Showing posts with label 52 Things I Learned. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 52 Things I Learned. Show all posts

Sunday, January 2, 2022

52 Things I Learned in 2021

 As always, these are just in a general order of when during the year I catalogued them. Standard caveats apply--namely, an item learned does not establish its truth value or materiality. 

1. The 16th digit in a credit card number is simply a check digit based on a formula for the first 15 digits (the actual number). A great example of the value of redundancy from this Tim Harford post that is filled with great examples of both redundancy and brevity--like writing an entire email in the subject line alone with such a short message will suffice.

2. & 3. From the same episode of 99% Invisible: The lampposts in NYC's Central Park each have a unique four-digit number on them which can be used for easy navigation. The first two digits are the closest cross street. The second two show which side of the park the lamppost is on (even for east, odd for west) and how deep into the park it is (smaller is closer to the edge). 

The Swiss military had/has elaborate but nearly invisible defenses built throughout its countryside and cities. All of it to help protect it from invasion well into the Cold War, which had the added value of helping to maintain its neutral stance. From the episode, "Switzerland would eventually build out enough bunker space to house the country’s entire population with room to spare — with a buffer of over 10%, no other country’s shelter capacity comes close."

4. Christmas spending is just not that significant despite what you might suspect. In fact it has been getting relatively smaller over the past 80 years. "For every hundred dollars spent across the year in the U.S., just 30 cents are attributable to Christmas retail spending," according to Joel Waldfogel's Scroogenomics as quoted in this Tim Harford post. Also of note, Christmas was illegal in colonial Massachusetts. 

5. The older and more common response phrase is you've got "another think coming" rather than "another thing coming," which is what I've always said. My version is close in American English, and it's been getting closer over my lifetime, FWIW.

6. When Roe v. Wade was first decided it came with the general support of the Southern, Protestant religious right. I found this out reading this Scott Sumner post about what life was like back in 1973 including compared to now. If you think the abortion fact is weird, take a look at the miniskirts of the Middle East including in Afghanistan.

7. "Asian spices such as turmeric and fruits like the banana had already reached the Mediterranean more than 3000 years ago. . . ." Globalization is older than we might think. (HT: Tyler Cowen)

8. When Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) closed the opening prayer of the 117th Congress by saying "amen and awoman", he was not being woke. He was clumsily making a very old joke as pointed out by John McWhorter on FIRE's So To Speak podcast.

9. Today's amphetamine treatments for ADHD are derived from sketchy 1950s diet pills, but they are not methamphetamines and Ritalin is not an amphetamine at all--so, many kids on ADHD medication are not on "speed", but the Adderall kids technically are. 

10. & 11. From the same episode of Every Little Thing: Most people breathe primarily through one nostril at a time plus the gross facts that every day we swallow the equivalent of about three wine bottles full of mucus filled with outside things that we have breathed in.

Wombats' poop comes out as very dense, hard cubes (i.e., they shit bricks). 

12. In the prime of his career Tiger Woods almost quit to become a Navy SEAL

13. From Joseph Henrich's book WEIRDest People in the World: when humans developed the ability to learn and to use language, their brains physically changed, and it impeded the part of the brain that is used to recognize faces.

14. One container ship today carries more freight than the entire English merchant fleet 400 years ago, with a fraction of the crew
15.  Lots from this video such as: There are more hydrogen atoms in a teaspoon of water than there are teaspoons of water in the world's oceans; you can fit all of the planets between the Earth and the Moon with room to spare; Australia is wider than the moon; . . . and many more.

16. The famous part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech that we all remember, the emphatic conclusion, was not from the speech he had painstakingly prepared to give but rather was an off the cuff adaptation made up in the moment.

17. Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest patriotic, hereditary society in America. It has very selective and interesting rules for membership.

18. The Murray-Hill Riot (a.k.a. Montreal's Night of Terror) was new to me. It shows how tenuous at times the wall between order and chaos and how important good police presence can be.

19. With the emergence of the Brood X cicadas in 2021, I learned about how these 13 & 17-year insect events work.

21. From the two remnants (Jonah Goldberg and Chris Stirewalt) on these two episodes of The Remnant I learned that large turn out elections do not necessarily favor Democrats. This is a conventional wisdom myth.

22. Conservationists sometimes transport Rhinos upside down via helicopter.

23. Queen Elizabeth is sorta technically the world's largest landowner

24. Icebergs always float with about 10% of their mass above the water (tip of the iceberg and all), but their shape determines which part is up and exposed

26. Robert P. McCulloch was the amazing entrepreneur who purchased London bridge, which, as I knew before, was dismantled brick-by-brick and reassembled in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I did not know that he did it as an effort to bring tourists and publicity to his town nor did I know that he was the inventor of the light, one-person chainsaw. (HT: David Henderson)

27. The awful practice of forcing Jews to wear a yellow star to identify them to unsuspecting others originated not with the Nazis but well before that in the European middle ages.

28. There are a bunch of things I learned from these cool guides. One is the difference between a swamp and a marsh. Another is the signs a dog will bite. Still another is interpretation of tree rings. And more . . .

29. Humans make up just 1/10,000th of Earth's biomass. We are dwarfed slightly by livestock and greatly by fish (neither too surprising to me), vastly by arthropods (somewhat surprising), and colossally by bacteria (greatly surprising). 

30. Two words: Reindeer Cyclones.

31. I was surprised to learn of these contemporary and relatively important people who opposed the decision to use nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945.

32. Over the past eight years, a Chinese billionaire has died on average every 40 days--in case you're wondering, there aren't enough of them to make that a normal, nothing-to-see-here statistic. This appears to be wrong on its face as well as once the proper framing is applied. I regret the error. 

33. "Pirates understood the advantages of constitutional democracy — a model they adopted more than fifty years before the United States did so." -- From The Invisible Hook

34. Thomas Jefferson's awkward (to say the least) and wrongful position of being a slaveholder had no easy answer for resolution. It was complicated not just by him having inherited his slaves, but that it was an extreme impracticality for him to ever free them. It was statutorily illegal for him to do so, and more importantly his debts outweighed his assets meaning there was no way for him to free them and discharge the debt. Rather he would have to auction them off to other potentially much worse slaveholders which very likely would mean breaking up the slaves’ families.

35. Among so many things in mixology Peter Suderman's Substack has taught me, perhaps the most impactful was what I didn't know or appreciate about sweet Vermouth.

36. This insane development was begun in 2014 in Turkey and sits abandoned, partially finished. It was to be a luxury housing development for wealthy Gulf tourists based on a Disney inspiration it would seem. Here is more on what was to be the Burj Al Babas.

38. In what is an unintentional tribute to spontaneous order and entrepreneurial problem solving, the Lagos megachurches are becoming relatively well-run cities unto their own. Perhaps an African-Christian version of Burning Man?

39. The reason horse terms were originally used in describing things about cars and naming some car brands is that many people greatly hated cars as a replacement to their beloved horses, and this marketing technique made peace with those who were so strongly opposed to automobiles.

40. "Organic farming is less polluting than conventional farming when measured per unit of land but not when measured per unit of output." From this abstract which includes hints that magnitude matters. 

41. These facts about Ireland during WWII including that the country was neutral. 

42. From The Soho Forum's Bill Kristol vs. Scott Horton Debate on U.S. Interventionism I learned that Somalia is the U.S.'s longest war rather than Afghanistan. 

43. Hard to summarize, but I learned a lot about genetics from this Richard Hanania CSPI podcast interview of Razib Khan

44. Dog's noses are amazing. I knew that. But I didn't know how those slits on the side of the nostrils work or how they can triangulate the source of a smell especially with the help of another dog. 

45. The vastness of the Walt Disney World complex is incredible including how big the parking lots are.

46. Coincidental with the prior item, I learned about this utopian city in India, Auroville, that has a strange Epcot focal point among other things strange and non-utopian. (HT: Scott Alexander)

47. Also from Scott Alexander I learned about all these phenomenal families

48. LBJ's daughter once kept a cat fetus in the White House private residence's freezer for months--from the ELT podcast.

49. The best-selling novel I, Libertine was a total hoax played on the elite, snob-class created by late-night radio host Jean Shepherd. 

50. A Bar-tailed Godwit set a world record by flying more than 8,100 miles nonstop! between Alaska and New South Wales, Australia. 

51. I learned about some recent tragic developments in horse racing. These trends look particularly bad and bad for the sport, which will be a future WWCF topic.

52. Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a short story in 1943 titled The Greatest Gift inspired by a dream he had. Because he couldn't find a publisher, he sent 200 copies of it to friends as Christmas cards. That led to a publisher taking interest and publishing it in book form in 1944. Then two magazine publications printed it one in each of the years 1944 and 1945. Eventually it came to the interest of Hollywood where it was adapted and resold to eventually becoming the 1946 Frank Capra film staring Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

52 Things I Learned in 2020

Like all of us, I learned a lot about disease, pandemics, epidemiology, government crisis management as well as a lot of misinformation about all these topics. I am very confident that I have an inflated and undue confidence in what I "know" about these things. I am also very confident that most people are in the same boat as me. 

Let's set all that aside to cover the items I collected over the year as truly new knowledge. They are only in the general order of when I learned them or saved them to my list. My apologies in advance for those things learned that turn out to be untrue or otherwise faulty (bound to happen).

1. Chimps can learn to do something regular humans cannot do. [UPDATE 9/21/21: Turns out maybe not.]

2. I generally knew that abortion rates have been declining over the past decades (e.g., specifically it has declined 24% from 2006-2015). Yet I did not know the distribution of abortions by age of the fetus/baby--65% before 8 weeks, 91 before 13 weeks, and almost 99% before 20 weeks all inclusively I presume. (BTW, I greatly miss SSC).

3. An astronaut almost drowned in space in 2013 (both of these start around the 10-minute mark) and you cannot burp in space, therefore you don't drink carbonated beverages in space. 

4. I learned a lot about speed from this Patrick Collison post including: "Walt Disney's conception of 'The Happiest Place on Earth' was brought to life in 366 days." As a side note, see item 52 below. 

5. Rio averages (or was as of this story) 24 shootouts per day. 

6. The college wealth premium, the benefit to overall lifetime wealth for a person attending college versus foregoing it, might be close to zero.

7. NIMBYism now has a tracking index

8. The tiny island nation of Tuvalu has a recently discovered artificial natural resource. Paging Ronald Coase...

9. Richard Nixon committed treason.

10. The often thrown around (buzzword) term "disruptive" when describing technology, innovation, et al. has a specific meaning and is often misused.

11. I learned many things from Adam Minter on EconTalk including that the thrift is a 17-billion dollar industry, Goodwill's mission is employment training for hard-to-employ people, and Marie Kondo didn't invent decluttering but rather emerged from it.

12. Among other interesting facts, which always are surprising at least to me (and I tend to be aware of economic gravity), I learned that 95% of U.S. commercial ginseng production all comes out of Marathon County, WI.

13. This article was almost the base for my 2020 New Years Resolution fulfillment. It still makes the list here for helping me understand when "sustainable" is not a boo word.

14. Testable is not equivalent to falsifiable and Karl Popper was wrong--this one is deeper than most will realize.

15. "The Central Social Institution in Prague was home to the world’s largest vertical file cabinet. It consists of 3,000 drawers, 10 feet high, reaching from floor to ceiling and covering approximately 4,000 square feet. The drawers are all equipped with roller bearings." -- Be sure to check out the pictures.

16. The real size of countries is astonishing.

18. The first two of Clarke's Three Laws.

19. Trying to say that sex is binary is an oversimplification that probably is devoid of meaning.

20. Civil War veteran and amputee James Hanger designed and built a new, lightweight leg from whittled barrel staves and went on to found Hanger, Inc. which remains a key company in prosthetics.

21. The real price of LEGO pieces have declined by about half in the last 30 years--lots more including nuance on this learned fact at the link.

22. USB drives get heavier as you load more data on to them.

23. Dictionaries do NOT in most cases list pronunciations in order of best or preferred or most common first.

25. 530 Boston Police Department employees made over $200,000 (equal to the salary of the mayor of Boston) in 2019. The highest paid made over $350,000.

26. The fatality risk to police and sheriff who patrol makes it only the 16th most risky occupation, and the magnitudes of the differences from the top 15 is meaningfully large.

27. There are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the universe.

28. Walter Duranty, an NYT journalist in the 1930s, won a Pulitzer Prize for a work of lies that covered up Stalin's mass murder in Ukraine. A heroic man, Gareth Jones, exposed all of this. Sadly, history is remembered poorly to say the least.

29. Karl Marx neither originated nor popularized the term "capitalism".

30. The "Lord of the Flies" is not just wrong in theory and disproven in analogous fact time and time again, but an actual, real-life version actually happened to disprove it specifically.

31. Fish sticks have an interesting origin story.

32. I always thought the Elo Rating System was named for some acronym or shorthand for a mathematical term. Rather it is simply named for its creator, Arpad Elo. Quaint I must say.

33. & 34. I learned many things (two of which I'll list) listening to Terry Anderson on the podcast The Curious Task. The first (located about the 5-minute mark) is a story of the trade axe, which found its way through the beauty of the natural market well ahead of the explorers. The second (located about the 21-minute mark) is the fact that the disgusting "General" Custer was only a general when he was fighting Indians. Otherwise he was a lieutenant colonel--talk about bad incentives. 

35. A key and underappreciated part of the conceptual framework of externalities is the role of expectations--"Externalities exist only when another party’s actions create unexpected spillover effects."

36. A cheap, effective and painless method of stopping tooth decay has existed for over 100 years and is only now beginning to be used in the USA despite use abroad for some time.

37. A team of scientists may have discovered new organs in the human head.

38. Half of Canada's population lives at a latitude south of Lake Superior.

39. The Anti-Digit Dialing League (ADDL), founded in 1962 to oppose telephone number dialing made of just numbers, is still active and fighting hard against the tide of 10-digit dialing.

40. & 41. Here is another example (EconTalk with Virginia Postrel) where I learned a lot and am listing but two items. First (about the 18-minute mark) Luddites were hypocrites and second (about the 40-minute mark) hemp DID NOT stop being produced because of marijuana’s prohibition--it lost out in the marketplace well before that.

42. In 2019 Japan's population on net shrank at the rate of a person a minute.

44. The widely-used (and misused and overused) concept of Black Swans was invented by Bertrand Russell.

45. & 46. Okay, last two-for-one. The Tim Ferriss podcast interview of Steven Rinella taught me two things of note: First (about the 11-minute mark) is that New Mexico is the state with the second most hypothermia deaths behind Alaska, and second (about the 1-hour, 21-minute mark) is the story of The Children of Llullaillaco. The early discussion of hypothermia wasn't too new to me, but it was nevertheless fascinating.

47. Historically almost all of the return in the stock market, for the S&P500 at least, is captured after hours (between the close and the open).

48. Among other amazing facts about real Christmas trees is that at the large producers they use helicopters sunup to sundown to load up to a thousand trees per hour onto truck trailers.

49. Using cotton-tipped swabs (Q-tips, et al.) to clean ears is probably NOT that bad after all. Note: there is an interesting subtext lesson here about science and incentives--so apt for 2020.

51. Listening to The Great Antidote with Tevi Troy I learned a lot about political rivalries and petty grudges and childish behavior including the degree and nature to which Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson absolutely hated each other. 

52. As referenced above in item 4, perhaps the most amazing speed to build, create, develop was done in 2020 as Moderna's vaccine for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 was developed in 2 days! What I learned was how fast a for-profit company can develop a brand new vaccine, but I must lament how unfortunate it is that government won’t let that technology work for us in a free and timely manner, which costs us immensely in lives and happiness. 

Sorry I ended the list on a sour note, but it is fitting that the first and last items were about science and that the list ended with grimness. 2020 was a great year for science, a sad year for so many, and a bad year for government policy.

Here is to more learning in 2021. Hopefully the tuition won't be so high.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

52 Things I Learned in 2019

I would like to think that I learned more than 52 things last year. Nevertheless, here are 52 notable ones.

1. "The British Empire At Its Territorial Peak Covered Nearly The Same Area As The Moon".

2. Manhattan reached its peak population about 100 years ago.

3. The Millennial Generation exhibits preferences for consumption that are very similar to previous generations. This includes a demand for cars, work preferences, and where to live (suburbs versus the high-density urban core).

4. Army ants "commit" suicide.

5. A quantum physics experiment suggests that objective reality doesn't exist. (categorize my "learning" this as superficial at best)

6. The average state prisoner's time served in prison is surprisingly low.

7. The asteroid that about sixty-six million years ago struck the Yucatán peninsula killed over 99.9999% of all living things and unleashed the energy of about 1,000,000,000 Hiroshima bombs.

8. "The vast majority of roads in Sweden and Finland are operated by the private sector and maintained by local communities".

9. Speaking of socialist paradises, Sweden sharply rejected socialism decades ago in favor of capitalism.

10. All perching bird species, about 60% of all birds, may have come from Australia.

11. "Books don't work".

12. Pork Bellies Futures stopped being traded in 2011. Better tell The Dukes.

13. Girl's comparative advantage in reading can explain the math gender gap. I learned a lot from Alex Tabarrok this past year.

14. Adding to the number of whales in the oceans could significantly help reduce CO2.

15. Speaking of whales, the Soviet Union illegally killed over 180,000 whales simply to say they did it.

16. It is overall faster, safer, and more efficient for people to stand rather than walk up the escalator.

17. A great use case for blockchain is insurance markets.

18. Total energy use in the United States is essentially flat for the last decade. And this amazing trend is true of many other resources despite the economy bring much larger today.

19. Mathematicians actually have a system to rate how "crackpot" a theory is.

20. I knew it is false that we only use about 10% of our brain, but I did not know a lot of these neuromyths including that it is false that Individual learners show preferences for the mode in which they receive information (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic).

21. There are perhaps "600 new academic philosophy articles and books written per week in the English-speaking world, or over 30,000 a year".

22. Breathalyzers should not be trusted.

23. Rod Stewart is into model trains.

24. Injuries should be moved (not rested), allowed inflammation (don't ice)--RICE is a myth. More here.

25. You CAN yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. This has never been a First Amendment exception in the law.

26. Converting "dog years" to "human years" is not dog age in years times seven, but there is a way to do the conversion.

27. Pasta should be made starting in cold water--not dropping it into boiling water like so many recipe boxes say.

28. The Eiffel Tower, the tallest building in the world for more than 40 years, was built in 2 years and 2 months at a 2019 cost of only about $40 million. There are more amazing speeds of things being brought to life at the link.

29. About 30,000 people each day escape poverty.

30. Turkeys (birds) are named after the country.

31. The main benefit of circumcision is a potentially significant reduction in the risk of penile cancer.

32. The magnitude of personality differences between males and females is large and significant.

33. Sydney, Australia has more foreign-born residents than all of mainland China.

34. Germany owns no nuclear weapons itself, but it does have U.S. nukes that it can use at a moment's notice.

35. The Pilgrims' first encounter with a Native American was him asking if they had any beer.

36. The cost of a standard Thanksgiving dinner was virtually unchanged from 2018 to 2019 rising just one penny.

37. Blind people can hear at an extraordinarily high speed.

38. U.S. life expectancy peaked in 2014, and the death rate of middle-aged Americans has risen for three straight years.

39. Andrew Garrido learned to play the piano without a piano and is now at one of the world’s leading conservatoires.

40. The finest chocolate should be eaten by letting it melt in your mouth never chewing.

41. The placebo effect works even when you tell people they are using a placebo.

42. The nuclear ban in Japan following Fukushima killed more people due to higher electricity prices than the nuclear accident itself.

43. It is a myth that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.

44. "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" is about a single woman who loves baseball and is bucking societal norms. As such, it should be celebrated for its pro-feminist message.

45. It is NOT true that failing to take an entire prescribed antibiotic course risks antibiotic-resistance in bacteria.

46. Brazil has more than 60,000 murders per year--more than a good share of the rest of the world combined.

47. The average age for founding entrepreneurs at companies that go on to hire at least one employee is 41.9.

48. World War I was not the deadliest war up to that point--the Taiping Rebellion some 50-years before it was much worse.

49. In 2003 a group of young artists built a secret apartment inside a mall in Providence, RI and lived in it for days at a time for years.

50. Most modern practices and rules of dentistry have very weak to no scientific basis.

51. Hundreds of American cities are (thankfully) abandoning recycling efforts.

52. And finally:
I'm already well into learning things in 2020. I hope you are too!