The Roots of Progress

Links digest, 2023-12-15

Vitalik on d/acc, $100M+ in prizes, and more

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RIP, Charlie Munger

Munger giving the USC Law Commencement 2007 (via @garrytan):

The last idea that I want to give you, as you go out into a profession that frequently puts a lot of procedure, and a lot of precautions, and a lot of mumbo-jumbo into what it does, this is not the highest form which civilization can reach.

The highest form that civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust. Not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another.

That’s the way an operating room works at the Mayo Clinic. If a bunch of lawyers were to introduce a lot of process, the patients would all die.

So never forget, when you’re a lawyer, that you may be rewarded for selling this stuff, but you don’t have to buy it. In your own life, what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has forty-seven pages, my suggestion is you not enter.

I heard the news from @_TamaraWinter; coincidentally, Stripe Press just republished Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

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More thoughts from me





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On not romanticizing the past

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Politics and culture


Maria Montessori (via @mbateman):

The community of interests, the unity that exists between men, stems first and foremost from scientific progress, from discoveries, inventions, and the proliferation of new machines.

Thomas Edison, quoted by Matt Ridley (via @jonboguth):

I am ashamed at the number of things around my house and shops that are done by animals—human beings, I mean—and ought to be done by a motor without any sense of fatigue or pain. Hereafter a motor must do all the chores.

Samuel Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (h/t @SarahTheHaider)

… from the beginning America’s religion has been the religion of work. In other societies, heredity, class, social status, ethnicity, and family are the principal sources of status and legitimacy. In America, work is. In different ways both aristocratic and socialist societies tend to demean and discourage work. Bourgeois societies promote work. America, the quintessential bourgeois society, glorifies work. When asked “What do you do?” almost no American dares answer “Nothing.”

On nuclear construction cost increases, from Crowley and Griffith 1982, “US construction cost rise threatens nuclear option” (via @whatisnuclear):

The increases are not caused directly by the regulations. Rather, they result from interaction of NRC and industry staffs in an effort to obtain the goals of “zero risk and “zero defects” in an adversarial and legalistic regulatory environment. The pursuit of “zero risk” means that all failure modes have the same importance regardless of their probability of occurrence. The pursuit of “zero defects” encourages continuous expansion of the number of alternatives that must be analyzed and continuous refinements of the requirements. The legal need for “evidence” encourages development of complex analyses rather than simple ones. It also submerges the fact that all engineering analyses are really approximations to actual phenomena because such subjective pos-itions are difficult to defend in court.

The advantage which “precedent” has in the legal environment encourages the adoption of unrealistic and expensive approaches because it is easier than suffering the uncertainty associated with trying to have a new approach accepted. The continuation of this situation for a decade has resulted in the tradition that if a method is more complex, more difficult and more time consuming, it must be safer! The development over the last decade of seismic design criteria and design approaches with respect to piping systems is an example of the situation.

The classic division of authority and responsibilities between engineer, manufacturer and constructor has been distorted by the fear of losing a decision in a regulatory or judicial hearing which would cause political damage to the regulatory agency or financial damage to the utility. Consequently, there has been an ever increasing reliance on academic analytical techniques rather than experienced judgment. The concept of “good engineering practice” is discouraged during construction. Analysts and designers on both regulatory and industrial staffs inexperienced in the realities of hardware and construction practices are making impractical design decisions which have been exceedingly damaging to nuclear industry economics.

Ironically, some of the decisions that have been made in the name of improving safety margins for low probability events, may have reduced the safety margins for high probability events. The UE&C piping study uncovered numerous areas where the tolerances requested in the piping design documents might be appropriate for a machine shop oriented manufacturing operation, but are totally unrealistic for field construction.

Maps and charts

“Mechanization, the harnessing of energy, is man’s answer to slavery” (Buckminster Fuller). Map from 1940, when the world had just over 2 billion people, and machines doing the energy equivalent of 37 billion people’s worth of work for them (Twitter, Threads):

“An incredible 2001 paper re-analysed every then-available dataset on historical European homicide rates. This turned up an amazing trove of estimates. Firstly, England. Note that it’s a log scale – 1300s England was a war zone!” (via @bswud, see the whole thread for more):

“SpaceX is tracking to launch over 80% of all Earth payload to orbit this year” (@elonmusk)

“5th December 1952 marked the start of the horrific Great Smog of London. The smog triggered the process that led to the Clean Air Act in 1956” (@jimmcquaid)

The “journey of the miraculous GLP1 weight-loss drugs: 120 years ago: first basic discoveries in gut hormones; 37 yrs ago: GLP1 identification; 25 yrs ago: discovery that GLP1 decreases appetite” (via @DKThomp)

“Here’s how many new US federal laws were applicable to nuclear power plants from 1954 to 1984” (@whatisnuclear)

“The US increasingly leading in oil production” (@StefanFSchubert)

“Nvidia datacenter revenue, by @Thomas_Woodside” (@paulg):

Comment: Progress Forum, LessWrong, Reddit

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