Annotate the Web: March 2016

I use Genius to add comments and context to the articles I read. This is a monthly round-up of articles I did the most Genius-ing on. To see all my annotations, follow me on Genius!

If you like to think while you read, you should get an account and add the Chrome extension. The Internet needs thoughtful people like you!

(Also, without the extension, you may not see the annotations on these articles.)


Articles of Note

80 years ago, Harvard had a “Jewish quota”. They used rhetoric about “character” to limit the number of Jews they admitted, in favor of students who weren’t as book-smart but fit the Harvard ideal. Today, the same thing is happening to Asians, for the same reasons.

Controlling for other variables […] Asians need SAT scores 140 points higher than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics, and an incredible 450 points higher than blacks (out of 1,600 points) to get into these schools. 

If you want to see some ridiculously offensive statements from MIT’s Dean of Admissions, this is the article for you!


Do attractive strangers friend you on Facebook? They may be fake people built in the Philippines.

It seems impossible that Facebook, with its army of elite coders and multibillion-dollar war chest, won’t eventually crush Braggs. The company knows his real name. It barrages his inboxes with cease-and-desist orders. But he’s hopeful. “Every system is made by humans,” Braggs told me, “so there is always a way to beat it.”

This pretends to be an article about technology, but it’s really the story of an entrepreneur who built a strange, parasitic business — and who I want to root for anyway.


Do you plan to vote this November? Do you see voting as your responsibility — something any informed person ought to do? One data scientist wants to prove you wrong.

Did you just seriously compare lotteries to voting?

Yes, and it’s a little unfair. Lotteries aren’t so bad, and people aren’t as delusional about them.

This November, I’ll be living in a state with no chance of not being blue. I hope to strike up an agreement with someone not to vote if they don’t, assuming that our votes would cancel out.


2015 was the year that the world began to understand the risks of building machines more intelligent than ourselves. Few saw this coming sooner than Eliezer Yudkowsky. He has no formal education, and he isn’t right about everything, but he’s an intensely interesting thinker. This is his best interview that I’ve seen.

I don’t think we should ignore a problem we’ll predictably have to panic about later. The mission of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute is to do today that research which, 30 years from now, people will desperately wish had begun 30 years earlier.

If you enjoyed this interview, you’d likely also enjoy Yudkowsky’s collection of essays and/or his Harry Potter fanfiction. (I’m completely serious.)


Worried about climate change? Pretty good at math or computers? Bret Victor wants you to join humanity’s war to stop the world from becoming very hot and wet and inhospitable to life.

Climate change is the problem of our time, it’s everyone’s problem, and most of our problem-solvers are assuming that someone else will solve it.

From the writing to the design to the sheer scope of Victor’s ideas, this is superior to anything else I’ve read about climate change. I can’t adequately describe it without sounding insane. (The words turn into math!)

I take after Bjorn Lomborg, and climate change isn’t my favorite existential risk, but this essay is still one of the best things I’ve read in 2016.


Unrelated quote of the month:

On the penis of Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States:

He early became fabled for a Rabelaisian earthiness, urinating in the parking lot of the House Office Building as the urge took him; if a colleague came into a Capitol bathroom as he was finishing at the urinal there, he would sometimes swing around still holding his member, which he liked to call “Jumbo,” hooting once, “Have you ever seen anything as big as this?,” and shaking it in almost a brandishing manner as he began discoursing about some pending legislation.

Times really have changed, haven’t they?

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