Our World In 80,000 Hours

I usually don't consider myself a "fan" of anything, but when it comes to the work of @MaxCRoser at Our World in Data, and @robertwiblin as an interviewer, the term applies quite well.

So imagine what a treat for my ears the podcast with them both has been! Lots of background on one of the best sites on the interwebs. If you know it only for its statistics about the CoVid19-pandemic, make sure to check out their other topics as well!


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Disk Magic

A while back, my installation of HomeAssistant broke down and that caused some minor inconveniences, like lamp switches no longer working. Nevertheless, I only this week looked into what happened and whether I could recover the setup. The pairing of the lamps and switches is not something that one wants to repeat unnecessarily.

The most likely cause turned out to be it: The microSD-card in the RaspberryPi4 broke. They are known to do that, unfortunately. So I bought a new one, pulled an image from the old card and after a bit of fiddling, I was able to restore a snapshot that I had taken not long ago. All good.

I bought an additional microSD out of concern for the same thing happening to the other RasPi, the one that runs this very website.

ssh berr "dd if=/dev/mmcblk0" > berry.img
losetup --find --show -P berry.img

I had not known about the option -P before and it is exactly what I needed in this case: additional device files for the partitions within the disk image, not just a loop device for the iamge itself. So I could go on and check the filesystems' integrity:

fsck.vfat /dev/loop25p1
e2fsck -f /dev/loop25p2

Not surprisingly, there were several errors to be fixed in the main partition. After all, I was pulling the image from a running system that was continuously writing logs and stuff to the disk.

Then I tried to write the image to the new microSD-card.

dd if=berry.img of=/dev/mmcblk0 bs=2048

But this did not work because the new card was slightly smaller than the old one. Apparently 32GB are not what they used to be. Annoying!

So I had to figure out the number of sectors that remained on the new card for the Ext4-filesystem.

cfdisk /dev/loop25
cfdisk /dev/mmcblk0 # compare numbers in cfdisk
resize2fs /dev/loop25p2 61083647s
losetup --detach /dev/loop25
dd if=berry.img of=/dev/mmcblk0 bs=2048

Take out the card and re-insert.

fsck.ext4 /dev/mmcblk0p2 # passes the test now!
cfdisk /dev/mmcblk0 # mark first partition as bootable

And that's it. I did not test whether the card actually boots up because it would cause unnecessary downtime. I am reasonably confident it will work, should the need arise.

I quite enjoyed this whole small exercise. It had been a while and one always learns something new in the process.


What's Good For You

Song lyrics rarely stick with me, but this sentence from Ane Brun's Do you remember always has:

Do you remember when we forgot
How to smile at each other
To believe that the other
Wants only what's good for you

Genuine goodwill is probably an essential ingredient for lasting friendships and relationships. And it is not even that hard to muster once one is aware of it and decides that this is the right attitude to take.


Alias Nano=Vim

Some long time ago, probably around 2005, I got convinced that I should use vi for quick edits in the terminal, instead of nano which I had been using for this purpose, for historical reasons.

So I added this simple line to my .bash_aliases:

alias nano='vim'

And to this day I type nano when I just quickly want to edit a file, just out of muscle memory, and I would be very surprised if I would end up in actual nano, not vim.


Home Sweet


A fresh drone picture of our little oasis in the forest.

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The latest video by Kurzgesagt is about the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs, and is brilliant as usual. This frame made me pause and ponder on a side-track:


Doesn't the Burj Khalifa tower look surprisingly large compared to mount everest? It isn't even a fair picture, because the mountain does not rise 8.8km out of the ocean, but "only" about 3.5km above the surrounding valleys.

Thus, climbing Burj Khalifa (which is a thing people do) just five times is the same height as climbing Everest from base camp. Disregarding the lack of oxygen at high altitudes and that the tower is much steeper.

Human-made structures start to approach the size of mountains, pointing up, not only down.


Who Gets To Decide?

Once more concerning the lab leak hypothesis for the origin of COVID19, I thought aloud the other day:


In a similar vein, but more pithy, I saw a tweet that I cannot seem to find any more, but was close to:

Letting scientists that work on gain-of-function research decide whether or not it is worth the risk is like letting the oil industry decide over climate change policy.

While I would not put it as strongly myself, I think the point is valid. The stakes are too high and eventualities too hard to judge for individual research groups or even funding agencies.

Which is why I am happy to note that this kind of discussion is being had within the field, an example being this conversation.

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Another quote from yesterday's podcast:

I do often get the sense that there is a wide sense of malaise about future human potential, whether humanity itself is even a good thing, within wider culture. And again, this is purely anecdotal. It’s not based on any kind of data, but responses to articles that I write online where there’s a comment section, it’s often people saying, “Oh, extinction would be good.”

I have encountered this too, and it drives me nuts! The naturalistic fallacy in action. Maybe there is something to this analogy, as an explanation for this attitude:

Humanity is kind of in this almost adolescent phase, where it has for the first time realized that it can wreak consequences on the world. And by necessity, therefore wreak good as well as bad. And I think you can analogize it to this juvenile state of mind I’m sure everyone’s gone through, when you first become aware of the responsibility of your own actions and you do something really awful. And then maybe you feel really dejected and really awful about yourself and you feel that maybe it would be better off if you weren’t around.

Let's all grow up together, shan't we? And become responsible stewards of our planet, and beyond.

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Old Ideas

This interview is extremely fun to listen to. They discuss historic views of how people thought the world worked, and how that got changed over the centures. Lots of fun and wacky ideas, like fossils being rock that tries to become animal!

And the meta-question:

When you’re studying the way that people very far in the past conceived of the world, what they thought about the natural sciences, you just constantly encounter ideas that seem very misguided, kind of batty from our modern point of view. And I think people go in different directions in their aesthetic about how to react to this. Like one strain of thought is that this just shows how hard it is for humans to reason at all. It shows the fallibility of our ability to make sense of the world. And so it should make us extremely humble, and we shouldn’t dismiss the way that they thought about things because we will probably be just as mistaken as they were by the lights of people in the future.

I think another take you might have — which is, I think, less fashionable, but it’s my instinct perhaps because of my personality — is to say, wow, they just thought really stupid stuff. I can’t believe how misguided they were. And I understand how they got there. And if you send me back in time, I would be just as misguided. Absolutely. But nonetheless, this just shows how much progress we’ve made, and how much better we are at figuring things out today.

I am with Rob here, in that we should not have false humility and assume that we are as wrong as our ancestors. We clearly have made progress and can explain the world better than ever before today.

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Before & After


Putting the axe into the right spot and then hitting it with a sledgehammer turns out to work nicely for splitting larger logs. Small ones are easier to just chop.