I’ve been travelling a lot, so there are fewer longform articles than usual. Quality’s good though.
The Haves and the Have-Yachts | New Yorker
In most cases, pleasure yachts are permitted to carry no more than twelve passengers, a rule set by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which was conceived after the sinking of the Titanic. But those limits do not apply to crew. “So, you might have anything between twelve and fifty crew looking after those twelve guests,” Edmiston, the broker, said. “It’s a level of service you cannot really contemplate until you’ve been fortunate enough to experience it.”
As yachts have grown more capacious, and the limits on passengers have not, more and more space on board has been devoted to staff and to novelties. The latest fashions include imax theatres, hospital equipment that tests for dozens of pathogens, and ski rooms where guests can suit up for a helicopter trip to a mountaintop. The longtime owner, who had returned the previous day from his yacht, told me, “No one today—except for assholes and ridiculous people—lives on land in what you would call a deep and broad luxe life. Yes, people have nice houses and all of that, but it’s unlikely that the ratio of staff to them is what it is on a boat.” After a moment, he added, “Boats are the last place that I think you can get away with it.”
Even among the truly rich, there is a gap between the haves and the have-yachts. One boating guest told me about a conversation with a famous friend who keeps one of the world’s largest yachts. “He said, ‘The boat is the last vestige of what real wealth can do.’ What he meant is, You have a chef, and I have a chef. You have a driver, and I have a driver. You can fly privately, and I fly privately. So, the one place where I can make clear to the world that I am in a different fucking category than you is the boat.”
After Merrigan and I took a tour of Unbridled, he led me out to a waiting tender, staffed by a crew member with an earpiece on a coil. The tender, Merrigan said, would ferry me back to the busy main dock of the Palm Beach show. We bounced across the waves under a pristine sky, and pulled into the marina, where my fellow-gawkers were still trying to talk their way past the greeters. As I walked back into the scrum, Namasté was still there, but it looked smaller than I remembered.
JWST - Carina Nebula Zoom | Vimeo
In order to give some context to the amazing images from the James Webb Space Telescope, we wanted to show where exactly the image belongs in the night sky. The scale is truly immense.
Book Review: The Man From The Future | Astral Codex Ten
By Scott Alexander:
John von Neumann invented the digital computer. The fields of game theory and cellular automata. Important pieces of modern economics, set theory, and particle physics. A substantial part of the technology behind the atom and hydrogen bombs. Several whole fields of mathematics I hadn’t previously heard of, like “operator algebras”, “continuous geometry”, and “ergodic theory”.
The Man From The Future, by Ananyo Bhattacharya, touches on all these things. But you don’t read a von Neumann biography to learn more about the invention of ergodic theory. You read it to gawk at an extreme human specimen, maybe the smartest man who ever lived.
By age 6, he could multiply eight-digit numbers in his head. At the same age, he spoke conversational ancient Greek; later, he would add Latin, French, German, English, and Yiddish (sometimes joked about also speaking Spanish, but he would just put "el" before English words and add -o to the end) . Rumor had it he memorized everything he ever read. A fellow mathematician once tried to test this by asking him to recite Tale Of Two Cities, and reported that “he immediately began to recite the first chapter and continued until asked to stop after about ten or fifteen minutes”.
A group of scientists encountered a problem that the computers of the day couldn’t handle, and asked von Neumann for advice on designing a new generation of computers that was up to the task. But:
When the presentation was completed, he scribbled on a pad, stared so blankly that a RAND scientist later said he looked as if “his mind had slipped his face out of gear”, then said “Gentlemen, you do not need the computer. I have the answer.” While the scientists sat in stunned silence, Von Neumann reeled off the various steps which would provide the solution to the problem.
Do these sound a little too much like urban legends? The Tale Of Two Cities story comes straight from the mathematician involved - von Neumann’s friend Herman Goldstine, writing about his experience in The Computer From Pascal to von Neumann. The computer anecdote is of less certain provenance, quoted without attribution in a 1957 obituary in Life. But this is part of the fun of reading von Neumann biographies: figuring out what one can or can’t believe about a figure of such mythic proportions.
This is not really what Bhattacharya is here for. He does not entirely resist gawking. But he is at least as interested in giving us a tour of early 20th century mathematics, framed by the life of its most brilliant practitioner. The book devotes more pages to set theory than to von Neumann’s childhood, and spends more time on von Neumann’s formalization of quantum mechanics than on his first marriage (to be fair, so did von Neumann - hence the divorce).
Still, for those of us who never made their high school math tutors cry with joy at ever having met them (another von Neumann story, this one well-attested), the man himself is more of a draw than his ergodic theory. And there’s enough in The Man From The Future - and in some of the few hundred references it cites - to start to get a coherent picture.
Your Book Review: The Outlier | Astral Codex Ten
Not by Scott Alexander:
Searching for a new career, Carter runs for State Senate, loses due to voter fraud, then challenges the results and wins by 15 votes in a new election. A few years later, he runs for governor, and loses for real this time, to avowed segregationist (and man with a truly awesome name) Lester Maddox. Having never experienced failure in any way before, Carter is plunged into a profound spiritual crisis by this loss. Today, we would probably just say he was depressed. But as a religious Christian in the Deep South in 1966, you don’t “get depressed,” you have a spiritual crisis.
In 1970 Carter runs for governor again. This time, however, he decides to do whatever it takes to win. He runs a sleazy campaign that flies in the face of his modern-day reputation as kindly and honest. His campaign strategy has two core planks: 1) pretend to be a racist to appeal to the masses, and 2) avoid taking a stand on any other issue. Carter describes himself nonsensically as a “conservative progressive” and avoids commenting on the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement. He’s so good at pretending to be racist that the white supremacist White Citizens Council endorses him. He even wins the endorsement of his old opponent, outgoing Governor Maddox, who’s term-limited from running again. As far as anyone can tell, Carter never expresses any second thoughts about his disingenuous behavior during the campaign. Having passed through his spiritual crisis, he’s now guided by an unshakeable faith in his own goodness—a faith that justifies a victory by any means necessary.
The “fake racist” strategy works. Carter trounces his opponent, a wealthy businessman named Carl Sanders who he caricatures as “Cuff Links Carl”—when he’s not busy falsely accusing him of corruption, or hypocritically bashing him for his support of Martin Luther King. In January 1971, Carter is sworn in as the 76th Governor of Georgia.
Just a few minutes into his inaugural speech, Carter drops the pretenses of his campaign and executes on one of the most dramatic about-faces in modern-day political history when he declares that “the era of racial discrimination in Georgia is over.” The crowd gasps audibly, and outgoing Governor Maddox denounces Carter as a liar before the inauguration is even over. But Carter doesn’t care. He’s governor now, and he’s going to do what he wants.
And what he wants to do is… well, honestly, not all that much. Carter’s governing style is less “bold visionary,” more “competent manager.” He appoints more minorities to civil service jobs, starts an early childhood development program, and passes a reorg that streamlines a bunch of governmental agencies, but mostly he thinks about running for president. Governors in Georgia are limited to a single term, and Carter has national ambitions. He commits privately to a presidential run only a year into his time in the governor’s office.
When he first enters the 1976 Democratic primary, Carter is a complete unknown, and the general consensus is that he’s the longest of long shots. (“Jimmy who?” one opponent asks.)
Why Sri Lanka is having an economic crisis | Noahpinion
Americans often don’t even realize a crisis is happening in a foreign country until they suddenly see videos of angry protesters storming government buildings. That was exactly what Americans saw happening in Sri Lanka on July 9th. […]
How and why did Sri Lanka’s economy get so bad? Standard explainers list a timeline of policy mistakes, and a series of sudden bad outcomes — sovereign default, inflation, shortages. But without a basic understanding of what these crises are and why they happen, it can be hard to draw the causal connection from A to B; a lot of observers are sort of left with the vague notion that bad things cause other bad things, and eventually everything is bad.
So to really understand what’s going on here, let’s start with the basics — the idea of a currency crisis.
Big Ten Blame | Stratechery
Put all of these pieces together, and the question of who exactly is responsible for college football’s conference upheaval gets a bit more complicated:
Local TV stations charge ever higher retransmission fees to pay-TV operators because they have compelling content that subscribers demand.
Networks charge ever higher affiliate fees to TV stations for that compelling content, extracting most (if not all) of those retransmission fees.
The most compelling content is sports, especially as alternative content loses out to the Internet, and the most popular sport (the NFL) is governed by a single entity, allowing it to extract the greatest fees.
All of this extraction is a function of relative bargaining power that is ultimately derived from what fans want to see:
Given this, the logic of the Big Ten’s expansion into California is obvious: the more of an audience that the Big Ten can command, the more of the money flowing through that value chain it can extract. Sure, it’s not quite to the level of the NFL, but it’s the next closest thing. This is also the downside to Fox’s bet on live: while the company owns the content it produces on channels like Fox News, it has to buy sports rights, and it is the Big Ten that is determined to take its share, even if that means an expansion that otherwise makes no sense at all.
People with low BMI aren’t more active, they are just less hungry and “run hotter” | EurekAlert!
To date most research on obesity has focused on studying those with a high body mass index (BMI), but a research group in China is taking a different approach. In a study published July 14 in the journal Cell Metabolism, the scientists looked at individuals with a very low BMI. Their findings reveal that these individuals are actually considerably less active than people with a BMI in the normal range, contrary to speculation that they have a metabolism that makes them naturally more active. Additionally, they eat less food than those with a normal BMI.
“We expected to find that these people are really active and to have high activity metabolic rates matched by high food intakes,” says corresponding author John Speakman, a professor at the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology in China and the University of Aberdeen in the UK. “It turns out that something rather different is going on. They had lower food intakes and lower activity, as well as surprisingly higher-than-expected resting metabolic rates linked to elevated levels of their thyroid hormones.”
Geographic mobility is one secret of successful immigration | Marginal Revolution
According to Boustan and Abramitzky, the secret weapon deployed by immigrant parents wasn’t education. It wasn’t a demanding parenting style like the one described in Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” either.
It was geographic mobility.
Immigrant kids tended to outperform their peers from similar economic backgrounds because, unencumbered by deep hometown roots, their parents were willing to move to where the jobs were. If you compare immigrants to similar native kids born in the same place, they succeed at similar rates. It’s just that immigrant kids are much more likely to have grown up in one of those high-opportunity places.
“Immigrants are living in locations that provide upward mobility for everyone,” Boustan said.
Why You Shouldn’t Make Your Bed | Art of Manliness
In 2005, a study was published which found that not making your bed may be better for you than making it.
More than a million dust mites live in your bed. These microscopic critters feed on the flakes of skin you slough off in your sheets, and thrive in warm, moist environments.
When you make your bed in the morning and cover your pillow and mattress with the thick layers of your sweat-infused bedding, you better enable these cozy conditions.
By leaving your bed open to the air and sunlight, you can create a drier, less hospitable environment for the mites.
Making the other side better | Marginal Revolution
So many political strategies are centered around “beating” the other side(s), and claiming victory over their defeat. For evolutionary reasons, it is easy to see why these attitudes might have won out. Yet in general those approaches are a sign of a narrow vision. Beating the other side is a possible strategy, but it should hardly be the only strategy you attempt, even if we forget about the “you might be the one who is wrong!” worry.
Quite simply, a lot of the time you never beat the other side, though over time the terms of the debate do shift ground.
An alternative strategy is to try to make the other side better, even if you do not agree with the other side. You might try to make the other side saner and more open, and I do not mean by telling them how wrong they are. You do this, believe it or not, by supporting them in some ways, or at least supporting the best parts of the other side.
Earthgrid aims to re-wire the USA using super-cheap tunnel tech | New Atlas
Bay Area startup Earthgrid says it's developing a plasma boring robot that can dig underground tunnels 100x faster and up to 98% cheaper than existing tech, and it plans to use it to start re-wiring America's energy, internet and utilities grids.
Most tunnels dug today are made by massive, mechanical rotary boring machines, which scratch cutting wheels against rock and evacuate the debris behind them, lining the tunnel walls as they go. It's painstakingly slow, hugely expensive, and the cutting heads and drill bits often need changing or maintenance.
But there's another way to get through the toughest rock – as we outlined in our January article about Petra's thermal drilling robot. Blasting rock with high temperatures can fracture and vaporize the stone in a process called spallation, and blasting this damaged rock with high pressures causes it to flake, chip and blow away.
You can do this without touching the rock walls at all, so the equipment can do entire tunnels without stopping if necessary. It can run entirely on electrical power, opening up the possibility of entirely emissions-free drilling, and both Petra and Earthgrid claim it's much, much faster and cheaper than doing things mechanically – to the point where previously unfeasible projects can become economically viable.
Labor Unions Reduce Product Quality | Marginal Revolution
A very nice paper in Management Science by Kini, Shen, Shenoy and Subramanian finds that labor unions reduce product quality. Two strengths of the paper. First, the authors have relatively objective measures of product quality from thousands of product recalls mandated by the FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration covering many different industries. Second the authors use 3 different methods.
Colorado Springs man becomes fourth person to push a peanut up Pikes Peak with his nose | KRCC
Bob Salem, 53, reached the top of Pikes Peak Friday morning. He broke the previous verified record for the feat - completing the arduous task in seven days. The record was eight days.