Links and Books, May 2021

Posted on 31 May 2021 by Steve Markham


  • Video to boost your gravity/spacetime intuition. “The weird universe we’ve been imagining, is our universe!”
  • Engineering the Apocalypse by Rob Reid and Sam Harris. Mom (and anyone else who scares easily), you’re going to want to skip this one, though it is >50% optimism and practical suggestions for future policy and prevention.
  • Julia Galef on Coleman Hughes’s podcast or in your podcast app under “Conversations with Coleman” S2 Ep13. I haven’t read the book (yet). The whole interview is good, as is her interview on Mindscape with Sean Carroll. I especially like thinking about rational irrationality (ie, being instrumentally rational and hence epistemically irrational) and holding my identity lightly.
  • WSJ on Gen Z’s pessimism. It’s hard to quote it at all without quoting all of it, so go read it if you can. “Indeed, more than any prior generation of American parents, Generation X set out deliberately to raise happy kids. But there was also “a shift in parenting from encouragement to fear.” As parents’ anxiety about the world rose, they seem to have passed the feeling down. Ms. Twenge says what drove the parents’ anxiety is a bit of a mystery. For most of the past 25 years, violent crime rates fell and kids lived physically safer lives than ever. But fearfulness increased.”
  • Via Negativa, which I discovered from reddit comments on this book review. I recently finished three sessions of chess merit badge with a small group of 5 scouts. The main advice to give new chess players is roughly “don’t make awful moves” so perhaps I’m primed to enjoy something focused on what not to do.
  • Stephen Fry on Jordan Peterson’s Podcast. I watched the whole thing, but especially liked the first ~20 minutes, where Fry discusses the distinction between rationalism and empiricism.
  • Yes/No Debates (Twitter-friendly, but not required). It’s like 20-questions, but instead of guessing what they’re thinking, you are collaboratively searching for a double crux.
  • Optimized Propaganda. h/t SSC aka ACT.
  • The Psychology of Money. It’s from 2018, but I just read it in 2021 and I can’t imagine it ever not being relevant.
  • Wind-powered vehicle that goes faster than the wind. If you have 20 minutes to spare, just watch the whole video. If not, start at 6:45 and watch to 8:45. Very clever.


  • 7 1/2 Lessons about the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett. I finished it and enjoyed it, but wouldn’t recommend it unless you are looking for somethig to fill time.
  • Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer. They made a movie based on the book, so the book must be at least OK, right? Nope.
  • Dune. Did not get sucked into it. I think I couldn’t keep track of the proper nouns, and that got in the way of the story. I’ll try the audiobook next time.
  • 1984. I have tried to read this one before, but I couldn’t get into it. I did the audiobook this time, which helped. Predictable ending was predictable. I never regret reading a classic, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never read it again.
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weird. Came highly recommended by Dewey (and Papa, Melanie, and Matt). I highly recommend it as well.
  • Tunnel in the Sky By Robert Heinlein. I loved The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, so I’m trying another audiobook by Heinlein. Just started on the 30th, so it’s too early to say.


  • Rob Reid: “Big data is called big for a reason.”
  • Andy Weir (Mark Watney, in The Martian): “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.” also “How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”
  • Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon): “My point is that precision, and getting things right, in the mathematical sense, is the one thing we have going for us. Everyone has to have a way of getting ahead, right? Otherwise you end up working at McDonald’s your whole life, or worse. Some are born rich. Some are born into a big family like yours. We make our way in the world by knowing that two plus two equals four, and sticking to our guns in a way that is kind of nerdy and that maybe hurts people’s feelings sometimes.”
  • It occurs to me, as I post that last one, that I haven’t put up my all-time favorite quote. Steve Dutch: “The only thing that can protect us against rare dangers is a widespread belief that all learning is relevant, all the time, and that the principal obligation of all people, all the time, is learning more about the world around them.”