skybrian's recent activity

  1. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 25-26 in ~news

    skybrian
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    There are plenty of signs of extensive effort. But does it work, or is it mostly seen as foreign propaganda to be ignored?

    There are plenty of signs of extensive effort. But does it work, or is it mostly seen as foreign propaganda to be ignored?

    1 vote
  2. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 25-26 in ~news

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I agree that they’re trying. I think that trade and public opinion are fairly independent, though? For example, Europe depends on Russia for natural gas, but just because they buy a lot of natural...

    I agree that they’re trying. I think that trade and public opinion are fairly independent, though? For example, Europe depends on Russia for natural gas, but just because they buy a lot of natural gas doesn’t mean they believe Russia’s lies about Ukraine, or that they’re happy about being a trading partner with Russia.

    Similarly, Australia trades with China but that does that mean that Chinese media has a lot of influence in Australia? I would be surprised if it did. Trade disputes are a big source of friction and results in negative opinion of China.

    And of course the huge amount of Chinese imports in the US doesn’t mean that Americans have a positive opinion of China. We buy their products, but that doesn’t mean we buy their politics. Though, there are some influences, like American movies being made so that they will play well in China. American companies that have interest in trading with China will avoid criticism, but this relative neutrality doesn’t have that much impact on public opinion, I don’t think? One result is that Americans have a more negative view of those companies.

    So what I’m wondering is where the Chinese are more successful with their attempts at influence? What are signs of this? It would be surprising if they were successful at improving popular opinion of Russia when they can’t even do it for themselves.

    1 vote
  3. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 25-26 in ~news

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I'm wondering who outside of China would read Chinese state media to find out what's going on in Ukraine? I would guess hardly anyone in the US or Europe. Do they have more influence in other...

    I'm wondering who outside of China would read Chinese state media to find out what's going on in Ukraine?

    I would guess hardly anyone in the US or Europe. Do they have more influence in other countries?

    1 vote
  4. Comment on What programming/technical projects have you been working on? in ~comp

    skybrian
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    Now that SerialViz is done, I did an experiment using optical sensors to measure the rotation of a wheel and wrote it up: A Sine-Cosine encoder experiment. The Observable Plot library is a nice...

    Now that SerialViz is done, I did an experiment using optical sensors to measure the rotation of a wheel and wrote it up: A Sine-Cosine encoder experiment. The Observable Plot library is a nice way to draw charts, once you get used to it.

    Now I’m going to spin the wheel with an old Lego Mindstorms stepper motor I have to hopefully get a more consistent spin than doing it by hand. I didn’t want to install Lego’s ancient desktop software (it’s the NXT which Lego doesn’t make anymore), so I’m writing a little web app to control the motor.

    The NXT supports both USB and Bluetooth. If you use Bluetooth, it appears as a serial port, and the protocol is slightly different. There are a couple of Word documents where they documented the protocol, and also other NXT software that people wrote in various languages that I can use as example code.

    So far I can press a button to spin a motor or stop it, but I’m going to make it slightly fancier and show power usage and rotation on the screen.

    (Believe it or not, this is still related to my accordion synthesizer project.)

    2 votes
  5. Comment on Apple's Self Repair Program toolkit weighs 79 pounds in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    Instead of assuming good faith or bad faith, maybe we should assume that, as outsiders, we often don’t understand other people’s motivations? Being genuinely curious about what’s going on in the...

    Instead of assuming good faith or bad faith, maybe we should assume that, as outsiders, we often don’t understand other people’s motivations? Being genuinely curious about what’s going on in the world seems like a better way to learn things than world-weary cynicism? But I’m not genuinely curious about this subject, so I’m going to speculate rather than making a real effort to find out.

    It seems safe to say that, based on Apple’s existing product line, Apple isn’t trying very hard to make devices easily repairable by consumers. The design goal seems to have been making repairs feasible for trained but not terribly skilled Apple employees who have access to fancy equipment. This was necessary so they can offer repairs at a reasonable price. (And do warranty repairs.)

    If Apple really wanted to make products that can easily be repaired without special tools, it seems like it would have to be designed in from the beginning and there would need to be compromises made on other design goals. This service is not that. What is it for, then?

    I can imagine a large enterprise where employees sometimes break their iPhones. Their IT department collects the broken ones and replaces them from inventory, and then they order this kit to fix several of them at once, instead of shipping them all to Apple. It also might be a good way for an independent repair shop to try out the fancy tools and decide if they want to buy them.

    But the article doesn’t say what the real goal of the service is. It’s just showing what the kit looks like. It seems like it would be a good question for a journalist to ask Apple?

    6 votes
  6. Comment on Imagen, a text-to-image diffusion model with an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding in ~tech

  7. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 23-24 in ~news

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I have no expertise, but here's my attempt to think it through: Russia definitely wants to support the ruble. That's one purpose of capital controls. But they also need euros, to buy imports....

    I have no expertise, but here's my attempt to think it through:

    Russia definitely wants to support the ruble. That's one purpose of capital controls.

    But they also need euros, to buy imports. Exchanging euros for rubles and then exchanging them back again to buy imports has no net effect on exchange rates.

    One reason to do this would be to make sure the right people in Russia can get the euros by using the foreign exchange market. This might be in support of the war effort (importing essential goods for the military, for example). Another reason would be to evade sanctions. More transactions between more parties makes it harder to tell what's going on. It could also make corruption easier.

    The people who have official approval or connections can buy foreign goods or move money abroad more easily. Meanwhile, ordinary Russians are limited by capital controls, unless they can figure out a way around them.

    (Incidentally, China has had capital controls for many years. I don't know how leaky they are.)

    3 votes
  8. Comment on Apple's Self Repair Program toolkit weighs 79 pounds in ~tech

    skybrian
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    As I understand it, one reason special tools are needed is that newer iPhones are water resistant, up to a six meter depth for 30 minutes for the latest ones. This isn't true of most electronics....

    As I understand it, one reason special tools are needed is that newer iPhones are water resistant, up to a six meter depth for 30 minutes for the latest ones. This isn't true of most electronics. So yeah, repairing a tiny water-resistant electronic device so that it's still water-resistant after it's fixed is going to need special tools. Many people and politicians talking about "right to repair" probably haven't thought about the tradeoffs.

    But I wonder whether everyone really wants their phones to be so water resistant if the tradeoff is being less repairable, and whether people getting broken phones fixed care whether the phone is still water resistant after it's fixed? Some folks would probably be happy just having a working phone again.

    5 votes
  9. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 23-24 in ~news

    skybrian
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    Europe accepts Putin’s demands on gas payments to avoid more shut-offs (Washington Post) [...] [...] Someone has to trade euros for rubles and I guess the idea is that Gazprombank is it. It's not...

    Europe accepts Putin’s demands on gas payments to avoid more shut-offs (Washington Post)

    The system, which involves the creation of two accounts at Gazprombank, enables Europe to say it is technically paying for natural gas in euros, while Russia can say it is receiving payment in rubles — a requirement Putin imposed on “unfriendly” nations.

    [...]

    Under the new billing system, gas payments will continue to be invoiced and sent in euros. The noteworthy change is that Russia will then take the money from the European energy company’s euro account, convert the euros into rubles, transfer the money into a special ruble account also belonging to the energy company, and then take the money once and for all.

    “This is a transaction where everybody saves face,” said Alessandro Lanza, a professor at Rome’s LUISS University and a former economist at Eni, Italy’s major energy company.

    [...]

    Someone has to trade euros for rubles and I guess the idea is that Gazprombank is it.

    It's not obvious to me why it matters who does the foreign exchange transaction. If the European company or Russia did the transaction instead of Gazprombank, isn't the economic effect the same? Why does anyone care?

    Is it that Russia can't easily do foreign exchange trading because it's under sanctions? Or do they get worse terms than other traders would?

    4 votes
  10. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 23-24 in ~news

    skybrian
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    Jomani of the West posted an update on the military situation on Twitter (unrolled). There's a lot going on, but it's not looking good along the Donets.

    Jomani of the West posted an update on the military situation on Twitter (unrolled). There's a lot going on, but it's not looking good along the Donets.

    2 votes
  11. Comment on Imagen, a text-to-image diffusion model with an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding in ~tech

    skybrian
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    Incidentally, I got into the midjourney beta on Saturday. It's less capable than DALL-E or this new image generator, but I had fun generating bad but interesting accordion images.

    Incidentally, I got into the midjourney beta on Saturday. It's less capable than DALL-E or this new image generator, but I had fun generating bad but interesting accordion images.

    3 votes
  12. Comment on Imagen, a text-to-image diffusion model with an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding in ~tech

    skybrian
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    Here's the abstract: Do check out the photos.

    Here's the abstract:

    We present Imagen, a text-to-image diffusion model with an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding. Imagen builds on the power of large transformer language models in understanding text and hinges on the strength of diffusion models in high-fidelity image generation. Our key discovery is that generic large language models (e.g. T5), pretrained on text-only corpora, are surprisingly effective at encoding text for image synthesis: increasing the size of the language model in Imagen boosts both sample fidelity and image-text alignment much more than increasing the size of the image diffusion model. Imagen achieves a new state-of-the-art FID score of 7.27 on the COCO dataset, without ever training on COCO, and human raters find Imagen samples to be on par with the COCO data itself in image-text alignment. To assess text-to-image models in greater depth, we introduce DrawBench, a comprehensive and challenging benchmark for text-to-image models. With DrawBench, we compare Imagen with recent methods including VQ-GAN+CLIP, Latent Diffusion Models, and DALL-E 2, and find that human raters prefer Imagen over other models in side-by-side comparisons, both in terms of sample quality and image-text alignment.

    Do check out the photos.

    3 votes
  13. Comment on Weekly coronavirus-related chat, questions, and minor updates - week of May 23 in ~health.coronavirus

    skybrian
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    Here's another look at this week's US statistics. (I skipped last week because I thought Your Local Epidemiologist covered it, and because I'm getting increasingly wary of official statistics.)...

    Here's another look at this week's US statistics. (I skipped last week because I thought Your Local Epidemiologist covered it, and because I'm getting increasingly wary of official statistics.)

    Cases

    Looking at the Washington Post (John Hopkins) statistics, US Cases are up another 21% to 33 per 100k. It's been a steady rise for a month and a half, in which time cases about tripled from the low point. (However, estimates of case counts are much higher. These numbers don't include home tests.)

    At the "state" level, the four places listed as having the highest case rate have an island theme: Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. The places that jump out as increasing a lot are Hawaii, New Hampshire, Washington State, Virginia, and California, which went up 70% to 37 per 100k. (See the LA Times story I posted separately.)

    Hospitalizations

    US up 4% to 7.4 per 100k. This looks about doubled from the low point in early April. East coast states (and Puerto Rico) at the top of the list. New York State down 26% to 11 per 100k. (NYC is rising though.) California +19% to 5.5 per 100k.

    Deaths

    US +4% to 0.093, or 309 per day. It's been pretty steady for more than a month now.

    4 votes
  14. Comment on Weekly coronavirus-related chat, questions, and minor updates - week of May 23 in ~health.coronavirus

    skybrian
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    Coronavirus cases in California rising fast, with some regions seeing infections double (LA Times) [...] [...] Note: that is per week, which makes it seems 7x higher than the 7-day averages I...

    Coronavirus cases in California rising fast, with some regions seeing infections double (LA Times)

    Weekly coronavirus cases roughly doubled across wide swaths of California, including Riverside and Santa Barbara counties, as well as the Central Valley and Silicon Valley. They rose by roughly 85% in Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

    Statewide, the increase was 63%, bringing the case rate to 231 for every 100,000 residents. A rate of 100 and above is considered a high rate of transmission.

    Hospitalization rates, while increasing for the last four weeks, remain low. Hospitals in two of California’s most populous regions, L.A. County and the San Francisco Bay Area, are not under strain, and the rate of new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations has remained at only a fraction of the number seen in New York and some other East Coast cities.

    California officials remain hopeful that a relatively robust effort to get residents to take booster shots plus suggestions to wear masks and get tested frequently can help the state avoid the kind of intense surge those cities have experienced.

    [...]

    The San Francisco Bay Area is currently home to California’s worst coronavirus case rate. The region is likely being hit hard with new infections now because of the “latest supercharged transmissible variant,” whose contagiousness is approaching that of measles, one of the most readily transmitted diseases for humans, Chin-Hong [UC San Francisco] said in a briefing he gave to campus staff Friday.

    Another factor behind the soaring case rates could be that a relatively large number of people in the Bay Area have not been exposed to the coronavirus until this point of the pandemic because of the region’s intensive efforts to keep the virus at bay.

    Dr. Robert Kosnik, director of UC San Francisco’s occupational health program, said at the briefing that he expects coronavirus cases to continue going up for at least the next couple of weeks.

    [...]

    The latest surge has been so disruptive that the Berkeley public school system has “only been able to fill about 50% of our teacher absences with substitute teachers,” the school district said in a statement. That has forced administrators to help out in classrooms.

    Berkeley schools announced Friday a new order to reinstate an indoor mask mandate for students and staff for the remainder of the school year, effective Monday, including indoor graduations.

    UC San Francisco is beginning to require universal masking at all large events with 100 or more attendees.

    San Francisco had the highest case rate this past week of any California county: 460 for every 100,000 residents. The Bay Area overall is reporting 369 cases per 100,000.

    Note: that is per week, which makes it seems 7x higher than the 7-day averages I normally post. We aren't seeing Omicron levels of infections in the official numbers. (On the other hand, keep in mind that estimates of covid infections are far higher - a lot of people are taking home tests, which aren't counted.)

    6 votes
  15. Comment on Can gravity batteries solve our energy storage problems? in ~enviro

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    It seems like to answer this you need to know what the costs will be, and also the costs of the competing energy storage solutions that people will come up with. I think it will be difficult to...

    It seems like to answer this you need to know what the costs will be, and also the costs of the competing energy storage solutions that people will come up with. I think it will be difficult to pick the winners.

    2 votes
  16. Comment on Weekly coronavirus-related chat, questions, and minor updates - week of May 16 in ~health.coronavirus

    skybrian
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    CDC urges older Americans to get Covid booster shots as hospitalizations soar again (CNBC) [...] [...]

    CDC urges older Americans to get Covid booster shots as hospitalizations soar again (CNBC)

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week urged older Americans to get a Covid booster shot to increase their protection against the virus amid another surge in hospitalizations, particularly among those 70 and older.

    “Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a steep and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told the public health agency’s committee of independent vaccine experts during a public meeting on Thursday.

    Only 43% of people ages 65 and older have received a vaccine dose in the past six months and just 38% of people ages 50 to 64 have done so, Walensky said.

    [...]

    Walensky said people ages 50 and older should get a fourth Covid shot, and those 12 and older with weak immune systems should get a fifth shot.

    [...]

    Hospitalizations have increased 25% among those 70 and older over the past week, with more than 1,500 people in the age group admitted with Covid per day on average as of Tuesday, according to CDC data. The U.S. is reporting more than 100,000 new Covid infections per day on average, an 18% increase over the week prior, as more transmissible omicron variants weep the U.S.

    2 votes
  17. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 20-22 in ~news

    skybrian
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    Notes on Ukraine (Matt Lakeman) A long blog post. The first part is a somewhat interesting travel story showing what it was like to be a tourist in Ukraine. The author gets into mild amounts of...

    Notes on Ukraine (Matt Lakeman)

    A long blog post. The first part is a somewhat interesting travel story showing what it was like to be a tourist in Ukraine. The author gets into mild amounts of trouble from taking pictures and briefly getting too close to the front.

    The second part is very ordinary commentary on the war, giving background we are likely all familiar with by now. It could probably be skipped.

    The third part has anecdotes about how everything went wrong with the foreign legion, based on talking to people who quit.

    2 votes
  18. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 20-22 in ~news

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I’m wondering what you think of when you say “culture” and “sense of culture.” Do you mean the arts? Entertainment? Certainly there is lots of old Russian music and classic literature, famous...

    I’m wondering what you think of when you say “culture” and “sense of culture.” Do you mean the arts? Entertainment?

    Certainly there is lots of old Russian music and classic literature, famous around the world. But this is more of an academic interest, so maybe there are a lot of people who don’t know or care about these things?

    2 votes
  19. Comment on Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 20-22 in ~news

    skybrian
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    I don't know if what happens on Reddit is all that reflective of what happens offline, but it seems like a warning sign.

    I don't know if what happens on Reddit is all that reflective of what happens offline, but it seems like a warning sign.

    2 votes