What size are national legislatures?

Introduction The other day, I came across something called the “cube root rule”, which is a proposed reform to the size of the U.S. House of Representative. Since 1913, the size of the U.S. House has remained constant at 435 seats (except for a few years when two seats were temporarily added to accommodate the addition of Alaska and Hawaii). Under the cube root rule, the size of the U.

On (not) voting at a polling place

Because of the potential for COVID-19 to disrupt elections this fall, mail voting is getting a lot of attention. It’s not a good idea to make people choose between their safety and exercising the franchise. I grew up in Oregon, and spent the first decade of my adult life there, but now I have spent more of my adult life living outside Oregon than within it. Since moving from Oregon, I have shed many of my Oregonian habits: I have become used to pumping my own gas.

Giving up Celsius

When I was in elementary school, I came across a series of books in the school library about the metric system. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I do remember reading each of them and falling in love with the measurement system used by almost every country in the world other than my own. The advantages of the metric system, especially ease of conversion between units, are well-known, and I won’t belabor them here.

Bugs in the iOS calendar app

Stand-up mathematician1 Matt Parker found some interesting bugs in the iOS calendar app: I encourage you to watch the video, but the short summary is that if you scroll back far enough (centuries) in the year view of the iOS Calendar app, the year labels and some months disappear. I reproduced this bug on my iPhone: My iPhone’s calendar app year view for 1582 is messed up.

Repository of files related to the NYT COVID-19 dataset

I’ve created a GitHub repository based on the New York Times’ COVID-19 database. The New York Times has been compiling COVID-19 data from various state health departments. They have published the data as a GitHub repository. There are two files of interest in their repository: us-states.csv and us-counties.csv. In these CSV files, each row represents the number of (confirmed) cases and deaths in a particular geographical area as of a particular date.

What I believe

I strongly believe: Diversity enriches a society. Immigrants enrich a society. Minnesota is a better state because of the refugees who have made it their home. The Somali community’s presence in Minnesota is worth celebrating. The ideologies that pose the greatest danger to America are white nationalism and toxic masculinity. Anyone who seeks political power by demonizing immigrants and minorities is not fit to hold office.

Book recommendation: Palaces for the people

In Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, sociologist Eric Klinenberg discusses the role of social infrastructure in maintaining the health of a community and its people. Klinenberg argues that well-designed social infrastructure can help reduce crime, improve people’s lives, bring different people into contact with one-another, and even protect lives during natural disasters. He examines a variety of social infrastructures, including libraries, public housing courtyards, schools, barbershops, bookstores, and community gardens.

Consequences of YouTube's algorithm

As a follow-up to the previous post, consider this video by science educator Derek Muller, recently posted to his YouTube channel Veritasium: In the video, Muller explains why he thinks a previous video, about the use of shade balls in a Los Angeles-area reservoir, went viral. Basically, he explains, when deciding which videos to promote, YouTube’s algorithm seems to be attempting to maximize two outcomes: Watch time: How long the user will spend watching the video Click-through rate: How likely the user will click that particular thumbnail when it’s displayed As a result, Muller says that going forward, he will:

Life in the time of paperclip maximizers

In an influential 2003 essay, philosopher Nick Bostrom explored the ethical implications of developing a “superintelligence”, that is, an “intellect that is vastly outperforms the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom, and social skills.” He argued that any such intelligence should be given “philanthropic values”, and designed to be ultimately motivated with improving human lives. Without such a “supergoal of philanthropy”, a superintelligence could be dangerous.