Nate Soares on the value of human lives, making a distinction between value and cost:
“It is possible to live in a universe where it is both the case that (1) lives are nigh invaluable, and (2) people are being annihilated constantly, against their will, in ways that can be prevented using relatively small sums of money.”
I'm not always a fan of anthropomorphizing large, inexorable forces, and I don't love the use of the dragon beyond the initial parable. But this is still great, important writing and a message that needs to be heard.
Speaking of anthropomorphization, Scott Alexander's screed on blind optimization processes and the mother of all coordination problems is probably the best thing I read in 2014. If you missed it the first time around, read it now.
A visualization of the impact of vaccines in the 20th century in the US, via @EdwardTufte. Lots of questions here. What happened in the late 40's to make polio blow up? Why is there such a long delay in the vaccine's effect in some cases (pertussis and smallpox) and almost no delay in others (measles and polio)?
John Cleese on creativity. Also lightbulb jokes. Along with other sage advice, Cleese recommends deferring decisions until the last possible moment in order to give your mind as long as possible to come up with a solution. I knew procrastination was good for something! He also mentions a norm of Japanese business culture in which the most junior people speak their views first, allowing them to express their opinions without pressure to conform. Can anyone provide a citation for this?
Chris Granger (of Light Table) on coding as literacy (hint: it's not). Some good stuff:
“Programming as it exists now forces us to model, but it does so in an unnatural way. And while teaching ourselves how to program will help us learn how to break systems down, it does so at the risk of focusing on the wrong things. We don't want a generation of people forced to care about Unicode and UI toolkits. We want a generation of writers, biologists, and accountants that can leverage computers.”
“We are natural-born modelers and we learn by creating representations that we validate against the world.”
Andrew Gelman asks you to “tell me what you don't know.” It reminds me of Crocker's Rules. Does it work? I expect it goes over better in some work cultures than others.
Sarah Perry guest blogs at ribbonfarm on collective ritual, a beautiful and fascinating post. Among the concepts you'll never know how you did without: ritual as sacrifice, identity fusion and collective proprioception, ritual combat.
“... the human order is a ritual order, not a rational one. Language is not our only mode of signaling; much of human behavior, and especially that which is called ritual, is signaling.”
And finally Mark / @meditationstuff on building rafts, more or less:
“but there’s this parable about building a raft to cross a river then carrying that raft on your back for the rest of your life. don’t want to carry the raft after you’ve already used it; don’t want to gold-plate the raft before you use it. i think of transformative practice as building, using, and discarding an unending series of rafts… an unending series of boot-strapped mental models and concurrent execution of behaviors within the context of those models”