Things to argue about over the holidays instead of politics II

Things to argue about over the holidays instead of politics II

Dec 2023

Comments at substack.
  1. Should you try to make your life historically significant? Or should you specifically not do that?

  2. Is there too much glamour in modern life, or too little?

  3. Why doesn’t basketball have height classes, like boxing has weight classes? Would a height cap for the NBA increase the mean level of athletic talent? Would it make games more or less fun to watch?

  4. In the early 2010s, it looked like online courses might overturn higher education. Why didn’t that happen?

  5. Was the fate of online courses predictable at the time from the history of Open University, which offered remote education since the 1970s by mailing people chemistry kits and broadcasting (often excellent) lectures on air at night?

  6. Research suggests that tutoring might boost performance by two standard deviations over typical classes, yet only a small fraction of parents who could pay for tutoring do so. Is that because they don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t value performance that highly?

  7. To what degree are nonfiction books written (a) to convey information, (b) to try to make the author’s life historically significant, (c) as an excuse for a book tour, (d) to look good on a bookshelf, (e) as bait for overly-aspirational buyers, or (f) to serve as meaningful-seeming gifts? How many fewer books would exist without (b)-(f) as implicit subsidies?

  8. Could a sufficiently-capable AI be as good at tutoring as a human, or is the magic in how we respond to sitting across the table from a meat-based intelligence?

  9. If a strand of your girlfriend’s hair touched you food, how much does the grossness depend on if it was still attached to her head at the time?

  10. Here is the correct ranking of quotations marks in different languages, from best to worst:

    «Chevrons» French, Arabic, Portuguese,
      Italian, Norwegian, Russian
    「Elegant angles」 Japanese, traditional Chinese
    „Down-up quotes“ German, Czech, Lithuanian,
      Icelandic, Bulgarian, Estonian
    „No-flip down-up quotes” Polish, Albanian, Hungarian
    “Smart double quotes” US English, Dutch, Esperanto,
      Indonesian, Hindi, Thai,
      Vietnamese, simplified Chinese
    ‘Smart single quotes’ UK English, Welsh
    "Neutral quotes" Hebrew, ASCII victims
    ”Evil no-flip double quotes” Bosnian, Swedish, Finnish
    »Wrong-way chevrons« Danish

    While that ranking is not subject to debate, why are so many languages, instead of moving up the ladder, going down to smart double quotes?

  11. Why do popular restaurants book up months ahead instead of charging market-clearing prices on Saturday night?

  12. And why do coffeeshops combat laptop captains with covered power outlets and passive-aggressive glares rather than charging by the hour?

  13. What recipes have the highest return on invested effort? (I vote for Tuscan beans with tomatoes: Fry garlic in olive oil, add white beans, cook, add tomatoes, cook. In emergencies refer to as Fagioli all’Uccelletto.) Is low ROI why so few restaurants offer risotto?

  14. How much do we really communicate? If your corpus callosum provides 100 “communication points” between the two hemispheres of your brain, then how many points does body language provide the brains of two different dogs? How many points does talking provide to humans?

  15. How many communication points do you gain after being married to someone for 25 years?

  16. If we had the technology to build artificial corpus callosa and temporarily mind-link people, what fraction of marital problems would that resolve?

  17. If kids from two-parent homes do better on average than those from single-parent homes, and kids with same-sex parents do equally well as those with opposite-sex parents, then isn’t the simplest explanation just that more caregivers are better, suggesting multigenerational households should be even better?

  18. If we optimized music for animals, how different would it be from human music?

  19. Why do we have art based on hearing and vision and arguably taste and smell (food) and maybe equilibrioception (roller coasters?) but seemingly not touch?

  20. If we had full control of the environment and everyone got the temperature/humidity they want, would we eventually stop wearing clothes?

  21. Is antique furniture destined to become fashionable again? What should we conclude from the fact that no one seems to be buying up all the current stock in anticipation?

  22. Will suits ever come back or is the shift towards casual dress essentially permanent?

  23. We seem to have ever-less compartmentalization between our various “selves” (personal/professional/etc.). Does this make it harder or easier for less “normal” people to fit in at work? Is this new, or just a return to how things were a few generations ago?

  24. Say you have a minority view (e.g. eating meat is wrong or flying is wrong). What degree of being a pain in the ass about that view best promotes it?

  25. Will synthmeat ever be economically competitive with bio meat, even if future innovations continue to make bio meat cheaper?

  26. If we must put animals in factory farms, is it ethically better to engineer them to have smaller brains and (presumably) less capability for suffering? Is there a bound on how far that can go without making the animal non-viable? Could highly engineered synthmeat and animal meat end up in the same place?

  27. Is a back-to-the-real-world, avoid-algorithms, I-don’t-carry-a-phone movement inevitable sooner or later, or does that require a religion?

  28. Say you’ve got a short textual statement you want future generations to see—what’s the best way to do that? (“Here lies Dynomight, who warned you about the ultrasonic humidifiers.” Like that?)

  29. Do movies and books, by having satisfying endings, mislead us about life?

  30. During 1968 unrest in Paris, someone wrote on a wall:

    J’ai quelque chose à dire mais je ne sais pas quoi.

    (“I have something to say, but I don’t know what it is.”) Was that about a personal struggle, the limits of language, or something particular to that time and place?


Comments at substack.

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