“TCP ex Machina: Computer-Generated Congestion Control” (“Although the RemyCCs appear to work well on networks whose parameters fall within or near the limits of what they were prepared for—even beating in-network schemes at their own game and even when the design range spans an order of magnitude variation in network parameters—we do not yet understand clearly why they work, other than the observation that they seem to optimize their intended objective well. We have attempted to make algorithms ourselves that surpass the generated RemyCCs, without success.”)
“Chapter Six”, Jones 2014 (“an anthropological zombie story about Crain, a grad student, who has a theory of mankind’s evolution. As he and his former professor scavenge on bone marrow left behind by the local zombie horde, he makes his well-reasoned argument.”)
This page is a changelog for Gwern.net: a monthly reverse chronological list of recent major writings/changes/additions.
Following my writing can be a little difficult because it is often so incremental. So every month, in addition to my regular /r/Gwern subreddit submissions, I write up reasonably-interesting changes and send it out to the mailing list in addition to a compilation of links & reviews (archives).
A subreddit for posting links of interest and also for announcing updates to gwern.net (which can be used as a RSS feed). Submissions are categorized similar to the monthly newsletter and typically will be collated there.
A generation of historians, sociologists, and anthropologists of science has learned from actor-network theory and the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) to focus on the building of scientific institutions and facts, and from Thomas Kuhn to expect a certain historical rhythm in the evolution of scientific fields of knowledge: first, a dynamic burst of creativity (the "revolution") as the foundational ideas of the new field are laid down; second, a period of "normal science" in which gaps are filled in as the new knowledge is institutionalized; and, finally, as puzzles emerge that cannot be fully explained by the established paradigm, a new burst of creativity as another generation redefines the fundamental precepts of the field.
In this essay, looking at three generations of nuclear weapons designers, I follow and then depart from the Kuhnian script. Although the first two generations of nuclear weapons scientists conformed perfectly to the Kuhnian storyline, the final story is not about the punctuated equilibrium of scientific revolution, but about a process of scientific involution as nuclear weapons science has simultaneously matured and withered in a way that is beautifully evoked in a blues ballad once sung for me by a group of weapons designers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
Went down to Amarillo Lookin' for my sweet '533 It was laying on a long white table Looked cold and hard to me Let it go, let it go, retire it No city scrapers do we need Take a 614 and modify it. Call it the mod 11-E Now you can search this whole world over From Frisco to Albuquerque You can mentor anyone that you want to But you'll never find designers like me Now when I'm gone, just put me way down In a hole off the old Orange Road. 'ttach a cable to my device can So I can run those legacy codes (fading) So I can run those legacy codes So I can run those legacy codes.5
…The 1970s and the 1980s, when nuclear testing moved underground, were a period of routinization: the institutional apparatus for nuclear weapons design and testing grew, its scientific achievements shrank, and the arteries of the weapons design bureaucracy hardened. Attempts to perfect a third-generation nuclear weapon—the x-ray laser—failed and were abandoned in an atmosphere of scandal and disgrace.11 The art of weapons design progressed, but by increments rather than great leaps: weapons designers learned to squeeze greater yields out of smaller quantities of plutonium so that nuclear weapons could be made lighter and smaller, weapons were made safer through the addition of Permissive Action Links (PALS) and the substitution of Insensitive High Explosive (IHE) for conventional explosives,12 and the supercomputer codes used to model the behavior of nuclear weapons were gradually refined. The names of the men (and now women) behind these achievements are largely unknown outside the nuclear weapons bureaucracy, and in some cases their achievements are only partially known within the weapons laboratories, thanks to the compartmentalizing effects of official secrecy in the weapons complex.13
Nuclear tests were forbidden after the end of the Cold War, and the practice and pedagogy of nuclear weapons science shifted again. Forced to largely abandon their nuclear test site in Nevada—a place where the desert sands encroach on the old bowling alley and cinema, now disused, as tourist buses disgorge camera-laden voyeurs to gawk at the nuclear craters—many of the old-timers elected to retire. Those that stayed have regrouped their forces in the virtual world of simulated testing, where they are attempting to train a new generation of scientists to maintain devices they cannot test. In some ways the scientific challenges of nuclear weapons design have shrunk to microscopic proportions: new designs are not built or deployed, and even the decision to substitute a new epoxy in an aging weapon can send a tremor of fear through design teams unsure if their weapons will still work. In other ways, the scientific challenges are suddenly magnified: how to design implosion, shock wave, and laser fusion experiments that will shed light on the performance of aging nuclear weapons in the absence of nuclear testing? How to use the physics knowledge of today to understand test data, long buried in dusty filing cabinets, from the 1950s and the 1960s? And how to convert old two-dimensional codes designed for Cray supercomputers into three-dimensional codes that can run on massively parallel systems now being designed?
We examine the cost for an attacker to pay users to execute arbitrary code—potentially malware. We asked users at home to download and run an executable we wrote without being told what it did and without any way of knowing it was harmless. Each week, we increased the payment amount. Our goal was to examine whether users would ignore common security advice—not to run untrusted executables—if there was a direct incentive, and how much this incentive would need to be. We observed that for payments as low as $0.01, 22% of the people who viewed the task ultimately ran our executable. Once increased to $1.00, this proportion increased to 43%. We show that as the price increased, more and more users who understood the risks ultimately ran the code. We conclude that users are generally unopposed to running programs of unknown provenance, so long as their incentives exceed their inconvenience.
A classic cognitive bias in technological forecasting is motivated-stopping and lack of imagination in considering possibilities. Many people use a mental model of technologies in which they proceed in a serial sequential fashion and assume every step is necessary and only all together are they sufficient, and note that some particular step is difficult or unlikely to succeed and thus as a whole it will fail & never happen. But in reality, few steps are truly required. A technology only needs to succeed in one way to succeed, and to fail it must fail in all ways. There may be many ways to work around, approximate, brute force, reduce the need for, or skip entirely a step, or redefine the problem to no longer involve that step at all. Examples of this include the parallel projects used by the Manhattan Project & Apollo program, which reasoned that despite the formidable difficulties in each path to the end goal, at least one would work out—and they did. In forecasting, to counter this bias, one should make a strong effort to imagine all possible alternatives which could be pursued in parallel, and remember that overall failure requires all of them to fail.
Gustav III of Sweden's coffee experiment was a twin study ordered by the king to study the health effects of coffee. Although the authenticity of the event has been questioned, the experiment, which was conducted in the second half of the 18th century, failed to prove that coffee was a dangerous beverage.
[Essay by psychiatrist about care of the dying in American healthcare: people die agonizing, slow, expensive deaths, prolonged by modern healthcare, deprived of all dignity and joy by disease and decay. There is little noble about it.]
You will become bedridden, unable to walk or even to turn yourself over. You will become completely dependent on nurse assistants to intermittently shift your position to avoid pressure ulcers. When they inevitably slip up, your skin develops huge incurable sores that can sometimes erode all the way to the bone, and which are perpetually infected with foul-smelling bacteria. Your limbs will become practically vestigial organs, like the appendix, and when your vascular disease gets too bad, one or more will be amputated, sacrifices to save the host. Urinary and fecal continence disappear somewhere in the process, so you’re either connected to catheters or else spend a while every day lying in a puddle of your own wastes until the nurses can help you out….
Somewhere in the process your mind very quietly and without fanfare gives up the ghost. It starts with forgetting a couple of little things, and progresses…They don’t remember their own names, they don’t know where they are or what they’re doing there, and they think it’s the 1930s or the 1950s or don’t even have a concept of years at all. When you’re alert and oriented “x0”, the world becomes this terrifying place where you are stuck in some kind of bed and can’t move and people are sticking you with very large needles and forcing tubes down your throat and you have no idea why or what’s going on.
So of course you start screaming and trying to attack people and trying to pull the tubes and IV lines out. Every morning when I come in to work I have to check the nurses’ notes for what happened the previous night, and every morning a couple of my patients have tried to pull all of their tubes and lines out. If it’s especially bad they try to attack the staff, and although the extremely elderly are really bad at attacking people this is nevertheless Unacceptable Behavior and they have to be restrained ie tied down to the bed. A presumably more humane alternative sometimes used instead or in addition is to just drug you up on all of those old-timey psychiatric medications that actual psychiatrists don’t use anymore because of their bad reputation…Nevertheless, this is the way many of my patients die. Old, limbless, bedridden, ulcerated, in a puddle of waste, gasping for breath, loopy on morphine, hopelessly demented, in a sterile hospital room with someone from a volunteer program who just met them sitting by their bed.
…I work in a Catholic hospital. People here say the phrase “culture of life” a lot, as in “we need to cultivate a culture of life.” They say it almost as often as they say “patient-centered”. At my hospital orientation, a whole bunch of nuns and executives and people like that got up and told us how we had to do our part to “cultivate a culture of life.”
And now every time I hear that phrase I want to scream. 21st century American hospitals do not need to “cultivate a culture of life”. We have enough life. We have life up the wazoo. We have more life than we know what to do with. We have life far beyond the point where it becomes a sick caricature of itself. We prolong life until it becomes a sickness, an abomination, a miserable and pathetic flight from death that saps out and mocks everything that made life desirable in the first place. 21st century American hospitals need to cultivate a culture of life the same way that Newcastle needs to cultivate a culture of coal, the same way a man who is burning to death needs to cultivate a culture of fire.
And so every time I hear that phrase I want to scream, or if I cannot scream, to find some book of hospital poetry that really is a book of hospital poetry and shove it at them, make them read it until they understand. There is no such book, so I hope it will be acceptable if I just rip off of Wilfred Owen directly:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the gurney that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sack of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene with cancer, bitter with the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues My friend, you would not so pontificate To reasoners beset by moral strife The old lie: we must try to cultivate A culture of life.
A random sample of new books for sale on Amazon.com shows more books for sale from the 1880s than the 1980s. Why? This article presents new data on how copyright stifles the reappearance of works. First, a random sample of more than 2,000 new books for sale on Amazon.com is analyzed along with a random sample of almost 2,000 songs available on new DVDs. Copyright status correlates highly with absence from the Amazon shelf. Together with publishing business models, copyright law seems to deter distribution and diminish access. Further analysis of eBook markets, used books on Abebooks.com, and the Chicago Public Library collection suggests that no alternative marketplace for out-of-print books has yet developed. Data from iTunes and YouTube, however, tell a different story for older hit songs. The much wider availability of old music in digital form may be explained by the differing holdings in two important cases, Boosey & Hawkes v. Disney (music) and Random House v. Rosetta Stone (books).
The Apollo program, also known as Project Apollo, was the third United States human spaceflight program carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which succeeded in landing the first humans on the Moon from 1969 to 1972. It was first conceived during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration as a three-person spacecraft to follow the one-person Project Mercury, which put the first Americans in space. Apollo was later dedicated to President John F. Kennedy's national goal for the 1960s of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" in an address to Congress on May 25, 1961. It was the third US human spaceflight program to fly, preceded by the two-person Project Gemini conceived in 1961 to extend spaceflight capability in support of Apollo.
Basil Zaharoff, GCB, GBE, born Vasileios Zacharias, was a Greek arms dealer and industrialist. One of the richest men in the world during his lifetime, Zaharoff was described as a "merchant of death" and "mystery man of Europe". His success was forged through his cunning, often aggressive and sharp, business tactics. These included the sale of arms to opposing sides in conflicts, sometimes delivering fake or faulty machinery and skilfully using the press to attack business rivals.
The history of the Cape Colony from 1806 to 1870 spans the period of the history of the Cape Colony during the Cape Frontier Wars, which lasted from 1779 to 1879. The wars were fought between the European colonists and the native Xhosa who, having acquired firearms, rebelled against continuing European rule.
Sensory deprivation experiences and isolation phenomena belong to the broader field of environmental stress and, as such, research in this area is of importance to the anthropologist concerned with mental disorder. In one form or another sensory deprivation is a universal experience. It is present in such diverse events as research experiments, sleep, vision experiences, 'highway hypnosis' and kayak-angst. Sensory deprivation and isolation may be culturally required, recommended, unavoidable or even individually sought out. Reactions are variable and are dependent upon the interplay of a number of factors. Experiences may be occupationally linked, as in the confused and disoriented reactions reported by aviators flying solo or in positions cut off from the rest of the crew. Creative people who seek out retreats in order to work more efficiently and productively, as well as persons on the couch in psychoanalytic treatment are also experiencing sensory deprivation, though in a mild form.
In kayak-angst the Eskimo of West Greenland provide us with an instance of a group where severe sensory deprivation reactions are culturally typical for the adult male segment of the population and forms a part of their routinized, seasonal, if not everyday, round of life.
Kayak-angst (kayak-phobia, kayak-dizziness) is well known throughout all districts of West Greenland. It is also known to occur among the Polar Eskimo and in East Greenland, though an intensive search of the literature, extensive correspondence, and interviews with eastern Canadian Eskimos has failed so far to document it for other Eskimo groups. Kayak-angst is scarcely mentioned in English written accounts, with the exception of brief references in Freuchen, Birket-Smith and a few others. On the other hand there is a considerable body of material in the Scandinavian languages, much of it gathered by Danish physicians. The condition was reported as early as 1806 and in 1949 Dr. Av M. Ch. Ehrstrom diagnosed 24 cases in one of the northern districts. Kenneth I. Taylor, a student of anthropology with considerable kayak experience informs me (private communication) that as recently as 1959 he met three such individuals in Northwest Greenland. In 1900, Meldorf estimated that 10% of all men in the Julianhaab district over the age of 18 suffered from kayak-angst. Others have regarded it as the 'national disease' of the West Greenland Eskimo.
Material for the present paper is based on an analysis of 13 cases out of the 60 kayak-angst individuals medically examined and interviewed by Bertelsen in 1905.
Typically, kayak-angst afflict male hunters out alone on a calm, 'mirroring' slightly wavy sea or lake, close to or at a distance from shore, either while paddling or sitting quietly. Under these conditions of sea, and especially with the sun directly overhead or in his eyes, there develops a lowering in the level of consciousness brought on by the absence of external reference points at a time when the hunter is involved in a visually 'fixed' or staring position demanding minimal or repetitive movements. A lesser number report they are equally affected in storms, windy or rough weather. Some claim not to have attacks when in the company of others and consequently will never hunt alone. A few report attacks when others are around, though claim they are less severe at this time. On the other hand some report that the presence of others increases their anxiety. One man was afraid their kayaks might collide, particularly in storms. Another said he felt at ease only in the company of men he trusted.
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are a series of nineteen intricately designed dollhouse-style dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962), a pioneer in forensic science. Glessner Lee used her inheritance to establish a department of legal medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1936, and donated the first of the Nutshell Studies in 1946 for use in lectures on the subject of crime scene investigation. In 1966, the department was dissolved, and the dioramas went to the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. where they are on permanent loan and still used for forensic seminars.
Online & mainstream media and social networking have become increasingly misleading as to the state of the world by focusing on ‘stories’ and ‘events’ rather than trends and averages. This is because as the global population increases and the scope of media increases, media’s urge for narrative focuses on the most extreme outlier datapoints—but such datapoints are, at a global scale, deeply misleading as they are driven by unusual processes such as the mentally ill or hoaxers.
At a global scale, anything that can happen will happen a small but nonzero times: this has been epitomized as “Littlewood’s Law: in the course of any normal person’s life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one per month.” This must now be extended to a global scale for a hyper-networked global media covering anomalies from 8 billion people—all coincidences, hoaxes, mental illnesses, psychological oddities, extremes of continuums, mistakes, misunderstandings, terrorism, unexplained phenomena etc. Hence, there will be enough ‘miracles’ that all media coverage of events can potentially be composed of nothing but extreme outliers, even though it would seem like an ‘extraordinary’ claim to say that all media-reported events may be flukes.
This creates an epistemic environment deeply hostile to understanding reality, one which is dedicated to finding arbitrary amounts of and amplifying the least representative datapoints.
Given this, it is important to maintain extreme skepticism of any individual anecdotes or stories which are selectively reported but still claimed (often implicitly) to be representative of a general trend or fact about the world. Standard techniques like critical thinking, emphasizing trends & averages, and demanding original sources can help fight the biasing effect of news.
A logically-valid argument which takes the form of a modus ponens may be interpreted in several ways; a major one is to interpret it as a kind of reductio ad absurdum, where by ‘proving’ a conclusion believed to be false, one might instead take it as a modus tollens which proves that one of the premises is false. This “Moorean shift” is aphorized as the snowclone, “One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens”. The Moorean shift is a powerful counter-argument which has been deployed against many skeptical & metaphysical claims in philosophy, where often the conclusion is extremely unlikely and little evidence can be provided for the premises used in the proofs; and it is relevant to many other debates, particularly methodological ones.
The majority of our opinions being founded on the probability of proofs it is indeed important to submit it to calculus. Things it is true often become impossible by the difficulty of appreciating the veracity of witnesses and by the great number of circumstances which accompany the deeds they attest; but one is able in several cases to resolve the problems which have much analogy with the questions which are proposed and whose solutions may be regarded as suitable approximations to guide and to defend us against the errors and the dangers of false reasoning to which we are exposed. An approximation of this kind, when it is well made, is always preferable to the most specious reasonings.
We would give no credence to the testimony of a man who should attest to us that in throwing a hundred dice into the air they had all fallen on the same face. If we had ourselves been spectators of this event we should believe our own eyes only after having carefully examined all the circumstances, and after having brought in the testimonies of other eyes in order to be quite sure that there had been neither hallucination nor deception. But after this examination we should not hesitate to admit it in spite of its extreme improbability; and no one would be tempted, in order to explain it, to recur to a denial of the laws of vision. We ought to conclude from it that the probability of the constancy of the laws of nature is for us greater than this, that the event in question has not taken place at all a probability greater than that of the majority of historical facts which we regard as incontestable. One may judge by this the immense weight of testimonies necessary to admit a suspension of natural laws, and how improper it would be to apply to this case the ordinary rules of criticism. All those who without offering this immensity of testimonies support this when making recitals of events contrary to those laws, decrease rather than augment the belief which they wish to inspire; for then those recitals render very probable the error or the falsehood of their authors. But that which diminishes the belief of educated men increases often that of the uneducated, always greedy for the wonderful.
The action of time enfeebles then, without ceasing, the probability of historical facts just as it changes the most durable monuments. One can indeed diminish it by multiplying and conserving the testimonies and the monuments which support them. Printing offers for this purpose a great means, unfortunately unknown to the ancients. In spite of the infinite advantages which it procures the physical and moral revolutions by which the surface of this globe will always be agitated will end, in conjunction with the inevitable effect of time, by rendering doubtful after thousands of years the historical facts regarded to-day as the most certain.
Allan Crossman calls parapsychology the control group for science. That is, in let’s say a drug testing experiment, you give some people the drug and they recover. That doesn’t tell you much until you give some other people a placebo drug you know doesn’t work—but which they themselves believe in—and see how many of them recover. That number tells you how many people will recover whether the drug works or not. Unless people on your real drug do significantly better than people on the placebo drug, you haven’t found anything. On the meta-level, you’re studying some phenomenon and you get some positive findings. That doesn’t tell you much until you take some other researchers who are studying a phenomenon you know doesn’t exist—but which they themselves believe in—and see how many of them get positive findings. That number tells you how many studies will discover positive results whether the phenomenon is real or not. Unless studies of the real phenomenon do significantly better than studies of the placebo phenomenon, you haven’t found anything.
Trying to set up placebo science would be a logistical nightmare. You’d have to find a phenomenon that definitely doesn’t exist, somehow convince a whole community of scientists across the world that it does, and fund them to study it for a couple of decades without them figuring it out.
Luckily we have a natural experiment in terms of parapsychology—the study of psychic phenomena—which most reasonable people believe don’t exist, but which a community of practicing scientists believes in and publishes papers on all the time. The results are pretty dismal. Parapsychologists are able to produce experimental evidence for psychic phenomena about as easily as normal scientists are able to produce such evidence for normal, non-psychic phenomena. This suggests the existence of a very large “placebo effect” in science—ie with enough energy focused on a subject, you can always produce “experimental evidence” for it that meets the usual scientific standards. As Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it:
Parapsychologists are constantly protesting that they are playing by all the standard scientific rules, and yet their results are being ignored—that they are unfairly being held to higher standards than everyone else. I’m willing to believe that. It just means that the standard statistical methods of science are so weak and flawed as to permit a field of study to sustain itself in the complete absence of any subject matter.
The Remains of the Day is a 1989 novel by the Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro. The protagonist, Stevens, is a butler with a long record of service at Darlington Hall, a stately home near Oxford, England. In 1956, he takes a road trip to visit a former colleague, and reminisces about events at Darlington Hall in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a 1993 science fantasy novel by American writer Michael Swanwick. The story follows Jane, a changeling girl who slaves at a dragon factory in the world of Faerie, building part-magical, part-cybernetic monsters that are used as jet fighters. The plot of her story takes the form of a spiral, with events and characters constantly recurring in new settings.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a 2013 novel by British author Neil Gaiman. The work was first published on 18 June 2013 through William Morrow and Company and follows an unnamed man who returns to his hometown for a funeral and remembers events that began forty years earlier. The illustrated edition of the work was published on 5 November 2019, featuring the artwork of Australian fine artist Elise Hurst.
Paul Celan was a Romanian-born German-language poet and translator. He was born as Paul Antschel to a Jewish family in Cernăuți, in the then Kingdom of Romania, and adopted the pseudonym "Paul Celan". He became one of the major German-language poets of the post–World War II era.
My Bride Is a Mermaid is a Japanese manga series written by Tahiko Kimura. The manga was serialized between the September 2002 and May 2009 issues of Monthly Gangan Wing, and the June and December 2010 issues of Monthly Gangan Joker, both published by Square Enix. In 2004, a drama CD based on the series was released by Frontier Works. A 26-episode anime television series adaptation animated by Gonzo, directed by Seiji Kishi, and written by Makoto Uezu aired in Japan on TV Tokyo between April and September 2007. Two original video animation episodes were released in November 2008 and January 2009. Odex, a Singaporean distributor, released it in English in Singapore as Seto No Hana Yome. The anime was licensed for a North American distribution by Funimation Entertainment and was released in July and September 2010 under the title My Bride Is a Mermaid!.
Subscription page for the monthly gwern.net newsletter. There are monthly updates, which will include summaries of projects I’ve worked on that month (the same as the changelog), collations of links or discussions from my subreddit, and book/movie reviews. You can also browse the archives since December 2013.
Newsletter tag: archive of all issues back to 2013 for the gwern.net newsletter (monthly updates, which will include summaries of projects I’ve worked on that month (the same as the changelog), collations of links or discussions from my subreddit, and book/movie reviews.)
In propositional logic, modus ponens, also known as modus ponendo ponens or implication elimination or affirming the antecedent, is a deductive argument form and rule of inference. It can be summarized as "P implies Q.P is true. Therefore Q must also be true."
In logic, reductio ad absurdum, also known as argumentum ad absurdum, apagogical arguments, negation introduction or the appeal to extremes, is the form of argument that attempts to establish a claim by showing that the opposite scenario would lead to absurdity or contradiction. It can be used to disprove a statement by showing that it would inevitably lead to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove a statement by showing that if it were false, then the result would be absurd or impossible. Traced back to classical Greek philosophy in Aristotle's Prior Analytics, this technique has been used throughout history in both formal mathematical and philosophical reasoning, as well as in debate.
In propositional logic, modus tollens (MT), also known as modus tollendo tollens and denying the consequent, is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference. Modus tollens takes the form of "If A, then B. Not B. Therefore, not A." It is an application of the general truth that if a statement is true, then so is its contrapositive. The form shows that inference from A implies B to the negation of B implies the negation of A is a valid argument.
A snowclone is a cliché and phrasal template that can be used and recognized in multiple variants. The term was coined as a neologism in 2004, derived from journalistic clichés that referred to the number of Eskimo words for snow.