Unfogged Mobile

Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 01.15.19

This is kind of neat: type in your address, and see where your home has been over the past 750 million years.

(It's part of a larger dinosaur site. I randomly clicked on the Carnotaurus and learned:

Carnotaurus has the smallest forelimbs of all theropods, smaller even than those of the notoriously small-armed Tyrannorsaurus Rex. It is thought that the arms may have been entirely vestigial, serving no practical function, unlike the T. Rex's arms, which are now suspected to have been functional.

along with maybe 20 different artist renderings, with some really silly flappy forearms in some of them.)

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A proposal
Posted by Ben on 01.14.19

A browser plugin that detects when you're signing up for a service whose TOS includes mandatory arbitration, collects an electronic signature and programmatically send in a letter opting out.

Alternatively, a law requiring that anything you can opt out of in the TOS be presented to you as an option at the time of of agreeing to the TOS, which would bar provisions that can be agreed to electronically but only disagreed to telephonically or postally.

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Guest Post - "Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?"
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 01.14.19

Minivet writes: While a lot of the content is interesting and useful - sun exposure has huge health benefits and vitamin D was promoted because it's an intermediate result, but not a cause, of that positive effect - the title and some of the content wrongly implies sunscreen is unnecessary and even harmful. For example, it spends a couple of paragraphs talking about problems with older formulations, labeling, and some problematic ingredients - the title having set the reader up for an indictment across the board.

But the official Australian guidelines it references recommend (a) no sunscreen in winter months or when UV<3, (b) make sure to get regular unprotected sun exposure including a few minutes a day in high summer, and finally (c) do protect yourself with clothes/sunscreen the rest of the time, just not all of the time. It relays (a) and (b) but not (c).

And when it leaves that distorted an impression, one does have to wonder about how well it's conveying the state of the research.

However, I have now downloaded a UV index app, as potential better guidance.

Heebie's take: "The New Margarine" isn't the right reference point - this feels much more like the opening gambit in the sugar vs fat wars of the past 20 years. As in, trying to up-end a much bigger doctrine than just whether butter or margarine is more natural.

The idea is basically that dermatologists have thrown the baby out with the bathwater:

When you spend much of your day treating patients with terrible melanomas, it's natural to focus on preventing them, but you need to keep the big picture in mind. Orthopedic surgeons, after all, don't advise their patients to avoid exercise in order to reduce the risk of knee injuries.

It sounds like, psychologically, one of those misleading situations that Thinking Fast & Slow loves: a very clearcut causality that accounts for a few, clear deaths taking priority over a large, amorphous, diffuse causality that is one factor affecting a huge number of deaths. It's so much harder to articulate the latter that it's easy to prioritize the former, especially when it's your area of expertise.

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The best rendition of any ABBA song ever
Posted by Ben on 01.13.19

may be found here.

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Guest Post: Weekend Longread
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 01.13.19

Mossy Character writes: The "Green Great Wall". I'm all in favor of the high-modernist mastery-of-nature thing, but maybe if they hadn't planted a billion pine trees on the Gobi aquifer they wouldn't need the South-North transfer so much? Also mordantly heartening as a suggestion of the volume of semi-random Soviet shit the PRC still has rattling around under the hood.

Heebie's take:

Duolun's afforestation project is just a tiny sliver of a project of bedazzling scale unfolding across the country. China is building a new Great Wall - this one aimed not at repelling invading Mongols, but a more insidious menace from the northern drylands. This wall is being built not of stone but of trees - billions of trees, enough to stretch nearly the distance from San Francisco to Boston. Its purpose: to push back China's vast deserts.
The project, officially dubbed the Green Great Wall, was launched in 1978, and is slated to continue until 2050. It aims to plant some 88 million acres of protective forests, in a belt nearly 3,000 miles long and as wide as 900 miles in places. Prompted by China's ever-worsening environmental conditions, the government has added a handful of other major afforestation projects in more recent years. It all adds up to what is easily the biggest tree-planting project in human history.
It's heartening to see a nation famous for its warp-speed industrialisation and world-beating levels of pollution undertaking such a colossal effort to make their nation green. But many scientists in China and abroad say the actual results are unimpressive at best and disastrous at worst.
Many of the trees, planted in areas where they don't grow naturally, simply die after a few years. Those that survive can soak up so much precious groundwater that native grasses and shrubs die of thirst, causing more soil degradation. Meanwhile, the government has forced thousands of farmers and herdsmen to leave their lands to make way for the desert-fighting projects [...]
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