campus, Scale

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Articles to Read.

College Campuses Are Designed at Human-Scale. Our Cities Can Be Too.

“It’s all downhill from here in terms of community,” an undergraduate senior recently lamented to me. It was not the first time I had heard such words. Over the years, various friends and family members have expressed the same sentiment. That college is the high point of community life for those who attend it seems to be an accepted fact. But why is this the case? And why do we assume that it cannot change?

There are many reasons why the college environment facilitates relationships and personal connections. Everyone there is at a similar age and stage in life. Classes and majors tend to group students by interests and personality traits. There is also a relative freedom from responsibility. One factor often overlooked, though, is the structure of colleges themselves. Because of their scale and walkability, college campuses meet human social needs in a way that is impossible for many of our nation’s towns and cities.

Fund people, not projects III: The Newton hypothesis; Is science done by a small elite?

It is possible that my message may be seen as elitist and of interest only to those very few scientists who might be putative members of a twenty - first century Planck Club. That interpretation would be wrong. One of the themes here is that almost every serious researcher is at some time in a career capable of taking those fateful steps that might lead to a great discovery or the creation of penetrating new insight. They might then need to draw on vast reserves of courage and determination, and perhaps also a little luck if they are to make progress. At any one time, of course, the proportion of researchers ready to seize that possibly once - in - a - lifetime opportunity will be very small, so if they are prevented from doing so the democratic pressure they can exert is insignifican't. [...] a properly constituted TR initiative should appeal to only a small number of scientists with radical thoughts on their minds. The challenge is to recognize them as there are millions of scientists, and one does not even know which haystack hides the needle. [...] Let us assume that there were about 300 transformative researchers — the extended membership of the Planck Club — during the twentieth century.

Why we should review broken products instead of new ones

For most people, the majority of positive reviews are noise on any product and they evaluate them by reading negative reviews.

For once, let's turn it all upside down:

We should build a collection about how things break - review broken and worn-out products to teach how to identify cheap products (where are the stress points, what manufacturing techniques exist to alleviate those). Then compare those with used products well past their warranty period that hasn't broken, and look at why they haven't.

Repairability also comes to mind. Everything breaks eventually because we can't cheat entropy, but when it does, can you easily repair it?

Learning to suffer

When it comes to many endurance endeavors, mental fortitude often plays a bigger role than physical capabilities, and this includes backpacking—athletic abilities are irrelevant for most long-distance hikers. Out of shape? Hike fewer miles. Out of breath? Stop and rest. It’s not a race and there is very little skill involved in walking. With this lack of hard skills is where the ability to suffer comes in. This is what sets the people who finish apart from the people who throw their packs down at a road crossing, stick out their thumb, and google nearest airport from the bed of the pickup truck that took pity on them.

I am a very average athlete. I lack coordination, endurance, speed, and anything else it took to succeed in gym class. As I got into climbing, mountain biking, and thru-hiking, I learned that while I was average in anything that makes people passable at sports, I could keep up and do well because I was willing to suffer. The mental aspect could override any physical shortcomings.

None of the literature on “mentally preparing for a thru-hike” is groundbreaking. We all know that there are mental and physical components to backpacking. But what sets the finishers apart from hikers who quit when it gets hard is the ability to compartmentalize the discomfort and endure some amount of suffering. That mentality lets average athletes do above-average things.

Why the Hell Do They Still Make Car Alarms?

No single device has done so little good and caused so much annoyance as the car alarm. Before we turn to just how ineffective that blaring bit of ersatz security is (and how effective other forms of anti-theft devices are), let's examine first how this invention went awry.

The approach of attention-as-deterrent dates back to 1918, when St. George Evans and E. B. Birkenbeuel of Oregon patented a device that would, "automatically signal an attempt to move an automobile by unauthorized persons." It was pretty clever for that time—start the car without entering the correct three-digit code combination and electricity is diverted to the horn. Maybe that was a good idea if you had the only car in the neighborhood, but almost a century later, when nearly everyone has one, it's collective masochism.

Noise as a solution makes sense, in theory: No thief wants attention, so make something that'll draw lots of it. Problem is, we (police included) have become desensitized. We know how easy it is to accidentally trigger the those horrific whines and screeches —a heavy truck rumbling by, a motorcycle that's had the baffles removed (another issue on its own), or just someone accidentally brushing against the side of the car while walking by. Even if the alarm is triggered during an honest-to-God break-in, what exactly are good Samaritans supposed to do? If anyone has ever rushed into the street at the sound of every car alarm, ready to go full vigilante on some ne'er-do-well shattering a window, I want to meet that person. In the city, a guy conspicuously stealing a bicycle doesn't even get a second glance—how is a someone quickly smashing a window and running off supposed to rate?

How Religion Shaped Modern Economics

The conventional account of modern thinking about economics starts with Adam Smith’s 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations.” Smith’s insights, in turn, are usually said to be a product of the secularism of the Enlightenment—a historic turn from thinking in terms of a God-centered universe toward ideals of human rationality and self-sufficiency.

But that story is seriously incomplete. In fact, our modern Western understanding of market competition as the key to economic progress owes a great deal to religion—specifically, the new ideas that emerged in the English-speaking Protestant world in the late 17th and the 18th century. Critics of capitalism sometimes complain that the belief in competitive markets, among economists and many ordinary citizens too, is a form of religion. There is something to the idea, though not in the way the critics mean.

The idea that there is a connection between religion and capitalism isn’t new. The German sociologist Max Weber famously argued that religious belief had been an important spur to the growth of capitalism. Weber pointed in particular to the Calvinist notion of predestination—the belief that God decided whether each individual would be saved or damned before the person was even born. Driven by anxiety over their ultimate fate, Weber theorized, believers sought to convince themselves that they were among God’s “elect” by displaying virtues like thrift, industriousness and individual initiative. In this way, a “Protestant ethic” emerged that enabled the rise of modern capitalism.

More to Check Out:
Three Reasons Fungi Are Not Plants
That’s not how 2fa works
- Build a salary with Github Sponsors
Have we already been visited by aliens?
Loon’s final flight

My Update:

  • Took a few weeks off from curating the newsletter. No particular reason, was just not in the mood. Back in Los Angeles now. Working a decent amount. Getting really back into writing (took a month off).

  • How are you doing? If we haven’t spoken in a while—email me?

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