gilch

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The tech left behind

The Pimsleur series of language courses are just audio, and they use spaced repetition (among other research-backed techniques) without a computer. They've got an app now, but the original tapes would work on a Walkman. You're supposed to do one lesson per day. They've scheduled the material to bring vocabulary words up when you're about to forget them.

The tech left behind

I think the EBR-II reactor was a notable example. The government cut funding three years before the completion of the program. Its design is what we now call an "integral fast reactor". Its passive safety features demonstrated that it literally cannot melt down. An IFR design would also produce much less waste than a conventional light-water reactor.

The tech left behind

The Smalltalk programming language and environment was revolutionary at the time and still highly influential to this day. Lots of later languages have copied some of its features, and none of them really got it right.

The grammar is extremely simple and easy to pick up compared to most industry languages. A famous small program demonstrating all of the language (but not the library) fits on a postcard.

Using the debugger, you can catch an exception, walk up the stack, and correct, recompile and swap in individual methods while the program is still running. You can save the entire state of the program at any time and resume it at a later time, even on another machine. You need an entire OS in a VM to do this in almost any other language.

The tight feedback loops you get from its interactive programming stye is arguably superior to almost anything else we have today, although e.g. Python or ClojureScript can approach this level of interactivity, it isn't their default.

Smalltalk's first stable release was in 1980 and we still haven't caught up to its level in industry. It's hard to understand exactly how this happened historically, but it seems to be path dependence based on some combination of (relatively) poor marketing, early mistakes in design, and the limitations of older hardware that could barely handle those features when the industry was first taking off.

But there are open-source Smalltalks now, most deriving from Squeak. Pharo, Dolphin, and Cuis are notable. There is even a VM written in JavaScript so you can try it in your web browser.

The tech left behind

Aerospike rockets are supposed to be much more fuel-efficient in atmosphere than are the conventional bell nozzles.

There are good reasons "rocket science" has become a synonym for "difficult". Nobody wants to take a chance on unproven technology when designing rockets is already hard enough. Not even Elon Musk, at least so far.

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

According to Strauss–Howe generational theory, history is made of cycling Saecula each divided into four generational Turnings: the High, the Awakening, the Unraveling, and the Crisis, in that order, which tend to last approximately 20 years while the next social generation of people advances in age and takes over their role in society. Each Turning is provoked by the flaws of the last.

We are now approaching the end of the current Crisis Turning (since about 2005). The Crisis is the Turning when institutions are at their nadir, due to their long Unraveling in the previous Turning (1982–2004), when individualism was at its peak. Institutions will be destroyed and rebuilt for the next Turning. The current Millennial Saeculum will end in approximately 2025 and usher in the next Saeculum. The coming High will be when collective institutions will be strongest and individualism will be at its weakest.

The fourness of the Turnings also pattern match onto other things. Strauss and Howe associate each social generation with the Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist archetypes, in that order. (The Millenials are Heroes, Generation X are Nomads, etc.) I also wonder if this fourness also maps onto Simulacra Levels, after reading Zvi's The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels, which also has a generational feel.

Given that framework, strong institutions develop in response to a crisis, when culture tilts toward collectivism. When that collective culture unravels into individualism, the institutions decay.

[Epistemic status: stab-in-the-dark pattern matching.]

Daniel Kokotajlo's Shortform

Reminds me of cookie cutters from The Diamond Age

A cookie-cutter was shaped like an aspirin tablet, except that the top and bottom were domed more to withstand ambient pressure; for like most other nanotechnological devices a cookie-cutter was filled with vacuum. Inside were two centrifuges, rotating on the same axis but in opposite directions, preventing the unit from acting like a gyroscope. The device could be triggered in various ways; the most primitive were simple seven-minute time bombs.

Detonation dissolved the bonds holding the centrifuges together so that each of a thousand or so ballisticules suddenly flew outward. The enclosing shell shattered easily, and each ballisticule kicked up a shock wave, doing surprisingly little damage at first, tracing narrow linear disturbances and occasionally taking a chip out of a bone. But soon they slowed to near the speed of sound, where shock wave piled on top of shock wave to produce a sonic boom. Then all the damage happened at once. Depending on the initial speed of the centrifuge, this could happen at varying distances from the detonation point; most everything inside the radius was undamaged but everything near it was pulped; hence "cookie-cutter." The victim then made a loud noise like the crack of a whip, as a few fragments exited his or her flesh and dropped through the sound barrier in air. Startled witnesses would turn just in time to see the victim flushing bright pink. Bloodred crescents would suddenly appear all over the body; these marked the geometric intersection of detonation surfaces with skin and were a boon to forensic types, who cloud thereby identify the type of cookie-cutter by comparing the marks against a handy pocket reference card. The victim was just a big leaky sack of undifferentiated gore at this point and, of course, never survived.

Non Polemic: How do you personally deal with "irrational" people?

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

—George Bernard Shaw

I'm all for having an accurate map, and that does mean updating that map. But don't let that stop you from trying to alter the territory—and actually fixing problems.

If the world fails to meet your expectations, sometimes the problem is with the world.

Non Polemic: How do you personally deal with "irrational" people?

Have you seen Street Epistemology yet? It's an effective way of leading irrational people to notice their own contradictions, but it does take some patience.

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