Tagged with podcast

Are Stars Alive?

The other day over lunch we half-jokingly talked about whether or not stars are alive. A colloquialism among astronomers is that a star is "dead" when there is no more nuclear fusion, so stars in the late stages of their evolution are "dying". Some smartass took the metaphor literally and pointed out that stars are always dead, never alive. But are they, really? they asked in return.

Now, the gut reaction is, of course, that stars are not alive. They are described quite well by physics alone, with a little bit of inorganic chemistry. But one should always question one's own intuitions and stars after all do have metabolism, a life-cycle and are "born" in generations. They do not reproduce directly, but by enriching the interstellar medium with they fusion products, thereby influencing the next generation of stars. Stretching the analogy, one could say that stars that fail in doing this (for example stars that collapse into a black hole without supernova explosion) have "failed to reproduce" in an evolutionary sense.

At the time I could not quite articulate why it still felt wrong to me to call stars alive, and I did not want to argue by some outdated list of strict criteria, vaguely remembering that the definition of life does not have such a clear-cut answer as one would like.

Luckily one the podcats I listen to just answered it for me: Sean Carroll interviewing Sara Imari Walker on Information and the Origin of Life .

They don't talk about stars, but connecting life to information processing was what had slipped my mind over lunch that day. I will not reiterate it here but highly recommend to listen for yourself, or read the transcript on that same page.

A highlight for me was this section:

There is something about intelligence as a physical process that’s quite different. If you just had physics and chemistry and no biology, no organisms, no evolutionary history acquiring info§rmation, you would never see a planet launching satellites into space.

What’s interesting to me is what can happen causally in the Universe. And I think there’s a lot of processes that can happen, but just don’t. And that what biology does is it somehow can cause things to happen that wouldn’t happen outside of the kind of process that biology is. And so, I think there is a deep connection actually between information and causation.

(Slightly edited and condensed by me.)

Another take-away message is that "life" or "no life" is not necessarily a binary decision, but a continuum. Things can be less alive than others. I think this maps nicely onto consciousness. It's not that there is some moment when "the lights turn on" but a scale with some beings haveing more of it than others.

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Call me old-fashioned. but I prefer RSS-feeds to any other way of reading the web. An open, de-centralized and automatic way of gathering the latest things from various sources, and presenting them in a consistent, ad-free and readable formatting of my own choice, without generating a shit-load of metadata for some platform - what more is there to want?

In recent years, I've been running Tiny Tiny RSS on a small rented v-server and it does the job. There is an App as well.

The one area where RSS has not fallen out of fashion yet, are podcasts. I sure hope that the diverse landscape of content and players (I use DoggCatcher) does not fall prey to the lures of platformization any time soon.

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A few things I just read, watched or listened to, and found well worth the time.

Arsenic and Old Lace, a 1944 dark comedy with Cary Grant.

A Blogging Style Guide, entertaining.

I still recommend you go read Simler & Hanson's Elephant in the Brain. Another review.

Scott Alexander reviews a book about the mind and points toward Global Workspace Theory, which makes quite a bit of intuitive sense to me.

The latest Sam Harris podcast with Deeyah Khan is definitely one of his best conversations to date. On how neo-nazis and jihadists are similar, and how we need to do better in treating them, among other things.

Does money make you mean? Yes, it does.

Gollum Brexit. Brilliant!

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Marginal Revolution

As probably the last person on the internet, I started reading economist Tyler Cowen's blog Marginal Revolution a little while ago. It is as worthwhile as everybody says. Also, his Conversations make a good addition to your podcast player, with quite an illustrious list of guests.

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Listening: VBW 153

At the gym earlier today I listen to the latest episode of Very Bad Wizards. I was slightly disapppointed that neither of them knew what a Klein bottle is, but I liked the update on the replication crisis in psychology (from 42:30 onward).

Retraction watch, @retractionwatch

While I certainly approve of drunk podcasting, the converstation between Tamler and his step-mother was a bit too inhoherent. The portrayed craziness on US campuses seems quite remote from a Swedish perspective, but usually Europe just lags behind and soon follows suit...

I listened to the full back-log of Very Bad Wizads during this summer's gardening and home improvement projects. Rarely did I need to skip an episode, so if you like the genre of "two dudes talking" and are even slightly interested in psychology and philosophy, give David and Tamler a chance.

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Why social media are manipulative


I'm listening through the back-log of Sam Harris' podcast for a while and today it was time for Episode #71 on the fight for time and attention, which I found very enlightening.

We've all had mixed feelings about social media and other technologies that are optimized to gain and keep our attention, so I found it helpful to get some vocabulary for thinking better about this topic. I won't summarize it here, go listen to it!

If not, then one take-away message certainly is:

Technology is not neutral!

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Homebrewing at Kolbäck

Dark Ale #6

In November last year, two colleagues and I happened to talk over lunch about home-brewing beer; a few days later packages with equipment arrived at our door-steps. None of us had any real experience and I only vaguely remembered a good podcast (CRE 194, in German) on the subject. But how hard could it be?

So we read a few websites and ended up following the beginner's instructions at brauanleitung.de. Our equipment is for the standard homebrewers' batch size of ~20 liters (5 gallons), meaning a big pot, two plastic buckets, one for filtration, one for fermenting; a few hoses and connectors, plus the actual ingredients for our batch #1: a single hop and single (Pilsner) malt for a German-style "Altbier", that is a light ale like they were made before Lagers became popular.

The result was good. Not the most amazing beer ever (partly because we were impatient and did not give it enough time from bottle fermentation to drinking), but definitely good enough to continue! I will link below to the GoogleDocs that we used for keeping our logs; these are in a varying mix of three languages (Swe/Ger/Eng) since we all know them to some degree and gathered recipes and information this way. But fellow brewers should be possible to read the recipes anyway.

Our #2 was an Irish Red Ale. This was a big step up, following a proper recipe with four times as many ingredients as our #1. We thought it would fit nicely as a Christmas beer, and it sure did. Very malty, not much hops, almost sweet because of the liquid yeast with lower attenuation.

The Brown Ale #3 came into being through me just taking some remaining ingredients from the previous two batches. It turned out quite all right, more bitter and hoppy than #2, less malty.

Next we wanted to try a Lager, since our closet in wintertime holds a temperature of 10-12 C, perfect for bottom-fermentation. So #4 became a Helles, that is a Munich-style light lager and it went really well. Clear, great color and taste, better than the average commercial Helles I tried at the time in Munich.

Continuing in the same line, our #5 is a Pilsner. Quite happy with that one as well, on the upper end of hop and bitterness for my liking, but far from any of the trendy IPAs that go berserk on the hops. The dry yeast settled better in the bottle than the one we had for #4, so it it easier to pour clear into the glass.

For #6 we went for a Dark Ale that has some torrefied maize among the ingredients. It makes for a fantastic foam, but maybe we overdid the carbonation a little because it foams by itself when opening a bottle, and the sediment gets torn up and mixed. Fortunately it settles quickly in the glass after pouring. Another very pleasant malty ale!

#7 is Copper Cascade, another Lager, reddish this time, probably the last for this winter. This batch is about to be bottled, so no verdict on the outcome yet.

Overall the above means that I now have a little stash at home to enjoy whenever I feel like it, which is very luxurious. We have some routine in brewing and bottling now, no screw-ups yet, it is still fun and considering Swedish prices on beer, our small investment in the beginning has already more than paid for itself. We will therefore continue, maybe at a slightly slower pace than recently. Next in line are a Bavarian wheat beer and an IPA. The malts and hops are already on the way.

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