customers welcome their messages. 

Marketers are already getting much of this data via click through rates and open rates. They care much less about "how much you like an email" and much more about "how much an email is likely to make you buy in the future".

The problem of course, is that people who aren't buyers being annoyed by the email is a negative externality. It doesn't affect the marketer's bottom line at all if someone who was never a buyer gets annoyed. It slightly effects them if someone who was a potenjtial buyer gets annoyed, but only if that causes them not to buy in the future (which is reflected in CTR and Open rates).

The only way to have marketers not take advantage of a free marketing channel is to better align incentives. One way to do that would be to make it not free, as jacobjacob talked about in another thread. Collective spam filters like in gmail also provide a slight incentive for this, as messages being marked as spam will cause them to be marked as spam in customers' inboxes as well. As you said this isn't perfect because marketers don't know WHICH messages are being marked as spam, but in general this feels decently solved, for instance most email marketing platforms have a "spam score" that will tell you if you're likely to be filtered to the spam filter before you send, using the data THEY have on which messages are marked as spam.

Jacobian talked about in another thread

Minor note: Jacobian and jacobjacob are different people

In the end they do care about the fact that people buy, but the fact that marketers care about metrics like open rates suggest that it's useful for them to have more information.

A lot of emails are send out as a form of content marketing where the goal of the company is to create a trusted relationship which can be later monetized. In those cases it's not easy to measure the effects of an email on sales months down the road.

The fact that the marketing platforms have a spam score doesn't mean that the spam score accurately captures the spamminess when it comes to how annoying the email is to customers.


On a higher level, email clients could make the "mark as spam" button send information to the sender.

I think because of marketing and branding reasons that's not a valid move for the companies that produce most email clients.

Cancer researchers spend the last decade telling everyone "cancer isn't a disease". On the other hand we have antiaging people saying "aging is a disease".

The two strategic positions are interesting to compare and given that cancer gets as much spending and attention it's worth thinking about whether the strategy of the antiaging people is right.

The difference is that cancer researchers already have funding, and they need an excuse for why they haven't found a reliable cure yet. Anti-aging researchers need money. Saying "X is a disease" implies that it should be cured.

The difference is that cancer researchers already have funding, and they need an excuse for why they haven't found a reliable cure yet. 

There are more downstream effects. One is that it allows companies to put drugs on the market that otherwise wouldn't be allowed on the market because they can use the orphan drug act when the target a specific form of cancer that is below the limit of the orphan drug act.

Saying "X is a disease" implies that it should be cured.

It's more complicated then that. It implies that aging is a cluster that you should be able to diagnose in people, then develop a drug that treats it and get FDA/EMA approval and then having health insurance pay for it.

I recently read about Jenna Luche-Thayer's battle for more ICD codes for different forms of lyme and the importance of those. That's a similar position to that of the cancer researchers in a field where there's not much funding. 

If we would buy the 7 hallmarks model, one conclusion would be that aging is 7 diseases. That means 7 things you can diagnose, get drugs approved for and get health insurance to pay for. 

Ah, the legal implications of words. "Words as legal hacks" is even crazier version of "argument as soldiers".

Is a press interview of the German magazin Spiegel Sierk Poetting (Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Biontec) said that Biontec had no room for funding in 2020 and additional money wouldn't have allowed them to scale up vaccine production faster but they have now room for funding.

http://cdn.www.spiegel.de/producing/SPIEGEL_2021_06.pdf (DER SPIEGEL Nr. 6 / 6. 2. 2021 Site 64)

The public criticism of Russia's vaccination efforts seem strange to me. Claiming that Russia only wants to do early vaccinations because of reasons of national prestigue and not because of health and economic damage of COVID-19 seems to me like too many people still haven't understood that COVID-19 is a serious issue that warrents doing what we can.

The vaccine will be available for general public after January 1, and before this it will be available to medics and teachers only - so it will be like phase 3 of the clinical trial.

It seems that every post gets tagged with world modeling or world optimization. We should likely have a more focused definition or those tags to make them more specific.

I remember reading a link to a long article this month that was about how the New York times is very narrative driven and that the editors often decide on the narrative of the article before going out to research it. Does anybody know which article I mean?

This one?

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

For me, an article linking to this one was the fifth Google result for "new york times narrative driven".

Yes, thank you. I did search for NYTimes and didn't think of using the fullname.

Tesla recognizing that Bitcoin is bad for the enviroment shows why Bitcoin will lose to proof-of-stake currencies. 

Bitcoin advocates argued that with Tesla buying Bitcoin is a sign that companies in general will do so. We live in a world where any companies that does that is likely going to be downrated on ESG rating while holding technologically more advanced crypto-currency like Polkadot and Ethereum (if 2.0 works) won't lead to ESG downrating. 

The proof of stake currencies can provide low transaction fees that make them more suitable as an actual currency to buy stuff. They can also be used in DeFi applications.

Currently, a lot of bitcoins value is due to it being the biggest crypto-currency. That means in the moment it isn't anymore it will lose a bunch of it's value.

Then we will have a phase where all the proof-of-work currencies will lose value while proof-of-stake currencies gain value. The knowledge that proof-of-work currencies have no future will spread and over time the will fall even more in value. In that enviroment they are in a bad situation for being a store of value as well, so people who currently hold them for that purpose will get rid of them.

People of average intelligence who understood proof of work after spending a lot of effort will see that the smart people understand proof of stake being superior and generally the knowledge will also tickle down. Less transaction costs/Less dependency on the miners controlled by the CCP/Faster transactions/Smart contracts(and thus DeFi)/Less enviromental pollution are just too much benefits to make "the old system is tried and tested" seem a reasonable alternative once the proof-of-stake crypto's are also mature.

It's unclear how fast that process will happen but I would be very surprised if it doesn't happen in the next five years.

There's also the damocles sword for Bitcoin of the Chinese government just deciding to freeze wallets of entities it doesn't like. Then you get probably multiple competing forks with new mining algorithms that withstand the ASICs and a huge mess and Bitcoin with the Satoshi mining algorithm under Chinese control. Nobody will know which fork to use and the uncertainty will push Bitcoin down. People will likely just want to sell the coins at various forks they have access to and I'm not sure who wants to be the counterparty. 

Room humidity matters for COVID-19 transmission. If you are going to spent a lot of time in the same rooms as other people in the next months, invest into proper humidity to reduce your risk of getting ill: https://aaqr.org/articles/aaqr-20-06-covid-0302?fbclid=IwAR3zFZ-UqSjBlc2DJUjHI5yUKTujIW5WyDlwgogmfAAIJtEAxoCas-LkdWc

Can you give us the TL; DR on what "proper humidity" means in this context? Google says 30-50% is good (in general). Is the same true for COVID?

https://www.condairgroup.com/humidity-health-wellbeing/scientific-studies/criteria-for-human-exposure-to-humidity-in-occupied-buildings shows how the effect on humidity on various risk factors and based on it I would suggest  50-60% is ideal for fighting viruses. 

Thinking more about the Russian vaccine is sad. There's no discussion in the media about what risk we should actually expect from the vaccine. The scientists that get asked by the media to comment are only asked to talk about the general policy of clinical trials but not about the underlying biology.

Medical researchers:

We see that childhood cancers are associated with PGBD5 which causes a lot of mutations.

What do we do with that knowledge? How about blocking the DNA repair of the mutation that are caused by PGBD5 so that the mutations kill some cancer cells. 

I would have guessed that preventing PGBD5 from creating the mutations would be a higher priority.

I'm playing around with an evolutionary model for transposons and the transposons regularly kill my whole population...

Do the transposons ever have positive benefits?

Why is your population all connected?

Transposons increase the mutation rate, so the fitness of organisms changes more when there are transposons in my model. When it comes to that I treat every transposons equally. Otherwise, each transposon has a rate for self replication. Aside of that transposons have no positive benefits but they self reproduce. If the mutation rate is what's useful then there should be pressure for transposons with low self replication rates which I don't see. 

Transposons work similar to the gene drive ideas for killing of malaria causing mosquitos. 

However the body does have some defenses. Both the transposons evolve and the defenses evolve and in nature there's an equilibrium.

Finding the right parameters that lead to the equilibrium, might produce a model that does predict aging purely based on the fact that transposons exist. 

Having such a theory would back up https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ui6mDLdqXkaXiDMJ5/core-pathways-of-aging

Why is your population all connected?

From what I read evolutionary models generally don't need group selection to work. If transposons kill every species if it wouldn't be for group selection that would be a major scientific finding. 

There's the belief that the minimum number of individuals for a specis is 500 over longer timeframes. 

This is why it would make sense if there was some (perhaps small) positive effect of transposons on an individual's fitness.

(Also, aren't there any less costly ways to increase mutation rate? Maybe error-prone DNA polymerases, or just allocating less resources to DNA repair.)

Also, aren't there any less costly ways to increase mutation rate? 

It's not costly for a transposon to copy itself. If you start a gene drive to erradicate malaria, it's not in the interest of the individual mosquito to play along but it still happens.

A positive selective effect of transposon on the level of the individual is not needed for transposons to have a reason to copy themselves. I'm doing computer modeling and the question of what stops transposons is a harder one then the other way around. 

Aside from that it seems that humans do use the fact that the have transporase for a few things (but currently not in my computer model). PGBD5 (a transporase) seems to be used in the brain to increase the diversity of brain cells for all vertebrates since 500 My. 

RAG1 and RAG2 are derived from a transporase and they are important in the immune system to get a diversity of different leukozytes. 

This means that neither of those can be completely downregulated and when they are active transposons can use them to get copied around. 

An interesting side-note is human have a lot of different kinds of cells where some cells get cancer much more frequently then others.

Leukemia is a common cancer and might be downstream from RAG1 / RAG2. Braincancer might be downstream from PGBD5.

Most childhood cancers are downstream from PGBD5 as well, so it's the most costly transporase for fitness. 

China clearly banning human genetic engineering is a interesting news item (I got it from Gwern)

I feel pretty disturbed right now by https://www.winfried-stoecker.de/blog/die-beste-impfung-gegen-covid-19 . If what Stoecker (a biotech billionaire) is saying is true then for the companies that developed vaccines it was more important to deliever vaccines with fancy technology on which they hold patents instead of just doing the straight-forward well understood way of producing vaccines that we know and that could give us as many vaccines as we wanted.

I have a new draft for a post on why it makes sense to use rationalist jargon like steelmanning over the existing jargon. This is an experiment whether shortform is a good place to ask for draft feedback:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1slE6_sR82UsssV6eWRgjHNrHgNDsHPSltmbqIypsISU/edit?usp=sharing

What type of feedback are you looking for?

My goal is to bring the post into a better form before I publish it on LessWrong. Feedback that's helpful for that goal is welcome.

When it comes to discussing the ideas of the post, that seems better once the post is finished, so that the discussion will stay on LessWrong.

I endorse gjm's final comment 100%.  (I wrote a much longer response but eventually decided that it was just repeating what ze said.)

I have the impression that the rate of new posts on LessWrong dipped over the summer and is now picking up again. Did the warm weather reduce the amount of time people have to write posts and now we all spend more time inside, so we have time to write?

Winter is coming and given the COVID-19 situation it means that if you want to meet other people savely doing it outside in the cold might be the best way to go about it.

For meetups I'm thinking to have a setup that switches between still group explanation and then pair exercises that can be done while walking around.

As far as clothing goes, I'm very unclear at the moment. What clothes are ideal for being able to be outside in the cold without freezing?

Are there any other concerns about how you might improve outdoor meetups when it's cold?

For what's actually ideal, I would suggest (if you find it interesting) reading about technical clothing for mountaineering and winter camping and adapting that to city fashion -- but if you want some helpful more affordable tips, what works for me is many layers.

For example, long sleeve undershirt and long underwear from Walmart. T-shirt over the undershirt, cheap sweatshirt hoodie over that. Thin pajama style pants over the long underwear. For me anyway, this can be completely comfortable under an outer layer of only jeans and just an autumn jacket up to maybe -15C or -20C.

Thin cotton gloves under big mitts or heavier gloves. Thin socks under heavy socks. For items where it's more difficult to layer, such as a toque or scarf (or socks if shoes limit the room), wool is pretty good and is affordable, thick, and sturdy at Army Surplus stores, at least here in Canada.

I would also suggest, don't neglect extremities or any body parts. For example, I remember once my thighs being very cold wearing only jeans (no long underwear), even though I had an extremely warm parka and was walking briskly.

I've found personally that even fairly thin pajama type pants, if you have say two layers under jeans, can keep you pretty comfortable even up to maybe -30C. Since you have in mind a meetup, I feel that even for example students on a budget, could get extremely adequate winter clothing this way at a Walmart in Canada that would enable them to stand outside inactively for 3-4 hours at up to -25C, say.

You should probably give more specific descriptions of the expected conditions than "cold".  Answers will differ if you mean high-desert conditions (-20C, windy but dry),  cold-ish city conditions (just below 0C, frozen rain or snow), moderate (generally a bit above 0C, often rainy), or something else (Southern California gets down to 10C and cloudy).

In a lot of places, you should be thinking semi-outside, rather than full open-air.  Pavillions or large covered spaces such as outdoor seating for restaurants will keep the worst of the wind and precipitation out, and many of them have heating elements.

I don't care about high-desert conditions as Berlin won't hit them. I care about making meetups work in the other contexts and I'm happy about any suggestions for that even if the don't work for all cases.

Cool (but not cold ;) ).  I've only been to Berlin in the summer, but from travel guides, it seems basically temperate and not overly-damp - there will be occasional snowfall, but no significant accumulation, and many days will have no cold rain to deal with.  

Standard advice for clothing in variable conditions applies: look to layers, so you can adjust over time, and add/remove pieces when you go indoors or if the sun is out and it's 5-10C warmer or cooler than you expected.  A sweater/jumper over your shirt gives you flexibility here.  I have a fleece undercoat with a waterproof shell that's great in really cold conditions, and fine as just a shell when it's warm (+5C) and rainy.   

For meetups, you'll still want to find covered areas - even if no rain is in the forecast, less moving air makes a noticeable difference in comfort.  I suspect there's no way to make it pleasant and effective enough to be worthwhile before you can do it in an enclosed (but not crowded) space, but I really look forward to hearing how it goes.

Schools around the world seem to start using automated grading for tests. If that technology exists, it would be interesting to have a forum that enforces posts to have a minimum score on those grading forms.

If I put copper tape everywhere, do I still need to take copper supplements when I up my zinc intake?

Copper tape in your environment is unlikely to meaningfully affect your dietary copper intake.

I just subscribed to Stiftung Warentest which is Germany's equivalent to Consumer Reports. It seems to me those institutions provide a vital service to allow producer in various categories to compete based on quality when they would otherwise compete based on marketing promises.

Intuitively, it feels easier to pay for physical goods then to pay for information like those reports. I think the information did allow me to buy better soap for washing my hands and I think there's a public good to be done by supporting those institutions and increasing their budgets to do unbiased tests (the Wirecutter is payed by affiliate money in a way that influences their editoral decisions).