Wednesday Links -- 24 Jun 2015

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.

The kind of rejection letter I can get behind: Open Letter to the Music Industry: I WILL NEVER EVER PAY FOR STREAMING!
I am well aware you don’t care about me. In the 21st century you have made crystal clear that you much prefer 9 to 14 year olds as customers, so I can hardly be shocked that we are headed for a divorce. Oh well, I will always have 35 years of memories. And the CDs. As long as there is still an operating CD player within my reach, I will keep playing them and ignoring whatever scheme you come up with to get me to buy the same music yet again.
Gotta say, I'm right there with him. Pay-for-streaming still baffles me.

Aeon magazine always has some interesting essays, and this one is no exception: Do We Really Want to Fuse Our Minds Together? The gist is that, according to current neuroscientific evidence, individuality is basically a lie—there's no fundamental unit of self at any level of cognition, it just seems that consciousness "tops out" and forms a self from everything contributing to the act. The implication is that if we do truly develop "mind meld" technology, you'll get a whole lot more than telepathy. Pacific Rim's concept of the Drift could very well be more accurate than we think! A very interesting potential failure mode, and, perhaps, a possible (Great) Filter for other sentient civilizations. I confess that my biggest reservation about the project of transhumanism is that human physiology just isn't equipped for networked brains and functional immortality, and we could all just go crazy after the Singularity with or without rogue A.I. helping that along. "Go mad from the revelation or flee screaming into the safety of a new dark age" and all that. Here's hoping I'm wrong!

I haven't really read that much from Mashable and now I know why, as they've jumped to the top 5 of my Most Insufferable Reads list. First it was an article about the "Oregon Trail generation" that made some rather creative assumptions about the rate of technology adoption, and now this, hailing the death of the hipster and the rise of the "yuccie," a portmanteau combining "yuppie" with Y.U.C., that is, Young Urban Creative—imagine now the bile rising in the back of my throat.
Yuccies are hardly mythical creatures. If you live in a metropolitan area like New York or San Francisco, you probably know plenty. They’re social consultants coordinating #sponsored Instagram campaigns for lifestyle brands; they’re brogrammers hawking Uber for weed and Tinder for dogs; they’re boutique entrepreneurs shilling sustainably harvested bamboo sunglasses.
Haha burn it all down

I think the biggest thing about the article is how it seems so self-deprecating and self-marketing, at the same time. Which I suppose is the whole point. Pandering advertisement via gentle mockery. And my undying hatred.

Meanwhile, in the Yay Civilization department: Toting panels on donkeys, Maasai women lead a solar revolution. Kenya's development is really fascinating, as they're sidestepping a lot of "classical" development. Cell phone penetration and now self-contained solar power generation before roads and sewers in these rural villages, for example. This seems very much like a Good Thing, as (notably!) it's giving Kenyan (in this article, Maasai) women some much-desired economic freedom, outside of traditional patriarchal rulesets. One of my favorite TED Talks is by Hans Rosling, who beautifully makes the case (with statistics and beautiful data!) that economic prosperity is the key to liberation from a lot of bad old things. If you can let a machine wash clothes, you can spend that extra time reading books to yourself or to your children. Laundry begets education. Which begets freedom.

Speaking of the wash, rich Californians seemingly double down on being douchebags in the wake of the drought, as profiled in this Washington Post article. I don't know the strength of the evidence behind "stereotype threat" but this seems like an example of it:
“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world,” said Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear. She said her water bill averages about $800 a month.
It's also, I daresay, a great example of so-rich-you-don't-think-or-act-like-a-regular-person syndrome.

Back in the cyberpunk days of 1996, virtual reality was "just around the corner" but it could also ruin your life. The news clip is quite silly, except that actually "simulation sickness" is a real thing.
Simulation sickness is similar [to motion sickness] but in the opposite direction. Vestibular and proprioceptive input are telling your brain that your body is not moving, but your eyes are telling your brain that it is. There seems to be a threshold effect for this to kick in, and it is likely different with every individual. I have played many video games with screens of various sizes and distances from me. If the screen fills a certain amount of my visual field, then playing action games will produce simulation sickness. Simply moving back from the screen or reducing the size of the game window is all that is needed to avoid feeling sick.
More on the level of "temporary nausea" than "IT'S JUST LIKE BEING SEVERELY DRUNK" but still.

This went viral but it's still really cool: Inceptionisms. One can get an amusing textual analogue by just hitting the same option on your phone keyboard's word suggestions. Machine learning is even better when it's learning the wrong things!

Just amusingly weird, but obvious in retrospect: Meet the Mormon survivalist preppers of Pinterest

An old, neglected problem for economics, that of overcommitting to "interests" while ignoring "passions":
The lack of focus on the true passions leads to the fabled “nation of no imagination.” Yet it’s not Marxism that suggests an antidote, as Marx remains firmly focused on “interests” in simply other forms. I think that you must go back to Greece and Rome to find thinkers who attempted to find a successful integrated societal model of the “passions.”
John Stossel makes the absurd claim at Reason that the Left's bad ideas about science are worse than the Right's. What are these bad ideas of the Left? Anti-GMO paranoia, anti-vaccine paranoia, anti-nuclear-power paranoia, and politically-correct opposition to research into human biodiversity. Well, I'll grant that you do see these on the Left, but most prominently on the far Left, which as everyone recognizes is not warmly welcomed into a mainstream American political party. On the other hand, the Right's anti-science nonsense includes: anti-vaccine paranoia, global warming denialism, anti-abortion authoritarianism, tyrannical sex negativity, and, yes, anti-evolution propaganda and opposition to stem cell research. Stossel is ridiculously glib when he asserts that "species will keep evolving regardless of what conservatives believe"; it's not about whether evolution is true in general but rather (1) what we should teach kids, and (2) what the status of science and scientific knowledge is in our society. One political party in America has embraced anti-science, anti-intellecual nonsense wholeheartedly, and it's not the one on the left.

Speaking of right-wing craziness, look no further than the manifesto of the Charleston white-supremacist terrorist, in which he repeats a lot of talking points that wouldn't be out of place on AM talk radio. And to test the "Which political wing embraces its crazies" conjecture, look no further than the Council of Conservative Citizens—née the (White) Citizens' Councils, formed in precise opposition to Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated schools. In particular, both South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (among quite a few other politicians) have connections to the CofCC (cf. the tagged posts at LGF). Yep.

I wondered: Is the niche American pastime of Civil War reenactment unusual for countries that have had civil wars? As it turns out, no, South Koreans do it too! Other notable reenactments include Waterloo (at least in Belgium), the Battle of Roarke's Drift (which, as colonial-versus-indigenous conflicts go, you could do way worse), and... the American Civil War... in Germany. I guess nobody's up for Franco-Prussian War reenactment, then? War of the Spanish Succession? Guys? Anybody?

Math is weird and will destroy you if you aren't careful: Examples of eventual counterexamples. One such is that "The numbers 12, 121, 1211, 12111, 121111, etc., are all composite - until you get to the one with 138 digits, that's a prime." Again, math is weird and will destroy you if you aren't careful.

Isaac Asimov reads one of his favorite short stories.

Theme music(s) for the week:

Folk song in an extinct variety of English, called Yola or the "Forth and Bargy dialect"

And, in honor of the summer solstice, two more songs about summer from the British Isles, as the actual theme music for the week: Make Some Noise by Big Big Train (featuring big big trains!) and Moths by Jethro Tull... they both feature some flute. And if you watch the BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell you can judge for yourself how the actor playing hobo-magician Vinculus is totally copying Ian Anderson's schtick there.