Into Eternity by Michael Madsen

I am now in this place where you should never come.  We call it Onkalo.  Onkalo means hiding place.  In my time it is still unfinished, though work began in the 20th century when I was just a child.  Work will be completed in the 22nd century, long after my death.  Onkalo must last 100,000 years. Nothing built by man has lasted even a tenth of that time span.  But we consider ourselves a very potent civilization.

If we succeed, Onkalo will most likely be the longest lasting remains of our civilization.  If you, some time far into the future find this, what will it tell you about us?

It isn’t often that you find people seriously thinking about deep time in a concrete way.  Usually it’s abstract, just a thought experiment, not an engineering problem or a gut wrenching moral quandry.  But this is apparently not the case for the Scandinavians who have taken on the task of storing their spent nuclear fuel.  Finland has decided to go forward with permanent storage, in a typically responsible, deliberate, earnest Nordic way.

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Markets and Morals

A good talk from Chautauqua on the interaction between markets and morals.  Some interesting examples of morally ambiguous markets: countries paying one another to take on refugee acceptance obligations and the outsourcing pregnancy to impoverished surrogate mothers in Gujarat, India.  Sandel argues that in the last few decades we have gone from having a market economy to being a market society.  Markets are now a large portion of our governance, and it’s unclear whether this is really a good thing.

Links for the week of May 29th, 2010

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Links for the week of November 20th, 2009

If you want to follow my shared links in real time instead of as a weekly digest, head over to Delicious. You can search them there easily too.
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Links for the week of August 20th, 2009

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On the Pareto frontier in salary-vacation space

Dear (Prospective Employer),

Thank you for your monetarily very generous offer of employment!  Honestly, it’s not obvious to me how I could spend $X a year, as I am currently living quite comfortably on about one Nth of that amount.  Actually, that’s not entirely true; I’m sure I could spend it all if I got a mortgage on a big house out in the suburbs, bought a fancy car with which to commute to work, ate out frequently, and had a few kids I planned to put through college.  However, I prefer to live simply in a small home, cook my own meals, bus or bike to work, and I may very well choose not to reproduce.  I also prefer, in my all too limited time on Earth, to experience the wilderness that still remains in the world, and the myriad human cultures, cuisines, and languages that have emerged in the last 50,000 years.  Those experiences will not come easily sitting in front of a computer in an office park, and they often cannot be had on weekends or whirlwind tours.  Thus, I am concerned about the following potential scenario with your offer of employment as it currently stands.

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The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

The Black Swan by Nassim TalebI finished reading Taleb’s second book, The Black Swan.  He openly admits that it’s not really a new book, but a re-writing of his first book, Fooled by Randomness, which I loved.  He’s gotten really incredibly lucky with the timing of his book releases… just before 9/11 and just before the stock market laid a giant turd on the doorstep of all the happytalk from Wall Street.  Especially lucky when you take into account the fact that The Black Swan was at least 15 months late!

Taleb really has just one big idea, and in his own obnoxious way, he’s humble enough to admit it.  His idea is that the world is less predictable than we think.  That “rare” events are both systematically more likely that we believe them to be, and that their consequences are disproportionately large.  He rails against the use of Gaussian distributions where they should not be used — against the mindless shoehorning of all kinds of processes into that bell shaped box, where they do not belong, and can do great damage.

I think the main differences between this book and his prior one are that in this book, he provides a few short words on how he thinks we should live and plan, given that we live in an inherently, and increasingly, unpredictable world.  That, and the fact that because of his prior book’s success, he was able to get away without having this book edited, apparently, at all (which I think may have been a mistake… but oh well).  Anyway, his advice in a nutshell:

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