I read popular physics: The cosmic crisis

Someone went and got me a subscription to Scientific American, so for the past few months I’ve been covering physics articles, now with the benefit of a PhD. Perhaps it’s a way to keep in touch with my physics roots as my career has moved on to other things.

In this month’s issue, the cover article is “A Cosmic Crisis“, about a discrepancy between two measurements of the age of the universe.

Funny thing, there’s always a letter from the editor in chief where he introduces all the major articles, and here he contrasts the “cosmic crisis” with another ongoing crisis, that thing between US and Iran. Yep, this sure is an article that was written last month! FWIW, I could do with some reading that has nothing to do with COVID-19.

I thought I’d review the article in approximately the order in which I read it: pretty pictures first, walls of text last if at all. For serious, this is the correct way to read a science article, I can say that as a person with a PhD.

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Link Roundup: March 2020

This month’s link roundup is late, and to be honest I hadn’t collected any links until the past week.  And yep, it’s all COVID-19 related.  I see that Skepchick also collected a bunch of links on COVID-19, so I’d check that out too.

Between Panic and Indifference | Red Beard – Red Beard lives near Seattle, right by one of the outbreaks of COVID-19, and gives a personal account of what it’s like.  This article is dated to March 5th, and was a preview of what a lot of us are starting to go through, or will go through.

Why I’m Just So Worried About Our Students | Skepchick – Isis discusses problems faced by university students in the face of school closures.

The Fed’s $1.5 trillion intervention, explained | The Week – My reaction to the federal $1.5 trillion injection was “How much even is that?  Is it like a million?”  I checked xkcd’s money chart and–holy shit!  My husband shared this article, which is a bit too technical for me to understand.  But the key points, if I understand correctly: a) this is a no-brainer to prevent collapse, b) yes it unfairly favors the rich and wealthy, c) but that’s the tool that the Federal Reserve has available to it, d) a fairer way to rescue the economy it would have needed to come from the Trump administration and Congress.

In personal news, I have a job and am now moneyed.  I don’t even know what to do with all this money.  Charity recommendations welcome in the comments.

WFH (Working From Home)

Last week, amid rising concerns about COVID-19, I was sick. It was no big deal, just a little stomach bug, highly unlikely to be contagious. But I worked from home for a week, out of prudence.

After a week of this, I decided to go in the office again. I had missed the double-monitor setup and the snack room. But the environment was totally changed from before.

On the train, I was paranoid that I would cough or sneeze, and people would shun me or worse. Well you know, it’s allergy season, lots of people are sneezing. And I have asthma, I cough year round. But imagine explaining that to randos on the train, and to be fair I wouldn’t trust a rando explaining the same to me either.

The office was mostly empty. I raided the snack room.

That afternoon, the company announced that it was recommending everyone work from home, for the next week at least. So I went home–after grabbing every perishable item in the fridge.

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Election meta

cn: more board gaming than election politics, really

Usually around election time I write up a post about what I’m voting for on the ballot. Most things on the ballot are local, and not relevant to most of my readers, but I think it’s important to highlight and normalize the research process for smaller elections. The presidential election is important and all, but in all likelihood you’ve already made that decision so surely you can spare some time to research the smaller elections?

Unfortunately my last ballot didn’t really have any interesting local votes, so I guess we’re stuck talking presidents. Well shoot.

You know what, I want to talk about board games instead.

In games with three or more players, players are often presented with a choice to attack one of their opponents. This opens up a fair amount of strategic space, which board gamers sometimes sometimes refer to as “politics”. Common political strategies include:

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Origami: Budding Sonobe

Budding Sonobe

Budding Sonobe, my design, made from Sonobe units

This is one of those origami models that other people seem to like much more than I do.  I think it’s over-designed.

I thought I’d have it recursively branch multiple levels, and at each level one of the branches would have a “mutation”.  You can see the pinwheel design on the upper right branch, the pink cube on the left branch. All this on top of the blue/orange/red/green color scheme.  I didn’t branch very many times because it didn’t seem structurally sound enough, and also I wasn’t too fond of it.  But still, some people like it.  If you like it, maybe you can tell me why.

My guess is that people like it for its intricate design.  I think it uses… *counts to self* …60 pieces of paper, each one 3.75 cm.  The whole model fits in my palm.  Each sheet is folded into a Sonobe unit, which is just very standard and flexible origami unit.  If I were to try it again, I would keep it intricate but reduce the design entropy.

MBTI: A lukewarm analysis

MBTI, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is probably the most popular personality test. It contains four axes: Introverted/Extraverted, iNtuitive/Sensing, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. If you take the test, you may be assigned one of 16 personality types, for instance I would be INTJ.

The MBTI is regarded as pseudoscience, perpetuated by the popular consciousness and HR departments rather than academic research. One time I asked a personality psychologist and she said it was just so far off from reality that nobody even bothered talking about it. Psychologists prefer to talk about another personality model, called the Five Factor Model, also known as The Big Five. This has five axes, labeled Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN).

I’ve often remarked that although the Five Factor Model is supposedly more scientific, it’s clearly a lot less compelling. And isn’t that something? I couldn’t honestly say that I find astrology compelling, or ear candles compelling, but the MBTI, now that’s some yummy pseudoscience. I have some remarks on what makes MBTI a pseudoscience, what makes it compelling, and what its problems are.

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