Links and Books, July 2021

Posted on 31 Jul 2021 by Steve Markham

July was tons of fun. Here are some links and quotes for you to enjoy.


  • Lockdown Effectivess: Much More than you Wanted to Know. It’s complicated, of course. I think it’s fair to say that lockdowns help, but not a lot, and lots of things help more. “States at the 75th percentile of lockdown strictness had about 17.5% fewer cases per million than states at the 25th percentile.” Here’s the pro-lockdown data in one image. “So every 52 months of stricter lockdown in counterfactual Sweden would have saved one month of healthy life. You will have to decide whether you think this is worth it, but it seems pretty harsh to me.” Also, “Maybe this was a dress rehearsal for a much worse pandemic later on, and the most important effect of our choices now will be setting the defaults and expectations for how we respond to that one.” In a follow-up post, he laments how many people seem to be focused on the wrong questions. It could be that the emotional toll is such a huge factor that we could safely ignore health and economic consequences. But it’s really hard to tell whether the emotional toll of COVID is worse than the emotional toll of lockdowns and a little less COVID.
  • Stephen Wolfram on Mindscape. I had heard of Wolfram’s cellular automaton version of physics, but had never really looked into it. He’s very smart, smart people sometimes get a little crazy about their ideas, and I figured it was something like that. This podcast made me reconsider. Lots of very interesting ideas, and some potential for testable predictions. If you think QM is over your head, I don’t know that you’ll get a lot out of this podcast, but I want a bookmark for it.
  • BBC article on the Adirondacks. In case you ever wonder why I go backpacking all the time, mostly in the Adirondacks.


  • Grit by Angela Duckworth. Another recommendation from Craig and Kate. I like it, and will probably make a few changes based on it. Recommended.
  • Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville. Interesting, but outdated and verbose. Couldn’t get sucked in.
  • Red Planet by Robert Heinlein. I read the whole thing, ebook, though it’s not my favorite of his works.
  • The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer. It seems good, but I’ve been camping tons and haven’t read much of it (yet).


  • “The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived, and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Also, “there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune.”
  • “Now as I see it, this is a frontier society and any man old enough to fight is a man and must be treated as such–and any girl old enough to cook and tend babies is an adult, too.” Heinlein, Red Planet.
  • “Although almost all of the colonists had heard some version of the two boys story, it … had not been believed … The report ran counter to experience and most of the colonists … The necessary alternative, that the boys had crossed 850 miled of open country without special shelter equipment, had not been examined by them; the “common sense” mind simply does not stoop to logic.” Heinlein, Red Planet.
  • “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of those stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” Richard Dawkins

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