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Godzilla vs. Rodan

You can't really root for either, but it's still fun to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

2022 was a remarkably bad year for conventional wisdom pretty much across the board from the Red Wave to Russia's inevitable conquest of Ukraine to DeSantis eclipsing a rapidly fading Trump.

Marshall is being sarcastic here, since the rest of his timeline has been prominent Republicans and conservative influencers defending Trump and often attacking DeSantis. It's true that the indictments have turned up the heat, but the underlying trends we've been seeing for weeks haven't shifted. 

We all knew that Trump wasn't going to be a good sport and go away quietly. His relationship with the GOP has always been purely transactional. There was no reason for him to play nice for the good of the party and every reason for him to do everything in his power to get the nomination. Add to that his personal hold over a large segment (possibly a plurality) of the party and a vindictive nature, and you've given non-cult Republicans everything to fear.

DeSantis, on the other hand, has a personal hold on almost no one. His support comes all but entirely from the combination of far-right positions, perceived viability, and a protected spot in the political hothouse, and the last (Read more...)

Revisiting the cutting edge world of Tesla

A couple of months ago, the NYT argued that Elon Musk's long history of cutting corners with respect to ethics and safety was simply the price to be paid for advancing potentially life-saving technology.

Some of Musk’s most questionable decisions, though, begin to make sense if seen as a result of a blunt utilitarian calculus. Last month, Reuters reported that Neuralink, Musk’s medical-device company, had caused the needless deaths of dozens of laboratory animals through rushed experiments. Internal messages from Musk made it clear that the urgency came from the top. “We are simply not moving fast enough,” he wrote. “It is driving me nuts!” The cost-benefit analysis must have seemed clear to him: Neuralink had the potential to cure paralysis, he believed, which would improve the lives of millions of future humans. The suffering of a smaller number of animals was worth it.

There was, as we pointed out at the time, a subtle flaw in that argument.

With the complicated exception of SpaceX, none of Musk's businesses are on the cutting edge of anything. In autonomous  driving, AI, solar cell development, brain-machine interfaces, tunneling machines, and countless other technologies where Musk has promised revolutionary disruptions, his companies are, at best, in the middle of the pack and, in some cases, not making any serious effort at all. (On a related note, despite attempts to muddy the waters with creative statistics, Tesla spends far less than any of its major competitors on R&D.)

Now Faiz Siddiqui, writing for (Read more...)

Charging for a feature, then charging more to remove that feature… Where have I heard that before?

For those who think the Tesla CEO gets all of his ideas from an old Thunderbirds Are Go! DVD, this clearly comes from a more sophisticated source.

Thursday Tweets — "Residents hope the next sister city comes with a Google search"

Political analysts have been making the same mistake with DeSantis they did with Walker, assuming that the air of inevitability shown in the safe and protected phase of the campaign will hold up when the bullets start to fly. As we've been pointing out since at least August, DeSantis is a weak politician. The unprecedented build up he's gotten from the conservative (and often the mainstream) press failed to hide just how devoid of charisma and personality he is.  His likeliest path to the nomination was to stake out a position to the right of Trump (particularly with the anti-vaxxers), then hope that disease, death, or imprisonment would take out his rival, leaving him to fill the vacuum with his personal void.

Now that the battle is heating up, you can see the oracles start backing away from the next-big-thing narrative, perhaps thinking of how earlier predictions turned out.

"Everything you need to know about the wild world of heat pumps" is nowhere near everything you need to know about heat pumps


I had such high hopes for this MIT Technology Review article by Casey Crownhart . Finally, someone was talking about an important, ready-to-go technology for addressing climate change and the power grid. Unfortunately, other than a handy introductory explanation of how heat pumps work, we get the same old narratives, biased - - biased in favor of a technology I actually have been pushing, but biased nonetheless - - with all the same old bad habits, getting key details wrong, using questionable examples, making big logical leaps, omitting important problems, and ignoring the most promising aspects of the technology.

The claim that heat pumps don’t work well in really cold weather is often repeated by fossil-fuel companies, which have a competing product to sell.

There’s a kernel of truth here—heat pumps can be less efficient in extreme cold. As the temperature difference between inside and outside increases, a heat pump will have to work harder to gather heat from that outside air and disperse it into the room, so efficiencies drop.


There are heat pumps running everywhere from Alaska to Maine in the US. And about 60% of buildings in Norway are heated with heat pumps [Norway is an interesting case but a bad example. It has abundant electricity almost all of which comes from hydro which plays by a very different set of rules with respect to the power grid. -- MP], along with 40% in Sweden and Finland. [Sweden and Finland rely heavily on ground-source heat (Read more...)

Your Silicon Valley Bank Primer

 As is often the case, the best thumbnail comes from Matt Levine.

And so if you were the Bank of Startups, just like if you were the Bank of Crypto, it turned out that you had made a huge concentrated bet on interest rates. Your customers were flush with cash, so they gave you all that cash, but they didn’t need loans so you invested all that cash in longer-dated fixed-income securities, which lost value when rates went up. But also, when rates went up, your customers all got smoked, because it turned out that they were creatures of low interest rates, and in a higher-interest-rate environment they didn’t have money anymore. So they withdrew their deposits, so you had to sell those securities at a loss to pay them back. Now you have lost money and look financially shaky, so customers get spooked and withdraw more money, so you sell more securities, so you book more losses, oops oops oops 

For those who prefer their analysis in tweet-sized bites, Krugman  has an excellent thread. Here are some excerpts.


Deferred Thursday Tweets — Dems in Disarray and other favorites

We've been talking about consistently this here at the blog since 2015. All Trump has to say is "don't vote" and the GOP is screwed.

We need to talk about tests (in the "I got an A" sense, not the RCT sense)

We are hearing all sorts of hype about large language models passing various exams, but before we can have that conversation, we need to have one about how those tests are supposed to work, the assumptions them, and why a good test of human understanding can be meaningless if approached in a different way.

 Here's a post I wrote a few years ago about a type of test I encounter back when I was getting my BFA. As you read over the description, think about how a LLM would approach this task, and about what (if anything) its performance would tell us.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Of course, Shakespeare was much newer at the time"

Back when I was an undergrad I took a class in Shakespeare. I'm mentioning this because a couple of aspects came back to me recently while thinking about education. [The second aspect was covered in this later post -- MP] The first was the format of the tests the teacher used. They consisted of a list of quotes from the four plays we had covered since the last test. Each quote had a pronoun underlined which came with a two part question: who was the speaker and who was the antecedent?

I've never seen that format used in another class (even by the same teacher) and I always thought it was an interesting approach. I wouldn't necessarily recommend using it widely but I'm glad I had it in at least one course. It was (Read more...)

Seems like a good time to revisit IBM’s war on cancer

Friday, September 15, 2017

A few notes on IBM's Watson, the battle against cancer, and what's wrong with the state of 21st century innovation

If you haven't read the Stat News article by Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitzon on IBM's project to revolutionize cancer treatment using Watson, you should do so as soon as possible. The piece raises all sorts of important points. I'll try to return and explore some of them in greater detail (perhaps even convince Joseph to join the conversation), but for now there are two or three I want to it while the topic is still fresh.

Before we go on, you should take a few minutes to listen to the following track from the Button-down Mind of Bob Newhart. It's a seminal comedy bit that also happens to be directly relevant to the conversation.

The joke here is not that using airplanes for passenger travel is absurd (it was the early 60s for Christ's sake); the joke is that the aircraft at Kitty Hawk was clearly not ready to be monetized in this way. A plan that will be viable sometime the future is not really viable.

Given the complexities of the problem and the mountainous quantities of research that need to be assessed, no one would argue that AI-based tools for diagnosis and recommending treatment wouldn't be tremendously valuable, probably (Read more...)

An interesting piece of housing history

A few years after the ad shown here, Buster Keaton used the house-a-box concept as the jumping off point for his classic short One Week.

The story involves a newlywed couple who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift. The house can be built, supposedly, in "one week". A rejected suitor secretly re-numbers packing crates. The groom struggles to assemble the house according to this new "arrangement". The result is a lopsided structure with revolving walls, kitchen fixtures on the exterior, and upper-floor doors that open onto thin air.

The Sears homes-in-a-box were compact, well-designed and reasonably priced ( $26,982.83 in 2023 dollars). Sears was the best known provider of kit houses, but there were a number of others including, perhaps inevitably, Montgomery-Ward. The business model started dying out during the Depression, but they never entirely went away.

There is even a modern NIMBY element (and, no, in this case I'm not going to try to defend them). From the LA Times:

When a New York designer came (Read more...)