Pour kettle and let steep the gods of tea. I built NewsBlur and Turn Touch.
1118 stories
·
802 followers

Do Not Erase: Mathematician’s Chalkboards

1 Comment and 2 Shares

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
Read the whole story
samuel
4 days ago
reply
Checks out. I’m taking a math class on multiple view geometry in computer vision and it’s all chalkboard.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
cjmcnamara
19 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete

How this climate change economist changed my world

3 Comments and 4 Shares
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.

Read the whole story
samuel
5 days ago
reply
This is such a short jump to hedonism I don't know that it's not already hedonism.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
vitormazzi
4 days ago
reply
Brasil
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
gmuslera
4 days ago
reply
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

1 Comment
Carved pumpkins are susceptible to rot, but there are ways to stave it off.
Read the whole story
samuel
7 days ago
reply
Good use for silica packets
Cambridge, Massachusetts
HarlandCorbin
7 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!
Share this story
Delete

David Byrne Talks American Utopia, Broadway, And Bicycling Despite Tragedy

1 Comment and 3 Shares
David Byrne in American Utopia

We recently spoke with Byrne, a longtime New Yorker, about the show, the nation, and other NYC topics. [ more › ]

Read the whole story
samuel
12 days ago
reply
I love how this turned into an interview about bike lanes. It’s the way to experience a city with being carcooned.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Share this story
Delete

“I had four chairs refurbished this morning  And I couldn’t help...

3 Comments and 5 Shares


“I had four chairs refurbished this morning  And I couldn’t help but think, what’s the point?  I don’t have much longer to live.  I’m already seventy-six.  I never even expected to live beyond sixty.  I think sixty is a pretty good age for life to terminate.  It would certainly clear out some room for younger generations.  Everything deteriorates after sixty, anyway.  After that we’re just old plants being kept alive with extra fertilizer.  The pains get worse every day.  It’s not natural.  Think of the millions of people sitting in retirement homes right now.  Nothing to do.  No future to look forward to.  It’s no way to live.  Everyone needs a pill.  That would be great.  Enjoy your life as long as you want, but the moment the pain becomes too much, it’s in your hands to stop it.”
(Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Read the whole story
samuel
24 days ago
reply
Co-sign
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Share this story
Delete
2 public comments
CallMeWilliam
23 days ago
reply
Live as long as you wish, and suicide is everyone's right. If your own life doesn't belong to you, what else possibly does?

Note: Clearly, exceptions to be made for those struggling with mental illness.
sarcozona
24 days ago
reply
I spend at least half my life in pain that confines me to bed. I have a beautiful and worthwhile life full of joy and love and delight. Capitalism and ableism like this have made it fucking hard though

RT @ArtofLostandCan: All Dogs Go to Heaven was censored upon release due to test screenings complaining the movie was too disturbing. Scene…

2 Shares

All Dogs Go to Heaven was censored upon release due to test screenings complaining the movie was too disturbing. Scenes of Charlie's getting hit by the car, and the hell sequence were cut, though luckily a film student managed to record some of it so it's not totally lost. pic.twitter.com/dHEvYsiHmb


Retweeted by boursier on Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 11:19am


30133 likes, 7160 retweets
Read the whole story
samuel
29 days ago
reply
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories