URLs du Jour


  • Suggestion: read this xkcd toon left to right, top to bottom.

    [Types of Scopes]

    Mouseover: "An x-ray gyroscope is used to determine exactly which toppings they included in the pita."

  • The thirteenth: eating your vegetables. I was recently directed to this document by Eliezer Yudkowsky: Twelve Virtues of Rationality. It's pretty neat. For a taste, here's number one:

    The first virtue is curiosity. A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth. To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant, and that you desire to relinquish your ignorance. If in your heart you believe you already know, or if in your heart you do not wish to know, then your questioning will be purposeless and your skills without direction. Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself; there is no curiosity that does not want an answer. The glory of glorious mystery is to be solved, after which it ceases to be mystery. Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance. There is a time to confess your ignorance and a time to relinquish your ignorance.

    But I posted that in order to show you …

  • We are approaching the Singularity. Astral Codex Ten decides to try illustrating the virtues listed above in stained glass. And he uses the "new art-generating AI", dubbed DALL·E 2. And provides a result from his request to produce "Charles Darwin studying finches, stained glass window":

    A Guide To Asking Robots To Design Stained Glass Windows. It is funny, and also awesome. For the virtue of "empiricism", ACT requested... [Chuck and Finch]

    Whoa. Not all ACT's queries turned out that well. ("Some of the pictures could only be described as 'disastrous'.")

  • Welp, Joe Biden may have just lost Mrs. Salad's vote. She was at choir practice last night, but I had Jeopardy! set up to TiVo-record it from the Boston CBS station, … and we got a half hour of Joe Biden babbling about guns, trying hard to panic the nation into getting Congress to Do Something™. (A ticker at the bottom of the screen said it was showing on an alternate channel, but of course that information came too late.)

    Kevin D. Williamson tells us What the Gun Debate Misses. In light of the previous two items, I'd answer "rationality", but KDW has something more specific in mind.

    I begin with what seems to be a mystifying paradox at the center of our gun-control efforts: We only want to enforce the law on the law-abiding, while we ignore the law-breakers almost entirely in our gun-control debate.

    Almost every single substantive gun-control proposal put forward by our progressive friends is oriented toward adding new restrictions and regulatory burdens to federally licensed firearms dealers and the people who do business with them: what they can sell and what they cannot sell, to whom they can sell, under what conditions they may sell, etc. But, as I often remark, gun-store customers are just about the most law-abiding demographic in the United States, even accounting for situations such as that of the Uvalde killer, who was able to purchase his firearms legally because he had no prior criminal record. The best information we have comes from the Department of Justice, which found in 2019 that less than 2 percent of all prisoners had a firearm obtained from a retail source at the time they committed their crimes. A different 2013 study by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins found that only 13 percent of the offenders in the state prison population obtained their firearms from a retail source.

    Criminals mostly don’t get their guns at gun stores — because they mostly can’t.

    More at the link, which (I think) you need to subscribe to read. For the nth time: you should.

  • Taking a look at the most defensible "reform" proposal. Red Flag gun laws! They are Something™ we could Do! And even some conservatives like thim. But Jacob Sullum finds the problem: Bipartisan Support for Red Flag Gun Laws Ignores Issues They Raise.

    The House of Representatives plans to vote on a bill that would authorize federal courts to issue "red flag" orders prohibiting people from possessing firearms when they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Meanwhile, legislation encouraging states to pass and enforce their own red flag laws has emerged as a possible point of compromise between Senate Democrats who favor new gun restrictions and Senate Republicans who are skeptical of that approach.

    It is not hard to understand the bipartisan appeal of this policy, which promises to target dangerous individuals rather than impose broad limits that affect millions of law-abiding Americans. But there are two basic problems with red flag laws that cannot be wished away by consensus-building rhetoric: Predicting violence is much harder than advocates of this approach are usually willing to admit, and trying to overcome that challenge by erring on the side of issuing red flag orders inevitably means that many innocent people will lose their Second Amendment rights, typically for a year and sometimes longer, even though they never would have used a gun to harm anyone. In short, minimizing false negatives means maximizing false positives.

    You don't need a subscription to read that, so check it out.

The Door into Summer

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Door into Summer]

When I reported on J. Storrs Hall's recent book Where Is My Flying Car? last month, I found it interesting to compare the IMDB writing credits for Robert A. Heinlein versus Philip K. Dick. And noticed a relatively new Heinlein adaptation: a Japanese version of The Door into Summer! One of my favorite Heinlein books! And it was available on Netflix!

Yes, I might have preferred a slightly more faithful adaptation. But this is 80% of the way there. And it's way better than the dreck Hollywood churned out under the Starship Troopers brand.

Brilliant young inventor Soichiro (tragic backstory) toils away on his groundbreaking work in robotics. It's going fine; he has a beautiful fiancée, a partner handling the business end of things, a devoted 17-year-old stepsister, Riko, and a great cat, "Pete". Who hates Japan's winters, and demands Soichiro open every door to the outside, as he searches for one that will get him back to warmer weather.

I'm confessing right here: that last bit misted me up a tad. Even in subtitles.

Anyway: Fiancée and Partner turn out to be conspiring to go for the quick buck, forcing Soichiro out of the business and swiping his ideas. When he gets obstreperous, they drug him, and send him into a 30-year "cold sleep". When he awakes, he acquires an android buddy named … Pete?! What a coincidence!

No it's not.

Soichiro tries to track down Riko, with disappointing results. His efforts to find out what happened only get him more confused, but he eventually concocts on an audacious scheme… well, no further spoilers.

Consumer note: I'm not sure how much sense this movie will make to someone who hasn't practically memorized Heinlein's book.

Fun fact: Heinlein's 1956 novel was originally set in 1970, with his protagonist sleeping-forward to the far future of … 2000! The movie goes from 1995 to 2025, and assumes we'll have lifelike AI androids by that date. Yeah, well, maybe in Japan.