Posts

Various Ukraine topics

This is just a collection of some thoughts I've had about the recent conflict. Seeing it coming People had been worried about a Russian attack on Ukraine for a long time.  I'd worried that it was imminent a year ago with the last big massing of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders.  And with the massing this year I was more than just worried.  Going back to my predictions on  this Metaculus question  I was putting an invasion at even odds a month before the invasion but from the 13th of February until the invasion launched on the 23rd rapidly became convinced that the invasion was actually going to happen.  But while I can brag about being ahead of the curve in terms of predicting that there would be an invasion I was terribly wrong about how it would proceed and on the night of the 23rd I was afraid that the multiple axes of incursion and forward air drops would throw the defenses into confusion and rout.  Oops. Looking back at information from before the 23rd that still st

More things I've learned about Covid-19

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It's been a while since the last two posts on the topic so it seemed like a good idea to write down what I'd learned or changed my mind about recently on the topic. Immunity changes symptom timing One thing that's become important in the Omicron wave is that it seems that if you train your immune system to recognize a disease then you'll develop symptoms of that disease more quickly than if your body doesn't recognize it.  Most of the symptoms we tend to get when sick like inflammation or a fever aren't directly caused by the disease but by our body's innate immune system fighting it.  I'm actually not sure exactly why adaptive immunity leads to triggering innate immune responses faster but it's apparently a thing.  Michael Mina has a nice infographic here on the topic which is also arguing that this means waiting 5 days after symptom onset to return to work might now not be good enough when previously it would have been. Previously the one genuine

Read in 2021

Another year has left us.  While we can never return to it we can learn from it.  And one way of learning is to read books!  This was a good year for reading for me in terms of book count at least but part of that was going through many excellent Penric and Desdemona novellas which don't take as much time.  I also don't think I read as many doorstoppers as normal though there were certainly some in there.  So 70 books total compared to my baseline of 50.  I'm going to list these by category with bolded ones being particularly good. History Arts and Minds: How the Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation by Anton Howes Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980 by Rick Perlstein The Modern Defenses of the Coast of Maine, 1891 - 1945 by Joel W. Eastman The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century by Walter Scheidel An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker The Enlightenment: The Pur

Copenhagen ethics are a good way to avoid blame

People often want to act in a moral way [Citation needed] .  People often also subscribe to ethical rules that in general help them to be more moral.  But that's not the only goal that ethics help people achieve.  One of the very first things I blogged about here was a variant of the trolley problem that seemed to show that avoiding blame seems to be just as much a part of how people approach ethical decisions as any abstract notion of the greater good. There's a tendency that people have, "affectionately" labeled the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics where if a person completely ignores a problem they usually won't receive any aprobrium at all but if they provide an inadequate amount of effort towards solving it they'll often get a ton of flack.  The person who doesn't get involved can just keep their head down and nobody will have any incentive to link them to the problem in the first place and if someone does that person is almost certainly equally

Experts and the Focusing illusion

Inspired by a recent-ish episode of Rationally Speaking I figured I'd blog about an idea I've had noodling around for a bit.  Stated simply, trust experts much more on matters of "is" than on matters of "ought".  An expert will tend to know much more about their area than you do but the act of acquiring that expertise and the norms of their profession might cause them to have different priorities and values than you and be conscious of that fact. I think the first thing to consider is the focusing illusion  or the fact that, as Daniel Kahneman put it, nothing is as important as you think it is when you're thinking about it.  When you spend careful thought on some topic you will often find myriad ways in which it affects your life.  If you don't spend equal careful thought on other topics you don't see how those others also have myriad impacts.  And hence, you overestimate the relative importance of the first compared to all the others. Ask someo

Should the Fed look at the nominal GDP?

There I was taking my morning walk listening to the newest episode of The Weeds  which talked about inflation.  It was a good episode talking about how it can be difficult to measure actual inflation and how it can be a difficult gauge for the Federal Reserve to use since it takes a while to collect information meaning that the picture of the world it provides is always out of date.  And distorted too since information from different sectors arrive at different times. And the calculations are hard too.  If Verizon goes and starts offering unlimited data plans does this mean that data is cheaper, for less inflation?  Or are limited and unlimited plans not actually comparable that way?  I wrote a little on this way back in 2012 but this stuff is hard. This was all a big problem for all of us back in 2008 when the Lehman Brothers was collapsing.  According to the Fed's most recent data high commodity prices were continuing to cause higher inflation than they desired over the last few

New Coronavirus information

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 New sooner have I posted about the Coronavirus then a couple of new things come up. Yesterday I came across a really great paper,  Beyond Six Feet: A Guideline to Limit Indoor Airborne Transmission of COVID-19 .  It's related to a tool for figuring out risks of indoor aerosol transmission but the information in that paper was what was really interesting to me.  I'd thought that aerosols were only generated by our lungs' alveoli but apparently they can be generated by vocal cords too when you use them to speak, sing, etc.  I suppose the bit I had read earlier was making the simplifying assumption that people are silently sitting still or something.  Anyways, I'd been really interested in how much of what size of aerosol or droplet was generated by what sort of vocalization and what should this paper have but the graph I'd always wanted.     I'd previously been told that 2.5 micron aerosols are most common which looks to be  approximately true for nose breathing