Immortality Potions

“Poisoned potions of immortality caused the death of up to seven Chinese emperors – the last less than three centuries ago.”

-“Death by immortality potion.” The Generalist Academy. May 4, 2021.

It occurs to me that the modern equivalent of the immortality potion is nutritional supplements, which offers extended or healthier life but are more likely to be causing harm. But, the good news is they won’t kill you as quickly as mercury sulfide.

Colette

“Colette has won the Academy Award in the category of best documentary short…90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine confronts her past by visiting the German concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora where her brother was killed. As a young girl, she fought Hitler’s Nazis as a member of the French Resistance. For 74 years, she has refused to step foot in Germany, but that changes when a young history student named Lucie enters her life. Prepared to re-open old wounds and revisit the terrors of that time, Marin-Catherine offers important lessons for us all.”

–Anthony Giacchino, “Collette.” The Guardian. November 2020.

How to Make Enemies and Influence People

“This essay outlines the characteristics of what I call the ‘totalitarian mindset’. Under certain circumstances, human beings engage in patterns of thinking and behavior that are extremely closed and intolerant of difference and pluralism. These patterns of thinking and behaving lead us towards totalitarian, anti-pluralistic futures. An awareness of how these patterns arise, how individuals and groups can be manipulated through the use of fear, and how totalitarianism plays into the desire in human beings for ‘absolute’ answers and solutions, can be helpful in preventing attempts at manipulation and from the dangers of actively wanting to succumb to totalitarian, simplistic, black-and-white solutions in times of stress and anxiety. I present a broad outline of an agenda for education for a pluralistic future. The lived experience of pluralism is still largely unfamiliar and anxiety inducing, and that the phenomenon is generally not understood, with many myths of purity and racial or cultural superiority still prevalent. Finally, as part of that agenda for education, I stress the importance of creativity as an adaptive capacity, an attitude that allows us to see pluralism as an opportunity for growth and positive change rather than simply conflict.”

-Alfonso Montuori, “How to make enemies and influence people:
anatomy of the anti-pluralist, totalitarian mindset
.” Futures. 2005. pgs. 18-35.

Preferring Pain to High Cognitive Effort

“Cognitive effort is described as aversive, and people will generally avoid it when possible. This aversion to effort is believed to arise from a cost–benefit analysis of the actions available. The comparison of cognitive effort against other primary aversive experiences, however, remains relatively unexplored. Here, we offered participants choices between performing a cognitively demanding task or experiencing thermal pain. We found that cognitive effort can be traded off for physical pain and that people generally avoid exerting high levels of cognitive effort. We also used computational modelling to examine the aversive subjective value of effort and its effects on response behaviours. Applying this model to decision times revealed asymmetric effects of effort and pain, suggesting that cognitive effort may not share the same basic influences on avoidance behaviour as more primary aversive stimuli such as physical pain.”

Todd A Vogel, et al. “Forced choices reveal a trade-off between cognitive effort and physical pain.” eLife: Neurosciences. November 17, 2020. doi: 10.7554/eLife.59410

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than outlined in this abstract.

TEU: Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit

“It is the physical equivalent of the internet, the other industry which makes globalisation possible. The internet abolishes national boundaries for information, news, data; shipping abolishes these boundaries for physical goods. The main way it does this is by being almost incomprehensibly efficient and cheap. As George points out, if you’re having a sweater shipped from the other side of the planet, the cost of shipping adds just a cent to the price. Another way of putting it would be to say that shipping is, in practice, free. This has had the effect of abolishing geography and location as an economic factor: moving stuff from A to B is so cheap that, for most goods, there is no advantage in siting manufacturing anywhere near your customers. Instead, you make whatever it is where it’s cheapest, and ship it to them instead. As Marc Levinson wrote in The Box (2006), his unexpectedly thrilling book about the container industry, shipping is so cheap it has ‘changed the shape of the world economy’.

John Lanchester, “Gargantuanisation.” The London Review of Books. April 22,2021

A technology that underpins the modern world and is important as the Internet that few of us think about at all, the shipping container.

Crypto Canon

“…a list of crypto readings and resources. It’s organized from building blocks and basics; foundations (& history); and key concepts — followed by specific topics such as governance; privacy and security; scaling; consensus and governance; cryptoeconomics, cryptoassets, and investing; fundraising and token distribution; decentralized exchanges; stablecoins; and cryptoeconomic primitives and crypto goods (non-fungible tokens, cryptocollectibles, token-curated registries, curation markets). We also included a section with developer tutorials, practical guides, and maker stories — as well as other resources, such as newsletters/updates and courses, at the end.”

Crypto Canon

You Don’t Need (To Complain About) Substack

“Our timing was nearly perfect—a mere two weeks after we wrote our joint essay, Substack had a huge controversy, and is now facing a backlash. Writers are thinking of jumping ship and looking for ideas for what to do next. I’ve been doing this without a net for a while, and I have a few thoughts on how it can be done.”

—Ernie Smith, “Newsletter, Untethered.” Tedium.co. March 19, 2021.

Basically, Ernie explains how to roll your own newsletter. If you don’t like Substack, Medium, or these other publishing platforms, you don’t have to use them. There are options, but many require technical expertise, which is what you are paying them not to learn so you can focus on writing.

Let me take a moment to comment, with the full understanding that no one cares what I think: The Substack “controversy” is nonsense. What they are doing is figuring out who could make money on their platform and removing the risk for these writers to try it out. I haven’t read up on who they made offers to, but is the world a more interesting place with Scott Alexander publishing Astral Codex Ten and Freddie deBoer being given a one year guarantee to build an audience on the platform and concentrate on writing? Probably. I don’t agree with the politics of either of these individuals. But, I do know that the modern media landscape doesn’t give them a platform, and it should. When we support a media landscape of diverse voices, it means you’re going to hear a lot of viewpoints you’re not going to like. That’s the price of a diverse landscape.

Of course, capitalism comes with incentives, and the incentives encourage extreme viewpoints. That’s what people will pay for.

If you want to promote conventional opinion, write mediocre poetry, share your hot tips on making money (or living your best life, nutrition advice or what not), then you get on a free tier of an online publishing platform. Or, if you are slightly more serious, you pay for the privilege and get a WordPress personal site or equivalent. And, if you are very good, relatable, extreme and/or lucky, Substack might approach you in a decade too. Good luck to you, if that’s what you want.

But, complaining how some company runs its business? Is Substack Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook or Microsoft? Do we want to talk about the relative harms here and why quitting Substack for some other online publishing or newsletter platform is a relatively cost-free form of virtue signaling? Want to guess how many people will read and heed Ernie’s advice rather than join the platform of the moment? Fractions of a percent. In other words, the objections about Substack and the migrating to another service with the same incentives is the kind of nonsense that characterizes left activism and is why so much of it has very little impact on the real world beyond soothing a few consciences and signaling we are good people at very little cost.

Rolling your own has a serious cost, in time and effort. Giving up Facebook, or one of the other feudal internet companies, also has a significant cost. But, leaving Substack to go to Buttondown? Who you fooling?

For a better argument, see Ben Thompson.

Thanks to Ernie for suggesting a few editorial changes to make it clear that rolling your own is not cost-free nor is it virtual signaling. It is a great way to control your creative output and foster independence. The challenge for publishing ecosystems is getting the tools to the point that non-technical writers can take advantage of them.

bash: Number of Days Between Today and Some Future Date

#!/bin/bash                                                        
                                                                   
printf -v date '%(%Y-%m-%d)T\n' -1                                 
echo $(( ($(date -d $1 +%s) - $(date -d $date +%s)) / 86400 )) days

Above is a bash script to output the number of days between today and some future date. Copy it into a file, e.g., diffdate.sh, into a directory, e.g., ~/bin/scripts. Then, enter the directory you saved it to and type to make it executable:

$ chmod +x diffdate.sh

Then, check your .profile to make sure something like this in it:

# set PATH so it includes user's private bin if it exists
if [ -d "$HOME/bin" ] ; then                             
  PATH="$HOME/bin:$PATH"
fi                                                                   

Then, run the script.

$ diffdate.sh 2021-06-01
70 days

I have to figure out the difference between today and some future date all the time for forecasting, and today was the day I finally bothered to figure out how to do it from the command line. I have to start thinking of ways to make shell scripts to do this little tasks that I go to the web for.

Basic Options Calculator

“Our Basic Options Calculator…provides fair values and Greeks of any option using our volatility data and previous trading day prices. You may customize all the input parameters (option style, price of the underlying instrument, strike, expiration, implied volatility, interest rate and dividends data) or enter a stock or options symbol and the database will populate all those fields for you! Note that the option’s underlying price is the previous trading day’s market closing price.

Basic Options Calculator

For those that are new to options, as I am, one of the ways of assessing the option in question is by calculating its delta, which from Investopedia, “represents the [rate of change] between the option’s price and a $1 change in the underlying asset’s price”. Crucially, however, what the delta also provides is a rough estimation of what the collective options market thinks is the likelihood that the underlying security will close at a certain price at a certain date.

The formula to arrive at the delta for American options, which differ from European options, is complicated and had me saying ‘oh, the heck with that’ until I found this handy options calculator:

https://www.optionseducation.org/toolsoptionquotes/optionscalculator

It’s worth reading the ‘calculator’s help’ page (see link on calculator page) to help understand the inputs.”

[What Follows is a Paraphrase Using a Different Ticker Symbol

If I understand this correctly, if we take a ticker symbol such as AAPL (Apple), using the above options calculator, if one enters in AAPL at a strike of 140 for October 15, 2021, and hits ‘calculate’, one sees the delta for a call option is calculated at .2969. Which I believe means the collective options market thinks there roughly a 29.69% chance–let’s call it 30!–that AAPL will close at or above a strike price of 140 by 15 October.]

-Private internet forum