Blog: Repairing Mental Bridges

Repairing Mental Bridges
Repairing Mental Bridges
Date: 2019-May-11 14:51:21 EST

Earlier this week I had a morning where I woke up and some of the details of PCA that had become fuzzy to me (where I had meant to spend some time to clear it up) became entirely clear again. It felt like I hadn't spent much time on it, it just was suddenly clear, and it's remained clear since. The accessibility of intuitions are like that - it reminds me of past (tough) interviews at big tech companies where there are brute force solutions, and then a series of insights that offer headway on the problem and increase the efficiency. PCA is more pass-fail (although approximate PCA is another matter).

Over the last few weeks my sinuses have been really bothering me - this happens twice a year, but it finally seems to be on a downslope today - slept a lot last night and a lot of the discomfort was gone when I woke today. Optimistic that it's gone for good. The yearly company trip is coming up, and I'm glad it probably will be entirely good by the time I'm out there.

Been feeling a little less politically threatened recently because two radical groups finally have a counterweight - I'm coming to learn that I mostly care that no energised group feels that it's winning, rather than who is making headway. Just as it took society some time to learn to argue against Libertarians in the 90s but now people are used to it, there needs to be time for people to learn to argue against other kinds of activism, and having more than one side show up at the various debates helps make nobody show up with feelings of triumph that lead to terrible outcomes for those that disagree. These two examples are a group called "Code Pink" that's spent a lot of credibility supporting Maduro (surprisingly), and another where NYU's sociology department has been trying to cut off the israeli branches of the same university - they're getting strong pushback and that's great. Although I think they're also not entirely wrong (I generally loathe sociology departments for being radical activists demeaning academia by pretending to be scholars, but it's also important to push back against Israel's being allowed to be the one terribly regressive place that gets a free categorisation of being highly civilised despite these failings). I hope this tension never ends because it's productive.

A few takes:

  • I've been thinking about this politico essay for awhile - It strikes me as being both potentially historically ill-founded (most founders were quite wealthy and involved in industry of some kind) and possibly ill-founded in the present day as well (physical proximity is not that important - companies hire lobbyists or fly someone in to meet with a politician if there's benefit). The most that physical proximity would provide is a local worker base that depends on that industry, and it's unclear whether that would be dangerous. More broadly this is an example of an essay that sounds convincing to intelligent people if they're not in the habit of asking "yes, but really?" to a lot of its claims.
  • It's fascinating that some groups of Catholics can consider accusing the current Pope of heresy - liberation theology as a movement sits among many others with varying intuitions on handling some topics, and Bergoglio came from that movement and has naturally pushed its conclusions. The thing that strikes me as strange is that in theory a pope can speak ex cathedra and define doctrine for the church moving forward - from a power perspective that means doctrinal conflict is risky (and risks the accuser either needing to back down or becoming literally heretical). Although there's a lot more to disputes like this than power politics.
  • Recently I went to an event at AMNH where I saw some data visualisation props - inexpensive cubes with markings on them sufficient to let a tablet or phone immediately notice the orientation and rotation of devices (people would hold the cubes and rotate them with their hands), responding by putting a 3d overlay of something over that part of the image. The result was someone was rotating a cube with their hands (or moving it closer/furher from the camera) and what they'd see through the "photo preview" would be, say, the head of a lizard (or bones) rotate and zoom exactly in time with their hand manipulation. It was pretty great - very immersive. I ordered a few of the cubes (from a company called MergeVR) and will spend some time with coworkers (this is a great way to toy with new technologies) to see if we can get our wasp dataset visualised this way
  • Very cool that the recent boom in exoplanet surveys has led to more mature theories on planet formation. Still curious about observability bias in planet type distribution - I'm guessing our planet would be hard to spot with current methods from any distance away
  • I think I can support the "remain in mexico" policy, and add a few other policy preferences - that residency in the US should be denied to people who were not travelling from a place of conflict to the nearest place without conflict, that would help eliminate migration that is actually economic in nature rather than refugee in nature. I'm still surprised that "open migration, no real borders" has become a popular liberal policy position, as it strikes me as more libertarian than anything else. I'd rather us be more like Switzerland - selective and restrictive in migration with almost no refugees, definitely no lotteries, and entry based on education and perceived benefit to the US
  • There are various things the current POTUS is doing where I wouldn't mind them as much if I felt they were part of a careful and intelligent plan, but given who's running the show they're likely devoid of any plannning or thought and could get us into a lot of trouble. Foreign policy is going to be a huge mess for the next sensible president we have
  • I can entirely empathise with the theatre for removing someone with a mental illness that would lead them to be disruptive in a film - I've been in situations at least a few times in life where a mentally ill person was making a scene and nobody would remove them because they were mentally ill. Accommodation should only go so far - if someone can't be somewhere without being disruptive, they shouldn't be there (same goes with people bringing small children that can't keep quiet into performances)
  • It's good to see that parents that restrict medical procedures for their children out of boneheaded beliefs (whethe religious or new-age) can lose custody. This should be the norm.