Monday, April 29, 2019


So, MIT has this IM system called Zephyr that I still unaccountably find useful.  Clients generally let you display a signature with your message that might be some static bit of text or might be the result of a script if you’re more into that.  I have a script that selects from a bunch of sayings, jokes, etc that I’ve collected over the years.  And which I now want to inflict on you.
Please forgive the puns and don’t take these too seriously.

  • Unfortunately the universe doesn’t agree with me.  We’ll see which one of us is still standing when this is over. 
  • Reality is what you can get away with.
  • The truth is whatever you can’t escape.
  • I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body.  Then I remembered who was telling me this.
  • I feel more like I do now than I did a while ago.
  • I intend to live forever. So far, so good.
  • Don’t ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.
  • You can’t know that this sentence is true.
  • Imagine there were no hypothetical situations.
  • The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the unanimous views of all parts of my mind.
  • Don’t immanentize the eschaton!
  • Because anti-induction has never worked in the past I can be sure it will now.
  • Knowledge is power.  Power corrupts.  Study hard, be evil.
  • Put the romance back in necromancery.
  • Everyone generalizes from one example. Or at least I do.
  • You don’t understand society until you can build one out of nothing but signals and incentives.
  • When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, is probably an artifact of an incomplete hypothesis space.
  • I, for one, like roman numerals.
  • Debugging is like being a detective in a crime novel where you’re also the murderer.
  • I don’t have pet peeves. But I do feed a number of feral peeves that live in the neighborhood.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte was a master strategist who achieved immortality by living on in the form of delusional people all over the future
  • “Roses” is how / you start poems of this meter / but poems about poems / are more meta and neater.
  • I know not with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with adorable cockroach-sized swords.
  • When did the Japanese start eating eggs?  A long γŸγΎγ”!
  • Usually the explanation for why a thing exists is not the reason it started existing, but rather the reason it continues existing.
  • The adjective “indescribable” is, by definition, never correct.
  • Failure isn’t an option.  It’s mandatory.
  • Start every day like you woke up surrounded by a circle of wizards who perform a summoning spell once a century
  • Omniscience makes reasoning about counterfactuals harder.
  • Any machine is a smoke machine when you use it wrong enough.
  • I believe that inside every tool is a hammer
  • I said raise the barn, not raze it!
  • Remember with increasing sample size, your averages become more reliable - The Ns justify the means.
  • New EA cause area: Banning everything else Thomas Midgley invented, just to be safe.
  • Your eyes don’t see, you do.
  • My favorite three bean soup is vanilla soy latte.
  • You will forget that you ever read this zsig.
  • Gaze not into the abyss, lest you become recognized as an abyss domain expert, and they expect you keep gazing into the damn thing.
  • Made in China? Silly plate, you are made of China.
  • Give a man a fire and hell be warm for a day. teach a man to fire and youll get your liver pecked out by an eagle every day for the rest of eternity
  • When trying to understand entropy, remember that sitting still with your eyes closed will make you ever more lost - not within the universe, but between universes.
  • Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.
  • Blessed are those who can gaze into a drop of water and see all the worlds and be like who cares that’s still zero information content. 
  • The First Rule of Robot Fight Club is you DO NOT TALK about Robot Fight Club, or, through inaction, allow Robot Fight Club to be talked about.
  • Correlation correlates with causation because causation causes correlations.
  • Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
  • Market exchange is a pathetically inadequate substitute for love, but it scales better.
  • Computer science is like omnipotence without omniscience.
  • Your existence is not impossible.  But it’s also not very likely.
  • Finally, a study that backs up everything I’ve always said about confirmation bias!
  • Nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time.
  • Everything happens for a reason. The reason is a chaotic intersection of chance and the laws of physics.
  • Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.
  • We think much less than we think we think.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
  • Because ten billion years’ time is so fragile, so ephemeral, it arouses such a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness.
  • Language will evolve irregardless of barriers.
  • A library of all possible books contains less information than a single volume.
  • Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is?
  • Do unto others 20% better than you would expect them to do unto you, to correct for subjective error.
  • Though through rough boughs
  • I’m just sayin’, everyone that confuses correlation with causation eventually ends up dead.
  • I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, until we’ve landed on the moon, of preventing this decade from ending.
  • If you die in a documentary, you die in real life.
  • My intuition pump won’t turn off and now my basement is full of scary ideas.
  • One Weird Trick to hijack the inner voice of hundreds of minds by posting this message
  • Most supposed conspiracy “theorists” don’t come up with their own theories; they are conspiracy *enthusiasts* at best.
  • Have you tried throwing money at the problem? Yes? Well have you tried throwing it harder, using deadlier forms of currency?
  • Have you tried reducing the problem to a harder one which no one will expect you to solve?
  • Have you tried raising the temperature until you have enough thermal energy to overcome the problem’s energy barrier?
  • Keep your identities small, so you can fit more of them in your head.
  • You are a useful abstraction.
  • I Went To The Platonic Realm And All I Got Was THE Lousy T-Shirt.
  • A society where ubiquitous 3D printing makes the delivery of physical objects obsolete. A post-post society.
  • Appeals to Purity Intuitions Considered Toxic
  • Yog Sothoth is the golden key, the accursed result of the NSA’s demands. Do not call up what you can’t put down, cried the opsec researchers.
  • Known thy enemy and know theyself.  You can combine these tasks and so double efficiency using the obvious method.
  • Consciousness is the weakest form of telepathy, where you’re limited to reading your own mind.
  • A good pun is its own reword.
  • A new drug prevents the brain from speculating. You’ll never guess what happens when you take it.
  • Philosophy is mainly useful in inoculating you against other philosophy. Else you’ll be vulnerable to the first coherent philosophy you hear.

Monday, April 8, 2019

How likely is it that there was life on Mars?

People have been thinking about life on Mars for a long time, ever since the writings on the illusive channels of Mars were mistranslated as being about canals if not even longer back.  The original Viking landers had some experiments to help detect life and people have been looking ever since.  If life had ever existed on Mars it's quite likely that the loss of hydrogen and breakdown of the magnetic field have ended it so I wouldn't bet on there being life now.  But for reasons I'll explain I think it's actually pretty likely that there was life at some time in the past.

A while ago I blogged about a timeline of life on Earth extending from its origin in Earth's path to its end in the future (if we don't do something about it).  Here it is again.

Of course that's not how things went or will go on Mars.  Well, Mars formed at the same time as Earth did and I can't find any reason that liquid water would have taken a very different amount of time to form.  But we don't know about life, we'd have to add some bits about liquid water going away to cold and low pressures, and it will take longer for the Sun's expansion to bake Mars 'cause it's further out.

How long did Mars stay wet?  We don't really know precisely but this article at least says that we know there was liquid water 3 billion years ago.  So a timeline like this.

As was pointed out when I wrote about that last timeline, we know that on Earth it took at most 120 million years for life to appear after liquid oceans did but we don't really have a minimum estimate.  The geology of Mars seems close enough to Earth's that it should have had the same sort of geothermal vents to provide free energy to pre-photosynthetic life as Earth had.

To nail down out how hard it is to evolve life really requires looking a bunch of planets that evolved life and a bunch that didn't.  Hopefully space exploration will get to there at some point.  But until then it sorts of seems that evolving life itself is pretty easy compared to photosynthesis or mitochondria or multiple cells.

Now, you can bring in anthropic reasoning and say that the fact that we're here to observe the result means that we're probably not looking at the typical case and that's fair enough.  But there's no reason to think that that luck should have been concentrated at the first stage as opposed to Earth lucking out in how quickly photosynthesis evolved.  Or having the many disasters that mostly ended life not having been a bit worse.

And Mars is a lot smaller than Earth is.  About 1/3 the surface area.  So you'd expect that it would take about 3 times as long for life or photosynthesis or whatever to arise on Mars as on Earth.  If we were to assume that everything would take proportionately as long to happen on Mars as on Earth that would mean life but no photosynthesis.

This is all highly speculative but it's the best guess I have.  That at some point Mars evolved simple chemosythetic life of the sort you'd find in deep sea vents or such on Earth but the planet dried out before they could even evolve photosynthesis.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A reason for having an electoral college

I'm not going to try to defend the formula of adding a state's senators to its representatives to figure out how much say it should have in who becomes president.   You can make an argument for giving minorities extra influence but why should that only apply to minorities that correspond to a state's border?  Why should Rhode Island get extra influence so politicians pay attention but up state New York be dominated by New York City?

But there is a reason to group votes at the state level in that votes are counted at the state level.  It's at the state level that voting is organized and if it were the case that a state was strongly dominated by one party or the other then there would be a temptation for that party to over count their vote to influence the national election.  But if the whole weight of a state is going to one party or the other anyways then there's less incentive to do something like that.  And for more balanced states it's (hopefully) harder to do something like that.

This doesn't really work if the mechanics of voting are handled at a level other than the one votes are aggregated at.  But the fact that votes are aggregated tends to remove categories or problems that we don't normally have to worry about.

The very long run for SARS Covid 2

Many of the worst pandemics that afflict us are from pathogens that don't normally prey on humans.  Probably the most famous pandemic in...