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“My football career ended in 2013 when my shoulder popped out of...

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“My football career ended in 2013 when my shoulder popped out of its socket.  I was never going pro.  So that final whistle was always going to blow after my senior year, but the injury sped up the inevitable.  And I was left without a sense of purpose.  That’s one great thing about football.  There’s a clarity there.  I knew the season began on August 23rd and ended November 15th.  I knew we had to score more points.  I knew my job on every play.  I knew where the endzone was.  The purpose was tangible, the lines were literally on the field.  In the real world things aren’t so clear.  I feel like 300 years ago it was easier to know why you’re working.  Obviously things were more difficult, but at least on the Oregon Trail you knew what to focus on.  There were so many basic needs that required your attention: warmth, shelter, food, water.  But I’ve been lucky, and right now those basic needs require very little of my attention.  Necessity has been replaced by ‘nice to have.’  But do I really need more space?  Or better clothes?  Or a nicer car?  I’m not sure, but I still go to work every day.  I seem to be driven by some vague feeling that things could maybe be better.”

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samuel
4 days ago
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This is where Art, in its many forms, comes in.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
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The New York City Subway Map as You’ve Never Seen It Before

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Good design is always about sweating the details. Loved this tidbit on the contribution of designer Nobuyuki Siraisi:

He rode the length of every train line with his eyes closed, feeling the curve of each track and then drawing the path he perceived in his drawings.

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samuel
8 days ago
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Beautiful interactive story. I also used to work with Scott Blumenthal who helped create this story.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
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What Would Really Happen if a Nuclear Weapon Exploded in a Major City?

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Kurzgesagt has partnered with the Red Cross and their “no to nukes” initiative to depict what it would be like if a nuclear weapon detonated in a major city. I’m not going to lie to you here, this is a difficult video to watch. Super bleak. There is no bright side to nuclear weapons.

The reason no government wants you to think about all this is because there is no serious humanitarian response possible to a nuclear explosion. There’s no way to really help the immediate victims of a nuclear attack. This is not a hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, or nuclear accident — it is all of these things at once, but worse. No nation on earth is prepared to deal with it.

Between the climate crisis, the rise of authoritarianism around the world, the AI bogeyman, and other things, nuclear weapons have gotten lost in the shuffle recently, but they remain a massive existential threat to society. A small group of people, some careful planning, years of patience, and you could possibly see an event that would make 9/11 look quaint.

Tags: atomic bomb   cities   Kurzgesagt   video
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ChrisDL
51 days ago
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Given a fireball diameter of 2km this would be a simulation with a 500 - 1000 kiloton bomb. 1000kt (or 1Mt) is a W-59 Minuteman I. The reason there is a span depends on whether it detonates on the surface or if it is an airburst.

There are bombs that are up to 100Mt... Largest tested was the Tsar Bomba at 50Mt... So yeah, this isn't even worst case scenario, this is the vanilla scenario.
New York
samuel
51 days ago
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Still thinking about this video.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
betajames
51 days ago
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Michigan
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jlvanderzwan
51 days ago
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Good summary

Do Not Erase: Mathematician’s Chalkboards

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Jessica Wynne has been taking photos of mathematicians’ blackboards for the past year or so, some of which were featured recently in the NY Times. I love the variety in density, style, color, and tidiness.

Jessica Wynne

Jessica Wynne

“I am also fascinated by the process of working on the chalkboard. Despite technological advances, and the creation of computers, this is how the masters choose to work.”

In their love of blackboards and chalk, mathematicians are among the last holdouts. In many fields of science and investigation, blackboards have been replaced with whiteboards or slide show presentations. But chalk is cheaper and biodegradable. It smells better than whiteboard markers and is easier to clean up, mathematicians say. It is also more fun to write with.

A book of Wynne’s chalkboard photos called Do Not Erase will be released next year.

Tags: Jessica Wynne   mathematics   photography
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samuel
62 days ago
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Checks out. I’m taking a math class on multiple view geometry in computer vision and it’s all chalkboard.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
cjmcnamara
78 days ago
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How this climate change economist changed my world

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Undercover Economist

How this climate change economist changed my world

I read a lot of economics papers, but I don’t often read economics papers that make me think, “this changes everything”. But Martin Weitzman wrote one. I still remember exactly where I was when I read it. Even for a nerd like me, that’s not normal.

Professor Weitzman took his own life in late August. He was 77 and had reportedly been worried that he was losing his mental sharpness.

Weitzman’s sad death prompted me to reflect on what it was about his essay that so struck me. It was a commentary on Lord Nicholas Stern’s Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Weitzman gently pulled the Stern Review apart — “right for the wrong reasons” — and offered an alternative view of the problem.

For those of us who think climate change requires bold, urgent action, there are two awkward facts to contend with. The first is that its most worrying impacts — including floods, crop failures and diseases — are unlikely to manifest at full strength for decades or even centuries. The second is that because the world has been getting dramatically richer, future generations are likely to be much wealthier than we are.

Both these awkward facts militate against doing anything too expensive in the short term.

Here’s an analogy: imagine that I discover an incipient damp problem in my house. A surveyor tells me that if I spend £1,000 now, that will spare my great-grandchildren £5,000 of repair works in a century. At first glance it seems that I should fix the damp.

On reflection, though, spending money now would be foolish. Investing £1,000 in the stock market on their behalf would be better. At a modest 3 per cent real rate of return, it should be worth about £20,000; at 5 per cent it will be worth £130,000.

In any case, won’t my great-grandchildren be vastly richer than I am, just as I am vastly richer than my great-grandparents? Why worry? They’ll cope.

This oversimplification of the complexities of climate change gets at something important. Lord Stern’s case for action depended on arguing that our super-rich descendants living in the far future should weigh very heavily in our calculations. It is hard — not impossible, but hard — to square that with how we behave in respect to any other issue, personal or social. We simply do not set aside nine-tenths of our income to benefit future generations.

Weitzman was among several prominent economists to raise this concern. But he then asked us to contemplate the risk of runaway effects. An example: as arctic permafrost thaws, a huge volume of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, may be released. Other economists have recognised the issue of “tail risks”, well outside the most likely scenarios. None have thought more deeply about it than Weitzman.

Central estimates can lead us astray. The most likely scenario is that climate change will cause real but manageable suffering to future generations. For example, the World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change may cause an extra 250,000 deaths a year because of threats such as malaria, heat exposure and malnutrition — a less serious problem than local and indoor air pollution, which kill 8m people a year. If we focus on the central forecast, it is local air pollution that should get most of our attention.

It is only when we ponder the tail risk that we realise how dangerous climate change might be. Local air pollution isn’t going to wipe out the human race. Climate change probably won’t, either. But it might. When we buy insurance, it isn’t because we expect the worst, but because we recognise that the worst might happen.

The truly eye-opening contribution — for me, at least — was Weitzman’s explanation that the worst-case scenarios should rightly loom large in rational calculations. If there’s a modest chance that the damp problem will give all my great-grandchildren fatal pneumonia, I shouldn’t ignore that. And my great-grandchildren wouldn’t want me to: the probably rich great-grandchildren would happily sacrifice some trivial amount of income to avoid being the possibly dead great-grandchildren. But they won’t have the choice. It’s up to me.

Weitzman was a stupendously creative man. Other celebrated contributions studied the trade-off between pollution taxes and pollution permits, the “Noah’s Ark” problem of what to focus on when preserving biodiversity, and an early argument in favour of companies sharing profits with their employees.

“If you don’t think an idea might be worthy of the Nobel Prize, you shouldn’t be working on it,” he told one colleague. Some economists would say that he reached that impossibly high standard more than once — and were surprised that he was not named as a joint Nobel Prize winner last year, when William Nordhaus was recognised for his work on climate change economics.

Nevertheless, the message of Weitzman’s recent work has influenced the policy debates on climate change: the extreme scenarios matter. What we don’t know about climate change is more important, and more dangerous, than what we do.

Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 13 Sep 2019.

My book “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy” (UK) / “Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy” (US) is out now in paperback – feel free to order online or through your local bookshop.

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samuel
64 days ago
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This is such a short jump to hedonism I don't know that it's not already hedonism.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
vitormazzi
63 days ago
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Brasil
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gmuslera
63 days ago
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Always leave some space to what you don't know that you don't know. Specially about the future. You may have an opportunity to do something now, but maybe later you (or your grandchildren) won't be able to do anything.
montevideo, uy

How to make your jack-o-lantern last longer

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Carved pumpkins are susceptible to rot, but there are ways to stave it off.
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samuel
66 days ago
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Good use for silica packets
Cambridge, Massachusetts
HarlandCorbin
66 days ago
I have silica packets that I keep in a ziplock bag to put my phone into when I am camping or going somewhere that might be very humid. Actually, i have upgraded recently to a water-resistant case for camping, but i still keep the silica packets with it. Just in case!
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