The Magnificent Archive

Mag7 goes out every Sunday at 0700 GMT/BST and contains seven things that elicited a “Whoa!”, a “Wow!”, a “Huh?” or a “Hmmm” from me—mostly text-intensive items like books, articles, blog posts or essays; sometimes projects, graphics, ideas, excerpts, videos, songs, tools, artists, art, creators, software, hardware.

Below is an archive of all main content from all previous issues.


The Magnificent Seven #115: Why monsters are dangerous – 02/10/22

by Olivier Morin, Oleg Sobchuk

Quote: “Monsters and other imaginary animals have been conjured up by a wide range of cultures. Can their popularity be explained, and can their properties be predicted? These were long-standing questions for structuralist or cognitive anthropology, as well as literary studies and cultural evolution. The task is to solve the puzzle raised by the popularity of extraordinary imaginary animals, and to explain some cross-cultural regularities that such animals present—traits like hybridity or dangerousness. The standard approach to this question was to first investigate how human imagination deals with actually existing animals. Structuralist theory held that some animals are particularly”good to think with”. According to Mary Douglas’s influential hypothesis, this was chiefly true of animals that disrupt intuitive classifications of species—the “monsters-as-anomalies” account. But this hypothesis is problematic, as ethnobiology shows that folk classifications of biological species are so plastic that classificatory anomalies can be disregarded. This led cognitive anthropologists to propose alternative versions of the “monsters as anomalies” account. Parallel to this, a second account of monsters—“monsters-as-predators”—starts from the importance of predator detection to our past survival and reproduction, and argues that dangerous features make animals “good to think with”, and should be over-represented in imaginary animals. This paper argues that both accounts understand something about monsters that the other account cannot explain. We propose a synthesis of these two accounts, which attempts to explain why the two most characteristic aspects of monsters, anomalousness and predatoriness, tend to go together.”

by Venkatesh Rao

Quote: “If you and I are merely “intelligent,” “intentional,” and “capable,” hyperanthropomorphic projection imagines entities that are “superintelligent” and capable of holding “superintentions” that are somewhere between indifferent to hostile to our own, and pursuing them with “supercapability” that we cannot compete with. And so we end up with the problem statement that we have to “align” its “intentions” with our own.

This is dragon-hunting with magic spells based on extrapolating the existence of clouds into the existence of ectoplasm. We’re using two rhyming kinds of philosophical nonsense (one that might plausibly point to something real in our experience of ourselves, and the other something imputed, via extrapolation, to a technological system) to create a theater of fictive agency around made-up problems.

Note that we are not talking about ordinary engineering alignment. If I align the wheels and steering of my car, my “intention” (steering angle) is “aligned” with that of the wheels (turn angle). If I set my home thermostat to a comfortable 68F, I am “aligning” the intentions of that very simple intelligence to my own. Done. Alignment problem solved.

For a steering mechanism to drive wheels, or for a simple PID controller to track a set-point, is a kind of intentionality that is simple enough to not be philosophical nonsense. These are maps that coherently talk about associated territories in useful ways. But clearly this sort of thing is not what the AI scaremongering is about.

The problem arises because of a sort of motte-and-bailey maneuver where people use the same vague terms (like “intention”) to talk about thermostats, paperclip maximizers, and inscrutable god intelligences that are perhaps optimizing some 9321189-dimensional complex utility function that is beyond our puny brains to appreciate.”

by Richard Moss

Quote: “The future looks uncertain for the real-time strategy genre. There’s still a lot of interest, but it’s hard to gauge how much traction a great new game would get. StarCraft II and Age of Empires II are currently the most popular RTS games—the former a refinement on a 19-year-old game and the latter an actual 18-year-old game (with a recent HD update and expansion), while Relic’s Company of Heroes and Dawn of War series continue to have a strong following among RTS players who like a large serving of tactics with their strategy. Would any of these players jump across if something better comes along?

Time will tell, though I can’t say exactly when we’ll actually get another great RTS. At the time of writing, of only several announced upcoming titles, none of which are from major studios, Tooth & Tail looks to be a promising back-to-basics RTS deathmatch with a modern twist; Empires Apart is a self-confessed rehash of Age of Empires; Driftland: The Magic Revival hopes to win you over with a blend of RTS with god games; open source historical RTS 0 A.D. is showing promise but has been in alpha for over a decade; and Chris Taylor is back after a stint with World of Tanks studio Wargaming, doing…uh, something.

I wouldn’t be too quick to discount the genre, though. With PC gaming now stronger than ever, real-time strategy seems primed for the same kind of surprise resurgence that hit adventure games after the rise of Telltale and that has come to city builders since the SimCity (2015) debacle paved the way for Cities: Skylines to rise to the top.”

by Pankaj Mishra

Quote: “After he became President of his country, Havel attacked, in 1997, its “post-communist morass”: an iniquitous capitalist economy that convinced many that “it pays off to lie and to steal; that many politicians and civil servants are corruptible; that political parties—though they all declare honest intentions in lofty words—are covertly manipulated by suspicious financial groupings.” But Havel had long before noticed some manifestly deep similarities between the two rival ideologies and systems of the Cold War; they had provoked him to describe the Cold Warriors who wanted to eradicate Communism as “smashing” the mirror that reminded them of their own moral ugliness. Indeed, Havel predicted in the mid-nineteen-eighties, even as Communism began to totter, that the kind of regime described in Orwell’s “1984” was certain to appear in the West. He warned “the victors” of the Cold War that they would inevitably resemble “their defeated opponents far more than anyone today is willing to admit or able to imagine.”

For Havel, the main question before him was “equally relevant to all”: whether we could succeed in “placing morality above politics and responsibility above our desires, in making human community meaningful, in returning content to human speech, in reconstituting, as the focus of all social action, the autonomous, integral, and dignified human ‘I.’ ” Havel saw the possibility of redemption in a politically active “civil society” (he, in fact, popularized this now-commonplace phrase). The “power of the powerless,” he argued, resides in their capacity to organize themselves and resist “the irrational momentum of anonymous, impersonal, and inhuman power.””

by John Doerr

Quote: “Our aim is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050—and get halfway there by 2030.

The Speed & Scale plan is a pathway toward achieving that ambitious goal. For example, we can cut six billion tons of greenhouse gasses—10 percent of the annual global total—by electrifying transportation. To reach this objective, we’ll need specific actions: replacing diesel buses with electric ones, installing hundreds of thousands of vehicle charging stations, and more.

In confronting this enormous challenge, we must be strategic. What should we do first? What will have the biggest difference? Here’s our shortlist of high-impact actions you can take in 2022.”

by Guan Jie Fung, Cedric Chin

Quote: “Here’s the bad news: we know very little about recovering from burnout. What we do know are two things:

  • Individual interventions don’t work — and by individual interventions we mean interventions while the person continues to be at the workplace that caused the burnout.
  • If you remove yourself from that working environment, you will recover.

Let’s repeat that again, with more force: most studied individual interventions do not work. Mindfulness doesn’t work. Meditation doesn’t work. Qigong doesn’t work. The only thing that works is to remove yourself from the environment that is causing burnout, and then taking the time off to recover. The good news is that recovery is guaranteed. One meta analysis that examined fourteen different burnout intervention studies in 2017 concludes, “burnout is not a stable phenomenon; it diminishes in time and the majority of sufferers continue working.” In other words, once you have removed yourself from the work environment where you got burnt out, it is only a matter of time before you fully recover.”

by Kyle Chayka

Quote: “In 1931, the German cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called “Unpacking My Library,” describing these relationships with cultural objects. In the essay, Benjamin narrates removing his book collection from dusty crates, untouched for years. The volumes are splayed loose on the floor, “not yet touched by the mild boredom of order,” all set to be rearranged on shelves once more. For Benjamin, the very possession of these books formed his identity as a reader, writer, and human being — even if he hadn’t read all of them. They sat proudly on his shelves as symbols, representing the knowledge that he still aspired to gain or the cities he had traveled, where he encountered a book in a previously unknown shop. Collecting books was his way of interacting with the world, of building a worldview.

Benjamin’s library was a personal monument, the same kind that we all construct of things we like or identify with. Its importance was dependent on permanence — collections are made up of things that we own, that don’t go away unless we decide they should. “Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects,” Benjamin wrote. “Not that they have come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.” In other words, we often discover ourselves in what we keep around us. But the progressive relationship, the codependence or co-evolution of collection and person, wouldn’t happen if the order of Benjamin’s shelves and the catalogue of his books kept changing every few months, entirely outside of his control. That’s what Spotify’s interface updates felt like to me: a total disruption of the pieces of art and culture that I identified with.”

The Magnificent Sevent #114: The Montessori Series – 25/09/22

by Samantha Joy

A five part series (onetwothreefourfive) about an alternative approach to childhood education and learning. Quote from the fifth entry: “Though the child is not conscious of his needs or the requirements for adult life, he knows better than the adult what he must do to develop. Adults, whether parents or teachers, must not think they can override the laws of nature by interfering with the child’s work, according to Montessori.

Instead, she urges parents to learn about the child. They must learn that, as she discovered, the child would much rather work than play. He would much rather do a purposeful, intelligent task that requires great effort, than engage himself in aimless, monotonous play. The child who plays is often the child who has been left no other choice, who has been shooed from the kitchen, laundry room, or yard where the parents are working. In place of real work and real tasks, the child is relegated to a pale and unsatisfying mockery of the real world. He has toy kitchens to cook in and toy dolls to care for instead of real food to prepare or real opportunities to care for his needs.

Of course, many of the things the child wants to do look like play to an adult. He is joyful, concentrated, and his task seems to have no outward purpose. He would like to line up pebbles in order. He would like to use a key to lock… unlock…lock a door. He would like to pick up a heavy stool and carry it back and forth across the house.

The conclusion, though, that these tasks are the child’s “play,” i.e. unimportant, purposeless indulgences on the part of the child and therefore can be stopped or interrupted with impunity, is a mistake. It is a failure on the part of the adult to understand the child’s nature and his needs.”

by Nick Sousanis

Quote: “This is a COMPLETE account of EVERYTHING we did in my Making Comics class S2021 – online on Zoom. I do a ton of collaborative activities in in-person classes. That had to be adapted somewhat for the online environment – passing papers from student to student wasn’t particularly practical – so I modified and came up with a lot of new in-class activities using constraints as a way of self-collaboration. Despite the difficulty of the circumstances, this course and the Fall 2020 version prior, came together really well and student work was absolutely outstanding! I get a mix of students who’ve never drawn or made comics before and then those who come with an art background of some sort – all of them did terrific work and grew leaps and bounds. Presented below is a quick summary of what we did each session (though my slide talks and PDFs I made for students are not shared at the moment, you’ll have to imagine…), then the activities we did in class and for homework or larger projects. For each one of those, I’ve compiled student examples that show the range of ways students approached the activity. With some of them, I’ve also included their reflections on the activity – either collected from their online posts or the portfolios they created end of term, where they put together everything they did over the term. I’m showcasing ones that nailed the activity in some way – some because they made amazing comics, others because it showed they learned something with it (And some I chose simply for clarity of the scan of their image).”

by Maria Popova

Quote: “When Gibran’s prophet-protagonist is asked to address the matter of talking, he responds:

  • You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
  • And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
  • And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
  • For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”

I also listened to linked Paul Goodman on the Nine Kinds of Silence and watched the 360-degree “op-doc”, How to Find Silence in a Noisy World.

by Stefano Mammola et al.

Quote: “In the internet era, the digital architecture that keeps us connected and informed may also amplify the spread of misinformation. This problem is gaining global attention, as evidence accumulates that misinformation may interfere with democratic processes and undermine collective responses to environmental and health crises. In an increasingly polluted information ecosystem, understanding the factors underlying the generation and spread of misinformation is becoming a pressing scientific and societal challenge. Here, we studied the global spread of (mis-)information on spiders using a high-resolution global database of online newspaper articles on spider–human interactions, covering stories of spider–human encounters and biting events published from 2010–2020. We found that 47% of articles contained errors and 43% were sensationalist. Moreover, we show that the flow of spider-related news occurs within a highly interconnected global network and provide evidence that sensationalism is a key factor underlying the spread of misinformation.”

by Nick Farr

Quote: ““Disaster Response” presumes that disasters are one-time events, to which response protocols can be applied. For whatever crisis appears, teams of people with training and resources assist in saving lives and easing suffering. Those of us engaged in such work are noticing that disasters are not as discrete as they appear to be. Climate disasters, political disasters, economic disasters and the consequences of old and new means of war are no longer isolated to a time or a place. They are beginning to emerge as a single, continuous event.

This is the Long Disaster. For some, it has always been here. For the rest of us, it is soon to come.

The ideas here have emerged from discussions among responders who rushed into these calamities. We see evidence of this accelerating “forever disaster”, both in the increasing severity of the events as we enter them and the apathy we face towards their ultimate resolution and prevention. Our aim here is not to define conclusively what a Long Disaster Responder is, as much as give a hopeful name and some thought to an evolving concept.”

by Carmela Troncosoe et al.

Quote: “Even the best technology underperforms if not used. Researchers and developers have focused on optimizing the technology by improving measurement accuracy and proposing many variations to the protocol. These alternatives offer different tradeoffs among security, privacy, and device capabilities (for example, battery consumption, sensor usage, and use of devices beyond the phone). However, in the end, no improvement can increase the value of a technology that lacks broad adoption. Achieving this end requires good integration, not only in a technical sense but also with the processes and individuals in the broad environment. The environment of contact-tracing apps is complex, with many stakeholders: governments, public health services and employees, mobile operators, mobile operating systems developers, and, of course, users. In this article, we have discussed the technical integration difficulties arising from the strong dependence of these apps on the operating system and changes by mobile- system developers. However, throughout the world, the principal difficulties confronting these apps arise in procedural and social integration…”

by Marcus Baw

Quote: “…once this very plausible mechanism is in motion for funnelling public cash straight out of the Exchequer into private companies at scale, then it makes no sense at all to privatise the whole NHS.

In fact, the wealth transfer mechanism somewhat relies on the NHS remaining public, since that is what allows governments to justify ongoing spending.

In this scenario the NHS would remain public forever, but internally there would be increasing use of private companies to provide its services. Already this process is well underway and has proceeded over the past 20 years under both red and blue governments (and that weird period when we got a blue one with a faint yellow streak). Services such as portering, catering, cleaning, and laundry are all provided by private companies, although this is at a scale which is barely perceptible compared to the big money contracts that this article talks about.

“But GPs are private companies aren’t they? Aren’t you against that kind of private provision?”

Correct — however I think what I’ve outlined in the preceding article is a completely different type of private company, actually manipulating the levers of government from within, to create spectacular money-making opportunities, and to deliver very little in return.”

The Magnificent Seven #113: Choose Your Table Wisely – 18/09/22

  • Choose Your Table Wisely
    • by Nat Eliason
    • Quote: “In poker, there’s an important concept called “table selection.” Your success is not just determined by how good you are but also by the table you choose to play at.
    • You can’t win as much money if you sit at a table with small blinds. You’ll get cleaned out if you sit at a table with players much better than you. To have the best result, you need to find a table where the stakes are high enough to be worth playing and where you have a chance of winning against the other players.
    • Poker is a fantastic visual for this concept since the results of good or bad table selection are so visceral. But we’re all choosing which table we play at every day of our lives, in almost everything we choose to do.
    • When you compare your car to someone else, you’re sitting down at the “best car” table. When you strive for more Twitter followers, you’re sitting down at the “Twitter influencer” table. When you start a business, you’re sitting down at whatever table is determined by the type of business you’re trying to create.
    • Table selection determines the scope and difficulty of your success. Sometimes you have hyper-competitive tables with low stakes and low potential levels of success. Dropshipping commodity goods on Amazon might be a good example, or competing for $50 freelance writing gigs.
    • Sometimes you have tables with high potential levels of success, massive stakes, and almost no competition. I’ll put Varda in this category. There isn’t much competition yet among space-factory businesses, and if they pull it off, it could be one of the biggest companies in the world. The stakes are very high, though. They could also end up incinerating a ton of money.
    • As a creative, the table you choose to play at is among the most important decisions you can make. You could focus on $50 gig writing, building a productivity blog, or writing the next Harry Potter series. Those are all vastly different tables with vastly different potential outcomes. You better choose carefully.”
  • The Enigma of Peter Thiel
    • by John Ganz
    • Quote: “Peter Thiel believes he belongs to an elite group, often understood in implicitly or explicitly racial terms, that is entitled to set aside democratic governance in favor of pursuing a program of technological progress and national restoration. He believes the political means to accomplish this is through a charismatic leader with manipulative, populist appeals to past national glory and against parasitic immigrants and culturally decadent liberalism. For him, even the most milquetoast, reformist liberalism is “tantamount to communism.” He’s obsessed with romanticized fantasies of absolute power, domination, and control. He dreams of wielding the the national security state against enemies both foreign and domestic. He envisioned a kind of imperialist world-state controlled not through deliberative bodies like the U.N. but directly by the intelligence and secret police bureaus. He combines the ideology of white collar, petit-bourgeois intermediary class with its emphases direct management techniques and closely-held ownership with the grandiose, world-spanning designs of an industrial titan. There’s really no contradiction within Peter Thiel’s politics, they are quite consistent. He’s just realized, more clearly than his opponents often, that there’s ultimately a contradiction between the rule of capital and democracy, and the way to deal with this contradiction, as far as he’s concerned, is to do away with democracy.”
  • How I Attained Persistent Self-Love, or, I Demand Deep Okayness For Everyone
    • by Sasha Chapin
    • Quote: “Deep Okayness is not the feeling that I am awesome all the time. Instead, it is the total banishment of self-loathing. It is the deactivation of the part of my mind that used to attack itself. It’s the closure of the self as an attack surface. It’s the intuitive understanding that I am merely one of the apertures through which the universe expresses itself, so why would I hate that? It’s the sense that, while I might fuck up, my basic worth is beyond question—I have no essential damage, I am not polluted, I am fine.
    • I have never felt better. And it’s only now that I’m aware of how much time I wasted despising myself, even when I was most functional. It was a lot of time.
    • The way I attained Deep Okayness has nothing to do with what normally happens in a therapist’s office. And that is of concern to me. Deep Okayness should be commonplace. We ought to make this possible for as many people as possible. I stumbled upon the possibility accidentally and pursued it haphazardly, and that’s very nice for me, but that simply will not do. If everyone had this, it would be a major advancement of the human project. It would be the mental health equivalent of the wide availability of penicillin.”
  • The political economy of agroecology
    • by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
    • Quote: “Apart from the immediate gains summarized in this article, there some other, politically highly relevant messages contained in, and articulated by, these gains. The first of these is that it is clearly shown that the organization of farming does not need to be scripted by the requirements of capital. Indeed it can be organized in a way that it is antithetical to those interests. The organization and development of farms and farming does not need to follow the trajectory of scale-enlargement, technology-driven intensification and specialization. The negative externalities that accompany this trajectory – such as the degradation of landscapes, the destruction of biodiversity, increased CO2 emissions, the weakening of regional rural economies and many more, are not inevitable. On the contrary: the oppositional trajectory based upon agroecology (or farming economically and/or closed-cycle agriculture, as it is known in the NFW) can deliver a range of positive externalities and simultaneously generate incomes that are significantly better than those that result from the application of capital’s script. At this stage, this possibly is the most important contribution of agroecology: It is a permanent, material and highly visible critique of the logic of capital and it shows that the world is definitely better off when capital’s control over the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food is reduced. This applies especially since agroecology is a return to the local and to heterogeneity. Both are at odds with standardized, generic regulation and centralized control. Agroecology is, in this respect, a comprehensive and convincing critique that speaks through successfully applying alternative practices and obtaining results that show that agroecology performs better. When this critique materializes, and is articulated, at the territorial level (as in the case of the NFW) it constitutes a ‘space of opposition’ – a bulwark that is simultaneously defensive and offensive: defensive in that it is able to keep rigid regulation and extreme draining at arms’ length and offensive in that it offers the protection that new progressive movements need to develop. Thus, the bulwark becomes a space of, and for, permanent socio-political struggle, whilst showing to the outside world that such struggles are not in vain.
  • How Big Tech Runs Tech Projects and the Curious Absence of Scrum
    • by Gergely Orosz
    • Quote: “Scrum got in the way of shipping on a daily basis. The whole idea of Scrum revolves around Sprints, of committing to tasks at the beginning of the sprint, working on these during the sprint, and demoing what we did at the end.
    • The process felt unnatural and like it had been forced on a fast-moving web team. We soon moved to a more fluid way of working, taking the Kanban approach. We stopped caring about sprints, and dropped most rituals that come with Scrum. We just cared about knowing what we’re working on now, and what it was we’d get done next.
    • Infrastructure and developer tooling removed the need for many Scrum rituals. Scrum rituals like demoing to the Product Owner, signing off the work and then shipping it, assumes a few things:
      • That the Product Owner is the one who can with certainty validate the work as done to spec.
      • That the Product Owner wrote the spec- because they are validating it.
      • That the work is not being shipped to production before the signoff is done.
    • However, in our environment, these assumptions were often flawed. All code we wrote was tested with unit tests and, where needed, with integration and end-to-end tests. We shipped our code behind feature flags, and validated them with staged rollouts, starting with a rollout to the team. A lot of the “specs” – or tickets – were also written by engineers, who could then validate if they worked as expected. CI/CD, feature flags and experimentation tooling allowed us to have faster feedback cycles than relying on a Product Owner.
    • Much of Big Tech has recognized how first-class infrastructure and developer tooling make a big difference to the productivity for engineering teams. This is why 30-40% of engineering often works on platform teams and is why Uber invested heavily in platform teams. With first-class infrastructure and platforms ready to use, teams can focus on their core work goals, over figuring out how to set up infrastructure, or how to make a service compliant.”
  • Ludovico Einaudi: Tiny Desk Concert
    • by NPR, Ludovico Einaudi
    • Yes, I have only now become aware of the Tiny Desk Concerts. Quote: “It’s that relatable feeling — like we’re treading water trying to remain above the surface, powering through the adversity of the last two years — that makes Einaudi’s music so emotional and reflective. The pulsating strings of the opening song to his Tiny Desk concert, the track “Experience” from his 2013 album In A Time Lapse, demand attention, captivating the audience. The fact that the song recently went viral due to a TikTok trend only proves how welcoming Einaudi’s music is — and why he is the most-streamed classical pianist of all time.”
  • The link between food and mental health
    • by Rebecca A. Clay
    • Quote: “In the 1990s, when experimental psychologist Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD, first heard people claiming they could treat ADHD with a multinutrient compound, she was dismissive. Then she saw preliminary data showing improvements in children with ADHD who had received the supplement. She changed her mind and her research focus, becoming a pioneer in the emerging field of nutritional psychology.
    • One of the broad-based formulas that Kaplan—now a professor emerita at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine—and many others study was originally developed by a father seeking to cure his family’s mental health problems without the side effects of psychotropic medications. A mix of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, the supplement aims to address deficiencies in the nutrients required for optimal brain functioning.
    • The family’s story and that early research convinced Kaplan to open her mind and subject the compound to scientific inquiry. Since then, in several small studies, she has found promising evidence for its use in such diverse areas as improving emotional control after a traumatic brain injury (Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Vol. 4, No. 5, 2016), treating emotional and behavioral problems in children (Journal of Medical Case Reports, Vol. 9, No. 240, 2015) and minimizing distress after a natural disaster (Psychiatry Research, Vol. 228, No. 3, 2015).
    • According to Kaplan, one overall finding in studies on the impact of broad-spectrum micronutrients is that people improve their functioning across the board, not just in target areas such as ADHD symptoms.”

The Magnificent Seven #112: Concise, Simple and Not Wrong – 11/09/22

  • Concise, Simple, and Not Wrong: In Search of a Short-Hand Interpretation of Statistical Significance
    • by Jeffrey R. Spence, David J. Stanley
    • Quote: “With its many technicalities, significance testing is not inherently ready for public consumption. It involves conditional probability, hypothetical results (whatever those are), and the null hypothesis (a peculiar starting assumption given researchers are often examining relations for the very reason that they expect them to be non-zero). Is there a way to bypass the technical details and hypotheticals, but still accurately convey what statistical significance means? We think that there is. To do so, we consider the end utility of significance testing and leverage this deduction rather than trying to parse the technical aspects of its definition into something palatable and easily digestible.
    • According to the correct definition of statistical significance, what is the end utility of concluding that a result is statistically significant? We propose that the utility may be seen as follows: Given that there seems to be a low probability of getting results as extreme, or more extreme, than what was observed when I assume the actual effect is zero (i.e., the data are unlikely, given the null) perhaps my starting assumption that there is no relation is incorrect. In other words, concluding that something is “statistically significant” is not dissimilar from saying, there is now some reason to believe that the effect is non-zero. I cannot say what it is, it just may not be zero. Effect sizes and confidence intervals can give information about what the effect may be, but statistical significance alone does not provide information about how large an effect may be – it just MAY not be zero.”
  • Moral Universals: A machine-reading analysis of 256 societies
    • by Mark Alfano, Marc Cheong, Oliver Scott Curry
    • What is the cross-cultural prevalence of the seven moral values posited by the theory of “Morality-as-Cooperation”? Previous research, using hand-coding of ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, found examples of most of the seven morals in most societies, and observed these morals with equal frequency across cultural regions. Here we extend this analysis, by developing a new Morality-as-Cooperation Dictionary (MAC-D), and using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) to machine-code ethnographic accounts of ethics from an additional 196 societies (the entire HRAF corpus). Again, we find evidence of most of the seven morals in most societies, across all cultural regions. The new method allows us to detect minor variations in morals across region and subsistence strategy. And we successfully validate the machine-coding against the previous hand-coding. These findings lend further support to the theory of ‘morality-as-cooperation’. And MAC-D emerges as the most comprehensive and well-validated tool for machine-reading moral corpora. We discuss the limitations of the current study, as well as prospects for future research.
  • Informal and Incidental Learning in the Clinical Learning Environment: Learning Through Complexity and Uncertainty During COVID-19
    • by Dimitrios Papanagnos MD, MPH, Karen E. Watkins PhD, Henriette Lundgren PhD, Grace A. Alcid MA, Deborah Ziring MD, Victoria J. Marsick PhD
    • Quote: “The uncertainty surrounding clinical practice during the pandemic has had substantial repercussions on both individual practitioners and clinical care teams. Herzog notes there was no correct answer for teams, nor was there a curriculum teams could rely on to address clinical challenges. Teams had to reconcile moral uncertainty as they rationed care for patients. Practitioners had to navigate metaphysical uncertainty as they had to balance their personal and professional lives. Providers even confronted the epistemic uncertainty that came with simply not knowing how to care for their patients at the bedside. In hindsight, teams literally moved clockwise within the Cynefin framework: teams moved from the chaotic into the complex. The elements of VUCA [volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity] surrounding COVID-19 continue to significantly alter the training environment and mental health of providers and learners in the CLE [clinical learning environment], even as we are now moving toward the complicated domain of this framework. The pandemic has illustrated that teams will need to develop the capacity to productively learn together amidst complicated and complex circumstances. Complexity science offers the opportunity to better understand the informal and incidental learning (IIL) that takes place in the CLE.”
  • Making Sense of the Constraints-Led Approach in Basketball
    • by Alex Sarama
    • Quote: “The constraints-led approach (CLA) has its origins in the original constraints model proposed by (Newell, 1986), where he emphasized that movement is an emergent property of three interacting constraints, classified into the organism, environment, and task categories. Applied to sports, Davids et al. (2008) suggested that task constraints are reflective of things like rules, equipment, boundaries, opponents, and teammates; environmental constraints reflect things like light, humidity, temperature, and social expectations; and individual constraints reflect things like height, body weight, motivation and fatigue levels. It is important to note that the CLA is a specific methodology underpinned by ecological dynamics and nonlinear pedagogy where constraints are purposely manipulated with a specific goal in mind (Gray, 2020; Yearby et al., 2022). Therefore, constraint manipulation in practice can be very powerful when used to help athletes search for and discover ways to coordinate and control their movements in context, leading to them solving more problems that emerge during gameplay.
    • Using the CLA, basketball coaches can support their players by creating situations in practices that promote self-organization. In basketball, self-organization is the process of a player coordinating their body to perform basketball-specific sequences, such as passing the ball or finishing at the rim. Self-organization is shaped by the confluence of these aforementioned constraints, and because these constraints are ever-changing, no basketball possession is ever the same. This contrasts to the traditional approach whereby organization supposedly occurs from within a hypothesized internal structure (Araújo et al., 2009).
    • Furthermore, using the CLA in practice provides athletes with the opportunity to search for movement solutions similar to those that will emerge in competition. This differs from traditional approaches where coaches believe there is one “correct” movement pattern players should supposedly perform skills. This is characterized by a belief in “fundamentals” and specific techniques, which are drilled into players about how they should pass, shoot, and play defense. These movements are explicitly taught by coaches to their players in practice activities such as 1-on-0, 2-on-0, and pattern rehearsal 5-on-0.”
    • I also read about playful sparring. Quote: “…we have routinely discussed the idea of ‘information scaling.’ In a sport like MMA (where one doesn’t want to routinely take a high number of headshots) or similarly, in American football (where we don’t always want the athlete to be required to perform full-speed tackling), information scaling allows us to exist in a place where the perceptual-motor workspace isn’t so intense that it puts the athlete in a realm where there are subjected to any unnecessary or undue risk within the practice environment. Meaning, scaling down on the information present through reducing the complexity of the problem (and potentially changing the intentions of the athletes both explicitly and implicitly), can have tremendous benefits on allowing athletes to still solve alive problems while becoming progressively more coupled to the information of the competitive environment and coordinating their movement in relation to it.”
  • Real Anarchists React to ‘The Anarchists,’ A New Series About Crypto Bros
    • by Ella Fassler
    • Quote: “So-called Anarchist capitalists, or “ancaps” as they are sometimes called, have long battled with anti-capitalist anarchists over the use of the term “libertarian” which was historically associated with anti-capitalist anarchist politics as far back as 1858. That is until the 1970s, when laissez fairecapitalists in the United States co-opted the term by forming the hyper-individualist Libertarian Party.
    • Berwick’s conception of libertarianism is clearly of the individualist bent. He chose Acapulco, Mexico as a landing pad for what some attendees call their “tribe” because it “seemed anarchist” to him. “The buses were all private, they race to get you. They got the music,” he says to the camera with a grin in the first episode. “Everyone is drinkin.’ All the girls are sayin’ hi.”
    • Anarchapulco guests stay in a luxury hotel, worship bitcoin and mingle with others who lament the statist American sheeple and their bloodsucking central banks. They seem to be suburbanites who are understandably bored by, and wish to flee, the mind-numbing grind of American life. Some who decide to stay for the long haul live out their fantasies in mansions together, a power dynamic anti-capitalist anarchists consider colonialist.
    • “One major thing that immediately stuck out to me, especially in episode one, as they were getting into people’s backstories as to how they ended up in Anarchapulco, was this dynamic of expats moving to Mexico, making a village and not really interacting with locals, just straight up being colonizers in every humanly possible way,” Robin Young, an anarchist with Black Rose who lives in Miami, told Motherboard.”
  • [A review of] Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval
    • by Laetitia Vitaud
    • Quote: “The story of our modern office began somewhat later, in 19th-century Britain’s “counting houses”, where firms carried their accounting operations. The clerks who toiled in the counting houses—the phrase “white collar” didn’t yet exist—were a rather invisible (and rare) class of workers. They were rarely represented in literature: their unused bodies, “backs cramped from poor posture and fingers callused by constant writing”, did not make for desirable characters. Their lives were deemed unworthy of comment and their work too dull to be recounted.
    • Clerks became more visible with the accelerating industrialisation in Britain and America, which produced more and more administrative paperwork. They got a new sense of power and were less isolated. By 1880, 5% of the total workforce in the US was in clerical professions. In cities, clerks were a fast-growing population. But nothing about their work was congenial to the American work culture. Unlike farmers and factory workers, clerks didn’t produce anything. They could only be said to reproduce things.
    • Hence unlike factory workers who had class consciousness and political representation, clerks didn’t know what to identify with. They were not factory workers (blue-collar workers) and felt closer to power. What distinguished the clerk was his collar: bleached white and stiff, the white collar was detachable and yet a status marker. More and more people had ceased to work with their hands and were now working with their heads. These new workers would come to be referred to as “white-collar workers” in opposition to “blue-collar workers”.”
  • Newsletters
    • by Robin Rendle
    • “Newsletters killed blogs because…
      • They’re impossibly easy to publish.
      • Your inbox is a notification stream.
      • Writers can actually, ya know, get paid.
    • Alternatively, websites today…
      • Are difficult to make.
      • Can’t notify people of new work.
      • Aren’t able to pay writers easily.
    • These are the main problems today but now, because of newsletters, I look back on writing for the web as this clunky, annoying process in comparison. The machine sure is beautiful but it requires so much damn work to get singing.
    • So I wonder how we can get the best of both worlds here: the ease of publishing newsletters, with all the beauty and archivability of websites. But what I’m really asking is…
    • …how do we make the web for everyone?”

The Magnificent Seven #111: Ambient Interfaces – 04/09/22

  • Ambient Interfaces
    • by Drew Austin, Bram Fritz, Yujie Wang
    • Quote: “Computing is now ubiquitous both inside and outside the home, an aether in which we are all constantly immersed — largely thanks to the proliferation of these screen interfaces. For all that they enable, however, screens are also flawed. They constantly hypnotize us, distracting us from friends and family, muddling our thoughts, and postponing our sleep. They beam outside agendas into our homes in the form of ads and social media hot takes. We track our ever-increasing screen time while desperately seeking strategies to reduce it.
    • The fact that we allow screens such privileged positions within our most intimate living spaces reflects the path dependence that so often constrains our technology usage. We already have screens and understand them, so we look for new ways to use them. More importantly, perhaps, screens are easy to graft onto existing domestic space. Nonetheless, it is not obviously true that the best hardware for playing games and watching movies is also ideal for the many other domestic purposes that computers now serve. Yet we continue to encounter those screens everywhere we look.
    • A more suitable approach to the domestic interface would move beyond the screen, incorporating design principles that better accommodate the humans who use these interfaces. Such an approach would be mindful, sensorial, adaptive, context-aware, and responsible — five key principles for designing ambient interfaces at home.”
    • The paper on computer-aided design (part one and part two) is also interesting.
  • 9 design principles for a musical metaverse
    • by The Water and Music Community
    • Quote: “…while we did spend several weeks studying more theoretical and technical definitions of the metaverse, we also spent much of our energy in the latter half of this sprint working backwards from the point of usage and practice. Arguably the most effective way to capture the state of music in the metaverse today is to meet artists, rights holders, developers, and other music-industry stakeholders where they’re at — capturing how they are using the technologies currently available at their disposal to understand the metaverse today and what they are hoping to achieve in it.
    • By comparing this grounded analysis with an examination of more theoretical frameworks, we can cut through the media hype and paint a clearer, more realistic, and more actionable roadmap for what truly groundbreaking, digital-native music metaverse experiences can look like.
    • What follows is not a hard definition, but rather a set of artist- and fan-centric design principles for building musical metaverse experiences. The intended audience for this framework is anyone — especially artists, their team members, and their partners — who is excited about the creativity that the idea of the metaverse can catalyze for the music industry, but who needs a conceptual north star on where to start, and where we might be going. We wanted a distinctly W&M framework for the metaverse to reflect not only pre-existing definitions already put forward by technologists, but also the ways that the metaverse is perceived by those actively working in the music industry today, guided by these professionals’ creative visions for how music might look and feel different in an interoperable, interconnected, and decentralized world.”
  • A Theory of Vibe
    • by Peli Grietzer
    • Quote: “By way of a powerful paraphrase, we might say that it means the objects that make up a trained autoencoder’s canon are individually complex but collectively simple. To better illustrate this concept (‘individually complex but collectively simple’), let us make a brief digression and describe a type of mathematical-visual art project, typically associated with late 20th century Hacker culture, known as a ‘64k Intro.’ In the artistic-mathematical subculture known as ‘demoscene,’ a ‘64k Intro’ is a lush, vast, and nuanced visual world that fits into 64 kilobytes of memory or fewer, less memory by a thousandfold than the standard memory requirements for a lush, robust, and nuanced visual world. In a 64k Intro, a hundred or so lines of code create a sensually complicated universe by, quite literally, using the esoteric affinities of surfaces with primordial Ideas. The code of a 64k Intro uses the smallest possible inventory of initial schemata to generate the most diverse concreta. The information-theoretical magic behind a 64k Intro is that, somewhat like a spatial fugue, these worlds are tapestries of interrelated self-similar patterns. From the topological level (architecture and camera movement) to the molecular level (the polygons and textures from which objects are built), everything in a 64k Intro is born of a ‘family resemblance’ of forms.
    • 8. Remarkably—and also, perhaps, trivially—the relationship between succinct expressibility and depth of pattern that we see in 64k Intros provably holds for any informational, cognitive, or semiotic system. A deeply conceptually useful, though often technically unwieldy, measure of ‘depth of pattern’ used in information theory is ‘Kolmogorov complexity’: the Kolmogorov complexity of an object is the length of the shortest possible description (in a given semiotic system) that can fully specify it. Lower Kolmogorov complexity generically means stronger pattern. A low Kolmogorov complexity—i.e. short minimum description length—for an object relative to a given semiotic system implies the existence of deep patterns in the object, or a close relationship between the object and the basic concepts of the semiotic system.”
  • The Age of Empires Theory of History
    • by Kelsey D. Atherton
    • Quote: “History, as experienced in Age of Empires IV, is about states extracting resources to recruit armies and direct the development of technology, all in the service of annihilating or subduing other states. It is a theory of history that reflects both gameplay mechanics and modern, tech-driven approaches to war, but it is a history that ignores the historical processes of state formation.
    • I am, perhaps, asking too much of a one-credit course and a mass-market game. In the release about the University of Arizona course, the emphasis is on the narrative retellings of events, as experienced through campaigns and already-produced video segments that shipped with Age of Empires IV.
    • If we accept the campaign missions as more interactive-narrative than as simulation, it’s easy to see some learning about the specifics of, say, Moscow’s relationship with the Mongols as crucial to its early state identity. The English and French campaigns walk players through, respectively, the Norman Conquest and the 100 Years War, which are eras that lend themselves to sequences of set piece battles.
    • But to the extent that the medium matters for how the story is told, it’s easy to leave a history-themed battle game with the impression that early states were highly specific command economies, with service in the military and the state-directed labor force commissioned directly from a monarch. More even than the structure of the state, players will navigate worlds that are full of fields, mines, woods, and herds that are ripe for exploitation. Driven by the defensive logic of static fortifications, players will build small dense defensible bases, and then manage the plunder of the natural world around them.
    • It misses, in this telling, the way states built themselves out of existing labor relationships, the way literal economies of force were created to serve the dynastic ambitions and fears of monarchs, and the tensions of extracting surplus from a population while ensuring they survived to work another harvest cycle.”
  • The Loneliest Man in the World
    • by Abhrajyoti Chakraborty
    • Quote: “Khan, too, was putting in the work. In Bollywood, this often involved playing to the gallery, for as he once admitted in an interview, “You don’t need nuance here as an actor. Attitude is enough.” He disliked repeating himself. If he was asked to do eight takes for a scene, he’d do them in eight different ways, letting the director figure out the rest. Even with subtler roles, Khan didn’t believe that an actor could always become the character and trusted his imagination more than research. Before playing an Indian-American man in The Namesake, for instance, Khan had never travelled to the US. He understood that getting the clothes and the accent right could go only so far in conveying the inward rift of an immigrant. He fell back on his memory, recalling a previous trip to Canada where he had noticed some dour-looking immigrant workers in shops. “Something stayed in my mind,” he told TIMEmagazine in 2010. “A strange sadness…A rhythm that middle-aged people have.” In The Warrior, he didn’t quite believe the scene where his character watches his son being killed. He approached the moment by telling himself that the experience of shooting a film was like life, and “sometimes you have to live a life because you have no choice.” My favourite Khan anecdote is from the set of 7 Khoon Maaf, where he was cast as the third of the seven husbands of the protagonist Susanna, played by Priyanka Chopra. Khan couldn’t relate to his role: a “wife beater” Urdu poet. The poet was just supposed to be persistent with his abuse, so that the audience could empathize with Susanna when she killed him. While getting ready for his scenes, Khan happened to be listening to a random ghazal by the singer Abida Parveen. “All of a sudden,” he told Kapadia later, “that ghazal created a whole world around me.” The song helped him delve into the inner life of the poet, find a pattern to his behaviour. He was able to transform himself within moments.
    • On talk shows, Khan would often recount the story of inviting his mother to the premiere of The Namesake in Bombay. After the screening, she apparently asked Khan to introduce her to the director, Mira Nair. “Let me talk to her,” his mother told him. “I want to ask her why, of all the people in the world, she had my son killed off in the film?” His mother was joking, of course, but something about the recurring deaths of his characters can seem, at first glance, manipulative. The scripts that came his way seemed to repeatedly indulge the fantasy of his eventual disappearance. But death is also the script everyone wants to perfect: it is the endpoint of “striving”—the word Nair used to contrast the experience of watching Khan act in drama school—and if you dig deep into many of Khan’s roles, you’ll find a striver, a man relentlessly searching for something. Whether he is projecting nonchalance (Maqbool), pain (The Warrior), or disdain (Slumdog Millionaire), signs of hustling are always evident. In Life in a Metro, Monty is even striving to find a wife. Towards the end of the film, Monty encourages Shruti to move on from her bad relationships and try dating someone new. “Take your chance, baby,” he tells her. You almost feel that it is Khan talking, counselling the viewer to keep looking for all there is to find.”
  • Optimizing Circadian Rhythms for Metabolic Health
    • by Dominic D’Agostino, Satchin Panda
    • This Q&A covered a fair range of ground. The impact of time-restricted eating on weight loss and other health markers, like insulin sensitivity or satiation; the relationship between time-restricted eating and calorie-restriction; melatonin as a sleep aide; fighting back against circadian disruptors (light exposure management, food timing optimisation); dietary and consumption patterns;
  • Global Electricity Review 2022
    • by Dave Jones
    • An open report (with data access included). Quote: “Growth in clean generation, other than wind and solar, stalled in 2021. Hydro fell 2% on drier conditions, especially in China. Nuclear increased 4% as existing reactors in France and Japan came back online and new reactors switched on in China and Russia. Bioenergy grew 6%, although concerns continue to be raised about its true emissions impact. Emerging technologies commonly included in Net Zero pathways still provide no meaningful electricity generation: including fossil fuels with carbon capture, hydrogen-based fuels, CSP (concentrated solar power), geothermal and marine.
    • Although wind and solar are the fastest growing sources of clean electricity, the IEA Net Zero by 2050 report anticipates that a quarter of the growth in clean electricity will still come from other technologies. These other technologies generally complement, rather than compete with, wind and solar. In particular, they provide benefits to the grid to support the variability of wind and solar. Stalling on these complementary technologies will make it even more difficult to achieve the emissions cuts needed by 2030. An alternative IEA scenario suggests that it’s possible to decarbonise without bioenergy and CCS, but the IEA forecast it would likely increase the cost of reaching zero carbon power.”

The Magnificent Seven #110: The Grind Challenges – 30/08/22

  • The Grind Challenges
    • by Guru Madhavan
    • Quote: “To be clear, grand goals can have value in mobilizing passions and bringing about social benefits. The management scholar Bent Flyvbjerg has referred to such passions as the “four sublimes.” The first is the “technological sublime,” which excites engineers to push the boundaries of what’s possible in infrastructure—the longest-tallest-fastest (and often most expensive) types of projects. The second is the “political sublime,” which politicians seek by promoting monumental constructions to generate visibility and votes. The third, the “economic sublime,” delights businesses, trade unions, developers, bankers, lawyers, and their networks with jobs or income. And the fourth is the “aesthetic sublime,” which can supply the pleasure that creators and communities derive from visually striking designs. But a focus on the four sublimes alone distorts engineering, which is centrally defined by its dedication to details and disconnects.
    • It is telling that the very epitome of the grand challenge, the literal moonshot, was undergirded by so many interlocking grinds. The Apollo program required the contributions of more than 300,000 people, 2,000 contractors, and 200 universities. To empower this collaboration, NASA managers adopted military systems management techniques to focus procurement and guide project teams and requirements in the nitty gritty details, such as clean room protocols and safety-critical maintenance checks. Europe’s space agency took the opposite approach, starting with an existing “missile searching for a mission,” as aerospace historian Stephen Johnson has written. Lack of attention to quality and safety details and the pursuit of parochial interests doomed the European effort, while the US project famously made it to the moon. As Johnson points out, many of the solutions for the technical problems of rocketry turned out to be social and organizational.”
  • The New New Product Development Game
    • by Hirotaka Takeuchi, Ikujiro Nonaka
    • Quote: The self-organizing character of the team produces a unique dynamic or rhythm. Although the team members start the project with different time horizons—with R&D people having the longest time horizon and production people the shortest—they all must work toward synchronizing their pace to meet deadlines. Also, while the project team starts from “zero information,” each member soon begins to share knowledge about the marketplace and the technical community. As a result, the team begins to work as a unit. At some point, the individual and the whole become inseparable. The individual’s rhythm and the group’s rhythm begin to overlap, creating a whole new pulse. This pulse serves as the driving force and moves the team forward.
    • But the quickness of the pulse varies in different phases of development. The beat seems to be most vigorous in the early phases and tapers off toward the end. A member of Canon’s PC-10 development team described this rhythm as follows: “When we are debating about what kind of concept to create, our minds go off in different directions and list alternatives. But when we are trying to come to grips with achieving both low cost and high reliability, our minds work to integrate the various points of view. Conflict tends to occur when some are trying to differentiate and others are trying to integrate. The knack lies in creating this rhythm and knowing when to move from one state to the other.””
  • The people of the cloud
    • by Steven Gonzalez Monserrate
    • Quote: “In Boston, a man hunts for heat with his ears. In Iceland, a man puts out fires so that the youth of his community may have a chance at something besides bus tours. Amid the storm of the century, a man in Puerto Rico opens the doors of his fortress to the public, granting sanctuary like a pastor in a parish. In the Arizona desert, a man teaches his young pupil how to lift a server and, by extension, how to be a man. From the tropics to the Arctic, the cloud thrums. Heat blooms in the wake of computation. And it is men, not refrigeration alone, that can purge it, so that data can flow, and digital capitalism can proceed, uninterrupted.
    • As these tales from data centre workplaces reveal, there is more to cloud stewardship than the racking and stacking of servers, disentangling cables, swapping out floor tiles, or decommissioning old servers. Data centres are multisensory locales, where heat can be heard. They are the building blocks used to assemble dreams of communal prosperity for Icelandic youth and Puerto Rican families. They are workshops for a technical brand of masculinity. They are all these things and more but, most importantly, they are not staffed by automatons or sedentary button-pushers on spinning chairs.
    • On the contrary, these stories from within illustrate the ways that the cloud is as anthropogenic as it is technological, as emotional as it is logical, as physical as it is virtual, and as embodied as it is ethereal. Those behind the great digital machine, the unseen caretakers of our online worlds, are as flawed and human as the rest of us. And yet, they are also heroes of a pragmatic sort: they’re the reason why everything digital works. Next time you open your browser, or check your email, or stream music, think of them and their stories. They are the people on the other side of the cloud.”
  • Ecological dynamics: Making sure that transfer of training is assured, not assumed
    • by Spencer Goggin
    • Quote: “Gibson described wayfinding as the process of designing environments for learners to explore, defining it as:
      • “The process of learning to search for, and detect, information in an environment that individuals learn to exploit for solving (i.e., ‘navigating’) performance-related problems, situated as fields (regions) within an evolving landscape.
    • Wayfinding views skilful actions as dynamic, body-environment interactions, through which individuals self-regulate to achieve their intended task goals, rather than repetitious movements of the body removed from context. Concepts such as skilled behaviour, learning, expertise and talent are all viewed as emergent properties of a functionally adaptable, evolving relationship between a performer and the constraints of his or her environment. The learner is ultimately responsible for solving the emergent problems the practitioner built into the landscape.
    • The greatest impact this approach can have for an athlete lies in not telling learners which decisions to make and how to play the game or perform an action. Traditional practice assumes a need for long-winded, detailed explanations about how to perform an action or what decision to make. Coaches should be aware that instruction itself is a constraint that interacts with the task and the individual to shape behaviour during each phase.”
    • I also read about the placebo effect of compression garmentsmanaging the performance of an F1 pit crewknees-over-toes myths and realities, and the efficacy of different recovery techniques.
  • Popular education in Sweden: much more than you wanted to know
    • by Henrik Olaf Karlsson
    • Quote: “To start a study circle today you:
      • join a study association,
      • get instructions on how to report your studies,
      • submit forms to document how many participants have attended and how many hours have been spent on the studies, and
      • receive financial support in proportion to your efforts – about $2 per man hour – which is often invested in renting rooms but can also be spent on educational materials, tools, or services.
    • Until I moved from Sweden, I administered three study circles. The paperwork took about 30 minutes a year. In two cases, the study circles were book clubs. Incorporating as study circles gave us access to meeting rooms. And sometimes, when we invited researchers to discuss their ideas with them, we could use study funds to pay for their train tickets. When we wanted to learn something more practical, we used the funds to buy services – such as a recording engineer, who could sit with us when we recorded music and give us hands-on guidance.
    • There is, of course, financial waste in the system, and one can debate the morality of funding book clubs with taxpayers’ money. But on the whole, the 40 or so study circles I have observed got more learning per penny than the compulsory schools I have worked at.
    • I also can’t imagine living in a city without access to basement rooms where you can go down and find people all day engaged in strange discussions and projects. When I find myself in cities where the only places to sit down and talk are cafés and bars, I get intense claustrophobia.”
  • The stock market is a machine for creating cults
    • by Matt Webb
    • Quote: “A diverse shareholder base does not moderate decisions, in itself. Those who disagree will simply sell their shares. Voting doesn’t matter.
    • ALSO: The price of a share will increase (in line with demand) when there is growth in the number of people in the shareholding population AT LARGE (not just current owners) who agree with company decisions.
    • BUT individual shareholders are strongly incentivised to increase their own wealth.
    • Which means that, for shareholders to profit via increasing share price, there is an incentive for those shareholders to encourage others to agree with company actions.
    • There is also the reverse incentive: if a shareholder disagrees with company actions, they would be wise to keep silent until they have sold their shares (and once they have sold, they have no incentive to say anything at all).
    • Shareholders turn into evangelists. That’s the function of the market. Profit-seeking stock holders will spread the word and squash dissent, purely from self interest.
    • There is a cult aspect to the publicly traded corporation. That’s my new mental model.
    • It’s intrinsic to the way the market works. So the big question about meme stocks (being stocks where the value is determined by online communities piling on) is not:why did they take off in 2021. But instead: how did it take so long for the underlying truth to come to the surface? All stocks are meme stocks.”
  • Game Masters of Exandria Roundtable
    • by Matt Mercer, Aabria Iyengar, Brennan Lee
    • Lots to dig into regarding the art of narrative. Quote: “Exandrian GMs Matthew Mercer, Aabria Iyengar, and Brennan Lee Mulligan sit down for a roundtable discussion of their experiences and best practices for game mastering in Critical Role’s world of Exandria!”

The Magnificent Seven #109: The Real Legacy of Stewart Brand – 21/08/22

  • The Real Legacy of Stewart Brand
    • by Malcolm Harris, Paris Marx
    • This is an intriguing conversation about the myth-building of Stewart Brand, and how counter-cultures become the culture. The discussed articles—Zen Playboy and Steward Brand Saw the Future—are worth a look. Quoting the former: “Brand styled himself a photographer—he’d used a camera to stand out during his short military career—and envisioned a career as a freelance reporter and author who would illustrate his own work. But his pitches to national outlets yielded no assignments, and a series of projects on American Indians went unfinished as Brand jumped from one thing to the next. He made experimental sound works that were devoid of musicality, and not in a good way. “What he had,” Markoff writes, “just as he had had as a child, was an unending stream of notions.” It’s not a flattering thing to say about a man.”
  • Good Enough for Government Work
    • by Phil B.
    • Quote: “The original meaning of the phrase had an entirely different pejorative. Rather than meaning you’d done a half-assed job, it meant that you’d done such a precise job on this thing you’d made that it could potentially be sold to the government. That its precision could actually meet the exacting standards of the government schedule. It carried the implication of “We aren’t selling to the government, buddy. How much company time did you waste making your work of art when you probably could’ve made 12 more normal ones?”
    • And this didn’t original sense of the phrase didn’t go away with the end of WWII. My mother told me about working for an early semiconductor manufacturer in Florida that did work supporting NASA. While she wasn’t specifically working on production that was heading to Kennedy Space Center, other people certainly were, so two different quality standards were in use in the fab. She got yelled at by her boss for making wafers that passed through QA with too few flaws. It was assumed that she was wasting time being a perfectionist, despite the production reports and timecards that said otherwise. She was told “This isn’t government work, just get it done.””
  • Building Gallipoli
    • by Wētā Workshop
    • A mini-doc series about the Gallipoli exhibition. About the exhibition itself: “The exhibition is a unique collaboration between the multi-Academy Award winners at Wētā Workshop, and the curators at the ground-breaking Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa). The teams set themselves the audacious goal of creating a deeply emotional and empathic experience of war in a museum context.
    • At the emotional heart of the exhibition lies a new form of artistic and thematic immersive sculptures: eight hyper-realistic figures crafted by Wētā Workshop. Each figure is captured frozen in a moment of time, on a monumental scale: 2.4 times human size.
    • As they move through the exhibition space, guests encounter these remarkable larger-than-life characters and their stories. Choosing to photograph and digitally scan living models rather than attempt to recreate photographs, Wētā Workshop’s artists and technicians spent more than 24,000 hours meticulously crafting the enormous sculptures. Every pore is painstakingly etched; each tear thoughtfully sculpted; thousands of hairs carefully punched by hand. Super-charged with emotion, and imbued with incredible attention to detail, the effect these works of art have had on guests has been profound.”
    • I also checked out some of Wētā Workshop’s Projects in Depth: “Want to know how we made it? You’ve come to the right place.” I checked out: Mulan’s army and weaponsDr. Grordbort’s BoostersBlade Runner 2049 concept design and miniatures and Warcraft weapons.
  • Curiosity as filling, compressing, and reconfiguring knowledge networks
    • by Shubhankar P. Patankar, Dale Zhou, Christopher W. Lynn, Jason Z. Kim, Mathieu Ouellet, Harang Ju, Perry Zurn, David M. Lydon-Staley, Dani S. Bassett
    • Quote: “Due to the significant role that curiosity plays in our lives, several theoretical constructs, such as the information gap theory and compression progress theory, have sought to explain how we engage in its practice. According to the former, curiosity is the drive to acquire information that is missing from our understanding of the world. According to the latter, curiosity is the drive to construct an increasingly parsimonious mental model of the world. To complement the densification processes inherent to these theories, we propose the conformational change theory, wherein we posit that curiosity results in mental models with marked conceptual flexibility. We formalize curiosity as the process of building a growing knowledge network to quantitatively investigate information gap theory, compression progress theory, and the conformational change theory of curiosity. In knowledge networks, gaps can be identified as topological cavities, compression progress can be quantified using network compressibility, and flexibility can be measured as the number of conformational degrees of freedom. We leverage data acquired from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to determine the degree to which each theory explains the growth of knowledge networks built by individuals and by collectives. Our findings lend support to a pluralistic view of curiosity, wherein intrinsically motivated information acquisition fills knowledge gaps and simultaneously leads to increasingly compressible and flexible knowledge networks. Across individuals and collectives, we determine the contexts in which each theoretical account may be explanatory, thereby clarifying their complementary and distinct explanations of curiosity. Our findings offer a novel network theoretical perspective on intrinsically motivated information acquisition that may harmonize with or compel an expansion of the traditional taxonomy of curiosity.”
  • How to know when to stop
    • by Andy Johns
    • Quote: “Staying within a range of acceptable tolerance in your life should be the goal, so that you flourish in all dimensions, not just the professional. Taking on too much pushes us into zones of intolerance, where very little life can be sustained.
    • When pushed outside our tolerance range, we will experience a wide range of indicators.
    • One category of indicators is hormonal dysregulation, which reveals itself in the form of negative emotional states. We can feel irritable, anxious, sad, angry, withdrawn, or shut down.
    • The second category of indicators of unmanageable stress is physiological. Our natural bodily functions are interrupted, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrinal, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.
    • Lastly, we may adopt destructive behavioral patterns to soothe our emotional discomfort. We may develop addictions or compulsive activities as a coping mechanism due to excess stress. I know a lot of people who need a bottle or two of wine several nights a week in order to “unwind.” That’s not healthy behavior.”
  • Keeping up with the Kardashevians
    • by Matt Jones
    • Quote: “Back in April 2022, I was invited to speak as part of CIID’s Open Lecture series on my career so far (!) and what I’m working on now at Moixa.com.
    • Naturally, It ends up talking about trying to reframe the energy transition / climate emergency from a discourse of ‘sustainability’ to one of ‘abundance’ – referencing Russian physicists and Chobani yoghurt.”
  • Rectangular map-scheme of the Observable Universe
    • by Pablo Carlos Budassi
    • As humbling as you’d expect. Quote: “This scheme locates notable astronomical objects of various scales in the Observable Universe on the vertical axis, arranged on a logarithmic scale with the Earth’s surface at the bottom and the edge of the observable universe at the top. Spacecraft, planets, moons, star systems, nearby galaxies, and notable large-scale structures are some of the objects depicted and indicated.
    • Another attempt to show the Big Picture in a quick and summarized look but at the same time detailed and realistic careful design.”
    • Scales of NatureNature Timespiral and Powers of Ten are also cool.

The Magnificent Seven #108: The Making of a King – 14/08/22

  • The Making of a King
    • by Allegra Otsaye Ayida
    • Quote: “…the rites performed at Ijala (the burial ground of all the 20 preceding Olus) are directly linked to the Warri kingdom’s origins. Thus, this distant past is granted symbolic importance as the Oma-Oba surreptitiously undergoes sacred rites on the grounds of Ijala, just as his predecessors did before they were crowned. The prince is also expected to perform symbolic acts of labour—including fetching water, chopping wood and paddling a canoe—one final time before his coronation, which takes place in Ode-Itsekiri. These gestures reflect the centrality of water and labour to riverine traditions of the Itsekiri people, and the performance connotes a connection to the common people of the kingdom. Through these pre-coronation rites—some of his last acts as an ordinary person—the Olu of Warri transitions from mere mortal to a pantheon of deities just below Oritse (God), emphasizing his centrality to the Itsekiri cultural heritage.
    • In the absence of the two senior hereditary titled chiefs—the Ologbotsere and the Uwangue—which was the case in 2015, the responsibility of crowning the Olu falls to the oldest living he descendants of the Ologbotsere family hailing from the town of Jakpa, in today’s Warri North local government area. The tradition traces its beginnings to the coronations of Ogiame Ginuwa II (1936-1949) and Ogiame Erejuwa II (1951-1986) when the Olare-aja of Jakpa at the time crowned them. The title Olare-aja referred to the oldest man in the community, being Jakpa.”
  • Quantifying collective intelligence in human groups
    • by Christoph Riedl, Young Ji Kim, Pranav Gupta, Anita Willians Woolley
    • Quote: “Collective intelligence (CI) is critical to solving many scientific, business, and other problems, but groups often fail to achieve it. Here, we analyze data on group performance from 22 studies, including 5,279 individuals in 1,356 groups. Our results support the conclusion that a robust CI factor characterizes a group’s ability to work together across a diverse set of tasks. We further show that CI is predicted by the proportion of women in the group, mediated by average social perceptiveness of group members, and that it predicts performance on various out-of-sample criterion tasks. We also find that, overall, group collaboration process is more important in predicting CI than the skill of individual members.”
  • Killing Time at Work
    • by Qatalog, GitLab
    • Quote: “The changes that occurred due to the pandemic should have marked the end of the 9-5 with a new paradigm for work, but many of the same problems remain: few people are able to work async with any consistency and those who do receive poor support from employers. In fact, the term ‘asynchronous work’ is still alien to many, with only 15% of people understanding the term very well and over 40% never having heard of it.
    • However, it seems to be a topic business leaders are thinking about, with 84% of those at the C-Level saying they understand the term. But that doesn’t mean they’re implementing it evenly across all groups.
    • Asynchronous work is happening in pockets, but the picture is mixed, and management level also appears to be a clear indicator as to whether you have the freedom to work async.
    • 74% of those at the C-level said they work asynchronously ‘Often’ or ‘Always’, compared to 48% of those at Vice President or Director level, 32% of those at a Manager or Consultant level, and 24% of those in Analyst or Administrative roles. It’s clear that managers are not affording the same support and trust to their team as their own company and bosses are giving them.
    • Ultimately, adoption remains low for most workers. Employers must do more to support async work, not only because it’s in line with worker expectations, but because it helps with retention, productivity, and quality of work.”
    • The related documentary series about modern methods of work is also worth a look.
  • Lifestyle, health, and health promotion in Nazi Germany
    • by George Davey Smith
    • Quote: “In 1944, smoking was banned on trains and buses in cities. It was also prohibited in many workplaces, public buildings, hospitals, and rest homes. The advertising of smoking products was strictly controlled, and there was discussion on whether people with smoking related illnesses should receive medical care equal to that of patients with illnesses not seen to be self inflicted. Many leading Nazis—such as Robert Ley, leader of the German Labour Front, Hans Reiter, president of the Reich Health Office, and both Gerhard Wagner and Leonardo Conti, the successive Führers of German medicine— attested to the benefits of not smoking. Adolf Hitler was the star performer in antismoking propaganda. As one magazine stated, “Brother national socialist, do you know that your Führer is against smoking and thinks that every German is responsible to the whole people for all his deeds and missions, and does not have the right to damage his body with drugs?””
    • Related to this is Organic Origin Story: Tracing the History of “Natural” Eating. Quote: “One of the agendas of this book is to track how things that were invented by a very small subculture of odd Germans became mainstream. The people who created these practices were part of the Life Reform Movement — naturopaths, nature healers, nudists, back-to-the-landers. This is the subculture that popularized vegetarianism as the most natural diet. Historians have written about Life Reform, but only as a self-contained movement. They’ve never tried to track how the movement’s “practices of nature” traveled to other parts of German culture.”
  • The Big Picture 2022
    • by bioGraphic
    • These—the image and the synopsises—are fantastic. I found After the Fall to be most impactful. Quote: “Each year, the California Academy of Sciences’ renowned BigPicture Photography Competition celebrates some of the world’s best photographers and the year’s most striking images. Judged by an esteemed panel of nature and conservation photography experts, including Suzi Eszterhas, Sophie Stafford, and bioGraphic contributing photo editor Jaymi Heimbuch, the competition’s winning images and finalists highlight Earth’s biodiversity and illustrate the many threats that our planet faces. Each photo, in its own way, inspires viewers to protect and conserve the remarkable diversity of life on Earth. Below, we present the winners and some of our personal favorites from this year’s competition.”
  • How silicon innovation became the ‘secret sauce’ behind AWS’s success
    • by Staff Writer, Nafea Bshara
    • Quote: “What we can do at the chip level, at the EC2 level, is actually work on three vectors, which we’re doing right now. The first is drive to lower power quickly by using more advanced silicon processes. Every time we build a chip in an advanced silicon process we’re utilizing new semiconductor processes with smaller transistors that require less power for the same work. Because of our focus on efficient execution, we can deliver to EC2 customers a new chip based on a more modern, power-efficient silicon process every 18 months or so.
    • The second vector is building more technologies, trying to accelerate in hardware and in algorithms, to get training and inference done faster. The faster we can handle training and inference, the less power is consumed. For example, one of the technologies we innovated in the last Trainium chip was something called stochastic rounding which, depending upon which measure you’re looking at for some neural workloads, could accelerate neural network training by up to 30%. When you say 30% less time that translates into 30% less power.
    • Another thing we’re doing at the algorithmic level is offering different data types. For example, historically machine learning used a 32-bit floating point. Now we’re offering multiple versions of 16-bit and a few versions of 8-bit. When these different data types are used, they not only accelerate machine learning training, they significantly reduce the power for the same amount of workload. For example, doing matrix multiplication on a 16-bit float point is less than one-third the total power if we had done it with 32-bit floating point. The ability to add things like stochastic rounding or new data types at the algorithmic level provides a step-function improvement in power consumption for the same amount of workload.
    • The third vector is credit to EC2 and the Nitro System, we’re offering more choice for customers. There are different chips optimized for different workloads, and the best way for customers to save energy is to follow the classic Amazon mantra – the everything store. We offer all different types of chips, including multiple generations of Nvidia GPUs, Intel Habana, and Trainium, and share with the customer the power profile and performance of each of the instances hosting these chips, so the customer can choose the right chip for the right workload, and optimize for the lowest possible power consumption at the lowest cost.”
  • Ferrante’s Philosophy
    • by Anna-Sofia Lesiv
    • Quote: “Many great artists wrote works articulating the philosophy of their work. Kazimir Malevich wrote a treatise on Suprematism in his book “Black Square” — which unfortunately, I can’t find any English translations of. Mark Rothko did the same in The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art. Reading these, you get the sense that the greatest ambition and struggle of artists is the same — the challenge of conveying the real.
    • Malevich, for instance, hated realism. For him, a realistic painting was merely a copy of some object or scene that exists. There is nothing of the artist added to the finished work other than their fine skills and brush strokes. You have to move beyond reality and into abstraction in order to unearth something new to the viewer and connect them with the mind of the artist in an illuminating way.
    • Ferrante has the same challenge. No matter how hard you try to desribe an object with words, it still won’t fully capture its presence and meaning. While capturing the totality of an object is hard, it is even harder to capture the totality of experience itself.
    • “The “genuine ‘real life’,” as Dostoyevsky called it, is an obsession, a torment for the writer. With greater or less ability we fabricate fictions not so that the false will seem true but to tell the most unspeakable truth with absolute faithfulness through the fiction,” she writes. This is fiction’s greatest magic trick when done well — and it is Ferrante’s speciality.”

The Magnificent Seven #107: Indicators of Compromise – 07/08/22

  • Indicators of Compromise (IoCs) and Their Role in Attack Defence
    • by K. Paine, O. Whitehouse, J. Sellwood Twilio, A. Shaw
    • Quote: “IoCs are versatile and powerful. IoCs underpin and enable multiple layers of the modern defence-in-depth strategy. IoCs are easy to share, providing a multiplier effect on attack defence effort and they save vital time. Network-level IoCs offer protection, especially valuable when an endpoint-only solution isn’t sufficient. These properties, along with their ease of use, make IoCs a key component of any attack defence strategy and particularly valuable for defenders with limited resources.
    • For IoCs to be useful, they don’t have to be unencrypted or visible in networks – but crucially they do need to be made available, along with their context, to entities that need them. It is also important that this availability and eventual usage copes with multiple points of failure, as per the defence-in-depth strategy, of which IoCs are a key part.”
  • Women Scribes: The Technologists of the Middle Ages
    • by Robert Davis
    • Quote: “Today, most popular representations of manuscript production and scriptoria depict exclusively male spaces. Whether it be Umberto Eco’s The Name of the RoseGame of Thrones’ Citadel, or the board game Biblios, the image that “scriptorium” conjures up is that of robed men laboring over texts. Yet, women had a very real place in developing, maintaining, and innovating this arduously crafted technology, using it to share visions, communicate with each other, and create works of staggering beauty and insight.
    • History celebrates a handful of exceptional women from the Middle Ages, like Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (10th century), whose plays are the first of which we know written by a woman in Western literature; Hildegard of Bingen (12th century), who innovated with musical composition; and Christine de Pizan (14th-15th century), a prolific late medieval author. They are frequently feted, and all have settings at Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in the Brooklyn Museum. But there were others—scribes, nuns, and religious women—who were using the technology of writing to serve their own communities. Though working as a scribe in a scriptorium might appear to be a more mundane aspect of intellectual life, women who worked in these roles were on the front lines of medieval intellectual life.”
  • Life Helps Make Almost Half of All Minerals on Earth
    • by Joanna Thompson
    • Quote: “Morrison and Hazen also identified 57 processes that individually or in combination created all known minerals. These processes included various types of weathering, chemical precipitations, metamorphic transformation inside the mantle, lightning strikes, radiation, oxidation, massive impacts during Earth’s formation, and even condensations in interstellar space before the planet formed. They confirmed that the biggest single factor in mineral diversity on Earth is water, which through a variety of chemical and physical processes helps to generate more than 80% of minerals.
    • But they also found that life is a key player: One-third of all mineral kinds form exclusively as parts or byproducts of living things — such as bits of bones, teeth, coral and kidney stones (which are all rich in mineral content) or feces, wood, microbial mats and other organic materials that over geologic time can absorb elements from their surroundings and transform into something more like rock. Thousands of minerals are shaped by life’s activity in other ways, such as germanium compounds that form in industrial coal fires. Including substances created through interactions with byproducts of life, such as the oxygen produced in photosynthesis, life’s fingerprints are on about half of all minerals.
    • Historically, scientists “have artificially drawn a line between what is geochemistry and what is biochemistry,” said Nita Sahai, a biomineralization specialist at the University of Akron in Ohio who was not involved in the new research. In reality, the boundary between animal, vegetable and mineral is much more fluid. Human bodies, for example, are around 2% minerals by weight, most of it locked away in the calcium phosphate scaffolding that reinforces our teeth and bones.
    • How deeply the mineralogical is interwoven with the biological might not come as a huge surprise to earth scientists, Sahai said, but Morrison and Hazen’s new taxonomy “put a nice systematization on it and made it more accessible to a broader community.””
  • Maintaining the joy of discovery
    • by Eve Marder
    • Part of a larger, longer series/column by the same author.
    • Quote: “My undergraduate honors thesis supervisor, Andrew Szent-Györgyi, was spare with advice, but soon after I started working in his laboratory he said: “The more you put into your work, the more you will get from it”. He didn’t bother to elaborate on that statement, but I understood his message immediately. I believe his message is as relevant today as it was when I was a fledging scientist.
    • As I watch my own trainees, I am struck by how much more difficult it is for them than it was for me. Fifty years ago, most basic science came from small groups of investigators, working independently, and there was lots of “low-hanging fruit”. Today, research groups are much bigger, papers have more authors, and there is little low-hanging fruit. Fifty years ago, we were in direct contact with the data, and often knew rapidly whether the experiment had worked and what it showed. Even as students and postdocs, many of us were the first in the world to see something, and this joy of discovery – even for something small – fueled our passion for doing science. I fear that the greater technological and statistical complexity of the work done today may partially occlude that joy of discovery.”
    • I also read Watching jellyfish and The importance of remembering.
  • Safer in the Streets
    • by Various
    • Quote: “As people hit the streets across America to protest the murder of George Floyd and stand for Black lives, we’ve all seen authorities respond to our protests against police brutality with more police brutality. Now no one can plausibly deny that the police are violent, regardless of whether demonstrators are breaking windows or just exercising their alleged freedoms. And yet, we cannot allow the cops to beat the resistance out of us.
    • Safer in the Streets is a tool for protesters that illustrates best practices for dealing with the police. In the series, seven different cartoonists interpret a basic principle of street tactics, from snake marches to how to make sure you don’t break your fingers. It’s free to read and share for everyone, and it’s formatted to print as a two-sheet zine for passing out.
    • Compliance won’t protect us out there, so we need to be smart, careful, and brave if we’re going to be safer in the streets.”
  • Cold Exposure and Heat Exposure for Health and Performance
    • by Andrew Huberman
    • From The Science and Use of Cold Exposure for Health and Performance: “…the colder the stimulus (water immersion, shower, etc.), the shorter amount of time you need to expose yourself to the cold. One study showed significant and prolonged increases in dopamine when people were in cool (60°F) water for about an hour up to their neck, with their head above water. Other studies describe significant increases in epinephrine from just 20 seconds in very cold water (~40°F). The good news is that as you do deliberate cold exposure more often, you will be more comfortable in the cold at all times and can start to use colder temperatures with more confidence, just like exercise.”
    • From Deliberate Heat Exposure Protocols for Health and Performance: “Heat will trigger some of the same mechanisms in the brain and body as if you were physically engaged in cardiovascular exercise. While in the sauna, heart rate and blood flow increase, and blood vessels will vasodilate (expand) as your body works to cool down in order to regulate body temperature.”
  • the one after the last one about destiny
    • by GB ‘Doc’ Burford
    • Quote: “I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it until the day I die: Game design is about getting players to take interesting action. When your game isn’t varied — or worse, your game’s system pushes players to do specific things in specific ways, limiting the possibility space the players operate in — it demotivates people. It burns them out. They stop wanting things, and that’s when they stop playing.
    • Players are a lot like cats; if you keep a cat in a room with nothing in it, well, congrats, you’ve put a cat in prison. Cat brains require a specific amount of stimulation in order for the cat to be happy — it needs toys, boxes, and other things in order to function. Humans are the same way; it’s why variety is such an important thing. Our brains require a certain level of stimulation, and predictability robs us of that stimulation; when we know what’s going to happen and we no longer anticipate it, then the activity ceases to be stimulating, which means we are not just unmotivated to keep doing it, but we become motivated to do something else.”

The Magnificent Seven #106: On the Measure of Intelligence – 31/07/22

  • On the Measure of Intelligence
    • by François Chollet
    • Quote: “Information processing systems form a spectrum between two extremes: on one end, static systems that consist entirely of hard-coded priors (such as DeepBlue or our if/else chatbot example), and on the opposite end, systems that incorporate very few priors and are almost entirely programmed via exposure to data (such as a hashtable or a densely-connected neural network). Most intelligent systems, including humans and animals, combine ample amounts of both priors and experience, as we point out in II.1.3. Crucially, the ability to generalize is an axis that runs orthogonal to the prior/experience plane. Given a learning system capable of achieving a certain level of generalization, modifying the system by incorporating more priors or more training data about the task can lead to greater task-specific performance without affecting generalization. In this case, both priors and experience serve as a way to “game” any given test of skill without having to display the sort of general-purpose abilities that humans would rely on to acquire the same skill.
    • This can be readily demonstrated with a simple example: consider a hashtable that uses a locality-sensitive hash function (e.g. nearest neighbor) to map new inputs to previously seen inputs. Such a system implements a learning algorithm capable of local generalization, the extent of which is fixed (independent of the amount of data seen), determined only by the abstraction capabilities of the hash function. This system, despite only featuring trace amounts of generalization power, is already sufficient to “solve” any task for which unlimited training data can be generated, such as any video game. All that one has to do is obtain a dense sampling of the space of situations that needs to be covered, and associate each situation with an appropriate action vector.
    • Adding ever more data to a local-generalization learning system is certainly a fair strategy if one’s end goal is skill on the task considered, but it will not lead to generalization beyond the data the system has seen (the resulting system is still very brittle, e.g. Deep Learning models such as OpenAI Five), and crucially, developing such systems does not teach us anything about achieving flexibility and generality. “Solving” any given task with beyond-human level performance by leveraging either unlimited priors or unlimited data does not bring us any closer to broad AI or general AI, whether the task is chess, football, or any e-sport.”
  • Finding strength, and a calling, in a brood of eaglets
    • by Rodney Stotts, Kate Pipkin
    • Quote: “Anthony and Burrell volunteered to do the first feeding. We had bought some freshly caught fish, and Anthony and Burrell took the fish out of a cooler and put them in a bucket. The rest of us watched from a small clearing in the woods as they secured the bucket to the pulley and slowly hoisted it up to the hack box, being careful not to spill any. Once the bucket was hovering above the hack box, they had to pull on a rope attached to the system, tipping the bucket and dropping the food into the eagles’ mouths so they thought it was coming from their mother. It was a hard job that required precision and patience.
    • After the eagles had had their first meal in the hack box, we stood silently in the woods for a few minutes and just looked at one another. This was a solemn moment. Even before the eagles arrived, we had decided as a group that we would name one of them Monique, after our murdered crew member. We felt her spirit among the trees that day, like she was cheering us on, and we all cried — even me and Anthony.
    • We took turns feeding the juvenile eagles. Tink fed the eagles as well, but he volunteered to also fill in the logbook with information about the birds, such as what time they were fed, what they ate, and any activity he observed. I didn’t have the patience for that. Tink would sit for hours, observing the eagles and making notations in the logbook. All of this continued for about two months, until it was finally time to set them free.”
    • The linked article is a part of Fix’s The Outdoor Issue, and itself an excerpt from Bird Brother: “To escape the tough streets of Southeast Washington, D.C. in the late 1980s, young Rodney Stotts would ride the metro to the Smithsonian National Zoo. There, the bald eagles and other birds of prey captured his imagination for the first time. In Bird Brother, Rodney shares his unlikely journey to becoming a conservationist and one of America’s few Black master falconers.”
  • An Elite Apart: The Biology of Hierarchy
    • by Stone Age Herbalist
    • Quote: “If we accept the premise that secret societies likely existed among Palaeolithic and later hunter-gatherers then we broadly have to accept the existence of some form of religious, priestly or elite class. Palaeolithic archaeology is comfortable with the presence of shamanism during this time period, meaning people who engage in specialised forms of ritual designed to alter their states of consciousness and travel through other realms or worlds to cure disease, find animals and other important social tasks. A common feature of shamans which often goes unrecognised is that they are typically ill, sick, deformed, diseased, neurologically atypical, epileptic or physically unusual in some other way.
    • Eliade and other specialists in shamanic studies often call them the ‘Wounded Healer’, an archetype of the doctor or medicine man. This leads to the curious phenomenon where a sickly and deformed person ends up with a huge amount of social power. Examples of potential shamans in the archaeological record often focus on physical impairments of the skeletal remains, such as the Romito Dwarf, Lady of Bad Durrenberg or the Sunghir children. Secret societies then, could end up being ruled by the least strong member. By any Nietzschean analysis, this could lead to the prioritisation of a resentful form of politics, characterised by spitefulness, petty disputes, cruelty, trickery, vengefulness and backstabbing. This is borne out in the literature – a study of Buriat shamans highlighted the importance of gossip, rivalry and constant magical attacks between shamans, vying for status. Among the Venezuelan Hoti, shamans are the main source of fear within a highly egalitarian and peaceful society. More disturbing are the ‘dark shamans’ of the Warao people, those who perform the horrific ‘kanaima’ revenge ritual, leaving their communities trapped in a constant cycle of feuding.”
    • I also read two other posts.
    • From Horror and Prehistory: “Encrusted with calcite, looking far more like a face grown out of the rock itself, this skull was cemented to the cave wall, lifted clear off the floor by the growth of the stalagmites. This kind of deep time, where a human died and his inorganic remains, the stony scaffold of his flesh, were joined in an inhuman embrace with the living growing rock; it reveals to the reflective reader a deep dread of our mortal coil and the much more powerful non-human forces that we arise from.”
    • From Frenzied Like the Wolf: “The story of Robert Bales is shocking to the modern ear. How could he do something so utterly barbaric and cruel? But were you to recount this tale to an ancient, you might get a very different response – for lurking within the human psyche is a beast of rage and blood. It has come down to us through the centuries as the‘berserker’. There is at present no consensus among the psychological and medical world as to why and how a man can turn into something so dangerous and violent, seemingly without warning.”
  • 5 Minute Physiology
    • by Andrew Galpin
    • Quote: “In 5 Minute Physiology I tackle exciting physiology, nutrition, and human performance questions in 5 minutes or less, roughly.”
    • I watched a few of these—e.g. macronutrient transport and storage, athletic stances and identifying good vs. bad technique—but I have yet to get to the 25 and 55 minute videos. I enjoyed them, though.
  • Imagining the Worst
    • by Tobias Revell
    • Quote: “Anders, who was forecasting through the Cold War and the very real threat of nuclear apocalypse advocated for fear and for imagining the worst. He resisted protests that it was weak, defeatist or pessimistic to imagine the worst outcomes but advocated that it gave a richer understanding of possibility. Importantly, he pointed out that disaster scenarios were much more likely than the utopian stories meant as a distraction from them but popular imagination struggled to imagine them:
      • Utopians are unable to actually produce what they are able to visualize, we are unable to visualize what we are actually producing.
    • This is a variation on the foreclosure argument; that by bombarding the popular imagination with the sales pitch of your future vision you obscure and obfuscate any alternatives. Anders’ pitch was that you should imagine the very worst outcome to challenge the Utopians.
    • To do this, in the specific examples of nuclear weapons, he developed an interesting philosophical framework – ‘the reprieve.’ Essentially, the extinction of humanity is a guaranteed future event. It is going to happen. The aim is then to put it off for as long as possible. This is in the same way that web 3 will liberate us all from the oppression of institutions or will liberate the web but suddenly the project of survival demands much more personal and real investment and action than the offsetting of some utopia that no one actually wants to will into being because they’re all so busy profiting off the present. In other words, while being happy and making lots of money in the present, people will act to put off imagined disaster but won’t act to bring forward imagined utopia.”
  • Some FAQs You Might Enjoy
    • by Brandon Sanderson
    • Quote: “So how many of those 800k copies of Rhythm of War did Amazon sell? Probably around 650,000 copies–maybe more. Somewhere around 80%, by my more conservative of estimations. And in my most popular format, audio, they completely dominate the market.
    • This is deeply unsettling.
    • Now, it’s hard to blame Amazon for this, at least not entirely. I absolutely blame them for their terrible treatment of workers. And yes, they’ve engaged in some predatory practices, as I talked about above. But I honestly think that the bigger factor is that they’re just really good at selling things. Kindle has the best user experience, and was the innovation that finally broke open the ebook market. Audible championed the credit model and finally brought audiobooks to a reasonable price point. (Old people like me will remember the days of $70–$80 Wheel of Time audiobooks.) Amazon’s delivery speed is incredible. Their stock, near-infinite.
    • Beyond that, I have friends at Amazon. I like the people at Amazon. I’ve worked with them on many things, and the people there have universally been excellent. Book lovers, passionate about their jobs, and really easy to get along with.
    • Still, their market share should terrify authors. Innovation is strangled by market dominance. And the problem with loss leading (like Amazon did over the years) is that eventually you have to start making profit. And then the squeeze comes. Indie authors are feeling this right now. Amazon created the indie book market, quite literally. Before it, indie publishing was an enormously expensive and risky affair. One of my neighbors when I was growing up was a journalist who decided to try to indie-publish a book, and he ended up with the proverbial garage full of tens of thousands of copies he was unable to sell.
    • The ebook revolution, spearheaded by Amazon paying a whopping 70% royalty to indie authors who published on their platform, was huge. (For reference, traditional publishing currently pays 17.5% on those same ebooks.) This, mixed with authors having far more power to choose what they want to do with said books–including walking away whenever they want–created an extremely author-friendly boom that has legitimately done great things. Smaller voices have a much better chance, the New York gatekeepers have lost some of their control, and there’s a feeling of democratization to publishing that has never existed before.
    • At least there used to be.”
  • Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods
    • by Laura Lotti, Sam Hart, Toby Shorin
    • Quote: “A social body is united not only by the things it makes use of, but by a multitude of shared traits, including geography, ethnicity, religion, taste, culture, history, and values. This is why, no matter their claim to universality, instantiations of public goods are always local. Locality is created and felt through shared space, time, or experience. Without the assumptions and norms that develop out of this shared context, it would be impossible to identify and make space for things that are in the public benefit. So public goods, even as defined by economists, will always be a reflection of some group’s shared context, common beliefs, and moral sensibilities; in other words, their value system.
    • Public libraries, public education, national artifacts, and clean running water are four public things that exemplify the moral basis of public goods. Public libraries are built by communities that value self-directed learning and spaces of shared knowledge. Public schools are valued when a culture believes a shared basis of mathematics, science, language, and history enriches civic life. Nations designate and protect historical artifacts because their people hold connection to their heritage to be something of intrinsic worth. Lastly, we provision clean water for all because of our belief that all lives are equally valuable. This humanist value is why stories like the Flint water crisis—a failure of basic infrastructure—are widely understood as humanitarian crises: certain lives are being treated as valueless, treated as if they do not belong.”

The Magnificent Seven #105: People at Parties – 24/07/22

  • People at Parties
    • by Gracie Hadland
    • Quote: “Still, it’s hard to believe there’s space to go against the flow in the L.A. of today. As queer people are more readily accepted into the mainstream, and as our social lives exist more and more online, a party scene borne out of necessity, survival, ingenuity, and desire for community seems like a distant historical circumstance. In 2021 queer alt raves are ticketed and infrequent and tinged with nostalgia. The desire to connect with early generations of queer life in the city, to be part of a subculture, is apparent—there’s even a party called Subculture. This truth is met with ambivalence. I’m at once relieved to be distanced from the precarity that being gay once indicated, but I can’t help feeling that in some ways it afforded a kind of freedom, creatively and socially. In the introduction to Provisional Notes for a Disappeared City, Rivera tells Chris Kraus, “The earliest memories I had of feeling something was suffering, that feeling you have when someone leaves you.” It’s possible that photography for Rivera was at first a way to combat that loss, to quell the anxiety of death and disappearance that influenced his life from a young age. To romanticize queer culture of yore, like that documented in Rivera’s images, is to be confronted with the brutal reality from which it developed and existed. This is the paradox of being queer and coming-of-age in the city today: to understand the fallacy and delusion embedded in nostalgia for the past yet longing for the community that accompanied living on the edges.”
    • Including this because I like it: “Reynaldo writes in Provisional Notes for a Disappeared City, “This book is an attempt to leave a record that we were here, since we tend to get erased and leave our neighborhoods without any traces… We leave very little material behind. We’re always found in the footnotes of others.””
  • ‘Momentum Computing’ Pushes Technology’s Thermodynamic Limits
    • by Phillip Ball
    • Quote: “Harnessing a particle’s velocity for computing is not an entirely new idea. Momentum computing is closely analogous to a reversible-computing concept called ballistic computing that was proposed in the 1980s: in it, information is encoded in objects or particles that move freely through the circuits under their own inertia, carrying with them some signal that is used repeatedly to enact many logical operations. If the particle interacts elastically with others, it will not lose any energy in the process. In such a device, once the ballistic bits have been “launched,” they alone power the computation without any other energy input. The computation is reversible as long as the bits continue bouncing along their trajectories. Information is erased, and energy is dissipated, only when their states are read out.
    • In ballistic computing, a particle’s velocity simply transports it through the device, allowing the particle to ferry information from input to output, Crutchfield says. But in momentum computing, a particle’s velocity and position collectively allow it to embody a unique and unambiguous sequence of states during a computation. This latter circumstance is the key to reversibility and thus low dissipation, he adds, because it can reveal exactly where each particle has been.
    • Researchers, including Frank, have worked on ballistic reversible computing for decades. One challenge is that, in its initial proposal, ballistic computing is dynamically unstable because, for example, particle collisions may be chaotic and therefore highly sensitive to the tiniest random fluctuations: they cannot then be reversed. But researchers have made progress in cracking the problems. For example, Kevin Osborn and Waltraut Wustmann, both at the University of Maryland, have proposed that JJ circuits might be used to make a reversible ballistic logical circuit called a shift register, in which the output of one logic gate becomes the input of the next in a series of “flip-flop” operations.”
  • From Cyberpunk to Solarpunk: Technics and the Cities of the Future
    • by Matt Bluemink
    • Quote: “But it’s not just twee Ghibli-esque cartoons that solarpunk communities are pushing. As Flynn writes: “yes there’s a -punk there, and not just because it’s become a trendy suffix. There’s an oppositional quality to solarpunk, but it’s an opposition that begins with infrastructure as a form of resistance.”
    • Green, sustainable infrastructure as a form of resistance. Technical systems decoupled from the ‘authoritarian technics’ that Mumford warns us about. The embracing of the natural and the technical. This idea is where the solarpunk vision really comes into its own. In fact, since its conception over 10 years ago, there have been a whole host of substantial projects in architecture, urban design, and the green energy sector that have solarpunk ideals at their core.”
  • Falling Not Far from the Tree
    • by Maryann P. Feldman, Serden Ozcan, Toke Reichstein
    • Quote: “In creating new organizations, entrepreneurs confront myriad decisions. The choices involved are numerous, and each affects the payoff associated with other practices. There is also significant outcome uncertainty. All the same, founders of new firms cannot afford to experiment randomly or foolishly (Aldrich 1999). On the one hand, entrepreneurs typically lack the resources and time that might allow them to find the most optimum combinations through trial-and-error learning while buffering their organizations from the cost of experimentation and suboptimal selection (Baker et al. 2003). On the other hand, the early choices that founders make set conditions for an emergent process that determines the eventual organizational structure (Carroll 1993). Indeed, initial practices become entrenched as more and more organizational members engage in them. In turn, these practices lodge themselves in cognitive structures and become deeply held values. As a result, abandoning them becomes very unlikely—even under external pressure (Zeitz et al. 1999). To the extent that these practices are perceived as effective, organizational members’ commitments to these practices will become even more enhanced, resulting in a greater reluctance—or increased difficulty—to discard them (Zeitz et al. 1999). Viewed in this light, decisions about organizational practices constitute a strategic task for founders. Indeed, as Agarwal et al. (2016) observe, a necessary condition for a new venture’s success is the founder’s ability to establish norms, practices, and structures within which resources can be appropriately configured.”
  • Hustle
    • by Netflix, Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangómez
    • I’ve been paying attention to this years NBA Finals, which I haven’t done for a long time. And I’m glad I did. This likely contributed to me selecting a film about an NBA talent scout for a Saturday night viewing. It’s no Coach Carter, but it was a fun watch.
    • Quote: “When a down-on-his-luck basketball scout finds a potential superstar in Spain, he sets out to prove they both have what it takes to make it in the NBA.”
  • What is good mathematics?
    • by Terence Tao
    • Quote: “As we can see from the above case study, the very best examples of good mathematics do not merely fulfil one or more of the criteria of mathematical quality listed at the beginning of this article, but are more importantly part of a greater mathematical story, which then unfurls to generate many further pieces of good mathematics of many different types. Indeed, one can view the history of entire fields of mathematics as being primarily generated by a handful of these great stories, their evolution through time, and their interaction with each other. I would thus conclude that good mathematics is not merely measured by one or more of the “local” qualities listed previously (though these are certainly important, and worth pursuing and debating), but also depends on the more “global” question of how it fits in with other pieces of good mathematics, either by building upon earlier achievements or encouraging the development of future breakthroughs. Of course, without the benefit of hindsight it is difficult to predict with certainty what types of mathematics will have such a property. There does however seem to be some undefinable sense that a certain piece of mathematics is “on to something”, that it is a piece of a larger puzzle waiting to be explored further. And it seems to me that it is the pursuit of such intangible promises of future potential are least as important an aspect of mathematical progress than the more concrete and obvious aspects of mathematical quality listed previously. Thus I believe that good mathematics is more than simply the process of solving problems, building theories, and making arguments shorter, stronger, clearer, more elegant, or more rigorous, though these are of course all admirable goals; while achieving all of these tasks (and debating which ones should have higher priority within any given field), we should also be aware of any possible larger context that one’s results could be placed in, as this may well lead to the greatest long-term benefit for the result, for the field, and for mathematics as a whole.”
  • Longevity Masterclass
    • by Rich Roll
    • Quote: “Aging can harden you to long-held beliefs that don’t serve you—or it can bring wisdom.
    • Aging can restrict your sense of possibility—or it can unlock your further potential.
    • Aging can bring sickness, disease, and suffering—or it can bring continued health, deeper fulfillment, and renewed vigor.
    • Aging happens to everyone. But allowing it to limit you is really a choice.
    • In other words, welcome to our fourth masterclass episode where we share big truths from some of my best podcast guests, honing in on a single theme or subject matter. Today we are diving deep into the subject of longevity, specifically: how to age healthfully, how to biologically promote longevity, how to embrace your innate potential for growth beyond the prescribed productive years, and how to cultivate a true life-long expansion of self.”

The Magnificent Seven #104: Thinking Outside the Die – 17/07/22

  • Thinking Outside the Die
    • by Sean Lie
    • I probably should have watched the above mini-series this prior to Vitaliy Chiley’s—a machine learning engineer at Cerebrasappearance on Machine Learning Street Talk. I’m not that familiar with the terrain, but I found the presentation and conversation intriguing, nonetheless.
    • Quote: “We started Cerebras with a vision to drastically change the landscape of compute for AI. In this five-part series, Sean Lie, Co-Founder and Chief Hardware Architect at Cerebras Systems shares some of the “outside the box” thinking we believe is necessary to meet the demands of ML in the future.”
  • How to Save the Blockchain
    • by Ian Simmons
    • Quote A: “What Perez says, roughly, is that bubbles build infrastructure. There’s a massive surge of irrational enthusiasm during which water flows uphill, capital flows into the most improbable things, and the future seems so close you can touch it. Warren Buffet hates this stuff because it involves guessing about the future. During that initial lift, during the innovation burn period, the G-force is like sitting in a plane at take-off. It hits you right in the base of your spine. Here we go!
    • Then a little later nearly everyone goes bankrupt.
    • Then a bunch of grown-ups who know how to run business move in, buy up all the assets cheap, and turn all of this technological potential into profitable businesses.
    • It’s a fundamental change in the nature of the people that run the industry: it goes from innovators to operators. Risk tolerance goes way down because the technology already works but it needs people who can operate it profitably.”
    • Quote B: “Environmental protection is a big deal. The existing economic architecture of the world makes it essentially impossible to protect nature. I could go on for some time about how the key function of colonialism is to convince rich people that it isn’t unceasing violence that maintains their wealth but, at the end of the day, you either know how this world works or you don’t. I used to get into trouble for saying “what is the point of Free Software running on hardware manufactured by slaves” at open source conferences. You know me.
    • A system of sound money, no matter how outlandish or mainstream, is not going to save us alone. There is nothing about bitcoin that will stop us destroying ourselves with CO2 emissions, indeed many would argue (and I’m among them) that Bitcoin has done immense damage in this way.
    • We need a comprehensive overhaul of how things are done while the global system is in shock: there is a window of opportunity to start a reorganisation of trade the likes of which hasn’t been seen in about five hundred years. We need hard asset accounting to deal with fraud and asset bubbles, and we need to start counting environmental and social externalities on the same kind of basis that we account for payments. And it has to be the same system.”
  • With Grace
    • by Steve Hawk
    • Quote: “O’Malley will ask the same detailed questions of other parents whose children share the diagnosis. Thirty-five of them are scheduled to participate in the study over the next five years. Funded by the Grace Science Foundation, the survey is designed to give researchers a baseline so they can measure the therapeutic benefits of any future NGLY1 treatment — should one ever appear.
    • The principal investigator overseeing the study is Dr. Maura R.Z. Ruzhnikov, a neurogeneticist who runs the Stanford Neurogenomics Program. Ruzhnikov was surprised and delighted when the foundation offered to finance the project. Like Bertozzi, she says such offers are rare. “It was really impressive how organized they were and how much of a vision they had,” Ruzhnikov says. “They knew the steps we needed to take not only to learn about the disease but also to have an actionable end point.”
    • Ruzhnikov spends the morning helping O’Malley run tests and refine protocols based on how Grace responds, because Grace is the study’s first patient. In one coordination test, the researchers want to see if Grace can transfer her favorite blue rubber ball from her right hand to her left. Instead, she holds the ball to her open mouth and lets it fall to the floor.
    • Matt Wilsey kneels to pick up the toy. He knows Grace will want to chew it again soon, so he moves to a sink to clean it. He rubs it with soap and rinses it off and smiles and says, to no one in particular, “I’ll probably wash this ball a hundred times today.” Then he brings it back to his daughter.”
  • Changing the Game of Corporate Research
    • by John Seeley Brown
    • Quote A: “How does this fit with innovative research? Well, we believe that, given the accelerating pace of change, every market is an emerging market. There are no fixed markets to be mapped, only emerging markets that are continually being shaped by co-evolving emerging technologies. Our job is to be there as those markets evolve, to learn to recognize them even before they recognize themselves because we can’t afford to wait for the clarity of hindsight as we construct linkages between emerging markets and emerging technologies. We allow technologies to shape the markets and the markets to shape the technologies.
    • Attending to the informal is, thus, particularly important. Getting a sense of the informal allows us to understand changing practice as it emerges long before it has been codified and made formal and explicit. So one of our goals has been to develop ways of doing this.”
    • Quote B: “A second real asset of this diversity is that the very culture we work in is itself an emergent one, not a dominant one. In a lot of corporations that have turned their attention to “culture,” what you actually have is a demand for conformity. That’s what Gideon’s research (1992), for example, showed. These corporations don’t really open themselves up to emergent cultural practices, to the formation of new communities of practice. What they do instead is expect everyone to join the dominant culture. This quashes radical departures rather than sparks them.”
    • Other ideas (papers, presentations, interviews) from Brown are available here.
  • Battling for the best and brightest
    • by Iskander Rehman
    • Quote: “Last but not least, the US should think more creatively about preemptively pilfering adversarial foreign talent in addition to building up its own, and about leveraging a key dimension of its soft power — its economic, cultural, and intellectual attractiveness — against its principal competitors. Conflict is a fundamentally interactive endeavour, and this includes the accelerating global competition for talent. During the dread-steeped years of the early Cold War, Washington’s security managers proved themselves to be doggedly single-minded in this regard, sometimes almost distressingly so. Operation Paperclip, the highly controversial post-war intelligence programme that secretly imported more than 1,600 Nazi scientists to work on a panoply of high-priority US defence projects — ranging from rocketry and biological weapons to space medicine — comes to mind. A key driver behind this morally fuliginous initiative was, of course, the desire to prevent the Third Reich’s dark geniuses from firing the furnaces of the rival Soviet war machine. While no contemporary US policymaker would want to be confronted with the same anfractuous ethical quandaries as the architects of Operation Paperclip, one should aspire to at least a partial reintroduction of this spirit of competitive ruthlessness. An adversary’s brain drain — whether from Hong Kong or from Moscow — should be America’s brain gain. For example, it is estimated that anywhere between 50-70,000 information technology specialists have left Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the last month or so. Meanwhile, growing numbers of China’s most highly educated millennials have begun to feverishly seek ways to escape their increasingly stagnant and dystopic society to find opportunity — and freedom — overseas. Why not welcome many of these talented Chinese and Russian emigrants to the United States, and following a diligent naturalisation and security clearance process, encourage a portion of them to eventually swell the ranks of America’s national security workforce, much in the same way that many Huguenots went on to buoy the military strength of Louis XIV’s rivals? In so doing, they would not only help fill critical workforce gaps in the US while widening those in their countries of origin, they would also provide invaluable regional expertise on the strengths and weaknesses of America’s primary competitors. In this regard, the Biden administration’s recent proposal to eliminate some visa requirements for Russians with a masters or doctoral degree in ‘science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, including but not limiting to degrees relevant to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, semiconductors, and robotics’, is most certainly a step in the right direction. After all, as figures as varied as Botero, Richelieu and Locke readily understood, the strength of a great power lies both in its power of attraction, and in the intellectual qualities of its people.”
  • Inter-Era
    • by Anna Gat
    • What it is: “And so I decided to sit down, at night when I have some time, to write regularly about change, or Change, about the crisis of words and bodies, and shocks and generations, about our sins and our spines, and of loves dying, and of children leaving, and the will to live, wait, and hold together that remains so strong. I’m an aesthete and dramaturg, I run a culture startup, I know only what I know. But I go out and poke, I listen, and so this is me sharing with you whatever I find.”
    • From Part 1: The Hermits: “People think the big cities, London, New York, exert freedom, but there is enslavement there, too, and not just the poverty loop, the costly appearances, it’s not only the young and the hopeful who arrive there, every year as if deployed by rota, the big cities are also filled with personal refugees, people who had to flee, who can’t live anywhere else, like I was, bringing with them their opaque pain of the displaced. I learned a lot about myself cohabiting with some of them, and still today nothing makes me more mad than not being able to choose or reject companions, the freedom to choose one’s company as the great human right, the pickiness with which to choose whom you love as your last freedom, I felt it even with my classmates when I was in school, that the closeness of months of birth, and of postcodes, was not enough as a basis for association.”
    • From Part 2: Fighting: “The scales won’t even out alone, the balance between war and forced peace, between setting it all on fire and suppressing the fair concern. When I was young, I was told I wasn’t mysterious, I am like my mother, my father told me, we are not fuckable. I spent my childhood smiling in family photos in tabloid magazines. Now that I am older, I see younger women acting all mysterious, it can’t be real, when nothing has ever happened to you, where’s the mystery. Only adults can have secrets, and you really don’t want to know them.”
  • The Painted Porch
    • by Ryan Holiday
    • When it comes to choosing books to read I don’t get as flummoxed as I used to. My reading is way more targeted now than it was ten years ago, even five. But when it wasn’t so targeted I took a lot of cues from Ryan Holiday’s reading lists. Fortunately, his book store is a compilation of many of the included books. Some solid recommendations, especially in the biography, fiction and memoir categories.
    • Quote: “The Painted Porch is a small town bookstore, literally right in the heart of Main Street, Texas. Owned and operated by Ryan Holiday (author of The Obstacle Is the Way, The Daily Stoic,etc.), The Painted Porch carries a small collection of only our absolute favorite books. We don’t care what’s new or trendy, only what’s amazing. If it’s on our shelves, it’s because we read it and think that you should too. Period.”

The Magnificent Seven #103: There Will Be No Message Discipline – 10/07/22

  • There Will Be No Message Discipline
    • by Liam Bright
    • Quote: “For if the issue is that leftist victory heralds the possibility of utopia, or leftist defeat catastrophe, or both, then this should also factor into one’s choice as to whether to engage in the activity of offering the argument itself. In particular one would have to weigh whether one’s chances of persuading enough people who are themselves sufficiently influential that their behaviour matters outweighs the risk of by one’s words contributing to the narrative that the left are unreasonable and actually dissuading some onlookers. “See, even leftist agree that leftists sound crazy!” sort of thing. At a minimum I do not think people have seriously grappled with this, so in the extreme utilities case they are at least being irresponsible. But in fact I think that for most ordinary non-taste-maker schmucks talking to broad audiences in public fora wherein their words are observable but they lack established relationships of trust with those they seek to persuade – the probabilities go the wrong way. Basically you are very unlikely to make a difference either way, but my guess is you are more likely to be picked up and highlighted by enemies of the left than you are to persuade internet strangers with good political speech.
    • So there we have it. I actually think in most cases the very simple dominance argument is enough: the genre of arguments to the effect that one ought moderate their speech for instrumental reasons is refuted by the simple fact that speaking my mind dominates the alternative. But even if one tried to take act-state dependence into account in some sophisticated way, I still do not think the conditions hold which are necessary for offering arguments from the genre to be a good idea.
    • If anything will get us out of this paradox of posting it is coordination. Something like a party with a mechanism for adopting a mass line — in particular something which assured me that my engaging in message discipline is either evidence others will also be, or will causally contribute to making it more likely they will. But absent organised solidarity we shall all keep furiously tweeting into an indifferent political void, as the lone and level timeline stretches far away.”
  • Ido Portal: The Science and Practice of Movement
    • by Andrew Huberman, Ido Portal
    • It’s rare to catch Ido having a long-form conversation like this, so it was a must-watch for me. As Ido’s ideas have done in the past, this opened up a lot of questions for me concerning movement generally, and my own day-to-day approach to it.
  • Symphony of Nature and Life: Mongolian Horse Culture
    • by Li Yulin, Sun Xiaoyan
    • Quote: “Without the horse, there would have been no Mongol Empire. Horses were the most mobile and irreplaceable military equipment for soldiers. Mongolian horses also played important roles in providing food supplies for the military. Mares produce about eighteen to twenty-nine pints of milk daily, and these large quantities of easily digestible and highly nutritional horse milk could sustain several people. Each member of the Mongolian cavalry would have more than one horse; horses were, in a sense, mobile pantries. In stressful combat circumstances where mobility was crucial for mounted troops, riders could cut the veins in the horse’s neck, drink their blood for nutrition, and apply the herb medication they carried with them to the horse’s wound. Minor wounds could be healed in a day without sacrificing the advantages of the horse’s running speed. Losing a small amount of blood was virtually harmless for a healthy horse. Mongol military forces were well-known for the ability to move from one locale to the other with almost astonishing speed, thanks to their horses. Their relative mobility, in contrast to opponents in battle, resulted in Mongol troops conquering large parts of Europe and Asia—a feat comparable to the early successes German mechanized troops in World War II enjoyed hundreds of years later.
    • Many Mongolian cavalry would have five or six warhorses. While charging or laying siege to a city, the cavalry would ride on one of them, and the rest would be tied with Cypress branches on their tails. When they were galloping, the branches pulling on the ground would produce huge amounts of dust, making people believe that thousands upon thousands of mounted soldiers were stampeding toward them. Calvary used this ruse as a strategy to scare enemies.
    • Many of the Mongolian battle horses who died on the battlefields were not killed by gunfire but by the exhaustion of constant galloping as they competed with other horses during combat. Mongolian horses were also legendary for not abandoning their owners who were wounded or even killed on the battlefield.”
  • Drawing Matter
    • by various
    • Quote: “Drawing Matter is an organisation that explores the role of drawing in architectural thought and practice. Our inquiries have been presented as exhibitions, publications, public events, and workshops for students and practitioners. We hold an archive of architectural drawings dating from the sixteenth century to the present day.
    • Our website is a fast-growing repository of new and historical writing on architecture and drawing. Many of the texts address material in the Drawing Matter Collection, but we also publish writing on drawings and objects archived elsewhere, and made by practitioners working today.
    • The collection is digitally catalogued and accessible to researchers, students and practitioners. Those with specific interests are encouraged to organise a visit in person – we maintain that the drawings themselves really must be seen to be read.”
  • The Surreal Case of a C.I.A. Hacker’s Revenge
    • by Patrick Radden Keefe
    • Quote: “We live in an era that has been profoundly warped by the headstrong impulses of men who are technically sophisticated but emotionally immature. From the whoopie-cushion antics of Elon Musk to the Panglossian implacability of Mark Zuckerberg, a particular personality profile dominates these times: the boy emperor. While reporting this article, I often wondered how the C.I.A. could have missed the obvious combustibility of this profile when it hired Schulte and gave him a security clearance. In order to get an agency job, Schulte had been subjected to a battery of tests—but, when his lawyers tried to obtain the psychological profile that the agency had produced on him, the C.I.A. would not turn it over. Perhaps, as the agency took up digital spying and sought to bolster its hacking capability, it deëmphasized qualities like emotional stability and sang-froid, and turned a blind eye to the sorts of erratic or antisocial tendencies that are widely accepted in Silicon Valley (and even embraced as the price of genius). The agency may have been blinkered about Schulte’s destructive potential because it had concluded that this was simply how coders behave. I sometimes found myself wondering whether Schulte was more idiot or savant.
    • When you consider the powerful forces arrayed against him—and the balance of probabilities that he is guilty—Schulte’s decision to represent himself seems reckless. But, for the C.I.A. and the Justice Department, he remains a formidable adversary, because he is bent on destroying them, he has little to lose, and his head is full of classified information. “Lawyers are bound,” Shroff told me. “There are certain things we can’t argue, certain arguments we can’t make. But if you’re pro se ”—representing yourself—“you can make all the motions you want. You can really try your case.””
  • It Took Me 10 Years to Understand Entropy, Here is What I Learned (and Part Two)
    • by Aurelien Pelissier
    • Quote: “A popular statement of the second law of thermodynamics is “The entropy of a closed system can only increase”. However, it is actually not what the 2nd law is about. A correct formulation would be:
      • When a thermally isolated system has passed from one thermodynamically equilibrium state A to another thermodynamically equilibrium state B, increase of its thermodynamic entropy S is greater than or equal to 0.
    • The key take-away here is that entropy is not a properly defined quantity outside of thermodynamic equilibrium, a topic still actively debated among researchers. Still, non-equilibirum entropy may be defined in specific systems where we have a set of macroscopic variables that we can continuously monitor at each time point. Then entropy is defined from the number of possible microstate compatible with these macrovariales, and the second principle naturally emerge from a probabilistic reasoning H-theorem.
      • A system will spend most of its time in its most probable state, i.e. the ones compatibles with the highest number of possible microstates.
  • Multiple articles
    • by The Polymerist
    • From Zymergen’s Implosion: “Just imagine the meeting where you tell your manager that you are working with a start-up who sent you samples to qualify from one route, but that the monomer will eventually be made by a completely different route in a few years. Maybe there is a price that is discussed, but those numbers are meaningless until processes are actually developed. I think after that meeting you would get put on a performance improvement plan.”
    • From The Chemical Company Of The Future: “Plants use enzymes to convert carbon dioxide into higher ordered carbon molecules all the time. We have known that using enzymes could be economical, but I suspect that CRISPR will enable ambitious start-ups like Solugen to produce a wide array of engineered enzymes at a significantly lower cost than was once possible due to not needing the high energy inputs. As I have written before, small and/or private companies want Innovation while big companies want innovation.”
    • From Changing The Origins Of Our Economy: “Our choices matter to some extent, but it’s not like we have a lot of options. I think most people, if they have the money, will choose the more sustainable option, which is a marketing play on guilt, privilege, and access. Instead of having the option to choose, I think it’s even more powerful to just change the whole supply chain of how we get things as well as how we dispose of them.”
    • From Will It Compost?: “As I wrapped up my conversation with Bob, he left me with one thing to think about. Even if we got our compostable polymers to compost into the soil, what value are these compostable polymers providing to the farmer or gardener who is going to use it? The oligomers and carbon dioxide that these polymers break down into are not especially nutrient dense nor would they function as humectants. The real value is that to us they break down and we feel good about ourselves for not contributing to landfills.”

The Magnificent Seven #102: Occlusion Grotesque – 03/07/22

  • Occlusion Grotesque
    • by Bjorn Karmann
    • Quote: “It all starts with the handover from the designer to the tree by tracing and carving an initial typeface. Conceptually this initial type design refers to the desire for control, a man-made almost mechanical sans-serif typeface in high contrast within the natural environment. The tree is now left untouched for a year, where the natural processes such as occlusion begin. A tree’s occlusion is the process whereby a wound – or in this case carvings – is progressively closed by the formation of new wood and bark.
    • Returning to the tree reveals an unsupervised transformation that is unique to each letter of the alphabet. The artist now takes on an observant role and meticulously documents the letters with a camera and measurement tools. This is repeated every year with the important detail that the camera settings, lens, distance, and measurements stay consistent at every observation.
    • The digitalization from the tree to a usable font invites the artist to become the design interpreter. For the most part, the letters can be traced, but occasionally due to unexpected bark behavior, edge cracking, and blurring of boundaries, the artist has to take decisions without diverting from the tree’s intent.”
    • Karmann’s other projects are interesting. Project Alias is a middle-man to voice assistants; Trajectories turns spatial data into a colour-coded wax picture;
  • Living Things Are Not (20th Century) Machines
    • by Joshua Bongard, Michael Levin
    • Quote: “The differences that have been cited between living beings and machines are generally ones that can (and will) be overcome by incremental progress. And even if one holds out for some essential ingredient that, in principle, technology cannot copy, there is the issue of hybridization. Biological brains readily incorporate novel sensory-motor (…) functions provided by embedded electronic interfaces or machine-learning components that provide smart, closed-loop reward neurotransmitter levels (…) or electrical activity which can modulate cognition. Even if “true” preferences, motivations, goal-directedness, symbol grounding, and understanding are somehow only possible in biological media, we now know that hybrid functional systems can be constructed that are part living tissue and part (perhaps smart) electronics (…), presumably conferring all of those features onto the system. No principled limits to functionalization between living systems (at any level of organization) and inorganic machinery are known; even if such limits exist, these ineffable components of living things will still tightly interact with engineered components through the interface of other biological aspects of cells and tissues that are already known to be closely interoperable with inorganic machine parts. Thus, we visualize a smooth, multi-axis continuum of beings being made of some percentage of parts that are uncontroversially biological and the remaining percentage of parts that are obviously machines (…). They are tightly integrated in a way that makes the whole system difficult to categorize, in the same way that molecular machines (e.g., ATPase motors or folding-programmed DNA strands) work together to make living beings that implement much more flexible, high-order behavior.
    • The near future will also surely contain systems in which biological and artificial parts and processes are intermixed across many levels of organization, and many orders of spatial and temporal scales. This could include a swarm composed of robots and organisms, and in which this admixture gradually changes over time to respond to slow time scale evolutionary pressures: the biological units reproduce and evolve, and the mechanical units self-replicate and evolve. Each individual in the swarm may itself be a cyborg capable of dynamically reconfiguring its biological and artificial components, while each of its cells may include more or less genetic manipulation. Where in such a system could a binary dividing line between life and artifice be placed?”
  • Metabolic Flexibility
    • by Kristi Storoschuk
    • Quote: “Humans have evolved to withstand periods of food abundance and scarcity, and it is our inherent metabolic flexibility that permits our survival without food. Metabolic flexibility is our body’s ability to efficiently adapt our metabolism to different energy sources depending on demand and availability to maintain energy homeostasis. In simplest terms, it is our cell’s capacity to switch between burning glucose and fat with ease.
    • The issue we are seeing today is that the majority of people are stuck in this glucose-dominant state, where overnutrition or caloric excess, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, causes us to lose our metabolic flexibility over time. This topic is very important as the loss of metabolic flexibility is a hallmark of many chronic metabolic diseases, as mentioned previously, but is likely something that can be quickly restored through lifestyle change.
    • It was 1999 when Kelley et al. discovered that lean individuals could easily adapt their metabolism to the fasting state or insulin infusion compared to obese individuals. Put another way, lean individuals displayed a level of metabolic flexibility that obese individuals lacked. A healthy metabolism will switch to burning fat while fasting, and effectively shut it off when nutrients (or certain hormones, e.g., insulin) are present. In this study, the obese participants did not effectively make this switch to burning fat while fasting, nor was it reduced following insulin infusion, compared to the lean participants.
    • It is now generally understood that metabolic flexibility is linked to our metabolic health, as elegantly shown by San-Millan and Brooks where individuals with metabolic syndrome showed impaired metabolic flexibility during an incremental exercise test, compared to recreationally active and elite athlete participants with superb metabolic flexibility. The participants with metabolic inflexibility were burning significantly more glucose at rest and low intensity exercise. The theory is that their mitochondria weren’t functioning properly, therefore unable to burn fat efficiently. As a consequence, glucose is burned outside of the mitochondria (in the cytosol), generating lactate in the process.”
    • I also read about time-restricted eating and its benefits.
  • Sea Change
    • by Andrew Blum, Carey Baraka
    • Quote: “These two new pieces of infrastructure will connect Africa to the global internet more robustly than ever, but they will also place an unprecedented level of control in the hands of the U.S.-based tech giants. Google and Meta’s ambitions to build and own global data links mark a tectonic shift in how the internet works and who controls it.
    • The internet’s initial promise was to decentralize telecommunications, releasing consumers from the monopoly grip of telecomms incumbents. Over the last 30 years, the internet has done that, and much more. But undersea cables, owned by the internet’s behemoths, hint at a return to where we started: a near future in which a select group of massive corporations have not merely tightened their hold on our online activity but have deliberately rebuilt the internet for their own use, according to their own specifications, from the ocean floor up.
    • “That something that is so profound for public communication is completely controlled by a private company is worrisome,” Steve Song, a policy advisor at the Mozilla Foundation and a longtime advocate for internet access across Africa, told Rest of World.
    • If the giants’ cable building continues as planned, the future internet will be less a network of interconnected networks, as it was originally conceived and as it has grown, and more like asupranet, dominated by a handful of mega networks operating upon their own global physical infrastructure.”
    • I also read Online shopping in the middle of the ocean and The fall of the King of Squirrels.
  • “Identity isn’t a passport into a community”
    • by Anne Helen Petersen, Alice Wong
    • Quote: “Like many disabled people, I often feel like we’re being left behind. Each time someone asks, “Do you expect me to be masking forever?” I want to say, “Yes, since I will be.” How do you deal with the constant gaslighting? Do you have any advice for disabled people who are feeling exhausted, overlooked, and left-behind?
    • I am tired too! And for high-risk folks like us, the gaslighting started way before the pandemic, riiiight?!? It’s ridonkulous that it took a pandemic with millions dead globally for people with privilege to slowly acknowledge medical racism and health inequities. The medical industrial complex serves the center. Period. Normalcy is a scam. Period. Ableism is intertwined with ageism, racism, sexism, hypercapitalism, and white supremacy. Period. This is why high-risk people have been treated as disposable during the pandemic and our deaths are considered ‘acceptable losses.’ Eugenics is real and I feel like we, as disabled oracles, have to keep repeating these alarms because in the end our truths are prophecies. And we’re all doomed if we don’t heed them.
    • High-risk people know the importance of masking and vaccination while recognizing not everyone can do both. High-risk people know that living and surviving COVID-19 may not result in a full recovery. High-risk people know that they can’t rely on the state to get them the help they need, which is why mutual aid has kept so many people alive. I guess my long-winded answer to your question is to use whatever rage you have toward the systems and institutions that abandoned you and throw it into collective care–the relationships you have that help you feel safe and whole. And for those who haven’t found those connections, it’s ok! Ask for help! Keep talking and sharing your truth! Care for yourself, rest, recharge, treat yourself. You deserve it!”
  • Old thinking will break your brain
    • by Alex Steffen
    • Quote: “The strategy of triangulation attempts to prolong the value of an outdated asset, system or practice. Triangulating institutions don’t deny the need for climate action, sustainable systems and ruggedization in the face of escalating risk, but instead structure their public engagement with that need in such a way as to minimize the demand for large-scale, rapid change. Now that outright denial no longer works, expectation management is key.
    • Most commonly, right now, that means three steps.
      • First, the institution involved declares support for big-picture goals (Science-based targets! Net-zero emissions! Zero waste!).
      • Second, it announces some near-term, non-disruptive, incremental actions towards those goals.
      • Third, it frames those incremental steps and other plans or positions and future processes as proof of commitment to those large goals. It spins the steps being offered as a strategy for bridging the gaps between actions and targets.
    • By triangulating, the lagging institution can both deflate pressure (from the public, regulators or activist stakeholders) to change more quickly and shore up the power of management and experts who would otherwise be forced to admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing. Triangulation may look on the surface like action, but it’s not a way to change institution priorities — it’s a way to protect institutional priorities from change.
    • Triangulation has two fatal flaws. The first is that the audience must take the frame— they have to accept the triangulated strategy as evidence of commitment and wise leadership. The second is that it leaves the institution without a strategy for succeeding in the real world we live in. The two are connected.”
    • I also read, Ruggedize Your Life. Quote: “No place on Earth will escape climate and ecological upheaval — no place is, in that sense, safe. But some threats are not as grave as others. Some dangers are muffled by geography and historical advantage. Some governments and economies are better prepared than others. Some places are better able to manage in the face of discontinuity. Being totally safe is not an available option. Being safer than you’d be elsewhere and being more able to cope with crisis is — that is an option that still exists, in places.”
  • Effects of Sad and Happy Music on Mind-Wandering and the Default Mode Network
    • by Liila Taruff, Corinna Pehrs, Stavros Skouras, Stefan Koelsch
    • From the abstract: “Music is a ubiquitous phenomenon in human cultures, mostly due to its power to evoke and regulate emotions. However, effects of music evoking different emotional experiences such as sadness and happiness on cognition, and in particular on self-generated thought, are unknown. Here we use probe-caught thought sampling and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the influence of sad and happy music on mind-wandering and its underlying neuronal mechanisms. In three experiments we found that sad music, compared with happy music, is associated with stronger mind-wandering (Experiments 1A and 1B) and greater centrality of the nodes of the Default Mode Network (DMN) (Experiment 2). Thus, our results demonstrate that, when listening to sad vs. happy music, people withdraw their attention inwards and engage in spontaneous, self-referential cognitive processes. Importantly, our results also underscore that DMN activity can be modulated as a function of sad and happy music. These findings call for a systematic investigation of the relation between music and thought, having broad implications for the use of music in education and clinical settings.”

The Magnificent Seven #101: Mud Maker – 26/06/22

  • Mud Maker: The Man Behind MLB’s Essential Secret Sauce
    • by Emma Baccellieri
    • Quote: “Jim Bintliff’s collection of lies is small and sharply curated, each one loose enough to be plausible and mundane enough to limit interest in verifying it. They work like this: Bintliff will be out on the banks of a tributary of the Delaware River, in his personal uniform of denim cutoffs and disintegrating sneakers, using a shovel to harvest buckets of mud. Someone will come along and ask what he’s doing. Bintliff sizes up the questioner, usually a boater or swimmer or fisherman, then picks from his collection. I’ve been sent by the Environmental Protection Agency, and I’m surveying the soil. Or: I’m helping the Port Authority, looking into pollution. Or, if it’s a group of young folks who look like they’ve only come out on the water for a good time: I take this mud, and I put it on my pot plants. They grow like trees.
    • This always does the trick. It prevents anyone from exploring what he’s actually doing, which is what he’s done for decades, what his father did before him, and his grandfather before him: Bintliff is collecting the mud that is used to treat every single regulation major league baseball, roughly 240,000 per season.
    • Mud is a family business; it has been for more than half a century. For decades, baseball’s official rule book has required that every ball be rubbed before being used in a game. Bintliff’s mud is the only substance allowed. Originally marketed as “magic,” it’s just a little thicker than chocolate pudding—a tiny dab is enough to remove the factory gloss from a new ball without mucking up the seams or getting the cover too filthy. Equipment managers rub it on before every game, allowing pitchers to get a dependable grip. The mud is found only along a short stretch of that tributary of the Delaware, with the precise location kept secret from everyone, including MLB.”
  • Sand Tables: The Archaeology of a Platform
    • by Matthew Kirschenbaum
    • Quote: “Many wargamers will have heard of sand tables, at least as part of the collective lore. The original von Reisswitz Kriegsspiel was played on a sand table before it migrated to other formats. Hobby legends like Jack Scruby, Don Featherstone, and Gary Gygax all had sand tables, and flaunted them as status symbols. But a sand table is also a media platform in the most literal sense, ancient and elemental. As a twentieth century source explains, a sand table is “simply a box mounted on trestles to a convenient height, or a curbed table, partially filled with sand.” Common in military settings, sand tables have also been used to teach the blind, train wilderness firefighters, facilitate therapy for trauma victims, and illustrate stories to children. Today there is a direct line from this seemingly modest technology to augmented reality and other tangible media devices.
    • Part media history, part military history, and part material cultural archaeology, this talk excavates the history of this ancient, elemental platform. it also seeks to use sand tables to reshape questions made commonplace by the digital: these include the nature of interactivity, touch as an interface, and the embodied basis of perspective. Besides wargaming, it will be of interest to persons working in media studies, visual studies, and material culture.”
  • Quit Your Job
    • by Wolf Tivy
    • *Cough* basic income *cough. Quote: “Working even a good job cramps your sense of possibility, imposes narrow objectives, and eats away at the little things that could grow into big things if they weren’t so oppressed by the rigors of existing structure. I’ve seen this with my friends, in how they are full of ideas and adventurous spirit a few months after I convince them to quit their jobs. The world is full of ideas and opportunities to explore, but it takes time outside of structure to even adjust your eyes to the landscape of possibility. You are cramped by your job, unable to make the class of investments that is necessary for a life beyond the existing tracks.
    • If your role in the universe is structured work within order found and built by someone else, those off-road investments are pointless. This conventional work is usually more immediately valuable than anything you could do on your own and it does not require much open-ended exploratory leisure. This efficient pursuit of predictable value is the quiet dignity of the mass of working people. But if we are to solve the bigger structural, spiritual, and intellectual problems which aren’t addressed by existing institutions, someone needs to be exploring off of the established road, where there is a high probability of failing to accomplish anything at all, and a significant probability of discovering and exploiting the next big breakthroughs.
    • This is part of why we need an active leisure class in society. Productive exploration requires the application of skilled personal judgment to chasing hunches and interesting problems without narrow material and objective constraints. It is generally unfair and wasteful for this to be anything but voluntarily self-funded, though some well-designed research institutions can effectively simulate productive leisure and accelerate the exploration process. Thus, speculative exploration is a special duty of those with means.
    • Relatedly, it’s unfair and wasteful for the people who could be out there exploring and building the future on their own dime to be either working normal jobs or simply managing their money for profit. This is a key part of what it means to be a responsible elite. You use your privilege and your personal judgment to explore and solve problems that no one else can.”
  • Complaint as a Queer Method
    • by Sara Ahmed
    • Quote: “The Head of Department’s statement of sympathy, his performance of sympathy, is directed toward racism that is over there. But seeing racism there can be how you don’t see it here, how you enact it here (white people going to different parts of the room). Racism can be what stops a complaint about racism.
    • I think of how policies can be what appears, what stops us from seeing what is going on. Diversity too can be what appears, what stops us from seeing what is going on, how it goes on. The organization might appear welcoming, diversity as an open door, come in come in, minorities welcome. Just because they welcome you it does not mean they expect you to turn up. Perhaps you open the door only to end up in a hostile environment otherwise known as the diversity committee. This woman of colour academic describes, “I was on the equality and diversity group in the university. And as soon as I started mentioning things to do with race, they changed the portfolio of who could be on the committee and I was dropped.” If you are dropped from the diversity committee for mentioning things to do with race, the diversity committee is how you don’t mention things to do with race. Another time, she is writing a paper for a special issue of a journal on decolonizing her discipline. She receives feedback from a white editor , “the response of the editor was ‘needs to be toned down, not enough scholarly input to back up the claims they are making.’ Basically, get back in your box, and if you want to decolonize, we’ll do it on our terms.” Being dropped from the diversity committee for “mentioning things to do with race” is continuous with being told to tone it down on the decolonizing special issue. Whiteness can be just as occupying of spaces when they are designated decolonial, I sometimes call this decolonial whiteness.
  • Quantifying firm-level economic systemic risk from nation-wide supply networks
    • by Christian Diem, András Borsos, Tobias Reisch, János Kertész, Stefan Thurner
    • Quote: “Based on the reconstruction of all relevant buyer-supplier relations between companies in an entire country from VAT data, we demonstrate that the real economy can not be viewed as a collection of separate supply chains, but is a tightly connected directed network that has a strongly (weakly) connected component, containing 26% (94%) of all companies. The network allows us to develop and compute an index for the approximate systemic risk every individual company poses to the economy, ESRI. We demonstrate explicitly that systemic risk based on aggregated sector level data yields a severely distorted picture.
    • We find that the 32 top risky companies contribute to 45 % of the entire systemic risk, the top 100 companies contribute to 74 %. Only 165 companies have more than 1% risk (i.e. affect more than 1% of the economies output). The 32 top risky companies (0.035% of all 91,595 companies) show extremely high systemic risk of about 23%. They are connected by a network of highly critical supply relations (plateau network). Of those, only a fraction appears to be inherently risky (e.g., because of size or high market shares). The average systemic risk of a Hungarian company is ESRI𝑖⎯=0.00018ESRIi¯=0.00018 (mean). The median is 1.7⋅10−61.7⋅10−6.
    • Approximately a third of the top risky companies are at the periphery of the plateau network. These are small and inherit systemic risk from the core plateau companies, because they are critical suppliers to the core. They would not show high ESRI values if they supplied to other – non-risky – companies. This means that several of these smaller companies can be made less risky simply by increasing the number of suppliers of the specific good sold to the inherently risky companies. By analyzing changes of systemic risk from 2016 to 2017, we find that ESRI is relatively stable for most companies. However, several smaller companies change their ESRI from marginal to extreme, and vice versa. The reasons for this might be the risk-inheritance of (non-inherently risky) companies that start (or stop) supplying to inherently risky ones, or changes in market shares that affect their replaceability. We showed that to a large extent firm size (strength) is a bad predictor of firms’ systemic risk, because the position in the supply network matters more than size. Similarly, this has been observed in financial systemic risk in earlier studies.”
  • The overlooked variable in animal studies: why diet makes a difference
    • by Jyoti Madhusoodanan
    • Quote: “In her lab, Gribble feeds microscopic aquatic animals known as rotifers algae and phytoplankton. The rotifers’ traits vary depending on how their food was grown, she says: phytoplankton grown in high-light conditions tend to produce more lipid and less protein than do those grown in low-light conditions. These variations can influence the experimental results.
    • Similar changes in shrimp and other small aquatic species can cause variations in the animals that feed on them, such as octopus and squid. Crook says that when she keeps squid in the lab for extended periods of time, she also needs to maintain cultures of shrimp to feed the cephalopod. It’s possible to standardize the squid’s diet by controlling what its prey are fed, she says. But many cephalopods are tough to rear in labs, so some researchers rely on wild-caught animals — and wild-caught food for those animals, she adds. When running shorter experiments with octopus, her team uses wild-caught foods or live fish for reasons of cost and practicality. Crook’s research focuses on the neuroscience of pain, not on food or on animal husbandry, “but you can’t really work with cephalopods without engaging with those questions”, she says. “They’re fundamental to animal health.” Crook encourages researchers to think about an animal’s natural history when designing experiments. One of the central things about good animal welfare is allowing the animal to have some control, she says. “So why not give choices in diet?”
    • And a focus on animal welfare can boost scientific rigour, Allison says. Then, he says, “it’s much more likely that we’ll find effects that hold up under a broad range of circumstances.””
  • The Saga of Grimes
    • by Nnedi Okafor / Grimes
    • Quote: “NNEDI: Yeah, that’s one of my core things in almost all of my works. From the very beginning, I started writing fantasy that was linked to a lot of my ancestral cultural beliefs, Ebo culture. I wasn’t even calling it fantasy. And then, when I started writing science fiction, it was a natural link because the greatest technology is nature. When you look at human advancement in technology, it’s very easy to see how it will eventually link up with spirituality because it’s just naturally going in that direction. And this idea of those two things being separate has always been weird to me.
    • And so when I wrote Who Fears Death—it’s funny because people call it fantasy. And I’m like, “It’s not fantasy. How are you not calling that science fiction?” But that’s because the spiritual aspects in the narrative overshadow the technology, and people see the two as separate. And I’m just like, “No, this is in the future. This is the future. And we’re at a point where technology has gone far, and then the spiritual and the mystical have returned. And they’re coming together.”
    • GRIMES: When I read Novacene by James Lovelock, I felt like it was the best representation of a spirituality that I could vibe with. He talks about how the dawning of human consciousness is the universe itself waking up, how us becoming conscious is the universe actually becoming aware of herself. And when you think about the fact that, as far as we know, there’s nothing else out there, it seems incredibly profound and beautiful that we might be the nexus point where the universe is becoming conscious, where nothing has become something. I feel like with the internet and everything, what’s happening is that we’re all becoming individual neurons in some kind of super brain. And I can’t help but feel like there’s this super-intelligence developing where we’re all these individual parts of it. And the universe is its body. I’ve never felt more spiritual than when I’m doing math, because it feels so perfect and beautiful and designed. It’s so hard to feel like there isn’t some designer or some super-profound thing developing from nothing.
    • NNEDI: That is definitely something that I’ve explored. In my Binti series, the main character is a mathematical genius. And she can do this thing called “treeing,” which is basically math as mysticism. She uses complex and beautiful mathematical equations to achieve a trance-like state where she can harness the energies of the Earth. And that comes from the idea of math. Math in its perfection, in its profoundness, being the path to the mystical.”

The Magnificent Seven #100: Null Call – 19/06/22

  • Null Call
    • by Drew Schorno
    • Quote: “The reason why this all was shocking to read is that this description of “initiation” pretty accurately describes my subjective experience of when I was in psychosis for three months at the end of 2016.
    • Like, really almost exactly: Negotiating with evil spirits, ascending and convening with gods. Some of the finer specifics were definitely informed by modern culture stuff (I was thinking a lot about Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series, that show “The Magicians”, tech company surveillance, state warfare, time loops, and reality tv), but you’ll have to take my word for it: the shape of it was incredibly similar.
    • It threw into perspective for me how psychosis must have been viewed in those times, before medicalization: a potentially valuable journey of growth and transformation, rather than just like, “well that sucks”. I was basically told by the medical system that I was never going to recover the ability to think clearly, and that I needed to scale back my expectations for my life and accept the fact that I was going to be a burden on society.
    • In the early ‘80s a man named Malidoma Patrice Somé left his indigenous African tribe to study on a scholarship at the Sorbonne in Paris. Later, after continuing his studies in America, he visited a psych ward and was shocked to discover that almost everyone there was a shamanic potentiate, who instead of receiving training and support were being warehoused and written off:
      • So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.
  • False Witnesses
    • by Phil Klay
    • Quote: “There is an even more basic question at hand. In an irascible response to Owen’s “The Poetry is in the Pity,” the poet Geoffrey Hill declared, “The poetry had better not be in the pity, or it will not survive.” Something like craft, like aesthetic sophistication, like beauty, needs to be present as well. And beauty is a problem in war. In no other human endeavor does Keats’s line run falser. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Hence Adorno’s infamous declaration: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” And though Adorno later walked the claim back by acknowledging that “perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream,” note what recovers poetry’s value here: its documentary aspect, not its aesthetic qualities. Is this enough?
    • In 1979 Seamus Heaney wrote a beautiful poem about the death of his cousin, Colum McCartney, killed in the Troubles in Ireland. It’s called “The Strand at Lough Beg,” and in it the poet walks to the site of his cousin’s murder, where he has a vision of the cousin, who he cleanses with moss and morning dew. It’s a beautiful image, a gorgeous poem. But the shame of that beauty, of his audacity in transmuting horror into prettiness, however well meant, haunted Heaney. Five years later, he wrote “Station Island,” where he is confronted by ghosts, one of whom is his cousin, come to complain about Heaney’s earlier poem. When, at a reading in New York in 2010, I asked Heaney about the discomfiting attraction of some of his lines about violence, he quoted these lines to me, from memory:
      • You saw that, and you wrote that—not the fact.
      • You confused evasion and artistic tact.
      • The Protestant who shot me through the head
      • I accuse directly, but indirectly, you
      • who now atone perhaps upon this bed
      • for the way you whitewashed ugliness and drew
      • the lovely blinds of the Purgatorio
      • and saccharined my death with morning dew.
    • Here Heaney’s cousin, fighting against his transformation into elegiac symbol, asserts his humanity. In this account, beauty does to the human subject of the poem what moral warning does in Owen and in Hindi: it effaces the individual, eliding their inconvenient qualities in service of the writer’s broader vision.
  • Hopepunk, Optimism, Purity, and Futures of Work
    • by Ada Palmer
    • Quote: “Hopepunk narratives are genre stories which have depictions of human nature (teamwork, honesty, resilience) but which also counter purity narratives, by having space for partial victories, unfinished projects, compromise, and mundane not-character-defining failures and mistakes. Setbacks in hopepunk tend to be more about the outcome for the world, what now needs to be done to help or fix the problem, in contrast with stories where setbacks or failures are mainly beats in character development, the point where the hero must stand by his vow never to kill again, or prove her leadership skills to keep the team together. And these are stories born, as Rowland puts it, from “a political mood of resistance” where the path is neither Disney perfection, nor breaking and becoming grim and tainted, nor being the pure survivor spared by the horror monster by virtue of your virtue; the path is long, hard, exhausting, ongoing work.”
  • Lamb dressed as mutton
    • by Jess Fagin
    • Quote: “When the owner I visited bought his slaughterhouse twenty years ago, entering the trade was a bleak endeavour. As a former sheep breeder, he wanted to serve local farmers. He’d spotted a profitable microcosm in the market: the demand for unaged, fresh mutton for halal butchers in Peckham, Hackney, Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham. When he started, cast ewes were cheap outcasts: ‘When I had my sheep many years ago, I might cull ewes for sort of 12–15 pound, but now you can be getting 70 pounds.’ Their value has risen with demand: halal mutton is now more expensive than supermarket-sourced New Zealand lamb. This independent site has provided a workplace for skilled slaughtermen, where they can negotiate their wages. They’ve resisted working on larger lines, where they feel anonymous – ‘like robots’ – and are poorly paid. They are explicit: ‘If it wasn’t for the Muslims, we’d be out of a job.’
    • Policymakers tell us that ‘Britain needs to feed itself’ by re-localising the national food system – away from its colonial roots, the deleterious impacts of just-in-time supermarket supply chains and the precarity of food imports. Yet for decades, the old sheep, the small rural slaughterhouse, the high street butchers, and skilled workers – all on the margins of the mainstream production of lamb – have been sustaining each other and feeding Britain’s people. There are threats, of course: butchers priced out of gentrifying high streets; the changing tastes of a younger generation. But the production of British halal sheep meat has already re-localised slaughter, intersecting in radical, earthy ways with the farming system; connecting diverse cities to rural fields, people to their faith, and Britain to its colonial past. In this anonymous field in the middle of England, a knot of histories is threaded into rural and city lives in ways that cannot be untangled.”
    • The preceding entries in the series—one about the way we talk about farming animals and the other, inspired by Borges’ Aleph, about Irish black pudding—are worth reading. For extra points—who’s counting is uncertain—read A Stage Set for Slaughter, an article about Karachi during Eid.
  • Computer SCIENCE and Mathematics in the Elementary Schools
    • by Michael R. Fellows
    • Quote: “There is a tendency to apply miserly (and mistaken) standards of “real world” concern to the curriculum of the mathematical sciences that are not applied to any other subject. It is not approached as the playful, fascinating and beautiful enterprise that it is competitive with dinosaurs and outer space. It is usually treated rather as the necessary dreary accumulation of skills for someday balancing check books and figuring mortgages. What life-skill needs do the subjects of dinosaurs and outer space address? If the exposure of children to literature were similarly limited to tax forms, job applications and parking regulations, then reading would be as widely loved as mathematics is today.
    • Mathematics, the language of science, and its principal modern branch, computer science, can be presented to children in these grades in wonderfully engaging and active ways, emphasizing their role as the language of science and technology. Children can be presented from the beginning with the essential unity of mathematics and computer science. Mathematics presented as a research enterprise can also provide fair opportunities for children to be shown that the world is full of questions to which adults do not know the answers.
    • The central questions of computer science are conceptual, and appreciating this science does not depend on sitting in front of a terminal, any more than appreciating the questions of astronomy depends on holding your eye to a telescope. Similarly, the competencies that are most important for coping with an increasingly computerized world are essentially mathematical. Programming and “experience with computers” are relatively unimportant in contrast to mathematical literacy and confidence in mathematical modeling and problem solving.”
  • Exploring Quadrapedal Movement
    • by Richard Scrivener
    • Quote: “Clearly, humans are bipeds – we walk tall on our feet – but neuroscientists suggest that even though locomotion is expressed differently in birds, fish, quadrupeds or humans, shared neuronal systems exist and have been well preserved throughout evolution. Specifically, bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion share common spinal neuronal control mechanisms known as ‘central pattern generators’ (CPGs). This means that when neuronal circuits are activated, they can produce rhythmic and alternating movements and these movements are engrained into higher brain centres. During these automated movements, sensory feedback also becomes important in adapting a CPG-generated motor output for its use within a specific environment where there are constraints or obstacles.”
  • A Management Maturity Model for Performance
    • by Alex Russell
    • Quote: “Level 3+ team behaviours are increasingly illegible to less-advanced engineers and organisations. At Level 5, serious training and guardrails are required to integrate new talent. Most hires will not yet share the cultural norms that a strategically performant organisation uses to deliver experiences with consistent quality.
    • Strategy is what you do differently from the competition, and Level 5 teams understand their way of working is a larger advantage than any single optimisation. They routinely benchmark against their competition on important flows and can understand when a competitor has taken the initiative to catch up (it rarely happens through a single commit or launch). These teams can respond at a time of their choosing because their lead will have compounded. They are fully out of firefighting mode.
    • Level 5 teams do not emerge without business support. They earn space to adopt these approaches because the product has been successful (thanks in part to work at previous levels). Level 5 culture can only be defended from a position of strength. Managers in this space are operating for the long term, and performance is understood to be foundational to every new feature or improvement.”

The Magnificent Seven #99: Breakfast with the Panthers – 12/06/22

  • Breakfast with the Panthers
    • by Suzanne Cope
    • Quote: “The Black Panther Party had first made news headlines in 1966 and early 1967, with their neighbourhood patrols to counteract unjust arrests and rampant police brutality in Oakland. In these early days, when the most visible Panthers were armed men, news media was eager to share these provocative images alongside reporting that reinforced stereotypes of Black men as aggressive and dangerous. But from the beginning, Newton and Seale had articulated the party’s diverse goals in their Ten-Point Program, including an emphasis on education, employment and ‘land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace’. After a couple years of growth in party membership, the Panthers had begun to build programmes to address social problems. Then, over the next several years, it was women who took the reins of the programmes that became the focus of the Black Panther Party as it grew and evolved.
    • So much of the Panthers’ focus was on food justice programmes, in part because this was a way to immediately make a difference – people had to eat every day. But they also quickly found that food was integral to creating community, stoking agency and sharing culture. After Panthers held a food drive or helped take packages to elders up many flights of stairs, down would come a pot of rice and beans to share at the Panther office as a thank-you. The Panther Cleo Silvers would bring young teens in the neighbourhood to eat at inexpensive Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants around New York City, wanting these young people to feel welcome in these spaces and experience diverse cuisines. ‘Sharing a meal was the best way to understand what people were thinking,’ Silvers said. ‘It’s the best way to really understand what’s important to them.’
    • At the peak of their breakfast programme, the Panthers were feeding more kids around the country daily than the state of California did. The communities embraced them for this and their other survival programmes – which included helping secure safe housing, instituting door-to-door healthcare, developing innovative addiction treatment, free grocery distribution, clothes and shoes giveaways, as well as lending support to other local activist groups. This important work of the Panthers remains under-recognised.”
  • What Did Medieval Peasants Know?
    • by Amanda Mull
    • Quote: “That’s not to say that the vision of history on which Schor’s, and in turn Dungey’s, point relies is conclusively false. Clark and his colleagues have revised their estimates upward, but the school of thought his previous numbers belonged to still has many academic supporters, who generally base their estimates of how much peasants worked on records of per-day pay rates and annual incomes. “This other view is that they were quite poor, but they were poor kind of voluntarily, because they didn’t like work and didn’t want to do a lot of work,” he told me. Perhaps these groups of long-dead people were poor and lazy and happier for it. Or the discrepancies may have another explanation. It’s possible, for example, that peasants were commonly paid part of their wages in something besides hard currency, which may explain where all that meat in their diets came from. Right now, no one really knows. You can dedicate your life to figuring out a problem, uncover troves of new information, and still not end up with any easy answers.
    • None of this makes for an especially good tweet, but it’s a stumbling block that you hit again and again when trying to tease out pop-historical beliefs about medieval life. The era resists surety: During that time in Europe—and these references are almost always made to Europe—the majority of people, including virtually all peasants, were illiterate. Detailed records plotted the lives of royalty, nobility, and important religious figures, but there are relatively few primary sources that describe the day-to-day existences of regular working stiffs. If you can’t read or write, you can’t even keep a diary that someone might find 1,000 years later. This, Clark said, means that historians have to do far more subjective interpretation of medieval life than is required for post-Enlightenment eras of history. The necessity of interpretation is convenient for anyone trawling for a good historical anecdote to prove a point—you can shop around and probably find something that suits whatever opinion you’ve already formed.”
  • A Maturity of Systems Thinking? Evidence from Three Perspectives
    • by John Barton, Merrelyn Emery, Robert Louis Flood, John W. Selsky and Eric Wolstenholme
    • Quote: “We find that one of the most powerful things you can do is to get people to look at that environment—what it is doing, where it’s going, and what it actually consists of. Then instead of blaming the environment they can start to see the whole range of forces within that environmental “matrix.” That makes it a lot easier for them to analyze what the environment has been doing to them both positively and negatively over a period of time, why things have worked and not worked. So doing that environmental analysis and then re-synthesizing it can be extremely powerful for any organization or group of people.
    • EW: One of the biggest problems is changing traditional theory and theorists in their use of methodology. Originally management borrowed the scientific methodology and created some of the things we’re trying to get away from in the systems approach. But the classic, and still very much used, social systems research methodology is the semi- systemic one of collecting and analyzing data and using this to derive conclusions. I think systems people have a lot to say about how research methodology should really change. Some of the things we have discussed today are methodological points and the systems ideas support the case for new methodologies. The nearest we have come to a radically different methodological approach is action research. Action research is a valid way of carrying out critical research. I occasionally get torn between working right at the practical end of the spectrum—where we’re trying to help people understand the real world problems that they have—and at the other end thinking that it would help a lot if we extended the systems ideas further back into education. Right now, in general, our education systems don’t embrace these things. I can count on one hand the courses that I think are valuable in terms of innovation in a systemic sense.
    • BF: I think there is a need to change the practice of what is currently the dominant scientific methodology in universities, which currently is largely responsible for where resources are to be allocated. Unless you do your traditional piece of scientific work and then publish thirty papers on it, it’s not seen to be valid research. Action research says we need to go out into the workplace and develop knowledge with the people. It’s a process of co-creation, co-operation, co-authoring. But if you take that back into the world of academia, you find it’s very difficult to get published because there are many editors of journals who don’t see this as valid research. It’s then very difficult to get resources from the university to support us. We have a self-perpetuating dynamic, a dominant culture, which hopefully can and will be broken in due course. It obstructs the learning and development that we all clearly value.”
    • If you liked this article (from almost two decades ago!) then you’ll like Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity. It’s an up-to-date tour through systems thinking and its dominant approaches.
  • Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery
    • by Fabio Urbina, Filippa Lentzos, Cedric Invernizzi, Sean Ekins
    • Quote: “Our toxicity models were originally created for use in avoiding toxicity, enabling us to better virtually screen molecules (for pharmaceutical and consumer product applications) before ultimately confirming their toxicity through in vitro testing. The inverse, however, has always been true: the better we can predict toxicity, the better we can steer our generative model to design new molecules in a region of chemical space populated by predominantly lethal molecules. We did not assess the virtual molecules for synthesizability or explore how to make them with retrosynthesis software. For both of these processes, commercial and open-source software is readily available that can be easily plugged into the de novo design process of new molecules. We also did not physically synthesize any of the molecules; but with a global array of hundreds of commercial companies offering chemical synthesis, that is not necessarily a very big step, and this area is poorly regulated, with few if any checks to prevent the synthesis of new, extremely toxic agents that could potentially be used as chemical weapons. Importantly, we had a human in the loop with a firm moral and ethical ‘don’t-go-there’ voice to intervene. But what if the human were removed or replaced with a bad actor? With current breakthroughs and research into autonomous synthesis, a complete design–make–test cycle applicable to making not only drugs, but toxins, is within reach. Our proof of concept thus highlights how a nonhuman autonomous creator of a deadly chemical weapon is entirely feasible.”
    • Feeling flustered at the thought of AI? It Looks Like You’re Trying to Take Over the World is a short story by Gwern that won’t help at all. Quote: “It might help to imagine a hard takeoff scenario using solely known sorts of NN & ⁠scaling effects… Below is a story which may help stretch your imagination and defamiliarize the 2022 state of machine learning.”
  • ‘Treatise’: A Visual Symphony Of Information Design
    • by Jason Forrest
    • Readers of Iain Banks’ A Hydrogen Sonata—a set I’m a part of—will enjoy this.
    • Quote: “Treatise is very difficult to describe and even more difficult to learn.
    • Published in 1967, Cardew provided no instructions for how it was to be interpreted or performed. No meaning was ascribed to the 67 different symbols that Cardew employs across the duration of the score, most of which are not connected to traditional music notation. Treatise is a diagram of concepts that challenge the boundaries of what it is to control sound, to define time, and interpret the symbols around us. It is completely open to interpretation.
    • Yet Treatise is absolutely a set of instructions to be followed. The composition is read from left to right like any traditional score. But unlike a traditional score, Treatisefollows a dark “centerline” that runs across each page. The design of each spread flows over two clefs that span the bottom of each page and reminds us that this is a musical score. Numbers are sprinkled throughout, but they are not mapped to any explicit meaning.
    • Notice Cardew’s careful choice of the word “orientation” in his description above. He challenges the performer to learn his visual language in the opening pages of the composition. Cardew introduces symbols in groups then; over time, they might return in a new way. Below are the first few pages of the composition. Notice how the composition of the design builds on itself from spread to spread…”
  • The Drive with Layne Norton Part 1 and Part 2
    • by Peter Attia, Layne Norton
    • Norton is one of the few people I truly trust when it comes to the young, marketing-blurred science that is nutrition. These conversations with Peter Attia have given me a whole lot to think about across nutrition, training, health and behaviour.
  • The Arc of the Practical Creator
    • by Lawrence Yao
    • Quote: “When looking at the Arc of the Practical Creator, you might assume that things get easier the more you progress through it. That Stages 1 and 2 are difficult, but Stage 3 is a breeze. After all, many creators believe that once you make a living doing something you love, you’ve made it to the promised land.
    • But the punchline here is that every stage will be challenging, and that’s the point.
    • Creative endeavors are inspiring because the scope of the problem often feels bigger than your capacity to solve it. But because you find that problem so worthwhile, you’re willing to put in the effort required to provide the best solution possible. Through this process, you become a more capable person, which allows you to address more worthwhile problems in turn. It’s this beautiful cycle that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning in how you spend your time and energy.
    • So regardless of which stage you’re in, understand that there is no easier or harder. There is just challenge. And the only way to cultivate a healthy relationship with challenge is to develop the patience required to manage it properly.”
    • Relevant to the above are the articles Taking Stock—”A creator, then, is someone whom platforms can put to use”—and Secrets of the publishing industry—”The reason you might want the Writer’s Tears is that getting published is, no lie, incredibly difficult. Think of it like a chain of successive events, a chain that goes manuscript → pitch → getting an agent → getting a publisher → getting good reviews → getting sales. A successful book is so rare precisely because it needs to pass through a sequence of these “Hard Steps” wherein each conditional step has a low probability.”

The Magnificent Seven #98: Becoming Savage – 05/06/22

  • Becoming Savage
    • by Jere Guarani
    • Quote: “One of the things I must say to our elders and to you, Juruá [the white people], whenever we meet, is that doing anthropology of your culture is crucial. Imagine if we were to bring the Guarani people from their communities into your houses to observe you on a daily basis. To feel, to reflect, to try to understand, to write reports, and finally to produce a beautiful hardcover thesis with many pages, photographs, graphs, and references to other studies; then, to conclude and tell the Juruá to become savage, to become “uncivilized”—because all the bad things that are happening on planet Earth come from civilized people; people who are not, in theory, “savages.”
    • If we did an anthropological study about your culture, we would then have the adequate qualifications and greater legitimacy to convince many people to become savage—not so intellectual, not so important. You would then face the everyday risk of being killed, of watching everything you love burn to the ground: your homes, your families, your children. But overall, at the end of it, you would be better people.
    • Don’t be scared: I have very dear Juruá friends, and we have many Juruá partners who fight along with the Guarani people. Many have already died, and others will die too. Becoming savage is not something that can happen overnight. It is something that would require great dedication and hard work from you, non-indigenous people.”
  • Anticapture
    • by spengrah
    • Quote: “In capture-resistant governance, execution is king. The Execute phase is where the selected action is brought to bear. It’s where the action is carried out, and where resources are deployed and affected.
    • Participation in this phase spans from centralized to decentralized, describing the proportion of agents in the network sharing the power to execute actions selected in the Decide phase.
    • As we’ve alluded to, in a network, agents who can participate in this phase wield fundamental power in the form of direct control over the network’s shared resources. If this power is concentrated in the hands of a few, the network is highly susceptible to capture by internal agents. No matter how decentralized the Decide phase may have been, there is nothing structurally preventing those with executive power from ignoring the result and executing their desired action.
    • Even if such a network avoids capture, centralized execution can have other negative effects. As we saw in the previous section, anybody without executive power involved in decision-making must win the favor of executives to see their recommendation put into action. Even if the Decide phase is technically decentralized, in practice a centralized Execute phase exerts a centralizing force on decision-making.
    • This is how many traditional organizations operate. Non-executives are subservient and have far less chance of having a significant impact on the organization.”
  • Connected Papers
    • by Alex Tarnavsky, Eddie Smolyansky, Itay Knaan Harpaz, Sahar Perets
    • Quote: “Connected Papers is a unique, visual tool to help researchers and applied scientists find and explore papers relevant to their field of work.”
    • This is a powerful tool. Sensmaking, research and discovery—especially of the amateur kind—is a lot easier with this.
  • Everything you need to know about psychedelics and mental illness
    • by Stuart Ritchie
    • Quote: “Chief among these issues—as you can tell from the paper’s title—is the problem of participant expectancy. Remember when your friend was in one of the COVID vaccine trials, and they told you they knew whether they’d gotten the placebo or the real thing because “I had a really sore arm” or “you wouldn’t get these kinds of side effects with a placebo injection”? Imagine that, but times a hundred: psychedelic drug trials are really hard to blind. That is, it’s very hard to hide from a participant in a trial that you’ve given them a psychoactive substance, especially when it’s being compared to a sugar-pill placebo – because the drug is going to have an obvious psychoactive effect.
    • This kind of “unmasking” (or “unblinding”) can do serious damage to a study. If you know (or strongly suspect) that you’re in the experimental group, you might be motivated to report stronger results on the questionnaires. You might feel very lucky that you’ve been included in a trial at all, so you might want to try and make the experimenters happy by letting them know their drug has an effect. Conversely, if you know you’re in the control group, your mood might slump, since you know that you’re taking a useless inert pill.
    • This is compounded because of self-selection: participants in a clinical trial aren’t a random cross-section of the population, and the kind of person who signs up to a trial of psychedelics is much more likely than average to be someone who’s experimented with these kinds of drugs before. They’re more likely to know what being high feels like, again threatening the blinding of the trial.
    • Not only that, but if a participant is already a part of psychedelics culture—or has had their expectations raised by reading hyped-up descriptions of the effects of the drugs in the media—it could make these effects even worse. One of the “Great Expectations” co-authors, who ran a study on the psychedelic drug ayahuasca, provides an anecdote:
      • “…one of the participants asked… if they should stop participating in the study because they did not have a mystical experience and did not want to ‘ruin the research.’””
  • Crosscut: Drawing Dynamic Models
    • by Szymon Kaliski, Ivan Reese, Marcel Goethals
    • Quote: “We wanted something that doesn’t feel like programming.
      • The simulation should happen inside the computer, not inside your head. When programming, much effort is spent figuring out what the program should do, by imagining in your mind how it will execute. We yearn for a world where this activity is better supported by the machine in front of you.
      • You shouldn’t have to think about the technical details of the machine while working on the problem. When sketching with dynamic representations, the step of encoding the problem into computer code shouldn’t exist. You should be able to directly manipulate these dynamic representations without thinking about how they are evaluated by the underlying system.
      • You shouldn’t have to name things just so you can refer back to them. The reliance on naming is an unnecessary formality imposed by the way that programming has been designed.
      • There should be no errors, undefined values, or unknown parameters to fill in. You should never be locked out of your model because you mistyped something or made an erroneous connection. The model should remain alive and usable, even if it produces unanticipated output.
      • You should see everything. This includes graphical representations of both data and behavior. You shouldn’t have to guess where dynamic behavior comes from. You shouldn’t have to blindly search through a set of text files or a list of objects to find the one responsible for the behavior on the screen.
      • You should be able to inspect everything. You should be able to see how bigger parts are built from smaller parts, right down to the most fundamental atoms making up the tool. If there is any hidden state, there should be a way to reveal it and interact with it graphically.
    • In short, instead of molding your problem to the machine, the machine should be molded to fit your problem.”
    • Ink and Switch have some other interesting research write-ups—Local-first softwareis one of them.
  • Pain 101
    • by Move Well Daily
    • Quote: “Now, the aforementioned noxious stimulus can of course be caused by tissue damage (as in the examples to follow) but pain can also be caused by the memory of a painful event, by the perception of damage vs actual damage, by the threat of new damage, and by a person’s experience and understanding of pain, just to name a few. If that sounds a bit more personal than the straight forward tissue damage theory, then that’s because it is: Who you are, how you got hurt, your understanding of being hurt, your body’s sense of threat, and your emotions surrounding the event will all influence your pain and subsequent recovery (bio-psycho-social theory).”
  • The Great Detectives: Vidocq
    • by Mike Ashley
    • Quote: “Vidocq now had considerable status amongst the criminal underworld as one who had escaped not once, but twice, from the galleys. Yet he was not a criminal by nature. He was more a victim of his own good nature and, at times, hot-headedness. When he refused to join a gang of robbers in Lyons they betrayed him to the police. Arrested again, Vidocq faced a bleak future. Fortunately the president of the Lyons police, Jean-Pierre Dubois, was aware of Vidocq’s abilities and felt they could be put to good use. Dubois gave Vidocq the choice of either going back to the galleys for what would probably be the rest of his natural life or becoming a police informer. Vidocq had little choice. He was ideal as an informer, because the criminal underworld accepted him as one of their own. However, the occasion arose where Vidocq’s testimony was required in open court and his identity was revealed. Dubois gave Vidocq new papers and provided him with a new identity, under which he left Lyons for Paris.
    • Over the next few years Vidocq’s life was itinerant as he drifted from town to town, moving on whenever he was recognized. Eventually, after being blackmailed by some robbers, he decided to chance his arm again. In 1809 he went to the criminal division of the Parisian Police offering information on the gang provided he was granted immunity. According to one colorful tale, Vidocq helped recover the Empress Josephine’s stolen emerald necklace, thereby raising his profile with Napoleon. Whatever the truth, Vidocq was employed by the Parisian Police, not simply as an informer but as a full-fledged spy.”

The Magnificent Seven #97: His software sang the words of God – 29/05/22

  • His software sang the words of God. Then it went silent.
    • by S.I. Rosenbaum
    • Quote: ““In the Jewish tradition, one is not allowed to discard a book or other printed material that includes the Hebrew name of God,” writes the rabbi, technologist, and Tufts University professor Jeffrey Summit in his book Singing God’s Words: The Performance of Biblical Chant in Contemporary Judaism.
    • “When such books become too worn to use, one is obligated to place them in a genizah, a special holding room until they are accorded the honor of being buried in a Jewish cemetery,” he continues. “But do the same feelings of sanctity apply to a computer screen?”
    • It’s hard to know how to memorialize a piece of software. After Buchler died, TropeTrainer died too — gradually, and in pieces.
    • On Jan. 15, 2020 — almost six months to the day after Buchler’s death — Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 7. A wave of cantors and rabbis were forced to finally update their operating systems, only to discover that their version of TropeTrainerwouldn’t run. In October 2020, the same thing happened for Mac users upgrading to Catalina. In both cases, there was no updated software to download, because the Kinnor website had shut down.”
  • Memento Millenial
    • by Ayesha A. Siddiqi, Charlie Markbreiter
    • Quote: “People are chasing what they mistake to be paradigm shifts in a more democratic direction, when they’re just attempts to escape the strain of living as neoliberal subjects in failing states spiraling towards reactionary fascism. It was obvious back then too. The platformization of everything, the emergence of the “gig” economy, did not challenge old models of employment. It accelerated and entrenched wealth gaps by pretending there was an escape valve. And there was, for a few. Less than half of one percent of Youtubers make money. Even fewer make enough money to quit whatever else they may be doing or have to. Of all the top earning podcasts with big audiences, not a single one is new. It’s been the same top earning productions for a decade now. They were the exception not the rule. As a friend recently said to me, all pyramid schemes need to pay a few people tons of money to get free labor from everyone else. And thats what social media users do, they create value for free. I’m not saying social media is a pyramid scheme, I’m saying the same capitalism that exists off of it has been more effectively reproduced on it. Eventually, people will catch on to the fact that “decentralization” doesn’t solve the problems of centralization. It just spreads them across a more atomized landscape with less regulatory power. If it matches the timeline of when the pundits catch on to things I post they’ll write their op eds on the subject about five years from me saying this.
    • But if you ask me if I think we live in a worse world, I wouldn’t hesitate to say no. We live in a better one. The effect of the internet on the world doesn’t uniquely harm the world as much as it exposes and amplifies what was already wrong with it. Racism, sexism, misinformation. Sure, there is a misinformation crisis, but that’s exactly what Fox, CNN, and NYT produced in the lead up to the War on Terror too; they continue to produce that world. The internet accelerates and it fills in the gaps. Nothing that’s gotten worse in recent years was something new or unprecedented––it all had historical points of origin. Meanwhile, a lot of what is better about the world now is new. It is unprecedented. We’ve made so many gains.
    • And every genuine gain facilitated by social media I credit to people, not platforms. I credit it to people building digital alternatives to what was missing in the physical world; spheres of influence, access, connection, empowerment. I think of people who made it possible for sexual violence to have social consequence. I think of the students using Discord to organize school walkouts. I think of all the people getting help through therapists posting on Instagram and life coaches on Tiktok. Sure, the quality varies, but that’s true of the healthcare system too. ADHD and autism is under-diagnosed in girls and people of color. These individuals have been better able to access life improving guidance online. Some of the best culture writers today came up on tumblr and Twitter; we would’ve missed out on so many valuable perspectives without them. I’m sure the people reading this can think of many more examples. The work I do now is with people who are trying to build better digital tools. They’re asking what furthers the public interest and how to meet needs of expression, connection, knowledge production and entertainment.”
  • My Quantum Leap
    • by Bob Henderson
    • Quote: “While I’d gone into physics seeking something solid to believe in, Fuchs went with precisely the opposite orientation: with hopes of showing that the laws of physics aren’t solid. Years later, it seemed that he’d succeeded too well. QBism’s core tenet that probabilities are personal beliefs had led to the conclusion that every part of quantum theory, from quantum states to the lab equipment used to measure them, had the metaphysical status of subjective beliefs, with no apparent foundation in objective reality.
    • “So where do you go with that?” Fuchs said. “You would think, well, you can’t go anywhere now. Everything is subjective.”
    • The sound of blue jays jeering came from some nearby trees.
    • “And then you think on it for a few years,” Fuchs continued, “and then you go, Oh! Oh! Quantum probabilities aren’t freewheeling. They’re all tied together!”
    • This was the insight that led to QBism’s most profound claim: that there is one thing in quantum mechanics that is not subjective, that everyone should agree to. It’s not really a thing but a rule, a new mathematical rule that constrains a person’s choices beyond the restrictions of standard probability theory. To a QBist, this new rule constitutes the essential content of quantum mechanics, and signals what the theory can tell us about the nature of reality, even beyond human experience. The rule’s most crucial feature is that it is “normative,” meaning that it tells the theory’s user how to think rather than how the world behaves. Fuchs’ compares it to the Ten Commandments. One can disregard it, but “something bad is likely to happen as a result.” “Bad” meaning that your computer, nuclear reactor, MRI machine, or any other application of the theory simply won’t work.
    • We were now in Fuchs’ living room, him on his sofa, bare feet on the coffee table, and me in a chair nearby. I asked him what the normative character of quantum theory’s new rule says about nature’s doings. That their probabilities “can’t be quantified,” he said, that “there’s no number that will shoehorn a potential event.”
    • I was reminded of something I’d read before. “Nature and its parts do what they want,” Fuchs had written, “and we as free-willed agents do what we can get away with.””
  • Self-Interview: Joyce Carol Oates Vs. Joyce Carol Oates (Part 1)
    • by Joyce Carol Oates
    • Quote: “Q. Miss Oates! Do you write in a trance?
    • A. In a—trance? You are asking me—seriously—if I write in a trance?
    • Q. Well, do you?
    • A. (faltering) I do not write in a trance! I write—in a conscious state…usually.
    • Q. Some very notable writers and poets claim that their best work comes to them “in a trance”—“automatically.” Allen Ginsberg said, famously: “First thought, best thought.” Comment?
    • A. That’s terrible advice for most writers. Revision is the essence of writing.
    • Q. Yet, it’s said that Mozart didn’t revise. Yes?
    • A. Mozart was unique!—other composers, including Beethoven, certainly did revise, and most writers will acknowledge that as much as ninety percent of their writing is revision. Inspiration may come in a “white-hot” rush (see Emily Dickinson) but revision is supremely conscious.
    • Q. In your novel, The Man Without a Shadow, you wrote about memory, amnesia, the inexplicable phenomenon of “falling in love”—aren’t these primarily “unconscious” or “semi-conscious” experiences? How are you equipped to write about them if you are, as you implausibly claim, “conscious” all the time?
    • A. Did I say that I was conscious “all the time”—?”
  • Charter Houses
    • by slimemoldtimemold
    • Quote: “You could also allow a totally unprincipled combination of all of these approaches, and we think that would work pretty damn well. It’s fine if you have three engineers working on a startup on the ground floor, an essayist sharing a bunk bed with a painter in a room above the garage, and two biologists in the attic.
    • A mix of approaches is good and healthy. If you fill a house with biologists, they will all be competing with each other. They may even end up at each other’s throats — they are too similar. But mix in a little diversity, a few chemists and physicists, some experts in East Asian literature, and a Turkish math wiz who speaks almost no English, and things will work very well indeed.
    • It’s tempting to make each charter house alike in scope and subject — one house for the college dropouts, one house for the physicists, one house for the painters, one house for the startup accelerator, one house for the mystics, etc. But siloing people in this way is going to be counterproductive. Young people will benefit from sitting across the dinner table from old people; old people from young people. Biologists will benefit from playing video games in the living room with art historians. Philosophers will benefit from going grocery shopping with blacksmiths. Electrical engineers will benefit from fixing windows with clowns. Bartenders will benefit from cooking dinner with astronomers.”
  • Keeping A Resilient Back as We Age
    • by Stuart McGill
    • Quote: “As a younger man, I was interested in strength techniques that eliminated sticking points in various lifts with pulsing power. Now, I am interested in maintaining sufficient power and athleticism to ensure that I can recover from a stumble and catch a fall. The real risk from a fall now outweighs the real risk of musculoskeletal strain from a challenging lift. Last week, I was thankful to generate enough hip flexion power to set my foot in front of my center of mass to prevent a fall. Strength and power are still important to me, but at this stage of life it is for different reasons. As Pavel reminds me, it is my duty to remain difficult to kill.
    • What is the best training program for me now? The context has changed with the transformation to my white hair color. The goal is, and always has been, to train and stimulate adaptation without accumulating micro-trauma. But the sad reality is that the process of adaptation isn’t what it used to be. Life has added to my injury history and nature has reigned in some tissue elasticity and extensibility reducing my range of motion. Recovery and adaptation now take longer. The path to maintaining strength and power has changed. The balancing act needs to be adjusted.”
  • The Psychology of Atrocity
    • by Robert Wright
    • Quote: “If you ask what it is that most often turns a “good boy” into a war criminal—how standard features of human nature like the retributive impulse and overgeneralization and the instinct for self-preservation come together to create atrocity—I suspect this is the answer: a level of fear that isn’t felt in the course of everyday life, a persistent and not unwarranted fear that you could die any day now. I like to think I’d handle such fear with grace and integrity, but, fortunately, I’ve never gotten the chance to find out.
    • We don’t know whether there have been atrocities by Ukrainian soldiers who find themselves in towns that include Russia sympathizers and are subject to Russian attacks. I don’t even know how many such places there are. But if, as the center of this conflict moves East, a lot of Ukrainian troops do find themselves in such a situation, is it realistic to expect that none of them will resort to summary executions?
    • To hear Applebaum depict a relentless Ukrainian offensive as some kind of cure for atrocity, you’d think that this is indeed her expectation. But some American commentators have different expectations—and are admirably, if shockingly, candid about them. Gideon Rose, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations—and former editor of the council’s venerable journal, Foreign Affairs—recently said that America should help Ukrainian troops achieve such goals as “knocking off collaborators.” When Russian troops do that, we call it a war crime.”

The Magnificent Seven #96: What’s different? – 22/05/22

  • What’s different?
    • by Eliot Hershberg
    • A series that intends to explore how “DNA sequencing is eating the world”.
    • From Part one: Sequencing: “As the cost of sequencing continues to decline, it will likely become a ubiquitous tool for monitoring our bodies and health. Beyond our genomes and the DNA in our blood, a large amount of evidence shows that it is important to sequence and understand the microbes that live on and inside our bodies. It has been shown that the composition of an individual’s gut microbes can be highly predictive of disease outcomes, and can even predict spikes in blood sugarafter eating different types of food. This type of measurement could become essential for understanding how different diets actually impact our bodies on an individual basis.
    • There will also be more complex and far-reaching applications. Just a few weeks ago, a study was published in Nature Medicine describing an approach to infer the genome sequences of IVF embryos to assess disease risk. A week later, another study was published in Nature Genetics that used genetic models to predict the highest level of education that people would complete. Both studies represent applications of genetic technologies to some of the most intimate and fuzzy parts of human life—from birth to important social outcomes.”
    • From Part two: Synthesis: “Sequencing and Synthesis may also solve our looming digital storage bottleneck. As a species, we are generating and collecting data at a rate that will soon make efficient physical data storage a hard problem. DNA offers an enticing solution, seeing as it is the only **highly stable nanoscale information storage technology that we know of. Conceptually, an exabyte of data could fit in the palm of your hand. Many labs and companies are working on combing large-scale synthesis and sequencing to reliably store information in DNA and retrieve it.”
    • From Part three: Scale: “If you can develop a way to use a Sequencing / Synthesis approach to tackle a problem, the Scale of your experimental throughput immediately changes. This is why one of the first applications of large-scale DNA synthesis was to parallelize the use of molecular tools such as hairpin RNAs for silencing the expression of genes. For any tool that can fit into this paradigm, you can go from a dozen measurements to thousands of measurements or more.
    • Another important component of this paradigm is that the list of things that we can measure with Sequencing grows every day. Beyond DNA and RNA, technologies have been developed to measure a wide variety of functional properties in cells. Examples include tools for measuring the physical accessibility of the genome, as well as the 3D conformation of the genome within cells. Sequencing technology development and extension has become a cottage industry in genomics, with creatively named tools like DRUG-seq, Death-seq, and DiMeLo-seq being created to measure new properties using NGS.”
    • From Part four: Software: “DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis wrote: “Biology is likely far too complex and messy to ever be encapsulated as a simple set of neat mathematical equations. But just as mathematics turned out to be the right description language for physics, biology may turn out to be the perfect type of regime for the application of AI.”
    • To be clear, biology will require a lot more software 1.0—where brilliant engineers design algorithms and hammer out efficient C++ code to assemble genomes and create new scientific tools. Not all scientific problems are solvable by software 2.0, or even capable of being represented in this way. However, as these models produce state-of-the-art results across the central dogma from DNA sequence data, to RNA, to proteins, and all the way up to cells, I’m buckling my seatbelt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see models on the magnitude of AlphaFold in biology every 5-10 years from here on out.”
  • The New Axial Age
    • by Nathan Gardels
    • Quote: “The theologian and scientist Teilhard de Chardin saw a spiritual dimension emerging from this encompassing connectedness of human and machine, which he called the “noosphere.” For him, the density and intensity of a global apparatus of communication linking all mankind would mark a new step of evolution that would revive the unity of origins before humans were splintered after their exile from the Garden of Eden.
    • What is certain is that the faster the pace and the greater the scope of scientific discovery, the more the religious and ethical imagination will be stirred. French philosopher Henri Bergson, in his book “The Two Sources of Morality and Religion,” imagined modern humans as technologically adept giants with puny souls. “In this body, distended out of all proportion,” he wrote, “the soul remains what it was, too small to fill it, too weak to guide it. … This enlarged body awaits a supplement of soul, the mechanical demands the mystical.”
    • Leszek Kolakowski put it in more definitive terms. “As a whole, mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification,” he said in an interview with me at All Souls College at Oxford in 1991. “Who am I, where did I come from, where do I fit in, why am I responsible, what does my life mean, how will I face death? Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be excommunicated from culture by rationalist incantation.”
    • The more scientific discovery reveals, the more we realize it can’t answer the great existential questions. In the end, we are compelled to agree with Kolakowski’s conclusion: “Man does not live by reason alone.” Existence cannot be reduced to data or our microbial makeup.
    • Not surprisingly, the most difficult challenge for governance arises when facing the greatest transformation of human civilization since the discovery of fire. Finding that point of equilibrium — homeostasis — that enhances human potential to its utmost while respecting nature and preserving the dignity and autonomy of the individual living in community, of what it means to be human, is a summons for custodians of the soul no less profound than for scientists peering into the physical origins of the universe or the minute interstices of our DNA.”
  • Hanamikoji
    • Can confirm; this is a fun, relaxed two player card game. “Welcome to the most famed Geisha street in the old capital, Hanamikoji. Geishas are elegant and graceful women who are skilled in art, music, dance, and a variety of performances and ceremonies. Greatly respected and adored, Geishas are masters of entertainment.
    • In Hanamikoji, two players compete to earn the favor of seven illustrious Geishas by collecting each Geisha’s preferred performance item. With careful speculation and a few bold moves, can you outsmart your opponent to win the favor of the most Geishas?”
  • Information Pollution—A Brief History
    • by Amy Westervelt
    • Context: “This site does not exist to replace or compete with any of the excellent archives or reporting that already exist—especially some of our personal favorites the UCSF Industry Documents, Climate Files, and Documented—but to highlight specifically how and why disinformation techniques were created, the people who perfected them, and how they were used across multiple industries to shape public opinion and policy.”
    • Quote from the “Start here” section: “Just as Ivy Lee was building the modern PR industry, the U.S. government realized it needed a bit of propaganda to help sell American citizens on World War I. President Woodrow Wilson had made staying out of the war a key part of his campaign, and now he needed to convince Americans that it was a good idea to join in…without looking like a hypocrite. He tapped George Creel, a journalist turned political campaigner who had helped with Wilson’s electoral bid, to build out what was eventually called the Committee on Public Information and generally referred to as The Creel Committee or the Creel Commission. Creel tapped some of the nation’s greatest journalists (Ida Tarbell, for one!), filmmakers, artists, and publicity men to create a 360-degree assault on the American public. They made films, created compelling posters, and even launched the world’s first “influencers.” In cities and towns across the country, Creel and his team found influential members of society and trained them to give 4-minute pro-war speeches before screenings of silent films or big events. They were known as the “4-Minute Men”.
    • Several members of the Creel Committee went on to be major influences on the burgeoning PR industry. One of them was a young publicity agent from the theater, Edward Bernays. Bernays had done some creative promotion of plays with particular social missions and had worked for major ballet companies as well, and his work caught the eye of Creel. It didn’t hurt that Bernays’s uncle was Sigmund Freud—on both sides, in a bizarre and some might say Freudian twist (Edward’s mother was Freud’s sister, and Freud was also married to Bernays’ father’s sister). Bernays grew up in Vienna, hearing all about Freud’s theories on the deeply buried human impulses that drive behavior. While Ivy Lee was not part of the Creel Committee, he handled publicity for the American Red Cross during the war effort, and he and Bernays worked together often through their respective positions. Bernays became a trusted colleague of Lee’s during the war, the only other PR guy that Lee thought his equal. It was after WWI that Bernays famously said, “If propaganda could be used so effectively in war, why could we not use it in peace?””
    • It’s worth digging into the sections about techniquesspin masters, and industries, too.
  • Connecting to the World: Christopher Alexander’s Tool for Human-Centered Design
    • by Nikos A. Salingaros
    • A deep and enjoyable introduction to the core of Christopher Alexander’s work.
    • Quote A: “Why do we link ourselves to pieces of the physical world? Alexander believes that this visceral connection lies in the nature of matter, and is not merely an invention of the human mind. As I will explain later, it is not enough to interpret a connective effect exclusively through neuroscience, because that greatly limits it. Alexander’s goal is to find meaning while connecting to the structure of the universe, so that whenever we create such a structure ourselves, however small in scale, we actually endow the world with meaning. Shaping physical matter—by creating artifacts such as construction details, ornaments, or tools, even complete structures and places—is a physical process, and not a neurological one.”
    • Quote B: “In The Nature of Order, Alexander offers an interesting tool that helps us choose between two similar objects or settings by using visceral connectedness. Alexander asks which of two objects provides a better picture of one’s “self.” To use this tool, we have to project our personality onto each of the two objects being experienced. The method requires imagining our emotions, our humanity, and all of our character strengths and weaknesses as somehow embedded in either of the two alternatives. Remarkably, those who apply this test make fairly uniform choices.”
    • Quote C: “Most people may not realize how dominant culture condemns objects, places, and structures we relate to deeply as morally forbidden, old fashioned kitsch, and even as dangerous for economic progress. Why? Apologists of modernism offer the excuse that intense emotional nourishment coming from things is somehow unmodern, and discourage people from connecting viscerally to the manufactured world. A form of psychological conditioning as part of design practice makes us feel self-conscious about experiencing the joy of a relationship to visceral beauty that is artificially created.
    • Yet we hardly question the sensory isolation that has replaced traditional human-centered design everywhere. Potent economic and societal forces promote a modern unemotional existence based on abstractions. Schools resort to obsolete ideology from the 1920s to justify this polarization between our sensory system and the built environment. Architectural education compartmentalizes the action of visceral connection in our minds, permitting us to connect emotionally to another human being or pet animal, perhaps, but not allowing the same for an artifact, a building, or a piece of ornament. Many people are stuck inside this isolating cognitive box.”
  • The One Rule of Fiction Writing
    • by Lincoln Michel
    • Quote: “As the title of this newsletter implies, I’m not a fan of writing rules. Every claim someone makes about how fiction works can be rebutted with counterexamples. Character is fundamental. . . except when stories are characterless. Plot is essential. . . except when it’s irrelevant. Worldbuilding must be rigorous. . . except when it doesn’t need to be.”
    • I read some interviews with authors, too.
    • From How Matt Bell Wrote Refuse to Be Done: “I talk in Refuse to Be Done about my process of writing an exploratory first draft, then outlining that draft to plan a second, which I then rewrite more or less from scratch. That’s been the process every time so far—I’m in the middle of that second draft process again, right now—and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. The second drafts I write in this way are simply so much better than their first drafts that I’m not sure I’d trust myself to skip it.”
    • From Alexander Chee on How to Write a Novel: “There’s a whole rationale to it. The way that you work with it is you write an entry when you finish working at the end of the day. You complain to it and ask yourself questions, list any files you looked up or sources that you used. I kept it like a blog, so the most recent entry was always at the top, and the first entry was always at the end. I was looking at the way I was thinking the night before or the day before, and I could drop back into the mind of where I was at. So I wasn’t staring blankly at the page with a kind of hopeless anxiety, but instead I was engaging with the questions that I had left off with.”
    • From How Calvin Kasulke Wrote Several People Are Typing: “I don’t really have a grand unified theory of how to go about making something funny—every new project has a different physics engine and a different rhythm and also a different everything else. For the most part I try to focus on writing sufficiently realized characters energetically pursuing opposing goals. That usually takes care of a lot of the heavy lifting, comedy-wise.”
  • The Lab Notes
    • by Alexander Obenauer
    • “These Lab Notes document the progress, experiments, and concepts in my research, which focuses on the future of personal computing. This work is primarily shaped by exploring the “operating system of the future,” and with those concepts, creating an experimental new environment for personal computing.”
    • From The Graph OS: “What’s most freeing, for me, is that this concept means you aren’t tied to having something stored in one location: if I receive an email that addresses two separate projects, I can transclude the right pieces within the right projects in my graph. The concept offers ultimate freedom in how you organize all of your digital things, letting you reflect your thinking across your entire personal computing domain.”
    • Related to the previous: Anytype.
    • From Building apps in minutes, not months: “The hope is to create a pit of success by making it possible to write entire apps in the same way you’d write a simple webpage in HTML, using an expressive set of fundamentals to build complete applications.”
    • From Universal data portability: “WIMP: Windows, icons, menus, pointer. This is the interface paradigm we’ve been accustomed to since personal computing began. It was initially developed at Xerox PARC in the 1970s and made popular with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984.”
    • From General purpose computing software: “Just as hardware eventually became general purpose, now could the software become general purpose personal computing software so that each user might be free to co-evolve, discern, and arrange their best personal computing environment?”

The Magnificent Seven #95: The Wetware Crisis – 17/05/22

  • The Wetware Crisis: the Dead Sea effect
    • by Bruce F. Webster
    • Quote: “Many large corporate/government IT shops — and not a few small ones — work like the Dead Sea. New hires are brought in as management deems it necessary. Their qualifications (talent, education, professionalism, experience, skills — TEPES will tend to vary quite a bit, depending upon current needs, employee departure, the personnel budget, and the general hiring ability of those doing the hiring. All things being equal, the general competency of the IT department should have roughly the same distribution as the incoming hires.
    • But in my experience, that’s not what happens. Instead, what happens is that the more talented and effective IT engineers are the ones most likely to leave — to evaporate, if you will. They are the ones least likely to put up with the frequent stupidities and workplace problems that plague large organizations; they are also the ones most likely to have other opportunities that they can readily move to.
    • What tends to remain behind is the ‘residue’ — the least talented and effective IT engineers. They tend to be grateful they have a job and make fewer demands on management; even if they find the workplace unpleasant, they are the least likely to be able to find a job elsewhere. They tend to entrench themselves, becoming maintenance experts on critical systems, assuming responsibilities that no one else wants so that the organization can’t afford to let them go.”
    • I also read The Survival of Mediocre Superstars in the Labor Market. Quoting the abstract: “We argue that liquidity constrained firms face strong incentives to hire experienced, but low ability workers instead of novice workers with higher upside potential. Using four decades of high-frequency information on worker performance in a “superstar” labor market allows us to estimate the revealed ability of experienced workers at the time they are hired by a new firm. More than one-fifth of these hires are “substandard” in that the revealed ability of the hired experienced worker lies below the mean ability of recent novices. Even more hires (around 40%) are “mediocre,” as their ability falls short of the hiring threshold that maximizes the long-run average ability of the active workforce. Replacing mediocre hires by novice workers would increase the average ability of the workforce by 0.1 standard deviations.”
  • Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities
    • by lots of people
    • Quoting the abstract: “We submit that the safe operating space of the planetary boundary of novel entities is exceeded since annual production and releases are increasing at a pace that outstrips the global capacity for assessment and monitoring. The novel entities boundary in the planetary boundaries framework refers to entities that are novel in a geological sense and that could have large-scale impacts that threaten the integrity of Earth system processes. We review the scientific literature relevant to quantifying the boundary for novel entities and highlight plastic pollution as a particular aspect of high concern. An impact pathway from production of novel entities to impacts on Earth system processes is presented. We define and apply three criteria for assessment of the suitability of control variables for the boundary: feasibility, relevance, and comprehensiveness. We propose several complementary control variables to capture the complexity of this boundary, while acknowledging major data limitations. We conclude that humanity is currently operating outside the planetary boundary based on the weight-of-evidence for several of these control variables. The increasing rate of production and releases of larger volumes and higher numbers of novel entities with diverse risk potentials exceed societies’ ability to conduct safety related assessments and monitoring. We recommend taking urgent action to reduce the harm associated with exceeding the boundary by reducing the production and releases of novel entities, noting that even so, the persistence of many novel entities and/or their associated effects will continue to pose a threat.”
    • Quote from the conclusion: “A consistent trend-captured by our control variables is an increase over time in the production, diversity and global release of NEs [novel entities]. Despite major efforts in recent decades, safety assessment and subsequent regulations of chemical substances and other NEs, and the capacity of many countries to conduct these assessments and to enforce regulatory compliance, are not keeping up with the speed of introduction of new NEs. An ever-growing number of NEs are found in remote locations of the planet and the number of grossly contaminated locations is increasing despite remediation efforts. In addition, many distinct and partly interacting (e.g., synergistic) effects of NEs on Earth’s physical and ecological systems are being reported. In short, rapid growth in diversity and production volumes and releases outstrips society’s ability to assess, let alone manage NEs. Planetary burdens are already considerable. Large differences in management capacity between countries of different income levels means that even when chemicals and waste management is improved in some jurisdictions, NEs will continue to be produced, used and disposed of with insufficient or nonexistent regulations and enforcement elsewhere, and thus NEs continue to be emitted into the environment. This is a global concern, thus, there is a need for integrated and just cross-border solutions to address the problem with emissions of novel entities, such as plastic pollution.”
  • Somatic mutation rates scale with lifespan across mammals
    • by Alex Cagan et al.
    • Quoting the abstract: “The rates and patterns of somatic mutation in normal tissues are largely unknown outside of humans. Comparative analyses can shed light on the diversity of mutagenesis across species, and on long-standing hypotheses about the evolution of somatic mutation rates and their role in cancer and ageing. Here we performed whole-genome sequencing of 208 intestinal crypts from 56 individuals to study the landscape of somatic mutation across 16 mammalian species. We found that somatic mutagenesis was dominated by seemingly endogenous mutational processes in all species, including 5-methylcytosine deamination and oxidative damage. With some differences, mutational signatures in other species resembled those described in humans, although the relative contribution of each signature varied across species. Notably, the somatic mutation rate per year varied greatly across species and exhibited a strong inverse relationship with species lifespan, with no other life-history trait studied showing a comparable association. Despite widely different life histories among the species we examined—including variation of around 30-fold in lifespan and around 40,000-fold in body mass—the somatic mutation burden at the end of lifespan varied only by a factor of around 3. These data unveil common mutational processes across mammals, and suggest that somatic mutation rates are evolutionarily constrained and may be a contributing factor in ageing.”
  • The Fake Artists Problem Is Much Worse Than You Realize
    • by Ted Gioia
    • Quote: “The streaming model allows for abuses beyond anything a pirate ever envisioned. Algorithms now determine how a huge portion of song royalties are allocated, and if you can manipulate the algorithms you can send enormous sums of money into your bank account.
    • The root of the problem is the increasingly passive nature of music consumption. People will often ask Alexa, or some other digital assistant, to find background music for a specific task—studying, workout, housework, relaxation, etc. Or they will rely on a pre-curated playlist for that purpose. They don’t pay close attention to the artists or song titles, and this is what creates an opportunity for abuse.”
    • It’s also worth reading the full article that Gioia linked to. I also read 12 Predictions for the Future of MusicIs Old Music Killing New Music and How I Became the Honest Broker.
  • Nihilist in Chief
    • by Alex Pareene
    • Quote A: “After his long career in the Senate, it may be impossible now to convince anyone he’s a Tea Party conservative or a MAGA Republican, but he’ll be perfectly comfortable working with members of both factions so long as they don’t harm his fundraising hauls or reelection chances. In the 2010 primary, Rand Paul defeated Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, McConnell’s handpicked successor to the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, running as an anti-establishment libertarian-ish maverick. McConnell shrugged, endorsed Paul, and participated in a make-believe talking filibuster he let Paul do as a favor. The junior senator has never given him any trouble; he’s become a reliable political ally, in fact.
    • That’s the nice thing about defining your political project so narrowly: It makes it easy to get along with figures as diverse as Donald Trump and Susan Collins, each of whom only needs a little flattery now and then to believe McConnell’s on their side.
    • Read enough about Mitch McConnell and you come to see him as a man of pure ambition and little else. But it’s ambition pointed in a strangely specific direction: the Senate itself. A recurring theme in McConnell profiles is someone close to him saying he never wanted to be president, but always dreamed of being the majority leader of the Senate. (The New York Times Magazine, 2019: “‘I think most senators look in the mirror and think they hear “Hail to the Chief” in the background,’ Terry Carmack, who has worked for McConnell on and off since his first Senate campaign, told me. ‘But he always wanted to be in the Senate.’” Politico Magazine, 2013: “‘Most politicians dream of being president,’ his former chief of staff Billy Piper told me. ‘McConnell dreams of being majority leader.’”) Even by the standards of other Washington creatures whose brains were poisoned by their weird ambitions, that is a weird ambition.”
    • Quote B: “As Trump’s presidency has predictably proved to be a series of outrages and self-inflicted national crises, punctuated with periodic updates on all the crimes and should-be-crimes his friends, associates, and children have committed, McConnell has receded into the wallpaper. It’s another of his special political talents. During that historic shutdown, he simply vanished for days at a time, letting his louder, dimmer counterpart in the Democratic minority, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, make himself the face of the Senate side of the negotiations. And the thing is, with every other major player in Washington desperate to get in front of a camera, this strategy works astoundingly well at deflecting attention and blame for things that are absolutely your own fault.
    • Recounting McConnell’s handling of a prior crisis, Bloomberg Businessweek writer Joshua Green described his strategy well: “McConnell nevertheless manipulates the press masterfully, using methods that are head-smackingly obvious and yet still elude most politicians. He knows exactly what he wants to say, repeats it with emphasis, then stops.” For those wondering how he’ll react if the government shuts down again, or if Trump causes some constitutional crisis by firing everyone investigating him, or if John Bolton declares war on Sweden, there’s your answer.”
  • Strange Horizons
  • Wireheading Done Right
    • by algekalipso
    • Quote: “…we may want to wirehead ourselves in such a way that our ability to experience fast euphoria is gated by slow euphoria. Until you have not “satiated” your psychological need for resting you will not be allowed to feel hyper-motivated. Our desires are already state-specific, but the current network of transition probabilities between emotions facilitates the reinforcement of toxic local attractors (also called “death spirals” like states of depression or generalized anxiety). By re-engineering the network of transition probabilities between emotions and extracting out the dysphoric components we might be able to guarantee a continuous flow between functionally and phenomenologically distinct modes of wellbeing. Wireheading done right consists of having wonderful experiences all the time, but in such a way that you never feel compelled to stay where you are for too long. In addition, a good wireheading procedure should also allow you to keep learning useful information about the state-space of consciousness. Wireheading should not imply the end of learning. In brief, we suggest that we should change our brains so that by feeling great in a certain way you temporarily reduce the response to that particular kind of euphoria but also make it easier to enjoy some other kind. One would thus be incentivized to keep moving, and to never give up or to get stuck in loops.
    • Naturally one may be skeptical that perpetual (but varied) bliss is at all possible. After all, shouldn’t we be already there if such states were actually evolutionarily advantageous? The problem is that the high-valence states we can experience evolved to increase our inclusive fitness in the ancestral environment, and not in an economy based on gradients of bliss. Experiences are calorically expensive; in the African Savannah it may cost too many calories to keep people in novelty-producing hyperthymic states (even if one is kept psychologically balanced) relative to the potential benefits of having our brains working at the minimal acceptable capacity. In today’s environment we have a surplus of calories which can be put to good use, i.e. to explore the state-space of consciousness and have a chance at discovering socially (and hedonically) valuable states. Exploring consciousness may thus not only be aligned with real value (cf. valence realism) but it might also turn out to be a good, rational time investment if you live in an experience-oriented economy. We are not particularly calorie-constrained nowadays; our states of consciousness should be enriched to reflect this fact.”

The Magnificent Seven #94: How Do We Stop Repeating Ourselves? – 08/05/22

  • How Do We Stop Repeating Ourselves?
    • by Caren Beilin, Sheila Heti
    • Quote: “BEILIN: I was supposed to be working on my dissertation for a creative-writing PhD, but as I’d proposed it, it would have been a historical fiction set in antebellum Philadelphia at a time when a series of orphanages for Black children were set on fire. Strangely, I had found evidence for this in tourism guides from that time. People visiting cities wanted to admire the municipal structures, and it was recommended they go see prisons and post offices and orphanages, but there were asterisks next to several of the orphanages for Black children, saying that unfortunately you couldn’t visit them because they’d been burned down.
    • I’d proposed to write about this, I’m sorry to say, from the perspective of a Black child. I’m not a very smart person, and when you take that kind of person and put them through a PhD program where it was often emphasized that writing fiction is this awesome act of empathy—the ability a writer has to go into other bodies and beings—and you combine this impression with systems of hazing, punishments, favors, and accomplishments, and tie it all to a little bit of fellowship funding, then what you have is a fairly dumb person proposing to write this book to get ten thousand dollars. So I moved back to Philadelphia with my ten thousand dollars and I was going to do that.
    • Fortunately, something kicked in and I couldn’t—I felt disgusted. I felt like, How can I be a writer if it’s actually important to give people privacy, to not, like, go into people? And that is when I thought, I’d better use myself as a subject, as an act of mercy, so that I don’t go prowling around in the bodies of children. I wrote Spain out of horror for what my dissertation was supposed to be, and tried to write about myself, and my own quite uneventful time in Spain, as a way to not bother others. And when I was in Spain, I really resented the imperative to be this immersive, open listener and learner. I thought it was, among other things, a gendered ask, so I worked on a syntax of refusal with these mundane but funny stories from one of the least eventful times in my own life.
    • INTERVIEWER: Can you say more about your opposition to the idea that fiction has to be some great act of empathy?
    • BEILIN: This idea that the imagination can take you anywhereinto anyone and anythingit thwarts one of the most basic things we learn as children, which is, Don’t touch everything! Don’t touch the stove, it’s fucking hot! I still see classes like “Writing the Other” listed in esteemed creative-writing programs. There is a lot of focus on the individual bound up in that idea, the individuality of this amazing writer with this special capacity for seeing, speaking from, or caring, but also the striking individuality of the characters themselves, this most sincere investment as them as people. I think of characters more as functions—propulsions, concentrations, knots of language.”
  • Bata & the Underground Cuisine of the Shil Pata
    • by Sumana Roy
    • Quote: “The bata comes from a culture of frugality and subsistence, but also of intimacy, one that trusts the hands and fingers of people outside the perimeter of the family. I wonder whether this is also responsible for bata being denied a place at Bengali wedding feasts, picnic menus, or even get-togethers. It is food that is dependent on touch, and a culture where touch — and untouchability — keeps a caste system and its ideas of purity intact, the bata (as well as the makha, a mash, given taste and character by the individuality of the cook’s hands) remains an underground cuisine. In spite of Bengali cuisine being one where food is eaten with one’s fingers, it is possible to avoid the touch of the cook or the person serving meals with serving spoons and ladles. Bata, made on a shil pata, where human fingers bring everything together, has thus been censored — it has been unable to jump past the caste and class barrier. In the middle-class Bengali household, where cooking is now mostly done by workers from lower income groups, it is unlikely that a genre such as the bata will be able to go past the family’s hygiene (or “purity”) censorship.
    • The oeuvre keeps adding to itself. During the lockdown, when we were short of vegetables and essentials, I began to think of things I could turn into a bata. Sapna-didi suggested raw banana peel — she was at home, and we often spoke on the phone. I went to our backyard with a machete and brought three raw bananas and a couple of banana leaves with me to the kitchen. The banana peel was soon in my hand, and, with it, garlic and green chillies. I boiled it for a little while and watched its resistance drain off into blackish water. Soon I was pounding the three on the shil pata and, once the paste was done, frying it with a little oil in a wok. We ate it with rice for lunch — I did not tell the family what it was they were eating. When I carried some for my sister-in-law, she told me it reminded her of the time she was breastfeeding, when she’d eat a bata of nigella seeds, garlic, a hint of chilli and salt, fried in a little oil. It was folk wisdom, to help the lactating mother. Something or the other jumps onto my shil pata now: peanuts, turned into a bata with a roasted tomato, garlic and chillies; even peanut butter, or mango and apricot jam, finding a new afterlife.”
  • Agile and the Long Crisis of Software
    • by Miriam Posner
    • Quote: “It’s also worth considering how Agile might have played a role in creating a work culture that is increasingly revealed to be toxic for women, people of color, and members of gender minority groups. It’s an inescapable fact that the authors of the Agile Manifesto were a very specific group of people: white men who, whatever their varying experiences, have probably not spent much time in workplaces where they composed the minority. The working group has since acknowledged the deficit in the team’s diversity and vowed to incorporate a larger set of voices in the Agile Alliance, a nonprofit associated with the manifesto.
    • But when you survey a list of Agile-affiliated methodologies, alarm bells might go off if you’re the kind of person who’s faced discrimination or harassment at work. Many people testify to the utility of “pair programming,” for example, but the practice—in which two developers code together, each taking turns looking over the other’s shoulder—assumes that the two coders are comfortable with each other. Similarly, the warts-and-all breakdown of Agile “retrospectives” seems healthy, but I’ve watched them descend into a structureless series of accusations; everything depends on who’s leading the team. And Coraline Ada Ehmke, former community safety manager at GitHub, has described how fellow developers used the code review—ideally a low-stakes way for developers to check each other’s work—as an instrument of harassment. We’ve long known that eliminating bureaucracy, hierarchy, and documentation feels great, until you’re the person who needs rules for protection.
    • Could Agile even have played a role in some of the more infamous failures of the tech industry? The thought occurred to me as I watched Frances Haugen, the former Facebook manager turned whistleblower, testifying before Congress in October 2021. If a company sets a goal of boosting user engagement, Agile is designed to get developers working single-mindedly toward that goal—not arguing with managers about whether, for example, it’s a good idea to show people content that inflames their prejudices. Such ethical arguments are incompatible with Agile’s avowed dedication to keeping developers working feverishly on the project, whatever it might be.
    • This issue becomes especially pressing when one considers that contemporary software is likely to involve things like machine learning, large datasets, or artificial intelligence—technologies that have shown themselves to be potentially destructive, particularly for minoritized people. The digital theorist Ian Bogost argues that this move-fast-and-break-things approach is precisely why software developers should stop calling themselves “engineers”: engineering, he points out, is a set of disciplines with codes of ethics and recognized commitments to civil society. Agile promises no such loyalty, except to the product under construction.”
  • Interview With Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
    • by Phil Christman, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
    • Quote: “[Phil Christman:] I was struck by your picture of the world-system as fluid: not so much “resources happen to be here” and “poverty happens to be here” but “nice things flow this way, misery flows that way, because that’s the way people built those channels.” The world is path-dependent, and colonialism built the paths. It seems commonsensical, but I hadn’t thought of it in exactly those terms before. How did you arrive at this way of looking at things? What changes when we adopt this metaphor?
    • [Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò:] I got here, I think, by a combination of two major factors. The first has to do with me getting my intellectual start in social science: I studied political science and economics before I studied philosophy, so I have some habits built up around keeping track of resources and incentives. Those aren’t the only things we need to explain the social world, of course, and those habits aren’t always helpful, but they were clarifying around these sorts of issues, since the Black world is absolutely immense. Not a lot of things about Black politics or culture apply well across borders and oceans and eras—a very detailed, granular analysis that makes sense of Guyana might not get things right in Guinea-Bissau or Gary, Indiana. So the patterns that remain if you’re studying politics broadly really seem to just be about social advantages and social disadvantages generally, rather than particular forms of either. The “paths” built by colonialism and history more generally explain why the patterns of racial hierarchy hold, even across wildly different eras and places.
    • [Phil Christman:] What is missing from our current framings of “reparations” such that you need to emphasize it as a constructive project?
    • [Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò:] One thing I try to stress in the book is that I’m just explaining a perspective that people have long had and still do. I think the US’s Grassroots Reparation Campaign and Caribbean Reparations Commission, for instance, has a view a lot like this. That said, the reparations arguments that make it into mainstream media tend to locate focus on the backward looking aspects of reparations: which individuals precisely are responsible for the harms of the past, or are owed things on the basis of those harms. That’s a conversation worth having, but it’s not the whole conversation about reparations. To me, the more pressing aspect is what we’re trying to do by way of reparations: what racial justice in the future looks like, and what the accumulations of past eras of racial injustice has to do with it. The “constructive view” is just a way of trying to push for this refocusing.”
  • Global economic inequality: what matters most for your living conditions is not who you are, but where you are
    • by Max Roser
    • Quote: “What is most important for how healthy, wealthy, and educated you are is not who you are, but where you are. Your knowledge and how hard you work matter too, but much less than the one factor that is entirely outside anyone’s control: whether you happen to be born into a productive, industrialized economy or not.
    • Global income inequality is vast. The chart shows this. As all data throughout this text it takes into account the differences in the cost of living.
    • The huge majority of the world is very poor. The poorer half of the world, almost 4 billion people, live on less than $6.70 a day.
    • If you live on $30 a day you are part of the richest 15% of the world ($30 a day roughly corresponds to the poverty lines set in high-income countries).”
  • Magic: the Gathering is as Hard as Arithmetic
    • by Stella Biderman
    • I watched a how-to-play video prior to reading the paper.
    • Quoting the abstract: “Magic: the Gathering is a popular and famously complicated card game about magical combat. Recently, several authors including Chatterjee and Ibsen-Jensen (2016) and Churchill, Biderman, and Herrick (2019) have investigated the computational complexity of playing Magic optimally. In this paper we show that the “mate-in-n” problem for Magic is Δn0-hard and that optimal play in two-player Magic is non-arithmetic in general. These results apply to how real Magic is played, can be achieved using standard-size tournament legal decks, and do not rely on stochasticity or hidden information. Our paper builds upon the construction that Churchill, Biderman, and Herrick (2019) used to show that this problem was at least as hard as the halting problem.”
  • Movement for Climbers
    • by Siawn
    • I’ve picked up indoor climbing, both as a replacement for BJJ (which I’ve still been avoiding due to Covid caution) and as an additional energy outlet beyond regular training and movement. This channel has a lot of ideas that’ll help me learn the discipline.

The Magnificent Seven #93: The way of dharma – 01/05/22

  • The way of dharma
    • by Keerthik Sasidharan
    • Quote: “A more immediate and vexing question is how to understand dharma when opposing but equal truths force us into an ethical cul-de-sac. If economic growth results in poverty reduction but also in environmental degradation, whose dharma must one privilege? The result is that, when we begin to think about ‘dharma’ as a form of rule-dependent flourishing, we come face to face with a heterodoxy of dharmas – such as swa-dharma: the dharma of the individual; yuga-dharma: the dharma of the zeitgeist; and so on. One consequence of this approach to understanding dharma as the series of contesting ethical frameworks is that it forces us to live in the present rather in some reactionary idyll of the past or in the revolutionary utopias of the future. This makes us ask questions of composition (how do we put together different viewpoints?), of social choice (how should we determine which viewpoint matters more?), and about the relationship between dharma and the manifoldness of reality. If we take Shankara’s definition seriously, by virtue of the questions it forces us to face up to, we are made to acknowledge the non-onesidedness of reality – we are nudged into non-radicalism.
    • A few years ago, before my aunt passed away, I visited her and, out of nostalgia, asked her to tell me another of her stories from the puranas. She demurred and laughed, and then said: ‘Those are stories for children.’ A moment later, with a hint of her old steely self, she added: ‘Are you still a child?’ I wasn’t sure what the appropriate answer was. Maybe I had grown past those stories of talking elephants and singing birds who sacrifice themselves for some transcendent ideal. Or perhaps she was nudging me to recognise that one can never outgrow those stories, for to do so would be to outgrow the seeds of dharma contained within them: truth (satya),nonviolence (ahimsa) and compassion (anrishamsya). Seeds that she, and generations of storytellers before her, hoped would one day grow into a tree of dharma.”
  • You and Your Research
    • by Richard Hamming
    • Quote: “You mentioned the problem of the Nobel Prize and the subsequent notoriety of what was done to some of the careers. Isn’t that kind of a much more broad problem of fame? What can one do?
    • Hamming: Some things you could do are the following. Somewhere around every seven years make a significant, if not complete, shift in your field. Thus, I shifted from numerical analysis, to hardware, to software, and so on, periodically, because you tend to use up your ideas. When you go to a new field, you have to start over as a baby. You are no longer the big mukity muk and you can start back there and you can start planting those acorns which will become the giant oaks. Shannon, I believe, ruined himself. In fact when he left Bell Labs, I said, “That’s the end of Shannon’s scientific career.” I received a lot of flak from my friends who said that Shannon was just as smart as ever. I said, “Yes, he’ll be just as smart, but that’s the end of his scientific career,” and I truly believe it was.
    • You have to change. You get tired after a while; you use up your originality in one field. You need to get something nearby. I’m not saying that you shift from music to theoretical physics to English literature; I mean within your field you should shift areas so that you don’t go stale. You couldn’t get away with forcing a change every seven years, but if you could, I would require a condition for doing research, being that you will change your field of research every seven years with a reasonable definition of what it means, or at the end of 10 years, management has the right to compel you to change. I would insist on a change because I’m serious. What happens to the old fellows is that they get a technique going; they keep on using it. They were marching in that direction which was right then, but the world changes. There’s the new direction; but the old fellows are still marching in their former direction.
    • You need to get into a new field to get new viewpoints, and before you use up all the old ones. You can do something about this, but it takes effort and energy. It takes courage to say, “Yes, I will give up my great reputation.” For example, when error correcting codes were well launched, having these theories, I said, “Hamming, you are going to quit reading papers in the field; you are going to ignore it completely; you are going to try and do something else other than coast on that.” I deliberately refused to go on in that field. I wouldn’t even read papers to try to force myself to have a chance to do something else. I managed myself, which is what I’m preaching in this whole talk. Knowing many of my own faults, I manage myself. I have a lot of faults, so I’ve got a lot of problems, i.e. a lot of possibilities of management.”
  • Why the Culture Wins
    • by someone for Sci Phi Journal
    • Quote: “Compared to the other “visionary” writers working at the time – William Gibson, Neal Stephenson – Banks is underappreciated. This is because Gibson and Stephenson in certain ways anticipated the evolution of technology, and considered what the world would look like as transformed by “cyberspace.” Both were crucial in helping us to understand that the real technological revolution occurring in our society was not mechanical, but involved the collection, transmission and processing of information.
    • Banks, by contrast, imagined a future transformed by the evolution of culture first and foremost, and by technology only secondarily. His insights were, I would contend, more profound. But they are less well appreciated, because the dynamics of culture surround us so completely, and inform our understanding of the world so entirely, that we struggle to find a perspective from which we can observe the long-term trends.
    • In fact, modern science fiction writers have had so little to say about the evolution of culture and society that it has become a standard trope of the genre to imagine a technologically advanced future that contains archaic social structures. The most influential example of this is undoubtedly Frank Herbert’s Dune, which imagines an advanced galactic civilization, but where society is dominated by warring “houses,” organized as extended clans, all under the nominal authority of an “emperor.” Part of the appeal obviously lies in the juxtaposition of a social structure that belongs to the distant past – one that could be lifted, almost without modification, from a fantasy novel – and futuristic technology.
    • Such a postulate can be entertaining, to the extent that it involves a dramatic rejection of Marx’s view, that the development of the forces of production drives the relations of production (“The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”1). Put in more contemporary terms, Marx’s claim is that there are functional relations between technology and social structure, so that you can’t just combine them any old way. Marx was, in this regard, certainly right, hence the sociological naiveté that lies at the heart of Dune. Feudalism with energy weapons makes no sense – a feudal society could not produce energy weapons, and energy weapons would undermine feudal social relations.”
  • Rewilding and the Rural Economy
    • by Rewilding Britain
    • Quote: “The need to reboot economies after the COVID-19 crisis could be a moment for such a transformation. Recovery will only come with significant investment to revive economies. Many are calling for this to be a ‘green recovery’: one that focuses on solutions that will benefit people and the planet for years to come10. This includes vital investments in technologies like clean-energy and zero emissions transport.
    • However, relatively little consideration has been given to how the economies of rural and coastal areas can transition while helping to restore vital natural systems. Such solutions are more likely to win public backing in light of COVID-19. Consumer indicators suggest that consciousness of the natural world is at an all-time high thanks to the role which nature has played in many people’s lives since lockdowns11.
    • Rewilding Britain is therefore calling for nature’s recovery to be put at the heart of the economy by adopting an integrated, localised and nature-based approach to land and marine use. In short, we want to incentivise Nature-Based Economies across at least 30% of Britain.”
    • It’s an ambitious, practical and hopeful report, and one that will be ignored. See this article about dumping raw sewage in rivers in the UK as an example (and remember that these same water providers have paid ~£60bn in dividends in the last thirty years). Quote: “Water companies discharged raw sewage into English rivers 372,533 times last year, a slight reduction on the previous year.
    • The water companies covering England released untreated sewage for a combined total of more than 2.7m hours; compared with 3.1m hours in 2020, according to data released by the Environment Agency (EA) on Thursday.
    • The data was published as the government announced what it said was the largest overhaul of the sewer system since the 1990s to tackle the problem of discharges.”
  • When Food Connects You To Your Culture, Community, and Family
    • by Josh Hillis
    • Quote: “I know, for me, I grew up on the Central Coast of California. The Central Coast is all about “Santa Maria Style Barbecue,” but we of course just called it barbecue.
    • It’s tri-tip steak with a salt and garlic rub, usually cooked in huge metal drums. It’s served with salsa (usually on the steak), garlic bread, piquito beans (like pinto beans), and ice-berg lettuce salad.
    • It was the traditional end of the year celebration food in the California Ranchos.
    • When I was growing up, it was at every Farmer’s Market (a big deal in my town), at every Harborfest, Bayfest, and Oktoberfest.
    • I was really poor, so mostly I had it at the end-of-season sports banquets (I ran track and cross country). So, to me it seemed extra special. It was totally festival/celebration food, and I always had it with my friends. Most of my friends and I sort of became each other’s adopted families, and those meals together were really important.
    • So, Santa Maria Style BBQ has a special place in my heart. When I make it now, here in Colorado, it still reminds me of being back home, hanging out my friends.”
  • Machine Learning Street Talk
    • by Tim Scarfe, Keith Duggar and Yannic Kilcher
    • I stumbled upon this show recently, and its great. The discussion is more in-depth than podcasts and discussions tailored for general audiences, naturally. Although a lot of the concepts and minutiae are somewhat fuzzy to me, I really enjoyed the discussions with both Gary Marcus and Francois Chollet. The episode with Letitia Parcalabescu was fun, too. I’ll definitely be exploring more episodes in the future.
  • Indoor Skydiving European and World Championships
    • by La Film Equipe
    • One of the most hypnotic things I’ve seen in a while. Especially the individual performances. Just surreal.

The Magnificent Seven #92: The Steep Cost of Capture – 24/04/22

  • The Steep Cost of Capture
    • by Meredith Whittaker
    • Quote A: “Examining the history of the U.S. military’s influence over scientific research during the Cold War, we see parallels to the tech industry’s current influence over AI. This history also offers alarming examples of the way in which U.S. military dominance worked to shape academic knowledge production, and to punish those who dissented.
    • Today, the tech industry is facing mounting regulatory pressure, and is increasing its efforts to create tech-positive narratives and to silence and sideline critics in much the same way the U.S. military and its allies did in the past. Taken as a whole, we see that the tech industry’s dominance in AI research and knowledge production puts critical researchers and advocates within, and beyond, academia in a treacherous position. This threatens to deprive frontline communities, policymakers, and the public of vital knowledge about the costs and consequences of AI and the industry responsible for it—right at the time that this work is most needed.”
    • Quote B: “Why would a conflicted government body populated by tech executives recommend “democratizing” access to the infrastructures at the heart of their concentrated power? Because this proposal wouldn’t actually reduce that power. Indeed, if implemented, it would almost certainly entrench and expand large tech firms’ power and reach. Big tech’s domination over the infrastructure of AI research and development extends beyond providing “neutral platforms.” These companies control the tooling, development environments, languages, and software that define the AI research process—they make the water in which AI research swims. Even if it were desirable (which, given AI’s harms and flaws, must be open to question), there is no plausible scenario in which a national research infrastructure could be meaningfully constructed outside of the current tech-industry ecosystem. Doing so would require rolling a new platform, developing software, and habituating tens of thousands of researchers to new tooling and interfaces while hiring the thousands of site-reliability engineers, software developers, quality assurance testers, and support personnel necessary to maintain such a large and expensive system in perpetuity.
    • In practice, then, these proposals to “democratize” access to AI research infrastructures amount to calls to subsidize tech giants further by licensing familiar infrastructure from these firms in ways that allow them to continue defining the terms and conditions of AI and AI research. All while centers like Stanford’s new CRFM are poised to further entrench such dominance by presenting industry-dependent AI techniques as the cutting edge of AI research.”
  • The metaverse is a new word for an old idea
    • by Genevieve Bell
    • Quote: “There is an easy seductiveness to stories that cast a technology as brand-new, or at the very least that don’t belabor long, complicated histories. Seen this way, the future is a space of reinvention and possibility, rather than something intimately connected to our present and our past. But histories are more than just backstories. They are backbones and blueprints and maps to territories that have already been traversed. Knowing the history of a technology, or the ideas it embodies, can provide better questions, reveal potential pitfalls and lessons already learned, and open a window onto the lives of those who learned them. The metaverse—which is not nearly as new as it looks—is no exception.”
    • Related is The Billionaire’s Bard. Quote: “Although Termination Shock, likewise, clearly sides with the “climate realists,” it has a peculiar way of couching and obscuring its politics, considering it’s a novel about, well, geopolitical questions of considerable import. In contrast to the fulminating, speechifying, didactic Objectivism of Ayn Rand, Stephenson conjures a reality in which ideology has essentially nothingto offer people taking on global existential threats. (“It’s almost always a disaster when a novelist decides to become political,” Stephenson told an interviewer from Reason magazine in 2005.) Where the avatar of Rand’s fiction was the ultra-capitalist captain of industry trailblazing the path for laissez-faire capitalism, the avatar of Stephenson’s fiction is the apolitical, hyper-logical, no-bullshit engineer, who might manage to solve the world’s problems if only people would shut up and let him build things. Of course, the desire to escape politics inevitably yields its own kind of politics, and it’s in Stephenson’s unexamined assumptions that the myopic contours of his worldview begin to reveal themselves.”
  • Remove the legend to become one
    • by Eugene Wei
    • Quote: “Why is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information such a formative text in my life? If it were merely a groundbreaking book on graphic excellence, it would remain one of my trusted references, sitting next to Garner’s Modern American Usage, always within arm’s reach. It wouldn’t be a book I would push on those who never make graphs and charts.
    • The reason the book influenced me so deeply is that it is actually a book about the pursuit of truth through knowledge. It is ostensibly about producing better charts; what stays with you is the principles for general clarity of thought. Reading the book, chiseling away at my line graphs late nights, talking to people all over the company to understand what might explain each of them, gave me a path towards explaining the past and predicting the future. Ask anyone about any work of art they love, whether it’s a book or a movie or an album, and it’s never just about what it’s about. I haven’t read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; I’m guessing it wasn’t written just for motorcycle enthusiasts.
    • A good line graph is a fusion of right and left brain, of literacy and numeracy. Just numbers alone aren’t enough to explain the truth, but accurate numbers, represented truthfully, are a check on our anecdotal excesses, confirmation biases, tribal affiliations.”
  • Asynchronous Communication
    • by Amir Salihefendic
    • Quote: “Study after study after study into remote work has made one thing clear: Remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts.
    • What’s not entirely clear is why.
    • Yes, people gain back time (and sanity) by avoiding rush hour commutes. They avoid the distractions of the office. They regain a sense of control over their workdays. They have more time to dedicate to family, friends, and hobbies.
    • But apart from the commute, all of those benefits aren’t necessarily the result of location independence, but rather the byproduct of asynchronous communication — giving employees control over when they communicate with their teammates.”
  • 20 days in Mariupol
    • by Mstyslav Chernov
    • Quote: “About a quarter of Mariupol’s 430,000 residents left in those first days, while they still could. But few people believed a war was coming, and by the time most realized their mistake, it was too late.
    • One bomb at a time, the Russians cut electricity, water, food supplies and finally, crucially, the cell phone, radio and television towers. The few other journalists in the city got out before the last connections were gone and a full blockade settled in.
    • The absence of information in a blockade accomplishes two goals.
    • Chaos is the first. People don’t know what’s going on, and they panic. At first I couldn’t understand why Mariupol fell apart so quickly. Now I know it was because of the lack of communication.
    • Impunity is the second goal. With no information coming out of a city, no pictures of demolished buildings and dying children, the Russian forces could do whatever they wanted. If not for us, there would be nothing.
    • That’s why we took such risks to be able to send the world what we saw, and that’s what made Russia angry enough to hunt us down.
    • I have never, ever felt that breaking the silence was so important.”
  • Learned Physicians and Everyday Medical Practice in the Renaissance
    • by Michael Stolberg
    • An open access book that “offers the first comprehensive presentation of medical training and day-to-day medical practice during the Renaissance.” From the introduction: “As my analysis of the interpretation, diagnosis, and treatment of illness in the Renaissance will show, a closer look at everyday practice forces us to call into question a range of well-established truths. Generations of medical historians, for example, claimed that early modern physicians rarely touched their patients and certainly did not do a systematic physical exam with their hands. It is true that physical exams are hardly mentioned in the medical textbooks of the time. Yet, the sources that describe everyday practice that I present here show clearly that the manual examination of the abdomen was a routine medical practice in the sixteenth century and that some physicians even performed manual vaginal exams on patients. To give another example from medical diagnostics: those who take at face value the copious polemical literature written by learned physicians who railed against diagnosing diseases from urine will find that this criticism was aimed chiefly at the numerous lay healers who relied, sometimes exclusively, on uroscopy. Uroscopy as such continued to be paramount also in the everyday practice of learned physicians.
    • In the case of disease concepts, the discrepancies are more striking still and have far-reaching implications for our understanding of early modern medicine as a whole. Not only in the media and in popular writings for a wider lay audience but even among renowned experts of early modern medicine, we still encounter the widespread notion that early modern medicine attributed diseases above all to an imbalance of the four natural humors (yellow and black bile, blood, and phlegm) and/or of their primary qualities (cold, hot, dry, and moist) and that therapy aimed at restoring a balance in the body. In fact, this notion is found in the theoretical writings of Galenic physicians, while the Paracelsians vehemently criticized the Galenists’ alleged fixation on the four humors. Yet, when we turn to sources that document the diagnosis and treatment of specific cases in the everyday medical practice of the sixteenth century, we gain a completely different picture. Hardly ever were diseases explained by an imbalance of the qualities or the natural humors in the body. There was a different, widely prevalent explanatory model: the vast majority of illnesses were attributed to more or less specific, impure, spoiled, foul or otherwise harmful morbid matter, which, consequently, had to be targeted specifically and evacuated.”
  • Discovering Bliss States
    • by Tasshin Fogleman
    • Quote: “I stopped taking them, and at about that time, I started meditating and found myself seeking a spiritual path. As George Harrison said in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, Living in the Material World, “So, at that point, I stopped taking it, actually, the dreaded Lysergic. That’s where I really went for the meditation.”
    • Many contemporary spiritual practitioners and teachers find their way to the spiritual path by way of drug use. That was certainly my experience. In retrospect, I think part of my motivation was to replace drugs with something more wholesome and sustainable. I wanted to find a way to reliably access pleasure and bliss, on demand, without any of the downsides drug use had for me.
    • It took me ten years, over fifty meditation retreats, and extensive monastic training to find out how to do so. But it’s possible, and it doesn’t need to take you as long, or require you to do monastic training, to find access to these benefits of meditation. That’s what this post is about.”

The Magnificent Seven #91: Man of letters – 17/04/22

  • Man of letters
    • by Ashleigh Young
    • Quote: “Designing any typeface begins with a lot of tentative sketching, after which he lets it sit for a while. “When I say a while, I mean months or years. Because, you know what it’s like when you first do something. You think, ‘God! I’m a genius.’ Then you come back a while later, and it’s: ‘This is shit.’ So there’s a lot of that.” Eventually the concept settles, and the production begins, which is mechanical and involves refining the weights, styles, and kerning (nudging the spaces between letters so they don’t crash into each other or drift too far apart). He has no beef with any particular letter. “Some are hard, like ornate lowercase ‘g’. Plain geometric ‘o’. But — it’s the process that’s the struggle. The classic saying is: a typeface is a beautiful collection of letters, not a collection of beautiful letters. If you’ve got one letter you’re really into, sometimes it has to be sacrificed to fit in with the whole.” What’s the hardest part? “The hardest bit is always finishing. Then the hardest bit is liking it.”
    • The essay that he wrote for the release of Signifier is intricate and unexpectedly moving. When he began working on the typeface, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Last year, after she died, to help him in his grief, he read books that dealt with Buddhist notions of impermanence and temporality. He came to the realisation that Signifier, the very thing he had worked on for such a long time and into which he had poured so much of himself, was itself impermanent and immaterial. “We shape letters from numbers and draw curves with equations,” he wrote. “Letters are no longer things, but pictures of things transmitted by light.”
    • This completely upended my way of thinking about letters, and was a little unsettling — the realisation that when you sit down in front of your screen to write, every word is a picture of a word, every story a picture of a story. “There’s a kind of absurdity to drawing new shapes of letters on a screen,” he observes to me. “If you turn the power off, they don’t exist anymore. And it’s a relatively new phenomenon. People of our generation — we grew up with shit that existed.” He’s at peace with the ultimate transience of his work and legacy, which is unusual for a youngish artist. Most of us, if we’re honest, hope our books will never go out of print and our art will never decompose in someone’s garage. “My fonts aren’t going to be used forever. It’s kind of nice to think that they’ll be used for a while, and then…” he shrugs. “There’ll be something else.””
    • If you really want to nerd out then dive into the “design information” pieces for the Signifier and Maelstrom typefaces.
  • Burying JK Rowling
    • by Dean Buckley
    • Quote: “The term “separating the art from the artist” is often used interchangeably with a concept called “the death of the author”, named for the essay of the same name by the French literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes. “The Death of the Author” is somehow both the work of literary theory assigned most often to college literature students and the work comprehended by them least. I’m not a huge fan it myself. I hate the idea academic writing is worthless if it’s too dense and technical for a casual reader, but you’d think an essay that claims to be a revolutionary document could tone it down a little. I don’t think it leaves enough room for the materialism of acknowledging that artists can have styles and habits and so on. The literary references it uses are very inside baseball: it’s not just they’re dated or specific to the field, but that the essay takes for granted it can skip over some of its own reasoning by going “you know, like Mallarmé”. But the theory it proposes is nothing like “separating the art from the artist”: separating the art from the artist presumes a link between the art and the artist that must be severed, the death of the author denies such a link exists at all. The death of the author argues readers – casual and critical alike – should cultivate a radical disregard for the artist when we engage with art, because the idea there’s some link between them that we should be conscious of, let alone guided by in our interpretation, is not just incorrect, it’s actively hostile to the human experience of art itself.
    • Perhaps appropriately, my favourite demonstration of the validity of the death of the author comes from a writer who doesn’t believe in the death of the author, digital essayist and comic book critic Colin Spacetwinks. Their essay “Comics and Cowardice” is about how both specific artists like Nick Spencer and the comic book industry writ large uses political imagery to gain positive attention as a “serious” medium, but denies political themes or content when critics take them seriously enough to say they’re bad. It’s a pretty familiar dynamic for anyone interested in mediums whose fan and artist cultures have a massive inferiority complex about whether people see them as “real art”, and I like comic books, video games and professional wrestling, so I’ve seen a lot of it. But I’d never thought of it as lying until I read Colin’s essay. And then it all kind of fell into place.”
    • This short post is about Rowling’s rise and decline. Quote: “The same has happened, albeit more gradually, to Rowling; she thought the career that was gifted her was “hers”, too late she has discovered that it was all conditional.”
  • The End of Sykes-Picot: Moving Beyond Colonialism
    • by Lyndon LaRouche
    • Quote: “But don’t believe that there’s some solution for the Israeli-Arab conflict. There is no solution, in that, per se. That’s why I said at the beginning here: Don’t look at the history of the Middle East; look at the Middle East in history. And there you find the solution.
    • Because it’s being played! The whole region. It’s being played like a puppet.
    • I’ve got a similar situation in India. I’ve got a worse situation in Pakistan: Pakistan is about to die, it’s about to be killed, by U.S. advice, and British management. The dumping of Musharraf was insane. He’s not a good person, but he kept the country together. The disintegration of Pakistan would uncork all kinds of hell in the entire region.
    • So, that’s the point. We must grow up, and those of you who are in the university, presumably approaching now the point of where people are graduating, either from that term at the university, or going on to some other education, should think of yourselves not just as being university graduates, or prospective graduates. But think of yourselves as respecting the need for young Americans, in particular, to get out of the habits of thinking which have dominated our press, and our conversations, in recent times. To realize we’re on the edge of a disaster beyond belief. And to realize that what’s needed, is an understanding of history, not an understanding of something that’s happening in some section of history.”
  • Minsky Moments in Venture Capital
    • by Abraham Thomas
    • Quote: “There is in fact one well-known death spiral in startup land, and it’s the dreaded down round.
    • In a down round, a startup running out of cash is forced to raise capital at a lower valuation than its previous financing. This is bad news. Anti-dilution provisions mean that early investors and common shareholders are wiped out. Recent hires whose options are now underwater begin to leave. The startup is perceived as damaged goods, and has to pay above market comp to replace them, attracting mercenaries instead of missionaries. Customers, not knowing if the startup will survive, churn. Finances worsen, predatory investors circle, and further down rounds loom.
    • A valuation spiral is bad enough. It’s usually accompanied by a talent spiral, which is worse. In a tight labour market, good operators have their choice of where to work. The best startups are able to attract the best talent5. Meanwhile, flailing startups tend to fill up with mediocre employees — the ones who can’t find work elsewhere. This makes it even harder to recruit excellent people 6. The spiral continues.
    • Down rounds are widely considered the harbinger of doom for venture-backed startups. Understandably, founders and investors go to great lengths to avoid them7.
    • How do they do this? The most common approach is to wait it out. Cut costs, squeeze out short-term revenue, raise bridge loans from less-known investors at the best terms you can, and hope to eventually ‘grow into your valuation’. Sometimes it even works.
    • This is — not coincidentally — a perfect mirror image of the logic used by many investors today. “I don’t mind paying up; on the current trajectory, even a doubling in price is easily recouped via just a few months of growth.”
    • But if my hypothesis about time is true, this could be dangerous. If compressed timelines are the driver of Minsky inflows into venture, then anything that delays funding cycles could precipitate a painful reversal. First some startups delay fund-raising because they need to grow into their valuations; then the VCs who invested in those startups have to delay their own fund-raising with LPs because they don’t have the requisite markups; then the LPs reconsider their (hitherto ever-increasing) allocations to venture because the latest returns are uninspiring; and before you know it, there’s an exodus from the asset class. Minsky giveth, and Minsky taketh away.”
  • Grocery delivery wars
    • by Erika Beras, Wailin Wong
    • Quote: “WONG: And then there are the shelves. Grocery stores live and die by something called a planogram. A planogram is like the blueprint of a store. Produce goes in the front because color-blocked fruits and vegetables have a relaxing effect. The pasta is near the sauce because customers look for those things together. Baking stuff is all in one spot.
    • BERAS: And there are lots of other things grocery stores do that you probably wouldn’t notice. Like, they place items for kids on lower shelves. Fish is not near coffee – too many competing strong smells.
    • WONG: The planogram in a dark store has a totally different logic. Like, similar things are separated, not grouped together.
    • WACENSKE: It helps in our picking accuracy. And so in the grocery store, when you’re looking at the shelves, you want to see all of the seltzer water together, whereas here we actually don’t want to see that because, you know, it can lead to mistakes in picking. So we separate those things.
    • BERAS: The whole store is laid out with that in mind – pickers quickly grabbing the right thing. Here, the spaghetti is never next to the linguine because they’re so easy to confuse. The salt is on a different shelf from the pepper. And very different-seeming items can wind up on the same shelf.
    • WACENSKE: There’s garbage bags. There’s batteries. There’s shot glasses. There’s a tea towel. There’s a gift bag, Reynolds Wrap and foil pans. You know, all of the sort of things that you might need for a party are on this shelf.
    • WONG: The party shelf exists because people order these things together, and the store constantly updates its shelves based on data from the app. That means things are moving around in the store all the time, and that can get confusing, so pickers also rely on a numbering system for the aisles and shelves to guide them around. Every time an order comes in, a bell sound rings from a computer up at the front of the store.”
  • The Easiest Way to Fix and Prevent Lower Back Pain
    • by Built with Science
    • Quote: “So, as a summary, regardless of what caused your back pain, part of your road to recovery and prevention will always be practicing spinal hygiene. By properly implementing what we went through in this article into your daily routine, while making an effort to simply move more and avoiding any static positions for too long, you’ll successfully be able to minimize the stress placed on your lower back and the pain you may be experiencing.
    • At the same time though, just keep in mind that back pain is specific to you and your situation. There isn’t a general fix for everyone. And spinal hygiene is often just part of the solution.”
  • Why Do I Suck?
    • by Scott Alexander
    • Quote: “I mean the thing where if you’re doing an optimization problem, you start by making big jumps to explore the macro-landscape of the solution space, then as time goes make smaller and smaller jumps to explore the micro-landscape of whichever high-reward region you’ve settled upon, until you finally end up at some local optimum.
    • I’ve always assumed humans do something like this. As a teenager, your identity changes a mile a minute. Today you’re goth! Tomorrow you’re prep! The next day you decide to get a tattoo and major in journalism! You’re a communist! An anarcho-socialist! A Bakuninist! A Bokononist! Then as time goes on you gradually “figure yourself out” and make smaller and smaller jumps until you become old and stodgy and fixed in your ways.
    • It would be arrogant to say the reason I make fewer large updates now than I did at age 28 is because I’ve solved all the big problems. But I think I’ve found solutions for big problems that satisfy me. My jumps are smaller now, less “oh, I changed my mind about whether there’s a God” and more “let’s explore this sub-sub-cranny of utilitarianism”. This blog is an intellectual travelogue, and as my journeys and expeditions become less exotic, it probably becomes less interesting for some of my readers.
    • Someone less into machine-learning metaphors and more into leftism than I am (20-year-old me could easily have gone down that road!) might say I’ve grown too comfortable and sold out and joined the Man. Same result: smaller jumps.”

The Magnificent Seven #90: The Devastating Power and Heartbreaking Pain of Truly Changing Minds – 10/04/22

  • The Devastating Power and Heartbreaking Pain of Truly Changing Minds
    • by Erich Grunewald
    • Quote: “For most Latter-day Saints, the Church and life are inseparable. Things are arranged according to the Church’s norms and directives. If you are a Latter-day Saint, you may have been raised in the Church, your whole family may be Latter-day Saints, your whole community may be centred around it, you have probably served on a mission, you might have studied at Brigham Young University (BYU), you have definitely given up premarital sex, masturbation, alcohol, tea and coffee, you may have a whole ward looking up to you and coming to you with questions, you will have given hours or tens of hours weekly to various callings, you will have paid tithing, read, prayed, fasted, and for many of your transgressions you will have felt intense guilt and shame.
    • Apostasy is a condition in which “spiritual darkness replaces the light of truth”; Satan is the one who “seeks to lead us to the breeding ground of doubt”; or, as Brigham Young put it, “a person, to become an angel of the Devil, has first to be a good Saint, and then deny the Lord who bought him”.
    • Losing your faith in the Church doesn’t mean just changing your mind about factual matters – it can mean losing your identity, community, friends and family. It means disappointing a whole lot of people. It means looking loved ones in the eyes and confirming their worst fears. It means realising that what you have evangelised as a missionary, what you have taught your children and what you have argued against colleagues was wrong. In sum, it is a terrifying thing. That is the impression that I have from listening to accounts of people who have gone through this.”
  • Noema’s Top 10 Of 2021
    • by Various People
    • I didn’t read them all. I picked three.
    • From The Tyranny Of Time: “Birth is one of a growing chorus of philosophers, social scientists, authors and artists who, for various reasons, are arguing that we need to urgently reassess our relationship with the clock. The clock, they say, does not measure time; it produces it. “Coordinated time is a mathematical construct, not the measure of a specific phenomenon,” Birth wrote in his book “Objects of Time.” That mathematical construct has been shaped over centuries by science, yes, but also power, religion, capitalism and colonialism. The clock is extremely useful as a social tool that helps us coordinate ourselves around the things we care about, but it is also deeply politically charged. And like anything political, it benefits some, marginalizes others and blinds us from a true understanding of what is really going on.”
    • From I Would Rather Be Born A Woman in China Than India: “Which is a significant part of the reason why, despite India’s considerable achievements both politically and economically, the country lags and will continue to lag behind China. Until it can improve the lot of Indian women — a change that requires considerable social engineering (for which there is underwhelming appetite), high-speed trains, giant statues and the other showy weapons in the current government’s arsenal that are meant to signal India’s arrival on the global stage will remain damp squibs, doomed to sputter and die before the abysmal reality of the systematic denial of agency to women.”
    • From A Man Of His Time, And Ours: “Whether these views were “of” his time is a misleading and impossible question: In every time, including ours, multiple value systems are in contest. Churchill’s decisions were guided less by intellectual consistency than an unapologetic sense of entitlement to make decisions (often opportunistically) based on his romantic intuitions. Churchill hero-worshiped T. E. Lawrence, with whom he designed a regime of aerial terror for policing British Iraq after the First World War. For Churchill, Lawrence’s dreamy aura of the intuitive military genius and epic writer, famed for his covert wartime adventures in the Middle East, kept the possibility of great-man historical agency alive even as the war’s tragic European battles stoked intense doubt about it. He devoted a chapter to Lawrence in his 1937 book on “Great Contemporaries” and, in World War II, modeled the Special Operations Executive on Lawrence’s activities.
    • Churchill’s sense of historical birthright, of masculine, upper-class entitlement to make history without accountability for human costs, is what Britain’s ruling classes hanker after today. But in Churchill’s time, that prerogative was precisely what began to be questioned. His autocratic expansion of empire in the Middle East was what cost him his seat in parliament in 1922, which went instead to E. D. Morel, a leading figure in the movement for democratic control of foreign policy.”
  • Recreational Virginity and the False Promise of Artificial Hymens
    • by Neda Taghinejadi
    • Quote: “Ultimately, the phenomenon of recreating or simulating hymens for romantic or erotic reasons should also worry all women. The concept of the virginal hymen is never “recreational,” as has been claimed; it is violent. The very term “recreational” is problematic in its attempt to make palatable that which is patriarchal. Moreover, the scope of what is considered recreational is open-ended. What next—will virginity creams soon be considered a routine part of self-care?
    • While it’s welcome news that some leaders are finally clamping down on virginity testing and hymenoplasty, the wider market needs to be part of the debate. Awareness of these products is limited within the medical community. There has been virtually no discussion of the risks or ethics of virginity kits within medical literature, and their use has been conspicuously omitted in the recent public conversation about virginity, which still focuses on surgery. Any time I mention the use of artificial hymens or virginity creams to my medical colleagues, I am met with shock or disbelief. The medical community has a duty to question and challenge claims made by the hymen market—but we can’t do that if we don’t know what’s out there.
    • And we shouldn’t be shocked—this was always inevitable. What happens when an unstoppable social construct collides with an immovable patriarchal myth? The market adapts, evolves, and exploits.”​​
  • The Strange Reality of Roller Coaster Tycoon
    • by Jacob Geller
    • I did not expect to learn about the Euthanasia Coaster, or that Roller Coaster Tycoon was programmed in assembly, but I’m glad I did. This video hit me with some nostalgia vibes, too.
  • Programming as Theory Building
    • by Peter Naur
    • Quote: “More generally, much current discussion of programming seems to assume that programming is similar to industrial production, the programmer being regarded as a component of that production, a component that has to be controlled by rules of procedure and which can be replaced easily. Another related view is that human beings perform best if they act like machines, by following rules, with a consequent stress on formal modes of expression, which make it possible to formulate certain arguments in terms of rules of formal manipulation. Such views agree well with the notion, seemingly common among persons working with computers, that the human mind works like a computer. At the level of industrial management these views support treating programmers as workers of fairly low responsibility, and only brief education.
    • On the Theory Building View the primary result of the programming activity is the theory held by the programmers. Since this theory by its very nature is part of the mental possession of each programmer, it follows that the notion of the programmer as an easily replaceable component in the program production activity has to be abandoned. Instead the programmer must be regarded as a responsible developer and manager of the activity in which the computer is a part. In order to fill this position he or she must be given a permanent position, of a status similar to that of other professionals, such as engineers and lawyers, whose active contributions as employers of enterprises rest on their intellectual proficiency.
    • The raising of the status of programmers suggested by the Theory Building View will have to be supported by a corresponding reorientation of the programmer education. While skills such as the mastery of notations, data representations, and data processes, remain important, the primary emphasis would have to turn in the direction of furthering the understanding and talent for theory formation. To what extent this can be taught at all must remain an open question. The most hopeful approach would be to have the student work on concrete problems under guidance, in an active and constructive environment.”
  • How Slow Deep Breathing Results in Positive Emotions and More Creativity
    • by Nick Heath
    • Quote: “The fundamental hypothesis is that cardiorespiratory coherence (which I’m going to refer to as slow breathing for simplicity, although that’s not 100% correct) can regulate the autonomic nervous system and brainstem. This, in turn, modulates the emotional regions of the brain.
    • This is a unique hypothesis because we typically think of emotions through a “feedforward” lens. An emotion arises in the brain and “feeds” its signal to the rest of the body. But here, they’re saying feedbacks from slow breathing, namely the ones on the nervous system and brain, can elicit positive emotions.
    • That is, you might be able to breathe yourself into happiness.”
  • Minerals and the clean-energy transition: the basics
    • by David Roberts
    • Quote: “The race for minerals courts some of the same dangers that came with oil and gas. Minerals will become crucial to the global energy system and their distribution — both production and consumption — will shape geopolitics. Unplanned supply disruptions could have global consequences, just as with oil and gas.
    • But it’s also important to remember that minerals are different from oil and gas in crucial respects. The most important is that fossil fuel technologies require continuous fuel input. If there’s a disruption in oil markets, it is experienced by every driver as an ongoing increase in gas and diesel prices.
    • Minerals are only essential to building of clean energy technologies, not to operating them. They are a materials input, not a fuel input. Supply disruptions or price fluctuations will affect markets for the technologies, but they will not affect existing users of those technologies. Solar energy from existing panels will not get more expensive just because copper does. This insulates minerals somewhat from the volatile consumer politics of fossil fuels.
    • Secondly, every country in the world has an established relationship to oil and gas — it’s a producer or it’s not — but minerals and mineral markets are much more varied and dispersed. Countries could consciously decide to become producers by exploiting new reserves; they could invest in processing or manufacturing; supply chains will shift and morph. “Individual countries may have very different positions in the value chain for each of the minerals,” IEA writes. This makes the geopolitics of minerals more complicated than fossil fuel geopolitics.”
    • The follow-up post—The minerals used by clean-energy technologies—is worth a peak, though it’s worth mentioning that both of these don’t exactly fill me with hope and excitement. There’s a mixture of dread at history repeating itself and fear that meaningful opportunities for a different future will be captured and diluted.

The Magnificent Seven #89: Games of War – 03/04/22

  • Games of War
    • by Paul Musgrave
    • Quote: “Wargame centers the perspective of the weapons, but that’s not what’s important. What matters are the consequences and contexts of the weapons. In Wargame, there are no civilians hiding with their dogs in underground shelters, terrified of a Buratino or a Grad or a Uragan striking their position. In real life, what else matters?
    • The perspective of Wargame is the same as the perspective of pundits and Carol Cohn’s defense intellectuals. Talking about great games and power plays reduces conflicts to the player’s-eye view of the battlefield. It’s a tempting perspective, one that makes power and influence look like all there is. It’s kin to the curated “war through a straw” perspective of the embedded U.S. journalists of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, or the drone videos of the war on terror that showed “squirters” and Hellfire strikes (which played differently on YouTube than for the men and women who viewed them live as they piloted the UAVs and launched the ordnance). If you’re not in a war or a veteran or one, it’s probably your perspective.
    • Yet those perspectives are far from those of the shaky phone videos of aircraft launching missiles at houses with children inside or security camera footage of rockets hitting apartment buildings. There’s a reason game designers don’t include those perspectives in entertainment. And there’s a reason I won’t be playing Wargame again for a long time.”
    • It’s also worth reading Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals. Quote: “Entering the world of defense intellectuals was a bizarre experience bizarre because it is a world where men spend their days calmly and matter- of-factly discussing nuclear weapons, nuclear strategy, and nuclear war. The discussions are carefully and intricately reasoned, occurring seemingly without any sense of horror, urgency, or moral outragein fact, there seems to be no graphic reality behind the words, as they speak of “first strikes,” “counterforce exchanges,” and “limited nuclear war,” or as they debate the comparative values of a “minimum deterrent posture” versus a “nuclear war-fighting capability.”
    • Yet what is striking about the men themselves is not, as the content of their conversations might suggest, their cold-bloodedness. Rather, it is that they are a group of men unusually endowed with charm, humor, intelligence, concern, and decency. Reader, I liked them. At least, I liked many of them. The attempt to understand how such men could contribute to an endeavor that I see as so fundamentally destructive became a continuing obsession for me, a lens through which I came to examine all of my experiences in their world.”
  • What May Have Been
    • by Aaron Thorpe
    • Quote A: “Nostalgia surrounding The Last Dance can be characterized as what Grafton Tanner calls pre-Recession nostalgia. It is pervasive wistfulness for an era before the financial crisis of 2008, 9/11, smartphones, and Web 2.0 that
      • “recycles mass media from the years leading up to the first decade of the twenty-first century in order to present a simplistic version of history. Unlike other concepts of nostalgia, pre-Recession nostalgia is most productively understood as both public and private, historical and personal.”
    • Pre-Recession nostalgia can also be understood as an attachment to form, “to the techniques and formulas of the past, a consequence of a retreat from the modernist challenge of innovating cultural forms adequate to contemporary existence.” What haunts us isn’t merely an imagined idyllic time before global market crashes, terrorism, and the constant interconnectedness of a digital, online world, but what may have been if the creep and then acceleration of neoliberalism (and its consequential crises) was frustrated by an alternative. Inundated and obsessed with the past and locked into a dismal present, we long for lost futures.”
    • Quote B: “With climate change no longer a distant apocalypse and worsening material conditions, there is a widespread belief in futurelessness, “a break in the flow of generations, an interruption of human continuity.” My generation feels this most acutely, and we will probably serve as the guinea pigs for the nostalgia industry’s latest cutting-edge gimmick: virtual or augmented reality. One could imagine that Facebook’s Metaverse will be offered as an escape into the past, where users can become tourists of history jumping from one era to the next like getting lost in a Wikipedia rabbit hole, free of pesky historical biases and injustice. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By engaging in radical nostalgia, “one crafted from memories of collective resistance, community organization, civil rights, and local politics,” we can begin to reclaim the lost futures that haunt us. Still, no matter how firmly we cling to social movements and revolutions of yesteryear, radical nostalgia alone cannot form the basis of serious societal transformation. The American Left, in particular, is all too familiar with losing over the last 60 years, and simply pining for days when it seemed as if a better world was really possible distorts the sacrifices made by those before us and the viciousness of their enemies. Things weren’t easier then by far; any gains made were fought and won with blood and loss. Revolutionary culture was instrumental in disseminating ideas of resistance and change through newspapers, pamphlets, literature, plays, films, and music.”
  • Complex Adaptive Systems – DDD Europe 2018
    • by Dave Snowden
    • This talk was thoroughly enjoyable, and raised a tonne of questions. The utility of language; a brief tour through the Cynefin framework; how pressure, starvation and perspective shifts lead to innovation; dancing around processes in over-constrained systems; designing systems themselves to fail—a lot here that I intend to follow up on.
  • Construction Physics
    • by Brian Potter
    • I flitted around this collection. The three-part series on designing a house that can last a thousand years is intriguing, as are the posts on construction industry innovation and cement usage. But I most enjoyed a post about robotic bricklayers. Quote: “This is one of the main things that separates driving a nail from setting a block – the necessity of making adjustments based on feedback from the environment. Things like nailguns, circular saws, and other power tools are in some sense more like the masonry assistants – they perform some purely physical task, while leaving all the information processing and precise placement work in the hands of humans. A nailgun isn’t responsible for figuring out where a nail needs to go, and moving itself into position – it simply does the physical task of striking the nail.
    • The history of routers and milling machines offers an instructive parallel. The first ones were developed in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and the capability for programmatically controlling them was developed in the late 40s/early 50s. But it’s only recently where we’ve had the capability of incorporating real-time feedback, enabling products like the Shaper Origin (a handheld router that autocorrects human movements ). Robustly getting a machine to react based on its surrounding environment remains a complex problem, even if the machine is physically capable of doing it.”
  • Finding Flow Follow Along
    • by Nil Teisner
    • I’m not great with movement that gets close to dance and creative expression. This is a nice, gentle gateway and one I’ll be coming back to.
  • All Terrain Bicycling: An ATB Manifesto
    • by Logan Watts
    • Why, yes, I have been riding my bicycle a little more. Can you tell? Quote: “I, for one, think that gravel bikes might be a little bit misleading for some folks new to off-pavement cycling. Folks who are looking for one bike that can handle most terrain, is comfortable on long rides, and offers loads of versatility. Folks who want to ride a little bit of everything and not just fast gravel and “B-roads,” whatever those are. Often, off-road cycling involves a lot more than smooth smooth, hardpacked dirt and gravel. Off-camber two-track, steep and loose gradients, deep and chunky areas, and other such challenging bits often enter rides and routes that are made in the spirit of off-road cycling. There are probably better options for many of these people.
    • In the past, I’ve often recommended a hardtail or rigid mountain bike to those entering cycling and looking for their first bike because they were inspired by a bikepacking route or story. Those bikes might not be the fastest, but most people don’t want or need a bike built for speed. I’ve never really enjoyed hurried pace, hanging onto the back of the pack, or group rides where speed is the governing force, and bikes built for that aren’t the best for 90% of what bikepacking is all about. A bike that can handle various terrain, provide confidence on the rough stuff, and still not be overly slow and heavy is typically the ticket.”
  • The World’s Healthiest Desk
    • by Limber
    • Although I have a beautiful work-from-home setup, I’ve already earmarked an improvement I want to make when I move in a couple years. I have a crank-driven sit-stand desk, but I want another option: the floor. I want a desk that can move from floor height to conventional desk height to standing height. I did think I’d have to custom build something. Now, I may not have to (providing I start stashing the pennies).

The Magnificent Seven #88: Servants Without Masters – 27/03/22

  • Servants Without Masters
    • by Harold Lee
    • Quote: “Once you know what to look for, you see this all over the place. Students behave submissively towards their professors. Workers are obsequious to their bosses (to a large extent, even in companies with a veneer of informality). Sick patients in a hospital are (aside from a few frankly abusive ones) meek and unquestioning towards their nurses and doctors, to the extent that we often have to encourage them to ask questions and tell us when things bother them. These behaviors are essentially the same as the sort of attitude that I found jarring from the maid in Singapore, but we don’t consider them odd or even notice that they count as “real subservience.” What individualism has bought us is not the end of servitude, but merely the cloaking of masters.
    • It’s pretty perverse that our culture celebrates individualism and yet condones submission only to inhuman institutions like schools, companies, and governments. It’s a sort of inverse Confucianism – a system where authority can only be exercised by people who deliberately do not engage in one-on-one superior-inferior relationships. And while a principled liberal might dislike hierarchy in all its forms, if you’ve got to have one or the other, we’ve settled on the greater of the two evils. Both institutions and personal authority may have incentives imperfectly aligned with yours, but only personal leaders may disregard their incentives in the interests of their subordinates. And for the most part, institutional authority feels less human-shaped than personal authority – compare a visit to the DMV with filling out paperwork with a trusted secretary, or a minor pay raise compared to a minor pay raise with a handshake and word of thanks from a long-time boss and mentor.”
    • I also read Buy Things, Not ExperiencesSeizing the Means of Home Production, and On Small Work Groups.
  • Cop City and the Prison Industrial Complex in Atlanta
    • by Micah Herskind
    • Quote A: “As geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore explains, the concept of an industrial complex dates back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address to the nation, in which he warned that the “wide-scale and intricate connection between the military and warfare industry would determine the course of economic development and political decision-making for the country, to the detriment of all other sectors and ideas.” In other words, as the country’s reliance on—and industry surrounding—war-making grew, it would re-shape the political and economic system around itself such that mass militarism would become a central feature of basic governance.
    • An industrial complex disguises infrastructures of mass misery—such as prisons, police, and militaries—as seemingly inevitable facts of life. Our system asks not whether endless war-making will be a staple of our political system, but rather to whatextent. It asks not whether we will lock humans in cages, but rather how many people we’ll lock up and how we’ll do it.”
    • Quote B: “For corporate donors to police foundations, “donations” might be better understood as investments. As the COC report documents, many corporations are “donating with one hand, [and] profiting with the other.” Beyond the general return on investment to be found in greater police protection for capital and surveillance of those who would threaten it, some corporate “donors” of police foundations (who often also sit on police foundations boards) quickly become contractors for the police they fund—especially when it comes to technology and surveillance companies, who gain lucrative contracts with police departments.
    • It’s worth recalling, here, Gilmore’s observation that philanthropy represents twice-stolen wealth—stolen first through exploitation of workers and second through its shielding from taxes—and that foundations are where this wealth is held. In the case of philanthropic funding channeled through police foundations, twice-stolen wealth is channeled into creating the conditions for greater wealth concentration and further exploitation by the corporations providing the funding. Through police foundations, as the COC report puts it, “Corporate money flows into corporate priorities, such as heavily policed and surveilled retail areas and gentrified neighborhoods, while vital community needs are underfunded.”
    • In Atlanta, that work happens through the Atlanta Police Foundation.”
    • Quote C: “It’s hard to conclude that the sessions were anything other than staged to claim public engagement without genuine public participation. Generously, we could call it checking the box; realistically, we should call it manufacturing consent. Whereas one might expect a “listening” session to allow decision makers to listen to the public, the arrow ran in the opposite direction: what they meant was that the public would listen to decision makers, who would then justify their pre-planned decisions under the guise of having hosted listening sessions.”
    • Related: 57 Years in a Cage Is Long Enough.
  • Technosphere
    • by Various
    • A resource “Exploring the amorphous fabric of technologies, environments, and humans shaping Earth’s critical future.” The project’s “dossiers” cover a lot of ground—ArcticMetabolic SystemsPhosphorusCreolized Technologies—but I ended up reading about Land & Sea.
    • From Jakarta: A Colonial Water-Management Fantasy Park: “What kind of Holocene fantasy was in the mind of the Dutch when they moved into a pestilential, mosquito-filled mangrove swamp and decided to show their manly engineering brilliance by turning it into a capital city? I mean it’s completely absurd. But now we’re stuck there, all 31 million residents who are now living among the thirteen rivers that run from the mountains to the sea through this sprawling megacity.”
    • From Port Cities: Nodes in the Global Petroleumscape between Sea and Land: “In Rotterdam, innovative refining technologies blocks cities from reclaiming these sites in the near future. Today, BP refinery in Rotterdam, which started production in 1967, includes facilities at Europoort and Pernis. Its production capacity of 400,000 barrels of crude per day with a storage capacity of 4.5 million cubic meters illustrates the growth of the industry. Today, five refineries are located in the port of Rotterdam, and several more are connected to it: Total/Lukoil in Vlissingen, Shell in Godorf, BP/Rosneft in Gelsenkirchen, and Total and ExxonMobil in Antwerp, make the port of Rotterdam one of the largest petroleum nodes in the world. The Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think tank, recently evaluated the refineries in Northwest Europe and concluded that many of the installations in Rotterdam and Antwerp were so-called “Last Man Standing” or “Must-Run” refineries.CIEP, “Long-Term Prospects for Northwest European Refining. Asymmetric Change: A Looming Government Dilemma? With contributions by Robbert van den Bergh, Michiel Nivard, and Maurits Kreijkes. The Hague: CIEP, 2016. The existence and staying power of the Rotterdam oil port may mean that fossil fuels will be directed there even while other refineries close, unless the port players opt for a different strategy.”
    • From When the Sea Begins to Dominate the Land: “Legal regimes in maritime areas differ not only “horizontally” but also “vertically.” Horizontal difference relies on the coastal baselines: measured from these, for the first 12 nautical miles, the territorial sea extends (where the coastal state has complete sovereignty), and from the outer limit of the territorial sea follows the exclusive economic zone (with fewer sovereign rights of the coastal state, mainly for fishing) until 200 nautical miles from baselines, and, in the submarine area, the continental shelf (and sovereign rights to its mineral resources), which can also extend far beyond 200 miles. Everything beyond those zones is the maritime area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. However, this is not a uniform legal area, as it consists of the high seas (free for all) in the water column, and the seabed which is the common heritage of mankind. However, as the result of the differing horizontal extents of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, there is a verticaldifference between what is “beyond the limits of national jurisdiction” in the high seas, on the one hand, and submarine area, on the other—as these do not overlap completely.”
  • A Cheap Sketchbook & a Life in Progress
    • by Vishal K Bharadwaj
    • Quote: “I’ve figured out a way to both satiate my greed for expensive books, and thwart said hesitation. I’m sad to say it isn’t an economical solution, but it’s a solution nonetheless:
    • I use them all.
    • At the current moment, I have around a dozen sketchbooks ‘in progress.’ There’s a tiny A6 one for fineliner landscapes called Pocket Spaces that has five or six pages in it. It’s a natural companion to Pocket Faces, a similarly diminutive hardbound for portraits of women, that completed earlier this year, and has now spawned an A5 sequel that I’ve been dawdling on because who likes to draw men?
    • Some of these have run for three or four years, with gaps as wide as a year sometimes. I’ve stopped considering them abandoned. They simply exist, either to remain with a few blank pages, or be filled in later. There are bigger books, all the way up to A3, in various paper stocks and bindings, some odd ones like grey and sepia. I have ideas for what to do with them, themes and general notions to explore. I’ve also become fairly tool agnostic, so when I find a paper that can take a bunch of different things, then a bunch of different things go on it, and when I find that it likes a certain pen or pencil better than others, that becomes a partnership.”
  • Ikea’s Race for the Last of Europe’s Old-Growth Forest
    • by Alexander Sammon
    • Quote: “”In an accident of geography and history, Romania is home to one of the largest and most important old-growth forests left in the world. Its Carpathian mountain chain, which wraps like a seat belt across the country’s middle and upper shoulder, hosts at least half of Europe’s remaining old growth outside Scandinavia and around 70 percent of the continent’s virgin forest. It’s been referred to as the Amazon of Europe, a comparison apt and ominous in equal measure, because of the speed at which it, like the Amazon itself, is disappearing.
    • Most of Europe was rapidly deforested during the industrial era; less than 4 percent of EU forestland remains intact. Romania, far enough from the continent’s industrial centers and long a closed-off member of the Soviet bloc, remained a shining exception. During the country’s communist period, the government converted the forests to public ownership and kept them off global export markets, enshrining the forest management trends of an ancien regime. The result is that Romania retains some of the rare spruce, beech, and oak forests that qualify as old- or primary-growth, having never been excessively logged, altered by human activity, or artificially replanted.
    • But the fall of communism in 1989 dissolved one layer of protection for those forests, and the subsequent wave of privatization inaugurated widespread corruption. In 2007, Romania’s entry to the European Union created a massive, liberated market for the country’s cheap, abundant timber and the inexpensive labor required to extract it, conditions that encouraged Austrian timber companies and Swedish furniture firms to set up shop. Succeeding fractious, ineffectual regimes enacted further pro-market reforms and did little to curb corruption; in the final months of 2021, the country’s prime minister designate found himself unable to form a government at all. Add to that the astronomical growth of the fast furniture industry, which particularly relies on the spruce and beech that populate these forests, and the result has been a delirium of deforestation.
    • Related to this is The Fast Furniture Problem: “For years, fast fashion has been in the lexicon of sustainability experts as something eco-conscious consumers should avoid. However, another big but arguably lesser-known environmental problem is large pieces of furniture that will eventually get tossed to the curb.
    • The EPA estimates that 9 million tons of furniture are tossed every single year. That’s roughly 5% of everything brought to landfills (a sizable chunk, especially when you consider the amount of food waste and packaging materials thrown away). Not only is it wasteful, but it’s also not a good investment.”
  • Supply Studies Syllabus
    • by Matthew Hockenberry
    • Quote: “The calamitous reach of the global commodity chain stands as a monument to modernity’s practice of production. As contemporary critiques consider its mounting intractability, they reveal the worldwide pattern of logistical machinery given by the media forms and historic technologies that govern its flow. In their conceptual simplicity and historical transigence lies an opportunity for transformation, for innovation, and for interruption. While the vocabulary it draws on might seem familiar, the language of logistics is not fixed. It must be made–and so can be re-made–by the tools and techniques assembled every day in service to supply.
    • This document, intended for collaborative iteration, presents a series of readings in areas of interest to the critical study of logistics. It begins with an opening “Stage Setting” section and continues on to topics in: Logistical Media; Mining and Extraction; Production and Assembly; Shipping, Storage, Distribution; Speculations on Supply; Activism and Resistance; Logistical Histories; Commodity Communications; Migration, Mobility, and Movement; Corporations and Capitalism; Computational Production; Infrastructures and Spaces; and Consumers and Consumption. The goal is to present a broad selection of texts from which more specialized seminars can be developed, or which could be incorporated into other courses.
    • It also serves as a more general introduction to the field. To this end, it contains supplemental Reference Materials, including Logistics Textbooks and a sample of Logistical Regulations, reports, and legislation, as well as a section on Logistics in Media, including documentaries, cinema, games, literature, and art. It also presents an overview of the Critical Logistics Community detailing Special Issues on Logistics, Syllabi and Conferences, Projects and Groups, Broader Advocacy organizations, and a section on Logistical Praxis, which collates tools for activities like Reverse Sourcing.”
  • Genome-informed cancer therapy
    • by Elliot Hershberg
    • Quote: “Something incredible has happened as DNA sequencing costs have continued to decline at an absurd rate. Sequencing has transitioned from being exclusively used as a research tool to being an increasingly important part of patient care. It has been estimated that 60-90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis—the stage of disease where cancer is spreading to secondary sites from where it originated in the body. In other words, more advanced stages of cancer are far more lethal. Based on this, many researchers and companies have been working towards the “holy grail” of cancer care: an accurate and non-invasive screening tool using DNA sequencing to detect cancer at its earliest stages when it is much easier to treat.
    • If you’ve been around biology and biotech long enough, this may sound too familiar to the Theranos horror story, but these new approaches are based on legitimate technology (sequencing) and a crucial and reproducible scientific observation: cancer cells shed DNA into the bloodstream.

The Magnificent Seven #87: Memberships Work – 20/03/22

  • Memberships Work
    • by Craig Mod
    • Quote: “The crucial point: “If you instantly improve the hygiene factors of your job, you’re not going to suddenly love it. At best, you just won’t hate it anymore. The opposite of job dissatisfaction isn’t job satisfaction, but rather an absence of job dissatisfaction.”
    • This is part of why, I believe, once SPECIAL PROJECTS crossed a revenue line sometime in late 2020 / early 2021, I haven’t paid much attention to growth. Obviously, I don’t want it to dip too far, but the point of starting this membership program was never to make a million bucks a year from memberships alone. (There are far easier ways to do that.) The point was — I can now see, years into the program — to self-formalize the permission to do the work I felt I should be doing, and to find a sustainable base upon which to do that work.”
  • A Few Dispatches from Okayland
    • by Sasha Chapin
    • Quote: “The amount of cognitive power that I devoted to self-evaluation wasn’t clear to me. Now it’s clear. I was using a lot of energy to be suspicious of myself, all the time. Staggering amounts of my limited processing power went to flinching away from (or rationalizing) anything that could injure my brittle self-image.
    • Now that energy is freed up. And where it goes is interesting. A lot of it just flows into making my existence prettier. My sensory clarity has increased. The music is louder, the scents are sweeter. I’m more thoroughly in the world now that I’m less distracted by the issue of what it means for me that any particular moment is occurring.
    • Also, my personal boundaries have changed, and by personal boundaries, I don’t mean ‘the times when I allow my clients to phone me,’ I mean, ‘my actual sense of where the world ends and I begin.’
    • Sometimes, in certain kinds of meditation practice, if you focus on the breadth of your awareness, you start feeling your sense of self spread out until it’s intuitively clear that everything composing your awareness is part of you. You feel less like a little homunculus behind the controls of a hairless ape robot, and more like an aperture through which consciousness is flowing. The world seems more ‘in here,’ and less ‘out there.’ You make contact with the porousness of your being.”
  • CUPID—for joyful coding
    • by Dan North
    • Quote: “When I started formulating a response to the five SOLID principles, I envisioned replacing each one with something that I found more useful or relevant. I soon realised that the idea of principles itself was problematic. Principles are like rules: you are either compliant or you are not. This gives rise to “bounded sets” of rule-followers and rule-enforcers rather than “centred sets” of people with shared values.
    • Instead, I started thinking about properties: qualities or characteristics of code rather than rules to follow. Properties define a goal or centre to move towards. Your code is only closer to or further from the centre, and there is always a clear direction of travel. You can use properties as a lens or filter to assess your code and you can decide which ones to address next. Since the CUPID properties are all interrelated, it is likely that any change you make to improve one property will have a positive effect on some of the others.”
  • The Yak Online Governance Primer
    • by The Yak Collective
    • Quote: “Online governance is a challenge where “the medium is the message” effects are particularly strong, and tradition casts a very long shadow. This makes organizational synthesis a wicked problem at the intersection of tradition and technology. New technologies might offer powerful and novel affordances in one area, while rendering familiar ones unworkable. Old traditions might bring much-needed thoughtfulness in one area, while crippling the potential of new technologies in another.
    • Synthesizing an effective governance strategy in the face of these challenges is not easy. The principals must cultivate imaginative mental models that embody inspiring, generative, and elegant ideas, as well as an aliveness to practical concerns, historical baggage, and well-known risks that can derail attempts to actually execute on them. The cost of failure is wasted time, energy, and resources, but the reward of success is that your organization just might inherit the future.”
  • Boss Babies and Suisse Secrets
    • by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
    • Quote from Boss Babies (which is part of the larger Open Lux project): “Why would children own companies, including some with many millions of dollars worth of assets? In a family-run business, parents might want to give their children shares as part of a long-term inheritance plan. But the fact that many were not even born at the time the companies were founded — and parents sometimes nowhere to be seen in company documents — hints at another possible reason: To add a layer of secrecy ahead of Luxembourg’s deadline to publicly declare assets.”
    • Quote from What is Suisse Secrets?: “More than 163 journalists from 48 media outlets in 39 countries across the world spent months analyzing bank account information leaked from Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest lender. The leak included more than 18,000 accounts that held in excess of US$100 billion at their peaks. It is the only known leak of a major Swiss bank’s client data to journalists.
    • Switzerland is a well-known destination for money from all over the world, in part because of its banking secrecy laws. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a Swiss bank account. But banks are supposed to avoid clients who earned money illegally or were involved in crimes — and reporters identified dozens of corrupt government officials, criminals, and alleged human rights abusers among Credit Suisse account holders.
    • Despite their notoriety — which, in some cases, would have been obvious from a quick Google search — Credit Suisse maintained relationships with some of these clients for years, though it is possible that some accounts were ordered frozen by law enforcement.
    • The Suisse Secrets project investigates these account holders, whose exploitation of Swiss banking secrecy is a prime example of how the international financial industry enables theft and corruption. Given Credit Suisse’s numerous pledges to reform its due diligence practices over the years, the project highlights the need for increased accountability in this sector.”
    • It’s also interesting to read Credit Suisse’s official response: “An overwhelming majority of the reviewed accounts are today closed or were in the process of closure prior to receipt of the press inquiries, with closures covering a 38-year period, of which the majority were closed before 2015 … Of the remaining active accounts we are comfortable that appropriate due diligence, reviews and other control related steps were taken … We will continue to analyze the matters and take additional steps if necessary.”
  • Carbon
    • by Layne Norton, Holly Baxter Norton, Keith Kraker
    • I’ve been using this since sometime in December. I’ve never actually bothered to monitor calorie consumption before and this tool seemed like a simple way to do it. The intent is to internalise some of the things I’m recording—what I tend to eat, when—and pick up on the patterns in my relationship with food and drink. I’m aware there are others options but I’ve known about Norton’s work for a while; sticking with what I know.
  • Some of the stupidest things I’ve heard about writing
    • by ariel
    • Quote: “”Publishing a book is some kind of achievement that actually changes your life / marks you as a better writer.” Heard a lot from people who haven’t published a book yet. Publishing a book doesn’t change shit — nothing happens after you publish a book — no one cares about your book more than you and you will stop caring a couple of days after i’t’s been published, because… nothing happens. As to the second part: some of the best writers I’ve read haven’t published any books. Some because they don’t want to. Most because publishing is too stupid and money-focused to publish them.”

The Magnificent Seven #86: How Eugenics Shaped Statistics – 13/03/22

  • How Eugenics Shaped Statistics
    • by Aubrey Clayton
    • Quote A: “Ideally, statisticians would like to divorce these tools from the lives and times of the people who created them. It would be convenient if statistics existed outside of history, but that’s not the case. Statistics, as a lens through which scientists investigate real-world questions, has always been smudged by the fingerprints of the people holding the lens. Statistical thinking and eugenicist thinking are, in fact, deeply intertwined, and many of the theoretical problems with methods like significance testing—first developed to identify racial differences—are remnants of their original purpose, to support eugenics.
    • It’s no coincidence that the method of significance testing and the reputations of the people who invented it are crumbling simultaneously. Crumbling alongside them is the image of statistics as a perfectly objective discipline, another legacy of the three eugenicists. Galton, Pearson, and Fisher didn’t just add new tools to the toolbox. In service to their sociopolitical agenda, they established the statistician as an authority figure, a numerical referee who is by nature impartial, they claimed, since statistical analysis is just unbiased number-crunching. Even in their own work, though, they revealed how thin the myth of objectivity always was. The various upheavals happening in statistics today—methodological and symbolic—should properly be understood as parts of a larger story, a reinvention of the discipline and a reckoning with its origins. The buildings and lectures are the monuments to eugenics we can see. The less visible ones are embedded in the language, logic, and philosophy of statistics itself.”
    • Quote B: “Their attitude that statistical analysis reveals truth without help from the statistician is likewise disintegrating. Most scientists now understand that the data do not speak for themselves and never have. Observations are always possible to interpret in multiple ways, and it’s up to the scientist and the larger community to decide which interpretation best fits the facts. Sampling error is not the only kind of error that matters in significance testing. Bias can result from how an experiment is conducted and how outcomes are measured.
    • Nathaniel Joselson is a data scientist in healthcare technology, whose experiences studying statistics in Cape Town, South Africa, during protests over a statue of colonial figure Cecil John Rhodes led him to build the website “Meditations on Inclusive Statistics.” He argues that statistics is overdue for a “decolonization,” to address the eugenicist legacy of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher that he says is still causing damage, most conspicuously in criminal justice and education. “Objectivity is extremely overrated,” he told me. “What the future of science needs is a democratization of the analysis process and generation of analysis,” and that what scientists need to do most is “hear what people that know about this stuff have been saying for a long time. Just because you haven’t measured something doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Often, you can see it with your eyes, and that’s good enough.””
  • Frame Control
    • by Aella
    • Quote: “No; frame control is the “man doesn’t announce his presence, he just stalks you silently” of the communication world. It’s when you end up in the other person’s box without knowing that it happened. It’s not violence you can feel, or coaxing you can reason with; it’s a slow build of their frame around you until you don’t remember what your box ever looked like. Frame control is a quiet subversion of your agency;instead of offering up their frame for you to consider, they pull you in without consent, into a world you probably would never have endorsed from the outside.
    • Frame control often results in doubt, denial, or suppression of your own feelings, as the frame controller has you in their frame and exerts a huge amount of energy to keep you there. Your own experience is warped to align with that of the frame controller, even (especially?) when this comes at cost to you.
    • For a very simple, obvious example (not all of them are so obvious!), my dad would sometimes command obedience in things that were very painful to obey (e.g., permanently ending all contact with my best friend). This made me angry, but his frame treated my anger as a sign that I was sinful and corrupt, and I thus experienced my anger as a failure on my part. I would get angry, and then feel guilty for being angry, and spend a huge amount of effort suppressing the anger and trying to convince myself I felt grateful for how much effort my dad was putting into his parenting.”
  • Two posts on mass surveillance
    • by Lilly Irani, Khalid Alexander and Patrick Howell O’Neill, Gil Herrera
    • From The Oversight Bloc: “But ordinances like these are not a panacea. They are tools for struggle and refusal, but do not guarantee resistance to surveillance. Without vigilant organizing, including alliances with technologists and elected officials, even community advisory boards may rubber stamp policies and legitimize surveillance technologies. This struggle also shows how cities do not control the technology of companies they contract with. As the coalition in San Diego worked to get the ordinance passed, it put the fear in city council members by explaining how the NYPD lost control of its data to Palantir. Then, the same thing happened to San Diego. With defunding, the city lost access to the streetlights’ surveillance feed. But the cameras continue to record. GE sold off the streetlight network to another company, which sold it to a Florida-based firm called Ubicquia. Ubicquia refuses to stop recording even though the city can no longer access the data. But even this did not stop the police from removing the camera and harddrive in one case to access and share the video.
    • Paradoxically, it was the process of organizing for the ordinance that strengthened the coalition’s political capacity to challenge emerging surveillance technologies. By political capacity, we mean relationships among community members who trust one another, can teach each other, and can work together; we mean the time that people can spend researching, calling into council, occupying the mayor’s office, strategizing, and running educational forums. More people means more time spent doing these things, and more relationships with people who will get involved in the movement.”
    • From Meet the NSA spies shaping the future: “Kullback was instrumental in breaking both Japanese and German codes before and during World War II, and he later directed the research and development arm of the newly formed National Security Agency. Within a year, that evolved into the directorate as we know it today: a distinct space for research that is not disrupted by the daily work of the agency.
    • “It’s important to have a research organization, even in a mission-driven organization, to be thinking beyond a crisis,” says Herrera, though he adds that the directorate does dedicate some of its work to the “crisis of the day.” It runs a program called “scientists on call,” which allows NSA mission analysts facing technical challenges while interrogating information to ask for help via email, giving them access to hundreds of scientists.
    • But the lion’s share of the directorate’s work is envisioning the technologies that are generations ahead of what we have today. It operates almost like a small, elite technical college, organized around five academic departments—math, physics, cyber, computer science, and electrical engineering—each staffed with 100 to 200 people.”
    • Second quote from the latter: ““Everyone thinks their data is the messiest in the world, and mine maybe is because it’s taken from people who don’t want us to have it, frankly,” said Herrera’s immediate predecessor at the NSA, the computer scientist Deborah Frincke, during a 2017 talk at Stanford. “The adversary does not speak clearly in English with nice statements into a mic and, if we can’t understand it, send us a clearer statement.”
    • Making sense of vast stores of unclear, often stolen data in hundreds of languages and even more technical formats remains one of the directorate’s enduring tasks.”
  • Beyond Diversity — Time for New Models of Health
    • by Jane L. Delgado, Ph.D.
    • Quote: “Fundamentally, it is not adequate to collect and analyze data from diverse people and sources. We must be willing to step back and look critically at what we think we know, reflect on the adequacy of current models, and pursue alternative models. The health effects of toxic substances in the environment, one’s microbiome, and epigenetic factors can contribute to new paradigms. Researchers and clinicians who are open to more nuanced models that take into account multiple factors will be able to pursue an exciting new path.
    • Although many relevant fields are still in their infancy, in the future our understanding of health will be personalized and based on models that combine research findings in genomics and biology (the microbiome, immunology, and other areas) with comprehensive or integrative modeling built on public and private data sets. Without a fundamental shift in our conceptual models of health research and care, we will perpetuate the barriers we claim to want to dismantle and compromise the health of all communities.”
  • The world’s most fascinating abandoned towns and cities
    • by Joe Minihane
    • Quote: “Once thriving spots, these villages, towns and cities now stand abandoned. Their empty buildings, streets and even cars left for nature to reclaim over the years.
    • Whether destroyed during war, evacuated for ammunition practice or cast aside after nearby precious metals and minerals turned out to be in short supply, here are some of the world’s most fascinating abandoned towns and cities.”
    • As a complement to the above, check out an index of Simon Stålenhag‘s arresting sci-fi visuals. I browsed them whilst listening to the soundtrack for Labyrinth, a recent work. Eerie stuff.
  • Posts on innovation, product decision making, and prioritisation
    • by Paul Adams, Gustav Cirulis, Patrick Andrews, Des Traynor
    • From Thoughts on innovation: “You can innovate (generate new, different, better ways of doing things) at the business model level, at the product strategy level, at the product execution level. You can have an innovative go-to-market strategy. Bad companies try to innovate everywhere. Great companies know exactly when and where to innovate. They know who they are.”
    • From Decision time: “There are many ingredients involved in successfully building a great product, but fundamentally it all boils down to a series of decisions.
    • And it’s the quality of those decisions – and the speed at which you can make them – that will dictate how fast you can bring value to customers and realize positive impact for your business. That can be said of most businesses, at any scale, but too often the hard job of thinking about how businesses make decisions goes unexamined, never mind improved upon.”
    • From The first rule: “This work is easy to justify because “it only took 30 minutes”. And when it achieves nothing useful, it’s easy to excuse because it “took us so little time”. This is not strategy – this is flapping. Do this enough times and you’ll grow a low impact team that doesn’t achieve anything.
    • The default position for a smart team without a clear plan is to snack.
    • When I see teams at startups rushing to copycat the latest feature of the day, or swapping “Sign up now” with “Sign up for free”, I’m always reminded of this lower left. Snacks. Even in their best case, these projects are low impact for the absolute majority of companies.”
  • The Beggar Barons
    • by Zed Shaw
    • Quote: “I’m on a phone call with four employees from Apple. They were trying to include Ruby on Rails in their next release of OSX and they wanted me to make “just one change” to my webserver Mongrel to support some crazy feature in OSX. I remember it was a guy with a British accent making the case for me to accept this 4 line patch.
    • At the time (probably late 2006) I was fairly poor trying to live off limited consulting dollars and barely making ends meet. I was hoping that Apple would offer to hire me to make this change they needed. It was a change specific to their OS, and hiring me would mean my webserver would work the best on OSX. It’s a fairly simple thing for them to do given they’re trillionaire capitalists, and capitalism is all about an exchange of money for labor.
    • But, they did no such thing. They sent me the patch, and it would have broken Mongrel for everyone else, so these 4 lines would require hours and hours of work to implement. They expected to drop these 4 lines on me and have me work for Apple for free, but what was weird about the call is they were begging me to do this. There was a pleading, begging, hands clasped together, with all these reasons why I should do it for them. “Please, it’s such a small change. It’ll really help us out. Can’t you just spare a few hours of your time and help us poor Trillionaires out this one time Zed?””

The Magnificent Seven #85: The Blue Acceleration – 06/03/22

  • The Blue Acceleration: The Trajectory of Human Expansion into the Ocean
    • by Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, Robert Blasiak, Albert V. Norstrom, Henrik Osterblom, Magnus Nystrom
    • Quote: “As the ocean space becomes progressively saturated by different claims, interactions and conflicts among them intensify, paving the way for new risks to emerge and regime shifts to occur. These large and abrupt transitions can have persistent consequences and exhibit cascading behaviors that have been likened to domino effects. Because of their complex and non-linear nature, such risks are rarely accounted for in the pursuit of optimizing individual claims. This creates conditions for unknown thresholds to be crossed and suggests that, in an increasingly connected world, limits to the blue acceleration could be set by emerging systemic risks rather than predictable finite limits of ocean claims.
    • The blue acceleration is also occurring within a highly dynamic and changing context. Climate change is already driving fish species migrations to higher latitudes and into new jurisdictional areas, forcing aquaculture to move where environmental conditions are more favorable, and opening up new areas for claims to be made, such as drilling for hydrocarbons and new shipping routes as a result of the contracting Arctic ice sheet. Likewise, changes in the geopolitical and governance landscape (e.g., China’s maritime Belt and Road Initiative, renegotiations of the Antarctic Treaty) have the potential to dramatically reshape the blue acceleration. As opportunities arise and close in a rapidly evolving and unpredictable ocean context, the future will also require confronting claims that we know little about or that are yet to emerge.”
    • Related: Safe working environments are key to improving inclusion in open-ocean, deep-ocean, and high-seas science and Work Below Water: The role of scuba industry in realising sustainable development goals in small island developing states.
  • Nothing is real: the slippery art of biography
    • by Craig Brown
    • Quote: “While no life can be recaptured in its entirety, not even one single minute of any life could ever be recaptured as a whole, as there is not a minute in the life of the brain that can be isolated from the rest of its life. We live in the present, but we think in the past and in the present and in the future, and often all at the same time.
    • Biography as a form is necessarily artificial. In the end, all biography is a form of fiction. As Peter Ackroyd once said, “Fiction requires truth-telling, whereas in a biography one can make things up.” Introducing Burning Man, her extraordinary new book covering ten years in the life of D. H. Lawrence, Frances Wilson writes: “Just as writers of fiction might provide a disclaimer declaring that what follows is a work of imagination not based on real characters, and writers of non-fiction might provide a disclaimer declaring that what follows is not a work of imagination and very much based on real characters, I should similarly state that Burning Man is a work of non-fiction which is also a work of imagination.”
    • Biography is at the mercy of information, and information is seldom there when you want it. Or occasionally there is a wealth of information, but most of it is window-dressing: the shop itself is shut, visible only through the front window, its private offices firmly under lock and key. This is what makes biography the most sheepish and constrained of the arts, and the least like life. The deepest part of any life lies within the head.”
  • Developing pandemic-busting vaccines in 100 days
    • by Dr Richard Hatchett
    • Quote: “Vaccines are at the heart of how modern societies counter infectious disease threats. They are our most potent tool against pandemic risks and will be critical to any future response. The faster an effective vaccine is developed and deployed, the faster an incipient pandemic can be contained and controlled.
    • CEPI’s aspiration is for the world to be able to respond to the next Disease X with a new vaccine in just 100 days. That’s a little over 3 months to defuse the threat of a pathogen with the potential to cause a pandemic. Coupled with improved surveillance providing earlier detection and warning, and with swift and effective use of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as testing, contact tracing and social distancing to suppress disease transmission, delivering a vaccine in 100 days would give the world a fighting chance to extinguish the existential threat of a future pandemic virus.”
  • Posts about active sitting and reading
    • by Katy Bowman
    • Quote: “I have historically been an avid reader although I have seen a steady decline of reading time correlating to an increase in my time out in nature which is worth noting. Still, I like to read a little bit each day.
    • Before becoming a mover, I didn’t think much about my form when doing my in-place activities. I wasn’t moving so why think about form? Or maybe the form for my non-moving time was simply “keep eyes on page” while I just sort of lounged in or on whatever. I had no specific form for all my non-eye parts.
    • Now days I’m more aware than ever of my need to stay moving, so my reading form has become pairing the moves I’m trying to get to daily (these will vary based on individual needs) with the reading I like or need to do.”
  • Partition & Entanglement
    • by William Gillis
    • Quote A: “Migrant labor is thus the gasoline that drives the world power system, while native labor helps structure, condition, direct, and control it. The global patchwork of discrete nations necessarily creates migrants by their existence, slicing up (violently simplifying) the inherently more complex network that is humanity as well as obviously stripping options and agency from individuals.
    • All this has deep implications and insights with regard to the turn to patchwork micronationalism intensifying among most currents of reactionaries and fascists since the 80s. Obviously a strategy of fractal secession would only further deepen the creation of oppressed migrant classes. The micronationalists frequently act like the problem with existing nationalisms is that they encompass too much complexity and so the logic of nationalism should be pushed further to the point of every town, every neighborhood a nation. The fractal checkerboard of Iraq and Syria emphasizes that this doesn’t bring peace, it brings displacement and more directly attentive gang rule. And, of course, a mass refugee crisis.
    • Today’s reactionaries often fetishize “exit” on the premise that folks can vote with their feet and thus minimize the harms of governments, but the incentive structures of nationalism at the margins, as economists say, don’t work that way. Rather, constructed minorities are targeted and pushed out of one region on the premise that they have less legitimate “claim” to belonging and then no other region has incentive to provide them full citizenship. Elevating a stranger to equivalent political power and rights as you is rarely worth that person’s marginal economic contribution to your nation. Thus the global ratchet is towards intense hierarchies of Nth-class noncitizens. A patchwork of democracies or populist dictatorships thus rapidly converges on arbitrary class ladders with the enfranchised few shrinking and the base of exploited or just suppressed constantly expanding.”
    • Quote B: “Of course it should always have been trivially apparent that a patchwork of states would be inclined away from freedom. A market with 200 hundred competing buyers and seven billion competing sellers is always going to be skewed to the buyers. When what’s being sold is labor and the system iterates constantly the emergence of essentially slavery conditions is a foregone conclusion. Even if there were two million buyers the asymmetry in bargaining power will remain pertinent.”
  • The Case Against the Trauma Plot
    • by Parul Sehgal
    • Quote: “Trauma has become synonymous with backstory, but the tyranny of backstory is itself a relatively recent phenomenon—one that, like any successful convention, has a way of skirting our notice. Personality was not always rendered as the pencil-rubbing of personal history. Jane Austen’s characters are not pierced by sudden memories; they do not work to fill in the gaps of partial, haunting recollections. A curtain hangs over childhood, Nicholas Dames writes in “Amnesiac Selves” (2001), describing a tradition of “pleasurable forgetting,” in which characters import only those details from the past which can serve them (and, implicitly, the narrative) in the present. The same holds for Dorothea Brooke, for Isabel Archer, for Mrs. Ramsay. Certainly the filmmakers of classical Hollywood cinema were quite able to bring characters to life without portentous flashbacks to formative torments. In contrast, characters are now created in order to be dispatched into the past, to truffle for trauma.”
  • Lessons from 2021
    • by Andy Matuschak
    • Quote: “So to make progress in this space, we need either individual engineer-designer-theorist hybrids, or teams of people with complementary skills. Both situations are somewhat rare. It’s tough for a single person to build strong skills in both engineering and design, because they’re both deep fields, and design in particular usually requires apprenticeship. Teams are rare because finding someone willing to work on weird, unprofitable research projects is hard enough; finding two people willing to simultaneously work on the same one involves multiplying low probabilities.
    • That said, I believe it’s possible to jump-start more engineer–designer dyads. My sense is that there are many engineers who are very interested in this problem space, but who harbor no delusions about doing the design or theory work themselves. If we could arrange small grants for thoughtful designers, perhaps they could develop concepts far enough that we could matchmake an eager technologist to partner with them for prototyping and iteration.
    • Part of the trouble here is cultural. Representative framings like “augmenting human cognition” easily attract many engineers but sound awfully Spockian to many designers I know. The situation improves if we start talking about transformative environments for creativity or expression or consciousness. Another problem, as Joe Edelman has pointed out to me, is that these various augmentations are most often discussed in terms of the relationship between an individual and their computer, rather than the relationships between people, which might involvecomputers. Individualistic framings often resonate poorly with design’s collectivist cultural leanings. But there’s plenty of opportunity in augmenting collective intelligence and creativity. Projects along those lines may attract a broader coalition.”

The Magnificent Seven #84: People don’t work as much as you think – 27/02/22

  • People don’t work as much as you think
    • by David R. MacIver
    • Quote: “People don’t work nearly as much as you think they do, because everything we say about working hours is a fractal of lies (and indeed one of my examples in the fractal of lies post was about this sort of dynamic!), where everything is based on lies people tell about lies being told to them about… etc.
    • If you do not realise this, and assume that everyone who says they are working eight hours per day actually is, you are probably going to wreck your mental health trying to keep up with them. Stop it at once.
    • The details of this are somewhat career specific, and my experience is mostly with a mix of software development, writing, coaching, and consulting, so I’ll mostly talk about that. I think the general point – that people typically work less than they claim – holds across the board, but how much that actually is will vary by profession.”
  • 17 Reasons NOT to Be a Manager
    • by Charity Majors
    • Quote: “Given all this, why should ANYONE ever be a manager? Shrug. I don’t think there’s any one good or bad answer. I used to think a bad answer would be “to gain power and influence” or “to route around shitty communication systems”, but in retrospect those were my reasons and I think things turned out fine. It’s a complex calculation. If you want to try it and the opportunity arises, try it! Just commit to the full two year experiment, and pour yourself into learning it like you’re learning a new career — since, you know, you are.
    • But please do be honest with yourself. One thing I hate is when someone wants to be a manager, and I ask why, and they rattle off a list of reasons they’ve heard that people SHOULD want to become managers (“to have a greater impact than I can with just myself, because I love helping other people learn and grow, etc”) but I am damn sure they are lying to themselves and/or me.
    • Introspection and self-knowledge are absolutely key to being a decent manager, and lord knows we need more of those. So don’t kick off your grand experiment by lying to yourself, ok?”
    • I also read How Can You Tell if the Company You’re Interviewing with is Rotten on the Inside—”Your labor is valuable — it is vital — and you should be scrutinizing them every bit as closely as they you”—and The Trap of the Premature Senior—”Think of every job like an escalator — a 50-foot high escalator that takes about two years to ride to the top. But once you’ve summited, you stall out. You can either stay and wander on that floor, or you can step to the left and pick another escalator and ride it up another 50 feet. And another”—and The Official Authorized List of Legitimate Reasons for Deciding to Become a Manager—”If you claw away all the org fuckery that forces so many people who care deeply about their work and coworkers into management, there is only one honest reason left for why anyone should try management … Because you feel like it.”
  • Think Like an Architect series
    • by Gregor Hohpe
    • From Famous Architects Sketch: “The diagrams created in IT resemble engineering blueprints – structural models that help build systems. And although these diagrams match the common definition of software architecture – a system’s components and their relationships – when we look at the sketchbooks of famous (building) architects, we are likely to see a different kind of drawing.”
    • From Architects See More Dimensions: “These views place different lenses or filters over a system to make describing the system’s structure and behavior easier. However, we have to remind ourselves that each of these projections is a vast simplifications of the underlying system. Views primarily exist to allow us to understand the system more easily.”
    • From Architects Look for Causality: “For any reasonably complex product, the set of possible decisions would be huge. Hence, architects need to abstract away the noise to distill a small set of fundamental and relevant decisions…”
    • From Architects See Shades of Gray, Look for Balance: “Our financial friends already know this from their business domain: reducing lock-in is like reducing the strike price of an option so you pay less when you use the option in the future. However, driving the strike price down increases the price of the option until it equates to purchasing the stock, which misses the whole point because now you paid already for a choice that you wanted to defer (go, ask someone who trades options).”
    • From Architects Zoom In and Out, See Different Things: “Architects are the folks that deal with the non-requirements, the stuff that is needed but not explicitly stated anywhere. Often, these non-requirements stem from context… To understand context and uncover non-requirements architects routinely zoom out to a broader context and back in to the details of the proposed solution.”
    • From The Master Doesn’t Choose the Brush: “Most platforms and tools these days have matured to the point where the choice of tool is unlikely to be the biggest predictor of your project’s success or failure. Relational databases come to mind.”
  • GPS
    • by Bartosz Ciechanowski
    • This is an amazing resource.
    • Quote: “However, the satellites are just a part of what makes GPS possible. While I’ll discuss their motion in depth, over the course of this blog post I’ll also explain howthe satellites help a GPS receiver determine where it is, and I’ll dive into the clever methods the system uses to make sure the signals sent all the way from space are reliably decoded on Earth.
    • We’ll start by creating a positioning system that can tell us where we are. Our initial approach will be quite simple, but we’ll step-by-step improve upon it to build an understanding of the positioning method used by GPS.”
    • Ciechanowski has some other similarly amazing explainers: the ones on naval architecture and curves and surfaces are great. There’s also some deeper resources at the bottom of each post if you really want to geek out.
  • 2021 letter
    • by Dan Wang
    • Quote: “The Chinese leadership looks more longingly at Germany, with its high level of manufacturing backed by industry-leading Mittelstand firms. Thus Beijing prefers that the best talent in the country work in manufacturing sectors rather than consumer internet and finance. Personally, I think it has been a tragedy for the US that so many physics PhDs have gone to work in hedge funds and Silicon Valley. The problem is not that these opportunities pay so well, rather it is because manufacturing has offered dismal career prospects. I see the Chinese leadership as being relatively unconcerned with talent flow into consumer internet and finance; instead it is trying to fashion an economy in which the physics PhD can do physics, the marine biology student can do marine biology, and so on.
    • There are of course risks with a blunt reshuffling of technological priorities. The investment model of venture capital—in which a relatively small amount of funding can trigger explosive growth—fits like a hand in glove with consumer internet business models. VCs don’t tend to offer quite as much patience as semiconductors demand. Furthermore, many technological advances have been driven by consumer uses that Beijing no longer looks upon with favor. Demand for better video game graphics, for example, improved the sophistication of GPUs, which in turn produced better machine-learning algorithms.
    • But it’s also the case that state-driven technology efforts can work. The CPU, after all, grew out of the barrel of a gun. To be more precise, the beneficence of the Pentagon and NASA (another state-driven effort) gave the chip industry its crucial first customers. And venture capital did after all fund the first chip companies, including Intel. Beijing is trading unfettered exploration for state-directed goals, and it’s possible to argue that both the US and China are pursuing optimal strategies. As the technological leader, the US must encourage active exploration, because it has to blaze a new path. As the technological follower, China can simply follow the roadmap set by the US, while enjoying the easier task of reinventing existing technologies rather than dreaming up new ideas. It can worry about new invention after it has caught up.”
  • Chris Duffin Wants to Help You Build the Future of Fitness
    • by Oliver Lee Bateman
    • Quote: “This equipment has allowed me to train more frequently and accumulate more volume, which has resulted in improved strength. For example, if you’re sitting there all the time with sore shoulders from squatting—which happens to lots of serious trainees who are using the low-bar position on the barbell—you’re going to be benching less, and you’ll make less progress on the bench as a result. The Duffalo Bar and the Transformer Bar relieve that pressure on the shoulders but retain the same movement pattern as the standard barbell squat. Everything is so tied together when you’re training at this level. Yes, I’ve got some genetic gifts, including above-average strength and an ability to recover faster than many people, but I’ve gone far beyond what those gifts should have allowed me to do. I created the tools, the culture, and the environment around me to push my limits. The genesis of Kabuki Strength was my quest to minimize unneeded injury while training harder than I previously thought possible.”
  • In the Presence of Mystery
    • by Abraham Joshua Heschel
    • Quote: “Reverence is one of man’s answers to the presence of the mystery. This is why, in contradistinction to other emotions, it does not rush to be spoken. When we stand in awe, our lips do not demand speech; we know that if we spoke, we would deprave ourselves. In such moments talk is an abomination. All we want is to pause, to be still, that the moment may last. It is like listening to great music; how it reaps the yield from the fertile soil of stillness; we are swept by it without being able to appraise it. The meaning of the things we revere is overwhelming and beyond the grasp of our understanding. We possess no categories for it and would distort it if we tried to appraise it by our standard of values; it essentially surpasses our criteria.”

The Magnificent Seven #83: Feral Atlas – 20/02/22

  • Feral Atlas
    • by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena, Feifei Zhou
    • This is incredible. More so than Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World.
    • From the introduction: “Feral, here, describes a situation in which an entity, nurtured and transformed by a human-made infrastructural project, assumes a trajectory beyond human control. There is nothing bad about lack of human control per se. Humans could not survive without feral activity; it’s what allows plants and animals to continue to survive human insults. Ecologist Annik Schnitzler uses the term feral to describe those European woodlands growing up in abandoned agricultural fields and industrial lots.44This usage is well within Feral Atlas ’s definition. At the same time, discussion of the Anthropocene requires special attention to ferality gone bad: waste products of industry and war disable metabolisms and ecosystems; introduced organisms wipe out native ecologies; new diseases spring up abruptly and go global. Again, feral effects are not necessarily bad. However, the troublemaking ones have started to accumulate, challenging the more-than-human habitability of the earth. Discussion of the Anthropocene was triggered by public and scholarly concerns about those terrifying effects. Feral Atlas gathers researchers’ reports on such problems, while not excluding more positive feral ecologies.
    • Other researchers have used the term feral to convey a kind of “badness,” whether positively or negatively assessed.45,46 Instead of judging ferality as inherently good or bad, Feral Atlas uses it as a descriptive characteristic of a more-than-human Anthropocene. A focus on feral dynamics guides researchers to an approach: investigate the relationships that stimulate ferality. This requires not assuming too much in advance; the goal of the research is to find out what is happening and how far it extends. Questions of scale emerge from attending to the conjuncture of feral entity and the projects of landscape transformation that produce feral effects. The question of how far a particular feral effect extends cannot be known in advance; it is part of the inquiry. This is also an approach for watching world making unfold at the scene of the action, rather than in abstract cosmologies, taxonomic lists, or political economies. What structures of social inequality and what distinctive ecologies inform the action? What local perspectives matter—even if they are suppressed? In watching the relationship between feral entities and infrastructures, such questions come into their own.”
  • Scott And Scurvy
    • by Maciej Cegłowski
    • Quote: “Except for the nature of vitamin C, eighteenth century physicians knew this too. But in the second half of the nineteenth century, the cure for scurvy was lost. The story of how this happened is a striking demonstration of the problem of induction, and how progress in one field of study can lead to unintended steps backward in another.
    • An unfortunate series of accidents conspired with advances in technology to discredit the cure for scurvy. What had been a simple dietary deficiency became a subtle and unpredictable disease that could strike without warning. Over the course of fifty years, scurvy would return to torment not just Polar explorers, but thousands of infants born into wealthy European and American homes. And it would only be through blind luck that the actual cause of scurvy would be rediscovered, and vitamin C finally isolated, in 1932.”
  • The Californian Ideology
    • by Richard Barbrook, Andy Cameron
    • Quote: “One of the weirdest things about the Californian Ideology is that the West Coast itself is a product of massive state intervention. Government dollars were used to build the irrigation systems, high-ways, schools, universities and other infrastructural projects which make the good life possible. On top of these public subsidies, the West Coast hi-tech industrial complex has been feasting off the fattest pork barrel in history for decades. The US government has poured billions of tax dollars into buying planes, missiles, electronics and nuclear bombs from Californian companies. Americans have always had state planning, but they prefer to call it the defence budget.
    • All of this public funding has had an enormously beneficial – albeit unacknowledged and uncosted – effect on the subsequent development of Silicon Valley and other hi-tech industries. Entrepreneurs often have an inflated sense of their own ‘creative act of will’ in developing new ideas and give little recognition to the contributions made by either the state or their own labour force. However, all technological progress is cumulative – it depends on the results of a collective historical process and must be counted, at least in part, as a collective achievement. Hence, as in every other industrialised country, American entrepreneurs have in fact relied on public money and state intervention to nurture and develop their industries. When Japanese companies threatened to take over the American microchip market, the libertarian computer capitalists of California had no ideological qualms about joining a state-sponsored cartel organised by the state to fight off the invaders from the East!”
    • The above rhymes with this article about builder brain—”The Builder mindset often eschews policy completely and focuses on the macro issues, rather than the micro complexities. It is a mindset that seeks to find very elaborate, hypothetical-but-definitely-paradigm-shifting, futuristic technology to fix current problems, instead of focusing on a series of boring-sounding and modest reforms that might help people now.”
    • Both have a tangential connection to this article about the oceans of capital struggling to find a home. All that fresh-caught pandemic wealth has gotta go somewhere, right? Quote: ““The basic fabric of the world is up for grabs,” he said, calling this time “the changiest the world has ever been.” In mid-2020, he started Mmhmm, a video communication provider for remote workers, and has landed $136 million in funding. Mr. Libin said he heard from interested investors a few times a week.”
  • Life Spirit Distillation
    • by Venkatesh Rao
    • Quote: “39/ The underlying stock investing metaphor is something I find particularly depressing and anti-intensity. Thinking of your life entirely in terms of “optionality” and “returns” from an environment that you can “beat” if you’re clever enough is a fundamentally passive, ghostly, arbitrage-focused acting-dead orientation. Ultimately you only cheat yourself of your more intense possible lives.
    • 40/ Neither of these responses solves for life intensification. Reactionary retreat to deterministic personal growth actively defends a ghostly state. Stochastic personal growth is like trying to beat the “market” of life possibilities without factoring in your own capacity for unplanned change.
    • 41/ What does lead to progressive intensification is recognizing the growing serendipity in the environment, and rapidly increasing potential for more imaginative solutions to life challenges, with more intense and unexpected rebirths, all around. It is about living life in a way that you might run into versions of yourself you didn’t know were possible.”
  • Live versus Dead Players
    • by Samo Burja
    • Excerpted from a book—Great Founder Theory. Quote: “…a live player is a person or tightly coordinated group of people that is able to do things they have not done before. There are two attributes that are necessary for a player to be considered live: tight coordination and a living tradition of knowledge.
    • If not merely one individual, a live player that is a group of people must be tightly coordinated in order to be flexible and responsive enough to do things they have not done before. This allows them to make moves outside of the formal structure of the group, go off script, modify themselves, continue acting even if the outer form dies, and so forth. Imagine, for example, an engineering team that keeps working together successfully after the company they work for formally blows up, perhaps transitioning together to a new company or just coordinating as hobbyists on the side.
    • The generation of new tactics, strategies, coordination mechanisms, and so on entails the production of new, useful knowledge. Thus, a live player must have a living tradition of knowledge. For the tradition of knowledge to be living, it must have at least one theorist, among other things. An individual live player may fulfill multiple roles in themselves, including being one’s own theorist.”
  • Professional Growth
    • by Kevin Simler
    • Quote: “The opposite of growth is stagnation, but there’s something even worse than stagnation: growing in the wrong direction.
    • In a healthy ecosystem, adapting to a niche will produce positive changes to your behavior. But the situation can just as easily become pathological. Work in a role that lacks urgency for too long and you’ll start to get lazy. Work at a place that rewards unethical behavior and you’ll slowly learn how to justify your bad actions, and stop seeing them for what they are. Work as a trader for too long and you’ll start to see the world as a zero-sum competitive game. Work as a politician and you’ll soon have to believe your own lies.
    • (This dynamic — niche adaptation — probably accounts for some of the personality differences between the professions, although there’s a huge self-selection component as well.)
    • Another dangerous niche is management. If you spend too much time in a managerial role, your behavior-space will become constrained by meetings, making it more and more difficult find the long, uninterrupted stretches required for serious writing or coding. Paul Graham wrote an excellent article about this, which should make anyone think twice before pursuing a role as a manager (or before dropping a meeting on someone’s calendar).
    • Be careful also of the initial impressions you make. If you start off acting timid and small, your coworkers will quickly fill in the space around you, making your niche smaller and giving you fewer options. Don’t be an asshole, but you may want to pick a judicious argument or two in your first few weeks on the job, to show your teeth and to assert interest in some of the space around you.”
  • The 200 Most Popular Comics

The Magnificent Seven #82: An Addictive War – 13/02/22

  • An Addictive War: How Cartel Bosses are Playing the U.S. Justice System
    • Antonio Delgado, Brian Fitzpatrick, Kevin G. Hall, Lilia Saúl Rodriguez, Jay Weaver and Verdad Abierta
    • Quote A: “Nearly 13 years and 1,300 miles removed from the violent streets of Medellín, Carlos Mario Aguilar has rebuilt his life in South Florida. The alleged Colombian crime boss known by the alias “Rogelio” has escaped his blood-soaked past, to enjoy life in a luxurious gated community and a job at a logistics company.
    • While the families of cartel victims seldom see justice served, Rogelio is a free man thanks to the very thing Colombian drug traffickers once feared most: facing American justice.
    • Drug lord Pablo Escobar famously said he would “prefer a tomb in Colombia than a jail in the United States,” but surrender and extradition are now seen by some savvy, lawyered-up cartel bosses as an expedited pass to freedom.”
    • Quote B: “Five decades into the War on Drugs, the battlefield is relatively unchanged.
    • “Production has grown, consumption has grown, violence associated with drug trafficking and production has grown, corruption has grown,” said Police Gen. Naranjo.
    • Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said yearly potential cocaine production in Colombia hit 1,228 metric tons in 2020, up from 695 metric tons in 2000.
    • Sarukhan, the former Mexican ambassador to the U.S., said traffickers must be attacked at the structural level: the accountants and money launderers, or those that hire and train hitmen. The scant amount the DEA spends on the financial sleuths who follow the money electronically amounts to “a sparrow’s fart in a typhoon.”
    • His advice? “Put money laundering at the top of the tool kit.”
    • Vigil, the former DEA international operations boss, says a constant strategy of attacking the top of the tree will continue to yield incomplete results.
    • “I don’t refer to it as the war on drugs. I call it the permanent campaign on drugs,” he said, adding that there will always be a supplying country as long as a strong market persists.
    • “Unless we dampen demand for drugs, then if it’s not Mexico or it’s not Colombia, it will be another country,” said Vigil.”
  • The Return of the Urban Firestorm
    • by David Wallace-Wells
    • Quote: “I mean, I’m doing all right. We’re physically okay. It’s just kind of … another thing. It’s been a long list of disasters in 2021. And a lot of them have been distant. This one was not distant. And one thing we’ve been reflecting on is, had this exact fire footprint occurred maybe half a mile or a mile farther north — and there’s no reason it couldn’t have — it probably would have taken out a good portion of south Boulder, where we live. It’s just a matter of luck for us that this occurred where it did.
    • But I think a lot of people underestimate risk. I’m someone who’s always partly, because of my job, hyperfocused on risk. But we’ve been on that road so many times; it’s a pretty road, it’s a gorgeous landscape. So it’s obvious why people like to live there. But what are the risks that entails? And people say, “Oh, well, don’t live in a fire zone.” Okay, well, what about the flood zones? You know, what about tornado alley? What about sea-level rise? What about, you know, in New York City, people dying in their basement apartments because of the flash floods in the summer.
    • So when people say, “Where do we go?” And I get this question all the time now: “Where should we go? What’s the safest place?” they ask. And I have absolutely no idea how to answer that question other than I definitely wouldn’t live along the coast anymore for obvious reasons. Other than that, I don’t really know how to answer that question. And even the immediate coast issue is not easy if you already live there.”
  • The pseudoscience of creating beautiful (or ugly) water
    • by William Reville
    • Quote: “Several people recently asked me what I think of the work of Masaru Emoto. Emoto claims that human speech or thoughts have dramatic effects on water. He claims that, depending on the nature of the speech or thoughts directed at water, when the water is frozen its crystals will be “beautiful” or “ugly” depending on whether the thoughts were positive or negative. If Emoto is right, we have a most amazing phenomenon here with dramatic implications, as illustrated by the simple fact that 75 per cent of all biological tissue, including the human body, is water.”
  • Two posts on neural representation
    • by Yohan J. John
    • From In defense of placeholders: the case of ‘representation’: “It is important to stress that I am not arguing that the mere antiquity of an idea is evidence for its usefulness or respectability. The example above involves ‘animal spirits’, a concept that few neuroscientists or philosophers would take seriously. The point is that the antirep crowd is very likely to be misfiring if they assume that a neuroscientists’ use of the concept of representation derives from something in the work of Herbert Simon & Alan Newell, Noam Chomsky, George Miller, or Jerry Fodor. The lineage of “representation” in neuroscience is far older than the apparent revolution of the 1950s, which really just restored to psychology a notion that people tended to arrive at as soon as they became acquainted with the idea of the brain as basis for experience. So “representation” has much to do with the scientific revolution as a whole. In fact, the tendency to look to philosophy for the genealogy of ideas about the mind-brain relation may induce us to neglect the history of medicine. Neuroscience might have been influenced by philosophy (and the upstart that was cognitive science), but its real descent is from medicine.”
    • From ‘Representing’ means exactly what you think it means: “We now need to investigate why it is so tempting to use scare quotes when attributing the power of observation or comparison to components of you. Some philosophers and neuroscientists (including a previous iteration of yours truly have argued that concepts such as perception and agency only apply to wholes and not to parts. We might call this emergentism by fiat. Failure to adhere to this stricture has been labeled the mereological fallacy. A specific version of it is the double subject fallacy which involves locutions like “my prefrontal cortex made me do it” or “my amygdala made me scared”. I used to think we ought to frown on this kind of category mistake — harrumphing that only the person as a whole can be said to do anything — but I now think that this is simultaneously a severe handicap on analogical thinking and also an inaccurate characterization of the fractious disunity of subjective experience. Sometimes it does feel like the self is multiple partial selves at war with each other — and surely this feeling is in need of mechanistic explanation?”
  • Keeping Your Design Mind New and Fresh
    • by Regine Gilbert
    • Quote: “A family friend let me stay with her in Munich, Germany; I did not speak German, and so began my adventure. I was in a new place, where I did not know anyone, and I got lost every single day. My eyes were opened to the fact that every day is an opportunity. It just took me going on a trip and traveling halfway around the world to realize it. There are new things to experience each and every day.
    • When I returned to the U.S. and went back to work, I made a conscious decision to make each day different. Sometimes I would walk a new route. Some days I would take another train. Each change meant I saw something new: new clothing, new buildings, and new faces. It really impacted the way I viewed myself in the world.
    • But what do you do when you cannot travel? Seeing a situation with new eyes takes practice, and you can still create the opportunity to see something by not taking your surroundings for granted.
    • How do we do this? For me, I adopted a new philosophy of being WOQE: watching, observing, questioning, and exploring.”
  • deepwork
    • by The Pudding
    • Quote: “When an estimated 70% of job applications are automatically rejected by applicant tracking systems (ATS) and companies are screening out applicants based on their social media habits, it can seem like technology is up against you.
    • That’s because it is. Well, most of it anyway. At deepwork, our software works for you, so you can work. Period.
    • With our cutting-edge technology, you’ll be more than just another statistic. We are able to algorithmically alter your digital DNA, from your overwrought resume down to your Zoom-fatigued face, turning you into something that’s proven to resonate more powerfully with employers, recruiting agencies, and the state-of-the-art ATS they use. And with Klarna, you can pay later. You know, when you can afford it.”
  • What makes EDI [electronic data interchange] so hard?
    • by Zack Kanter
    • Quote: “Such per-trading-partner nuances cannot be avoided – because different businesses operate in different ways, a single, canonical, ultra-opinionated representation of, say, a Purchase Order, is unlikely to ever exist. In other words, the per-trading-partner setup process is driven by inherent complexity – that is, complexity necessitated by the unavoidable circumstances of the problem at hand. And because field mappings such as these affect real-world transactions, they cannot be done with a probabilistic machine learning approach; for example, mapping “Shipper Address” to “Shipping Address” would result in orders being shipped to the shipper’s own warehouse, rather than the customers’ respective addresses. While there are many ways to build business-to-business integrations, any solution must account for a setup process that involves per-trading-partner, human-driven field mappings.
    • There are other areas of inherent complexity in EDI, too. Because businesses change over time, the configurations of the businesses’ respective business systems must change, too; an example might be a retailer adding DHL as a shipping option, whereas it previously only offered FedEx. Those changes must be communicated to trading partners so that field mappings can be updated appropriately; because such communications and updates involve ‘best efforts’ from humans, some percentage of them will be missed or completed incorrectly, leading to integration failures on subsequent transactions. Even without inter-business changes, errors happen – for example, a business system’s API keys might expire, or the system might experience intermittent downtime. Such errors will need to be reviewed, retried, and resolved. Just as every solution’s setup process will always require per-trading-partner, human-driven field mappings, every solution must also provide functionality for managing configuration changes on the control plane and intermittent errors on the data plane.”

The Magnificent Seven #81: The Ternary Manifesto – 06/02/22

  • The Ternary Manifesto
    • by Douglas W. Jones
    • Quote: “An alternative basis for development of a completely incompatible digital infrastructure is presented here. This minimizes the potential for leakage of information, particularly malware and other covert content from our existing digital infrastructure. This effort can be described as taking security through obscurity as a fundamental design principle.
    • Using base 3 instead of base 2 maximizes the incompatibility. This suggests that word-sizes should be measured in trits, not bits. The numbers 3, 9, 27 and 81 show up naturally in our new world, so we suggest the use of a 3-trit trybble, a 9-trit tryte, and a 27-trit word. This has strong consequences across the board, from digital circuits to character codes and programming language semantics.
    • While this work began as something of a joke, there are some very serious reasons that ternary logic may have value. One ternary digit, a trit, can represent 1.58 bits. Thus, a ternary computer with 21-trit words could handle values slightly larger than a 32-bit binary computer can handle. One of the limiting factors in high-end computer architecture has long been the density of interconnect wiring between the system components. Reducing the number of wires to 64% may well be worth the cost even if the move to ternary increases the total number of transistors required to build a computer.”
  • To Understand Language is to Understand Generalization
    • by Eric Jang
    • Quote A: “Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, computer scientists have come up with different abstract frameworks to describe what it would take to make our machines smarter: equivariance algebra, causal inference, disentangled representations, Bayesian uncertainty, hybrid symbolic-learning systems, explainable predictions, to name a few.
    • I’d like to throw in another take on the elephant: the aforementioned properties of generalization we seek can be understood as nothing more than the structure of human language. Before you think “ew, linguistics” and close this webpage, I promise that I’m not advocating for hard-coding formal grammars as inductive biases into our neural networks (see paragraph 1). To the contrary, I argue that considering generalization as being equivalent to language opens up exciting opportunities to scale up non-NLP models the way we have done for language.”
    • Quote B: “When it comes to combining natural language with robots, the obvious take is to use it as an input-output modality for human-robot interaction. The robot would understand human language inputs and potentially converse with the human. But if you accept that “generalization is language”, then language models have a far bigger role to play than just being the “UX layer for robots”. We should regard language capability as a substrate for generalization in any machine learning domain.
    • Linguistic relativists say that language is not only the primary way we communicate to each other, it is also the way we communicate to ourselves when thinking. Language is generalization is cognition.”
  • Crisis Information Architecture
    • by Claire Morville and Peter Morville
    • Quote: “The structural design of shared information environments is mostly applied to websites and software, yet the application of information architecture to crisis management is promising. Clear organization, labeling, navigation, and search are vital to users in crisis. Good usability, findability, and user experience design for stress cases means life or death in crisis technology.”
    • Check out this document for research related to crisis informatics, as well as links to the sites of some practitioners and resources.
  • Liquid Democracy: True Democracy for the 21st Century
    • by Dominik Schiener
    • Quote: “Liquid Democracy is a new form for collective decision making that gives voters full decisional control. Voters can either vote directly on issues, or they can delegate their voting power to delegates (i.e. representatives) who vote on their behalf. Delegation can be domain specific, which means that voters can delegate their voting power to different experts in different domains.
    • This is in contrast with direct democracy, where participants are required to personally vote on all issues; and in contrast with representative democracy, where participants vote for representatives once in a certain election cycle and then never worry about voting anymore.”
  • Forget stereotypes … how to recruit talented, neurodiverse employees
    • by Hazel Davis
    • Quote: “Nicola Whiting is chief operating officer at cybersecurity firm Titania, which works for organisations such as Nato and the FBI. Her company, which employs 50 people, has made practical changes to its recruitment process and workplace culture in order to attract young apprentices with autism.
    • “We completely changed our job adverts after speaking to people on the spectrum. We used to say we were inclusive and would take anyone as long as they could do the job. What we found was that unless you specifically said ‘neurodiverse’ or ‘autism’ they didn’t apply.” Similarly, she says, changing some of the assumptions about what makes a good worker is important. “If you’re not customer-facing, why would you need to be awesome at presenting? It’s looking at the detail and saying what do we actually need [from a candidate who takes on this role] rather than what we condition ourselves to think we need.”
    • Whiting has found that what’s good for neurodiverse people has wider benefits: “Asking what [type of] working environment is preferable, not springing surprises on people and clear communication are good for everyone.””
  • The Barefoot Movement Conference 2021 Talks
    • Vivo Barefoot—makers of, essentially, the only shoe I wear (their Ultra shoe)—held a conference early last year, and seven of the talks are available online. The talks are short (15-30 minutes) and get into some of the science behind the advocacy for barefooted-ness. The foot-reset session has some elements I’ll re-use (give your feet a round of applause!), and seeing the measured deformation of our feet is, as always, shocking.
  • How Shein beat Amazon at its own game—and reinvented fast fashion
    • by Louise Matsakis, Meaghan Tobin, Wency Chen
    • Quote: “At the heart of these issues is Shein’s aggressive business model. Comparisons to fast-fashion giants like H&M miss the point: it’s more like Amazon, operating a sprawling online marketplace that brings together around 6,000 Chinese clothing factories. It unites them with proprietary internal management software that collects near-instant feedback about which items are hits or misses, allowing Shein to order new inventory virtually on demand. Designs are commissioned through the software; some original, others picked from the factories’ existing products. A polished advertising operation is layered over the top, run from Shein’s head offices in Guangzhou.
    • Through its manufacturing partners on the ground in China, Shein churns out and tests thousands of different items simultaneously. Between July and December of 2021, it added anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 SKUs — stock keeping units, or individual styles — to its app each day, according to data collected by Rest of World. The company confirmed it starts by ordering a small batch of each garment, often a few dozen pieces, and then waits to see how buyers respond. If the cropped sweater vest is a hit, Shein orders more. It calls the system a “large-scale automated test and re-order (LATR) model.””

The Magnificent Seven #80: Being a Scientist Means Taking Sides – 30/01/22

  • Being a Scientist Means Taking Sides
    • by Mary H. O’Brien
    • Quote A: “Once you are a scientist, which means as soon as you systematically ask questions about the universe, you take a political side. There are infinite questions that you could ask about the universe, but as only one scientist, you must necessarily choose to ask only certain questions. Asking certain questions means not asking other questions, and this decision has implications for society, for the environment, and for the future. The decision to ask any question, therefore, is necessarily a value-laden, social, political decision as well as a scientific decision.”
    • Quote B: “What are the rewards to you as apublic interest scientist? First, you will be exercising the great privilege that Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs through it and Other Stories (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1976), remembers his father articulating: “One of the chief privileges of man is to speak up for the universe” Maclean 1992).That is quite a privilege. Second, you will be able to feel that you have paid something back to the world that has supported you: the air, the forests, and the sea. You will have earned your chance to live in a democracy.
    • What do they, the air, forests, and sea need you to do as a scientist, as a scientific citizen, as a person, to ensure their survival? They need you to speak up for the universe. They need you to side with them, in the public interest.”
  • Most Important Century
    • by Holden Karnofsky
    • An in-depth series exploring the salience of the twenty-first century for humanity as a species.
    • From All Possible Views About Humanity’s Future Are Wild: “According to me, there’s a decent chance that we live at the very beginning of the tiny sliver of time during which the galaxy goes from nearly lifeless to largely populated. That out of a staggering number of persons who will ever exist, we’re among the first. And that out of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, ours will produce the beings that fill it.”
    • From The Duplicator: “Of course, that can’t happen – at some point the size of the economy would be limited by fundamental natural resources, such as the number of atoms or amount of energy available in the galaxy. But in between here and running out of space/atoms/energy/something, we could easily see levels of economic growth that are massively faster than anything in history.”
    • From Digital People Would Be an Even Bigger Deal: “I will mostly assume that digital people are just like us, except that they can be easily copied, run at different speeds, and embedded in virtual environments. In particular, I will assume that digital people are conscious, have human rights, and can do most of the things humans can, including interacting with the real world.”
    • From This Can’t Go On: “Growing at a few percent a year is what we’re all used to. But in full historical context, growing at a few percent a year is crazy. (It’s the part where the blue line goes near-vertical.) … This growth has gone on for longer than any of us can remember, but that isn’t very long in the scheme of things – just a couple hundred years, out of thousands of years of human civilization. It’s a huge acceleration, and it can’t go on all that much longer.”
    • From Forecasting Transformative AI, Part 1: What Kind of AI?: “This piece is going to focus on exploring a particular kind of AI I believe could be transformative: AI systems that can essentially automate all of the human activities needed to speed up scientific and technological advancement. I will call this sort of technology Process for Automating Scientific and Technological Advancement, or PASTA. (I mean PASTA to refer to either a single system or a collection of systems that can collectively do this sort of automation.)”
    • From Why AI alignment could be hard with modern deep learning: “If you fail to hire a Saint — and especially if you hire a Schemer — pretty soon you won’t really be the CEO of a giant company for any practical purposes. By the time you’re an adult and realize your error, there’s a good chance you’re penniless and powerless to reverse that.”
    • From Forecasting transformative AI: what’s the burden of proof?: “Often, someone states a view that I can’t immediately find a concrete flaw in, but that I instinctively think is “just too wild” to be likely. For example, “My startup is going to be the next Google” or “College is going to be obsolete in 10 years” or “As President, I would bring both sides together rather than just being partisan.” … I hypothesize that the “This is too wild” reaction to statements like these can usually be formalized along the following lines: “Whatever your arguments for X being likely, there is some salient way of looking at things (often oversimplified, but relevant) that makes X look very unlikely.””
    • From Forecasting transformative AI: are we “trending toward” transformative AI? (How would we know?): “It would be very convenient – I almost want to say “polite” – of AI systems to advance in this manner. It would also be “polite” if AI advanced in the way that some people seem to casually imagine it will: first taking over jobs like “truck driver” and “assembly line worker,” then jobs like “teacher” and “IT support,” and then jobs like “doctor” and “lawyer,” before progressing to “scientist.” … Either of these would give us plenty of lead time and a solid basis to project when science-automating AI is coming. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can count on such a thing.”
    • From Forecasting transformative AI: the “biological anchors” method in a nutshell: “The framework provides a way of thinking about how it could be simultaneously true that (a) the AI systems of a decade ago didn’t seem very impressive at all; (b) the AI systems of today can do many impressive things but still feel far short of what humans are able to do; (c) the next few decades – or even the next 15 years – could easily see the development of transformative AI.”
    • From AI Timelines: Where the Arguments, and the “Experts,” Stand: “I think that consistently insisting on a robust expert consensus is a dangerous reasoning pattern. In my view, it’s OK to be at some risk of self-delusion and insularity, in exchange for doing the right thing when it counts most.”
    • From How to make the best of the most important century?: “Should we be expecting transformative AI within the next 10-20 years, or much later? Will the leading AI systems go from very limited to very capable quickly (“hard takeoff”) or gradually (“slow takeoff”)?12 Should we hope that government projects play a major role in AI development, or that transformative AI primarily emerges from the private sector? Are some governments more likely than others to work toward transformative AI being used carefully, inclusively and humanely? What should we hope a government (or company) literally does if it gains the ability to dramatically accelerate scientific and technological advancement via AI?”
    • From Call to Vigilance: “So instead of a call to action, I want to make a call to vigilance. If you’re convinced by the arguments in this piece, then don’t rush to “do something” and then move on. Instead, take whatever robustly good actions you can today, and otherwise put yourself in a better position to take important actions when the time comes.”
  • Will magic defeat America’s elites?
    • Quote: “Certain social phenomena reliably show up whenever a political class loses the ability or the desire to solve the most pressing problems of its era, and tries to cling to power anyway. The one that’s relevant to our present purpose is that in such an era, magic explodes in popularity — and the kind of magic that becomes popular is the kind that individuals practise on themselves, using rituals, meditations, affirmations, and other traditional occult tools to change their behaviour and affect how other people respond to them. Look at a period when personal magical practice flourishes and you’ll find that era dominated by a failing elite in charge of a society full of problems that are not being addressed.”
  • No Transcendent Meaning
    • by David Chapman
    • Quote from the linked piece: ““Transcendent” can simply mean “incomprehensible”; some dictionaries give this as a major sense. “Incomprehensible” doesn’t necessarily imply non-existent, but it should make you suspicious and want to ask hard questions. “Transcendent meaning” is often said to be invisible, ineffable, and accessible only through special, “mystical” means, maybe only by special people. These are convenient properties when constructing propaganda for an eternalist system. It’s reasonable to suppose such “meaning” is usually imaginary.
    • The complete stance doesn’t categorize meanings as transcendent or not. Some meanings are much more important than others, but they are not set apart as special, or entirely different in type. Most meanings are obvious, generally agreed on, and easy to understand.
    • That said, some meanings are “non-ordinary”: they may indeed be ineffable, difficult to understand, resistant to public inspection, and accessible only through atypical means. These are worth exploring, carefully. One must steer between the eternalist Scylla of making them mean more than they do and the nihilist Charybdis of denying that they are more than delusions. The complete stance advises allowing meanings, more than searching for or creating them.”
    • Quote concerning the “complete stance”: “I have coined the word “meaningness” to express the ambiguous quality of meaningfulness and meaninglessness that we encounter in practice. According to the stance that recognizes meaningness, meaning is real but not definite. It is neither objective nor subjective. It is neither given by an external force nor a human invention.
    • I call this a “complete stance” because it acknowledges two qualities: nebulosity or indefiniteness, and pattern or regularity. A complete stance does not deny or fixate any aspect of meaningness.”
  • ‘A Horrible Death to Die’
    • by Julia Flynn Siler
    • Quote: “Before fleeing to Hawaii, Jane had looked forward to spending the spring at a place she called her Palo Alto Farm. She had enjoyed some of the happiest moments of her life at her country estate on the San Francisco Peninsula, surrounded by 8,180 acres in a rolling landscape of coast live oaks, manzanita, and chaparral. Stanford University today is still called the Farm—though much of its rural character long ago vanished beneath manicured lawns, medical complexes, and parking lots. What remains is a deftly cultivated origin story: a university born in 1885 of a generous act by grieving parents, the hiring of a first president who brought their vision to life, the orderly transition of a young educational facility into a world-class institution.
    • What’s missing from this story is the wretched and agonizing death of the school’s founding mother—and a full accounting of Jane’s role in its chaotic early years.”
  • Mobility, Recovery and Original Strength Follow-Along
    • by Dan John
    • I’ve been following and utilising Dan’s work for a long time now. Recently, I fancied a light and stimulating session based on Original Strength concepts and found this. I’ve done it a couple times and I’ll probably continue to come back to this session. Especially as I re-organise my weekly movement and training after a minor back injury.
  • The Key to the Kingdom, or How I Sold Too Like the Lightning
    • by Ada Palmer
    • I’ve got my eye on Ada Palmer’s work for when I finish Iain Banks’ Culture series. This post is about the sale of her first novel.
    • Quote: “I don’t remember where I received the wisdom that it’s better to go on and write Book 1 of a new series rather than write Book 2 of a series when you haven’t sold Book 1 yet. Wherever I got it from, I obeyed it, and soon my plucky agent was shopping two series, then three. Despite loving to sleep in, I followed the old advice and wrote in the morning, every day, an hour or two, giving my best hours to fiction and the rest of the day to the demands of grad school, and thereby wrote close to a million words of fiction over seven years. Looking over those practice projects now, I can see my writing improve with each, the sentences, the pace, the plot. Every paragraph was a step in that long apprenticeship. The wait stretched on—three years, four—and it hurt—the growing, gnawing appetite. Sometimes I would lie awake at night just from the pain of wanting something so much. But I had an agent, and that gave me confidence, and comfort.
    • Meanwhile I was working on my Ph.D. The single best thing that ever happened to my writing—looking at the novel I was working on at the time you can see the very chapter break where it happened, like lightning struck and *ZAP!* the prose was finally good—was in 2005, when I had to cut down my 20,000 word dissertation prospectus into a 7,000 word conference paper. Without knowing it, I had stumbled on “Half and Half Again,” as it’s called by people I know in journalism, a training exercise in which you go through the agony of cutting an old work down to half length, then half of that, learning to spot the chaff and bloat in your own work, and how to make it tight and powerful. Lightning.”

The Magnificent Seven #79: How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood – 23/01/22

  • How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood
    • by Nicholas Schou
    • Quote: “The writer and director Peter Landesman agreed that some filmmakers are too easily dazzled by consultants who offer swashbuckling tales from their clandestine lives. Landesman, who worked as a foreign correspondent in Pakistan after 9/11 and wrote national security stories for The New York TimesMagazine, was equipped with a better bullshit meter than most filmmakers by the time he got to Hollywood.
    • “I have had a number of dealings with the CIA, both as a journalist and as a screenwriter,” he said. “I quickly learned that I could never, ever, take what any officer or operative says at face value. They are hardwired to deflect, even off the record. Also, as underpaid and overworked civil servants, they frequently try to cash in on their experience. Almost always, they inflate their role and their own involvement.”
    • As the war on terror endlessly grinds on, and the surveillance state continues to insert itself into every aspect of American life, it will be interesting to see whether Hollywood finally begins to take a more critical look at the national-security complex. But recent trends are not encouraging. With few exceptions, Hollywood has long functioned as a propaganda factory, churning out jingoistic revenge-fantasy films in which American audiences are allowed to exorcise their post-9/11 demons by watching the satisfying slaughter of countless onscreen jihadis. This never-ending parade of square-jawed secret agents and bearded, pumped-up commandos pitted against swarthy Muslim madmen straight out of central casting has been aided and abetted by a newly emboldened CIA all too happy to offer its “services” to Hollywood.”
  • C is for Carbonalism
    • by Christopher Jones
    • Quote: “Writing papers for submission to a scientific journal requires a review of existing literature. When you do what I do, this can be downright depressing because so much of what we know about the causes and solutions for bad water and bad air has been known for a loooooong time. You can almost sense the researchers’ frustration festering between statements of fact that are repeated year after year, paper after paper. I’m working on a soil carbon paper with some other people here, and I came across an example of this in a 2009 paper written by World Food Prize Laureate Rattan Lal: “Numerous and wide-ranging benefits of soil organic matter (SOM or organic carbon) for enhancing soil quality and influencing the underlying pedological processes were quantified by Jenny (Jenny, 1941, 1961; Jenny & Raychaudhary, 1961). Some direct benefits of the SOM pool include improvement in soil structure, retention of water and plant nutrients, increase in soil biodiversity and decrease in risks of soil erosion and the related degradation.” Jenny was esteemed soil scientist Hans Jenny, who, as you can see, had to write not one but two papers 20 years after the original as if to say, hey, dudes, did you not see this paper I wrote 20 years ago? And if alive, he would probably still be writing the same paper again and again because agriculture is a stubborn ass when it comes to change. Unless of course if it has anything to do with bushels. There are a lot of early adopters when it comes to anything bushel-related. Weird how that works.”
  • A hundred things I learned working on the react team
    • by Dan Abramov
    • I hadn’t heard of Dan Abramov until he did this threadapolooza—”100-tweet threads. like NaNoWriMo, but for twitter brainstorms”—recounting experiences working on the ReactJS team. Some favourites.
    • “3. most PRs [pull requests] create more work than solve. even when the project’s internals are well-documented (which for us was brief), significant contributions are rare. this is not so much because of difficulties writing code but due to months worth of context needed to make decisions.”
    • “5. a couple of trolls, even well-intentioned, can poison an entire discussion space.”
    • “16. if you don’t explain the story about what you’re doing and why, someone else will do it for you (and you might not like it)”
    • “40. if you’re trying to introduce a new workflow (eg different task tracking tool) to the team, it’s on you to get people to feel good about it and try it out (“i know you prefer keeping tasks in a doc, let me sync that doc for you for a bit and we’ll see how it goes”)”
    • “41. taking ownership over something unowned (but that everybody cares about) is one of the most valuable things you can do on a team. try not to drop it though (i’m guilty of that)”
    • “58. that clever optimization? probably unnecessary and will cost you a few weeks of bug hunting. oh, and good luck ripping it out”
    • “69. designing is not so much creating as it is uncovering what already should be there. like math or archeology. it’s exploiting the properties of the system and making them shine”
    • “75. “no” is the correct answer to most feature requests. no matter who they’re coming from. try your best to help people though and bring the pain points back to the table. this is developer advocacy”
    • “85. the best features are vertically integrated. that means that they don’t just work at a particular level of the stack but pierce through the whole stack and give you some leverage at every level, low and high. they’re also integrated together: they all compose as you’d expect.”
  • In Defence of Plant Personhood
    • by Matthew Hall
    • “It is relatively easy to argue philosophically for plants as persons, but much harder to enact and realise plant personhood in the context of worldly relationships. One of the ways that I suggest we do such working for the benefit of plants and toward plant flourishing is through local ecological restoration, including actively and intentionally giving back space (i.e., land) for wild plant communities to flourish. I reiterate that call here, and do so in accordance with E.O. Wilson, who has argued that we need to set aside at least half of our planet for other-than-human purposes. In doing so, we must ensure that this does not lead to another hyper-separation of human/natures, in the search for a pure “wilderness” in which plant communities become removed from all human engagement and use. For relationships of care to be built, the priority must be for long-term restorative projects in places of human habitation or with a history of human domination. Hundreds of such projects already exist, from large-scale landscape restoration of the Florida Everglades, to wetland restoration in former industrial sites. For those of us who carry with us a Christian heritage that has traditionally denied personhood to plants, engaging with such projects carries the potential to take us from our position as the apex of a hierarchy of domination and move us towards a heterarchical position grounded in care and partnership with the other-than-human world. The recognition of plants as persons emerges then not through the violent projection of human purposes and goals as Marder insists, nor indeed in the pages of academic texts, but from working with, relating to and caring for a multitude of plants in collaborative projects of mutual benefit.”
  • Stripping back the novelty: A critical reflection on the dual use of a comic-based approach to engage participants and publics
    • by Jon Rainford
    • Quote: “Whilst the reductive nature of comic-based approaches and the ambiguity that reliance on images can create is often framed as a limitation of the medium, this was actually a valuable benefit for this study. This can be seen to be reductive if compared to more traditional text-based outputs as it reduces the level of detail and places more onus on the viewers interpretation of the text. In contrast, to this, imagery can encapsulate large amounts of information but is often viewed more subjectively by the viewer. This subjective reading due to the inherent ambiguity of limited text catalysed conversations around key issues within the triangulation session that was conducted. For example, the phrase ‘I don’t know much about these jobs’ led to a whole discussion about what jobs widening participation practitioners need to know about. This was then valuable data to support the analysis for the study. Furthermore, the inability to fully formulate arguments within the medium catalysed discussions surrounding how the sector could address some of these issues. Within a more extensive report, these are likely to be things which were already proposed from the researcher’s perspective. This value that ambiguity added echoes Barnes argument about comics being useful to stimulate thought (NCRM, 2019). Furthermore, ambiguity enabled participants to engage with the findings presented as opposed to taking them at face value. This is an important affordance as with any critical social research, often there are as many questions raised by the findings as there are concrete answers produced. Facilitating the engagement of key audiences with findings should be an aim of any research output and yet is one that is often less successfully realised and is something ambiguity of comic-based approaches supports. Arguably, using the full benefits of the form with a professional artist may extend this even further by removing the reliance on text, especially thinking about the way recommendations were presented.”
  • Standing Spine Mobility Routine
    • by Original Strength
    • I was looking for something spine-specific a few weeks back that was a cross between boring old stretches and hyper-targeted, complicated mobilisation drills. This turned out to be that: a handful of globally effective moves for livening up the spine.
  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in ’72
    • by Hunter S. Thompson
    • Quote: “Any $100-an-hour psychiatrist could probably explain this problem to me, in 13 or 14 sessions, but I don’t have time for that. No doubt it has something to do with a deep-seated personality defect, or maybe a kink in whatever blood vessel leads into the pineal gland . . . On the other hand, it might easily be something as simple & basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.
    • People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jackrabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now & then . . .No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenaline rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front wheels.”

The Magnificent Seven #78: The Lost Virtue of Skull and Bones – 16/02/22

  • The Lost Virtue of Skull and Bones
    • by Jasper Boers
    • Quote A: “At the apex of the American century, alumni of Skull and Bones—commonly just called Bones—wielded substantial influence in law, industry, and foreign and domestic policy. They served as CIA directors, presidents, Supreme Court justices, and secretaries of state. However, as with many institutions from America’s mid-century ascendancy, Skull and Bones is a shell of its former self. Its influence has fared about as well as its 40-acre retreat on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York, named Deer Island. Deer Island provides a space for society members to cultivate intimate personal bonds. It plays a similar role off-campus as the society’s “tomb,” or official clubhouse, does at Yale itself. The island was once home to a collection of stone-and-mortar hunting lodges, cabins, and recreational facilities for knights (current members) and patriarchs (alumni) to reconnect and enjoy old friendships away from the political and financial currents of the urban Northeast. Today, one large cabin remains. The rest burned in a fire decades ago and have not been restored.”
    • Quote B: “The notion of generational succession among elites and the legitimacy of expressing ambition by integrating into an already-existing elite culture has itself become illegitimate. A conscious approach to generational succession is only viable if the larger society in which it occurs sees it as legitimate and desirable. With its recent anti-elite and anti-privilege ideological fashions, Yale, like the Ivy League more generally, has not succeeded in abolishing elites or the existence of a distinct culture and set of networks among American elites. Instead, it has developed and institutionalized an elite double-consciousness. While still enforcing norms like respectability, exclusion of the wrong social mores, and certain hierarchies, it falsifies its beliefs around these practices and disowns the very position it occupies. It is a mark of elite status to play this game, to decry privilege while exploiting it, and to purport to dismantle institutions while actively striving for power within them.
    • The result is that the beliefs and behaviors on which a healthy elite culture relies continue to erode. In place of the aspirational elite status of early Bonesmen, Yale students now follow more or less the same careerist social scripts of the middle class. Students who theoretically have access to the most valuable and exclusive networks in America end up in high-paying, low-creativity, high-replaceability jobs on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.”
  • Utopia Inc
    • by Alexa Clay
    • Quote: “The question confounding nearly all those seeking alternatives to mass society, says the dystopian novelist Margaret Atwood, is: ‘What sort of happiness is on offer, and what is the price we might pay to achieve it?’ The puritan impulse towards the suppression of passion, like Penn’s insistence on sobriety, was a high price to pay for belonging. But the loose sexual practices of secular communes in the 1960s and ’70s created immense jealousies and conflicts that just as readily caused many communities to implode. Most people, of course, flock to intentional communities to fulfil emotional needs, but the capacity of a community’s relational skills are quickly tested by the personalities of its members: as Winiecki explained to me about Tamera: ‘If you go deep in a group, you can find all the light and shadows of humanity.’
    • Speaking about her time at Findhorn, the social entrepreneur Kate Sutherland told me: ‘It’s not utopia. It’s microcosm. Everything that’s in the outer world is there – marginalisation, addiction, poverty, sexual issues, power. Communities are just fractals of society.’ The difference for Sutherland was that in Findhorn there was good will and a clear commitment to waking up: ‘People are willing to look at their stuff.’
    • Meanwhile, at Damanhur, conflicts are cleverly allowed to escalate into a playful battle that serves to exorcise community tensions and animosities. ‘The battle lets people have a defined space to bring out the natural competitive energy in each one of us in a way that is playful and constructive, and ultimately leads to a sense of unity,’ says Quaglia Cocco, who has been part of the Damanhur community for eight years. A battle at Damanhur isn’t too dissimilar from childhood play-fighting. Teams equip themselves with white shirts and squirt guns filled with paint, and judges are used to determine whether a person is still in the game or has been defeated. Battles allow members to vent their warrior natures and access more of their shadow personalities, too often repressed by the soft statues of civility to which we default.”
  • Becoming a Religion of the Book
    • by Konrad Schmidt, Jens Schroter
    • An excerpt from a book called, The Making of the Bible.
    • Quote: “Whichever interpretation of the imagery in Psalm 24 we opt for, it is evident that the religious cult, which operated through ritual objects, implements, and observances, gave rise to the text rather than vice versa. Moreover, a long religious-historical road lay ahead before this text was written: Judaism only became a “religion of the book”—that is, one whose core entailed the study of sacred texts—following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70. With the demise of the sacrificial cult of the temple, the faith shifted entirely to the study and celebration of the scriptures.
    • And it was not until that stage that the concept of the Bible as a complete, authoritative collection of texts arose. Its texts had almost certainly been in religious use before this, but alongside many other documents. A strict dividing line between biblical and nonbiblical literature did not exist at that time, since there was as yet no such thing as the Bible. And so the belief system of Israel and Judah changed gradually over the course of the first millennium bcfrom a cult religion to a religion of the book. The destruction of the First Temple in 587 bcplayed an important role as a catalyzing factor in this process.
    • The loss of the central place of worship laid the foundations of a religion that was no longer reliant upon ritual activity. The period of the Babylonian Exile was of fundamental significance for the emergence of the Bible and is often seen as the beginning of the era of “Judaism”—that is, the text-based form of the religion of ancient Israel and Judah, which committed these kingdoms to the Torah and to a belief in a single God (monotheism).”
  • Holy Fire, the Medical Industrial Complex and Aging
    • by ChrisPrattAlphaRaptr
    • Quote: “Bruce Sterling might be horrified if he were to read this, but maybe the society in Holy Fire is more of a blueprint than a dystopia. I’d argue that we should massively expand the NIA (National Institute of Aging) and focus on encouraging participation in large-scale clinical trials that start young (because a lot of treatments will probably fail if you restrict them to 80 year olds), run until death, include a large number of readouts and encourage large-scale participation among the population. The more people the better, as participants will likely fragment into further subsets as new treatments become available and patients want to partake of multiple trials.
    • This will necessitate an invasion of privacy to some degree and establishment of significant healthcare infrastructure to generate this massive dataset that would change society in a myriad of ways, some of which are already happening and coming regardless and others which would be unforeseen consequences. We would need to normalize regular collection of blood samples, biopsies and things current me can’t even imagine as we learn more about the aging process. It would require changing how society thinks about clinical trials along the lines of point (1).
    • So. Who wants to run for office with me on a platform of nuclear power and a totalitarian HealthState?”
  • Values-Based Social Design
    • by The School for Social Design
    • This is really cool, and something I’ve marked for use in future thinking about my own work.
    • Quote from the intro (Tech Products (that Don’t Cause Depression and War)): “Of course: we can’t ask our technologist to ignore her users’ behavior. We must offer a way for her to broaden her insights into users’ lives. We must give her an alternative “source of truth” for judging her design’s success: a way to design based on data, but not just about clicks—data about how users want to live, and whether her product helps.”
    • Quote from another chapter (Making Values Concrete): “When we say “everyone deserves meaningful work” or “people need to participate meaningfully in a democracy” or “people have meaningful interactions on facebook” we’re being vague. By collecting someone’s attention policies and highlighting the meaningful ones, we can break down precisely what’s meant by meaningful work, meaningful interactions, and meaningful relationships. We can assess if they’re really happening, and see how they could happen more.
    • We can also evaluate systems by whether they support specific kinds of meaning. Many current crises (in ecosystems, global economics, media, etc) are caused by systems designed around metrics (dollars, clicks, views, votes) that are divorced from life meaning. This leads to so many problems: depression, isolation of the elderly, soul crushing workplaces. Reevaluating these systems in light of a specific account of meaning could solve these problems.”
  • Layers of practice
    • by The Bamboo Body
    • Quote: “There should be something concrete that you want to achieve when you practice something, of course. When we work on something, we want to be able to do actual things like creating music with an instrument, scoring at the basketball game, successfully defending a thesis, etc. In the movement practice, there is always a specific skill, parameter, or concept you are working on. We use all kind of different “containers” to extract knowledge from. But what about days when it just doesn’t happen? If the tangible result would be the only thing that matters, then when you are tired or you simply do not improve at the parameter you are working on for any other reason, you could see it as a failure and lack of progress. However, if you can choose to switch the layer, there still can be room for improvement, just in another direction. Let me explain this better. Imagine you work on a very specific skill like chin up, for instance, and this specific thing is very hard for you. You were progressing nicely at the beginning, but for a few sessions in a row, there was no progress at all, and even maybe it regressed. If the number of reps would be your only concern, (nobody says it shouldn’t be a concern at all, just to be clear), the session can be dismissed as unsuccessful. Usually, lack of progress makes people frustrated. Exactly this is what opens a window to work on a different side of it. What about not being able to improve in something, and not getting frustrated with it for a change? This is a much harder task for many people than doing a chin up. Suddenly strength session becomes work on emotional stability. If you are successful, there is a progress, just a different kind of it. Another proposition in similar situation is to work on letting go of the attachment to the result. With the right intention it becomes spiritual work.”
  • Can “Distraction-Free” Devices Change the Way We Write?
    • by Julian Lucas
    • Quote: “These extremes of life-hacking whimsy are also illustrations of the ways in which many writers feel alienated from their tools. When Frank O’Hara typed his “Lunch Poems” on a floor-sample Lettera 25 in Olivetti’s showroom on Fifth Avenue, it was a cute stunt. Now writing on apps and devices owned and actively managed by corporations is the default, leaving us ever more vulnerable to subscriptions, algorithms, proprietary formats, and arbitrary updates.
    • A minor literary doctrine holds that great writing should be platform-independent. Let amateurs mess around with gadgets and gizmos; Wole Soyinka wrote “The Man Died” in a Nigerian prison with Nescafé for ink and a chicken bone for a stylus. Yet the ability to write with anything and the drive to experiment with everything likewise reflect the fact that the means, no less than the matter of writing, should adapt to our selves and to our circumstances. The quest to match writer and machine may be as necessary, in its way, as literature’s unending effort to reconcile experience and expression—or so I tell myself as I sign for the latest delivery. My AlphaSmart, hurriedly unboxed, comes to life with a flash last seen by a high-school student in the mid-two-thousands, and I feel, not for the first time, that it might just be the final Word.”

The Magnificent Seven #77: The Advantage of Permission & The Fall of Oligarchies – 09/01/22

  • The Advantage of Permission & The Fall Of Oligarchies
    • by Ian Welsh
    • Quote: “There are only three insulin producers in the US: they are obviously in collusion (which older anti-trust law would have said is clear given how their prices are all so high and uniform, and thus it did not require proof of meetings and so on to set prices.)
    • And this is the next problem: if there were a hundred pharma producers in the US, one of them would break ranks. But when there are so few, they don’t: collusion is easy. You don’t even have to get together, you just have to follow the price increases and be willing to commit mass murder. Since it is a requirement of membership in modern capitalist elites in the West to be so-willing, of course no one in charge of Pharma in the US isn’t willing to mass murder to get richer, as Covid has also proved.
    • This inability to really do new things or even old things (insulin ain’t new) unless they benefit and are controlled by incumbents is rife throughout Western societies: it is by design. Even international trade law is designed to ensure this: tariffs and subsidies are how companies that don’t already lead an industry used to develop, but we’ve made that basically illegal, leaving only “pay your workers dirt cheap wages and we’ll let you in, if you cut us in on those delicious exploitation profits.”
    • This is what China did, at first: they cut Western and American elites in on the profits. But they also were very aggressive about obtaining the manufacturing knowledge (called “intellectual property” in the West”) for themselves. The price of the profits was that you had to give up your secrets. This was the deal, I was told this decades ago by people familiar with business in China and offshoring, but there’s a lot of pretense now that Western elites didn’t know it. They sold their countries good manufacturing jobs and middle classes down the river for Chinese gold.”
  • What we can learn from “_why”, the long lost open source developer
    • by Klint Finley
    • Quote: “He never explained exactly why he committed what some call “infocide,” but his 2013 writings (collected under the name Closure) provide some hints. _why wrote about reading the complete works of Franz Kafka. “I was done. I was decimated. To program any more was pointless. My programs would never live as long as The Trial. A computer will never live as long as The Trial.” But, tellingly, _why also noted that most of Kafka’s works were published posthumously and that he’d asked his friend Max Brod to burn his manuscripts.
    • “Seems weird he didn’t burn them himself,” _why wrote. “Tuberculosis doesn’t stop you from burning paper, right? A thousand pages. Two thousand pages. Maybe three thousand pages. That’s a lot, but I think he could have done it, even alone, even with tuberculosis.”
    • _why concluded: “Of course he didn’t want them burned.”
    • Kafka did successfully burn most of his manuscripts, but if _why’s goal was, paradoxically, to preserve his work by burning it, he was successful. After he disappeared, new maintainers stepped in to steward almost all of _why’s projects, giving them each new homes. Had _why’s work been proprietary, it could have disappeared almost entirely. But because it was open source, _why’s own personal Max Brods were able to not only restore his work, but build and continue it.
    • Many of these projects—including Try RubyHackety Hack, and Shoes—were maintained by the community long after _why’s disappearance. Though it’s not clear how much of _why’s original code remains. “It’s definitely a Ship of Theseusquestion,” says Matt Zmuda, a Software Engineer at GitHub. “Is it still his work if all of the original code has been replaced?” Had _why simply handed off his projects to new maintainers instead of taking a torch to his code, his actual code and all its lovely quirks might have been forgotten. Instead, it lives on even as others have rebuilt his work.
    • But _why’s impact extended far beyond the code he wrote. He helped popularize the Ruby language in the early 00s, pioneered new ways of building web applications, and inspired countless people to learn to code.”
  • The Homeless 8-Year-Old Chess Champion and Other Horrific ‘Uplifting’ Stories
    • by Alan MacLeod
    • Quote: “The questions of why a government worker is so desperate that she has to pawn her wedding ring, or why we live in a system where disabled children don’t have adequate wheelchairs and are at the mercy of the charity of their teenage friends, are not asked. The media simply invite readers to delight in these tales of generosity.
    • And perhaps the story of an 85-year-old man forced to continue cleaning the toilets where his wife died so that he and his disabled grandchildren are not out on the streets is a vision of a post-industrial hell world, rather than an uplifting human interest piece suitable for InspireStory.com (11/20/18).
    • Likewise, an “uplifting” story of a Chicago woman who paid for hotel rooms for dozens of homeless people during the recent polar vortex was widely covered across the media (CBS, 2/1/19; Huffington Post, 1/31/19; Miami Herald, 2/1/19). Reading the reporting, the distinct impression given is that those people would have died of exposure if not for the Good Samaritan’s actions. Indeed, the final sentence of the London Independent’s (2/1/19) report casually notes that at least nine people had already died in Chicago alone. But this is not presented as a problem, or even worthy of note, in most of the coverage.”
  • What Thoreau can teach us about the Great Resignation
    • by Jonathan van Belle and John Kaag
    • Quote: “It is easy to interpret Walden as America’s first environmentalist manifesto—and there is something to this—but we should remember that Thoreau’s attempt to “get back to nature” was simultaneously the attempt to get away from the capitalist rat race that defined his culture. There is a difference—an absolute gulf—between “just making a living” and getting a life or truly living. This is the abiding message of Walden.
    • The frenetic busyness of modern life should never be confused with the essential business of living. Human life is precious because it is so ephemeral and fleeting. People die of lockjaw, or tuberculosis, or the flu, or a pandemic—and it is best not to waste the tragically little time we are given. For Thoreau, life was best spent constructing a simple house of his own making, tending his beans and melons, and leading children through the huckleberry patches surrounding Concord. Being a great resigner entails reclaiming life, or rather making a conscious choice about what to respect and where to tap meaning.”
  • The Magic of “Untranslatable” Words
    • by Tim Lomas
    • Quote: “Such words have long fascinated linguists, who refer to them as loanwords – i.e., words that English has ‘borrowed,’ usually because it lacks its own native term for the phenomena that the word signifies (although there can also be other reasons, like the prestige associated with deploying foreign terminology). Then, with the passage of time, and the legitimacy conferred by widespread usage, such words eventually become assimilated into English (often with a degree of adaptation). However, perhaps even more intriguing is the related phenomenon of so-called ‘untranslatable’ words: essentially, words which also lack an equivalent in English, but haven’t yet been borrowed. Admittedly, untranslatability is a contentious term. On the one hand, it could be argued that no word is actually truly translatable. Words are embedded within complex webs of meanings and traditions. As such, even if languages seem to have roughly equivalent words – amour as the French counterpart to love, for instance – translators have long argued that something precious is always lost in the act of translation. Conversely though, some people submit that nothing is ever genuinely untranslatable. Even if a word lacks an exact equivalent in English, its meaning can usually be conveyed in a few words, or at least a couple of sentences. However, it’s the fact that a word doesn’t appear to have an ‘exact match’ in English that makes it so potentially intriguing (and, in common parlance, renders it ‘untranslatable’). Such words pique our interest, and for good reason. Above all, they appear to indicate the existence of phenomena that have been overlooked or undervalued by English-speaking cultures.”
  • Could mouth breathing be a causal factor in the heart problem that led to Sergio Aguero’s retirement?
    • by Martin McPhilimey
    • Quote: “Professional athletes spend years adapting to exercise stress to ensure peak physical fitness. However, it is not common knowledge to investigate or maximise breathing efficiency. Whether athletes regularly undergo breathing assessments for dysfunctional breathing patterns or coaches assess how their players breathe during training and competition is unknown. It is doubtful that it is regularly investigated because it is such a niche area of science and does not lay in the specific interest to exercise physiologists. However, it would seem appropriate given that breathing directly impacts physiological and metabolic changes during exercise. This scientific blog has discussed the various mechanisms to which mouth breathing in athletes could lead to issues with cardiac arrhythmia or ischemia, both coming from the biochemical view of the three respiratory gases oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide – as well as the biomechanical issues concerning the respiratory muscle fatigue and sleep-disordered breathing.
    • Sergio Aguero will be seeing some of the best cardiac experts that Spain has to offer; however, much of these data presented are at the forefront of scientific papers and research in the area is sparse. Therefore may not be common knowledge to those who attend medical school where the evidence takes more than 10 – 15 years to reach practical guidelines. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to warrant assessment by a specialist in breathing patterns disorders, sleep-disordered breathing, and a cardiac assessment in a multidisciplinary manner. This is because the human body works in a manner where all physiology is interconnected. Therefore, we need to be investigating the body as an integrative system, especially in complex situations such as those related to arrhythmia of unknown cause.”
    • Wide investigation of breathing methods and adoption of nasal breathing in professional sports is something that seems like such a no-brainer to me. I feel the same about investigations concerning modern footwear by orgs like The Foot Collective. For athletes, both could result in greater longevity, and greater performance, at a very small cost.
  • Climate change deniers are over attacking the science. Now they attack the solutions
    • by Kate Yoder
    • Quote A: ““It kind of dismayed me, because I spent my career debunking the first three categories — ‘it’s not real, it’s not us, it’s not bad’ — and those were the lowest categories of misinformation,” said John Cook, a co-author of the study and a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia. “Instead, what they were doing was trying to undermine trust in climate science and attack the actual climate movement. And there’s not much research into how to counter that or understand it.””
    • Quote B: “The study also tracked how arguments against taking action changed over time. In general, misinformation around solutions ramped up before international climate conferences or at times when Congress debated climate legislation, such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009. After the announcement of a big climate bill, conservative think tanks argue that the policy will take a toll on the economy, followed by another spike right before the bill goes up for vote.
    • That means there’s also “an air of predictability” around misinformation, Cook says. “If we’re proactive enough, we can get ahead of it and inoculate the public,” he said.
    • Last year, Cook released a free game that “vaccinates” people against fake news. A cartoon character called Cranky Uncle — representing conspiracy-prone uncles everywhere — uses his favorite techniques to teach you to become a science denier like him. In the process of learning how to create fake news, people learn how to spot logical fallacies and other techniques used to dismiss scientific evidence, like cherry-picking temperature data or citing fake experts. This approach, called “pre-bunking,” has been shown to be effective — playing a similar kind of game can reduce people’s susceptibility to misinformation for three months, one study found.
    • Cook believes Cranky Uncle-style games could also help counter arguments against climate solutions or attacks on the movement, too. “Pre-bunking is kind of a universal template,” he said.”

The Magnificent Seven #76: In Pursuit of Better Levels – 02/01/22

  • In Pursuit of Better Levels
    • by Alex K.
    • If you’re like me and the probability that you’ll end creating/designing/building a game level (or even a game) is low then fear not. This is like a light introduction to the craft of level design, and it’s fantastic. There’s a lot of heuristics that can be leveraged in other mediums (film, fiction and non-fiction writing, presenting), and the overall scope of the doc makes me appreciate the thought that goes into many of the digital things we take for granted. There’s also a list of sources at the end, some of which may or may not make their way into Mag7 at a later date…
  • Carlota Perez and the economics of hope
    • by Tom Clark
    • Quote: “Somewhere deeper in the background, though half-disavowed by Perez, is Karl Marx. “You know, being a Latin American, in my youth I was a Marxist,” she says, before adding how she was soon “completely disappointed” by Moscow: the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring happened before she turned 30. She was also intellectually disenchanted by the determinism of “all this thing about the means of production, and the mode of organisation,” when she could look across countries and see the same technological “base” supporting very different settlements, from the democratic to the despotic. Relaxed about profit and the rich, “as long as they create jobs and big businesses” (as opposed to the “crooked dealings” and “casino-type thing” with which she charges high finance), she is no Marxist today. But she retains a certain Marxian method, with her focus on history as a tale of interests and classes brokering and rebrokering where they stand as technology marches on.
    • With her Zen-like air, it can sometimes feel like she dismisses most of what other economists spend their time on—inflation blips, exchange rate wobbles, passing recessions—as mere froth on a deeper tide. As we were chatting, I briefly found myself wondering whether she might be a kind of inverse, dirigiste equivalent to the marketopian theorists who bagged a lot of Nobels before the crash. Those were the likes of Myron Scholes and Robert Merton, who were honoured for theories rationalising the derivative market shortly before they played starring roles in its implosion; or “rational expectations” guru Robert Lucas, who stated—four years before the credit crunch—that the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved,” and also that it was intellectually “poisonous” to worry about “questions of distribution” when growth would enrich everyone.”
  • Beyond Capitalist Realism: The Politics, Energetics, and Aesthetics of Degrowth
    • by Samuel Alexander
    • This actually an introduction a volume of collected essays. This and other collectionsby the author are available for a “pay what you want” price.
    • Quote: “Of course, as history relates, capitalism is a dexterous beast, always shifting and changing with the times to exploit new opportunities for profit and in response to new challenges to its legitimacy. Nevertheless, the overlapping range of ecological, social, financial, and health crises indicate that, one way or another, coming years and decades will see growing pressure on the global capitalist system and the emergence of new political and economic forms and imaginaries. As crises intensify, a rupture of some form lies ahead, with overlapping ecological, technological, and social realties destined to disrupt (are already disrupting) the status quo. The pandemic is just one more nail in the coffin of late-stage capitalism. The human challenge is to ensure that the post-capitalist era emerges as far as possible through design rather than disaster, acknowledging all the while that self-determination is a luxury not available to everyone, particularly those facing the violence of and on capitalism’s new frontiers.
    • This book – indeed, all my work – situates itself beyond capitalist realism. I reject capitalist realism as unrealistic, as an artefact of false consciousness; as false consciousness itself, blind to its ecocidal nature. Technology cannot save necro-capitalism from its cannibalistic nature nor will the so-called ‘trickle down’ effect resolve the deep injustices of its colonial and patriarchal past and present. And no Green New Deal will contribute much to a ‘just transition’ if it remains hooked onto an extractivist economics of growth which a finite planet evidently cannot bear.
    • Thinking and acting ‘beyond capitalism’ is not easy in a one-dimensional world that is increasingly homogenised, commodified, and standardised. Yet, breaking through the cracks of capitalism to think otherwise and be otherwise is more essential now than ever. In the words of Herman Hesse: ‘Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious people treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born’ (Hesse, 1980).”
  • The Concept of the Ruliad
    • by Stephen Wolfram
    • Quote: “In thinking about finding a fundamental theory of physics, one thing always bothered me. Imagine we successfully identify a rule that describes everything about our universe. Then the obvious next question will be: “Why this rule, and not another?” Well, how about if actually the universe in effect just runs every possible rule? What would this mean? It means that in a sense the “full story” of the universe is just the ruliad.
    • But the ruliad contains everything that is computationally possible. So why then do we have the perception that the universe has specific laws, and that definite things happen in it?
    • It all has to do with the fact that we are bounded observersembedded within the ruliad. We never get to see the full ruliad; we just sample tiny parts of it, parsing them according to our particular methods of perception and analysis. And the crucial point is that for coherent observers like us, there are certain robust features that we will inevitably see in the ruliad. And these features turn out to include fundamental laws of our physics, in particular general relativity and quantum mechanics.
    • One can imagine an observer very different from us (say some kind of alien intelligence) who would sample different aspects of the ruliad, and deduce different laws. But one of the surprising core discoveries of our Physics Project is that even an observer with quite basic features like us will experience laws of physics that precisely correspond to ones we know.”
  • Being Glue
    • by Tanya Reilly
    • Quoting the talk abstract: “Your job title says “software engineer”, but you seem to spend most of your time in meetings. You’d like to have time to code, but nobody else is onboarding the junior engineers, updating the roadmap, talking to the users, noticing the things that got dropped, asking questions on design documents, and making sure that everyone’s going roughly in the same direction. If you stop doing those things, the team won’t be as successful. But now someone’s suggesting that you might be happier in a less technical role. If this describes you, congratulations: you’re the glue. If it’s not, have you thought about who is filling this role on your team?
    • Quote A: “I want to be clear that I’m not saying 100% of your work needs to be promotable work. It’s good to build auxiliary skills and expand your horizons, and it’s important for everyone to do their fair share of taking out the garbage. But a large percentage of your work should be the thing you’re evaluated on. If someone’s doing very little of their core job, they are hurting their career. If you’re their manager and letting them do that, you are letting them hurt their career.”
    • Quote B: “Kripa Krishnan, the legendary director of cloud product operations at Google once said that while she’d experienced some industry prejudice for being female and some for having an accent, it was nothing compared to the prejudice she experienced for being a TPM. … Project managers and TPMs are routinely underestimated by engineers.”
    • Quote C: “If you’re a senior person, please, show the junior people in your organisation that you’re learning and how you’re doing it. Be public about what you’re learning.
    • Some of us have the amazing privilege of having free time to learn. Others have obligations that mean they have literally zero free time.
    • So make it clear that it’s okay — and normal — to learn at work, during work hours.
    • Turning your mid-level people into senior people is a good investment. Never waste an opportunity to have people learn things.”
    • More on org/team function and effectiveness…
    • From Amp it Up!: “In the world of software, we often sit around tables talking about what we need in the product, and when we could expect to see it. Development teams tend to come back with unacceptable time frames because they are doing things linearly, and are not thinking with enough urgency. But with pressure applied, somebody all of a sudden figures out how to do things differently, and get things dramatically sooner. Pressure changes things.”
    • From When Autonomy Helps Team Performance — and When It Doesn’t: “…the question to ask is not whether you should give teams autonomy, but what kind of autonomy you should give them. Autonomy is neither all-good nor all-bad. In our research, we explored how a more nuanced understanding of autonomy along the dimensions of team composition and idea generation could boost performance. And these are just two — there are likely many other types of autonomy that managers could consider. While full autonomy seldom pays off, managers can experiment to gain clarity around which kinds of decisions benefit from more guidance, and which are better left to employees’ discretion.”
    • From Remote Work Specializes: “Progress here will require us to overcome many obstacles. Many decades ago, remote work was limited mostly by insufficient bandwidth and latency, but these limits are receding. Limits are now more about coordination and innovation. We must find new ways to achieve subtle social job tasks that previously relied on close and flexible physical contact, and we must reorganize which tasks go into which jobs so as to create more remote jobs that only rarely need close physical contact. But pandemic distancing policies are pushing us to work much harder to achieve these changes.”
  • Authenticity
    • by The Hedgehog Review
    • A magazine issue that explores “…the evolution, uses, and effects of the distinctly modern cultural ideal of authenticity.” I read a selection.
    • From The Fake Book of Negroes: “Are we then to understand Joseph as a collaborator—a betrayer of his authentic identity as a Jew—or as a protean trickster who turns the reality of his oppressors to his own, and his own people’s, purposes? Murray takes the latter view, asserting that Joseph’s authenticity derives from his capacity for self-invention, self-definition. Simply defining oneself as the opposite of one’s oppressor, a common tactic among the oppressed, does not liberate a person from the oppressor’s definitions but more deeply ensnares him in them. Indeed, Murray insists that authenticity is achieved by taking what you choose from your oppressor and making it part of who you are. There are two lessons here: First, Murray, like his good friend Ralph Ellison in Invisible Man (1952), is strongly skeptical of the figure of the charismatic race liberator. Second, he believes blacks have to stop thinking of themselves as damaged goods in need of repair. They are a new people.”
    • From The House Always Wins: “In fact, virtuality is already widely deployed as an instrument of political control. News reports from the past few years inform us that the Federal Bureau of Investigation now routinely entices lonely, discontented young Muslim men into joining terror plots. Text and phone transcripts introduced as evidence in their trials often show undercover agents positively cajoling reluctant targets into accepting the literary role of violent extremist. And as the public’s anxieties evolve, the FBI cinematic universe expands. The far-right group that plotted to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 included at least three federal informants, the most enthusiastic of whom provided his comrades with military-style training, paid for their car rentals and hotel rooms, and persuaded them to include a fellow militant whom several of them found disturbingly extreme. In short, the surveillance state does not merely collect data; it constructs villains for its own narrative, scapegoats who serve multidecade prison sentences to prove the Bureau’s indispensability to our national security.
    • Nor has the controlling power of virtuality been overlooked by more unabashedly authoritarian governments. As part of Beijing’s effort to assimilate Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the government has largely demolished the Old City of Kashgar, which had been the finest example of traditional Central Asian mud-brick architecture in existence. In its place, the Chinese government has constructed a tourist-trap version of the Old City: Holy sites are recast as historical curiosities, and Han entrepreneurs are converting abandoned mosques into tea shops and bars. The image of Uyghur culture and religion remains, but the existential seriousness that motivated the construction of those beautiful and sacred places is gone.”
    • From Self-Care: “In the novel, as in most writing about the term, there’s a nod toward self-care’s origins in the work of activist Audre Lorde, who wrote, in her essay collection A Burst of Light, that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Stein’s book did not include, though it easily could have, the subsequent complications of that particular quotation—namely, that it comes at the end of a grueling diary of Lorde’s experiences with breast cancer, which would eventually take her life.
    • In Lorde’s diary, the details of caring-for-self are not as clear as the motivating force behind it: laying claim to the life you have. Dying from cancer is outside her control, but living despite it is not. “How do I want to live the rest of my life,” a 1985 entry opens, “and what am I going to do to ensure that I get to do it exactly or as close as possible to how I want that living to be? I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do.” Questions of how to make the most of your life become pointed when mortality is no longer an abstraction.”
    • And one more from the same: “If self-care is a revealing cliché of the times, it may be about the amount of chatter that can be generated around questions of human need. However theorized or commodified, what people need for good lives is ultimately stubborn and simple: food, shelter, friends, and the give-and-take of freedom and structure. (There are other things that can help—health, for instance—but people manage good lives without them.) These can be withheld, twisted, and sold back. But while the Instagram ad promising the secret to a well-managed life isn’t going to help you, neither is an account, however true, of why the world you live in is stacked against you. You’re still stuck with the world you fall asleep and wake up in.”
  • On Perfect Technique
    • by Derek Miles
    • Quote: “At all time points in the current study, coach pressure to be perfect influenced perfectionistic concerns. Coaches and clinicians should not expect their clients to be perfect when they move and realize that in many instances, the definition of perfection is arbitrary to the coach. There needs to be a push towards advocating that people in general need to be more active. There is some figure of authority advocating that just about every movement needs to be perfect before an athlete can progress. Narratives such as squatting is bad for your knees, lifting with a rounded back will destroy your back, or running will “wear out” your knees need to stop.
    • None of us are perfect on every rep, nor should we ever expect that to happen. We should continue to work towards an ideal, but it is likely never achievable. Basketball players will always miss shots, football players will miss tackles, golfers will miss putts, and knees will occasionally go into valgus when we squat. If the expectation is in place that those shots should not be missed and all putts should be made, the sport ceases to be enjoyable. This is the first phase of burnout.”

The Magnificent Seven #75: 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design – 26/12/21

  • 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design
    • by Terrapin Bright Green
    • A detailed report by a sustainability consulting form that lays out the cultural and historical precedents, contributing factors and a conceptual toolset for biophilic design—design that “increase[s] occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions.”
    • Quote: “For added clarity, we are making the distinction that, in the context of health and well-being in the built environment, most nature in modern society is designed, whether deliberately (for function or aesthetic), haphazardly (for navigability or access to resources) or passively (through neglect or hands-off preservation); thus, we refer back to humankind’s proclivity for savanna landscapes. Humans create savanna analogues all the time. As designed ecosystems, some, such as the high canopy forests with floral undergrowth maintained by the annual burning practices of the Ojibwe people of North America, are biodiverse, vibrant and ecologically healthy. Others, such as suburban lawns and golf courses, are chemical dependent monocultures; while beautiful, they are not biodiverse, ecologically healthy or resilient.”
    • I expect to return to the fourteen patterns detailed here, perhaps as part of a technical learning project/exploration—”biophilic computing/human-computer interaction”?—or as I continue to consider my work-from-home environment.
    • There’s also a range of other reports available from the same firm that cover diverse topics like wood, awe, acoustics and fractals.
  • The Insane Engineering of the 787
    • by Real Engineering
    • This was a great, noob-level introduction to some of the engineering behind the airframe engineering of the 787. The follow-on is about the GEnx engine that accompanied the 787 and it is equally good.
  • Ebooks Are an Abomination
    • by Ian Bogost
    • Quote: “Fleishman and I took a swing at defining bookiness anyway. A book, we decided, is probably composed of bound pages, rather than loose ones. Those pages are probably made from paper, or leaves akin to paper. These pages are likely numerous, and the collection of pages is coherent, forming a totality. The order of that totality matters, but also the form of bound pages allows a reader random access to any page, via flipping and fanning. Books have spreads, made of a left (verso) and right (recto) side. You can look at both at once, and an open book has the topology of a valley, creating a space that you can go inside and be surrounded by, literally and figuratively. Some books are very large, but the ordinary sort is portable and probably handheld. That held object probably has a cover made of a different material from the leaves that compose its pages. A stapled report probably isn’t a book; a coil-bound one with plastic covers might be. A greeting card is probably not a book; neither is the staple-bound manual that came with your air fryer. Are magazines and brochures books? They might be, if we didn’t have special terms for the kind of books they are.”
  • Balaji Srinivasan — Centralized China vs Decentralized World, The DeFi Matrix, Ascending vs Descending Trends, Bitcoin Mining as Energy Storage, Reputational Civil War, and Maximalism vs. Optimalism (#547)
    • by Tim Ferriss, Balaji Srinivasan
    • This five hour episode confirms the substance behind Balaji’s reputation as someone with an incredibly high ideas:minute ratio. It raised a lot of questions about a lot of things yet also affirmed—especially when the discussion went to geopolitics—that there’s a definite risk associated with a high-horsepower mind. The show notes for the linked episode include a ton of material that I will dig into at a later date. 
    • As a follow-up to the discussion around decentralisation, crypto and other Web3 bits, I read Venkatesh Rao’s Magic Beans post. 
    • Quote A: “How about a donut? Dumb enough for you?
    • You have a donut. You’re the only one who can eat it. Congrats. Did you get 100% of the value?
    • Do you have the donut recipe? Can you reverse-engineer it? Can you run a chain restaurant selling those donuts? Can you build a business empire to compete with Dunkin’ Donuts based on currently possessing a single sample of their donuts? Can you put up a storefront with the Dunkin’ Donuts logo on it? Negotiate with flour and sugar suppliers with the bargaining clout of Dunkin’?
    • Possession is 9/10ths of the value of a thing only in extraordinarily rare situations involving extraordinarily dumb objects. Even unique art objects don’t really obey this principle.
    • Do you really think 9/10ths of the value associated with the Mona Lisa accrues to the Louvre? I can put a photograph of it in an article, write a book discussing it, even make a movie about it, without paying the Louvre anything. The Louvre has the right to hold the original physically, but every other meaningful right is in the public domain. Not only are these other rights collectively far more valuable, physical possession only has value by way of derivation from these other rights. Obscure paintings nobody else cares about are generally not worth possessing. That’s why there is no market for crayon drawings by kids stolen from refrigerator doors.
    • Another example. Let’s say you download a DRM-free bootleg copy of Asimov’s Foundation. Yay, you saved yourself a few bucks and put one over those evil copyright owners who want you to pay money for bits.”
    • Quote B: “An NFT is something like a combination of a title or deed and a key. It doesn’t just represent your right to a digital object, but materially and socially operationalizes control of it across all sorts of undefined and arbitrary potential social contexts. It secures a place for you in a future possible world. And the earlier you see the possibilities, the cheaper it is to buy in.
    • Most worlds will fail to actually emerge of course. Most startups fail. Most new restaurants fail. Most novels fail.
    • Most NFTs will turn out to be worthless.
    • But some small fraction of the time, NFTs will serve as seeds for entire universes of possibility. The risk of the NFT game, like the risk of the VC game, is not that you’ll lose money on the duds, but that you’ll miss out on the non-duds.”
  • The smart move: we learn more by trusting than by not trusting
    • by Hugo Mercia
    • Quote: “When you trust someone, you end up figuring out whether your trust was justified or not. An acquaintance asks if he can crash at your place for a few days. If you accept, you will find out whether or not he’s a good guest. A colleague advises you to adopt a new software application. If you follow her advice, you will find out whether the new software works better than the one you were used to.
    • By contrast, when you don’t trust someone, more often than not you never find out whether you should have trusted them. If you don’t invite your acquaintance over, you won’t know whether he would have made a good guest or not. If you don’t follow your colleague’s advice, you won’t know if the new software application is in fact superior, and thus whether your colleague gives good advice in this domain.
    • This informational asymmetry means that we learn more by trusting than by not trusting. Moreover, when we trust, we learn not only about specific individuals, we learn more generally about the type of situations in which we should or shouldn’t trust. We get better at trusting.”
  • Breaking the Chains of Command
    • by David Broder
    • Quote: “Has the fight to rein in militarism been lost? Certainly, the people are no longer “within the army” in the sense that Radek meant, and military technology is controlled by ever fewer people.
    • Yet what remains relevant in the Marxist tradition is the idea that pacifism alone is not enough to confront military power, and that allies are also to be found within the ranks. Whether through whistleblowing, soldier revolt, or the spotlight of scrutiny from the outside, it is possible to undermine officers’ claims to be the unchallenged experts on military affairs and give voice to the discontent that rages even within a supposedly monolithic, patriotic institution. This is, decisively, a matter of undermining the veneer of “expertise” that covers the drive to war — blowing the lid on the private interests and the intrigue used to justify all manner of “humanitarian interventions,” “police actions,” and “security measures.” But it’s also about combatting the broader principle of top-down control — the widespread conviction that some people are here to give orders and everyone else to obediently execute commands. Now, as ever, the effort to subvert the military command isn’t just about war and foreign policy: it’s about getting rid of the generals in our heads.”
  • Indigenous to Life — Coming Home to Place
    • by Daniel Christian Wahl
    • Quote: “We are facing the real and present danger of an immature end of our species as part of the current mass extinction event. Will we step into mature membership in the community of life and become a regenerative rather than degenerative presence on Earth in time to manifest a different future?
    • To co-create a regenerative future based on diverse regenerative cultures as elegant expressions of the bio-cultural uniqueness of the places they inhabit we require changes in doingbeing and thinking. We need a new and very ancient worldview. Our organising ideas and culturally dominant narratives have cut the process of life into individuals and species. This way of seeing has predisposed us to focus on competition, scarcity, and mortality.
    • Today, we can draw on both ancient indigenous wisdom and cutting edge science to understand life as a syntropic force in the universe — creating conditions conducive to life through collaborative abundance. Life is a planetary process! As Gregory Bateson put it in his 1970 essay ‘On form, substance and difference’: “the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself. The unit of survival is a flexible organism-in-its-environment.””

The Magnificent Seven #74: What do executives do, anyway? – 19/12/21

  • What do executives do, anyway?
    • by Avery Pennarun
    • Quote A: “…the job of an executive is: to define and enforce culture and values for their whole organization, and to ratify good decisions.
    • That’s all.
    • Not to decide. Not to break ties. Not to set strategy. Not to be the expert on every, or any topic. Just to sit in the room while the right people make good decisions in alignment with their values. And if they do, to endorse it. And if they don’t, to send them back to try again.
    • There’s even an algorithm for this.
    • It seems too easy to be real. For any disagreement, identify the lead person on each side. Then, identify the lowest executive in the corporate hierarchy that both leads report into (in the extreme case, this is the CEO). Set up a meeting between the three of them. At the meeting, the two leads will present the one, correct decision that they have agreed upon. The executive will sit there, listen, and ratify it.
    • But… wait. If the decision is already made before the meeting, why do we need the meeting? Because the right decision might not happen without the existence of that meeting. The executive gives formal weight to a major decision. The executive holds the two disagreeing leads responsible: they must figure out not what’s best for them, but what’s best for the company. They can’t pull rank. They can’t cheat. They have to present their answer to a person who cares about both of their groups equally. And they want to look good, because that person is their boss! This puts a lot of pressure on people to do the right thing.”
    • Quote B: “By the way, useful organizational values come in the form of tradeoffs: giving up one nice thing in order to get some other nice thing. Wishy-washy values like “respect your co-workers” aren’t really values, because nobody would ever pick a value like “don’t respect your co-workers.” Respecting your co-workers is just basic civility. By the time you have to write it down, you’ve already lost. Put it in your HR policy somewhere, not the top line.
    • A real value is something like “tell the truth, even when it hurts.” Or “deliver the software on schedule, even if there are bugs.” In both cases, one can legitimately imagine valuing the opposite.”
  • Joanne Cohn and the email list that led to arXiv
    • by Toni Feder
    • Quote: “Many people were eager for leaders in the field, such as Witten, to see their work. As a result, the leaders were up-to-date on developments. By sharing preprints, people who were younger, less well-connected, lower on the totem pole, at less prestigious institutions, or in other countries got access more quickly than they otherwise would have. The rapid sharing was democratizing. I was motivated by a sense of community responsibility. And I was inspired in part by seeing this ethic in many of the people I worked with, especially senior colleagues.
    • Obviously, we were all busy calculating stuff too. Working in string theory was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. It was like a freight train was barreling through, and as a researcher you were just trying to stay on the train. You didn’t want to wait months for a paper to arrive in your department seminar room, or longer for it to be published. The atmosphere in string theory was both close-knit and competitive.
    • There was this hunger, this interest in finding out what was going on and being able to use it and build on it. I knew what was going on down the hall, and I wanted to know what people were doing in other places. I would read every single paper before posting it. Being quick was important, and priority—establishing who was first—was important: Insights were easy to understand but terribly difficult to come up with.”
  • Inside the Reddit community calling for the abolition of work
    • by Emma Pirnay
    • Quote A: “Our borderline religious belief in work (known as “workism”) as a source of identity and community operates under a myth of progress – that work can improve the world and our personal lives. Yet work continues to be poorly distributed, wage theft is rampant, debt is normalised and working conditions are increasingly precarious – especially in the context of the Covid crisis. Put simply by Andy Beckett: “Work is not working”. 
    • So, what if the issue with work was work itself? The r/antiwork subreddit is one of the largest online communities attempting to tackle this question, with a following of 235,000 members (or “idlers” as they’re affectionately known in the group – a wink to the term’s Protestant origins). Under the header “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”, the community, according to its bio, offers room for “those who want to end work, are curious about ending work, want to get the most out of a work-free life, want more information on anti-work ideas and want personal help with their own jobs/work-related struggles”.”
    • Quote B: “The group’s header sadly reflects the hidden costs of unemployment. The threat of denying work, which means scrapping benefits prioritised for workers, is severe. Left with fewer options, unemployed people often have to choose between their personal safety and income. It’s a double-bind that members in the anti-work subreddit are aware of. “I don’t believe our only options in life should be to be born into wealth, to work all the time or to die of starvation or exposure,” one member of the subreddit tells me. In this context, George Monbiot’s definition of progress as the “speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life” is accurate in describing our own self-destructive employment system.”
    • This pairs well with this nosilverv tweet: “”bourgeois comfort breeds revolutionary thoughts” -> it is not a bug but a FEATURE (for the state) that your life sucks! lack of resources and free time / barely getting by -> no (actually) revolutionary politics!”
    • For more on this, check out the anti-work library.
  • Three takes on Web3
    • by Dave Peck, Stephen Diehl and Venkatesh Rao
    • From Dave Peck’s An Engineer’s Hype-Free Observations on Web3 (and its Possibilities): “Ultimately, a healthy economy needs productive ends. It remains to be seen whether crypto, with all its capabilities and limitations, has productive ends. Luckily, the ecosystem is awash in capital and has a culture of rapid experimentation; it may well uncover a pot of gold.
    • If anything, crypto’s productive ends will have to be found in the tokens it creates: it’s the digital assets themselves that must be the underlying source of value.
    • As mentioned above, the design space for tokens is vast and largely unexplored as of today. The space covers how tokens intersect with access, ownership, and intellectual property rights. It includes how tokens align incentives between disparate parties. It spans the decentralized reinvention of, seemingly, all of modern finance.”
    • From Stephen Diehl’s The Handwavy Technobabble Nothingburger: “A stablecoin bank would be subject to exactly the same FinCEN and OFAC money movement restrictions and compliance checks as banks; so know your customer gating, counter-terrorism financing, sanctions enforcement, and anti-money laundering enforcement. And these compliance requirements are the almost always the bottleneck consumers may encounter when doing cross-border transactions, and it’s not a technology issue. Nothing about stablecoins is either necessary nor desirable, and any alleged improvement these systems may offer at the moment are purely illusory and derived only from the unstable situation that they temporarily inhabit a yet-unregulated shadow banking system that is either non-compliant or entirely scofflawing. A regulated stablecoin bank is just a bank, but with a core ledger built on a terribly inefficient and bizarre piece of software not built for that purpose. All this while guzzling entire nation states worth of energy for no reason. Using inefficient blockchain as core banking software makes old legacy core banking solutions like Jack Henry look like a Ferrari by comparison. Our European allies all built extremely reliable real time payments like SEPA that work marvelously and they didn’t need any stablecoins.
    • Yet all of these technical arguments circle around a deeper truth: a technology which is purpose built to circumvent and arbitrage the regulatory perimeter cannot be brought within the perimeter without destroying its core claim to value or irreparably crippling it. Until proven otherwise it seems like the goal of the crypto ecosystem is to build an enormous unregulated casino with a crazy party scene. Along with a large lobbying arm to keep the musical chairs party going long enough with the hope of a government bailout through empty appeals to “American innovation” when the pyramid inevitably collapses.”
    • From Venkatesh Rao’s “ongoing slow journey (emigration? perhaps…) to Web3”: “Tentative radical conclusion: Web3 actually solves the culture war (Crowd2 vs Crowd2 internet of beefs, institutions and experts are peripheral). People critical/hostile to it are likely those with a big stake in Crowd2 collective action/solidarity models.
    • This is why, despite cosmetic suitability, Web3 models have *not* been eagerly adopted by Crowd2s. A TrumpDAO won’t work. A WokeDAO won’t work. Web3 requires you to exercise too much individual autonomous agency. Yes tech adoption difficulty is a factor but it’s not *that* hard.
    • So next time someone asks you :
    • “What problem does Web3 solve?”
    • Reply, “It solves the culture war. You DO want that to stop, right?”
    • But don’t argue about it like you have to agree, and don’t say “agree to disagree.” If you get into a derpfest, disengage with “I guess we’ll let our tokens do the talking”
    • Web3 makes direct democracy scalable beyond Dunbar levels (150) and delays the need for political parties”.
  • The Radical Promise of Human History
    • by Emily Kern
    • A brief review of the late David Graeber’s and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything. Quote: “In their examination of “the protean possibilities of human politics,” Graeber and Wengrow follow the human story from the end of the Ice Age to the eighteenth century, from Africa and Eurasia to Oceania and the Americas. This is a vast temporal and geographical canvas, and the authors are quick to admit that most of this history is essentially unknowable. And yet, over the course of the past two centuries, practitioners of what we would now call archaeology and anthropology have gathered evidence of an astonishing range of human political and social practices. Much of this evidence, Graeber and Wengrow contend, contradicts both the received wisdom of the nineteenth and early twentieth century (that there is a set teleological path from hunting and gathering to agriculture to “civilization” and that traversing it was a positive evolutionary development) and more recent arguments—made, for example, by James C. Scott—that agriculture was often a mistake, but one that lots of societies got trapped in anyway.
    • What Graeber and Wengrow show, based on both recent and in some cases not-so-recent archaeological studies, is that human history is full of examples of wild experiments with different forms of social organization. There has never been a single path or a deterministic framework that conditioned how human history “ought” to go—nor has there seemingly ever been a social structure that didn’t ultimately, and sometimes rapidly, generate dissent and refusal. (If the reader takes one essential truth about humanity away from this book, it might be that we are, at heart, a species of Bartlebys, again and again declaring “I would prefer not to.”) Ritual and experimentation—or as the authors prefer to call it, “play”—have always played an enormous role in human affairs, whether in the invention of different kinds of political organization, in the creation of systems of food cultivation, or in the derivation of public, civic, and sometimes private property.”
    • The authors of the above text penned an article called Hiding in Plain Sight. Quote: “The history of democracy is caught, it seems, in a double bind. Both those who extoll its virtues in channeling the popular will and those who see in it a means of constraining that will are likely to agree we are talking about an exclusive product of “Western civilization.” Similarly, historians confronted by clear evidence of participatory decision-making in Africa, Oceania, Asia, or the Americas typically react by shrugging it off, ignoring it, or at best emphasizing that whatever was going on, there is some technical reason why it can’t really be considered democracy. (Such stringencies, of course, are never applied to fifth-century-bc Athens: a militaristic, slave-owning society founded on the systematic repression of women.)”
  • How Animals Discover and Use Medicines
    • by Dr. Mark Plotkin
    • Quote: “I was visiting the capital of Paramaribo, sitting on the terrace of a bar overlooking the muddy brown Suriname River that flows gently past the city. With me was Chris Healy, an American raised in Suriname, who is an expert on Maroon art and culture. We were speaking about people, plants, and animals of the forest when he told me an exceedingly peculiar tale about the tapir, the largest mammal of the Amazon rainforest. According to Chris, the Maroons claim that tapirs eat the stems of the nekoe plant, defecate into forest streams, and eat the fish that rise to the surface, stunned by compounds in the plants. In fact, nekoe (known elsewhere in Latin America as barbasco or timbo) contains chemicals known as rotenoids that interfere with fishes’ ability to intake oxygen, causing them to float to the surface if nekoe has been added to the water in which they swim. Local peoples (both Amerindians and Maroons) take advantage of this phenomenon by throwing crushed nekoe stems into the river and catching the fish that rise to the surface. This plant serves as the source of rotenone, which is used as a biodegradable pesticide by organic gardeners and was valued by American soldiers during the Second World War to kill mites that had infested their clothing.
    • Thinking that the Native Americans know more about forest and its creatures than the Maroons do, I queried several Amerindian colleagues about tapirs and nekoe, but they steadfastly denied any connection between the two. However, several Maroons that I interviewed told me that tapirs consume nekoe, defecate the remains in forest streams, and so on. Does this mean that the Maroons learned of the fish-stunning capabilities of nekoe by observing tapirs? Or is this merely something on the order of a fanciful tale concocted to teach youngsters about the value of the vine, much as Huffman suggests may have been the case with the mulengelele and the African crested porcupine?”
  • Metaphors and the Historiography of Encounter
    • by Luise Fast
    • Quote: “It strikes me as significant that the somewhat abstract plane of the auditory metaphor intersects with the empirical basis of my research. The silence in the archives surrounding my protagonists’ stories appears all the more conspicuous considering that it was their voices that made communication in the recorded encounters possible in the first place. The evidence of their acts of speaking is slim and often filtered through several stages of editing. But it exists, as if denouncing the common neglect of interpreters’ voices in the written record. Interpreters were important conduits for exploration, cultural transfer, and knowledge production, but also exploitation and colonial rule. It is impossible to imagine the history of encounter without them. Their stilling in the archive does not mean they are not present.”

The Magnificent Seven #73: Atomic Rocket – 12/12/21

  • Atomic Rocket
    • by Nyrath
    • A truly wide-ranging (and likely dated) resource for people looking to world-build around science fiction stories. Things covered: engines, mission logistics and stages, spaceship design and decks, crewing and gear, infrastructure, deep space, space nations, future cultures, technological development, and a dedicated section for aliens, MacGuffinite, handwavium—”It flat out violates laws of physics. We’re waving our hands and saying pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Examples: faster-than-light drivetime travelreactionless drives.”—and unobtainium—”We can’t build a physical example of it, but insofar as we can postulate that it can be built at all, the laws of physics say it would behave like thus and so. While Handwavium and Technobabble tell you what you CAN do, Unobtainium usually tells you what is NOT possible. Examples: gigawatt laser, antimatter weapons, ladderdown reactors.”
    • Related out-of-this-world things: a piece about the salience of orbital debris, Lex Fridman’s conversation with Neal Stephenson—in which Stephenson’s time with Blue Origin is discussed—and SpinLaunch (which I will leave you to watch a video of instead of attempting to describe).
  • The Distributed Empire of the War on Terror
    • by Madiha Tahir
    • Quote: “Global powers have repeatedly used the human rights abuses of other states, or the need to save brown women, or UN resolutions stating a “responsibility to protect” as pretext to invade less powerful nations. But, in restricting attention to the direct actions of the U.S. state, we fail to grasp the mechanics and manifold distributions of empire.
    • With the United States now shifting its strategy in Afghanistan from a direct military occupation with ground troops to an aerial drone bombardment conducted, it seems, in collaboration with the Afghan Taliban, it is critically urgent that we—we who dream of liberation—grapple with the complexity of imperial entanglements. What is happening with Afghanistan is less a withdrawal than a redistribution of imperial power. The United States is dispersing its war-making to collaborators and security assemblages that will help render empire difficult to track—a game that the United States has long played in Pakistan.”
    • I also read the related article, On U.S. Intelligence’s Wiki, Anxiety About Legal Challenges To Drone Strikes. Quote: “At the time of the Intellipedia entry, we know from previously published Snowden disclosures that U.S. intelligence had Assange on something it ominously called a “Manhunting Timeline” that involved pressuring allied governments to prosecute Assange for publishing secrets. While the Intellipedia entry doesn’t mention WikiLeaks, its placement of legal and political challenges to drone strikes on a continuum with warfare is of a piece with how U.S. intelligence can also view journalism on a continuum with espionage.”
  • Does cosmological evolution select for technology?
    • by Jeffrey Shainline
    • I read this after listening to Jeffrey Shainline‘s interview with Lex Fridman recently on a long drive. The conversation was enthralling. 
    • Quote A: “It has been proposed that advanced civilizations will intentionally produce such black holes in large numbers. Crane argued black holes will be used to serve the needs of the civilizations that create them, with production of offspring a by-product [46, 47]. Tegmark has further argued for the utility of black holes as an energy source [48]. When used for power, each source requires one singularity continuing to be fed over time. One singularity produces one offspring, so each power source would produce one daughter universe. This reason for manufacturing singularities does not maximize fecundity. The optimal approach requires intentional and efficient parceling of matter for transformation into singularities. Others have argued the explicit objective of black-hole creation will be to create progeny [27, 28, 30, 32, 33]. However, the motives may not become clear until far in the technological future. Understanding the motives or evolutionary pressures that lead to creation of offspring is not necessary to formulate and test the hypothesis that our universe has been tuned for the co-existence of stars, life, and technology.”
    • Quote B: “More generally, the mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties of metals in conjunction with semiconductors and insulators are unreasonably useful for creation of intricate devices capable of information processing. The functional properties of these three classes of materials are perfectly complimentary for realization of electrical circuitry. If one could make a wish beyond conductors, semiconductors, and insulators, it would be for a class of materials that carry electrical current with no dissipation in a quantum ground state of macroscopic coherence—a superconductor. We find ourselves in a universe curiously equipped with physics giving rise to a diversity of advanced computational functions based on materials with remarkably useful properties for information processing and perhaps advanced technological intelligence.”
  • The Last of the Marsh Arabs
    • by Leon McCarron
    • Quote: “The Mesopotamian marshes, named for the historic region defined by the Tigris and Euphrates and often thought to be the biblical Garden of Eden, lie on a vast, flat floodplain where the lower courses of the rivers come together to form an extensive inland delta. Historically, winter rains and snowmelt at the headwaters caused floods to the south, and the marshes would absorb this excess like a sponge, swelling outwards with seasonal growth and then shrinking in the lean summers by draining to the Persian Gulf. The inundations deposited silt from the mountains that fertilized the land, creating a diverse, lush ecosystem in an otherwise arid environment.
    • Early settlers worked this ground to grow crops and domesticate animals; eventually, around 6,000 years ago, agriculture led to urbanization. These early cities — Eridu, Uruk, Ur and others — relied heavily on the natural resources of the marshes and were strung along waterways and latticed with canals to give access to the plains, the Gulf and to one another. Farmers grew barley and wheat and cultivated orchards of date palms, under which prospered gardens of fruit and vegetables. People dug clay from the ground for pottery, and early forms of writing were developed to keep track of the burgeoning trade between cities. When UNESCO added the Iraqi marshes as a World Heritage Site in 2016, it was in recognition of the area as a cradle of civilization as much as for its biological diversity.”
  • Becoming a magician
    • by Autotranslucence
    • Quote A: “One of my heuristics for growth is to seek out the magicians, and find the magic. Often without noticing, your progress in aspects of life or all of it unconsciously becomes linear. You made a certain amount of money last year, so you aim to make some ‘reasonable’ proportion more this year. But you are largely using the same tools to get 2x as you used to get x, and so you end up with diminishing marginal returns as you wring the remaining juice out of the initial strategy. The ‘describe the version of you that seems impossible right now’ trick I described above is largely an attempt to bypass that part of my brain that dismisses the work of magicians as crazy and starts allowing it to make the necessary shifts required to become the kind of magician I am envisioning.”
    • Quote B: “You can tell for yourself whether a strategy you’re currently using seems to be a crutch or actually helping; often in areas when you are actually making progress you won’t be able to imagine a nonlinearly better version of yourself, only one who in fact followed the current strategy to its logical conclusion and is now about as great (at the thing the strategy is for) as you expected to be. This is fine. We don’t necessarily need to make nonlinear jumps in all aspects of our lives, particularly if (according to your values) making such a jump would require a sacrifice you don’t endorse. But for the things you care about most, or are causing you the most suffering, there is probably a nonlinear strategy that you will miss if you pay too close attention to the linear strategy you currently have or that people recommend. Sometimes, jumping ship and having no strategy for a while can be better, and allow you to clarify what you want, in the same way that being single for a while can allow you the space to look at who you are in a relationship and improve it.”
  • Prevention of Surgical Skill Decay
    • by [too many people to list here]
    • Quote: “To analyze skill decay, we must first examine the process by which knowledge and skills are acquired. The rate of skill acquisition depends on many factors; however, there is evidence that rates of learning tend to follow a logarithmic or exponential function, rather than a linear relationship between the time to perform a task and the number of practice attempts. There are typically three stages of skill development: a cognitive stage, associative stage, and an autonomous stage; it is during the autonomous stage that expertise is achieved. Research has shown that the major factors influencing skill decay and retention include the length of retention (nonuse) interval, degree of overlearning, task characteristics (e.g., closed loop versus open loop, physical versus cognitive), methods of testing for initial learning and retention, conditions of retrieval (recognition versus recall), instructional strategies or training methods, and individual differences in trainees.”
  • Anatomy Explorer
    • by Innerbody Research
    • An interactive resource that allows one to explore most anatomical systems, from the skeletal, muscular and cardiovascular to the integumentary, immune/lymphatic and urinary systems. The level of detail available is excellent.

The Magnificent Seven #72: When Does the Fightback Begin? – 05/12/21

  • When Does the Fightback Begin?
    • by Andreas Malm
    • Having recently read (and had my perceptions significantly shaken by) Malm’s How to Blow Up a Pipeline I went on to read a few critiques of it. This is a response from Malm itself, and one that is A) quite as potent as the book itself and B) particularly relevant given the recent COP26 shenanigans.
    • First quote: “The question is of what kind it should be. Robinson – here not the imaginative novelist, but the political commentator – approves of ‘sabotage, which would be destruction of property rather than human beings, sure. But violence against human beings? No.’ He would like it to be ‘targeted and asymmetrical and smart and effective’, rather than ‘spasms of angry violence that don’t actually accomplish very much.’
    • Precisely the same bleak hope – a position somewhere on the spectrum between disillusioned realism and desirous optimism – is what I entertain in How to Blow. But perhaps I should have framed the problem more like Robinson: the violence is coming, all but guaranteed like the hyper-lethal heatwaves, on the assumption that humans are not killed in the many millions without ever fighting back. The question for climate movements, including any coming children of Kali, is how to give that violence direction and lend it political purpose and impose on it some essential restraint. To that comes another question: when does the fightback begin? Do we have to wait for 20 million people to die? Or should we start sooner rather than later? Actual events from last year might provide some material for such considerations.”
    • Second quote: “One should wish for outbursts of climate rage to come early rather than late. For that to happen, the climate movement in the global North needs to learn two things: first, to strike when the iron is hot – not only on pre-scheduled Fridays or ‘action days’ or in conjunction with UN summits, but when disasters occur and the violence of fossil fuels can be visualised. Second, to articulate rage. The movement needs to stop being so timid. As Alice Swift points out, a ‘rigid approach to non-violence has dominated’, particularly under the auspices of the 2018-19 edition of XR, with an absolute taboo on confrontational tactics such as property destruction. This is now beginning to change. XR is apparently embarking on a campaign of smashing the windows of banks funding fossil fuel extraction. Advertised as an ‘escalation of tactics’, it redirects disruptive XR actions away from city life in general towards the sources of deadly accumulation: and it cannot but be welcomed. It might so far be performed by tiny bands of individuals, but ‘small groups can experiment with tactics that later serve as the basis for mass actions’. Once the taboo has been broken, a properly infuriated crowd forming around a bank building may know what to do.
    • A challenge flowing from this transgression is, of course, to uphold another taboo: that on taking someone’s life. Here again BLM offers lessons. The radical flanks of that movement were wise not to assassinate cops or send suicide bombers into police headquarters. While polls showed that a majority of Americans endorsed the storming of the third precinct, such forms of violence would have burnt away popular support in an instant. Explosive as the violence of the early BLM crowds had to be, it was subjected to collective self-discipline (the US, after all, has all the guns one could dream of). Plenty of other cases in history show that violence is not in fact ‘impossible to control’, in the sense that it spins automatically into bloody vendettas. It is a risky undertaking. And sometimes the values at stake justify taking the risks.”
  • Multiple blogs related to institutionalised corruption
    • From Johnson’s UK, Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Orbán’s Hungary: peas in a state-captured pod: “[state capture is] a type of systematic corruption where narrow interest groups take control of the institutions and processes that make public policy, buying influence not just to disregard the rules but also to rewrite the rules. 
    • That means that state capture has much deeper and longer-term consequences. If a group can change the rules, then it not only gains an advantage but also bakes that advantage in. State capture alters the rules by which we all live and any behaviour within the new rules is legal, not subject to challenge.
    • We tend to associate state capture with post-Soviet and post-colonial transitions. Think oligarchs in Russia and oil barons in Nigeria. But more recently, we’ve seen a new form of capture emerge in more mature democracies – and some worrying signs of it in the UK.”
    • From How corrupt is Britain?: “Professor Mark Knights, an expert on the history of corruption, reckons there are similarities between the “old corruption” of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, when government jobs were bought and sold, and what he terms the “new corruption” of the Johnson regime.
    • “There are signs that we could be slipping back into a Walpolean era where patronage, patrimony and partisanship prevail,” Knights said — namechecking the former Prime Minister Robert Walpole, seen as an architect of the old corruption.
    • No. 10 Downing Street rejects suggestions the Johnson administration is corrupt. “Since 2010, we have significantly increased transparency on the workings of government — from extensive transparency publications on contracts, spending and meetings, to a statutory register of consultant lobbyists,” a government spokesperson said.”
    • From Time to stop the rot: “But what happens if the people running the show aren’t good chaps?
    • What you get is what we have. Bullying of regulators. Stacking of boards. Challengesto the independence of the media. Criminalising civil protest. Restricting the right to vote. Attacking the independence of MPs. Challenging the judiciary, curtailing its powers and reversing its decisions. Abandoning the Convention on Human Rightsand Fundamental Freedoms. There are well-sourced rumours of political interference in operational policing decisions. And, let us not forget, we have a Prime Minister who unlawfully suspended Parliament.
    • All of this is before we start on the tidal wave of sleaze engulfing the Government: VIP lanes for the politically connected; vast payments to politically connected middle-men; procurement fraud going uninvestigated; failuresto declare conflicts of interest by MPs; and the misleading of Parliament by the Prime Minister.”
    • From The Five Great Enabler Nations: “It has been 22 years since the G8 committedto imposing AML rules on non-bank professional enablers, tasking the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) with updating its international standards accordingly, which it did in 2003. Since then, more than 94 percent of countries—including all member states of the European Union—have at least partially transposed the FATF’s recommendations on enablers into national laws, although compliance and enforcement tends to be weak. Advancing from widespread technical compliance to a truly ubiquitous and effective system of stopping professional enablers from secretly handling the harmful proceeds of corruption would require bold initiatives by five founding members of the FATF.”
    • From Philanthropy Is a Scam: “What appears to critics of philanthrocapitalists as a blind spot in their vision of the world (namely, their own implication in the social ills they seek to remedy) is, quite consciously, their point. While the more recent books attempt to cast philanthrocapitalism as a method of more efficiently serving the charitable sector or, less generously, of stimulating global economic prosperity in a way that also benefits laypeople, Bishop shows it for what it is: a new window dressing for the creation of extreme wealth and the expansion of corporate influence over politics and private life.”
  • The Universe and the University
    • by Jennifer A. Frey
    • Quote: “Universities, more than any other institution, shape our conception of what constitutes worthwhile knowledge. Therefore, if we want philosophy to thrive in the contemporary university, we will need to clearly articulate a very different vision of what a university is for, one that does not instrumentalize the life of the mind to pragmatic ends and that does not hold up expertise as the paradigmatic form of knowledge. The best philosophers were never experts or specialists, but broad and deep thinkers who strove for a unified knowledge of the whole of reality—at least to the extent that they saw this as possible. They did not seek this with an eye to improving the world, but from a deep and natural desire to understand. There was a time when such desires were not only recognized but respected and honored. We do not live in those times, and our universities are in some measure to blame for this.
    • My own vision of what a university should be is inspired by the Catholic tradition in which it originally came to be: a university is, in its essence, a community of scholars and students who seek the truth together as a common end for its own sake. This formulation is a rough gloss on the thirteenth-century model of the university. These were institutions in which different academic disciplines were structured in ways that made clear that they were ordered to a single common end of shared knowledge and understanding. These institutions reflected the belief in the unity of knowledge, and, as Alasdair MacIntyre argues in his book, God, Philosophy, Universities, this explains why universities were, from the beginning, sites of recurrent intellectual conflict between disciplines. Disagreement presupposes that agreement is both possible and that a genuine dialogue can take place about how to reach mutually agreed upon ends. But meaningful dialogue and debate between disciplines is by and large missing from the contemporary university—most professors have no idea what anyone outside of their own department is even up to. This is not a personal failure; the university is designed to all but ensure we remain enclosed in our academic silos.”
  • The Most Expensive Number in Engineering
    • by Surjan Singh
    • Quote: “The definition of the factor of safety is almost irrelevant. You can see why JE Gordon called it the “factor of ignorance”13 and the Department of Defense has renamed it to the “factor of uncertainty”.14
    • And the only way to reduce the factor of safety is to take on more risk. It’s no different than any other empirical knowledge. Your grandmother warns you not to eat some delicious-looking berries because her grandmother told her that her cousin died after eating the deliciousberries. You suspect that your great-grand-cousin died from something else and the berries were a coincidence. You have only have one option to confirm your suspicion — you can eat the berries. Either you learn that they are harmless or you die.
    • Any attempt to reduce the 1.5 factor would be a similar step into the risky unknown. In my reading, I found this to be the best summary of the situation:
    • “The 1.5 factor is rational because it is based on what were considered to be representative ratios of design to operating maneuver load factors experienced during the 1920s and 1930s (which have not appreciably changed today) and it is arbitrary because we still do not know the exact design, manufacturing, and operating intricacies and variations it protects against, or how to quantify them. Neither can the degree of in-flight safety provided by the 1.5 factor be quantified but its successful history cannot lightly be dismissed.”15
  • Into the Inferno
    • by Werner Herzog
    • I watched this a few weeks back and it’s been rattling around my brain ever since. It has some utterly mesmerising videography of lava flows, as well as some utterly bizarre portrayals of human relationships with an awe-inducing natural phenomena.
    • Not really related—Herzog’s nationality is the only tentative connection—but I read about Germany’s Love Affair With Crime Fiction, too. Quote: “As more and more Soziokrimis were published, German-speaking authors were able to capture a part of the crime fiction market and sell their work to radio, television, and film networks. With Germany concurrently experiencing its postwar economic miracle, ordinary Germans also had more disposable income to buy books and go to the movies. Perhaps the most famous series to emerge from this time is the publicly televised Tatort (“Crime Scene”), which has produced more than 1,000 episodes since 1970. 
    • Tatort is a phenomenon unto itself. Before the advent of private television and the internet, German city and village streets would empty around 8:15 p.m. on Sundays, as West Germans gathered in front of the TV to watch the show’s newest episode, which was broadcast immediately after the 8 p.m. news. Today, communal viewings among Tatortenthusiasts still abound. There’s even a German word for this sort of phenomenon: Straßenfeger, which literally translates to “street sweeper” but can also refer to a television show that is so beloved it sweeps—metaphorically—the streets clean of people, who are all in their homes watching.
    • But Tatort is more than reliable entertainment: The show’s emphasis on regionalism, in addition to its deeply analytic approach toward the political issues and societal structures undergirding crime, have rendered it some of the foremost commentary on modern German life. And where Tatort has gone, the genre of German crime fiction has followed. As Jochen Vogt, an academic and pioneer of German crime fiction scholarship, once wrote, “if you want to understand Germany, you have to watch Tatort.””
  • From Gibbons to Gymnasts
    • by Emma ET Pennock
    • The subtitle of the paper: “A Look at the Biomechanics and Neurophysiology of Brachiation in Gibbons and its Human Rediscovery”.
    • Quote A: “The model most useful in understanding the physics of brachiation is a regular pendulum. In this model, the pendulum swings from an initial height and is accelerated by gravity until it reaches its lowest point, where gravity works to decelerate it. Gravity will decelerate the pendulum when its maximum height is achieved and then accelerate it forward again. This model is most useful in understanding how brachiation is so energy efficient for the gibbon, especially considering that unlike terrestrial mammals that employ a bouncing spring-mass mechanism, gibbons do not posses long slender elastic tendons that can act as effective strain energy storage and recovery. This is particularly important to keep in mind since gibbons spend 50% of their day in “traveling behavior,” 80% of that traveling being done by brachiating. Both continuous contact brachiation and ricochetal can be executed passively without muscle power, making brachiation and the pendulum model mechanism the least strenuous method in terms of metabolic output (Bertram, 2004).”
    • Quote B: ““Brachiation ladders” have been built and used for treatment of children as young as infants who suffer from cerebral palsy, autism and brain injuries. Brachiation exercises the neomammalian brain along with the scapulohumeral muscles, including the deltoid, teres major, coracobrachialis, and the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff (“Brachiation”, 2013). The reason the brachiation ladders have become such a monumental development in the rehabilitation techniques for children with brain injury is because not only does it stimulate and challenge the child’s body physically, brachiation exercises each hemisphere of the brain independently as the child swings from left to right by alternating hands with each swing and collision (“Brachiation Kits for Cerebral Palsy”, 2013). This neurological stimulation creates and strengthens new synaptic connections that would either not have been made in the first place, or would have become weakened and died from lack of excitation. It is possible that through these brachiatory exercises, certain pathways in the brain that were damaged by injury or disease could be strengthened or even fixed.”
  • The Pseudofeminist Rise of Essential Oils Star Elena Brower
    • by Matthew Remski
    • A dive into a particular instance of the essential oils grift by a cult survivor and researcher.
    • Shot: “I found it odd that everyone was trying to sell little bottles of oil to each other. I couldn’t figure out how it was working. Of course, it wasn’t. I didn’t know much about MLMs at that point, but I think that even if I had, I would never have guessed that a robust business like this could be ensnared in something so daft. But that’s one of the things these companies do so well. The image management is so top-notch that it can goad even a well-organized and successful yoga studio into becoming a pump-and-dump essential oil clearing house.
    • The other thing I had no real idea of at the time was what it felt like on the inside of a Brower-type machine, where yoga, life coaching and MLM sales could lead to extremely toxic dynamics — hidden by a pseudofeminism that pretends to uplift women while actually spiritualizing the worst aspects of predatory capitalism.”
    • Chaser: “Brower didn’t create the charisma-based yoga industry she excelled in. She didn’t dream up Handel Coaching or distill doTERRA oils, and she may not to this day see anything wrong with these economies, especially if she feels her intentions are good. Brower applied her considerable aesthetic and performative skills to what she found, and made it all look better, feel better, sell bigger. And who wouldn’t want to do that with their skills?
    • And honestly: in a boundaryless, sleepless world of quickly-fragmenting relationships, a decline in institutional credibility, and an explosion of seemingly endless “alternative” possibilities, is it really that surprising that a confident person could come to believe that they had special insights into psychology and spirituality? Or that they could solve a stranger’s problems in six months? And what if some fateful wind roped them into monetizing that confidence? What would happen if no one ever said: “Hey, slow down” — until they got an Open Letter?”
    • The Cult Dynamics 101 post is worth a read, too.

The Magnificent Seven #71: The Other Cold War – 28/11/21

  • The Other Cold War
    • by Jennifer Wilson
    • Quote: “Under Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, the demands of industrialization meant that Soviet citizens, including children, were taught to view nature as an obstacle to building socialism, an obstacle that would, however, ultimately succumb to Soviet ingenuity and strength of character. In a children’s book, Commotion: A Winter Tale,the season was presented not as a wonderland ripe for sleigh-riding but rather as a scourge that closes schools and causes streetlights to go out. The enlightenment of the new Soviet subject was halted, both literally and figuratively, until the power grid was triumphantly restored by the local government.
    • So how did the Soviets conquer permafrost? They didn’t, thankfully. Rather, they learned—as the Sakha had—to work with it, not against it. Buildings produced heat, which melted the soil, causing heave, so Soviet engineers erected structures that maintained space between the earth and the ground floor so that any warmth generated would not affect the permafrost. To deal with the water bursts, they employed the permafrost: They froze earth on purpose, creating “frozen earth belts” to route potential overflows away from construction sites and other critical infrastructure. In essence, the Soviets decided to preserve permafrost instead of destroying it—to harness its might and intransigence. “Although Soviet propaganda described this learning process in dualistic terms as a struggle between humans and nature,” Chu observes, “from an outsider’s perspective it could also be seen as a process of learning to adapt.””
  • 136 : Craving Canon
    • by Jay Springett
    • Quote A: “People feel so strongly about what happens to characters in fiction worlds owned by gigantic mega corporations because they identity with them. But unlike humanity’s entire history of storytelling, characters that capture the collective imagination in 2020 are owned and controlled by corporate interests. Which means they have no _agency_ within the mythos. In a literal sense people who consume the stories have no ownership over them.”
    • Quote B: “The owner of a media franchise represents a single sovereign source of truth for that story world. And we know that if there is an entity that gets to claim ‘truth’ of a story world or reality, then it will be appealed to. Again we bring up ‘people of the book’ Christianity, The Bible, and its different relationships to the apocrypha and the gnostic gospels etc.
    • But the Idea that a single entity gets to say what stories are and aren’t True/Canon in a story world (aside from the church) is a relatively new one. 
    • This is not how stories have worked throughout the rest of human history.”
  • More LUX: light bars for SAD
    • by David Chapman
    • Quote: “Lux measure how much light you get. The sun at noon on a cloudless day in summer provides about 100,000 lux; an overcast day in winter is about 2,000 lux. SAD seems to be largely caused by getting less light in winter, so getting a decent fraction of 100,000 lux seems ideal
    • I say seems because research so far has not fully explained how seasonal depression works, nor how best to treat it. I summarized some of that research in a previous post on LED SAD lights. Bright light phototherapy is definitely proven to improve SAD symptoms, but some details are unclear—including how much light is optimal.
    • Most SAD light therapy research was done with 10,000 lux, because that was the brightest that was practical using fluorescent bulbs, which were the best lighting technology available at the time. There’s nothing magic about this number. My personal experience is that much more than 10,000 is better.1LED lamps can be much brighter than fluorescents, so you can get well over 10,000 lux.”
  • Law and Border
    • by Natasha Lennard
    • Quote: “In recent years, and for understandable reasons, much of what has counted as progressive discourse on migration has focused on the cruelty enacted by the Trump administration and in the name of Fortress Europe. Intolerable spectacles—like the image of two-year-old Alan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a Turkish beach, or that of Salvadoran father Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his twenty-three-month-old daughter Angie Valeria, lifeless and facedown in the Rio Grande shallows—have provoked calls for Western powers to be kinder and more generous to those seeking refuge. Yet these efforts have also counterposed “innocent” children and asylum seekers to criminalized so-called economic migrants. The system of global apartheid remains intact. When wealthy countries with ample resources choose genocidal policies of deterrence in the name of border “security,” the bar for migrant-justice struggle is set at a subterranean low. Calls to “abolish ICE”—an agency less than twenty years old with a legacy of extraordinary brutality—are considered radical.
    • Walia’s intervention is to demonstrate, systematically and across geographies, that there is no acceptable legitimation for border rule, unless your interest is in upholding global capital as the sovereign force determining life and livability on the planet. To show how border regimes function is to reveal that there is no good argument for them.”
  • Incident Review and Postmortem Best Practices
    • by Gergely Orosz
    • Quote: “‘A common myth is that distributing learnings from incidents is the biggest blocker on improving more. Many teams and people will believe that if only they find a better way to share incident learnings – like make them easier to search or email them out to a larger group – then this will solve the issue of the organization improving from them.
    • ‘However, this belief has been refuted by research many times. The key challenge is the author of a document cannot predict what will be novel or interesting for the reader. Whoever is writing the incident summary will not be able to tell what information will be well-known to the reader. The person writing the incident summary will also often not write down things they assume everyone else to know. However, many readers will not be familiar with them.
    • ‘Studies repeatedly show that experts have a hard time describing what makes them an expert. This applies to incidents; experienced engineers who mitigate incidents efficiently will have a hard time describing what it was that allowed them to act as swiftly as they did.
    • ‘Much of how we handle incidents is tacit knowledge, that which is not explicit. The question of “how do we build a better incident handling culture?” is not too different from “how do we help people become experts on a topic?”. And the answer needs to go beyond writing things down.”
  • How composer Kevin MacLeod became the king of royalty-free music
    • by Ellen Peirson-Hegger
    • Quote A: ““There aren’t very many people doing it the way that I’m doing it. If you’re a struggling composer, think about it. Think about moving. Think about embracing a different model, because I don’t think I’m that good. I think my distribution model is better than my skill level.”
    • He couldn’t, though, explain how such a distribution model might work for everyone financially. Many artists – particularly those lobbying the UK government to regulate music streaming – would strongly oppose working without payment. Few up-and-coming musicians have the luxury of being able to give their work away for free simply for exposure; next to none will have the financial cushioning that U2 did in 2014. So how has MacLeod been able to earn a living? “I don’t know how it works. I know that I’ve always ended up with enough money, but I don’t understand how society works. I don’t understand how I’m rewarded for this. I’m glad that I am. But it’s not about making money: it’s about making the best product and then figuring out that eventually people will give you money for it, I guess.”
    • MacLeod was working in computer programming when he first set up Incompetech.com and started earning ad revenue from a web tool that generates free PDFs of graph paper (which is still available, alongside his music). Someone wanting to live as a full-time, self-employed composer would, he said, “have to take it on as a second job for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe you’ll have to work two hours a day on it, until you can get the Patreon up to half your rent. And then, bam! You’ll be putting in more hours, certainly, but there is a path there. Just don’t stop people: don’t stop people from giving you money; don’t stop people from liking your stuff.” And is that really feasible for the average person? “I’ve seen it happen.” …
    • “But there is a big change coming,” he added. He predicts that the first song made by artificial intelligence (AI) will enter the charts within the next six years. “The output of AI is technically uncopyrightable, which means that going forward, if we get AI that’s doing better pop music, better background music, better everything music, the value of human composers is going to drop to zero, or marginally zero, and then maybe we’ll all forget about this whole copyright problem.””
  • Satellite and aerial surveillance for migration: a tech primer
    • by Privacy International
    • Quote: “Similarly, Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has reportedly used drones in the Mediterranean to both detect migrants vessel and harass search-and-rescue charity boats. The Guardian has found three contracts for these drones, totalling £95m. The drones used include the Hermes, made by Elbit Systems, and the Heron, produced by Israel Aerospace Industries. These drones have been reportedly deployed shortly after the end of EU’s main naval mission in the area, Operation Sophia, replacing boats obliged under international and EU law to assist vessels in distress with unmanned vehicles that are not obliged to be equipped with life-saving equipment. In 2020, the agency also awarded a €100m contractto Airbus and two Israeli arms firm to operate UAVs to spot refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea to Europe, according to EU contracts. A drone bought in result of this contract is reportedly deployed in Malta where Frontex will be operating it. No details have been disclosed about the technology it will carry but the tender mentioned at minimum “Thermal imager; daylight zoom camera; daylight spotter; giro –stabilized turret” a.k.a a stabilised cameras capable of seeing in day and night light, “Maritime Surveillance Radar” and optionally “Satellite phone location equipment; GSM phone location equipment;”.”

The Magnificent Seven #70: Don’t just watch – 21/11/21

  • Don’t just watch: How bystanders can safely intervene in a violent situation
    • by Marcelle Hutchins, Jill Ryan, Serena McMahon
    • A short radio segment. Quoting an adapted transcript, which begins with a horrifying sentence (“Police in Upper Darby Township outside of Philadelphia say a woman was raped on a train on Wednesday night while a carload of riders did nothing to intervene.”): “But videotaping often isn’t enough to stop an assault, she says, and responding physically can escalate the situation.
    • Be an engaged bystander by using disruption methods that don’t completely draw attention to yourself — like spilling a drink or dropping something, she says. Distracting the assaulter can give an opportunity for the victim to get away.
    • Put the old saying “see something, say something” into action, she says. If you feel you can’t act alone, Edrington suggests asking others around you to join in on verbally confronting the assaulter.
    • The purpose of a bystander is to stop what’s happening — not to become the hero, she says.
    • “We are trying to de-escalate, not escalate,” she says, “but we all know that not doing something is never the answer.””
    • A resource from the interviewee’s organisation: Engaging Bystanders to Prevent Sexual Violence Information Packet.
  • Multiple articles about digital security
    • by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Ax Sharma, Danielle Gilbert
    • From ‘Urgent Pizza’: The Untold Story of the Largest Hack in Twitch’s History: “The hack was so bad that Twitch essentially had to rebuild much of its code infrastructure because the company eventually decided to assume most of its servers were compromised. They figured it would be easier to just label them “dirty,” and slowly migrate them to new servers, according to three former employees who saw and worked with these servers.
    • Remnants of that hack still exist today, and can be found in Twitch source code stolen and dumped on the internet by hackers last week in another major data breach that exposed the revenues of streamers on the platform as well as internal source code. Twitch has changed significantly since 2014, but former employees say that the earlier hack had knock-on effects that can still be seen today.
    • Outside of the company, Twitch did not disclose details of the breach, nor its extent.”
    • From “Hacker X”—the American who built a pro-Trump fake news empire—unmasks himself: “Willis’ decision to reveal his identity now, he told me, is fueled by the continuing damage that he sees from fake news stories about COVID, especially those spreading anti-vaccination propaganda.
    • “The new war is to wake up those who have been manipulated, while actively taking out the fake news campaigns,” writes Willis in a blog post. “COVID has shown me the deadly side of fake news and anti-vaccination people. After multiple conversations with my father, who refuses to wear a mask or get vaccinated, I was getting very concerned. I asked him what sites he would read the conspiracy-based things on, and he mentioned the website that ran the network I had built the machine on.””
    • From Ransomware Lessons for a Nation Held Hostage: “Ransomware is the latest in a series of hostage-taking paradigm shifts fueled by new technology. For example, the growth of commercial air travel in the mid-20th century helped fuel a wave of airplane hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s. The rise of smartphones and portable internet technology in the early 2000s fueled a shift in hostage-taking from the public to the clandestine. The ability to produce and disseminate spectacularly violent hostage videos from a position of relative safety meant that perpetrators no longer had to negotiate their way out, or die trying.
    • Two new technological shifts make ransomware especially attractive for perpetrators, with no equivalent benefit accruing to the targets. First, cryptocurrencies make for safe and easy ransom payments. Before the advent of cryptocurrency, kidnappers collected ransom during a “drop”—when the target delivers the agreed-upon sum at the time and location of the kidnapper’s choosing. The drop is dangerous for kidnappers, because it may provide an opening for law enforcement to trace or capture the perpetrators. Traditional wire transfers also prove risky, as such transactions are easily traced. But paying ransoms in cryptocurrency solves both problems for perpetrators by eliminating the physical and informational risk to getting paid. Cryptocurrencies’ digital, unregulated and largely anonymous nature make them exceptionally useful for perpetrators.
    • Second, “malware-as-a-service” obviates the need for the skilled and specialized team at the heart of every hostage-taking. From Afghanistan to Ann Arbor, hostage-takers rarely act alone. One of the most consistent elements of hostage-taking plots is the role specialization among cells of 10-15 perpetrators, in which different actors are responsible for gathering intelligence on the target, executing the abduction, protecting the group and negotiating the hostage’s release. This dynamic changes dramatically with off-the-shelf ransomware and malware services widely available for purchase. In other words, pretty much anyone can commit a ransomware attack, regardless of whether they have the skills and knowledge about how to do so. The proliferation of malware-as-a-service has precluded the need to learn special skills before exercising them and invites lone wolves to wreak tremendous havoc.”
  • Why the Bezzle Matters to the Economy
    • by Michael Pettis
    • Quote: “Galbraith recognized, in other words, that there could be a temporary difference between the actual economic value of a portfolio of assets and its reported market value, especially during periods of irrational exuberance. When that happens, Galbraith pointed out, “there is a net increase in psychic wealth.” Why? Because the embezzler feels (and is) wealthier, while the original owners of the portfolio do not realize that they are less wealthy. Think, for instance, of the many investors duped out of their retirement savings by Ponzi schemes like that orchestrated by Bernie Madoff.
    • In such situations, because the collective perceived wealth of the conman and the assets’ original owners exceeds their collective real wealth, for a while the world appears to be a happier (and wealthier) place. As British economist John Kay later explained, “The joy of the bezzle is that two people—each ignorant of the other’s existence and role—can enjoy the same wealth.”
    • In this sense, the bezzle is created not just by Ponzi schemers, like Madoff, but also in the form of companies—like Enron, for example, or WorldCom—whose accounting frauds result in overvalued assets and excessively high stock valuations. Until the accounting frauds are uncovered, there is a collective increase in psychic wealth as the value of the bezzle rises.”
  • Everyone’s Place: Organizing, Gendered Labor, and Leadership
    • by William C. Anderson
    • Quote A: “Many of the men that traditionally held (and still hold) the highest positions in radical spaces would have us believe that capitalism is the institution that contains all of the problems we face. This isn’t the case. Many of our problems precede it and will follow its dissolution. The elder Guyanese revolutionary Eusi Kwayana once plainly stated it this way, “Exploitation of man by man does not disappear with capitalism, just as it did not start with capitalism.” Capitalism has to be destroyed, but so do the hierarchical arrangements that enable men to dominate others and dictate who is and isn’t most valuable in our movements. For too long we’ve seen capitalism exploit women in the workplace just for “revolutionary” men to exploit women and children’s unwaged labor at home and in our movement spaces. “The human body and not the steam engine, and not even the clock, was the first machine developed by capitalism,” writes Silvia Federici. Certain bodies are associated with particular forms of labor. So when we deemphasize the importance of historically gendered forms of labor (social reproduction, childcare, cooking, education), this replicates capitalist relations in what are supposed to be anti-capitalist spaces. We don’t have to keep repeating this dynamic in our practices of liberation.”
    • Quote B: “Revolution must involve playwrights like Lorraine Hansberry, secretaries like Ella Baker, teachers like Septima Poinsette Clark, grocery store workers like Gloria Richardson, farmers like Fannie Lou Hamer, sex workers like Marsha P. Johnson, and much more. Mothers, sons, undocumented immigrants, domestic workers, the poor, young, elders, and those who are houseless are all vital. People will use their skills to support the movement or contribute in their own ways. Not everyone will be an organizer, but the possibilities of what people can organize through their contributions extend limitlessly beyond the classification. Movements past have been filled with terrors that have been overlooked because of the glorification prearranged narratives offer. Unless we want to repeat their mistakes, we have to admit that all of our heroes weren’t completely heroic: and heroism and leadership as we know them may be part of the problem in the first place. We can find our place and our purpose whether we are educators, planners, writers, caretakers, cooks, janitors, farmers, dancers, or artists. Everyone is not meant to be one person’s vision of the world, they’re meant to be what they choose to be for their life. When we coalesce around the intention of putting our purposes and talents towards a common liberatory goal, that’s revolutionary organization.”
  • The haunting of Hilary Mantel
    • by Rachel Cooke
    • Quote: “We come back to the precarious, unnerving fact of it: that the past isn’t past. “The hard thing is to work out where you have choice, and to exercise those freedoms realistically and bravely,” she says. “Most of us don’t grasp this until midlife, nor that, sometimes, you have to pay a price for this. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, what freedom means in an individual life. It’s funny, because I seldom look back on my books, but I picked up the memoir two nights ago, and read a section. I don’t think I’d do it differently now, but I am conscious of what’s missing. My American publisher is keen for me to write about my teenage years, but I said, ‘I can’t, I’m not ready’. I was in my fifties when I wrote Giving up the Ghost, but I was not able then to come to terms with that [later] material enough to set it down coolly, and I don’t think I am yet. I am not sure I have enough distance.”
    • She is as still as marble. “My mother died four years ago. Yesterday was the anniversary of her funeral. She is a very potent presence. I’m very conscious of carrying her inside, along with my grandmother, and a whole set of women whose talents were stifled; of having to do it for them all. I think there might be more memoir, and when I’m feeling mentally strong, I will get back to my journals. But… I have a real struggle to forgive. People say that you ought, and I think, why? How can you ever forgive, if sorry was never said? Really, I’m speaking of my stepfather.””
  • Multiple articles
    • by Bret Contreras
    • There’s a lot here. I read an arbitrary selection.
    • From Degeneration? More Like Normal Aging: “degeneration is not abnormal – it’s a normal process of aging and it shouldn’t be thought of as a reason to stop moving and exercising. Every single one of us have degeneration, yet we still find ways to exercise. Strength & conditioning and sports medicine professionals must embrace this phenomenon and provide recommendations as to how individuals with varying signs of aged joints can continue being active, employ resistance training, and participate in sports in the most optimal manner possible. This requires consideration of total health & wellness, since sedentarism can lead to weight gain and obesity, metabolic syndrome, frailty and sarcopenia, and depression…”
    • From Can’t Turn This: “Lately I’ve been performing Pallof presses with a sumo-stance, which allows me to go heavier, and it’s not uncommon to hear my back cracking from the extraordinary muscle force. Many lifters fail to realize that the amount of external loading is not the main contributor to spinal loading. Muscular contractions create the bulk of spinal loading, and muscle force is highly influenced by lever lengths and acceleration in addition to mass.”
    • From Are Heavy Kettlebell Swings Better Than Deadlifts?: “…when someone shows up to train with me and they have proper kettlebell training experience, I’m ecstatic. If they can swing properly, it’s quite easy to teach them how to squat, deadlift, and hip thrust properly.
    • They already possess superior motor control in the LPHC characterized by proper hip hinging form and proper gluteal contraction at lockout. These qualities exemplify most of the more complex components of the big lower body lifts.”
    • From Hip Thrust Wiki Page: “Since the glute bridge is a very common exercise in physiotherapy, many people associate both the glute bridge and the hip thrust with rehabilitation rather than muscular development or sports performance. However, supine bridging exercises were regularly performed by old-time strongmen in preparation for their whole body feats of strength.”
  • Favourite Books of 2020
    • by Maria Popova
    • I wasn’t looking for a book to read, but I thought it’d be fun to read about some books. Yet, if I had to pick a couple from this list…
    • On Zadie Smith’s Intimations: “These intimations she lets us overhear are blazing evidence that every artist’s art is their coping mechanism, their floatation device for the slipstream of uncertainty we call life — evidence that a great artist makes of it a raft large enough to fit more of us, robust enough to carry us across the cascades of time and understanding.”
    • From Lulu Miller’s Why Fish Don’t Exist: “Chaos will crack them from the outside — with a falling branch, a speeding car, a bullet — or unravel them from the inside, with the mutiny of their very own cells. Chaos will rot your plants and kill your dog and rust your bike. It will decay your most precious memories, topple your favorite cities, wreck any sanctuary you can ever build.
    • It’s not if, it’s when. Chaos is the only sure thing in this world. The master that rules us all. My scientist father taught me early that there is no escaping the Second Law of Thermodynamics: entropy is only growing; it can never be diminished, no matter what we do.”
    • From Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life: “Everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.”
    • From Janna Levin’s Black Hole Survival Guide: “Shed the impression of the black hole as a dense crush of matter. Accept the black hole as a bare event horizon, a curved empty spacetime, a sparse vacuity… A glorious void, an empty venue, an extreme, spare stage, markedly austere but, yes, able to support big drama when the stage is occupied. Black holes are a place in space and they barricade their secrets.”
    • From Jane Hirshfield, the author of Ledger: “So few grains of happiness / measured against all the dark / and still the scales balance.”

The Magnificent Seven #69: Inventories, Not Identities – 14/11/21

  • Inventories, Not Identities
    • by Kei Kreutler
    • Quote: “Since the web has never been separate from “real life,” it is a primary site for identity formulation. In Being Your Selves: Identity R&D on alt Twitter, Aaron Z. Lewis explores how an ecology of pseudonymous Twitter accounts differentiate, integrate, and extend notions of self. This is also the case in massive, multiplayer online games, in which not only younger generations but millions of people come to relationally define themselves through such platforms, and this trend will only become more widespread as the $90 Billion gaming industry continues to grow. The identities created within these worlds, however, rarely resemble their legally recognized counterparts. Rather than an escape from self, alt identities “teach you that your legal identity is also a kind of mask — an ever-evolving ‘montage of loosely assembled parts’.””
    • Quote from the follow-up, A Prehistory of DAOs: “DAOs will not be the uniformly non-hierarchical networks some imagine. Instead, DAOs coordinate across different levels of coherence and trust. In Ownership in Cryptonetworks, Patrick Rawson argues that for DAOs, “distributing ownership to squadlike entities with more specialized objectives is the key long-term problem to solve” in order to enable meaningful work. These “squadlike entities” are smaller teams with trust relationships, perhaps not unlike the gaming guilds in the examples above, which execute on value aligned missions with DAOs. At a closer look, effective DAOs start behaving much more like networks of teams, like the MONDRAGON Corporation network with 100 affiliated cooperatives, rather than the loosely coordinated swarm intelligence that they might appear as from a distance. Inspired by Rawson’s analysis, we can roughly sketch three layers of a DAO… [tokens, teams, missions]”
  • Coordination Headwind: How Organisations Are Like Slime Molds
    • by Alex Komoroske
    • This was interesting. Replacing roofshots with moonshots is an instant upgrade. It also reminds that it’s actually remarkable that anything gets done in complex domains over long timescales.
  • Deliberately Developmental Spaces
    • by Rufus Pollock, Theo Cox
    • Quote: “Our relationship to the collective, and what this brings up in us as individuals, is both a significant challenge and one of the greatest stimulants to our inner growth. This is particularly true for the “interbeing” pillar, which we view as vital for any new social paradigm.
    • This collectivism also engages with the deeply social element of human nature, which causes our experience of the world to be bound up in the web of relationships and interactions we exist in. The more embedded in a given social context we are, the more likely this context is to impact our ways of being. This thread runs all the way from the cognitive science of human mimicry to the contagion of views and values outlined in some strands of social psychology. The implication of this is that, if we are to shift our ways of being, we must engage at the group, rather than the individual level.”
  • Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages
    • by Ada Palmer
    • “Authoritative” is an apt description for this piece.
    • Quote A: These were all gradual developments: banking, trade, centralization, the cultural produce of the Renaissance too (paintings, cathedrals, music, epics), these had all been gradually ramping up for centuries, changing the character of Europe decade by decade. Banking innovations started in the 1100s, insurance innovations in the 1300s, economic shifts before as well as after 1348, political shifts accumulated centuries, it’s all incremental. Thus, when I try to articulate the real difference between Renaissance and Medieval, I find myself thinking of the humorous story “Ever-So-Much-More-So” from Centerburg Tales (1951). A traveling peddler comes to town selling a powder called Ever-So-Much-More-So. If you sprinkle it on something, it enhances all its qualities good and bad. Sprinkle it on a comfy mattress and you get mattress paradise, but if it had a squeaky spring you’ll never sleep again for the noise. Sprinkle it on a radio and you’ll get better reception, but agonizing squeals when signal flares. Sprinkle it on the Middle Ages and you get the Renaissance. All key qualities were already there, good things as well as bad, poetry, art, currents of trade, thought, finance, law, and statecraft changing year by year, but add some Ever-So-Much-More-So and the intensity increases, birthing an era great and terrible. Many different changes reinforced each other, all in continuity with what came before, just higher magnitude, the fat end of a wedge of cheese, but it’s the same cheese on the thin end too. The line we draw—our slice across the cheese—we started drawing because people living in the Renaissance started to draw it, felt it was different, claimed it was different, and their claims reordered the way we think about history.”
    • Quote B: “Culture is a form of political competition—if war is politics by other means, culture is too, but lower risk. This too happened throughout the Middle Ages, but the Renaissance was ever-so-much-more-so in comparison, and whenever you get a combination of (A) increasing wealth and (B) increasing instability, that’s a recipe for (C) increasing art and innovation, not because people are at peace and have the leisure to do art, but because they’re desperate after three consecutive civil wars and hope they can avoid a fourth one if they can shore up the regime with a display of cultural grandeur. The fruits fill our museums and libraries, but they aren’t relics of an age of prosperous peace, they’re relics of a lived experience which was, as I said, terrible but great.”
    • Quote C: “Thanks to Burkhardt, the Renaissance came to be defined as the period after Medieval but before Enlightenment when something changed and pushed things toward modernity—the moment that the defining spirit of modernity appeared. From that point on, claiming you were the successor to the Renaissance didn’t just mean claiming a golden age like Rome, it let you also claim that modernity itself was somehow especially yours. If you could argue that the reason the Renaissance was great was that it did the thing you do, then you are the heart of modernity and progress, even of the future, while those who don’t celebrate that spirit are the enemies of progress. Thus every time someone proposed a new X-Factor, a different explanation for what made Renaissance different from Medieval, that made it possible to make new claims about the nature of modernity, and which nations or movements have it right. This model even lets one claim the future: the X-Factor was born in the Renaissance, grew in the Enlightenment and in modernity, and is the key to unlocking the next glorious age of human history as it unlocked both Renaissance and modern. This lets you advance teleological arguments about the inevitable triumph of [democracy, nationalism, atheism, capitalism, whatever]. It’s a version of history that’s not only legitimizing but comforting, since it lets you feel you know where history is headed, what will happen, who will win.”
    • Quote D: “I love space exploration. I’ve written novels about it, and a song that makes everyone cry, I make myself tear up thinking about it all the time, especially civilian spaceflight and the hope that this chapter of history might be advanced by curiosity, teamwork, and human hope, not war or competition. But after looking forward to it for so long, the recent SpaceX launch was the first I’ve watched in a long time without tearing up. Because watching a space ship launch while looters are smashing shops outside my window (and cops ignoring them in favor of harassing peaceful protestors & giving carte blanche to the gunwielding vigilante on the corner) feels a lot like Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa while cities around were literally burning (and rich merchants’ private goons guarding their wealth & allies as faction dictated). This year, this specific year, 2020, with the world shut down by plague, and civil strife, and fire in the streets, and teetering distrust in governments, this is the first time our present has reminded me of the Renaissance. But we aren’t the Renaissance—we have social science, and efficacious medicine, and the Enlightenment under our belts, when we learned we can analyze our laws and institutions, and step by step replace them with better ones. We aim for better.”
  • The Great Downsizing
    • by Charles Stross
    • I wish I could say otherwise, but what Stross describes in this tweet thread—which began as criticism of the Game B movement—seems legitimate and plausible.
    • Quote: “This is the first I’d heard of GameB, and it sounds like wishful thinking. Right now the power elites are aiming for GameC—the silent part only the neoreactionaries are saying out loud—a return to the values of monarchism/aristocracy, and a Great Downsizing of the peasantry.
    • The Great Downsizing is spearheaded by the 1488 morons—paleo-Nazis who think their skin colour will save them if they throw the “mud people” under the climate change bus. Mostly they don’t realize that they’re useful idiots, who will be composted in turn.
    • In case it’s not obvious, I think the goal of the kleptocracy is a post-climate-change sustainable population of 100-500M peasants supporting a thousand families of incalculably wealthy overlords—them—by 2100.
    • And from this starting point, it’s more likely to happen than PlanB.”
  • Why Sleep Deprivation Kills
    • by Veronique Greenwood
    • Quote: “Publishing today in the journal Cell, she and her colleagues offer evidence that when flies die of sleeplessness, lethal changes occur not in the brain but in the gut. The indigo labyrinths of the flies’ small intestines light up with fiery fuchsia in micrographs, betraying an ominous buildup of molecules that destroy DNA and cause cellular damage. The molecules appear soon after sleep deprivation starts, before any other warning signs; if the flies are allowed to sleep again, the rosy bloom fades away. Strikingly, if the flies are fed antioxidants that neutralize these molecules, it does not matter if they never sleep again. They live as long as their rested brethren.
    • The results suggest that one very fundamental job of sleep — perhaps underlying a network of other effects — is to regulate the ancient biochemical process of oxidation, by which individual electrons are snapped on and off molecules in service to everything from respiration to metabolism. Sleep, the researchers imply, is not solely the province of neuroscience, but something more deeply threaded into the biochemistry that knits together the animal kingdom.”
  • What Makes The Unicorn Tapestries So Fascinating?
    • by Frances Dilworth
    • Quote: “The final tapestry, The Unicorn Rests in a Garden, shows a vibrant and complex millefleur “thousand flowers” background with the captured unicorn sitting in an enclosure tied to a pomegranate tree. Now, if we consider the previous tapestry in which the unicorn was dead but is now alive, the order of the tapestries can become confusing. Many accept this one as the last by interpreting the events of the hunt as an allegory for Christ’s passion. Viewing the story in that perspective, the previous tapestry would have been the actual crucifixion. This one then, is the resurrection, and if you look at the unicorn’s body, you can see multiple “wounds” throughout, which could be a reference to the nail wounds on Christ’s hands and feet that remained on his body as proof it was really him who rose from the dead.”

The Magnificent Seven #68: Against longtermism – 07/11/21

  • Against longtermism
    • by Phil Torres
    • Quota A: “…the topic of our extinction has received little sustained attention from philosophers until recently, and even now remains at the fringe of philosophical discussion and debate. On the whole, they have been preoccupied with other matters. However, there is one notable exception to this rule: over the past two decades, a small group of theorists mostly based in Oxford have been busy working out the details of a new moral worldview called longtermism, which emphasizes how our actions affect the very long-term future of the universe – thousands, millions, billions, and even trillions of years from now. This has roots in the work of Nick Bostrom, who founded the grandiosely named Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) in 2005, and Nick Beckstead, a research associate at FHI and a programme officer at Open Philanthropy. It has been defended most publicly by the FHI philosopher Toby Ord, author of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity (2020). Longtermism is the primary research focus of both the Global Priorities Institute (GPI), an FHI-linked organisation directed by Hilary Greaves, and the Forethought Foundation, run by William MacAskill, who also holds positions at FHI and GPI. Adding to the tangle of titles, names, institutes and acronyms, longtermism is one of the main ‘cause areas’ of the so-called effective altruism (EA) movement, which was introduced by Ord in around 2011 and now boasts of having a mind-boggling $46 billion in committed funding.”
    • Quote B: “Bostrom’s argument is that ‘a non-existential disaster causing the breakdown of global civilisation is, from the perspective of humanity as a whole, a potentially recoverable setback.’ It might be ‘a giant massacre for man’, he adds, but so long as humanity bounces back to fulfil its potential, it will ultimately register as little more than ‘a small misstep for mankind’. Elsewhere, he writes that the worst natural disasters and devastating atrocities in history become almost imperceptible trivialities when seen from this grand perspective. Referring to the two world wars, AIDS and the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he declares that ‘tragic as such events are to the people immediately affected, in the big picture of things … even the worst of these catastrophes are mere ripples on the surface of the great sea of life.’
    • This way of seeing the world, of assessing the badness of AIDS and the Holocaust, implies that future disasters of the same (non-existential) scope and intensity should also be categorised as ‘mere ripples’. If they don’t pose a direct existential risk, then we ought not to worry much about them, however tragic they might be to individuals. As Bostrom wrote in 2003, ‘priority number one, two, three and four should … be to reduce existential risk.’ He reiterated this several years later in arguing that we mustn’t ‘fritter … away’ our finite resources on ‘feel-good projects of suboptimal efficacy’ such as alleviating global poverty and reducing animal suffering, since neither threatens our longterm potential, and our longterm potential is what really matters.”
    • Quote C: “We can now begin to see how longtermism might be self-defeating. Not only could its ‘fanatical’ emphasis on fulfilling our longterm potential lead people to, eg, neglect non-existential climate change, prioritise the rich over the poor and perhaps even ‘justify’ pre-emptive violence and atrocities for the ‘greater cosmic good’ but it also contains within it the very tendencies – Baconianism, capitalism and value-neutrality – that have driven humanity inches away from the precipice of destruction. Longtermism tells us to maximise economic productivity, our control over nature, our presence in the Universe, the number of (simulated) people who exist in the future, the total amount of impersonal ‘value’ and so on. But to maximise, we must develop increasingly powerful – and dangerous – technologies; failing to do this would itself be an existential catastrophe. Not to worry, though, because technology is not responsible for our worsening predicament, and hence the fact that most risks stem directly from technology is no reason to stop creating more technology. Rather, the problem lies with us, which means only that we must create even more technology to transform ourselves into cognitively and morally enhanced posthumans.”
  • A Chemical Hunger
    • by Slime Mold Time Mold
    • A long series about an unsuspecting cause of the obesity epidemic. Yes, I read it all—much enjoy!—and yes there is an excerpt from each entry.
    • Quote from part one (which lays out eight mysteries): “Common wisdom today tells us that we get heavier as we get older. But historically, this wasn’t true. In the past, most people got slightly leaner as they got older. Those Civil War veterans we mentioned above had an average BMI of 23.2 in their 40s and 22.9 in their 60’s. In their 40’s, 3.7% were obese, compared to 2.9% in their 60s. We see the same pattern in data from 1976-1980: people in their 60s had slightly lower BMIs and were slightly less likely to be obese than people in their 40s (See the table below). It isn’t until the 1980s that we start to see this trend reverse. Something fundamental about the nature of obesity has changed.”
    • Quote from part two (which challenges popular theories): “The lipostat account is extremely convincing. The only weakness in the theory is that it’s not clear what could cause the lipostat to be set to the wrong point. In leptin-deficient children, their body simply can’t detect that they are obese. But most people produce leptin just fine. What is it that throws this system so totally out of balance?”
    • Quote from part three (which proposes environmental contaminants as the chief cause of the obesity epidemic): “Despite this interest, all the claims have been quite mild, identifying environmental contaminants as possibly being one of many factors contributing in some small way to the obesity epidemic. In contrast, we propose that the obesity epidemic is entirely driven by environmental contaminants. The entire difference in obesity between 1980 and today is attributable to one or more contaminants that we are exposed to in our food, water, and living spaces.”
    • Quote from Interlude A: A CICO Killer (which further criticises calories-in-calories-out as a meaningful obesity theory): “People who believe that obesity is the result of laziness and weak willpower believe that people with no moral fiber can be recognized on sight. As a result, they do things like treat overweight and obese people with disrespect, make jokes about them, don’t hire them, don’t give them proper medical treatment, etc. They think that shaming and social stigma are effective interventions against obesity. Some think that overweight and obese people should feel ashamed of their weight. This is as horrible as thinking that cancer patients should feel ashamed and responsible for falling sick.”
    • Quote from part four (which describes the difficulties of searching for specific, culpable environmental contaminants): “While we can try to identify the contaminants that cause obesity, the disturbing fact is that the contaminants responsible may be compounds which we are unfamiliar with, because they weren’t created in a lab and have never been examined for safety. … To make matters worse, something quite similar can happen inside our bodies. As surprising and chaotic as the interactions between contaminants can be, their interactions with human biochemistry can be even more complicated.”
    • Quote from part five (which describes the first possible environmental contaminant): “None of these are smoking guns. At best, they are consistent with the idea that some of these contaminants are more prevalent in animal-based foods. And we know that this can’t be about the animal products themselves, because hunter-gatherers and our ancestors in 1890 ate lots of meat and didn’t experience modern levels of obesity.”
    • Quote from interlude B (which is about nutrient sludge): “…there is an external sanity check that makes us doubt the whole premise. If the nutrient sludge diet works, why hasn’t anyone done a real experiment on it? Why isn’t it being used to make 400 lbs men lose 200 lbs today? Either this is a huge missed opportunity, or these results are simply wrong.”
    • Quote from part six (which describes the second possible environmental contaminant): “How do these chemicals get into our bodies? Every route imaginable. “People are concurrently exposed to dozens of PFAS chemicals daily,” the NRDC report explains, “through their drinking water, food, air, indoor dust, carpets, furniture, personal care products, and clothing. As a result, PFAS are now present throughout our environment and in the bodies of virtually all Americans.””
    • Quote from part seven (which describes the third possible environmental contaminant): “For comparison, a normal clinical dose is 300,000 – 600,000 µg, taken two to three times per day. Even on this comparatively tiny dose, everyone in the lithium group reported feeling happier, more friendly, more kind, less grouchy, etc. over a four week period, “without exception”.”
    • Quote from Interlude C (which catalogues some Reddit responses to the series): “We couldn’t have cherry-picked this example, because u/evocomp proposed it. The early and extreme incidence of obesity in the Pima is clearly a mystery that needs explaining, and sure enough, we found strong evidence for lithium contamination that fits the timeline of diabetes and obesity in the Pima.”
    • Quote from Interlude D (which is about glyphosate): “There’s some circumstantial evidence that if contaminants are responsible for obesity, at least one of those contaminants is related to agriculture. … But there are many more signs that the main contaminants are not agricultural.”
    • Quote from Interlude E (which is about seed oils): “It’s unfair to look through a literature and start with some random papers. You want to let the theory’s supporters point you to the evidence they feel is strongest, the evidence they think is most important.”
    • Quote from part eight (which explores paradoxical reactions): “Normally when we talk about paradoxical reactions, we’re talking about the intended effect of the drug, not the side effects. But from the drug’s point of view, there’s no such thing as side effects — all effects are just effects. As a result, we should expect to sometimes see paradoxical reactions in side effects as well.”
    • Quote from part nine (that explores the paradoxical reaction of anorexia in animals): “In short, it’s clear that modern captive macaques have higher rates of anorexia than wild macaques from the 1980s, just the kind of paradoxical reaction this theory predicts.”
    • Quote from part Interlude F (which whips through obesity from the lens of income and race): “We see that the general pattern between countries is that wealth is associated with obesity, and we see the pattern within most poor countries is also that wealth is associated with obesity.”
    • Quote from part Interlude G (extra lithium): “…we strongly recommend that you avoid eating lithium grease.”
  • Your Brain Is Not an Onion With a Tiny Reptile Inside
    • by Joseph Cesario, David J. Johnson, Heather L. Eisthen
    • Whoops; looks like my cognition-related priors have been in need of a fundamental upgrade…
    • Quote from the abstract: “A widespread misconception in much of psychology is that (a) as vertebrate animals evolved, “newer” brain structures were added over existing “older” brain structures, and (b) these newer, more complex structures endowed animals with newer and more complex psychological functions, behavioral flexibility, and language. This belief, although widely shared in introductory psychology textbooks, has long been discredited among neurobiologists and stands in contrast to the clear and unanimous agreement on these issues among those studying nervous-system evolution. We bring psychologists up to date on this issue by describing the more accurate model of neural evolution, and we provide examples of how this inaccurate view may have impeded progress in psychology. We urge psychologists to abandon this mistaken view of human brains.”
    • Quote B: “Instead, the correct view of evolution is that animals radiated from common ancestors (Fig. 1c). Within these radiations, complex nervous systems and sophisticated cognitive abilities evolved independently many times. For example, cephalopod mollusks, such as octopus and cuttlefish, possess tremendously complex nervous systems and behavior (Mather & Kuba, 2013), and the same is true of some insects and other arthropods (Barron & Klein, 2016Strausfeld, Hansen, Li, Gomez, & Ito, 1998). Even among nonmammalian vertebrates, brain complexity has increased independently several times, particularly among some sharks, teleost fishes, and birds (Striedter, 1998).
    • Along with this misunderstanding comes the incorrect belief that adding complex neural structures allows increased behavioral complexity—that structural complexity endows functional complexity. The idea that larger brains can be equated with increased behavioral complexity is highly debatable (Chittka & Niven, 2009). At the very least, nonhuman animals do not respond inflexibly to a given stimulus. All vertebrate behavior is generated by similar neural substrates that integrate information to produce behavior on the basis of evolved decision-making circuits (Berridge, 2003).”
    • Related: the real problem of consciousness (which further dissolves the idea that we are a software-mind running on the body’s hardware). Quote: “The ‘easy problem’ is to understand how the brain (and body) gives rise to perception, cognition, learning and behaviour. The ‘hard’ problem is to understand why and how any of this should be associated with consciousness at all: why aren’t we just robots, or philosophical zombies, without any inner universe? It’s tempting to think that solving the easy problem (whatever this might mean) would get us nowhere in solving the hard problem, leaving the brain basis of consciousness a total mystery.
    • But there is an alternative, which I like to call the real problem: how to account for the various properties of consciousness in terms of biological mechanisms; without pretending it doesn’t exist (easy problem) and without worrying too much about explaining its existence in the first place (hard problem).”
  • Narco-State Netherlands
    • by Jürgen Dahlkamp, Jörg Diehl, Roman Lehberger
    • Quote: “Taghi, who changed his place of residence to Morocco in 2009, nevertheless remained an unknown to the Dutch police. And he was still largely unknown in 2012, when the killing started. That year, investigators managed to seize 225 kilograms of cocaine in the Port of Antwerp, a laughably small amount by today’s standards, but back then, it was significant. Two gangs had been waiting for the delivery, but neither of them knew of the secret police raid and they accused each other of having stolen the cocaine.
    • That’s how it began. In 2012, two people were killed in Amsterdam in a wild shootout in a residential district. Then came retaliatory murders, and more murders to avenge those murders. Preventative murders, paranoid murders, statement murders. There were murders to save face, and murders of people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. And the killing just kept on going. Justice Ministry statistics list 178 contract killings resulting in 189 deaths, though not all of them had to do with this one gang war. A typical indicator of such “liquidations” was a burned-out getaway vehicle, torched to destroy evidence.
    • Who was fighting against whom? Apparently the killers themselves didn’t always know, a confusion that can be seen in the text messages. But the killing continued, and in 2014, the bosses of two rival gangs were murdered, creating a vacuum that Taghi was happy to step into, along with two other cocaine mobsters. The police were so unfamiliar with his name that they initially wrote it as Redouan instead of Ridouan.”
  • Wealth Creators
    • by Adrian Daub
    • Quote A: “Rather than a story of disruption and discontinuity, the story of Silicon Valley can be told as one of family legacies. Rather than upjumped kids in hoodies upsetting the staid operations of capital, it’s wealth doing what it always does—attracting more wealth. Think of the way Aaron Sorkin chooses to frame Mark Zuckerberg’s rise in The Social Network: here Mark Zuckerberg in a sloppy hoodie, there the Winklevoss twins—“men of Harvard,” constantly in blazers, and, as portrayed by a duplicated Armie Hammer, radiating inherited privilege from every pore. That doesn’t seem exactly untrue to life. Born in the Hamptons and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, the Winklevoss twins surely led a life of privilege before coming to Harvard. What’s perhaps more remarkable is Sorkin’s insistence that slovenly, mousy Mark Zuckerberg, who was raised in Westchester County, and attended Phillips Exeter Academy, is somehow not just less cool than them, but socioeconomically distinct. What Sorkin insists on framing as Old Money versus The New Economy, in actuality, was more like two supertankers of privilege colliding (or, as Forbes would call them, “8s”).
    • The idea that industry creates wealth out of nothing is one that US capitalism compulsively projects onto whatever segment of the economy is particularly new and shiny. Part of this idea is the notion that new elites disrupt older systems of wealth and privilege. The deck gets reshuffled, old systems of privilege get upended. The promise contained in such an idea seems deeply connected to American notions of equality. If wealth, power, and legitimacy comes from upending the old order, if fortunes are remade with each generation in different fields, the thinking goes, then there is something deeply anti-dynastic and possibly even egalitarian about wealth generation in this country.”
    • Quote B: “If anything, real estate has probably outperformed tech since tech moved in. Silicon Valley as a collection of companies has experienced boom and bust, but as a physical location the stretch of the San Francisco Peninsula between Burlingame and San José seems to have known only one endless boom. That boom has been extremely narrowly distributed: buying some Tesla stock is not attainable for most, but still a hell of a lot more attainable than owning property in Mountain View. Real estate is still the greatest repository of dynastic wealth—and the greatest source of intergenerational immiseration.
    • Even before a single semiconductor company moved in, the Valley made some families very rich and ensured that others would be deprived of their spin of the wheel. As the historian Stephen Pitti has noted, as Santa Clara County developed, the powers that be were concerned to attract more residents to the area, where the mining economy had largely given way to an overwhelmingly agriculture-based economy. They were concerned that not enough white people would stay in the area, and that too many Asians and Latinos might. As a result, small farming tracts were readily made available to white Americans and immigrants from Europe (Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese), while Mexican Americans were kept “as a naturally mobile, low-wage labor force.”
    • Related: Female founders under fire: Are women in the startup world being unfairly targeted?
  • An Interview with Alexander Booth: “How can you make someone like you and why should you even try?”
    • by Tobias Ryan
    • Quote: “I didn’t want to go for the much cheaper option of getting it done online. I like personal interaction – last year I had translated some work for an architectural firm, the man who put it together is named Jan Blessing, and I looked at the book they’d released together, and it was beautiful; very German, very spare, very tasteful. So after receiving yet another rejection earlier this year I just said, “You know what, I’m sick of this.” So I got in touch with Jan, saying, “I want to do a book, I just need you to set it. I already have the artwork (a beautiful piece by the artist Guy Dickinson), I know exactly what I want. I just need you to put it in InDesign and then do the actual printing. Is that something you’d be interested in?” That was it.
    • He did the offset. We chose paper together (agreeing on the renowned Italian producers Fedrigoni) and then he had this idea of doing different coloured inserts for each section, which I thought was very attractive. In the end, the book would be a bit more expensive, but I felt it would be worth it. And I think it turned out beautifully.
    • I’m very happy it’s out there for those who want it.
    • That kind of DIY ethos seems to go against the current culture, where even in areas like poetry there’s a sense of selling yourself, climbing the ladder, hustling …
    • Well, yeah, it’s always a hustle. But the thing is: to get where? Another invitation to… What? You’re going to get another book contract or get invited to a cooler party? More followers? Are you actually going to make a living from being a poet?
    • The DIY idea feels fundamental. It’s everything I do. I believe in friendships. I believe in talking to people. I believe in taking my time – you think I would have moved to Italy if I was making good career choices? We need to learn to wait.
    • But I think, yeah, it’s a question of the work you do and what’s behind it. Right now we miss the feeling of “no, no that’s enough.” We don’t know anymore, or many don’t, what it’s like to come across work that is outside, that is a parte. So much of what I encounter, maybe it’s not fair but I feel it, is saying: “I want you to like me.” How can you make someone like you and why should you even try?”
  • Mapping the latent spaces of culture
    • by Ted Underwood
    • Quote: “I understand why researchers in a field named “artificial intelligence” would associate meaning with mental activity and see writing as a dubious proxy for it. But historical disciplines rarely have access to minds, or even living subjects. We work mostly with texts and other traces. For this reason, I’m not troubled by the part of “Stochastic Parrots” that warns about “the human tendency to attribute meaning to text” even when the text “is not grounded in communicative intent” (618, 616). Historians are already in the habit of finding meaning in genres, nursery rhymes, folktale motifs, ruins, political trends, and other patterns that never had a single author with a clear purpose. If we could only find meaning in intentional communication, we wouldn’t find much meaning in the past at all. So not all historical researchers will be scandalized when we hear that a model is merely “stitching together sequences of linguistic forms it has observed in its vast training data” (617). That’s often what we do too, and we could use help.”

The Magnificent Seven #67: Uses This – 31/10/21

  • Uses This
  • The Inner Ring
    • by C.S. Lewis
    • Quote: “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.
    • And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.”
  • The Power (Relations) of Citizen Science
    • by Max Liboiron
    • Quote A: “All of these are decisions that align with some things, some groups, and not others. They reproduce certain values. Science isn’t value free. I think most of us know that intuitively since science purports to values things like objectivity, validity, and replication but also things like the autonomous, individual hero-thinker, pioneering adventurism (I use those words intentionally), and valiantly getting your data at all costs. Those ideals reproduce certain relations.
    • When I’m talking about values and alignments, I’m talking about power. When I say power, I don’t mean someone with a stick coercing people to do things (although that is a manifestation of power–certain sorts of people tend to be the ones with the sticks). What I mean is the way that some things seem natural and normal, even inevitable and carry on easily, versus things that are very hard to do, that don’t make as much “sense,” that don’t tend to happen. The same things happen when we’re making your scientific decisions. Certain research questions get asked a lot. Certain ones don’t. Certain kinds of people get worked with a lot. Certain kinds of people don’t.
    • Power is more like infrastructure, not decisions or behavior–more like how some decisions and behaviour by some people are allowed to happen, valued, reproduced, and others are harder to do. Some ways of doing things, some forms of knowledge, just flourish. Often at the expense of others. That’s what power is.”
    • Quote B: “The fishermen (“fisherman” is a term used by fish harvesters of all genders, so I’ll use what they use) decided to look at temperature because they thought the fish were coming out of season because of water temperature changes because of climate change. So we gathered temperature data by putting temperature loggers on their fishing gear and then we, the accredited scientists, put the data together and made some graphs of average temperatures to analyze together. And the fishermen said, “Can we just see the data?” and we’re like, “the raw data?” And they said, “yeah, give us the spreadsheet.” I thought that was odd because I don’t hang out with spreadsheets and look at them to analyze them– I give it to R or another program that tells me things. But we gave them the raw data on spreadsheets and they sat eating donuts and reading the raw data and told us things.
    • Fishermen are expert samplers– basically, fishing is judgmental sampling and if they’re not good samplers they do not have a livelihood. And fishermen keep catch logs of what’s going on– the weather, date, where they are catching fish, how many fish. And they have these logs for generations of fishing. They’re basically handwritten datasheets and they study them all the time. It’s what they excel at. They extract data that we couldn’t have seen because it’s contextualized and they have a relationship with the data. Also, they saw things in there that they could use for their fishing–things they didn’t share with us. None of our business. They found it valuable and they have the data and are using it.”
    • Quote C: “There’s a great book called Digital Dead End by Virginia Eubanks where she tries to democratize access to digital technology and gets a bunch of Black women from a YMCA involved. And one of them says, “Democracy is an endless meeting, so pay me for my time.” One of the main reasons I don’t often identify as a practitioner of citizen science is because a lot, though not all, citizen science projects are based on a sacrifice economy. In a sacrifice economy, value continually accrues to people with more privilege (usually accredited scientists) and it’s usually drawn from folks with less privilege. Perhaps your citizen science projects gain value from retired white guys with castles and good pensions, but mine do not. A lot of the people that come talk to me who want diversity or inclusion in their projects tend to want to draw in people with less privilege to do free work for them. It tends to reproduce inequity, and it gets called diversity. So I pay people.”
  • A Refuge from Reality, à la Russe
    • by Viv Groskop
    • Quote: “Solitude, introspection, cogitation, and the quest for intellectual calm became the most important strategies for spiritual survival for these writers.
    • Is it implausible to suggest that a kind of self-imposed internal exile might be useful even if you are not a great poet? Until Trump in the US, and Brexit in the UK, some involvement in the political and cultural life of their nation was—for most people—a pleasurable activity that took up a small part of your day and didn’t encroach on your mental wellbeing. Now, daily life is a minefield of stress, emotional triggers, irritants, and digital micro-aggressions via email, social media, and cable news that threaten to raise your blood pressure constantly. Yes, the threat is digital because that is the vehicle for the relentless cycle of rolling news, but it is also political.
    • As we face this onslaught, there is a quasi-Soviet sense of feeling powerless to enact change. In this environment, it is reasonable to conclude that apathy must surely be defensible as some kind of political act.
    • At a literary event about classic Russian authors that I attended at a London bookshop recently, an American in the audience objected to the idea that internal exile was something new for his compatriots. If you couldn’t stand Bush or thought Obama was a phony, he said, you’ve already had plenty of practice at ignoring the news cycle and finding other things to live by. Disillusionment isn’t unique to the Russian political system, he argued.”
  • Ed Coan & Dr. Stuart McGill on Performance, Injury Avoidance & Longevity When Lifting
    • by Aaron Horschig
    • I’ve had a bout of recurring back ache (not quite pain) for the last couple of weeks, so I’ve ended up revisiting the work of the moustachioed maestro, Stuart McGill. This podcast—which was fascinating—was one part of that. As was the return to the “big three” exercises. I’m also considering getting both Rebuilding Milo and McGill’s Back Mechanic book; these would be my first proper health and fitness book purchases in a while. Though it probably makes sense to dust off my near-decade-old copy of McGill’s Ultimate Back Performance first…
  • Multiple interviews
    • by Lex Fridman
    • Gathered up a bit of momentum listening to Lex talk to different people. His second episode with Joscha Bach was instantly on play when I realised it was out. The conversation with Travis Oliphant (who pioneered SciPy, NumPy and Anaconda was fascinating). The conversation with Katherine de Kleer, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at Caltech, bent my brain in funny ways. The discussion with Jim Keller, legendary microprocessor engineer was also deep and provocative.
  • Crash Course Linguistics
    • I came across this because it was suggested as preparation for my second interintellect salon: On the Trail of Ancient Languages: An Etymological Mystery Game. The salon itself was hosted by Colin Gorrie—who knows his shit and was a great facilitator—and involved a collective attempt to reconstruct an ancient language using words from five languages that were its descendants. Incredibly fun as an exercise and a great introduction to the mechanics of linguistics.

The Magnificent Seven #66: Bad Ancient – 24/10/21

  • Bad Ancient
  • The Housing Theory of Everything
    • by Sam Bowman, John Myers, Ben Southwood
    • After reading, The Book of Trespass, I’ve started thinking a little more about the impact of property ownership. This piece draws some speculative connections and raises a lot of questions.
    • Quote: “The obvious effect of expensive housing – people having less money to spend on other things – is the one most people focus on. But it is only part of the story, because expensive housing makes people change their behaviour too – it affects where you live, what your job is, how big your family is and what your day-to-day life looks like too. And it’s these hidden effects that are the most important.”
  • Mediocratopia: 10
    • by Venkatesh Rao
    • Quote: “The interesting effect is that even though any individual smooth learning effort is an exponential with a half-life, since you keep skipping levels, you can have a roughly linear rate of progress, but on a changing problem. You’re never getting superhuman on any vector because you keep changing tack to keep progressing. The y-axis is a stack of different measures of performance, normalized as percentages of an ideal maximal performance level, estimated as the limit of the Zeno’s paradox race at each level.
    • Now we have a slightly better way to measure aptitude. Aptitude is the rate at which you level up, by changing the nature of the problem you’re solving (and therefore how you measure “improvement”). The interesting thing is, this is not purely a function not of raw prowess or innate talent, but of imagination and taste. Can you sense diminishing returns and open up a new front so you can keep progressing? How early or late do you do that? The limiting factor here is the imaginative level shift that keeps you moving. Being stuck is being caught in the diminishing returns part of a locally optimal learning curve because you can’t see the next curve to jump to.”
    • “Opening up a new front”, to me, seems like a combination of continually asking questions and endeavouring to learn and experiment with new things. For more on doing that, see the zone of proximal development, the ADEPT method, the Feynman technique, and building small skills in the right order.
  • Papers we love
    • From Differential Privacy: “In 1977 Dalenius articulated a desideratum for statistical databases: nothing about an individual should be learnable from the database that cannot be learned without access to the database. We give a general impossibility result showing that a formalization of Dalenius’ goal along the lines of semantic security cannot be achieved. Contrary to intuition, a variant of the result threatens the privacy even of someone not in the database. This state of affairs suggests a new measure, differential privacy, which, intuitively, captures the increased risk to one’s privacy incurred by participating in a database. The techniques developed in a sequence of papers [8, 13, 3], culminating in those described in [12], can achieve any desired level of privacy under this measure. In many cases, extremely accurate information about the database can be provided while simultaneously ensuring very high levels of privacy.”
    • From Polynomial-Time Algorithms for Prime Factorization and Discrete Logarithms on a Quantum Computer (which I read because I saw Shor’s algorithm mentioned in the linked docs for HAL): “There are generally two resources which limit the ability of digital computers to solve large problems: time (computation steps) and space (memory). There are more resources pertinent to analog computation; some proposed analog machines that seem able to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time have required the machining of exponentially precise parts, or an exponential amount of energy. (See Vergis et al. [1986] and Steiglitz [1988]; this issue is also implicit in the papers of Canny and Reif [1987] and Choi et al. [1995] on three-dimensional shortest paths.)
    • For quantum computation, in addition to space and time, there is also a third potentially important resource, precision. For a quantum computer to work, at least in any currently envisioned implementation, it must be able to make changes in the quantum states of objects (e.g., atoms, photons, or nuclear spins). These changes can clearly not be perfectly accurate, but must contain some small amount of inherent imprecision. If this imprecision is constant (i.e., it does not depend on the size of the input), then it is not known how to compute any functions in polynomial time on a quantum computer that cannot also be computed in polynomial time on a classical computer with a random number generator. However, if we let the precision grow polynomially in the input size that is, we let the number of bits of precision grow logarithmically in the input size), we appear to obtain a more powerful type of computer. Allowing the same polynomial growth in precision does not appear to confer extra computing power to classical mechanics, although allowing exponential growth in precision does [Hartmanis and Simon 1974, Vergis et al. 1986].”
    • From The Little Manual of API Design: “In a movie, the best special effects are those you don’t notice. A similar principle applies to API design: The ideal features are those that require no (or very little) additional code from the application writer.”
    • From Crash-Only Software: “It is impractical to build a system that is guaranteed to never crash, even in the case of carrier class phone switches or high end mainframe systems. Since crashes are unavoidable, software must be at least as well prepared for a crash as it is for a clean shutdown. But then—in the spirit of Occam’s Razor—if software is crash-safe, why support additional, non-crash mechanisms for shutting down?”
    • From The Development of the C Language: “Finally, despite the changes that it has undergone since its first published description, which was admittedly informal and incomplete, the actual C language as seen by millions of users using many different compilers has remained remarkably stable and unified compared to those of similarly widespread currency, for example Pascal and Fortran. There are differing dialects of C most noticeably, those described by the older K&R and the newer Standard C but on the whole, C has remained freer of proprietary extensions than other languages. Perhaps the most significant extensions are the ‘far’ and ‘near’ pointer qualifications intended to deal with peculiarities of some Intel processors. Although C was not originally designed with portability as a prime goal, it succeeded in expressing programs, even including operating systems, on machines ranging from the smallest personal computers through the mightiest supercomputers.”
  • Multiple blogs on sleep(ing)
    • by Katy Bowman
    • From Your Pillow is an Orthotic: “Most of us suck at sleeping without a bed or pillow because we were issued this comfort at birth. The issuing of a pillow and bed to our own children has also become culturally reflexive. I polled our Facebook page, asking them when (and why) they’d introduced a pillow to their children’s sleeping habits. Fifty respondees gave essentially some version of these two responses–“my kid started asking for one because I have one” or “I gave them one once they were sleeping in their own bed.” Since we’ve been using pillows for so long, we become as mobile as the pillow allows, setting a pattern where it is required for support in the future.”
    • From How To Transition Out of a Mattress: “Step 1: Dose matters. Sleeping on the ground is really just being on the ground, the ground pushing firmly into you, for 6-10 hours (lawyers-teenagers, obvs). Why not start by getting on the ground and reaching your arms overhead. Take a few breaths there a few times. Then roll onto your right side and get into a sleeping position there for a few breaths. Then repeat the other side a few breaths. Then to your stomach, then repeat the cycle a few times. All you’re doing here is giving yourself a low dose of pressure-related movements that you can stop whenever you’d like.”
    • From Cleaning Up Our Sleep: “I definitely preferred sleeping on something thinner and actually on the floor, but I feel we made a good trade-off for less chemical and mold exposure. You could easily sleep on one of these mattresses directly on the floor, but here in the PNW we would need to be diligent about getting them up off the floor every day for airflow–and they’re heavy and cumbersome and not easy for one person to lift or hang. If it was just me, and not a family of four, I imagine I’d be sleeping on the floor and rolling something up each day.”
  • Tigray, Oromia, and the Ethiopian Empire
    • by Ayantu Tibeso, J. Khadijah Abdurahman
    • Quote: “Abiy’s political maneuvers are driven by a re-investment in the imperial ideals of Menelik II, Haile Selassie, and Mengistu. Medemerresurrects Mengistu’s nationalist ideology known as “Ethiopia Tikdem” (“Ethiopia First”). His Derg regime denounced student activists and other opposition challenging his rule as “narrow nationalists” and “anti-revolutionaries,” justifying the killing of more than half a million of them in what is remembered as the “Red Terror.” As Derg leader and head of state, Mengistu was convicted of genocide in abstentia by the Ethiopian High Court in 2007. Abiy and Mengistu share more than a penchant for enforced unity and the targeting and elimination of those who hold different political perspectives. They share the legacy of bombing Tigray, starving its people, and producing generations of refugees fleeing across the border to Sudan: the flight of tens of thousands of Tigrayans has revived Um Raquba, the same refugee camp in eastern Sudan that their parents and grandparents inhabited decades earlier during the devastating famine in the mid-1980s. It is not a coincidence that the Ethiopian state invokes unity while committing genocide.”
  • The Artist Paints Herself
    • by Jennifer Higgie\
    • An excerpt from The Mirror and the Palette. Quote: “When Alexander the Great’s army invaded Thebes in 335 bc, a captain raped Timoclea, a “matron of high character and repute”; he then asked her if she knew of any hidden money. She led him to a well in her garden and pointed into it. While her assailant was peering into its depths, she pushed him over the low wall, and then, as he lay injured, stoned him to death. This is the moment in the story that Elisabetta chose to tell. As the subject of a painting, it was a bold choice and one that upturned contemporary stereotypes of women, who were considered virtuous but physically weak and intellectually without initiative; men, on the other hand, were, of course, considered powerful and courageous. In most painted versions of the story, Timoclea is pictured at a different moment in the narrative: when the heroine, along with her children, is questioned by Alexander about his captain’s murder and he is so impressed by her that he lets her go free. Until Elisabetta’s painting, Timoclea’s bravery had hardly been represented in Italian art. The young artist depicts her as self-possessed, beautiful, and, despite her grace, strong—strong enough to shove a captain into a well. She is also calm, seemingly unruffled by her violent act. The captain, on the other hand, is pictured in the most humiliating pose imaginable: in the instant before he plunges into the well, he flails about, trying to save himself; he is upside down, his legs askew, his body framed by his red cape, which billows around him like the intimation of blood. His bare legs and arms reveal how young and fit he is, but he’s no match for the dignified Timoclea, who gracefully sends him into the void.”

The Magnificent Seven #65: The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe – 17/10/21

  • The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe – On the Clarities and Blind Spots of Andreas Malm
    • by Bue Rübner Hansen
    • After recently reading Malm’s How to Blow Up a Pipeline, the AlgoGods served up a nice slice of discourse concerning one of Malm’s key ideas: non-violent protest doesn’t and has never worked. 
    • Quote A: “Certainly, human action (including by way of the state) and modern technology are needed. But so are the politics, ethics, and amodern technologies of ecological repair, mutuality, regeneration, and making-habitable. Both sides are necessary, neither is sufficient. But once our thinking becomes limited by the urgent temporality of catastrophe, the latter disappears from view. Malm’s appreciative mention of the work of Carolyn Merchant suggests he is not inimical to such concerns, but it remains inconsequential to his vision, both politically and theoretically. Readers interested in moving beyond Malm’s blindspots may consider the importance Merchant’s concept of “earthcare”, or the work of other Marxist eco-feminists who have developed rich concepts of “hybrid labor” (Battistoni), the “forces of reproduction” and “earthcare labor” (Barca), as well as those who have much to teach us about life in capitalist ruins (Tsing), and the systemic importance of the “meta-industrial labor” to capitalist civilisation, which is carried out by the racialized, feminized, dispossessed who reproduce humanity by taking care of the biophysical environment that makes human life possible (Saleh).”
    • Quote B: “The book is a powerful polemic against strategic non-violence, perhaps aimed at a recently politicized audience. But the discussion of ecotage doesn’t delve into existing debates, and crucial questions of organization and strategy are absent. Thus, the problem of how a disciplined mass movement may come into being is nowhere discussed in the book, as if the size and disciplined non-violence of the 2019 climate movement made such reflections superfluous. But as radical environmentalists have learned in the past, the discipline and secrecy required to engage in sabotage in the face of anti-terror legislation, mass surveillance, and militarized policing – and the following media backlash – can be very hard to combine with mass appeal and mass organization. This problem may not be insuperable, but it cannot be solved unless it is posed.28 But had he posed it, Malm’s choice would have been less clear. Instead of a choice calling for a decision, he would have given us a problem calling for invention and experimentation.”
    • Quote C: “Cabral provides us with an image of the ecological revolutionary: they engage in militant inquiry, situate themselves in relation to both land and people, and connect technologies without presuming the superiority of the most “modern”. And they pursue a strategy that is both militant and sensitive to the task of suturing the metabolic rifts caused by exploitation and extractivism. This is a politics appropriate to the rubble of the ongoing catastrophe, but considered not merely as a space of ruin and victimhood, but as territories of survival and resistance.”
  • Don’t be scared, you’re not the only one
    • by Yancey Strickler
    • Quote: “Naturally we hope for technology to provide a cure. The Limits to Growth authors spend considerable time exploring how technology can help us.
    • In that earlier graph of projected human wellbeing, the lines that don’t immediately plummet represent potential futures where one of humanity’s main hurdles to growth is completely solved by a technological breakthrough. One line represents a future where pollution is erased by technology. Another represents a future where infinite food production is possible, and so on.
    • Even in these possible futures where the greatest challenges we face are completely and instantly solved by technology, the model finds that civilization would still collapse if the goal continued to be growth.”
  • Learning: an anthro-complexity perspective
    • by Dave Snowden
    • Quote: “In all of this, we are working with a very basic fact; if the energy cost of sin is less than that of virtue then sin is what you will get. If you want to change, you have to make the energy cost of your desired pathway less than that of the alternatives. This simple statement is a radical change from the last thirty years. We are creating an ecosystem where the cost of learning is less than the cost of ignorance and seeking to prevent the game playing that accommodates top-down approaches to change that seek compliance and alignment.”
  • All statistical models are wrong. Are any useful?
    • by Ben Recht
    • Quote: “This model has been extensively tested and is a foundation of all circuit design. Remarkably, this simple formula describes complex electronic behavior. Physics is full of amazing examples of statistical models that accurately predict the outcome of experiments to a dozen significant figures.
    • But in biology, medicine, social science, and economics, our models are much less accurate and less grounded in natural laws. Most of the time, models are selected because they are convenient, not because they are plausible, well motivated from phenomenological principles, or even empirically validated. Freedman built a cottage industry around pointing out how poorly motivated many of the common statistical models are.”
    • I also read a couple follow ups from the same blog.
    • Quote from Statistics as algorithmic summarization: “This distinction between modeling the sampling and modeling the population may appear to be splitting hairs. In some sense, the two viewpoints only differ conceptually as the algorithms for estimating the mean height in a population will be identical. However, our interpretation of these two views is different: in the algorithmic view, one can use statistics to understand the physical world no matter how the general population arose. As our height example highlights, only the most minimal modeling assumptions are needed to make use of statistical methods. In the modeling view, we shoehorn ourselves into modeling all processes with probability distributions. Not only is this unnecessary, but validating probabilistic models is also quite difficult. As I described in my last two blog posts (1) (2), proposed statistical models are never validated in the vast majority of scientific studies.”
    • Quote from Experiments as randomized algorithms: “Despite the potential limitations, it’s remarkable how causal effects can be measured with some rudimentary sampling and statistics. The same ideas used to estimate a mean can immediately be applied to estimate average effects of interventions. In both cases, we needed only modest knowledge of the effects under study to design algorithmic measures and to establish confidence intervals on their outcomes.”
  • The Tangled History of mRNA Vaccines
    • by Elie Dolgin
    • Quote: “The debate over who deserves credit for pioneering the technology is heating up as awards start rolling out — and the speculation is getting more intense in advance of the Nobel prize announcements next month. But formal prizes restricted to only a few scientists will fail to recognize the many contributors to mRNA’s medical development. In reality, the path to mRNA vaccines drew on the work of hundreds of researchers over more than 30 years.
    • The story illuminates the way that many scientific discoveries become life-changing innovations: with decades of dead ends, rejections and battles over potential profits, but also generosity, curiosity and dogged persistence against scepticism and doubt. “It’s a long series of steps,” says Paul Krieg, a developmental biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who made his own contribution in the mid-1980s, “and you never know what’s going to be useful”.”
  • Usage of Subjective Indicators in Monitoring and Programming of Training
    • by Mladen Jovanovic
    • Quote: “Since the brain integrates all the information from the periphery of the body and the state of the body homeostasis [3], humans are basically equipped with the best monitoring tool – their brain. Numerous quantification systems developed over the years with the aim to assess this subjective feel and one of the most famous is the Borg’s scale or RPE – rate of perceived exertion. Although the original scale was fro 6 – 20, new modified scale from 0-10 is more understandable and more used today. Research shows high reliability of the RPE scale and its high correlation to physiological variables (heart rate and blood lactate accumulation) and training workloads, which basically supports usability of monitoring subjective feel in training[1,5,9,13,24]. Indeed, RPE is well known to be related to chest and active mass muscle parameters, as well as heart rate, oxygen consumption, respiratory rate and minute ventilation, blood lactate concentrations and muscular strain [3]. Importantly, no single physiological parameter predicts the RPE during exercise indicating that this is complex system phenomena [3].
    • Advanced athletes are famous of being able to re-adjust their training workload based on the feel, and teaching them over time to trust their own feelings is a way to ‘teach them how to fish’, instead of using rigidly programmed training session. It is shown that abilities oscillate over the training period mostly influenced by sleep, nutrition, social factors, fatigue, stress, travel, competitions, emotions and such, so we can never know in advance how the performance is going to be on a given day. Being rigid in programming is not a way to utilize and adapt to this normal performance variability, instead being more flexible and allowing the athlete to self-organize the training based on couple of simple rules. That is how individuality in training is achieved to a certain degree.”
  • Conducting 101
    • by Alexander Shelley / National Arts Centre
    • How did I end up looking at the gestural language of conducting? Simple: I saw the fifth Harry Potter film in concert recently—its score was played live by an orchestra. Unsurprisingly, conducting is an incredibly nuanced art, as this short series of videos demonstrates. 
    • Bonus points for reading a related paper—What Is Conducting? Signs, Principles, and Problems—which gives a more thorough breakdown of the video series content. Quote from the abstract: “A central part of the article examines, whether conducting is a universal language or an individually improvised choreography, and whether the gestures of a conductor can be taken at their face value — and in which respect. Dependent on design and timing, conducting gestures either represent a unambiguous sign system with a syntactic structure, or they will have to be interpreted by the executants before they transform the contained information into sound. In case of the latter it is discussed how and to which degree the interpretation and transformation is carried out.
    • An attempt is made not only to describe the unique features and aims of the conductor’s gestuality but also to list a hierarchy of musical parameters, which a conductor might desire to — and under certain circumstances indeed can — decisively influence.”

The Magnificent Seven #64: Utu in the Anthropocene – 10/10/21

  • Utu in the Anthropocene
    • by Rod Barnett
    • Quote A: “For landscape architects, there is an aspect of this reciprocal relationship that is, as it were, shovel-ready: the concept of ecological equilibrium. LAs know that equilibrium is not the default position of ecosystems; that these interactive webs of mineral and biotic conditions actually flourish best when they are far-from-equilibrium. Instability is the key to life. This insight is critical because human ecologies are similarly energized by instability and contingency; this is a fact that architects and urban designers fail to recognize when they call for a social realm characterized by harmony and balance.”
    • Quote B: “Part of the metaphysical, environmental, and social value of indigenous knowledge to western systems is its incompatibility with those systems. Its incompossibility, if you like. Incommensurability. The much-lauded convergence of western science and Indigenous science does not really, when you look at it, seem a convergence at all. Moreover, convergence is a western science narrative. Professor Ruru, interviewed in a daily news journal, was probably simply being nice. For any rapprochement should involve an investigation into the doing of western science itself, by Māori tohunga, shamans — not Anglo-European scientists, not settler scientists. Not even scientists. Because western science — its associations and allies, its funding chains and social purposes — is inimical to mātauranga Māori.”
  • Brutes
    • by Amitov Ghosh
    • Quote: “It is well established now that many animals have long memories and are able to communicate in complex ways. Some of these animals, like elephants, whales, and migratory birds, also move over immense distances and appear to have attachments to particular places. These movements cannot be described as purely mechanical, instinctive, or lacking in meaningful sequences. Humpback whales, for instance, mark the passage of time by changing their songs from year to year. This would hardly be possible if they lived “entirely in the Here and Now.”
    • As far back as the 1930s, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll demonstrated that many animals actively interpret their surroundings, creating their own experiential worlds. This idea has long been anathema to those who believe that attributing human qualities to animals is a cardinal error. But, as Eileen Crist has so persuasively shown in her book Images of Animals: Anthropomorphism and Animal Mind, to rigorously avoid anthropomorphism is only to risk falling into the related fallacy of mechanomorphism—the assumption that animals are machinelike creatures that cannot, in principle, be endowed with minds or interpretive faculties.
    • In short, there are many good reasons to conclude, as Donna Haraway does, that “Storying cannot any longer be put into the box of human exceptionalism.” The anthropologist Thom van Dooren goes further. In a fascinating study of a flock of penguins who doggedly return, year after year, to the shores of a Sydney suburb, he concludes that the birds’ attachment to the place arises out of “storying.” He writes: “experiencing beings like penguins ‘represent’ the world to themselves, too: they do not just take in sensory data as unfiltered and meaningless phenomena, but weave meaning out of experiences, so that they, like humans, ‘inhabit an endlessly storied world.’””
  • Play to Lose
    • by Emilie Reed
    • Quote: “The financial-inclusion projects mentioned above can be understood in this light: They do not include people in practices that could be understood as the foundation of a sustainable and equitable society; they include them in schemes that offer the satisfaction of getting over on other people, undermining institutions, and inflicting suffering in kind as retribution for what they have experienced. They offer a feeling of revenge to help compensate for the otherwise helpless feeling of being financialized against one’s will.
    • For instance, this tendency toward vengeance is woven into NFT markets, which represent a victory of an ideology that sees creating scarcity, using up resources for the hell of it, and fetishizing abstract computational “work” as sources of objective value, even as the environmental consequences become more grave. NFT markets are the apotheosis of a blindly vengeful form of capitalism that knows only how to consume and grow. Though participants within them may feel as though they are somehow beating the system, finally “winning” against all the ways capitalism exploits or works to extinguish human creativity (as well as winning over other artists already competing for dwindling cultural resources), in reality, NFTs have yielded the same outcomes of the already highly stratified conventional art market. Its implicit rules are reasserted in the steep transaction fees to “mint” one’s work, the connections required for access to the more exclusive and reputable marketplaces, and the social networks that assure lucrative sales. NFTs don’t deliver more fulfilling and sustaining relationships to creative work, yet the rhetoric draws more people into a destructive technological fantasy.”
  • Bear Nation
    • by Drew Schorno
    • Quote: ““Calories in, calories out”, or CICO, is trivially true in the sense that all the calories you use and store come from the food that you eat. I for one believe in the conservation of energy principle from physics: so yes, we have been consuming relatively more calories on average in the past few decades. It is simple enough to lose weight through starvation, or to gain weight through force-feeding, but your body will work hard to bring you back to where it wants you to be. It is well within your body’s capability to make you hungrier and lazier to gain weight; or to make you hot, jittery, and excitable to lose weight. It always seems to win eventually.
    • On the other hand, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who remain thin for years through the sheer force of their intense willpower, to which I say: congratulations, seriously. The problem with CICO as a thought-terminating cliche, though, is that it doesn’t explain why most Americans since 1980 have decided en masse to eat more food or burn less calories in the first place. Are our foods today really more “hyper-palatable” than french pastries, or are we just eating more because we’re hungrier (because we’re in torpor)?
    • Some people eat tons of food and never seem to gain any weight. “Oh I just have a fast metabolism…” exactly! Why do some people have fast metabolisms and some people have slow metabolisms? Why would that be the case?”
  • Moral Choices Without Moral Language: 1950s Political-Military Wargaming at the RAND Corporation
    • by John R. Emery
    • Quote: “These political-military games at RAND have important lessons for thinking through the implications of emotion, ethics, and the role of judgment in wargaming today. Given the current renaissance in wargaming — in the social sciences as well as in efforts to think through the dilemmas of AI and the future of war — it is important to reflect on the issues raised by RAND in the 1950s and the lessons that can be drawn from them. First, reason and emotion are inextricably intertwined. They exist in a symbiotic relationship in terms of how we experience and interpret the world. Second, wargames with a high degree of realism can better represent decision-making in the real world by engaging the emotions of the players. Third, even when ethics is excluded from the conversation, facing the potential consequences of political-military action can lead to restraint. Finally, a conversation of realistic consequences and the uncertainties of the world is essential for an ethical assessment of possible consequences of nuclear threat and use. Wargames can be more than the division between art and science or quantitative and qualitative approaches, but a quest for understanding the why of decision-making, beyond the discursive reasons that players may give. The technostrategic language that Cohn wrote about in the 1980s remains pervasive in nuclear deterrence circles, but the revival of simulations and gaming in the social sciences offers an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of emotion and ethical practical judgment in international relations. Being made to feel the weight of decision-making is a necessary antidote to abstractions that allow policymakers to ignore the real consequences and human suffering that could come from pressing the button.”
  • Competition is for losers
    • by David Runciman
    • Quote: “What’s harder to square with this philosophy is that Thiel has made most of his own money by exploiting the monopoly power of the state to secure lucrative defence contracts. How can a libertarian be comfortable cosying up to sovereign wealth funds, the military-industrial establishment and the security state? One possible answer is that Thiel is not a libertarian at all. The pretence is just a means of covering up his true business model, which is to rely on craven bureaucrats squandering taxpayers’ money on untested technologies. But the other possibility is that this is the essence of libertarianism. One book not discussed by Chafkin is Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia, which has been widely influential in Silicon Valley since its publication in 1974. Nozick argues that the powers of the state can’t be justified for anything except the protection of private property. Tax-raising is only permitted to pay for security infrastructure. Everything else – social justice, welfare, redistribution – counts as the workers exploiting the capitalists. In a famous thought experiment, Nozick describes the way even an anarchic society will eventually produce a dominant ‘protective association’, which keeps its citizens safe by taking their money more effectively than its rivals. The state’s monopoly on violence is therefore simply a product of market forces, and the state little more than a protection racket. This isn’t politics as The West Wing. It’s politics as The Sopranos.
    • Thiel treats the state as though it were as described by Nozick. He rails against the use of public money for the betterment of people’s lives, especially the poor. Who are politicians to decide how we should live? The state only exists to protect the lives we build for ourselves, including the wealth we acquire along the way. But Thiel has noticed that even such a ‘minimal state’, as Nozick calls it, still has an awful lot of resources to throw around. It’s a monopoly after all. Any modern security infrastructure in the age of digital technology requires plenty of public money to fund it. That money must be spent somewhere – and Thiel is the one to oblige. Libertarians would have us believe that unregulated, free-market capitalism is somehow diametrically opposed to state capitalism. One encourages innovation; the other stifles it. What Thiel demonstrates is that unregulated, free-market capitalism is in fact closely aligned to state capitalism. Deregulation means that nothing constrains the monopoly power of the security state and nothing gets in the way of people selling it their bogus and corrupting wares. This alliance helps explain the weird anomaly of Thiel’s persona. He’s like a cross between Joe Pesci in Goodfellas – a man who will stab you in the eye with a ballpoint pen if you cross him – and Richard Branson, another so-called entrepreneur who makes most of his money by capturing state-controlled contracts (Virgin Rail, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Media). Branson, unlike Thiel, is a bit of a hippy and mouths most of the liberal pieties, including about climate change. But it doesn’t really matter what the philosophy is. The business model is the same: get as close as you can to the people who control the protection rackets. Unregulated markets aren’t opposed to state capitalism. They are the means by which capitalists make the most money out of the state. One more movie character I was reminded of when reading about Thiel is Keyser Söze, who says at the end of The Usual Suspects: ‘The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.’”
  • The Dune Sketchbook
    • by Hans Zimmer
    • I’ve been listening to this a fair bit over the past week or so. Quote from the linked review: “Overall, Hans Zimmer’s The Dune Sketchbook is actually quite hard to describe. One thing’s for sure though; from the ever-mysterious themes he introduces to the uniquely-crafted instrumentation he uses, Zimmer has managed to pretty successfully musically capture Dune here, which is certainly not an easy feat to accomplish. Whether it’s the loudly triumphant, anthem-esque setpiece for House Atreides, the sheer mystical heights reached by the main theme for the Kwisatz Haderach (and by extension, Paul Atreides himself) or the massively intimidating motif for the great Sandworms of Arrakis, Zimmer has created unique and memorable themes for each, and given them a significant workout through the album’s hundred minute runtime. Stylistically, Dune sort of feels like a bit of a mixture of Blade Runner 2049 and Chappie; harsh, moody atmosphere combined with loud, primarily electronic motifs, but that’s a rather basic and in all honesty not particularly accurate way of describing it, so to try and put it simply; The Dune Sketchbook is quite unlike any film score you’ve heard before (I mean that literally – Zimmer even went as far as to invent new instruments for it), amounting overall to some truly spectacular, mind-bending musical results.”

The Magnificent Seven #63: Laziness Does Not Exist – 03/10/21

  • Laziness Does Not Exist
    • by Devon Price
    • Quote A: “When you’re seeking to predict or explain a person’s actions, looking at the social norms, and the person’s context, is usually a pretty safe bet. Situational constraints typically predict behavior far better than personality, intelligence, or other individual-level traits.”
    • Quote B: “If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context.”
    • Quote C: “If a person can’t get out of bed, something is making them exhausted. If a student isn’t writing papers, there’s some aspect of the assignment that they can’t do without help. If an employee misses deadlines constantly, something is making organization and deadline-meeting difficult. Even if a person is actively choosing to self-sabotage, there’s a reason for it — some fear they’re working through, some need not being met, a lack of self-esteem being expressed.
    • People do not choose to fail or disappoint. No one wants to feel incapable, apathetic, or ineffective. If you look at a person’s action (or inaction) and see only laziness, you are missing key details. There is always an explanation. There are always barriers. Just because you can’t see them, or don’t view them as legitimate, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look harder.”
    • I also read Betrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness. Quote: “The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.”
  • The Case Against E-carceration
    • by James Kilgore, Emmett Sanders, Kate Weisburd
    • Quote: “Like mass incarceration, surveillance entrenches race and class-based subordination and social marginalization. As Professor Michelle Alexander has observed, these “digital prisons are to mass incarceration what Jim Crow was to slavery.” In San Francisco, Black people make up around 3 percent of the general population but almost 50 percent of the people on electronic monitors. In Chicago, Black people comprise 25 percent of the general population, but up to 75 percent of people subjected to monitors. 
    • Being watched, and increasingly listened to, by law enforcement 24/7 undermines privacy, autonomy, and dignity. Ms. Jones explained that she couldn’t be herself: “I felt judged. I felt like a slave.” Other first-person accounts from across the country echo her experience. Although most courts do not recognize this harm, the late U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein did, observing in one case that “wearing of an electronic bracelet, every minute of every day, with the government capable of tracking a person not yet convicted as if he were a feral animal would be considered a serious limitation on freedom by most liberty-loving Americans.””
  • Systems Convening
    • by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner
    • Quote: “Social learning across complex landscapes requires a certain kind of leadership, which we have called systems convening. Many people do this kind of work without any label, often unrecognized, and sometimes not even particularly aware that they are doing it.
    • A systems convener or systems convening team sets up spaces for new types of conversations between people who often live on different sides of a boundary. For example, a geographic, cultural, disciplinary, political, class, social boundary. These conveners see a social landscape with all its separate and related practices through a wide-angle lens: they spot opportunities for creating new learning spaces and partnership that will bring different and often unlikely people together to engage in learning across boundaries. A systems convener takes a “landscape view” of wherever they are and what they need to do to increase the learning capability of that entire landscape – rather than simply the capability of the space they are standing in. Importantly, a systems convener is someone who has enough legitimacy in different worlds to be able to convene people in those different worlds into a joint conversation.”
  • Walking as a Productivity System
    • by Kieran O’Hare
    • Quote: “Arriving in the rhythm of a long walk can take a few days, but I find that once I’m there, a momentum takes over—I get a natural high, the mind seems to open up, I become more creative, and I start to truly notice things. 
    • Through walking, I feel like I accidentally discovered a way of more fully interacting with place, and of connecting with people in situations that I would never otherwise get to be in. For example, I spend a lot of my time on these walks talking with farmers, say, or charcoal makers—folks I’d otherwise never bump into in my ‘normal’ life. But in the context of a long walk, our paths naturally converge.
    • Since my earliest walks, I’ve been investigating what I can do with walks. I like to carry out experiments to see what the experience of the walk might lead me to create or publish, in sounds, images, and words.”
  • Wanderlust: Rebecca Solnit on How Walking Vitalizes the Meanderings of the Mind
    • by Maria Popova
    • Quoting Solnit: “The multiplication of technologies in the name of efficiency is actually eradicating free time by making it possible to maximize the time and place for production and minimize the unstructured travel time in between. New timesaving technologies make most workers more productive, not more free, in a world that seems to be accelerating around them. Too, the rhetoric of efficiency around these technologies suggests that what cannot be quantified cannot be valued — that that vast array of pleasures which fall into the category of doing nothing in particular, of woolgathering, cloud-gazing, wandering, window-shopping, are nothing but voids to be filled by something more definite, more productive, or faster paced… As a member of the self-employed whose time saved by technology can be lavished on daydreams and meanders, I know these things have their uses, and use them — a truck, a computer, a modem — myself, but I fear their false urgency, their call to speed, their insistence that travel is less important than arrival. I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”
  • What Does Saying That ‘Programming Is Hard’ Really Say, and About Whom?
    • by Brett A. Becker
    • Quote: “It is more accurate to say that certain aspects of programming are difficult or more challenging than others. This considerably dilutes the notion that programming is innately hard, as some aspects of many endeavors are more difficult than others. More pointed statements are also less likely to inflict collateral damage on general audiences and are less prone to misuse. Aspects of programming that are accepted to be challenging include knowledge transfer issues—including negative transfer—and developing a notional machine, among others. Programming has several candidate threshold concepts but so do aspects of many disciplines.”
  • The Unstoppable Battery Onslaught
    • by Casey Handmer
    • Quote: “There is no practical limit to battery installation on a given grid due to competition with traditional operators. Batteries are the only game in town, and their installation will proliferate as long as there are gas and coal plants to pilfer, solar power to load shift into the evening, and falling hardware costs to cover costs. The natural end state of this transition is 5-15x solar capacity overbuild (it’s very cheap) with enough batteries to load shift over a diurnal cycle for levels of consumption that currently look quite high, due to future low prices and induced demand. No gas, no coal, no nuclear. Wind, yes, in windy cloudy areas.
    • Indeed, we’re within a decade of seeing large scale electrical synthesis of natural gas and other hydrocarbons. Electricity is cheap enough that the previous century’s practices of burning fuel to make it will now be run in reverse. Industrial hydrocarbons, used for chemical synthesis, plastics, and jet fuel, will be carbon neutral.”
    • I also read The Future of electricity is local. Quote: “While I’ve focused on a particular use case here, in the US, the observation generalizes. Any given fixed infrastructure will have a cost floor below which utilization will not generate any value, and steady advances in wind, solar, and batteries will eventually break through that floor. For local transmission in particularly gnarly places, power transmission may be profitable well into the 2030s. But in general, as the costs of local generation and storage continue to plummet, the relative inefficiency of long distance transmission will drive its use out of favor. This will mean the proliferation of rooftop solar and consumer batteries, as well as solar+batteries at utility scale, as well as municipal batteries in containerized form factors wherever local energy value arbitrage can justify their use.”
    • Handmer also has a freely accessible book about “the persistence of a variety of common misconceptions in popular writing about space”: Reading in the Space Space.

The Magnificent Seven #62: The River Runner – 26/09/21

  • The River Runner
    • The perspective of people that deliberately encounter death exerts a significant pull on me. Near-deathness is a potent philosophical potion, and this documentary about a renowned kayaker offers some insight into what it feels like to spend time on the edge of life. Also, epic landscapes.
  • The Journey
    • by Through the Lens
    • I haven’t played basketball for years but it remains a good go-to when I don’t want to do much of anything. This series follows some rookies as they prepare for the 2021 NBA draft, and it’s fascinating to see such utter devotion. It’s also somewhat tragic to notice just how high the stakes are for the players trying to make it.
  • Britain’s Idyllic Country Homes Reveal a Darker History
    • by Sam Knight
    • In the same way that American culture deifies billionaires, British culture deifies the aristocracy and the age of empire; the aristocratic estates of old are a key component of that worship.
    • Quote: “Dalrymple likens the Clive Collection to objects seized during the Second World War. “If you were to gather a group of National Trust supporters in a room and say to them, ‘We have some examples here of looted Jewish art treasures taken by the Nazis that have ended up in our properties. Should we hold on to them? Or should we give them back to their owners, who now live in L.A.?’ There would be a hundred-per-cent vote, of course,” he said. “Most British people simply are not aware, or haven’t processed, that the pretty Sunday-night drama they see of ‘Passage to India,’ with ladies in crinoline dresses floating across the lawns, and maharajas playing croquet and smiling elephants swishing their tails in the background—that this is the same thing. That this is another conquered nation, whose art treasures now sit in British museums and in British country houses.”
  • Can Single Cells Learn?
    • by Catherine Offord
    • Quote: “Central to the controversy about tests of learning in single-celled organisms is the age-old difficulty of designing an experiment that cleanly distinguishes one explanation for a result from another. In Gelber’s case, this meant demonstrating that her protozoa were adapting their behavior to some new stimulus because they’d associated it with a particular reward, and not because they were responding instinctively to chemical or other signals from the bacteria or the wire, for example. Experiments carried out by her critics, who concluded that Gelber’s findings were irreproducible, had their own problems on this front, Gershman says, and Gelber did carry out several careful controls that he says strengthened her conclusions. (See illustration.) Nevertheless, “the criticism stuck,” says Gershman, “because it fit with people’s predisposition” to assume unicellular organisms simply weren’t equipped to learn.”
    • On a (loosely) related note, I also read a guidance report for metacognition and self-regulated learning. It’s a resource for teachers and educators interested in bringing metacognition and self-regulated learning—rated as “high impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence”—to their pupils. 
    • Quote: “While there may be some benefit to introducing pupils to the general importance of planning, monitoring, and evaluating, the particular strategies are often quite subject- or task-specific, and the evidence suggests that they are best taught through subject content.
    • The following seven-step model for explicitly teaching metacognitive strategies can be applied to learning different subject content at different phases and ages. It involves:
    • 1. Activating prior knowledge; 2. Explicit strategy instruction; 3. Modelling of learned strategy; 4. Memorisation of strategy; 5. Guided practice; 6. Independent practice; and 6. 7. Structured reflection.”
  • The Wim Hof Method Explained
    • by Isabelle Hof
    • Quote A: “There are various methods that separately deal with breathing techniques, the training of mindset/concentration, or exposure to the cold. As far as we know, there is no method with an interactive basis between these three components. It is the very interaction of these components that appears to provide proof of the positive effect on the body, as shown by several scientific studies.”
    • Quote B: “By not breathing out entirely, you come to a point where a residual of air remains in the lungs. After doing this thirty times, you exhale again without any use of force. This time though, you don’t immediately inhale again, but wait with inhaling until you sense your body needs new oxygen. After this, the whole process starts again. While you start to sensations of lightness, laxity and tingling, these rounds are repeated a number of times”.
  • Essays on programming I think about a lot
    • by Ben Kuhn
    • I thought it would be fun to read all of these. Ben has already provided short excerpts from the 10-15 linked essays but I’ve included my own below. Sorry not sorry for length.
    • From Computers can be understood: “I approach software with a deep-seated belief that computers and software systems can be understood.
    • This belief is, for me, not some abstruse theoretical assertion, but a deeply felt belief that essentially any question I might care to ask (about computers) has a comprehensible answer which is accessible with determined exploration and learning.”
    • From Choose Boring Technology: “The problem with “best tool for the job” thinking is that it takes a myopic view of the words “best” and “job.” Your job is keeping the company in business, god damn it. And the “best” tool is the one that occupies the “least worst” position for as many of your problems as possible.”
    • From The Wrong Abstraction: “When you appear in this story in step 8 above, this pressure may compel you to proceed forward, that is, to implement the new requirement by changing the existing code. Attempting to do so, however, is brutal. The code no longer represents a single, common abstraction, but has instead become a condition-laden procedure which interleaves a number of vaguely associated ideas. It is hard to understand and easy to break.”
    • From Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names: “I have never seen a computer system which handles names properly and doubt one exists, anywhere.” This one made me laugh.
    • From The Hiring Post: “A few years ago, Matasano couldn’t have hired Alex, because we relied on interviews and resumes to hire. Then we made some changes, and became a machine that spotted and recruited people like Alex: line of business .NET developers at insurance companies who pulled Rails core CVEs out of their first hour looking at the code. Sysadmins who hardware-reversed assembly firmware for phone chipsets. Epiphany: the talent is out there, but you can’t find it on a resume.”
    • From The Product-Minded Engineer: “Most experienced engineers own their work end-to-end: from getting the specification, through implementing it, all the way to rolling it out and validating that it works correctly. Product-minded engineers often go a step beyond this.
    • They consider their work done only after getting results on user behavior and business metrics.”
    • From Write code that is easy to delete, not easy to extend: “If we see ‘lines of code’ as ‘lines spent’, then when we delete lines of code, we are lowering the cost of maintenance. Instead of building re-usable software, we should try to build disposable software.”
    • From The Law of Leaky Abstractions: “The law of leaky abstractions means that whenever somebody comes up with a wizzy new code-generation tool that is supposed to make us all ever-so-efficient, you hear a lot of people saying “learn how to do it manually first, then use the wizzy tool to save time.” Code generation tools which pretend to abstract out something, like all abstractions, leak, and the only way to deal with the leaks competently is to learn about how the abstractions work and what they are abstracting. So the abstractions save us time working, but they don’t save us time learning.
    • And all this means that paradoxically, even as we have higher and higher level programming tools with better and better abstractions, becoming a proficient programmer is getting harder and harder.”
    • From Reflections on software performance: “What is perhaps less apparent is that having faster tools changes how users use a tool or perform a task. Users almost always have multiple strategies available to pursue a goal — including deciding to work on something else entirely — and they will choose to use faster tools more and more frequently. Fast tools don’t just allow users to accomplish tasks faster; they allow users to accomplish entirely new types of tasks, in entirely new ways. I’ve seen this phenomenon clearly while working on both Sorbet and Livegrep:”
    • From Building Robust Systems with ACID and Constraints: “For services that run in production, the better defined the schema and the more self-consistent the data, the easier life is going to be. Valuing miniscule short-term gains over long-term sustainability is a pathological way of doing anything; when building production-grade software, it’s a sin.”
    • From Notes on Distributed Systems for Young Bloods: “Every time two machines have to agree on something, the service becomes harder to implement. Information has an upper limit to the speed it can travel, and networked communication is flakier than you think, and your idea of what constitutes consensus is probably wrong.”
    • From End-to-End Arguments in System Design: “Choosing the proper boundaries between functions is perhaps the primary activity of the computer system designer.”
  • When **it Gets Real and Discontinuity is the Job
    • by Alex Steffen
    • Two articles from an ecologically-minded futurist.
    • Quote from the first, A: “Too often, our self-identity as advocates not only inclines us to think in terms of orderly transition, it also prevents us from seeing our personal power in what is fundamentally a professional crisis.
    • The overwhelming majority of the decisions that will really matter in the next critical decade—the decisions that shape strategies, leverage resources, launch efforts, shift systems—will be made by those whose job it is to make them. The professionals who work for advocacy groups are vital, but an increasingly small proportion of those whose job or mission it is to make these kinds of decisions. The future we get will largely be decided by how well a few million people do their jobs in the next decade.
    • Quote from the first, B: “We face urgent and enormous threats, sure, but the most powerfully disruptive forces in our society spring from the unrealized upsides of bold action. Indeed, we are now in an era of ferocious competition for benefits; of upheaval in pursuit of staggering opportunities, unprecedented in scope, scale and speed. If we succeed in accelerating change quickly enough, we won’t reverse the catastrophes the last five decades has saddled us with, but we may well snap forward into a global boom of sustainable prosperity and systems ruggedization that not only enables us to be largely successful within discontinuity, but leaves billions of people better off than they are now.”
    • Quote from the second, A: “Every single one of us should have a real role to play in the fights ahead. And it would be nice if it were true that if we just mobilized enough people, we could not only meet this crisis, but use it to remake society as a whole, and find ourselves living in an entirely different political landscape. I’d like to believe that this is true, myself—but it’s not. It’s true that levers do exist for citizens, consumers and community members to put some pressure on specific decision-makers within these institutions. In the immediate term, though—which is the timeframe that matters most—there will still be institutions and decision-makers.
    • Who makes what decision matters, though. We live, right now, with professional networks of expert decision-makers who are deeply committed—for reasons we’ll get back to—to making the same kinds of decisions they’ve been rewarded for making before. They are the owners, investors, managers, bankers, engineers, lawyers, consultants, elected officials, bureaucrats, union bosses, advocacy leaders, philanthropists, journalists and academics who are expert at building and running the systems that surround us today. The decisions they’ve been making have brought humanity to the brink of ruin.”
    • Quote from the second, B: “Climate/sustainability expertise has become a profession, like any other. Its primary offering is least-cost plans for incremental-but-socially-credible action. Generally those plans defend organizations from criticism and pressure by making serious-sounding commitments to big-but-distant goals (like, “Net Zero by 2050”), paired with incremental and inexpensive steps in the near term. The two are then “triangulated” with arguments that small steps today are “in line” with a future of bold action. The key deliverable is the claim that the triangulator’s employer is “doing enough.”
    • The definition of “doing enough” becomes the critical battleground with advocates and regulators who want more action. With triangulation, we see the deployment of bolt-on solutions purpose-machined to preserve the value of slow approaches, assets, and expertise. We see an emphasis on things like charitable gifts, ESG ratings, operational climate emissions (and carbon offsets), business-case sustainability commitments (small steps that pay their way) and employee behavior (“Remember, everyone, recycle your coffee cups and don’t forget to show up for tree-planting day!”), and messaging (from outright greenwashing to empty declarations of support for climate justice).
    • The promise of triangulation—the optics of serious commitment, but an action agenda that doesn’t upset existing management priorities and revenue centers—has proven attractive to those at the top, for understandable reasons: If you’re an executive without any particular insight into the crisis yourself, hiring triangulatory experts allows you to cover your butt without any obvious downside. It’s a plug and play solution, allowing you to keep focused on the business models that have been earning well so far. It limits exposure to the gulf between slow approaches and fast realities. And it works perfectly fine, as long as your decision-making horizon is very close, measured in quarterly reports, and uninterrupted by any sudden changes.”

The Magnificent Seven #61: In the Bird Cage – 19/09/21

  • In the Bird Cage
    • by Steve Martin
    • Quote A: “At the Bird Cage, I formed the soft primordial core of what became my comedy act. Over the three years I worked there, I strung together everything I knew: some comedy juggling, a few standard magic routines, a couple of banjo songs, and some very old jokes. My act was eclectic, and it would take ten more years for me to make sense of it. However, the opportunity to perform four or five times a day gave me confidence and poise. Even though my material had few distinguishing features, the repetition helped me lose my amateur rattle.”
    • Quote B: “Standup comedy felt like an open door. It was possible to assemble a few minutes of material and be onstage that week, as opposed to standing in line in the mysterious world of Hollywood, getting no response, no phone calls returned, and no opportunity to perform. On Mondays, I could tour around Orange County, visit three clubs in one night, and be onstage, live, in front of an audience. If I flopped at the Paradox in Tustin, I might succeed an hour later at the Ice House in Pasadena.”
    • I also read Why I Wrote “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller. 
    • Quote A: “I remember those years—they formed “The Crucible” ’s skeleton—but I have lost the dead weight of the fear I had then. Fear doesn’t travel well; just as it can warp judgment, its absence can diminish memory’s truth. What terrifies one generation is likely to bring only a puzzled smile to the next. I remember how in 1964, only twenty years after the war, Harold Clurman, the director of “Incident at Vichy,” showed the cast a film of a Hitler speech, hoping to give them a sense of the Nazi period in which my play took place. They watched as Hitler, facing a vast stadium full of adoring people, went up on his toes in ecstasy, hands clasped under his chin, a sublimely self-gratified grin on his face, his body swivelling rather cutely, and they giggled at his overacting.”
    • Quote B: “The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding images of common experiences in the fifties: the old friend of a blacklisted person crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him; the overnight conversions of former leftists into born-again patriots; and so on. Apparently, certain processes are universal. When Gentiles in Hitler’s Germany, for example, saw their Jewish neighbors being trucked off, or farmers in Soviet Ukraine saw the Kulaks vanishing before their eyes, the common reaction, even among those unsympathetic to Nazism or Communism, was quite naturally to turn away in fear of being identified with the condemned. As I learned from non-Jewish refugees, however, there was often a despairing pity mixed with “Well, they must have done something.” Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable And so the evidence has to be internally denied.”
  • Was There a Civilisation on Earth Before Humans?
    • by Adam Frank
    • Quote: “We’re used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you’re only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated.
    • When it comes to direct evidence of an industrial civilization—things like cities, factories, and roads—the geologic record doesn’t go back past what’s called the Quaternary period 2.6 million years ago. For example, the oldest large-scale stretch of ancient surface lies in the Negev Desert. It’s “just” 1.8 million years old—older surfaces are mostly visible in cross section via something like a cliff face or rock cuts. Go back much further than the Quaternary, and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust.
    • And, if we’re going back this far, we’re not talking about human civilizations anymore. Homo sapiens didn’t make their appearance on the planet until just 300,000 years or so ago. That means the question shifts to other species, which is why Gavin called the idea the Silurian hypothesis, after an old Doctor Who episode with intelligent reptiles.”
  • Psychological Fidelity
    • by Allyn Jackson
    • Quote: “It was this reversal that led Post to incompleteness. He formulated what is now called Post’s thesis, a name chosen by Davis to echo the Church–Turing thesis, to which it is essentially equivalent. Post’s thesis applies to the intuitive idea of a generated set, which Post described as any set of symbols that can be “produced, created—in practice, written down.”16 Thinking of strings of symbols as statements in a formal axiomatic system, one can interpret a generated set as the theorems in that system. Post’s thesis states that, for any generated set, one can find a system in normal form that produces exactly that set.
    • By using a diagonal argument, Post was able to obtain a set, D, that seemed to be a counterexample to his thesis. But his experience with tag gave him the courage to make a momentous leap of faith: D is not a generated set. We can say today that D is not computable; that is, that there exists no algorithm that produces D as its output.
    • By using a mathematically rigorous version of his thesis, Post was able to conclude that: “A complete symbolic logic is impossible [emphasis original]This is an iconoclastic result from the formal logician’s point of view since it means that logic must not only in some parts of its description … but in its very operation be informal.17
    • Contrary to the conception of Lewis, mathematics cannot be entirely reduced to a set of meaningless marks set down by mechanically following rules.
    • “Mathematical thinking,” Post declared, “is, and must be, essentially creative.””
  • Unboxing the Toolkit
    • by Shannon Mattern
    • Lede: “But should you? Is a kit really an appropriate means to effect social justice; to teach students about book-binding or physical computing or, heaven forbid, surgery; to engage marginalized communities in designing their material conditions of living? Especially given the proliferation of kits as methodological and political tools in design and development, we need to think about how kits are aesthetic objects that order and arrange things – and how those aesthetics are rhetorical and epistemological: they make an argument about “best practices,” about what matters, and about how we know things. They interpellate, or summon, particular users and make claims about expertise and whose contributions matter and what knowledge counts. Their component parts shape users’ agency and subjectivity in relation to the objective or purpose at hand – and they have the potential to define that purpose, whether it’s baking a cake or addressing poverty. We need to think about how kits are ontological, too; they constitute a way for tools to be in relation with one another, and for us to be in relation to those tools and to one another, via the toolkit. They also make claims about how the world is put together, and they ostensibly give us the tools to build that world – perhaps a studier, healthier, more just, better designed world. We need to consider how kits model particular politics and ethics, what they are well suited to do, and what possibilities are effectively “boxed out.”
    • What follows is my own classificatory kit of kits. We start with kits designed for the most rudimentary of purposes: basic survival. We then move on to toolkits as means of inclusion and structures of social relations; then toolkits that facilitate material pedagogy; and, finally, toolkitting as a design method.”
    • Quote A: “Kits are instrumental not only in the deployment of resources or provision of services. They’re not only memory devices, governing apparatae, and standardizing formats for experts or officials distributing their expertise and skills to others; kits also serve as tools of engagement, as methods of inclusion, for broader communities. In the 1970s, anti-rape activist Martha “Marty” Goddard took on the standard forensic methods deployed within the Chicago police department, which were based on the presumption that charges of assault were a “feminine delusion,” and that male police officers would serve as the voice of the purported victim. Goddard’s contribution: a kit composed of nail clippers, a comb for collecting hair and fiber, a bag for the victim’s clothing, a card offering her information about support services, test tubes, slides and packaging materials to protect the specimens, sealing tape, a pencil for labeling the slides, and forms for doctors and police officers. Goddard’s rape kit was a cardboard box full of disruptive contradictions: supported by a grant from the Playboy Foundation, branded blue and white by Playboy’s graphic designers, and assembled by a team of senior citizen volunteers at Playboy’s offices, the kit overturned conventions of practice and systems of authority. As Pagan Kennedy describes in a powerful and poignant piece in the New York Times, Goddard’s low-tech technology “blasted through the assumptions of the day: that nurses were too stupid to collect forensic evidence; that women who ‘cried rape’ were usually lying; and that evidence didn’t really matter when it came to rape, because rape was impossible to prove.” The kit systematized evidence collection and produced a paper trail, which ultimately proved persuasive in the courtroom. The kit was both a scientific tool and a “theatrical prop,” Kennedy notes; it had such charisma, “the kit itself became a character in the trials.” Yet Goddard patented her invention under the name of Sergeant Louis Vitullo, the head of the Chicago Police Department’s microscope unit and her domineering collaborator, because, Kennedy argues, “the kit never would have had traction if a woman with no scientific credentials had been known as its sole inventor.” Men are the ones who make technology. Thus, while Goddard’s kit validated victims and nurses as authorities, Goddard herself wasn’t, for quite some time, included in the kit’s official history.”
    • Quote B: “I wondered what has made measurement and data collection — often with analog tools — so cool, so worth aestheticizing, in this age of sentient technologies and planetary computation. Perhaps it’s partly because, in contrast with the machines automatically harvesting mountains of data, these toolkits allow for a slower, more intentional, reflective, site-specific, embodied means of engaging with research sites and subjects. They allow researchers to design their methods and measurement devices, including some that, drawing on the principles of Maker culture, deploy the same computational methods used in surveillance and data mining, but use them, as does the Social Design Toolkit, to critique those very computational methods and suggest other, more responsible, less exploitative, more poetic uses.”
  • Why Women Leave Tech (aka “Why I Left Tech”)
    • by Liminal Warmth
    • Welp; cross-gender social dynamics are an absolute clusterfuck. Quote: “This is not an attractive look for a woman. Power for women is to be wielded covertly and demurely, via social channels and consensus with other powerful women applying gendered pressure to men to bring what they want about. Tons of examples of this.
    • You are not supposed to be command and control in your affect. Unfortunately, this rule flies in the face of managerial responsibility in most hierarchical organizations (corporations). Command and control behavior is still the norm that’s rewarded, particularly in environments with a lot of money and speed involved. Tech is that. So when people see a woman making bossy decisions they don’t like and don’t understand, they resent her implicitly for violating deeply held expectations about how women are. And of course none of us are perfect.
    • Your quirks, bad calls, and flaws are magnified 10x. And because you’re also playing a game of likability politics as a manager/director/exec, those repeated violations of gender norms get very costly. You get thrust into situations where you have to argue for good choices or retain popularity capital. Your male peers don’t.”
  • Watching the Watchers
    • by Ding Yining, Shi Yangkun
    • Quote: “After finishing his bachelor’s degree in Wuhan, Ge traveled to Beijing to study at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts. He soon noticed that near the campus, there was a small stretch of road that wasn’t marked with a road sign. He decided to install one himself.
    • The student had a sign made in the exact same style as a regular Beijing street sign. He labeled it with his own name: Ge Yulu. (The last character of his given name, “lu,” means “road” in Chinese, so most people read the sign as meaning “Geyu Road.”)
    • Ge secretly put up the sign one night in 2014, and the city appeared to simply accept its authority without question. Before long, the street was marked as “Geyu Road” on Google Maps and several Chinese navigation apps. The name even began appearing on official municipal signs, parking tickets issued by the local police, and addresses used by Beijing’s couriers.”
    • I also read the 2018 article, A Week in Xinjiang’s Absolute Surveillance State. Quote: “Islamic extremism is a problem around the world. Even setting aside civil wars like Algeria or Syria, Islamic extremism has killed thousands in the West, sometimes in spectacular orgies of violence like the Bataclan massacre in Paris. The liberal world has been trying for decades to find a solution to this problem, unsuccessfully. China has found one: communism. Just plain old Soviet-style Communism with high-resolution cameras and a strong IT infrastructure. The core of it is just plain old communist control of the populace, and ideological overload to maintain cultural dominance.
    • I don’t think we have much to learn from it; the West is, thankfully, just not communist. Even if we wanted to, we in the West don’t have the administrative mechanisms to do anything like this. Xinjiang is just applying the same stuff that has always existed in China, just stronger. Much stronger, but the core administrative mechanisms were already there. Government innovations are almost always incremental.”
  • Four ways that dance has helped Valarie Allman excel in the discus throw
    • by Steve Landells
    • Quote: “Allman believes having a deep connection with body movement through dance has been “incredibly beneficial” during her discus career.
    • “When I first started discus, my brain instinctively thought of the movement as choreography,” she explains. “I was able to learn rudimentary discus technique relatively quickly by thinking of the movement through the lens of my dance background.
    • In their simplest form, both dance and discus are about fluidity and connecting movements.”
    • Sion supports Allman’s comments. “Similar to dance, crisp lines and angles can be seen when an athlete executes proper technique. Valarie’s movement through the ring is fluid, graceful, powerful, and aesthetically pleasing. Learning choreographed routines has helped her posture, lines, and ability to connect movements with speed – all of which translate to the discus. It’s interesting, Valarie does a double pirouette at the end of her throw. The double pirouette is a little stylistic, but definitely functional in terms of decelerating her body after releasing the discus and saving the throw.””
    • There’s a link to a five minute Instagram video at the bottom of the article, too.

The Magnificent Seven #60: Luxury Surveillance – 12/09/91

  • Luxury Surveillance
    • by Chris Gillard, David Columbia
    • Quote: “The formerly incarcerated person knows that their ankle monitor exists for that purpose: to predict and control their behavior. But the Apple Watch wearer likely thinks about it little, if at all — despite the fact that the watch has the potential to collect and analyze much more data about its user (e.g. health metrics like blood pressure, blood glucose levels, ECG data) than parole or probation officers are even allowed to gather about their “clients” without specific warrant. Fitness-tracker wearers are effectively putting themselves on parole and paying for the privilege.
    • Both the Apple Watch and the FitBit can be understood as examples of luxury surveillance: surveillance that people pay for and whose tracking, monitoring, and quantification features are understood by the user as benefits they are likely to celebrate. Google, which has recently acquired FitBit, is seemingly leaning into the category, launching a more expensive version of the device named the “Luxe.” Only certain people can afford luxury surveillance, but that is not necessarily a matter of money: In general terms, consumers of luxury surveillance see themselves as powerful and sovereign, and perhaps even immune from unwelcome monitoring and control. They see self-quantification and tracking not as disciplinary or coercive, but as a kind of care or empowerment. They understand it as something extra, something “smart.””
  • Scientists Should Start Companies
    • by Matt Krisiloff
    • Quote: “I like to think of companies as social organization tools first and foremost, where people can be optimally aligned towards working on a hard problem.
    • In academia, most scientists are incentivized to work on their own research in a relatively siloed fashion – publications are an all-important currency that is hard to be shared.
    • The culture seems to end up revolving more around the individual, heavily discouraging teams of multiple people from devoting all their attention towards working together on the same problem. [1]
    • On the other hand, with a company, it’s much easier to collectively coordinate people towards the same goal. With a general de-emphasis on the individual, collective milestones can be set for everyone as all-important north stars.
    • This type of environment makes it much simpler for people to work together on different approaches to the same question, or even double up on the same sets of experiments to brute force more possibilities and get past bottlenecks.
    • With companies too, you’re much more likely to have support team members assisting with experiment setup and downstream analysis to free up other members of the team to focus on other parts of the problem. This makes work much more efficient.”
  • The Secret Life of Urban Crows
    • by James Ross Gardner
    • “Swift, a PhD candidate, is a member of UW’s nationally acclaimed Avian Conservation Lab. If you’ve heard or read a news story in the last decade about Corvus brachyrhynchos—aka, the American crow—and what science has to say about its confounding habits and aptitude, there’s a good chance it was thanks to the work conducted by the lab, led by a man named John Marzluff. The UW professor and wildlife biologist is the author of numerous popular books on the subject. In 2008, Marzluff and his fellow researchers made national headlines when they tested a hypothesis—that crows recognize individual human faces—by donning Dick Cheney masks. That led to another revelation: Crows teach other crows to detest specific people (and sometimes attack them).
    • Today Swift, 30, would repeat an experiment that uncovered one of the team’s more staggering revelations. And she conducted it with the ceremony of an undertaker.”
  • Tom Nairn: The Prophet of post-Britain
    • by Rory Scothorne
    • Quote: “The world-conquering force of English – and shortly thereafter British – capitalism was such that it never had to “modernise” in the way that every other competitor did. Instead, Britain preserved itself in a kind of “transitional” aspic, neither pre-modern nor fully modern. Those on the receiving end of enclosure, clearance and proletarianisation may have found their worlds turned upside down, but for Nairn and Anderson mere immiseration was never enough to radicalise national politics: in the absence of a life-or-death struggle between bourgeois and aristocrat, in which the bourgeoisie had to drag the whole of the people into political life for support, no tradition of genuine popular sovereignty could fully establish itself.
    • Instead, the God-given authority of the monarch was simply smuggled into the modern world under parliamentary disguise. Westminster is thus empowered – via Crown-in-Parliament – to act as a sort of corporate deity, making and unmaking laws and structures as it pleases, with the royal family sticking around to inject what Nairn calls “the glamour of backwardness” and an aura of timeless familial stability into the arrangement. Parliament’s authority floats down from above, not up from below, and comes to a rest high above the people; the electorate’s power to choose representatives every few years is little more than a consolation prize for the lack of any other popular involvement in the actual system by which the people are governed.”
    • Related: The politics of lies: Boris Johnson and the erosion of the rule of law. Quote: “Eighteen months after his election victory, the opposite is the case. Johnson has remained true to himself and is now more popular than ever before. In the wake of the pandemic and the UK’s successful vaccination campaign, nothing seems to stick: not his catastrophic mismanagement at the beginning of the pandemic, nor his fractured relationship with the truth, not even the frequent cases of corruption within his cabinet. Furthermore, the growing damage done by Brexit to the British economy is rarely discussed in the country. Even his government’s increasingly authoritarian assaults on citizens seem to go unnoticed by the public. Johnson has shifted his party so far to the right that attacks on the justice system and the media are part of everyday life, with potentially fatal consequences for parliamentary democracy in the UK.”
  • A person or a thing? Inside the fight for animal personhood
    • by Rachel Fobar
    • Quote: “The concept of personhood for nonhuman entities isn’t new in the U.S. In 2019 after a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie, voters in Toledo, Ohio, recognized the lake’s “right to a healthy environment” by voting in favor of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights charter amendment. This meant that attorneys could sue polluters on the lake’s behalf. But last year, a federal court judge overturned the law as unconstitutional after a lawsuit challenged its legality. (In 2019, Uganda also formally recognized the rights of nature.)
    • Corporations have been afforded rights—and therefore considered legal persons—since the 1800s. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that limiting political spending by the nonprofit Citizens United violated its First Amendment right to free speech. Four years later in another famous corporate personhood case, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., can claim exemption from providing employees with contraceptive coverage on religious grounds if the practice violates the company’s beliefs.
    • If corporations have rights, it follows that both animals and natural resources should have rights too, says Kelsey Leonard, a scientist and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Leonard advocates for the integration of Indigenous traditions in water conservation and management. “This isn’t some revolutionary idea that’s going to upend our system,” she says. (In 2017, New Zealand recognized the legal personhood of the Whanganui River, which the Maori regard as a living being.)
  • Narrative Approach to Training
    • by WIlliam Wayland
    • Quote: “You talk to MMA fighters or grapplers about maximum strength, hypertrophy, or worse yet exercise physiology, especially as it pertains to conditioning and you will lose them quickly. Devices like those in the example above help frame the intention of a training approach via associative identity. Instead of gaining mass, bodybuilding, or hypertrophy, for example, using ‘armor building’ gets more buy in from the class of athletes worried about weight or being ‘too muscular’.”
  • Multiple blogs
    • by Commonplace
    • From Career Moats 101: “A career moat is an individual’s ability to maintain competitive advantages over your competition (say, in the job market) in order to protect your long term prospects, your employability, and your ability to generate sufficient financial returns to support the life you want to live. Just like a medieval castle, the moat serves to protect those inside the fortress and their riches from outsiders.”
    • From the same post: “…job security is tied to your ability to get your next job, not keep your current one.
    • From Only the Paranoid Survive: “Grove says the lack of strong top-down management in Intel nearly killed the company, as they had a culture reliant on bottom-up decision-making. Grove also mentions that he responded to every email from every level of Intel during the crucial years of the shift, with the aim of amplifying senior management’s voice and message to all below.”
    • From Reality Without Frameworks: “Frameworks are so widespread in business today that you can’t go a day without some blog post being shared on Slack, talking about a shiny new approach to marketing, or business, or strategy, or product. People talk about the 7 Powers or the 5 Forces or the Gartner hype cycle or the Perez technology adoption model. The prevailing business culture is to use frameworks as a crutch for sense-making — and I am as guilty of this as the next person.
    • This habit hasn’t gone unnoticed. In a recent newsletter, serial entrepreneur Hiten Shah argues that startup founders spend too much time studying strategy frameworks, and too little time gathering a high quality and quantity of inputs to those frameworks.”
    • From Seek Ideas At The Right Level of Abstraction: “The reason I’ve spent an entire essay arguing that we should ‘seek ideas at the right level of abstraction’ is because I think that the opposite habit — ‘use high-level analyses as a justification for our actions’— is a particularly pernicious trap for smart, analytical people. We do this because it’s a narrative stereotype: we think that geniuses must extrapolate from high-level analyses to individual action, and therefore we should do the same.”

The Magnificent Seven #59: Tour of the Sacred Library – 05/09/21

  • Tour of the Sacred Library
    • by Ryan Moulton
    • This is quite mesmerising. Quote: “I found myself experiencing really complex emotions as I was making this. First was simple wonder. I described a place that I thought would be beautiful, painted by an artist that I thought would make it beautiful, and it was. I typed, “Great Hall of the Sacred Library, by James Gurney,” and was absolutely blown away by the image that gradually materialized. I felt compelled to keep exploring it, and creating it. What else was there in this place? In this world? What other wonders could I find just around the next corner? All I had to do was describe it, and it would show me.
    • On one hand, I wanted to share the work, and to share what I had discovered about adding “by James Gurney” to the prompts. It is an amazing hack. James Gurney literally wrote the book on how to paint Imaginative Realism, and the models seemed to have learned from all the art he has put online throughout the years. When you tell it to create something painted by James Gurney, it knows that nothing less than the best will suffice. But then I knew anything special about my own contribution would be lost by sharing it. I felt possessive about it, but this is an insane emotion to feel. I’m not an artist of any note. I didn’t write the code, or train the models, and James Gurney has millions of fans. Any one of them could have thought, “Hey I’d like to see if the AI can paint like him.” The fact that I’m an especially fervent admirer doesn’t mean anything. Is this what art is going to be now? Simply reduced to fandom?”
  • The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World with Logic
    • by Amanda Gefter
    • Quote: “There was a catch, though: This symbolic abstraction made the world transparent but the brain opaque. Once everything had been reduced to information governed by logic, the actual mechanics ceased to matter—the tradeoff for universal computation was ontology. Von Neumann was the first to see the problem. He expressed his concern to Wiener in a letter that anticipated the coming split between artificial intelligence on one side and neuroscience on the other. “After the great positive contribution of Turing-cum-Pitts-and-McCulloch is assimilated,” he wrote, “the situation is rather worse than better than before. Indeed these authors have demonstrated in absolute and hopeless generality that anything and everything … can be done by an appropriate mechanism, and specifically by a neural mechanism—and that even one, definite mechanism can be ‘universal.’ Inverting the argument: Nothing that we may know or learn about the functioning of the organism can give, without ‘microscopic,’ cytological work any clues regarding the further details of the neural mechanism.””
    • I also read The Bitter Lesson by Rich Sutton. Quote: “This is a big lesson. As a field, we still have not thoroughly learned it, as we are continuing to make the same kind of mistakes. To see this, and to effectively resist it, we have to understand the appeal of these mistakes. We have to learn the bitter lesson that building in how we think we think does not work in the long run. The bitter lesson is based on the historical observations that 1) AI researchers have often tried to build knowledge into their agents, 2) this always helps in the short term, and is personally satisfying to the researcher, but 3) in the long run it plateaus and even inhibits further progress, and 4) breakthrough progress eventually arrives by an opposing approach based on scaling computation by search and learning. The eventual success is tinged with bitterness, and often incompletely digested, because it is success over a favored, human-centric approach.”
  • Bullet Journalling to Save a Life
    • by Ravynn K. Stringfield
    • Quote: “Mental illness and PWIs almost made me forget the truth of who I am—a maker of beautiful things. I had learned to fold myself small, rarely letting my mind roam, fearful I would take up too much space. Regular bullet journaling guided me back to myself, reminded me that my love is vibrant and expansive. I came back in flashes; after every couple dozen pages of intense tracking and documenting, there were marker sketches of girls whose stories I wanted to know interspersed among the diligent trackers and mood logs. A few pages on, I would capture a few sentences—the very corner of a larger image I had to see the rest of, bits of narratives I needed to tell. I welcomed the fragments whenever I had them, introducing them into the journal wherever they fit, intuiting that I should not force them but make sure I had a space to collect these pieces of myself that were flying back.”
  • We’re Designing Ourselves to Lose
    • by CDR Salamander 
    • Shot: “I’m sorry, but in spite of all the warnings provided about building an exquisite Tiffany force and shoveling billions in to critical peacetime capabilities that in war [are] immediately are converted in to critical vulnerabilities with zero benefit and uncounted risk … we are shocked?
    • Study for 20 years? Bullshit, you can see our vulnerabilities in open source in 20 minutes.”
    • Chaser: “…if your entire warfighting CONOPS rests on the chalk-brittle supports of networks, GPS and satellite VOX/DATA, then at war I will blind you, confuse you, target you and kill you. We’ve been pointing this out here for a decade and a half, as have a legion of others.
    • We willfully ignored all the hard lessons of a challenged electro-magnetic spectrum. We’ve raised generations of “thought leaders” who decided it was not profitable to remember that if you leak you die … instead we flood the air with proof of our location, and cannot fight without giving the enemy all they need to destroy us.”
    • Related article—When the Unblinking Eye Closes: Digital Feast and Famine in the Marine Corps. Quote from there: “Near-peer adversaries are becoming better equipped to attack this information advantage and deny American forces the air and space supremacy. The Marine Corps should assume that the moment the balloon goes up against a sophisticated enemy, they will attack American networks at home and abroad, clutter the electromagnetic spectrum, and violently contest the placid skies U.S. forces take for granted. The closer a MAGTF gets to hostile shores, the harder it will be to maintain that networked bubble which Gen. (ret.) Robert Scales and the authors call an “unblinking eye” of awareness. The Marine Corps should plan for a battlefield that combines the digital blindness and sabotage of Ghost Fleet with the high-tech violence of the Yom Kippur War and the isolation of Guadalcanal. The operating concept itself notes “’information ubiquity’ is likely to be the first casualty.” The Marine Corps needs to think about how to build the marine who can win on that battlefield.”
    • As John Boyd asserted: “People, ideas and technology: in that order.”
  • Call Me a Traitor
    • by Kerry Howley
    • Pair this with the cited links on American warfighting, and a terrifying picture emerges; one that blends technological superiority with moral righteousness and yields unnecessary violence and slaughter.
    • Quote: “In the months when he worked in the drone program, Daniel Hale never touched a drone, never flew one, never even worked on a base from which they lifted into the air. The idea that his own moral righteousness could affect the war in any way now struck him as absurd. Sometimes the machine for which he worked was called “one warhead one forehead,” because each mission targeted only one man. But the men were very often surrounded by other men as the missile found them. This is what ate at him. He knew nothing about these people; none of them would have been the target of the attack. But they would die too. And though the Obama administration would deny this, many men would reportedly not be counted as civilians but as “enemies killed in action.” Daniel knew cell phones could have been passed from presumed terrorists to other people entirely, and innocent people and those around innocent people would then be killed instead. He knew no one back home was thinking about this. “There were two worlds,” Chelsea Manning once said. “The world in America, and the world I was seeing.” The gap between what America did and what Americans knew was part of the horror, and it was the part that appeared ameliorable.”
    • Bonus link: the discussed drone papers.
  • The New Fitness Industry
    • by Mark Rippetoe
    • Quote: “One thing is certain: the industry has changed, and those of us who produce a higher rate of return on the investment of time and money by our clients will do better than the large expensive gyms full of machines and cardio who hire the merely-decorative individuals wearing the shiny shirts that say “Trainer.” If the globogym is closed long enough, truly committed individuals like us will figure out a way to build a gym at home, and will then have removed themselves from the market even if the place reopens. These truly committed people will need our services as coaches to maintain the quality of the work they have shifted out of the globogym and into their garages. Some people will hire us as “online coaches” to provide form checks and programming advice. This is not coaching in the sense we use the term, but it may be your only option if you are sufficiently remote from a real coach. But again, the “One more rep!” pinsetter loses.”
  • One Billion Machines
    • by Saul Griffith
    • Quote A: “When we do an accounting of where our energy comes from (supply side) and where it goes (demand side), we can see that in order to decarbonize our economy, we must electrify approximately one billion machines.”
    • Quote B: “In order to electrify everything — in order to take our one shot at saving the climate — we need everyone to participate in an all-out, war-time effort. This will have to be akin to the Arsenal of Democracy, the ramp-up in industrial production that allowed us to save the world from the fascists in World War II. Today the stakes are even higher, because it is all of humanity that is at risk.”

The Magnificent Seven #58: A Deep-Rooted Prairie Myth – 29/08/21

  • A Deep-Rooted Prairie Myth
    • by Chris Helzer
    • Quote: “So why have we been so wrong about how prairie plant roots work? Dave Wedin points out that some of it is because we’ve paid attention to Weaver’s drawings and ignored his data. Even in the 1940’s, Weaver was publishing datashowing that the vast majority of grass root biomass was found in the upper 6-12 inches of the soil. However, people have focused more on the depth of those roots than where the bulk of their mass exists. In addition, the idea that prairie plants are pulling water from great depths is just an attractive – and logical – story. The accompanying illustrations are also really compelling. It’s easy to see how the myth has been perpetuated over time.”
    • The linked blog also has a tonne of other posts—e.g. Creating ‘Defining Moments’ in Nature—as well as some gorgeous picture collections.
  • Chime: a simple meditation timer
    • by Nour Malaeb
    • I ended up here because I was thinking about meditation timing methods, and this turned out to be one of the more interesting finds. Quote: “Modern meditators often don’t want to use their phones to time their meditation sittings—they’re often meditating to disconnect from lives that are oversaturated with technology. Besides, there’s something about the sound of a meditation bowl being struck that makes the meditation ritual complete.
    • Chime is a minimalist meditation timer that strikes an actual meditation bowl at the start and the end of a sitting, allowing the sitter to focus on their meditation and nothing else.
    • The interface is the bowl itself: rest your hand on it gently for a few seconds, and LEDs will fade in to indicate that Chime has been activated.”
  • The world probably doesn’t look like you think it does — and that matters, a lot
    • by Aspen Pflughoeft
    • Round of applause for the fish-centric map, which is my favourite. 
    • Quote: “Lines on a map often take political stances and carry social implications both for those living at the locale and for those looking at the map.
    • While maps are undeniably useful for showing the world around us, they are undeniably biased since cartography is as “subjective as any other artistic endeavor,” writes art historian Nicole De Armandi. Maps can size landmasses inaccurately, orient hemispheres arbitrarily or show boundaries statically. This impacts our understanding of the significance, authority, and stability of the places around us.”
  • The Philosopher’s Wine
    • by Nick Foretek
    • Quote: “As he headed to Damascus, the Fighter called the general, who feigned paternal concern. “Where are you?” he asked. “I thought you might have noticed me,” said the Fighter, unable to repress the need to humiliate after the months of hunger and cold. “I just passed the checkpoint and saw you standing there.” The general hung up the phone. The Fighter yelled to the front of the microbus, “I need to be let off.” The microbus pulled over on the side of the empty highway and the Fighter moved off the road, hiding behind the brush. He heard the whoosh of three army jeeps speeding down the highway. After a while, he emerged and hailed a taxi to Damascus.”
  • One Tenth of a Second: Notes on Jimena Canales’ book
    • by Venkatesh Rao
    • Quote: “Overall, the collision with the 0.1s barrier led to the displacement of human-centric empiricism by automation, the rise of photography as a powerful but epistemologically suspect modality (it is not an accident that film is primarily a medium of fiction rather than non-fiction), the re-booting of psychology in a subjectivist mode. The philosophy of science evolved from classical through positivist, anti-positivist, and post-positivist phases to its modern indeterminate (imo) condition, marked by no clear consensus on the nature of scientific “knowing.””
  • Three math-focused posts
    • by Quanta Magazine
    • The first was 2020: The Year in Math and Computer Science. This led me to an exploration of the question, What is the Geometry of the Universe?, and to The Map of Mathematics.
    • The geometry post was mind-bending, and hit some marks I came across in Alan Moore’s Jerusaleum and continue to encounter in Iain Bank’s Culture series. Quote: “Today, we know the Earth is shaped like a sphere. But most of us give little thought to the shape of the universe. Just as the sphere offered an alternative to a flat Earth, other three-dimensional shapes offer alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space.
    • We can ask two separate but interrelated questions about the shape of the universe. One is about its geometry: the fine-grained local measurements of things like angles and areas. The other is about its topology: how these local pieces are stitched together into an overarching shape.
    • Cosmological evidence suggests that the part of the universe we can see is smooth and homogeneous, at least approximately. The local fabric of space looks much the same at every point and in every direction. Only three geometries fit this description: flat, spherical and hyperbolic. Let’s explore these geometries, some topological considerations, and what the cosmological evidence says about which shapes best describe our universe.”
    • Lede to the Map of Mathematics resource: “Here is a map of mathematics as it stands today, mathematics as it is practiced by mathematicians.
    • From simple starting points — Numbers, ShapesChange — the map branches out into interwoven tendrils of thought. Follow it, and you’ll understand how prime numbers connect to geometry, how symmetries give a handle on questions of infinity.
    • And although the map is necessarily incomplete — mathematics is too grand to fit into any single map — we hope to give you a flavor for the major questions and controversies that animate the field, as well as the conceptual tools needed to dive in.
    • There’s no right or wrong way to explore. You can go in a straight line from topic to topic, or jump around, searching for something that catches your eye.
    • If mathematics is the poetry of logical ideas, as Albert Einstein once wrote, then through this we hope to provide an appreciation for all the beauty that it describes. Scroll down to begin.”
  • Beginner’s Guide to Efficient Crawling
    • by Peri Zourides
    • This provides a few progressions and regressions for a fundamental crawling pattern. I tend to mess around with this now and again, so the added variety is helpful. There’s also a longer review of the three MovNat certifications, which reaffirmed the value of the MovNat approach.

The Magnificent Seven #57: Against Persuasion – 22/08/21

  • Against Persuasion
    • by Agnes Callard
    • Quote: “And yet for all this influence, many of our ways are becoming far from Socratic. More and more our politics are marked by unilateral persuasion instead of collaborative inquiry. If, like Socrates, you view knowledge as an essentially collaborative project, you don’t go into a conversation expecting to persuade any more than you expect to be persuaded. By contrast, if you do assume you know, you embrace the role of persuader in advance, and stand ready to argue people into agreement. If argument fails, you might tolerate a state of disagreement—but if the matter is serious enough, you’ll resort to enforcing your view through incentives or punishments. Socrates’s method eschewed the pressure to persuade. At the same time, he did not tolerate tolerance. His politics of humility involved genuinely opening up the question under dispute, in such a way that neither party would be permitted to close it, to settle on an answer, unless the other answered the same. By contrast, our politics—of persuasion, tolerance, incentives, and punishment—is deeply uninquisitive.”
  • Nitpicking Machine Learning Technical Debt
    • by Matthew McAteer
    • The linked post is a revisit of an influential 2015 paper (Hidden Technical Debt in Machine Learning Systems) in which McAteer “write[s] up which parts are outdated, and point[s] out the novel methods that have superseded them.” 
    • The 2015 paper’s abstract: “Machine learning offers a fantastically powerful toolkit for building useful complex prediction systems quickly. This paper argues it is dangerous to think of these quick wins as coming for free. Using the software engineering framework of technical debt, we find it is common to incur massive ongoing maintenance costs in real-world ML systems. We explore several ML-specific risk factors to account for in system design. These include boundary erosion, entanglement, hidden feedback loops, undeclared consumers, data dependencies, configuration issues, changes in the external world, and a variety of system-level anti-patterns.”
    • A notable idea from the paper; the CACE principle: “Machine learning systems mix signals together, entangling them and making isolation of improvements impossible… We refer to this here as the CACE principle: Changing Anything Changes Everything. CACE applies not only to input signals, but also to hyper-parameters, learning settings, sampling methods, convergence thresholds, data selection, and essentially every other possible tweak.”
    • The linked post itself, while focused on machine learning and using the 2015 paper as a guiding apparatus, provides a lot of insight into the complications that arise during the management of complex systems. 
    • Quote A: “Speaking of old code, you know what software engineering has had for a while now? Really great abstractions! Everything from the concept of relational databases to views in web pages. There are entire branches of applied category theory devoted to figuring out the best ways to organize code like this. You know what applied category theory hasn’t quite caught up to yet? That’s right, machine learning code organization. Software engineering has had decades of throwing abstraction spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. Machine learning? Aside from Map-Reduce (which is like, not as impressive relational databases) or Async Parameter servers (which nobody can agree on how this should be done), or sync allreduce (which just sucks for most use-cases), we don’t have much to show.”
    • Quote B: “They give examples of bandit algorithms as being resistant to the direct feedback loops, but not only do those not scale, technical debt accumulates the most when you’re trying to build systems at scale. Useless. The indirect feedback fixes aren’t much better. In fact, the systems in the indirect feedback loop might not even be part of the same organization. This could be something like trading algorithms from different firms each trying to meta-game each other, but instead causing a flash crash. Or a more relevant example in biotech, suppose you have a model that’s predicting the error likelihood for a variety of pieces of lab equipment. As time goes on, the actual error rate could go down because people have become more practiced with it, or possibly up because the scientists are using the equipment more frequently, but the calibrations haven’t increased in frequency to compensate. Ultimately, fixing this comes down to high-level design decisions, and making sure you check as many assumptions behind your model’s data (especially the independence assumption) as possible.
    • This is also an area where many principles and practices from security engineering become very useful (e.g., tracking the flow of data throughout a system, searching for ways the system can be abused before bad actors can make use of them).”
    • McAteer also has a machine learning “research interview handbook“, which I intend to take a peak at at a later date.
  • A Eulogy for the Free Press
    • by Timothy McLaughlin, Rachel Cheung
    • Quote: “Last night, Apple Daily printed its final edition, succumbing to a relentless government campaign that has seen the paper’s founder and its editor in chief jailed and facing possible life sentences, its newsroom twice raided, and its assets frozen, paralyzing its profitable operations. A newspaper that had lasted more than a quarter century—through the final days of colonialism and into Hong Kong’s Chinese rule—survived less than a year under the national-security law that it warned against but that other outlets were happy to be paid to promote. This morning, convenience stores and newsstands across Hong Kong were largely sold out of the paper’s final edition, even though 1 million copies had been produced. People began lining up around midnight to purchase the paper despite weather that was appropriate for the mood. “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain,” Apple Daily’s final front-page read.”
  • Elite freedivers have brain oxygen levels lower than seals
    • by University of St Andrews
    • Quote: “Elite human freedivers achieve some of the most exceptional feats of human endurance, in what is one of the world’s most extreme sports. Making dives lasting more than four minutes and reaching depths of more than 100m on a single breath-hold, freedivers push the limits of what the human body can tolerate.
    • Lead researcher Dr. Chris McKnight, of the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews, said: “The divers showed exceptional physiological responses during their dives.
    • “We measured heart rates as low as 11 beats per minute and blood oxygenation levels, which are normally 98 percent oxygenated, drop to 25 percent, which is far beyond the point at 50 percent at which we expect people to lose consciousness and equivalent to some of the lowest values measured at the top of Mount Everest.”
    • For more about freediving, check out James Nestor’s Deep. To get a feel for its allure, check out some short films on Youtube (herehere and here).
  • Multiple visual essays
  • What happened after 2010?
    • by Shawn Presser
    • “The core problem was that at every point in my life, I had been unhappy. School was miserable, so I convinced myself that gamedev would be better. My fist gamedev job turned out to be just a job, so I convinced myself I got unlucky, and that a different studio wouldn’t be “just a job.” My second gamedev job ended up being magical – everything I ever wanted – for around 10 months, till the owner decided to massively restructure the company and move us all out to Kalamazoo, which ended up basically killing the company, so I was unhappy. And then I went into finance to get some money (rather than because it’s what I wanted), and I was unhappy, but I thought “Well, isn’t work supposed to be unhappy? That’s why it’s work.” Then I latched onto someone else’s dream and wound up in the security industry, not building anything and writing reports, which wasn’t too happiness-infusing.
    • Remember how I was hoping that my problems could be solved with a machine, or a pill, or anything at all? I was hoping for a magical CPAP machine, but I wound up getting a magical pill. I don’t know why Prozac was so effective, but thanks to that doctor (bless her soul), I was able to finally, for the first time in my life, relax and enjoy life.
    • Happiness is a decision, but it wasn’t until I started taking Prozac every single day without fail that I was able to decide to be happy. Three months later, I remember feeling confused, because it had been a full month since I felt truly miserable, which had never happened before. And then I started to internalize that everything was fine.”
  • Time at its Margins: Cattle Smuggling across the India-Bangladesh Border
    • by Malini Sur
    • Quote: “How do borders structure the lived experience of time? How do borders reorder the linear measures of national histories? In addressing these questions from the 2,545-mile India-Bangladesh border, I relocate the study of time in anthropology, moving it from the comparative scholarship of internally coherent religious and national bodies to the very margins of religions, nations, and capital. Borders recalibrate time, imbuing mundane economic activities with political salience. The case of cattle smuggling demonstrates how, at the India-Bangladesh border, time proves erratic. The confluence of the cow’s sacredness, the militarization of national sovereignty in India, and the militarized legalization of smuggled cows in Bangladesh expands and contracts time unpredictably, in ways that generate state violence. In dangerous border crossings, the shifting relationships between the sacred and the material embodied in home gorus shape the labor and value of the cattle trade. If the border’s life-giving properties ensure the mobility of capital, people, and animals, its coercive temporal energies prolong hunger, dispiritedness, and death. The border makes time calculations fundamental to earning a living, setting new terms on which Muslim cattle workers, and the animals they trade in, will live and die.

The Magnificent Seven #56: Alien Dreams – 15/08/21

  • Alien Dreams: An Emerging Art Scene
    • by Charlie Snell
    • Quote: “Each of these images looks nothing like the VQ-GAN+CLIP art we saw in the previous section. The outputs still have a certain surreal quality to them and maybe the coherence breaks down at a few points, but overall the images just pop like nothing else we’ve seen so far; they look more like edited photographs or scenes from a video game. So it seems that each of these keywords – “trending on artstation”, “unreal engine”, “vray” – play a crucial role in defining the unique style of these outputs.
    • This general paradigm of prompting models for desired behavior is becoming known as “prompt programming”, and it is really quite an art. In order to have any intuition as to what prompts might be effective, you need some clue as to how the model “thinks” and what types of data the model “saw” during training. Otherwise, prompting can be a little bit like dumb luck. Although hopefully, in the future, as models get even larger and more powerful, this will become a little bit easier.”
    • As a supplement to the theme of the linked post, check out How Math Can Be Racist: Giraffing. Quote: “This is how computer algorithms “made of math” can be sexist, racist, or any other sort of prejudiced that a human can be. Face photo datasets are highly biased towards certain types of appearances. Datasets about what demographics are most likely to commit crimes were assembled by humans who may have made fundamentally racist decisions about who did and didn’t commit a crime. All datasets have their giraffes. Here’s a real world examplewhere the giraffe was the name “Jared.”
    • Any time “a computer” or “math” is involved in making decisions, you need to ask yourself: what’s been giraffed up this time?”
  • Night Science
    • by Itai Yanai, Martin Lercher
    • Lede: “The public is familiar with the well-organized “day science” image of bench-working scientists, but they rarely know the true stories and creativity behind published tested hypotheses. Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher discuss the exciting and significant parts of scientific research that occur behind the scenes, called “night science”, in a new collection of Editorials published in Genome Biology.”
    • From Night science: “The distinction between executive, systematic day phases and exploratory, creative night phases is not limited to science, and may be general to all enterprises that require at least a minimal level of creativity.”
    • From What is the question?: “Community-generated questions such as those in the left columns of Tables 1 and 2 are typically so general that they do not provide a new direction towards an answer. Answering one of them almost always requires a rephrasing, a refocusing of the original question, which exposes a new aspect of the problem and only becomes possible after an insight into the phenomenon at hand.”
    • From Renaissance minds in 21st century science: “Similarly, the borders between scientific fields and disciplines are not natural boundaries; really, there are no boundaries. Disciplines, fields, and subfields are just one way of clustering knowledge and methodology on increasingly fine-grained levels, but this clustering is not unique, and there is not even an obvious optimality criterion for the clusters. Many boundaries may simply reflect the way in which a field developed historically.”
    • From The two languages of science: “Night science language not only helps to provide an intuition about complex ideas. For the generation of some important new ideas, it is absolutely necessary, as not every metaphorical night science idea is translatable one-to-one from the outset into precise day science language…”
    • From A hypothesis is a liability: “Undoubtedly, a correlation between two features is not sufficient to infer a causal relationship. But some form of covariation is implied by a causal relationship, and hence, finding a previously hidden correlation may be the first glimpse of something new. We may then think of data exploration as the generator of correlations and patterns that can later be tested for causality.”
    • From The data-hypothesis conversation: “What we mean to suggest is that the hypothesis-testing part is only half of the process; the other half, comprising the untold story of how hypotheses are generated, deserves the same attention.”
    • From Novel predictions arise from contradictions: “An elegant way to counter the drag toward self-fulfilling hypotheses is to test not one, but multiple alternative hypotheses, a core element of a method John Platt called “strong inference” [34]. Platt argued that the fastest scientific progress results from formulating a set of opposing hypotheses and then devising a test that can distinguish between them. While this is indeed a powerful approach, we often do not know initially what may be the best set of competing hypotheses. Forcing ourselves to look beyond one favored hypothesis in order to come up with such competing hypotheses is a serious—and non-fun—night science task, requiring hard and deliberate work.”
  • How to Read a Legal Opinion
    • by Orin S. Kerr
    • Lede: “This essay is designed to help new law students prepare for the first few weeks of class. It explains what judicial opinions are, how they are structured, and what law students should look for when reading them.”
    • Quote: “You probably won’t believe me at first, but concurrences and dissents are very important. You need to read them carefully. To understand why, you need to appreciate that law is man-made, and Anglo-American law has often been judge-made. Learning to “think like a lawyer” often means learning to think like a judge, which means learning how to evaluate which rules and explanations are strong and which are weak. Courts occasionally say things that are silly, wrongheaded, or confused, and you need to think independently about what judges say.”
  • Learning to Love the Machine: Some Assembly Required
    • by Patrick Dalton
    • Quote: “What I hope to address here is what happens after we’ve beaten the machine. Whether you support realignmenta party surrogatethe dirty break or clean break, socialists of all stripes should reckon with the fact that we may need to rebuild, at the local level, the very thing we’ve been fighting for years if we want to retain and expand political power.
    • The left needs to build our own political machines — ones that are fully active between elections, that can deliver real material gains for working people through mutual aid, protect our elected officials from new challengers, develop accountability to an organized base and promote an organizational loyalty that is only possible when you consistently show up for people over time. I view this as the only path forward for the left electoral project in this country that avoids co-optation (into the Democratic establishment) or alienation (from a material politics that can actually deliver results).
    • It’s time that we learn to love the machine.”
    • I also read The Democratic Panopticon, an essay about “digitally enhanced citizen participation across borders.” Quote: “In its purest form, the panopticon is an answer to the question: Who has the right to accumulate knowledge about whom and for what purposes? Since Bentham’s time, from Michel Foucault’s “disciplinary society” to Shoshana Zuboff’s “surveillance capitalism,” the panopticon has been invoked ominously not as a building, but as a mechanism of power: a diagram of political technology that suppresses liberty, autonomy and self-determination.
    • But what if we were able to imagine the collective power of citizens in place of the single guard? After all, who better than ourselves can be the guardians of our democratic freedoms? By turning the connotation of the panopticon on its head, we can better convey the subversive power of transparency and accountability in politics.”
  • No Safe Options: A Conversation with Andreas Malm
    • by Wen Stephenson
    • Quote: “The case I make in the book is in response to the vision put forth by XR, which is very historical. They claim to have learned from all of the relevant historical episodes of social movements, and social change, that the only thing that works is absolutely exclusive nonviolence, and they rely very heavily on Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 book Why Civil Resistance Works. I mean, this triggers me quite a lot as a historian. I can put my historian and activist hats on and off, but I mean, the key examples that are advanced here, the key parallels — the struggle against slavery, the suffragettes, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the recent mobilizations and victories against dictatorships such as the Arab Spring, and also the Iranian Revolution (which I have a personal connection to, because my partner is Iranian), and of course the Civil Rights movement in the US — the idea that these episodes teach us that the only thing that works is nonviolence strikes me as very deeply dishonest and inaccurate. Because all of these struggles included very significant components of physical confrontation with the prevailing order — and property destruction has been integral to all of these movements in one form or another. And, of course, some of the movements were extremely bloody, most notably the struggle against slavery.
    • My point is obviously not that, okay, there was a civil war in the US and therefore we need to have a civil war about climate, or that we have to kill tens of thousands of privileged people as the slaves in Haiti did when they rose up. That’s not my takeaway from those episodes. And any kind of analogy here is extremely tenuous, because the climate crisis is constituted so differently from any of those other examples. But my point, in my critique of strategic pacifism, is that if every meaningful analogy, from slavery to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the uprising against Hosni Mubarak in 2011, if every meaningful analogy so far adduced by the climate movement has historically included a component of violence, and not the least property destruction, then what reason is there for us in the climate movement to say that we are the first movement in modern history that will achieve our goals without ever deviating from absolute nonviolence? Is it because our enemy is weaker? What is the convincing reason? And the crucial point here is that this strategic nonviolence excludes property destruction.”
  • Are You Doing Microworkouts? Here’s Why You Should
    • by Mark Sisson
    • For the last few months, I’ve been doing a Simple and Sinister session—ten sets of ten kettlebell swings, followed by ten single Turkish getups—four to six times a week. Usually, immediately after signing off from work. However, working those sessions around two to three dog walks a day, preparing, eating and cleaning up after meals, showering, relaxing, spending time with my partner, and working has become increasingly hard. And tiresome. It’s worked, but it’s not sustainable right now. So I’m not going to train anymore.
    • Specifically, I’m wondering if I can distribute my training load throughout the day and keep the progress in strength and body composition. The linked article mentions microworkouts of five to ten minutes in duration; I’m thinking less than that.
    • I stand whilst working, and under my desk I have a resistance band, a scaffold pole balance beam, a lacrosse ball, and a 24kg ‘bell. So, throughout the day, I’ll be throwing in sets of swings—10-30 a time—alongside KB presses, some stretching, some beam balancing, and whatever else comes to mind. I’ve also started suitcase-carrying the KB up and down the stairs when I get coffees etc. I work in the attic, and carrying a coffee and a KB up two flights whilst also not trying to step on the two dogs following me is fun.
    • Time will tell whether peppering movement throughout the day is more sustainable and effective than one deliberate training session. As Dan John says, “Everything works, for about six weeks.”
  • Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit
    • by Wizards of the Coast
    • I picked this up in order to run a one-shot (a singular, one-off DnD session). I also picked up the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Beyond their utility for the upcoming one-shot, I think they’ll actually prove useful for future fiction projects. Not as a paint-by-numbers alternative to character, world and narrative creation, but as a source of ideas, questions and approaches.

The Magnificent Seven #55: The Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual – 08/07/21

  • The Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual
    • by Strike Debt
    • I expect the ideas expanded on within the DROM are exponentially worse a decade after the original release.
    • Summary: “Written [in 2012] by a network of activists, writers, and academics from Strike Debt, The Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual reveals how the predatory debt system works to increase inequality, undermine democracy, and ruin lives. It provides detailed strategies for fighting common forms of debt and lays out an expansive vision for a societal movement of debt resistance. The full text of the manual is available here for free.”
    • Quote one: “Everyone seems to owe something, and most of us are in so deep it’ll be years before we have any chance of getting out—if we have any chance at all. But few of us are asking, “Who do we all owe this money to, anyway?” and “Where did they get the money they lent?”
    • Quote two: “We have to ask ourselves: is our economic system adequately meeting people’s needs and desires, or do we need to consider other ways of structuring a society? It is under capitalism, after all, that corporations are obligated by law to maximize profits. Unsurprisingly, then, corporate profits as a percentage of national income are the highest since 1950, while workers’ incomes are at the lowest percentage since 1966. Wall Street isn’t stealing workers’ wages and trammeling our ability to lead dignified lives all on their own, though; legislators and politicians are complicit. Only recently did it surface that taxpayers subsidize big banks around $83 billion per year, a perk for which the financial industry has vigorously lobbied. Since 2008 and also before, people have said that Wall Street ignored “systemic risk,” or the interconnectedness of the financial system. This muddles the central problem: the problem is systemic because the problem is the system.”
  • The Curse of Xanadu
    • by Gary Wolf
    • The lede from an engrossing story (that also made me realise I haven’t read a biography in a while): “It was the most radical computer dream of the hacker era. Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project was supposed to be the universal, democratic hypertext library that would help human life evolve into an entirely new form. Instead, it sucked Nelson and his intrepid band of true believers into what became the longest-running vaporware project in the history of computing – a 30-year saga of rabid prototyping and heart-slashing despair. The amazing epic tragedy.”
    • Quote one: “Among people who consider themselves insiders, Nelson’s Xanadu is sometimes treated as a joke, but this is superficial. Nelson’s writing and presentations inspired some of the most visionary computer programmers, managers, and executives – including Autodesk Inc. founder John Walker – to pour millions of dollars and years of effort into the project. Xanadu was meant to be a universal library, a worldwide hypertext publishing tool, a system to resolve copyright disputes, and a meritocratic forum for discussion and debate. By putting all information within reach of all people, Xanadu was meant to eliminate scientific ignorance and cure political misunderstandings. And, on the very hackerish assumption that global catastrophes are caused by ignorance, stupidity, and communication failures, Xanadu was supposed to save the world.”
    • Quote two: “In conversation, Nelson is by turns reproachful and gloating. A dreamy, unathletic child raised by elderly grandparents in Greenwich Village, Nelson devoted his youth to studying the art of strategy, and learned to pick up a serious weapon, such as a rock or pole, when threatened by neighborhood bullies. As a grad student at Harvard, Nelson would one day study strategy with Thomas Schelling, a renowned theorist, but as a child, his methods were instinctive. For instance, in second grade, Nelson invented a new way of crossing the street: when arriving at a busy thoroughfare, he would dramatically turn his back on traffic and step with theatrical nonchalance off the sidewalk. Drivers, frightened, would slam on their brakes.”
    • Quote three: “Before the Autodesk acquisition, Stiegler had met Nelson at a CD-ROM conference sponsored by Microsoft, where he found himself in an audience of 1,000 listening to a speaker he didn’t recognize. He was looking at a Xanadu flyer, which was absurdly amateurish, and he was listening to Ted Nelson’s presentation, which was manic. Stiegler’s first impulse was to laugh. Then, like so many earlier Xanadu recruits, he was touched by something in Nelson’s proposal that transcended plausibility. Through the primitive medium of Xanadu’s printed materials and Nelson’s barely convincing lecture, Stiegler thought he heard a call from the future. “I was looking at this, frankly, crude flyer,” he said, “and listening to this guy talk about Xanadu, and I was sitting there thinking, you know, if this guy can really pull it off, he’s going to change the world. I looked around at all the other people in business suits and I realized that I was the only person in the room who understood.””
  • Face to Face
    • by Michael Blevins
    • Quote: “There is a list of stimuli required to make a training program appropriate for a specific task. Many coaches are obsessed with this. They believe and convince others of the importance of this “formula,” but this is not coaching; it’s physiology. Recognizing the nuance between what needs to be done and what CAN be done, and applying it defines coaching. The connection between two people is paramount, and anything short of face-to-face interaction is a standard deviation from what is “best.” Coaching is trusted criticism. It is responsive. Its success depends on saying the right thing at the right moment or “cueing.” Saying the right thing too late is just as ineffective as saying the wrong thing. Saying too much is just as damaging as saying nothing. To be effective, cueing must happen coincident with the “feeling,” not after. You cannot respond from a distance. You cannot develop a genuine bond from afar—you can start one—but it is a virtual representation of what we all know to be the most valuable aspect of coaching; building a relationship.”
  • Unlocking the Emotional Brain [Book summary]
    • by Kaj Sotala
    • Quote: “Something that the authors emphasize is that when the target schema is activated, there should be no attempt to explicitly argue against it or disprove it, as this risks pushing it down. Rather, the belief update happens when one experiences their old schema as vividly true, while also experiencing an entirely opposite belief as vividly true. It is the juxtaposition of believing X and not-X at the same time, which triggers an inbuilt contradiction-detection mechanism in the brain and forces a restructuring of one’s belief system to eliminate the inconsistency.”
  • How to Live in a Climate ‘Permanent Emergency’
    • by David Wallace-Wells
    • Quote: “Prophecies often come true as anticlimaxes, the predictions themselves having set the stage too well — serving to acculturate as well as alarm, introducing first and then effectively normalizing the possibility of events that would have seemed, not so long ago, unthinkable. Climate activists, often privately despondent themselves, have long worried about the costs of alarmism as a rhetorical strategy, warning it would end not in panicked action but fatalism and despair. What worries me more, as an avowed alarmist, is not that dire warnings inspire leaders and potential activists to give up but that, in shifting our expectations, they encourage us to count as successes any merely catastrophic outcomes that fall short of true apocalypse — and make us see what should be freakish showcases of climate horror nevertheless on a continuum with “normal” rather than as signs of profound ecological disjuncture. Adaptability is a virtue, or at least a tool, in a time of cascading environmental change like the one we are stepping into now. It is also a painkiller or a form of climate dementia.
    • At the moment, the heat dome is triggering much more public alarm than it is complacency — and that is before the death tolls grow higher and before months more of intense fire likely burn through the same region baked by this heat and sucked dry by this drought. But as the climate journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis suggested, in a fit of justified despair, we have been here before — when last year’s fires turned San Francisco orange and produced an eerily biblical darkness at noon; when Australia’s “Black Summer” bushfires burned through 46 million acres and killed more than a billion animals; when deforestation fires tore through the Amazon and briefly inspired international outrage approaching levels reserved for genocide. That’s to name just a few recent local apocalypses and not even mention the many disasters that have not shaken American consciences, like the drought and famineunfolding today in Madagascar, putting 400,000 on the brink of starvation.”
    • I also read a linked essay; All the right words on climate have already been said. A quote: “But as she stepped toward the story and began to warm to it, I felt that stomach-sinking feeling intensify. I do not want to write down what I just said, I thought, not for any amount of money. Not that it would be a lot anyway. I don’t ever want to think that thought ever again. More importantly, I don’t want to build an argument around it.
    • Also, for what? Let’s give the article (the one she was starting to maybe think about asking me to write that I was wondering if I could write) the absolute biggest benefit of the doubt and imagine that people read it and said, “Wow, this is exactly how I feel, thanks for putting it into words.”
    • What then? What would happen then? Would people be “more aware” about climate change? It’s 109 degrees in Portland right now. It’s been over 130 degrees in Baghdad several times. What kind of awareness quotient are we looking for? What more about climate change does anyone need to know? What else is there to say?”
  • Multiple interviews
    • by Women Nordic Music Technology (WoNoMute)
    • From An Interview with Astrid Bin: “One of the things I have noticed more and more, especially through teaching, is that women are not afforded the opportunity to be anything less than excellent, to start off not being good at something but allowed to get better. This expectation of perfection is robbing us of a lot of things – learning, making mistakes, taking risks, growing with peers. I try to cultivate these areas of safety and encourage women just to try things out, learn from each other.”
    • From An Interview with Marije Baalman: “Sometimes I found that people come up with solutions where I think, yeah that could have been simpler or better thought through. Or artistic approaches with a naive concept of how a technology works and then don’t really get everything out of it or are aware of the limitations and biases that are in the technology. Engineers on the other hand – this is specifically in the NIME community sometimes a problem – can have quite old-fashioned ideas of what a musical instrument is or what musical practice is. They work from an old-fashioned model where you have a composer, you have a musician and then you have an instrument maker. I think in the current artistic practice this is not so clear cut anymore, but just one way of approaching music, especially when you look across genres. If you look at how different theories and practices of approaching compositions have developed, you will see that that has become much more reflective on the musical practice itself, and the socio dynamics in that; it is much more than putting notes on a paper or writing a score for performances. I’m trying to address this bridge between the artistic thinking and practice and the engineering.”
    • From An Interview with Rebecca Fiebrink: “The project’s aim has been to augment the tools people have for making music but also making other types of sonic interactions, in one- on- one therapy sessions as well as in wider classrooms. That project resulted in some open- source software that people can download online (http://soundcontrolsoftware.com), and this software essentially allows people to take a variety of input devices like cameras, microphones, game controllers and build new musical instruments or sonic interaction interfaces without knowing really anything at all about interaction design, music technology, and machine learning (although machine learning is one of the tools we use to make it easy to build new things).”
    • From An Interview with Rebekah Wilson: “I have a keynote tomorrow ‘Becoming latency native’! Let’s say right now there is latency between us. But when I think to speak about this latency, by the time it gets out of my mouth, there is latency, to get it across the air, until it hits your ears and to get to your brain and then for you to cognitively understand what I’m saying – all this is latency. But our brains have evolved to think there is no latency. We don’t think to ourselves like “oh there is a delay between what I say and what you hear.” But if I go over there and I yell to you, it takes a bit longer, suddenly the communication is a little bit difficult. You have to wait up. Or when you have a long distance call and you have to wait, all of this is interfering with our naturally taught behaviour.”
  • A Measured Response
    • by hbomberguy
    • I ended up watching/listening to a few of these whilst doing domestic odds and errands. Specifically, the episodes on climate denial and flat earthers. I intend to watch the vaccine episode as well. All provide a view into the means and motives behind human irrationality.

The Magnificent Seven #54: The Sand Protocol – 01/08/21

  • The Sand Protocol
    • by Outside/In, Max Liboiron
    • Quote: “It’s interesting because there’s very little standardized in plastic pollution research because it’s a brand new field. And whenever a new field kicks off, everyone is what you call a “coldwater cowboy.” People are trying things that work. The one place in our field that is standardized is shoreline plastics because these two government agencies from the EU and the US made them, and this is the sand protocol.
    • And so, in these papers we’re reviewing, people will be like: ‘it was a huge rocky beach and we found the one place with sand,’ or, ‘there was snow, and we dug around it.’ Because there’s no protocol for how to deal with not-sand.
    • I think scientists have an anxiety, a professional anxiety, where if you can’t replicate something, the phantom of it not being valid is very real. And so they’ll do these tricky moves… so they can replicate something even if the replicant doesn’t represent their environment, because otherwise your science becomes questionable. Can you publish this? Can you compare it? What does it even mean?
    • There’s this call for standardization, but we’re worried it will be standardized to very specific environments so that places like Newfound and Labrador and the Arctic, where I work, will be left out of those standards, because we’re not the primary imagined landscape in which knowledge takes place.”
    • Bonus quote from Liboiron’s Plastics in the Gut: “The problem with universalism is that it is less a way to access timeless truth than it is an argument positioning a particular worldview as the only worldview. Western science as the way of knowing. Sand as the shoreline sediment. Science historian Lorraine Daston calls Western science a form of “European self-portraiture,” not only because it pushes Western epistemologies into places that have other ways of knowing truths, but also because it makes knowledge holders in its own image. The only valid knower was a Western scientist, rather than locals like fish harvesters or Indigenous inhabitants. Certainly not children. Definitely not fish.”
  • Dream Mashups
    • by Malcolm Ocean
    • This rhymes with metacognitive therapy
    • Quote A: “Transformational approaches to behavior change are based on understanding what’s generating the behavior in the first place—uncovering exactly how it’s understanding the situation such that it’s doing what it’s doing and it makes total sense to do that thing. Then, by bringing that understanding into conscious awareness, it can take stock of the present situation and new things you’ve learned since it was originally stored, and if it no longer makes sense to do the behavior, that’s now obvious to the part that was previously performing the behavior. This process is called memory reconsolidation, and it results in persistent change that requires no maintenance since you’re not fighting yourself.”
    • Quote B: “The effect of all of this is that we block ourselves from seeing the remarkable sensibleness of these unconscious perspectives when assessed on their own terms, a seeing which can then enable us to see a new sense we can make of the situation. Instead, we have the impression that we are simply being irrational and should snap out of it. These are deep confusions; waking up from them ongoinglyrequires a thorough reorganization of our thinking, not just a jolt into presence (which may help for a moment).”
  • Multiple blogs
    • by Benn Stancil
    • From Data’s big whiff: “…there’s no officially recognized system for storing these conclusions or finding what’s been done before. It rarely exists inside the civilized walls of the self-serve systems we invest so much time into building. Yes, it’s sometimes built on top of the foundational elements that underpin BI tools, like governed dbt models. But its final products—the materials that contain analyses and their associated recommendations—are often scattered around analysts’ computers, buried in emails and Slack posts, and built on top of ungoverned queries and Python notebooks that blend development work with final recommendations.”
    • From