the snail shell

Links Etc

aka “posting the things I’ve saved as a tab on my phone so I can stop thinking about them” aka “steering clear of real life issues that are taking up more of my brain but make for less exciting blog posts”

same scale

This rules. Two maps at the same zoom level. Compare a city you know to a city you’re visiting, see how big it “really” is. Thanks Josh!

pace layers

Hadn’t heard of this term but it makes a lot of sense. In particular, I’ve felt the need for the slower layers to be slower. It feels so important to maintain links to older culture - and I think we are kind of forced to maintain links to older nature.

ads in firefox

and how to disable them. sigh


this could probably be summarized as “don’t run away from something, run towards something.” But that’s not quite it, more like “run towards something you feel is good, not something you think is good.” Don’t quit your job to become a florist because you think that’d probably be fun; quit your job to become a florist if you have tried it and know it would be fun. Unfortunately, it seems the only way to develop smart feelings about what it’s like to do X is to do X.

how to reason about covid and other hard things

I remember really liking this podcast, though in retrospect I’m not sure there’s one particular reason why. Just, in general, I like the way they’re approaching this problem. It’s not impossible; it may just take more time than you or I have, but that’s why I don’t write articles about covid. And we should absolutely be paying reporters who do!

(consider this also a plug for the Rationally Speaking podcast in general. The best “listen to authors and professors and etc talk about their corner of the world” podcast IMO.)

coinbase, “mission focused” or blissfully ignorant

A year ago, Armstrong posted, well, the above linked post. This was post-George-Floyd and around the time Basecamp told employees “no politics at work.” It sounded the same: “don’t talk politics at work or we will fire you” which sucks because for some people their whole life is kinda politics. (if you’re trans, a popular political position in the US is “no you’re not”; if you’re a woman with difficult reproductive circumstances, a popular position is “then perish”, etc; it gets hard to “leave politics at home”)

But around that time Armstrong posted something else that made me go “the worst person you know just made a great point” so I tried to steelman the “mission focused” post, and… ok, it’s possible.

The steelman version is something like the principle that lets me ignore, say, the war in Ethiopia right now. I mean, the war sucks! I’m sad it’s happening! and, if I were to donate, say, 1% of my income to Ethiopian human rights groups, then I’d have to also give 1% to those in Yemen, and Xinjiang, and North Korea, and pretty soon I’m out of percents, and who knows if that even did any good. Nobody short of Peter Singer would argue that I’m obligated to help all of these causes.

I’m not sure if the “you don’t have to be Peter Singer” approach applies more or less to (public) companies. On one hand, they have much more money and power than individuals. On the other hand, they’re more constrained: they’re sort of legally obligated to put profit first. So what you get when companies “care about social good” is usually some kind of nice-sounding platitude and maybe a few pennies tossed to BLM or Planned Parenthood or some cause before they get back to spending 99.99% of their effort on making money. (not that this is great; it’s just kind of the way it is.)

So I guess I’d want my company to care about social good in whatever way it applies to their business. Say, if we make clothes, I’d want us to be firmly committed to good labor practices and using sustainable materials; if we sold ads, I’d want us to make sure we don’t break all of journalism and support Nazis. Sometimes you have to look a little bit: like, in addition to labor practices and sustainable materials, you might say “a social justice cause that applies to our company is underrepresentation of POC designers, so we’re going to build a program to help address that.” That seems good. I’d want my company to also stand by their employees; so like, sponsoring visas, or paying extra on top of their health insurance if they’re in Texas and need an abortion, or whatever. Beyond that, I’m ok if they don’t take a stand on every cause. This… all sounds compatible with what Armstrong’s proposed?

(This could easily go wrong though; “internal division is bad” could imply “fire dissenters.” And I don’t love all the Netflix-like “championship team!” stuff; it seems to imply the “B players get severance packages” mentality that, I think, would make me constantly nervous and unable to focus. I guess I will reserve my overall judgment of this place; without being there, debating this could get stuck in mottes-and-baileys for a while.)

Checklist and Fitness Tasks

There are two types of tasks in the world: checklist tasks and fitness tasks. The key difference is whether you can be done.

checklist tasks

You can be done with these! Once you are done you can stop thinking about them forever! Some examples:

Video game speed runs and Guinness world records are exhibition spaces for checklist tasks. If you set the world record for finishing Mario 1, you could walk away and never play Mario again but you still did the task.

fitness tasks

These you are never done with. There’s no end point, you can just be better or worse. Some examples:

The Olympics tests fitness tasks. It doesn’t matter if you threw a discus super far once; you have to do it during the competition. Performances also showcase fitness tasks: I don’t want to go see a juggler who juggled 7 balls once; I want to see the juggler who is good enough at juggling 7 balls that they’ll do it for a paying crowd.

Checklist tasks are about doing a thing. Fitness tasks are about becoming a person.

this matters because childhood doesn’t prepare you for fitness tasks

As a kid, you almost don’t have any fitness tasks! Arguably school tests are fitness tasks (you have to know math very well, not just be able to accomplish a math thing once) but in practice they almost act more as checklists. (tests become more take-home or open-book, or reward one-off studying.) All your assignments are certainly checklists. You can pretty much get through school and even college only being good at checklist tasks.

There’s maybe even a bias against fitness tasks! I remember in high school gym class we were tested on how well we could do the thing (e.g. how well we could throw a football, if we were playing football), and I thought that was so unfair1. In retrospect, it was just a rare instance of testing fitness tasks.

but fitness tasks are more important for life

Look at those example fitness tasks above! These are most of our life’s work! Maybe one key skill of being an adult is learning to be good at fitness tasks. Learning to do something that you can’t complete; learning to take on tasks that you’ll have to work on in some form for your entire life and not just be overwhelmed by their enormity.

  1. well, the specific tests were indeed unfair, because our teacher was an idiot. In one example, we had to shoot free throws and our score was our percent made; 3 people in the world could get as high as an A-. Another example involved bowling with a cheap plastic ball and pins. Though, we did score ourselves, so maybe they were good opportunities to learn when lying was ok and good. ↩︎

Food and Guilt


Every so often, another food craze comes across people I sorta know on twitter or blogs. (“food craze” makes me think of grocery store tabloids telling you pineapples will help you lose your belly fat, and well some of these are about that silly, but some aren’t, at least.)

This article suggests obesity is driven by polyunsaturated fat. I found the graphs about carbs and sugar really striking. US sugar and carb intakes have gone down since ~2000! (edit: maybe; sigh, everything is hard) And obesity continues to rise. I remember in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan hesitates at everyone’s “theories of everything” in food, but then kind of maybe endorses the “omega 3 vs omega 6” theory of everything.

This series A Chemical Hunger suggests obesity is driven by environmental contaminants. Specifically: antibiotics, PFAS, and lithium, though it leaves the door open to others too.

(I’ll feel pretty silly if plastics end up being a big part of it, since I had a semi long running argument with Tati where I was saying that plastic food storage isn’t a problem and she says it is.)

As usual, eat food not too much mostly plants, but … dang, I want to know what’s going on here! I don’t have to be all Soylent-optimized about it, but I want to at least know what direction I’m going, so I can train my feelings accordingly.

Guilt, continued

One big source of guilt is always “the environment; mostly carbon”. I feel stuff like “I should turn the heat down even though it’s less comfortable”. But how big is that impact?

If you believe Scott Alexander, my total yearly carbon can be offset for $240, or captured-and-sequestered for $16k. We can argue about offsets (though those are the “prices for offsets that seem like they’re legit”, not “stupid offsets”) but… for $16k a company can literally put your 16 tons of carbon back in the ground! Is this an (expensive but not prohibitive) hair dryer? (see section V. basically: instead of worrying back and forth about how to manage the guilt, should I stop wasting my time and just remove all the guilt?)

I feel a few responses:

  1. Here is a list of reactions I could have to the question of, say, “should I heat the house to 70 all winter (comfy) or heat it to 68 (uncomfy but definitely livable)?”
    1. Worst: heat to 68
    2. Equally worst: heat to 70, feel guilty
    3. Better: heat to 70 and just buy $320 of carbon capture to completely offset it, don’t feel guilty
    4. Best: heat to 70; don’t feel guilty; separately decide how much I want to fund carbon capture technology
  2. Even if I can’t go from “worst” to “best”, going to “better” might be worthwhile.
  3. If I could pay $240/year and feel guiltless, then that is a hairdryer-level thing I should try. (as a purely self-centered move because it makes my brain work better.) If offsets don’t feel good and I’ll need to spend $16k, then that is maybe not hairdryer-level and not worth trying on a whim. In that case, maybe I should work on my feelings and try to figure out how much I really want to fund this technology or if my money is better spent benefiting the world some other way.