Sundry · Vienna, walking, doctors, Dostoevsky, sleep

Vienna, Austria

When producing new ideas, people systematically “add” rather than “remove”. For example, when building a Lego structure to represent a spaceship, people will usually add more components rather than subtract them. But it’s not always the best strategy. In design, removing the superfluous is often what leads the user saying “this is simple”. Beware of that bias —

Why Vienna regularly tops the rankings of “most livable cities”. In the early 20th century, Vienna, one of the capitals of the rich Austro-Hungarian Empire enjoyed a population of 2 million people. 100 years later, and the population is the same, the buildings are mostly the same and have strong architectural unity. The combination of a stagnating population and a rich country creates a nice city to live in —

Doctors are being replaced by over-the-counter drugs. Some people think that it is AI that will replace medical practitioners. But in reality, a simpler force is at play. If over-the-counter medicine did not exist, it is estimated that another 56,000 full-time doctors would be needed to accommodate the visits of patients with self-treatable conditions —

Dostoesvsky’s love life is as dramatic as his books. I shall not try to summarize it. So do click on the link if you want to be dazzled. Maria and Fyodor’s story involves frequent trans-Siberian trips and Werther-like passion. True grit. A homage to (what I imagine to be) 19th century Russia —

Can we radically reduce the human need for sleep? And can we do so without significant negative side effects? It might be possible thanks to something called orexin. It is naturally produced by the brain and helps regulate wakefulness and appetite. Looks promising? —

Need inspiration? Talk a walk. For years, the tech people of Silicon Valley, such as the cultish Steve Jobs, have taken meetings while walking. Now we have a study that shows that walking does increase the production of novel ideas. I think it is pretty nice that such a simple, affordable, and convenient physical activity helps you be more creative —

General artificial intelligence is still far away. General AI is similar to Jarvis in the Iron Man films — it can do anything you ask and is not limited to specific applications, such as the recent image generation AIs. In a thought-provoking essay, Alexey Guzey compares the current state of AI (planes) to the fantasy of general AI (birds). He argues that planes are still decades away from displacing most bird jobs —

Sundry · Secularism, nanoplastics, obesity, AI chatbot, sleep tourism, obesity

Is Christianity the origin of secularism? That’s a bold statement, and the one Tom Holland (the author, not the actor) makes in his book Dominion. The idea is that we perceive and value the greco-roman world as the origin of much of our social progress, whereas people at the time despised the weak and the downtrodden. Today we share less with the greco-romans than we may be ready to acknowledge. According to Holland, it is Saint-Augustine’s ideas that were the root for secularism —

Nanoplastics can travel through plants to insects to fish. So the problem with these bits of molten petrol is even harder to solve. I read about alternatives to plastic in fungi and algae. But when or how will these alternatives be as convenient as plastic? —

Millions of people converse daily with an AI to relieve anxiety and feelings of loneliness. You can call the AI and it talks back to you in a computer-generated voice. Since loneliness is rampant and anxiety the curse of our generation, can this a good thing? To note: was built by Eugenia Kuyda when her friend Roman died tragically. She used text messages and all the data she could find to create a bot to “memorialize” him —

Food photos on Instagram are looking less perfect. We have entered a “laissez-faire” era where the production value of food pics has greatly decreased. Why? First there is a democratization of foodie content. Secondly, the desire for authenticity™ increases by the day. And newer generations have entered the fray —

Human inability to forecast the past has no impact on our desire to forecast the future. This is because society values certainty a whole damn lot — and certainty about the future is priceless. How hard it is to accept that models that predict the economy are mostly invalid? Or that economic forecasters are akin to astrologists? One day we might be able to accurately simulate, say, the American economy with its millions of nodes and trillions of interactions. Today, it might be only hubris —

Sleep tourism is increasing throughout the Western world. That is because we are sleep-deprived, people. For example: the Park Hyatt in NYC has opened a large suite with sleep-enhancing amenities (e.g auto-adjusting bed and climate controls). Book now? —

Do you know what causes the obesity epidemic in the USA? Do you think it’s because of diet? Or behaviour? Food quality? Think again argues the author of this blog. Don’t feel like reading 50,000 words about it? The thesis is that there are environmental contaminants that beget obesity, and that this weird hunger is chemically-induced. Extraordinary investigation and a must-read, for when you are really bored —

Sundry · Incense, cognitive control, child painter, bicycles, QR codes

You may now remember loved ones by burning incense in the shape of their favorite hobby. Such as surfing or hiking. The products are called Incense of Memories and are made by Japan’s oldest incense maker, Kameyama —

Working hard all day makes you want to watch Netflix at night. It’s science. Behavioral activity that cannot be dealt with on auto-pilot, such as creative or complex work, is costly to the brain. The more you do it, the lesser the quality of your decisions at night. This is tangential to the idea of “decision fatigue”, which has however never been properly replicated in research —

There’s a 10 year old kid selling paintings for more than $125,000. His name is Andres Valencia and I must say some of his stuff looks quite good? —

Physical buttons outperform touchscreens in new cars. Physical buttons have a precious advantage over touch buttons: felt feedback. This is why you can turn the AC temperature knob without looking, you “feel” how much you’ve turned it. Touchscreens require attention and are thus dangerous. Who thought putting screens everywhere in cars were a good idea? Is everything the iPhone? —

A significant amount of economic activity happens not because it is optimal, but because it is easy. People are hardwired for convenience, and that sometimes goes against their long-term interests. This is what Bob Dylan can teach us about economics, from his 1986 song Brownsville Girl: ‘People don’t do what they believe in / They just do what’s most convenient, then they repent’ —

Can you draw a bicycle? Most people, and especially non-cyclists, will struggle to place the frame, pedals, and chain correctly. The assumption is that we use a lot of visual shortcuts to create models of objects inside our head so as not to have too many things to remember —

Did you know QR (Quick Response) codes were invented by Toyota? That is because barcodes could not be read at certain angles and they needed something to track parts across the manufacturing process —

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