Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 6th, 2021

QNTM on memes, anti-memes, and knowledge that doesn’t want to be shared

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This is a fascinating interview, and I highly recommend reading it or listening to it. The introductory matter:

QNTM is a software engineer and the author of There Is No Antimemetics Division. Here, QNTM speaks to the Browser’s Uri Bram about collaborative fiction, why people with deep and very specific expertise are often great storytellers, and the surprising subjectivity of finding right answers in software development.

[Listen to this interview as a podcast or on Youtube (audio only)]

The interview proper begins:

Uri Bram: Your latest book—which is wonderful—is called There Is No Antimemetics Division. Can you tell us a little bit conceptually about the idea of antimemes?

What is an anti-meme?

QNTM: So if you’re reading this, you probably have a reasonable idea of what a meme is, but there are a couple of different colliding definitions of meme these days.

For my purposes, a meme is a contagious idea, which is much more of an older definition than today’s conception of “internet meme.” It’s an idea that catches on due to some kind of hook within the idea itself. It’s a piece of information that you have, but there’s also an aspect where you want to share this information with other people, spread this idea to other people.

The canonical example of a contagious idea would be some kind of evangelical religion, where they would say: “Hey, this is the way the universe is structured. This is how the cosmos exists, but also convert other people to this way of thinking, go out and find people and tell them this as well.”

But there’s a way simpler idea of memes: a contagious song, a catch phrase, a political slogan, or even a symbol that’s easy to draw. Wouldn’t that be a meme as well?

So looking at this I thought that some ideas are more contagious than others and some ideas aren’t contagious at all—they just kind of sit there. So what’s at the other end of the scale: what kind of ideas resist being spread? What information would you intrinsically not want anyone else to find out about? Or maybe you do want to spread it, but you can’t for whatever reason?

In real life, there’s a ton of ideas that fall into this class: random wild data is is very difficult to share because it’s just nonsense and it’s not very memorable; just boring things are difficult to share; complicated equations are difficult to share because you can’t remember them properly—because we’re humans and that’s not how we remember things.

But also there’s a category of ideas that are hard to share intrinsically like passwords. I’m motivated to keep my password a secret. There are all kinds of official secrets, like government secrets that you’re motivated to keep secret.

And from there, you move into injunctions and super injunctions and gag orders. Or what kind of journalism is forbidden in the country where you happen to live? What kind of things that you’ve not allowed to say? What is a taboo? What are the things that are true, but we don’t talk about? Although this is orthogonal to the truth. Just because something is mimetic or antiemetic doesn’t mean it’s true or false.

Playing with the idea of anti-memes in science fiction.

QNTM: The truth can be very difficult to share. As they say, a lie can circle the globe before the truth can get its boots on. So a falsehood can be very mimetic, but I looked at this and thought… “anti-meme” is a novel neologism, but it’s mainly just a synonym for things we already know exist. We know what secrets are, we know what taboos are. But I started taking this into a fictional concept and there’s a large amount of science fiction that takes the idea of memes and anti-memes and plays with it.

For instance you could have a concept which exists and is plain as day and is right in front of you, but you can’t remember it and when you turn away, you’ve stopped being able to remember that it was there—even though it was clearly there. An anti-memetic thing could trip you so you fall, but you wouldn’t remember why you fell and then when you stood up again, you wouldn’t even remember that you fell over at all.

So I thought okay, there’s a bit of mileage in there, I can tell a story in this.

If you’ve read the book, chapter one of the book is that concept, but that’s just the start, then then I keep going. Let’s suppose this is a real phenomenon. What kind of organization could dealing with this kind of phenomenon? How would that organization have to operate? What kind of person would work there? And as I just kept digging into those questions, more and more story just showed up and I started writing.

Uri Bram: I was recommended this book with no context. I was told there’s this book, you should just read it and go in knowing as little as you can, which I think in itself is kind of interesting on your terms. Not anti-memetic, but there was hidden knowledge or knowledge that they didn’t want to convey.

QNTM: Oh, absolutely. There’s two aspects of this kind of thing. There’s ideas that you want to know, but you can’t hang onto them, they get away from you and what do you do about that? What kind of systems do you have to develop to handle that?

And then on the flip side of it, the second half of the book is about . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more that’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 9:07 pm

What doctors know about nutrition, and the food that hospitals serve

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 7:19 pm

Tell Me What You Value

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Michael A. Cohen has an excellent column, which begins:

In my latest MSNBC column, I wrote about Washington’s deeply messed up priorities.

Joe Biden once famously said “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Over the past week, Congress has depressingly proved the president was on to something.

Though Democrats are tying themselves in knots over a 10-year $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package — and Republicans are uniformly opposing it — on Sept. 23, the House of Representatives, with little rancor or controversy, passed a $768 billion package of goodies for the Pentagon.

Assuming the defense budget doesn’t go down (and it rarely does), over 10 years that would mean almost $8 trillion to the Pentagon. That would be more than double the cost of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, which has been billed as a historic expansion of America’s social safety net.

Even in 2021, as Congress is considering historic pieces of progressive legislation, Washington still values defense dollars — for wars that America shouldn’t and likely won’t fight — over prioritizing the needs of the American people.

Among the more wasteful nuggets in the House defense bill is authorization to purchase 85 F-35 fighters, an aircraft that has been called a “rathole” and may never be fully ready for combat. There are also billions for a new ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is estimated to cost at least $264 billion over its lifetime. According to Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Armed Service Committee, the bill is “laser-focused on preparing our military to prevail in a conflict with China.”

My question, however, is: what about preparing America for the economic and political challenges of the 21st century? At the same time that Congress is nickel-and-diming the fight against climate change, child poverty, and reducing health care costs, we continue to plunge billions into military platforms we don’t need for wars we shouldn’t and likely won’t wage.

Consider, for example, an issue like child care. If you’re a working parent (or have been), you likely take for granted that care for your young child is going to be exceedingly expensive and hard to find. Indeed, when it comes to child care, the United States is a global outlier. . . .

Continue reading. There’s plenty more — and note that chart at the link. Democrats talk a good game, but they won’t put the money where their mouth is.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:31 pm

The Myth of Regenerative Ranching

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Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel N. Rosenberg report in The New Republic:

When foodies sink their teeth into a slab of cheese from one of the historic dairy farms in Point Reyes, California, their minds probably run to grass-fed cows ranging free on the lush green oceanside hills of Marin County. Over 5,000 dairy cows and beef cattle roam the Point Reyes National Seashore National Park in full view of visiting tourists. Unlike the many dairy and meat companies that slap happy animals on their labels while sourcing their product from hellish factory farms, the dairy and beef farms at Point Reyes represent an agrarian ideal of ecologically and ethically sustainable animal agriculture.

“Pasture-raised” and “extensive” or “regenerative” grazing have been watchwords in the American foodie community since at least the 2000s, when celebrated food writer Michael Pollan presented sustainable, nonindustrial practices as a way out of the ethical morass of the American food system in his award-winning bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Everyone from progressive agrarians to libertarian ranchers to multinational food companies, and even conservation NGOs such as the Audubon Society, has thrown their weight behind the idea of replacing mass-produced meat, from chickens to ungulates, with a holistically raised alternative. While some environmentalists reject beef altogether for its contribution to climate changepollution, and deforestation, proponents of free-ranging beef have rallied under the motto, “It’s not the cow; it’s the how.” They argue that, done properly, pasture-raised cattle can replace the ecological functions of wild ruminants like elk and bison, produce food on “marginal” land that would otherwise be wasted, and eliminate beef’s carbon hoofprint (since well-grazed land can sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide). This would mean consumers could stick it to Big Ag, fight climate change, and help imperiled animals and ecosystems without actually changing their diets too much; they’d just need to eat a bit less meat and pay a bit more for the grass-fed option.

Whether these promises hold up under scrutiny is a subject of fierce debate. And in recent years, a series of lawsuits have argued the opposite thesis: that even “regenerative” cattle imperil the very ecosystems proponents claim they will “regenerate.”

This past June, the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic, on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and a number of individual plaintiffs, filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, which manages Point Reyes National Park, alleging that cattle ranching is endangering the iconic tule elk.* It’s not the first such lawsuit that has been filed over the past decade against the NPS to stop alleged environmental damage from Point Reyes cows.

The National Park Service leases parkland to a number of “historic” cattle and dairy farms, which it has done since the park’s creation in 1962. The elk, native to the region but driven to near-extinction by hunting and human activities such as ranching, are protected by a 1976 federal conservation law and were reintroduced to the park in 1978. But to keep the elk from competing with cattle for forage and water, the NPS erected fences that confine the elk to select corners of the park with limited water and forage. This confinement has proved fatal during droughts. Drought in 2013–2014 led to 254 elk deaths. A current drought has already killed over 150 elk, a third of the once 445-strong herd that inhabits Tomales Point, all just a stone’s throw away from thriving commodity cows. Ranchers have even pushed for the right to cull elk outright to keep their populations in check, in part because they have also killed off the natural predators that would do so in a healthy ecosystem. The Harvard suit alleges that “the Tule elk are continuing to die horrific and preventable deaths” in clear violation of federal law.

Prior to the twentieth century, the tule elk were an important part of the Pacific coastal ecosystem and a major component of the diet of the Coast Miwok tribe, the native peoples who lived there. In fact, the NPS concedes that the region’s characteristic hilly grasslands were “the byproduct of burning, weeding, pruning and harvesting for at least two millennia by Coast Miwok and their antecedents.” These grasslands made a juicy target for white settlers arriving in the middle of the nineteenth century. They brought cattle with them, plundered the Coast Miwok lands, hunted large predators and elk to near-extinction, and then grazed their cattle on the hills instead. The intertwined processes of colonial and ecological displacement have continued into the twenty-first century: In 2015, the NPS balked at a proposed “Indigenous Archaeological District” that would have protected Coast Miwok heritage sites from damage from ranching. Even as it did so, it quickly approved a “Historic Dairy Ranching District,” over and against Miwok protests. Today, many Coast Miwok are opposed to the rancher-backed plan to fence and further cull the elk. “The Park Service proposal to shoot indigenous tule elk and promote ranching that harms wildlife, water and habitat is a travesty and contrary to the traditions of our ancestors,” Jason Deschler, dance captain and headman with the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin, wrote this summer in a statement opposing the cull.

The cows at Point Reyes don’t just compete with the elk. They also defecate about 130 million pounds of nitrogen-rich manure a year, which leaches into the soil and streams and ponds of the area. An NPS-funded study suggested that removal of the cows would benefit numerous native species, including butterflies, seabirds, frogs, and salmon. And yet the same study recommended the expansion of ranching. As a damning investigative report into the issue in the Marin County Pacific Sun suggests, the ranchers and dairy farmers have urged pliant politicians, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, to “pressur[e] the Park Service to prioritize the preservation of private ranching profits over environmental concerns.”

Point Reyes is a microcosm of a much broader anti-wildlife bent in American ranching, regenerative and otherwise. To protect their cows from predators and disease, or simply to ensure that they have access to food and water, ranchers across the country have supported wolf huntsvulture and wild horse culls, and the deployment of cyanide bombs. It is difficult to count the number of wild animals killed in the service of ranching interests by government bodies like the Agriculture Department’s secretive Wildlife Services, the Bureau of Land Management, and various state-level farm bureaus, but about a million animals per year is the federal government’s own estimate.

Unlike wild animals such as elk, ranched cattle are commodities in a global market. And the goals of commodity production run directly counter to those of a functional ecosystem. In the wild, . . ..

Continue reading. There’s more.

Humans know what should be done but refuse to do it — cf. climate change. I hold little hope for the species.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:12 pm

Gustav Klimt’s Iconic Painting “The Kiss”: An Introduction to Austrian Painter’s Golden, Erotic Masterpiece (1908)

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This comes via a post in Open Culture:

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 11:18 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, History, Video

Something I wish every web designer would read

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Colour me better: Fixing figures colour blindness,” by Alla Katsnelson, explains the importance of taking colour blindness — relatively common — into account. The article begins:

Scott Harden can’t see rainbows. “When I look at a rainbow, I see two or maybe three colours, and they’re not evenly spaced out,” he says. So when scientific figures use a rainbow colour map, he finds them largely uninterpretable.

A neuroscientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Harden has protanomaly: he cannot differentiate red from green pigments because of a genetic mutation that affects how the cones of his retina detect red light.

Red–green colour blindness is the most common form of colour vision deficiency; blue–yellow colour blindness is less common, and achromatopsia, the inability to see most colours, is rarer still. In northern Europe, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have a colour vision deficiency — enough people that making your work accessible is simply the right thing to do, says Harden. “I consider using colour-blind-friendly palettes and colour maps as a way to express empathy to people who are truly interested in your work.”

But to put those numbers in more pragmatic terms, if all three of a paper’s reviewers are male and of northern European descent, there’s a one in five chance that one of them will have a colour deficiency.

Poor colour choices can also distort data. A study published in 2011 found that physicians were significantly worse at diagnosing heart disease from arterial scans that used a rainbow scale than from scans designed for improved perception1. And people are generally less able to resolve gradations in red than in other colours, so colour combinations that rely heavily on red can obscure details in the data. And some colour schemes do not translate well to greyscale — an important consideration when scientists print papers in black and white for offline reading.

Most data visualization packages include colour maps that are accessible to people with colour vision deficiencies, and tools are available online for selecting appropriate hues (see ‘Tips and tools’). Yet researchers rarely seek out these resources, because they aren’t trained to think about colour selection, says Helena Jambor, a data-visualization scientist at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany. . .  [And, I suspect, because they don’t suffer from any sort of colour blindness and thus unconsciously assume that it doesn’t exist. I bet researchers who are colour blind are keenly aware of the problem. – LG]

Continue reading. There’s much more, including this table of tips:


Some basic principles can be applied to generate accessible images.

• Do not use rainbows. Use a perceptually uniform colour map, such as viridis or cividis.

• Avoid red. Especially in combination with green.

• Go grey. Check your figure in greyscale, or by completely desaturating it.

• Pick a palette. Choose one that works for everyone, such as Color Universal Design or Color Blind 10 Palette, or create your own using i want hue or Viz Palette.

• Think bigger. Use features such as shapes and line textures to disambiguate colour.

• Test drive. Use a simulator such as Color Oracle or Coblis to ensure images can be interpreted accurately by everyone.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 11:14 am

Life is cheap in the US

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 9:30 am

Not lawn tennis: Court tennis (aka real tennis)

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I’ve known about court tennis — the original from which lawn tennis was derived (though lawn tennis is the “original” from which table tennis was derived) — but not in any detail. This first video provides some detail, and the second video shows the game in play, and damn! that court is large! A squash court or a racquetball court is tiny in comparison — lots more running in real tennis. The first video is via an Open Culture post, which includes this useful chart:

You may want to watch some actual play (video below) before seeing what it’s about (video above).

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 9:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Games, History

Another peerless slant shave, with an old-fashioned fragrance

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Another great shave with a slant. Art of Shaving Sandalwood is quite a good soap — reputedly made by Valobra — and with my Rod Neep brush I got a very good lather. Merkur’s 37G is a solid slant, and the shave it provides is easy, effective, and enjoyable.

Taylor of Old Bond Street No. 74 Original has a lovely fragrance, though it evokes earlier times. “Top notes are Orange, Bergamot, and Lemon; middle notes are Jasmine, Lilac, and Rose; base note is Musk.” That’s according to My nose is not so discerning as to recognize all that, but I do like the net effect. (As seems to be the regular practice, the number in the name is from the street address — in this case, Taylor of Old Bond Street, 74 Jermyn Street, St James’, London SW1Y 6NP.)

Altogether a very enjoyable shave. 

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 9:03 am

Posted in Daily life

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